Saturday, February 24, 2007

Saturday Goddess Blogging


Wiki says that, in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, Isis was known as:

She who gives birth to heaven and earth,
She who knows the orphan,
She who knows the widow spider,
She who seeks justice for the poor people,
She who seeks shelter for the weak people

Throughout the Graeco-Roman world, Isis becomes one of the most significant of the mystery religions, and many classical writers refer to her temples, cults and rites. Temples to Isis were built in Iraq, Greece, Rome, even as far north as England where the remains of a temple were discovered at Hadrian's Wall. At Philae her worship persisted until the 6th century, long after the wide acceptance of Christianity- this was the last of the ancient Egyptian temples to be closed, and its fall is generally accepted to mark the end of ancient Egypt.

She was venerated throughout ancient Mesopotamia as a queen who bestowed riches upon [people] and the land alike. Her powers are both human and divine, for she conceived and brought up her child Horus to be a king of Egypt, and grieved her husband's death as a woman would. Her role of mother and compaion to Osiris was sublimated to the mythical content of Egyptiona religion, for her figure incarnates the seat of origin of all things and the center of female power.

The archetype of Isis represents the fully-flowered power of a mother. There are different ways for a woman to experience ths role, but when the Isis archetype is active, she may feel that she is in touch with other-worldly powers. Pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood represent for the Isis woman a movement of her consciousnes, a step toward the unveiling of her own personal feminine strength. The Isis mother stands at the center of existence, like an open passagefor the flow of life and she is conscious that her act is the necessary repetition of the continuous regeneration fo nature without which al living things would come to an end.

. . .

Isis was venerated as a virgin-mother and she is often portrayed seated with Horus suckling at her breast, an image that was later to be borrowed by Christianity to represent the Virgin Mary. The Goddess's virginity isa symbol for her own individuality of character, being "one-in-herself."

~From The Song of Eve
by Manuela Dunn Mascetti

Isis seems like a good Goddess to discuss along with Demeter. Indeed, there are interesting correspondences between the two:

Isis was the Goddess of the Earth in ancient Egypt and loved her brother Osiris. When they married, Osiris became the first King of Earth. Their brother Set, immensely jealous of their powers, murdered Osiris so he could usurp the throne.

Set did this by tricking Osiris into stepping into a beautiful box made of cedar, ebony and ivory that he had ordered built to fit only Osiris. Set then sealed it up to become a coffin and threw it into the river. The river carried the box out to sea; it washed up in another country, resting in the upper boughs of a tamarisk tree when the waters receded. As time passed, the branches covered the box, encapsulating the god in his coffin in the trunk of the tree.

In a state of inconsolable grief, Isis tore her robes to shreds and cut off her beautiful black hair. When she finally regained her emotional balance, Isis set out to search for the body of her beloved Osiris so that she might bury him properly.

The search took Isis to Phoenicia where she met Queen Astarte. Astarte didn't recognized the goddess and hired her as a nursemaid to the infant prince.

Fond of the young boy, Isis decided to bestow immortality on him. As she was holding the royal infant over the fire as part of the ritual, the Queen entered the room. Seeing her son smoldering in the middle of the fire, Astarte instinctively (but naively) grabbed the child out of the flames, undoing the magic of Isis that would have made her son a god.

When the Queen demanded an explanation, Isis revealed her identity and told Astarte of her quest to recover her husband's body. As she listened to the story, Astarte realized that the body was hidden in the fragrant tree in the center of the palace and told Isis where to find it.

Sheltering his broken body in her arms, the goddess Isis carried the body of Osiris back to Egypt for proper burial. There she hid it in the swamps on the delta of the Nile river.

Unfortunately, Set came across the box one night when he was out hunting. Infuriated by this turn of events and determined not to be outdone, he murdered Osiris once again . . . this time hacking his body into 14 pieces and throwing them in different directions knowing that they would be eaten by the crocodiles.

The goddess Isis searched and searched, accompanied by seven scorpions who assisted and protected her. Each time she found new pieces she rejoined them to re-form his body.

But Isis could only recover thirteen of the pieces. The fourteenth, his penis, had been swallowed by a crab, so she fashioned one from gold and wax. Then inventing the rites of embalming, and speaking some words of magic, Isis brought her husband back to life.

