Friday, May 31, 2013

Open Mind, Closed Skull

Before You Read:
I wrote this post as an outlet for my frustration. This is long-winded vent, and I understand that it will be considered offensive to different types of people. If you're not interested in reading pretty strong criticism of Christianity, then don't read this post. I'm not going to apologize for my words.

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I'm a person who thinks about religious tolerance quite a lot. I consider the difficulties in finding balance between too much and too little tolerance (and am especially interested in the former). I'm also interested in finding out what tolerance really is, and how it differs from acceptance and also encouragement.

Religious tolerance and coexistence are widely desired and cultivated values within Paganism. There is a universal ideal of acceptance for all faiths or "paths" that many Pagans hold to be a foundational trait of one who is open-minded. The sentiment appears in several forms, such as, "All paths are valid and/or leading to the same goal," - "There is no one true way, and all ways deserve respect," - "There is an interfaith connectedness between all people," - "All is one," - and so on. I'm sure every Pagan has heard, and most believe, in practicing these values of acceptance. But when is a person too tolerant, too accepting, too open-minded? I imagine many people believe that there isn't such thing as too much acceptance and tolerance, but I disagree with that completely.
-Arthur Hays Sulzberger
It's intriguing to me that complete open-mindedness seems to only be applied to matters of religion. We're "allowed" (and encouraged) to be intolerant of racism, animal cruelty, homophobia, sexism. But if you're not accepting of Christianity or Wicca or Islam or Satanism, you're suddenly close-minded, a bigot. Why is there a protective line drawn around religion? Why is it held separate from the scrutiny and criticism to which all other beliefs and opinions are subjected? Why is religion a sacred topic? As Mark D. Jordan said, “Truly damaging speech cannot be excused just because it expresses genuine religious belief."

When I was still a practicing Wiccan, I was wholly tolerant. I accepted all religions and spiritualities and believed they were all leading to a common place of love for all people. If I witnessed someone's religion being criticized (usually online), I went to their defense, even becoming personally angry on behalf of people I thought were being targeted. This was regardless of their beliefs, and is something I did specifically when Christians were under attack. I was a member of a small, online Wiccan community, sort of like Facebook, and while a member of that site, I wrote blogs constantly about defending Christianity against those Pagans who openly criticize it. I look back at that time in my life (probably 19-21 years old), and I can't even believe my memories of myself.

I was completely blind -- blind to the prejudice, bigotry, and injustices being done by the people I was spending so much time defending. I was completely tolerant of intolerance, keeping my mind so open that my brain fell out in chunks, squashed on the floor. I ignored all the bad experiences both myself and my peers had, insisting that we can't judge all people for the bad actions of some. When I fell away from Wicca, and moved to the Bible Belt in 2010, I began to really solidify a change in how I define and exhibit tolerance, and this change has made me stronger and more confident than I ever was when I was trying to unconditionally love everyone.

I have to be honest now about the real focus of this post rant -- I dislike Christianity. I disagree with almost every tenet it espouses, and outside of a few psalms in the Old Testament, I consider the Bible to be a very destructive piece of literature. I believe YHWH to be a terrifyingly bloodthirsty god (I'd take the attention of the Morrígan or Pélé any day over his), and I've arrived at the opinion that Yeshua (Jesus) was a radical, apocalyptic prophet who disguised a call to war behind empty words of love. In my own life, almost all of the hatred, ignorance, and prejudice I've witnessed has been motivated by that god, that book, and that prophet, and I quit apologizing for and defending the actions of Christians in general years ago. I once accepted all Christians first, assumed immediately they were caring, loving, kind, non-judgmental. Now, I do my best to avoid them, and wait until they show by their actions that they are in fact full of unconditional love for their fellow humans. It's become an exercise in continued disappointment, with few examples that have changed my mind.

