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 while wearing black trench coats), 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.

jon_stewart2

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!