Thursday, September 26, 2013

Freyfaxi?




So as I've mentioned previously, I recently started participating in the ADF through the local Grove here in Phoenix. I've just started their “Dedicant Program”, and I'm (give or take) about a third of the way through it. One of the major requirements of this program is a thorough understanding of, attendance to, and written analysis of the eight cardinal holy days of the wheel of the year. Of  these eight occasions, four of the holiday observances must be held in the ADF ritual format. I've read the entire manual, and while their chosen format isn't my usual practice, I think it's a perfectly reasonable arrangement of events. Thus, when I found out that there was an open Autumnal Equinox celebration I jumped at my chance to get one of my ritual observances in, and to meet some new people!
(Cue dramatic foreshadowing music)
My first hint that something might be off was when I looked up the event details and saw that this years celebration of Mabon would be held in a traditional Norse Freyfaxi...



                                    
You have no idea how much fun I had creating this image



For those of you that are curious (or have no idea what the heck a Freyfaxi is), the holiday is held on August 1st and is essentially the Asatru equivalent to the more common “Lammas”. So a ritual hosted by a group which requires documented proof that you know your stuff about the Wheel of the Year (which I was attending in order to prove just that) was honoring the wrong holiday, nearly two months late.



                                                                



Now this is a group which I've heard GREAT things about, which includes a number of my friends, and which generally promotes scholarship and research. So I did some digging, and discovered that there ARE groups of heathens which celebrate Freyfaxi on the equinox (as opposed to Winter Finding, which is more common). Thus informed, I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt and go anyway.
The gathering was held at the Irish Cultural Center (Which looks like Hogwarts, and is AWESOME) and about fifty people came to celebrate. The ritual began with a mood setting chant as we walked around the courtyard and gathered around the altar. The druids at the ADF don't cast a circle or otherwise denote the ritual area, instead they either give an offering to those forces they would placate, or call upon a protector/hero to watch over the ritual. So when they called upon The Thunderer to keep any ill forces at bay, it seemed perfectly reasonable.  When you're envisioning the out-dwellers as the forces of Jötunheim, you could do a lot worse than Atli, Jötuns bane. They then proceeded to call the Aesir, and the Vanir, and honor Freyr in particular. It all seems pretty kosher so far.
Then, without even a blink, they invited Brigid to come and be honored for the occasion.


My mind boggled. I was completely at a loss for words (NOT a common occurrence, I assure you). First off, those are NOT two pantheons that had a friendly relationship. The Vikings raided Ireland for hundreds of years, and the two were regularly tied up in land wars. Needless to say, these two cultures were not exactly cordial. As if that wasn't enough to question the wisdom of bringing these forces together, you have invited two notoriously hot headed gods, both competing for the same role as god/ess of the forge.
Fundamental law of nature: any two organisms in the same ecosystem, which fill the same ecological niche, will end up in competition. Put a lion and a tiger in the same cage with a lump of meat and they will (most likely) kill each other.
Well... as below, so above.


The ritual continued, with offerings to the landvaetter, the ancestors, and the gods. As the procession wound down, in standard ADF fashion, an Omen was cast. Essentially, after everybody has made their offerings to the powers that be, the idea is to do a divination to see what gifts the powers offer in return. To that end, one rune is drawn for each “Kindred” (Gods-Ancestors-Landvaetter, in that order). The woman who had been leading the chanting and meditation that evening drew up a set of runes and drew for the Aesir.


Thurisaz
A questionable enough “blessing” as it is, it's also known as Thor's rune.
Then the chanter drew again, this time for the Ancestors.


Thurisaz
Again. Ok. I think we're getting the message here.


Then finally she drew for the Landvaetter.


Ansuz
The god rune, the Aesir, Odin's court.


Let me sum that up... We ask what we should expect in return for our ritual. The gods say “Expect Thor...”, the ancestors say “Yeah... You should REALLY expect Thor....”, and the spirits of the land say “You should listen to them.”
After the ritual, during the feast, I got a chance to speak with a few friends about the omen. One pointed out: “That isn't the only definition for Thurisaz. It could mean challenges ahead, or giants!”
So to recap, our alternate explanation was the rune representing the ritual protector, indicating that there would be troubles ahead (and maybe giants). Our alternate explanation is sounding strikingly similar to the first one... In the end I did the only thing I could. I had brought a flask of my favorite liquor (Ouzo, left over from my wedding night), which I had intended to share as an offering to the Aesir and enjoy the rest. After the feast I walked out to the fire where the offerings were made, and emptied the flask. All of it.
It's not uncommon for individual pagans at a ritual to encounter some particular detail which they don't agree with, or feel the need to correct later after the celebration has concluded. Sometimes we just silently correct the issue in our head, other times we pour some extra booze in the fire, and occasionally we write a blog about it! All issues aside, the feast was great and getting to hang out with friends (new and old) was a blast; however I'm a bit wary of going to another Norse ritual. They have an event coming up which is in conjunction with another local group “Hammerhearth”, which might be a bit less problematic. While I've decided not to let this deter me from completing the Dedicant program, I'll admit that it does make me appreciate my usually solitary practice.


