Posted by: aediculaantinoi | October 14, 2013

Things that piss PSVL off…

husky

[You did know that "cynic" in Greek comes from the word for "dog," right? Yes--the original Cynics were said to be, in some sense, the "watchdogs" of morality. I'm happy to carry on in that tradition, no matter how bad a repute cynics and cynicism have in modern culture.]

Today is a secular “holiday”–i.e. a day that the federal employees who are still working don’t have to work, financial institutions that have most benefited from social inequalities get to take a work day to enjoy leisure activities while the less fortunate still slave away, certain services are unavailable, and everyone else gets the supposed privilege of celebrating by having sales at all their favorite stores–which has an interesting but very sordid history, which includes Italian-American feelings of pride, pro-Catholic activism in the face of the largely anti-Catholic temperance movements of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in the U.S., the oppression and genocide of indigenous peoples, and any number of other things.

It’s a day that is still talked about from a wider context in two different textbooks in two different courses I teach as the “Columbian Exchange”; however, the only beings who benefited from this “exchange” were Europeans and the smallpox virus, while indigenous peoples lost their lands, cultures, languages, religions, material resources, social viability, and lives more often than they got anything useful out of the deal. And yet, despite teaching about these matters, and critiquing them sharply and specifically, which we did last week in one of my classes, some of my students still complain that our college does not give them the day off today. I wish people would see history and all that it can teach as something practical and applicable, rather than as something even more theoretical and irrelevant to their daily lives than the most abstruse hypotheses of theoretical physics.

[Can you guess where I'm writing and posting this from?]

Speaking of history: I mentioned over the last few days, after my return from my brief hiatus, that I’d be doing a post that discussed some of the things that make me upset, some of the thoughts on which lead in one degree or another to my recent hiatus. I’m sure if I spent enough time with this, my list would be double or treble its current size, or exponentially larger, but I don’t want to spend so much time on negativity. Nonetheless, I also don’t want to pretend that “all’s well” and that I’m just happy to be here and to be back either; it would be dishonest and useless not to address some of these issues, even if “address” just means naming them and saying them aloud for a few minutes so that people can begin to think about them (though many have already done so).

In this same direction, Galina Krasskova recently made this post which I cannot improve upon, and so I simply direct your attention toward it, and note that I likewise have those same problems and critiques of those who wish to invalidate polytheism and to force polytheists to approve and applaud them in whatever non-polytheistic theological position they might hold.

Note: in what follows, I do not name specific names. I’m refraining from doing so not only because I don’t wish to make this “personal” (and to separate, therefore, what I feel about what some people say or do or think versus what I feel about the people themselves, many of whom are quite good and of good intent, despite what I see as their errors in thought, judgement, or action on some occasions), but also because there are often multiple people or communities that I feel end up colluding, whether intentionally or unknowingly, in these matters, thus making it more difficult to put the matter on one person’s shoulders solely. If you read what follows and find it offensive–likely because you’re indicted by the discussion–then I invite you to think about why what you’re doing might be offensive to some of us. If you wish to engage in rational discussion about it that does not seek to justify your own position by invalidating the entirely authentic and proper reaction some humans–in this case, myself–might have to your actions, however well-intentioned they might have been, then I welcome it wholeheartedly in the comments here.

And now, to the list…

Things That Piss P.S.V.L. Off

–That on days when I post nothing on this blog, or just post a picture of a lobster with no commentary, I get as many or more page hits (even accounting for spam comments) as on the days when I post the most important reflections, devotional materials, and other things that I am able to muster.

–Pagans who mistake “clergy” and “priesthood” and “the work” for activism. There’s nothing wrong with activism, and it can be a part of one’s priestly vocation or clerical activity; however, to confuse one for the other and assume that activism of any sort is a necessity or requirement for being “truly” a priest/ess or to be deserving of clergy status is nonsensical. No, our politics and our religion are not separate (and, indeed, politics and religion are two things that cannot be separated from any other part of life), but to re-define “priest/esshood” or “clergy”–which is about serving the deities and the community–as activism is a nice way to avoid the actual work of devotion. Doing so is like mistaking the role of the secretary who also has been asked to make coffee for the office staff and clients coming in as being a barista, and making the vocation of the barista constitutive of one’s secretarial status. Sorry, it’s not.

