That’s Faith.

One of the things that no one will ever tell you about having a religion is that it is easy. They will never sit down and tell you that if you do X,Y, and Z then everything will work out perfectly, the way you hope it will. This is because religion, no matter the flavor, is not easy. Instead of a pretty path, walking through the forest with flowers in bloom and birds flying overhead, you will end up in a rocky outcropping and be forced to climb a cliff face. The thing is that it’s a matter of maintaining a certain status quo between constantly doubting that this all is really happening to you and constantly believing that this is all really happening to you.

I’ve been thinking a lot about doubt lately because lately, I’ve been doubting. Since Hetheru showed up to talk to me about beauty, I’ve been doubting everything. I’m always doubting, anyway, but there are days where that doubt is stronger than others. Don’t get me wrong because I honestly think doubting is a good idea. I tend to equate it along the lines with discernment, the fun and exciting word that consistently makes its rounds amid the pagan blogs. If you throw yourself wholeheartedly into a religious practice, then part of that wholehearted toss will end up being doubt. I think we, as pagans and polytheists, go through this right alongside the Christians and the Jews. I think they doubt, just as we do. None of us happen to know what’s right and what’s wrong concretely and we probably will never have concrete proof of things.

That’s faith.

The thing about faith is that it can be very difficult to maintain. Sometimes, I think that what we term as “faith” is really like a flowering plant. And sometimes, the flowers are full and in bloom and you just know that everything you are going through is incredibly real. But, on other days, the blooms don’t open in the sunshine and maybe it starts to look a little wilted because you haven’t been paying as much attention to it lately. And that’s when the doubt really starts to eat away at you, both your mind and your soul. It can get kind of heavy – doubt – and then it comes down to what the next step is. You can continue to doubt or you can get right back in there and start maintaining your plant of faith again in the hopes that everything will go back to how it used to be.

A while back, I was reading a post on Dver about how when things turn really bad, we tend to turn away from our religion. That post, Do Not Stop Your Devotions, is something that I think about a lot, especially as I’m in the middle of one of my heavy doubt sessions. I can be in the middle of doubting every single ounce of my religion, but if I can just keep doing all the things that I do on a daily and/or weekly basis while I’m doubting, then I think I will get through it. I used to, I’ll admit, just stop doing everything whenever doubt would overpower me and I would lie, crying, on the floor about how I’m obviously insane and everything I think, feel, and know is actually a product of my imagination. After reading that post, though, I realized that it didn’t matter how much doubt I was going through: I had to keep going.

That’s faith.

I know this is from a movie, but it always stayed with me. I don’t remember what movie this is from (so if anyone else knows, can they let me know?), but there was discussion about those who have the deepest faith in something can sometimes be afflicted with the worst doubt. That’s not really how it was portrayed or discussed in the movie, but that’s the message I gleaned from whatever the hell the conversation was about. (Is this from Stigmata, maybe?) I just remember sitting back and thinking for a long time about how having faith can be intertwined so heavily with doubt and that the more faith you have, the more you can be racked with heart-wrenching doubt.

Ask any one who knows me on a personal level – I have a large influx of faith. The faith that I had eschewed in high school and beyond has filled me up, ten to fifteen years later. I can remember not having any faith in anything and never really doubting. Now, though, I have faith in my gods, in my religious path, in my astral life, in the lessons I’m learning. And in this constant faith, I am now constantly and horrifically assailed with this doubt. Though I am not like the saint who decided to probe the wounds of Jesus Christ on the cross, in a way, it could be said to be similar. Only instead of probing wounds inflicted upon the living son of the Christian god, I am probing my own wounds in not having concrete evidence that what I do, what I learn, and what I believe is true.

That’s faith.

Just as putting together a stack of blocks can be a process, so too is having faith. While my son will build huge, large, flying structures across the living room carpet for me, I am busy building the faith that I have in everything that I do and everything that I believe in. My blocks may fall over, just as my son’s do. And that process is one of doubt. In that moment, I will have to rebuild whatever it is that I was building in the first place, just as my son does. And it can be frustrating, irritating, and a back-breaking process. As the screams and stamps of frustration of my son suppose, building the structure of blocks back up to what we had in our mind’s eye is something that is not even remotely easy. Especially when you place that one last block in the absolute perfect place, only to have it tumble down around your feet [again].

