Using Money for Change

Money is congealed energy.

-Joseph Campbell

It’s always interested me that Pagans seem to be afraid of money. I have never seen any studies about the demographics of Pagans, so I’m only going on anecdotal evidence and my own observations when I say this, but I know I’m not alone in this belief. I don’t know if it comes from a resistance to the materialistic culture that is in opposition to a lot of Pagans’ values, or a deeply ingrained belief that money is the root of all evil (I know the quote is about the love of money, but that’s not how our society interprets it), or some combination thereof.

Campbell’s observation that money is just another form of energy articulated an idea that had been in my head for quite some time. The symbol for material goods in the Tarot is the suit of coins or pentacles, which also represents the element of earth. If I use the pentacle as my religious symbol and worship the Earth, what’s wrong with using this earth-form for the Earth’s benefit? Thinking of it as energy divorces money from the values placed upon it by society, and make it more like electricity or magic: something that behaves according to a set of rules, rules which can be understood. It also fits nicely with the observation Einstein allegedly made about compound interest.

I’d like to see more Pagans actively using money to promote their beliefs. Since we’re very independent, individual expressions are easier to pursue than group ones. I’ve come up with some examples:

  1. Boycotts. I haven’t bought gas or other products from Exxon (and since the merger, Mobil) since the company failed to take responsibility for the Exxon Valdez spill. I won’t buy a Toyota because it offends me that one of their SUVs is called the Sequoia. Do your daily buying decisions reflect your values?
  2. Charity. Giving freely of ourselves, and by extension our money, is a powerful way to change the world. Even small donations to charities add up if many people do the same thing. Make a five dollar donation to a local soup kitchen, or the Lady Liberty League, or Big Brothers-Big Sisters of America – or whoever it is that’s doing the good deeds you never find the time to do yourself. Your time is now money, so you have another chance to do good with it. And no matter your ethical system, it’s tough not to find a life of more abundance if you become a more giving person.
  3. Politics. Yes, scary as it sounds, you can give money to a political campaign! If you feel strongly enough that a particular candidate should (or should not) be elected, or that a particular referendum vote is crucial, your congealed energy efforts can make as powerful an impact as a cone of power.
  4. Giving. This is different than charity – no tax deductions, more personal. Overtip waitresses. Give money to homeless people. Feed a teenager.
  5. Invest. There are a tremendous number of socially responsible ways to grow your money while adhering to your own values. Check out the mutual funds from Calvert and Domini Social Investments, for a start. No better way to ease the guilt of having money than to put it go good use.

So those are a few different options off the top of my head. If any of my three readers want me to go more into depth on any of them, I’d be happy to.

How Music Shapes Paganism

Originally published on Witchvox.

I am proud to be a Pagan. It thrills me to hear the call of the Earth; I rejoice at being in the green woods of the Mother, of raising my voice with others who believe as I do. All things of the natural world are precious to me, and even though I occasionally get morose about what damage we humans wreak, I am glad to be one.

One of the gifts I hold most dear as a human (and one of the reasons I’m really glad to be one) is the power of song. I love listening to, and especially being part of, powerfully woven harmonies that lift up to the heavens themselves. Whether it’s a Handel run or a ringing barbershop seventh, it’s all sacred to me. I love singing Christmas carols and I won’t deny that if Roman Catholics had more really good music I may never have left the church (Well, it would have to be lots more).

I see songs as a way of defining a religion. The Christian hymns based on Gregorian scales say something very different than the tonals and percussion of sacred Islamic music. The topics, too, speak quite a bit about what a religion feels and how it wishes to be perceived. Most Christian music speaks of glorious communion with Jesus, with a fair smattering of strategies for casting out Satan, for example.

What then, does Pagan music say about Paganism? Well, we have a fair amount of music that’s used in rituals and generally for praising our gods. However, it doesn’t take much of a search online to find other songs, songs that are not based on the love and respect that I find important to my faith. These songs, rather, are built upon anger and hatred.

There is a good message in “The Burning Times” by Charlie Murphy. It is saying that the Goddess does not abandon Her followers. However, that message is at the end of a diatribe about the evils of the Inquisition:

There were those who came to power, through domination
And they were bonded in their worship of a dead man on a cross
They sought control of the common people
By demanding allegiance to the church of Rome

More derisive towards Christianity are such songs as “Be Pagan Once Again!” and “Bring Back the Snakes, ” both penned by Isaac Bonewits. The former is particularly chilling as it states:

Both Catholic and Protestant, led us round by our noses,
Distracting from the deadly scent, of England’s bleedin’ roses!
Kick every preacher ‘cross the sea, burn out their golden dens.
It’s the only way we’ll ever be free — let’s be Pagan once again!