Magically, Isis then conceived a child with Osiris, and gave birth to Horus, who later became the Sun God. Assured that having the infant would now relieve Isis' grief, Osiris was free to descend to become the King of the Underworld, ruling over the dead and the sleeping. His spirit, however, frequently returned to be with Isis and the young Horus who both remained under his watchful and loving eye.

We worship Isis when we care for widows and for children. So, basically, in America, not so much. How would our existence be different if we worshipped a female face of divinity specifically devoted to familial love?

Art found here and here.


Long afterwards, Oedipus, old and blinded, walked the roads. He smelled a familar smell. It was the Sphinx. Oedipus said, "I want to ask one question. Why didn't I recognize my mother?"

"You gave the wrong answer," said the Sphinx.

"But that was what made everything possible," said Oedipus.

"No," she said. "When I asked, 'What walks on four legs in the morning, two at noon, and three in the evening,' you answered, 'Man.' You didn't say anything about woman."

"When you say Man," said Oedipus, "you include women, too. Everyone knows that."

She said, "That's what you think."

~Muriel Rukeyser.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Pagan Thea(o)logy

Anyone who thinks that modern Pagans don't write serious theo(a)logy simply isn't reading Ule.

I disagree with about a third of what he says, and I've known him to simply delete a series of comments when he's been shown to be off-base, but the man clearly drinks deeply and does his absolute (albeit unnecessarily wordy) best to write about what he experiences.

Apropos of his recent post, I'm going to spend some time thinking about the distinction (if there is one) between prayer and spellwork.

When Have You Complied Or Obeyed When You Didn't Want To?

In jail, they pull one of the women out of our group, lock her up someplace worse

so that we see their power

so that we become fearful

they pick the woman who makes us most uncomfortable, who is most loud and angry, least respectable, who least fits in so that we do not really want to extend ourselves, to risk ourselves for her

so that we can justify not risking ourselves, telling ourselves that there is nothing we can do (even though all of us are here in jail because we will not accept that there is nothing we can do)

so that we don't try to do anything, telling ourselves

we don't have enough information to act

that it is not yet the right time to act

that if we try to act we will make the situation worse

that it is better to let someone else (our lawyers, our experts) act for us

that she may have done something to deserve it

that she created her own situation.

~Truth or Dare by Starhawk

Shallow Clothes Blogging. Feel Free To Skip.

I don't always agree with this author's taste, but every single one of these is gorgeous.

What Are You Doing This Weekend?

Could be a great weekend to freeway blog.

A Lesson For Democrats

From comcast:

Vice President Dick Cheney refused Friday to take back his charge that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's opposition to President Bush's Iraq war buildup is playing into the hands of the al-Qaida terrorist network.

"If you're going to advocate a course of action that basically is withdrawal of our forces from Iraq, then you don't get to just do the fun part of that, that says, 'We'll, we're going to get out,' and appeal to your constituents on that basis," Cheney said.

The vice president had voiced the same criticism of Pelosi earlier this week during a visit to Japan, and the California Democrat accused the vice president of questioning her patriotism, saying she was going to call President Bush directly with her complaint.

"I hope the president will repudiate and distance himself from the vice president's remarks," Pelosi said. She ended up talking with White House chief of staff Josh Bolten instead of Bush.

The long-distance quarrel began in Tokyo, where Cheney earlier this week used an interview to criticize Pelosi and Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., over their plan to place restrictions on Bush's request for an additional $93 billion for the Iraq war to make it difficult or impossible to send 21,500 extra troops to Iraq.

During Friday's interview in Sydney with ABC News, Cheney said, "I'm not sure what part of it is that Nancy disagreed with. She accused me of questioning her patriotism. I didn't question her patriotism. I questioned her judgment."

"You also have to be accountable for the results. What are the consequences of that? What happens if we withdraw from Iraq?," he said. "And the point I made and I'll make it again is that al-Qaida functions on the basis that they think they can break our will. That's their fundamental underlying strategy, that if they can kill enough Americans or cause enough havoc, create enough chaos in Iraq, then we'll quit and go home. And my statement was that if we adopt the Pelosi policy, that then we will validate the strategy of al-Qaida. I said it and I meant it."

