The system and vessel of devotion in Polytheist and animist religious engagement is a lot like a cigar. This came to me moments ago as I sat puffing on a bargain-bin toro from the Dominican Republic. It cost me less than two dollars, which is cheap for a cigar. (My preferred cigar retails for $14 or so, which is still on the lower end of good. They’re cheaper when you buy them by the box, and cheaper still when you have somebody with wholesale connections hook you up.) But, I digress: the cheap toro was treating me well, right up until the moment it exploded.

I’m no aficionado when it comes to this shit, but I’ll do my best with what I’ve been given. Here goes:

A cigar is not at all like a cigarette, and not at all like a pipe. It is a work of art unto itself, which can be made well or made poorly, and it can be treated well or treated poorly, and it can be cut well or cut poorly, and it can be smoked well or smoked, well, very poorly. Treat a cigar right and even a poorly made cigar will treat you right. Treat a cigar poorly, and even a top-shelf churchill can split or spit or literally explode at your breath-and-touch. This last bit isn’t common and generally in my line of work is assumed to be an other-than-ordinary event; in this case, it was the touch of spirits inspiring the work you’re presently reading.

A cigar is made of three layers: a filler, a binder, and a wrapper. The filler is the tobacco that you are smoking, which provides the body and the flavor of the smoke. The binder holds that filler into a cylindrical shape. Too tight and the binding obstructs airflow, but too loose and it feeds the fires too well, producing more heat than the structure can handle. The wrapper, the outer most layer, is generally a single leaf wrapped at an angle around the inner two layers, closed at one end and open on the other. The wrapper holds the air and produces the container for the entire system.

A cigar is a system. (It is also a vegetable, but we’ll get to that later.)

Like all systems, it must be maintained. Most people who are not cigar-abusers will keep their cigars in a humidor of some kind, which is most traditionally made from a box of cedar which contains a humidifying element of some kind or another, to keep the contents from drying out (or becoming too moist). A gauge is found within these boxes to track the humidity level.

Too much moisture and the cigar will split apart as it smokes, as the moisture will expand and push the binding out through the wrapper. This is not only messy, but often obstructs airflow by causing leaks in the line from the burning end to the tip you’ve snipped and puff upon.

If you’ve cut it right, you create just enough of a “band” of airflow to pull the perfect body of smoke that is desired; a pleasing, heavy, flavorful smoke. This “ideal smoke” is the kind that on exhale hovers in the air as a foggy phantom which obscures the material and offers scrying glimpses into other places. If you’ve cut it wrong you don’t get enough air, or you get too much air and it causes the temperature to rise and the binding to split. A bad cut also leaves bits of tobacco in your mouth, which is… well, exactly as it sounds. (Protip: don’t eat it.)

A cigar that is stamped out or snipped halfway through to save for later will never smoke the same way again. There is a process to making cigars, storing cigars, cutting cigars, and smoking cigars. Sometimes a cigar will be rolled too tight and it must be tenderly massaged to open up the airflow.

Now, back to devotion. Sort of.

Cigar smoking doesn’t come easily to everyone, nor is every tobacco enthusiast a cigar smoker. (Pipes and cigarettes each have their own avenues of engagement as well, with pros and cons each.) But every method of smoking involves a combination of elements (vegetables, fire, air, care and process) which combine to achieve desired effect. Nobody likes a badly stored cigar, although many people smoke cigars badly without ever realizing it, as they’ve never experience it “done right”. And there is a “right way” to do it. (Well, actually, there are many right ways: a shallow cut, a deep cut, a triangle cut, an angled cut, a punch-cut, just to name the variations of that single stage of the process! Any of these can work out right, with the right cigar and in the right hands, and in the right climate and setting… because smoking a cigar outside is a lot different than smoking a cigar in a lounge reclined in overstuffed leather.)

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There are a thousand “right ways” to approach devotional religion and spirit-work, but just as many “wrong ways”. It is easy to do something wrong and not realize it, if you’ve never known it any other way. That there are many right ways does not mean that there are no wrong ways; it means that there are even more ways to do it wrong, and all that many more reasons to learn the right ways to do it the right way for you in your practice with your gods and your spirits and your setting. (For example, if you’re claiming to be interested in spiritual teachers and authorities who walk their talk but then also claim that you don’t care if they’re racist or not, you’re probably doing it wrong. If you’ve recently been praying in the dedicated space of a sovereignty goddess and five minutes later are apparently violating the hospitality statements of your hosts which are posted less than twelve inches above your head by claiming that works around addressing privilege in social justice and safety pursuits are “nonsense”, you’re doing it wrong. Similarly, if you’re at an event talking about knowing thyself but refuse to acknowledge your privileges, you’re similarly doing it quite wrong, and might as well be smoking a cigar held together with fly paper.)

Every devotional person and every devotional act and every devotional lineage and every devotional relationship is composed of layers which act as vessel and delivery and structure for the process of devotion. At the end of it all, nobody wants a shitty smoke. They want a full-bodied smoke, which hangs in the air just right, whether they’re outside perched on the barracks wall or leaned back in the leathers of a lounge chair.

