Community, Personal Responsibility, The World Isn’t Fair, Gods.

Atheist alert: this has a lot to do with spirituality and yes, religion. Deal. In my mind science and ‘woo’ co-exist in a dynamic relationship that causes occasional cognitive dissonance, but forces me to continually re-evaluate my worldview. In my view this is healthy and necessary.

Pagan alert: Not Politically Correct Commentary on our community. Deal. If it angers you, perhaps you need to take a good hard look in the mirror.

I’ve been through the wringer for the past six months. In that time I have been places that boggle the imagination. I’ve been a specimen under a microscope. I’ve been betrayed on a fundamental level by those closest to me, and by some of the very systems our society is predicated on as well. And. The truck was stolen, trashed, totaled, rebuilt. I lost a job. I spent money I didn’t have (thanks FIL for the help, more grateful than you’ll ever know) and am in debt to the tune of thousands of dollars with nothing to show for it. I have a degree for a career I can’t work in. And I’m becoming more and more convinced I don’t want to work in it anyway, the way things are moving (see going places one doesn’t want to go, or my previous post). I have discovered, the hard way, that standing up for right doesn’t always mean you will be protected, or that things will work out. Sometimes you will be punished in the worst ways imaginable, and evil WILL prevail in spite of an individual’s or a community’s best efforts.

I’ve maintained a minimal level of spiritual practice through this, even if it has been nothing more than a simple acknowledgement of Deity and thanks for getting through another day. It has been nothing approaching the level of an actual devotional practice though, and I’ve felt that lack ever more keenly as I approached the end of my degree program. Once I finished, and had nothing else to occupy my mind but the drama and tragedies of life, it became a yawning chasm that contributed to my ennui and depression.  I literally couldn’t summon the energy to pray, let alone believe it would work.  I felt as though I just wasn’t worth it, that the Gods had better things to do than deal with me.

I believe in synchronicity. I believe in the fractal nature of the universe – As Above, So Below. I do believe that there are other entities, other dimensions, other realities than our own see/taste/touch/hear/smell reality, and that sometimes we reach out to those other entities/realities – and other times they reach out to us. I believe that things often happen for a reason, and that reason sometimes isn’t readily apparent for a very long time, if ever.  This faith was seriously shaken as a result of the happenings since January.

My children are fundamentalist Christians. Two, at least, were Pagan/anarchists earlier in teenaged life. I believe that they became Christians not because of the actual religion, but because of the structure and community it offers. This is something that very little of modern NeoPaganism offers, and I have seen that over and over and over again in the nearly 20 years I’ve been a Pagan.

In nearly 20 years as a Pagan, I’ve met more people who are trying to get on disability than I ever thought possible. I’ve met people ON disability who constantly cried about how poor they were, and who were no more disabled than I am, who ran side businesses based on cash to augment their disability payments and who actually had nicer things than Mr. TF and I do. I’ve met people who can’t keep a job, who can’t keep a relationship, who can’t keep an apartment, who can’t keep a car, who are using/abusing illegal drugs – and I’m not talking about marijuana here people – or who are abusing prescription drugs. When I worked in the ER I saw more than one person – significantly more than one – I knew from the local Pagan community come into the ER for problems directly related to prescription or illegal drug abuse or as “seekers.” It made for uncomfortable questions from fellow staff members, at the very least.

Many people who are drawn to the Pagan path often tend, in my experience, to be less than reliable on a personal level and tend to make very bad choices. These bad choices are ones for which they tend to not take responsibility. They misuse magick, in my opinion, as a tool to overcome lack of personal responsibility for bad choices rather than as a tool for self-development. Or they use it as a substitute for an actual spiritual relationship with Deity. Magick does NOT substitute for spirituality. And one does NOT need to do magick to enter into a relationship with Deity. Magick is a tool, it can sometimes be a vehicle, but it’s not the object (unless you are a Ceremonial Magician which is another conversation entirely). It’s as though they are drawn to Paganism because they perceive it as the one religion/practice for which they have to take no responsibility, and they can espouse beliefs that NO ONE can tell them are wrong. Cuz personal gnosis, you know.

Because of my experience (and that of my husband as well, I am writing this as an individual but we have shared this conversation many times between ourselves) we have mostly withdrawn from participation in and organization of Pagan events, particularly events like Pagan Pride, public Pagan holidays, Pagan meetups….you get the idea. The embarrassment of being associated with the crazies just simply began to outweigh the benefits of the participation.

And yes, I know there are those in the Christian community as well. However, they tend to be reined in by those who are around them, and either drawn into the fold or shunned. They are self-selecting in their long term participation.

