Sunday, March 06, 2005

Emails

Here I'll post the two long emails I sent to Mom, coming out to her about my involvement with the Craft and the UU church...

EMAIL 1:
As I have mentioned before, I have an involvement with a local church -- a Unitarian church, not a Methodist church. I don't want to be associated with the Methodists any more. In fact, I'm not very happy with Christianity as a whole and haven't been for many years now.

In 1989 or so, I started reading about Wicca or Witchcraft. My views on it have changed since then, and the actual Wiccan "scene" has changed. The way I see things, over the past 16 years, the Wiccan world has degenerated into what is known as "fluff bunny" nonsense. "Fluff bunny" nonsense means things like

1. Viewing Goddess as all sweetness and light and purity and gentleness and a Barbie doll in a medieval dress
2. Not accepting certain unpleasant aspects of life, such as death (be it of a relationship or a relative or a pet or whatever) but paying shallow lip service to it anyway
3. Buying a lot of paraphernalia that is utterly unnecessary, such as wands, crystals, robes, tons of cheap sterling silver jewelry, Tarot cards and/or runes and/or Ogham staves (methods of divination) and special crushed velvet bags in assorted colors to hold said cards/runes/etc.....things like that

The only really useful things I've ever seen in a metaphysical bookstore are the herbs, and even then it depends on what they're used for -- herbs have healing properties, of course, but there's also the magical properties and many people make special sachets that are supposed to be magically effective with herbs and certain colors of cloth and ribbon, etc. For example, a sachet made with dried rose petals and wrapped in pink or red cloth and tied with a pink or red ribbon would be used for "attracting love" or something like that. Included in this sachet would be a small chunk of rose quartz (pink in color, naturally) as well as a drawing of a heart, or anything that suggests love, that can fit into a tiny bag.

Sometimes being a "kitchen witch" has its advantages. Many witches I know are quite handy with things and make their own natural soaps, incenses, candles, bath salts, shampoo, etc. Some of them sew as well.

Me, I went in a different direction. I studied theology (from the Greek "theo" meaning "God" and "ology" meaning "study"). Only more properly, I should say "thea-ology" ("thea" meaning "Goddess").

I felt more drawn to feminist theology. This is something that seems farfetched, but isn't; many women in the most prestigious universities have made a life out of feminist theology.

Some of these women theologians did not leave the Christian faith - one woman, Elizabeth Schussler-Fiorenza, comes to mind. She teaches at Harvard Divinity School and is a feminist Catholic herself, and had her daughter baptized as a Catholic, even against the protests of many of her feminist colleagues.

Some did leave the Christian faith and walk with the old Goddesses - Carol P. Christ of San Jose State University (and a Yale graduate) comes to mind. In her personal spiritual path, she walks with the Greek love Goddess, Aphrodite. She wrote a book about her experiences coming to women's spirituality, titled "Laughter of Aphrodite." I have this book and I like a lot of it, but I do disagree with certain things in it.

In my own personal life, I have had my own mystical experience with a Goddess. As you know, I participated in a women's spirituality group for three years here in Orlando. I became a fount of Goddess information, and very practiced at conducting different rituals for various holidays and whatnot.

A word, before I continue - these rituals are really not anything dark or horrible. Most people hear the word "ritual" and think it means something bad. When I use it, "ritual" refers to a brief celebration that ties in with the seasonal cycles.

For example: I led the Yuletide ritual this past December. I created the whole thing, start to finish, and wrote the liturgy/invocations, even spoke some of it in Old Norse, and basically acted as a minister would during the Christmas Eve service. I basically led a worship service.

"Yule" (or as I prefer to spell it "Jul") is the Germanic New Year and is held around 21 December, the winter solstice. It's the longest night of the year. There are certain folktales/stories that are associated with Jul, and a few songs have survived into the modern times, the most obvious one being "Deck the Halls".

"See the blazing Yule before us - fa lalalala, lalalala..." or "Troll the ancient Yuletide carol - fa lalalala, lalalala"

The word "Jul" means "wheel" and Jul is regarded as that time of year when the Year Wheel turns, the old year gives way and the New Year is born from the darkness of the year's longest night.

