Anger and the God Graveyard

I am still working through the anger.  I’m inviting you, the reader, along with me through that process.

Frequently, when many express anger and offense at our Gods being poorly portrayed, spoken against, disrespected, or blasphemed against, there are many reminders that the Gods can handle the abrogation, and that it is not ours to deal with.  My anger, in this case, came from looking at this display from the AHA group at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  Before I go into the topic at hand, a few words on why I am angered:

I do not find it clever. They not only got dates of ancient worship wrong, but this was an act of erasure to Pagans, and in some cases especially to, among a great many, African Diasporic religions. This was a ham-fisted and childish ‘look at me!’ display on their part while also being completely needlessly hostile. I look at it with contempt. College is hard enough, and so, I look on displays like this, regardless of faction, fraternity, religion, etc. with equal contempt.  From personal experience of talking with folks, actions like these stop, or at least discourage people from minority religions, as well as atheists and agnsotics who have to deal with fallout from stupid actions like this, from wanting to come out with their own religion/lack thereof, and share.

It also goes completely against the Mission Statement the group is under:

The mission of Atheists, Humanists, & Agnostics @ UW-Madison shall be to promote the discussion of faith and religion on the UW-Madison campus. Through our services and programs AHA seeks to educate students on issues important to the secular community, and encourage the personal development of one’s religious identity.

This neither fosters dialogue, nor does it educate.

I’m not attached to the University of Wisconsin in Madison.  However, I am speaking from similar actions that have taken place in my own college from atheists and Christians. When Christians set up their evangelical displays and pull stunts like this atheists are, understandably to me, upset. It is not only having a view shoved in your face, but done so rudely, and with no thought to the discomfort and erasure done to those who do not believe, see, etc. as you do.

This is my view and experience talking: part of the reason that you are seeing a backlash is that there is such a bias against us at work in academia and college already. If I had a nickle for every time I had to correct a teacher on what Pagans believe, ancient and modern (with sources for the former, and sources along with my own experiences for the latter) I would not have to worry about my student loans. For every time that I explained my religious views, the round mocking I received from both teacher and fellow students, I would not have to worry about furthering my education. Atheism and agnosticism are becoming more the rule in places of higher learning, and I have, on several occasions, endured ridicule from professors in professing my beliefs. It is not just that they do not want to understand what I believe, it is that they are actively hostile and/or mocking to what I believe.

Things like this, tacitly approved by the University of Wisconsin, add to an atmosphere that many already feel is possibly, if not actively hostile to them. No Pagan groups go around denouncing atheism like this. Christian groups that do are often, in my experience, reprimanded. Yet somehow this antagonizing is consistently supposed to be given a pass because they’re atheists; I do not understand that. So this isn’t just one thing or another, it is a litany of bullshit many of us who are in an academic field have to endure.

I am not asking, nor would I ask Pagans to endure stupidity like this, no matter the speaker. I would not ask a Pagan to endure a sermon from an outwardly hostile preacher, nor more than I would a mocking one. Unfortunately, this AHA group is employing more or less those same tactics.

The AHA should be called for task for failing to even do the minimum to stand by their Mission Statement. I don’t care how big or small the group is, or how they justify their actions. What they have done has not generated goodwill, has been inhospitable to their fellow classmates and/or future ones, and creates a hostile environment so they can advertise their group.

As to the notion that the Gods do not need us to defend them:  What I am saying is that our ways should be defended from erasure. From needless mean-spirited acts. From the ignorance of others. From having our ways mocked by people that profess to want to build relationships and tolerance and understanding out of one side of their mouth but mock those Beings we hold most dear, and our ways along with them, out the other side of their mouth.

My 1st Day of Silence

Today was rather nice, though I could not have a complete day of silence.  I had a final exam to make up; I have no words that could praise the generosity of my teachers’ patience with my absenteeism this semester.  That surgery and its recovery time did one hell of a number on my time in the classroom and my schoolwork.  I think my grades will make it through just fine though.

For my first Day of Silence I did a lot of hanging around my folks.  Odin seemed amused that I could not communicate as I would have liked to.  I did a lot of gesticulating that my folks had an introduction to when I did my Vow of Silence for the Nine Days I hung on Yggdrasil last year.  I know very basic American Sign Language (not more than a few basic gestures and the alphabet) and my Mom used to work at a group home before she had me, so overall we can talk in a very stunted way.  It made me appreciate finally being able to talk to Dad once midnight hit.  The silence has taught me in just a little bit how much I rely on talking, and how listening can help others.  Although I could not say anything, listening to Mom or Dad talk about their troubles without interruption or judgment helped them open up to me.  Attentive listening is more powerful than I give it credit at times.