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The trick to devotion is not to do it a single right way, but to accept that there are right ways, and to be open in the process to awareness of the layers involved in it all. Too tight, and the airflow catches; too loose and the binding might crack. And sometimes, whether you’re doing it right or wrong, the whole thing comes apart explosively and you know that one way or another, you’re in the fucking presence of the divine powers, and it burns you, and there’s no escaping that.

Because the reality is that devotion is a relationship to change, and change burns sometimes.

Devotion, as with cigars, is also never just about you, the human in the equation: the devotee is but one part of the equation, and often the least important part, following the subject of that devotion (the gods!) and the setting of that devotion (the literal place in which you are hosted by the local spirits!) and the peripheral relationships inherent between those and all other points intersected.

A cigar is never “just a cigar”, and devotion should never be taken for granted.

(A cigar is always, however, a vegetable; the only kind I trust implicitly.)

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I often say that Polytheist religious movements are human rights movements, and sometimes people don’t understand what I mean by this, or challenge it, so I wanted to try and make a statement on this. So, here goes:

The “Polytheist Movement” is absolutely a human rights movement, in that it is interested in fighting for the rights and protections to practice their religions and hold to their affirmed beliefs intrinsic to them. This does not mean that every Polytheist is involved actively or knowingly at that level. The “Polytheist Movement” is a loosely defined movement of modern Polytheist religionists (identifying variously as “devotional polytheists”, “hard polytheists”, “pagan polytheists”, and more) who, in addition to practicing Polytheist religion, are focused on furthering the protections, knowledge, accessibility, rights, respects, and anti-discrimination developments relevant to Polytheists in various levels of our cultures and societies, including both “Neo-Pagan” and mainstream societal levels, often through writing, teaching, and lecturing on the subject. Their activism is clearly differentiated from their religious practices, although the topics covered in writing may overlap (and religious education often includes advocacy for rights, respects, and religious freedoms).

Freedom of thought, conscience and religion:

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.—Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

Freedom of thought, conscience and religion are closely related rights that protect the freedom of an individual or community, in public or private, to think and freely hold conscientious beliefs and to manifest religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance; the concept is generally recognized also to include the freedom to change religion or not to follow any religion. The freedom to leave or discontinue membership in a religion or religious group—in religious terms called “apostasy”—is also a fundamental part of religious freedom, covered by Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

Actions taken to suppress religious rights and freedoms are by definition actions in violation of human rights. A movement aimed to counter this and protect those right is by definition a human rights movement. Such actions do not need to be understood by the perpetrators of them as violations of human rights in order to be consider human rights, obviously: very few individuals or movements guilty of human rights violations would willfully admit to or acknowledge this, because by definition they do not view those impacted by their harming behaviors or policies to be deserving of said rights. In this sense they are literally dehumanizing those groups in question. The term “dehumanizing” in this context does not refer to 1980s action Cartoon style villainy, but instead to the behavioral act of violating the rights of another in such a way that communicates that they do not warrant access to such rights, thereby suggesting that the group in question is “less than human“.

After an interview process for an upcoming Pagan publication, I have been doing some contemplations around various Polytheist stuff-and-things, including community relations to Pagan movements and ethos, as well as some of the common critiques aimed at Polytheists. Below are some stray thoughts, which are totally informal and unrefined, shared more or less in their original form:

  •  “We are not the ancients” is something of a cliché ‘party line’ used in one form or another by many of the Pagans who have taken a stance against a differentiated Polytheist religious movement, which is carefully crafted to suggest in discrediting fashion that Polytheists believe themselves to be confused as to what century we are living in, or that we are “backward” and “devolved” (this is direct language used), which further posits “the modern” (e.g. the social and philosophical structures which grant these particular voices a position of perceived esteem and/or authority) is more advanced (“evolved”, again, literally stated as such) than what we Polytheists (or our ancient pre-modern predecessors) are doing. I want to unpackage this a little bit.
    • First, the very people who say these things are often drawing from 500-1500 year old philosophies themselves, mostly seemingly seated in an atheistic take on Neo-Platonism. Those, in turn, are based on even older maxims, as influenced by later intellectual and social developments. This is not exactly a 21st century invention. So why are they playing the anachronistic card agains those who attest to a different view than their own? And they’re applying these through Enlightenment and post-industrial consumer-capital style lenses, supported by various post-reformation based romantic dalliances about how super awesome and all-important humans are, which seem to my mind as awkward bedfellow ideas, given what this “super awesome” species has done to [the world, animals, itself, music or whatever] since those time periods.
    • Secondly, why is anyone permitted to speak of “evolution” in this sense and not be called out on their supremacist rhetoric? Because that is what it is: supremacy seated in the affirmed belief that their society’s normative structures are not only preferable (which is totally fine, if it stopped there) but the ONLY option, which represents the “most advanced and superior” expression? These ideas misapply scientific understanding of evolution and progress — and in turn taint those words and ideas in colloquial use so that those who would use them more correctly and usefully are misunderstood. When a bunch of white scholars start to say that “modern [Western] society” is a more evolved form of living and that other cultures are “not yet caught up” or “actively devolving”, really big red flags go up for me. These are disturbing words, and I am bothered by how readily they are accepted.
    • Third, Polytheists are regularly considered to be holding on to the past as if we believe that things were universally and romantically idealized in some golden age of not-now. I don’t know any Polytheists who think this. The ones that I know are well aware of the violences (against women, for example) which existed in nearly all elements of the ancient world. (We also note that those same violences exist in this one, and it is only in the last brief periods of history that this really began to change at all, so.. that throws out the whole “ancients are nasty savages” side of things, given that so were the societies of most of our great-great-great grandparents, and it is not as if we have a Utopia nowGamergate, anyone?)

