A Pagan carol… for Christmas Eve and the first night of Hanukkah…

This is a first draft, and too long, (and as yet untitled), but I had to post it on Christmas Eve. (And now, I am setting up for Hanukkah. Before I hopefully make it to Midnight Mass. Seriously!)

What is this Star
that sits on the horizon in the east?
That burns in eyes of pilgrims from a distant land
who loved a thousand gods,
but, captivated, still left everything to follow this one Light.

What is this Star,
that flares across the sky in westward trace?
Solar wildfire obsessing three magicians
(who know their astrological events,
their Leo Rising from their Sagittarius),
who seek mysteries yet unilluminated.

What is this Star
that breaks my heart with calling me,
Once every year, away from your dark mountain?
Your face is veiled, my Lady, and I cannot see an end to night.

What is this Light?
Brought into great stone buildings made brilliant with candlelight,
Brought out in dazzling colours to streets that never sat in sacred dark.
And beyond, illuminating the eternal flame.
And what does this child mean, who blazes in the midst of it?

And you, Lady –
You are not the Light to kill this darkness.
You’re the drawing deeper into it,
The blackness in the heart of it,
The calm within the storm of it.
Nor are you the Way out of this wilderness –
You are the getting lost upon the hill of it,
The terror in the night of it,
The long walk to the dawn of it.
No fisherman will walk on water in the search for you
(though he that drowns may find you in the final wave).
And you will not turn over tables in the temple courts,
(our own injustices and consequences will be ours),
And you will not be born among us
(will not redeem us from the monsters that we have become).
You are not the light to kill this Darkness –
You are the Mystery it carries in its heart.

…And yet there is this Star.

So let me go, my Lady, just for one night,
To retread a childhood path to this one Light,
to leave the temple of a thousand gods
to seek the One.
Let me join a caravan that navigates by starlight,
to go with them to places where I once before
sang promises of peace and love and light
(although soon smouldering and all burnt out).
Let me seek a blazing child,
who, for one night, is lost in the wild dark places too,
sleeping in the straw.

And if he will not let me come inside the stable
Then I will sit with shepherds on the hillsides,
feel an early morning desert wind,
listen to an angel’s song,
and sit in celestial rays.
In the seeking there will still be Light.

So, Lady, send me with a message for a foreign god –
who hosts his guest with such welcoming fire in the hearth –
and I will tell him I belong to wilderness,
and it will always call me back to you.
You know I can’t stay long in well-lit places,
will not linger late in temples built of stone,
shut out from Solstice dawn and Beltane fire.
There are wanderers in the desert,
there are souls lost on the hillside,
there are lonely spirits waiting in the gloom,
seeking not a Light to kill the darkness
but your labyrinth path into the heart of it.

So I will seek this Star tonight,
but leave my soul at the wild altar of a wilder goddess –
And she will call me home to mountainsides
when I have had enough of Light.

– Leithin Cluan, Christmas Eve 2016

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(Pt 2:) My Polytheism

There’s a beautiful trend happening. People are writing about their polytheisms, people whose polytheistic practices are diverse, varied, multiple, weird, different from what we’re told (recently) that polytheism ‘should’ be. (See Jack’s post here, and Kiya’s post here, and the wonderful My Polytheism blog which is collecting a lot of this writing – and I hear that Jolene Poseidonae wants more people to contribute to it!)

Like a lot of these brilliant writers, I have been really concerned by the gatekeeping and crypto-fascist stuff coming out of those who would paint themselves as ‘leaders’ of polytheism. As though it were a cult and they were the gurus. As though it were a singular religion, with rules that we all share, and which they can write.

For me, part of this mess has been positive. My Lady is pointing me at the roots of modern cultural polytheisms – roots which are mostly nationalistic and fascist, if we are completely honest – and asking me if that’s what I want to be part of, even as it moves beyond that. For that history will always be with it. I’m thinking about that, and it may take some time. These things can be transformed, She says – but is that the Work you want to do?

Because you see, my gods are not particularly bothered how I worship them and what I call myself. And my ancestors definitely aren’t. It’s for you, they whisper, and I, barely hearing them, shake my head like I were brushing off flies, and pour out my offerings on shrines that Irish gods never had, and that they certainly don’t have now. And what paltry offerings they are – whiskey and mead and scraps of food.