P.S.- Thor, I'm really, really, REALLY sorry.
Please don't smite me

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Announcements!



So sometimes life goes from 0 to 90 without any warning, and all you can do is cling desperately to your seat and enjoy the ride. The past few weeks have been a maelstrom of chaos. (and by chaos, I mean AWESOME!)
Since there's no way I could tackle each of these subjects individually in a timely manor, I decided to do a big update where I just try to cover all of the interesting things going on.

-I will be authoring a column on Agora, over at Patheos!
Wyrd Words will be keeping the Thor in Thursdays on a bi-weekly basis! Look for the inaugural piece today! As if this wasn't completely obvious, I am a HUGE fan of many of the writers over at the Patheos Pagan Chanel. Even being invited to be a columnist (rather than a blog owner) feels like getting front row seats to some kind of Pagan/Blogger Superbowl.
In other news, I'm a complete nerd.

-I will be participating in the ADF Dedicant program.
Over the past couple of years I've essentially danced in circles around the ADF. I've known more then a few members, and I follow Teo Bishop who was a member until relatively recently. Despite this, I had never bothered to really examine the organization. I'm really not sure why. When I finally got around to checking it out though, what I found was an organization of Pagans which promoted scholarly study and research. What's more, they're completely open to Heathens (Even solitary ones)!
I will be writing about my experiences with the program here on Wyrd Wiles in what will likely be my first blog “series”.

-Intra-Pagan Interfaith dialogue
In an effort to initiate a long term project that I've been trying to get off the ground, I will be writing about an interview with Vice Sr. Druid of the Grove of the Rising Phoenix, Mr. Mark Bailey. Expect this piece within the next few weeks. My hope is that this will be the first of many such discussions across the various Pagan traditions!

-The FRD has announced the launch date for “The World Table”
“The World Table” is a program which will facilitate inter religious conversations, both for spiritual leaders and for any individuals with an interest in education. Essentially two parties will engage in conversation over some chosen topic, and others will be allowed to “spectate”.

Our hope is to have the Pagan Chapter of the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy up and running in time to officially participate in the opening events!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Northern Winds: Asatru and Heathen Meet-up

Northern Winds: Asatru and Heathen Meet-up

So one of the first things they teach you about in Anthropology 101, is the history of the field and how we used to be REALLY BAD AT IT. One of the predominant examples of this is the phenomenon of “Armchair- Anthropologists”. In a nut shell; these early pioneers in the field would study and compare cultures around the world, without ever leaving their comfortable countryside homes. Content to sound like they knew what they were talking about, simply by reading reports from abroad, these guys are responsible for a LOT of cultural misunderstandings and stereotypes.




Thus, as a student of Anthropology, and somebody who hates to look like a hypocrite, I occasionally venture out into the world to see what's happening!

This past Friday evening was the monthly Asatru and Heathen Meet-up hosted by Northern Winds. I had been to the shop once before, but not for some time. Northern Winds is a small, one room shop, adjoined to the larger Fantasia Crystals. While the majority of the store seemed to have a more general Wiccan target audience, Northern Winds has a distinctly Nordic feel to it. While Pentacles and Irminsul decorated the walls, the shelves were topped with statues of the Aesir and the Vanir. The display counter boasted a large variety of rune sets, as well as Mjölnir pendants made of everything from wood, to bronze, to chain-mail links. This, along with a small shelf in the back with a few impressive (out of print) books, convinced me that I'd come to the right place for my excursion.
As the room filled up with people I was intrigued to see people from a number of traditions in attendance, including the friendly neighborhood Druid Mr. Bailey. (Whom I had the pleasure to meet once before at the local Witches Ball). I was pleased to see such a diverse group participating amicably in a kind of Intra-Pagan Interfaith discussion.
The lesson that night was lead by Kevin Puckett, author, Gothi, and creator of Asastrong. I had no idea what topic/s the lecture was going to be covering that evening, so I was curious what direction Mr. Puckett would take when he announced that the focus of the talk was going to be the concept of the “Folk-Soul”.
I was expecting a 101 lesson on the idea of the Orlog (Ones connection to their ancestral past), but Puckett had a more active, communal vision in mind. Puckett's “Folk-Soul” is something more akin to a community network. He described it as a quilt, into which each member of the community stitches their most valued skills/attributes, thus making them accessible to the whole group. By making connections with others who possess different skill sets and resources than ones own, an individual can gain access to a greater breadth of knowledge and ability.
In addition to his lesson on “Folk-Soul”, Puckett also included a practical daily philosophy, based on the idea of community contribution, represented below:


Puckett's basic idea is that the human experience can be broken down into these four fields, and that by maintaining a healthy balance of these attributes, one can better contribute to their community. (I believe his words were “commune with the Folk-Soul”. There's a reason I'm a blogger and not a priest; I do not share the Skaldic Gothi's skill at waxing poetic.)
In his lecture, Puckett expounded upon each of his four attributes, and his perspective on balance within each quarter as well as within the whole. The Physical requires a balance between work, exercise, and leisure. The Social involves the need for solitary time, balanced against ones social obligations. The Spiritual category emphasizes the need for practical grounding, in addition to spiritual growth. The Mental quarter represents the need for mental stimuli/critical thinking skills, vs mental leisure time. (On that last note: Guilty as charged, I spend WAY more time on netflix then I do in science journals...)
The talk ended with Mr. Puckett bringing the whole thing full circle, and explaining that the resources for improving ourselves can be found within the network of the Folk-Soul; and by keeping ones life in balance, one can better contribute to the Folk-Soul.

