Book Review: All Acts of Love and Pleasure

As you may know (or not), I recently came out as genderqueer and transmasculine. Due to my interest, I have been looking for more books about the intersection of witchcraft, Wicca, and being queer. I know there are many out there, but the first one I had to have was All Acts of Love & Pleasure: Inclusive Wicca by Yvonne Aburrow.

I was excited about a book that, at first blush, seemed to be about being more inclusive of queer people (and other marginalized people) in all aspects of Wicca, including ritual, ethics, group dynamics, etc.

I was a little disappointed to find out that it was actually only a little bit about queer Paganism, and that it was mainly was a collection of essays about those topics with no intersection.

A lot of it was Wicca 101, which was also disappointing (I’ve been Wiccan for almost a decade, so I really don’t need Wicca 101 books anymore). Even more disappointing was that it didn’t go into much depth with any of the topics. At only 254 pages of actual content (not including the index and bibliography), having a list of topics that ranged from Gender and Sexuality to the Nature of Truth to Mythology for Wiccans to Running a Coven meant that each topic only got a few pages. (Considering I’ve read books that qualify as Tomes on many of those subjects, having only a few pages dedicated to a subject is not helpful.)

Even the “Wicca 201” parts didn’t really go much into depth and so will only be of limited use.

Not a lot of it was about being inclusive either, and the Introduction even admitted that it was not meant to be a how-to guide. This is abundantly clear since there isn’t depth enough for anyone to use this as a how-to guide. That’s fine, but for someone like me, not especially helpful.

However, the bits and pieces that were about queer Paganism and inclusiveness were good. The Wicca 101 parts were also good, though probably not in depth enough to be helpful to anyone who actually needs a Wicca 101 book.  So if you’re looking for a supplemental text as a more advanced witch or Wiccan, this will likely be helpful.

The cover art was worth the price of the book alone, though.

Three stars

A Harsh Lesson in Wyrd

The Tribal belly dance world has learned a harsh and painful lesson in wyrd over the past few days.

For those not in the know, a person in power abused that power to humiliate, dehumanize, and degrade a large group of dancers and dance teachers. It has created a storm of controversy around the event he was a coordinator and staff member for, and affected the reputation not only of himself, but other event coordinators, his wife, and their event. It is likely that the event will die a slow death after this, much to the dismay of the dancers who considered the event to be a homecoming and a safe place for expression.

His apology showed complete ignorance of the harm his actions truly caused. Because I am so involved in the Tribal belly dance community, I could not help but comment as a dancer, and now as a witch.

Ouch. What tangled webs we weave.

Wyrd is the Anglo-Saxon idea of fate and/or karma. Wiccans will identify with the idea of Web of Wyrd in the Threefold Law, in that what you do (in all worlds) matters. We are all tangled upon the Web, and every action we have twangs the strands around us, affecting those around us and those we cannot see in ways that we may not expect. We are all interconnected, all attached to this Web, and every movement upon it is significant.

Think of a tiny bug trapped upon a spider’s web, and how the spider can feel even the tiniest of movements.

In his “apology” the man in question claimed that he had no knowledge that his actions – posting images of women (and men), without their knowledge or consent, into a Facebook group of men for the purpose of making sexually suggestive and abusive comments – were harmful.

Ha.

Too many people think the silicon world isn’t “real” and that the things said and done online have little to no effect on “real life.” Wrong. All is Wyrd. What we do in this world and all worlds matters. The Threefold law tells us that the energy we put out in the world comes back to us…though it has been transformed and amplified. This, too, is the Web of Wyrd. Strings we pull can have consequences that we cannot predict.

This man thought that having a bunch of laughs with his bros was some harmless fun. Now the event that he and his wife have spent fifteen years creating, that has connected belly dancers throughout the world, is crumbling down around his ears. It may never recover, and it will certainly never be the same. The world has changed by the online actions of one man.

Wyrd.

Refocus

A refocusing is in order!

I have recently decided that I wanted to start blogging regularly again, and that I want to be completely out in the open about who I am and what I do. I am tired of hiding in closets of various kinds with various people.

Who am I?