–As a follow-on to the previous matter: Pagans who use their own privilege to speak out for others, and then make that use of privilege a necessity for their role without realizing that it is privilege, and that many of us who don’t have a variety of privileges they might can’t do what they do. And to add insult to injury, their use of their privilege then, in their minds, seems to be something over which they should be congratulated or thanked for by all of us who aren’t privileged, rather than it being a matter of simply acting with virtue that should not even be a question because it is the right thing to do and is therefore more a requirement and expectation of everyday comportment rathre than a heroic act that is above-and-beyond what humans are called to do.

–And with that privilege theme: “Prosperity-Gospel” Pagans. (Yes, they exist–and in spades, unfortunately!) We often think of “propserity-gospel” preachers being a feature of Christianity only, when it is suggested that “God helps those who help themselves” is in the Bible (rather than something said ironically by Benjamin Franklin in Poor Richard’s Almanac), and that those whom the Christian deities favor are rich and are under no obligation to help those who aren’t well-off. Unfortunately, this notion is in paganism as well in insidious forms. I’ve heard several people say recently “A poor magician is a poor magician.” In that phrase, one of the “poor”s (and it can be either one) means “financially disadvantaged,” while the other one means “not very good/lacking in skill.” Many magicians who aren’t poor–now as well as historically–are also charlatans and hucksters who have a way of talking people out of money rather than actually doing anything that is what might be considered “magic” in a positive sense. Many of the most successful pagans and authorities on certain pagan-related subjects are actively peddling lies and misinformation about their subjects, and yet because the lies sell more and better than truths, they do not wish to stop with the lies and start with the truth. Are these the sorts of magical and pagan practices that modern paganism should be idolizing and idealizing? While there is nothing wrong with making money (in honest ways), and in even making a living of being a pagan in various ways that we do, at the same time, to suggest that those who are not in good financial situations–which can happen for any number of reasons that have nothing to do with the moral standing or the magical efficacy of the person concerned–is tantamount to victim-blaming.

[This is one area, incidentally, that I think Gnosticism, in both Christian and non-Christian forms, actually has a really good working hypothesis on: that there are Archons who are over us--whether they are human and earthly forces like governments, corporations, and other usually moneyed interests, or spiritual and psychic (in the Greek sense) forces that we are enslaved by to some extent, and who have absolute control over us while we are in this world. It sure as Styx would go a long way to explaining why the supposed law of karma, or the Wiccan notion of threefold return, doesn't seem to be in operation at all where corporate greed and institutional malfeasances are concerned...!?!]

It’s no wonder that people who are financially downtrodden don’t turn to paganism for spiritual support, but instead go to Christianity and other religions (even if they’re not ideal in many ways either), because there is a not-mere-undercurrent of privilege and assumed relative affluence that is a part of modern paganism, even though there aren’t very many rich big-name pagans, and people will pay hundreds of dollars for a single book, item of ritual gear, statue, or clothing item, or will pay hundreds of dollars for some weekend workshop (not including hotel, transportation, and food), while not being willing to remunerate the real and important work it takes to build communities and educate individuals on many occasions.

–As a follow-on to the previous where the matter of “magic” is concerned: Pagans who think that “magic” is only “low magic,” whereas high magic is discounted and not even given the name of “magic.” (Not that many of those pagans would even be able to recognize high magic when it happens in front of them.) For all the ways in which “low magic” is idealized and idolized as “real magic” because it is the least theoretical, I’ve met very few pagans who are very good at all at high magic–what the Greeks called magika hiera or theourgia, and which the Egyptians called heka and considered inextricable from religious practice and the life of the gods–and I think that’s part of why actual devotional polytheism takes such a beating from so many other types of pagans, because they don’t have any grasp of it nor appreciation for its importance and context. (And, if any of you are tempted to mention Lon Milo DuQuette’s quips on the matter of “low magic,” please don’t: I enjoyed his book on this subject, and think he’s a lovely guy, but I’m not a monist, and I actually have respect enough for the things of the world to acknowledge that they have an existence outside of my own perceptions and consciousness, i.e. I’m not a solipsist who thinks that my head contains the entire universe, even though it is by all accounts large for a variety of values of “large head” that can be envisioned.)

