The invisible spirits of privilege

I’ve seen some nasty arguments erupt — or get seriously intensified by — those three little words, “Check your privilege.”  Yes, I’ve been part of some of those fights.  There is something visceral that happens when one’s privilege is hauled out for inspection, something that shuts down any real communication about substantive issues for many people.  Why is that?  What makes denial, defensiveness, and redirection so important in those moments?  Why is it so easy to feel attacked by the very idea that one has privilege?  As my self-identity has evolved, I’ve found myself sometimes part of a non-privileged minority (Republican and hard polytheist among Pagans, for example) that have given me an opportunity to step outside of that bubble.  (The ways in which I am not a participant in the culture of the privileged are all non-visual, so I can often “pass” as part of the overculture; I am mindful that this places its own limits on my awareness.)  Just as I did when examining the spirit of depression, I find that examining privilege through an animist lens is helpful to me.

Privilege is a spirit or, in my view, a group of personal spirits with attributes that vary, but with certain characteristics in common.  While elusive, there are things about these spirits which can be observed.

  • They are beneficial for the human with whom the associate, providing some level of protection from bad luck, miscommunication, and other downfalls and mishaps in life.  The physical health, economic security, and social status of the privileged are enhanced.
  • Spirits of privilege seem to be tied to blood lines, but it isn’t clear why, or how else one can acquire one.  Wealthy people who lose all their money often bounce back, while tales of poor people who win big lottery prizes and quickly find themselves with nothing again are all too common, so money does not equal privilege.  However, some people gain privilege when their ancestors did not have it, so it can be acquired, and likely also lost, by other means.
  • Privilege does not care to be examined.  I liken it to the magical talent possessed by Bink in A Spell for Chameleon, which operated best in secret, and actively protected that secrecy when need be.  That is to say, I liken the results to those in the book; I don’t know the motivations.  What I do know is that when privilege is confronted, the result is disproportionately hostile, defensive, or evasive.  That sounds like the profile of a spirit that wants to be invisible, at least to its host, and will create whatever mental images are necessary to stay that way.
  • On the other hand, privilege is quite visible to those who don’t have it, and to anyone who has pierced that veil in their own lives.
  • Awareness of privilege, whether by the privileged or those who are not, does not seem to weaken this spirit, so why it wishes to be invisible remains a mystery.
  • Privilege spirits exist in community.  One does not see solitary, privileged people.  Even if they don’t participate in society, their spirits derive some benefit from proximity.

Nothing says “privilege” quite like an ermine cloak.

I can’t see it, but I can picture privilege, and I do so as a cloak.  Because these are individual spirits, they’re not all the same.  As a cloak, my spirit of privilege is bright white, reflective and protective in the way that white tends to be.  (Side note:  for many years, I’ve heard about the disproportionate number of black males in prisons, and I have wondered if it isn’t possible that for some reason they just commit crimes more often.  Just this past week, I finally heard a data point on the radio that specifically addressed that unvoiced question;  the speaker noted that black and white youths are equally likely to be carrying marijuana at any given time, but that black youths are ten times as likely to be stopped and frisked.  That’s the invisible way that a white spirit of privilege deflects and protects.)  My privilege-cloak has other advantages, too, like the pair of hefty balls hanging from the back that keep the wind from blowing it around, and the lovely clasp, shaped like a “C” for cisgendered, which keep it from falling off my shoulders.

My cloak does not have a crucifix appliquéd across the front, but there is a handsome American flag on the shoulder.  There are cloaks with lustrous gold silk linings, hoods in the academic sense, buttons, pockets, and trim, none of which I enjoy.  Visible and invisible influences on my life each contribute to the whole of my cloak, but it’s a good thing it’s not actually a visible garment.  After all, there are places where American citizens are in danger of being killed, not celebrated, and there’s not a single factor that contributes to one’s privilege which can’t put a person at a disadvantage in certain contexts.  Perhaps that occurs when a privilege spirit is cut off from others of its kind, and that they derive their power from numbers, even as they benefit individuals.

Privilege spirits don’t seem to be malevolent, but the fact that not everyone has creates some pretty big problems.  I can’t imagine a down side to everyone being privileged, but I think its spirits resist that idea.  Do they possess a selfish nature?  Is this just vestigial reflex, like the tendency to sweat during job interviews?  Are they trying to screw with us, or aren’t they even aware?

What I do know is that while it’s good advice to tell people to keep calm and listen, there is a spirit in the ear yelling, “Panic!  Run!  Fight!” which often wins the day.  I can’t promise I will be as clear on this issue tomorrow as I am right now, and find myself reacting defensively yet again.  I don’t know if it’s possible, or even prudent, to exorcise this spirit, but being aware of its existence is probably a good start for some of us.

Privilege makes people act irrationally.  Keep patient and keep talking.

Economic impact of Pagan and polytheist events

If you’ve been to a minority faith conference or festival, you’ve seen a lot of money change hands.  We pay for admission, we pay for food, we buy stuff, we book rooms.  How much of an impact does this all activity have?

This form is my humble attempt to begin to answer that very question.  I’m hoping to encourage festival and conference organizers to answer a few simple questions.  Probably too simple, but it’s a start.  If you’re interested in sharing this form, please use

Hellenists and Pagan parents, can you help a reporter out?

After expressing my opinions on Percy Jackson, I find myself assigned an article on the topic for The Wild Hunt.