I’m a witch. I’m bisexual. I’m a genderqueer transmasculine person. I’m Wiccan, and I’m a scientist. I’m a writer and a dancer. I want to roll all that up into one interesting page…or at least a few. I’ll be blogging here about the witchy stuff, and at Divergent Lifestyles for most of the queer stuff. But there will be a lot of intersectionality in everything. I might even pick up my dance blog again, my Kamrah blog. We’ll see.

It’s a lot of writing for one busy person, so we’ll see how it goes. But I really do want to pick things up again and make a commitment to writing. So if you are interested in all things witchy, queer, and dancy, this is the place for you.

Welcome (back)!

Let’s Talk About Winter

It’s quite cold here in the Windy City, and no, it’s not a Polar Vortex (can we stop saying that now?)

I keep hearing people say things like, “It’s not even winter yet, and it’s already freezing!” And then there are the weathermen, who insist that there are still “weeks left before winter even starts!”

No, this is wrong. Wrong, wrong wrong!

Pagans know better, don’t we? Don’t we?

In Adventure Wicca, we teach that the seasons start on the cross quarter days, Samhain, Bride (Imbolc), Beltane, and Lammas. That means that Winter began about two weeks ago, which, if you look at our weather, makes more sense.

For a good explanation of why the seasons start on those days, rather than the Solstices and Equinoxes, take a look at the Bad Astronomer.

But wait, you say, he mentions that he’s not talking about weather, and that seasonal weather doesn’t start until December.

Seriously, folks?

I find it amusing when people say this, and they’ve already gotten a foot (or more) of snow before Yule. How much more winter do you need? Last year at this time, we’d already had our first snow that actually stuck. We’ve had snow this year, too, though it hasn’t stuck yet.

That is winter weather, isn’t it?

And as my High Priestess always said, Shakespeare did not write, “The Beginning of Summer Night’s Dream” did he?

In conclusion, Winter is already here. Winter Solstice is MIDWINTER (as Phil says, doesn’t it make more sense that the longest night of the year isn’t the beginning of winter but the middle of it?)

Over the next year, try adjusting your sense of when the seasons begin, and you’ll see it fits better. Winter starts when it gets cold, not when there’s already been snow on the ground for nearly two months!

photo credit: APJ Photography via photopin cc

Beltane

“Beltane is not the beginning of Summer! It’s not even 70 degrees outside yet!”

“Astrologically speaking, Beltane is the beginning of summer, even if it doesn’t feel like it.”

The story of my life here in Chicago. We might have hit 70 degrees twice this year so far. We might hit it tomorrow, but most of us are sitting here, shivering, wondering if we’ll ever be warm again. Ever.

And yes, Beltane is, indeed, the beginning of summer, even if some parts of the country only just got out of 40 degree weather.

Astrologically speaking, the Summer Solstice (coughMidsummercough) isn’t the beginning of summer, the way that the talking heads on the weather channels will have you believe, but, well, midsummer. If you don’t believe me, think on this: did Will Shakespeare write The Beginning of Summer Night’s Dream?

Still don’t believe me? Here’s a blog post by Phil Plait that explains why the seasons do NOT begin on the solstices. I’ll wait here.

(for the tl;dr folks: it’s based on the tilting of the planet, not on the weather)

So it’s summer, dammit.

My husband and I have been toasting the Sun at every ritual we’ve had since Bride, hoping to (in our own way) strengthen that Sun and make it warm up even just a little bit here. It is disheartening to be celebrating Beltane by shivering in your apartment while outside it is trying to decide between rain and freezing rain, instead of being outside frolicking in the soft green grass.

Oh, well.

We did celebrate Beltane, though, and it was a happy (if somewhat chilly) one. Since we do not have space for a Maypole (nor the ability to store, transport, or buy one), we instead braided colorful strands of ribbon or embroidery thread together, weaving our desires together through the magic of the season. Then we toasted the gods, and the Sun, and asked for a lovely long summer to balance out the long, long, long winter that just doesn’t want to give up.

I hope your Beltane was as lovely, and quite a bit warmer than our own.

