Honoring the Land this Thanksgiving

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. My sister-in-law is hosting this year, and I’ve been asked to bring pies. We’ll have enough people there that we’ll need two pies, though I’m sure a lot of people will want to have a slice of each. This year I’m going to make a pecan pie and a pumpkin pie. The secret to making a good pie is a homemade crust made with butter and lard. This is no time to be worried about saturated fat, and I don’t think anyone there is a vegetarian. Butter tastes delicious, and lard is what makes the crust tender and flaky. Yum!

Last year I talked about how I have decided that Thanksgiving is a time for me to honor the North American land spirits. Here are some ideas I’ve come up with to incorporate that into the usual secular American celebration of turkey, pie, and football.

Incorporate sustainable ingredients into your feast.

My pumpkin pie will be made with pumpkins I grew myself in my garden. If you have a garden, try to make at least one dish incorporating something from your garden, even if it’s just sage from a potted sage plant on your balcony.

If you don’t have a garden, check out your local farmer’s market and see what they have for sale. Get some fruits or vegetables to make a dish from something locally grown. If you don’t know much about the kinds of things that are grown in your area or are in season right now, now is a good time to learn.

For the turkey, I highly recommend getting a free-range bird if you can afford it. You have not tasted turkey until you’ve tasted one that got to run around outside. Butterball turkeys have been bred to have such huge chest muscles they can hardly walk. Free-range turkeys are going to have less white meat and more dark meat, but I prefer dark meat anyway. But even the white meat of a free range turkey is much more flavorful than a Butterball. I think it’s worth it.

Burn off some calories with a hike in your local ecosystem.

Maybe you can do this with your family after dinner in a local park, or maybe you can take a trip to a state park on Black Friday. It probably won’t be very crowded since everyone else will be at the mall. Take a look at what’s happening in your local ecosystem. Are the trees changing color or losing their leaves yet? Here they’re just starting to turn color. The Cedar Elms and Western Soapberry are turning bright yellow, while the Texas Red Oaks and Flameleaf Sumacs are living up to their names and turning bright red. Those are mixed with Live Oaks and Ashe Junipers that stay green all winter.

Are there any migratory birds passing through your area on their way south? Since I live in Texas, this is south for a lot of migratory birds. There are several species I only see in the winter, like Orange-Crowned Warblers and Ruby-Crowned Kinglets. There are other species of birds, like most other warblers and the hummingbirds, that only live here in summer and go to Mexico or South America for winter. Then of course there are the cardinals, wrens, blue jays, and mockingbirds that are here year round.

Or maybe where you lived there’s already snow on the ground, the birds have left, and the remaining animals are hibernating.

If you don’t know how to identify your local trees or birds, maybe some field guides would be a good thing to put on your Yule wish list. Our ancestors had detailed knowledge about flora and fauna that many modern people have lost. There’s even a trend among professional biologists that knowing “natural history” isn’t important, which I discovered when I was in grad school. I think that’s a big shame. I don’t think you can fully appreciate something unless you can name it. It’s kind of like the old adage about how the Inuit have all these different words for “snow”. To most people a tree’s a tree. Once you learn to identify which tree is which, suddenly you notice so much more about all the amazing variations of what a “tree” can be.

Visit a museum or historic site to learn some real history.

This might be a good idea if the weather’s bad and you don’t feel like spending much time outside. Learn about the people who lived on the land before you. The Thanksgiving story we were taught in elementary school about Pilgrims and Indians at Plymouth Rock has been mythologized quite a bit, so maybe it’s time to learn about the real Native Americans and various immigrants who lived where you live now.

For example, where I live there was the Tonkawa tribe, and then they got conquered by the Comanches. Then there are all those missions around San Antonio that were built by the Spanish to convert the native people to Catholicism, so that today most Latinos (some of their families go all the way back to when Texas was still part of Mexico) practice a version of Catholicism with a lot of native flavor. A bunch of Germans and Czechs settled the Hill Country and did cool things like inventing Texas-style barbecue. Yes, Texas barbecue was invented by Germans, not cowboys. It was only a couple of years ago that I learned about how the Texas Germans signed a peace treaty with the Comanches, but were persecuted by Confederates during the Civil War because they didn’t support secession.

My point is there’s a lot of complicated stuff about history they don’t teach you in school. I think Thanksgiving is a good time to remember your “ancestors of place.” They may not be your blood ancestors (who are honored on Samhain/Halloween), but they left their mark upon the land where you now live, so that makes them important too. Archaeologists have even found Clovis points only a few miles from my house. Those points were used to hunt mammoths during the last Ice Age. The Clovis people where probably the first people to immigrate to North America (as far as we know) and they lived right here!


Well, those are just some of my suggestions. Modern American Pagans celebrate all these holidays that are taken from European traditions. We’re always looking across the Atlantic to our “ancestral homelands” for inspiration. Thanksgiving seems like a perfect time for us to remember that we’re the descendants of immigrants who left Europe and came to America, many because they thought America would be a better place to live than Europe. Don’t forget to give thanks to the land that gave your ancestors these new opportunities, and remember that you share it with the plants and animals and people who lived here before they got here.

And don’t forget that Thanksgiving is the one time of year where it’s permissible to have multiple pies in one meal. I have some baking to do now!

Are the Gods Abusive?

I recently finished reading Toxic Parents by Susan Forward. I already read Emotional Blackmail several years ago, and it turned out to be an extremely helpful book. Toxic Parents didn’t disappoint either.

Forward breaks down types of toxic parenting into six categories. It turns out my mom fits into three of the six categories. She was never an addict, she never physically abused me, and she never sexually abused me, but she did everything else described in the book. Unfortunately the three types of abuse that she didn’t do are the types that most people consider to be “real” abuse, and if a parent doesn’t do those things, then everything’s fine, right? Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me. Well, it’s very validating that at least Susan Forward doesn’t think so.

But I’m not here to talk about my mother; I’m here to talk about the opening passages from the first chapter of this book, titled “Godlike Parents,” that as a polytheist has been troubling me a bit.

The ancient Greeks had a problem. The gods looked down from their ethereal playground atop Mount Olympus and passed judgement on everything the Greeks were up to. And if the gods weren’t pleased, they were swift to punish. They didn’t have to be kind; they didn’t have to be just; they didn’t even have to be right. In fact, they could be downright irrational. At their whim, they could turn you into an echo or make you push a boulder uphill for all eternity. Needless to say, the unpredictability of these powerful gods sowed quite a bit of fear and confusion among their mortal followers.

And then she goes on to describe how the toxic parent-child relationship is similar, with the child always trying to appease their godlike parents while living in a constant state of fear. Not only that, but the godlike parent can never be appeased. You’re never quite good enough for them.

I’m assuming Dr. Forward has no idea people are worshiping the Greek gods today. The thing that’s bugging me is that if she read some of the polytheist blogs out there, she might not change her mind about the gods being abusive.

I already touched upon this with my previous post about whether the gods respect our boundaries, but today I saw this post on Patheos: Abuse is not love and that goes for gods too. Yes! This is what I’m talking about!

My point is that the idea that the gods are abusive is something that pops up fairly often among both pagans and non-pagans. What’s going on here? I don’t think this is a good thing.

