There's a second guest post devoted to the topic of Pagan Communities up at the Wild Hunt and, it, too, is worth a read. What's actually more interesting, IMHO, are the comments. There's one sane, brilliant person in every crowd:
And I do think that the Pagan community at large needs, eventually, for there to be groups of Pagans actually living together in close proximity: not just in isolated rural homesteads (As much as that's a wonderful and valid dream to live out for many) but also households and clusters and concentrations in towns and cities, ...I like to think of the word 'enclaves,' ...not for purposes of creating some sort of isolation or 'ghetto,' but just to be able to live more *as* Pagans among a highly-individual-structured society, by sharing some resources, most importantly spaces to tend together, and to really form the interrelated tribe units I think Pagan religion lends itself to.
Often what makes this difficult is not , I think, so much our individualism, but rather that when we try ideas like this, quite often we're *too* ambitious about the level of intimacy and degree of 'intentionality' ...while of course still having to function *as* individuals in an individualistic society: I think what we really need is for there to be stable points among all this rootlessness: I notice the 'Temporary Autonomous Zone' effect we see at extended festivals and the like may take a certain amount of *work,* but not actually a whole lot of contrivance: I think we can trust this process if we don't put too much pressure on it. If more of us live together as neighbors, I think much will follow naturally, though it will take time.
I do think it'd be tremendous if a variety of Pagan folk were to do what the LBGT community did for the Castro in San Fransisco, ...take a blighted urban neighborhood and really adopt it and make it a uniquely Pagan little block or two. ...if the resources were there, I'd love to see about buying up clusters of foreclosed houses, combining yards, sharing as much as comes naturally without making it necessarily about 'leaders' and 'personalities,' ...just little neighborhoods, but ones in which we can relax and live our own sorts of paths. Even a small cluster of such places, in a town of any size, or even one semi-intentional household in town with some 'tenants' can form a sort of 'seed crystal' for a lot more interaction and community that they necessarily seem to be on their own.
I think the solutions may not be to try and 'counteract individualism' so much as to ease up a bit on that and just live with each other. A process which would certainly take time, but very worth doing, I think.
You know, I'm NEVER going to want to share my living space with another human, much less humans, but I'd love to live in the Pagan Castro. And that's actually far more realistic than the notion that we're all (or even that many of us are) going to go from our apartments directly to a big commune in the mountains of South Carolina (NTTIAWWT).
I'll also say that I got a huge, although certainly evil chuckle from this line: I think real community building involving real estate requires a level of psychological maturity that is often missing in "occult" leaning people.
As has been eloquently stated in this forum by others, the "weird body-type / SCA costuming / computer geek / Asperger's contingent" do not tend to respond well to sharing, let alone sacrificing to make social connections viable.
You know that it's true. And I'll admit to at least two of those characteristics.
Cat Chapin Bishop has written a lovely post that every Pagan ought to read, over at The Wild Hunt. As an INTJ, who -- life is weird, isn't it -- NEEDS to practice magic in a community of women, I found myself agreeing with so many of the points that she makes. Cat says:
As important as the ecstatic parts of my religious life are to me, both in terms of my Quaker worship and my years of ritual and trance work as a Wiccan and in other forms of Paganism, what I wind up coming back to again and again when I reflect on what has been most important in my spiritual growth, is my life in community. It is the warm and loving, and sometimes heated and tempetuous relationships I have formed in twenty years as a Pagan that have done the most to shape me into the person I am: hopefully, a woman the gods can approve and love. Certainly, my interactions with the gods have shown me the woman I would like to become. But it has been within the dojo of Pagan community that I have made the most progress in learning to fulfill the goals the gods have set for me. Without the practice of attempting to live a life of authenticity, courage, and compassion while being inspired, angered, and confused by my fellow Pagans, I think I would have made very few gains over the years.
I think she's making a basic, but v important, point that's often lost in the wonder that many of us feel when we first make "Pagan Contact." It's understandable. At least for my generation, most of us learned about Paganism, realized that we were Pagan, alone. Reading a book or piecing together bits and pieces from various sources. Trying our first skyclad ritual alone in our apartment living room with the blinds drawn. Wearing our pentacles inside our shoulder-padded suits with the little scarfy bowtie thingies.
