[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. ;)