Sunday, July 31, 2005

Bestest Friends in the Whole Wide World

Jack and I went antiquing today, on account of we're a gay couple, and that's what gay couples do on Sunday afternoons. Jack, while not particularly Pagan himself, has this uncanny gift for finding the most Pagan-oriented tchotckes, so within no time I was up to my elbows in stag head candlesticks and zodiac ashtrays.

Jack says that at times like this, he feels like an enabler. I chuckled ("No, you're a Wiccanabler! Ha ha ha..."), thinking he was making a funny. Unfortunately, he then broke the sad news that some of our friends think he's an enabler, too.

As it turns out, Jack's been fielding phone calls from mutual acquaintances who are concerned about how "deep" I've gotten into Paganism. This struck me as both hilarious and insulting: it cracks me up how puritanical people can get when faced with alternative view points, and at the same time, it's shocking to learn just how many of my friends think I'm a prime candidate for getting sucked into a cult. It's also rather sobering to know that if I threw myself into, say, the Baptist Church, people would call me devout. But because I'm devoutly Pagan, I've "gotten in too deep."

Years ago, I was sitting in a therapy session describing various interpersonal relationships when my psychologist remarked, "You know, I just don't know how you find these people. Do you give off some weird radar or something?" In retrospect, I really should've taken that comment more seriously.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Are you there, Psychological Construct/Archetype?

Another epic debate on the pros and cons of Satanism is winding down on one of our local Pagan listservs, a debate which, I am ashamed to say, I accidentally started. I'd posted some comments about how Pagans can effectively deal with the media, and mentioned that if a reporter asks if Wiccans worship the Devil, the correct answer would be "no." Trying to explain how the ancient image of the Horned God was co-opted by Christianity to represent Satan just confuses the issue, and leads to questionable sound bites like, "Wiccans worship a deity often associated with Satan."

I thought I was making a great point. So imagine my surprise when I was dutifully informed that some Pagans "work with Satan as an archetype."

My bad, then.

The whole divine archetype thing is a relatively new addition to Pagan thought. It evolved out of Joseph Campbell's concept of the Hero's Journey, Robert Graves' The White Goddess, and generally mistaking comparative religious theory for actual religion. The basic idea is that all Gods can be categorized under specific headings, such as "Trickster," "Maiden," "Dying God," "Crone," etc. Now, the confusion sets in when these categories are viewed as Deities themselves. For example, Hermes, Mercury, Pan, Coyote, Ananzi and Loki are all Tricksters, so therefore they're interchangeable; Athena, Bast, Diana, Artemis and Persephone are often listed as Maidens, so they're pretty much all the same Goddess.

To make matters even more mindbending, these archetypes are often not viewed as divinities, but as "psychological constructs" or "energies," meaning that they are generated by the human mind and as such are subservient to it. Accordingly, the inherent nature of any Deity can be altered based on personal perception: "I know that in Norse mythology Loki's described as pretty evil and hateful, but I think He's just misunderstood," or "Kali has ten arms because She loves to give hugs!"

If I were a deity, it would piss me off if my worshippers viewed me as quantifiable and controllable. But I'm not, of course, so I'm not going to presume to put words in Anyone's mouth. Besides, who knows? Maybe the Gods get a big kick out of the whole thing. In a way, the idea of some Universal Power giggling and rolling It's eyes is kind of reassuring.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

California in Digital Images: a Retrospective

I spent the past few days in Berkeley, CA, visiting friends and family and eating far too many carbohydrates. I got to travel through San Francisco for the first time ever, too. It's a pleasant city, although the entire town is uphill. Seriously, there's no downhill. If you climb a hill and want to go back down, you have to hike up another hill to get there. It's like being trapped in an M.C. Escher painting.

I did get to visit City Lights Books, which is, like, the Mecca of poetry. As I ascended the stairs to their Poetry Room, I was overwhelmed with thoughts of the multitudes of poets and writers--the famous, the soon to be famous and the infamous--who have performed there over the last few decades. "I gotta get a picture of this," I thought, slipping my digital camera out of my pocket and glancing around for a good angle. I wasn't sure if the bookstore had rules against photography, and I couldn't remember if taking pictures of books counted as copyright infringement, but I figured as long as none of the artsy-looking patrons noticed, I'd get away with it. I backed into a corner of the room while pretending to browse through a selection of African-American poetry anthologies, then wheeled around and snapped a quick picture.