Making Pagan Contact can feel like finally being able to take a deep breath: "I'm not alone! There are others! They don't think I'm crazy! I'm part of a tribe!" It's such a good feeling, that it's very tempting to utter a loud, "Shush!" to the voices inside our head that begin to note the ways in which we differ from some of these oh-so-kindred spirits. Our first "witch war" can feel a hundred times more wounding because it presages the loss of that first rush of finally belonging: "Oh, no! I am meant to spend my life completely alone and misunderstood! I'll never have a tribe! Maybe the problem is ME!"
Well, yes, to some extent. That's part of becoming human.
But, also, as Cat notes, those experiences can lead to growth if one does, as Anne Hill suggests in her amazing post that is also, oddly, about being present, and tries to let something else show up, so I started breathing deeper with each movement.
The moves I could do, extending and strengthening my lower body, I did with full energy. When a posture required me to arch my back or extend my arms, I let my whole upper body fill with breath like a balloon that was inflated several inches beyond my torso. It felt like a protective cushion that supported my back and spine, expanded my rib cage, and didn’t allow any strain to creep into my shoulders, neck or head.
I stayed with this visualization through the intense part of class, and felt an increased sense of lightness in my body. I kept at it as we moved to more gentle stretches and twists, and then it hit me. The whole transition of middle age is about letting go of how our bodies “used to work,” and accepting that we are more energy than form. What I was experiencing wasn’t a setback, it was a preview of things to come.
Breathe. Stay with it. Don't give up on "the body," whether we're talking about each of our "physical" bodies or "the body Paganii" or our own ability to live in community with other prickly witches.
Cat also says:
Because real community will hurt you, betray you, let you down. And that’s a feature, not a bug. Oh, I’m not saying we should welcome betrayal into our communities, or cultivate disillusionment as a path to wisdom. But there’s a way that compassion and love and mature spiritual vision will not thrive in an ideal world. We need to be buffetted a bit by the kind of storms that are inevitable in an imperfect group of humans. And, baby, they’re all imperfect. That wonderful clan of Pagans whose warmth so impressed an outside observer was wonderful–but also engaged in a schism from another, larger group of Pagans, with plenty of acrimony on all sides. We were all learning how to work on perfecting our spiritual selves in the midst of imperfect community. None of us were (or are) perfect people, and yet we thought our communities ought to be! We hadn’t yet mastered the delicate balancing of boundaries and generosity, love and limits, that spiritual maturity demands. And if we’ve come closer in the years since–I hope I have, at least–it is only because we struggled with one another to find out how to do it: how to be real, and committed to one another, and still striving for something better–together. In an Internet world, it has become easier to throw away people when they cause us pain, and to simply drop communities when they (inevitably) experience conflict. It has become easier and easier to stay home, stay safe, and only journey inwards to find what we want of the spirit world. But I don’t think that’s what the gods want of us. I think the gods want us to keep it real, keep it present, get invested, get bumped and sometimes bruised among our fellows. And, in the process, to mature, both as individuals and as a people.
Thomas Merton did some wonderful writing about what it's like trying to "perfect" oneself (a xian notion, I think, but I'll take it as a rough synonym for spiritual growth) in the midst of community. He's likely worth reading by those trying to lead Pagan communities.
And by those of us who believe, as I do, in the rather nacent notion of "on-line communities," where we still struggle with issues such as trolls, psychic vampires, sock puppets, etc.
My own wonderful circle of amazing women is heading towards our annual retreat, where we struggle with how we want to relate to each other, whether to bring in new members at this time, what kind of a community we are/can be/will tolerate.
I thought the earth remembered me, she took me back so tenderly, arranging her dark skirts, her pockets full of lichens and seeds. I slept as never before, a stone on the river bed, nothing between me and the white fire of the stars but my thoughts, and they floated light as moths among the branches of the perfect trees. All night I heard the small kingdoms breathing around me, the insects, and the birds who do their work in the darkness. All night I rose and fell, as if in water, grappling with a luminous doom. By morning I had vanished at least a dozen times into something better.
Here's Derrick Jensen, who generally knows precisely about about what he is talking, arguing that, when it comes to the way that civilization is destroying the planet, the personal is not the political.