Merry meet!

photo credit: yksin via photopin cc

Commitmentphobe

Okay, so maybe I’m not really a commitmentphobe. But I seem to have a problem committing to writing a weekly (or even semi-weekly) blog. Why?

I write a lot. I dance a lot. I commute a lot. I work a lot.

*sigh*

This past month has been bad. I have absolutely zero free time, and May is looking even worse.

I haven’t been doing much of anything note-worthy Pagan-wise. My reading time got sucked up by Harry Dresden. Yeah, you read that right. The new Dresden book comes out this month, and I’m trying to re-read the entire series to refresh my memory.

Speaking of Harry Dresden, one of my favorite ladies and singer/songwriter, S.J. Tucker, came to Chicago and sang (twice!) a new song about Dresden. It was awesome, and will hopefully be coming out on a future album. Thanks, Sooj, for singing it for us at ChiFi and at the Mankind Project. You have always been awesome, but you’ve become even more awesome after that.

In other news, my husband and I will likely be celebrating Beltane tomorrow, as our work schedules and other commitments (there’s that word again) have kept us from being home at the same time for awhile. Let’s hope Chicago gets it together and actually realizes that it’s May and Spring weather would be nice. You know. Sometime this year hopefully.

No promises, but hopefully this will pick up again soon.

F is for Failure

Well, so, it has been awhile since I wrote anything.

I had committed to writing once a week, and I failed at that.

It sucks to fail. I hate failure. I have feared failure every day of my life. It’s what I fear the most, and what most often holds me back. I sometimes don’t do things because I’m afraid I will fail at them. It sucks.

I stopped writing because I didn’t have the time to commit. I got busy, as having a full time job, a part time commute, and another part time job (teaching and doing belly dance) sucks up all my time and energy.

Then I didn’t want to write because I hadn’t been able to keep up with it. I had failed, and it was a little embarrassing.

But I remembered something from the Hero’s Journey, which is where my Tradition, the Adventure Tradition, draws a lot of its inspiration. Sometimes, the hero fails. Maybe it’s in one of the trials along the way. Luke, in The Empire Strikes Back, certainly fails his first test against Darth Vader. Or maybe it’s a failure to return at the end of the journey. Frodo failed his quest (yes he did…he never threw the Ring away) and he was not able to really return to the Shire. That is why he had to leave at the very end.

Failure is a part of life. It’s a part of our journey, as our own heroes in our own stories.

So I’m back. Hopefully I will be able to maintain my writing this time. If I fail again, I will just pick myself up again and get back into it. Failure is a part of life, and one that we must remember to learn from, no matter how much we fear the lesson.

I guess it was a good thing that I managed to stop at “F” for the Pagan Blog Project, right?

Photo credit: Mr.TinDC via photopin cc

E is for Effort

It’s another Pagan Blog Project post!

This week, I wanted to talk about effort. As in putting forth the effort to make your magic happen.

I hear a lot (well, maybe not so much anymore, but still sometimes) that students get discouraged because their magic doesn’t work. Maybe even someone leaves Wicca (or any other magic-based practice/faith*) because their magic just isn’t working and they don’t believe in it any more.

They think, almost literally, that they should be able to wave a magic wand, and whatever they want/need will come to them.

But this is not how magic works!

Magic is causing change in the world, but many people forget the most important thing about magic, touched on in two, yes, two different Wiccan liturgies. The first? As above, so below. The second? “…know thy seeking and yearning shall avail thee not unless thou knowest the mystery; that if that which thou seekest thou findest not within thee, then thou wilt never find it without thee…”

Let’s take the first, which should be familiar to both Wiccans and magicians of all kinds. Basically speaking, this phrase teaches us that what is in the outer world, is also in the inner world. If we are trying to work magic to change our outer world, we must also work for it in our inner world.

Now let’s talk about the second. This is from Doreen Valiente’s version of the Charge of the Goddess. The meaning is similar: if you seek something outside of you, you will never find it until you find it within yourself first.

Both boil down to this: you must effect change in yourself before you can effect change in the outer world. Do the work. But also look at yourself and do the work there, too.