–As a further follow-on to the previous where the topic of “misinformation peddled as truth” is concerned: Pagans who slap the label of “Celtic,” “druid,” “bard,” and several other such terms on anything and everything and think it’s valid and feasible to do so, even when there is nothing Celtic or druidic about what they do. This is a problem that long predates my engagement with either modern paganism or academic Celticism and actual Celtic cultures, and it will be a problem that is around long after I’m dead, gone, and forgotten…but still, I can’t convey how much it pisses me off to see it as often as I do (even though I try to avoid it!), especially espoused by people who should and could (and often do!) know better. If the fake druidism that sells and is popular and appeals to people is likewise so effective in their own lives (and therefore, many might claim, beyond critique or judgement), then one has to ask the serious question of what role willful self-delusion plays in the perceived effectiveness of practices that call themselves one thing but clearly aren’t, and also what role “truth” and “factuality” have as values where such practices are concerned.

–Pagans who are so otherworldly and “spiritual” that they devalue and even denigrate the body and its existence, often without realizing it. One of the greatest things that modern paganism is said to have done for the religious scene generally in the western world is to question mind/spirit-body dualisms, and to reject these in favor of embodiment, sensuality, and an approach to materiality that suggests it isn’t evil, fallen, or not valuable. And yet, saying that the body is an “encumbrance” and that sensuality is an “illusion” and that so much is better about existence when we’re no longer living in incarnate flesh and are thus no longer burdened by bodies…well, if all that is true, what’s the point of going on living at all? Why not just off ourselves and be wonderful and spiritual and unencumbered and no longer deceived by sensual illusions right now? This is all talk that is appropriate to some forms of Buddhism and Hinduism, but not paganism as it has been articulated outside of those other philosophical infiltrations. Encountering ideas like this doesn’t really provide any incentive to not consider suicide, and having come recently from a situation where suicide seemed more and more logical, the fact that certain brands of supposed religiosity within paganism gave me no reason to question the validity of suicide as a blessed final solution to my difficulties speaks very poorly to the ability of those forms of religion to provide anything useful to dealing with the difficulties of life as we know it now. People who don’t realize the potential impact of their espoused teachings in this regard should, in my opinion, probably not be teaching at all.

*******

Religions often like lists of seven things, so I’ll leave the present list off at this point. To add further to the list in my current state of mind would degenerate into enumerating things as trivial and privileged as the trials of not being able to get chocolate oranges easily in the U.S., to more pressing but still mostly impossible peeves like not having more gender-neutral or -ambiguous clothing options available that do not read as “male” by most members of the overculture. So, perhaps we’d better quit while I’m ahead, so to speak. ;)


Responses

  1. I think your first point is a source of frustration for everyone who likes to consider themselves a “serious blogger”. Serious in the sense that we’re not focused on sensationalizing or focusing on controversy. Some of my most popular blog entries have bee more in response to controversy than they have been on anything original which is..reeaaallly frustrating, because I made a promise to myself never to fall back into the really bitter trap I had been on during my LJ days. So yes, very much a shared misery, there.

    I willingly stay out of many debates between high/low magic, except the occasional foray into a battle against people who are decidedly “anti-magic”. I do find it interesting that in your experience, you find people who glorify low magic over high, though. When it comes up, I sometimes find it to be the opposite – especially in Religio Romana, where low magic is often conflated with superstitio.

    Feel better!

    • Thank you! ;)

      Yes, I think this is a very common thing amongst bloggers, I suspect. I get more comments on a post about Miley Cyrus than I do on posts that are the most important ones I make, whether discussion-wise or devotionally-specific, on Antinous.

      I think the big divide in the magic discussions is between recons and non-recons: with recons, it is as you say, with high magic getting praise (or just being expected, as in the case of Kemetics) and low magic getting derided; but with non-recon pagans, it’s all about the love, prosperity, and healing spells (that are successful!) and such, whereas “devotion” is something that may only be a means to the end of getting more favors out of the gods that one decides to invoke in magic in the future. I’ve seen more “here’s a god/dess you can use for this purpose in spells” in mainstream paganism than I’d prefer, to be quite honest, as if deities are just hypersigils that are there to be used rather than beings that need to be interacted with, etc.

