Textual Arachne

A weaver of threads.

Thursday, October 26, 2006


One of the moments I love most and understand least in Genesis is the moment when Jacob wrestles with the angel. I love it for its physical nature: divine beings who can be pinned and held, who dislocate hips and say "uncle"--I will not let thee go except thou bless me. I love it for its metaphorical nature: how this wrestling with God is part of Genesis, where Abram sometimes argues and sometimes acquiesces, where humans keep struggling with God's commands.

I love to think of wrestling with the Divine. When I think of the way I puzzle out my thealogy, I think of Jacob and the angel.

Sometimes it's a competition, friendly and good-hearted, in which we test each other, push on each other's holds, defend against weak moves and make quick attacks. When I'm teasing out the implications of a belief or theorizing about ritual, this is how we wrestle.

Sometimes it turns angry. Fingers turn into claws and go for throat, eyes, groin, demanding some kind of answer or some dominance. Low blows. Sucker-punches. Where my faith hits the realities of suffering and an ugly world, or where I hit the limits of my own abilities.

Sometimes there's this incredible flirtation within the struggle, like lovers tussling on a bed, teasing and pinning each other back and forth, just on the point of kisses or lovemaking. Ecstasy and wordless emotion.

And sometimes--in fact, most of the time--it's one big confused mess, where I'm not certain if the leg I'm grabbing is my own, or just how many people are in this match, or what the limits ever were.

My hope, my aim, is to always be wrestling with Her; never to walk away from the contest, never to imagine that I've won, never to simply submit. I offer my doubts and my confusion in this struggle, knowing that there won't be a resolution as long as I live.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


Between classes and applications (and the occasional freak-out from being overcommitted), I've let the blogwriting slide. I will not let that happen--at least not permanently. My friend Current Conductor deals with the same "law of blog procrastinating," where the desire to write an entry is inversely proportionate to the number of things you want to write about plus the time since your last post.

In early October, I attended a Pagan wedding ceremony. It was lovely and moving, drawing largely off the Feri tradition. There were invocations of the Fey, the Boatman, the Star Goddess (with the full Charge, I think), and the whole ceremony was opened and closed with the sanctification of the directions. A spiral dance in the middle of the ceremony charged the rings; the bride and groom drew Tarot cards. The whole thing was filled with spirit, from music to fire to the strong wind and the crisp weather.

(Side note: I should really get to know more about Feri. All I know about it is from reading an interview with Victor Anderson and a little casual conversation.)

Curiously, though, it made me consider how much I wanted to integrate Paganism into our wedding next summer. And the answer was a little surprising to me: Not very much. I can see creating the space with the directions, asking for Her blessing, or sharing cakes and wine together. But my lover is not Pagan, and any ceremony we share is a partnership between us.

I've asked myself a few times if my desire to 'tone down' any Pagan aspects is an urge to hide my faith, or a need to conform. It's likely that those elements are present, but what's more central to my reasoning is a need to span different faiths--possibly even to introduce what Pagans have in common with other faiths. My lover and I are an interfaith couple; the community of friends and family that we call on is made up of many different faiths. The meaning that we create together will draw on all of those, and be filtered through his agnostic-Daoist-humanist view, and my Paganism.

The other reason is almost the reverse: if I want to share my faith in a way that all the different people in the community can understand and accept, I also feel that my faith is too intimate to be displayed to the whole community. (I know, I know, contradiction. Pfah!) I'll 'tone down' some aspects for the ceremony, but other ones--the most important ones--I'll reserve for the intimacy of me and him, without an audience, with only the universe listening.

When I worship on the equinoxes and solstices, I am naked, vulnerable, and alone. Only one other person besides Her sees me in this state; only one other person receives me like this. That sheltered moment together isn't something that can be put into words at a ceremony, even if it is part of the heart of my faith and of my love.

That thing at the heart of love--it was visible in the October bride and groom, in all the weddings I've been honored to attend.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

It's too early for existentialism.

10am on Sunday is always too early for existentialism. Nevertheless...

...One of my classes this semester involves existential anthropology. Without a background in philosophy, I'm limping along somewhat. In an early lecture, the professor quoted Sartre's "soundbite": existence precedes essence. He then started talking about what this means for an anthropological viewpoint: don't study Communism, study how people who call themselves Communist behave. Don't posit some kind of "eternal essence", whether it's "the eternal feminine" or the "eternal religiosity"--at least, not when you start. If a pattern, a set of similarities and similar conditions, shows up from what you're studying, then you can talk about that, but not as if it were some kind of Platonic ideal that exists apart from the people who make it.

I like this approach. I'm oversimplifying it a bit here, of course. Now, although I do not plan to make Paganism my main topic of study, I ended up relating the lecture to my faith. And it seemed to provide some insight into a question that I'm often asked at the Div School: "What is Paganism, anyway?"

The glib answer suddenly doesn't seem so glib. Paganism is what Pagans do. That is, there isn't a litmus test for Paganism, nor an easy set of five major characteristics. The existence of people who announce that they are practicing Paganism defines what the patterns of Paganism will be. Social action? Sure, there are Pagans for whom that is central. Ritual magic? Same answer. Reconstruction? Same answer.

To some of you, this will be extremely obvious. For me, it served as another way to reaffirm that what we believe isn't--and doesn't have to be--simple; that our beliefs can best be discerned by looking at the pattern of the weave formed by our actions. All our actions, whether they're purchasing groceries, working for a living, casting circles, or journeying inward.

And moving from that idea, I came again to the concept of looking at the world--all the world, all its injustices and cruelties and beauties and hopes--in order to discern the pattern of the Divinity within it.