Writing Again

Hello everyone.

After a long hiatus, I am once again writing as part of Gods & Radicals, a group blog dedicated to Pagan Anti-Capitalism.

You can find my first post, “The Circle and the Street,” today. I am scheduled to post a new article on Gods & Radicals on a monthly basis.

If you are finding this old blog because of my writing at G&R, welcome. This is all writing I did when I was in college — some of it I still like and some of it I find a little embarrassing! But I hope you enjoy whatever you find.

JR

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No Unsacred Place

Hey Everybody!

Just wanted to highlight the much-anticipated launch of the Pagan Newswire Collective‘s new earth and spirituality site, No Unsacred Place: Earth and Nature in Pagan Traditions.

The site features three of my favorite bloggers (including a certain co-ritualist of mine): the ever-insightful Cat Chapin-Bishop, the ever-intrepid Alison Leigh Lilly (who is heading the whole project — excellent!) and the ever-rah-rah-rockabilly Ruby Sara. Along with many other awesome writers and thinkers.

I’m really excited to see more themed group blogs sprouting up like this, an effort spearheaded by the PNC, and I’m sure that this new site will turn out to be a great example of one such effort.

So go czech it out!

More of the same…

*Sigh*

You know I realize that I’m starting to sound like a broken record. I don’t particularly like being that guy who’s always having to raise flags whenever pagans do something dumb, but I guess somebody’s got to do it.

You see, it’s a widespread misconception that no one really knows the origins of April Fools Day. However, as explained by several scholarly studies like Gillian Owens’s “Norwegian Folkmyth and Avril Toulle”, the holiday has a pretty dark past, one that — given pagans virulent ire over days like St. Patrick’s Day — I’m surprised we don’t discuss more.

You see, April Fool’s Day started in the 1600s when the Christians began to take firmer hold of the northern reaches of the Norwegian coastline, where pre-Christian polytheist practices were still widespread. A French missionary, Avril Toulle (corrupted into “April Fool,” you see) was sent to re-convert the masses. Chaucer’s Canterberry Tales relate an English version of the story in which “Avril Doole” took it upon himself to dress up as the Devil and pop out from behind bushes and trees whenever he saw ancient Heathenry being practiced. Having frightened the pagans, he would then go on to berate them for their misconduct and force them to confess on the spot.

Avril’s reputation preceeded him, and as he made north into the colder reaches, folks began to anticipate a visit from the Devil-man, and so when Avril reached a certain town and began to pull his “prank,” the villagers all responded with wailing and displays of devout piety. At first Avril was pleased, thinking that he had finished his work reconverting the countryside; however, he soon found out that the villagers were in a state of distress because, so they told him, Rome had burnt down to the ground. Much to the villagers’ delight, Avril believed their lie (Rome was, of course, just fine) and rushed back to the St. Peter’s where, unfortunately, his devil costume was found and he was hung as a heretic.

And so, as you can see, there *is* a story here, one with elements similar to the St. Patrick story: A man comes to a distant land and begins routing out paganism. But there’s a twist, in that in this story it’s the proverbial “Snakes” that “win” as the villagers play Avril at his own game and successfully prank him.

After Avril’s departure from Norway, it became a tradition there to dress up in costumes and jump out at passersby during April. The practice moved to England where the Day of Avril Fool was set as April 1st and the tradition of lying to friends in order to upset them became a part of the festival, in rememberance of the villagers’ response to Avril. And thus we have the traditions today.

But I’ve got to ask everyone: Is it really right for us to celebrate a day that commemorates the actions of a missionary? Perhaps you’ll say that we’re remembering not the missionary, but the righteous pagans’ ingenious response to the threat of forced conversion — but to that I must ask, is it right to celebrate a jest that ended in a man’s death? I’m not saying that there are easy answers to this, I’m just wondering if it’s not a little hypocritical of all of us to get up in arms about certain commemorative days, but not others — when the litmus test seems to be whether or not we have taken the time to do our research.

You can find more information about the questionable origin of April Fool’s day here.

‘The Impossibility Of Religious Freedom’

One book that I think everybody — but especially pagans — should read is Winnifred Fallers Sullivan’s The Impossibility of Religious Freedom. This work chronicles the legal battle Warner vs. Boca Raton, which was waged over the rights of individuals to engage in religious (?) practices at their loved ones’ grave sites. The work also highlights the fact that while we in America may think that spiritual practices of all sorts are protected under constitutional law, the reality of the matter is much murkier.

For example, in the case described in the book,  the city of Boca Raton banned the practice of Jewish familys leaving rocks on the headstones of their loved ones, framing the practice (which is carried out by Jews all over the world) as littering that created obstacles for the graveyard lawnmower. A judge ruled against the family members who objected to the ban because, in the judge’s opinion, the practice of leaving stones is not fundamental to the religion of Judaism. That is, the judge saw stone-leaving as secondary, merely ‘cultural’, not ‘religious’, not-so-central-to-the-faith —  and therefore not protected under the religion clauses. The judge was of the opinion that only practices specifically called for by religious law and holy texts are really “religious.”

Recently, influential evangelical David Barton, who was quoted on The Wild Hunt this week, has suggested that ‘paganism and witchcraft’ aren’t really religions, and that they are therefore not protected by the religions clause. I would like to suggest that, while Barton’s remarks came from a place of misunderstanding and hate, we may be able to take his remarks as a jumping off point into a broader discussion of paganism’s relationship to the law.

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Just a few updates…

First — Have you ever noticed how things in the blogosphere can be sort of synergistic?

