On our new home

It’s been a whirlwind of a month since I last posted. I visited the inlaws for Thanksgiving, spent three days with a sick and teething baby, caught the flu, moved 800 miles, decorated our new place, went home to visit my parents and my husband’s parents for Christmas, watched my husband get a job, signed up for health insurance, watched some of my hair fall out (we’re on year three of alopecia falling out in the fall/winter), met new dancers, flew back to Philadelphia to go to my former employer’s company party, and am evaluating what I want out of my career now that I’m in hiatus.

Goodness, everything is different now. No wonder there was no time for blogging.

I’m set up in Charlotte now, and I’m trying to learn about the land here. Of course I’m not all the way familiar with it yet, but I’m doing my research. Charlotte is in the Piedmont region, which is French for “foot of the mountain.” It’s interesting because in Alabama where I am from, my parents’ house is in the “foothills of the Appalachians,” which are the final ridges of the mountain range. But my husband’s parents’ house, which is 20 miles away, is in the Piedmonts. The piedmont region is a plateau between the Appalachian mountains, which have my heart, and the coastal plains. I’m not sure how I feel about the piedmont region. I love it in Alabama, and it turns out Philadelphia is also in the same region. So at least I’m not moving to an entirely different land. It’s hotter here, of course. But still, I will always miss those mountains.

So I was reading up on the Piedmont region, and I learned that it was formed when North America split off from Africa in the end of Pangaea, when the stretching caused the formation of a basin that was later filled in by sediment from the eroding mountains. That explains why our soil is so clay-like. I’ve decided to joke that we’re living on top of one of Mother Earth’s stretch marks.

Charlotte is nice so far. All the dancers seem to be very welcoming and accepting. The people here are so nice. I’ve gotten involved (online at least) with a group of heathens from around here, and hopefully I will meet them soon.

On Leaving Philadelphia

We have seven days until we leave Philadelphia for good. We have no furniture, save for an old mattress we’re giving away to a friend. I am dancing in the living room.

I’m surprised at how unintrusive my feelings have been about this. My feelings are usually so ever present and strong about change, and with this one, I mostly just feel at peace. I’m very sad about leaving my friends, but I’m looking forward to this new life in the South with my family, with the four of us all together at last: My husband, my twin sister, her man, and me. A family living under one roof at last. I feel like I should feel so much more sad or stressed out about it than I am, but for now, I am feeling grateful for my feelings. I know that we are making the right decision for our futures. Philadelphia was never going to be my long term home. Charlotte seems to have so much potential to me–it’s closer to our parents, it’s a beautiful city where things are happening. The streets are not filled with litter. There are trees.

I think mostly, though, I’m feeling the present. Here. My last few days living alone with my husband, the beautiful apartment welcoming us. Goodbyes are imminent. My replacement has already started at work.

I think I’ve mentioned before that I haven’t felt Freyja very clearly since moving here. I’ve been getting much closer to Sif these days, but Freyja always comes back with such force when I go home to the South. I’m excited for this new adventure. I’m excited to see where my life takes me in a new city I feel ready to commit to. Perhaps in Charlotte I will finally have a real home.

First Wedding Anniversary

This weekend my husband and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary. It was a lovely day. We went mini golfing and rode a carousel downtown. We made a delicious dinner and drank the last bottle of the wine we bought for our wedding and ate our year-old cake. It was nice.

One of the things we talked about was what has changed in this past year. And a lot of things have. We have concrete plans to move away that we didn’t before. My name is different. I feel very at peace with where we are in our relationship instead of worrying that the labels available were insufficient. We started going to a druid grove, which has been nice. In that respect, it seems as if everything has changed in this year. For the first time in my life, we are regularly spending time around people who share my interest in nature religion, and even though I’m not quite a Druid (I am unfortunately clueless about the grove gods, for instance) and my husband is definitely not a druid (being as how he’s a Lutheran), I think it’s been really good for our marriage for us to go to these weekend events every six weeks or so. We haven’t gone to all of them because of scheduling, but I think he understands paganism now in a way that he didn’t before. Even I understand it in a way I didn’t before. I never had worship partners beyond my sister and my husband humoring me and joining me for the Dumb Supper and the bonfire for Yule and berry picking on the summer solstice. It’s beginning to feel to me as if paganism is a real religion instead of this silly thing I do by myself in my head.