Asked if he was willing to take back his criticism of Pelosi, Cheney replied, "I'm not backing down."

Look, obviously, Cheney's being an ass, up to referring to Speaker Pelosi as "Nancy," something men often do to try and put women in their place. But there's an important lesson here for Democrats. The minute that he got some criticism, Cheney didn't back down and apologize. He took the opportunity to make his point even more strongly and to explain why he thought that he was right. Note that he White House backed him up; Pelosi was left talking to Josh Bolten's hand instead of to Bush.

This isn't new for Cheney. He's done this before, when, for example, he cursed out Leahey on the Senate floor and then insisted that he'd merely "expressed myself forcefully; felt better after I had done it." When his wife acted like an ass on Wolf Blitzer's show, he insisted that: "I thought it was great. We refer to it around the house as the slapdown. And she was very tough, but she was very accurate and very aggressive."

Contrast this with Obama rushing to apologize for saying something that we all know: that the lives lost in Iraq have been wasted. Contrast this with Kerry apologizing for a joke plainly aimed at George Bush, not the troops. Democrats are always saying completely sensible, true things and then apologizing for them.

Yes, in the world of grown-ups, rational people, and a responsible media, it would make sense to apologize for hurting someone's feelings. But we don't live in that world. We live in George Bush's world. In that world, the Democrats need to learn from Snarley Dick to quit apologizing. When you say something and it gets a reaction, react even more strongly. It's not that difficult.

The More The Merrier

A while back, I blogged about Sir Richard Branson's announcement of a $25 million prize for the scientist who invents/discovers a way to remove carbon from the atmosphere. I noted that I was going to ask my circle of women to do some magic aimed at the success of this venture. Several of you noted in comments that you'd like to do similar work. My circle will be doing magical work on this project at the March Full Moon, March 2nd beginning at 7:30 pm Eastern Time. Looking forward to joining our energies with yours!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Where Are The Lions Who Were In Greece? Where Are The Indigenous of Europe?

Derrick Jensen, environmental philosopher extraordinaire, has a MySpace Page.

Jensen: This civilization is killing the planet. They say that one sign of intelligence is the ability to recognize patterns. I’m gonna lay out a pattern here and let’s see if we can recognize it in less than 6,000 years. When you think of the hills and plains of Iraq, do you normally think of cedar forests so thick the sunlight never touches the ground? That’s how it was before. The first written myth of this culture is that of Gilgamesh deforesting that area to make cities. Plato complained that deforestation was drying up springs and destroying the water quality in Greece. The forests of North Africa went down to make the Phoencian and Egyptian navies. We can go north and ask, Where are the lions who were in Greece? Where are the indigenous of Europe? They’ve been massacred, or assimilated—in any case, genocide was perpetrated against them by definition because they’re no longer there.

If you start asking questions, the questions just keep moving back and back and back. This is a pattern that’s been going on for a long, long time. This culture has been unsustainable from the beginning. On a finite planet, you would think that we would think about that. You can’t exploit a planet and live on it too. At this stage, since there are no new frontiers to exploit, the planet’s falling apart.

What I Said

And then, to completely prove my point, the WaPo does a puff piece on the truly weird (trust me, I've been there) catholic "rite" of confession and gives the archdiosces an advertising boost undreamed of in human history.

Having been sent off to say a rosary for having dared to have sex outside of marriage, I think I can pretty well speak for a whole hell of a lot of "lapsed" (well, some of us are more lapsed than others) catholics, when I suggest that both the Washington archdiosces and the WaPo simply bite me.

Aw, Lighten Up, Frances.

Jason, at the Wild Hunt, has a nice round up of posts on PantheCon. Here's my favorite:

"Magic is the world suddenly acquiring a plot."

Margot Adler, one of my heroines, touched on one of Hecate's Tiresome Rants About Paganism: And in a final note, an attendee by the name of Todd praises Margot Adler for telling modern Pagans we need to shape up (literally).

"Kudos to Margot for facing probably three hundred Pagans and telling us all "We need to take better care of ourselves [i.e, physically]." And P-Con programming folks: When you get my proposal to lead a morning "fun run/walk" each day next year, take it seriously."

