Sunday, January 11, 2015

January Environmental Overhaul and Updates

Since my last post I moved from my rural overgrown house down in the Milwaukee watershed to a nice suburban house in the Lower Fox watershed.  This has some great aspects and some not-quite-as-great aspects.  The bad news is that I no longer have ample access to wild plants and insects, not like I did down by Milwaukee.  But on the bright side, my roommate (and landlord) is really into efficiency and sustainability, so as far as my intended overhaul of environmental habits I already am off to a good start just by being here and with the person I'm here with (the house has solar panels for electricity, he replaced most of the light bulbs with LED bulbs, most of the appliances are very efficient, most of the cleaning products are environmentally friendly, and any recycling that isn't taken by the city he takes to get recycled elsewhere).

In addition to more sustainable factors just living where I now live, there are some behavior changes I've been able to make now that I'm not constantly surrounded by my parents.  More of my food is organic, although not as much as I hope for in the future (I'm currently on unemployment, at least until my recruiter finds me a job *crosses fingers, lights candle*).  I don't drive very far, but that's more incidental than anything, on account of having nowhere I need to go daily and living within five minutes of everywhere I do go.  I've also rejoined Care2, which is its own pile of fun I'll probably write about at length.

There are some things I still sorely need to improve on, and things I'm not doing terribly with that still could use some improvement.  Like I said above, once I can afford it I'd like to really focus on home-cooked, organic, paleo food.  I'm doing much better than most people, but I should have the potential to do much better.  I also need to flat out eat less food (both for environmental and for health reasons; weight aside I have very addictive eating habits that cause me a lot of pain).  Although I'm a big advocate of paleo and primal diets, I want to cut my animal product intake down by a large degree.  I hope to eat beef infrequently enough to get virtually all of it grassfed.  I've been doing "Meatless Mondays."

Probably partially because of the unemployment issue (meaning I have a lot of time on my hands) I've been looking into more obscure things that are recyclable so I know where to take things when it comes up.  A lot of the work is done for me because of our household method of taking anything with a number that our recycling center won't take to be recycled elsewhere, but a lot of stuff is recyclable that doesn't have a number (like cigarette butts, pens, plastic films, etc.).  So I'm gradually learning these locations.  I did find a place to have my old eyeglasses recycled, so I'll be doing that soon.

We've also been abundant in plastic grocery bags that need to be brought to the recycling bin, which reminds me I am looking for ways to remember to use my abundant cloth bags that I've accumulated from conferences.  I'm also looking to replace plastic produce bags with cloth bags (something like these, maybe).  They used to sell them at stores around here but stopped for some reason, not sure why.

Anyway it's getting late.  I'll be going more into detail with planning for this stuff after I get a good night's sleep.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Four Victim-Blaming Pagan Habits to Avoid

This post has some discussion about rape, false accusations, sexual assault, victim-blaming.

Alright, it's a bit of a late notification, but I've been putting it on my blogs as I get to them.  Shortly after the last thing I posted on this blog I was in an auto accident that left me with an injured neck.  The neck injury resulted in a couple months of varying head-fog that made it very difficult to find motivation to write (or really do much of anything I didn't have to).  The head-fog is mostly gone, but I still have neck pain and headaches a few months later.  Interestingly, it just occurs to me that I'd considered writing a post about Pagan victim blaming shortly after the accident, because it happened maybe a few days after I'd considered re-charging an auto protection spell.  Oops.

The accident was very solidly not my fault.  I was stopped at a red light when the person two cars behind me was blinded by the sunlight and slammed into the car behind me.  I came out of it alive and able to work the same day (albeit foggily), and my car came out of it alive, too (albeit totaled out).  I could easily tell myself that, rather than my auto spell not working, it prevented me from changing lanes a few seconds later than I did, which would have put me in the position of having a car that didn't work and a much more serious injury, like the car behind me.  But doing that would result in the conclusion that the woman behind me should have been using magick herself, that she was somehow to blame for having a worse accident than me.