I do hope we can find a group we like once we move. It’s so nice to have that fellowship.

The Convergent Diverging Path

*This week’s epic post title courtesy of my friendly gentleman.*

This past weekend my husband and I were out drinking cocktails with a friend of his and her boyfriend.  This friend of his and I have a lot in common–we both have very long hair that we’re attached to, we both love dancing (though in different styles), we’re both pagans. We keep finding more and more things we hare in common. Apparently my gent has a pretty specific type in the women he chooses to spend his time with!

It was my first time meeting her boyfriend. I liked him a lot. He revealed that he also considers himself pagan when we were out for some cocktails. That left my husband as the odd man out for once! The conversation from there turned very interesting about all of our pasts and what brought us to paganism and how we are pagan. None of us had a good time with the Christianity of our childhoods, but the way the three of us came to paganism and how we treat it has given me a lot of room for thought the past few days.

I’ve discussed quite a bit about me on this blog, but the short story is that I read a whole lot on the internet and consider myself very religious. My husband’s friend came to paganism through Australia, where she went on a long journey years ago and was introduced to the rituals of the aborigines there. Her paganism now manifests mostly through talking to the moon and, occasionally, going on meditation retreats. Her boyfriend just sort of vaguely considers himself pagan, but doesn’t really know what it means to him.

Our conversations were quite fascinating, but I won’t go into it too much out of respect for their privacy. But I think it’s interesting in a way how the three of us almost show three different veins or impulses of modern paganism.

Traditions and People

Her’s is so much more directly related to other people than mine, and comes out of a respect and experience with mesopagans who grew up with their traditions. Her experience with paganism is so closely tied to the experience of other pagans in the world and what they have personally taught her and shown her.

Academic and Solitary

Mine is so academic, comparatively, and solitary. Even though I go to the druid grove rituals (and am going this weekend), my faith is more or less rooted in my brain, my desire to integrate my academic interests with my dancing and my belief in the importance of the body and the beauty of nature. My faith has never been fundamentally related to other people, though I do hope I can someday establish a sort of religious community where I can place roots with other people and learn rituals from them. But we are all converts and none of us have been raised with traditions.

Not Christian

Her boyfriend was very eloquent about his non-Christianness, but less clear on his paganness. But the point is that he had a lot of reasons he didn’t like Christianity, why he thought it was, in its current forms, dangerous to society, and it reminded me in how many ways the resurgence of paganism is, ultimately, a reject and reaction against the society we were raised in. All three of us (and my husband, in many ways even though he chooses to remain Christian) have found Christianity lacking and looked for fulfilment elsewhere.

There was an excellent post up on The Archdruid Report this week about how there seems to be a new religious sensibility reaching critical mass–that what doctrines you actually believe are less important than reveling in the beauty of nature. I had such a wonderful time having dinner with other pagans even though we don’t ultimately believe the same things. It was so nice to spend time with people who are articulately engaging with the flow of ideas toward this new sensibility, and who reflect some of its benefits. We do not believe in the same deities or theologies, but we can come together and discuss how we think our sensibility is a better reflection of the world before us. And, since we all consider ourselves pagan, we can do so without the discomfort that often comes from using the name of our religion, that makes us feel less able to articulately describe our viewpoints with other non-pagans.

On the Uniqueness of Place

Granite mine S Last weekend was my 10th anniversary with my husband.

That’s confusing. Let me rephrase. We started dating ten years ago, when I was sixteen. We celebrated by going to Vermont to relax and enjoy nature. We had a great time. But we didn’t really take any photos. In fact, the only photos we did take were on a tour of a granite mine we went on.

But we went canoeing in the river and woke up to a view of a mountain. We climbed trees and went ziplining. We drove on the back roads in the forest and looked out for moose. We saw a deer. It was so relaxing.

And yet, at the same time, it wasn’t what I expected. I thought we would go off into the mountains and the forest I would feel the way I felt when I was in college living in the Hudson Valley, where the land spoke to me any time I looked around. Where every view of a mountaintop or valley took my breath away.

Vermont was beautiful, with forests so thick you couldn’t see into them from the roads. With steep mountains that were close together and the land looked folded. Where the towns were so small and beautiful and the food was local and delicious. So delicious and wholesome that one of our meals literally left me feeling prayerful at the end.