My house is visited almost weekly by all different churches, leaving pamphlets, knocking on my door, trying to spread the "good news." I went to a new dermatologist a few weeks ago, and within 20 minutes of entering the exam room, I was already being given flyers for a Christian class for college students (I'm never going back to that doctor again). I've been prayed to loudly on my own property by members of a group called the Christ Ambassadors -- one of them even grabbed the nose chain I was wearing, violating my personal space entirely. The rudeness with which these people treat others is really astonishing; it's happened to myself and I've seen it happen to others. And all of that is nothing compared to what is happening elsewhere in the world. I see church leaders protesting a Summer Solstice festival in Florida, pastors encouraging the murder and torture of children accused of witchcraft in Nigeria. Not to mention the Catholic sex abuse scandal, and now that the religion in general is starting to be more openly criticized, Christians are complaining about becoming a hated minority due to their anti-homosexual rhetoric and behavior. And while many say that these are fringe groups, that they don't represent rank-and-file Christians, nothing could be further from the truth, because those rank-and-file individuals hardly do anything to oppose the speech and actions of their leaders, especially publicly. They don't hold them accountable, and yet act offended when those of us on the outside affiliate them with the negative image that their hierarchy displays. Being tolerant of intolerance only perpetuates hatred.

That's why I can no longer defend Christianity, to others or to myself. There are some amazing Christians I've met, people I consider to be good friends (a couple are members of my family), but I no longer believe that most Christians are like them. They are the exception, and I wish that wasn't true, but it is. I barely need two hands to count the Christians I've met who don't proselytize or try to convert me and others. Those few Christians realize how offensive and divisive behavior like that is. They realize how behavior like that does not show love for fellow humans, only a desire to dominate and change them. A long rant like this wouldn't be necessary if all, or even most Christians were like the few that have taken the time to let me get to know them without the expectation  that I'll join them on Sundays. They've even invited me to speak about Pagan topics in order that they can learn more. They answer my questions in an honest and straightforward way, and remain welcoming without being pushy or expressing concern for my soul. It's incredibly refreshing to know them, especially while living in an area where a church van will park in my front yard and three people will stand on my porch trying to convince me to go to their church. And, as I've found out, adding my address to their mailing list without my consent.

Why should I be accepting of people like that? I think one of the fundamental practices of acceptance is "to live and let live." I only give out cards to my Pagan church to people who specifically inquire about Paganism. I don't go around town knocking on people's doors trying to convince them to attend Spirit of the Earth, and then fight them when they say no. While I would love to see the population of practicing Pagans grow, I'm not aware of any Pagans who are trying to actively cause that growth. The majority of the Christians in the United States do not live and let live, they do not practice tolerance and acceptance. It's not enough for them to just not attend the Summer Solstice festival in Florida, they have to do everything in their power to shut it down completely. It's not enough for them to send their children to private Christian schools, they also want the secular public to pay for a religious education with which they disagree. It's not enough for them to just be welcoming to the people who approach their churches on their own, instead they have to invade the private lives of their neighbors and attempt to scare them into attending.

So why should they be treated with respect and acceptance that they don't deserve? And why should we Pagans be trying so hard to remain accepting? We don't owe them anything. I tolerate their door-to-door "invitations" with politeness, but I no longer lie to them to spare their feelings at the expense of my own. I am tolerant of their existence, but I do not knowingly support or encourage their practice -- and simultaneously, I would never do anything to impede it, as long it was not interfering with my own way of life. That is what it means, to me, to live and let live, to be tolerant. It might make me harsh or a bitch, but I know my open mind is protected by a skull kept tightly closed.

It is possible (and really not very difficult) to hold strong religious convictions without needing them to be validated by millions worldwide, without having to constantly gather more and more followers to give your own beliefs weight. Pagans are living like this everyday. Regardless of religion, all people believe their personal practices or paths are the best -- we wouldn't be following them if they weren't -- and we should be strong and passionate enough that we don't need anyone else to believe our paths are the best along with us. We should have a confidence and self esteem that allows us to handle disagreement and be able to walk away from it, unoffended and without losing a step. And though I am biased, I see that most Pagans can do this, and we can do it politely and without being offensive ourselves. I'm often inspired by the way I see other Pagans dealing with highly offensive encounters with Christians. For example, another blogger posted this video recently (and I encourage any reader to watch it in entirety):

