Friday, March 13, 2020

Opinion: Altars, public or private?

On a FB forum I participate in, a great question was brought up recently about how folks felt about posted pics of pagan or Craft altars.  

My opinion is that I don't find it problematic if others wish to share photos of theirs online, but I would not.  

Understandably, they have their own reasons for choosing to do so. 
·       Some feel that by sharing photos with the public they are taking away the "mystery" of it and helping to normalize the Craft or their version of pagan practice. 
·       Some are just proud of how pretty their version looks. 
·       Some want to give other folks some ideas for how they might want to decorate their own for the season or what tools and items might be relevant for a given ritual. 
·       Some use it for talking point discussions with those who are curious about the nature of what they practice. 
·       Some do it to proudly show their collections of carefully curated goodies that are meaningful to them.  
·       And yes, some do it to brag...but I suspect this is the tiny minority. 

Most of us have heard about that whole humility thing or have directly experienced what happens when you boast in front of gods.  There's whole volumes of folklore and myth tales that give us legendary warnings (literally LEGENDS) about how the gods feel about people getting too big for their britches.

As for me, there are oathbound reasons why I wouldn't share my traditions' altar publicly. 

But for my private altar spaces which are unrelated to any of the Gardnerian stuff I do, these are scattered throughout my home, and I have made the personal choice specifically not to share these either because they are special to me, both sacred and private. 

They contain elements of the conversations between my deities/my ancestors/my spirits and myself, and would therefore be of no concern to anybody else.  To share them online, for me, would feel intrusive, as if I were opening that singular and intimate relationship up to the views and commentary (possible scrutiny) of others.

The items, tools and symbols used in my altar spaces may be common or similar to what others use, or they may be wholly different and unique to the dialogues I have with Those that I am working with.

My altar acts as a visual language that perhaps would have need of translation to other people.  It would be subject to an interpretation that is too individualized to explain fully in a post or would require experiential exposure to grok as I do.

It is one thing for me to feel comfortable enough to invite someone into my home where they would possibly see some of these altar spaces (though not, obviously the trad one), because I already have some likelihood that they're aware of my spiritual inclination to some degree and are respectful enough to me as a person to know better than to start messing with stuff without asking. 
If a guest of my abode were to ask questions, then we could have something of a dialogue about what they're looking at based on their level of openness to such things and if it is superficial curiosity or genuine depth of seeking they're after. 
Or, some folks may just look at these altar spaces and think them merely a curious collection of knick-knacks, not seeing them at all in the way that I do.  That “hidden in plain sight” thing can come in handy at times too.

So I suppose I would say that those who are open to sharing photos online about what they do in the way that they do it....they should be welcomed to express their natures as they see fit.  I don't judge them for choosing this for themselves.

I, however, feel that my altars are occult, that is to say discreet and impactful only to me.  So showing others wouldn't properly portray the value and preternatural depth that the layout and objects present hold for me individually.  Thus, there really isn't any reason for me to open up that can o' worms.
In this internet world of EVERYTHING IS OUT THERE....this makes me consider the value of privacy and the impact of To Be Silent on my own individual practices.  As I am generally an introverted person by nature, by default I already tend to place a higher value on privacy and the selective disclosure of aspects of who I am and what I'm up to.  

My altars then, being an extension of myself, would follow in this vein too.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Yours, Mine and Ours: Is borrowing ok or disrespectful?

Co-opting, or adopting something for one's own use is pretty common in the pagan community.  It is a natural part of learning what is useful in your immediate surroundings or what you've learned from other people already doing herbal or rootwork in your area.

Then there is the tendency of late to decry "cultural appropriation" for every thing that may have cross-over usage in another culture or context.

I believe this is a slippery slope.

While I understand that arbitrarily stealing things from other cultures can be seen as insulting or demeaning, it seems that the great American melting pot is just that...a mixed breed of amalgamated and mutated recipes.

Mindfulness and respectfulness are where we are often lacking, folks.  If an object, gesture or practice holds sacred significance to a particular culture or race or tribe or group, we aught to be careful in our haphazardly adopting portions without taking care to respect the original context and society from which it is derrived.  We should be reverential in our adoptions and usage, and not just bastardize something because it appears to be cool, kitschy, trendy, or superficially aesthetically appealing.  And if we don't fully understand the idea or item in its original context, we really shouldn't just make up our own way of dealing with it out of expediency or a half-assed research citation.

Take the idea of smudging for example. 