      • I definitely have noticed a trend against the magic-saturated 1990s and early 2000s, split along a “devotional” vs. “mystic” or “esoteric” line. It seems like there’s been a strong reaction against magic of any sort in many reconstructionist movements and groups (which I have ventured more deeply into). I’m willing to bet it is, like I said, a reaction against the pervasiveness of..what..25 plus years of “light this candle/utter this phrase/proft” spell-selling that appeals to the mass-market.

        The reconstructionist-themes to my Paganism are such that ceremonial magic doesn’t really enter into the equation. There’s no organized theological constant to my practice and I’m not part of a larger tradition that had the institutionalized nature that was conducive to the development of ceremonial magic.

        Thus, I admittedly don’t have much in the way of use for high magic from a devotional point of view. But then again, I have never actually cast a “low magic” spell, either. So. I guess I fail the magic debate all around. ;)

    • I have to agree with lettuceman. I have devoted entire months of blog posts, i.e. Month for Loki, Month for Sigyn, and Month for Odin posts, and have never gotten as many hits on those as when I provided rebuttal against Sam Webster’s recent article. If I had my scruples my devotional work and stuff I’d thrown a lot of heart into would get more visibility.

      The high and low magic debates seems kind of distant where I’m at. I guess around here it is more ‘does it work? cool, do it’ kind of feeling. I’m glad we’ve managed to sidestep this debate par the moment.

      • It may be a matter worth bringing up in some wider context. While there are various things in the works and underway at the moment which are meant to be supporting the polytheist community at present, devotional polytheists doing their individual work on their individual blogs still don’t get very much support, affirmation, or (I hate to say it) page views on those sorts of things as much as they do when they talk about Miley Cyrus, or rebut the latest Sam Webster (or whomever) post. I cannot say I’m any kind of exemplar in this, as I don’t often get to read as many blogs as I’d like, or as are out there doing these sorts of things; but the ones where I do, I tend to write comments of the “Nicely done!” and so forth variety. Often, that at least tells people that someone is reading, understanding, and appreciating. I do get people who write those kinds of comments on some of my devotional posts, but those posts never have as much attention as the others…

      • *nods* I think that you’re right. I’m not an exemplar either; if the person has a ‘like’ button I’ll hit it, but I’m usually reflecting internally and sometimes too embarrassed to explain why something hit me right in the heart so hard. It’s a kind of vulnerability I’m not as used to expressing.

  2. I definitely hear you on the ‘Prosperity Gospel’ pagans. A few months ago I had a bit of a to do conversation about that with someone we both know. The idea in greater pagandom disgusts me as it does in the prevailing Christiondom. But, I’m just the token gnostic so, yeah. For what it’s worth, .hugs/

    • Thank you! We must talk soon on the phone…I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on this matter, and more details on the mutual person we know…

      • Yes, definitely. I do look forward to talking soon.

  3. Your last point (about the body vs spirit and implications on suicide/suicidal thoughts) was…really spot on and is part of what bothers me so much when seeing those ideas espoused. That, and those who have that anti-body sentiment are often incredibly dismissive of suicide, which is a whole different bag of gross.

    Two months ago, when I was in a rough place, I was /very glad/ to have a) people to go to, b) gods to go to, and c) a religion that valued this life and body. I think I would have survived without those things…but I don’t think I would have survived very well. (And, for that, I need to tahnk you.)

    I was actually surprised about your point on ‘low magic’ until I sat and thought about it for a while, factoring in modern Pagandom’s approach to, well, everything. (“We don’t need good communication because ~we are all one~”) I definitely prefer ‘low magic’ to ‘high magic’, but they’re both…incredible? IDK, I just think magic is awesome and amazing and we should appreciate it in all its forms. Mostly because there are so many ways of doing magic and….so many books and…so much knowledge that it’s just excellent.

    But for all Pagans like to talk about how many books you have to read to be a Good Pagan, there sure is a lot of hostility towards actual learning…

    Aaaaaaand I’m going to leave this comment before I get really mad about the money people will spend on workshops while immediately turning around and screaming about the evils of tithing or even giving a single small donation to a community group or center.