As a side effect of withdrawing from public gatherings, my own spiritual practice has suffered – it’s not just the business of life/school/work/stressors, it’s been that I no longer go to events where I can get my spiritual batteries somewhat recharged because I’m participating in a community of believers. The very thing my children currently have. The thing I envy, even though I do not think a patriarchal herding religion from a desert region from 2000 years ago has any relevance for them – or for me, for that matter. I do ‘get’ why they turned away from a religious practice that *did* and *does* have relevance for them (and me). Because community. It’s important.

I have suspected for quite some time that the Pagans who were serious about their practice, at least in our area, were very secretive, or at the least insular, mainly because of the above. They are responsible adults and take their religion and spirituality very seriously, and they don’t want to associate with people who don’t. So, while believing firmly they’re out there, it also makes it very hard to find or connect with them. Friends of course excepted, but because of school/work commitments it’s made it hard for us to connect with them as well. When we’re all on different schedules and none of them coincide for all of us….you get the idea.

So why am I going on and on about this? Because I am going to a Pagan event for the first time in nearly a decade next month. I’m terrified. And excited. I don’t know if Mr. TF will come or not. He’s much more laid back about his spirituality, and doesn’t feel the need to actually connect the way I do – at least to hear him tell it.  And the way I found out about this event is nothing less than synchronicity.  It’s a Rube Goldberg nest of interconnected coincidences that defy logical explanation.

It’s not just any event though. It’s a Heathen event. I’ve shied away from heathenry for my entire time as a Pagan due to bad press about skin heads and racists who identify as heathen. I didn’t, and don’t, want to be associated with those who think the color of one’s skin denotes one’s worthiness to worship the Old Gods. When I first became a Pagan (or more realistically, realized that my spiritual beliefs were Pagan and I just didn’t know it) I was strongly advised against my interest in Norse spirituality by a Pagan friend who had recently spent 10 years in prison. His experiences there didn’t encourage me to try to follow up.

But recently I’ve been forced to rethink my blanket painting of this community thanks to blogs and websites devoted to heathens, as well as books I’ve had (and read previously) in my library. A recent re-reading of them revealed nothing that actually allows for this view, regardless of the views of a certain vocal percentage of heathens. And as far as I’ve read (which isn’t a lot, but also not nothing), there’s nothing in the lore that allows for this view either. As I stated earlier, I believe in synchronicity. And I believe the Gods call who They call. Regardless of skin color.

What I do know, is that the values Heathens espouse:

Nine Noble Virtues

are the same values I live my life by, and I want to associate with people who share my spiritual outlook as well as my ethics.  ETA:  because it doesn’t embiggen:  Courage, Truth, Honor, Fidelity, Discipline, Hospitality, Self Reliance, Industriousness, Perserverance.

Illustration courtesy of   My Journey into Midgardr

I am hopeful that I can find a group of people with which to share community and spirituality. Gods know I’m ready after the half year I’ve had.

Feminists and the kerfuffle over communities that abide

renaissance childbirth

Dimitry Orlov recently published his second in a series of posts about communities that abide; i.e., subcultures within a larger culture that have maintained their distinctive character for hundreds or, in some cases, thousands of years. Apparently he was castigated by at least one and possibly more feminists who were present at a talk he gave on the same subject recently, because the cultures he used as examples happened to be patriarchal and very male-dominant woman-subservient types of communities.

James Howard Kunstler has also been castigated multiple times for asserting that in the future, things will go back to how they ‘should be’ (at least that’s how I take his rhetoric) and women will be in the home, and men will be the dominant sex.

Well, I hate to break it to the women of the modern world, but the only reason women have been able to assume any kind of economic or social equality while still marrying, having sex, and having children, is thanks to the fossil fuel era. It’s what has made research into the menstrual cycle possible; it’s what has made birth control possible (I remember hearing about “The Pill” on the news as a very small child). The consequences of sex, throughout history, have always been borne by the women. Only industrial products courtesy of fossil fuels have made that no longer so.

Think about it: historically speaking, women had 5 to 7 children (or more) during their married life, if (and that was a big IF) they didn’t die in childbirth, from postpartum infections, or from some other sickness. The only forms of birth control were abstinence and breastfeeding; since if you were at all wealthy you didn’t breastfeed because you had wet nurses, you didn’t even have access to that.

Because abstinence tended to work then about as well as it does now, most adults were as sexually active as finances and access allowed them to be. Many men didn’t make enough money to marry. They might have made enough money to support themselves and a wife, at least as regards food, but that wouldn’t have included money for even replacements for the clothes on their backs nor for the cost of children, nor for the cost of housing. Since, if one married, one assumed children were going to ensue, that was not even an option for many men particularly in the Elizabethan era.