The thing is, this is the sort of thought process that often comes with being a Witch, Warlock, or Magician of any sort.  You use trial and error until things work out for you, come up with reasons why things didn't work out the way you intended, and come up with a personal suite of magickal conventions and tactics based on that.  Those who learn from other people then adopt that same suite of conventions until it becomes assumed that magick won't work properly without them.

I give that background to talk about this:  I'm really kind of sick of how much victim blaming goes on when Pagans discuss magick.  A spell goes wrong--sometimes even disastrously wrong--and it's the caster's fault for not immediately seeing every interpretation of the words they used or every meaning within the herbs they burnt.  It also brings to mind something I wrote about on Reclaiming Warlock, notably that Witchcraft is a perilous practice that leads to certain doom.  That said, I'd like to talk about some of the particularly victim-blamey things I've heard from other Pagans, and why we really need to stop doing them:

1. Stop talking about "karma" or the Threefold Law whenever something goes wrong for someone.

I put "karma" in quotes because when people in the West talk about "karma" they are typically using a really watered-down hippie version of the concept in which good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people and this is observable within this lifetime.  The reality is that concepts of karma vary from religion to religion and rarely are that simple.  But I'm talking primarily about Western Pagans, so the watered-down hippie version is what I'm talking about.  The Threefold Law is similarly simplified and watered down, except with the caveat that every good deed will result in three times that good coming back, every bad deed resulting in three times bad.

I have a tendency to get extremely livid when somebody tries preaching these concepts to me.  They aren't--no matter what Silver Ravenwolf told you as a teen--universal to all Witches or Pagans.  Hell, they aren't even universal to all Wiccans.  And they come out at the most ridiculous times, too.  There's one local Witch I now avoid because a friend of mine decided to cast a curse on somebody who was abusing his sister and her response was to preach karma to him and proclaim that the abuser will get his through some mysterious force of the universe someday; the same mysterious force, I guess, that'll take care of the George Zimmermans, Darren Wilsons of the world, right?  That mysterious force sure is doing its job punishing Timothy Poole, the convicted child molester who just won a $3,000,000 lottery, right?

The obvious lack of efficacy of "karma" in punishing serious offenders is one of two main problems here.  The second is that sticking to "karma" in these circumstances lulls people into believing they don't need to do anything, that everything will just work out fine in the end.  When I talked way early on in this blog about how Pagans don't do nearly as much to help the environment as we think we do, this is one of the culprits... we have a misplaced idea that believing in something mystical is inherently active, releasing us from the responsibility of advocating for oppressed people, advocating for the environment, reducing our consumption, and we're even discouraged from using magick that could really help people if it even remotely looks like it could be a curse.  So this needs to stop.

2. Stop bickering about stylistic choices in magickal spells as if they mean somebody deserves a negative effect.

There was a girl a while ago on a gURL forum for Pagans who talked about a spell she cast that eventually went wrong.  She cast a spell to get some money because she wanted to go to a concert, and voila, pretty much the exact amount of money she needed appeared in the dryer the next day.  Unfortunately it wasn't her money, and she was punished for stealing by being grounded the exact day of the concert.

The response?  "Well you're supposed to end every spell with 'and doing harm to none!' Everyone knows that!"

Hold that thought.

I actually cast a really nasty curse once.  It did exactly what I wanted it to do, but the way it worked involved me being falsely accused of sexually abusing a child.  I didn't suffer any long-term repercussions from it (falsely accused white men rarely do, which unfortunately can also be said for legitimately accused white men), and consider it my greatest and most effective spell to date.  When I told a group of people about it, though, people insisted that the vehicle the spell took was a result of poor wording of the spell on my part, despite the fact that I hadn't actually published the spell to begin with.

Hold that thought, too.

"Don't cast love spells or you'll get raped."  You ever hear that one?  Holy shit.  Love spells are entirely wrapped up in rape-related rhetoric:  Either casting them makes you a literal rapist, or casting them will cause somebody to become so obsessed with you that you'll literally get raped.  For the record, I actually agree with the assertion that casting coercive love spells is based in entitled rape culture (although that's a subject for another time).  But seeing somebody get blamed for her own rape because she had at one point cast a love spell on a man was just fucking ridiculous.

