Blasphemy and Paganism

Here’s one from Ye Olde Magical Mail Bagge: A reader says, “I was at a Pagan event last month, and dropped a candle – I seriously thought I was going to set my robe on fire. I said, “Oh my goddess!” and was immediately jumped on by a woman who scolded me for being blasphemous. I told her that I didn’t think my goddess really cared if I said something like that, but she told me that “taking the goddess’ name in vain” was wrong. This sounds an awful lot like Christianity, which I left recently. Am I missing something? Is there really a rule that says I can’t say “oh my goddess” if I feel like it?”

You said WHAAAAAT??? Image by Christels from CC0 via Canva

No shit, y’all, if I had a dollar for every time someone tried to make someone else Pagan A Different Way, I could legit quit my day job.

The concept of blasphemy is one that’s common to the Abrahamic faiths, but is not widely found in other religions. For many religions, certain words are never used, because it’s considered blasphemous to do so. In some orthodox branches of Judaism, one is not permitted to write the name of God – if you’re jotting down His name, you might write it as G-d, to avoid being seen as blasphemous.

The dictionary defines blasphemy as disrespect – or at the very least, irreverence – towards something sacred or holy. Much like sin and obscenity, disrespect is typically in the eye of the beholder. In the Abrahamic religions, the criteria are pretty well established as part of doctrine. For Catholics, as an example, the sin of blasphemy includes blasphemy against the Holy Spirit — the questioning of whether the actions of the Holy Spirit might be attributed to some other being or entity.

Some groups take blasphemy to an even more strict level. For example, in Islam, it’s seen as disrespectful to draw a picture of the prophet Mohammad, and you could easily find yourself under a fatwa if you scribble out a cartoon with his image. Certain fundamentalist Christian groups see the celebration of any religious holiday with secular aspects as blasphemous — colored eggs at Easter, or Santa Claus during Christmas would fall under this heading.

But here’s the big thing: if you’re not part of a religion, it’s unreasonable for members of that religion to hold you to that religion’s standards. In other words, Jews don’t expect non-Jews to never write out the word “God,” because it’s a rule for them, that’s found in their holy writings. So, why would a member of one Pagan group think it’s okay to tell non-members to follow the group’s rules?

In many Pagan religions the deities are not seen as stern taskmasters, or angry old men who rule through fear rather than love. In fact, some – although certainly not all – Pagan gods and goddesses are a lot of fun — they are often viewed as having a bit of a sense of humor, and not concerning themselves overmuch with the day to day activities of their worshipers, unless we specifically address them.

 

So here’s the question for you — do you think the goddess of your tradition finds it disrespectful for you to say “oh my goddess” when you drop a candle? Do you think that it so enrages her that she’s going to stop what she’s doing and somehow make you suffer? Or do you think maybe she’s having a little giggle over the whole thing, and then going on about her business? Or maybe, just maybe, she really doesn’t notice at all, and if she does, she maybe doesn’t give a damn because she’s busy doing Goddess Things?

You’re going to encounter fundamentalists in every religion — and that includes Paganism. Don’t let a negative experience with one of them color your entire perception of Pagan spirituality. You’ll meet far more people who believe that the gods have a sense of humor, and that they don’t especially care if you blurt out “oh my goddess” when you’re about to set your ritual robe on fire. Honor your deities the way your heart calls you to do, and don’t let anyone bully you about it.

Saturday Spellwork: Stop Casting These Spells Because They’re Crap

I know, I know, at least ten of y’all are going to see that headline up above and comment with DON’T U TELL ME HOW 2 MAGICK, but I really need you to hear me out on this. If you Google “Wiccan spells,” you’re going to get a metric fuckton of garbage from a lot of different websites, and nearly all of them are literal and total crap.

Stop Googling these spells. Image by Yuganov Konstantin via Canva.

They’re crap because they don’t work, and they’re crap because they encourage people to do spellwork for stuff that spellwork can’t do, and thus set you up for automatic failure. And then you’re going to email me or one of the other people out there who write about magic and Paganism and you’re going to ask why it didn’t work, and I’m going to tell you “because it’s crap,” and you’re going to get your panties in a twist and tell me U DON’T NO MAGICK U PROLLY NOT EVEN A REAL WITCH!

