Arianrhod’s been on me. There’s something I’m supposed to learn that I’m failing, something in the simultaneous reflection and reflected, the meaning of the very surface which mediates both them and the world. That is, I think, the place of Magic, and also the place of Desire, the Withdrawal which moves between and betwixt. Both Initiatrix and Mediatrix simultaneously, and I’ve been thinking my soul is a little too fragile to comprehend.
Last night, caught in a moment of Divine Trauma, I wrote this:
I’ve been trying to find Her for months now.
She’s in the spaces between, the reflections, the dance of light on glass surfaces that are not glass, that do not stay but move themselves upon the tides of an Other or the winds.
She reflects, and try to see what is between the reflection.
Are you reading me here? Go away, girl–don’t eat glass.
Having thoughts of Marianne.
Desire is between everything. St. John screamed “it’s all love” as they dragged him from Patmos.
He was close. But the other John lost his head, and She was there, in the reflection of the silver tray.
She is silver, but She is also what silver betrayes.
And I am here in the middle, wondering if he sees, wondering if He sees, wondering what comes next.
It all does.
I’ve been generally a little reluctant to talk about precisely what happens when a goddess you are trying to worship, who is calling you and demanding that you learn something, starts breathing rather heavily on that part of your neck that isn’t your neck at all, but what connects your neck to your soul, or what is behind the soul and neck altogether. That reluctance comes from fear, both the fear of getting it wrong and also the fear of being thought utterly mad and thus rejected by your fellow mortals on account of your inability to see things the normal, sane, disenchanted way.
I’ve been slowly dismantling this fear, exploring its boundaries, its purposes, the places where its walls crumble at my touch, the places where its fortifications require a lot more than a mere pickaxe to undo.
One of the things I’ve been learning about this fear, though, is that it isn’t always mine. I’m such a “self-made” person that I often have difficulty recognizing the effects of external pressure, or really what is ever quite involved in the question in the question of existing in a world of others and Others and attempting to exist both as one with others and also distinct. Like in love, sometimes you never try, sometimes you try to hard, and sometimes you realize that it isn’t up to you at all.
When I see Brighid laughing at Her hearth, I understand that the gods themselves do not quite understand the nature of this question, either, except that we appear to be mediating that question as well.
Who are the gods without us? Who are we without the gods? These are precisely the question anyone who encounters the gods must eventually ask, I think.
And crazier still, this question is also related to another one: who are we without each other? And the hardest of all, the question of inter-dependence, “who are others without me?”
I’ve been awfully big on human agency in my Sense of Place posts, so it was a little amusing to read what seems an unfortunate critique of my attempt to remind us of our human agency by one of my co-writers, Traci Laird. In her most recent essay, she criticizes what she defines as Anthropocentrism in Paganism. She describes an experience of sleeping in a megalith, seeing Red Moths, and then criticizes those who might have done the same thing except seen those creature’s presence as an omen:
If I had seen the Red Moths as a ‘sign’ to me from Crom, I would have removed their agency and transformed them into a lesser species, whose sole purpose for being there was to send me a message. What a load of colonizing BS that is!
There are obvious difficulties with this (and worse with her mention of the mentally-ill in the next paragraph). But I’m honestly a bit confused what she’s on about. She was, of course, the only human in that particular megalithic structure. She could choose to see those moths as she preferred. When I slept on Menez Hom, a woman appeared to me in a vision and tried to explain to me something about fitting stones together to build fortifications around a temple. This may have been a very difficult message for a moth to convey, so its fitting that there were no moths, just lots of corn and the full moon and rain and the nearby standing circle and crossroads and me, cold, shivering, but trying really hard to listen. Also, as Our Favorite Thracian notes, cats act like cats.
This afternoon, I stood outside and watched a massive, glorious flight of ravens flee an oncoming storm. None came down to tell me anything, though it was impossible for me not to think of what storm-crows mean, nor what The Morrigan has made clear (that is, that she’s apparently watching me for missteps, which is kinda scary but makes sense, because, well, look, I’m talking about Her right now).
Then, I went inside and read an email from my friend Julian and mentioned to him that I was going to Seattle in 6 weeks and figured while I was there I would try to see if Alison Lilly might want to have tea. I clicked ‘send’ and then read the next email in my inbox, which, interestingly enough, was a notification that one of my posts had been linked to by her, regarding polytheism and the conceptions of gods having personalities.
Recently, it seems to be increasingly common to talk about Pagan theology as if all polytheism were hard polytheism. Posts like Ravenna’s and Rhyd Wildermuth’s speak on behalf of polytheists without acknowledging that there are polytheists like myself who do not agree with the anthropocentric and theologically transcendent views of hard polytheism.
And in her footnotes,
** It saddens me that we are losing the nuances of theological and spiritual exploration in this rush to establish which side of the hard-polytheist/non-theist debate everyone is on. The fact that I do not wear a hard polytheist flag pin on my lapel during every theological debate has apparently been enough to earn me the accusation of having “humanist/naturalistic [that is, atheist] tendencies” in a post that otherwise denounces this kind of simplistic othering. What’s more, Wildermuth’s interpretation of the Google+ discussion he quotes is clearly influenced at a basic level by the assumption that I am an atheist. When I asked questions meant to provoke a conversation about how our personal values inform our relationship with the gods and our approach to discerning the health of those relationships, he chose instead to see my questions as simplistic attacks on the existence of the gods themselves — not only missing an opportunity for a more complex and challenging conversation, but dismissing me as insensitive, even hostile, towards mystical experiences (clearly assuming that I’ve had none of my own), adding personal insult to social injury.