It doesn’t help that a lot of people who are being abused don’t realize that’s what it is. If your parents abused you, you think that’s just how love works. That’s how you were brought up. It’s why people who were abused as kids often go on to get into abusive romantic relationships and end up abusing their own children. That is, if they don’t ever figure out that’s what happened and do all the work to undo that mental programming. My mom was severely physically and sexually abused by her father, so she thinks she did a great job raising her kids, because compared to her parents, she did. She never beat or raped us, after all.

One really good point the author of that Patheos post made was how our society and culture in general mistakes abuse for love. You see movies where stalking and manipulating your partner is portrayed as being romantic. It’s not abuse; he’s just really “passionate.” Even in our dominant religion, Christianity, the god of that religion is often portrayed as an abusive father, at least in certain sects. “Don’t do anything wrong or else I’m sending you to Hell to suffer for all eternity,” is pretty abusive. Somehow they still describe their God as being loving. He sends us to Hell because he loves us so much, I guess.

Paganism is full of converts coming from this kind of environment. Maybe some of them are victims of abuse themselves and still have that mindset that this is just how love is supposed to work. Maybe some haven’t been abused by any fellow humans but came from a sect of Christianity where their God was portrayed as abusive, so they think that’s how a relationship with a god is supposed to work. Or maybe they have just absorbed from the rest of culture that “love hurts” and it’s just a sign that you have a really passionate relationship.

I wonder if part of what’s going on here is our expectations of how the gods are supposed to be are distorting our relationships with them. After all, being non-physical beings, gods primarily interact with us through our minds. Even if they’re not solely products of our minds and have independent agency, I think that it’s quite possible that the state of our minds and emotions and expectations can affect how we interact with them. It’s like noise that the god is having trouble getting through.

It’s already fairly difficult for most of us to get messages from the gods. I think even the most mystical polytheists would agree with me that it’s not the same as communicating with a human. What if you’re interpreting some things wrong? “I neglected to give this offering, and then I got into a car accident. Obviously my god is punishing me.” Um, maybe your god had nothing to do with that. Maybe your god is very upset you were in a car accident. Maybe without their intervention, you would have been hurt worse or even killed. Pagan gods aren’t omnipotent. Sometimes bad stuff happens that they can’t do anything about. It’s the monotheists who think everything that happens is because their god allowed it to happen.

Maybe before we start assuming these things about the gods punishing us and controlling us we need to use a little more discernment, especially if you’re the sort of person who has a history of being abused by others and are probably expecting that sort of treatment from your god too. If your god demands something from you, are you sure you got that message right? It’s unfortunate that we don’t have many reliable clergy who might be able to help people who are trying to figure that out.

One thing that might help is to read some books about abuse, like I have, so you can learn to see the warning signs. In Emotional Blackmail, Susan Forward talks about FOG, which is an acronym for “fear, obligation, and guilt.” If someone is trying to manipulate you into doing something against your will, they usually use FOG. Do this, or else you’ll be sorry. Do this, because you have to. Do this, or else you’re a bad person. According to her, if the only reason you are doing something that someone wants you to do is because of fear, obligation, or guilt, that’s a red flag that the relationship is not healthy. I would assume that should go for gods just as much as it would for parents or romantic partners.

Another thing that could be happening with some of these pagans is they just aren’t explaining their experiences very well. That’s the internet for you. Maybe they have a perfectly healthy relationship with their god, but it comes off as sounding abusive online because our culture is so saturated with abuse=love that they don’t know how to describe a passionate yet healthy relationship in a way that doesn’t come off as sounding abusive.

I think that, in that case, bloggers need to be a bit more careful. If you’re writing a pagan blog, like it or not, you are now representing paganism to the wider world and that gives you a certain responsibility. Newbies could be reading your blog and getting the wrong idea about how a devotional relationship with a god works. I don’t want people to get turned off of worshiping the gods because it sounds like getting into an abusive relationship, especially folks who just got out of an abusive relationship with another human or with the monotheistic God.

But that leaves one last possibility. What if the gods really are abusive?

Take Odin, for example. He’s one of those gods who has a lot of people online talking about him like he’s an abusive father or husband. He’s also the god I’m closest to, so that really bothers me. The idea that Odin is abusive doesn’t seem right to me, especially as he’s helped me deal with some of the mental damage of being a victim of abusive humans. Someone has got to be wrong here, if we’re going to assume that Odin is an independent entity and not a figment of our imaginations, and we’re all talking about the same deity here.

I think that the answer lies in looking at abusive humans and why they are the way they are. Most of them are messed up themselves. Like my mom, maybe they were abused themselves. A lot of them have some sort of personality disorders or mental illnesses or substance abuse problems. They’re weak and damaged, and some of them try to change and seek help, but a lot of them refuse to admit they’re wrong about anything and just keep denying and projecting and blaming everyone else for their behavior. It’s not a healthy way to be.

None of this seems to apply to Odin, or the Morrigan, or Dionysius, or most other gods that people worship. The gods aren’t messed up. They’re supposed to be Higher Beings, right? Also, abusing just isn’t an effective way to deal with people. It’s not very effective at getting what you want or being happy in the relationship. Abusive humans don’t understand that there’s any other way to be, but gods should understand that. Gods are supposed to be much older and wiser than us, right? They’ve dealt with humans for thousands of years. They should know what works and what doesn’t by now.

So when I try to think about this logically, it doesn’t make sense for the gods to be abusive. It wouldn’t be good for them or for us humans and they should know that.

But I don’t know about all the gods. Maybe some of them are abusive. And in that case, I echo what others have said: you can just walk away. You can say “no” to gods. You don’t have to worship any particular god. You can “break up” with a god and go worship someone else instead. You don’t even have to worship any gods at all!

Some polytheists like to constantly remind us that the gods have agency. Well, don’t forget that humans do too. There’s nothing with asking the gods to respect our agency if we respect theirs.

I hope so, anyway.

Words Need Meanings

In 2006 the International Astronomical Union clarified the definition of the word “planet” for the first time. Scientists do this all the time. You might even say that one of the main tasks in science is to define words. Once you have come up with a word for something and a definition of that word, you have made a classification. And classifying things is how we organize knowledge.

To my surprise, there was a huge public outcry. You see, the new, much more precise definition of “planet” now included Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, but left out the “ninth planet” Pluto.

Many of the hysterics seemed incredibly silly to scientists. “But there have always been nine planets!” Um, no, Pluto was only discovered in 1930. Others acted like it was some sort of insult to Pluto, as if a chunk rock millions of miles away from us cares what some monkeys on the third rock from the sun calls it. OK, so maybe “dwarf planet” implies it’s not as good as a “true planet”, but come on, compared to the other planets, it’s tiny. But if you must, you can also call it a Kuiper Belt Object. Maybe that sounds cooler.

And if Pluto is a planet, then so is Eris, Haumea, Makemake, and Sedna. If you make Pluto a planet, then the word “planet” is a much vaguer term, and includes many more objects in our solar system than just nine. I mean, where do you stop? Are asteroids and comets also planets? They orbit the sun too. Ceres is an asteroid big enough to be rounded by its own gravity, and it’s between Mars and Jupiter. Ceres was discovered back in 1801, but was never included in the “planets.” Why not?

Scientists don’t like vague terms. We like words to have precise definitions. Calling the eight planets something different than the Kuiper Belt objects and calling the asteroid belt something else conveys information. It lets you know that those categories of objects have properties that they share with objects in the same categories but not with objects in other categories.

