Thursday, January 29, 2009

Atheist ads it's about time...

You may have been hearing about the recent approval granted to the Toronto based Freethought Association of Canada to run ads on the Toronto transit system. These ads will say:
"There is probably no God. So stop worrying and enjoy your life." These ads originated in Britain and so far the only out-cry received was a Christian bus driver who refused to drive his bus. Other European nations have had some criticism from various religious leaders, but overall the reaction has been small.
Here at home, Charles McVety the president of the Canada Christian College and the Canada Family Action Coalition put in his two cents in an interview, as reported by the Globe and Mail. Mr. McVety called the ads "attack ads" saying he was all for free speech "on the surface". Now I could not find anymore context for the interview and so I can only take these short sentences as Mr. McVety's opinion. I did look at the Canada Family Action Coalition's website and read their "Primary Principals" and found several statements to "attack" several of my values.
What I'd like to discuss though is the idea that doubt or questioning the existence of God, should not be regarded as a threat to one who does believe in God.
First of all, I can not see how this statement attacks anything or anyone. It does not say: "Christians are silly" or "God is a fairy tale" or "You are stupid if you believe in God." All it does is put out there for anyone who would like to ponder the question or who may have thought it in moments of doubt and was to ashamed or embarrassed to speak it out, that what they are questioning may be true. Realistically some people struggle with this question often, some think they have decided that they do not believe only to realize that when they actually pose the question out loud to themselves they aren't sure they know the answer and others never give it a passing thought. I remember my transition on this question vividly. I asked the question out loud and came to the realization that I did not believe in God. I believe in a universal spark, the essence of a life force, but I don't believe in God in any of the interpretations that religions offer. This was a pivotal moment in my spiritual path for many reasons but the most important one was that I ceased to look outside of myself for answers.
So this leads one to ask: What threatens Mr. McVety about this question?
Does he fear that those who follow Christian values and ideas blindly will in turn begin to think? I for one would see this as a bonus to his faith. Wouldn't a religious leader want followers that were sure. Wouldn't he want Christians to deal with their doubts and come through that with a renewed faith in God? Of course if one questions one may, as I did, decide that they in fact do not believe...but how does that threaten him if his beliefs are strong?
Unfortunately this brings one to the conclusion that Mr. McVety's beliefs are not only for himself, but for everyone. Which makes his statement about being "all for free speech on the surface" all the more disturbing. Because one has to conclude that he means that free speech is fine for his ideas but not for those of others.
The film Doubt makes some wonderful points about this idea. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a Catholic priest in the 1960's who gives a Sunday sermon about spiritual doubt. The point he makes is that one should not fear that doubt will lead one away from God, but have faith that you will find that he is with you in spite of it.
I know you may be saying, but aren't you the atheist pagan? And yes, I am. But in the interest of being non-judgemental and not to mention that I am not insecure in my own truths, I really want to encourage freedom of speech and I want to encourage organizations like the Freethought Association of Canada to continue to ask these questions. Far too many people secular or religious do not question their values and beliefs or their religious leader's values and beliefs. We all have a mind of our own for a reason. Just as one should not blindly spend in this consumer culture, one should not blindly follow a religion or spiritual path, just because so and so does, or that's what you were told to do. I would also like to point out that there are lots of Christian messages on billboards and signs, people handing out fliers at subway stations and trying to spread the word. It's about time that some other ideas were put out there for all to see and ponder. That is the beauty of this society and we should all be thankful to have it.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Little Love for the Feathered Folk

I read recently that North American bird species have declined more than 50 % over the past 40 years. BirdLife International has a detailed article stating the reasons for the decline of birds and what the world as a whole needs to do to help.
The wonder of our wild birds is a joy for us all. Birds help control the insect population, help to fertilize and pollinate plant life and who can forget hearing the happy chirping of birds in the morning? The first thing that you can do to help your local birds is to set-up feeders.
We have a feeder on an upstairs balcony and outside on our living room balcony we have a bell shaped seed cluster inside a mesh bag. You can pick them up at local hardware or garden stores for a very reasonable $5. My son loves to watch the birds come to our balcony and the squirrels can't get at it because it is hung from the top. Mixtures of sunflower seeds, millet, cracked corn and suet are best. And you can enjoy the view and help local wildlife through the winter at same time.
*Please remember that windows can be lethal to birds, when light plays of the surface. Be aware of your window placement in relation to light during the day before you decide where to place your feeders.*

Thursday, January 22, 2009

What's in a Name?