Now, putting aside my personal nitpicking around terms like “spiritual” and the amount to which it may or may not be a part of any individuals life, the Folk-Soul sounds like a fairly positive social mechanic. If you want to encourage community activism and tribal bonding, then promoting symbiotic relationships, founded in reciprocity, through religious values is an effective strategy. Couple this with a philosophy of personal progress as communal gain, using a common Pagan ethic of self-reliance and responsibility for support, and you have the beginnings of a great community action plan. While I think this would be difficult to implement in a larger community, I believe this kind of construct would make a strong foundation for smaller groups like individual kindreds/covens/groves.
After the lecture, I had the opportunity to speak to Mr. Puckett briefly about his work as an author, and his goals for Asastrong. Puckett emphasized his company's stated mission:



ÁsaStrong’s mission is to provide all Ásatrúar with new foundations well as deeper philosophical based in our ancient tradition, as insights into what has become our new, contemporary, tradition. We also seek to provide books, clothing, ritual items, and jewelry created by actual Ásatrúar for Ásatrúar. We seek to accomplish these goals through the concept of Folk-Building (a term coined by some of our amazing Folk-Mothers within the Folk community). This means we seek to only do business with other companies, Kindreds, and organizations within the Ásatrú or Folk community. Symbolized by the Úlfheðinn logo, ÁsaStrong stands on the front-line of our Trú each day that we don our Hammer. We will Progress our Trú and our Folk by securing the rights and freedoms of all Ásatrúar. Our motto, “Nevermind the False, Progress the Folk” will see us through the times to come. We focus only on that which is positive, and serves to further our Love for our Folk and our Gods.


His focus, throughout our conversation, was always on contributing to and building up the community. At first glance I admit, I felt Asastrong's mission statement was a bit exclusivist. While I respected his desire to bolster the Heathen population, I didn't seem to make much room for Pagans outside of those borders. However, after listening to his talk and discussing his work, I found him to be a very open and accepting gentlemen. His personal definition of Folk seemed to have room for anybody who wished to consider themselves a part of the community, and I have a lot of respect for that. In the end, I left the meet-up feeling like I had potentially made some new friends, and I intend to follow Kevin Puckett's career with interest.


So, I have a bit of a guilty pleasure. I LOVE buying books on runic interpretation. I'm always fascinated to see how different people see the meanings behind the same symbols, and I've got a collection which is starting to rival the harlequin romance section at some bookstores. Thus, I made sure to procure a copy of Kevin Puckett's “Runic Philosophy”! Expect a book review in the near future!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

What About the Children?

What About the Children?


Patheos issued a writing prompt for August; how do we pass on our faith to our children? As half of an interfaith marriage, both members of minority religious communities, let me take this opportunity to express how insanely LOADED this question usually is. I have heard this question a hundred times, each colored with it's own preexisting assumptions. More often than not when somebody close to me asks this question, it's more important to address the question they're NOT asking.
When my father, a Pagan with Taoist leanings, asked me “How are you going to raise the children?”, the more important question he was really asking me was “Is she going to try and make you convert?”. When my father-in-law said the exact same phrase, his real question was “You understand that you're going to raise them Jewish, right?”. When my conservative Baptist mother asked me the question, her real meaning was “Will you let me teach them about Jesus?”.
More often then not, I don't even get the opportunity to go into my plans for my potential children's education. Instead I end up trapped in a circular dance, trying to figure out what they're actually trying to get at. In fact, there is exactly ONE person who has ever asked me that question and actually wanted to know what my ideas, ideals, and plans actually are; and that's my wife. (Arguably the only person who's business it is in the first place!)
My wife and I met exactly two years to the day before our wedding, and had known each other for about twenty minutes before this topic came up as a tangent of a seriously FASCINATING discussion on religion. Twenty minutes into the rest of our lives, and she made it abundantly clear that her future children would be raised Jewish. Bear in mind, I had no idea that this was my future wife at the time and thus really was not concerned with this early revelation until nearly two years later.
So how can I pass on my faith to my children, when I already swore to my wife that I would raise them in the manner of her ancestors? I swore on my honor, and on my sword (literally) that I would do my best to ensure they went to Shul, learned about Jewish culture, and got their Bar and Bat mitzvahs. My one and only caveat, was that once our children are old enough to decide for themselves, that they will be allowed to make their own choices as men and women; secure in the knowledge that they will always be unquestionably accepted at home. While they are growing up, and we're still responsible for leading them along their paths, they'll follow my wife's god. They may choose to do so for the rest of their lives, and I will never question their choices in that matter. This doesn't mean that I won't be passing down my own beliefs to my children.