Polytheists are not, by and large, interested in “looking at the past” to base their religious lives and developments on some nostalgic/sentimental/conservative/time-traveling-adventure-time glory-day ideals. We are interested in looking at RELIGIONS. Even those who are Reconstructionists — which represent only one type of Polytheist! — for the most part only use the historically solid documentation, studies, and and academic attestations (archeology, “the lore, etc) as methodologies for informing their practices with a preferred form of organizational structure. Nobody [Most people don’t] believes that they are time-travelers from or to another period. Polytheist religionists are interested in studying, practicing, discussing, and further developing religions.

You know, those things that we keep saying and writing that we’re identified with, practicing, living, experiencing? Yeah, those. Religions. The things that we keep stating we haven’t found accurate, comfortable, or even SAFE place for ourselves in with regard to what the majority of standard Paganism has to offer, with regard to our devotional and theistic identities.

Criticizing Polytheists for looking at past expressions of the very things that they are trying to do now is like criticizing LGBTQ culture for being interested in expressions of non-hetero-binary expressions of gender and sexuality throughout history. Why the fuck would anyone think that was a logical critique, or even remotely a morally acceptable one?

Oh, right. Because these same people think it is morally acceptable to silence a minority religious movement whose ideas and ideals don’t centrally rest upon reaching under the table to jerk them off while they choke themselves out with the umbilical cords tethering them asphyxiatingly tight to their own internal images of Self. The thing about choking out is that there is this interesting stage in the process where a person starts to feel really good and your vision goes this foggy bright, and the fact that nobody else around you can feel what you’re feeling doesn’t matter because WOW IT IS SO BRIGHT. So these folks slack the cords enough to try’n get everyone else to stare deep and longingly into the mirror and learn to choke themselves out with their own ego-cords until vision and clarity fade into this astounding moment of euphoric connection, where shit all makes sense BECAUSE THEY ARE CHOKING ON THEMSELVES, and “the sudden loss of oxygen to the brain and the accumulation of carbon dioxide can increase feelings of giddiness, lightheadness, and pleasure, all of which will heighten masturbatory sensations.”

Now, there’s nothing wrong with euphoric spiritual experiences, intoxicants, and so forth: but there is absolutely something wrong with creating a supremacist position that says that anyone who experiences anything else is crazy, dangerous, and believes that they’re time-traveling.

Back to it, though:

Polytheist religion is a type of religion, first and foremost. While that does not mean that all Polytheists do the same thing or feel the same way on all of the same issues — quite the contrary, ‘many gods, many people, many paths’ is sort of a thing! — and so it stands to reason that its leaders, visionaries, writers, moderate thinkers and radical advocates would be attentive to examining RELIGION in the pursuit of, developments in, and protections for their religious identities, freedoms, and expressions. This is not an act of “devolution”, but an act of radically progressed differentiation and lawfully protected identification.

The desires to identify as what we are, to relate to our experiences and practices with autonomous gods as real and non-metaphorical agents using accurately defined and well-researched terms, and to study past, present and future expressions of related religious traditions and identities is not an act of being “backward” or “superstitiously stunted” but of being radically in favor of our universal human rights, which most well-informed and reasonable moderns would argue is sort of the definition of societal progress.

Fuck.

Who am I referring to, in terms of these critics and detractors and dehumanizing supremacists? There are Specific people, who have some level of influence, and whose trending ways of approaching these subjects are common-place themes in many of the discussions that the leaders within the Polytheist movement have been combatting for the sake of religious identity rights. However, those specific people are only part of the problem. This is a systemic problem. For the sake of this piece of writing, singling out only a handful of examples would seem to excuse the rest of everybody involved, in subtler ways. There is a time and a place for individual accountability; right now we’re dealing with systemic and collective accountability. Nobody is free of this, and any list would just suggest that the blame is held by just a few. It is not. That is what “systemic” means.

Polytheist religion faces systemic oppression and erasure — if you are not well versed in social justice language and theory, “systemic” may not be a clear term for you, my apologies — and has fought for years to even name this is an issue. We finally got loud enough and progress is being made.

