Link love

It’s been a busy week in my house. Last week my husband sprained is ankle quite badly and has been off it for the last 7 days. I’ve been picking up the slack. Now that his ankle is much better, I am preparing to take myself and the kids to Juneau, Alaska, for a week. We leave at an ungodly hour on Saturday morning (up at 3am, on the road by 3.30, at Seatac by 4.30, flight leaves at 6.10am. The weeping you are likely to hear from the heavens is just me).

I have some posts I hope to finish for next week. However, I posted a piece about the decision process to have kids over at Pagan Families today. Adam and I have been talking about having a third child. I haven’t talked about it much here; it didn’t seem relevant to my blog as I had divided it up into the quarters. But now those restrictions are off. You can see some of my thought processes in the blog post.

While I was writing the post there was a chance I was pregnant. I am not. The relief Adam and I felt was a good indicator that we’re neither of us ready: financially, emotionally, physically. I want more time to settle into my body (it is new with each child, with each post partum process), this community, my relationships. I’m not ready for the baby to not be the baby. I’m not ready to rejig my entire routine again.

And so we’re going to revisit a third baby in the new year. I had decided that this year was a year of rest, nothing new. Funny, how I had forgotten that. I’ve been drawing tarot cards in the mornings, and for weeks I’ve been getting cards that can indicate pregnancy. I assumed that was the direction they were headed. Perhaps something else is waiting in the wings for me, growing, gestating. We shall see!

 

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A year later in My Own Ashram

When I started this blog one year ago I was living in Wales, debating whether or not to quit or continue with my PhD in feminist Mariology. I had a just three-year old son and a four-month old baby girl. My family was doing well financially. I felt stuck spiritually and intellectually. I started this blog as an outlet, as a way to hold myself accountable to my practice, and as a way to explore what my practice was or might be. I was wary of blogging under my real name, publicly, so that all might witness my special flavor of crazy, insecure, confused, and bold spirituality.

The back yard in Olympia

Twelve months later I live in Olympia, Washington, I quit my program, have firmly left Christianity behind, or rather, I have enthusiastically embraced my own Pagan heart. My son is now just four and baby girl is 17 months old. We’re struggling for money right now. I feel I have more to write about than I have time in the week. And I’m getting more confident writing publicly. It helps me to know that the Pagan blog world is rather small.

It’s been fascinating to follow the statistics for this blog. I’m a sucker for charts and graphs. My Christianity quarter had by far the largest following and daily hits (still small fry by blogging standards). The last month has been especially quiet, but so have I. Place turned into a quarter of rest. I have been tired. So much change in one year! Place also felt odd; it was a ‘tradition’ of my own creation. There was little structure to follow or hang my thoughts on. Originally I had hoped to dive more deeply into the Welsh landscape and mythic history and lore. I meant to transfer that to Washington, but got side tracked by my own exhaustion. But that’s been ok. It’s part of the process. I form the container of my own practice, but I am not necessarily in control of the current.

My outdoor altar. I use the round stone to sit on.

I’ve learned so much in the last year, and much of it specifically related to this blog. I’ve become more confident in my practice and spiritual proclivities, my abilities as a writer, my ability to be a parent and also a thinker and practitioner. I know more clearly what I’d like my practice to look like. I’ve learned more about the blogging world, that networking is important, and that I need to use more pictures in my posts. I learned that I love the Hindu tradition, that I am a polytheist, somewhat of an animist, a would-be mystic, a person who needs and craves practice every day. I’ve let go of some old ways of thinking, much of it left over from the influence of Christian theology.

So what now? Originally this blog was a year-long project and the year is up. I am going to keep writing here at My Own Ashram. My husband is going to redesign the site (we keep meaning to, but it keeps falling last in line of things to do). I will continue to write about my practice – a syncretic polytheistic practice, blending Tantric Hinduism and Feri/Faery traditional witchcraft along with what I learn from living here, in Washington. I’ll review what I’m reading and anything else that I think it relevant. I’ll link to other sites that I write for. I’ll keep blogging through the Delphic Maxims.

I’m excited to take the next steps. This year has been challenging. I hope to embrace that challenge and the discomfort that being publicly vulnerable brings. In fact, I’d like to work at being more vulnerable. It’s not something I naturally good at, but for my practice and for my writing – as well as for my friendships – it’s something that I know is worth developing. I’m grateful for this year. Without reservation I can say that starting this blog has changed my life, and for the better. Thank you for joining me here in my own ashram.

Me and Baby Cakes, taken this morning.

Solstice!