But it wasn’t what I expected, and this land was not my own. On the way home, we ended up crossing the Hudson River and seeing the Catskills in the distance, and my heart skipped a beat. This was my home, not Vermont. But it surprised me that even though they are pretty close, geographically, these places are not the same. The mountains in the Catskills are taller and wider and piney-er. There, the land rushes out to greet me, as if it’s catching a glimpse of a long lost friend just as I am.

It didn’t help that it may be the last time I see those mountains. I’ll be moving even farther away from them soon, to Charlotte, North Carolina, where I will have to learn the land anew. Philadelphia and I have not become close in my years here, especially compared with the longing I feel for Duchess County. Here I am religious in spite of the land and my connection to it rather than because of it. That land, the land that introduced me to the gods, is no other land in the world, and I fear that I will never again live anywhere I love as deeply as that land. I feel a loss for it, for my distance from it.

Any time I come back to Philadelphia from time away, I feel sad when I get back to the city limits. This city is so dirty and decaying and sad and natureless that I just don’t feel a connection here. I truly hope that my new home makes me feel more like the Catskills than this.

It is odd to me, that a twenty minute drive through that region had more impact on me than the entire vacation. But that’s what love does, isn’t it? It meets us when we least expect it, wraps us up in that feeling of connection, and leaves us feeling rather transformed.

Bittersweet

My sister moved out this weekend.

Now it’s just me and my husband.

She moved south to Charlotte, and we’ll be following her come the end of November.

SAM_2167 I miss her, as I expected to. In some ways, it’s nice getting to have three months alone with my husband. Like a vacation of sorts. But I love her so much, and I so enjoy her company, and the house seems so lonely without her. I won’t see her again until after Thanksgiving.

She’s moved to be with her boyfriend, and we will move to be with her. To keep our family whole.

Still, I miss her, and the house is full of her memories. There’s less furniture, and it feels so empty. I only have to cook for two now.

Husband and I are choosing to take this time to work on our new marriage, as stodgy as it sounds to say that out loud. Thus far in our brief marriage, we’ve been spending so much time taking care of her and worrying about her in the stress of her finishing school and wondering what the future holds. Now we know that in three months we’ll be moving into our apartment with them, to start a new life. So we can take this time to be together, to enjoy one another’s company fully.

Still, I miss her. And the house is full of memories.

It’s so bittersweet I’m not sure how to feel. I’m so sad that she’s not around that I keep bursting into tears at the most inopportune moments. And then I’ll think of how happy I am to be alone with him and me, and I feel happy. And then I feel confused.

Some musings on Body Ideals

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about ideal bodies, and what a society’s concept of an ideal body means.

My thoughts on the subject started with watching this wonderful gender swapped parody of Robin Thicke’s disgusting music video. I don’t like Robin Thicke’s video because I don’t like the way he uses naked women as props while he sings a song about knowing what a woman wants more than she does. Anyway, I like the gender swapped one. But what got me thinking was their description under the video, which says “It’s our opinion that most attempts to show female objectification in the media by swapping the genders serve more to ridicule the male body than to highlight the extent to which women get objectified and do everyone a disservice.”

A few days later, I found “men-ups,” which are photographs of men in poses common in pin-up ladies. But I find that, despite the photographer’s description stating that the purpose of the series is to question gender norms and stereotypes, the series in fact does exactly what the Mod Carousel’s description says–by putting men in a position traditionally seen as female and traditionally inhabited by a female body ideal, it in fact ridicules the male body for its lack of “sexiness.”

So I was thinking about how our society views the female body as so much more beautiful and perfect than the male body, to the point that a naked male body is gross and disturbing while a naked female body (that conforms to beauty ideals in some way) is hot and art and not adult material.

One of my best friends exercises every day, a lot, and she doesn’t conform to society’s beauty ideals because she’s not thin. She told me a story about a friend of hers, who knows how much she exercises, but whose body is more in line with what people think of when they think of “fit” becoming angry when they went on a run together and my friend was faster. She shouldn’t be faster, because she’s bigger. As if size is a direct correlation with speed. It makes no sense to me. My friend is beautiful, and she’s so in shape it’s ridiculous. But when the two of us walk down the street, people think I’m awesome and she’s lazy instead of the other way around, which is the truth.

And then a friend of mine linked to this article on Facebook which discusses how to tell whether photographs of women are objectifying. It’s a really interesting article in that it lists five specific clues as to whether a photograph is objectifying. And looking at the ways that women are portrayed and men are portrayed, it’s so much more common for photographs of women to by objectifying than men’s.

