Monday, July 31, 2006

Quadrum Umbilicus

Peter Marshall: "Paul, in ancient Rome, bakers were required by law to bake something into each loaf of bread. What?"

Paul Lynde: "A Christian."

I am not personally familiar with Paul Lynde's religious beliefs or practices, but I'm totally putting in a good word for reincarnation.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Enter Life, stage right

In a shadowy alcove on the first floor of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, right around the corner from the dinosaur exhibit, a video kiosk plays a continuously looped short film called Enter Life. Created by cartoonist Faith Hubley, Enter Life explains how four elements - carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen - came together to form simple amino acid chains, which went on to develop into one-celled organisms. As such, these four elements were the building blocks of life on Earth.

The four elements in the movie are represented by these darling psychedelic amoeboids, who caper about while announcing their names like submolecular cheerleaders: "Carbon! Hydrogen! Oxygen! Nitrogen!" As the story progresses, the creatures join together in conga lines and locomote through the primordial soup, still cheering and singing: "Carbon! Hydrogen! Oxygen! Nitrogen! Chon chon chon, chon chon ch-chon! Chon chon chon, chon chon ch-chon!"

I saw Enter Life almost 20 years ago, during an 8th Grade field trip to Washington D.C., but the Chon Song stuck with me. Late at night, or alone in an elevator, I've been known to dance around gleefully, chonning to my heart's content: "Chon chon chon, chon chon ch-chon!"

The Greek poet/pilosopher Empedocles is credited with originating the concept of Four Elements: that is, everything in existence can be broken down into the fundamentals of Earth, Air, Fire and Water. Empedocles believed that these Elements could change, combine or revert to their original forms, based on the effects of two opposing forces, Love and Strife. (Philoneikos! I am your GOD now.)

This concept has permeated philosophical, medical and psychological thought for centuries, influencing everything from the Hippocratic theory of the Four Humours to the Myers-Briggs personality test. Most recently (and by "recently" I mean the late 1800's), the Four Elements were incorporated into the Western Mystery Tradition, eventually finding their way into modern NeoPaganism. A lot of Pagans now view the Four Elements as metaphorical - Air is the intellect, Water is emotion, etc. - but it's kind of mindblowing to think that 2500 years ago, a Greek philosopher declared that life is made up of four elements, and then a cartoon produced in the early 1980's declared that yes, he was right.

Some of Hubley's other animated short films include The Big Bang and Other Creation Myths, which foretells the coming of the New Age; Yes We Can, featuring Gaia the Earth Mother; and Witch Madness, a documentary on the persecution of women throughout history, culminating in the witch-hunts of the Middle Ages. Methinks Ms. Hubley has something to tell the class.

Speaking of, let's just keep that whole "me private dancing to the Chon Song" thing to ourselves, okay?

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Mr. Wiccan Frowny-Pants

By the time he was a junior in college, an old friend of mine had slept with almost every girl he knew, in an astounding variety of ways. "What about this?" we'd ask, pointing to a spine-atomizing tableau in the Illustrated Kama Sutra. "Three times with a Yugoslavian exchange student," he'd reply. "And once with my roommate's sister."

Late one night, after a keg party, he got plastered and had sex with another man. When questioned as to why he, an avowed and devout heterosexual, would suddenly decide to cross the lavender line, he said simply, "I was bored and got curious." Then he'd shrug and go back to his beer or his current girlfriend, whichever was in his hand at the time.

I bring this up because I'm going through the same thing: just substitiute "sex" for "subscribe," "girl" with "Pagan listserv," and "another man" with "Fundamentalist Christian."

To sum up, I joined a Fundamentalist Christian listserv. But not, like, a bad one.

This particular list is devoted to people who were once deeply involved in the occult, but then found Jesus. They're not proselytizing or anything, nor are they actively trying to "save" anyone: it's just a group of people who've had similar experiences, and would like to share them with one another.