But, having faith is a process. It’s a long process. It’s a hard process. You are assailed on all sides by things that would tear down your sturdy structure. Sometimes the things that assail that faith is yourself. Sometimes the things that assail that faith are outsiders, peering in. Sometimes the things that assail that faith are personal tragedies. Sometimes the things that assail that faith are personal goals achieved. Whatever it is that is scaling your fortress of solitude’s walls in an attempt to cause doubt doesn’t really matter. What does matter is, even amid the frustration and anger, you are still willing to attempt to build that wall, that structure back up again. What does matter is, even amid all the frustration and anger, you are still willing to give that little faith-plant love and tender care as you try to nurse it back to health.

That’s faith.

Lent 2013.

As a baby, I was baptized into the Catholic faith. Honestly, I don’t know why I was since my mother was a single mother and had me out of wedlock; if I’m not mistaken, this is a rarity. But, my mother was born and raised in that faith, along with the rest of my maternal family (minus my grandfather who was raised in some other faith or another, but has proven to be the most devout Catholic of the whole lot). They are all either lapsed or faithful Catholics to this day. I, however, was never raised in it.

I often thought of it as a very interesting religion, but a religion that I had no access to as my mother is very much in the “lapsed” category. I learned a few things for weddings and funerals: how to properly cross myself; some of the saints and what to pray to them for; how to say their Lord’s Prayer as it does differ from the Methodist one; things of that nature. I always wanted to learn the Hail Mary, though not the Our Father, because it was something my mother would say whenever we would travel somewhere and that ritual was something I was intrigued in.

All in all, my interest in my mother’s homegrown faith had more to do with the ritual aspects to that faith and the beauty that those rituals can entail.

I will admit here that I’ve always been very intrigued by the rituals of the older Christian faiths, anyway. I could spend hours as a teenager, perusing image searches from the Russian Orthodox rituals as well as some of the older imagery as shown from the Catholic churches. Honestly? My art hard-on may be showing but The idolatric beauty of Russian Orthodoxy? I was so there. The ceremonial beauty of Greek Orthodoxy? I was definitely all over that. And the ability of Catholicism to just keep on flourishing? Mind fucking boggling. And while it is my fondest wish to one day have a ritual basis that can be as glorified as what I saw in imagery as a child, I know that no matter what I end up with, it will never even equate [in my mind] to those image searches. In the mean time, I’m left wandering and puttering about in that whole ritual world.

At this point, though, my puttering about as left me with the curious need to fulfill an OTHER™’s desire to observe Lent this year. Color my mother’s shock and surprise when I announced that I was giving up chocolate for the next forty days as an act of sacrifice. You could have knocked me over with a feather when it first entered my mind the morning of Lent.

I was driving by the Saint Catherine of Sienna Parish church when I was cut off by a car exiting the overly filled parking lot. What an oddity, I mused as I did my morning, angry-driver duty of cursing loudly at the car that had cut me off. That parking lot was never so full in the morning, so what… And that’s when I realized that it was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. I don’t really know why I knew that, either, because I don’t pay very much attention to any of the Catholic holidays now that I’m not working in a public forum. But, my mind slipped into that and that’s when I felt someone say to me, “You should observe this.”

I had never felt the essence of the lwa asking, so I don’t know who it is that was requesting this of me. Instead of immediately just ignoring the impulse, I began pondering about what I could give up. This is completely unheard of in my world. I almost immediately question every possible response I have to something. This keeps, I feel, everything in check so that I can always claim, “I’m completely sane,” at my trial. But, I just went with the flow and settled on chocolate within a minute or two of pondering what to give up. (I debated coffee for two-point-five seconds before laughing at such a silly thing. If I’m going to be brewing coffee for Legba every day, then there’s no way I’m giving it up.)

Honestly, I really don’t know why I’m being asked this. I know what quarter the asking is coming from – this stems from the lwa and that particular part of my religious life – but I’m not really sure why I should observe this holiday. I’ve been very careful about not incorporating the Catholic aspects of that religion into my world. I haven’t quite figured out how to work it into what I currently practice. I mean, in all reality, how do I incorporate religious holidays from a monotheistic faith into the reconstruction of a polytheistic faith?