After that, I was thinking about when we learn about the Greeks in school, and how they saw the male body as perfect and the female as less perfect because it was not the man’s. Now, I am positive that I have readers who are much better educated on the intricacies of ancient Greek body ideals than I am, and I’m not going to pretend that this impression is based in research. But given my thoughts about mind/body dualism and history, I’ve come to the conclusion that, (aside from the fact that the ancient Greeks were totally gay and had boners for those hot male bodies) the reason for that is that both the ancient Greeks and the modern Americans viewed the male brain as superior.

If the ancient Greeks viewed the male brain as superior and also were before mind/body dualism, then the male body was perfect because the male was perfect. Now, the female body is sexy because the male brain is superior and men want to look at those female bodies, and control them. By making women’s bodies the subject matter of most media these days, and by photoshopping those images to such an extent and creating an impossible ideal, the men can maintain control. They can be seen as smarter and powerful, while women are just bodies.

The Long and the Short Views

I’ve been having a bit of a stressful time of it lately. It seems as if I’m suddenly always in trouble at work. My twin sister is moving away from me in only a couple of weeks (which is depressing even if I am going to follow in a few months). My mom keeps bringing up how upset she is that I’m a pagan.

“It is as though the world shifts around me and I find I once more face the burning.”

I was sort of obsessing about the work stress for a few days. And then I remembered my favorite coping mechanism. “Will I care about this in five years?” And the stress melted away instantly. No, I will not care in five years that my boss got mad at me over the price of a train ticket. Not even slightly. I won’t care in five years that I lived apart from my sister for three months because we will have been reunited.

But the other thing, I’ll care about that. Of course I care about my relationship with my mother and hope desperately that this will be repaired. But the way things are going, it’s not looking likely. It’s looking like this will always be a point of contention and stress with us. So far it’s been three and a half years since I told her, and it’s only gotten worse. But perhaps there is no solution. I am not willing to compromise my faith, and neither is she.

Still, I feel better being able to shake off the small things by remembering the long view. My philosophy in life is to take the long view on hardships and the short view on happiness. Both are intended in the question “will I care about this is five years?”

It’s great to be able to let go of stress by remembering that someday you won’t care. But it’s also great to be able to seize the day and find pleasure in happiness sitting on the couch or watching a flower bloom. And to focus on that. Pain and stress can come and go, but happiness is so fleeting. Those small moments of joy are the things you’ll remember in five years. Today the pain is so much easier to focus on. But looking backward reveals the happiness, and we feel nostalgia.

Not that I’m always good at it. But I try to look on my life with nostalgia for how it is right now. For these days in my beautiful apartment with my husband and my sister, when my nephew is not yet 16 and my other nephew is barely walking. When we have so few responsibilities. When we’re newlyweds. When I still have one of my grandmas and have never known true grief. When we are in the good times.

 

On Gods as the Mascots of Religions

Any of my readers who have been reading my blog since the beginning, or who have read my page What I Believe will probably know that I originally started this blog at the beginning of 2010 after telling my mother about my conversion and then writing her an essay about my new faith, which to this day, she has never read. The only thing she knows about, or cares to know about, my religion is that it doesn’t involve believing in Jesus as my personal savior. 

For the past three years, we’ve pretty much just avoided the subject with one another. Every once in a while she’ll make a comment about how I’m not allowed to die before she does because she just won’t be able to live with herself knowing I’m in Hell.

She was here visiting recently, and we actually argued about it some. She called me “screwed up” and continued to tell me I’m going to Hell, and that the only thing that matters to get into Heaven is believing in Jesus and following the ten commandments. And I tried to explain to her some of the reasons I converted or give her any details about my faith, and she just wasn’t having it.

The point of this post is not to complain about my mother or wallow in self-pity about my relationship with her, though. I got to thinking about her comments, and her understanding of what religion is, and what it means to be religious, and I had a thought about the nature of divinity. My mother views religion as being primarily about Jesus. Jesus, of course, is the face of Christianity, but for her, religion doesn’t go farther than that.

Phillies_PhanaticJesus had so very little to do with my conversion, and I really feel like I parted on good terms with him. But I don’t see the face of a religion as its whole. I think of Jesus more like I do the Philly Phanatic–an intriguing mystery dancing around in the middle of a game he is not really central to. If you put his picture on your car, everyone knows which team you’re rooting for. But for my mother, it’s almost as if the mascot is the whole game.  As if the whole point of baseball in Philadelphia is that everyone has to love that silly dancing green dude.