If you consider this in light of what is going on in Egypt regarding the incidence of sexual assault of women who go out in public, it is obvious that the lack of access to economic opportunities and therefore marriage is at the root of much of this violence and unrest.  The high cost of bread is one of the things that began the protests that ended up as the Arab Spring.

I don’t presently know where I read this statistic, but fully 25% of all men born throughout time did not leave progeny behind. This doesn’t mean they weren’t having sex at all, it just means they didn’t impregnate a woman, or their progeny didn’t survive to adulthood if they did. I suspect homosexuality was at least as common historically as it is now, and I also suspect many of those men were sexually active, just not in a man/woman relationship.  And of course, there is always the “world’s oldest profession” as well as outright rape.  Which is often nothing more than frustration over lack of power and lack of access.

And for the women who did marry, they were considered property, legally speaking, not equals in a contractual relationship. And it *was* a contractual relationship, albeit not one easily broken. Their responsibilities related very much to the home: bearing children, managing the household, putting up stores for winter, laundry, cooking, spinning, weaving (both of these were for home use only as the guilds controlled products sold to the public at large), caring for the gardens, and much more I’m not even touching on. This took time – modern women, particularly those who have a ‘high powered’ lifestyle such as a lawyer or upper level manager (or even the school teacher or local store clerk)– have absolutely no concept of how much labor and time managing a household consumes, let alone a household where there are no modern food processors, no supermarkets at which to pick up ready-made food, and take outs in every city and town of any size at all. The monetary costs are staggering compared to doing it all oneself, but the time costs of doing it oneself are similarly staggering. And the reason women were responsible for all of that is for the simple reason that they had small children around; most of these tasks can be picked up and put down at will to tend to a hungry infant or small child.

This isn’t to say that women weren’t treated well by some men; many were quite adored. But in the public sphere, they were not in any way equal to men. I tend to think this has something to do with the fact that men can leave. They are freer in every way: freer to abandon their wives, freer to go to war, freer to interact in public, freer to travel. In a time and a place where being an adult woman meant that, except for rare cases, you had children at your side, there is not much freedom for women at any time in their lives.

Now, yes, there are cultures that endure even today that DO view women as equals, where the women are as free to engage in relationships with men other than their spouses, but those are few and far between, and are mostly hunter gatherer societies. That is not a sustainable model for the vast majority of humans, even should the population drop drastically to the 250 million number I’ve seen bandied about. It bears keeping in mind that human nature being what it is, those who have power tend to want to retain it…and in most of the world, even today, it isn’t women who have the power.  And it helps to keep in mind, too, that rigidly defined roles – even when it means women are not considered equal, means society understands what is expected of each and every person, and helps keep it stable over the long term.  I don’t like that, but I know it is so.  My husband has said on more than one occasion that I’m too smart for my own good.  I can assure you that being intelligent is not always a good thing.  It would be much, much worse if I lived in a time when women had no ability to even have a public voice.

Kunstler has referred to much of modern thinking as “magical thinking” because it seems in many circles that thinking about something, focusing on an as yet imaginary solution, will make it so. I think that the feminists who are so stridently calling out men like Kunstler and Orlov are engaging in magical thinking about this issue themselves. The facts about living in the times before birth control stand. Only birth control enables women to engage in sexual relations like men – without considering the possible costs to themselves and their future, in terms of stress on the body and in terms of the financial, emotional, and temporal costs. As we cycle down to an energy scarce future, both because of peak oil and because of financial constraints, I do not see birth control as being a high priority for our society to maintain – though it should.

This hasn’t been an easy post for me to write, because I am a woman.  It needed to be written though.  As a woman who has three children, all of whom are the result of birth control failures, I know the consequences of sex.  I know how it changes your options and your future.  And I live in the modern age, which means that the social and legal consequences, not to mention the economic consequences, were negligible compared to what might have happened 100 years ago.

I love my children dearly, but life would have been much easier for all of us had I been able to choose the time to have children.  It is what it is though, and while I regret many things, having my children is NOT on the list of regrets nor on the list of poor decisions.

The ability for a family to choose when to have children, and how many to have, is vital to making sure that the family has enough to eat, whether it’s a family in the urban core or a family on a small holder farm. I would like to see less diatribe aimed toward the “chauvinistic” males who are honestly bringing up this issue and more dialogue about how we will preserve common sense access to birth control, among other modern day technologies. It would be time much better served than railing against the inevitable.  It would behoove feminists to examine how the separate roles in those communities that abide could be used to better the lives of women, men, and children in an age of resource – including birth control access – scarcity.  It would behoove them to examine how women will be able to retain their voice, to retain a say in what and how life happens to them, in the coming age.  Because this *is* coming.  No amount of magical thinking will make it not so.  It would be sad to see much of the last 50 years become merely a momentary blip on the timeline of the human race, because choices are good for everyone, even men, though they may not think so….