Thursday, March 19, 2015

Drinking at ritual

It seems like a lot of public opinion about Heathen rituals is that they are just excuses to get drunk.  Given that many Heathen rituals do involved ritualized drinking, and more consumption than the sip of wine offered at other Pagan rituals, it is easy to see where this stereotype originates from. 

While I have no doubts that some groups use ritual as a reason to get sloshed (just as some neo-wicca groups use ritual as a reason to have orgies or partner-swap), I don't think that all groups do this.  I don't even feel like most groups treat drinking in ritual like this. 

I've read quite a few accounts of Symbel, which includes ritualized toasting with alcohol.  While it can get extensive, with many rounds of toasts (and if you have quite a few people, this could definitely lead to being tipsy), if you do less rounds or have a smaller group, it is definitely possible to participate without being wasted.  And I would be willing to bet that some groups allow non-alcoholic drinks (just like some Pagan groups have switched to sparkling juice or other beverages instead of wine).

I'm not a teetotaler.  I quite like to drink, and I enjoy the feeling of being tipsy.  I don't really enjoy being falling down drunk (and I definitely don't like loosing bits of time or being hungover in the morning).  For me, it's all about finding that pleasantly drunk place.. and staying there.  But even than, for me, is too much for ritual.

I've been at rituals, not Heathen ones but Pagan rituals, where there was alcohol, and where people partook enough that they were pretty drunk before the ritual even began.  I personally don't feel this to be the right way to approach ritual.  When I go to ritual, it is with the intent of connecting to something higher.  I don't feel that being drunk helps with this, in fact I find it to be more of a hindrance (I'm way more easily distracted and less focused when drunk).  Now, after the ritual, if there is a feast and socializing, I'm fine with getting freer with the alcohol.

Where I really have a problem with other people drinking at ritual is when their drinking effects the other people at ritual.  That is just as disrespectful in my eyes as bringing someone who thinks that Pagan ritual is a ridiculous idea and constantly feels the need to point this out to everyone there. 

Back to the idea of Symbel.  Perhaps it is because I am not part of an actual Heathen group, and have never participated in one, but the feeling I get from Symbel is not the traditional worship type of ritual, but more a group bonding type of ritual.  It seems like the focus is on sharing of the self, toasting (to recognize and honor) deities, heroes and ancestors that are important to you, and setting intentions for the future.  In this light, even if the drinking got a bit heavy handed (and as the rounds went on, it has that potential), I don't see it as being as disruptive as the same level of drinking at a traditional ritual. 

Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what we feel is right in regards to intoxication at ritual.  And part of that decision should be the beliefs of the people you participate in ritual with.  As with any group gathering, sometimes your ideals will not mesh with those of the greater group.  If you are working with a group that prefers to take rituals to a place of drunken debauchery, and that is not something you feel is appropriate, you might need to look for a group that you fit better with.  Likewise, if you enjoy being a bit drunk at your celebrations, but your group doesn't seem to approve, you might want to talk with them.  You may not even realize that other people are uncomfortable with your level of intoxication.  Sometimes discussion can help clear the table, and compromise can be reached.  Sometimes you may need to seek out others who better fit with your own preferences.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Book Review: Breaking the Mother Goose Code

Breaking the Mother Goose Code(link to amazon page)

I have been a fan of fairy tales since I was little. I'm not a huge collector, but I do have a small collection of tales, and I always thought it was both fascinating and strange how violent some were in different versions (and how tame the modern mainstream versions are). I was very excited to start reading Breaking the Mother Goose Code, as I have always thought of fairy tales as teaching stories, and learning more about what they taught, especially in a Pagan light, called to me.

I found a lot of new ideas in this book. I thought it was really interesting how Jeri starts by examining the image of Mother Goose herself. She details her journey of looking for and comparing different pictures of Mother Goose and how the depictions changed over the years. I had never really thought about the figure of Mother Goose much, and was fascinated to read about the many faces she wore. Jeri then goes on to try to uncover which Goddesses might be hidden behind the name Mother Goose. It was a very interesting read to follow these breadcrumb trails and to see the ways that different deities in different areas of the world might have been linked to fairy tales.

Being that her name is Mother Goose, Jeri also looks at the folklore and magic surrounding geese, ducks and swans (as they are often used interchangeably). Not only did I learn a lot about different deities with goose legs (which I hadn't been aware of!), but also the really interesting swan pits, and theories about what they might have been for. The image pained in my head, of women building and caring for these pits, while trying to bring new life into the world, is a beautiful and hauntingly sad one.

Where I really got drawn in was in her analysis of the tales themselves. Jeri looks at the structure of the tales, how most of them seem to follow a archetypal framework. I thought the connection to shamanic trance journeying was an interesting way to look at it. I also really enjoyed her connection between the progression of the main character of the story and the learning process that a magical practitioner might go through.