These are all victim-blaming based on, again, stylistic choices.  People who try mitigating unseen effects of their spells by adding "and harming none" are using a personal stylistic choice.  They're putting up a safety net in case they didn't think of something.  That's fine, but it's still a stylistic choice.  Many of us would rather focus on the meaning behind the words, and if I were to recite a spell--and really fucking mean it--all the "if it harms none" disclaimers won't make a difference.  In my own case, that spell was instrumental in how I think about spells.  It was a success that other people are defining as a failure because it resulted in temporary psychological harm to myself.  The victim blaming for rape is the worst, though... men become obsessed with women all the time, magickally-influenced or not, and it never excuses raping somebody.  Ever.

3. Don't confuse appropriation with solidarity.

Personally, I tend to think of myself as trying to forge personal appropriation-awareness.  With over 18 years as a Pagan and Witch under my belt, it's hard to remember where I even got a lot of the things I do in my practice, and it's important to try to discover and recognize where these things come from, and gaining that awareness is important in recognizing what aspects of my practice are irredeemably offensive and which are not.

One thing I've noticed lately is how many white Hoodoo practitioners have been entirely silent about the recent (and historic) abuses of black people by law enforcement (a few have changed their tune now, but they should have been on this from the start).  These are people who are gaining spiritual insight and often money from a practice developed by black Americans who are giving nothing back.

Although it's not specifically Pagan, the recent fuck-up by Greenpeace at the Nazca lines is another instance where it's likely appropriation was confused with solidarity.  Environmentalists are extremely prone to picking and choosing indigenous beliefs and quotes when it suits their agendas, but aren't always keen on following through to either help those communities when it's people who need help.  In this case, it's telling that of the many activists who went out there it seems not one pointed out that a damaging an important indigenous monument was a bad idea.

The reason I lump this in with victim-blaming is because appropriation epitomizes one-way exchange.  It victimizes oppressed people by taking and often profiting from their culture while assuming that oppression is their problem, not ours.  This is practically always wrapped up in a victim-blaming mentality.

4.  Don't confuse effective magick with being Elect.

Calvinist ideals permeate the United States (and probably several other countries by extension, but hey, write what you know).  This has leaked into the Pagan consciousness as well, with people having a hard time recognizing that effective magick is not the same as deserving the effects of that magick.

The factors that go into effective magick are will, experience, and just flat-out luck.  I like to use a lottery ticket example to explain this.  Lottery spells abound... to the point where even hardcore non-Pagans have been known to use magickal thinking to try winning the lottery.  Kissing tickets, praying, lighting candles, having super-special numbers, and so forth are extremely common.

How much do you realistically believe a lottery spell affects your odds of winning?  Does it double it?  Triple it?  QUINTUPLE it?  That may very well be the case.  It's also the case that you can double your odds of winning the lottery by simply buying another ticket.  The odds of winning are so minisculely low, though, that even if you got fifty experienced Witches all casting the most powerful spell ever over a single lottery ticket, your chances of winning are still ridiculously low.

That doesn't mean you can't do it (I use gambling magick myself, although with an understanding that it probably won't make me a millionaire).  I'm merely using it to explain that in most cases our magickal domain isn't necessarily expansive and it doesn't have anything to do with whether or not we're good Witches or deserving of what we get.  A lot of it is just luck.

5.  Finally, even if you really, sincerely believe that this stuff is preventable, shut the fuck up.

Listen, when somebody is homeless or has been raped or their friend has been murdered or some other horrible thing happens to them, the last thing they need is for you to preach why their faithways caused it.  If this is a useful way for you to develop a path for yourself, that's great.  But opportunistic preaching over oppressed and suffering people is victim-blaming bullshit.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Heathen Racism, Guilt by Association, and White Responsibility

Yesterday I was reading about how a Heathen band was accused of racism by an anti-fascist group and pulled from a Pagan Pride Day musical lineup.