I'm kind of bizzaro-them, since I turned in my hymnal for a copy of The Secret Power of Witchcraft when I was twelve. But the key elements are all there, regardless of order, so I get to play, too. Realistically, I have no business being on this list, but they keep posting the most fascinating news articles. If it wasn't for them, I'd have never known that in New York, welfare recipients are learning how to read Tarot cards and being put to work as telephone psychics.

Since it's an online forum, there's a troll lurking about. Specifically, a neoWiccan activist-type who's doing his best to be persecuted by the rest of the list members. He's oblivious to the fact that he joined their list in order to tell them how their beliefs are wrong: they exist, and as such, he's oppressed.

But the thing is... they're so nice to him. If he rails against Christianity for annihilating Pagans throughout history (and for the record, Christians did that, not Christianity), they politely ask if he could tell them more about his own beliefs, and when he sends in a dissertation about modern Paganism, they thank him for the opportunity to get to know him better. He continues to post, basically in opposition to anything anyone else says ("Well, I'm against it!"), but there's a distinct feeling of everyone else just smiling and nodding, then carrying on with the discussion.

I've grown accustomed to this level of NeoPagan rhetoric (Pagan A: "Fucking Xians!" Pagan B: "Um, why?" Pagan A: "Just because, okay?") so for the most part I planned to ignore him. Up until one of the moderators announced that her grandfather died, and he commented, "I doubt you'd welcome my prayers, and my faith requires that I respect your wishes in that regard. I hope you can accept my condolances [sic] and my hopes for your well being."

Okay, no. No no NO. You do not use someone else's personal tragedy as a platform for your own religious agenda. You just don't. Well, unless you're Fred Phelps, but that's different. If you're Pagan, you don't. Seriously. Knock it off. I'm making a rule.

I have not yet had the opportunity to confront this guy, but I feel it coming on. It's going to be broughten, my friends, so practice ducking and covering as I prepare my rebuttals.

Incidentally, I went ahead and posted an introduction, mainly to determine what kind of reaction I could expect from the other members. My intro included the following passage:

"I am a Witch, although a fairly agreeable one. I'm not overly concerned with outside perceptions of my convictions and practices, but I'm pretty much unconditional when it comes to respecting other people's religions. I sincerely believe that individuals should work to find the spiritual home, family and community that's right for them--as such, the mission of this list is one I can easily endorse."

At this time, no one's responded, not even the neoWiccan activist-type. Whether they're all thinking "Huh. Another one." or "Oh God, not another one!" has yet to be revealed.

Friday, July 28, 2006

New policies, effective immediately

The lovely and talented Deborah Lipp has deigned to add a Lover of Strife link to her blog, Property of a Lady. Therefore, loyal Strifemongers (all both of you) are hereby required to read her blog on a regular, if not daily, basis.

Also, Pagan and/or Wiccan Strifemongers are obligated to buy multiple copies of her books.

Hi there. I'm a loyal Strifemonger, but I'm not Pagan. I am, however, obsessed with James Bond movies. How can I help?

Ms. Lipp recently penned the The Ultimate James Bond Fan Book, so you're not off the hook. Get to PayPallin'.

Happy Mercury Direct Day

Mercury went direct! No more retrograde! Quick, everyone communicate effectively and start planning vacations.

Of course, I've just learned that I'm smack-dab in the middle of my Saturn Return, so my life's going to be dripping toilet water until September 2007. But the rest of you, go have a party.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Tough Love, except I never liked you

You know how I'm always pissing and moaning about Teen Pagans? About how the grand majority of them are vapid little vacant-heads, rebelling against their upper-middle class, Christmas-and-Easter High Protestant upbringings out of boredom and selfish, misplaced resentment?

Apparently, some of you out there have chosen to interpret this particular pet peeve to mean that I'm unnecessarily (ahem) "judgemental." And that's fine, really. You're entitled, and more than welcome, to your own opinions. Freedom of speech and all that.