Paganism isn’t a really a religion, in the sense the Hinduism and Islam are religions. Self-identified Pagans believe an incredibly diverse number of things, and any author that has tried to define Paganism is either forced to be so incredibly broad that virtually every thinking human is included, or narrows the definition in such a way that a group that identifies itself as Pagan is left out in the cold.

It’s perfectly natural to find ways to bring our community closer together, and since we don’t have the luxury of finding that common bond in the deity we worship, it’s understandable that we draw upon stories and documents from history to find that commonality.

But is anger the common bond that will draw us together? Hatred about acts committed centuries ago? Is this one of the Five Pillars upon which Paganism will stand?

There are innumerable instances of persecution against Pagans in the modern day. Such acts are offensive and it’s a good thing to work towards a time when the US military acknowledges the pentagram on veterans’ headstones and children are not taken from parents because of their religious beliefs.

But ask yourself, if you were a devout Christian and heard the verses I quoted above, would you think of Paganism as a threat? Certainly you would, and with good reason!

Songs serve as our emissaries and diplomats, and these old ditties are not serving us terribly well. How Paganism is perceived by the world at large is shaped by how Pagans act, the art they create, and the way they relate to the members of other faiths. Is it possible that the perceptions we create for ourselves lead to these misunderstandings? I think it would be naïve to think not.

I understand that the songs I reference here are not recently scribed, but they are still being performed. These songs, and others like them that seek to cast blame upon Christians for the plight of the Pagans of old, is as specious as the argument that war is good for the economy, and as vindictive as the Christians themselves casting out Jews because some of their number crucified Jesus two millennia ago.

Unspeakable crimes have been committed by groups of humans upon other groups of humans since before recorded memory. Genocide and torture, slavery and disenfranchisement, rape and swindling are all part of the lowest levels that human beings can sink to in dealing with one another.

Do I bear the karmic responsibility for white people who enslaved Africans, or for men that subjugated women? Is it my responsibility to atone for the sins of all Europeans that brought disease and murder to North America? Of course not!

My job is to see that such acts are not committed again if it is within my power. I should not remain silent and allow the Holocaust or other genocide to occur. But I don’t see how having a foaming rage over heinous acts committed against alleged Pagans six centuries ago is going to help me be a moral and caring human being. Instead, it’s more likely that it will foment unreasoning hatred in me, and make me more likely to heap abuse upon the descendants of those criminals using acts no less despicable.

I prefer not to walk that fine line between moral outrage and immoral vengeance.

Blazing My Trail

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.

There’s always been lots of talk about the path a person takes in life. I don’t think of it that way – to me, it’s a trail, not a path.

A path is worn by the steps of the many that have walked this way before us. A path declares itself, commanding, “Come this way!” Water yields to the furrow of a path, for it is easier to follow the path than find another way to low ground.

Trails are marked by blazes which may or may not always be sufficient to the task. Foot traffic is infrequent enough, or the surface durable enough, to keep a furrow from being worn in. Trails beckon to the attentive, “Come, this way!” Water sometimes impedes trails, crossing them on the way to low ground.

It’s easy enough as a Gaiaped to see how trails better suit my course and direction than do paths or roads. There are times I’m just not going to be able to go the exact way I had intended, and that’s going to happen no matter how much I plan. Planning is good, being able to think on your feet is really good.

Mercury, God of Death

Most agree more energy-efficient light bulbs can significantly curb air pollution, but fewer people are talking about how to deal with them at the end of their lives.

This troubling quote comes from a recent, sensational article about the dangers of compact fluorescent bulbs. I learned about this poor woman’s plight, and how I may have been led down the garden path in my own desire to do the right thing for the Earth, by Glenn Beck’s radio program.

I like Glenn Beck’s program. I think I would like the man if I knew him. He calls shenanigans on people when they make outrageous claims, and tries to present opposing views. Granted, his views are framed by his own worldview, but so are mine. I respect his desire to make people think, and I am more than happy to take up that challenge.

Glenn used this story recently as a springboard for his road show, “An Inconvenient Tour.” Beck isn’t impressed by the facts presented in support of the global warming theory, and has found quite a few scientists who find the whole thing alarmist. This story about the dangers of mercury in CFLs is a perfect example, he claims, of how rushing to solve a problem we aren’t sure even exists generally causes more harm than good.