I'm not going to go into this specific event a whole lot because I'm not that intimately familiar with this specific subject.  In fact, everything I've heard about Antifa brings to mind extremely reactionary, short-fused "revolutionary" groups that are steeped in serious problems.  Rather, I'd like to talk a little about the mouth-lathering hatred white people (and in fact any other majority group) have with "guilt by association."  The premise is that if a white person does, wears, or says something that is most typically associated with racists--even if the thing itself is not inherently racist--then people will often erroneously associate that person themself with racism, which is "bad."

In this case, the band Norsewind has been charged with racism for a few specific things:
  • Repeatedly playing events put on by a vividly obvious white supremacist group.
  • Being Facebook friends with vividly obvious white supremacists.
  • Use of a "black sun" graphic on an album.
Of course, there are now Pagans coming out in droves to decry that these things would cause somebody to be viewed as a legitimate white nationalist.  I'd like to respond to some of the sentiments in these comments here.
There was no anti-fascist violence in this case. Simply that a band-- who wants to be in both worlds-- was canceled.
 As well as the band's lead singer's comment that they are "apolitical:"
I’m not a White Supremacist; I’m not for that at all. I don’t share those views. I don’t judge people on their politics. I don’t hate anyone. I have no hate in me. I have love for all people. Why can’t people just be people and love each other?
There seems to be the idea that it's possible for somebody to be non-racist and yet still apolitical or "partaking in both worlds."  The problem is that with racism and white supremacy so firmly ingrained in our society, it just isn't possible to be "apolitical," or to try co-existing in "both worlds," or to never judge people on their politics, without also supporting white supremacy.  If you never explicitly speak out against white supremacist beliefs, you are supporting the status quo, and the status quo is white supremacy.

Something that looks like it may complicate things--but doesn't really--is the fact that racist groups have so thoroughly appropriated a lot of symbolism that long predates their concept of race.  The swastika for instance has been historically used by ancient Northern Europeans, various groups of Native Americans, Buddhists, and several others and has been long before the Nazis got to it.  Norse reconstructionists, Heathens, and other similar practitioners therefore wind up using multiple symbols that are also used by neo-Nazis, and that gets in peoples' gourd a lot:
There's a problem with people jumping at everything that even smells like white supremacism...unfortunately lots of Germanic symbolism has been appropriated by them. There needs to be more nuance and research before people jump to [conclusions]. 
Here's why it's not really, complicated, though:  In today's world, where these symbols are very strongly associated with white supremacy for very damn good reasons, it is irresponsible to knowingly continue using them without really understanding how you're making other people feel and really having the tools and willingness to use them to really justify that use.

Some of the Native American groups above abandoned the use of the swastika completely.  This is something they didn't have to do.  Any reasonable person would have understood why their use of the swastika was entirely different in less than five minutes of explanation.  They abandoned that symbol because they were standing in solidarity with the people who have been seriously harmed under it.  And these are people who had a well-documented lineage and upbringing supporting the use of that symbol, not a bunch of white people who decided to reconstruct something, knowing damn well how it would make people feel and expecting to get away with it with only minimal explanation or justification, and most importantly, with no interest whatsoever in actually derailing white supremacy.

This group's issue isn't a swastika.  It's a black sun.  The same principle applies, though.  You can't knowingly use a symbol that's been thoroughly adopted by white supremacists, stick it on an album cover, play repeatedly for known white supremacist groups, call yourself "apolitical," and then insist that people shouldn't think you're a white supremacist.
I think people need to understand the difference between "white separatists/nationalists" and "supremacists". There is a difference; I have friends in the former movement. While I don't share their views, they are not hateful people per se. But if people continue to drive them into a corner and lump them in with hate groups, they will surely swing that way eventually.
I'm going to say something here that might shock and amaze you:  There is no difference.  No matter how many times some white supremacist tells you there is.

I'll tell you a quick story.  One time, before I understood a lot of what I now consider almost "racist Pagan keywords," I met a woman who identified herself as an Odinist and had a big tattoo on her arm of a symbol widely used by racists.  I friended her on Facebook and was immediately met by post after post whining and moaning that just because she wants to preserve white people culture doesn't mean she's racist.  She is a white separatist.  She believes that people of color have no business worshiping her Gods and is not afraid to maintain that in the most direct way possible.  She--and many others like her--rationalizes this by maintaining that the Gods are our literal ancestors, and that without said blood connection the Gods will not listen to you.  People who maintain this are heavily likely to gauge this validity entirely based on skin color.

