Birth, Death, and the Afterlife/lives

Birth– I was born with a twin sister and soul mate. I got this idea from Plato’s Symposium–Aristophanes’ speech. In it, he says that the reason we have sex and stuff is because originally, the people were all like one blob with four arms and legs and two faces. But they didn’t do what they were supposed to, so the gods cut them in half, and then they spent all their time looking for their other half. So my sister and I are identical twins, who used to be one blob that got split up by the gods and now we’re two people. I love her dearly.

Many people start out as twins, and one absorbs the other. Most pregnancies fail before the woman even knows she was pregnant. For these reasons and many others, I have no problem with abortion. A fetus isn’t a baby and killing one doesn’t make you a murderer. Let me repeat that: Fetuses are not babies. They are fetuses. They have not yet experienced the painful separation of birth, that initiation into the life of the living. Pregnancy is a magical thing, and it’s so wonderful for people who want babies. But on the other hand, when we have so very many people who are unloved and the Earth is feeling encumbered by our overuse of her resources, why would we want anyone to enter the world who is not wanted here?

I have a form of birth control that will probably kill my fetus if I get pregnant anyway, thus negating the need for an abortion (an IUD). I’m not childfree. I’ll probably have kids someday, though the idea terrifies me because I don’t want to subject my children to the crappy world that’s coming.

Also, kids come from sex. That’s why they have mommy’s smile and daddy’s eyes. They are the physical coming-to-fruition of their parent’s love, two people literally becoming one to create a third, their own personal mix-and-match game of genetics. So I don’t understand why sex is so very hidden from them. Kids are inextricably related to sex due to their not being able to exist without it. It really creeps me out how everyone is always trying to hide it from them. Wouldn’t it be more healthy just to acknowledge that sex exists and that’s where babies come from and that’s why you should do it responsibly? Why should we tell kids who accidentally walk in on their parents that they were “just wrestling” or whatever. Why do we make up the stork? Why do people tell their children that sex is bad (as my parents did on at least a weekly basis)? Clearly, sex has some repercussions, which are often bad. But sex itself is life and joy and communion with the universe. It creates the children who we hide it from. No wonder we’re all so messed up about it. It’s not shameful. But neither should we have sex willy-nilly with whoever. It is sacred.

Death and Rebirth– People die. People eat dead things every day, even though they are grossed out by dead things. My personal feelings about death are best described by the movie The Fountain. I want to become a tree.

Same as with sex, I think death shouldn’t be hidden the way it is. Nobody wants to talk about it unless they’re telling you that you’re going to go to hell if you aren’t good. People don’t want to think about the fact that the meat they eat is a dead animal. They don’t want to think about the fact that their pets died (No, Fluffy went to a better place). Death is the end. Without destruction, there can be no creation. Death is the price you pay for life. That’s just how it is. It is how we make room for our children and grandchildren.

We pretend that death is always bad, and should always be avoided. That phrase “she wouldn’t hurt a fly” applies here. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to kill a fly. They’re annoying and gross and carry diseases. But why is it a virtue to refuse to hurt a fly? Why is it a virtue to pretend that death does not exist? I know a woman who wanted to set free trapped flies, and who cannot look at a dead bird on the sidewalk, preferring to pretend that it is not there. This woman, by the way, is not a vegetarian. We’ve forgotten where our food comes from and that we live off death. Sure it’s another symptom of our believing we live on top of the Earth rather than within Her, and another of our ideas that we’re “better” than the animals.

But perhaps if we really understood that we live off of the death of other things, we would have a different attitude about death altogether. It wouldn’t be so very foreign to all of us because we encounter it every day.
One of my most important spiritual experiences was my junior year of college when I spent forty five minutes watching a dead squirrel. I watched the flies eating out its eyes. I just stood there watching in the field. I saw birds flying by, too. And then I knew about the cycles of life and how it’s so important that things be allowed to decompose. Several days later I saw the squirrel covered in maggots. That squirrel gave life to a whole generation of flies, who will be eaten by the birds and then the squirrel will fly. I help my food dance. Someday, what my dead body feeds will allow me to fly.

I don’t know what I believe about the spiritual afterlife. I don’t even know if I believe in souls. But I do kind of believe in the afterlife. I think it’s irrelevant to life, though. I think some people become ghosts, I think that some people unite with the gods, I think that some people reincarnate. What I don’t believe is that the afterlife works on any kind of punishment/reward system. Nothing in the universe outside of human interaction actually works on a punishment/reward system.