So I’m going to save you the hassle of going down that road, and tell you the four crappiest of the crap spells that you’re going to find on the Interwebz, and I’m going to use basic logic and no small degree of metaphysical knowledge to tell you WHY they’re crap. But never fear, I’m not going to just leave you peeing into the wind here – I’ll offer you some better alternatives, k?

If you still want to do them after that, have at it.

Change Your Eye Color:

No, you can’t change your eye color. Image by Bergadder from CC0 via Canva

This one seems to surface a lot – the fact is that while magic is useful to change the way people perceive you, it’s not going to work against the laws of physics and science. You can’t change your eye color, no matter how many episodes of Charmed tell you otherwise. Don’t like the color of your eyes? Not everyone does, but you’re stuck with them. However, what you can do is try some mundane tricks like using cosmetics to alter the way people perceive your eye color, and then doing a bit of magic to change other things about yourself that you may not like. If your self-esteem is low, do a working to boost your confidence. If you feel anxious in social situations, do some meditative exercises to help keep you calm when you’re meeting new people.

Lose Weight:

Magic is not going to make you lose weight, period. It’s just not. And the reason for that is because you can cast spells all day until the cows come home, but if you want to lose weight, you have to take mundane steps to make it happen. Eat less, and mostly green things. Move more, working on cardio to burn fat and build muscle. Want to cast a spell to help you along? Do one to push yourself to feel motivated to get to the gym, or to help you focus on healthy eating.

Win the Lottery:

Magic isn’t going to help you win the lottery. Keep in mind that successful magic is dependent upon two things – the possibility of it working, and the probability of it working. Your odds of winning the lottery, whether you use magic or you don’t, are the same as that of everyone else who’s playing. Also, let’s say half a million Pagans cast spells to win the lottery – what makes you think the Universe is going to favor you over the other 499,999 people working magic? Instead, do small workings for gradual, attainable, realistic prosperity. Do a working to get a better job, get an improved return on your investments, or pay off some of the bills that suck down your checking account every month.

Turn You Into a Unicorn/Dragon/Mermaid/Whatever:

And you can’t turn yourself into a dragon, either. Image by maria-anne from CC0 via Canva.

Remember that whole possibility/probability thing I mentioned above? You’re not going to turn yourself into some sort of mythical creature, because they’re mythical. If you’re really unhappy being a person – and some people are – do a working to make yourself into a person you like being. Spellwork for courage, self confidence, and generally being charming goes a long way towards changing the way you view yourself, and with a little bit of effort, you can be so awesome of a person that you won’t want to be anything but human.

Are You Really Cut Out for Spellwork?

I periodically (and by periodically I mean A LOT OF TIMES) get emails and Facebook messages from people who lead in with What A Powerful Witch they are, and then by the second paragraph they’re begging me for spells. This weird juxtaposition tells me a couple of things.

First, it means they’re not as Oh So Powerful as they think they are, and more importantly that they actually think Powerful is something that can be measured, when really what matters more than Powerful is Effective. I’d much rather be effective – and I am – than so-called powerful, which is all relative anyway.

The second thing it tells me is that they’re lazy. There are a floppity-million spells out there, already created by people (including me) that are just out there for the asking. I guarantee that whatever it is you think you need a spell for, someone has already written it, or something very close to it that you can tweak for your own purpose. And if they haven’t, then YOU should write one.

So you have a pointy hat – what else you got?
Image by Yuganov Konstantin via Canva

If you can’t Google “magic spell for [whatever]” or “how do I write a magic spell,” then you’re lazy. A caveat to that is if you’ve already researched, and done your homework, and honest to dog, there’s REALLY NOTHING OUT THERE ANYWHERE, then your message should include “Look, I’ve tried all of the following searches and I can’t find anything, what other ways can I try to locate the information I need?” Not I need u 2 give spell 2 me now.

And the third – and possibly most valuable – thing it tells me is that you may just not have what it takes to do spellwork.