Would any sane person think dumpster diving would have stopped Hitler, or that composting would have ended slavery or brought about the eight-hour workday, or that chopping wood and carrying water would have gotten people out of Tsarist prisons, or that dancing naked around a fire would have helped put in place the Voting Rights Act of 1957 or the Civil Rights Act of 1964? Then why now, with all the world at stake, do so many people retreat into these entirely personal “solutions”?
As someone who dances naked around fires, I do think that such acts can help to bring about changes, including changes such as the Voting Rights Act of 1957. I don't "just" do magic. I've often said that the best magical spell for getting a job is filling out the job application.
I understand Jensen's point, his call for serious activism, his frustration. But the world MUST be re-imagined in order to be changed. Some of the most radical things I've done have involved doing magic to support activists who are physically on the line even more than Jensen is.
And, yet, I completely agree with what he's saying:
Consumer culture and the capitalist mindset have taught us to substitute acts of personal consumption (or enlightenment) for organized political resistance. An Inconvenient Truth helped raise consciousness about global warming. But did you notice that all of the solutions presented had to do with personal consumption—changing light bulbs, inflating tires, driving half as much—and had nothing to do with shifting power away from corporations, or stopping the growth economy that is destroying the planet? Even if every person in the United States did everything the movie suggested, U.S. carbon emissions would fall by only 22 percent. Scientific consensus is that emissions must be reduced by at least 75 percent worldwide.
Or let’s talk water. We so often hear that the world is running out of water. People are dying from lack of water. Rivers are dewatered from lack of water. Because of this we need to take shorter showers. See the disconnect? Because I take showers, I’m responsible for drawing down aquifers? Well, no. More than 90 percent of the water used by humans is used by agriculture and industry. The remaining 10 percent is split between municipalities and actual living breathing individual humans. Collectively, municipal golf courses use as much water as municipal human beings. People (both human people and fish people) aren’t dying because the world is running out of water. They’re dying because the water is being stolen.
In the end, as even Jensen's said, we need people to take down civilization and we need people to teach others how to use native plants for medicine. We need shamans to talk to the planet for us and we need people to go sit in ancient redwoods so they won't get cut down. And those of us doing one piece of the work owe it to the others not to call the cops. And not to ridicule.
Here in Northern Virginia, mid-July through mid-September is generally hot and we don't get much rain. The odd thing this year is that we aren't getting the humid air that we often get. Nice for people, not so good for my plants. My water bill for this quarter is always a bit scary, rain barrel notwithstanding. This year, with lots of new plants having just gone in, I'm giving up lunches out and BPAL to pay for the extra water.
This is also the time of year when a lot of plants are through blooming and have gone to work setting seed, dying back, getting ready for rest. (You should see my dill!) There are a few flowers, and thank the Goddess many of them are long-lasting, that show up in July and provide some color. I'm grateful for black-eyed Susan, Queen Anne's lace, sunflowers, and daisies. Datura is still to come and it will, of course, be spectacular!
It's also serious mosquito season. Arlington, Virginia was invaded a number of years ago by tiger mosquitoes, of whom Wikipedia says: "Later, the species was assigned to the genus Aedes (gr. άηδής, "unpleasant,)" and which are just plain nasty and one of the few living things that I kill with what Dorothy Parker once called "never a stab nor squirm." I'm both a mosquito-magnet (the one person at the picnic getting bitten all over while everyone else says, "What mosquitoes?") and very allergic to their bites. I never go outside, even for a few minutes, without anointing myself with the Sacred Oil of the Goddess Deet, but, even then, I get some bites. This weekend, I ran out of hydrocortisone cream and tried an old folk remedy: rubbing the bite with the inside of a banana peel. It really works and it works for a long time! Bit odd to head off for work in the morning smelling of banana, but it's better than the itch.
We've has fireflies since about the Solstice, and they're still going strong. Sitting on the screen porch and watching them as evening falls is one of the most calming things I know how to do. Every year that they come back to my yard is like a blessing, a benediction, a sign, like fermentation, that the Goddess loves me and wants me to be happy. Light pollution makes the stars difficult to see, especially in Summer, but I can see fireflies.
