So, Let’s Talk Paganism

(I probably don’t need to do this, but let me just say that the following post is going to contain a bunch of woo-woo crap. If that’s not your thing, please don’t make a big issue about how stupid it is or how I’m going to Hell or how we all need to embrace Christianity or secular humanism or whatever. I understand that, if you’re born and raised in certain religious traditions, the kinds of stuff that may come up here can be very shocking and distressing. I also understand that, if you think that spirituality is hokum, the urge to share how stupid and deluded people with religious beliefs are can be overwhelming.  I’m still going to ask y’all to treat anyone who will share openly with respect. And I will try to talk gracefully and unselfconsciously about it, myself.)

It’s hard for me to untwist whether I was a feminist before I became pagan or if I became pagan before I became a full-fledged feminist.  Probably the two things were always hand-in-hand for me.  I was raised in a very religious household.  My dad is a Methodist minister, now retired, and my mom is one of those people who suggests praying about everything that troubles anyone, because she firmly believes that it will help.  We often lived next door to the churches my father served and I would say that I was at church, for one reason or another, at least five days a week.

Women in my Dad’s church could perform all the duties men could. I myself was often acolyte and liturgist and, for many years, I gave the message at the sunrise service at Easter (I had written up something about meeting Jesus at the tomb from the perspective of Mary Magdalene. Basically, if you’ve ever sung “I come to the garden alone,” you’ve got the gist of it).  My dad also had close female minister friends.

So, while I have my… differences… with the Methodist church, I wasn’t raised to believe that women were somehow less holy than men.

Still, I wanted desperately to have some female religious role models, some stories that I could relate to.  I wanted to look in the Bible and read about someone like me.  And the whole “I know it says ‘God the Father’ but God doesn’t really have a gender” and “Just look for the minor female characters and imagine whole lives for them” and “Well, you have to understand that when this was written…”just didn’t cut it.  It was like, in order to find my place in my own religious text, I had to close one eye and squint and do five mental leaps, and frankly, I just wanted to be able to take the damn thing at its word.

I didn’t want to have to say “Mother” or “Parent” softly to myself when it said “God the Father.” I wanted to believe that what God said about Himself was true. Not literal, necessarily, but true.  Because the way I was doing it was exhausting and wasn’t working for me. It wasn’t making me feel closer to God; it made me feel like a girl who makes excuses for her abusive boyfriend–he didn’t really mean those mean things he says about me, he’s just stressed.

So, I decided to read the Bible as if what it said was true. Again, not literally true, but that, if God said He’s a dude, I’m not going to sit here and say, “Oh, well, that’s just metaphorical.” I’m going to take Him at His word.

And then I encountered the passage–Proverbs 8:22-31. If you’re not familiar with it, at the beginning of Proverbs, Wisdom, who is female, talks at great length about herself.  And Wisdom doesn’t say, “I’m a metaphor! Don’t worry folks! Everything’s cool in Monotheism land! I’m not real.”  Instead what she says is, “I was there before everything.” Instead what she says is, “Then I was the craftsman at his side.”

Holy shit.  That sure doesn’t sound like monotheism. Even if God “birthed” her before everything, she was His aid in creation.

I felt lied to and kind of cheated.

About this time (and I told you we would get to the woo-woo crap), I noticed that I was drawing the Hanged Man in every tarot reading I did and that it never seemed to fit in with the rest of the cards. In other words, it didn’t seem to be a card for the person sitting across the table, but for me.

I didn’t know what to make of it, so I went back to all the books on tarot cards I could find in the library and read up on all their explanations for the card and in one of them, I found these words, “I know I hung from the windswept tree, nine whole nights.”  Ha, it gives me chills to even type it to you, just from an aesthetic standpoint, something about the “o”s in “know” and “whole” maybe, or just that nice turn of phrase “windswept tree.”

The speaker there is Odin.

And Odin does something I had never, in my life, heard of a god doing: he listens to women, hangs out with them even. No, it’s more than that: he assumes that women know things that he doesn’t know and that they can teach him. And that the things he can learn from us are of such value that he’s willing to risk public ridicule to learn them (see, for instance, Loki’s claim in the Lokasenna that hanging out with witches has made Odin unmanly).

And I thought, okay, then I’m throwing my lot in with these folks.

As I said, I’m not a very formal heathen. I don’t really hang out with other heathens doing heatheny things. My heart is with my family and my community and my home and land.  I feel my ancestors are with me, always, and that the gods are just the most ancient, most powerful of those ancestors and that the thing that would be most fortunate for me and the people and things that hold my heart is for me to work to be in right relationship with them. I believe that luck, or fortune, or what happens is the driving force in our world (a girl can have a long discussion about that, but I’ll point you here and here, for starters, but be warned, I was still pussyfooting around coming out and saying, “Yes this is my truth.”) and I do what I can to try to ensure that our luck is good.

