Building A Community: Shopping

•01/21/2020 • 2 Comments

Recently, my partner and I spent an afternoon at an old mill in Lowell, Mass. that has been refurbished into a funky mall.

There’s an apothecary there full of herbs in bulk and handmade soaps. I got a fantastic pine tar soap there that’s been very helpful for my eczema. 

There’s a movie theatre there that plays arthouse films plus Saturday morning cartoons for kids and a ‘mystery’ movie on a weeknight where the movie isn’t announced until you’ve already bought the ticket and are ready to see it.

There’s an old-timey soda fountain with ice cream (dairy and non-dairy) with malts, frappes, and egg creams. They even sell sarsaparilla. There’s a great spacious coffeehouse. A New Agey crystal shop. A vinyl record shop. And various other niche/specialty places.

Now if you’re thinking that it sounds kinda hipster, I’d agree with you. But it’s hipster in the way that I like. With the focus upon independent/small shops, not on pretentiousness. 

What impressed me most is that there felt like a sense of community in this little shopping place.

Lowell, like many former industrial areas, has been hit hard financially. It’s known for being one of many former mill towns in Massachusetts where there is a heroin problem. 

But this place, for all of my limited interaction with it, brought me some joy. All over Boston and Cambridge, most shops are either national chains…or if they’re small and local, they’re catering to the rich. 

This got me thinking about what shopping could be like.

What if we could occupy the downtowns of our cities and towns and vitalize them with independent, small, local shops full of things people need or want?

What if our local governments stopped giving tax breaks to the Amazons and Walmarts and, instead, helped tailors and seamstresses open up shop downtown so people could have affordable locally made clothing instead of supporting slave labor in China?

What if every downtown had a local doctor or several..that were affordable (or free!)?

What could a community do to revitalize a downtown if money was no object? 

 

I would like to open a tea shop. 

Keep Talking

•01/08/2020 • Leave a Comment

Often, we think of prayer is being formal and repetitive.  

I know this was something that I personally struggled with as an ex-Catholic.

When I thought of prayer, I resorted to the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and other rosary prayers.

Whatever that was in the small prayerbook that I received as a Communion gift as a child. 

 

Reciting a memorized prayer, especially repeatedly, can be a very effective way to shut off the discursive mind. The discursive mind can often get in the way of us being able to hear our beloved deity.

 

But now I’d like to speak about another type of prayer, one that very much engages the self and the discursive mind. 

 

In a book called “Sadhana: A Way to God. Christian Exercises in Eastern Form” Anthony de Mello, a Jesuit from India, talks about a visualization exercise called “The Empty Chair”.

 

The premise is simple enough, find an empty chair near you and imagine that Jesus (or in our case, your chosen deity) is sitting in it. Talk to your deity. Tell them what’s on your mind, your hopes, your fears. If you can’t think of anything, just tell your deity about your day.

 

Now…of course, we are not Christians. We perhaps do not view our deities to be as omnipresent as the Christians view Jesus or their god to be. In that case, do this at your shrine. 

 

Imagine your deity listening with attention and love.

 

Obviously, your deity exists outside of your mind and has their own thoughts, feelings, and ideas but until we can feel our deity as real (which a lot of us brought up in a materialistic world may have trouble with), this exercise and others like it can help train our mind.

 

Similarly, in “When God Talks Back” by T.M. Luhrmann, a cultural anthropologist who has joined up with an evangelical church that places a large emphasis on direct communication with the Christian god (the Vineyard denomination), Luhrmann finds that many church members have to train themselves to hear their god’s voice. They do this by frequently talking to their god about their lives, their thoughts, their problems.  

 

Essentially, when they get results and do hear the voice of their god, they are taking a voice in their mind and identifying it as “not their own thoughts” and identifying it with their god’s. 

 

Does that mean that their god does not exist and is not speaking to them? Though this does run the risk of “sockpuppetism”, the book talks about how Vineyard study groups that focus on this technique have ways of discerning their god’s voice from their own ego and own thoughts.

 

This often involves making sure the voice does not contradict biblical revelation or church teachings as well as just not being reflective of the devotee’s desires. (If the voice tells you something you really don’t want to hear but need to, in other words, it’s likely that it is your god’s)

 

I highly recommend the book just as a way of looking at a mystical technique. I find that the methods of the Vineyard church tend to be much more worldly and accessible than traditional techniques like mantra repetition or centering prayer. It is, of course, mysticism that has grown up in our current overculture and does not conflict with it. I find that problematic but also in a way refreshing. It makes mysticism more accessible for those of us who cannot live in a monastery.

Wrestling With An Infant

•12/24/2019 • Leave a Comment

It’s Christmas Eve and though it’s not my holiday, per se, Christmas in our culture is unavoidable. Especially for those of us with Christian families.

 

I cannot help but fall for the promise of peace that Christmas offers. Hope. 

 

I have been in dire need of hope this year. 