Now, whenever you categorize something, you are also generalizing. The planets are still all unique. Calling them all the same thing doesn’t imply they are identical. It just means they share some things in common. Naming things and categorizing things has limitations, but if we didn’t attach labels to things, we wouldn’t be able to communicate. We need the name “planet” to mean something, or else the word is useless.

Scientists understand this, because labeling things is such a big part of our job. The controversy of “demoting” Pluto showed us that the general public doesn’t understand how this works. Perhaps I shouldn’t be too annoyed that the pagan community doesn’t understand how words work either, but it still annoys me anyway.

Ever since I first became a pagan 15 years or so ago, it’s annoyed me that people can’t even decide what the word “pagan” means. If you’re going to call yourself something, it would seem to me that it’s pretty important to know what that label means, but to so many pagans, it seems like the word “pagan” can mean pretty much anything. Calling yourself a “pagan” then conveys absolutely no information whatsoever.

Now, the meanings of words can evolve over time. In fact, language being an aspect of culture, they evolve in a way that’s similar enough to how living organisms evolve that Richard Dawkins coined the term “meme” to describe how culture evolves to go along with “gene” which is how living things evolve. Take the word “planet” for example. It originally meant “wanderer” and referred to the shiny dots in the sky that moved in a way that was different from the other shiny dots in the sky which were called “stars”. Originally there were five planets: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. This all made sense to people who only had their naked eyes to observe the universe.

Once we got telescopes, everything changed. We realized that the definition we had for “planet” was no longer adequate and had to be updated. Now a planet was a thing that orbited the sun, the Earth was one of them, and the sun was actually one of the stars. Then we found three more things that orbited the sun: Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto.

Reclassifying Pluto was just the next step in the evolution of the word “planet” as we get more and more information about the solar system.

Now, I realize that’s a bit simpler, because the planets never changed, it’s just our understanding of the planets that change. With words that have to do with cultural phenomena, sometimes the culture itself does change, and then the words have to change. So let’s look at the word “pagan”. Originally it meant “country dweller,” but pretty soon it was being used to distinguish between people who still worshiped the old gods (who were mostly rural) and people who worshiped the new god (who were mostly urban). Before Christianity came along, everyone just worshiped “the gods” and didn’t really need to be classified. Christianity is what made a distinction between their one “true god,” and all those other “false gods,” and “pagans” were worshipping the false gods, and being a pagan was bad.

As Christianity spread, the Christians converted those bad, evil “pagans” worshiping the false gods to the religion of the True God. From the Roman Empire they spread to the rest of Europe, and then to the Americas and Africa and Australia. (Islam is just about identical in its attitude about other religions and just grabbed some different areas of the world, getting more of the Middle East and Asia and parts of Africa.)

So for a very, very long time, the word “pagan” has meant “a person who worships gods other than the One God of Abrahamic monotheism.” As Christianity and Islam spread, it became a very useful word to describe people who hadn’t yet been converted. It didn’t mean that all those people were exactly the same, but a word to categorize them was useful because they were all in a similar situation: targeted for conversion by monotheism.

By the twentieth century, monotheism had come to dominate the world. There were only a few countries left where the original polytheistic religions are still prominent, such as India and Japan. There were pockets of indigenous religion still trying to hang on despite monotheistic domination, like among the Native Americans, Australian Aborigines, some areas of Africa and Asia. In Europe and the Middle East, the traditions of worshiping the old gods and mostly vanished.

But then some of those Europeans and people of European descent started to think maybe we should go back to worshiping the old gods. And it made perfect sense for them to call themselves “pagans” just like the people back in the old days who hadn’t yet converted to Christianity were called. And yes, I understand that we’re trying to reconstruct a broken tradition, so of course it’s not going to be exactly the same as it would have been if the tradition hadn’t been broken. I always thought that Isaac Bonewits’s terminology of paleo-pagan, meso-pagan, and neo-pagan made a lot of sense. Those terms aren’t used much anymore, but I think those three categories still make sense: indigenous traditions that were never broken, traditions that came from a syncretism of indigenous traditions and monotheism, and revivals of indigenous traditions that were broken.

I suppose you could say that “pagan” only applies to European traditions, or maybe even Mediterranean traditions, since it’s a Latin word. I know that some Native Americans, Hindus, etc. don’t like to be called “pagan” because they see it as a European thing, and they don’t want Europeans defining them. And that’s fair, but if you do that, I think you’d still need a word that is more general and encompasses all those old religions to set them apart from the new religions of the Abrahamic god.

OK, then comes the confusion. Worshiping gods other than the Abrahamic God was considered to be a bad thing ever since monotheism took control. It’s “idolatry” and it’s a sin. It’s bad and naughty and you shouldn’t do it. It’s still that way today. Maybe you’re lucky enough to live in a more tolerant area, but I live in Texas, so I still live a life where my religion is seen by most of my neighbors as being a horrible sin that is very, very bad for society. Worshiping false gods is Devil worship!

And I think that’s maybe where people got the idea that “pagan” could mean anything we want. More specifically, it seems to me like a lot of people think paganism is all about doing things that Christianity considers to be sins. The occult, witchcraft, polyamory, homosexuality (shoot, sexually in general), nudity, doing drugs, anti-Capitalism, environmentalism, atheism, vegetarianism, all these things get “dumped” into paganism because they’re things mainstream Christianity rejects.

None of that stuff, in my opinion, makes you a pagan. Sure, that stuff isn’t prohibited in paganism, but I really don’t think that the word “pagan” should mean “everything that Christianity or mainstream culture rejects.”  Widening the definition of pagan this way actually makes the situation much more complicated. Suddenly it’s not enough to worship pre-Christian gods anymore, being a pagan means conforming to a certain stereotype.

Paganism is a type of religion. Paganism is the worship of those other gods that Abraham’s god told him not to worship. It’s a nice, simple definition. It includes a lot of different people, but it also excludes some people. I don’t think that makes it “intolerant.” If I say paganism actually means something, and that means some people don’t fit the definition, I don’t automatically hate people who don’t fit the definition. It also means that a lot of people fit the definition that I’m not going to like or get along with or agree with on anything else.

I just think that the word “pagan” needs to mean something, so that when I show up to a pagan event or get on a pagan website, I know what to expect, and I’d like to expect something having to do with the Old Religion(s). Unfortunately it seems like what I should really expect are a bunch of people who see themselves as being rebellious or non-mainstream, but think actually worshiping those old gods is dumb.

Where is an idolater supposed to go then? Everyone else in society thinks worshiping the old gods is dumb too! (At best they think it’s dumb; at worst they think it’s evil.) Monotheists think worshiping any gods besides their one is bad, and atheists think worshiping any gods is bad.

Having to constantly clarify what being a pagan even means seems like a distraction from the work of trying to help rebuild The Old Religion(s), which is the whole reason why I call myself a pagan. It’s what makes paganism distinct from other counter-cultural movements. Pagans aren’t just generic weirdos, Pagans are a specific type of weirdo!

Keep the Dead in Halloween

I grew up in a non-religious household. We celebrated Halloween with trick-or-treating, but when I asked my mom what Halloween is all about, she said something like, “I don’t know, the harvest, I guess.” That didn’t make sense to me. What do scary things have to do with the harvest? Why do all the Disney cartoons say that ghosts wander around on Halloween night?

When I became pagan, Halloween was enhanced with spiritual meaning, just like Yule/Christmas and Easter were. I always felt like there was something more going on here, and finally I knew what it was.