Technology has never been my strong suit. For some reason, I just assumed that because I wanted to get a good photo without anyone noticing, the camera would acknowledge my wishes and refrain from using the flash. Instead, a birght burst of light filled the room, and I ended up with a picture of several startled hippies and a bookshelf.

In the long run, this photo nicely complimented the other shots I got of San Francisco, including the only public ashtray I saw all day, an adult video store with a marquis that read "20% Off Lingerie and Shoes," and a 10-second film of my feet, recorded when I accidentally activated the camera's video feature. My personal favorite, however, is the shot of my shirt and an escalator, captured while I was temporarily blinded by sunlight reflecting off the viewfinder.

Overall, I fared better in my photojournalistic efforts at the Egyptian Museum in San Jose. One of the great things about hanging out with Pagans is that if you suddenly yell, "Quick, do something Egyptian!" they instinctively strike appropriate poses. The "America's Next Top Model" lovelies could learn a lesson or two, y'know?

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Sometimes my brain hurts

Do you ever wonder if contemporary geomantic divination techniques originated from typos? Or is that just me?

Just me, then?

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Covert Witchcraft Ops

I drive past a Catholic seminary every afternoon on my way home from work. The buildings are set back from the road and surrounded by a dense copse of trees, so when I pass by I get a glimpse of the life-sized statue of the Virgin Mary in the middle of their circular drive, framed by oak branches. Lately, I've been fighting the urge to sneak onto the campus and leave offerings at the statue's feet.

The Virgin Mary has always carried Pagan connotations. A lot of her titles (Queen of Heaven, Mother of God, Queen of the Stars) were co-opted from the Egyptian deity Isis, and most classical Mary sculptures and paintings were direct copies of ancient Isis images. Mary is often depicted standing on a crescent moon, and the cities famed for Mary apparitions -- Guadeloupe, Lourdes, etc. -- were all built upon sacred sites where Pagan worship took place long before the onset of Christianity.

To sum up, in many instances Mary = Goddess. But then, saints have always come in handy as disguises for Pagan gods. St. Brigit, St. Cornelius, St. Anne, St. Michael and St. Catherine come to mind, and of course Yoruba-descended religions like Vodoun and Santeria incorporated saints as representations of spirit powers. So if I went and communed with my friendly, neighborhood Mary statue, I'd just be carrying on another fine Pagan tradition.

Now, here's the rub: how do I not get caught? I could probably explain away any candles and incense as votaries, but the black-handled knife and the bottle of wine would require more tap-dancing than I can normally handle under duress. I could always wait until nightfall and do any necessary venerations on the outskirts of the seminary property, but then I'd be visible from the road, which is just asking for some vigilant driver to call the cops. Stupid cell phones.

Not to knock my upbringing, but I have a sneaking suspicion that this would all be much easier to navigate had I not been raised Episcopalian.

Monday, July 11, 2005

To be or not to be unemployed

One more weekend of the show, and then I'm free! Free! Except I got cast in the next show, and rehearsals have already started! I'm going to go insane! Wheeee!

Seriously, I really should not be doing another show right now. I've got a lot on my plate at the moment, what with work and chores and practicing Witchcraft. But the artistic director of the theatre asked me to audition ("We have something in mind for you," she said), and the martyr/attention whore in me jumped at the opportunity.

There's a deep, dark, secret part of me that wonders if I could make a living as a professional actor. Sure, it would suck for awhile as I tried to wedge my feet in various doors around town, but if I stuck to regional work and didn't hop a plane to Hollywood and delude myself into thinking I was on the way to my very own sitcom, I could probably do okay.

I really, really love performing (probably part of why I'm drawn to religions with a lot of ritual and occasional costuming), but I'm also highly competitive, a terrible self-critic, and rejection makes me break things. While I very well might be able to pull off a modest acting career, I'm not sure it would be worth all the emotional and property damage I'd leave in my wake.

So maybe I should just stick to writing. At least as a writer, I'm less likely to be turned down for a job over my nose being kind of off-center.