She is asked questions by this man that I've been faced with myself, and she responds gracefully despite the disrespect being thrown into her face by a stranger. She lives and let lives, even when faced with individuals who cannot do the same. She is a model for Pagans, illustrating beautifully the point at which I've tried to arrive with this whole rant: We can be tolerant without accepting, encouraging, or defending behavior we find abhorrent. We can politely defend ourselves against those who wish to attack and change us. We can be open-minded, but remain firm in our personal convictions. We can respond to rudeness with honesty and strength, and ultimately, we can coexist. We can walk away, shut the door, and move on without allowing insensitive, persistant people to invade our lives.

I'm trying to become better at this everyday. I started out so accepting that I would let anyone walk all over me and still try to defend and respect them. I know better now -- I'm no longer intimidated or angered by the offensive Christians I encounter in my daily life, and I also can tolerate them without being accepting or supportive. The type of encounters you experience living in the Bible Belt require a lot of patience, and sometimes it takes a rant like this to vent the frustration that results from such encounters. Compassion and understanding are important virtues, but they should not be extended unconditionally. It's important to speak out against what you believe is detrimental or wrong, and I'm glad that I've overcome my own fear of doing so. I hope more Pagans, and more rank-and-file Christians who are unhappy with how their religion is being portrayed, will do the same.

To those few exceptional Christians I've met: thank you for being confident enough in yourselves that my own confidence does not threaten you. To the Christians who can't be the same, get off my porch, stop flooding my mailbox, and kindly stay out of my life.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

52 Weeks I : May 27th - June 2nd

The 52 Week Self Portrait Project is something I've seen all over the web, from blogs to DeviantART to Flickr, and more. A simple Google search of "52 weeks self portraits" shows all kinds of results from amateur to professional photographers. Some have just started out and others have been doing it for years. The entire idea of the project - take one self portrait every week for a year - has really been inspiring me to practice both photography and posing more. Additionally, this project inspires me to come up with ideas that are simpler in nature, that aren't attached to stories I write out, requiring elaborate edits that stitch together several photographs to make one scene. I want these self portraits (which will be designated specifically as falling into the 52 Week category) to show minimal editing, and never anything that would qualify as photo-manipulation, unlike most of the work I've been doing for the past two years. I want all of the "effects" for these self portraits to be created in real life before the shutter is ever pressed.

Other goals I have for myself are to do more work in color rather than black and white, and to be braver with lighting as well as setting. Any time I'm out driving, I constantly look for areas I think would be great scenery for my photographs, but I hardly ever go back to use them. I want that to stop! If I see a place I think is perfect for an idea, I want to have the guts to do it, whether there are people around or not. A lot of the time, I allow myself to miss out on a great scene because it's public; I don't want to waste opportunities anymore. So, having said all that, here is the first of my 52 Week Self Portrait Project:
{It's black and white, I know.}
Untitled #1, taken in my bedroom sitting against the wall using natural light from a window. I dodged the background to downplay the texture of the wall, burned the molding around the floor to make it darker, and burned parts in the cloak to minimize the appearance of lint and cat hair -- all things that I would have done had this been film. Originally, I really wanted it to be a color shot because I painted my entire face red; however, I just couldn't get the tones looking the way I wanted. I have a lot of practice to do with color indoors. The rest of the editing was desaturating the colors, tweaking with the levels, curves, and contrast, and a slight gaussian blur around the cloak. Normally, I would have wanted to use a texture or part of another photo, so this image looks really empty to me. It might take me some time getting used to not working within my normal habits.

I'm excited to start this new project and hopefully improve my skill. The hardest part is going to be sticking to the time frame, so wish me some luck and perseverance. Thank you for viewing ♥~

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A New Venture: Henna Hair Dye and Strand Testing

My hair has definitely been on a really crazy journey (it's had more adventures than I have)! I've worn many different cuts and styles and have been dying it all different colors since I was in 8th grade. But along the way, my hair experienced a lot of damage. I got really sick of having short, brittle hair that broke easily. I stopped box-dying altogether, and tried henna hair dye for the first time, specifically this product from Lush. I have been a long time Lush customer and was so excited to try their hair dyes when they came out with them, but I was completely dismayed when their henna dye damaged my hair just like a box dye. So I gave up on dying my hair myself and started going to a salon.

