So it’s early morning, and it is Memorial Day. I also have a hangover, and a neck injury (don’t ask). But I figured if there was any day I needed to tie up any loose ends on this topic here, it would be today.
First off, I don’t always have time to individually respond to all comments posted to this blog. The needs of gods, spirits and men–and dead critters–keep me occupied much of the time, and the internet largely takes a backseat. But I do approve all comments, even dissenting ones.
Secondly, while I’m on the topic of Pagans who Get Shit Done (see my last post on highlighting nifty polytheists), Erynn was one of the commenters in my last post, and she had some good things to say that people should consider. I was going to use this post to respond to some other comments, but she already beat me to the punch on a couple issues. She is a disabled veteran and activist in a number of different areas including feminism and veterans issues, so look her up sometime.
Anyway, jumping straight to the meat and bones of the post–something I’m going to touch on very briefly but something I should have mentioned in my first post. Patron Deities. In fact, I’ll just break it down simply.
Having a Patron who is a Warrior Deity does not make you a warrior. It doesn’t make you a warrior anymore than being the son or daughter of a plumber makes you a damn plumber. You can stare at your dad’s asscrack all day long as he works, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to be able to unclog a damn toilet unless you go to school and make the necessary steps to become a plumber. My dad is a veteran, so are both my grandfathers, several uncles, a couple friends, and some people I have volunteered for. I am not a warrior. At best I can be classed the damn water-boy. Even warrior deities need more than just warriors amongst their mortal crew.
Recently I was reading a book written by someone who was calling themselves a warrior (had a Warrior Deity as a Patron, of course), when, to the best of my knowledge, they had not listed military service amongst their many religious and temporal credentials. This isn’t the first time I read such a thing, and every time I do it’s like nails on a damn blackboard to me. When people claim a title which isn’t theirs, it disrespects the people who rightfully earned that title. In my case, it disrespects the many people I know who have earned and sacrificed for that title.
Especially on this day, we should remember the people who are the true warriors, who have made the ultimate sacrifice. If we as Pagans and Polytheists want to harp on at length about “honor” and “duty”, perhaps we need to reflect today on those who really put their money where their mouth is. Who took that ultimate step. If honor goes anywhere, at least on this day, it is to them.
I’m beginning to wonder if there is really no way for me to discuss this without coming off as sounding extremely biased and opinionated. But either way, this is something that has been building in my craw for awhile. You must forgive that this is going to be a touch disjointed, and rambling. You have been warned.
I notice many Pagans talk a big game about things like ‘honor’, ‘duty’ and the ‘warrior path’. But that’s all I seem to notice, a lot of the time (but not ALL the time and I’ll get to that in a moment). A whole lot of talk, and very little action. You see, it’s so easy to sit in front of a computer, in relative comfort and safety, and speak these things, when you don’t have to worry too much about having to back them up. People within the (various different sectors of) the Pagan “community”(ies) are very eager to point the finger at so-called “sheeple” within the perceived evil machine of monotheism, and yet they themselves are so easily led by flowery platitudes, emotional pleas, hive mindsets, cults of personality (especially if you write a book–newsflash folks–any idiot can write a book these days), and talks of things such as ‘honor’, ‘duty’ and the ‘warrior path’. Here are, if I may, a few thoughts for you to consider:
–The ‘warrior path’ isn’t about owning a sword (most swords which modern Pagans own are, nine times out of ten, display pieces and would serve as bludgeoning weapons at best) and swinging it around prettily. It isn’t about owning a gun, either (and if you do own a gun, you should have the proper licenses, training, psychological and physical conditioning to operate and keep one properly). It isn’t about going to train at your martial arts dojo and getting kicked around by your sensei–if you think that’s the warrior path, you still have never tasted it (but trust me, I know–during Krav Maga practice I was screamed at, punched, kicked and urged on until I almost vomited and passed out. It is brutal, but not the same thing.). What IS the warrior path? Volunteer for the USO. Sign up for organizations like Soldier’s Angels. You’ll see. Those of us who have parents in the military know. I can’t tell you how many times I watched my father fly away on that C130, and had to (attempt to) mentally prepare myself for the horrible possibility that he may come home in a fucking box. And no, you don’t have to be in the military or be a veteran to walk the warrior’s path. You don’t even have to be in the Coast Guard, or police or fire (or related service duties). There are others who experience that path on the liminal spheres of society (which may actually be unacceptable to many people, including a lot of other pagans). But, to those of you who glorify the “warrior’s path” while sitting safely at the soft glow of your computers–I ask why. I myself have never gone to war, but I’ve experienced having to fight, having to defend myself. Having been frequently stoned, beaten and hazed when I was younger, I had no choice. And it’s a terrifying sensation. It stays with you forever. There is a price you pay for that sort of thing. There always is.