Obviously, it looks like I’m going to find out.

And I begin with giving up chocolate for Lent.

Broad Generalizations Do Not Belong in Religion.

Or, Stop Stereotyping, Asshats!

I have noticed a very serious trend in pagan circles in which people tend to broadly generalize in all manner to encompass every strain of pagan religion that the term “pagan” may touch. To be sure, this is a trend that starts us all off in regular day-to-day life with our stereotyping in race, gender, sexual orientation, victimization, etc. et al. So, really, it isn’t so shocking that stereotyping and generalizing has a home in pagandom. We’re practically fed at the breast of bad stereotypes in some form or another, so we naturally bring it with us when we start exploring ourselves in various ways, such as in a religious sense. I can tell you, however, that when it comes to stereotypes you’re pretty much assuming. And we’ve talked about that here, but I’ll reiterate. By assuming, you are making an ass out of you and you’ll get a whole helluva lot of hellfire from various arenas, chapping your hide in ways you never thought possible, for being such an unenlightened d-bag. I highly recommend actually endeavoring to learn about what your generalizing about, but I’m one of those weird people who actually enjoy learning instead of giving a general wave of my hand to encompass all manner of Christians, Muslims, Jews, pagans, polytheists, monotheists, etc.

I’m just a weird person, I guess.

The thing is that I don’t believe any type of stereotypes should be trotted out against any religion. As I said, I’m pretty strange.

There are a lot of people who talk very negative about Islam all the time. We see news reports and pages about people being cruelly treated for being Muslim, or even being suspected of it. We hear about the 700 Club, specifically, Pat Robertson spewing out filth regarding Muslims, Islam, and Muhammad. These things are force fed to us and have been since the 9/11 attacks. The thing is that more often than not, the things that we, as Americans are led to believe, are entirely wrong in some context or another. Since some extremists have gone off and taken out the Twin Towers, we now are led to believe that all Muslims are power-hungry jihadists, bent on total annihilation of Christianity. If that was the case, then how come the world continued to turn on its access after the Crusades?

The thing is that, too often, we are led to believe too many different stereotypes that ferreting out the actuality of something becomes so difficult as to be either impossible or too time-consuming. I’ll use a non-religious example here. I was watching that History Channel special, Mankind: The Story of All of Us and I was pretty miffed that it was continuing to perpetuate the myth that it was sheer hard work and American ingenuity and greater weapons that made it possible for Europeans to invade America and take it over almost in its entirety. No, no, no. This is the same riff-raff generalizations they teach you in school, but it’s incorrect. While the numbers are completely unknown, there was a very serious disease epidemic going on prior to our colonization efforts. Those various plagues, some of which were of European descent and others may not have been, wiped out something like 90% of the native populations before the Pilgrims came on over. How the hell is a nation supposed to rise up and fight back against interlopers if most of them are busy dying or are already dead? And honestly, I think that if we hadn’t brought diseases over here, the natives would have kicked out asses.

But that’s something else for another day or another blog or never to be mentioned again. I don’t know. Whatever.

While I can understand the need for the propaganda specials regarding how “hard work” and “ingenuity” was the reason we Americans prospered, I don’t think we should outright lie to our up and coming youth just because. While I can understand the wholesale terror Americans were feeling after the 9/11 attack, there was absolutely no need to force fiend a propaganda program that has led to things like the Sikh Temple shooting in August, women being side-eyed and accosted for wearing hijab, and any other random things I cannot even begin to comment on. We’re passed the Cold War era where we believed hiding under desks would keep us alive if an A-bomb were sent over. But, for some reason, broadly generalizing about everything is inherently necessary.

And stupid.

And wrong.

And did I mention fucking stupid?

When I see kids bad-mouthing Christianity, I get very uncomfortable. I do understand a lot of its darker aspects and have gone through a lot of darkness because of those days when I did practice it, but I don’t think that broadly generalizing about all Christians is a good idea. For example, when the Christian friend told me she was heading that route, I reserved all right to comment about it. I had some things to say – like, please don’t – but I didn’t. I had no clue what sect she was falling in line with. I had no idea if this would be a good experience or a bad experience for her. I resolved to see how it would turn out and left any snarky, nit-picking commentary to the back burner. Or, maybe in the darkest recesses of my mind in the late of night when I’m not nearly at my best and so, maybe possibly, generalize a bit myself.