This is an issue of social justice, human rights, identity rights, and so forth. It is unhelpful to ask “who specifically” is guilty when discussing the systemic issue, because that entirely shifts responsibility from the overall system — which is made up of people who ultimately allow and condone such things to exist in the first place.

(For a current and incredibly relevant to our world today example, in the present issue of racial injustice, specific cases and incidences and individuals are important in terms of specific justice actions, but the greater issue is the systemic problems that allow it to continue. Focusing only on the specific individuals “most guilty” (e.g. those who got caught murdering unarmed Black teenagers, for example) and ignoring the accountability and responsibility of the greater systemic whole, actively harms progress. Because, while justice for that individual case is CRUCIAL and IMPORTANT — and individual accountability and justice MUST be achieved — it still is only one piece of a system whole. Systemic injustice of this sort is like a “systemic infection” in the body, meaning one which has propagated throughout the body, rather than remaining localized to one specific place. Each of the individual symptoms — the individual offenses — must be addressed, but the systemic roots must be addressed as well to more deeply and impactful achieve necessary change.

The “Polytheist Movement” is not the same as “general Polytheists or Polytheist practices“, in the same way that “Gay Rights Movement” is not the same as “Gil, the gay man who lives upstairs from the pizza place, and drives that sweet classic ‘vette“, or any of his romantic leanings (or lamentfully missed connections) over the years. The movement which is focused upon the RIGHTS of a group does not exist to sit around exclusively talking about that group’s practices or preferences, but the PROTECTIONS which are guaranteed it by universal law and about the VIOLATIONS of those protected rights expressed by a given society, culture, or group.

So, when a Polytheist — Edward Butler for example — is writing about Polytheist Theology, he is writing as a Polytheist about Polytheist Theology. But when an author — myself, for example — is writing about Polytheist rights and freedoms, as I am in this article, I am doing so not to discuss Polytheist religion, but Polytheist religious rights. The rights of a group are different from the practices of that group. Both are important, but without rights, the practices can be interrupted, silenced, erased, persecuted, or corruptively bludgeoned to compliant nothingness.

One of the elements in this which is lost and overlooked by, I would say, 99% of those involved in the topics as readers or responders or even writers, is that “the Polytheist rights movement” doesn’t represent all of Polytheist religions, but instead represents the RIGHTS and PROTECTIONS of those religions. Just like not every single LGBTQ activist represents all LGBTQ practices or people — and in fact may not even be LGBTQ! — but instead represents a collaborative dedicated to protecting, enforcing, or even CREATING through demands and demonstrations, those universally afforded rights and protections.

Therefore, not all LGBTQ persons is an LGBTQ activist. Not all Black Americans is a Black Rights activist or involved in the social justice campaign. Lack of active engagement in those things doesn’t make a person less Black or less LGBTQ-identified; involvement and engagement is non-mandatory. Similarly, not all those involved in the activism and advocacy for those rights are themselves identified with the groups they’re working to support and empower.

There are two wonderful things happening in Polytheist religion today:

  1. The proliferation of discourse and dialog between growing, vocal Polytheist religious groups, teachers, traditions, and religious bodies. Yay! Religion! Devotion! Piety! Learning! Prayers! Rituals!
  2. The emerging force and voice of the Polytheist movement’s answer to systemic oppression and erasure through the application of activist engagement, writing, dialog and demonstration for the purposes of ensuring the continued right, freedoms, and respects which are by universal law to be awarded to these religiously identified groups and individuals.

This current thread is a conversation from the stance of “2”, as shared by a person who is obviously prolifically a part of “1” as well — myself. The groups or individuals that I am critiquing? They are anyone and everyone who would infringe the rights and freedoms of my religious identity or those of my Polytheist colleagues, co-religionists, friends, families, clergy, laity, and devoted seekers. There are many avenues of erasure, and this movement stands against the crushing tides of all of them. Similarly, a relatively disproportionally high number of Polytheists are also involved in other forms of activism and human rights issues, from dismantling racism, to protesting systemic injustice, to championing LGBTQ rights and showcasing the systemic violence that the trans- community in particular faces, to networking with other religious minority groups, to taking positions in organizations focused on education, alliance and empowerment on social, civic, and human rights related policy. The cause of human rights effects not just one group or expresses as one issue, but rather, many. Many gods, many people, and just the same, many issues to be changed and ideological wars to be won, and many many alliances to be forged.

For all of us. And for our gods. And for our blessed ancestors.

It’s a damn fine time to be a Polytheist.

P.S. Sorry kids, I’m not actually into autoerotic asphyxiation myself, though no worries at all if that’s your thing — more power to you! –  as I totally support people having their own things. Many things, in fact, differentiated as if we were each actually legitimately separate people! Wowza!

Go read this: The Platinum Rule, Religion, and Psychotherapy because it is very good and important and wise.

“Do unto others as they would have you do unto them”.

Let that sink in.

Too often we are told by our 21st century society — quite destructively — to “do unto others as you would have done unto yourself“, which is (as the author clearly states) an inherently unsympathetic and entirely presumptive fallacy. It presupposes that what is good for us is good for another, and that we know what is good for another. Can anyone say… Colonialism?

