So this morning, in honor of Washington's actual birth date, I put on my playlist of Revolutionary War period music, starting with the "President's March", which celebrates Washington and the heroes of the Revolution. It is hard to realize how revered Washington was in this country's early days. And the amazing thing is, he seems to have deserved it. He may not have been the greatest general, but he was a superb commander in chief during the war, and it was clear he was the only man who could hold the country together during its first fragile years.
The other thing that amazes me is the fact that almost as soon as the Constitution was approved, factions sprang up, and that they are in essence the same factions we are dealing with today-- states versus federal government, liberal versus conservative, city versus country, labor versus capital. However on the whole, the divisions don't seem to have had religious grounds. I suspect the English-speaking peoples still remembered the horrors of the English Civil War too vividly to want to risk religious war again. The Founding Fathers were absolutely determined to keep the United States from becoming a theocracy dominated by /any/ of the denominations present.
Considering some of the bizarre statements the current crop of candidates have been coming out with, I think it's time to reactivate the Freedom-fathers' project and invoke the help of our founding fathers and mothers to keep us true to their ideals.
I'm home from Pantheacon, one of the more remarkable phenomena of the Pagan Revival--2300 people from every possible pagan or alternative religious tradition in a hotel. Kabbalism, Strega, Heathenry, Umbanda, Wicca, even the occasional mystical Christian. Pantheacon started as a local (Northern California) celebration, but these days people come from all over the country, and I get to see folks I've met at other festivals. This year they included Margot Adler and Ivo Dominguez, among many others. It's worthwhile for the people-watching alone. Masks and wings, hats, jewelry, tattoos, robes--you name it, somebody is wearing it. It's a great opportunity to explore spiritual options, and what you don't get from the workshops you can find out at the hospitality rooms sponsored by various groups. This year I actually was able to spend some time in the Heathen Hospitality Hof and the room sponsored by the Fellowship of the Spiral Path.
One of the differences between this and other events I attend is that at Pantheacon so many from my home community come too. This means I can do things that need a full team. This year it was a ritual play on the death of Baldr, with 7 speaking parts and a chorus. Herding all those cats was exciting, but the result was worth it. Ritual theater is a way to convey information and insights in a way that reaches people's souls. And there's nothing like the high when it's successfully done! I'm very grateful to the wonderful people in Hrafnar kindred for working with me on this.
This year was especially fun because Weiser books brought a box of advance copies of /The Way of the Oracle/. People snapped them up and I got a lot of positive feedback. After 20 years of doing the work, it is good to be able to share this harvest at last.
This past month, one of the runes we've been studying in the Rune Class is Wunjo--Joy. In one sense, it’s pretty simple. In another it’s an abstraction that’s almost impossible to define. The best image I could come up with to represent it on the altar was Snoopy doing the happy dance. In the class discussion, I tried to analyze my own feelings on the subject. Today I find myself still chewing on the question. When do I feel Joy? Why? What is the function of Joy in the scheme of things?
One of the things that stimulates the sensation I define as Joy most often and most easily is Beauty. The poet Keats says “Beauty is truth, truth beauty—that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” (“Ode on a Grecian Urn” 49-50) He takes fifty lines to make his point, but the final two say it all. But what is that Truth that Beauty defines? Why does looking at something beautiful make us feel joy?
When I try to analyze why I find something beautiful, I seek beyond conventional definitions to come up with terms like pattern, balance, harmony, symmetry, order. I believe that we have been programmed by evolution to recognize and appreciate them. We find these elements in everything that exists—the dance of electrons, the spirals of our DNA, the petals of a rose or the folds of a mountain range. In these things we see an essential order that is profoundly reassuring. Even things that at first glance appear to be asymmetrical or disorderly can elicit that response. Artistic movements alternate between a controlled, formal esthetic and a celebration of the unpredictable and “natural”. In Europe, the Classical formalism of the 18th century was followed by the wild enthusiasm of the Romantic movement. We find both mathematically perfect patterned brocade and the apparent freedom of a brush-painting in Japanese art. We are hardwired to see beauty, though, as with many other things, we may need practice to exercise that skill. We are surrounded by beauty. The artist with a brush or camera learns to “frame” a picture to capture that beauty by including a balance of color, shape and movement, fix the moment of beauty for those who look but do not /see/.
I propose that the reason that we respond to something in which we find is because we all—redwoods, the chambered nautilus, the lark ascending, have evolved together. Our response to Beauty is an instinctive recognition that we are part of a unity. Whether or not there is an Intelligent Designer, the structures of Nature are an intelligent design. When we connect to the harmony around us we feel Joy.
The awe and delight with which I view an especially esthetic sunset are not a proof the existence of Truth, Beauty, or God, but they certainly make it easier for me to live without certainty. From our instinctive response to Beauty we derive an ideal of order, balance and harmony on which to model our lives.
Is Beauty real? In my mind, that is not a particularly useful question. But it is certainly a useful concept. Awareness of Beauty enables me to believe that the world can function in a positive, productive way. No matter what goes wrong, focusing on one thing that is working beautifully gives me hope. To align myself with order, balance, harmony, to move more gracefully, clear and clean a kitchen counter, contemplate the exquisite architecture of a flower, to be mindful in small things, is to strike a blow against entropy (although I have to recognize the possibility that entropy itself may be an apparent disorder in a pattern too large for us to see).