But while Jesus is the mascot of Christianity, the real game is salvation. There is so much else playing behind the mascot of a team, and so much beyond a deity in religion–there are the hours of practice honing your skills (meditation, prayer, etc.), there is the excitement of the big event, the agony of loss, the comfort in solidarity with your peers. These are the things that really matter in religion. In a religion, there are shared values, shared views on what the important parts of history are, what is the shape of time, what is the point of death, how important information about the afterlife is, what the meaning of life is.

The gods a person chooses to worship will tell you a lot about them–hearing that someone believes in Jesus tells you more about them than just that they believe in Jesus. Knowing that my mom or my husband believes in Jesus will also tell you that they value the Bible, they believe in salvation, they believe God has a plan for their life, they believe in sin and redemption, they believe that there is such a thing as being “born again” in faith.  I’m sure there is as much to learn about me in the information that my mascots are Freyja, Holda, Sif, and Thor as there is that my mother worships Jesus. You can learn from these things that I value being a part of the mainstream less than my mother does. You can learn that I value the body, cycles, nature, healthy sexuality. And a relationship with one or more gods is usually central to a religion, but not everyone needs a mascot, and a mascot is not everything about a religion.

While my relationships with Freyja, Holda, Sif and Thor are very important to the expression of my faith, there are in no way the whole of it. I am a pagan because of the way I feel looking at the sunset, the ambivalence I feel about the fact that the afterlife is unknowable, the meaning in the rainfall and the knowledge that we depend on the Earth and its cycles, that we do not have dominion over the earth because we depend so heavily on it. I am a pagan because of my belief that the purpose of life is to live a good one in harmony with the land. Because I believe we should honor our ancestors and the trees and fields that shape our experience of place. I believe that embodiment and sexuality are central and important parts of experiencing humanity, not sins. Freyja, Holda, Sif, and Thor are all faces of these experiences and values. They are important to the experience of my faith, just as Jesus is important to the experience of Christianity but not the whole of the faith, and just as the Philly Phanatic makes baseball games more fun, but isn’t really the point of the game.

My high school did not have a mascot. And yet we had school spirit. My mother says (incorrectly) that my soul does not have a mascot because I don’t believe in Jesus. And yet I have religious spirit.

On Progress and Disembodiment, Part 4

This is the final part in a 4 part series.

Progress is beginning to break down. The fuel that runs our society is getting too expensive and difficult to extract from the Earth. The climate is heating up, and everywhere we turn is pollution. Humans are overpopulated and underfed. It is getting more and more difficult to believe that the better future that Progress promises will ever come.

There are ways that Progress’ disembodiment is breaking down, too. There are ways that people are turning back to their bodies. Take this blog and modern paganism as an example–modern paganism tends to believe that embodiment is a virtue to strive for. People are meditating or practicing yoga. People are becoming interested in food production and composting. Urban gardens are popping up in every city. “Handmade” is becoming a good thing again, rather than being seen as shoddy. Many people would now prefer to buy handmade jewelry on Etsy rather than machine-made jewelry from a mall. Corporate clothing chains like Anthropologie are making a point to sell clothes that look a little imperfect so they will seem handmade. There is a huge resurgence in people wanting to DIY so that their things show the mark of their hand, in people seeing things they made themselves as indicative of their personalities because of the mark of their hands. People are brewing their own beer, pickling their own cucumbers, canning their own jam. People in huge numbers are taking up crafts like knitting that only a few decades ago were seen as backwards Grandma activities. People are intentionally forming communities, putting down their phones for the weekend, or leaving Facebook. People are converting to Paganism or just choosing to believe that their embodied selves have a place on this planet. People are demanding that magazines show unedited photographs so that we may have beauty ideals that reflect actual people, so that people might have a slightly less contentious relationships with their own bodies. Progress is breaking down a bit, and with it, its foundational belief that the body is the worse part of a two-part humanity is also breaking down, little by little.

It’s got a long way to go. But by embracing and cultivating our embodiment, we can bring back a central place for our bodies in our own lives. What if we called people instead of texting them, and visited instead of Facebook chatting? What if we danced more instead of watching movies? What if we built instead of bought, and felt along with thought?