Most black people and many other people of color in the United States have recent white ancestry, and the most common white ancestry in the United States is Germanic.  So this justification for white separatism in Germanic Pagan religions is not just imaginary, it's biologically inaccurate for the vast majority of United States blacks and many other people of color.  This hasn't stopped them from throwing fits at the idea of people of color have any right in their spaces.  There is no white separatism without white supremacy.

But let's go back to this idea of being "apolitical."

I was at a Pagan Pride Day celebration I believe a year ago, where a couple of friends of mine put together a discussion about social justice issues.  This wound up being attended by mostly unknowledgeable white Pagans, with a few open white supremacists (who don't call themselves white supremacists, but absolutely are).  This discussion very quickly was badly derailed by people until it devolved into a ridiculous and irrelevant bickering back-and-forth about how we shouldn't dwell on black criminals being black but if you're describing one black person in a group of white people like... why shouldn't you use that as a descriptor?

This group of people diehardedly maintained that talking about racism was somehow making it worse because in talking about racism we are forced to acknowledge race.  Unfortunately, most people today have been taught through "tolerance" workshops as children that the most important way to fight racism is to be "colorblind," or avoid acknowledging race at all.  The fact that so many white people have been taught this and have wholeheartedly accepted it as 100% fact has led to such bewildering phenomena as liberal white people who think affirmative action is racist against them.

And these were average white Pagans.  Most of them are not white separatists.  Their problem isn't that they don't want people of color showing up, but that they're so unknowledgeable about the subject that they didn't even notice there weren't any there to begin with.  When the subject is brought up, they rely on the fiction that they can be apolitical about it, relying on the assumption that if they just don't mention race at all, they aren't racist.  They are also upholding white supremacy by their silence.  But even these people--with the exception of the obvious white supremacists--would probably not have associated with an obvious hate group.  That said, why are people continuing to defend Norse Wind?  They didn't just not act.  They contributed to normalizing racism by just treating it like any old gig.

The only way to actually work toward eradicating racism is to say something and actually work through your actions.  That said, the Pagan Pride Day event that decided to cut a band from performing upon learning this stuff about them--even if the group that originally pointed this out is somewhat objectionable--was totally in the right.  They did something.  They sent a message that white supremacy and white separatism in Paganism is not OK and they will not promote it.  That is their responsibility, and it is all our responsibility.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Magick in Action Blog Challenge 1: Viewing the Divine

Today I decided I would try creating a blog challenge loosely based on a transgender blog challenge I did a few months ago.  You can find the ongoing list of questions on this page (or in the link in the sidebar), along with details on the project.  They're a nice mix of social issues and practical questions.

The question I'm choosing to answer is:
How do you view the Divine?  Do you acknowledge or worship any Deities?  If so, what do you feel is the most appropriate way to honor them?
I have gone through a laundry list of different ways to be Pagan since I first converted back in I think 1997.  Like most Pagans I started off heavily influenced by Wicca and was going by the duotheistic "All Gods are One God, All Goddesses are One Goddess" system.  This was before I transitioned female-to-male and began identifying as queer, so it made more sense then than it does now.

Right now I consider myself a mostly-hard polytheist.  What I mean is that I acknowledge all of the Deities worshiped by humanity as being distinct individuals with their own desires, preferences, and cultural contexts, but I simultaneously view them as being parts of one major entity that I just refer to as "The Universe."  The big difference between this and regular soft polytheism (in which all Deities are viewed as one conglomerate Deity) is that I see all things as being a part of that one major entity.

I was a raging hard polytheist for a long time when I was going through a rebellious reconstructionist period sometime in the mid 2000s.  What changed that was something similar to the Gaia theory--the idea that the Earth can be viewed as an organism--and a smaller-scale but similar understanding that humans and other Earth life are actually systems of many organisms working together to maintain one entity.  For instance, cell by cell a human is built of more bacteria than actual human cells.  With the recognition that humans could be to the Earth what beneficial bacteria are to humans, the conclusion was that Deities could be considered one singular organism along with other entities sharing their space.