I’ve been seeing some other blog posts about pagans having trouble reconciling the fun, festive atmosphere of modern secular American Halloween with the somber, serious business of honoring the dead for Samhain. Most pagans seem to want to keep those two things separate. Trick-or-treating just doesn’t go with honoring the ancestors, they say.

I just kept thinking over and over, “They obviously don’t live in an area with a large Hispanic population, do they?” I guess I’m lucky to live in South Texas surrounded by Hispanics celebrating Dia de los Muertos, so I can see how a culture successfully combines death and celebration. I think we pagans need to take a cue from them.

Yes, I have read some articles about how it’s cultural appropriation to combine Dia de los Muertos with Halloween, but the Hispanics around here don’t seem to mind. The Hispanic neighborhoods around here seem to do a better job celebrating Halloween than the white neighborhoods, judging from the elaborate decorations they put up. My husband and I decorate our house, but we’re kind of an exception. I really worry about Halloween being in decline because there are still a lot of people who think it’s evil and satanic. Many people have bought the idea that trick-or-treating is dangerous and would rather take their kids to the mall than let them roam their own neighborhood. The Hispanic people give me hope that at least they’re keeping the holiday alive while white people are abandoning it.

The local grocery store has Dia de los Muertos dishes, aprons, tablecloths, candles, and even reusable shopping bags. They have new Halloween/Dia de los Muertos shopping bag designs every year. This year they have skeleton cats and dogs, so I just bought a cat one. The few trick-or-treaters we do get in our neighborhood often use these bags for their candy. Last year I got a really cool skull plate that I use for offerings on my altar this time of year, and I got several of the candles for the altar as well.

It just doesn’t seem like cultural appropriation to incorporate Dia de los Muertos stuff into my Samhain/Halloween celebrations when it’s being sold at the grocery store where everyone in town shops. I don’t view Hispanics as being immigrants or foreigners here. If anything, it’s the other way around. They’re the natives and I’m the immigrant.

Maybe it’s not so much appropriation as syncretism. It’s not like I’m merging together completely unrelated things. The Catholic Church already did the syncretism for me when they incorporated Celtic Samhain and the Mesoamerican festivals of the dead into All Saint’s Day.

Dia de los Muertos is a festival in honor of the dead, but it’s also fun. That’s the whole point. One of the traditions is telling humorous anecdotes about the deceased loved one you’re honoring. The altars are covered in brightly colored marigolds, and all the skulls and skeletons look happy. They represent the souls of the dead who have come to join the party. Festive foods like sweets and alcohol are left as offerings for them. The living and the dead are both supposed to be having fun.

I think that having a holiday like this is something our culture sorely needs. We don’t like to think about death until we have to. We pretend it doesn’t exist. I’ve been thinking a lot about death since my father died. How our family dealt with his illness could be a textbook example of how not to deal with the terminal illness of a family member. Nobody wants to talk about death and dying, and so we don’t do a good job planning what we’re going to do when that time comes, and that causes a lot of unnecessary suffering, both for the dying person and their family. By denying death, we actually make it even sadder than it needs to be.

Maybe more pagans need to read The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury (or see the animated movie based on it). Yes it’s a children’s book, but it’s about the true meaning of Halloween, which is about facing things that scare you, like death, in a fun way. When people think Halloween is only about trick-or-treat candy or sexy costumes at adult Halloween parties, we forget that important lesson. I think modern pagans have the potential to bring that back into Halloween.

I admit that honoring my Dad this Halloween will be difficult, like it was last Halloween (which was the first one after his death). His death is still recent enough that it still hurts, but one day I hope I’ll be able to do it happily.

Halloween is also considered by many pagans and heathens as when Wild Hunt starts riding, and that fits in well too. There are many Wild Hunt traditions, but they all seem to involve a god or other important spirit riding around with the spirits of dead humans. Just like in Hispanic belief about Dia de los Muertos, during the Wild Hunt it’s easier for dead souls to visit the living. In Urglaawe, the Wild Hunt is Frau Holle gathering up wandering dead souls, usually accompanied by Wotan, to guide them to the next life.

And yes, I know the Hunt can be scary. I think that’s because there’s no guarantee that all the dead souls wandering around are going to be friendly. Hispanic customs put the emphasis on friendly spirits that you want to welcome into your home, but if a person was a troublemaker in life, why wouldn’t they be the same in death? Some of them might be rowdy, mischievous spirits having a night on the town and getting a kick out of terrorizing the living, like living teenagers smashing pumpkins and egging houses.

I seem to remember reading that main danger of the Wild Hunt is that the dead souls might want to have you join them if you encounter them. This is a problem if you happen to like being alive right now and would like to stay that way for a while longer. There are several superstitions about how to avoid having this happen, so while you’re welcoming the beloved dead to enjoy the feast you have set out from them, it’s probably also sensible to do a little warding to keep the troublesome spirits away.

I wonder if the people who are anti-Halloween are actually feeling this slight bit of danger in the air. Oh, they may try to blame it on Satan, but what if it’s actually the Wild Hunt? For people who want to deny death so much, I can see how it can be frightening having so many ghosts wandering around.

There’s no need to separate modern American Halloween from honoring the Dead. What we need is to integrate them back together. Halloween is a time for transgressing boundaries. I can see why that would be upsetting to people who wish to maintain strict boundaries between life and death, safety and danger, joy and sorrow, tricks and treats, but that’s not how life works.

We need Halloween. We need to send our kids to school in superhero costumes and let them ring the doorbells of strangers at night and let them eat too much candy, when the rest of the year they have to be well-behaved and eat healthy food. We need to invite the souls of our dead loved ones to join our Halloween parties. We need to feel the hair on the back of our necks stand up when the Wild Hunt passes overhead. We need to visit the graves of our loved ones and remember to live life to its fullest because we never know when we’ll join them in the grave.

Pagans, we can do this. We can make Halloween mean something again.

Do the gods respect our boundaries?

I can’t remember what convoluted pathway of internet links I went through to find this post, but it really resonated with me: http://magickfromscratch.com/2015/06/14/really-what-i-need-to-say/

It’s about how the author’s relationship with Dionysius was pretty much ruined by other people giving her a negative image of him.

It made me realize that all of the negative feelings I have about Odin are due to the influence of other people, not due to any of my personal experiences with him. But since I’m not “god-bothered” or a “spirit-worker” or “clergy”, I tend to doubt my own experiences of him and believe the people who say they are his clergy or spirit-wives or servants.

Fortunately, it hasn’t completely ruined my relationship with Odin, because I do have my own positive experiences with him that I try to keep in mind, but that lingering doubt does make me keep him at arm’s length, take long breaks from talking to him, and remind him that if he ever tries to ruin my life, I will just go back to being an atheist, dammit.  I’ve gotten so I’m always watching my back with him and never really trust him, even though he’s never actually done anything to me to deserve that kind of suspicion.

Also, when I first “met” Odin, I didn’t realize I was supposedly in danger of him ruining my life or even killing me violently, so I “let him in” a lot more and had a much stronger relationship with him. Maybe we would have grown apart anyway (back when I first met him, I was also going through a really rough time in my life and depended on his support a lot more than I do now), but I do wonder if part of the reason we’ve grown apart is because of the influence of other people.

