Yeah, yeah, yeah, It’s been a while

I know. I’ve been really busy with the move and everything. For a quick recap: I am now working several jobs: teaching ballet, working in an office, and dancing for several companies. My social life is more active than it ever has been, my best friend from my childhood moved in with my whole big family of my sister, her boyfriend, and my husband, I met some local heathens and gone to a few events, and generally feel like my big move was the best thing ever for me.

Anyway, I’m here today because I want to write about a conversation I had with a new acquaintance of mine. We were at a Halloween party, and I told him I’m a pagan. He was interested and asked me some basic questions, and then got around to the one I always dread–“So, do you actually believe in this stuff?”

I don’t answer that question to people I’m not close to because the fact of the matter is that my definition of religious belief is so different from the common American I-literally-believe-every-word-of-the-bible definition that the only thing that can happen is that I come across like a crazy person. Especially considering that my social circles tend to be filled with either casual Christians or staunch atheists. So what I do instead when asked is tell the person all the reasons why it’s irrelevant whether or not the gods exist–my belief in them itself is a tangible force in the world regardless, that the human mind responds to metaphor and story and having gods whose stories relate to my own difficulties is incredibly healing, that having rituals to honor the dead fills a hole in our emotional needs that scientific society absolutely does not solve, etc. He was really interested in what I was saying, and said he understood where I was coming from that science and religion are for different aspects of life. He defined himself as an agnostic.

A couple of days ago, he brought it up again to my sister. He told her that I “claim to be a pagan” and that I want to believe in it, but don’t really, and that he can tell by my eyes.

Now, I’m a definitely frustrated that someone I barely know thinks he knows how religious I am more than I do. I’m annoyed that he thinks he gets to have a say in what my religion is. But what I really get out of this whole interaction is the ways that American religious rhetoric is so full of boxes that people want to put other people in, and then they get really confused when I don’t fit in them. No matter how many times I have this conversation about what my religion is, I can watch people put me in box after box after box trying to find where I fit. People I end up being close friends with finally just give up and let me be in my own radical place. But this guy decided that since I didn’t fit in a box, I must fit in one anyway, the box of the nonbeliever.

Normally, it goes like this. You’re religious? Crazy Christian box. You’re pagan? Oh, let me edit that to the Nutso New Agey Witchy box or else Satan Worshiping Devil box. You worship the Norse gods? Uhh…Girly Viking chick box. Do you really believe in them? Please say yes so I can put you in the “deluded” box. You won’t say yes? So you’re an atheist? No? An agnostic? No? Uhh…..Yep, I’m going with atheist who has deluded themselves into thinking they’re deluded. Or something.

It’s tiresome. But I do enjoy breaking down the boxes a bit. I can’t tell you how many times people have told me that I’ve changed their perspectives of religious people because they’ve never met a religious person who is so logical and rational about their faith while still actually believing in something. But the longer I’m a pagan, the more I realize that I define pretty much everything differently than other people, and it can make it very difficult to have a conversation.

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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 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?

On Progress and Disembodiment, Part 3

This is part 3 of a 4 part series.

The main way we choose to separate ourselves from our bodies is by using technology. There do exist some really excellent applications for this. For example, there is a team of researchers studying the use of virtual reality software to treat burn victims. It allows them to leave their bodies, in a way, to experience their lives somewhere besides where they really are, which helps to ease their inescapable pain.

Since the dawn of industrialization, we’ve attempted to outsource our bodies as much as possible. First it was manufacturing–instead of having women sit at spinning wheels and work, a machine could do that. So we outsourced our bodies’ capacity for primary productive work. Then we worked on machines that did the work, and the pathway of the past few centuries has been to outsource more and more work.

We had people working in the factories taking care of the machines, then we had machines to fix machines, and the people started working at desks, writing. Then we outsourced the writing to machines, and now we sit and type letters instead of writing words.