But it doesn’t matter to me. It is enough to me to know that someday (assuming I’m not too pumped full of formadehyde) that some worms will eat me, and then a robin will eat the worm, and I will fly. I won’t have any awareness of my flight, but I think it’s so beautiful to know that my body parts will allow the universe to continue its joyful turning.

Oh–I also find it necessary to note here that my feelings about death are entirely theoretical. The closest person to me who has died in my 23 years was a college professor who had major influences on my spirituality. But I have never experienced true grief or the loss of a loved one, so perhaps that has to do with why I can just accept death as a fact of life.

Images from Wikipedia Commons

My Pagan History

I, like many pagans, was raised Protestant. We were Baptist-like Christians and I was “saved” a couple of times when the pastor asked people to take Jesus into our hearts.

My Dad was a Catholic before he married my Mom, and that affected things a bit. He once took me to Mass, where I spent the entire time playing Eenie Meenie Miney Mo about whether I wanted the man who looked like my Dad sitting behind me or my Dad to be my Dad. I ended up on the other guy, but cheated so I could keep my own Dad. That’s my first church memory. Give me a break, I was four.

Around the same time, I had a poster of two cats on my bedroom door. I saw one of the cats move one morning. No one ever believed me, but looking back, I think that was Freyja making her first check in on me.

I wasn’t ever baptized, because we were from the kind of Christianity that has baptisms much later. Church was weird for me. I really enjoyed participaing in the Christmas pageants. One year, I got to be a lead mouse in A Churchmouse Christmas, and I had a major fever that day, and I performed it anyway. My Mom always said that I still performed with more energy than any of the other kids. Who knows whether that’s true or if it’s just her being a mom, but nevertheless, it shows how I’ve always loved performing. I liked singing the hymns. And every Wednesday we went to Church and memorized Bible verses and played relay races and did little workbooks.

I got in trouble once because they gave us a picture of people eating a picnic on a picnic table near a trash can and told us to circle the things in the picture that God made. So I circled the entire picture. People told me that was the wrong answer because God just made the people and the squirrels and the trees. The people made everything else. I said, “Yeah, but if God made people, then didn’t He also put those ideas in our brains?”

I didn’t much like our Church. Everyone was much, much poorer or much, much older than we were, and so I felt like I didn’t fit in. All of my friends were Catholic, and I didn’t understand why I didn’t get to have a First Communion, too.

Then we moved to Alabama, and everything changed around. Everyone was a Southern Baptist, and everyone thought it was their business where I went to church. But I didn’t–my parents never got around to finding one in Alabama. I actually lost friends because I didn’t go to church. People actually thought that other Christians went to Hell for being Methodist instead of Baptist. It all rubbed me the wrong way.

I started wondering about sin, too. It never made sense to me. I decided at some point, I think during high school, that sin was the choice to be unhappy. That what God really wanted was for people to live as happy of a life as possible given their circumstances, and the people who went around being unhappy all the time were the ones who went to Hell, not the people who believed different, or lived in Africa and had never heard of Jesus.

I suppose all that probably lead me straight to Freyja’s mysteries.

For college, I moved to the New York State, which, as I mentioned before, is the most amazing place. The Hudson Valley is simply the most beautiful and magical place I have ever lived. My sophomore year I was perusing the internet and found a website on Wicca and it very much piqued my interest. I sort of dropped a hint about being a pagan to my sister and Gent and they were unresponsive, so I forgot about it for a while. But one day I was curious again, so I started reading about it, and I decided that I was going to try. Gent wasn’t necessarily so supportive at first, even telling me I should try Buddhism instead because it’s more peaceful. But I made it my mission to educate him, and I did. By the second day, he was somewhat warmed up to the idea.

A few days into my exploration, I was laying in my bed, and I had a distinct feeling of an energetic snake leaving my solar plexus and exiting my body through my head. At that moment, I knew I would never be a Christian again because the snake of original sin had left me.