It isn't just physical health. I know waaaaaaaaaay too many Pagans who are in poor health, are broke, have horrible relationships, are in jobs they hate. Babe, magic is supposed to make you more effective at living an embodied life in this world, not less.

Jason also reports on the usual tebbily-tebbily serious types, who are waaaaaaaaaaaay too good for the hoy paloi: Erynn Rowan Laurie discusses why she had to turn Llewellyn down at the convention.

"Talked to Isaac Bonewits and it turned out he was dining with the acquisitions editor and the publicist from Llewellyn, who immediate pounced upon me and were desperate for me to write for them. I gently turned them down, explaining that a CR 101 would probably work for their audience, but I'd promised my ogam book to Megalithica, and that really, a book on filidecht would deal with the search for illumination that results in one of three things -- poetry, madness or DEATH -- and that honest, I didn't think their target market was quite ready for that."
and the terribly serious, to the point of disenchantment, young people: A blogger by the name of "ardgruntler" was a bit dismayed by how quickly mutual friendship and respect dissipated after the convention.

"Are We Serious or Not? Because I'm finding it a little tough to see the leaders who were talking the 'we need to stand together as pagans' 'walk' at Pantheacon - two days later taking pot shots again. I've gone from really hopeful to kinda sad. And I feel a little bad myself. The best I can say about my behavior is that I didn't level shots at other organizations, just my own. (Don't know which is worse. But, since looking at one's own house with a critical eye is essential to any real growth, I'll stick with the former.)"

So it looks as if the Goddess is in her heaven and all's right with the world.

I do have one, small comment. I like medieval dress. I maybe put it on once a year for Pagan events, but, if you look around, most religions have some form of different dress for, at least, their clergy. Could we just give ourselves a bit of a break on this coughyoungerselfcough? When RenFaire garb is Paganism's biggest problem, I'll jump for joy. You never hear bitching about why so many Pagans wear tats or why so many Pagans have too much Celtic World Music on their iPods.

You Know, A Species That Didn't Have A Death Wish Would Do Whatever It Took To Quit Cutting Down The Forests

Meanwhile, humans need paper cups and wrappers for their McDonald's hamburgers.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Exactly right.

WaPo Just Stop It!

I'm still fuming about the recent WaPo coverage of an Imbolc ritual. Watching people walking around town with ashes on their foreheads today, it occured to me that lots of xian rituals can look pretty creepy if you're not familar with them. But the WaPo would never write:

Wearing the kind of fanciful robes you might have seen on ancient potentates, Smith and other members of the Church of the Sacred Blood greeted Lent this year in a large building decorated with stained-glass depictions of torture and execution that they refer to as "Stations of the Implement of Torture." Under a giant statue of a woman stepping on a snake, her heart visible under her robes and surrounded by plaster flames, was an altar; on the altar were dozens of flaming candles.

Eight women and eight men, mostly middle-aged couples, folded their hands. Following the elaborate directions printed in the black-bound books that they held, they stood, kneeled, and sat in increasingly elaborate repetitions. Next, they passed a large goblet of wine and a loaf of bread, in a pseudo-cannabalistic re-enactment of what they believe to be a mysterious transformation of wine into blood and bread into human flesh.

There was no scourging. No blood. No mention of the devil.

But the congregants each approached the priest who placed ashes on their foreheads and intoned, "Remember man that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return," even when he was speaking to the women. Additionally there was a ciborium, a monstrance, and a custodia, burning incense, and a 35-minute service full of abstruse allusions to various angels and saints. The part assigned to Smith included such lines as: "Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, God of power and might. Heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest. "

For purposes of comparison and contrast, here's the actual paragraph that WaPo wrote about a recent Imbolc ritual.

Economists. Sheesh.

With all due respect, this is the sort of thing that gives economists a bad name:

N.Y. Times Columnist Says Time Ripe for Carbon Tax to Cut Emissions

In a column published in today's New York Times, David Leonhardt wrote that a dispute among academics about the cost of climate change suggests the middle ground should be the imposition of a carbon tax. Among the strongest critics of Sir Nicholas Stern, who recently led a study stressing urgent action against climate change to prevent massive future economic damage, were Yale economists William Nordhaus and Robert O. Mendelsohn.