I printed up my horarium after I got back from taking my test and ran smack into a problem: reality.  I was scrambling most of the day trying to get back to it and fulfill it.  I was worrying about it as I hung out with my folks, going over “What was I supposed to do now?” when Odin finally interrupted my thoughts.  His words amounted to, “This is isn’t why you’re doing this in the first place.  You’re supposed to do this to grow closer to Me, not run yourself into the ground for what you ‘should’ have done.  Have you never set a schedule aside for something more important?”  I then asked Him what was more important and He openly laughed at me and said “You think I wanted this thing to rule you?  I wanted you to have a tool, not be one.  Do you really think you’ll have anything like healing if you just hole up and pray all day?  There are people out there, your parents, you know, your Ancestors? -that you should be with.  What good is a Vow of Silence if you’re by yourself talking to no one besides yourself?”

Well that frustrated me a bit.  This is, though, one of the advantages I feel I have in Paganism that I never really did have in Catholicism: I couldn’t ask demanding questions like these of Yahweh and get any satisfying answers.  I can ask Odin what He means, and I might not get a response, but I know in one way or another He has heard me, and in His own way, is answering.  More often than not with Yahweh I had deafening silence, and a definitive lack of presence.  Back then I took that as “not being faithful enough”, but really, Yahweh just was not answering.  I would sit in devout prayer with my rosary, or Bible, or just my hands clasped, rocking back and forth as I prayed.  Only a few times did I really feel the touch of His Presence, and those were few and far between in my life.  Some might say I feel Odin’s Presence too much now…but I would rather hear a God too many times than not hear Him enough.

So I asked Him, “Hey, what the hell is that supposed to mean?”  He answered me curtly “What good does a Vow of Silence do you when you’re all alone?  Sure, it can help you shut up and keep your mind on me, but part of that Vow is a challenge to not speak to others, to listen to others.  If you didn’t have the temptation to speak, how would you learn to listen to others half so well?”  Well, I had to admit I guess that made sense.  But why not just have me “hole up and pray by myself”?  “That’s not your lesson for today, which you would have seen if you had actually read your Runes like your schedule says you should.”  Yeah, He’s got me there.  I may not like all the answers I get, but Odin doesn’t tend to bullshit me a lot.  He’s very to-the-point a lot of times, and sometimes has this tone to His Voice like “Why did it take you this long to figure it out?” or “Do I really need to explain this?”  I hope He gets some amusement out of the deal, because He must have a lot of patience to deal with the questions.

So what did I get out of my Day of Silence?  Well, beyond the idea that I’ll be sticking to my horarium a lot more closely, I may also want to take a second look at it and see if I haven’t overscheduled my days so that I’ve eliminated human contact.  I had a lot of limited human contact when I was living in the dorms; I didn’t see a lot of people outside of class, or the Society on the weekends.  A lot of my life revolved around spirituality.  Perhaps what I needed the horarium for was to balance my spirituality moreso than my mundane life.  I’ll be doing my best to work with my horarium, and adjusting it as I need to fit my life, and my spiritual needs.  Like Odin said, it should be the tool, not I.

Something else I learned from today is really the value of listening.  Especially with other people.  There were times that I wanted to say something, or make a joke that I simple couldn’t because of my Vow.  It made me think about how much I use humor to deflect, how I use words to stop things from affecting me.  In having to sit there and listen, and feel the affect of the words, it made me think of how I relate to other people, especially when my folks sat with me in the basement and talked.  I could find myself at times when things would get uncomfortable reaching for a joke, or for a deflective or mean statement.

Something my Mom told me last night has been stewing in my head in relation to this: “Truth without love is brutality.”  When I told people what I saw as the truth, did I say it in love?  Sugar-coating is one thing; I find it often strays into lying, or lying by obfuscation.  The Runes talk to me in a blunt, realistic way, and that is how I read them to others.  Yet when I talked about personal truths, especially ones that I felt I knew a lot on, I took a hard and cutting edge to my truth.  In reality there was a lot more insecurity than I liked to put out there; after all these were things I was supposed to know about.  What was the use of saying “I know x, y, and z.  Person a, b, or c probably doesn’t.” other than to prop up my ego or protect my insecurities?  Why could I not just have said “I know x, y, and z.” and left it at that?  There was no reason to go further, to hurt another person.  I know that in my mind.  The key is knowing it in the moment.  Besides what I’ve already written, that really is what the Day of Silence has taught me, to begin to recognize when I get defensive, and when that happens, to recognize when I am going to lash out.  There’s a lot less judgment on me than I perceive, and that is probably the key to these insecurities: fear of judgment.  Perhaps the more I work in silence, and at least my own thoughts, the deeper I’ll work into this.  I’ll know if I am starting to learn the lesson when I stop myself from saying something hurtful in defense of those insecurities.