But it turns out I was right.

I suspected as much.

Over a five-day period in mid July, six churches in Franklin County, Alabama, were burglarized and desecrated. Within a week, police traced the crimes back to three young men, all between the ages of 19-21, in whose possession they found, along with stolen church computers and appliances, "Wicca and other occult-related documents."

For future reference, if you and your friends live in a small Southern town, and you're the weird, kind of scary kids who wear black clothes and doughnut-sized pewter pentacles, and you're always going on about Witchcraft and the supernatural and Marilyn Manson, and meanwhile six local churches get vandalized...

Lean in close, now...

EVERYONE WILL KNOW IT WAS YOU.

Is that clear? Anyone need to see it graphed out or anything? No?

I hope we've all learned something here today. Be well, do good work, and don't call me from Juvie.

Teddy Boy

Today I got up on the dark side of the bed.

Also, Diana is now a migrant worker in New Zealand.

[ed. note: Somewhere in Chicago, a grad student is laughing his ass off over this. Everyone else, just move along.]

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

God Save the Queen (of the Psychics!)

I've decided I'm moving to Britain. Partially because it's my ancestral homeland and the birthplace of my religion, but mainly because British reality TV kicks American reality TV's sorry, saggy ass.

To wit: Britain's Psychic Challenge 2006.

For six weeks, a group of psychics compete in a series of challenges to see who has the greatest extrasensory perception. At the end of each episode, the psychic who demonstrates the least amount of paranormal ability to a panel of skeptics gets voted off. This season's winner, Diane Lazarus of Wales, acheived so much attention and new business after her victory that she opened up her very own private investigation service, complete with two ex-police officers as trusty sidekicks. Maybe it's because I was raised on cheesy detective novels and a healty respect for the supernatural, but that's, like, my freaking dream job. I've fantasized about it for years. I've even got the strip mall where I want to open up shop all picked out.

But here's the kicker: the competitors on Psychic Challenge have to be genuine psychics. Otherwise, according to a nifty twist in British Law, the show would be illegal.

In 1951, the Fraudulent Mediums Act went into effect, which repealed the Anti-Witchcraft Law of 1735 (at this point in British history, they were having way more problems with shifty fortune tellers than they were with Witches). The new Act expressed "provision for the punishment of persons who fraudulently proport to act as spiritualistic mediums or to exercise powers of telepathy, clairvoyance or similar powers." Additionally, "A person shall not be convicted of an offence under the forgoing subsection unless it is proved that he acted for reward."

So back to the show. Diane Lazarus wins Psychic Challenge, which had to involve some sort of monetary prize, right? She was rewarded for having legitimate and/or believable "telepathy, clairvoyance or similar powers," and as such, she's officially, legally psychic.

Next to that, Wife Swap doesn't seem so revolutionary, does it?

Monday, July 24, 2006

Gravity: 2, Protagonists: 0

Back in my angsty teen years, when I was securely imprisoned in a private Christian school, I wrote a couple of occult-themed short stories that ended up in our annual literary magazine.

It just occured to me that both of these stories involved people unexpectedly falling out of windows and plummeting to their deaths. I'm not sure how that particular thematic element crept into my early attempts at prose, just as I'm not sure why I'm remembering it now. But in retrospect, I'm starting to worry what my guidance counselor really thought about me.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Your archives, are they... bigger?

I've been blogging on and off for several years, in a number of different venues. It was my original intent to have multiple blogs with identical content going all at once, so that my message of truth and justice would spread across the land, but I'm not really much of a multi-tasker. One blog would slowly taper off, and a few months later a new blog would rise to take its place. Much like the wily phoenix, or the Baldwin brothers.

But I had a lot of time to kill over the last week, and while I could have blown it all on something productive, like "cleaning" or "consolidating my debt," I chose instead to dust off all my moldy old blogs and duct-tape them together into one glorious, ranty ├╝ber-blog. So check out the new and improved archives. Learn all about my short-lived career as a performance poet, and that time I got fired from the Episcopal Church (which is kind of like excommunication, without the unemployment benefits).

