It’s a curious thing, but when you’re behind a camera, especially one where you have to put your eye close to the viewfinder to see the field of view, you sometimes forget to really look at things and take them in properly. It starts to feel like the camera will do the remembering for you.
How to make a New Year luck bag for first footing.
The other day, I had an interesting discussion with Brenton Dickieson about the shape of the spiritual life.
I said, if I was to attribute a shape to my spirituality, it would be a tree, connecting spirit and matter, the heavens and the Earth, the human and the divine. If you think about the shape of a tree, its roots mirror its branches.
I have just moved from Oxford, England, to Cambridge, Ontario, Canada. As you can imagine, this will cause some emotional upheaval. I feel very rooted in England, and am concerned about the issue of land stolen from Indigenous people in Canada, and the effects of colonialism on their wellbeing and way of life.
This is an excerpt from my new book, The Night Journey: witchcraft as transformation. I am sharing it because I have noticed an awful lot of activists on my Twitter feed expressing pain, rage, and exhaustion. Accordingly, I have revived a hashtag, #activistSelfCare. I didn’t do this to promote the book; I did it because I saw people in pain.
It turns out that the term ‘self care’ originated with Audre Lorde , who wrote,
“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare.”
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?
Spiritual and religious experiences can vary, as William James described more than a century ago. He described how different types of people get spiritual nourishment from different styles of religious practice, and in the process probably contributed to an increase in tolerance of religious diversity.
When examining our own spiritual experiences, or seeking out spiritual experiences, I find it helpful to identify experiences that are nourishing in the long-term, rather than just providing a temporary high.
This Fall I’m offering Paganism and the Body, a 14-week graduate-level online class in body theology and sexual ethics, at Cherry Hill Seminary. Some of you may have already heard about CHS’s uncertain future, so this may be the last time a class like this is available for some years. If you’re thinking about signing up, please do it soon! We start Sept. 12.
Additionally, I just noticed that the price of Eros and Touch from a Pagan Perspective has popped up again to its retail price on Amazon. (There are some copies from third-party sellers still available for around $50.) If the price of the book is a problem, don’t worry; talk to me and we’ll make other arrangements.
In the meantime, here’s a sneak peek at the syllabus! And here’s where you can register. [Write me at chkraemer13 at gmail dot com if you haven’t taken a CHS class before — I believe you’ll need instructor permission.]
Note: This syllabus is subject to change.
Course Number and Title: N6650 Paganism and the Body
Semester: Spring 2016
Class meeting time: Mondays, 9pm ET
Instructor(s): Christine Hoff Kraemer, PhD
Description of the Course
For most Pagans, the human body and the manifest world are sacred centers of religious practice. But what are the consequences of that belief for our daily lives? What do our Pagan theologies of the body call us to do in terms of justice work? Because of the significant percentage of gender and sexual minorities in the Pagan movement, this class will have a special focus on sexual ethics and alternative sexualities and gender expressions. We will also explore other important aspects of embodiment such as health and disability; race; relationship with food, water, and the natural environment; and more.
Prerequisite: C5121 Contemporary Global Paganisms OR C5141 Introduction to Pagan Theology OR written permission of the instructor
- Jennifer Hunter, Rites of Pleasure: Sexuality in Wicca and NeoPaganism, Citadel Press, 2004
- Christine Hoff Kraemer, Eros and Touch from a Pagan Perspective: Divided for Love’s Sake, Routledge, 2013
- A book of your choice on embodiment issues
Other readings will be posted as PDFs or links to web pages in the Moodle classroom.
This course is intended to provide you with an introduction to contemporary thought examining embodiment issues in a Pagan religious context. Our study will include both academic peer-reviewed articles and personal or journalistic accounts by Pagan practitioners and others. These goals will be achieved through regular reading, discussion, and writing. You will also need to demonstrate your engagement and understanding of the material through a final project.
By the end of this class, you should be able to:
- Articulate your own religious beliefs about bodies and embodiment
- Reflect critically and constructively on existing theologies of embodiment
- Have the foundation to deal sensitively and knowledgeably with both Pagans and non-Pagans around issues of the body
Paganism and the Body is a graduate-level course. Students will be expected to digest difficult written material and attend discussions prepared with their own observations and questions. The instructor’s role in the course is primarily as a facilitator and knowledge resource; it is the students who will decide what elements of the assigned readings we will explore most deeply.