    • I have an inappropriate amount of joy over your phrase “a whole different bag of gross,” I am sad to report…! ;)

      We should e-mail soon–I suspect there’s a lot we might have to talk about. I have not looked much at Patheos for well over a month now, so I have not seen anything new you may have posted there in that time (since last we spoke via e-mail)…

      I think any and every kind of magic has its place; I’m not against either of these two broad kinds generally speaking, but I’m very very crap at one kind and pretty good at the other, but not in conventional ways. I don’t think that magika hiera needs to be “ceremonial magic” as that is conventionally understood; and I certainly don’t think that “low magic” has to be about how many dates one has had, how one stumbled into $10,000, and how many people one has cured of cancer. Anyway…

      Also, point very well taken on the differences between pagan bibliophilia and actual learning, critical thought, intellectualism (in its original, positive sense), and so forth. Just because someone wrote something in a book is not any guarantee that their opinion is worthwhile, correct, nor that quoting it “proves” anything…and, there’s a few too many pagans who don’t seem to get that notion, either.

      But, yes, we should speak further soon. I’m glad you’ve commented–thank you! :)

  4. In response to your first point (and as someone who reads your blog much more often than I comment): Nicely done!

    The second point is one that I thoroughly agree with, along with the possibly related issue of mistaking clergy and priesthood for counselling. I do think that the role of the counselor is important, and ought to have a role in the various Pagan traditions, but I have seen people try to make that a function inseparable from priesthood. To my way of thinking, the role of that kind of religious specialist (i.e. a priest) consists in maintaining the sacrality of a given place (or places), objects, etc. that are necessary for worship, and in performing the rites diligently and correctly. This must be the primary concern, and not the spiritual well-being of the people involved, nor the ethical state of society. Those things are important, too, but I think that we, in our various religious communities, really need people whose primary focus is the maintaining of sacrality and the performance of the rites.

    “Pagans who slap the label of “Celtic,” “druid,” “bard,” and several other such terms on anything and everything and think it’s valid and feasible to do so…”

    Yes, that is a pet peeve of mine, too. The cachet given to things Celtic has really had a tendency to muddy the waters of authentically Celtic religion, and I sympathize with those who try to disentangle the misinformation. There are some friends of mine who sometimes attend the rituals I perform at holidays. Their interest lies – according to them – in Celtic religion. For a long time, I was the only one with any property that could be used for ritual purposes, and so they wanted to perform their rituals on my property. I agreed, so long as I could know beforehand what was going to be done. I started doing research on Celtic holidays and traditions to help them out – only to find out that that wasn’t really what they were interested in, and that they instead wanted to do Wiccan rituals with a thin Celtic veneer. I wasn’t particularly impressed with the outcome.

    • Yes–very important point re: “pastoral counseling.” It is important, it’s useful, but let’s be quite honest and literal about it: one of the things that pagans seem to object to is the notion of a lay “flock” that is lead around by the clergy that is the prevailing model in a certain large dominant monotheism that most of us convert away from to be pagans. And yet, pastoral counseling is literally another level of that, and says so right on the tin with the word “pastor,” which means “shepherd”! A lot of the time, the role of the pastoral counselor is a role that is resorted to when people can’t afford an actual psychological counselor, relationship counselor, etc. It’s an important role to have, granted, but it’s not in any way constitutive of the true priestly vocation; I agree entirely with your assessment of the essential elements of that role.

      On your other point: indeed. Most of what is called “Celtic” in modern paganism is Wiccan cake with the tiniest drizzle of green fairy-dust-sprinkled frosting on the top–if we’re talking cupcake-sized Wiccan cakes here, then there might be enough of that frosting to draw a small heart in the middle (just the outline) most of the time. This is a war that will never be won…and it’s not always just mainstream Wiccan-based pagans who do this, it can even be some CRs on certain points, unfortunately. Oh well…

  5. […] paganism…in fact, it’s something I wrote about a few months ago as something that pisses me off. Prosperitas is a goddess, and the way in which her name is being abused by people who speak of […]


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