And they don’t mind – it’s what I need. And I believe they appreciate those little offerings, paltry as they are. But there’s a sense that, when I’m ready, there are far bigger things waiting for me outside the four walls of the room that houses my shrines to the beings of Light that dwell in the secret places of the land. And far, far bigger things waiting for me beyond the four walls of my current ways of thinking and doing and worshipping.

My gods do not live in any shrine inspired by modern polytheism. No offering of whiskey is enough for them, and no trinkets that remind me of them could ever fill the deep, dark spaces they have made in my heart.

Then what do you want? I ask, perturbed, frustrated.

You, whispers Beara, my dark Lady, whom I had the gall to name myself, whose tales I have twisted as she has led me to, in whom I have found a depth of chaos and justice that no constructs of ‘ancient lore’ can describe. For it can only be found in the places she dwells – in the wind in the trees, at the seashore in a storm, on a wild island, on the mountain. And in the deepest pool of chaos, beneath the Tree.

Anything (and everything) you want, says Dovinia, ancestress-goddess who crosses divides between land and people, and finds me lost, somewhere in the depths between.

The Adventure, winks Manannan mac Lir, who does not care if I put the accents on the right places in his name, for all names and stories could only ever be an echo of the sound of the sea on the rocks in a mighty storm – and a wry, friendly fisherman watching from the shore in a bright yellow hat, so easy to miss in the heavy rain. He offered me a box once and asked if I wanted to open it. I’m not sure I’ve even cracked the lid yet.

They ask me to challenge the deepest parts of myself that do not want to offer hospitality to the stranger (or wants to fetishise them* until my hospitality is far more about me than about them). The parts of me that withdraw into tribal instincts – where what is mine must stay pure and unsullied by others, and what is yours must be mine if I think it is good, and condemned as alien and wrong if I do not. The parts of me that are racist, colonialist, internally and externally disablist, internally and externally homophobic, transphobic, classist, elitist… the list goes on. The parts of me that secretly like that most of my gods are Irish and that I rarely venture out to meet others. That I rarely look beyond my little boxes. That I call myself a thing and ignore how it oppresses others. Because to look at that oppression is difficult, and may involve Work that I’m just too tired to do. (The parts of myself that use ‘I’m too tired’ as an excuse far, far too often.) They call me to challenge all these things in me, for only then can I even begin to challenge them in others.

This is my offering.

They ask me to give all of myself to a cause without end, from the depths of my frustration and pain, in disability campaigning that alienates me from my community – and leaves me deeply hurt, unsure if I should go on with such work that makes people stand against me, vocally, if very boringly. But I will, because order needs chaos, rising up from the dark pool beneath the Tree, or nothing ever changes. And Beara nods, and approves – but only long enough to ask for more.

This is my offering.

And they ask me to do the most simple things, that are the most difficult. Continuing to show up, even in the too-bright, scorching days of a summer ruled by Balor, where my world and my mind feels like it is falling apart. Keeping going, when the doctors are unkind and unhelpful, when the university administration is neglectful to the point of my desperation, when the mountain of work is terrifying to look up at. To keep pulling out that next transcript to analyse, Cuchullain-like (but with no super-strength to help). To accept the many gifts that They give me. To believe my spouse loves me. To keep lighting the candle on the shrine – because that is what I need, and my need is great.

This is my offering.

My polytheism is social justice. My polytheism is critical theory. My polytheism is Hannah Arendt and bell hooks and Sara Ahmed and Robert McRuer and Rosemarie Garland-Thompson and Sharon Betcher and Nancy Eiesland. My polytheism is stories – sharing the stories of those who are not heard, because my privilege means my voice is louder, and this is what I can do. My polytheism is research into disability and Christianity, that I have never walked away from in six long years, through circumstances having forced me to attend three universities, all of which have made it very hard to work as a disabled student – because I made a commitment, and because the stories of my participants need to be told. My polytheism is hospitality, keeping my vows, showing up, and really trying hard not to raid the cattle of others.My polytheism is the modern stories that inspire me that I am afraid others will laugh at, and so I relegate my feelings about those to other places, and pretend I am not inspired by Buffy and Angel and X-Men and Night Vale and a reimagined Narnia where a queen calls to me. My polytheism is not even sure it’s all that different from monotheism, some days, when the voice of the One whispers through and in the voices of the Many. My polytheism simply is, a belief in many gods, because many gods made themselves known to me. And oh, how they made themselves known!

My polytheism is nothing like yours. And that’s OK. It’s good. It’s beautiful.

Now please – tell me about yours?