Then, one day earlier this year, I heard my friend Alice talking talking about the henna hair dye she uses herself. She has gorgeous, long, healthy, red hair:
Photo posted with her permission. ♥
I asked her where she gets her henna hair dye from and she explained that she uses body art quality henna from Mehandi. I immediately started doing research (have been doing so since then), and have now decided to try out this henna hair dye for myself. I ordered a 3 gram sample and it arrived in the mail yesterday. I've recently shaved part of my head and I kept some strands from that in order to do a strand test. Here is my original hair:
I could seriously use a trim for split-ends, but this is the longest and healthiest it's been in years. This is the also the un-washed, un-styled, natural texture.
I took photos in the sunlight to try to show the truest color I could in the camera.
After getting some "fresh" locks of hair to use for the dye test, I prepared the henna:
It seems the most common acidic liquid used is lemon juice, but Alice gave me the tip that using orange juice makes her hair less dry. My hair can be prone to really drying out, so I opted to use orange juice as well. In my research, I've seen several warnings against using coffee or vinegar (acetic acid).
At this point, the henna is now ready to be used! Some people really don't like the smell of henna, but I like it quite a lot. It's kind of grassy and soil-smelling, and the orange juice gives it a bit of a sweet fragrance too. I've seen some articles that talk about other oils that can be added to henna to improve the smell, but I've only seen people using henna for body art doing this. I wouldn't ever add anything to the henna for use as a hair dye, but that's just me. If you really hate the smell though, some of the Mehandi info pages say you can add powdered ginger and/or cardamom to the mixture.
I know this picture looks weird and maybe's kind of hard to make it not look that way.
You'll want to cover the hair locks (or your entire head) with plastic wrap in order to keep the henna moist and warm. This will keep things a little less messy and will also improve the color of the dye. For my test strands, I decided to let it sit for 3 hours to see what the middle ground of time would yield. I left some space at the ends of each hair lock in order to have a comparison of colors when finished. Here is what the henna looked like in my hair locks after it was washed out and dried:
Successful, I think! but...I'm not finished yet.
So, I love red hair and I think Alice's above looks absolutely amazing, but for all the years I've been dying my hair different colors, I always eventually go back to black. It's the color I feel most comfortable with and most like myself in, but I don't want to keep paying for a salon to dye my hair black with chemicals. The original Lush henna dye that I used had indigo added to it to make it black hair dye, but through my research, I've learned the proper way to dye hair black naturally is first with henna, and then again with indigo. So after washing the henna out and allowing the hair to dry, it's time to mix up the indigo dye:
The big difference between dying with henna and dying with indigo is the time. First of all, do not let the indigo set out after it's mixed! Henna needs that time over night for the dye to release, but indigo needs to be used immediately after it is mixed, and leftovers cannot be used. Wait until you are totally ready to dye your hair with indigo before mixing it. Then, the same procedure is followed as with henna, and the plastic wrap is used again to keep it neat, moist, and warm.
The look of the indigo can be a little alarming at first because it's so green, but the longer it is left out in the air, the more it oxidizes and changes to a dark, blue-black color. Note that while henna needs to stay in the hair for 2-4 hours, indigo is only left in for 1 hour. Indigo also smells a lot different than henna. I wouldn't say it's an unpleasant smell, but it's not as nice as the henna. It sort of smells like peas or celery powder. According to Mehandi, ginger/cardamom can also be added to indigo to improve the smell if desired.

After the indigo sat in my hair locks for an hour, I washed them out and let them air dry. Here are the final results:
I'm not completely blown away by the indigo. It is definitely dark, but not as dark as I was hoping. However, all of the information I've read repeats that although it may have a slightly greenish hue to it at first, over 1-2 days following application, the indigo dye will oxidize further and mature into a deep blue-black (and there are lots of photos of beautiful black hair). So I'm going to keep an eye on the hair strands and see how the color changes.