Often people are confused as to why DIFFERENTIATION and identity — both individual and collective — take such an important place in the ethos of my writing, my teachings, and my life.

This sums it up rather well.

Because I’m not you. And I have no bloody idea what would be good for you. I might have some ideas, I might have some intuitions, but in reality, I neither have the right to assume this, nor the evidence to suggest that it is anything -other- than an idea. And I damn well know that what is good for me is not good for very many people. (Hence, “anomalous“.)

And I sure as fuck know that you’re not me, and you probably don’t have a very good idea of what is good for me (unless you guessed whiskey or cigars, in which case, carry on), and anyone who tried to make this assumption about me would find themselves… wrong. Which is why I come with instructions. (True facts. There’s a manual and everything.)

The implicit and unspoken undertone to this whole topic is the quality of RELATION. All of these are considerations which, even in silent or purely mental scape, exist within a continuum of -relating- with other beings. We don’t “do unto others” or “have done unto us” anything outside of various types and levels of relational exchange.

And therein lies the center of it all: to be in relationship authentically and fully and truthfully with another being, you need to acknowledge that being as something that is not you, or yours, or for you; which means understanding that perhaps what is good for you is NOT good for the other.

…and this applies to more than just human relations, as well.

Knowing what is good for you, and also knowing where the boundaries of what you know, are good things. Too often we are taught never to show what we -don’t- know about ourselves, and yet with misapplied and never-understood maxims (“Know thyself“) propagated by every self-help-guru-mystic-ninja-wizard on the bookshelf/internet, very few ever actually make any great realistic and practical headway (even and especially when attached to a group or movement which supposedly has these concepts as a foundation) toward the kind of self-knowledge intended in the Delphic statement.

Part of “Knowing Thyself” is having the courage and clarity to state “I have no fucking idea, mate…” in the mirror, and then — once that part has been tackled — to others. It turns out that one of the best expressions of self-knowledge is admitting to the equal portions of self-ignorance.

“Do unto others–” in the classic Golden Rule approach suggests a third fallacy, in addition to the Colonialist assumptions. Not only does it mistakenly promote the idea that:

1) “What is good for me is good for you”, and…

2) “I know what is good and/or harmful for you”, but likewise that…

3) “I know myself”.

I would argue that anyone who makes unqualified statements of self-knowledge is at best horribly deluded, and at worst, actively deceiving– themselves, as much as anyone else. If the fallacious qualities of 1) and 2) can be understood accurately as a model employed in humanist Colonialism mentality (“convert! it is good for you! also give us your land! and gold! in exchange for this book!”), then it can be assured that those proliferating such things (in the past and present) lacked some pretty intrinsic self-knowledge. It is not as if they were actually and legitimately “bettered” by committing atrocities, genocides, and so forth, in the sense meant by the term “good”.
So, it turns out, atrocity and genocide — erasure, murder, assault, corruptive infectious spread of alien ideas and degrading the sanctity of sovereign identity — are born of self-ignorance, rather than merely douchemuffinry.

Relational authenticity (as discussed above) relates (ha!) not only to one’s connections and exchanges with OTHER beings (as is the focus in my writing) but with our own internal “self-other” as well. There is this profound state of self-relation that can be achieved by moving beyond the simplistic, invalid, and horribly reductive — not to mention stunting and limiting — idea that we as differentiated individuals are somehow existing of only one singular agency, some monolithic and static inner “one-ness”.

All things that we love, we must also in some way hate or fear, though it is far less comforting to look on those truths. (How could one not fear something that makes them that vulnerable? How could one truly love something and -not- be vulnerable, at least as much as as strengthened and empowered?) This applies to people — family, kin, elders, children — as well as to ideas and religious devotions and, internally, to one’s own many-layered selves.

Which is all to say, it is way too complex to sum up in trite fortune-cookie-style sentences, but if this must be done for the sake of marketable publications, the Platinum Rule is a far better option that the one promoting Colonial Mass-Genocide and Global Erasure and Subjugation of Literally Everything On The Planet.

So, go on: Know Thyself. Know-the-Shit-Out-Of-Thyself. Know yourself so fucking hard that you can clearly identify the crevices and nooks and crannies that you cannot see into, and perhaps never will, because fuckity fuck sometimes we are just not meant to know.

Thracians, or at least the proto-Thracian tribal peoples who inhabited those mountainous regions in pre-history, are said to have basically invented metallurgy in the ancient world. Thracian Gold is kind of a thing. But you know what else is a thing? Going into caves for years at a time because, fuck, we just can’t spend all our damn time sitting in the sun and pretending that its light illuminates everything. Sometimes you’ve gotta dig deep and fucking die to find out how to honestly speak to the things that you don’t know, that you can’t know, that you won’t ever know: and in naming them as such, holy shit, you come to know them. Kind of.

So don’t think that what is good for you is good for me, or your neighbor, or your child.