So I decided to do more digging, and discovered that there’s more to the story of this lady in Maine than he reported . . . I’m not sure if he failed to research it sufficiently, or just spun it to his own purposes, but either one is a bit disappointing. Apparently he found the story as reported by Steve Milloy, but didn’t discover that he’s known for junk science reporting. Maybe, like me, he was unable to read the original article in the Ellsworth Times (which apparently goes on to say that the claim that a full environmental cleanup was necessary was excessive) because registration is required to read old articles, and confirmation takes some time.

Now I’m not going to get deep into the global warming debate here. However, the graph comparing mercury of CFLs and incandescent bulbs is instructive. If you want less mercury polluting the world, compact fluorescent bulbs are the way to go. If you want to save money by using less energy, CFLs do that as well. Who cares if you believe we are destroying the earth through global warming? Can you get behind less poison and less money spent?

Pharyngula also talks about Mr. Milloy’s hypocrisy on environmental issues, which is in keeping with my own observations on how environmentalists are held to a higher standard regarding caring for the Earth than others. I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who is seeing a trend to shoot people down for trying to do the right thing, since it’s a lot easier than feeling guilty about not giving a crap yourself.

So I’m not going to remove any CFLs from my home. I’m also not going to stop listening to Glenn Beck. He challenges me, and I like that. I hope I challenge him, too.

Children Are the Future

“The decision to have children should be seen as a very big one and one that should take the environment into account.”

This study is going to be attacked as liberal, alarmist nonsense. Our planet can feed and shelter far more humans than it does presently, they will explain, and we don’t have the power to destroy it anyway!

We probably don’t have the ability to destroy the Earth. We may be able to effect greater change over a shorter period of time than other of species, but that isn’t the same as destruction. However, the very political factions that scoff at altering our lifestyles for the sake of our world also believe in personal responsibility, and that’s a Pagan Value as much as it is a Conservative one.

I love children. They really are our future. They haven’t been trodden down by the worries of the world, the burdens of being a nurturer or provider don’t yet weigh on them; they still know how to play. In my own quest for immortality, the only thing that has come close to making me feel younger is spending time with a child, be it holding a nursing babe or watching a teenager show off a new skateboard trick.

Humans really don’t live all that long, and it’s damned difficult to form opinions that extend beyond our own generational boundaries. Honestly, we can’t even predict the weather beyond next week with any real accuracy, so I can’t blame anyone for being skeptical of science like this study and Al Gore’s global warming charges. And even if our ability to understand large systems increases, our ability to care won’t. If we’re lucky, we can really get passionate about the future, but probably not any further out than our own age. Each of us can do better from time to time, and some of us are far beyond the limits I’ve just expressed, but I think it’s fair to say that this is where the average human’s head is at.

The irony is that we have children, in part, to extend our own lives. Whether or not you believe in an immortal soul that takes new form, you probably like the idea that descendants you will never meet may visit your grave, research your life, preserve your legacy. It’s a heady feeling, isn’t it? I won’t have that feeling, because I don’t, and won’t, have children.

I have felt for many years that I fall short in my ability to leave no trace upon the Earth. It’s really tough to reduce how much packaging I create, how much energy I use, how much carbon I emit. How I measure that impact has changed over the years (carbon is big right now, pounds of garbage was all the rage when I was in college), but the song remains the same. The one thing I know I can do, though, is not have any kids.

What’s funny is that I’ve had a lot of environmentally-minded people tell me that I should change my tune. I can teach my offspring how to live right, they explain, and help change the world. They may be right, perhaps I would be that good of a father. But no matter the character of my children, each of them would create about as much pollution as every other human, as would each of their children. For a lazy man like myself, it’s tough to find an easier way to reduce my impact and honor my faith.

I think the recommendation of having no more than two children is fair. I don’t expect people to overcome their values and instincts and dreams of family; that’s a personal choice.
Hopefully the idea won’t be blasted out of existence, because it’s an idea whose time has come.

Is a Hate Crime a Crime?

I am not comfortable with the idea of hate crimes. A hate crime is judged to exist when it appears that another crime, generally a crime of violence, was committed because the victim was a member of some group that was hated by the criminal. A black person, for example, or a transexual, hispanic, homosexual, amputee, or Republican.