Besides that, I'm very happy with how this test went. The indigo made the strands feel a little dry, but I was expecting that. I didn't feel, however, any of the type of elastic feeling that hair gets after being heavily damaged by box dye. Even the original Lush henna dye I tried gave my hair that icky, stretchy feeling and caused a lot of breakage. I didn't notice anything like that kind of damage during this test, so if I'm happy with how the indigo color looks over the next two days, I will definitely be using Mehandi henna on my hair. I've gone through and calculated how expensive I think it will be the first time around, and if I'm correct, I'm expecting between $62-$70. That might seem like a lot, but I was paying more at the salon (around $80) for dye that fades fast and is full of harsh chemicals. I definitely don't want that for my hair anymore, so the price to me is worth it.

I'm really excited about this new venture and I will be updating with how it goes for my whole head of hair. I'm so grateful to Alice for her recommendation, and if people have questions about henna hair dye and henna in general, I would, along with Alice, recommend the Mehandi site as well as far as information goes. It's very thorough and easy to understand, with tons of free e-books, a forum, tutorials, and more. ♡

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Unnecessary Threefold Law

I wanted to take some time to talk about rant all over the place about one of my personal positions for which I've received some pretty heavy criticism in the past. I know what follows might seem pretty ridiculous; I'm going to talk about a commonly-held belief that I don't think is grounded in nature or science, despite the fact that I practice witchcraft, I'm a polytheist, and believe in many things for which there is not really a scientific foundation. Having said that, I will try not to sound too inane, and  please keep in mind that I'm not singling out any person/group in particular, and that I'm not attempting to offend anyone either, including the authors I've cited. I welcome any feedback or explanations that can be given, but please do not tell me that you think I'm naïve or absurd or displaying arrogance and hubris. I've been told all of that before, I've had my share of mistakes, but I've also had a lot of success, and I arrived at the following (non)beliefs through years of personal practice and experience. Thank you for reading, and I hope there's a good point somewhere in all this.

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Karma. I can't do it, regarding any definition, but especially the basic American definition - for that concept, there is no room in my worldview. What I really have a problem with, and was actually one of the main theological issues that drove me away from Wicca, is the American version of karma (good things happen to people who do good, bad things happen to people who do bad) and further, the Threefold Law (the consequences of one's actions, whether good or bad, return to the actor three times over). The latter especially grinds my teeth, and is made even worse because so many Wiccans seem to believe in the Threefold Law in a literal sense. I've never once experienced any event that could be clearly attributed to karma. I don't see others experiencing such events either, though their own interpretation might be different. I don't see any evidence for karma, in particular the Threefold Law, in nature. And aren't our religions as Pagans and Neo-Pagans, most of us anyway, nature-based? Shouldn't those of us practicing nature-religion, as Wiccans are, take our laws for life from what is observable in nature, and not try to make man-made laws work within a natural concept that does not support them?

Sometimes I feel like I might be missing what the Threefold Law actually teaches. It's hard to know how watered-down the modern American Wiccan version is from what must have been in the original Gardnerian and other British Traditional teachings. I'm not against living as if the Law does happen in reality with the realization that it doesn't actually, but that isn't how it is taught or represented, at least in the literature. It is explained to be literally what is happening out in the universe every time an action is made:
  • "This couplet outlines the belief that the energy attached to any good or bad action that a Wiccan performs will be revisited upon the practitioner threefold (also known as the Law of Return). The threefold attribution is specific to the practice of Wicca, but the general law of cosmic consequence to an action or behavior is not unique." -Arin Murphy-Hiscock, from Solitary Wicca for Life (2005), referring to the couplet concerning the Threefold Law in Lady Gwen Thompson's Wiccan Rede.
  • "Karma is the Sanskrit term for the energy generated by our actions, particularly in relationship to future incarnations. Witches see it as an extension of the Law of Three: what you do will come back to you threefold. Seen from an ethical viewpoint, karma could mean that one who does 'good' acts get rewarded with good and one who performs 'bad' actions gets punished with bad events." -Christopher Penczak, from The Inner Temple of Witchcraft (2002).
  • "We believe in the Threefold Law and its justice. This has to do with cause and effect. What this means is that every action taken and every deed performed - whether good or bad - is calculated by karma at triple value, then sent back to us." -Dorothy Morrison, from The Craft (2001).
  • "Witches believe that you get your rewards and punishments during this lifetime, according to how you live it. Do good and you will get back good. But do evil and evil will return. More than that, though, it is a three-fold retribution. Do good and you will get back three times the good; do evil and you will receive three times the evil." -Raymond Buckland, from Buckland's Complete Book of Witchcraft (2002).
In the last quote, Buckland goes on to say it might not be literally threefold, but uses the example of getting punched in the eye. If you punch someone in the eye, you might not be punched back three times, but at some vague point in the future, you might break your leg, which is three times the punishment to being punched in the eye. That just sounds a little ridiculous to me.