And in the end, I’m glad I reserved judgement on just what type of Christian path she was following down because, you know, I was able to make a correct deduction in regards to it when things started going on between the two of us. Before getting truly and mercifully angry, I did my research regarding her branch of Baptist and that’s when I began to truly lament whatever tattered friendship we would probably never mend. I will admit that I tend to view a lot of southern Baptists in a very conservative light, which unfortunately tends to be the case with a lot of southern Baptists, however not all Baptists are Pat Robertson converts, initiates, or followers. However, there is a very large conservative movement in the Baptist sect, but it’s not the be all, end all of every southern Baptist. And while a lot of people will think, “close minded, conservative, anti-choice, anti-gay marriage” when they hear “Southern Baptist” in any context, there are some who are a little more liberal with what they preach.

As my mom used to say when I was a kid, “stereotypes have got to come from somewhere.” Yes, I agree. However, that doesn’t mean that everyone who falls under X umbrella term shouldn’t be afforded some form of respect before you go hog-wild and piss everyone off.

The thing with broad, sweeping generalizations in paganism is that, more often than not, the very pagans that we’re supposed to “bond” with or whatever are the very ones guilty of the crime. Again, I will have to admit that it seems to be integral to human nature, at least American human nature, to assume shit about everybody. By having been breastfed on stereotypes and generalizations, we take these practices with us wherever we go, which includes into our religious lives. In particular, paganism is completely rife with this kind of bullshit and in some of the oddest instances, the types of assumptions are completely beyond all measure. “All pagans worship nature.” “All pagans are Wiccans.” “All pagans use the pentacle or pentagram.” “All pagans are this. All pagans are that.” C’mon on, people. What the hell is the matter with you? We have so many outside assumptions going on – from the Catholic church, from the governments, and from other arenas – you would think we’d shut the fuck up with this.

Wrong.

Just go into the ‘pagan’ tags on Tumblr and you’ll see all of this bullshit manifest right before your eyes. (You may have to check the tag a few times in an hour, but eventually, some idiot will get it into their noggin to define “pagan” and pretty much either completely ignore whole branches of different pagans and their beliefs or worse.)

This whole thing has just got to stop.

We have got to stop doing this to ourselves.

A lot of the pagan religions are very new and very young. In this, we have growing pains. We’re pretty positive that the Catholic church went through this after it got big and bad in the ancient Roman world. There were so many sects running around that they had to have Ecumenical Councils to establish itself at the beginning. Unfortunately for paganism, it is such a diverse term that there can be no such thing for us. There are hard polytheists, soft polytheists, Wiccans, witches, pagans in various forms that we can’t all get together and make broad, sweeping decisions regarding each varying sect. But what we could do, and don’t, is stop being assholes. We can stop claiming what paganism is and what it isn’t, for starters. We could stop ignoring that polytheists are, in fact, a part of the pagan umbrella term. We can, in fact, stop claiming that all polytheists follow X, Y, and Z in their belief systems and promulgation of beliefs. We could be a bit better about presenting a better face forward to all of the other established religious beliefs out there because, otherwise, we’re going to flame out before we get our start.

And honestly, the one thing we should all be worrying about isn’t what we are or what we aren’t, what we practice and what we don’t, but unifying enough to get some fucking respect from our governments, officials, and the other branches of religion out there.

But, no. We’re all too busy fucking around and stereotyping one another.

Thoughts on Prayers.

I’ve noticed an exceedingly disturbing trend (to me) in which people only pray when the shit hits the fan. I’m not saying that this is a predominantly pagan or Christian occurrence. I see it in both religious instances, to be perfectly frank, but it absolutely and one hundred percent disturbs me to no end. I can’t tell you that I have the best possible way to do things because I don’t really think any one person’s way is better than anybody else’s. (Hm, a fundamental issue with two out of the three of the Big 3, me thinks.) I don’t feel the need to lord it over others’ heads that I’ve “been doing it longer” so therefore, I must be a walking god or some shit. Nope, no. Nada. That’s not me. But I will say that this whole trend to turn to deities when shit gets real seems pretty fucking stupid.