I consider myself a hardcore polytheist, but within limits. I think, for instance, that Wodan and Odin are the same god. I don’t think that Mercury is. But I’m also not blind to the fact that Zeus, Jupiter, Tyr, and others all seem to share at least variation in the same name, if not similar characteristics. What can I tell you? I still don’t want to think of Zeus and Tyr as being two versions of the same god. So, I don’t.

So, what about you?  If you’re a pagan, what brought you here?  Do you see your paganism and your feminism intertwined? What are your gods like? Why do you like them? I’ve rambled on long enough. Your turn.

(Cross-posted at Feministe)

High Water Everywhere

I am sure I’ve used that as a post title before, but there are days when I think the theme song of America should be Bob Dylan’s “High Water (for Charlie Patton)“. The flood’s here, rising around us, but times are tough all over, so what can you do?

Ha. Bleh.


In Nashville, kids are sitting in schools without enough text books for each student. But there’s always money for convention centers and communications about convention centers…

Over in West Tennessee, their serial rapist keeps on keeping on, escalating. Soon enough, someone’s going to get killed. You can kind of tell everyone knows it, and everyone is holding their breaths, praying they’ll catch him first.

Tennessee’s Infant Mortality Rate and the Lie of “Pro-Life”

So, our 2009 Tennessee Women’s Health Report Card came out last week and, needless to say, we didn’t do so well. We’ve been hoping to see some shift in our infant mortality rate, which remains abysmal.  We have in five years lowered it from 9.4 per 1,000 to 8.3 per 1,000, but the African American community continues to suffer from an infant mortality rate of 16.4 per thousand.

There has been excellent coverage for the past year or so about the infant mortality rate in Memphis (though I feel I should warn you that, if you start Googling for it, you will see pictures of caskets so tiny that you will gasp out loud and want to cry), with the latest being this story in today’s Tennessean.

There’s a lot to unpack in that story, but I want to touch on just a few things.  One, there seems to be no discussion about how our sex ed curriculum(s) have utterly failed a large segment of our population. Women have scarily little accurate information on how to experience our own bodies as for us and not for the pleasure and entertainment of others, we don’t know how to use birth control or even get hold of it, and, in the cases of young girls who end up pregnant, we don’t talk about the ages or character of the men who got them that way.

Two, look at how much blame is put on the women.  If my math is right, and Judy Golden is 23 now, and her daughter died two years ago, that means Golden had four pregnancies (Brooklyn, the two miscarriages, and the living child she references) before she was 21. She lost at least one pregnancy because of domestic violence. And she feels to blame for losing Brooklyn because she didn’t eat right?

I mean, come the fuck on. Being able to eat right is way down on the list of problems Golden has. What about being able to be safe from violence in her own house? What about being able to control when she gets pregnant? What about not being blamed for her personal tragedies by the medical professionals who are supposed to help her?

Women in my state live in grinding poverty. We tolerate a lot of violence, often because we’ve been taught and have it reinforced every Sunday that violence is our lot. We’re not taught about our bodies or protected from predators because, again, if we don’t want to have kids, we should just keep our legs shut.  It’s slut shaming and fat shaming and women blaming all in one ugly mess that results in our suffering the loss of our children.

And again, it’s that racism that bites white people in the butts.  Because do I even have to tell you?

Once the face of infant mortality became Memphis, infant mortality in our state became a problem Black people have. Oh, those people in Memphis who just can’t get their acts together, those people in the projects in Nashville who just can’t get their acts together.  You know how it works.

And so, as much as folks are working very hard to lower the infant mortality rate in this state, there’s a whole lot of passive resistance in the form of “eh, what can you do? You know how those people are.” So, you know, we’re pro-life, except when it’s hard or when we might help a lot of suffering black women.

I don’t even have to tell you the kicker, though, do I?

Here’s a map of infant mortality rates in the state of Tennessee by county. Memphis may have the most infant deaths in the state, but Memphis is also our most populated city. You take a look at those counties where the infant mortality rate is above 13 per 1,000 and you can see that the communities suffering the most are poor, rural, mostly white communities.

This kind of intersection of racism and classism is hard to talk about and I do a poor job (though I am of the school that says a poor job is better than no job at all).  But I look at that map and I read what people say about infant mortality in our state and how they try to frame it as a Memphis problem. And I think about how that racism is hurting the white people in those counties.

I don’t know how you get that across to people, that, though they are often used as the poster-children of scary white racism–the Southern Redneck–,the racist power structure has no compunction about letting them suffer in order to make sure that black people also suffer.  But it could not be clearer that this is the case, when you look at that map.

(Yes, cross posted to Feministe, hat tip to W. for the map.)