Celebrate difference and celebrate ignorance and light your proverbial insides with a torch and dance in revelry with the flames as they throw shadows on the walls of the cave of marrowed blood and bone you emerged from into this world.

And for fuck’s sake, put that “Golden Rule” bullshit into the fire so we can melt it down for something more useful, and less… you know, murderous.

This is not in any way the end of this conversation, not a complete and total vision of it: but it seems a damn good way to start.

A brief unsolicited word on invisible differences, not directed at any specific person, because I am tired of seeing people wronged and harmed by stigmas wielded as sickles by those unhindered by such hardships:

Anyone who has ever read anything that I have written, or listened to me speak, knows that I am pretty fucking intensely passionate about the subject of individuation and differentiation, of identity and of experience and of agencies. Sometimes those differences are huge and visibly apparent, such as racial and cultural heritage, religious devotions, or apparent physical disability or impairment. (My oldest brother, for example, looks like Tom Cruise and parts his hair on the side and has never had so much as a five-o’clock shadow for how clean-cut and prim-proper he is. Nobody would ever believe we were related.) Some differences are less visible — personality differences, orientation or preference differences. Others are entirely invisible to the untrained eye.

Difference, to most people in any society alive today (and in many other times), eventually produces challenges; this is why “differences” is co-defined in the negative, e.g. “we must settle our differences”. Differences produce, amongst other things, stigmas.

Those with invisible differences — health differences, for example — often suffer the hardest in these. Those who have had strokes that don’t display, or brain injuries, or who must suffer with a mental illness or as a survivor of a great trauma. These differences do not always display. Sometimes, people who do not see these differences behave terribly to those who live with them, as if that person has selected to individually wrong or betray those of more statistically normative patterning, by virtue of being unlike them in some way.

Differences are not a betrayal. They are a confession of truth. Honor this trust — the trust implicitly and silently shown by ANYONE who permits their differences to be visible — or shut the fuck up, sit the fuck down, and stay the fuck out the way of those who are going to author this world’s future.

Because, to be blunt and direct?

You who have no respect for displayed truth and differentiated state and experience? You have no say in the future.

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Winter Storm Juno

Posted: January 26, 2015 in Uncategorized

This storm has us bundled up here, prepared with fire and animal skins and warm things, in case of power outage.

Even the raven.

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A Better World

Posted: January 26, 2015 in Uncategorized

My latest is up at Witches & Pagans for your reading pleasure; it was inspired by a brief but potent quote from activist, educator, high priestess, and social worker Crystal Blanton.

while white

Posted: December 6, 2014 in Uncategorized

There is an awful lot of very important dialog happening in the US right now, with regard to race, racism, corruption, law, systemic issues, alliance and privilege.

I have the privilege of having been recruited into a sociology department while pursing an education in psychology, religious studies, and leadership/public service.  My mentor worked closely with inner-city youth (and so afforded me the same opportunities), social justice, and prison outreach. Issues of race, and understanding systemic racism and the prejudices and privileges of the dominant US over-culture, became a forefront part of my academic experience. Suffice it to say, I am grateful every day for the lessons I learned in that curriculum, which took me well outside the bounds of a classroom and into the hearts of the communities around.

Racism is real. The proof is all around us. White privilege is real. I, like most white people, struggled with an internal resistance to acknowledging this second statement when first introduced to the idea. I had “never been involved in racism”, I told myself. I wasn’t one of “those” white people. That was before I understood what was meant by privilege. Once I understood the term, and the systems behind the term, I had no resistance left, because there was nothing to resist: it was clear and inarguable, and also, did not make me a bad person for being white.

In response to current systemic racial atrocities faced very literally and directly by People of Color in our nation, there is a trending hashtag called #crimingwhilewhite, wherein (mosty young) white people refute the claim that there is no such thing as white privilege by citing experiences from their own lives where their misconduct or crime was encountered by law enforcement without their murders in the street. It is inspiring to see this (although there are criticisms of the trending and viral hashtag movement, which some say is distracting from POC voices and experiences. I think that it is important to not allow white ally voices to drown out the voices of those we are attempting to be of aid and support to, and also I think it is important for white allies to be addressing other white people who don’t yet get it — which is kind of the entire point of being an ally. We can’t do that by being silent. That said, we also need to be certain that we’re listening.)

So, the trending meme showcases white people and their DUIs and drug use and casual violence or car theft, and the stories of police walking them home or gently chastising them without real enforcement (so that they won’t lose their scholarships, etc, clearly demonstrating for white people who don’t get it that white privilege is a real thing, and even the white people who break the law and benefit from that privilege are capable of seeing its impact in their own lives.) And yet, still, people rose up to argue, this time not against privilege — it was very hard to argue against the privilege displayed in this context, because, wow, yeah… — but against whether #crimingwhilewhite was actually helpful or not, and it was even described as “more divisive than useful”, because it did not account for cases of police brutality on white people.

