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

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.

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.

A Rant About Unintended Insults

What I am about to tell you is not about paganism—or maybe it is. Also: The following is a rant.

It happened again today, you see, or perhaps last week. There I was, conversing as always (surely about French Structuralism, or the nature of the Image, or how much I love Reuben sandwiches) when someone raised their hand and cut me off.

“Wait a minute,” they said, obviously puzzled, “did you just say the word y’all?”

“Why yes, yes I did,” I reply, and before the conversation could go on any further I already knew how it would go: First, my co-conversationalist would look me over, sizing me up – Are they wondering whether I am a physical threat, I ask myself? Hardly. Are they considering my potential bone-ability? Hopefully, but alas, probably not.

Are they trying to work out the perceived contradiction between my oh-so hip and urban Gap jacket, my Boystown buzz-cut, and my sizeable vocabulary (on the one hand) and (on the other) the torrent of stereotypes, pre-conceived notions, and generally not-so-couth ideas about rural (often “Southern”) America? Bingo. Then, they will verbally kick me in the face:

“But,” they tease, obviously unaware of my inner monologue, “you don’t act like a hick.” Apparently the reality of my rural background has hit them for the first time, and they don’t know what to do with this new information.

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On Books and Blogs

Hello there, my wonderfuls. It’s been a busy few weeks here at Chez Rapture. Before I post something of substance (you may have noticed that those take a while!) I just wanted to give you a few updates.

First, I’m excited to let you know that I have become a new co-blogger over at Pantheon. My first post went up yesterday. To be honest, one of the reasons I haven’t written much here recently is because I’ve been retooling some of my material that was in progress to become Pantheon posts! Take note that, after the successful recent series on the “Future of Paganism,” Pantheon is currently looking for submissions for a new series on gender in paganism; you should think about contributing!

Second, Ruby Sara and I have been hard work preparing for Golden Harvest, an event being put on in the Chicagoland area by Earth Traditions. RS and I are totally freaking out (no, really, we know our lines!) about presenting the gathering’s main ritual. Funnily enough, I am typing this message ensconced among the many bookmaker’s tools that RS’s Intrepid Spouse has used to fashion for us handmade goddamned books (!) containing the various liturgies that we have written and performed over the last year. Look out for future links to buy these handmade goddamned books in the near future! Here’s an excerpt from our most recent liturgy, “Table & Stranger: An Ingathering Rite for Harvest Home.”

Friends! Beloveds! Gather in! The light is waning and the darkness clothes the trees with the promise of bonfires and long nights. The flicker and burn of summer is a memory, and winter hovers just beyond the golden hill. This is the very heart of autumn, a time of food and feast, of friend and fellow, of giving and thanksgiving. A time of in-gathering, when we meet with loved ones around full tables and heavy baskets bursting with apples. Gather in and gather ’round to celebrate this harvest feast!

For it is now, as the darkness swells and the shadows lengthen, that we call out to Old Coat! Fox-Faced Singer! Mischief Maker! Cackling Storyteller! Peasant-King!

Old Coat, the Devil at the Crossroads! King of Hearsay and Lies, King of Smoke, Lord of Broken Mirrors! His is the Story and the Song, the Up and the Down, the Near and the Far! He is the Shape-Changer and Edge-Walker, and He whistles His crazy music down the dusty roads and back streets! With staff in hand, He wears a cap He stole from his brother the Blackbird, and the patches on His coat are cut from green grass and golden wheat fields… A Friend to all People, Desire and Deception! Who is He, that Wildest of Gods? Would you know Him if you saw Him? Sure as sure, He knows you!

Insomniac Rain & Pagan Kashrut

August has been (had been!) an interesting month indeed here at The Great Tininess, full of a few ups and downs. On the up-side, I’ve moved into a new apartment complete with four flights of stairs and a pressure-less shower. I guess it is a good thing, though, since I have a much reduced chance of accidentally stepping on Ruby Sara‘s cat.

The real downer is that I can’t sleep. No, I mean I can’t sleep. For the last week or so I’ve been a complete insomniac, up at cockscrow (after having unsuccessfully lain in bed for a few eons, or a wide-eyed, 12 episode marathon of Stargate Atlantis) and bumming around the apartment like a sad excuse for a vegetarian zombie. I’ve been entertaining myself with a lot of porn reading, like James C. Scott’s The Art of NOT Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia (Yale, 2009) and J. C. De Moore’s The Rise of Yahwism: The Roots of Israelite Monotheism (1997). Next in the queue is Miguel Leon-Portilla’s Pre-Columbian Literatures of Mexico (Norman, 1969). As you can tell, I’m a hoot at dinner parties…

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