Penczak might be onto something in his own work, and he is already known for looking at witchcraft and Wicca with somewhat scientific eyes. He explains the Threefold Law as the energy generated from action gathering inertia out in the universe before returning to the sender. He thinks the number three is arbitrary, but that the inertia of the sent energy is what accounts for the reward or punishment's increase. 

However, the worst, and the most commonly-observed in my opinion, is Morrison's outline of the Threefold Law in which karma is viewed as something conscious, or at least as a cosmic justice system. Karma calculates our actions and doles out rewards and punishments. I can't help but imagine a Dutch businessman in the 1500s sitting at a table with a scale, setting all the actions on one side, and adding enough weight to the other to be three times as heavy. Then giving his reward or punishment to some sort of karmic mailman with a Return to Sender stamp. I don't mean to poke fun at an ethical guideline that is so important to Wiccans, but it's the literalism by which it is upheld that just baffles me. 

Why is the existence of this mythical threefold return necessary as an ethical foundation? If you believe in no form of cosmic retribution, actions all still have consequences and its the avoidance or gain of negative or positive consequences that motivates our behavior. Receipt of pleasure and avoidance of pain is the system that already exists in nature. Wolf packs hunt and share food together, monkeys groom each other, parent birds protect their nests and offspring, vampire bats share blood meals with each other. Their rewards are health, bonding, survival. This non-karmic system of consequences is observable and effective, without having to try to figure out how to explain an unseen universal force (my Dutch businessman) deciding when and how each person will pay their karmic debts and cash out on their karmic rewards.

Karma isn't, and furthermore shouldn't, be needed to live by the Wiccan Rede: an' it harm none, do what ye will. We live in a causal universe. Actions have reactions, and we as humans interpret the quality of those reactions as good or bad. We can make decisions based on those consequences, whether predicting them or learning from previous experience. We can be good people, and harm none, because being so enriches our lives through friendship, overall positivity, love, and even the perhaps more baser expectation of reciprocal altruism. The Threefold Law is an unnecessary, unfounded ethical premise that, in my opinion, does nothing to actually enhance the practice of witchcraft or Wicca. If you engage in spell-crafting (or any other activity for that matter) without a clear head, a focused plan, and a careful consideration of the consequences, then you deserve what happens. And if you do take the time to consider all the possibilities, alternative solutions, and have a focused goal, then you also deserve the good that can come your way. But attributing such consequences -- whether they are good or bad -- to a cosmic justice system removes responsibility away from the practitioner and places it onto something invisible and ultimately unreachable. I fear that this lack of true responsibility can lead to misinformed, unreliable, and maybe even dangerous spell-crafting. (As a worst case scenario, of course.) It can cause a lack of growth of the practitioner because attributing every 'punishment' or 'reward' to a universal force that they have no way of controlling, instead of recognizing and admitting a mistake or a victory, prevents learning through self accountability.

That's why I call it the Unnecessary Threefold Law. I don't think it's bad, and I even think sometimes it could be nice if the good energy I send out could amplified back to me. But it isn't realistic. It isn't really logical. It isn't nature, and it isn't life.