Wrote Leonhardt: "The two professors raised some questions about the science in the Stern Review. Mr. Nordhaus wondered if carbon emissions and temperatures would rise as quickly as the report suggests, and Mr. Mendelsohn predicted that people would learn to adapt to climate change, reducing its ultimate cost. But their main objection revolved around something called the discount rate."

The discount rate argues that a dollar of economic damage prevented a century from now is about as valuable as a dollar spent reducing emissions today. But Leonhardt points out the opposing argument is that a dollar today is more valuable than a dollar a century from now and that dollar would be better spent on something like education to improve the earning power of future generations so climate change can be dealt with at that time.
New York Times, column , Feb. 21.

~Source: EEI newsletter

Yeah, Nordhaus, let's just put off doing anything about climate change and hope that our well-educated progeny aren't killed in another Katrina-type event just as they're about to solve the problem. Are you on crack?

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Feminist Poetry

Goblins' Market by Christina Rossetti.

Lately, I am longing for fruit.

Apples and quinces,
Lemons and oranges,
Plump unpecked cherries-
Melons and raspberries,
Bloom-down-cheeked peaches,
Swart-headed mulberries,
Wild free-born cranberries,
Crab-apples, dewberries,
Pine-apples, blackberries,
Apricots, strawberries--
All ripe together
In summer weather--
Morns that pass by,
Fair eves that fly;
Come buy, come buy;
Our grapes fresh from the vine,
Pomegranates full and fine,
Dates and sharp bullaces,
Rare pears and greengages,
Damsons and bilberries,
Taste them and try:
Currants and gooseberries,
Bright-fire-like barberries,
Figs to fill your mouth,
Citrons from the South,
Sweet to tongue and sound to eye,
Come buy, come buy."

Election Of A Woman In And Of Itself Would Be A Momentous Step Toward Full Equality In the U.S.

From the Boston Globe:

Hillary Clinton and the glass ceiling

By Marcia Angell | February 19, 2007

NOW THAT the presidential campaign is underway, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton's candidacy is the subject of intense discussion. In polite company, people often insist with a virtuous air that the right thing to do is to vote for the best candidate without regard for gender. But that is a limited view of what's at stake. The fact that Clinton is a woman is not a bad reason to vote for her, and unless you see the perfect man, it may be reason enough. Let me explain.

In the 218 years since George Washington became president, every one of his 42 successors has been a man. For most of that time, of course, there were no women leaders anywhere in the world. But that changed long ago -- with Golda Meir in Israel, Indira Gandhi in India, Margaret Thatcher in the UK, Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan, and now Angela Merkel in Germany, Michelle Bachelet in Chile, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in Liberia, and Segolene Royal, a candidate in France's next presidential election. It's way past time for the United States to catch up. Women are not a minority group. We make up the majority of the electorate, are more likely to vote than men, and are on average better educated.

So here comes Clinton -- well-qualified, talented, and smart. Why the unease about her? To hear people talk, it has nothing to do with gender. What we hear is that she is polarizing, opportunistic, too tough (or not tough enough), and, finally, that most self-fulfilling of all prophecies, not electable. Note the vagueness and personal nature of these criticisms; they mostly go to style, not substance -- the kinds of judgments that have everything to do with gender.

The exception is her ill-considered 2002 vote for the war in Iraq. But every other Democratic candidate who was in the Senate at the time was equally craven. (Barack Obama, who did oppose the war, was not yet in the Senate, so didn't have to cast a vote.) Now that the political winds have changed, the other candidates are falling all over themselves to admit their mistake. That is harder for her. An apology may be disarming in a man, but a woman has to worry about appearing weak or indecisive. Yet I have little doubt that if elected, she would move as fast as any of the others to get us out of Iraq.

All of the parsing of Clinton's personality and policies ignores the elephant in the living room: She is a woman, and the first woman with a serious shot at the presidency. As such, whatever she does will be wrong, and wrong in a way that does not apply to even the most closely scrutinized male candidate. She will be held to the standard applied only to women trying to break the glass ceiling -- she will have to be perfect according to shifting and often contradictory standards.