For example, if you are having trouble with coworkers, before you run off and do magic on them (which is a whole ‘nother “E” post I could have done…ethics…meaning, you should never do magic on someone without their permission), maybe you should look at yourself first. Is there anything you are doing that is making the situation worse? Don’t you think you should try working on that before doing anything drastic like cursing/binding a coworker?**

This is hard, and it is why most magic fails. If you are not willing to change, then your magic will never work.

As another example for a slightly different aspect of this, if you are trying to get a new job, yet you stay at home and never send out your resume, go to interviews, etc., do you really think you will get a new job? To make change in the outer world, you must work for it, and that causes a change in the inner world.

In order for magic to work, you must work for it. The effort you put into making the changes, both inner and outer, will determine if your magic will be effective or not. No work, no magic.

Next time you do your magic, put forth more effort, and see how far it goes!

Photo credit: qisur via photopin cc

*Before I’m accused of being “Wiccanate Privileged” let me just say that I am Wiccan, so most of my posts are going to be about Wicca. This does not make me privileged, nor does it make me “Wiccanate.” It merely means that this is my experience. If you don’t like it, no one is forcing you to stay and read my post, nor does it mean that I am, somehow, invalidating your religion because I don’t post about it. This is a whole ‘nother post, too…one that may never get made. It will all depend on whether my blood pressure can take it.

**Not victim-blaming. If a coworker is causing you bodily, emotional, or mental harm, report it. Deal with it, and know that you did not bring it on yourself. But if it’s a disagreement, or a bad attitude, then often more than one person is at fault.

E is for Energy

This is a Pagan Blog Project Post!

Energy. It’s something that pervades our lives in many ways. We use it for our lights and computers. We use it to power our cells so that we can run and walk and use the computer. Perhaps we are energy workers, moving energy to help heal ourselves and others.

We use it. We hoard it. We give it to others, sometimes deserving, sometimes not. We give it to our hobbies and to our work (sometimes not so willingly). We always want more of it, and we often never seem to have enough.

What is energy? It’s one of those weird things that not many of us have a firm grasp on. We may know that it is made of electrons, that it’s generated by the combustion/consumption of other materials (such as coal to make energy for our homes or glucose to make energy for our cells). But other than that, it gets vague.

Is magic energy? What energy are we moving around when we do energy work? Are they all the same?

I believe that much of our energy is the same. Our cells are electric – well, biochemically electric, anyway – so the energy in our cells is very similar to the energy in a battery (which is chemical). The movement of electrons through or around a substance is what (in my limited understanding of physics) makes electricity, whether it’s a nuclear reactor or a chemical battery or a mitochondrion, so, in essence, it’s all the same.

When we do magic, we are moving energy. We raise it, we send it out, and we let it do its work to bring us what we need or want. Is this energy inherently different from the energy in our bodies, in our world? If so, what, exactly, is this mysterious energy? Do we even believe in it? Is it a simple “shortcut word” (like karma*) that’s used, not for its actual meaning, but as a placeholder for a much more complex idea?

Or is there a universal energy of some kind, one that has different expressions in our bodies and in the world, that we can channel and harness to do our work in magic? I believe this is so, and this is what my Tradition teaches. The world is matter and/or energy; this is the fundamental nature of our Universe (E = mc², y’all).

So why is energy working looked down upon by so many Pagans?

I was basically laughed out of my first Wiccan classes because I was a Reiki practitioner.  It made me pretty upset, because I felt that, while Reiki is definitely not Celtic, it is also not religious, either. Reiki is something that is separate from my religion. It would be like saying I couldn’t be a mechanic and be Wiccan because mechanics aren’t Celtic.

But in a way, it IS part of my religion, because my religion is one that recognizes that matter and energy are the same, just in different forms or expressions. Energy exists – in all its forms – because matter exists. Doing Reiki is no different from using batteries in your remote control. Doing magic is no different than eating food to power your cells so that you can live. We are always controlling and manipulating our matter and our energy in everything that we do. And that, to me, is a totally Wiccan/magical way of thinking of things.

Please keep this in mind before you decide that Reiki is fluffy or stupid or too “New Agey” to be Wiccan (or any other kind of Pagan).

Do you agree?

