Archive for December, 2010

How I Got Here (Part 3)

In 2008, I moved to central Arkansas to move in with my boyfriend, after 2 1/2 years of seeing each other long distance, and for the longest time I had nothing spiritual happen in my life.

This changed around the middle of 2009.

At first it started with things I could brush off or plausibly deny.  Around June of 2009 I sensed a benevolent entity trying to console me during a mooment of extreme depression and boredom while at work.  I sensed that she took the form of a red fox, and had a very motherly presence, but because she was felt but never seen, I wrote her off as wishful thinking for many months.

It was when that same entity appeared to me in a different form in a dream that I started paying attention.

I think I had the dream late last year or early this year.  In the dream, my apartment building was about to be burned down by its pious owners because one of the tenants had been discovered practicing witchcraft.  I got lost in the smoke on my way out of the building, but a young Native American girl calmly pointed the way to the stairs, and I escaped safely.

But the most powerful experience was yet to come.

One night this past spring, I was down in Hot Springs with two friends, one of them an agnostic like me, the other a pagan who I’d met only recently.

On the way down, we began discussing things like auras and the like, and he told me how to concentrate and see auras and energy.  I was skeptical, but then he told me to look for his aura.

What I saw wasn’t an aura or halo about his head, but something shaped like a flame, running through the spectrum, violet at its base and radiating out to red at its tip.

I described to him what I saw.  “That’s actually pretty good, you saw my Crown Chakra,” he said.

Considering I didn’t even know what a “crown chakra” was, I was pretty surprised by this, but the night had other surprises waiting for us.

In the dark, we went to the trail at Gulpha Gorge and walked a short distance to where the trail went around a sharp bend.  He instructed us on how to ground our energies against a rock, then we moved on.  That was when he saw something and addressed it.

At first, only this one guy saw it; my other friend and I saw nothing.  Then I saw the vague outline of an entity, roughly human, but about three feet tall.

Mist began rolling over the top of the hill, and a strange sense of wonder filled the air.

At this point, my other friend began freaking out at the fact that we were seeing something, and the entity left.

I never once felt frightened or imposed upon by all this; it simply was what it was.

That night was probably the turning point; I had been an agnostic because I had nothing to compel me to believe that there was anything beyond the literal, what-you-see-is-what-you-get world.

I was able to write it all off as fancy and superstition for the longest time, even though I’d felt these stirrings for many years.  Over the course of about a year, these experiences had become so powerful- and so prominent- that I realized that I could either dismiss all this as delusions, and write off bigger and bigger parts of my life as useless, or I could find new and productive ways to incorporate these experiences into my life.

I took a couple of months of soul-searching, and realized that in my heart I already knew that the latter was the answer.  I was experiencing these things for a reason, and the world had many valuable lessons to teach me; what began in the New Forest and Richmond Park was part of a lifelong transformation that I could accept or decline, and I chose to accept it.

Although I’m still learning what it means, I grow more confident with my new faith each day as its new blessings unfold.  This is so unlike anything I ever believed before because it isn’t a dead faith where all the truth has already been written; I learn as it grows with me, and the lessons are endless.

I look back at my life- at everything I’ve been and done and experienced- and I have to smile.  I truly am blessed.

 

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How I Got Here (Part 2)

High school saw my foundations as a right-winger with some very disturbing ideas about life shaken pretty hard; by 2001 I was already far enough left that I was alarmed by people’s reaction to the September 11th attacks, and I was one of the few people who bothered to say so.

My distrust of the Bush regime- along with an infatuation with an English artist I’d met via the Internet- led me to register for an American university in London, and in 2003 I began my first semester there.

Things didn’t work out with this artist, and in early 2004 I finally admitted- to myself and to friends- that I “might be bi.”  At the time I still wasn’t sure that homosexual acts were consistent with a Christian belief system, and I began to seriously research progressive Christianity.

It was around this time that I met a fellow American via the Internet (while still in London, ironically) who would later become my boyfriend and, much later, my fiance.

For years, I lapped up page after page of fairly compelling arguments, and became increasingly convinced of just how little of the Bible was really clear on anything.

I also became aware of other things.  My university was right on the edge of Richmond Park, and I would spend many long hours among the trees, watching the deer, contemplating life and what it meant.  For the first time, I began to understand that the universe could exist without God as I knew Him.

In April 2005, drawn by some instinct I didn’t fully understand, I spent my spring break in the New Forest, and had many long ruminations about the nature of life and the world.  Between that and Richmond Park, I was never entirely the same.

I returned to America in 2005, and called myself a Christian until around 2006; by this time, however, it had become more rote than meaning.  I simply had moved on from nearly everything that defined me as a Christian, and I at last had to admit that I was functionally agnostic.

I remained an agnostic or atheist- albeit reluctantly- for about 4 years.  At times I felt it was only a concession to facts I couldn’t deny; other times, I used it as a means of feeling superior to others, lashing out at the conservative Christians that I felt had failed me and failed my country so profoundly.

More to come tomorrow in Part 3.