I have some experience with glass ceilings. I entered medicine at a time when it was an almost exclusively male preserve. As with Clinton, criticisms of women usually focused on personal attributes, not ability. We were expected to possess the stereotypical masculine traits that were then associated with doctors, but also satisfy stereotypical notions of femininity -- a tricky juggling act that men were not called on to perform. Those days are mostly behind us in medicine, but not in politics, and they won't be until we have a woman president.

The major Democratic candidates are similar in ideals and programs. That being the case, the fact that Clinton is a woman should weigh in her favor. Supporting Obama because he is African-American does not somehow compensate for the exclusion of more than half the population from the highest office in the country; it simply underscores it. If we wait for the perfect woman to come along, we'll wait a long time. And in the meantime, we'll continue to elect men every four years who will often be seriously imperfect.

Clinton is well qualified by experience and ability to be president, and she has by all accounts been a hardworking and conscientious senator. But we should also pay attention to the fact that the election of a woman in and of itself would be a momentous step toward full equality in the United States and a powerful message to the rest of the world.

Dr. Marcia Angell, a senior lecturer at Harvard Medical School, is a guest columnist.
© Copyright 2007 Globe Newspaper Company.

~Hat tip to Professor Wombat at Eschaton

Draw Your Own Conclusions About Peak Oil

From today's EEI newsletter:

Abu Dhabi Emirate to Build Solar Plant with 500-MW Capacity

Abu Dhabi will build a solar power plant capable of generating 500 MW, Reuters reported. The $350-million project could come online by 2009, and is funded by investors, Mubadala Development's Abu Dhabi Future Energy and the Abu Dhabi Water & Electricity Authority.

Abu Dhabi Future Energy CEO Sultan al-Jaber told Reuters that the oil-rich emirate does "not want to be 100 per cent dependent on [hydrocarbon power]. We have an economic development programme dedicated to establishing an entirely new economic sector focused on alternative energy and sustainable technologies."
Reuters via Arabian , Feb. 18.

I'm just saying.

If George Bush Doesn't End This War Before He Leaves Office, When I'm President, I Will.

From Hillary Clinton:

Right now, there isn't one of us who isn't thinking about Iraq. That's why I went there recently: to meet with the commanders on the ground, to talk with Iraqi leaders, and to speak to the men and women who are fighting this war so heroically.

I came back even more determined to stop the president's escalation of troops into Iraq and to start the redeployment of troops out of Iraq. So I outlined a plan, and on Friday, I introduced it to Congress as the Iraq Troop Protection and Reduction Act.

My plan accomplishes a number of goals. It stops the president's escalation. It protects our troops by making sure they aren't sent to Iraq without all of the equipment and training they need. It puts an end to the blank check for the Iraqi government. It calls for an international conference to bring other countries together to help forge a stable future for Iraq. Finally, my plan would begin a phased redeployment of our troops out of Iraq. I've been pushing for this for almost two years.

For more details about my plan, please watch Friday's HillCast, the first of what I hope will be a regular series of web broadcasts:

The Iraq Troop Protection and Reduction Act is a roadmap out of Iraq. I hope the president takes this road. If he does, he should be able to end the war before he leaves office. But let's not kid ourselves. From everything we've seen, this president is going down a very different path. He's fighting to escalate the war, not to end it.

I know we're at the start of a presidential campaign, but I think all Democrats should be focused on working together to push the president to change course. We have to end this war in a smart way, not a Republican or a Democratic way, but a way that makes us safer and gets our troops home as soon as possible. That's what I'll be fighting for.

But let me be clear, if George Bush doesn't end this war before he leaves office, when I'm president, I will.

Please watch the HillCast for more details of my plan:



Monday, February 19, 2007

What Digby Said

Digby says just about everything that needs to be said. Except for one thing. Richard Mellon Scaife can bite me.

What Alice Marshall Said

Someday, I'm going to start a blog called What Alice Marshall Said. What I'll do is link to Alice's posts. It will be brilliant and well-thought-out and make incredible sense.

People I Admire. Things We All Should Do.

Freeway Blogger: actually doing something about the problem.

Between now and Ostara, can you post just one freewayblog on a road near you?

Imbolc Gone, Ostara Yet To Come

Go to the winter woods: listen there, look, watch, and
“the dead months” will give you a subtler secret than
any you have yet found in the forest.
- Fiona Macleod, Where the Forest Murmurs

What's in your "winter woods"? When was the last time that you were there?

