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.

Getting to Know New Land on my Bike

I moved to a new part of the country in December, as many of you know, from Philadelphia to Charlotte, NC. It’s in the piedmont region of North Carolina. Philadelphia is also in the piedmont, and I have lived in the South before, but Charlotte is a different combination of things, it’s own unique place, that I am struggling to learn. It’s difficult, of course, to learn much about a place in only four or five months, but I am in the middle of watching my first seasonal shift, and I just bought a bike.

As a nature-centered pagan, of course, I look for ways to live lightly and to make my connection with the land. That’s why I have my worm bin and why I wear thrifted and refashioned clothing. But my husband and I recently made a purchase that’s probably going to make the biggest difference: bikes. We got them at the beginning of March, and I’m pretty sure I’ve already ridden 200 miles around town going to meetings and rehearsals. That’s 200 miles less of air pollution and oil reliance in only a month or so. That makes me feel like I’m really taking some steps to get in line with the world. The distances I was driving here were so short–fewer than five miles most of the time. But five miles is too far to walk for a two hour dance rehearsal, so I ended up getting in my car to be there for five minutes, all the while wishing there were some better way. My bike is that better way. Here’s a picture of me being super girly while riding her:

riding in a flowy skirt

But there are so many other things that have changed for me since I got my bike that have changed the way I relate to the land and living in this new city. Riding my bike helps to remind me that the city is an ecosystem and that nature is not a destination, it’s all around us. Part of that is the reduced distances to parks, and the fact that I ride on a greenway whenever possible. But it’s also things like having to ride around a crushed squirrel or startling a robin with the whirr of my wheels. It’s not insulating myself with a heater and air conditioner keeping me at the perfect temperature, noticing slight shifts in the light as the clouds move above, feeling the gusts of wind pushing me in one direction or another. It’s seeing turtles and ducks and geese and even herons as I ride to and from a dance rehearsal. It’s feeling my strength build as I realize I can climb hills that I couldn’t before. It’s in the small human interactions that happen when I’m not locked away in a car–people saying hello as I pass by or smiling at me being girly or even being grumpy because I’m passing them. The other people in the city are becoming actual people instead of traffic.

creek

It is easier to remember that this is an ecosystem with a new proximity to the creek or the forest.  I would never want to drive to see a creek, and the walk to the greenway would be fifteen or twenty minutes by itself. Now, I can leave my house and within ten minute find a nice place to sit and watch the water go by and put a new calm into my heart, feeling Sif’s peace as I watch the wind in the grasses and listen to the songbirds.

creek sectionn

The first time I rode the greenway to a rehearsal, when I arrived, I said that the greenway had changed my life. And the other dancers sort of laughed at me for being a hippie, but I wasn’t being sarcastic. In the five years since I was in college in the Hudson Valley, I haven’t had a chance to interact with beautiful natural spaces as a part of my daily or weekly routine. Then, I would see the mountains as I walked to class. And then there was Philadelphia, with its concrete and it’s brick buildings and its litter, and I forgot about the land. Every time I left the city, I felt this rush of sadness and nostalgia as I looked at the trees while I thought, “This is what I’m missing. How can I go through life without this?” And then we moved to Charlotte and it’s much greener and people have yards, but the drives are still strip malls and stoplights and concrete. The greenway is trees and creeks and grasses and meadows and flowers. How could anyone prefer the roads, when the land is just a hundred feet over on the greenway? When I can see the trees every day instead of waiting for that sadness to wash over me. I feel alive and human and animal and spirit.

This connection to place I have found on my bicycle is a surprise to me. I had expected riding my bike around town to be just a form of transportation that’s more fun than driving. But I feel free.

forest

I no longer feel limited to staying in my house when I’m bored, or only going the short few blocks that are a comfortable stroll. I no longer have to make the choice between cabin fever and pollution. The distances that make sense for a quick outing to get some air are farther, and that makes the creek and the forest available to me, even in my dense urban neighborhood. I can see a duck and a skyline in the same view as I crest a hill and remember that we are a part of the landscape. I don’t feel anymore like I have to be on guard all the time. The city is becoming home.

skyline

 

On Virginity

I’ve been sick this past week, so I’ve spent a lot of time sitting on the couch watching videos. I watched the BBC 4 part documentary on Pagans, which I was quite impressed by. The BBC really does produce much higher quality content than American made-for-tv documentaries, which always feel so redundant and basic.

Anyway, in the first section, “Sexy Beasts,” they talk about the Egtved girl, who I have talked about before. (Hilariously, when I just googled the Egtved girl to get the wikipedia link for you guys, there was that picture of me sitting like the bronze statue wearing that string skirt I made in the image suggestions. The internet is a weird thing, where I can google an obscure archeological find and see a picture of myself.) Anyway, while talking about the Egtved girl, they talked about virginity and how it meant something different in Pagan Europe than it does in Christianity. Since sexuality wasn’t seen as bad, virgins weren’t necessarily seen as more “pure” than non-virgins, they were seen as “ticking time bombs of sexual energy.” They think the Egtved girl was a virgin because she was 15 when she died, but dancing in that skirt could have been nothing but sexual. The idea being that a virgin is more sexually potent than a non-virgin because she can arouse and be aroused, but that energy is never released, it only builds.