Forum posts may be written conversationally. For formal written assignments, students are expected to adhere to academic writing conventions, including the use of proper citation format (Chicago, MLA, or another academic style). The Office of Assertion by Scott F. Crider is recommended as a good basic text on academic writing.
Because clear and mechanically correct writing is essential for effective communication, grammar and organization will be considered in the evaluation process. If successful academic writing has been a challenge for you in the past, it is recommended that you submit a rough draft to the instructor a week before the assignment is due so that she may assist you in revisions.
Plagiarism is a serious violation of ethics, and its consequences may include failing this class. Check with your instructor if you are unclear on how to quote or cite work that is not your own.
See the Catalog for details about additional issues of policy.
If you attend and participate in at least eight class chats, you will receive an 85 or above for participation. In order to receive a participation grade in the A range, students should participate in additional chats and engage in discussion in the forums. Participation grades will be assigned at the discretion of the instructor.
During each class chat, we will discuss the readings assigned during the previous week.
For Week 1, you will briefly define a list of key terms for the study of theologies of embodiment. One- or two-sentence answers are sufficient. Many of these terms can be found in your Week 1 readings. For additional information, Wikipedia is a sufficiently reliable resource for this assignment and (due to how frequently it is updated) may even be superior to standard encyclopedias and dictionaries. Please note, however, that Wikipedia is not an appropriate resource to cite for a research paper.
Other weekly homework assignments will include reflective responses, summaries, or summary/responses in a specific format (see below). Each week, you will be asked to post one of your written assignments to the Forum by Thursday for group discussion; the rest are due by the end of Sunday. Respond to at least one other student post before the next chat.
Students are encouraged to use the Forums for any additional questions, reflections, or reactions that come up in the course of the class.
Your weekly homework is due by the end of the day on Wednesday. Each reading summary should be around 200-250 words. You will not be penalized for additional length, but it will make the best use of your time and the instructor’s time if your writing is dense and to the point.
In addition to submitting your assignment through the assignment link, choose one reading summary to post in the Forum by the end of Thursday. Turn in the remainder of your homework by the end of Sunday. Respond to at least one other student Forum post before the following week’s chat.
In paragraphs or in outline form, summarize the reading and then respond to it both analytically and personally.
Below is an example of a student reading summary in this format, from a chapter of Jordan Paper’s The Deities Are Many.
Jordan Paper states:
- that when we depend on wild plants and animals, we see them as numinous/deities
- that when we domesticate the plants and animals on which we still depend, we see them as gifts of the numinous/deities rather than as the numinous/deities themselves
- that plant and animal deities have powers humans need in our lives
- that humans are weak in relation to wild animals
- that we know about deities because they communicate with us
- that my life is dependent on the deaths – the sacrifices – of plants and animals, as well as the gifts of plants and animals (mammals do not have to die to give milk, or fowl to give eggs, for example)
- my respect for and gratitude to the plants and animals whose deaths sustain my life
- that I recognize the plant and animal beings I encounter each day as Sacred, and strive to do so more consciously
- my bird feeding as a sacrifice of appreciation to some of the bird deities in my new location, as a freely-chosen religious/spiritual obligation during certain seasons
- that the conscious cultivation of relationship with plants and animals may restore a numinous quality that supermarket culture has removed
Assignments that receive a grade in the A range will:
- be specific
- go beyond mere description and begin to ask/answer “why?”, “how?”, and “so what?”
- pick up on nuances in the readings that require more than skimming to grasp
- present students’ most controversial, radical, or challenging personal theologies
- present statements from students’ experience that are likely to be unique
The instructor may choose a few particularly insightful or provocative excerpts from these assignments to share anonymously with the class as springboards for further discussion.
Book Review: This assignment gives you an opportunity to read an additional book related to theology and embodiment. Suggestions for acceptable books will be provided by the instructor; other choices must be approved. This assignment is due at the end of Week 5.