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Tell me what you think in the comments. Do you agree with me? Disagree? Why?
If you believe in the Threefold Law, where and how do you see it happening?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Water Bride

Self portrait from today with a short story titled "The Water Bride" pending! I'm working on something that is sort of historical fiction set in the East Indies. It's starting to run a little away from me so I wanted to take a break and revisit it. I still wanted to share the photo I made today to go along with it. Taken in my living room, and I used a texture from my friend Sa Scha -- his textures are unbelievable and his is so generous about letting other artists use them. Danke!~

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Enjoying Exercise

I think one of the things that makes sticking to an exercise plan difficult is the feeling of obligation and the lack of excitement. But not at first -- I do it all the time. I'm completely committed for a week or two, waking up early, making time, doing cardio, weight-lifting, ab work outs, etc. Sometimes, I go over to the gym and use the machines there. Other times, I stay at home and do a P90X routine. Every day I look forward to that time I make for myself, but after those 10 days or so, my enthusiasm starts to wane because I'm not actually enjoying my workouts. They are something I've made room for by taking away a different activity that I do like. If you go about exercising in this way, you'll never have a sustainable daily practice. At least, that's what I believe.

So I've been trying something different. I'm taking activities that I already enjoy and don't put into the exercise/working out category and I'm upping them so that they are more physically challenging. But I'm still holding onto what the original activity entails so that I can keep having fun with it. For example:

I love walking Sól. I get to bond with my dog and see him having fun, I get to explore the neighborhood where I live. I get to enjoy nature, the nice breeze, and I always feel better when I come home from a walk because I've done something that makes me and my dog happy. So instead of giving up that time that I love, I can change it in order to get even more benefits. I increase my time to walking for at least 30 minutes, but if I can, to go for an hour. I walk at a faster pace, and I take routes that have more hills. When I have a little bit more money, I would like to get some ankle weights as well as a pedometer to track my distance. But besides these few changes, my walks with Sól are the same. It doesn't seem like much, but mentally it goes a long way in order to keep yourself enthusiastic about becoming and staying more active.

And just because it's exercise doesn't mean I can't bring my camera along to get a few shots of the things I appreciate while I'm walking around town:
My absolute favorite house in town. I've never seen a witchier-looking manor. This is a total dream house for me.
A beautiful park that is about 30 minutes on foot away from me.  It's a very relaxing area.
I love seeing him so smiley (even though it's hot outside!)
I feel like I'm in a storybook when I walk here.
This treasure exists on my street, only a few doors down. I'm pretty certain it's abandoned and I would love to get over there to do a photoshoot soon.
I like to think that after we get home and rest, he thinks about the great, long walk we just went on.
Keeping motivation alive can be really difficult. Being healthy and happy with yourself is a lifestyle change that requires commitment and sacrifice. It can be really hard to continue to make choices that work for your goals because we become so dependent upon routine. But I really believe that with some creativity, research, and dedication, we can make our breaks from routine fun, enjoyable, and events worth looking forward to. I'm practicing this method everyday, and some days, I truly feel like I'm getting close. 

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Pagan Coming Out Day - May 2, 2013

Today is Pagan Coming Out Day, a celebration that began, as far as I know, in 2011. It's become an important tradition for many Pagans of all different spiritual identities, and I feel that each year its importance grows stronger than the last. I've never had any sort of official "coming out of the broom closet," so I wanted to take some time today to write about my experiences and participate in the PCOD tradition.

As it seems with most people who are not born into Pagan families, I encountered Wicca through pop culture when I was around 12 years old. I saw movies like The Craft, or watched shows like Charmed and Buffy on TV. I was curious and started talking to a friend about it in junior high school. He also liked all the supernatural shows, but I had no idea that he had already began exploring Wicca as an actual religion -- I didn't even know it was an actual religion! This friend really changed my entire life because of a book he let me borrow one day, and I don't think there's a Pagan in the United States today who isn't at least familiar with it: Dorothy Morrison's The Craft. That book created something like a paradigm shift in me. I was completely fascinated and obsessed, I think I finished reading it in only two or three days before starting it over again. What followed is predictable. I moved on to Buckland's "Big Blue Book," made my way through Scott Cunningham's bibliography. I tried one Silver Ravenwolf book (but even back then, I knew I didn't want anything to do with her writing, hahaha). I dedicated myself, very privately and very quietly, in November of 2003.