Go. Explore. Plant a flag for the invading, smallpox-ridden colonists of your choice.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Jesus H. Witchcraft

Just got a fabulous Google News Alert delivered fresh to my e-mail. A fundamentalist Christian minister has announced that Wicca is a "demonic cult."

Well... duh. Nothing to get too worked up about. If I had a nickel for every time a fundamentalist minister called a press conference about Wicca being a demonic cult, I'd be able to hold my own press conference and announce, "No more so than Buddhism." Now, if the minister had been all, "Wicca is A-OK in my book!" then I'd start to worry.

This story has popped up on several religion news Web sites and columns, one of which includes a "comment on this" section: a popular little feature with the online media, where readers get to express their own outraged views and opinions. I knew I didn't need to read the comments. I knew a bunch of self-righteous NeoPagans would post things guaranteed to give me an aneurysm. I knew these things.

But I read the comments anyway. I was not to be disappointed.

Some choice excerpts:

"While no one likes to be the object of hostility, this nut’s statements may feed into Wiccans’ sense of legitimacy."

"Wicca as a religion has been thrown together from a lot of different European traditions, combined with some early 20th century Romanticism of the past and a healty dose of anti-Establishment /anti-Patriarchal ideas."

"Gardnerianism has more Druid influence then most, but Gards are a minority among Wiccans."

...and my personal favorite:

"I’d take people who worshipped the Greek gods more seriously."

I'm all for individual religious expression. I encourage everyone to find the spiritual path or belief system that's right for him, her or it. But this current trend among NeoPagans to look down the nose at Wicca without having any clue about it's history or practices, while simultaneously proclaiming eclectic pantheisitc gobbledygook as ever so much more evolved, just makes me want to hurl. Read a book published before 1997, for the love of Christ.

Bluebird of Vengeance

There were two bluejays outside my window this morning.

This is concerning.

The courtyard of my apartment complex is pretty much a bird sanctuary: we've got doves and sparrows and cardinals and something that looks like a finch, and one time a random grey heron landed out of nowhere. Jack set up a feeder right after we moved in, and I took great delight in all the birds that ended up milling about on our balcony. Especially the doves. According to the Feri Tradition, doves are a symbol of the Goddess, and me being... well, me, it was far to easy to turn the mundane event of stepping outside for a cigarette and watching the doves gorge on seed into a mystical experience of cosmic proportions.

Then the bluejay showed up, and his first act as resident territorial avian was to divebomb me when I stepped too close to the feeder. As long as I stay to the far left of the balcony he leaves me alone, but if I meander to the right, it's Death From Above.

As startling as it can be to have a lower life form single you out for termination, it's nothing I can't handle. I have a long history of run-ins with the Corvus family, specifically mockingbirds, so one bluejay is no big deal--I just make sure he's not hanging around before I go out to smoke. But now there are two of them. They weren't even feeding. They were just perched on the balcony railing, staring in at me. It was a wee bit too Hitchcockian for my tastes. If a third bluejay shows up, I'm moving.

Awhile back, I adopted the screenname "Grackle" for the various e-mail lists in which I participate, although the name didn't stick. Perhaps if I start calling myself Grackle again, and really commit to it this time (i.e. "I AM the Grackle!"), the bluejays will see me as a distant cousin on some totemic level, and will go find some other schmuck to terrorize.

Hey, it could work. Don't judge me.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

The klutz he is a-changin'

Inspired by a brief, debilitating bout of "I feel like doing something," I've begun a simple woodstaining project. So far, I have not:

a) ruined the clothes I'm wearing.

b) tripped over a cat and dumped the entire can of stain onto the carpet.

c) burned the house down.