Your book review will contain the following elements:
- Summary of the book’s contents and main argument(s)
- Evaluation of the book’s effectiveness with its intended audience
- Reflective response on how this book might be useful in your ministry or personally
Assume that your reader is an educated fellow student who has not read the book. Your summary must give the reader enough information to understand your evaluation of it. Make sure your review is more than summary, however! Your job is to present an educated opinion about the book you read; summary is a tool in this process and is not a sufficient end product by itself. Your thoughts and reflections should make up at least half of the review.
Consider questions such as these as you take notes for your review.
- What is the topic?
- What are the author’s subjects?
- To whom is the author writing?
- What is the author’s opinion of her subject and what tone does she use?
- How does the author support her statements?
- Is the argument convincing? If not, why not?
- How am I reacting to the text?
- How does this text fit into what I already know about the subject?
- Who would benefit most from reading this text?
Your review should contain a minimum of 750 double-spaced words. Organization, grammar, clarity, and the use of proper citation format (MLA, Chicago, or another academic format) will be considered in the evaluation of your essay.
A sample book review: http://inhumandecency.org/christine/eisler.html
Autobiography: You will compose an approximately 1000-word personal reflection and account considering the role of the body in your religious and spiritual life. In order to focus your narrative, you may wish to choose a specific incident from your life and contextualize it using the theological ideas and issues that we will study in class. These narratives will be shared with the class in a non-judgmental environment, so students are encouraged to share as openly as they feel comfortable. Potential starting places for beginning such narratives include:
- experiences of the body’s limits, such as while running a marathon or dealing with a serious illness
- memories of the onset of puberty or menstruation
- reflections on one’s personal relationship to traditional gender roles, particularly during life transitions such as marriage or parenthood
- growing, preparing, and eating one’s own food
- coming out regarding sexual orientation or gender identity
- sacred experiences of touch (with human or other-than-human persons)
- experiences of the body while recovering from abuse
- experiences of the body in “natural” environments
Questions you may wish to address in order to link your personal experiences with class materials:
- How did I experience divinity (or the absence of divinity) in this incident or period of my life?
- How did my spiritual practice and beliefs at the time shape this experience?
- How has this experience shaped my spiritual practice and beliefs?
- What are the ethical issues that are relevant to my experience?
- How did I relate to my community and my loved ones with regard to this issue? How did they relate to me?
- What did my experiences teach me about the nature of the body?
Assignments will be graded for clarity, originality, and their success in framing a personal experience within a theological framework. Students may wish to consider carefully before writing about an issue that is emotionally volatile for them, as it may be difficult to submit such experiences to theological analysis. A successful autobiography assignment will balance emotional engagement with thoughtful, well-reasoned theological reflections.
This assignment is due at the end of Week 8, and the writing process should be considered part of the preparation for your Final Project Question, described below.
Final Project Question: By the end of Week 8, you will have developed a sense of what you are curious about and how that might become a project. Your project question may still be broad and open-ended, but it should also be provocative and express a real area of curiosity and concern for you.
Post your question to the Final Project Questions forum for instructor and student feedback. There, we will begin to narrow your field of inquiry so that it can be tackled in a final project.
Examples of viable project questions:
- What is the role of a religious community in supporting its members around coming-out issues?
- Why was ritual sex important in early twentieth-century occultism?
- How can Pagan beliefs about the body support food and water justice work?
- How can large Pagan groups balance disability accommodation with the desire to offer ritual in wild or out of the way natural settings?
- How can Pagans best represent the sexual and gender diversity of the Pagan community in an interfaith context?
- How do Pagan beliefs inform our ethics about reproductive rights?
- What do children need to know about their bodies in order to understand them as sacred?
- What education does my community need around racial justice, and how does its existing beliefs about the religious role of ancestry help or hinder that effort?
Final Project: You will design, implement as is appropriate, and present a project based on your personal learning goals, readings, autobiography, reading responses, and your final project question.
This project is not necessarily a research paper, although you may write a paper if research is the best format in which to address your question. You might choose to outline a workshop, create a game, design a ritual, prepare a speech, develop a meditation series, or any other creative and useful vehicle for your project. The project will be presented to the class during one of the two final chats.
Written materials should be 12-15 pages long. Other types of projects should involve about as much work as a 15-page paper and must include a verbal or written component that contextualizes the project for the class (or other intended audience). If you are choosing to work in an artistic medium, speak to the instructor about how substantial the written or verbal presentation should be.