I've heard on more than one occasion that using a sage or sweetgrass bundle is potentially disrespectful to First Nations people, as they had a specific protocol and ascribed usage for burning these in ceremonies which are sacred to them.

Well, I would counter that while this is very true and documented as a usage, it may also be said that sage as an herb is not just to be found in the Americas.  It is native to the Mediterranean and was widely used in many ways by our European ancestors in culinary, medicinal and likely magical ways too.  There may be many cultures that have used this herb in similar ways.  So in my opinion, burning sage as an offering or use in magical parlance is not under the sole domain of the First Nations folks and if you are aligned with any number of other groups that also burned sage and other herbs as incense, offerings, gratitude gifts to deity or spirits, then you should be able to use it for similar purpose.

Conversely, the dream catcher --- THAT has origins that are solely a part of Native American culture. 

Thus, I personally would not include it in my random Boho home decor, let alone my personal magical workings without some serious consideration about why I feel sourcing this as a focus without the historical authenticity, intention and....dare I say it...permission to adopt something sacred and use it in my own way, a way for which it was not originally intended by design or spirit.  That smacks of disrespect.

It would be like taking the Eucharist (communion wafers) out of the Ciborium at my local church to use them in my cakes and wine ceremony in circle.  Just because they are imbued with sacred power in the context of a Christian setting and now I want to 'borrow' some of that energy to align with the new context I'm ascribing to them in my own usage....that doesn't make it respectful of the Christian traditions nor does it really provide any "oomph" to my circle rites.  It is not a congruent usage or contextual meaning.  It is piracy of another culture's spirituality.

This, too, is one of the concepts that I'm not sure cherry-picking eclectic folks really grok.  Sometimes this same idea comes in with regard to mixing pantheons of deities or parts of the historic celebrations of a mix of cultures without doing research first to see if they are truly able to be co-mingled without being disrespectful.

Now don't get me wrong, even ol' Gerald liked to adopt things from different cultures, it is true.  But there, I believe, he did research....heck, he actually spoke with tribal elders of said cultures about what they did and why...before he borrowed elements of their teachings to supplement what he was passed by his upline elders.

It is all about being mindful, respectful and thorough of research.  It is not about "gee, that looks cool or sounds like something I should do because I saw somebody else on YouTube do a 5 minute video about it.

If nothing else, the Craft is a life-long study and practice.  It is a school of hard knocks and a school of opening doors.  You should do your best not to learn the hard way, if you can.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Silly skeptics, Springtime is for everybody!

I am an avid fan of having my home reflect the change of seasons.  Totally dig on bringing bits of the outdoors in by way of branch and flower, or when the Chicago climate is lagging behind where I want it to be --namely being sooooo over this whole winter business until November-- I find myself wandering the aisles of Michael's, JoAnn's, and HomeGoods to supplement with silk and paper florals.

So it was that I was perusing some things over this past weekend, to witness the explosion of pastel colors and foil-wrapped eggs and bunnies* at one establishment, whereby I saw something that made me a little squicky.  A farmhouse-style sign that said "Silly rabbit, Easter is for JESUS!"

Um, well....not exactly there, hun.  
It's in the name...EASTER, isn't it though?

Sparing the usual tirade about the co-opting of former pagan holidays by Christians, this momentary reflection at my shopping cart gave me to wondering about this notable push for Christian sentiment to coerce the mainstream to the flopsy-lopsy cotton-tailed misunderstanding about holidays by leaning them in their religious favor in the public sector.

Now don't get me wrong.  I don't begrudge anybody their belief system around celebrating their heritage, their chosen spiritual associations for timely seasonal activities.

What I take private umbrage with is the idea that theirs is the "reason for the season" and any other associations are diminished or should be jettisoned altogether.

This is an underlying theme of this presidency in particular I'm afraid.  That if you're not on the MAGA bandwagon with their rather self-righteous and limited views of a whole host of agendas, then you're just to be viewed as the enemy of all that is good, safe, sane and clockwork orangey.

To my point then, this little promotion which Christians will see as a win, to 'take back our holidays from the liberals!!' is just another way of saying there's is the only agenda, the Only One Way. 

For if there had simply been some goods displayed about the resurrection of Jesus, for Passover, for Holi, for Eid Al-Adha, and yes, Easter/Eostre/Ostara... we would be all good.  The inclusion of one spirituality should not negate the rest, ever, IMHO. 

There's room at the springtime celebration table for everybody to welcome the thoughts of renewal and rebirth and the hopefulness of seeing things turning green and fresh again.

*And besides, it isn't a bunny or a's a March Hare!