Which got me thinking about Mary and Jesus in a very heretical way. What if Mary was capable of carrying the child of God not because her virginity made her more pure than other mothers, but because her virginity meant that she had more life source force in her?

And then I got to thinking about sex, and me, and my history with the Christian guilt and just how deeply damaging that idea was for me, that virginity was a pure state of being and sex was bad and women should be pure and so once I lost my virginity I wasn’t pure anymore, I was a whore. But no categories are stable, and as we see in the Egtved girl, sometimes the virgin IS the whore. The Norse gods are always missing that which they rule over because, as they say, “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” Freyja loves Odh more when he isn’t there, Sif loves her hair more once it’s gone, and sex is better when you can’t have any (Sort of. sometimes.)

By the way, can we talk about how annoying the phrase “lose your virginity” is? How much it takes the agency out of the choice to begin a sexually active life? “Oh, whoops, my boyfriend came over and I lost my virginity. I can’t find it anywhere!”

But, in America, with all it’s problems, could this idea be a good thing? Could this idea be a healthier and more successful way of helping our daughters lead healthy sex lives and wait until they are ready? I think it could. We teach our daughters that they are helpless to men’s desire (because men are the only ones with desire and only want one thing out of women), and they have to be pure. So then once they’re rebellious or a man wants them or they find out that they want it to, which is scary because they weren’t supposed to, those ticking time bombs of sexual energy explode and it isn’t always healthy and they aren’t always prepared. I think it would have been easier for me if I had been taught that virginity gives a girl power and agency over her choices, that she can arouse a man or herself and know the power in that without giving in to it. That her virginity is hers to own and to give to a partner when she chooses to.

On the “handmaidens,” my distate for the term, and Sif

In order to go into more detail about my relationship with Sif, which is blossoming and which I intend to do on this blog, I first have to share something about Frigga’s “Handmaidens.”

First of all, I believe there is no foundation in the lore to call them handmaidens whatsoever. They are simply listed as goddesses in a list that includes Freyja right in the middle, but doesn’t include other notable goddesses such as Idunna and Sif. If the twelve lesser-known goddesses were considered some kind of group of Frigga’s handmaidens, it seems to me that they would have been listed as such in the Gylfaginning. Why stick Freyja right in the middle? I happen to believe that this grouping is just a modern way of dismissing the individuality of these goddesses. How many places online are they only mentioned as “Frigga’s Handmaidens,” their individuality forgotten? Conversely, how many places are they talked about as if going through each one and meeting her in trance (sometimes one per month for a year) is some way to explore femininity in heathenry as some kind of exercise in getting in touch with your femininity? In any case, they are treated as a group, always, for no reason that I can ascertain. As Lofnbard says, “This is in fact purely a modern convention of Norse Paganism and Heathenry, framing them as minor Goddesses because they are almost ignored in the lore.”

Furthermore, I cannot figure out where anyone has found evidence that all of these goddesses are necessarily tied to Frigga. Sure, Fulla and Gefjion have cases to be made, but what about the rest? I would love to be proved wrong on this if anyone can find me a lore reference that shows that most of these goddesses have a closer relationship with Frigga than with anyone else in particular. Where does this come from?

Alright, so back to Sif. What does Sif have to do with the “handmaidens”?

Once upon a time, after reading the list of goddesses in Gylfaginning, or perhaps after reading Alice Karlsdottir’s book on the “handmaidens”, I decided to dedicate an altar to Sjofn, who seemed like a goddess I would get along with very well, given that she is the goddess who turns the mind to love. Her name means affection. So, I made her an altar. For whatever reason, I had the sense that she liked tea, so I put a pretty teacup on her altar where I made offerings of tea. I also had this strange notion that she liked Baroque things more than the older, simpler Germanic ones. She seemed to like how golden they were, and how beautifully made. One night, while trying to learn more about her, it came into my head that I should learn about her through her husband. “Husband? You have a husband?” “Of course I do, silly,” was the sort of answer, and then my mind fell immediately on Thor.

Of course the idea that Thor and Sjofn had any kind of marriage was ridiculous, so I put it out of my mind a bit. Then a few people I talked to also mentioned that they have found Sif likes tea and baroque things and polite society and everything, and it seemed perhaps a bit less far-fetched. So I went back to the primary sources and dug and dug, and found that Sif is not included in the list of goddesses where Sjofn’s name is found. So couldn’t Sjofn could be another name for Sif? It’s very common to say that all of the lesser-known goddesses are by-names of Frigga, but why not Sif? Sif’s name means relation, Sjofn’s means affection. Could these not be the same goddess? Sif is a peace-keeper among the family, which seems to me to be just one method of turning the mind to love.

And so I consider Sif and Sjofn to be one and the same and treat them as such. My altar to Sif includes hearts and tea and my worship of Sjofn references Thor. I honor her by keeping the peace in my family, by looking for the positives in the loss of my long hair, and by turning my mind to love.

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.

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.

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.