I plan to raise good Heathen children. Let me be clear, I'm going to keep my word and raise our children to be Jewish; however I intend to raise children that any Heathen would be proud of! I intend for my children to grow up understanding frith, and the unwavering support and loyalty of kith and kin. I will teach them honorable conduct, regardless of whether or not modern society recognizes the value of honor. I will teach them to be self reliant, and to never stop questioning. I will teach them the value of holding their word as their bond, and the rewards of perseverance. My children may or may not ever choose to honor the Aesir and the Vanir. They may devote their lives to Judaism, following their mother into the Rabbinate. If I can instill these values, these core tenants of my belief, then I will state with pride that I have taught my children all I have to offer.

To some, it's more important to pass down the cultural lore. Others say that the most important thing for them to pass on to their progeny, is the desire to honor their gods. These virtues are what my Heathenism means to me. If I can encourage my children to lead a life that would make their ancestors proud, I will happily count my duties as a Heathen father successfully fulfilled. 







Edited by: Jessie

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Community Networking Update

Introducing Our New Segment:
The Community Networking Page

Just above this post, next to the "About" page, you'll see the new addition. Wyrd Wiles was created as a community building effort, and to that end I thought it might be a good idea to include some of the community! This page will be a constant work in progress, adding links and information about resources, activities, and entertainment geared towards the Pagan community.

This page will also be a communal effort. Want to see your site listed in the network? Send it in! Have a favorite blog that you want to promote? Just use the handy Contact button and shoot me a message. It's impossible to have a community of one, so we're putting out the call! The more you all participate, the better it will be!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

PRIDE

PRIDE

Pride. That's a really loaded word these days, isn't it? Pride can be dangerous, leading to overconfidence and vanity. Pride can be glorious: taking pride in your work, your skills, your accomplishments; full confidence in one’s personal abilities can be a sign of strength and discipline. As if the word wasn't contentious enough, modern social movements have given the word a political bent.

The Politicization of Pride






Since the desegregation of America, your average citizen has become familiar with the idea of “Black Pride,” and more recently, with the major legal battle over marriage equality, the phrase “Gay Pride” has become common vernacular. As a culture we've become familiar with celebrations of these ideas. We have rainbow pride parades, black history month, women’s history month, in addition to all the designated times or events where people within these groups can gather and feel accepted and appreciated by the community. It also seems to be some inevitable law of nature, that whenever these ideas arise, there's that one person in the room who says something like “Why can't we have straight/white/male pride?”. 

Much like the majority of Americans, I'm fairly active on Facebook, and spend an inordinate amount of time keeping up to date with the goings on of my family, friends, and acquaintances on the site. It was there, just this morning, that I re-encountered this line of thought. An acquaintance of mine, who I know to be a tolerant person, posted this:




You may ask, what does this have to do with Heathenism? I've noticed a disturbing thought pattern, one to which I once unfortunately subscribed. While I no longer hold this view, the prevalence in our community still sets me on edge. While sexual orientation is rarely seen as a sticking point, even the non-folkish members of our community occasionally ask questions like, “Why can't we have White Pride?”. This question is usually posed a bit more delicately than that (as most can agree that the phrase “White Pride” has some seriously negative social connotations), but the sentiment remains the same.

In a tradition where one venerates their ancestors, and tries to acknowledge their Orlog, it can be difficult to explain the issues with this line of thinking. Celebrations of various forms of “Pride” mean more than an appreciation for your ancestors, or your orientation, or your gender. These celebrations are a symbol of an oppressed group being allowed to integrate into society. Black history month isn't only about being black; rather, it's about acknowledging those individuals within that community who made great strides for social equality or scientific development. Gay Pride parades aren't just celebrations of ones orientation; they are celebrations of the great strides that our society has made, and of the idea that people should no longer have to hide who they are. These are groups who represent minority voices, which are often ignored by the majority culture. The picture above asks for those who are “Straight and Unashamed” to share the picture. My response is: You don't need to celebrate being “unashamed” of your heterosexuality, because nobody in our society is trying to tell you that you SHOULD be ashamed. As members of the majority, we don't need to proclaim "We are here, and we are people too!". Our inherent worth as human beings was never in question.

As a man, every day where I can get a job or a promotion; where I can have my stated capabilities accepted as true without assuming limitations based on my gender; where I can have access to male-specific health care functions without comment, essentially IS male pride day. As a Caucasian, every day where I never have to worry about somehow being held as a representative of my whole race through my actions, or have to worry about my employment opportunities due to the color of my skin, IS white pride day. As a heterosexual, every day where I can get married, adopt a child, get healthcare, and visit my spouse in the hospital IS heterosexual pride day. The point of celebrating pride in one’s grouping is to state to the greater society that we- as a unified group- exist, and that we deserve equality. Pride celebrations state that we are just as good, just as valid, just as capable as you are. As a white, heterosexual, male, I will never have to argue those particular points, because I already have “equality”; my rights were never in question. So instead of white (or straight) people complaining about not having their own pride day, they should try to be thankful that they don't need one.