This is the stone edifice that held dominion over my soul while I was a child. Pretty, huh?

This is the stone edifice that held dominion over my soul while I was a child. Pretty, huh?

It’s possible that the reason I have this issue is because, quite frankly, I didn’t pray as a child. I was technically a Christian. I went to church. I sat through my Sunday school classes. I’m sure I picked up a thing or six in the entire time I went there. But, praying wasn’t one of them. Fellow Methodists may know what I’m talking about – I’m a little fuzzy on how other religions do it that aren’t Catholic – but when it came time to do that Sunday-only little epistle to God, where we all bowed our heads and said some things to the Big Guy In the Sky, I really didn’t know what to say. I was always at a loss for words. It seemed to me, even back then, that talking about how I’m miserable in school because I have no friends, nobody understands me and oh yeah, my dad was dead… It just didn’t seem like the kind of thing to talk about with the Christian God.

Besides, I had done all my praying about my daddy as a kid. It seems to me that, you know, if he wasn’t going to pull a second Lazarus on my dad, then he was probably not going to want to listen to my rage at ‘im for that.

So more often than not, I would bow my head and study my hands. Or I would imagine what it would be like to fly to the big, huge stone rafters over my head. I would draw stick figures on the programs they give out – why do people feel the inherent need to know what’s going to happen in a two-hour long Sunday ceremony? there will be praise and Bible and greetings, it’s all pretty much the same – or play hangman with myself since my kid brother would go to the kids’ chapel and I’d get bored with my mom. Some times, I imagined by unicorn and horse herd in the cordoned off seats to our right. (Don’t ask.) And other times, I would get up twenty times “to pee” just to explore the building without any adult supervision because, frankly, I had really nothing of interest to say to the Christian deity.

Often, I’ll see Christians, now, talk about how they’re praying to get things going the way they want. The thing is that I just don’t really think that the Christian deity they’re working with is very intent or cares very much. This may have something to do with my delving into voodoo in my practices. (They believe that Bondye exists, but that he’s pretty damn impartial and not-caring, which is why lwa are around – they get the jobs we desire done.) So, I mean, I could clearly say that I’m biased here. Why would the Christian god, after giving over the only begotten child for our sins, really give two shits about whether or not the car gets paid off in time or whether or not we have walking pneumonia versus a really bad chest cold? I just don’t see it. But, I think my bias here is mostly in the fact that, as a kid, I was taught that you prayed to your god when things got real and then, maybe a miracle would happen and maybe it wouldn’t.

Since the miracle of resurrection didn’t happen with my father, I kind of figured that anything else, paling in comparison to that, wasn’t on the Christian deity’s list of things to do. And I’ll be frank, I just can’t see praying to a mortal who died for sins. Considering all the stuff that they claim the Christ went through, I mean, it seems really wrong to ask him for anything. HULLO? CROWN OF THORNS? I know that was supposedly the point and all, but any problem I can come up with, sans not resurrecting my dad, is probably not going to measure up on the list of “miracles to grant.” Getting a car paid off, hoping it’s not pneumonia, getting a job… All these things just don’t seem like the kind of things either of those two divinities would care to talk about or make happen. Again, it kind of comes down to, let’s compare notes on what we think is bad versus how it probably was for the Christ and, you know, nothing compares to his prayers that you know, he probably NOT die a miserable, horrific death. Or that people use his name to start wars BUT WHATEVER.

So, what the fuck does this have to do with my gods, my prayers?

You’ll notice that I have an entire category called “Letters.” In that category, I offer some of my more formalized prayers to various gods. I believe there is one in there to Sutekh, one or two to Sekhmet, one or two to Ptah… So, obviously, I have prayed to my gods when things were bad. Obviously, I’m ranting and raving here about something that I’m guilty of doing.

Sorta.