(Don’t worry – part 3, on disability, miasma and polytheism, is still on the way… :) )

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Image: ‘Bright Flame’ shrine. Images of Brighid and Our Lady Breaker of Chains, with flowers (from my garden) and candles, plus memorial and inspirational items.

*Currently reading Sara Ahmed on the fetishisation of the stranger. I recommend it.

The behaviour of online Pagans, and why I’m going ‘stealth’ online again

My name has been publicly associated with accusations against someone. If you must read about it, see this post – and most importantly the response below, by Aine, the person being accused. (Trigger warning: the post contains references to abuse, transmisogyny, and disturbing accusations with no forum for addressing them.) The original post contained my real name and links to my professional twitter. (The poster has since replaced these references with my online psuedonym, after I tracked them down and begged.)

For some reason I can’t directly reblog at tumblr the reply that Aine has written – possibly because I’m blocked by the original poster. So I’m posting here instead. In the link above makes she makes clear that she is treating this as libel and dealing with it via her attorney.

I do not know the original poster, nor anything about the situation in the post. I have already been sought out (by other strangers) at my professional twitter to be told I’m ‘enabling abuse’. This linking of me and my real name to a situation I have nothing to do with is really appalling behaviour.

When I talked to the original poster about this, they told me I was causing them stress (??) but that their behaviour was fine. They said they didn’t have to ask before talking about me in a callout post, apparently not when even using my real name and professional twitter link. They took down my real name, but didn’t see anything wrong with initially putting it in. (By the way, they would have had to do quite a bit of online stalking of me to find my professional twitter, if all they initially had was my blog link.)

When I talked to Aine, my friend, about it, her immediate concern was for me.

Of course, that contrast doesn’t prove anything in itself. But I have no interest in discussing the details of this. Tumblr ‘callout culture’ is toxic. There are ways to deal with concerns like this – especially given the seriousness of what’s being accused – and I don’t think posts on tumblr are the way to go in the first instance. They are nearly impossible to refute or address, because they go off being reblogged in all directions, with no way for the accused to have input or respond, except via their own reblogs. I have been nervous of tumblr for a long time, even though I have a (barely-used) account there. The place is rife with accusations that can’t be addressed and other terrible behaviour. It has a culture all its own where people gain status and think they have more power than they actually do. It’s very ‘mean girls’. This is the last straw for me and tumblr – I’m taking my account down, when I get round to it, and I won’t be going there anymore. I’m very glad that Aine is dealing with this through legal channels.

I am not opening comments on this blog post. Aine has asked that people send her their questions about this. (I think this is a very good sign – openness and willingness to address these issues is what I look for in this kind of situation.) Please do as she asks and talk to her rather than me. This never had anything to do with me, and Aine is being very generous in wanting to keep me out of it.

I would like to point anyone reading this to my Hospitality and Zero-Tolerance Policy. If you talk to me here, or talk about me online, I think hospitality should be maintained. It happens to be a key religious value of mine. There are ways to talk about people, and places to talk about them. And there ways not to talk about people, and places not to talk about them.

Related to that, I’m going ‘under the radar’ again. For several years I’ve been ‘out’ in the Pagan/polytheist communities, but I’ve always felt a little bit nervous of what could happen as a result. I think we should be able to be open and ourselves in religious communities, both offline and online. But let’s be clear here: it’s not because of discrimination from the non-Pagan world that I have to go ‘stealth’ online. It’s because of the behaviour of members of the Pagan community. I consider that very telling. Pagans are always talking about how horrible members of other religions are towards them. I’ve never experienced that. I have experienced repeated awful behaviour from Pagans that make me reluctant to admit in public that I am one.

I think that’s a difference worth pondering.

In future please refer to me only as Léithin Cluan in comments in, or references to, this blog. Many thanks.

*EDITED TO ADD*

Well now this is getting ridiculous. Let’s clear up a few of the things I’m now being accused of elsewhere.

Firstly, I have not sent anyone to ask for my name to be taken out of the original post, and I would really rather people didn’t do this. As the poster claims, I did indeed say it was fine for them to keep my username in. It’s the right of the original poster to include it if they want to. The behaviour I found particularly dishonourable was when they included my full name and professional twitter account in the post. Yes, you will see from this post that I used to include my full name here and have now had to rescind that policy – it’s no secret – but it was always as a clarifier to my pseudonym Leithin Cluan, which was always the primary name I used here, and which is the name I use in my modern druid community. I have never linked my professional materials here and I do not know how the original poster found my professional twitter account, not least because I use a slightly different name in my work life. I have now taken down my real name due to the realisation that I cannot trust people in the Pagan community not to do appalling things with my identity. Pseudonyms, though, I can’t do anything about being written about elsewhere. People generally have the right to write about people, as long as no one’s being hurt.