Hold on… before you send me nasty messages telling me YOU CAN’T TELL ME HOW TO MAGIC, hear me out. Here’s the thing, y’all. Spellwork consists of two parts: spell + work. Yeah, we all get the spell part, that’s covered in every single one of the Wicca 101 books. But the work part… well, that’s a whole ‘nother bucket of fish.

Work. Yes. As in, you probably have to read some stuff. You have to research. You have to do homework. You have to go out and find supplies that aren’t sitting on your bookshelf. You have to exercise patience. You have to stay up late or get up early. You have to make mistakes and learn from them. You have to make sacrifices. You have to do things that are outside your normal routine. You have to get dirty, bloody, or hungry. You have to be uncomfortable.

You have to work your ass off, because if spellwork were easy, everyone would do it.

Are you willing to do all of those things? Are you willing to accept that shit isn’t just going to be handed to you on a silver platter? Because if you’re not, then I stand by my original statement, that you may not have what it takes.

But if you’re willing to put the work into spellwork, there’s nothing in the universe that you can’t do.

Dream Catchers: Totally Not Pagan, You Guys

I love perusing Etsy and Pinterest and getting great ideas and seeing all the clever crafty things that other people are doing to celebrate their spirituality, I really do. But for the love of Zeus’ kidney, y’all. DREAMCATCHERS ARE NOT WICCAN. They’re not even NeoPagan, if we use NeoPagan in the context of “modern Paganism based upon proto-Indo-European religious beliefs.”

Want a dream catcher? Consider the cultural context.

They’re Native American. And while there’s absolutely nothing wrong with appreciating Native American spirituality, it’s completely a terrible idea to appropriate it. In other words, if you’re not Native American, you are lacking the cultural and societal context in which something sacred like a dream catcher actually works.

Now, before you send me an angry email, or comment below with OMG UR SO DUMB DON’T TELL ME WUT TO DO, let me clarify this. Can you create a dream catcher of your own if you want to? Go for it, I’m certainly not going to drive to your house and scold you. I learned how to make them myself, and it’s a fascinating and meditative process. But it’s really important to consider the WHY of the creation. It’s also super important not to cheapen it – in other words, if you want to create one to hang in your home because it calls to you spiritually, that’s great. But if you make one out of plastic and neon and hang a bunch of shitty fake crystals on it and sell it in your Etsy shop as a REAL WICCAN DREAM CATCHER NATIVE CRAFT, it’s possible that some of us will judge the shit out of you.

Taté Walker is Mniconjou Lakota and an enrolled citizen of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe of South Dakota, and blogs about issues of interest to Native culture. She says, “The savvy among us know appropriation encourages the dominant culture to forget Natives are modern, contemporary people struggling to overcome nearly 600 years of campaigns to wipe us off the map.”

Walker suggests that if you really want to honor Native culture and show your appreciation for it, there are other ways to do so besides buying a bunch of dream catchers. She has an excellent article on how non-Natives can be allies to the indigenous peoples and their beliefs and practices. In short, she recommends:

  • Supporting Native artists
  • Learning about and backing Native-led movements
  • Calling out appropriation when you see it
  • Supporting non-Native businesses that actively honor Native culture and craftsmanship

Fordham University Law professor Susan Scafidi defines cultural appropriation as “Taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else’s culture without permission.” This includes, obviously, spiritual objects, such as dream catchers.

Scafidi, author of Who Owns Culture? Appropriation and Authenticity in American Law recommends, in an article over at Jezebel, that you “Consider the 3 S’s: source, significance (or sacredness), and similarity. Has the source community either tacitly or directly invited you to share this particular bit of its culture, and does the community as a whole have a history of harmful exploitation? What’s the cultural significance of the item — is it just an everyday object or image, or is it a religious artifact that requires greater respect? And how similar is the appropriated element to the original — a literal knockoff, or just a nod to a color scheme or silhouette?”

The History Behind Dream Catchers

It is believed that dream catchers originated with the Ojibwe, or Chippewa, peoples of North American. Tribal communities existed primarily around the northern part of the United States and the southern regions of Canada, in particular, around the Great Lakes. Today, the Ojibwe people make up the fourth largest First Nations population in America, and the second largest in Canada. Their history is a long and fascinating one, and the dream catcher stems from one of their earliest legends.