–When it comes to “honor” and “duty” that shit tends to walk hand-in-hand. I have no damn right to speak of either of those. I am a very frail, very flawed, very misguided human being very frequently. I can only say that I have had the honor and privilege to serve and assist those who have themselves served with great duty and honor. One of them was a Heathen, Odin’s man and devotee of Freyja. He was the first soldier I worked with through SA (who arbitrarily assigns you your soldier, by the by). He had served several tours of duty, both in Iraq and Afghanistan. I cannot say much more about him without violating a code of privacy, but he has seen many things. He leaves his beloved family behind each time to do what he feels is right, despite how much he may disagree with others. I have saved every letter he’s written me during his tour of duty. We lost contact after he came back home to his family. Most people don’t realize this, but a warrior’s battle doesn’t end after the tour of duty does. It never does. Even still, I’ve saved all his letters. Whenever I want a reminder of what “honor” and “duty” is, I pull out his letters, saved on my Patron’s altar, and I read them. Or, perhaps most importantly, I go to my father, an OEF (Afghanistan) veteran twice over. Even since childhood, he was integral in my lessons of what it is to have integrity, the wellspring of things that honor and duty feed from. These himself he learned from his father, a WWII veteran of the Pacific arena. My Grandfather on my mother’s side is a WWII veteran of the European arena. I have many great teachers in this area, though I myself am horribly incomplete just the same. I cannot begin to reach their level or understand what they have been through. I can only hope to grow to be a solid man with good integrity.
In the meantime, I figured something like this needed to be said. I’m not much a fan of baah’ing with the emotionally overenthused masses when it comes to such things. I think so many neopagans and related are very sheltered, or deliberately shelter themselves from the realities going on around them, which is why things like this is something they feel can easily be put on like some kind of roleplaying device. The same can be said for the role of “shaman”, another hotbutton issue, and one I’ll likely be addressing at a later time.
Thankfully though, not all of modern Paganism has my cynicism jacked up. I have had the privilege of seeing a great amount of awesomeness in the area of spiritwork, community service, and activism come out of some really awesome polytheists. Rather than go on another long-winded rant, I hope to showcase them here individually as I get this blog kicking and rolling again.
This sort of thing is hard for me to write, because topics involving veterans and the military hit too close to home with me, too often. I know way too many people affected. And sometimes, my varying degrees of closeness has caused me to become affected, too. I think that is one reason why I’ve avoided writing to the Warriors And Kin. There is so much I could say, but saying it is like pulling teeth without anesthetic.
There are two people I remember from childhood. One was a sometimes-playmate, sometimes-neighborhood bully (children form very odd, and not otherwise functional relationships sometimes). Another was a classmate of mine. Both were brothers, and lived across the street from me. I remember clubbing C. several on his head with a vocabulary book, of all things, for calling my younger brother a “fag” on the school playground. I remember romping with his brother K., scurrying around on the roofs of houses and popping open storm grates in the street to hunt for frogs. Flash-forward many years, into adulthood. I am standing at K.’s funeral. I see a side of his brother I’ve never seen before, far divorced from the boy I once knew. He stood there in his Marine dress blues, over the flag-draped coffin of his brother. They both joined the Marines. They both went to Iraq. K. was seriously wounded by an IED. His brother watched him die in the military hospital in Germany.
Flashing forward again, I witness my father’s first stirrings of PTSD after he returns from his first rotation in Afghanistan. Violent outbursts. Panic attacks. A religious man, he could not even enter a crowded church, when before such things weren’t a problem for him. He would run the vacuum for hours on end, going over the same location, over and over. One day I came to him to express a problem I had–only to be answered with a violent outburst, as he described a bad day he had in which there was blood. Too much blood, that he had to clean away. He described it in such a way that the image stayed in my head, and has ever since.
A close friend mourns the loss of his friends and comrades he saw die. I drive to work, and see a homeless Vietnam veteran on the side of the road on my way to a McDonalds. I didn’t know what to do, so I bought him a sandwich. Thank you for your service, here, have this cheap fucking sandwich. I wanted to do something good, but I drove down the road feeling empty, sad and angry. No one who has given of themselves like that (willingly or no) should be standing on the side of the road, hungry and cold with a cardboard sign.