However, this mentality typically only really rears its head when I'm either doing very deep meditation or thinking about spiritual environmentalism.  The Gaia theory is excellent for motivating oneself to care about the environment, for instance.  For the most part I work as a hard polytheist.

Do I worship any Deities?  Yes.  Every once in a while a Deity flicks in and out of my life, but for the most part I have developed close relationships with select few Gods and Goddesses.  My Patron God and Father is Set from the Ancient Egyptian pantheon, who has been with me for well over a decade and is tattooed on my right deltoid.  When I was a Kemetic Orthodox member, I was divined as being a son of Set as well as Wepwawet, who I still honor, although to less a degree.  Coming in third is Sekhmet.  I also have some dealings with Djehuty/Thoth, who I work with because he is considered a Patron of computers, which is the field I'm currently in.

How I worship my Gods varies a bit, with most of it falling under a roughly Kemetic formula but with a modern and queer twist to it.  I have been known to view Set and Heru/Horus as consorts in queer workings, but this is pretty rare nowadays.

I occasionally try working with some Northern Tradition Gods and Goddesses, notably the Rökkatru (the more chaotic, dark Deities who white supremacists tend to hate; bonus!).  Notable among these are Loki and Sigyn, with Sigyn being the more common of the two.  I do not formally worship them, although in the future I might.

I don't feel that people are necessarily obligated to worship Deities in a reconstructionist manner, although when asked my opinion on the subject I do believe people should start with that and see where the relationship evolves from there.  Trying to fit Deities you have no relationship with into a Wiccan-esque ritual and just expecting it to just work out is something I find somewhat annoying, although to be fair most people who do this believe in the All Gods Are One God thing I was talking about above.

The "True Christians" Fallacy and Exceptionalist Language

There's a video going around that I am not going to watch because it sounds deplorable and as a queer man with mostly queer friends I am already aware of what coming out can entail in a supremely unfriendly family.  If you want to watch it, though, there's an article about it on The Advocate.  I'm not going to be talking about coming out, or really anything explicitly clear at all.  Instead I'm going to talk about Christian exceptionalism and how it relates to the way this article's title has been formed:
'Christian' Family's Terrifying Response to Son Coming Out
What I want you to notice in the use of quotation marks around the word "Christian."  I often have heard these referred to as "scare quotes," but I prefer to think of them as "sarcastic quotes" or "sarcastiquotes" if you're in a portmanteau kind of mood.  They refer to the quotation marks people put around a word not to suggest an actual quote or to refer to the word rather than the concept, but to imply that the word is inappropriate in the context it's being used.

It's really quite common when used to refer to bigoted Christian behaviors.  The implication is that bigotry is not natural to Christian theology, and because of that anybody who acts that way isn't really a Christian.

And I want you to quit doing that.  Really.  I do.  And here's why.

People brought up in the West, especially in the United States, more often than not separate Christianity out from all of the other world's religions as being exceptionally special in some way.  Even those of us who were ostensibly raised to be tolerant of other faiths can easily get wound up in a trap where we assume that Christianity generally speaking results in good things, therefore people who do bad things are just pretending to be Christians.  Hence, we call them "Christians," using quotes to separate them from the "real" Christians.

This extends heavily to the way people talk about the Bible, with critiques of bigoted behavior often stemming from the assumption that the Bible is all about loving one another and being a good person.  What's lost in this is that--like it or not--the Bible is in fact loaded with sexism, racism, homophobia, and the endorsement of scores of oppressive behavior.

And the insulting part is that this isn't arguable.  Bibles are abundant.  You can get them at any bookstore, you can order them for free, and you can even read the whole damn thing on the Internet in various versions and translations if you feel like it, and I have yet to read any convincing evidence that Christian bigots are actually wrong about what the Bible says.  Instead, people assume that--because we raised to believe Christianity and the Bible are exceptional and special--it must automatically support our own beliefs in justice and right, and the fundamentalists must be wrong.