There are a couple of negative images of Odin floating around that I’ve encountered. The first one was Odin the Racist Warmonger from the conservative, folkish Asatruar that were my introduction to Asatru. That Odin is protecting the White Race from “genocide” caused by being out-bred by brown people. He’s also the Odin that loves getting us into wars with those evil Muslim Jihadists that are threatening Western Civilization. That Odin is delighted about the United States being in this seemingly unending war in the Middle East and all the carnage and suffering it’s caused.

The problem is that the Odin from the myths doesn’t seem to be racist. Odin the Wanderer, son of and sometimes lover of Jotuns, seems to be the exact opposite of racist, actually. So I’m pretty sure Odin is not a racist, and that racist Heathens really care about racism more than the gods, and have projected their racist views onto the gods instead of trying to see what the gods are really like.

I’m less sure of Odin the Warmonger, but it seems to me that the all-seeing God of Wisdom would at least be able to see that not all wars are a good idea. He may be a warrior god, but going to war just for the sake of pure carnage doesn’t seem very wise. But I really haven’t talked to him about it that much, mainly because I’m afraid of what he’ll say. Maybe he does think any war is a good war, and let’s bomb Iran next. That would send more even people to Valhalla!

I eventually found some more liberal Internet Asatruar, including a lot of female followers of Odin who I could relate to a lot better. But then another negative image of Odin popped up: Odin the Domineering Abusive Boyfriend.

This is a much bigger problem for me, since I have terrible boundaries, having grown up in a household where personal boundaries were never respected. I’ve been in therapy for years trying to work that stuff out, and now I realize it’s caused me problems in other areas of my life, including a romantic relationship where I was emotionally blackmailed and treated like a doormat.

One of my therapists gave me a self-help book, Boundaries by Henry Cloud, hoping it would help. Unfortunately it’s from a Christian perspective, but I read it anyway to see if I could still get something out of it. The chapters are divided into different areas of your life, like “Boundaries at Work,” “Boundaries with your Friends,” “Boundaries with your Spouse,” “Boundaries with your Children,” etc. Those were somewhat helpful, but the last chapter is “Boundaries with God.” Of course that god is the Christian god, and it quotes lots of Christian scripture and explains how this shows that the Christian god respects his follower’s boundaries.

I’m not exactly sure how “worship me, or else you’re going to Hell” is respecting our boundaries, but it still got me thinking about Odin. If this Christian book is arguing that the Christian god respects his people’s boundaries, then Odin should be able to do at least as well, right? I would actually expect more of Odin than of a god that sends people to eternal torture just for not worshiping him.

But that’s not how some people make Odin sound. At one of my Meetups the subject of Odin came up, and I was talking about how I’m an Odin’s woman, but not like some of those Odin’s women. Some people didn’t know what I meant, so I described the type of relationship some women seem to have with Odin, and one person quipped, “Oh, so he’s like the Christian Grey of the gods!” I chuckled and said I haven’t seen or read 50 Shades of Grey, but from what I’ve heard, it does sound very similar.

I can see how Odin might have sex appeal to some, but Odin has always been fatherly to me. He’s the kind of father who pushes his kids really hard to be the best that they can be. The worst thing that Odin could do to me is say he’s disappointed in me or I haven’t lived up to his expectations. That seems horrible enough.

But maybe I’m wrong. From what I’ve read about Odin, he could destroy my marriage, ruin my career, and literally kill me if I wear the Valknut and pledge myself to him. I don’t know why he would do that. I do know that Odin will sometimes sacrifice people for the greater good, but I’m not sure how destroying me would further his goals.

I’m not sure why Odin would want me to give up my career, when he’s the god that pushed me so hard to get it in the first place. My career doesn’t give me as much time for mystical stuff that a lot of Odin’s people are into. I know the runes well, but I don’t have time to master a lot of other mystical skills. Sometimes I wonder if it displeases him that I have a “mundane” job that takes away from that kind of stuff. It’s a job that I feel is serving Odin in it’s own way, but on the Internet it seems like the only way to make a living serving a deity is to depend on income doing divination or selling prayer beads on Etsy. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but is it possible to have a “normal” job and still be serving a deity?

My marriage is more of Frey’s doing, but I always had the impression that Odin allowed Frey to find me a husband, once they both decided I was ready for another relationship (after being single for several years after that abusive one). I have no interest in marrying Odin or any other god. I don’t understand the appeal of the whole concept, really. I mean, if that’s what you’re into, that’s none of my business, but I always wanted the kind of marriage that was a union of equals, and the only way I can get that is by marrying another human being. So that’s what I did, once I found the right person.

A couple of years ago I got a rune consultation from a priest of Odin, and I was advised that if I didn’t want Odin to ruin my life, I should appeal to Frey for help. The priest said that Frey is just as powerful as Odin, and can protect me from him, especially if I’ve already interacted with Frey before. Frigg would be a good choice as well to help me maintain a stable family, and she’s good at standing up to Odin too.

It just made me a bit sad that I’d have to appeal to other deities to protect me from Odin, or else he’d destroy the stable relationship and home I’ve been blessed with. It’s bad enough that my own human mother hates my husband’s guts and thinks I betrayed her by marrying him and “abandoning” her for him, now I have to choose between my god and my husband too?

Of course Odin himself never made any indication that he wanted anything like that from me, but just in case I’ve kept him at arm’s length since then. I just read so much about how Odin will turn your life upside down, dominate you, and consume you that it really makes me wary of doing anything more than pouring him a drink or burning some incense for him every now and then.

My relationship with Odin has turned much more professional. To try to reconcile a little, I started wearing a Valknut to work, and I still ask him for guidance with things that have to do with my job. I remember how way back when I first started out in Heathenry, I was told the Valknut was the “insert spear here” sign, and one should never wear it unless one is OK with Odin killing them any time. I was told that people dedicated to Odin almost always die young and violently.

The most likely way I’d die at this point in my life is in a car accident. Maybe I should get a Thor’s Hammer to put in my car to counteract the effects of the Valknut around my neck. I don’t know what Odin would gain by having me die now. The irony is that when I was suicidal many years ago, Odin didn’t want me to die then. Is he so much of a dick that he’d want me to die now that I want to live?

Again, Odin has actually never given me any indication that he’s anything other than pleased with how my life has gone so far. That just seems so out of character with the kind of Odin that other people describe. And many of those people say they’re priests of Odin, or married to Odin, or slaves of Odin, and here I am one of the pagan laity. What do I know? They’re the ones who are supposed to be authorities on Odin, not me. Maybe the fatherly Odin I’ve interacted with all this years has been nothing but a sockpuppet in my head, some kind of wishful thinking on my part.

Odin and I may have grown apart eventually anyway, like the kind of relationship adults are supposed to have with their parents, if it’s healthy. Maybe doing the equivalent of calling every now and then to let him know how I’m doing and visiting on holidays is exactly what I should be doing with Odin. But it does disturb me that it seems like a lot of people believe that you can’t have any boundaries with Odin, and having any sort of relationship with Odin means he will totally dominate your life, maybe even to the point of destroying you. And if he does, you should be flattered to have been worthy of being a sacrifice to him.

You can’t really blame people for wanting nothing to do with a deity like that.

Anyway, that’s my rant. I’m probably thinking of this more now that it’s finally starting to feel like autumn. I have a much easier time contacting Odin during the fall and winter months. I guess that’s Wild Hunt season, so that makes sense. But it’s got me thinking some more about my relationship with him and whether it is really dangerous to open up to him again. I keep thinking if he wanted to do some damage to me, he had plenty of chances to do it before, and he didn’t, so maybe that means I can trust him. You just can’t have much beyond a pretty superficial relationship with someone you can’t trust, not matter if that someone is a human or a god.