Plus The Fact That The Military Does Have Catch-22s

There's an absolutely fascinating article in today's WaPo about an army chaplain who converted to Wicca.

The article tells the story of Don Larsen, an army chaplain in Iraq, who had a crisis of faith over the sectarian killings there and decided to move away from any religion that insists that it is the one true way to connection with divinity. It sounds as if he'd always been a spiritual seeker and someone who was able to see that most religions have, at their core, more in common with each other than different. On July 6, he applied to become the first Wiccan chaplain in the U.S. armed forces, setting off an extraordinary chain of events. By year's end, his superiors not only denied his request but also withdrew him from Iraq and removed him from the chaplain corps, despite an unblemished service record.

The story concerning the army's decision will sound familiar to most Wiccans:

Once chaplains are accepted into the military, they are paid, trained and deployed by the government. But they remain subservient to their endorsers, who can cancel their endorsements at any time.

That is what happened to Larsen, according to unclassified military e-mail messages obtained by The Washington Post. When [a Wiccan church,] the Sacred Well Congregation[,] applied on July 31 to become Larsen's new endorser, the Army initially cited a minor bureaucratic obstacle: It could not find a copy of his previous endorsement from the Chaplaincy of Full Gospel Churches, a Dallas-based association of Pentecostal churches.

The following day, a senior Army chaplain telephoned the Full Gospel Churches to ask for the form and, in the process, disclosed Larsen's plan to join Sacred Well.

Within hours, the Pentecostal group sent Larsen an urgent e-mail saying it had received a "strange call" from the Army Chief of Chaplains office. The caller "mentioned that a Donald M. Larsen . . . was requesting a change-over . . . to Wiccans," the e-mail said. "Please communicate with this office, as we do not believe it is you."

Larsen pleaded in his reply for the Full Gospel Churches not to cancel his endorsement until he could complete the switch. "Being here in Iraq has caused me to reflect on a great many things. However, as long as CFCG holds my endorsement, I teach and practice nothing contrary to your faith and practice," he wrote, adding: "It is all about the soldiers, please help me to continue to minister to them during this transition."

The Chaplaincy of Full Gospel Churches immediately severed its ties to Larsen. The Sacred Well Congregation could not renew his papers, because it was not yet an official endorser. Lacking an ecclesiastical endorsement, Larsen was ordered to cease functioning immediately as a chaplain, and the Pentagon quickly pulled him out of Iraq.

Dolinger, the Army Chief of Chaplains spokesman, denied that any discrimination was involved. "What you're really dealing with is more of a personal drama, what one person has been through and the choices he's made. Plus, the fact that the military does have Catch-22s," he said.

Jim Ammerman, a retired Army colonel who is president and founder of the Chaplaincy of Full Gospel Churches, acknowledges that there is a longstanding agreement among endorsers not to summarily pull the papers of a chaplain who wants to make a valid switch.

"But if it's not a valid thing, all bets are off," Ammerman says, adding that Wiccans "run around naked in the woods" and "draw blood with a dagger" in their ceremonies. "You can't do that in the military. It's against good order and discipline."

That description drew a laugh from Brig. Gen. Cecil Richardson, the Air Force's deputy chief of chaplains. "He's right, we can't have that in the military, but I don't think we've had any of that in the military," Richardson says.

Richardson says there are simply too few Wiccans in the military to justify a full-time chaplain.

According to Pentagon figures, however, some faiths with similarly small numbers in the ranks do have chaplains. Among the nearly 2,900 clergy on active duty are 41 Mormon chaplains for 17,513 Mormons in uniform, 22 rabbis for 4,038 Jews, 11 imams for 3,386 Muslims, six teachers for 636 Christian Scientists, and one Buddhist chaplain for 4,546 Buddhists. [The article earlier noted that the number of "Wiccans in the United States rose 17-fold -- from 8,000 to 134,000 -- between 1990 and 2001. By the Pentagon's count, there are now 1,511 self-identified Wiccans in the Air Force and 354 in the Marines. No figures are available for the much larger Army and Navy. Wiccan groups estimate they have at least 4,000 followers in uniform, but they say many active-duty Wiccans hide their beliefs to avoid ridicule and discrimination."]