Tomorrow marks one year of My Own Ashram. 126 posts, 4 quarters, 2 countries. I will be ‘concluding’ Place and writing a piece reflecting on my project and where I want to go from here. That’s tomorrow.

Today I will be out all day with my kids on a field trip with my son’s preschool. We’re going to NW Trek, a wildlife park containing all regional animals. I admit I’m super excited to see some animals. It doesn’t hurt that the weather is clear and sunny this morning.

May you be blessed on this Solstice (whether Winter or Summer, depending on your hemisphere). Feel the light and celebrate it!

Fairy tales

My relationship with fairy tales is complicated. I loved them growing up. I enjoyed the Disney animated versions – mostly the old school Disney ones; I was 14 when The Little Mermaid was released (the beginning of the ‘newer’ era of Disney animation). That one in particular I adored: the singing, the underwater motif, the bright colors, the music.

But discovering feminism in my early 20s killed that love dead. And for good reason. I look back the tropes of Disney fairy tales, especially the more recent crop, and I shudder. The Little Mermaid is especially awful. The mermaid, Ariel, actually gives up her voice, to win the prince. Everything is surface level attraction. Being pretty is the highest ideal for girls and women. The female characters do very little. They are made magical via some external source and the kiss of the prince is what saves them.

Looking back on my adolescence I see how insidious this was, and how I fell prey to it. Throw on my own performance anxiety and I was a hot mess, ripe for the allure that something outside myself could save me, would make me special (above and against all other girls – specifically girl), that I would then win the Boy and through my connection with him be considered fantastic. Which is ironic seeing as how I dated the band nerd for most of high school (it should also be known that he was kind, funny and a musical genius, and sadly I lived vicariously through his talents).

I also loved the Grimm Brothers versions of fairy tales. My mother had two beautiful cloth editions of the tales, one brown Grimm Brothers, the other a blue Hans Christian Anderson edition. I knew that the ‘original’ tales were more complex, bloody, mean, and interesting. But I hadn’t revisited those books in two decades. Not until I had a child of my own.

My 4-year-old son adores being read to. One day he went to the bookshelf and pulled down the brown book of Grimm’s’ fairy tales. We are now working our way through both volumes. Strange bedtime stories, indeed! And yet, we both enjoy the odd tales. He gets scared, indignant (he often will insist that his alter ego, Laserer Dalek, will intercede and set things to rights), and triumphant. He loves the last line about how the couple ends up married happily for the rest of their days.

What I’m learning from re-reading these tales is just how excellent they are as morality tales and as a magical primer. I am sure there are many books written on both of these topics, but it’s not an area I’ve done a lot of critical reading on. I remember reading a short news article by a child psychologist suggesting that the violence in fairy tales (the older versions) was more than suitable for little minds, and was in fact helpful. Little children are dealing with issues of power in their own lives (big enough to think and do, but not big enough to do what they imagine, and they can’t quite read the rules or even know what all of the rules are, etc). Their own physical urges get to be acted out through the stories. Having a four-year old of my own, that makes a lot of sense to me!

What I’m learning is that the values demonstrated in the stories are ones I like: be kind and generous, greed is almost always a person’s downfall, cleverness can be good or bad, but depends on the quality of the clever person’s heart, keeping your word is of utmost importance, those in power can be overcome/overthrown/replaced by a clever person, there will be many obstacles in life so meet them with all your wits and courage and heart. These things work whether male or female. Yes, there are some archaic gender roles in the stories, and the witches are always old ladies, but these are not as problematic to me in their own context as I was expecting them to be.

Magically, my son and I are learning that 3, 7, and 9 are magic numbers, that what makes a spell is often its undoing, that plants and animals have spirits, that kindness to others extends to all living things, not just humans, that plants and animals can be our guides and helpers if we learn to communicate with them, that men and women can create magic, that there are consequences to our actions, both magical and mundane. I think these ‘magical’ lessons are also rather excellent lessons in general!

So fairy tales have been on the tip of my tongue lately. This made my trip to see Snow White and the Huntsman more enjoyable than it otherwise might have been. If you’ve not seen the movie, please be warned: SPOILERS AHEAD.

First, let me say that my expectation of the film was this: weak plot, beautiful effects, pretty to look at, weak actress in Kristen Stewart. I was right on – and I still walked out of the theatre loving this movie.

Cinematically, it’s both beautifully done, interesting and compelling AND ALSO weak, inconsistent, and tedious. The pacing could have been better for sure. Several of the criticisms I’ve read from various places seem to forget that this is a fairy tale: plot is already weak, characters are already thin, tropes are what they are. What might be weaknesses (and are) in modern story telling, actually make me enjoy the film more for its acceptance of the fairy tale trope!