Then we outsourced our entertainment. Instead of playing cards or talking, we could watch movies or tvs. The machines could entertain us.

Then we outsourced our home lives—machines (microwaves) can cook our dinners, roombas can clean our rooms, all so we can keep outsourcing our social lives to the internet.

And now, we are even outsourcing our memories to the internet, so that in a way, the mind is even becoming separate from the brain. We don’t have to pull our memories out of our minds, we can look at them on facebook. We don’t have to memorize facts or spelling, we can google them.

There was a Sprint ad for iPhone recently that got me thinking about the extent to which we have outsourced our identities and memories. Here is a transcription of that commercial:

“The miraculous is everywhere. In our homes, our minds. We can share every second in data dressed as pixels. A billion roaming photojournalists uploading the human experience, and it is spectacular. So why would you cap that? My iphone 5 can see every point of view, every panorama, the entire gallery of humanity. I need to upload all of me. I need, no I have the right, to be unlimited.”

If we can upload the entire human experience, all of ourselves, then what is the body for? Notice the narrator does not say he wants to download each of his experiences, or all of his interests. He needs to upload all of him, his entire identity. Since bodies are not uploadable, he clearly considers that his body is not a part of himself or his identity. Pixels have become clothing that require no wearer. His body as photographic subject matter becomes an object to entertain others, the product of a machine, right alongside other technological photographs and tweets and status updates. Our bodies have become the art in a culture that doesn’t value art.

If we are our minds, and our minds are uploadable, then we are packets of data, and our bodies, perhaps, have become the pale green pants with nobody inside them.

We are supposedly at the endpoint of progress, where people are hoping for artificial intelligence so that we can outsource the last shred of our humanity, where movies like Surrogates offer a picture of a world where our lives can be as separated from our bodies as we already are from the production of our food. Where our bodies are disgusting, where they are to be hidden away behind a machine, unless it’s a really nice picture you want to share on Facebook.

On Progress and Disembodiment, Part 2

This is Part 2 of a 4 part series.  Find Part 1 here.

In many ways, our separation from our bodies can be linked to Rene DesCartes and his Discourse on Method. It’s the source of his most famous quote, “I think, therefore I am.” With this canonical work, DesCartes suggested that our humanity lies in our rational processes, that the only way we can know that we exist is that we think about it. Feeling, however, is just as good a method as thinking for proving we exist. I am never more sure of my existence than when I’m in pain, or when I am feeling sorrow. Are these not equal tests for knowing our humanity?

But, to DesCartes, our humanity is evident only in our ability to think. And so began centuries of thought based around the idea that thoughts elevated us above our base human (or our animal) bodies.

In DesCartes scenario, the mind is where our humanity lies, and the mind lies in the brain. The body is the mind’s vessel, and its feelings must be attended to for the sole reason that they keep the mind going. Pain’s purpose is to avoid death, which is the end of the mind. We have to keep eating to keep our minds strong and stay healthy to avoid our minds being distracted by our bodies’ ill health.

It’s not really DesCartes’ fault that he felt this way about reason, though. His philosophy  came after a few centuries of Christianity’s transcendental religion being the most basic belief system of the West. In that system, our souls are what elevates us above the animals. In DesCartes’s philosophy, the mind has simply displaced the soul.

Transcendental religion teaches that this world is bad and to be rejected through ignoring as much of it as possible. Ignoring your desires and focusing only on a transcendental deity is what gets you to heaven. The religion teaches little about how to improve this world. Confess your sins, ignore the desire to sin in the first place. Etc, etc.

In a world-denying religion, our physical bodies as vessels for our souls are leaky in a sense, and our pure souls leak out the cracks. But the bodies are NOT the souls in any way, so they must not be treated as the center of our experience. As the fertile ground from which our worldview of progress grew, Catholicism’s belief in the sinfulness of the body is indicative. Once industrialization took hold, it was machines that we should aspire to be instead of souls.