In my spiritual practice I have been covering new ground and looking over older ideas and seeing if they still apply to my practice today. Specifically in the areas of trance work and magical names.
The stage I am at in my trance work (following the guidelines laid out by Poppy Palin in her book: Craft of the Wild Witch.) is one where I am to find my magical name. In Palin's opinion the name is to be used in reference to the astral or inner self that is manifest in a trance journey.
This has lead me to read and meditate on the nature of magical names in the pagan community and how they are chosen, used and found. I currently have a magical name, and while there are some aspects of it that I love, I definitely feel that I have moved beyond it's significance in my life.
My magical name is: Artemisia Goldenthread. This name was given to me by my circle sisters during our Samhain ritual in 2003. We had an eclectic pagan circle of three. We were not a coven, which would have changed the "rules" for magical names.
According to my research, within a coven many years ago, whether Wiccan or of a specific tradition, magical names were more secretive and meant to keep identities hidden in case of discovery. There is also a theory that knowing someones real name gives one power over them. Therefore a magical name was a protection measure and carried with it a certain amount of secrecy.
Today it seems magical names are very specific to which tradition you follow, in relation to how your name is used or shared. There are still many rules according to various articles, most discourage using the name of a deity, and most caution one to not choose the most popular ones.
In relating the use of a magical name to my eclectic, solitary pagan path I want to understand why I need this name, what context I will use it in, and consider why the one I now have is no longer working. Artemisia Goldenthread was chosen for me by my circle sisters. They knew me very well and chose the name based on important meaning for me. Artemisia was chosen for the plant also known as Wormwood. A plant said to be used by witches for psychic visions.
Artemisia Gentileschi was also the name of one of the first recorded female painters. Very meaningful to me in both counts. Goldenthread is taken from a line in a poem by Yeats. It was chosen because of my sewing. I do not think that I could have chosen a better name for myself.
The ritual in which we named each other was very simple but magical for us. We decided to try and keep the names secret to the three of us. We used them in sacred space. We created some art around them. I embroidered each of our names and framed them. After a few years I decided to use my name on The Witch's Voice. It was my first membership on an exclusively pagan site. And that is where my name has stayed. I feel like the name was specific to the Circle group. Since I have left the group, keeping it rings false to me, and it has been stagnant for many years. I don't think I ever fully identified myself by the name, in trance work or in the pagan community.
Why do I need a magical name at all? I now use my given name as my identity on social networks. I am indifferent to my name, I don't hate it and I don't love it. I have never thought of myself as someone who was misnamed. It just is what it is. I don't feel the need for a secret name, nor do I think that it is a tribute to how pagan I am to be dubbed something other than Jen. So I have decided to search out a magical name in trance, as a distinction for my astral self, but not to the exclusion of my "mundane" self. I would like to explore what symbols call to me, and what they say about where I am on my path. I will use the name only in my journey work, and if in the future I feel the need to share it I will.
How should I say goodbye to the other name? What do you see as the significance of your magical name? Do you have one yet? Do you want one? Here are some of the articles I read for my research. If you are searching for your magical name, or have decided to find a new one, blessings on your quest.

Choosing a Magical Name by Arin Murphy-Hiscock
The Magick of Names by Lionrhod
And a somewhat sarcastic but interesting one called:
How to Choose a Bad Magickal Name by Juliapgreen

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Poem of the Month: A Tribute to Barack Obama