 

I struggle with the holiday season because Yule is not a thing for me. The Solstice is not part of my religion. Perhaps I avoid it because, for me, it’s too tainted with Wicca and Wiccanesque Paganism. It’s part of my identity to not be “one of those people” and so I avoid celebrating the Solstices and Equinoxes in my religion. 

 

That said, Christmas is a part of my culture. It was a very big part of my childhood. I have at least 10 years of memories of gathering at my grandparents’ house on Christmas Eve. All of my aunts, uncles, great and not-so-great, various cousins first, second (removed or not). A cacophony of Italian-Americans. There would be lots of drinking and smoking. I would have to go outside to catch my breath. 

 

I do not believe in the divinity of Jesus but I hunger for hope.

 

Unfortunately, we have the perspective of history. We know where the birth of this child leads. We know, whether it’s his fault or not, that there will be generations of massacres in this baby’s name, the so-called Prince of Peace. We know that cultures and religious practices will be slaughtered.

 

I know that the pure heart of Mary will be used to force generations of girls into a purity culture where they are prized only for their virginity. 

 

And yet, in my religion….it is said by the Early Irish Christians that Brigid of Kildare was flown miraculously by angels to attend the birth of Christ and act as midwife. It is said that the baby Jesus suckled at Her breast. 

 

A folk tale? Perhaps. I cannot accept this as historically accurate but then I am a mystic, not a fundamentalist. 

 

Christianity did not come to Ireland under the sword. There must have been something the early converts saw in it. Perhaps they believed in the message Jesus taught, a radical message uplifting the poor, the hungry, the downtrodden and criticizing the rich. Even if later Christians would twist this message into tyranny. Perhaps they, too, believed in hope.

 

I want to believe. Not in Jesus. Not in Christianity. I want to believe that we can make this world a better place for those who are poor, hungry, homeless, down in spirit. I want to believe in radical hospitality. I want to believe that we can light Brighid’s Fire from our hearths to our hearts and extend that warmth and hospitality and sustenance to others.

 

In the most holy name of Brighid, may you find that fire within you and may you extend it to those in need of it.

Approaching Solstice

•12/10/2019 • Leave a Comment

I don’t know how to reckon with the solstice.

It is a momentous occasion. One that cultures of the world have marked since time immemorial but for whatever reasons, the Gaels did not celebrate it (as far as we know).

And yet, I feel like I *should* celebrate it. It’s something nearly all other Pagans and polytheists mark. Additionally, there’s the overculture to consider. Christians with Christmas. Jewish people with Hanukkah. Some people of African descent with Kwanzaa.

Despite not being Christian, I find beauty in Christmas celebrations. Particularly, the Catholicism that I was raised in: Irish and Southern Italian.

I remember all of the women of the family getting together with my great-grandmother who emigrated here from Deliceto in Puglia. They spent all day making a traditional Christmas pastry called “crespelle” which was fried dough strips shaped like a rose, dipped in honey and walnuts.

I remember the big Christmas Eve celebrations when some of the adults celebrated the Night of the Seven Fishes.

I remember how my parents didn’t buy us many toys throughout the year but spoiled us rotten for Christmas.

As such, I celebrate the solstice, though it is not part of my religion.

I keep thinking of Advent. I think of the hope that Advent invokes of a baby born out of a miracle. A baby that will be a god. It makes me wish that we had such traditions, marking the birth of a god every year. A time of hope and wonder and miracles. Celebrations in the snow.

There are stories that St. Brigid was Mary’s midwife. Somehow, the angels whisked Her over from Ireland to Bethlehem to help with Jesus’ birth. Perhaps it was metaphorical to indicate how the saint helped to usher in a flourishing of Christianity in Her homeland.

I want to celebrate the Nativity, though I know it also marks the ending of our traditions and religions. With that poor innocent child will come great horrors. I grieve. I grieve. I grieve.

 

Polytheist temple/community center

•12/07/2019 • 1 Comment

For the longest time, like many a polytheist, I’ve dreamed of running a temple/community center.

Obviously, first and foremost, it would serve as a home for the gods where people can go and give offerings. This might be especially important for people who are young adults that live with their Christian parents and cannot have a shrine at home for worship.

Inside and outside space for people to rent to perform rituals, run classes, hold meetings for local groups, etc.  Kitchen of some kind for larger events such as weddings/funerals.

I think networking is also important. Having a list of people to perform specific religious services (chaplains, diviners, spiritual counseling, etc.)

Some sort of a religious supply area where people could buy things like candles, incense, deity images, shrine supplies, etc.

What else would you like to see in a local polytheist community center and temple?

Is it even possible to do this and incorporate different polytheist religions?

Much like Hindu temples, specific deity statues in the temple itself can be funded by the community.

Just idly dreaming in case the gods ever bless me with a winning lottery ticket…

 

Egalitarian Neo-Traditionalism?