So… I decided to wade in on the subject:

I am a white person who has been criminally victimized by police brutality. I am also a white person who has experienced extreme privilege with regard to law enforcement interactions. The fact that I have been victimized by police (due in one case to criminal corruption of an organized sort, if you catch my meaning, and in others to non-racial based profiling due to my appearance or reputation as clergy in a minority religious practice) does not in any way erase the fact that my race has also allowed me to walk away from many more instances where a person of color would not have been able to.

As an early teen, I launched a firework at a police car as it pulled into the driveway responding to a call about fireworks in the middle of the night. My older brother (underage) was drinking. Our parents were home, but “asleep”, and the officer noted that fireworks were illegal in the state, and drinking underage was a crime. He advised that we “finish up soon”, and did not confiscate the alcohol or the explosives. We stayed out another thirty minutes lighting them off — including while he was pulling out of the driveway — and did not get shot, arrested, assaulted, handcuffed, threatened, or even have our parents contact. This is white privilege.
Two years later I was zip-tied to a chair and beaten with an extendable baton and a handgun by two police officers who, while in uniform, were not acting in any lawful capacity at the time. This was police brutality and criminal corruption unrelated to race, but instead seated in other criminal connections to which I had inadvertent (and antagonistic) association (i.e. I dated the wrong girl).
That same year I was verbally assaulted by an officer on my property, who had no reason to be there, on a night of tragedy and loss (somebody had died) and I was not in control of myself; I was still a teenager (not yet 18), but nevertheless ordered him off of my property with all authority and entitled outrage at his conduct. I chased him off of the property and, and even after he fled in his car, I gave pursuit on foot “forcing” him to speed away. He fled in fear of his life. I was not arrested, choked, tased, shot, or run over with a car, and later he bought me lunch and apologized for his behavior. This is white privilege.
In my early 20s in California I was stopped by not less than five police vehicles and a sea of uniformed officers who restrained and assaulted me with hands, fists, feet, and a flashlight, including bodily throwing me against a steel fence post at the construction site several yards away. This began by the mailbox of my apartment building where I’d lived for several years, in broad daylight; I was dragged onto the sidewalk and then the public street, and told that it had been reported that a young man fitting my description was stalking the streets with a firearm. (It was later stated that they identified that I was not armed in any such way prior to stopping me, which is why nobody had shot me.) I was illegally detained, beaten, and then released while coughing on the ground “with a warning”. This call was, so far as could be determined at the time, made by somebody in the fire department following an unrelated incident a block away (which I walked past on my way home from the grocery store) where a hit-and-run took place involving a local child. This attack has nothing to do with my race, and everything to do with my appearance: I was wearing a long black (religious) garment, which at the time put a target on me.
I have had cases of extreme abuse, profiling, and criminal violence put on my person by police officers. I have also had very positive exchanges with police officers, in which I was acting as a concerned citizen, the victim of a crime, an advocate for a victim of a crime, or (most often) a clergy person acting on behalf of a community member who was the victim or witness of a crime. I have also had cases where my race has awarded me the privilege to behave in ways that somebody of another race, absent those privileges, would have been detained, shot, or assaulted for.
My negative experiences (e.g. having my fingers broken while zip-tied or my head cracked open on a fence post or being hit in the face with the butt of a shot-gun for refusing to strip naked in the street at gunpoint because they were convinced I had concealed gang tattoos or weapons) do not in any way negate the fact that I have also experience white privilege in dealings with police officers as well. Those are unrelated circumstances, on one hand, and on another still quite related: the fact that I have never been formally arrested or for that mattered shot and murdered in any of these circumstances certainly relates to my white privilege, even in the cases where corruption and/or physical assault was taking place. A dead white kid is generally a lot more inconvenient for a police force than a black one, because racism is real. So is white privilege. So are other forms of profiling. These additional circumstances do not cancel out the realities of racially based institutional terrorism which takes place every day.
Also worth noting, re: police brutality: in all instances of this behavior in the S.F. Bay Area of California — which is not where all instances of this behavior took place — I was able to turn these experiences of assault and profiling into positive community relations by contacting the watch-commanders or others up the chain of command and deciding to leverage community outreach and dialog rather than legal charges or formal complaints against the officers. This led to an *increase* in community relations, positive communication, and respect: it also allowed for me to have unprecedented access in terms of helping to informally educate local law enforcement in responding to members of the community outside of its own experience of culture or society. (For example, the local branch of law enforcement had no idea who or what a “Sikh” was, and so education was able to happen around that important religious group, through discussions of religious garb and dress, state laws pertaining to protection for certain religious articles including the kirpan, and so forth.)
It was my race (e.g. white privilege) which allowed me to enter into these exchanges and opportunities. It was my willingness to be a good ally to other groups absent that privilege that allowed me to use that access to do whatever I could to bring education, increased sensitivity and training, as well as formal hierarchical accountability (through appealing to the chain of command informally, and often over beers) rather than legal action.