Your project proposal of approximately 250 words is due by the end of Week 9 and must be approved by the instructor. It should include:
- A description of the project, including your (brief) anticipated answer to your Project Question (your “thesis sentence”)
- A rationale for the project – why this topic? Why this approach?
- Whom you intend the project to serve
- How you see this project as serving this population
- Logistical considerations, including how you will present the project for grading and to the class
- A list of the resources you will draw on to complete the project (books, websites, people, etc.)
You will present your project or excerpts from it to the class at the end of the semester. During Week 13, post an approximately 200-word summary of your project (an abstract such as you might provide for a conference presentation) to the Final Projects forum.
The written part of your project is due at the end of Week 13. Project materials may be posted to the Forum, or you may share a link to Dropbox or another service if they are very large.
Presentations may be made verbally via Skype, with Powerpoint, via recorded MP3, and/or by another instructor-approved method. Your presentation of the project to the class should be no more than 10 minutes long. Each student will take questions and comments after their presentation.
Note that you will certainly not be able to cover every aspect of your project in ten minutes, so come prepared to adequately summarize and point out the highlights of your paper or project for the class. The effectiveness with which you present the project will be considered in grading.
Grades will be given according to the rubric described in the Student Handbook. Please note that in a graduate-level class, a B is given for solid, above-average work. Grades in the A range require substantial analytical thinking and creativity. Contact the instructor if you need clarification on what “analysis” means in the study of theology.
Book Review 15%
Weekly Homework 15%
Project Question 5%
Final Project Proposal 5%
Final Project 20%
Final Project Presentation 5%
Summary of Assignments
Forum posts are due by Thursday of the week assigned. All other assignments should be submitted by the Sunday of the week they are due. Late assignments may receive a grade penalty, up to one letter grade per week, at the discretion of the instructor.
If you find you need an extension on an assignment, contact the instructor immediately.
Definitions, 200-word reflective responses, or summary/responses
Forum posts and replies
Title of book for review
Final Project Question
Final Project Proposal
Week 1: Defining Terms
- Kraemer, “Pagan Traditions: Sacralizing the Body” (2016)
- Kraemer, Eros and Touch (2013), Introduction and Conclusion
- Fuller, Spirituality in the Flesh (2008), Introduction and Conclusion
Week 2: Theologies of the Embodied Self/Soul(s)
- Kraemer, Seeking the Mystery (2012) Chp 4, 83-85; 91-94
- Weidenbaum, “You Have to Take It With You” (2008)
- Abram, “The Perceptual Implications of Gaia” (1990)
- Whiting, “On Being a Holy Mother” (2011)
Week 3: Pain, Illness, and Disability
- Fuller, Spirituality In the Flesh, Chp 6
- Matthews, “Rooted in This Body: Learning Pantheism from Chronic Illness” (2013)
- Pearson, “Disabled Rites?: Ritual and Disability in Wicca” (2011)
- Pearson, “Embracing the Lash: Pain and Ritual as Spiritual Tools” (2011)
- Aldag, “How to Include the Physically Challenged in Group Rituals”
Week 4: Pleasure, Healing, and Touch
- Kraemer, Eros and Touch Chp 1 & 4
- Kirner, “Healing Community” (2014)
- Brown, “Touch and American Religions” (2009)
Week 5: Food and Water Justice
- Harvey, Animism (2005) Chp 6
- Rifkin, “Pagan Kosher” series (2013) (http://witchesandpagans.com/tags/tag/pagan-kosher.html)
- Larson, “Holy Water and Human Rights” (2011)
- UUA, “Ethical Eating: Food and Environmental Justice”
- Clifton, “The Hunter’s Eucharist” (1993)
- Adams, Neither Man Nor Beast (1995) excerpts
Week 6: Sexual and Erotic Diversity
- Rubin, “Thinking Sex” (1984/1992)
- Kraemer, Eros and Touch Chp 3
Week 7: Erotic Justice