This is the worst sort of religious discrimination and Wiccans are used to seeing the military and the Veterans Administration utilize their "Catch 22s" to justify and cover up their discrimination. You can't say that you "support the troops" if you specifically deny some of our troops the same religious rights, such as having a chaplain of their faith, that you grant to other troops. As the WaPo acknowledges, Wiccans are right to be concerned about what will happen to them if they self-identify: Two incidents may bear them out.

When a Texas newspaper, the Austin American-Statesman, reported in 1999 that a circle of Wiccans was meeting regularly at Lackland Air Force Base near San Antonio, then-Gov. George W. Bush told ABC's "Good Morning America": "I don't think witchcraft is a religion, and I wish the military would take another look at this and decide against it."

Eight years later, the circle at Lackland is still going strong, and the military permits Wiccans to worship on U.S. bases around the world. But when Sgt. Patrick D. Stewart was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2005, the Department of Veterans' Affairs refused to allow a Wiccan pentacle, a five-pointed star inside a circle, to be inscribed on his memorial at the Fernley, Nev., veterans' cemetery. Ultimately, Nevada officials approved the pentacle anyway.
(WaPo, would it kill you to get this story correct? Stewart's widow is currently involved in a fairly high-profile suit to get the VA to do the right thing; the fact that Nevada officials went ahead and placed the pentacle on his Nevada memorial doesn't change that fact, but someone who didn't know about the case would read your article and think that everything is now honky dory. It's not.)

Interestingly enough, Don Larsen joins, all unknowing, in a conversation that's spanned several pagan blogs concerning the relative lack of well-written Pagan theology: You can't intellectually talk about witchcraft. You gotta show up," he says. "What Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell and a lot of us universalists think is, people need the magical side, the mythological side, of religion. "We don't need more Calvinist rationalizing. We need mystery. We need horizons. We need journeys."

The WaPo's generally respectful tone goes all to hell when it begins to describe an Imbolc ritual in which Larsen participated:

Wearing the kind of fanciful robes you might see at a Renaissance fair, Larsen and other members of the Sacred Well Congregation greeted Imbolc this year in a circle of stones behind Oringderff's ranch house in Schertz, near San Antonio. Under a pair of gnarled mesquite trees was an altar; in the middle of the circle, a bonfire.

Eight women and eight men, mostly middle-aged couples, held hands. They danced in circles and figure eights, passed a large goblet of wine and pressed closer to the flames as the night grew chilly.

There was no nudity. No blood. No mention of the devil.

But there was a ceremonial dagger, a dish of salt, burning incense and a 35-minute service full of abstruse allusions to Celtic and Norse gods and goddesses. The part assigned to Larsen included such lines as: "Hail Sudri, and the Spirits and Creatures of Fire! Guardians of the Southern Gates of Gorias. We call upon you. . . . Salamanders of Fire, join us here!"

You know, WaPo, bite me. Ever see how the pope dresses? What's so scary about a dish of salt? Most xians have a goblet of wine and a piece of unleavened bread on their altars. Sikhs use ceremonial daggers; xians place ancient implements of torture and execution all over their churches. Catholics burn incense. And "abstruse"? Ever listen to a catholic mass? The article makes no attempt at all to explain, as an article meant to inform the general public about a minority religions should do, why Wiccans call South, just an out of context quote selected to sound as alien to xian ears as possible.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Sunday Akhmatova Blogging

To the Muse

The Muse my sister looked in my face,
her gaze was bright and clear,
and she took away my golden ring,
the gift of the virginal year.

Muse! everyone else is happy --
girls, wives, widows -- all round!
I swear I'd rather die on the rack
than live fettered and bound.

In time I'll join the guessing game,
pluck petals from the daisy's wheel.
Each creature on this earth I know,
must suffer love's ordeal.

Tonight I pine for no one,
alone in my candlelit room;
But I don't-don't-don't want to know
who's kissing whom.

At dawn, the mirrors, mocking, will say:
"Your gaze is not bright or clear."
I'll sigh: "The Muse my sister came
and took the gift of gifts away."

~Tsarskoye Selo 1911