Secondly, if we’re in ‘callout culture’ here, I want to call out anyone who would send people to harass a person (particularly an autistic person) about their support or otherwise of someone who is having unproven allegations aimed at them, and who is currently taking legal action against those accusations. Asking people to seek out a person online and harass them to take any kind of stance on unproven allegations towards friends is neither honourable nor courageous. If you want to engage with me, do so on the basis of honour, especially if you claim to be in shared community with me. I already linked to my zero-tolerance hospitality policy above. I consider that that applies off this blog as well as on it. Of course, I can’t enforce this policy away from this blog – I can’t make people behave honourably towards others. But I will not engage with people who don’t treat me honourably and hospitably.

I will not be persuaded of anything as a result of this appalling, dishonourable shitstorm, and anyone attempting to ‘persuade’ me will be given short shrift. I believe in protecting myself from things that I find oppressive in conjunction with my impairments. I’m not standing for any crap. I’m also contacting tumblr to ask them to remove posts that call for my harassment.

Thanks so much.

Pagans, Quantum Physics and Rationality

In my experience, Pagans are amazing at skepticism, logic and rational argument – when it comes to other people’s religious or spiritual beliefs. Most Pagans that I know could tell you a lot about how Jesus is not the only dying-and-rising god that ancient societies ever thought of, or how Christmas was influenced by pre-Christian pagan traditions.

But many of these Pagans are not so good at deconstructing their own beliefs on certain things. People with fantastic minds, who I love talking to, and who I’ve heard demolish other people’s ideas, somehow often fall short of that intelligence and philosophical sharpness when it comes to common Pagan beliefs. Their own beliefs.

And one of the worst ways this happens is when the topic of quantum physics comes up.

Quantum Physics: Proof of Magic?

This week, Fire Lyte linked to this post on his Facebook wall.  The response was… interesting. Lots of people trying to prove that the writer of the article didn’t know anything about quantum physics. Not looking at their own beliefs.

There are repeating comments that I hear on this subject a lot. Comments that are loaded with logical fallacies. I’ve heard statements from Pagans on quantum physics that demonstrate the following fallacies:

Argument from complexity (similar to an argument from ignorance): “Science is proving so many weird and complex things! So quantum physics could prove that my candle magic caused my pay rise!” Yes, it could, though the probability isn’t high, given what we know about quantum physics so far. Now come back to me when it does prove that and when we have evidence of this. Yes, science is proving some complex and weird things these days. We cannot use that to assume that it will prove what we want it to prove.

Argument from silence: the idea that, since something cannot (yet) be disproved, it is proven. “The universe is a weird place. There are things in the universe that we will never be able to explain. We just can’t know everything!” We cannot argue that, because science shows that there is much about the universe we don’t understand, it proves that anything is possible. It specifically doesn’t do that.

Ad hominem attack: an attack on the person who is writing/arguing, rather than on their arguments. “That person doesn’t know anything about quantum physics!” Doesn’t prove that you do. This argument should at least be followed up with “And here’s a link to some evidence that I’m going to use to argue my point. It is reliable because it is published in a respectable peer-reviewed scientific journal. It is backed up by these six other articles from six different reliable journals, and this conference paper, and this statement from the scientific community.” If not, you haven’t proven anything by attacking one individual, rather than focusing on their argument.

Shifting the burden of proof: “Can you prove to me that quantum physics doesn’t cause magic to work?” No, I can’t. But the burden of proof is on you, not me. As Carl Sagan said, “Extrodinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

– Correlation proves causation: thinking that, because two things coincide, then one must be caused by the other. “Every time I get acupuncture I feel better. This must prove that quantum mechanics causes it to work.” That’s great. There may be all manner of reasons why that treatment is helping you. I have enormous faith in the badly-named ‘placebo effect’, which would be better called ‘the human body’s self-healing effect’. When I go for reflexology and acupuncture, I’m working on my body’s self-healing mechanisms. Also, quantum physics exists. There’s absolutely no reason why one should have anything to do with the other.

(Note: This is stretching the bounds of the correlation fallacy, a bit. I think it’s relevant. Tell me if you disagree!)