The thing is that I talk to my gods daily. I go over and I give them their daily offerings. And throughout the day, I pray to them. “O, Sekhmet, give me strength to not fall asleep during this boring, boring shift.” Or, “O, Hetharu, remind me to love myself.” However, those aren’t the only kinds of prayers I do with them, either. When I’m baking for the gods, that’s a prayer right there to me. When I’m cleaning their altars, I’m praying that I get the arrangements right. When I did my Thanksgiving, polytheist style, I was praying to all of my gods. I wasn’t asking them to make things happen; I was telling them that I trusted that things would happen. It’s not a miracle. It just is. The Universe, the gods, the lwa, they will all provide for me. I may not understand what it is I have to go through now, which is… pretty bad, but I believe that they will hold out. That they will show me the way. It’s just a matter of my getting through the tough times long enough to see the happening materialize.

So, yes.

I pray to my gods. I talk to them daily. I tell them about how hard it is for me to believe that things will work out. I’ve fallen down, sobbing hysterically, in front of my altars and demanded to know why this shit is happening to me. I’ve had my moments where I have raged at them, angrily, because I don’t understand why things are the way they are. But, I don’t just turn to them about that. I talk to them about how my kid is great, even when he annoys me. I talk to them about how excited I am about going Christmas tree hunting with TH’s family or how I’m so happy my nephew is finally taking tiny steps (even though walking, on his own, is probably a long, long way off). I talk to them about how I’m worried a new god is coming in. I talk to them about how I will find a job. I talk to them in positives and in negatives. I don’t just go to them with all of my problems, unload, and expect them to fix it.

That’s just not how this works, as far as I am concerned.

While I will often tell people that if you don’t doubt, then the miracle can’t happen, I also believe that telling your deity of choice about the good stuff and the bad stuff is how the relationship works. It’s just like a having a friendship or a relationship with a significant other: it’s not all puppies and rainbows and unicorn farts. Sometimes, you’ve got to discuss the bad thing going around. I’m jobless. I’m worried we’ll end up homeless if what the Hubby told me is accurate. I can’t fix my car to get to jobs outside of the Springfield area or to get the Hubby to any jobs that may open up in the next month or two. I don’t really have the money to pay the bills and I’m hoping that they really can’t shut off the heat in the winter time. I talk to my gods about my worries and my fears.

But, I tell them about the good things, too.

And I think that’s something that all divisions of faiths, from Christian to pagan, need to do. Otherwise, what’s the point in praying if all you’re doing is inundating them with the bad shit? Why would they want to have a relationship with a Negative Nelly?

Would you?

I Do Not Fit Into a Tiny Box; Why Should You?

Today, I read about someone who was disgusted with the appropriation of sugar skulls in regards to the holiday of Dia de Los Muertos. This is one of the more somber of holidays in a Spanish context. I’ve watched and read and been moved to tears by the artwork associated with this holiday. But I think what really got to me about this is the fact that person who was angry with the appropriating felt like the spiritual moment, the cathartic moment of that holiday, had been taken away from them by all of this cultural appropriation. They felt like it had been taken away from them in some respect. As a white woman who has no holidays, I can’t help but think that if they really want to let outsiders influence them so heavily in such a rich, emotional, and culturally gorgeous holiday then the connection they once had can’t possibly be as strong as they insinuate.

Contrary to any belief, I don’t say this as an asshole who is looking down on someone else. I am indeed looking at this from the context of an outsider. I never celebrated this holiday. It had absolutely no bearing on my life whatsoever as a child since I grew up in New England. The dead holidays were Halloween or the few times a year we went to visit our dead relatives’ graves. So, in that regard, I have to admit that I may just be talking out of my ass. But I have to assume that if you’re going to let people affect you so negatively in regards to a holiday that, as I’ve repeatedly said, is very beautiful and very cathartic, then maybe it’s not meant to be.

You can’t let people come into a situation, partially knowing or completely unknowing, and let it impact you. You have to stick to your guns. That may mean that you may have to continue an argument from a rapidly decomposing point-of-view. That may mean that you celebrate a holiday that’s rapidly becoming a public holiday in regards to outside cultures.

Let’s try to put this into a modicum of perspective here.