As far as the fairy tale was concerned, I thought it had many of the elements I praised above: the quality of a person’s heart is their beauty and strength, kindness and communication allows us connection to others, both human and non-human, power can be overcome and undone, power-with is greater than power-over, males and  females both can be agents of magic and power. There were many beautiful moments in this film. The graphics were incredible. I loved the black shattering glass men, the fairies, the colors and textures and all around griminess of the sets and costumes. The use of the white hart was heart-stoppingly beautiful (and seemed like an homage to Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke). I enjoyed how this was a love story and not a love story at the same time.

But let’s talk about the absolute best part of the film: Charlize Theron’s Evil Queen. I sincerely hope she wins an Oscar for this performance, because she was amazing. She turned what could have been a one-dimensional Evil Queen into a complex, rich, evil queen who inspired pity and curiosity, fear and wonder in me. The rich symbolism that was used to spell out her corruption were joys to behold: the black throne carved with medieval skeletons, the ornate costumes, the abundance of ravens. With this character we see the Dark Arts employed: scrying, shape shifting, vampirism (both energetic and cannabilistic in the form of eating raw animal hearts). We see the cost of magic, of power. Power isn’t necessarily bad or evil, but the greed and obsession that fuels the Queen’s magic is. We see the profound toll this has on the individual and those surrounding her.

Ms. Magazine’s blog has a post on the reasons not to see this movie. I can see their points, but I think they miss the big fairy tale picture. I also disagree with their idea that this film vilifies female aging. I think it actually makes the reverse point: that avoiding aging, that the beauty that women have to cling to for power in this world, is unnatural and corrupting, that merely physical beauty is limiting and constricting.

The Evil Queen and Theron’s acting is the complete antithesis of Snow White, particularly as acted by Kristen Stewart. Stewart’s Snow White is vapid, confused, limp and pathetic. The character could have emphasized the beauty of will, strength of heart, compassion, and the magical connection that is created when relationship is forged – whether with trolls, humans, dwarves or birds. We are told of these things, not shown. Stewart’s Snow White has no spine and I felt cheated at the end when she returns to life and gives her impassioned speech. When she duels the Evil Queen I felt with bitterness that Stewart was unworthy to be Theron’s foil. Any anti-feminist sentiment about this movie can most likely be blamed entirely on Stewart (and perhaps on the director who thought her interpretation was ok). While the dialog was not remarkable, the character, situations and people around Snow White indicated that a level of subtlety was intended, and was grossly missing from Stewart’s portrayal.

Despite the serious flaws in this film I will happily watch it again. I love the resurgence of magic and fairy tales in cinema – from Hiyao Miyazaki’s animation, to Pan’s Labyrinth, to these sorts of retellings. I’m also happy to be exploring fairy tales again in their written form. I have much to learn.

Have you seen this movie? What did you think? Do you have favorite fairy tales? If so, what are they?

Shout outs

I would like to draw your attention to two things that I am loosely involved with and enjoy supporting.

The first is an ebook, Birth on the Labyrinth Path, by my friend Sarah Whedon. She is the founder and maintainer of Pagan Families, a website with resources and articles that specifically focuses on the Pagan experience of parenting. So far the site has been written primarily from the mother’s point of view, so if you’re a father and want to contribute, please contact Sarah!

Pagan Families and Birth on the Labyrinth Path are and were written to fill a hole that many women have experienced when becoming mothers: where are the specifically Pagan resources for us, parenting in the world, not just as archetypal mother goddesses? Sarah discusses this in a short article on Star Foster’s blog over at Patheos this morning.

I can say without hesitation that the book is great. It’s short, to the point, and full of excellent information to support mothers. Yes, I’ve purchased the book, but in full disclosure, I was also honored to proof-read/edit, and I was thrilled to see that I was ever so briefly quoted in it (taken from a post I wrote for Pagan Families). I am so glad this book is in the world.

I also want to point out that I think this ebook would be great for non-Pagans too. A woman on a fairly liberal spiritual path would find much to think about and include in her own journey.

The second item I am passionate about is my husband’s tarot deck, the Chibi Tarot. It looks cutesy (and is!) but it’s also a serious deck. Adam (yep, I name him finally) put in a lot of research, not just to the images for each card, but also for the meaning. His kickstarter campaign to fund the production of the majors only deck has 7 days to go and needs $1500 to meet the goal. If you are a fan of manga, tarot, or independent artists, please consider contributing or spreading the word to some one you think will be interested.

I’m proud of both of these people and the great work the do!