 

My Letter to Mike Huckabee

Dear Gov. Huckabee,

You don’t know me, but I’m not far away.

I’ve even been to your place once, a couple years ago when I worked for Papa John’s.

I live just down the road at [redacted]. with my partner of 5 1/2 years and fiance. You might say we’re practically neighbors.

I’ve learned that you’ve thrown your lot in with Rev. Lou Engle, the guy who wants to see gay men like me imprisoned or killed. I can’t say I’m entirely surprised, but Mike, I am disappointed.

By saying this man’s position is righteous, you’re saying your neighbors should be killed on some bogus fears that we’re after your children. Is that any way to treat your neighbors?

My fiance and I live in peace and harm nobody. Can you say the same about your friends?

I want you to think and pray long and hard about this. And if you’ve got the time, I’d like to speak at length, heart-to-heart about how it is from our point of view. We’re over at [address redacted].

How I Got Here (Part 1)

A good way to understand a faith is to hear the stories of those who follow it.

Although my story is one I love to tell, I don’t tell it often because- like so many things about my faith- it’s not something I like to foist on others.

In creating an apologist blog, however, I think this is a good foundation to show where I’m coming from.

I was raised non-denominational Christian, in a military family that moved often.  When I was about 8, I attended a free concert in Charleston, SC put on by the Christian artist Carman (it was his “Addicted to Jesus” tour, circa ’92-93).  At the concert, Carman discussed Engel vs. Vitale (the 1962 Supreme Court decision that prevented public schools from leading students in prayer) as if it were a disaster on par with the holocaust.

Then in 1994, we moved from Charleston to Conway, SC and began attending a non-denominational evangelical church there.  This particular church preached heavily from the book of Revalation.

As impressionable as I was, all of this really hit home for me, and I became an extremely conservative Christian. I became obsessed with the end of days and convinced that the apocalypse would happen before I was 16.  I got baptized, got active in youth groups, stood up to teachers whenever they said something I interpreted as vaguely secularist, and generally prepared to see the rapture any day.

It came to a head when I was about 15 years old.  Around this time, Eric Rudolph was bombing abortion clinics, and I found that I sympathized with him.  This was also around the time that I first heard any talk of same-sex marriage being an issue.  I was so enraged that I wrote out a six-page manifesto condoning the mass murder of gays, abortion providers, and religious leaders of other faiths.

The bit about the gays was ironic; this was also around the time I began to question my own sexuality, and I spent many long, desperate hours praying to Jesus to make me straight.  I got so deep in denial that it took another six years to get out of it completely.

The real watershed was when, in 2000, I participated in the student exchange program to Spain.  In the month I spent living in a small town in Barcelona, something hit home.  I realized that despite living in a secular country, the Spaniards were actually happier than we were in America.  There was less crime, less poverty, and more time to enjoy life.  So if America was God’s chosen nation, why would Spain be so much more blessed?

When I returned from Spain, I enrolled in a school for the arts and sciences to study theatre in my junior and senior year of high school.  While there, I had a gay classmate (ironically, the only openly gay guy in the theatre program).  I had cooled my fervor somewhat at this point, but I still had this idea that gays were immodest, sex-obsessed hedonists who only cared about themselves.  It wasn’t until we roomed together on a theatre trip, and he proved to be a polite, very obliging person who never once made a move on me that my opinions began to change.

I became increasingly liberal, although I still held onto a lot of conservative Christian beliefs.  It wasn’t until college that my world would really be turned upside-down.

Tomorrow, I’ll continue with that in part 2 of “How I Got Here.”

A Question of Power

One of the greatest misunderstandings of the Wiccan mindset is in our concept of power.

Many Christians, informed by people who dabbled in magic out of a sense of powerlessness or desperation, think that what the quest for power is at the heart of our faith.

There are those- usually young people who feel rejected by their peers- who attempt to use magic as an attempt to gain material wealth or even harm others.  These are not the ones who usually get serious about the Craft, but the ones who burn out quickly when they realize just how much harm they’re doing to themselves.

The down side is, they’re also the ones who will denounce us most loudly because they believe we’re after the same things they were.

Even among secular media, the vocabulary of “power” comes in.  A National Geographic documentary had this reeker of a quote: “In return for their faith, the spirits grant them the power of magic.”

In short, even secular media can draw a very crass parallel to the Christian notion of witches: those who pledge devotion to the devil in exchange for power.

When discussing our faith with non-pagans, that’s the kind of misunderstanding we have to contend with, and we have to be very careful to discuss what magic actually means to us.

Some points to consider when discussing the topic of magic:

1. Magic is not a “special power” granted to a privileged class. We believe that everyone has some capacity to perform magic because we believe that magic is nothing more or less than a force of nature common to all beings.  We believe in honing the abilities we already have, not in acquiring new “powers.”

2. Magic is not taken lightly by serious witches. The Rede- the closest thing we have to a holy text that most of us believe in- is very specific about it.  We believe not only in active works of magic, but in passive ones; thus “An though it harm none, do as ye will” means (if I may borrow Buddhist terminology) right thought as well as right action.