A common problem I've met with while trying to explain this to fellow Heathens (and other Pagans) is that there IS an issue of social inequity. We are members of minority religions, and as such we all find times when that makes our integration and ability to function within the general society more difficult. Every member of a minority faith has, at some point in their lives, had to stand up and remind people that, "We are here, and we are people too!". It's imperative however, that we remember what battle we’re fighting.
In a recent debate on this topic, I was asked:
“What about Heathen Pride? Why can't we take pride in our ancestors?”
Yes, yes we can, and we DO! We have any number of Heathen festivals and Pagan gatherings. While not explicitly Pagan, the Highland Games are a celebration of our cultural heritage! My appreciation for my predecessors, my attachment to my Orlog, has to do with their legacy, not the fact that they were white. I am proud of my community, and the great strides it's made. I am proud of my Kith and Kin, who stand as the pillars of my life, and the role-models by which I judge my own actions. I am proud of many of my ancestors, who accomplished great feats of discovery and innovation.

So why don't we have white/male/straight pride? Because we don't need recognition and equality; we already have it. I eagerly await the day when we are all equal, and such displays are no longer necessary to force society to recognize your existence. That day hasn't come yet; we're still fighting for it. So before you complain about somebody else’s “Pride Day,” consider the last time you were denied a voice because of who you are. Would you want to deny somebody else their voice?


Edited by: Jessie

Friday, July 26, 2013

It's been a Haglaz couple of months...


It's been a Haglaz couple of months...

As some who follow our Facebook feed might know, just about two months ago I got married! Awesome, right? So why the heck has it taken me two months to get back on the horse, and get writing again? Well, long story short I've been job hunting, trying to get back into school, trying to arrange our (now combined) finances, and devoting what little time I have left over to the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy.
The past couple of months have been chock full of AWESOME news and developments, not just for our own communities but for the broader American audience. While I may not have been able to hit those point when they were fresh, rest assured I'm not going to just let stories THAT GOOD just slip past. First and foremost however, I would like explain a bit of what I've been doing over at the FRD.

The Foundation for Religious Diplomacy
Some of you may remember the piece a few months back over at The Wild Hunt, which can be found HERE. In that post David Dashifen Kees (Author of : Wild Garden) announced that he was seeking volunteers to assist in opening a Pagan Chapter within the foundation. While the reception in the peanut gallery was mixed, a LOT of great writers and activists answered the call. I get to work with some truly fantastic people, whose qualifications are so far beyond mine, to build something which could do some real good.
But I've been burned by “Interfaith” organizations before...
Trust me, I hear you! Many of the supposed “Interfaith” organizations out there are overwhelmingly Abrahamic, and seem like giant proselytization machines. So what changed my mind and convinced me to give this organization a go? Where some other organizations actively try to convert, or preach some kind of vague Universalism, the FRD has a different goal. The FRD is focused on a concept called “Honest Contestation”. The basic idea is to combat the insular tendencies of religious communities through dialogue with a trustworthy opponent. The goal of the dialogue isn't to convince the other party/parties of your own particular religious ideals, the goal is for each side to communicate their beliefs and motivations. In essence: we don't all have to agree, but that doesn't mean we can't try to understand one another.
In fact, I would argue that if your goal is to try and convince/convert people through debate, you're all but doomed to failure. Most people change their minds through internal processes, slowly, and generally only when confronted with a situation in which they must address the issue at hand. The more you actively try to “convert” someone, the more likely they are to simply cling to their convictions. The Pagan/Heathen community realized this a long time ago. While there are certainly exceptions, by and large our communities have never bothered to try and convert people. People come to us when their own beliefs lead them here, always have. So when I read the FRD methods and goals, I couldn't help but think that this was the most Heathen interfaith discourse I'd ever seen.

So what am I trying to do?

The Pagan Chapter of the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy is still under construction, but it get's closer to reality every day. If I could sum up my desires for what this chapter could try to achieve, I would say that I want the Pagan Chapter to promote mutual respect and understanding between various religious communities through dialogue, and emphasize that modern Paganism in all its forms has a place within these dialogues.
My second goal would be to ensure an inclusive environment for Pagans of all paths who identify as such. Unlike the other branches of the FRD, we're not a single religion. We are a coalition of traditions bound together by circumstances, history, and some shared ideals. To promote an organization which emphasizes addressing diversity rather than universalism, and then to turn around and pretend that all “Pagans” are the same, would be ludicrous! I would love to see this branch stand as a proper representative of our own communal pluralism. I want to see ambassadors from any number of “Pagan” traditions, who are willing to stand up and share themselves with the world outside of our own bubble.

Back on track!

Ok, off the soapbox! To wrap up this post, I've fought through a hectic coupe of months and I am getting back on the horse! It's been a long hiatus, but we are back in business and you all can expect regular updates once again! There's a lot of great ground to cover, so stay tuned!



P.S.

Pics, so it happened!
Behold, the Groom/Groomsmen!



Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Multimedia Mysticism: How the Digital Age has Affected Modern Paganism



The Pagan community has changed a lot over the decades, particularly in regards to how we organize and communicate. Once, news letters like Green Egg were the primary method of staying apprised of the goings on in circles outside of one's own local group/s. Communication was slow and existed in only one direction; information was much more difficult to come by. The very makeup of the Pagan culture- its traditions and perspectives- has evolved with the changing environment of the modern social arena.