Mind projection fallacy: i.e. because this belief matters to me, it’s relevant to everyone – and my opinion is worth more than your facts. “I believe quantum theory proves magic, and my opinion is just as valid as any scientist’s”. No, no, it’s not. Come back when you’ve studied quantum theory to doctorate level. In the meantime, I’ll be listening to the experts.

False equivalence: “Homeopathy causes a quantum leap in a person’s physiology” (a direct quote from someone I know) – using the term in a way that scientists don’t use it, and confusing two different meanings of the word in the process. Here, the informal term ‘quantum leap’ has nothing to do with the physics term ‘quantum’. The statement is basically nonsense. (Sorry.)

I suspect there are many more logical fallicies in these arguments that I haven’t spotted yet. Have you seen any others? Let me know!

Your Mind Turned To Mush

You have an amazing mind. We all do. We’ve all won the lottery when it comes to consciousness, to quote Simon Clare. Evolution, one of the most exciting processes on the planet, has gifted us with thinking minds. Unfortunately, human beings get very attached to our irrational beliefs, again for reasons of evolution and our past survival. In the distant past, being able to see the pattern of a tiger moving between the trees was probably vital for our survival. Now, though, we hang on to that pattern-finding faculty even when it’s not necessary. We see patterns and call them magic. And we have all the right in the world to believe in magic. (I do!) What we can’t do, because we’ll never succeed, is argue that there is objective proof of that magic in science.

Why does it matter? Because we look like total idiots when we do it. Ultimately, if you want to make logical fallacies all over the place and demonstrate that your mind has turned to mush, you go right ahead. It doesn’t bother me. But you’re wrong. And if you want to be right – as your constant arguing suggests you do – then you may want to go away and educate yourself about science. Use that fabulous mind of yours – especially about your own beliefs. If you don’t, someone else will.

You won’t lose anything. You stand to gain a lot, though.

On another level, I guess I want to be a member of a religious/spiritual group that doesn’t talk rubbish. I was a member of evangelical Christian churches for a long time. My bullshit meter eventually exploded. I happen to think that the Pagan community can do better. Our community should be full of thoughtful, intelligent, well-read people who test our claims against reason, reality and science. I’ve met us. We’re clever people!

Faith Can’t Be Proven

Ultimately, some things will always be about faith, and unprovable. I believe in fairies, for fuck’s sake. What I don’t do is try and prove fairies with science. (Though now I want to draw a picture of gleeful fairies preventing me from proving them through science by messing up all my experiments.)

You have the right to your beliefs. Your right to impose those beliefs on others is much more limited. “Your right to swing your fist ends at my nose.”

And if you’re trying to persuade people of something using science, you’d better have a damn good grounding in what that science means. I don’t – I have GCSE science grade B (i.e. I know that plants contain chlorophyll and some basic formulae about mass and force). What I do have is a Master’s in Sociology and I’m a couple of years away from a doctorate in Religions. I stick with what I know, which is learning everything I can about why we believe what we believe. And what effect that has on the rest of society. That matters to me. I believe it should matter to all of us.

Now there’s a belief that’s probably full of logical fallacies…!

If you like podcasts, a great one on rational thinking, logic, philosophy and religion is the Reasonable Doubts podcast. And they have a wonderful Polyatheism section where they go over the highly unlikely pagan myths of the past. They’ve just started a three-week series on Cuchullain. Enjoy!

I’ll leave you with a link to a relevant article. Problem-Solving ‘Magic’ of Quantum Physics

Cross-posted to Accidental Auguries.

‘The Deities are Many: A Polytheistic Theology’ by Jordan Paper

I gave this book four out of five stars on Goodreads, and since it’s so relevant to many people who read my blog, I thought I’d share the review here. Even if you’re not a polytheist, this book is full of really insightful discussion about other cultures and their beliefs and deities, and I think a lot of you would enjoy it.

Oh, and happy Grianstad an tSamhraidh, or Alban Hefin, or Midsummer, or Solstice!.. Continue reading

Interfaith

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Oath-breaking is an absolute taboo for me, as an Irish polytheist. I know that many ex-Christian Pagans feel that any promises they made to the Christian God were made in ignorance or in coercion. But mine was an oath that I wanted to take, where I knew very clearly what I was doing, what I was promising, and who I was promising it to. Maybe if I could have seen a couple of years into the future, I wouldn’t have taken it. But I’m only human. Continue reading