3. Magic, like all actions, has consequences. We share common ground with Christianity inasmuch as we believe in reaping what we sow.  More specifically, the Threefold Law tells us we’ll get worse than what we dish out.

4. Many people perform magic and never realize it. This was something I learned from my studies in anthropology.  All those good luck rituals people do are more than just a simple mannerism, they’re a bid to invoke invisible forces for positive change.  For example, for as long as I can remember, I’ve always ordered ginger ale when flying on an airliner.  Long before I had converted, I developed this habit, and it always seemed better this way.  I was using the ginger ale as a charm or talisman to ward off danger, even if I’d have never admitted that back in those days.  And what about the sometimes elaborate rituals performed by baseball players?  Some of the rituals are very shamanic at their heart, and most players (especially pitchers) swear by them.

Gardner, Homosexuality, and Wicca

This is a topic that comes up often in discussions by those outside the Craft, usually posed as an attack.  I thought I’d get it out of the way because I have heard it countless times.

It is often pointed out (correctly, mind you) that Gerald Gardner denounced homosexuality and claimed that homosexuals incurred “the curse of the Goddess.”  Some even go so far as to discuss the fertility aspect of the God and Goddess duality (the Law of Polarities) to suggest that Wicca is essentially a “fertility religion.”

The implication here is that Wicca is not, intrinsically, gay-friendly because not only did its “founder” denounce the practice, but that gay sex doesn’t lead to reproduction.  Thus the defense that Gardner was “a product of his times” is somewhat weak because, in this line of argument, fertility is a biological and spiritual constant.

These conclusions, however, are extremely flimsy when you examine them.  They are based on several presumptions that are either faulty or represent a poor understanding of Wicca in general.

The first of these presumptions is that Gerald Gardner is held in some sort of veneration among Wiccans, or occupies the status of a prophet.  Those of us within the Craft know this is not true; Gardner did a lot to bring the Old Ways back after his own fashion, but those who actually follow the strict Gardnerian tradition are a relative minority among Witches.  We may refer to Gardner and appreciate what he did, but we are free to question or disagree with him.  Gerald Gardner also said that only pretty, young women should serve as priestesses in performing the Great Rite, but few Wiccans perform the Great Rite in its original form, let alone with pretty young virgins.

The second presumption is that Wicca is solely about fertility.  Although fertility and reproduction figure strongly into the symbolism and veneration of the Wiccan tradition, most Wiccans today regard their faith as a veneration of the whole of nature, even those parts we don’t fully understand.

The third presumption is that the Wiccan understanding of gender is mired in the same biological literalism as most Western religions.  In truth, the Wiccan understanding of gender tends to be more shamanic.  We do believe in two principle genders that infuse energies and individuals, but we accept that physical gender and metaphysical gender are two different things.  Some transgendered Wiccans have even adopted the much older Native American term “two-spirit” to describe themselves.

There are some other facts that beg consideration.  First, Gerald Gardner was actually very close to the late esotericist Aleister Crowley.  It is no secret among those who have read any of Crowley’s poetry that he was very flamboyantly and openly bisexual, and had a strong preference for males; Gardner certainly had to know this.

Second, Gerald Gardner’s revival of the shamanic ideas of pre-Christian Europe wouldn’t have happened without the New Forest Coven.  Although the exact time, place, and nature of the coven is disputed, few authors doubt that a New Forest Coven existed near Christchurch, UK some time in the early 20th century.

Third, homosexuality, bisexuality, and even transgenderism occur in nature!  This is a hard sell because Western thinking has been adamant in demonizing homosexuality as “unnatural,” but anyone who has paid attention at zoos or farms knows better.  Naturalists now believe that same-sex pairings help ease social pressures and control populations.  Probably the best academic work on the sheer scope of this phenomenon in the animal kingdom has been done by Dr. Bruce Bagemihl, author of “Biological Exuberance” (a fascinating read, even if it is a bit of a door stop.  Give it a look).

So is Wicca intrinsically anti-gay?  No more or less than nature itself.

Merry Meet!

I think before I get started, I’d like to introduce myself.

My Outer Circle name (for those not in the Craft, that’s a name we use to identify each other informally) is simply “Three.”  I am a recent convert to the eclectic Wiccan tradition.  Exactly how I got here will be the subject of another post, since that’s a very long story.

I’m an on-again, off-again university student, a bit of a jack of all trades, and an amateur writer in several genres.  I’m currently a full-time anthropology and history student.

I got the idea to publish a blog of pagan apologetics and ramblings after seeing that many people simply don’t understand what we’re all about.  Even those who know we’re not “satan worshippers” seem a little perplexed as to what draws us to the Craft and what we mean to get out of it.  I hope to clear the air and explain things as clearly as I can for whoever wants to know.

This isn’t my first attempt at apologetics; for several years, I was an apologist for progressive Christianity.

My falling out from Christianity was for personal reasons and I will not attack Christianity because I understand it very well; my only beef with anyone of any religion is with those who want to make life hard for people who don’t agree with them.

I look forward with sharing my thoughts with whoever cares to read them.