What the Research Says
A lot of research has been done in recent years involving the effects of “Network Culture”. There are discernible trends found within the endless records of digital networks that have had a massive impact on modern culture.
One of the defining aspects of digital communications is its accessibility, versatility, and ability to be personalized. Old style media would present you with a prescribed narrative, in a fixed format, which the reader could then choose to accept or reject. Alternatively, modern digital media is information driven, as opposed to story driven. Users have the ability to deconstruct, fact check, and determine the validity of the information they are being presented with, all from the same terminal and within minutes using research tools like Google.
This was a massive shift in perspective, which drastically altered what we sought from our media communications. People want to hear about issues which interest them. They want it from sources they like, they want to be kept up to date in real time, and most of all they want to be in control of how that digital media is presented. Story driven narratives sum up singular events and attempt to reach a conclusion. Information driven networks are never complete. They are thus a process rather than a product. What this really comes down to is that the arrival of the Internet, social media outlets, and online news sources placed the user in control, allowing them to research as they wish.

Digital Pantheons
So what happens when the digital age hits a religious community? Most of the research here is done from a specifically Christian perspective. Lamberts Secularization of New Religious Paradigms concluded that digital communities “promote Dehierarchization, personal practice, pluralism, and relativism”. This was backed by the Barna Research Group a year later in a study which found that within religious communities there was a sharp decline in the number of people who believed church affiliation was important. This is WITHIN religious communities, meaning that these people were still believers (in this case mostly Christian) but felt that Church affiliation was less important than personal practice.

So what does this mean for us Pagans?
Obviously these traits were highly distressing to organized religions, but they hardly seem to troublesome to modern Paganism, right? Dehierarchization, personal practice, pluralism... These are many of the traits which Pagans often pride themselves on! It's easy to overlook the influence of the Internet on our traditions, when you try to judge those effects based on most modern practices, but it didn't always work this way. Even for those of us who weren't practicing back in the days before the digital revolution , all it takes is a simple look at our history to see how we've changed.
Most traditions in the 60's were initiation based, with information being much more restricted. Concepts like lineage and bloodlines were highly valued, and carried a degree of authority or clout in many circles. Most covens also had a significantly longer life-span. So what exactly changed? The 1970's and 80's brought about several new concepts and organizations. The first important shift came from authors like Raymond Buckland, who promoted the idea of self initiation and solitary practice. Texts like the infamous Bucklands Big Blue Book , encouraged the reader to form their own personal practice based off of their own research. At the same time, modern Heathenry was really bursting into the scene in America with the Ásatrú Free Assembly. The AFA was heavily research focused, as a reconstruction effort. By the early 90's there was a growing notion of Paganism/Heathenry as an information driven effort, where the individual practitioners had the power to declare their own beliefs and ideas.
So when the digital age hit the religious sphere, the various Pagan communities were already working on, and to some (debatable) degree prepared for, the coming changes. Because we were so few and far between, we latched onto this new method of interaction, and it has DRASTICALLY changed our culture.

Pro's and Con's
For better or worse, most parts of our community have fully integrated online resources. This comes with certain strengths and weaknesses. We can communicate and mobilize nearly instantly, and have a community which often promotes self reliance and critical thinking. However the majority of our covens/kindred/groves only last one or two years before collapsing. Unlike our predecessors from the 60's, many groups simply cannot be maintained long term. Sometimes people just move on to a new area, sometimes the group splits over some issue, or simply disbands due to lack of time or money.
One of the reasons I am a solitary Heathen, and the reason many of the Solitaries I know decide to remain such, is because of this extraordinary turnover rate. So how do we, as a community, maintain the advances we've made while addressing our potential weak points? Do we push from better offline organization, pushing for permanent locations and maintained memberships? Or do we accept this transient trait as an aspect of the community and simply integrate the idea as a strength rather than a shortcoming? Our communities are constantly changing, adapting, and growing. Our ability to change and integrate is a large part of our successful survival. Only time will tell what the answers will be, but progress can't be made by simply overlooking the issues at hand. As ever, open dialog is the key. 


Edited By: Jessie

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Pagan Elephant


Adventures in 2A.M. Editing!
Those of you who may have read this when it was first posted may have noticed s few (Read: A plethora) of errors. This has been amended and we here at Wyrd Wiles would like to apologize for the wait, and thank you for your patience!

A Heathen, a Jew, and a Baptist walk into bar...