Many of you probably know already, but yesterday Jason Pitzl-Waters over at the Wild Hunt posted this article that touches upon a lot of the themes I’ll be trying to explore through the “Second Stories” posts over the next few weeks — recognition of wrongs committed, culpability, guilt and blame, awareness of Christian history, Christianity moving into the future, etc. If you haven’t seen it, please go check it out as I think that familiarity in this arena can only benefit us all. As many people have agreed in the comments section of that post, Jason has presented a very level-headed approach to the topic, which I commend him for.

Second — Speaking of blog comments, a new discussion has cropped up in the comments section under my post Neoplatonism at Cherry Hill from last week. Feel free to chime in if you’re interested further in Neoplatonism and pagans approaches to “re-paganizing” (?) Neoplatonic thought. Fun times.

Third — Check this out.

Lastly — (And this is just plain ‘ole tooting my own horn, BUT…)–  I’m excited to let you know that I’ve been accepted to my #1 choice graduate program, the M.A. (History of Religions/Theology) program at the University of Chicago Divinity School. So, that means I’ll be staying put in Chicago for the next few years and I’ll be able to keep doing what I love to do: Gettin’ down and nerdy in the library. Get excited — I am.

Keep it classy… somebody’s gotta do it, and it ain’t gonna be me.

Neoplatonism at Cherry Hill

A friend sent me this link today, knowing that it would pique my interest. It piques my interest because 1) my sub-specialty in the field of Islamic History is the history of Islamic Neoplatonism, and 2) I’ve written before on the problematic relationship between Neopaganism and Neoplatonism.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Cherry Hill Seminary recently, for a variety of reasons. I almost applied there, for one thing! But more to the point at the moment is a conversation I had a few months ago at a meeting of the Hyde Park Pagan Potluck*: We were discussing the possibility (or rather, the impossibility) of pagan education, and whether or not such a thing is possible when pagan theology and practice is so nebulously (and often contradictorily) defined. Eventually we came to the topic of pagan seminaries, of which the best example is Cherry Hill. Without clear boundaries as to what constitutes contemporary paganism, its theology, history, and practice, how is it possible to create meaningful syllabi for study?  (At the moment I won’t go into my problems with “Pagan Studies” as a field. Regardless, if no one is clear on what exactly makes up paganism, how can one study “Pagan Ministry”?)

The last thing that has been on my mind recently about Cherry Hill was Dr. Catherine Hoff Kraemer’s remarks during the New Media panel at this year’s Pantheacon, which was made available to me and to you through the courtesy of T. Thorn Coyle, here.

What’s got my mental gears a-grindin’ today is this: By its very nature as an academic institution, Cherry Hill has had to find a working answer to the question of “What is Paganism?” In so doing, the seminary is also a normativizing force, suggesting bit-by-bit what exactly defines pagan theology.

And that’s fine. What I find frustrating (distasteful?) is that, by virtue of their endorsement of Sam Webster’s Neoplatonic theurgy intensive, their answer to this question seems to be, at least in part: “Neoplatonism.”

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Nocturnal Me.

Sleep has been eluding me, my friends, for about a week now. It’s 5:40 Am and, just like every night recently, I find myself gazing at myself in the mirror that sits across from my bed, holding staring contests with myself. So far, it’s been a standoff.

I’ve always jokingly said that I’m just nocturnal. Whenever I haven’t got somewhere to be in the mornings, I find myself staying up later and later into the evenings, until it becomes like this when I couldn’t even get to sleep before 3 AM if I wanted to.

We used to live in a pretty big house out in the country, and I remember sneaking downstairs (though I’m sure my parents weren’t unawares, really) and watching cartoons all night every weekend, challenging myself to stay up past midnight, past 1 AM, past — gasp! — 2, 3, 4, and even once, one glorious saturday morning, staying up and meeting the sun as it rose up over the hedge-apple row. I remember slowly opening the front door (it must have been around 5:30) and walking out onto the concrete sidewalk that went out to the driveway — the ground was too cold for my bare feet and I wanted to rush back inside, but everything was so beautiful: The Sun rising in the east, over the hedgerow (“Don’t go there — snakes”) and butterflies in the field that sloped down along the long drive to the highway. There was corn in the field out to the west that year, and even though I wouldn’t dare go out into the corn rows at night for fear of monsters and axe-murderers, there in the morning light and the cold, crisp air the smell of the still-green ears rushed into my lungs like a drug.

On the nights when my resolve wasn’t so firm, I’d lay down a blanket on the floor in front of the TV and nod off to whatever I’d found on the Satellite, to be found in the morning and shooed off by my mother, or by the sound of my grandparents driving up the lane ready to take me to church.

Those were the times when I saw my first episode of Star Trek. It was the TOS episode “The Apple,” the one with the lizard-headed cave and the orange-skinned “humanoid primitives.” It was also when I saw reruns of Tales from the Crypt and Back to the Future.

It was also the first time (to the horror of my parents, I’m sure) that I saw string bikinis (thanks to Starz’s late-nite lineup–I was scandalized), fuzzy soft-core, and B horror flicks and Audrie Hepburn and — AND — Tom Cruise’s pre-Scientology wonder-thighs and the gay fantasy nerd wet dream that is the film Legend.

…I suppose I could go on about this for a great long while, but there wouldn’t be much point to it. I’ve just noticed the daylight coming in the window now, just like that day when I was 8. I’m not what you’d call a “Morning Person,” but I do love these few moments when I’m still awake and the world around me is just waking up. Hmm… Anyway, it’d be nice if my nocturnal nature didn’t kick in the week before finals!

 

Have a nice week. Light a candle for Japan.