- Kraemer, Eros and Touch Chp 2
- Hunter, Rites of Pleasure (2004) pp. 90-118, 142-146
- Kraemer and Aburrow, Pagan Consent Culture Introduction (2016)
- Betkowski, “Seeking a Morality of Difference” (2016)
Week 8: Race, Rac(ial)ism, and Ancestry
- Gallagher, “Weaving a Tangled Web? Pagan Ethics and Issues of History, ‘Race’ and Ethnicity in Pagan Identity” (2009)
- Bel, “Ancestors and Heritage in Paganism” (2016)
- Blanton, “Understanding the Definition of Racism” (2015)
- Skallagrimsson, “Racism in Asatru”
- Hale, “Marketing Rad Trad” (2015)
- Theurer, “Ancestor Work and Anti-Racism” (2015)
Week 9: Sexuality and Gender
- Kraemer, “Gender and Sexuality in Contemporary Paganism” (2012)
- Urban, Magia Sexualis (2006) Chp 6
- Salomonsen, Enchanted Feminism (2002) Chp 7
- Blain and Wallis, “The Ergi Seidman” (2001)
Week 10: Queer and Transgender Issues
- Hunter, Rites of Pleasure (2004) pp. 119-142
- Eller, Am I a Woman? (2003) Chp 1 & 2
- Kaldera, “The Third Voice” (2012)
- Stover, “When Pan Met Wendy: Gendered Membership Debates Among the Radical Faeries” (2008)
- Greene, “Transgender Inclusion Debates Reignite in Pagan Community” (2016)
Week 11: BDSM and Alternative Relationship Structures
- Hunter, Rites of Pleasure (2004) pp. 64-89, 147-173
- Henkin, “Counseling Bisexuals on BDSM Lifestyle Issues” (2005)
- Kaldera, “Walking the Underworld Paths: BDSM, Power Exchange, and Consent in a Sacred Context” (2016)
- Hoff and Sprott, “Therapy Experiences of Clients with BDSM Sexualities” (2009)
- Zell, “A Bouquet of Lovers” (1990)
- Weitzman, “Counseling Bisexuals in Polyamorous Relationships” (2005)
- Hutchins, “Playing with Sacred Fire: Building Erotic Communities” (2005)
Week 12: The Myth of the Temple Prostitute and the Contemporary “Sacred Harlot”
- Hunter, Rites of Pleasure (2004) pp. 174-194
- Hutchins, “Bisexual Women as Emblematic Sexual Healers and the Problematics of the Embodied Sacred Whore” (2002)
- Budin, The Myth of Sacred Prostitution (2008) Introduction, Chp 11
- Urban, Magia Sexualis (2006), Conclusion
Week 13: Final Projects
Week 14: Final Projects
Every time an advance is made in people actually respecting and accommodating others’ bodily autonomy, gender identity, disability, sexual orientation, or other difference, you are sure to hear the cry “it’s political correctness gone mad!”. A similar cry, of “Alphabet Soup!”, goes up whenever a new letter is added to the LGBT+ acronym.
What you are hearing is the sound of the privileged complaining about a loss of privilege (otherwise known as ‘playing the game of life on a lower difficulty setting than other people‘, or ‘getting away with stuff that minority groups would not get away with’, e.g. Ryan Lochte, Brock Turner, and many other similar cases).
Examples of advances in respect for others include the word cisgender being added to the Oxford English Dictionary, having gender-neutral toilets, labelling food for allergens, providing food for people with special requirements (halal, vegan, vegetarian, coeliac, etc), providing electricity for disabled people to recharge their wheelchairs, implementing consent policies at Pagan events… the list goes on. You name it, someone will probably have exclaimed “it’s political correctness gone mad!” (or something very similar) in response to every social advance that has ever been made, right back to that dangerously radical innovation of giving the vote to women, or perhaps even further back than that.
Where does this insidious phrase come from? Its history is quite convoluted, but it has often been used as a pejorative term, and was fairly obscure (and a left-wing in-joke) until it was taken up by conservatives who were opposed to progressive educational policies. After George Bush Snr used it at a commencement ceremony at the University of Michigan in 1991, its use became widespread among conservatives to refer to anything they regarded as an “imposition of liberal orthodoxy”. It use rapidly spread to the UK, where it is used every time someone wants to do something inclusive and someone else perceives that their privilege will be eroded by being more inclusive.