The woad set its seeds a while back, and the goldfinches have stripped a number of the branches bare. They don't like for me to watch them, but sometimes I can't help myself; they're the same color yellow as the woad flowers! I harvest the bare branches for Autumn arrangements. I have two sets of cardinals at my feeder, a BIG blue jay, assorted small birds, some very cute chipmunks, and, of course, the squirrels. The mourning doves are still all over, and their cooing is like an undertone; the robins still inhabit the front yard but avoid the back unless I water, and I have not seen "my" eagle on Teddy Roosevelt Island this year.
The activity level is picking up; there's a new urgency since the Solstice: "What can we put away? How much? How much can we store?" Even with fairly long days and a blazing sun, I find myself thinking about the Ren Faire, about getting the leaves raked this Fall, about giving an accounting of myself, to myself, at Samhein, about snuggling under comforters and flannel. My wonderful circle of amazing women had our planning meeting this weekend, and it's not all that odd to be planning Lughnasadah, Mabon, Samhein, Yule. If you spend some time teaching yourself to ride the wheel, of course you can feel it shifting.
The Potomac River's gone down a bit from its rain-swollen high mark. The water's less muddy, more placid, more green. In the early evening, it begs you to get in a row boat and trail your hand in the water, the way a lover implores you to "do it again, touch me, there, again, again." Spout Run is lower, too, surrounded on both sides by so many trees and bushy weeds and odd flowers, that I want, every morning, not to keep driving to work, but to park, get out, wade, talk, make friends, be. The sea, which seldom if ever calls to me, or at least can't call nearly as loudly as the mountains, has been thrumming my name, insistent, refusing to be denied. "Later, I tell her. Later, when I can afford it, when I'm not so busy, . . . when I don't distrust you quite as much."
My point, and, as often is true, it's buried, is that you can't really be in relationship with the land, with plants and animals and seasons, unless you, well, get to know the land. Mid July is different in DC than it is on the New England shore. It's different than mid-July in San Francisco and on PIke's Peak. What is it like where you live? What can you feel coming? What's just gone that you'll miss (for me, it's the white Asiatic lilies and their scent, strawberries, falling asleep and waking up to rain, iris)? How will you deepen your relationship with the land? What will you look for next year that you didn't know to look for this year?
Some people find (I do) that it's helpful, especially at first, to keep a journal. It's helpful to go outside, sit by a tree or a river or an ocean or a hill and ground and simply ask: "What would you like to tell me?" It's helpful to get involved: plant something, water something, feed some animal, pick up some trash, walk somewhere in the early morning, the late evening, the dark of night. Ask Tarot how to talk to the land (don't be surprised if you pull the Fool, the 7 of Pentacles, the Lovers, the 9 of Pentacles, Temperance or the Star.) Ask the land how to talk to it. Ask your Younger Self how to talk to the land. Ask a robin, or a squirrel, or a butterfly.
In the last two and a half months, my Republican colleagues have talked a great deal about judicial modesty and restraint. Fair enough to a point, but that point comes when these words become slogans, not real critiques of your record. Indeed, these calls for restraint and modesty, and complaints about "activist" judges, are often codewords, seeking a particular kind of judge who will deliver a particular set of political outcomes.
It is fair to inquire into a nominee's judicial philosophy, and we will have serious and fair inquiry. But the pretence that Republican nominees embody modesty and restraint, or that Democratic nominees must be activists, runs counter to recent history.
I particularly reject the analogy of a judge to an "umpire" who merely calls "balls and strikes." If judging were that mechanical, we wouldn't need nine Supreme Court Justices. The task of an appellate judge, particularly on a court of final appeal, is often to define the strike zone, within a matrix of Constitutional principle, legislative intent, and statutory construction.
The "umpire" analogy is belied by Chief Justice Roberts, though he cast himself as an "umpire" during his confirmation hearings. Jeffrey Toobin, a well-respected legal commentator, has recently reported that "[i]n every major case since he became the nation's seventeenth Chief Justice,
Roberts has sided with the prosecution over the defendant, the state over the condemned, the executive branch over the legislative, and the corporate defendant over the individual plaintiff." Some umpire. And is it a coincidence that this pattern, to continue Toobin's quote, "has served the interests, and reflected the values of the contemporary Republican party"? Some coincidence.