Gods and River Monsters

I like it when I see polytheism and animism sneaking into places where you don’t expect, and especially when those beliefs are treated with respect. It reminds people that Christianity or monotheism aren’t the only options out there.

And sometimes I run across an author, television personality, or other celebrity and think, “You would make a good pagan.”

Jeremy Wade, the host of River Monsters, is one of those people.

River Monsters is one of the few shows left on Animal Planet that’s actually about animals (I knew when that tagline, “Surprising Human,” came out it was a bad sign). Basically it’s about a biologist trying to catch large, dangerous freshwater fish, but it’s also a show about the people who live with these fish, and treats indigenous, animistic, and polytheistic beliefs with a lot of respect. Coming from a western society where those sorts of beliefs are usually derided as primitive and superstitious, Jeremy takes them surprisingly seriously.

When I’ve mentioned this before to people, they’ve said, “Oh, it just makes good television” to have Jeremy talking to shamans and medicine men and taking part in rituals, but even so, he could have that “Oh, these savages are so silly!” type of attitude I would expect from most westerners.

But he doesn’t, and I think that if treating indigenous people and their beliefs with respect gets him better ratings than treating them like superstitious savages, then that’s a good sign for our society.

I think it was in the first season when he tried to catch a large catfish in India that was eating partially cremated remains people would throw into the river. The fish was seen as being an agent of the gods who would carry the person’s soul to the afterlife. A guru warned Jeremy not to try to catch this fish, but he ignored the advice and tried anyway.

After trying for weeks to catch the fish, he got one of the catfish on his line, almost reeled it in, and then the line broke. It was one of the few fish he never successfully caught.

In a later episode Jeremy went to Mongolia to try to catch a giant species of trout that lives in the rivers there. It’s also taboo for the Mongolians to catch that fish. They say it belongs to the river god. Jeremy learned his lesson from what happened in India, and got a shaman to talk to the river god and ask permission to catch the fish.

That was one of my favorite episodes. In Mongolia, like in pre-Christian Scandinavia, being a shaman is a woman’s job. The shaman became possessed by the river god and talked to Jeremy directly with this deep voice, and then gave him permission to catch the fish as long as the fish is not harmed. It was amazing to watch.

Jeremy Wade with his Nyaminyami pendant and the giant Vundu catfish from the Zambezi River

Jeremy Wade with his Nyaminyami pendant and the giant Vundu catfish from the Zambezi River

In another episode he’s trying to catch another giant catfish in the Zambezi River, which is ruled by the god Nyaminyami. Fisherman wear amulets that look like a cross between a fish and a snake as a sign of respect to the god, though they all know it doesn’t guarantee that he won’t still pull them to their deaths one day. Jeremy got one of those amulets to wear, and once Jeremy caught the catfish, he remarks that it looks very similar to the amulet, but is Nyaminyami really just a giant catfish the silly natives have mistaken for a god? Jeremy doesn’t quite say that, like I expected him to. It’s left up to interpretation.

I think the last episode I saw was in Canada or maybe the northern United States. Jeremy was trying to catch a giant pike called a “muskie” and was having no luck. He gave an offering of tobacco to a rock that the Native Americans of the area thought was sacred, and then switched to light gear to try to catch some small fish to boost his confidence. He immediately got a muskie on the line.

Jeremy keeps saying that he’s a scientist and he has to think “rationally” about all this, but he also says that “all fishermen are superstitious”. So he’ll do the ritual, he’ll give the offerings, he’ll put on the amulets, and maybe it’s all a coincidence that he catches the fish when he does those things and doesn’t catch anything when he doesn’t, but that’s how it goes in episode after episode.

It’s a tension that I can relate to all too well. I think anybody who works out in nature has that feeling that you’re interacting with things that are beyond your control. It’s easy to start to think that something like whether or not a fish bites your hook depends on the whims of a river god.

And maybe you think that because there actually is a river god.

I just appreciate that the show leaves the possibility open. This show could have easily been about “debunking” these myths about water monsters, and showing how they’re really just giant fish the silly natives have mistaken for water monsters, but it doesn’t have that kind of tone at all. It’s about looking at how there are still wild places in the world where giant freshwater fish lurk that are capable of killing a person (and how maybe, just maybe, some of them are agents of the gods). It shows that there are still places in the world where human beings aren’t in total control.

And even if you look at this in a completely “rational” way, Jeremy still draws attention to the fact that a lot of the large fish are becoming rare and endangered and even extinct, and losing them would be a huge shame. What’s going to happen when creatures like these no longer exist?

If only more shows on Animal Planet were like this.

The Hot Time of Year

Late July through August is the hottest time of year here. After the rainy season in May and June, a high pressure system usually parks itself right over Texas, things dry out, and temperatures soar above 100 degrees every day. We don’t get any relief until a hurricane hits the Gulf of Mexico just right, or we get our first cold front in late September, usually right around the Autumn Equinox.

Lammas was August 1, and I admit I pretty much skipped it this year. I know, bad pagan. This is the holiday I’ve had the most trouble adapting to my climate. It’s usually celebrated as a harvest festival. Some Heathens consider it a holiday for Frey. In Medieval England it was the first grain harvest and time to bake bread, which also fits with Frey. I like Frey.

Problem is that baking bread is often the last thing I feel like doing in early August.

My lawn is crunchy when you walk on it. The only things left alive in my garden are the sweet potatoes, pumpkins, hot peppers, blackeyed peas, and okra. And they’re only alive because they are especially heat-tolerant plants, I have them well mulched with straw, and I still have to turn their drip irrigation on at least once a week to get them through.

At night temperatures dip down into the high 70’s at best. I’ve been skipping my evening walk with my husband lately, which is bad for me to do, but even after it gets dark there’s waves of heat coming off the pavement, and by the time we get home I’m soaked in sweat.

At least this year we got an El Nino, and finally an end to the terrible drought we’ve been in for several years, and we got a good rainy season in May and June (along with some terrible floods that killed some people). But we’re still having a normal August, which means it’s really hot.

I feel like I shouldn’t just skip this holiday. I think it’s significant that it’s the hottest time of year, and that should be acknowledged with some kind of observance. Perhaps it should be a more solemn one, to prepare for the celebration that comes in September and October when it’s finally not hot anymore.

I took another look at John Beckett’s post about adapting the Wheel of the Year to Texas. He lives in North Texas, and I live in South Texas, so we’re close but not exactly the same. He says he has the most trouble with September 21, but that one is easy for me because it usually is really close to when we get our first cold front, and temperatures go from 102 degrees to a “refreshing” 92 degrees. I’m only joking a little.

We do sometimes get rain from hurricanes in September, but that only happens if the hurricane hits the Gulf in just the right spot and doesn’t end up in Mexico or Louisiana or Florida instead. It’s unreliable enough that I don’t think I could make it a regular observance. The first cold front of the year is a bit more reliable. We get the biggest storms when both those things happen at the same time, so the cool air from the north hits the hot tropical air from the south.

But I digress, back to August.