In Chippewa mythology, Spider Woman, who was called Asibikaashi, cared for the people of the land, but especially the children. It was Asibikaashi’s job to teach them the stories of their people, and to keep them safe, but as the population grew and spread, it became harder and harder for her to keep a watchful eye upon everyone. In Spider Woman’s honor, the grandmothers began making webs of their own, made of sinew and plant fibers, wrapped around tear-shaped hoops fashioned from the pliable willow branches that were so abundant.

These handmade spider webs were hung over children’s sleeping areas, to filter out bad dreams and only allow good thoughts to pass through. Feathers were hung at the bottom of the web, and the idea was that the good dreams would travel down the feathers to the child, allowing him or her to ignore the bad ones, trapped in the netting.

According to Native Languages, “During the pan-Indian movement in the 60’s and 70’s, Ojibway dream catchers started to get popular in other Native American tribes, even those in disparate places like the Cherokee, Lakota, and Navajo. So dream catchers aren’t traditional in most Indian cultures, per se, but they’re sort of neo-traditional, like fry bread. Today you see them hanging in lots of places other than a child’s cradleboard or nursery, like the living room or your rearview mirror.”

Today, many Native Americans see the commercial wholesaling of dream catchers as cultural appropriation – again, going back to what non-Natives may see as cultural appreciation, many people of tribal backgrounds see as a way of perpetuating and profiting from stereotypes.

So, does this mean you can’t have a dream catcher if you want one? Not at all – the dream catcher police aren’t going to come over and confiscate it. But, like so many other aspects of modern spirituality, if you’re not a Native American, it’s important to think about not only why you want a dream catcher, but how you go about obtaining it.

Dream Catcher image from lininhamonfredini via Flickr, Licensed through Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-2.0)

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High Expectations Are Your Friend

A few days ago, Amazon announced that e-books with excessive content errors – spelling mistakes, formatting problems, etc. – will be flagged with a warning when a reader goes to download the book, and authors across Teh Interwebz are shitting themselves.

According to a blog post on Goodreader, beginning on February 3, “Amazon will begin showing customers a WARNING MESSAGE on the Kindle store detail pages of books that contain several validated quality issues.” The post goes on to say that the quality control – and make no mistake, that’s exactly what this is – will be a two-stage system. If a book contains a few small errors, the warning will be displayed and readers will still be able to download the content.

If the book is such an absolute dumpster fire that no one can read it without wanting to toss their Kindle across the room, then, gentle writers, your book will be suppressed and unavailable to download until you fix the problems.

U GUYZ R SO MEEN
U GUYZ R SO MEEN

And ever since this announcement came out, I’ve seen authors complaining about what a terrible idea it is, and trying to find all kinds of reasons why it’s terrible, and making excuses for why they just think it’s soooooo unfaaaaair that Amazon is doing this to them.

News flash, my little pumpkins: IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU.

You know who it’s about? YOUR READERS. Because quite frankly, if you’re turning out a product – and yes, your book is a product – that’s full of spelling mistakes, bad formatting, weird grammar, and repeated demonstrations that you don’t understand the difference between your and you’re, then the people who might want to read that book deserve to know in advance. They just do. If you can’t be bothered to improve your product, then you don’t deserve to have them as your customers. Writing is a business, and readers are your customers, and they deserve better.

The enemy here is not Amazon. The enemy is not quality control. The enemy is, in fact, a culture in which writers have decided that they’re under no obligation to fix mistakes that make their books unreadable. If you go out for dinner, and your cheeseburger arrives undercooked and missing the cheese, and your fries have a hair on them, you’re not going to just sit back and nom on your food and be happy to do so, telling yourself, “Well, the cook tried really hard and I know how proud he is of this meal, so Imma just eat it anyway and then Yelp about how awesome it was.”

Are you?

Hell no, you’re not. Why would you expect your readers to do the same?

One of the reasons why self-publishing so often gets a bad rap is because there’s so much garbage out there. I’ve read some really amazing self-published work from the Kindle store – and I’ve downloaded some books that were absolute and utter shit, because the repetitive spelling mistakes and dodgy punctuation were so distracting that I couldn’t finish the first chapter. Want to be taken seriously as a writer? Upload a quality product.