For all the talk of "modesty" and "restraint," the right wing Justices of the Court have a striking record of ignoring precedent, overturning congressional statutes, limiting constitutional protections, and discovering new constitutional rights: the infamous Ledbetter decision, for instance; the Louisville and Seattle integration cases, for example; the first limitation on Roe v. Wade that outright disregards the woman's health and safety; and the DC Heller decision, discovering a constitutional right to own guns that the Court had not previously noticed in 220 years.
Over and over, news reporting discusses "fundamental changes in the law" wrought by the Roberts Court's right wing flank. The Roberts Court has not lived up to the promises of modesty or humility made when President Bush nominated Justices Roberts and Alito. Some "balls and strikes."
So, Judge Sotomayor, I'd like to avoid codewords, and look for a simple pledge: that you will decide cases on the law and the facts; that you will respect the role of Congress as representatives of the American people; that you will not prejudge any case, but listen to every party that comes before you; and that you will respect precedent and limit yourself to the issues that the Court must decide; in short, that you will use the broad discretion of a Supreme Court Justice wisely and in keeping with the Constitution.
Let me emphasize that broad discretion. As Justice Stevens has said, "the work of federal judges from the days of John Marshall to the present, like the work of the English common-law judges, sometimes requires the exercise of judgment – a faculty that inevitably calls into play notions of justice, fairness, and concern about the future impact of a decision."
Look at our history. America's common law inheritance is the accretion over generations of individual exercises of judgment. Our Constitution is a great document that John Marshall noted leaves "the minor ingredients" to judgment, to be deduced by our Justices from the document's great principles. The liberties in our Constitution have their boundaries defined, in the gray and overlapping areas, by informed judgment. None of this is "balls and strikes."
It has been a truism since Marbury v. Madison that courts have the authority to "say what the law is," even to invalidate statutes enacted by the elected branches of government when they conflict with the Constitution. So the issue is not whether you have a wide field of discretion: you will. As Justice Cardozo reminds us, you are not free to act as "a knight-errant, roaming at will in pursuit of [your] own ideal of beauty or of goodness," yet, he concluded, "[w]ide enough in all conscience is the field of discretion that remains."
The question for this hearing is: will you bring good judgment to that wide field? Will you understand, and care, how your decisions affect the lives of Americans? Will you use your broad discretion to advance the promises of liberty and justice made by the Constitution?
I believe that your diverse life experience, your broad professional background, your expertise as a judge at each level of the federal system, in short your accrued wisdom, will enrich your judgment as a Supreme Court justice. Justice Alito told this Committee that he brings his perspective as the grandson of immigrants to decisions in that area of the law. I am glad he does. As Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. famously said, the life of the law has not been logic, it has been experience.
If your wide experience brings life to a sense of the difficult circumstances faced by the less powerful among us:
the woman being shunted around the bank from voicemail to voicemail as she tries to save her home from foreclosure;
the family struggling to get by in the neighborhood the police only come to with raid jackets on; the couple up late at the kitchen table after the kids are in bed sweating out how to make ends meet that month;
the man who believes a little differently, or looks a little different, or thinks things should be different; the voice no one listens to when the elected branches are deafened by monied interests;
if you have empathy for those people in this job, you are doing nothing wrong. It is far better to listen for those unheard voices, and to seek to understand their points of view, than to ignore them in favor of a particular ideology, or corporation, or just the status quo.
The Founding Fathers set up the American judiciary as a check on the excesses of the elected branches, and as a refuge when those branches are corrupted, or consumed by passing passions.
Courts were designed to be our guardians against what Hamilton in the Federalist Papers called "those ill humors, which the arts of designing men, or the influence of particular conjunctures, sometimes disseminate among the people . . . and which . . . have a tendency . . . to occasion ? serious oppressions of the minor party in the community."
In present circumstances, those oppressions tend to fall on the poor and powerless, those without voice or influence. But as Hamilton noted, "[c]onsiderate men, of every description, ought to prize whatever will tend to beget or fortify that temper in the courts: as no man can be sure that he may not be tomorrow the victim of a spirit of injustice, by which he may be a gainer to-day."