I have been watching the inauguration of the 44th President of the United States today. I have never watched one before. Beyond the pomp and circumstance I feel such a wonderful energy emanating from Barack and Michelle Obama. What a glorious vibe they project, one of a solid and abiding love. Not only is their love for each other a joy to behold, but also their love for their children. There is just an openness of emotion from them, that I have rarely witnessed before in a politician and his family. I congratulate the American people and in honour of this day, such a monumental one in terms of civil rights in the U.S. I would like to share this poem by
Alice Walker.
Alice Walker is a feminist writer who is probably most famous for her novel The Color Purple. She endorsed Barack Obama and is active in the fight for equality in the U.S and around the world. This poem was written in the height of the Civil Rights movement when she was in love with her future husband Mel Leventhal a Jewish civil rights lawyer. This poem captures a moment for interracial couples, and for the movement itself. I am glad that this is changing in the world, and I feel that Obama's presidency is a catalyst for more change on this planet. As a last note before the poem, I want to say that I will not watch another inauguration until a woman stands before the people to take her oath. I believe it will happen in my life time and I will be very proud when it does.

While Love is Unfashionable
by Alice Walker

While love is unfashionable
let us live
Seeing the world
a complex ball
in small hands.
Love our blackest garment.
Let us be poor
in all but truth and courage
handed down
by the old

Let us be intimate with
ancestral ghosts
and music
of the undead.

While love is dangerous
let us walk bareheaded
beside the Great River.
Let us gather blossoms
under fire.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Carnelian for the Home

Semi-precious stones call to me. I seem to crave a colour and then a type of stone will present itself. This summer at my local Farmer's Market I purchased a simple pair of Carnelian earrings. The red/brown was just the feeling I was having. Deep, earthy and strong. I tend to research things after they have called to me and I have found them, just to make sense of them in terms of my path. Carnelian promotes tranquility, courage and love. It stabilizes the energy of the home.
My other piece is a family broach with the national flower of Scotland: the thistle. I don't wear broaches but I love this one. This is not a flashy stone but I'm not a flashy person so that works for me. Here are some other interesting points about Carnelian:

Birth stone of July
Astrological signs of: Taurus, Cancer & Leo
Healing properties: Purifies the blood, relieves menstrual cramps and back pain,
beneficial in treatment of infertility.
Can increase personal power, creativity & compassion
Useful for working with the 1, 2, 3, & 4th chakras
Awakens ones inherent talents
Stimulates analytical capabilities and precision
A stone of protection
Can encourage love between parents and children

Monday, January 12, 2009

Book of the Month: January

This month I have chosen a book that is magical and practical: Cooking Like a Goddess: Bringing Seasonal Magic into the Kitchen by Cait Johnson. There is a new edition of the book called: Witch in the Kitchen: Magical Cooking for All Seasons. This book is very precious to me for several reasons, it has wonderful recipes divided into seasons, and it has lovely write-ups by Cait about holidays and food ideas. She gives you tips about how to decorate and love your kitchen for each season but also in general. If you are a kitchen witch then you will love this book. The recipes are vegetarian and vegan, she includes meditations and has a great section at the back called Wild Woman Tips for Acting Out in the Kitchen. I have used this book for inspiration many times, the pumpkin pie recipe is a staple for me, I was very successful with the Kale, Corn and Onion skillet cakes, and her Autumn Cider Dressing is very tangy and good.

For some reason this week I have been feeling nostalgia for my loved ones who are far away from me. One such person gave me this book. She bought it in New York ten years ago when we were there for a school trip. She had it for a few months and I drooled over it frequently. In her loving and simple way she just gave it to me one day. I love the book, but wish I could be closer to her and her daughters so we could share time together. Blessings to you Caroline, where ever your feet may be treading.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Feminist Art for the Stay at Home Mom