If you get a message from Amazon saying your book has mistakes in it, know what you do? FIX THEM. And then upload a new version of the file. If you think we, as writers, should be allowed some sort of pass on quality just because it’s a creative endeavor and not a Happy Meal that we’re producing, then you really need to evaluate whether or not you’re writing books for your readers, or whether you’re just indulging in Author: The Role Playing Game so you can live out your ego-masturbation fantasies.

Our readers deserve better. As writers, we owe it to them to produce a quality product. And if we can start doing a bit of quality control on ourselves before that product even gets to Amazon, then maybe someday – just maybe – self-publishing and small presses will become less of a joke. Amazon’s new policy might be what’s putting this all in motion, but it’s up to us – the producers of content – to fix the problem.

For the Love of Fairuza Balk, “The Craft” is Not a Documentary

I told someone during a conversation yesterday that I can always tell when the USA Network has aired The Craft for the 847th time because I start seeing an influx of emails from people who want to know how they can change their eye color with Teh Magicks.

This is the face I make when you ask for a spell to change your eye color.
This is the face I make when you ask for a spell to change your eye color.

Usually what happens is I’ll say “Erm, no, you can’t really do that,” and then, THEN GUESS WHAT. Nine times out of ten I’m told I’m wrong, I’m lying, or I must not be a Twoo Pagan or I would clearly know better. DUH PATTI.

Okay, Neve Campbell Jr., don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.

Here’s the thing. The Craft is actually not a terrible movie. I don’t hate it. It’s entertaining as shit, and it definitely has a delicious feminist spin that you don’t often see in the horror genre, especially with Balk’s chain-smoking leather jacket look. The costuming and makeup are so over the top that it’s clear the film doesn’t take itself too seriously (I know that when I’m feeling up to a bit of spellery, I always put on my finest Catholic school girl uniform and the eyeliner I got on clearance at Hot Topic).

Not only that, some of the ritual scenes are pretty good – although there’s no god called Manon in modern Pagan religious systems, like there is in the movie.

But folks, honestly, that whole eye-color changing thingie? NOPE. The spell to make you switch bodies with someone? NOPE. Making your friends levitate at a sleepover? Let me have my good friend the Nope-topus answer that one.

On the other hand, some of the stuff in The Craft is sort of rooted in reality, if you happen to believe in things of the magical persuasion.

Director Andrew Fleming hired Pat Devin, High Priestess of Covenant of the Goddess, as a “professional Wicca consultant,” which I didn’t even know was a job title but it is. Anyway, Devin was smart enough to put some material into the film that could be done by a competent practicing Pagan. You can’t change your eye color, but you could change the way people perceive your appearance. No one invokes a creepy god called Manon (there’s that whole he doesn’t exist bit), but many Pagans call down the goddesses of their tradition in the ritual known as drawing down the moon. The teen protagonists call the quarters and cast a circle, which is something found in some – not all – traditions of Wicca.

Honestly, the biggest complaint I have with the movie is there’s (sort of) a presumption that magic isn’t real, that it’s all just illusory, and while plenty of people do believe that, those of us who have lived magically for any length of time know that it’s really all just a matter of perception.

So when you send me a message asking for a spell to levitate your friend while you’re switching bodies with them and changing your eye color from brown to purple, and I tell you NOPE, it’s not because I don’t like you. It’s not because this is some secret esoteric knowledge that us Olds like to keep away from the N00bs, and we’ll only tell you when you become a Level 12 Paladin. It’s certainly not because I don’t know my shit. It’s because that’s just not how magic works.

The Craft is good, fun, horror fiction. It’s not a documentary. If you want to learn How to Magic, there are metric shit-ton of resources out there, but The Craft ain’t one of them.

Oh, and just to be proactive, I think there’s a Harry Potter marathon coming up next week somewhere, and I won’t be answering questions about how to conjure up your Patronus, either.

 

 

Stop With the Emotions, Laydeez!