It’s a little weird to hear these words, considering the original context of the discussion, and coming on the heels of a long personal conversation between us. She seems awfully upset that I didn’t know any specifics about her mystical experiences, nor did I know she actually worshiped any gods until her Blodeuwedd series, which I linked to from one of my Sense of Place posts. Apparently, John Beckett and Julian Betkowski didn’t catch on, either. But to be fair, she herself said that her conception of language gets in the way of talking about her gods.
My conception of language recognises that it’s awfully fucking difficult, but I’m trying really, really hard to for all of you, because I’m hoping that my attempts will help you speak about them too. And my oaths to my gods actually suggests that I ought to try, because I told Them that I’d try to awaken them into your minds and hearts. So, I’m trying.
But I understand that sometimes people get upset. I’m trying not to about it, as it’s just the internet. And I still hope to have tea with her. I offered here, but I’m sure she’s been a bit too busy to respond, because the internet isn’t everything. But I’ll say it again. Alison, we ought to have tea.
There are two larger issues here. One is that “hard” polytheists are also animists and recognise the existence and agency of elemental and natural spirits (including land spirits), but there are some interpretations of Animism which assert that these are mutually exclusive. I think if anyone, Gallina Krasskova is enough of an example to the contrary.
But there’s a much larger issue going on, I fear, with many of the frustrating conversations. I wasn’t the only one criticized–Morpheus Ravenna was, too (and I’m thinking about those storm crows again–sorry you weren’t there, Traci!), and this gets to something kinda profound that I’ve noticed whenever a really devoted person talks openly about their devotion.
People get really, really upset. Sometimes, they go for blood.
I think maybe I understand. When someone admits to a profound and really, really intense experience, and talks openly about all the things they are doing for their gods, the first thing I think is, uh, wow. I’m not doing that much. My devotions are rather simple, and I’m trying to make them more intense as I learn about the gods. I’m helping my brother-in-law make a Mead and I’m going to infuse it with Chamomile and possibly Damiana because I suspect that Arianrhod would like this. This is a long process, and it might go wrong, and she might not like it, so I’ll have to try something else if she doesn’t.
This shit gets hard. Seriously. But it’s okay.
A beautiful man for whom I care deeply asked me regarding the gods, and I consulted Someone and gave him advice and found that it might not have been adequate. And so now I spend more time thinking about what might help him, and the last thing on earth I really would ever do is judge him for not getting this stuff right because, well, fuck. This shit gets hard.
Wanna know something? I’ve always wanted to give John Halstead a hug and tell him it’s okay. He doesn’t have to re-write the 8 Stations of the Wheel and have to re-interpret Jung for all of us so that he can justify how he believes. Also, it can’t be easy being in the suburbs, and his vacation in Florida sounded unpleasant (it’s Florida–I know how unpleasant it is). And, also, I kinda want to tell everyone who’s trying to get this stuff right that it’s okay, particularly since they’re trying. I’ve had some of those grumpy-grumpy hard polytheist super-devotional people tell me the same thing, that it’s okay, and so I’m telling you this, too.
So, hey everyone. It’s okay. You can laugh with a baby while he pulls on your braided beard and not get too upset that you don’t quite understand what Arianrhod’s been trying to tell you.
But, um, also–look folks. It’s also not okay. Getting upset at someone who appears to be more devoted than you and is struggling like crazy to understand the gods is actually kinda shitty, because they sort of could use our support. I’m sorry if my worship of my gods and my attempts to do what Arianrhod wants seems offensive to you, but actually, I don’t really have much time for that. That someone like Morpheus Ravenna takes the time out of what she’s doing to try to help people have closer relationships with the gods and then gets attacked for her offering to the rest of us is actually really sad.
I wonder if some of us are still trying to hold on to “reality” because we’re afraid that, if we enter into those Mysteries, we’ll go insane. There’s certainly enough narrative regarding insanity and mental-illness within Paganism to make a lot of us fearful of such a thing (and Aine is so right– we should stop this). But, uh, look. I’m not special or amazing. I’m actually a bit off-kilter, sort of bumbling, poorly-drest and always poor, and I seem to be okay. I think maybe my proximity to poverty actually helps with all of this, and my utter lack of interest in a nice life with computers and a house or condo or car or retirement plan. Pulling myself out of “their” reality (that is, the one that tells us that these gods can’t be real and we should understand everything through the new, empty religion of science) is maybe why the gods responded to my seeking or why I responded to their overtures.
I’m sorry, but you may not be able to”fit in” and also experience Mysteries. Sucks, huh? But us weirdos and freaks and gender-queers and sexual deviants make awesome company. Don’t be afraid, really.
Also, hey, Alison. Let’s have tea.
P.S. as a nod to Piety Possum….Please Don’t Hit Me.