Sunday was my "me" day part 1. Since my son is still breastfeeding and has never taken a bottle I can only be away from him for about 4-5 hours at a time. So I split my "me" day into two parts. I took transit downtown and visited the Vancouver Art Gallery. They have been hosting the art show WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution since October. In previous posts I have talked about my feminism, while in art school I studied feminist theory and feminist art theory. The movement was revolutionary during a time of many revolutions. This retrospective covers the 1960's and 1970's with a bit of work from the eighties as well. I thought that the writing for the show outlining the categories in feminist art were really well put together. For the lay person who has never seen or read about feminist art, these small descriptions would really help one understand the messages behind the art. The categories were numerous for a show as big as this one (120 different artists). They started with Goddess. "Goddess is one of the most pervasive articulations of the feminine; artists working from vastly different cultural referents have been empowered by ideas of earth, mother, and Amazon and inspired by their iconography." I was very excited to see this as I entered the gallery since much of this art was what lead me to my spiritual path and my artistic direction. It was wonderful to see some video works of Ana Mendieta. Untitled (Blood sign #2/Body Tracks) in which Mendieta smears blood on a white wall in the shape of a body. It was very powerful. Mendieta also used her body imprint in snow, ice and in soil to depict her body as earth and the connection between the two. But overall I found that the art works were strangely categorized. I didn't feel that some of the works made sense in their categories and I thought several sections lacked a comprehensive amount of works. Other sections included Gender Performance, Body Trauma, and Making Art History.
Of course I had my favorites and it was great to learn of some international artists and what they were doing in this movement. Lea Lublin moved her 7 month old son and his crib into a Paris gallery and took care of him for the duration of the show. There is not much information about her out there but here is a post from about her and another artist featured. The piece was entitled Mon Fils (My Son) and was done in 1968. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall at this gallery. What would all of those stuffy art critics have thought of that? Definitely revolutionary. This piece stuck with me because it speaks of the personal as art, the creative spark being transcended beyond "art" to life. Lublin was challenging viewers to see the raising of her son as art; the guidance of a human being art and creativity in the "mundane". There were several other great works. Fragile Goddess by Louise Bourgeois and Betye Saar's The Liberation of Aunt Jemima.
This show had so many feminism's for many different types of people. The genre of feminist art is vast, and so I can understand why the exhibit may have lacked in more specific examples.
Overall I was happy to have the chance to see these pieces in my own backyard. It was a great way to spend some free time and see the history of those that have pushed on the parameters of the male dominated art world.
My final thought on this show is that many of the issues raised in this art are still at the forefront of our existence today: Objectification of the female body, equal pay for equal work, motherhood vs. career, racism and a culture of war. My glimmer of hope is that in another 40 years I can visit another retrospective and see that many of these issues have come to a different outcome.

*WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution runs at the Vancouver Art Gallery until January 11, 2009.*

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

New Year Goals in the Blogisphere

I've been catching up on my blog reading today. Many of us are making goal lists for the new year. Amy at Crunchy Domestic Goddess lists her Green Goals for the year. At Reflections in the Pond Silverlotus made a very ambitious life/crafting goal list. Suzie at Chez Sacred Suzie made a thoughtful list of goals for herself and her home. When I started to think about my goals way too many lists popped into my head. As a list enthusiast I have to scale back my lists instead of encouraging them. But I think that by being realistic I can have multiple lists without overwhelming myself or setting goals that are unattainable. My family/home life works into these other lists in certain places so I don't feel the need to make a specific one for it. The two areas that I have goals for 2009 is in my Green living and my spiritual life. Art making will have to be fluid because of my new work from home job. To be honest everything is going to have to be more fluid with me working from home. But regardless I have so many ideas running through my head that a list will be just the thing to keep me focused this year. I have combined my spiritual and artistic lists because I consider making art to be a spiritual practice.

Green Living Goals for 2009
-Make my own reusable menstrual pads & buy a new Keeper or Diva Cup
-Take a walk in nature every day
-Look into getting a plot in our community garden & grow vegetables
-Grow some vegetables in containers at home
-Continue to reduce packaging consumption
-Make more foods from scratch
-Officially become an EcoMom community leader
-Plan & host an EcoMom party

Spiritual/Artistic Goals for 2009
-Continue my once a month ritual time (hopefully increase to twice a month)
-Plan a celebration for each Sabbat (small is okay)
-Research a pagan themed essay I've been mulling over
-Let the cycles of nature resonate inside me
-Continue to branch out into the Pagan/Spiritual community
-Make time for my yoga practice
-Make art when the spirit moves me, with the intention of developing my "style" and technique further
-Mother & love from a place of peace & truth

Set your goals and let the chips fall where they may. It helps to have them written down and sharing them is also a great way to stay accountable for them.