Another ritual I have created and led was the Feast of St. Bridget. This is usually observed around 2 February...do you remember me calling and commenting about finding things in red & white, because they are Bridget's colors? Bridget wasn't always a Catholic saint. She was the Irish Goddess of the hearth and smithy, of poetry and inspiration, and medicine and healing. The Irish people loved Brighid (as Her name is spelled in Gaelic) so deeply that the Catholic church decided to canonize Her and make Her a saint. They call Her "Mary of the Gaels" meaning Mary of the Gaelic-speaking people. She was said to have been Mary's own midwife at Christ's birth, and even was foster-mother to Christ. (The Irish never lacked for imagination and creavitity when it came to storytelling.)

Coming up later this month is the Spring Equinox, but I have opted not to lead this particular ritual. I could do so, but I have to give other people an opportunity to do it so they can learn how.

All of this is done via a group I am part of at First Unitarian Church of Orlando. Unitarians are very open-minded people, and are quite tolerant of people who follow a Pagan path. Unitarians can be a little difficult to explain. They do not require one to believe in a certain God - or in God at all - to be a Unitarian. Given the history behind the UUs (short for Unitarian Universalist) that's a little odd, but hey. It takes all kinds to make a world.

The Unitarian Universalist Association was formed in 1961 from two different denominations: the Unitarians and the Universalists. There is no creed. There ARE the Seven Principles, and I'll have to go through that another time. All people of any color or age or gender or lifestyle are welcome in the UU church. There are many people who are Pagan-identified within the Unitarian church, and there is an associated group, the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans or CUUPs. The group I do most of my Pagan events with, like Yule, started out with the intent of being a CUUPs chapter.

We're not a very big group, so we sort of gave up temporarily on the idea of being a CUUPs chapter, but First Unitarian is happy to have us there, doing our thing and educating and contributing to the spiritual life of the church as a whole.

The name of the group is Mystic Grove. I suggested the name, it was put to a vote among other names, and this is the name they chose.

Some of the things Mystic Grove does include conducting rituals such as the ones I already described - teaching classes on things like ritual-craft, divination (Tarot cards/runes, etc), spellcraft, kitchen witchery, Goddess lore, etc etc.

Some of these are things I can teach, esp. the Goddess lore or "thea-ology" as I mentioned earlier in this email. Or Irish traditions.


EMAIL 2:
I think this might be another long email. Oh well. I do want to finish what I started yesterday.

So anyway, I wanted in this email to describe a little bit about who these Unitarians are. There's too much information to put in here about the ** history ** of the Unitarian Universalist Association and how it came to be, but I can briefly put something in here about UUs today and what forms the backbone of the UU faith.

I'll just dive right in and put right here the Seven Principles & Six Sources of the UUA (I am taking this straight off their website, www.uua.org, so there is no misquoting)...interpretation to follow...

We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote:

The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

The living tradition which we share draws from many sources:
Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life;
Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love;
Wisdom from the world's religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;
Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God's love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;
Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit.
Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.

Grateful for the religious pluralism which enriches and ennobles our faith, we are inspired to deepen our understanding and expand our vision. As free congregations we enter into this covenant, promising to one another our mutual trust and support.

OK, I'll just do the first of the 7 Principles for now. The other ones can come later.

"We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person."

So what does this mean?

Covenant is defined as formal, solemn, and binding agreement.

Affirmation means to validate, to assert, to declare something as valid.

Promotion means, among other things, to advance or put something forward, to bring something into being or awareness.

Inherent means it's part of the essential character of something; it's "built into" it.

Worth indicates value, and dignity means the state of being worthy...hmm, there's that worthiness idea again.

So what that leaves us with is that these congregations have agreed to assert/declare and put forward every person's essential worth and right to that worth, their dignity. It is not based on money or prestige or whatever. A person's worth and dignity are a part of their very being...people are born with worth and dignity.

That's just the FIRST Principle. I could go into the others....another time. I'll tackle the first of the 6 sources next.

The living tradition which we share draws from many sources:
Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life;

I've personally experienced this myself. Most people have and don't even know it. It's one of those moments when perhaps a person stands before the ocean, or looking at a mountain or sunset, and pauses and goes "Ah" and feels totally at one with not just the earth, but the very life force that most people call "God" and which sustains all life. Sometimes it's referred to as a mystical insight or something like that.