Back when the Catholic Church was trying to convert the pagan masses, they tended to associate their holidays with the popular pagan ones. Whenever the bigger of the Celtic holidays shows up, we all see those pagan memes running around, discussing how the Catholic church appropriated X, Y, and Z to make their Christianity sanitized holidays. We see it in regards to Yule and Christmas. We see it in regards to Samhain and All Saints’ Day. We see it in regards to Imbolc and Candlemas. Why don’t we try and put ourselves into those ancient pagans’ shoes? How did they react to this? How did those ancient pagans work around this? Didn’t they continue to celebrate their “folksy ways” when it came to those holidays? Hell. The Catholic Church had such a hard time converting the Irish that they made the foremost of all their goddesses into a saint. These old practices were continued, were added to, and were embellished throughout the years so that we can see some of the older traditions mixed into the new, Christian-sanitized ones.

In other words, they didn’t give up.

Someone else commented on that post, later on, and mentioned that they grew up in an area where that holiday was a big one. Everyone celebrated it, whether they were Hispanic or otherwise. I lived in Texas, south to be specific. There is a large Mexican population and besides Cinco de Mayo, the Dia de Los Muertos was a popular holiday. I didn’t see any major celebrations but there were objects out in stores that brought the culture to “the white folk,” if you will. This included sugar skull kits that you could make at home. You saw painted skulls in those stores, as well. It’s not that the white people down there celebrated it, but it was becoming part and parcel to the cultural flourish of south Texas.

I kind of associate it less with cultural appropriation as making it part of the scenery being woven down there. Like a large and beautiful handmade rug, it was becoming a part of the pattern. It’s not that it’s being taken away from in so much as becoming a part of. And that’s something that people need to think about as well. It’s not that a dominant culture is coming in and usurping something. It’s a smaller culture proliferating in a climate and becoming a part of the dominant culture. Just as your great-great grandmother may have brought over a homemade remedy or recipe from the old country, the Mexicans in that area are bringing their personal portions of what they love about their culture and making it part of who they are becoming as Americans.

I will admit. I am a Kemetic and so, I don’t end up facing this kind of stuff. There are very few people outside of Kemetism who want to worship or practice my new year. There are very few people outside of Kemetism that want to celebrate those holidays, so of course, as I said, I am commenting on this in the context of an outsider… but only so much.

You see, I also have a voodoo aspect to my practice. I tend to call myself “Kemetic with a voodoo flavoring.” There are certain aspects of that particular faith that I adhere to. One of which happens to be the Fet Ghede on November 2nd. This means altar set ups, this means meals for my Deadz, this means going to the cemetery to spend some time at the graves of my Deadz. This means a lot of things. Does that mean that I’m appropriating? In a manner of speaking, I suppose we could say yes. But I don’t feel it that way. And I’ll tell you why. I really don’t think the lwa or the gods care one iota who has what color skin. They take who they want, when they want them (and if the person is willing enough to follow). I’m willing enough to be part and parcel of this celebration and that means that yes, I do things that “white people” probably “shouldn’t” because it’s not my cultural heritage. But you try telling the Bawon that for me and see how that goes.

All of these argumentative comments about cultural appropriation and the cultures being appropriated… it’s all so much sadness for me. It just goes to show that people are too intent on appearing placed within a certain box. “I am X ethnicity and this is my cultural heritage that I am practicing.” Okay, and that’s fine. I understand that you want to be a part of your heritage. Whenever I do meals for my Deadz, I’m very careful to keep my meal plans based on the ethnicities and heritages of my ancestors.

But that doesn’t mean that you have to only be that one thing. Human beings are as varied as they come and so are the cultures they have created in the mean time. By pigeonholing yourself and certain races, you’re being oppressive to yourself and to others. That’s not fair to you and that’s not fair to me. That’s not fair to Jane Doe or Joe Blow. That’s not fair to anyone and it’s definitely not fair to your spiritual practices, either. Just because you have a specific skin tone or a specific cultural heritage doesn’t mean you have to remain shoved into a tiny box that may or may not fit you.

If you have respect, if you have the ability to understand and research what it is you’re doing, then how the fuck are you taking away from someone else?

It’s one thing when people do things because they think it’s “cool.” It’s another when someone has the respect and the calling to do it.

The Voodoo Project: Catholic Symbiosis.