A little skepticism of the status quo, an ear for challenges to the prevailing power structure, an extra effort to hear the side of a party who is out-spent and out-gunned—there is no shame in that for a judge. It is exactly what the Founders intended in an American judge.
The courtroom can be the only sanctuary for the little guy when the forces of society are arrayed against him, when proper opinion and elected officialdom will lend him no ear. This is a correct, fitting, and intended function of the judiciary in our constitutional structure, and the empathy President Obama saw in you has a constitutionally proper place in that structure.
If everyone on the Court always voted for the prosecution against the defendant, for the corporation against the plaintiffs, and for the government against the condemned, a vital spark of American democracy would be extinguished. A courtroom is supposed to be a place where the status quo can be disrupted, even upended, when the Constitution or laws may require; where the comfortable can be afflicted and the afflicted find some comfort, all under the shelter of the law.
It is worth remembering that judges of the United States have shown great courage over the years, courage verging on heroism, in providing that sanctuary of careful attention, what James Bryce called "the cool dry atmosphere of judicial determination," amidst the inflamed passions or invested powers of the day.
Judge Sotomayor, I believe your broad and balanced background and empathy prepare you well for this constitutional and proper judicial role. So again, I join my colleagues in welcoming you to the Committee and I look forward to your testimony.
1 In late winter I sometimes glimpse bits of steam coming up from some fault in the old snow and bend close and see it is lung-colored and put down my nose and know the chilly, enduring odor of bear.
2 I take a wolf's rib and whittle it sharp at both ends and coil it up and freeze it in blubber and place it out on the fairway of the bears.
And when it has vanished I move out on the bear tracks, roaming in circles until I come to the first, tentative, dark splash on the earth.
And I set out running, following the splashes of blood wandering over the world. At the cut, gashed resting places I stop and rest, at the crawl-marks where he lay out on his belly to overpass some stretch of bauchy ice I lie out dragging myself forward with bear-knives in my fists.
3 On the third day I begin to starve, at nightfall I bend down as I knew I would at a turd sopped in blood, and hesitate, and pick it up, and thrust it in my mouth, and gnash it down, and rise and go on running.
4 On the seventh day, living by now on bear blood alone, I can see his upturned carcass far out ahead, a scraggled, steamy hulk, the heavy fur riffling in the wind.
I come up to him and stare at the narrow-spaced, petty eyes, the dismayed face laid back on the shoulder, the nostrils flared, catching perhaps the first taint of me as he died.
I hack a ravine in his thigh, and eat and drink, and tear him down his whole length and open him and climb in and close him up after me, against the wind, and sleep.
5 And dream of lumbering flatfooted over the tundra, stabbed twice from within, splattering a trail behind me, splattering it out no matter which way I lurch, no matter which parabola of bear-transcendence, which dance of solitude I attempt, which gravity-clutched leap, which trudge, which groan.
6 Until one day I totter and fall -- fall on this stomach that has tried so hard to keep up, to digest the blood as it leaked in, to break up and digest the bone itself: and now the breeze blows over me, blows off the hideous belches of ill-digested bear blood and rotted stomach and the ordinary, wretched odor of bear,
blows across my sore, lolled tongue a song or screech, until I think I must rise up and dance. And I lie still.
7 I awaken I think. Marshlights reappear, geese come trailing again up the flyway. In her ravine under old snow the dam-bear lies, licking lumps of smeared fur and drizzly eyes into shapes with her tongue. And one hairy-soled trudge stuck out before me, the next groaned out, the next, the next, the rest of my days I spend wandering: wondering what, anyway, was that sticky infusion, that rank flavor of blood, that poetry, by which I lived?
from Body Rags, Galway Kinnell (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1967).
I'm a woman, a Witch, a mother, a grandmother, an eco-feminist, a gardener, a reader, a writer, and a priestess of the Great Mother Earth. Hecate appears in the
Homeric Ode to Demeter, which tells of Hades who caught Persophone
"up reluctant on his golden car and bare her away lamenting. . . . But no one, either of the deathless gods or of mortal men, heard her voice, nor yet the olive-trees bearing rich fruit: only tenderhearted Hecate, bright-coiffed, the daughter of Persaeus, heard the girl from her cave . . . ."