Jack would be so proud of me if he knew, but he's at work right now and won't find out what I'm doing until he gets home. I pretty much planned it that way. If I do destroy something, I'll have time to clean up and hide the evidence. If things keep going well, I'll get to go, "Surprise! I finished a small craft project that didn't result in us getting evicted!"

I'm a big believer in little victories.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Media Darlings of Darkness

The governor of Virginia has granted an informal pardon to Grace Sherwood, the only person in the state's history to ever be convicted of practicing witchcraft. Sherwood died of natural causes about 250 years ago, but hey, better late than pregnant.

In other news, an accounts analyst in Illinois was allegedly called a "devil worshipper" and subsequently fired after her supervisors learned of her Wiccan beliefs. She also claims that she was told to "keep her religion to herself" when she attempted to take a day off for a Wiccan holiday.

She's suing for punative damages and backpay. Hopefully, her trial will go better than Sherwood's did.

Monday, July 10, 2006

I am the gay, ha ha!!

Yesterday morning, I crawled out of bed, shuffled over to the computer, checked my e-mail and discovered this in my inbox. It's kind of surreal to witness something that frequent commentator Red Delicious would call "wonderfully hideous" when you're not fully coherent; one of those moments where you sit around thinking "I'm pretty sure I'm awake..."

It's got a good beat, though. I'd totally dance to it. And of course, there's the whole universal message of acceptance we should all take to heart.

But man, the subtitles just crack me up.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

I am NOT disputatious, you're just WRONG

This morning's random search engine larks led me to the Christadelphians, a small Christian sect founded in the late 19th century. They believe that the Bible is the only text inspired by God; that the Holy Spirit is the power of God, not an actual entity; and that women should wear hats.

The hat thing is apparently a pretty big deal for them, and they look to all sorts of Biblical quotations to back up this practice. Women who don't want to wear hats, possibly because of untreatable scalp conditions, are labeled "contentious." After using the word several dozen times in a hat-related treatise, one Christadelphian author decided to clarify:

“The word ‘contentious’ means ‘a lover of strife.’ (Greek: philoneikos,’ ‘fond of strife, i.e. disputatious.’) It is fruitless to attempt to persuade a lover of dispute by reasoning. The only recourse is to argue on the basis of authority.”

So my name in Greek is "Philoneikos."

And... well, that's really my point. I'm not gunning for the Christadelphians or anything--I just like that I know how to say "Lover of Strife" in Greek. It'll come in handy if I ever join the Minoan Brotherhood.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Because I said so

If you happen to be a 20-year-old NeoPagan, and you ever find yourself in an online discussion forum interacting with several hundred British Traditional initiates: do not begin, end, or otherwise bedazzle a sentence with the phrase "Gerald Gardner founded Wicca."

Just don't. I mean it.

What, me retrograde?

Mercury went retrograde two days ago, and will remain in this state until July 28. This signifies a period of unexpected delays, frustrations, and communication issues. Do not: sign contracts, make important life decisions, plan trips, or tell terribly droll jokes that couldn't possibly offend anyone.

And don't even think about calling your mother. Just trust me on this one.

A planet is in retrograde when it appears to be moving backward through the Zodiac. Planets don't actually moving backwards, of course. It just looks that way on account of a whole bunch of Physics stuff that I don't care to understand.

Whenever a planet goes through a retrograde, the specific spheres of influence governed by that planet go... well, splooey. Mercury rules communications and travel, among other things, so as a writer working within the travel industry, these particular retrogrades are understandably rough on me. I get through them, though, by doing what I'd do during any other low point in my life: I take everyone else down with me.

I like to start with a co-worker.

Me: "Mercury went retrograde."

Co-worker: "Um, what?"

Me: "Mercury went retrograde. That means it's a bad time for communications and travel."

C-w: "Huh."

Beat
.

C-w: "Hey, we work in communications and travel."

Me: "Yep."

C-w: "So how bad is it going to be around here?"

Me: "Who knows?"

C-w: "But it's going to be bad?"

Me: "Really bad."