So we denounce as un-Christian beliefs that are obviously Christian, in order to avoid the messy business of ever having to be perceived as denouncing anything to do with Christianity.

And this is rampant.  I mean, not too long ago professional transphobe, biphobe, and terrible sex columnist Dan Savage helped found a group called "Not All Like That," which exists specifically to tell queer people that not all Christians hate them without acknowledging either the privilege involved in being Christian in a Christian exceptionalist society or the immense amount of harm Christians as a collective community, not as individuals have done to queer people, trans people, women, and people of other faiths.

In addition to forcing non-Christians to tiptoe around the way we talk about Christianity and Christians to avoid hurting their fragile exceptionalist feelings, we also remove accountability from the Christian community in favor of focusing on a few bad apples who "aren't really Christians anyway."

In the West, this is something very specific to Christianity.  When people talk about abuse and oppression within Islam, they don't typically put quotation marks around "Muslim" to make it clear they don't mean all Muslims.  And when they put quotes around "Pagan" or "Witch," more often than not their motivation is to demean the existence of Paganism and Witchcraft rather than to specify that some oppressive Pagan jerk doesn't really represent all Pagans.

And unfortunately, this is something that spreads all throughout our language as well.  In reference to Christianity, the word "God" is practically always capitalized, whether it's used as a title or not; this is a gesture of respect that is rarely used for polytheistic religions.  It's considered perfectly acceptable to use Christian holidays as generic indicators of season and sentiment, and people fight at great length to make sure nobody ever suggests that a Christian should show a little respect and not say "Merry Christmas" or "God Bless You" to somebody whose religion is unknown to them.  And any non-Christian of faith* can easily tell you that "nondenominational" and "multi-faith" in the context of a prayer before a town hall meeting or a meal at summer camp means "generically Jesus."

What we need to be doing--as Pagans, and perhaps as people who are not Pagans but may have stumbled on this blog for some other reason--is being mindful wherever possible of the ways our language releases the Christian community from accountability and the ways it systematically denies linguistic equity to non-Christian minority faiths.

* -- Many atheists would understand this, too, but I've found that a lot of atheists interpret Christian-specific terminology and practice as being "generally religious" rather than Christian exceptionalist.

The Telling Silence on Ferguson from White Pagans and ATR Practitioners

Last year I went to a Pagan Pride Day event where a friend of mine and a future friend were facilitating a discussion on social issues in the Pagan community.  One of the subjects that was dwelled on by the participants was the suggestion that white Pagans need to improve our record on race issues.  The discussion basically went downhill right from the start, with the majority-white audience consistently falling back on the idea that if we just stop acknowledging race it'll go away, so we need to "be the movement" as it were and stop talking about race.

At the same time, Pagans--especially Eclectic Pagans, but also Pagans practicing religions heavily inspired by the ancestral cultures of people of color--often have the mentality that all spiritual knowledge and art is necessarily fair game for us, with many Pagans identifying as being inspired at least in partly by Native American spiritualities.

I was thinking about this as the events in Ferguson unfolded, beginning with the murder of unarmed black teen Michael Brown, the unwillingness of any law enforcement body to arrest and charge Darren Wilson for his crime, and the extreme breaches of human rights associated with the police response to protests of the murder.  I was thinking about it because I noticed that literally none of the organizations and groups I at the time followed that were run by white people and focused on African spiritual or magickal wisdom said anything about Ferguson.

I looked.  I waited.  I saw post after post of white people talking about Vodoun and Hoodoo and Santería, and not one bothered to even mention the horrendous racist abuses taking place.

I want you to think about this whenever you scoff at peoples' accusations of cultural appropriation.  People practicing religious and magickal systems developed and maintained, either in Africa or by black people in the Americas, with traditions often steeped in an understanding of a history of slavery and intense racism, and they all went about their business, preferring instead to chatter on about what new kits they're selling to a predominantly white fanbase instead.

Because when people get angry about cultural appropriation, this is the sort of thing that really encapsulates the problem.