Hate crime laws do not punish acts. The underlying crime, that of assault or rape or arson or some other atrocity, invariably has sentencing guidelines for punishing those acts. Rather, these laws seek to punish attitude, mindset, and intent. They seek to protect classes of people from those that would seek them out for who and what they are.

I’m Pagan, and I’m gay. I am not comfortable with the idea of someone assaulting me or threatening my life. I believe I wouldn’t care for the idea any more or less were I a woman, or a Baptist, or a father of three, or an Alpacan yak. I think the laws that forbid a person from violent acts should be strong. I don’t think that the laws should be stronger if I’m the victim, though. I don’t want to be treated differently, I want everyone to be safe. You can’t legislate attitude, and laws that are written with that intent are more likely to have the opposite effect. I don’t want to be singled out by your laws. If I want to stand out, I’ll do something exceptional and you may feel free to judge me by my acts.

The Threefold Law doesn’t seem to have a standard written form, but the general sense of it as that you get back three times as much as you put out into the world, for good or ill. So would I get punished more for running down a black man because I hated them all then I would be for running down my brother because he picked on me as a child? Anger is anger, no matter its cause. Any violence that’s committed without anger is more troubling, I should think.

I’m not comfortable with the violence man is capable of committing. I’m also not comfortable with some of that violence being labeled as “hate crimes,” while some of it is not.

Is a Pagan Filter Like an Oil Filter?

The idea of this “filter” is that the world is filtered through my perceptions, and I’m a Pagan, so the worldview that is expressed here is going to be a Pagan one. But what on Earth does that mean?

If I were Christian you probably could get a general idea of my beliefs from that label alone. Granted, there is quite a bit of disagreement among and about Christian theology, but for good or ill you, as my reader, would have formed an opinion about my beliefs pretty quickly were I Christian, and if you were perceptive you would be able to fine-tune that opinion as you read more.

Now that’s possible still, with me being a Pagan and all, but trickier. As a Pagan, I don’t necessarily reflect the beliefs of a much larger group. Rather than being pigeonholed together because of a common source of belief (e.g., the resurrection of Jesus Christ), Pagans a lumped more as a free association of folk that don’t belong somewhere else. A more accurate term for it is really Neopagan, since myself and most of those I’ve met follow a path that was more or less created or reborn within the last century or so, not handed down from Paleolithic times like you may have heard. But even that term doesn’t necessarily narrow down the beliefs too much, or make it easier for a reader of my ramblings to conveniently categorize me and my beliefs.

Quite a few Pagans identify themselves with Earth spirituality or Earth-worshiping. I count myself among that number; not all of my Pagan friends think the Earth is of primary importance. The vast majority of Pagans are focused on leading an ethically positive life (albeit one whose code is not laid out in a revealed text) and shun association with forces and practices generally considered evil. This same vast majority recognize the force called Satan as being one of the Christian gods, and rather than rejecting him, we just don’t permit him power over us. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t people that follow a spiritual path that they identify with as both Pagan and Satanic, but this is the slipperiness of language: just because you call it something doesn’t mean it is that thing. Educated Pagans and Satanists alike agree that their paths don’t intersect in any meaningful way.

As a Pagan I recognize that the most powerful force that humans have any meaningful control over is sex; this is the power of creation in its most basic form. Metaphorically and literally it is the source of all life and power on this planet. Even as we honor that force more openly than many other religious paths, we’re less likely to condemn sexual acts that do not fall within the confines of a heterosexual marriage. “Do what you will, but harm none,” is a common Pagan ethical belief that I adhere to, and what happens in privacy among willing people is not something I would condemn, even if the act in question is one that I would find distasteful.

My own beliefs draw from the precepts of Wiccanism, Shamanism, Discordianism, and Eclecticism. In the final judgment I label myself a Gaiaped, an Earth-walker, a sacred backpacker. I follow the wilderness code of “Leave No Trace” as an ethical code, and find that I am most likely to find divinity waiting quietly in the trees for me. As such, my beliefs tend to support human population control, environmental protection, and waste reduction. Humans are able to effect the world far more powerfully than we are ready to comprehend, and are not likely to recognize the consequences for generations. What we do now is blindly guess, with our words and our deeds; we’re not cut out for much more than that.

As a Gaiaped I strive to approach things in a way that emulates the Earth. Slow changes, guided by irresistible forces. Don’t be hasty, but don’t be afraid to commit to a course of action.

So that’s the filter through which I see the world. We can talk about oil some other time.