Another really interesting perspective detailed in this book is that fairy tales might be used as actual spells. By taking key passages, especially if they rhyme, as well as items that featured in the tale, one might use the story as the framework from which to enact a spell aligned with the focus of the story. I can definitely see how fairy tales could inspire this type of reconstructed working.

A lot of information was presented in this book. It is obvious that Jeri did an enormous amount of research, and she shared many of the things she found with her readers. She asks a lot of questions, and encourages the reader to continue asking questions. I am definitely going to be thinking about fairy tales in a different way after reading this book, and I look forward to revisiting some of my favorite tales through this new perspective.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Project Self-love

((Trigger alert!  There will be talk about self-harm at some point in this post.  I don't normally do trigger alerts, however I know that this is a very hard thing for many people struggling with it and I would hate to set back anyone's hard earned progress in self-control.  So if you feel you might be triggered by talk of self-harm, or if it squicks you out or if you just don't want to know that about me...don't read the stuff in ITALICS))

**edited to chance the font so the italics would actually show up

There is a movement, mainly in YouTube, on baring all and bringing attention to the body shaming issues that are running rampant in our society, especially on line.  It was started by NatetheK who inspired a good friend of mine, TheFabledPhoenix.  He then inspired two of my other good friends:  Papa O and GreyerJane (she has a part 2 to her post with pictures).

I think this is a hugely powerful thing.  There is so much dishonesty in the media about what people look like.  I have seen so many articles and reveal-all's showing how all the models are Photoshopped to look the way they do in the media.  The images we are bombarded with day in and day out are these unrealistic 'perfect' fake illusions, and this seeps into our brains and effects the way we think about ourselves and each other.

I think that a lot of the body-shaming comes from people who are insecure in their own selves.  If you feel good about your body, you don't go around telling other people they are disgusting.  You might express your concerns about loved one's health or happiness, but you would do it in a loving and supportive way.  The comments that you see in body-shaming are designed to shift focus away from the speaker and on to anything else that will divert them from their own feelings about themselves.

I am not a picture person, never have been.  It isn't so much a body image thing for me, not really.  I will talk about the things I feel about my body here in a bit.  But I just wanted to touch on the photo thing real quick.  I have never looked at a photo of myself and really felt it was me.  My mental image of self doesn't typically match the wrapping.  Sometimes it's an age thing (my mental age is so not the same as my body-age).  Sometimes it's a gender thing.  I'm fine being seen in person, I just don't like pictures.

So I'm going to paint some word pictures here!  To start with, I live in a 36 year old female body (and I still have to count the years to remember how old I am).  I stand 5 foot 10 inches tall, and the last time I weighed myself I was 230 pounds (I am probably about the same, my clothes mostly still fit the same as they did then).  I am not particularly body shy, though I do keep my private bits private (though I still can't understand why we think wearing a string bikini is just fine, but showing non-see through underwear is bad).

I am overweight.  I know this.  For a long time I didn't want to accept it.  I carry my weight well, and have always gone in around the waist, so I told myself that because I did I couldn't be fat.  But I definitely have extra weight around the hips and butt well as up the waist.  It's just spread out so you don't see it as easily.  I can even tell that I've thickened all around my body because things like watches and rings that I wore in high school don't fit anymore.

I have a son, and I have stretch marks.  I have some shame about them, but not really for what you might think.  I never him (or my husband!) for 'ruining' my body.  Rather, I saw them as a mark of how ill-prepared I was to be a mother.  I didn't do the things I knew I should have done to take care of myself while pregnant.  I didn't put on lotion every day.  I don't know if it would have made a difference, but I do know that I regret not doing it.

I think that my self-image was set fairly young.  I took dance lessons in middle school, and I remember thinking that parts of my body were too big (I want to say thighs or butt, but honestly I don't remember).  And at that time, I was still more or less thin as a board, so I don't know if I was just comparing myself to other stick thin ballerinas or if I was fighting the maturation of my own body.

In high school, I started being aware of sex and boys and all of that, and it definitely effected how I viewed my body.  I was always a tom boy, and I had way more male friends than female.  I didn't do the makeup thing, rarely did the dress thing, and was much more likely to be barefoot than wear heels.  But I liked skimpy clothes.  I liked the feeling of power and the sense of attraction I felt when people looked.  I don't necessarily think it was healthy now, looking back, but it is what it is.  In a lot of ways, it set my mind's thoughts on personal interaction and sexuality, and I sometimes struggle with interpreting interpersonal relationships without that sexual lens (which definitely has gotten me in trouble over the years).  I am still very socially awkward in my own head, and a lot of social interactions leave me frozen inside.