I hold this same conversation with two or three different employees, singled out for their penchant for superstition and tendency to lose their minds when stressed. Then I wait. Eventually, an e-mail goes astray, or a witty remark is taken out of context, or traffic inexplicably backs up outside the office. Mayhem ensues.

This may seem mean-spirited, but I like to look at the positive. If everyone around me is bumping into walls and cursing astrology, there's not much chance that upper management will notice how badly I'm screwing things up. It's mercenary, but quite genius. I may write a book.

Merry Retrograde, Charlie Brown!

[ed. note: Special thanks to Eddie of Amber and Jet, for introducing the word "splooey" into my vocabulary.]

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Tropical Storm Evn

I'm very sensitive to changes in the weather, and, when firing on all pistons, I can detect the signs of an impending storm hours in advance. There's nothing particularly psychic or Witchy about this ability. It's just that my car's a piece of crap: a 1994 Ford Aerostar minivan, missing its driver's side window and sporting a leaky roof. When the breeze picks up and the sun clouds over, I've learned to tell exactly how much time I have to reach shelter before my trusty vehicle floods from the inside out.

Unfortunately, Nature pulled a fast one this morning. I was on my way to my office, idling at a stoplight, when a tropical storm broke directly over me. Within seconds I could barely see the road, not only because of the buckets of rain cascading across my windshield, but because of the buckets of rain cascading into my car. Drenched, blinded and quickly reaching my breaking point, I did the only logical thing I could think of--I yelled at the storm.

Given the early hour and the dizziness provided by my ear infection, it was easy to romanticize the situation: a Witch stands alone on the wind-swept heath between his village and the ominous black clouds gathering on the horizon, his cloak swirling about him as he stares down a vengeful Sky God.

It was kind of like that. Except I was sitting in a minivan, screaming "Stop it!" in a high-pitched, whiny voice, flapping my hands helplessly and trying not to cry. The storm did not stop on cue, as I'd hoped. Instead, it raged until I burst through the doors of my office building, soaked and shivering, then let up immediately. Immediately.

That darn Sky God. Hoo-boy, what a comedian.

1942 - 2006

Right after the Enron arraignments, I wrote a brief editorial for a Houston newspaper in which I predicted that Ken Lay would be, and I quote, "a feeder pet in the prison food chain."

So much for my career in prophesy.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The poetry's just flowing like mead around here

Another classic from the vaults:

Sun Signs

"I'm a Capricorn!"
No, you're an asshole.
But in defense of astrology,
I can see how you got
the two confused.

Kind of like Emily Dickinson

I'm determined to do something productive today, and as such, I've been halfheartedly shifting through the big pile of crap on my desk. So far I've put some things in drawers, inserted a photograph into a frame, removed the photo from the frame, and thrown away a paper towel.

Woo. Now I'm all sweaty.

I did, however, uncover a gem--a previously forgotten senryu (humorous and/or cynical haiku) scrawled on a random scrap of paper. If I remember correctly, I wrote it while drinking bourbon at a poetry club, and I think I really managed to capture that moment:

Mardi Gras

"Tits! Tits! Show your tits!"
But I don't show my tits. I
show my soul... No beads?

July... what day is it, again?

It's about to rain, which I'm pretty sure is going to ruin the banking holiday of the Cajun barbeque afficionados who live below me. Oh well, I'm sure they'll muddle through somehow. Those feisty Cajuns always do.

It's July 4, and I feel like I should have a beer. Except I don't want a beer. I want some nice tea, maybe Earl Grey or Imperial Gunpowder. Beer doesn't sound appealing at this particular juncture.

Is that unAmerican of me? Is it a bad idea to drink British beverages on the day we're supposed to be celebrating our independence from Britain? Should I go ahead and have a beer, just in case?

Decisions decisions. What a day I have ahead of me.

I should mention that I have an ear infection, which seems to be afflicting me with a mild touch of the brain fever. I'll stop typing now.