White people--including white Pagans--are great at saying things like "race doesn't matter, so we should be ignoring race entirely."  This provides a convenient excuse for white Pagans to take inspiration from Native religions, or from Hoodoo, or from Vodoun, or from Asian religions, all under the assumption that because race is a social construction race does not matter.

The simple fact of the matter, though, is that when we ignore race, it's more accurate to say we are ignoring racism.

Because it just doesn't matter whether or not you as an individual are tolerant of all ethnicities, whether or not you as an individual would shoot an unarmed black man or you as an individual would take a Native child away from their family to place in a white household.  These are things that continue to happen today.  You can't ignore this away.  You have to take action.

And if you aren't willing to take action, then you have absolutely no rightful business even beginning to demand access to those peoples' spiritual knowledge and belief, let alone profit from them.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Experiments in Entomophagy

Flax seed and field cricket broccoli.
Those of you who found your way here from my other blogs probably are already aware that one of my personal projects reducing my environmental impact on the planet is entomophagy... in other words, I eat bugs.

There's a reason that it's progressed to this, and I'd like to share it with you.  When I was a Sophomore studying to get my Bachelor's degree, I decided to go vegan.  This seemed to work well for a while before it became evident that this was not good for my tag-team compliment of gastrointestinal issues and food addiction.  My trigger foods--foods that resulted in me overeating to the point where I literally could not pack anything else into my stomach--were plentiful on a vegan diet, and many of those same foods made me buckle in pain when I went to go lay down at night.  After three years of this I added dairy and eggs back into my diet, and after four more I began eating meat again, in the context of a paleo diet.  Provided I don't relapse into my food addiction behaviors, these symptoms have mostly went away.

It presented a problem environmentally, though.  First I need to mention that it's the height of missing-the-point to believe that paleo eaters are responsible for a higher ecological footprint than other omnivores.  There are two main reasons for that:
  1. We don't necessarily eat more meat than other omnivores.
  2. We are culturally more inclined to pick more sustainable meat, like grassfed, pastured, and/or organic.
Still, a lot of us eat beef, which time and time again is showing to be one of (if not the) biggest environmental liabilities; releasing ample greenhouse gases, involving a huge amount of industrial monocrops like commercial maize if you're not going grassfed (lamb, I hear, is worse... but in the United States we rarely eat it).  Even switching from beef to pork is significantly more environmentally friendly than beef.  So although I still eat it occasionally, I'm striving to eat much less of it, both by eating less meat in general (I've been on paleo long enough that the novelty of eating meat-meat-and-more-meat is gone anyway) and by changing what meat I eat.

I've also been dealing with financial stress, so I decided to go a direction I'd been flirting with for a while, which is to... well, start eating bugs.  As an individual at least, this is significantly more sustainable because I live on a four-acre patch of only lightly developed property, loaded to the brim with ample edible "weeds" in addition to our personal orchard, and part of that is a serious abundance of insects.

To be honest?  I'm still getting used to them.  Although they are so plentiful you literally can't step without being within an inch of a cricket, it's difficult to catch them in large quantities.  I've basically been brushing them five or six at a time into a bucket, and from that bucket to a bag, until I get enough for it to not look utterly ridiculous in the freezer.  For some context, it took two days of collecting for about an hour each day to get enough crickets to make maybe three tablespoons of crunchy roasted crickets.  These crispy crickets actually taste really good.  They're kind of like potato chips with a grassy, shrimpy flavor that's very receptive to almost any seasoning.  But I have yet to seriously get over the fact that I am eating a cricket!

Regardless of the ick factor, provided you do not over-harvest* and especially if you're somewhere that's practically infested with them like I am, insects are a lot more sustainable than fish, mammal, or fowl, with very little extra impact.  So I'll be working on incorporating more insects into my diet with the intent to make it a noticeable and viable part of my diet.

* - In the future, if entomophagy really takes hold and sticks, maybe over-harvesting will be a problem.  I, personally, go by the method I learned in the Eat-a-Bug Cookbook by David Gordon:  Only harvest an insect if you're sure there are at least twenty more in that area for each one you take.