Elsewhere on the internet, I saw the following meme going around:

onehumanrace

This is a hopeful message of peace and hugs and bunny slippers and daffodils and shit, right? Well… maybe not so much. Prior to my first real sips of coffee, this was my response to the image:

Please read before liking this image. The message of this image is, I think, well intentioned, but misguided:

While I agree obviously with the statement around finding ways to stop acting from a place of violence from fearing one another, due to the obvious levels of systemic racism and sanctioned hate crime atrocities facing our nation right now, I need to comment on the wording of this particular meme.

It is basically incorrect.That is not what the word “race” is intended to mean, as I understand it. “Race” is not a biological term for all humans — that would be “species” — although it is not incorrect to say “the human race”. Race is a term which in any use is meant to identify differences between groups of descent based on observable or known variances. It ties to concepts of lineage (largely lost in modern context), and is absolutely a social construct meant to discuss the differences of observed characteristics within a species. “Difference” and “differentiation” are not bad words, nor should they be addressed (socially, systemically) with fear, as that fear leads to exactly the kinds of atrocities we are seeing around the country right now. But *erasing* those differences is not the solution, either, because that actually just promotes an even deeper fear. Both “hating that which is different” and “erasing the difference” are born of a fear of the different — an intrinsic xenophobia if you will — in others of our species.

The above meme’s message indicates that the solution is to forget our differences with regard to race (despite naming them at the top), which is the wrong message. If they said, “We are all one human species”, it would be more okay: species is a biological determinative and measurement, whereas “race” is a social construct being at least partially misused in this context (in the sense that its implication is incorrect, though the usage is not technically wrong).

It is important that instead of sending messages that “we are all one” (we’re not, not in any meaningfully measurable way) we send (and absorb) the message that “we are many, and that is okay”. We don’t need to be “one race” to get along: that’s a nuanced and subtle expression of the same xenophobia that causes the problems. It’s well intentioned but misguided. The real message isn’t that “we are all one”, but that “being different is okay” and “we are required to not murder each other for those differences”. It’s less catchy as an inspiring by-line or sub-title, but it is more accurate to the nature of the issues.

It isn’t that we are not “one human race”, it is that being “one” doesn’t actually hold meaningful implication in this context, and indeed serves to potentially silence (rather than empower) groups within that implied condensing of racial experience. Hugs are fantastic and messages that bring warmth and comfort are important, but right now the messages needed aren’t about how we’re all one. Because we’re not. The statistics don’t lie about that. Which is what we’re all needing to be talking about right now, looking at right now, and using our various levels of social and constitutional influence to affect change upon right now in our nation and our world: our differences are real and measurable, and those differences which are sacred and holy and wonderful are being responded to with fear by some who in turn murder others in fashions systemically sanctioned by our “duly elected state”. We may be one race — more appropriately one species — but it is our differences that define us, not our commonalities, and it is the hope for an intrinsic movement away from xenophobia (rather than a compulsion to reductively combine and mush things into a perceived “sameness” despite the statistical realities) that must be the focus of our messages now.

As a white ally I find it important to not try and send messages intended to comfort white people when facing the national outrage, fear, and violence being systemically put upon people of color. I find that this message is meant to do just that: comfort white people who are privileged to be able to “see beyond the differences”. But if we see beyond the differences, don’t we also see beyond the identities, the basic rights and intrinsic humanities? Don’t we *lose sight* of the importance we each as groups and individuals carry? Not to mention the statistics, and the inherent responsibilities that we as allies to change and progress and indeed *peace* have to our fellow humans of all differentiated expressions of being, experience, and presence? The ability to “see beyond difference” is not a focusing of the social “artistic” lens, it is an *unfocusing*, which blurs the trees from the forest and leaves a Monetic impressionist display where the Browns are quickly washed out by the Green, which catches so well the white beneath it.

My words were reposted elsewhere quickly, and almost immediately another commenter stated:

“Anomalous Thracian is fighting an uphill battle. “Human race” has been in common use for at least a hundred years. That said, I would not use “species” nor “race”, but instead “family”.

To this I scowled into my (now full, steaming, black coffee) and replied quickly and without thought:

You’re misreading my piece entirely if you think I said anywhere in there that we shouldn’t use that phrase. I’m saying that we shouldn’t reductively use that phrase to attempt to create an image of unification or oneness that is, while perhaps not biologically false, not socially relevant to the current atrocities faced.

Hugs don’t stop bullets.

As an ally, I try to use my voice — and my interesting background full of varied and often intense systemic experiences, some of them bloody and some of them violent and some of them brutally linked to systemic corruption that allows me some level of sympathetic understanding of the experiences of People of Color who face this every time that they step out of their homes (and often within their own homes), because our world is fucking broken. But whatever shared experiences I may have do not in any way erase or excuse my white privilege: I don’t live in fear that a cop will shoot me in the street, even when they’ve beaten me to a pulp, because the paperwork alone would be too much trouble for them. Because I am white. And grand juries? They care when green-eyed white people die. That’s white privilege, kids, present even in cop-on-white police brutality.

Our differences may set us apart, but they can also bring us together… so long as they are acknowledged, honored, respected, seen, supported, advocated, and fucking courageously defended. #Blacklivesmatter