I don't have a problem with casual touch.  I actual am a sort of touchy feely person.  But my mind will race over 'how do I respond appropriately?!?' and I will sort of freeze up and it gets very strange in my head sometimes.  I definitely don't want people to not touch me (okay, there are some people that I don't like touching me...but that is the exception, not the rule), I just muddle through it and take comfort in the fact that all the wierdness is going on in my head and no one else knows about it.

I also started to hit my first dark times in high school.  It's strange, I had a happy childhood.  My parents were strict at times, but definitely loving, and home life was good.  We were well off, and while I was probably borderline spoiled, I did have limits and rules I had to follow.  I was expected to be a good girl.  And it always felt horribly wrong to me.

I felt like I didn't belong in that life, like it was too good for me.  And I knew I had it good, and my brain knew there was nothing wrong with me, that I was a good person, so that made it sort of worse, because then I felt like I was being ungrateful for the life I had.  Perhaps it was just my form of teen angst.  I also have always been empathetic, and as a tom boy, I hated when things hit me so hard.  I hated crying, I hated feeling weak and 'girly'.  I would rather be angry than hurt.

When I was little, I always hated having scabs.  I would pick at them, even if it hurt, until the hard bits were gone.  I often made it worse, blood was common, and to this day, if I am not actively doing something, I may find my hands running over my arms or face, feeling for anything that isn't just smooth skin.

I remember when the first time I thought about hurting myself physically.  Two of the boys I knew were playing around, mock-fighting with some plastic knives from the cafeteria.  One of them slashed at the other, and we were all kind of shocked that he actually cut him enough to draw blood.  I don't know why my brain made the jump, but I know that was where I started.

Cutting with a plastic knife isn't easy and it isn't quick.  It is more of a sawing than a cutting.  And at first it wasn't deep, it was more like scratching at your arm with your nails, over and over.  It became a reminder to me, that I was strong, that I could do something like this, feel the pain, and function.  It was a security blanket, a bandage for the emotional stuff that I was struggling to deal with.  Physical pain was easy for me.  If I could make it hurt on the outside, I could ignore the inside.

At some point I graduated from plastic to metal.  We had serrated kitchen knives, and though they were sharper, it is still hard to cut with a serrated knife.  I liked that.  It was work, it was ritual, it was repetition.  It was slow and it took willpower.  And it lasted.  I would wear the marks for days before they would heal.  I cut the side of my wrist (not the part with the veins!  I swear I wasn't suicidal, just after the pain/endorphins).  I wore a bandana or other thick bracelet to cover it.  

I branched out after that though.  I got dumb.  I was trying to find places that I liked that were less obvious.  I have done the hip bones (where pants rub), and only once across the palm of my hands.  That one scared me.  You actually have to cut deep to bleed there, and I remember reading a book where a girl was accidentally cut across those tendons and almost lost the use of her hand.  I never cut there again.

After I got married, I tried to hide my cutting better, because of course my husband would see more of my body than even my parents.  I would just scratch at my arms with the tip of a blade, barely enough to leave a mark, but it would make it red and I would create patterns all up my arm.  Sometimes they were visible the next day, but often they would be gone completely by morning.

I also discovered razor blades.  This was a different thing entirely.  There was no build up, the pain was instant and it was precise.  I drew lines on my fingers, and designs other places.  I transformed some of what I was doing into deliberate spiritual practice:  creating sigils like a spiral on my shoulder.  And still it was something that I rarely talked about, because there is so much stigma on it.

I don't think that cutting is something that I will ever grow out of.  It is a part of me.  And I don't feel like it is something that I need to set aside.  I am very careful, and have been for many years.  I may have my roots in depression and anger, but it is no longer about that for me.  I don't cut as often, but I haven't set it aside entirely.  And I don't hide my scars.

Those aren't the only scars I have either.  I actually like my scars.  I have on on my arm from ballet class, when I got clipped by a high kick from another dancer.  She had a safety pin on her shoe, and it had come open and made a gash on my arm.  I have one on my elbow from where I tripped over my umbrella walking up some stairs.  I have some on my hand from where I got bit by a puppy while breaking up a fight when I worked at a pet store.  My scars tell stories of my life.  Some are dumb, some are interesting, but they are all me.

My body is not all that I am, but I am my body.  It is who I am, it is who I show the world, and I am not ashamed by it.  I know what power it holds, and I know what it is capable of.  I know it's strengths and I know what it is weak to.  Recently I've been exposed to the idea of treating one's body as an animal (or child..the subconscious mind, it responds to sensations but not so much words).   So I have been talking to my body, which is an interesting process.  I also love the mental trick of always thinking of your body as a temple:  how do you dress your temple, what do you put into it?

I could talk about body related stuff for hours and hours, but I think I'm going to wrap this up here.  All I can say is that I am happy with my body and if anyone else isn't, they can keep their opinion to themselves.