I’d like to talk to Hellenists who love, hate, or are ambivalent about these books, so long as you’ve got reasons and can explain them!

However, I also want to talk to the kids who have read them, which means I need some Pagan parents to introduce me.  Yes, allowing one’s children to talk to strangers is not without risks, but I am more than happy to do what I must to mitigate those risks and maintain parental comfort levels.  In a perfect world, I’d like to talk to your kids directly (phone or some other way that I can hear their voices), because we communicate differently in writing than we do when talking.  Parents are welcome to listen in, although I’d prefer they zip their lips and let the kiddies say what they will without prompting.  However, if sending questions via email and receiving transcribed answers is all you’re comfortable with, I’ll take it.  I will also allow the parent to control what identifying information I include in the story.

My gods are stronger than fiction

I recently started reading Percy Jackson and the Olympians.  I was kind of aware of these books, but only barely, and it wasn’t until I was poking around Amazon for tridents and had it vomit up a lot of Percy Jackson stuff that I had any clue that Poseidon is a significant force.  Being that I didn’t even know what the books were about, it probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that I had no clue how much some of my co-religionists hate them.  As it happens, I don’t hate them, but what’s worth exploring is why.  I’ll start with the problems noted in that Tumblr post I just linked.

  • Rick Riordan misrepresents the myths and/or the gods.  One word here:  Homer.  You can’t tell me that the way he depicted the gods, particularly in the Odyssey, didn’t tick a few people off.  I don’t know if Homer believed in the gods, but he certainly wasn’t afraid to cast them in a bad light, and frequently.  My gods are stronger than the ones Homer depicted, and the ones Riordan depicted, in part because they understand that any press is good press.  Get people thinking about the gods, and some of those people are going to start worshipping the gods.  If Homer didn’t cross the line of hubris, Riordan probably hasn’t either.  (Although, if Homer really was blind, perhaps that wasn’t an accident, hmm?)  Myths are stories from a long time ago.  Stories = fiction, fiction = made up, made up= not true, not true = I’m not expecting them to reflect my personal experience with my deities.  I get why some of the depictions inspire rage, but my gods are stronger than fiction.
  • These stories are damaging to people with dyslexia and ADHD.  I have neither, so I can only express a personal opinion here:  the author is positing that those with divine blood have these conditions, not that those with these conditions have divine blood.  I can’t say if that depiction was insensitive, or ignorant, or hamhanded, because for some reason I can’t find the links the original poster embedded.
  • The author doesn’t believe in these gods.  Um . . . so what?  The gods do not require our belief, and can use someone to their own ends whether or not they have belief.  If the theoi restricted their work to only those few of us who actively honor and praise them, well, it would be a pretty small field.  Perhaps they wanted to plant the idea in thousands of young kids that the Greek gods are real, knowing that some portion of Riordan’s readership would begin sneaking offerings off of their plates to those gods.  The gods are stronger than fiction, and know how to use it, and its authors.  I think that’s awesome.  It reinforces my belief, my awe, my love.  It’s much more clever and subtle than any mortal mind could have orchestrated.  It’s brilliant in that vaporize-me-if-I-look-too-close kind of way.

Remember what happened to the Panchem Lama?  After the Dalai Lama declared his next incarnation, the poor tyke and his family disappeared, and the Chinese government declared another boy to be the next Panchen lama instead.  It’s an obvious attempt to stifle Tibetan resistance by controlling its religion, rear a child that is a mouthpiece for Chinese control.  But what if the Chinese, much to their chagrin, actually have the true Panchen lama on their hands?  Isn’t that what an enlightened being might do?  Might it not screw up Chinese designs a bit if their fake turned out to be the real thing?  It could happen that way, because the gods are stronger than fiction, even fiction manufactured by the state.

I was relatively comfortable in my ill-defined Paganism, which included a ritual every year or so if I was with people, but no obligations, no offerings, no calendar, no nothing.  I was also quite content in my decision to watch the series Xena: Warrior Princess from start to finish, knowing how wrong they got the myths and how annoying the characters (mortal and immortal alike) are in that show.  My took me out of my comfort zone was an encounter with Ares while I was watching:  the god Ares, not the leather-bound sex symbol who portrayed him.  It led me to seek a teacher in Hellenismos, to learn about ancient and modern practices, and to honor the theoi on a daily basis.  If the gods could use a dog of a show like Xena to get to me and transform my life, how much more can they do with a series like Percy Jackson?

Mark my words, many of tomorrow’s Hellenists will be born of these books.  It doesn’t matter what they “got wrong,” what matters is that minds are opening.  The gods are stronger than fiction, and they know how to use it to their own ends.  Hail the gods!

February for Manannan – February 23

Galina Krasskova has been doing some amazing work in honor of Manannan mac Lir this month, and now it’s your turn.

Gangleri's Grove

Sometimes i like to donate to charities as an offering to specific Deities. It’s good to do something to protect the land and water and world that They gave to us. For those who may want to extend their devotion to Manannan in this way, here are a few Irish based charities that might be of interest:

Irish Wildlife Trust

Friends of Earth Ireland

An Taisce

Ocean Youth Trust Ireland


(I thought this one was particularly cool–they do water search and rescue).
I focused on Irish Charities and orgs. here because of Manannan, but if there are any that you particularly like, regardless of where they’re based, please feel free to suggest them in the comments.

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