Every few weeks, one of my facebook friends will quote C.S. Lewis as having said “You do not have a soul, you are a soul. You have a body.” This is an assertion with which I heartily disagree. I think it is definitely the case that you are a body, but I will leave it up to my readers as to whether we also are a soul or also have a soul. The point is that, at least during the course of our lives, we are not capable of leaving our bodies without the use of some pretty impressive technology. According to these beliefs, our bodies are the central locus of our lives, and they are the location of the soul’s experiences. (Interestingly, C.S. Lewis didn’t say it, according to Mere Orthodoxy, whose post on the subject is relevant to the greater subject at hand, namely embodied spirituality.)

Religion itself does not have to be transcendental or encourage disembodiment. Modern paganism, as my readers will know, does not. Neither do religions not rooted in the Western tradition. This quote by Kevin Simler pretty much sums up my feelings on the subject:

“Religion has baffled me for nearly all of my adult life. Then, about a year ago, I had a realization: religion is not about beliefs. In hindsight this should have been obvious. In trying to understand the phenomenon of religion, how could the (specific) beliefs matter? They’re what makes each religion unique, different from all the others.

But I grew up in the West, and a hazard of the Western (disembodied) sensibility is to focus on the beliefs — those verbal, propositional units that yield to analysis. Either gods exist, or they don’t. That’s what religion is about, right? Who cares about the menagerie of bizarre rituals; they can’t be particularly important. I now maintain almost the exact opposite. Religion is a thin dross of verbal confabulation clinging to a bedrock of embodied practices. Talk is cheap. Behavior speaks louder than beliefs. And beliefs about the supernatural and/or esoteric are especially cheap, because those are precisely the domains where holding false beliefs doesn’t cost anything. Say whatever you like about the afterlife, but be careful what you believe about tigers.”

Though we’ve decided that having beliefs or faith is no longer in vogue, and have replaced them with rationalism and atheism, we continue to maintain our civilization’s philosophy that beliefs matter–we continue to believe in the transcendent qualities of the human mind. Belief in science matters, effort toward rationalism matters, but belief in faith is enough to bring about scorn. However, instead of transcending our suffering through non-attachment as the Buddha suggested, or transcending ourselves by becoming close to God, we literally transcend our physical existences by separating the mind from the body and then creating proxies for our bodies so that they can become useless and forgettable. So that we can become walking minds who forget that we even have bodies. We use all the energy we have at our disposal to consistently and thoroughly transcend our physical existences.

On Progress and Disembodiment, Part 1

As I discussed in a recent post, despite the fact that these days, the word “Progress” is usually used as a generalized expression of the future being inevitably better than the present and the past, the definition of the word “progress” requires a destination. What are we progressing toward? We say that it’s a better future, but in what ways is it better? What, ultimately, is the goal of Progress?

In all my writing about dance, one theme has come up over and over again: that we as modern, Western people would benefit from increased embodiedness. Our culture looks at the body as a mere vessel for the mind, so our human experience should be rational and objective. But an embodied perspective is necessarily a subjective one because it must always be tailored to the scale, abilities, and preferences of the individual human body. When DesCartes invented mind/body dualism, he was suggesting that the mind is separate from and superior to the body.

Once this separation was formed, and the hierarchy entrenched, subjective experience became devalued, and progress found its destination. Progress is, in effect, the process of disembodiment.

Modern philosophy, thanks to DesCartes, espouses the belief that our bodies are the vessels of our minds, and our entire culture is built around finding proxies for the functions of the body to free up the experience of the mind. The experience of the body is always and everywhere secondary to the experience of the mind; anything pleasurable to the mind is considered good and just, whereas those things pleasurable to the body are considered mere luxuries or worse, sins.