It all doesn’t end there. There are other stories I could tell, from the volunteer work I have done. But I’m already stretched too thin, and I could not breach the privacy I’ve been entrusted. But the letters, sent from those APO addresses, tucked into my main altar, they tell stories. I cherish each and every one.
Today people take the time to say “thank you”. I don’t know what to say. Somehow it isn’t enough. It will never be enough. We as a country need to do more than just say “thank you”. I look now to my statue of Sekhmet, sitting serenely beside my laptop. Goddess of warriors and of healing. Oh, how do we need You right now.
I’ve decided to weigh in on the Koran burning debacle. I’m not going to bother linking any articles–unless you’ve been living in a basement eating fish-heads, you should know what I’m talking about.
No religion or belief system is immune from criticism. This is important. I also firmly uphold the freedom of speech in the United States, where I live. I may not agree with aspects of monotheism, but the same could be said for certain polytheisms. In addition, monotheism certainly isn’t unique in the religious vandalism department. Just open a history book. In the end, however, I will firmly uphold the right of everyone to practice whatever religion–or lack thereof even–as they see fit, as long as it doesn’t harm others or interfere with the rights of others to do the same.
But the actions and words of pastor Terry Jones are contemptible. When a person or group of people go about this sort of critique in a way that destroys or attacks the human dignity (which includes living without being threatened, and the right to worship without threat or harassment) of another person or group of people, then this is not acceptable. One should be able to criticize a person, place, thing or idea without disrespect and with firm self-control. People who have no control are the first ones who will resort to extreme efforts to extinguish the rights and liberties of their fellow human beings.
Burning someone else’s cherished holy book is not proper criticism. It is nothing more than a low display of common violence–which could very well put other people such as soldiers at risk abroad (as General Petraeus pointed out), let alone Christian minorities living in various predominantly Muslim countries. This is nothing more than an elaborate tantrum made to endanger lives and incite some stupid holy war, and shows an extreme lack of control and narrow-minded view on the part of this pastor.
On the other hand, there are some, like myself, who wonder why some people out there would get enraged over the burning of a book, while these same would oppress their women and put their children to harm in tribal violence, and perform similar actions of religious vandalism. But in the end it isn’t just about a book of holy words. And it isn’t just about the extremists or the terrorists. It’s about people. It’s about Reason. Something I think many people lost sight of a long time ago.
In short, burning these holy books will do nothing more than feed the power of Isfet. And this is something I cannot agree with. Burning one’s holy book (or any book for that matter) is just one short step away from burning people. And that isn’t what this country is supposed to be about.
Go in peace, and find thy faith
Evolve thy self, and lose all hate
So a heaven you may create
In Thy Never Ending Way, Orphaned Land
As the title says. I am currently settling myself in from a month overseas in Germany, spending time with my partner. I had been back stateside little more than a week when I had departed on a road trip, and am currently recalibrating myself. Playing catch-up is a real bitch, but I’m doing my best. I certainly have plenty to keep me busy at the moment.
I was pleased to return and find that my friend Dr. Phil has his own blog out now. Aedicula Antinoi is turning out to be a delightful read, and definitely worth taking a peek at if you’re interested in anything historic, Antinoan, polytheistic, and queer. As a genderqueer pansexual pagan transguy myself, I am quite happy at it’s existence.
Many bloggers have made comments and blog posts regarding the anniversary of 9/11. I would lend my own words into the fray, but others have already had intelligent and insightful things to add. I come from a family of government workers, soldiers and vets, so obviously this sort of thing affects me and those around me. But how it affects me largely determines my reactions, and the example that I choose to lead. In the end, regardless of any misgivings I may have about a particular thing, I am going to err on the side of reason and peace. My Divine Father is not only a war-god but a Way Opener (much like Ganesha, who’s festival in India also began on that day). We must pray for the proper pathways to be open, that of understanding and Reason. I could dedicate more time to this topic, but there is life and other matters that need attending to, and repetition and stagnation does no good by anyone.
Now that I’m settling back in, I have German to practice, essays to write, care packages to stuff, and various other devotional activities that need attending to. This blog will be getting more attention, so stay tuned!
To be honest, I had meant to make this post a couple weeks ago.
A blog like this is long in coming, and I find it a privilege to be able to contribute. I’m writing from the perspective of military brat and volunteer, and my first post (following my father’s return from his second tour in Afghanistan) can be found here.