As many awesome jokes as I'm sure can come from that into, believe it or not this is the story of my life. I am a practicing Heathen who loves to pore over the Eddas and the Sagas, as well as being an active Rune reader. My wife is a devout Jew, who hopes to someday become a Reconstructionist Rabbi. Our roommate is a conservative Baptist, who is known for going to church/ church functions multiple times a week. Welcome to my household, my Kith and Kin, and that's just the ones I live with!
The subject of interfaith dialog and interaction is both massive and complicated. My every day life is an exercise in cross cultural communication, and living in that kind of environment will force you to learn not only about your peer's belief's, but your own as well. Being the only member of the house from a Non-Abrahamic tradition has its difficulties; being solitary doesn't help either. As Heathens/Pagans we often don't have an organized collective to cite, or definitive texts to fall back on. If we want to participate in religious conversations with those outside of our community, we have to leave that “Pagan Bubble” and stand on our own.
Many interfaith organizations tend to focus on the religious “Common Ground”, treating their differences as the unspoken elephant in the room. Even in overwhelmingly Abrahamic interfaith organizations, it's difficult enough to coordinate between paths with a common origin, how then are we ever supposed to integrate traditions which are founded on fundamentally opposing worldviews? The more inclusive you try to make the conversation, the smaller that common ground is going to get, and the less you're going to accomplish without stumbling into that elephant.
The key concepts that keep my home afloat are open curiosity, and considerate but unapologetic dialog. We don't shy away from our differences, we can't. My roommate, author of The Velveteen Girl, is a young earth Biblical creationist. I'm an Anthropology major who studies human evolution. Her worldview is so PROFOUNDLY different from my own, that if we tried to stay only on common ground there would be almost no conversation at all. So how do we manage to get along and work together?
  1. Open Curiosity
We ask questions, and then LISTEN TO THE ANSWERS. You don't need to agree, but it's important to understand.
  1. Considerate but Unapologetic Dialog
When I'm talking to my roommate, I understand that she's a creationist, but I don't hide the fact that I'm not. She is a friend and her beliefs mean a lot to her, so I would never mock her for those beliefs, but I don't shy away from discussing my studies in her presence. I don't make exceptions or change the way I conduct myself when around her, nor does she. She'll talk to me about her church without fear or reservation. She asks about my faith, or my classes, and never belittles or attacks them, even though I know she disagrees with them. We are both comfortable with ourselves and our beliefs, and aren't threatened by opposing ideas.
My wife is a Monotheist. She follows the god of her people. She doesn't feel the need to defend this belief, nor is she threatened by the gods of her Heathen husband, or the trinity of her Christian roommate.
We all hold differing worldviews, cultures, and practices, and that's fine. The rare nights when we are all home together often end in discussions of religion, politics, and philosophy over a glass of wine. There's a catch 22 to this though. Everyone in this discussion is willing to participate and listen, and is secure enough in their own beliefs that they can do so without becoming defensive. The lesson here is “Choose your battles”. You can reach across the aisle, but unless the other person is ready to do the same, you're not going to get anywhere.



The Pagan Elephant

On so many occasions when speaking to fellow Pagans about community building and inter religious dialog I hear the phrase “when talking to Non-Pagans...”. While standing outside that bubble and working with those beyond the borders of our community is vitally important, so many forget to apply those same foundations to communication within our own groups. Wiccans, Heathens, Druids, Celtic re-constructionists, Dianics, Radical Faeries, and a hundred other groups and subgroups exist within the Pagan umbrella. Why then, do we pretend that interfaith discussion is only needed outside the bubble? Why is there a Pagan Elephant?
A close friend of mine, we'll call her T, is a Faery Wiccan. She holds to the Three Fold Law, and emphasizes “Harm None”. She's essentially a magickal pacifist, practicing only defense. These aren't uncommon guidelines to be found within the greater Pagan community, but (as I'm sure my fellow Heathens are thinking) they're hardly universal. However, they're often portrayed as the “Common ground” of the pagan community at open gatherings. Assuming that everyone at the circle believes in these concepts is naive, and can lead to miscommunication. You can't learn to really understand someone, their choices and motivations, by simply making an assumption about their beliefs. We're all aware that there are those among our circles who believe differently, sometimes DRASTICALLY differently, but we don't talk about it for fear of confrontation. We talk about our connections, we talk about the correlations between many of our paths, we pretend that we're all fundamentally the same.

Thence cometh our great pentacle-spangled pachyderm.

We can stand together, work together, and support each other, and still acknowledge that we are different, without ending in confrontation. I disagree with the Three Fold Law, and just like when I'm speaking to my wife or my roommate, I don't shy away from the subject when speaking to T. If we're going to work together, we need to understand these differences, not sweep them under the rug.
If we're going to work on how to speak to the world, make ourselves understood, we're going to need to learn to how speak to ourselves. 

Edited by: Jessie

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Not ENTIRELY Awful


 Sometimes the Gods whisper hints in your ear, other times they whack you over the head with a message. In my last post I mentioned the idea that the Pagan community is coming to the attention of mainstream media more and more often. Sometimes as a curiosity, other times as easy sensationalized cannon fodder, or (as in the recent Fox incident) as a joke. So when I heard that the infamous “Wife Swap” was doing an episode with a Pagan family THE VERY NEXT DAY, I took the hint.
(/written while nursing a lump on top of my head)