First, I need to preface this by saying I kind of struggled with whether or not I wanted to share my thoughts on this, and that’s because I know for a fact that several of my friends think the article I’m about to discuss is a really good one. I know this because they’ve shared it on various social media thingies.

And then after about eleven seconds of waffling, I said, “Nah, fuck it, Imma write it anyway,” because, gentle reader, I have no internal monologue filter.

So there’s this couple named Gary and Joy Lundberg who write articles about marriage, and I’ll be the first to admit I’m completely unfamiliar with their past work. They appear to write a lot of stuff with a fairly Biblical slant, and while there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, I’m hardly their target reader demographic. Recently several of my friends shared this article of the Lundbergs’ called 7 Signs You’re Being Too Emotional For Your Husband.

Not gonna lie, when I saw the title it was almost like the brzzzzzzrrpp? of a record-scratch in my brain. “Well,” I thought to myself, “what delightful fuckery could this be?”

The long and the short of it, ladies, is if your husband stays out longer than he should, doesn’t listen to you when he is home, loses his temper, and stops telling you the truth… well, damn it, it’s your fault because you’re too emotionally needy.

I. Can’t. Even.

Their advice includes this gem at the end: Learn how to take control of your emotions. In essence, take care of yourself by eating properly. Get enough sleep. Take breaks now and then — even just a walk in the sunshine can help keep your emotions in check. Make the effort, and not only will your man love you for it but your life will be much happier.

If you’d just take a minute, girls, to get a decent night’s sleep and stop eating foods that make you fat…

I’m not going to bother ranting on a point by point case about all the fuckery that’s wrong with this advice, but I’m going to take the liberty of correcting it:

Learn how to take control of your emotions. Say what you feel, and be honest about it. In essence, take care of yourself by eating properly by doing things that make you happy, which may include eating properly, or it might include lying on the couch eating ice cream. Get enough sleep, not for your spouse’s benefit, but your own. Take breaks now and then — even just a walk in the sunshine can help keep your emotions in check make you feel better. Make the effort, Be yourself, and not only will if your man doesn’t love you for it, then he’s not someone you need in your life anyway. Be who you want to be, even if that includes wearing your emotions on your sleeve, and your life will be much happier.

Yes, ladies, if your husband is doing any or all of these seven things, help him to be a better man by changing your emotional responses to him. Keep that stuff in check! No one wants a woman who is emotional! And when you do start bottling things up and not talking anymore because you’ve just stopped caring or feeling, remember these two bits of advice:

  1. The Xanax is in the cupboard.
  2. If you hit him in the head with a shovel, you can sob and point out that you’ve let your emotions get the best of you once again. After all, it’s what women do, right?

Celtic Paganism, and Stop Being Effin’ Lazy

I get a ton of emails and messages and random smoke signals from people who want to learn new things. Learning new things is good – except when those people say “Well, I don’t have time to read, can’t you just teach me?”

  1. No, that’s fucking lazy.
  2. What makes you think I have the time or interest to teach someone I don’t know?
  3. Can we talk about #1 some more?

HuttonDruidsIf you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to learn. You’ve got the same 24 hours in the day as everyone else. I’ve had to have this conversation multiple times lately with people who want to be spoon fed information, and I’m sorry, but magic – and any other aspect of Pagan practice, really – isn’t for lazy people. If you really want to learn, do the work. If the work is just too much effort, then go take up a nice easy hobby that won’t tax your brain much, because fuck if I have the time to coddle anyone.

All of that said… you guys, there is a TON of information out there. AppleBranchSO MUCH INFORMATION. And it’s info that I – and plenty of other people – have taken the time and effort to put together to make life simpler for everyone else who wants to learn new things. Seriously, this couldn’t be much easier – the info has already been assembled for you. GO. READ. IT.

:/endrant

Okay, now that I’ve got my “Don’t Be Fucking Lazy” rant out of my systeEllisCeltsm, a quickie fun fact for you: Wicca and Celtic Paganism are not synonymous. In fact, Wicca isn’t Celtic at all – Kaathryn MacMorgan does a great job explaining why – but for those of you who are actually interested in a Celtic Pagan perspective, there’s a metric ton of great primary and secondary material out there. Go read these nine books: 9 Books for Celtic Pagans