Normally, this process is described as the elevation of reason, the founding of a just and rational society.  However, I would suggest that it is more accurate and thorough to describe the philosophical trajectory of the past few centuries as a rejection of the body. John Michael Greer calls this “biophobia.” We are so removed from our own bodies that we become disgusted by or afraid of them. And even beyond our bodies–those things that are “gross” are more often than not physical expressions of biology injecting themselves into our lives where they do not belong.

The human disgust response is often a response to those things that are out of place. Someone’s fingernail is not disgusting to touch if they are shaking your hand. But if they trim it off and hand it to you, your response suggests the fingernail is dangerous. The same is true of hair–hair attached to the head is nice, but a hairbrush full of shed hairs (or even worse, a shower drain!) is gross. Insects in the house are gross, because biology has infested our otherworldly, biology-free households. Our entire society has been built on finding ever more complete ways to remove ourselves from our bodies, those disgusting, lowly vessels for the clean and moral souls and minds they carry.

In a modernized, industrial society, I argue, the human body itself is seen as matter out of place in a world built for machines and reason. Our bodies are disgusting for sweating and producing visible waste that machines do not. Our bodies are frail and difficult to repair because they don’t function on a machine’s logic. The parts aren’t interchangeable. They have feelings and urges that are unreasonable and impossible to program out. In a society at the far end of progress, the body is a senseless object that is in the way of our reaching the end of progress– a world without death, want, or irrationality, all things that are inseparable from bodies.

This is the first of a series of four posts on this subject, discussing nuances and examples of this process of disembodiment, and evidence that mind/body dualism may be beginning to break down as our civilization begins its descent from its height.

A Dream

I’ve just woken up from one of the deeper, more memorable dreams I’ve had in quite some time. For background information, Husband and I have gone to a druid group lately (Yule and Imbolc. We skipped the Equinox), which  featured in this dream. Also my alopecia has been getting worse again.

We are at the Grove house, and redecorating. The house is surrounded by mossy trees, and one seems to be crossing the living room. I am crawling up and down it as I help decide on upholstery fabrics and wallpapers for the house. I go outside, and get on a rocket with my husband and my sister, and fly to outer space. I am looking out the window of the spacecraft, looking down at the Earth, and it doesn’t look like a blue marble like everyone says it does. It looks like an eye, the way when you look deep into someone’s eyes they no longer look glassy and smooth, but there are ridges and valleys in the irises, and the pupil really looks like a hole. I’m looking down at the Earth my home and am surprised by it’s depths. The way the land spikes up with tall trees, and the whole thing is capped in beautiful swirling clouds. The Earth is deeper than I had imagined. On the spacecraft is a gym, where a dance performance is going on. I go to watch. Toward the end of the piece, each member of the audience is asked to stand and face the wall, and dancers come to dance around us. But as the dancers get to me, I find another giant bald spot on my head, and so when the dancers dance around me, instead of dancing with them, I just curl in a ball on the floor and sob. When the piece is over, one of my old dance teachers from college, who is a witch, appears to critique the dancers. She tells me that I am too far inside myself.

It’s been a long time since I’ve awoken from a dream like that. One that begs to be understood. But I guess what it’s saying is that I can see the depth of the world through a religious community, and that focusing just on myself and dancing and crying about my alopecia isn’t helping. I’m going to keep going to the grove. I need a religious community to push me outside of myself, that can help me see the Earth for what it is.

On Sif, Seasons, and Family

My alopecia is acting up again.

The day I returned from my honeymoon, and the day hurricane Sandy made landfall along the coast of the Northeast, I noticed quite a few of my newly four-inch hairs above my ears falling out in my fingers. I ran to the bathroom mirror, and, sure enough, it looks exactly like it did last December above my left ear–a small bald spot. And then I noticed another one, right on top where it’s always been the worst. Where I had only finally gotten rid of the bald spot three months earlier.