•11/26/2019 • 1 Comment

Recently, I came up with “egalitarian neo-traditionalist” to describe some of my views. Which reads as word salad, really. Mostly because it is. However, I think it conveys the criticism of modernity that is inherent within traditionalism without the shitty racist, misogynist, anti-LGBTIQ baggage that often comes along with traditionalism.

So What Do I Mean By Modernity And Why Does We Hates It, Precious?

Modernity means different things to different people. Generally, since it’s rarely used in a positive context in the subject matter I’m discussing, modernity can often be read as anything the writer does not like about our current society. 

But I don’t hate ALL of modern society. I am, and will remain, very much dependent upon modern medicine for my life. I had an organ transplant. That simply is not possible without modern medicine. I was born premature and intersex and spent my first few weeks of life in an incubator and surgery. Again, not possible without modern medicine.

So when I say I am anti-modernism, you can rest assured that I am NOT talking about modern medicine. 

I am against capitalism. I am against the cult of fame and fortune in our society. I am against the elevation of ego and selfishness. I am against a love of money. I am against globalism (but not in the anti-Semitic sense of the term). I am against the ravaging of our planet’s land, sea, and air for its resources. I am against the harm it does to the flora and fauna of our Earth.

I do not wish to turn the clock back to a pre-modern period but rather use our modern knowledge as well as what worked in the past to find a way to live sustainably and holistically. 

To be honest, I don’t even know what that would look like. The “solarpunk” movement seems to have some intriguing ideas. I seek a society without meaningless jobs meant only to enrich their CEOs and management. I seek a society where people live in harmony with Nature in a sustainable fashion. But also a family life that gathers around the hearth at winter to tell stories. A life where people eat real food, grains, legumes, vegetables, fruit…grown from the fertile soil. 

I have a love of smallness in society. The neighborhood in cities or suburbs. The village. Where everyone knows each other for good or ill. Where people feel safe leaving their doors unlocked and people don’t steal because their essential needs are taken care of. 

I understand that this is probably all idealism and no pragmatism. But this is a world that I will not live to see. I’ve had an organ transplant. While I’m extremely lucky with my particular situation, I do not feel as if I have 10 more years of life in me. 

I do not believe that we should avoid labor but we should avoid meaningless labor. I value the traditional ways of manufacturing. Traditional cheeses or hams or wine or beer. Hand-made pasta. Sauces or stews that have simmered all day. Traditional weaving and fabrics. Hand-made furniture that will last for generations rather than flimsy garbage that won’t last but a few years. Houses built to last. That’s what I mean when I say “traditional”. Not “because this is the way our ancestors did it” but because it made for high-quality long-lasting things of worth. 

If I had a way of life that appealed to me most, it would be that of an abbey of Benedictine nuns in Connecticut that I did a retreat at 10 or so years ago. They were almost entirely self-sufficient. They made their own cheese from raw milk, cured their own hams from their own pigs and spent their days chanting in Latin in prayer.

I felt almost like I’d been transported back in time. They worked hard but it was meaningful labor that sustained their community. It didn’t matter what anyone looked like. They were given hospitality. People were not there to make money or get laid or even be tourists. It was not about consumption.

For a long time after this, I flirted with the idea of becoming a monk but I could not be Catholic without living a lie. Then I fell in love and no longer had an interest in maintaining celibacy.  

I’m idealizing it, of course. Despite it consisting of women mostly independent of men, they still required a priest for Mass and sacraments. It’s the Catholic Church, of course. They are anti-feminist and, presumably, anti-LGBTIQ. (I did not come out while I was there.)

But a commune or village or neighborhood with a holistic traditional way of life like this but with egalitarian values and knowledge of modern medicine and science is what I dream of. Along with it being polytheist. Again, I realize this is totally unrealistic. 

I don’t believe that one needs some sort of ethnic homogeneity to have this sort of way of life as some traditionalists do. Any woman of any ethnicity (as long as they’re Catholic and agree to the Rule of Life) can join the Abbey. 

When I look at our modern society, I see a lot of miserable selfish people. But though there are decent kind compassionate people in our society, our society actively rewards selfish and exploitative behavior. As such, it’s not surprising that it creates selfish assholes. It’s designed that way. 

I don’t want to be too judgmental. I have been adversely affected by this society as well. I have been a selfish asshole and have been trying to spend my remaining years becoming a better person.

I believe there is another way. There has to be. While we can look to the past for inspiration about a great many things, I also think we can look at the present and towards the future.

Whether it’s called “egalitarian neo-traditionalism” or some other bullshit name is irrelevant. What matters is that we rebuild society to focus on things of value, on morality, on family, on creating traditions, on Nature and sustainability for generations to come.

Practical Polytheism

•11/19/2019 • Leave a Comment

This is an excellent series on polytheism called Practical Polytheism written by Bret Devereaux. It mostly focuses on Roman and Hellenic polytheism but occasionally deals with other polytheisms.

Part I: Knowledge

Part II: Practice 

Part III: Polling the Gods

Part IV: Little Gods and Big People.