Most traditional Christian churches, such as the Methodist and Baptist and Lutheran churches, etc, are NOT all that open to this "direct experience of transcending mystery and wonder." Methodists and Baptists, etc, believe you should ONLY look to the Bible for spiritual information. These traditional Christians have the attitude that if it's not the Bible, it's totally invalid. Wrong. Demonic. Evil. Not to be messed with.

I strongly disagree, and one of the reasons I disagree is because first of all, there's more than one version of the Bible. At the very least, there's the Catholic Bible (the St. Joseph's) and the Protestant Bibles (of which, the King James Version or KJV is but one of probably hundreds of translations).

Unitarian Universalists are more welcoming of my perspective, and they have even spelled it out in the first of their six sources or foundational ideas.

I think I'll take on the third and and sixth sources next:

"Wisdom from the world's religions which inspire us in our ethical and spiritual life" and "spiritual teachings of Earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature."

This is where the whole Pagan thing comes in. Because UUs value teachings from the world's religions as well as Earth-centered traditions, they are open to having Pagans be part of the spiritual life of the church as a whole.

And this is how I come in. As I mentioned before, Mystic Grove is a small group within First Unitarian that focuses on Pagan or Earth-centered spirituality, and with them I have created and led seasonal rituals/celebrations like Yule, which introduce people to a different type of tradition and open them up to a different side of spiritual life. Last October Mystic Grove led an entire service one Sunday, talking about "Pagan perspectives in the 21st century" and I led the congregation in a Goddess chant and I sang the Postlude for that service as well. The chant goes like this:

"We all come from the Goddess - And to Her we shall return - Like a drop of rain - Flowing to the ocean"

And there's a second part, a harmony part, that goes like this:

"Isis - Astarte - Diana - Hecate - Demeter - Kali - Inanna"

These are Goddess names, of course. Tom Cook, someone I have known here for a long time and who is part of First Unitarian and Mystic Grove, and I have led chant/song workshops, teaching people how to harmonize and sing in two and three parts, because many chants have two and three parts that harmonize. Tom is quite musical, as is Chip (another person I know from Mystic Grove and First Unitarian).

ALL this stuff I've included in these two emails is PRECISELY why I think most people think of me as weird, strange, not normal. I do know that I have a reputation amongst some of my coworkers as a significant intellectual force; one day when I was sitting in the break room with a few other people (this was at work) Dan W. who works with me was telling a new employee to never get into a theological debate with me, because I WILL win. I'm too good. And Dan is no intellectual slouch himself, not in the least.

I got this way by my extensive studies in religion, sociology, feminist theory, Pagan spirituality, etc. I think I've put a significant dent in the basics for a degree in theology. Some of the reading material I have are:

Women of the Celts by Jean Markale
The Celts by Jean Markale
King of the Celts by Jean Markale

The Masks of God (a series of 4 books) by Joseph Campbell
Myths To Live By by Joseph Campbell
Thou Art That by Joseph Campbell
The Power of Myth (on DVD and in print) by Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers
Historical Atlas of World Mythology by Joseph Campbell
World Mythology published by the Joseph Campbell Foundation

Goddesses in Everywoman by Jean Shindoa Bolen

Women Who Run With The Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Pagan Meditations by Ginette Paris

Laughter of Aphrodite by Carol P. Christ

In The Beginning by Karen Armstrong

A History of God by Karen Armstrong

Womanspirit Rising by various authors (a collection of feminist essays)

A History Of Pagan Europe by Nigel Pennick

Egil's Saga, Laxadaela Saga and The Vinland Sagas -- all Icelandic sagas/stories that have no specific author, but date back several hundred years

The Poetic Edda & The Prose Edda - no authors, but translations of very old Icelandic works (Iceland is considered the world's most literate country)

Various Celtic myths & stories, such as the Mabinogion and the Ulster Cycle and the likes

Women in Celtic Mythology by .... oh I've forgotten her name now

The Dhammapada (Buddhist Scripture)

Peace Is Every Step by Thich Naht Hanh
The Sun My Heart by Thich Naht Hanh
The Diamond Sutra translated and interpreted by Thich Naht Hanh (this is a Buddhist teaching story)