This time, however, I didn’t despair. My feelings were not even remotely as strong as they were a year ago when I was first experiencing alopecia, and there are good reasons for that. For one thing, I know what it is this time, so I’m not constantly thinking I’m disgusting for having some infection like I did last time when I was misdiagnosed with ringworm. For another thing, I have dealt emotionally with this loss. Last time, the concept of losing my hair was such an impossible concept that I had never even considered it might happen to me. But this time, I know that it’s something that happens to me, and so life goes on. But perhaps the biggest reason why I’m not as upset this time is that I no longer have to worry that I will be bald at my wedding. My baldness waned in time for me to have a full head of hair for my wedding and honeymoon, and now that it’s over, I have the comfort of that perfect memory, and life goes on.

It’s been two weeks since my baldness came back, and so far it’s not even really noticeable. A slight change in how I’ve been wearing my bangs, and even I can’t tell looking at myself in the mirror. Hopefully it stays like that. It won’t.

Last time, my hair fell out during Hurricane Irene’s Northeastern tour, and this time, it was just in the middle of Sandy. So I’m joking to everyone that hurricanes make my hair fall out.

But there’s something else to it, something that has me thinking a lot about Sif, wife of Thor, and that’s the seasonality of it. It is apparently not unheard of for those with alopecia to experience a worsening of their symptoms in the fall, with regrowth tending to appear in the spring. Of course, as with everything about alopecia, there’s very little research, so all of this is sort of speculative.

Many people liken Sif’s hair to the golden fields of wheat, and Loki cutting her hair off as a representation of the wheat harvest, which occurs in late summer. So at the end of each summer, Sif loses and then mourns her long hair, and is given a new head of golden hair by the dwarves.

This is the second autumn in a row that my hair has fallen. Which gives a whole new meaning to the season of “fall.” I feel like a tree, like my leaves fall out in the autumn and I am bare all winter, only for new growth to come once more in the summer. And today, while musing about Sif, I feel like my hairs are the golden fields of wheat that she grows until they are long and she is proud of them, then are torn away, leaving her bereft for the winter, only for new golden stalks to return with the strengthening sun.

There’s another aspect to my thinking about Sif and my hair loss today. With the gods, what thoughts aren’t multi-faceted? So for one, I am thinking of Sif and the seasons of loss and gain, but I am also thinking of how she is the wife of Thor, and how her name means familial or in-law relationships. How she turns the mind to love.* How she lost her hair, and in the process, Loki got her new gold hair from the dwarves, and the gods got the best of their treasures–Sif’s husband’s hammer, Odin’s spear and self-replicating ring, and Frey’s ship and golden boar. These allow the gods much more strength in their position among the worlds, particularly thanks to Thor’s hammer. I am struck that her loss leads to the gain of all in her family, not just herself.

It is so common in Norse mythology for a deity to be missing just the thing that gives them their power–Freyja is missing her husband, but has passionate love as her domain. Odin is missing an eye, and so gains vision. And so on. Sif loses her hair, and also her femininity, and so gives the gods those things that make them the most powerful. Her loss was powerful enough to transform the Aesir. And so I have have been thinking of her and my new marriage, and how we’re in it together now and that sacrifices I make and losses I sustain can have a positive effect on me and Gent and our whole family. And how, like Sif, I am an in-law, and how I am his wife, and he is now, for real, my family. How families are a whole web of connectedness, and how marriages tie a knot to combine two whole wyrd webs into one so that they always and forever affect each other.

*This is something that is actually said of Sjofn, but I believe that Sif and Sjofn are the same goddess. Sjofn is solely attested to in Snorri’s list of goddesses, in which Sif is not listed. Sjofn’s name means “relation” and so does Sif’s. 

On marriage and families

I’m feeling pensive tonight. No particular reason, but I can’t sleep, so I’m going to subject you guys to my rambles.

I can’t sleep tonight because all I can think about is how wonderful my wedding was, and how long ago it already seems. That two week whirlwind trip to Europe just made it seem like October could have been a wonderful year. Now it’s far enough in the past in my brain’s clock that I’m starting to actually process what happened, how I went from being a fiancee to a wife, changed my name (well, I’m working on that one, really. It will probably be a while before that’s done), and gained some family members.