One example of privilege is that non-disabled Pagans don’t have to worry about wheelchair access to venues, and expect public Pagan events to be low-cost or free, so when event organisers book a venue, they are constrained by these expectations to look for lower-cost venues, which often don’t have wheelchair access. When it is suggested that all public Pagan events should be wheelchair-accessible, even if it costs more, you are sure to hear cries of “it’s political correctness gone mad” – despite the fact that accessibility is actually a legal requirement for public events.
Similarly, inclusive Wicca advocates an expanded understanding of concepts like polarity, and a few tweaks to Wiccan rituals, to accommodate a more up-to-date concept of gender and sexuality. To hear the howls of protest from some quarters, you would have thought that inclusive Wiccans had advocated abolishing the whole of Wiccan liturgy, or something. (Meanwhile, many people outside Wicca are baffled that we are still having a conversation about this in the early 21st century.)
As Neil Gaiman wrote, however:
I was reading a book (about interjections, oddly enough) yesterday which included the phrase “In these days of political correctness…” talking about no longer making jokes that denigrated people for their culture or for the colour of their skin. And I thought, “That’s not actually anything to do with ‘political correctness’. That’s just treating other people with respect.”
(Yet another reason to love Neil Gaiman.) He goes on to suggest that people should try replacing the phrase “politically correct” wherever we can with “treating other people with respect”. And now, thanks to a New Zealander called Byron Clark, there’s actually a Google Chrome extension that does exactly that.
The latest version of “it’s political correctness gone mad” has emerged from some sections of polytheism: the accusation of “putting politics before gods”. It is particularly insidious because it implies that those of us who care about respecting the rights of our fellow humans (and of other animals) are somehow impious.
The central tenet of my religion is “only connect”: connect with other beings, respect their autonomy, honour their dreams and aspirations, and recognise the divinity within them.
I believe that divinity is immanent in everything; every being has the seeds of godhood within them. Some choose to trample on the seed, others choose to nurture it towards growth – but divinity is everywhere, however dimly reflected.
If I deny the divinity immanent in my fellow beings, then I am also denying the divinity of gods, who are expressions of the same divinity.
Therefore, in my world, treating other people with respect is honouring the gods. The ancient stories of gods and angels visiting humans disguised as mortals are metaphors to express this idea. You never know whether the stranger to whom you showed hospitality and respect was a god in disguise – so you may as well behave as if everyone you meet is a god in disguise. Because actually, they are.
I am a lucky woman, and much gifted. Four gifts in particular I received this year:
a perfect July peach
a knife that fits my hand
a heartmeant compliment from a teenage son
and an argument for which I did not apologize
These things exist in our world, but they are exceeding rare. I know their value and will wear them forged and braided as adornment and strength. I am a lucky woman.
A woman grown so quiet here, in this space where just a year or two ago I was all enthusiasm. For a while my silence worried me. A theologian, I’ve had to learn trust over the months as my thought moves down, into the body. Into my body. A poet, I’ve had to face the fact that language flattens and distorts when tossed about too quickly. A woman, I’ve had to find a way to understand my silences as active and alive, rather than passive and inert.
All the myths and stories tell us the gift exists to be transformed and passed on, or it loses its power.
A Poem for Women with Birthdays
It has taken me decades to learn to love
the way I pour each night into bed like a Midwestern river,
soft and insistent and ripe, effulgent with summer rain,
here and there paused and pooled
with minnows, with trout. Then too I am the voracious,
toothy carp jumping into the next boat that passes.
I was taught to play my breath out with care,
To run it over and through the knotted cords of my throat
like wind through a young grove of aspen,
to sing and laugh like the spring breeze that flirts
and lifts the hair playfully on a hopeful morning.
It’s a gift, that grace, but there are other gifts too.
By now I know we are equal parts joke and broken,
luscious bluster and blister, so very unspoken,
so very real. Silver and gilt. Sisters, tell me
how will you exult
in your gristle, the meat and fat of your flesh,
how will you rest in the mud of your marrow,
where important and ephemeral things go to be born?
Nameless and slippery, crunched and wiggling,
dark in the sockets of bone,
against all odds and cultural narratives,
we have time yet to locate each element and ore, here,
and here, and here again. Come closer.