I also choose to believe that our response to this unity with Beauty includes something beyond the evidence of the physical senses, that a part of this order is Spirit, and that the capacity to respond to religious practice with joy is evidence that the Beauty with which we have evolved includes the Divine.
The equinox is past, the fog has come back in, it must really be fall, and time to make plans.
Like where I'm going to stay for World Fantasy Con in San Diego. I just recently decided that I really need to be there this year and check out the latest info on what people are doing with e-books, etc.
So if any of you know of someone who needs a room mate at the hotel, do let me know...
So on a rare evening last week when I didn't have a meeting, I was sitting at the computer trying to get some work done when my grandson Michael asked if I wanted to participate in a one-hour lights out event. He's in an environmental emphasis program at Berkeley High, and apparently this had something to do with energy dependence. Well, I could certainly get behind that, and I wasn't getting anywhere with the work anyway.
By the time I got downstairs, all the lights had been turned off, and the family was busily lighting candles. Greyhaven by candle light is really beautiful. I went back to my room and got my harp, and as everyone gathered in the living room, talking and doing craftwork that didn't require too much light, I played.
It was a beautiful hour, no computer, no TV, just being together. Our family does celebrations, but they are always loud and busy. I can't recall the last time we just quietly enjoyed each other's company, though I admit to a few pangs of gratitude that we were doing this voluntarily and had not fallen into an S.M.Stirling novel.
And this was the kids' idea, not something imposed on them, and they'd like to do it again....
Just wanted to let any of my LJ friends who are in my area that we're starting another round of the Rune Class this Wednesday at Greyhaven at 7:30 p.m.
I'm also doing the introductory class as a presentation at PantheaCon at 9 a.m. on Monday. We'll continue on the 3rd Wednesday of each month. We'll draw two runes to decide which ones we are studying in March.
If you're interested and have questions, let me know. Also, feel free to pass the information on to anyone in the Bay Area that might be interested.
Finally got to see /Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows I/ last Friday. I've read the book, and I was interested to see that the more relaxed pacing resulting from splitting the novel allowed more time for the actors to show their response to events. But I noticed something else as well.
This is the first of the stories to spend much time outdoors. The first six books take place mostly at Hogwarts, with some scenes in London, magical or muggle, and suburbia. The thing that struck me is that although there are magical creatures outdoors at Hogwarts, and references to magical beings elsewhere, except at Hogwarts, we never see them.
Specifically, in the seventh book, while Harry et al. are doing their "See Beautiful Britain" tour, bouncing from one campsite to another, not only do they not encounter other humans, they don't see any animals, nor do they encounter any magical beings-- there's not a nymph or dryad, dwarf or fairy, to be seen. Rowling's universe, however engaging, is essentially sterile. The magic is no more than an unusually colorful technology. The books are about virtue, not spirituality.
This observation is not exactly news-- I think that most pagans like the books for almost every reason /except/ the magic. Perhaps it was the emptiness of the lonely, lovely settings where a magically sensitive soul should have found spirits galore that brought it home. Having recently re-read Diane Duane's "Young Wizard" series, in which studying wizardry teaches one to perceive the magic in all Life, I couldn't help regretting thinking that Rowling's universe suffers by comparison. Harry and his friends are muggles in the natural world.
…does not actually mean the day on which we box up all the Christmas left-overs and try to put them away, or spend the day lying about recovering from the excesses of the Jul feast.. Nor is it a day for the sport of boxing, although in some places boxing matches, among other competitions, are held. Nor, although in the British Commonwealth it is a time, like the day after Thanksgiving, for sales of things which are carried away in boxes, is it actually concerned with sales.
It is, however, an official holiday in the rest of the English speaking world, secularized from the feast of St. Stephen, which itself was adopted by the Church to replace the visitations of mummers, guisers, straw-boys, and hooligans who invaded houses as hunters of the wren. The custom, and the meaning, is very close to trick-or-treating at Hallowe’en. Although these processions of “Wild Men” may have lost some of the potential for violence we hear of in earlier traditions, they represent the incursion of the wild, untamed power of the Otherworld that balances the peace and order of Jul—the earthly representatives of the same power that manifests in the Wild Hunt, as the intercalary days between Jul and New Year’s open the door between the worlds.
When the mummers arrive, what is old and decrepit is swept away. Offer a drink of wassail and a penny to the wild powers as they pass, and receive their blessing.
“The Boar’s Head in hand bear I—“
No longer is the Yuletide boar paraded through the feasting hall so that men can lay a hand on his back and swear their oaths for the new year, but the Christmas ham still is the center of the feast, basted with brown sugar, or studded with pineapple rounds and cloves. Family and friends affirm their bonds by exchanging gifts, and feast together to affirm abundance. Instead of the Greek “Chi”, let us read the X in X-mas as the Runic “Gebo”, “the Gift”, whose crossed arms signify exchange. We exchange gifts, love, energy, and in so doing, balance each other and the world.
We raise the drinking horn to hail Freyr and ask for peace and good seasons in the coming year.