John calls August “The Corn Harvest.” Now that you mention it, you might be onto something there. There are some cornfields a few miles from where I live. Something weird that my husband and I recently discovered since living out here is that when they harvest corn with their huge machines, it blows a bunch of big corn leaves high enough up into the air that they can get caught by wind currents up there and travel for miles. Then they land in the most unexpected places, like my backyard. A couple of weeks ago a great big corn leaf just plopped right down on my back porch and scared my cat. On our evening walks we found several more in some of our neighbors’ front yards.

The corn they’re growing out there is probably some kind of industrial grade stuff for animal feed or ethanol, but meanwhile at the grocery store, they have sweet corn on the cob on sale 6 for $1, so it must be the season for all corn, not just the stuff no one wants to eat.

I haven’t attempted to grow corn in my garden yet. I think I tried once when I was a kid and didn’t have much luck. The ears were undersized, weren’t completely pollinated, and had corn earworms. Corn is tricky to grow because it’s a heavy feeder and you need to plant a large block of it for adequate pollination.

But now that I have a pretty big garden, and have been doing a lot of work adding manure and compost to it, maybe I can try again.

I’ve been meaning to try corn again anyway. Even if I don’t get a big harvest, corn is a sacred plant. It’s the native grain of the Americas. It deserves respect and reverence. Instead of growing a super sweet hybrid corn like I attempted when I was a kid, I should order an heirloom corn variety that’s adapted to my climate and try that instead. It’ll probably do better.

Another good thing about corn is you don’t have to bake it into bread. The wheat harvest is all about baking bread, which is something I only like doing in the winter. But I love grilled corn on the cob, and I do a lot of grilling in the summer. Even cornbread is quicker and easier to make than wheat bread and better for eating in the summer. A lot of heirloom corn varieties are dual-purpose. You can eat them at the “green corn” stage or let them mature for cornmeal. They’re not as sweet as sweet corn used only for fresh eating, but they have a lot more flavor.

OK, that’s it. It’s settled. When I order seeds this winter I’m getting some maize from Native Seeds/SEARCH, which is one of my favorite places to get seeds, since they specialize in Native American varieties of the Southwest. Then next year I’m going to try celebrating August 1 as the Corn Harvest. Even if I don’t get my own harvest, I can still buy some at the grocery store. Growing my own is much better though.

The main thing I’d have to grapple with is which gods and spirits to involve. I’d still want to honor Frey, because he’s my harvest god, but the spirit of corn is a Native American goddess called Corn Mother (it’s unclear to me whether there is one Corn Mother known to many corn-growing tribes, or many Corn Mothers). It really wouldn’t feel right to me to not acknowledge the Native American character of maize in a ritual featuring it.

Oh no! Eclecticism! Cultural appropriation! I know, I know. I have a whole year to think about it, but it seems more like appropriation to just shove maize into a totally Germanic-style ritual as if it were wheat or barley. It’s not wheat or barley; it’s maize. That’s the whole point. I’d do it from the point of view as a respectful guest on their land, not a fake Indian wannabe. “Hey, Corn Mothers, thanks for this corn that is so much easier to grow here than wheat. It’s delicious!”

Nothing growing in my garden right now is European. The pumpkins, hot peppers, and sweet potatoes are American, and the okra and blackeyed peas are African. I grow European stuff like carrots and turnips in the winter when it’s cool enough for them to grow. And since I’m an animist, I have to acknowledge that those plants have spirits, and the spirits aren’t European either, and I shouldn’t treat them like they are. The pumpkins, peppers, and sweet potatoes were first domesticated by Native Americans and then adopted by European colonists. The okra and blackeyed peas were brought from Africa along with slaves. They’re what feel at home in this climate, not the plants of my European ancestors.

Maybe that’s why August 1 is such a difficult holiday. It’s the time of year when Texas is most unlike Germany or England or Scandinavia. I can either ignore that or embrace it.

Do you have to be a freak to be a Pagan?

This is an old post, in internet-time at least, and I intended to comment on it sooner, but then decided not to, but then I keep thinking about it.

One of the first posts on the Gods and Radicals blog was “Respectability Politics: Act Like The System so that The System Will Listen?” That spawned a lot of “Yeah! Let your freak flag fly! We don’t need to be respectable!” type responses.

This is a problem that I’ve run into before in Pagan circles, so I’m sure it will come up again.

Shucks, it’s a problem I ran into in middle school! In my middle school, the “cool kids” were the freaks. They did drugs, rode skateboards, dressed like Kurt Cobain, listened to grunge music (though some of them were “goths” instead and listened Korn and Marilyn Manson), had tattoos and piercings, had sex, made bad grades, and got in trouble at school a lot.

I didn’t fit in with them because I made straight A’s and was in honors and AP classes, and never got in trouble at school.

I also didn’t fit in with any of the kids in my honors classes because I dressed like Kurt Cobain and listened to grunge music and wasn’t a Christian. That last one was especially important. I remember getting into a debate in my AP Government class where I was the only one in the whole class who thought it was wrong to have prayer in school. So forget about making friends with any of those people.

In middle and high school I literally didn’t have any friends. I was the only kid in the entire cafeteria to eat lunch alone in the back. I couldn’t sit at any of the tables because I didn’t fit in with any of the cliques. I was too freaky to be respectable and too respectable to be freaky.

I thought that adults grew out of that middle school mentality, but sometimes when I see what goes on in the Pagan Community, it looks like a lot of people don’t. Being Pagan now is rolled into the whole package of being one of the freaky, rebellious, “cool kids”. If you have a college degree (in something other than a liberal art) and a “respectable” career and own a home in the suburbs and are married, you’re a sellout just like those kids in middle school who made straight A’s and never got in trouble.

One thing that really bothers me is when people conflate “freak” and “Pagan” so much that it seems like being a freak is more important than believing in and worshiping the gods. I know a lot of people who go to Burning Man, and they seem to think that’s some kind of Pagan event. Yes, there’s overlap between the communities, but going to Burning Man doesn’t make you pagan. Being polyamorous doesn’t make you pagan. Being an artist doesn’t make you pagan. Having a bunch of tattoos doesn’t make you pagan. I’m not saying it disqualifies you either, but most of the freaks I know aren’t pagans in any sense of the word, besides being freaks.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being a freak. I just think that being a freak and being a pagan are two different things that don’t necessarily always have to go together.

It seems like a similar thing goes on in the gay community. When gay marriage became legal, my Facebook was filled with people angry that people are happy about it, because marriage itself is an oppressive institution, and gay people shouldn’t try to be “respectable” now and get married. Now there are legal battles going on about whether gay people can adopt children, and I’m sure the same thing will happen, because parenting is too mainstream as well.

You know, not all gay men look like Mr. Slave or Big Gay Al from South Park. My husband’s brother is gay, and has been with his husband for something like 20 years, and when they re-legalized gay marriage in California where they live, they got legally married. My husband and I went to the courthouse with them when they got married along with several other same-sex couples. It was nice. Lots of happy people around.

You would never be able to tell either of my brother-in-laws are gay just by looking at them. They just look like normal, middle-aged men. Does that make them any less gay? You’d think that two men living together and having sex with each would be Gay Enough.

I guess what really strikes me as ironic is that when you’re already a member of a marginalized community, the community itself gets all upset if you don’t conform to the stereotype that mainstream society has about your community. That doesn’t seem helpful to me. That post from Gods and Radicals has a picture of the cover of The Truth about Witchcraft Today with a picture of a woman in a business suit on the cover. The purpose of that cover is to show that even a woman who wears a business suit can be a witch. What’s the problem with that? Do Wiccans really need to wear goth makeup and crystals all the time?