For the first time in my life, it actually occurred to me that any children I have will have family members that my twin sister’s children wouldn’t. Somehow I had always thought of our future children as interchangeable. That probably makes me sound like a freak, but I guess it’s a sign that my new family is a real family now, instead of the ghosty vague forms little girls have in place of their future husbands and wedding guests.

Husband and I are starting to combine our finances, and we bought a new bed, and we have a whole set of china, and all kinds of adult things. So in a way, things seem different. In a way, I’m having a bit of post-wedding cold feet. Beforehand, it was so exciting and I love him so much, that marrying him was just the obvious answer. Don’t get me wrong–I’m not saying I wish I didn’t marry him, just that now that it’s done, I’m able to deal with the enormity of it in a way I couldn’t before. We’re married and I’m his wife and he’s my husband and we’re responsible for each other.

And then there are all those cultural narratives about what being married means and how we should be a nuclear family unit and I should now all of a sudden start wanting a baby. Not that anybody has outright said this, except my mom, but it’s one of those things people say “get married and start a family.” As if it’s something that happens all at once.

But what’s with the nuclear family ideal? How on earth can my husband and I “start a family” when we’ve just invited each other into ours? Don’t we already have a family and not need to start one from scratch? Why is making a baby starting a family?

I’m not really into the nuclear family structure. That probably comes mostly from my twin sister, who I love so dearly, and who lives with me and my husband. She and I lived together far longer than he and I have, and she’s lived with us the whole time we’ve lived together. I don’t really ever intend to live apart from her if I can help it. People are always telling us that it’s a necessity that she and I will part ways someday, as if it’s a given because all kinds of children want to live with their siblings when they grow up, but then everyone grows up and realizes that’s silly. But why not? If I love her and she loves me and she loves my husband and he loves her and we all three love her boyfriend, why shouldn’t we live together? Why should I ever live apart from either of the two most important people to me? I lived apart from my husband for 5 years, and that was horrible.

I once told someone I was annoyed because my sister’s boss and everyone have been asking her when she’s moving out, and then they are confused when she says she isn’t going to. He said, “She shouldn’t have to, as long as you aren’t starting a family right away.” Which just confused me even more, because why would you ever want fewer adults around when there’s a baby to be taken care of?

But there’s another reason besides my sister that I don’t really believe in the nuclear family structure. I don’t think it’s the way the human brain is built. We’re social creatures, and we tend to lean on different people for different things. I can go to my sister for gossip, and my husband for architectural design kinds of conversations. He doesn’t want the gossip, so it gives him a chance to watch the sports he likes but I don’t while she and I chat.

I was raised in the suburbs, and I saw the nuclear family making everyone lonely and depressed. If you only have one person who is supposed to be your everything, what happens when you and that person are fighting? What if it’s the two of you and a really unhappy set of teenagers? There’s nowhere to diffuse the tension, so it just swirls around the nuclear family like a giant ball of too many electrons, making it have a negative charge. But link up with more people, and maybe you get a stable molecule, and the electrons can swap around between atoms so that some of the tension from one place can diffuse in another, and the people can be happier. I just don’t see how one person could ever be enough for anybody.

My parents lived in a nuclear family my whole childhood. They rarely went out with friends, and we saw their families only once or twice a year. They were miserable. After I moved out, my brother and his son and his father moved to live near them, then my aunt went as well. And then instead of an unhappy two, they were six. And my mom could talk to my aunt when she was really upset with my nephew, or my dad could talk to my brother’s dad or my aunt, and everyone had someone to talk to, and they were all much happier.

So I don’t think my husband and I have started a family at all, or that we will when/if we have babies. I don’t think it’s even possible. We already have families. And I intend to keep our non-nuclear family structure together, me and my sister and my husband.

And that’s enough late night ramblings for today.