If you are a stranger, act like one

Today’s Delphic Maxim is: if you are a stranger, act like one. This is timely! This summer is riddled with house guests and travels. I’ll be meeting a lot of my husband’s extended family for the first time. I’m not a stranger, but for all practical purposes I am. This maxim is a reminder to mind one’s manners.

I’m big on manners. I think please, thank you, excuse me are all valuable phrases. I think being timely and helpful also important. This maxim isn’t just about being a house guest, I can see how this is good advice when a person is introduced to new community – and especially important if one cares about white/male privilege.

Very often minority voices are silenced, dismissed, or intimidated by white/males. Being an ally to a minority group that one is not part of requires acting like a stranger: listening, asking how I can be of help, remembering that I am guest in another’s community. Oh yeah, and more listening.

Watching and listening, whether at a new job, in a new community, a a guest in a house, is always a safe bet. It’s polite, it’s informative, it’s wise.We are all strangers at some point. When we are, it’s a good idea to act like one.

Walk Like a God – a review

One of the blogs that inspired me to start my own is Rogue Priest, written by Drew Jacob. He is a modern-day Priest, Hero and Adventurer. What does that mean? Well, you’ll have to read his blog to figure it out. I don’t always agree with his take, but I love that he’s actively thinking about the big Life Questions and attempting to live the life he believes in. One of the things that I love about P/paganism is that it seems to create space to live the life of one’s imagination (fodder for a future post). Now, Drew doesn’t identify as a pagan – big P or little p – but he’s part of the wider family. His blog got me thinking – and writing!

Last fall he released an e-book, Walk Like a God. I bought it straight away and decided to save it for my Place quarter. I’m so glad I did. It lines up perfectly with what I’ve been writing and thinking about this quarter.

One of the things that I love about Drew is his emphasis on experience, not belief. One’s beliefs are of little depth if there is no experience to back it up. I can see how important this is in my own life when I look at my relationship with Jesus during the years I was a Christian. I still think Jesus is rich, complex and wonderful – but that’s mostly theory because he and I never developed a relationship. I had no experience to back up the ‘personal relationship with Jesus Christ’! That’s important if religion/spirituality is going to take  root in real life. Yes, faith is the belief in things not seen, and there can be virtue in that, but it’s not a solid foundation. Drew encourages the reader to embrace experience and things that we can see/touch/smell, etc.

I should mention a minor trigger warning: in the beginning of the book Drew mentions depression a few times in a casual way. I don’t think he is meaning clinical depression or meaning to use the term disrespectfully, but I know some people out there are very sensitive to mental health words. Get past those early pages and it never comes up again.

Drew discusses four areas where humans find spiritual connection:

*Celebrations and ceremonies: This area is most often associated with organized religion, but can also include raves, parties, communal actions, etc.

*Solitude: This can be straight up time alone, or perhaps practices that hinge on it, such as meditation.

*Nature: For me, this one is intertwined with solitude, but this doesn’t have to be the case.

*Great personal challenge: This can be either circumstance or choice.

All of the above have been important and powerful teachers for me in my life. Drew focuses on the bottom three.

Walk Like a God is basic and conversational – in the best ways! It’s ideal for people who are disenchanted or uninterested in conventional, organized religion, and that includes many forms of paganism. I also think that many of the mystically inclined and unconventional people in any tradition might find this book a welcome supplement to their practice.

One of the few things that made me cringe was Drew’s question to the reader early on: ‘Are you ready to be in control?’ Yes, this approach (and for me, Paganism in general is good at this) creates space for each individual to have more control over one’s spiritual life. But the mystic in me also feels like we aren’t fully in control – spirituality is a relationship. We can no more demand that the gods show up than we can demand that the ravens stay one place for our meditation. A minor quibble (but I didn’t study theology for nothin’).

While I am already practicing just about everything Drew mentions, I did learn a few new things. For example, leaving strands of hair as an eco-friendly and personal offering. Brilliant! I was also challenged by his discussion of adventure. Such a lack of adventure in my life! ….Except that’s not true. My adventures look different than his, or from the one’s I used to have when I was kid-free and younger. But I’ve managed to travel and move countries and take employment and artistic risks – all while partnered, with children. Adventure comes in many forms! For me, blogging publicly has been a risk and adventure, as well (another thought for a future post).  Still, I was challenged to think about what the next adventure will be…

I highly recommend this slim book. It takes 30-60 minutes to read. Drew does such a great job of summing up what my Place quarter is really about. Get in touch with where you live, find a new way to connect with yourself, the gods, and your land. You won’t regret it!