I’ve already been an outsider my whole life. Unlike most pagans, I was never a Christian to begin with. I could always feel the gods and spirits around, even before I knew what they were. I already feel like I’m enough of a weirdo without forcing myself to do things I’m not interested in doing just because that’s stereotype that pagans are supposed to conform to.

When I discovered paganism in college, I thought at last I have found a community I can belong to, but so often it turns out to be just like trying to sit with the “cool kids” at lunch who looked down on me for taking honors classes instead of skipping school, even if the kids in honors classes also hated me for being in league with Satan.

And now I’m afraid that if I get any comments on this, it will probably be from people who are angry at me for saying that pagans can’t be freaks and should be more respectable. That’s not what I mean. I don’t think pagans have to be “respectable” either. Jason was totally right that mainstream society is never going to respect us no matter what we do. I’ve known that since second or third grade.

What I wonder about is if pagans will ever get to the point where we respect each other and quit with the constant, “Are you pagan enough?” bickering.

It doesn’t help that paganism is often defined by what it’s not rather than what it is, so the question of “Are you pagan enough?” is difficult when “pagan” doesn’t have a precise definition. To a lot of people it seems to mean “Not Christian.” Maybe since Christianity is conflated with conservative, traditional, hetero-normative values, that anyone who doesn’t fit into that mold is pushed into Paganism. So then being pagan is conflated with being everything that Christianity is not, so if you’re not freaky enough, then you’re not pagan enough.

You know, Jesus wasn’t exactly a conservative, mainstream kind of guy and probably wouldn’t get along well with a lot of the people calling themselves Christians now. Meanwhile, pagan pantheons have gods like Zeus and Tyr right alongside gods like Dionysus and Loki.

Oh well, by now I’m pretty used to eating lunch by myself.

The God of Satire

One of the fights that never seems to go away in American Heathenry is the fight over whether it’s OK to worship Loki or not. It puts me in a weird position since Loki’s just not a god I ever really clicked with, which puts him in the same category as Tyr, Heimdall, Skadhi, and many other gods that I think are perfectly respectable. That he gets singled out as a god that’s especially problematic seems really odd to me as an Odin’s woman. In a lot of ways he seems nicer than Odin, but Odin is universally seen as a god that’s OK to worship.

Even though I don’t know Loki very well, certainly not as well as someone who considers him their main patron god, there is one area in my life where I think I “get” Loki, or at least one aspect of him. I’ve always been a huge fan of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and its spinoffs, and I think Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Jon Oliver, Larry Wilmore, and the rest of them are doing Loki’s work in the world. Yes, I know that Jon Stewart is Jewish and Stephen Colbert is Catholic, but I still think of them as honorary Lokeans. Hey, if people can consider Jim Morrison and other rock stars as being avatars of Dionysus, then why not satirists as avatars of Loki?

I don’t know what I’m going to do now that The Colbert Report is over and Jon Stewart has left The Daily Show. I know that Stephen Colbert is taking over for Letterman, but I just don’t know if it will be the same. The Late Show is a completely different kind of show. I know they’ve got a new guy that’s taking over The Daily Show, but he won’t be the same as Jon Stewart.


I had trouble keeping my eyes dry watching Jon Stewart’s last episode Thursday night. That show has been on almost half my life. It helped get me through the long nightmare that was the Bush Administration. While Bush was in office I could hardly bring myself to watch any other news show besides The Daily Show, because at least The Daily Show made me laugh. Watching the “real” news was just too depressing to handle. And I’m sure my experience is not unique among those of us who came of age during the post-9/11 era and were at the start of our careers during the 2008 financial crisis. Shucks, the 2000 Bush vs. Gore election was the first presidential election I was old enough to vote in, and immediately I learned that my vote doesn’t matter, and that the Supreme Court can just appoint the president regardless of who got the most votes. That was also when The Daily Show first rose to prominence, and when I first started watching it.

Lokeans say that Loki does have a compassionate side, and maybe that’s part of it. He can use laughter to help people deal with the horrible things in the world. I’ve also noticed that Loki seems to be more popular with marginalized communities, like LBGT folks and people with mental health issues and disabilities. To me, that makes a lot of sense. A good satirist should always “punch up” after all. Loki is going to be a lot more comforting to the people at the bottom of the social hierarchy than those on top.

I associate Loki with political satire mainly because of Lokasenna. People say that shows how awful he is because he insulted the gods. To me, it looks a lot like what Stephen Colbert did to George W. Bush during the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in 2006, which I thought was one of Stephen’s finest moments.

People call Loki “The Father of Lies.” The irony is that, as far as I know, Loki never lies. Everything he accused the gods of in Lokasenna was true. They didn’t dispute any of it, even though it was embarrassing. Jon Stewart was also known to be very truthful. Most of his show, besides the interviews, was just him showing clips of what politicians actually said. He said it was because making stuff up isn’t as funny as being truthful, but of course powerful people hate that, since they rely on people forgetting what they said years ago (or maybe even weeks ago).

Perhaps it’s appropriate that Loki is controversial and banned from Heathen groups. Maybe being an outsider is just part of Loki’s job. People like it when people they don’t like are laughed at, but once the joke is on you, then they don’t think it’s funny. Loki is not quite a god but not quite a giant either. You can’t really tell which side he’s on. And people don’t like that. No one was safe from Jon Stewart. If you said something stupid, he would catch you at it, no matter where you fell on the political spectrum. Some people were just better sports about it than others.

I think it’s necessary to have someone like that, and that’s why I think that Loki deserves worship. He plays a very important role. He keeps the other gods on their toes, and they’re better off in the long run having him around. Maybe that’s why Odin made him his blood-brother. Odin knows that we need him.

Ugh, what am I going to do without Jon Stewart? What about the next presidential election? What if we end up with President Trump? Oh man, we’re so screwed.

Maybe I should start including Loki in my spiritual practice a bit more. The first thing I will do is pour him a shot of tequila and ask him to watch over Jon Stewart and bless him in whatever he chooses to do next. I should probably also put in a good word for Stephen Colbert taking over The Late Show and Trevor Noah taking over The Daily Show. Maybe it won’t be so bad. And I still have Larry Wilmore an John Oliver. Thank Loki for all of them!

Happy Midsummer!

See the curtains hangin’ in the window
In the evenin’ on a Friday night
Little light is shinin’ through the window
Lets me know everything’s alright

Summer breeze, makes me feel fine
Blowing through the jasmine in my mind
Summer breeze, makes me feel fine
Blowing through the jasmine in my mind

See the paper layin’ on the sidewalk
A little music from the house next door
So I walked on up to the doorstep
Through the screen and across the floor

Summer breeze, makes me feel fine
Blowing through the jasmine in my mind
Summer breeze, makes me feel fine
Blowing through the jasmine in my mind

Sweet days of summer, the jasmine’s in bloom
July is dressed up and playing her tune
And I come home from a hard day’s work
And you’re waiting there, not a care in the world

See the smile awaitin’ in the kitchen
Food cookin’ in the plates for two
Feel the arms that reach out to hold me
In the evening when the day is through

Summer breeze, makes me feel fine
Blowing through the jasmine in my mind
Summer breeze, makes me feel fine
Blowing through the jasmine in my mind