On this journey, I’ve seen a lot of misconceptions attach themselves to pagans and even to Christians who look at voodoo, in any way. There are the basic misconceptions that can be chalked up to over-active imaginations coupled with the sensationalist Hollywood viewpoint of what voodoo “is.” And then there are the misconceptions that seem to be attached, strongly, to opinions. Now in either case, we are doing a severe disservice to a religion that has been able to grant an entire nation its freedom. If we can openly respect and not assume about other pagan religions and even some of the Christian ones as well, we should be able to look openly at voodoo, as well. What we need to consider is that all of us are wearing blinders in some fashion, whether it be based on opinion or what Hollywood has dreamed up this week when it comes to zombies and voodoo. One of the main misconceptions I’ve found lately is that voodoo is part and parcel with Catholicism, which isn’t the case at all. I hope that with this entry, I can put some of those fears to rest.

A lot of people have been willing to talk to me about their issues with voodoo. And for a lot of them, a big problem is the fact that it is rife with Catholic imagery and prayers. Here we are as pagans, pretty much eschewing the Christian religions of our birth but suddenly being pulled to a religion that uses it daily. Talk about an issue! And I completely understand and even agree with the fears and issues that this possibility imposes on those of us who are not comfortable with Christian imagery, prayers, and offerings.

Now, whenever I meet up with others who are willing to admit that this is a huge stepping stone, and one that may or may not break the bank, a particular woman comes to mind. She’s mentioned a time or two (*cough* Camylleon *cough*) that one of the hardest parts of being a hard polytheist and working in both a voodoo/Santeria framework has been the Christianity that is rife in the religion. She has had to contend with the two aspects of her practice and meld them into one. She has to not only work with the images and prayers, but she also has to contend with their belief in one God. (Yep, that’s right. Not just “a god” but as in the One.) Now, I’m pretty freaked out that someone has been willing and able to do that. I can safely admit that I am not that person. So, it is with my framework in mind that I write this post. For those who would like to hear her take on it, maybe she’ll finally write the post I’ve been bugging her about.

After begrudgingly picking up my first book on voodoo, I went into it with a more open mind than I would have a few years ago. I think that helped me in making careful decisions, not just in who I was willing to seek out and work with but also in regards to the Catholic question. I’m not saying that you can’t pick up a book or look up a blog, start reading it, and have to have an open mind. But I think it helps. What really aided me was the first book in question: The Haitian Vodou Handbook by Kenaz Filan. Now, I am not his biggest fan. Everyone who has heard me talk about voodoo knows that this is the case and hell, even he knows that this is the case. (Yes, he really does.) But his book really helped me to understand a religion that isn’t quite understandable from a framework that is pagan. Sure, we can go into it just as easily as the next person, but it helps when you have someone who is or was (not sure which) a pagan and is willing to at least give you some good basis. And some of the good basis was that Catholic aspects to voodoo are NOT necessary.

This was eye-opening, mind-boggling, and so deliciously scintillating to me. While I had been interested in the religion itself, I had also come in with a preconceived notion. And that was that I had to work with the framework that was already presented. But after reading the history of Haitian Vodou, I realized that the framework was based on survival. I live in a day and age where keeping my religion afloat is only as necessary as keeping my Amendment rights alive and well. I didn’t need the same sort of tapestry to hide my religion as the slaves from Africa did so many years ago. And with that, a sort of… relief washed over me. Not only did I not need to have an image of Legba on my altar space (though I desire one), but I didn’t have to settle on something that shows him as Saint Lazarus. I don’t have to recite the rosary or sing a hymn to get them to talk to me. And I don’t need to have their prayers memorized to offer them service, either.

WEIGHT LIFTED.

I know that when you look at something or someone on the outside, you tend to just assume that what you’re looking at is how it is. This isn’t always the case. We all talk about not judging a book by its cover, but let’s face it. We’re all human. And that’s what humans do. They take one look at a person or a thing and just assume a whole bunch of shit about it. This was the case for me – and I think the others who are looking in voodoo’s direction but can’t quite make up their minds about it – and it’s taken a lot to get me out of this frame of mind, especially where voodoo is concerned. But, I’ll tell you this. If you pick up your first book about it and it’s an easy-read like mine was, you’ll change your mind pretty quick.

And if not, well. I’m being told that I’m a guide here. So, look me up and I’ll do some guiding.