Since then, I’ve moved around in paganism a couple times, but I’m here to stay. Freyja is always there for me when I need her. The philosophy of paganism makes so much more sense to me–the world is complex, so why shouldn’t the divine be as well? For me, paganism solves all of the religious problems that Christianity presents–the idea of forcing everyone in the world to be the same as you, the problem of evil, the guilt-ridden lifestyle. I am happy as a pagan and telling my problems to the moon or the plants or the Goddess or even my sexuality and knowing that I am being heard instead of telling a metaphorical being outside of the entire universe. I love that I can explore science, which has always been a subject of great interest to me, without feeling like I’m cheating on my religion. I love being encouraged to form my own ideas and theories about my gods without being a heretic.

I love going to the park and sitting or singing. I love that Freyja teaches me what I had always thought as a child–the point of life is to be filled with joy whenever you can. I had depression problems before her, but she taught me to get myself out of the hole of self-hatred instead of wallowing in it. Freyja shows me the beauty and the joy in life, and paganism allows me to explore.

“The Dancer Gene”

This isn’t new science, but I just read about it. The original article was published in 2005.

Some geneticists did a study comparing dancers to athletes and nondancers/nonathletes to see if there was any specific genetic activity more prevalent in dancers than in the other groups. They found two. The ultimate understanding of their research is that there is a dancer phenotype, which “clearly demonstrates qualities that are not necessarily lacking but are not expressed as strongly in other people: a heightened sense of communication, often of a symbolic and ceremonial nature, and a strong spiritual personality trait.”

For one thing, given my experience with dancers, I totally buy this. The dancers I have known have been, on the whole, extremely more spiritual than the other groups I have known (aside from, of course, my social contacts in spiritual settings). But I have found dancers more likely to be spiritual, and more likely to say things like that they do not find reason to be the ultimate arbiter of truth.

On the other hand, this research leaves me with a few questions.

1. Where does that leave my twin sister? We’re identical, so presumably we have identical genes. So why am I both a dancer and very spiritual while she is neither?

I saw a documentary once, and posted about it that talked about how the latest genetic research shows that inheritance does not necessarily explain everything about genes. Some genes can be “turned off” or “turned on” by specific experiences. So my guess is that somehow my dance training “turned on” my dancey genes. And I also happen to think that my dancy genes turned on my spirituality. The study shows that the genes associated with dancing are also associated with a higher level of spirituality, which makes sense, given how closely related dance has been to religion for all of human history–the study authors suggest that the relationship has been there since the earliest exodus from Africa.

I have often said before that my dancing really took off at the same time I became quite religious. And I don’t think it was an accident that they were at the same time. Perhaps this was the point in time when that gene was “turned on”?

2. The original study keeps talking about how dance has always been related to music, and discusses how dancers have a better relationship to and understanding of music than the other two groups studied. I really wish that this study also compared dancers to musicians.

Musicians also tend to be quite spiritual in my experience, and I really feel that musicians and dancers have a lot more in common in terms of goals and ideas than dancers and athletes. I know that the study authors were trying to find out if dancers are different from athletes because both groups are highly in tune with their bodies. But there is something just so different about the point of athletes and dance. Dance is expressive, while athletics is competitive. I understand why they chose athletes, but I would very much like to see a similar study comparing dancers and musicians.

Changes

As you can tell, I’ve changed the look of this blog around a bit. I couldn’t post anything because of the “in search of a dancing heathenry” part anymore. I’ve stopped searching for a dancing heathenry.

It all started pretty much with The Shades of Freyja and my admission therein that I am more a devotee of Freyja than I am a heathen. That brought back up a lot of issues I’ve been having for years about the heathen community not being where I belong, and allowed me to admit to myself that I hold some controversial beliefs. I love the gods, I do, but I’m not a reconstructionist and I see no point in trying to make the movement into something it’s not. And it’s not a place where Freyja is a dancing cat goddess from Egypt.

Anyway, accepting that, for me at least, Freyja is the same goddess as Bast, just like she told me, has been quite freeing. I no longer feel required to do things only if they are historically accurate. I can just trust in the goddess who fills me with that unending joy.

I felt like the title of the blog was making it focused on something it isn’t focused on anymore. It’s not about trying to reconcile reconstructionism with modern dance. It’s about my journey with Freyja, dancing for her. It’s about the joy I find in both dancing and my goddess.

I’ve been doing a “30 days of paganism” thing on dreamwidth that’s been going around, and it’s really helped me to clarify some of the way things have been changing for me. So, I’m going to fix some of them up a bit and post them here, that way everyone can know where I’m at.

So, welcome to the new Flame in Bloom, where I am dancing for Freyja instead of searching for the dance.