The Show
For those who either aren't brave enough to ford the waters of insanity, or who simply have no wish to subject themselves to reality TV, here's the basic structure of the show.
1- Two families are chosen and the wives are (predictably) swapped.
2- For one week, the guest wife lives in the manner which the host household is accustomed to.
3- For the second week, the guest wife is allowed to write a set of rules for how she wants the house to run, which the host household must follow if they want the money.
So, I feel I should make it known (as if you all hadn't figured this out already) that I don't watch shows like “Wife Swap”. In fact, I make a point of actively avoiding daytime, reality TV rags. In the spirit of proper analysis, however, I bit the bullet and watched 3 episodes. The first two were from the previous incarnation of the show, which is back in business after spending a year off the air. Both of these episodes featured Pagan (Read: Wiccan) families.
So, first and foremost, this IS reality TV. If there's no drama, there's no money. The families selected a chosen specifically so that there will be tension/conflict. The first two episodes didn't exactly help with my preconceived notions about reality TV. In the first episode they pointed at the “weird and kooky” witches, and essentially made a joke out of the community by choosing a particularly unbalanced family and portraying them as representative of the community. The next episode simply presented the witches as laughable. Knowing full well that I couldn't just let this one slide by after my last post, I grit my teeth and plunged into this weeks episode. Imagine my surprise when it actually wasn't (entirely) awful.
The Fireheart family was presented with their religious affiliations at the forefront of every scene. The show made a point to display various pieces of religious paraphernalia, ritual activities, and even common household beliefs in action. Now, if you're at all like me, the first reaction to this is to cringe at what looks like the beginnings of a sensationalist “Look how weird these people are” piece. After a few minutes of cringing, waiting for the whammy, I managed to take a peak. Wonder of wonders, the Fireheart family is being shown as a loving, relatively mundane, all American family.
Pagan Culture and Mainstream Media
The pieces of Pagan culture that shown mostly seemed to be a display of a colorful subculture. The majority of the viewing audience for “Wife Swap” isn't going to know much about Modern Paganism, and the pieces shown were meant to grab attention. The part which makes this latest episode different from it's predecessors, is that it was done without exploiting or condemning that culture. Without going into an in depth review of the whole episode, (Which you can watch for free via the link above) the religious tension was used to mark the differences in the two families without inherently mocking Pagan beliefs.
So what should we, within the Pagan community, take away from this? A single episode of a reality TV show does not a cultural revolution make, however it is an encouraging sign. While the Firehearts hardly represent all Pagans, they did represent many common aspects of the over all culture found in our community. They also did a wonderful job of showing a healthy, well balanced, family unit.
Coming so soon after the aforementioned Fox Fumble, one can't help but wonder; Have we finally achieved the point at which the complaints of our community are loud enough to be heard by those producing mainstream media? Given the radical shift in tone and tactic between the first two episodes featuring Pagan families, and this latest one, the idea doesn't seem as impossible as it might once have been.
What I think we should really learn from this, is that when we choose to come together over a cause of mutual interest, it's not impossible for even a minority voice to be recognized. The world isn't going to change overnight, and one episode of a reality TV show isn't a huge lunge forward, but it is a step in the right direction. Through the networks we form, both in person and online, we can enact real, visible, change.
Our community is finding its voice, and the media is beginning to recognize that there are enough of us around to matter. Once we have that recognition, once we become prevalent enough to warrant consideration, THEN we will have achieved the social foundation that we need as a movement to progress. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Welcome Fellow Pagans!


Welcome to the inaugural post of Wyrd Wiles!

I've been carefully considering beginning this blog for months, and I think the time has come for me to actively participate in, and contribute to, the community which has given me so much.
As a second generation Pagan I've practiced for most of my life, but for much of that time I was never involved with the greater community. It wasn't until I entered into the study of Anthropology, a few years ago, that I really began to study how Pagan circles <Pun totally intended> have changed and adapted over the years. I began to see how our community has both influenced the world, and been influenced by it.
In a recent piece written by Teo Bishop, we were introduced to the idea of “The Pagan Bubble”. A piece on the somewhat insular nature of the modern Pagan movement which spawned a lot of follow up. Like this piece by John Beckett . The idea raises the question of risk vs gain. The bubble restricts our efforts to communicate with those outside, but it also protects us. As Beckett said in his response, it allows us to have a safe space to communicate our ideas without fear or need for translation. However, modern Paganism is becoming more and more involved in affairs outside of that bubble, and the “Mainstream” is becoming increasingly aware of our presence. As this continues, we will be forced to confront those outside our own circles.
So what do we do when confronted outside of our bubble? That's why I'm starting this blog. What we need is a community that is cohesive enough, networked enough, that we can communicate and take action outside of our own social arenas. We are getting there. The beginnings are in place, the seeds are planted, now we need to encourage them to bloom and grow. In the recent case linked above, concerning Fox and Friends, we and our allies were able to rally quickly enough, and make enough noise, that our concerns were heard! Organizations like The Lady Liberty League are making these things more possible every day.
My goal here is to present news and perspectives on the Pagan Community and it's interactions with other religious and secular communities. Lets build a social foundation,from which those who represent our community can stand and speak to those outside our bubble. Lets shape the tools that will allow for dialog and understanding. The goal of this blog isn't to talk to Pagans about being Pagan, it's to talk about the world beyond our borders and how it affects us.