Fast forwarding to the present, I no longer identify as Wiccan (the more I studied it, the more theological issues I had with it), but I am proudly Pagan, with a heavy focus on European witchcraft and a growing passion for Hoodoo and conjure practices. I suppose I officially work with the Egyptian pantheon, though lately I've been combatting a lot of deep spiritual issues when it comes to Deity. I don't want to get too side-tracked, however, I just wanted to lay down a little bit of my religious history.

It took a long time for me to really be a public Pagan, both in terms of people who knew and also participating in public rituals and holidays. I went to a Yule party once in a high school, and a few different rituals in New York after I moved there, but I didn't ever stay with a particular group. A lot of Pagan communities can be really difficult to break into, and I think that leaves a lot of solitary practitioners feeling lonely. I know I did, because while I was practicing witchcraft at home alone, I didn't get the kind of community that comes with holidays. Think about our sympathy toward those people who are alone on Christmas or Thanksgiving -- I felt like that every time I was alone on Beltaine or Lughnasadh or Yule. Ironically (perhaps) it took moving to the Bible Belt before I found a stable, wonderful, diverse Pagan community, and I'm proud to be a member of it.

And now that I am a member of a Pagan church, I feel like I'm more "out" than ever -- I have one of their stickers on my car and my laptop, I have their business cards, I talk about them frequently with my friends, both those who are Pagan and who are not. Since I've been attending their festivals and rituals, my first one being Samhain 2010, I've lived everyday as an out and proud Pagan.

Except with my family.

It's a strange feeling, not really lying to them, but cutting them off from what's become a huge focal point to my life and my identity. I did talk to my parents about Wicca occasionally when I was in early high school, but I'm not sure they ever took it seriously. When I went to that Yule party, my mom tried to convince me that that wasn't what they were actually celebrating and that I shouldn't assume. My dad once made a joke about casting spells on my brother with the clay pentacle I was making. Though, he also once brought me back a pentacle necklace from a business trip. I don't believe that either of them wanted to make me feel weird or bad about my religious interests, but I did anyway. I've never been comfortable with the idea of discussing that with them. And I don't really know why.

Last summer, I visited with some cousins in Texas and while I was there, one of them asked me what my religious beliefs are. I'm sure she knew the answer; I have them displayed on my Facebook page (where all my family can see it), but even knowing that she most likely knew, it still felt strange or foreign to say it out loud to her. I mean, it was also a little weird for me because her family is very Christian, which is fine, but I always get a little weird about discussing any alternative religion with most active Christians, but the discomfort I was feeling was also because she is my blood family. Maybe it's because of the obligations that exist between blood relatives, whether real or imagined, I'm not sure, but I'm afraid of their judgment. I'm not afraid of anyone else's. I feel awkward truly letting in any of my family. I don't hide from them, but I don't bring it up either. It's difficult and depressing.

And I don't want it to be that way. I want to be able to tell them about the awesome friends I've made in Kentucky, about the cool new things I learned from these friends, about how much I look forward to festival season and how happy my church makes me. I want to tell them when I finish my degree, I want to go through my church's ministry education to become a Pagan minister myself. I want to tell them about how much being Pagan means to me, how passionate I am about it, but they just don't get the opportunity to know that side of me. And for that, I feel guilty and dishonest, as well as sad because I don't think it's going to change. It's a conversation that I don't know how to begin and I've used that fear to block off a huge portion of my life. It also makes me feel like a hypocrite, because I believe the greater Pagan community should be out and public and known, when I myself am not those things entirely. Maybe someday I'll be ready to remove those self-imposed chains from my life. And wouldn't that be relieving?
Part of my temple room (and my dog who likes to hang out in there)