Imbolc is the time of year when I like to start new projects and endeavours. Imbolc would be an excellent time to celebrate a transition from one gender to another. It’s the time when the first signs of spring appear (at least in my neck of the woods – your local climate may vary). The goddess most closely associated with Imbolc is Brighid, goddess of smithcraft, poetry, and healing.
Month: January 2018
Sex and gender
Sex is assigned according to seven different biological characteristics, which can and do vary considerably. Intersex children are assigned a sex depending on how closely these seven characteristics match male or female. A lot of people have six out of seven matching a particular sex, or five out of seven. A lot of people never find out that they have less than seven matching characteristics. However, this massively calls into question that there is such a thing as two distinct biological sexes.
Furthermore, why do we attach so much importance to sex (clearly a social construct) that we are prepared, as a society, to surgically modify babies?
Gender is how you feel on the inside. You can be non-binary, genderqueer, male, female, femme, butch, gender-fluid, etc.
What is the purpose of religion?
It is often assumed that the purpose of religion is to shape its adherents into nicer people. However, a quick look at the number and variety of unpleasant people in every religious tradition gives the lie to this idea. If religion doesn’t make people nicer, what is it actually for?
Culture change and cat-herding
There’s always a difficult process when one group of people feels passionately that something needs to change, and another group of people feel that the status quo is just fine, usually (but not always) because they are not affected by the thing that the first group feels is in need of change.
What tactics should we adopt to try to bring about the change? An open letter? A declaration? A community statement? A petition? Or a pledge to boycott?
An inclusive wheel of the year
Some versions of the Wheel of the Year (the eight festivals of Wicca and Druidry) can feel excluding, particularly those that focus on the God and the Goddess interacting through the cycle of the seasons. This mythological construct excludes both polytheists and LGBTQIA people. Some versions of the story are uncomfortable for feminists, as they don’t exactly promote consent culture. It is worth noting that the “cycle of the God and the Goddess” doesn’t appear in any early Gardnerian Books of Shadows (e.g. November Eve, 1949, February Eve, 1949, May Eve, 1949, August Eve, 1949). The solstices and equinoxes were added to the Wiccan year-wheel in the 1950s.
For all sorts of reasons, then, I prefer to go back to the original mythology and symbolism associated with the festivals.
One of my favourite folk rituals is the practice of wassailing. This is done in apple-growing districts to wake up the apple trees and encourage them to produce plenty of fruit in the autumn. I love it so much that I planted an apple tree in my garden so I could wassail it.Continue reading
Abuse happens in a culture that enables it
An accusation of abuse has surfaced against Isaac Bonewits, made by Moira Greyland, who was abused by her mother, Marion Zimmer Bradley. I never met Isaac, though I had added him as a friend on Facebook. Deborah Lipp and Phaedra Bonewits have issued a joint statement defending him. The context in which the accusation was made is also problematic, in that the book was published by an alt-right person with an axe to grind.
Whether or not this particular accusation is true, and it would be difficult to determine this long after the events described, and when the person accused is dead, it is all too easy to fall into the pattern of isolating the accused person as a “bad apple”, and failing to look at the whole barrel.
Creating inclusive rituals
It is a useful magical and intellectual exercise to examine each segment of your ritual structure, and ask yourself why you do it in the particular way that you do. Why do we sweep the circle, consecrate it with water, salt, and incense, cast it with a sword, and so on? What is the function and symbolism of each of these actions? Can they be improved – either in the sense of making them more magically effective, more reflective of reality, or more inclusive?
Story: The Painting of the Birds
There’s a lovely story in Richard Adams’ folktale anthology The Iron Wolf, called “The Painting of the Birds”. I was reminded of it because today is National Bird Day.
Here’s my retelling of the story.
Polarity, gender, and fertility
Wiccan ritual often uses the concepts of polarity and fertility to make magic and symbolism. These can be viewed in an exclusively heterocentric way, or in a more inclusive and diverse way. The reality of gender, sexuality, and magic suggests that the inclusive way is more reflective of the true complexity of human nature.