The Art of Happiness by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and an American psychiatrist whose name escapes me right now
Ethics for the New Millennium by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

Crossing the Threshhold by the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II (the current Pope)

Sources of Strength by Jimmy Carter
Living Faith by Jimmy Carter

The Upanishads (Hindu Scripture)

The Baghavad Gita (More Hindu Scripture, and probably the single most amazing spiritual document ever produced by the human race - it's my favorite, it was Gandhi's favorite as well, and if there was a way I could convert and become Hindu I'd do it, but that's not possible because of the way Hinduism as a religion AND an Indian way of life are so closely braided together)

Tao Te Ching (again, a translation of very ancient Chinese wisdom; my favorite translation is by Stephen Mitchell, who also did a brilliant translation of the Baghavad Gita)

Europe: A History by Norman Davies
The Isles by Norman Davies

Myths and Symbols of Pagan Europe by H.R. Ellis Davidson
Gods and Goddesses of Northern Europe by H.R. Ellis Davidson

The Germania by Tacitus

The City of God by St. Augustine
Confessions by St. Augustine

Confession by St. Patrick

Some of Thomas Aquinas' works, such as Summa Theologiae (but he's a REAL challenge to read)

Martin Luther's 95 theses that were nailed to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany, some 1500 years ago and which sparked off the Protestant Reformation, and thus led to a complete revamping of all Christendom

I would also LIKE to read the Koran, which is Muslim Scripture. I ** refuse ** to give in to xenophobia (fear of other people) and stay away from it just because at this juncture in history some Muslims have done some really bad things. There is transcendent knowledge there, and the only way to know for sure what it says is to read it myself...not go on hearsay.

Anyway, much of this would come under the heading of either history, mythology, or theology. There are certain authors I avoid like the plague because I feel that what they publish is worthy only of the privy...Silver Ravenwolf comes to mind. She's one of the writers who I think has contributed to the terrible scholarship currently seen all across the Wiccan world. It's so awful, and I actually DO have a lot of material to compare it to and see WHY it's so shameful. Most of the people I read, unlike this Silver Ravenwolf woman, have degrees and tenure at the world's best universities. Silver Ravenwolf is all show no go, as they say in the car show industry. She has no degrees and probably little education beyond high school. I've caught her in a few different errors in her books, and if people come to me asking questions about what they should read in order to learn, I NEVER recommend her.

Some of the awful scholarship I'm referring to include thoughts such as:

1. Wicca is the world's oldest religion.
2. Jesus Christ was a witch.
3. The ancient Celts were Wiccans.
4. Wiccans were burned at the stake during the Inquisition and the Salem Witch Trials.
5. Wicca is a "make it up as you go" religion.
6. The Wiccan tenet of "an ye harm none do as ye will" applies to ALL Pagan religions
7. Karma is a universal force and it means what you put out will return to you - and is the same thing as the Threefold Law (what you put out will return to you three times over).

All this is complete garbage. The problem is, many people in the Wiccan world now are teenybopper drama queens who can't bear to be told they're wrong and their precious Silver Ravenwolf got it wrong and doesn't know what she's talking about. There is a preponderance of "don't think, just feel" among most Wiccans, meaning it's more important that you just do/believe whatever "feels right to you" and scholarship has nothing to do with religion. The "don't think, just feel" people value intuition and subjective emotional experience over objective, hard-and-fast scholarship.

I think that's utter balderdash. "Don't think, just feel" indeed. All those points I just listed above are complete balderdash. Rubbish. Fiddlesticks. "Jesus Christ was a witch" indeed. I have my theories as to why someone would believe such nonsense. It's justification for walking away from Christianity.

The thing is, given that I have been doing all this studying and learning and researching and whatnot, both inside and outside a classroom, I feel I have a responsibility for correcting this nonsense when I come up against it. If someone tries to tell me that "the Celts were Wiccans" I say, "Oh no, that's not true" and procede to prove it. I can't just let it proliferate. Sloppy thinking twists my tail.