* Karma: A lot of Pagans (especially Wiccans) get dinged for using this word, because it’s not Celtic, it’s Hindu (and Buddhist). And most of us Pagans – or at least us Wiccans – do not believe in the wheel of samsara, the wheel of life and suffering that some are trying to “escape” off of. Wiccans, at least in my Tradition anyway, don’t think there is anywhere to escape to. Life, Universe, and Everything is All There Is, so there is no escape, and no reason to escape (life is suffering yes, but not all of it!). Thus, karma is basically not compatible with Wicca, and I agree with this statement. However, many Wiccans do believe in reincarnation, and “karma” is a short-cut word for basically saying, “What you do in this life matters, and may affect you in the next, so be a good person in this life.” Many outsiders understand karma, at least on the surface, and so can more easily understand the Wiccan concept of reincarnation if they have at least a small grasp on the Hindu and Buddhist idea of reincarnation. So when I say karma, I’m not meaning the Hindu version of it, but the concept behind of the Law of Three (what you do has consequences, good or bad).

D is for Danu

This is another Pagan Blog Project Post!

We will get to Danu, but first, a tangent…

I know many will disagree with me – and they are welcome to do so – but Wicca is a Celtic religion. Mixing other deities in, like Egyptian, Sumerian, or Hindu, is doing a disservice to both Wicca and the religion that is being borrowed from. There is such a thing as cultural appropriation, and while I typically sigh in exasperation any time this is brought up (tribal fusion belly dancers get accused of this pretty regularly), I think it fits here. Wicca is meant to be Celtic, not Egyptian, not Sumerian, not Hindu (or anything else, although some Roman deities made it into the mix, due to the Roman takeover of much of England).

That being said, I’m going to try a little bit of cultural appropriation of my own. If you’ve been following my blog lately, you might know that I am studying Ceremonial Magic, and that means the Tree of Life, which is very much not Wiccan.

Admittedly, I am having some difficulty with the . . . overtly Abrahamic . . . aspects of it. One book I am currently reading (which I will talk about when I finish it) basically insists that Hebrew is the sacred language of the Western world, as Sanskrit is to the Eastern world. That’s fine, but the Qabalah has a decidedly Abrahamic slant to it. I’m not Jewish or Christian, so I have some discomfort with using the different names of God as they are currently presented.

In another book I am reading, it is suggested that Pagans can just insert any deity of choice into whatever ritual is being performed, whether it be the Qabalistic Cross or the LBRP, and to remove any Abrahamic imagery that is uncomfortable or ill-fitting to the practitioner.

And now we get back to Danu.

Currently, I am studying and learning about Malkuth, the “earthy” Sephira, or the sphere of the physical world. The Wiccan deity correspondence for this Sephira is Danu, since she is considered a mother goddess (as mother of the Tuatha De Danann), and is therefore fertile and earthy.

My Tradition, Adventure Wicca, actually doesn’t do much with Danu, so I find myself learning more about her as well as the Sephira she is associated with. I’m having to dig back into my other books about deities to find out more about her, which is always fun and educational.

Yet I find myself conflicted about shoe-horning a Wiccan deity into a system that was meant to be Abrahamic. Does anyone else have problems like this? I feel that I should learn the Qabalah “as is,” and then use what works if it works, instead of trying to change it into something it was not meant to be.

However, according to many of the books I have been reading, the beauty of the Tree of Life and the Qabalah is that it does fit into nearly every Western mythos. It is a system of understanding the Western mind and Western spirituality, including Gnostic Christianity to astrology to Tarot and everything in between.

Theoretically, that includes Wicca, and therefore using a Celtic deity, such as Danu, as a deity correspondence to Malkuth should be perfectly fine. It still feels like cultural appropriation to me, but perhaps I will take a “wait and see” approach.

I’d like feedback from anyone who leans Celtic in their religion or attitudes, yet also uses the Tree of Life. I am, admittedly, not very experienced yet, but I am working on it. Perhaps when I have a more in-depth view of the Tree I will not have such doubts!

What are your thoughts?

Photo credit: mandymama via photopin cc (by the way, the photos from this set are INCREDIBLE, and you should check them out. Do it NOW.)