And is not good for society as a whole. I think it was Andrew Jackson who said that an educated and armed populous is the only defense against tyranny. *smile*

Whew. I'm rather running out of steam here at the moment. I know it's rather a lot to assimilate....but it has been a fascinating journey for me over the past 16 years or so. I've put a lot of effort into this. I don't think I can just...let it go as if it was nothing. Esp. not given what I see in this world today, America of 2005, from this perspective. This is one of the reasons why Joe says I should write, write, write and publish my essays. He thinks I could be a significant force in the world of religion & spirituality, if I just took some of my raw scrawlings and refined them and put them together in book form.


OK. I haven't had a response from her regarding these emails, even on the phone! I guess she's too flabbergasted to even know where to start.

I sent a third email that was rather brief:

Well, the thought I had that I was going to close that email off with was, I seem to recall one day, long ago, you'd commented that you had always pictured me as one of those worldly, sophisticated women who communicated well and knew about different cultures and yada yada...

And I suppose in a way I've done just that, sort of. I haven't been able to travel except in my mind. The only way I have been able to do so is the little window to the outer world that is books.

The Irish practically invented books as we know them today, for they used to scribe upon long pages of sheepskin and bind these together to form "choirs". Previous to the bound book, people read from scrolls.

I got this from a lovely book I have on audio tape called "How the Irish Saved Civilization." The Irish always have been a highly literate people. Poems and books and stories and scriptorium and whatnot have always been part of the Irish cultural life. The Irish were copying the great works of Europe during the Dark Ages when the Vikings were plundering and looting and whatnot. They would steal a bound book to melt down the silver and gold that decorated the leather cover, not because the literature within was inherently valuble to them.

Bloody Sassenachs (a Gaelic word for "Saxons" but not a very nice word) probably couldn't read at all, and sacked a beautiful monastery called Lindisfarne in the 800s for the gold on the altar....grrrrr....

Anyway, one of the most gorgeous pieces of literary art is the Book of Kells, located at Trinity College in Ireland, and it's handwritten and hand -- illustrated Scripture, in Latin, and the overall beauty of its pages are just unbelievable. It's a true Irish treasure.

The way I see it is this: beta and VHS and DVD and whatnot all eventually become obsolete. The modest book has never become obsolete. It's portable, it never crashes, it works in all countries with all different power cords, one doesn't have to wait for it to load like on a webpage...I say there are many advantages to reading! Yay for reading!


Mom doesn't like to read, she doesn't comprehend what it means to be a bibliophile. And she's happy just being a Christian. I haven't told her why I became unhappy with Christianity.

Yes, one has to do a certain amount of "coming out" when one is part of a different faith. I think it's really sad that Christianity has such intense hold on the minds of most people, esp. here in the American South, that when someone LEAVES that faith, a lot of the time they feel they have to be on the defensive about it. Pity, that.

And bear also in mind that Mom is just a simple country girl from West Virginia. She REALLY has that German practicality knit into her very bones. She's not one to waste time with dreams and visions and whatnot...she wants to know what will work to support her life, her household, that kind of thing. Theories and concepts and abstractions are meaningless to her. She's very much a powerhouse when it comes to "what works, what will get things done" kind of thinking. In her youth, she would have been unstoppable had a heart attack at 41 not put a severe dent into her professional life.

Ma has her strengths. But I have mine. Ma is no academic, but given her personality she wouldn't have needed to be. I am an academic, and it's my thing. It's what I do.

I notice something. She always says, "You sound just like your dad" when I say things that irritate her.

Who am I supposed to sound like, Ma? He's my father! What, should I sound like the woman down the street? Should I sound like YOU and come up with reasons why I can't do something?

No, Ma. BOTH of you are my parents. BOTH of you are the people I sound like.

And that is what makes me who I am.

"You sound just like your dad." Thanks, Ma. Oh, did you mean that's a BAD thing?

One of these days she'll figure it all out. I'm not her and I'm not meant to live the life she wanted to live.

2 Comments:

Blogger Jarred said...

I'm a bit surprised she hasn't responded, either.

7:56 AM  
Blogger MeritAset said...

Well even if she doesn't respond, she can't say you're withholding info from her. You've been totally upfront with her and given your reasons with backup. Kudos to you girlfriend

I love ya *huggies*

4:22 PM  

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