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!

On Kenny Klein

Word is circulating quickly that musician and writer Kenny Klein has gotten himself into some trouble.  How Pagans react will be telling in understanding how we view community.

There is no question that participating in the types of activities that Klein has allegedly admitted to are illegal with good reason.  Protecting our most vulnerable, those who are unable to protect themselves, is perhaps the most important value any community can uphold.

I do not know Klein personally, I am not a member of the Blue Star or any Wiccan tradition, and I know little about his specific faith community.  But I do know that it — as well as the broader Pagan sphere — is a religious community.  Where the secular world writes laws to define what actions should result in consequences, it is the realm of religion to explore motivation, intent, and how those actions impact the relationship with whatever divine or natural forces that religion holds sacred.

Should someone be cast out and shunned for possessing child pornography?  Some traditions would say yes without hesitation, others would counsel for healing, and many more might not have an answer to the question.  How does the answer change if the crime is sexual conduct with a child?  Non-sexual physical abuse?  Mental torment?  Murder?

There are no cut-and-dried answers to these and many other questions, at least not ones that can be universally applied to all Pagan religions.  But one thing that I believe should apply to is this:

How outsiders perceive Paganism should not be a factor.

The Roman Catholic Church made some really bad decisions that look like they were driven by public-relations concerns, when their only concern should have been how to protect children.  Public relations should never be a factor in religious decisions, unless that’s actually part of the doctrine or practice of the faith.  There will be a growing blog tizzy about the Klein story, as we process our emotions and release them.  That’s understandable and needed.  But we don’t need to make decisions in our religions that are based on public perception.  Yes, a real Pagan did that, which makes it all the more important that Pagans don’t change how the address it just because there will be media scrutiny.  I, for one, hope that there can be healing for all those involved in these incidents, including Klein himself.

Finding Tom

I always enjoy the workshops and rituals availed to me at Laurelin Retreat, but sometimes it’s the unscheduled times that are the most educational.

On a personal note, my family is having a housewarming party coming up, and because the owners of Laurelin would not be able to attend, I asked if they could give me what we’ve been asking for as a gift regardless: a stone, no smaller than two fists.

Laurelin is fifty-six acres of rolling woods and farmland, crisscrossed with stone walls that now or formerly marked arbitrary boundaries and, like any good New England soil, will yield two good crops of rock a year. There are a lot of stones at Laurelin, and finding the right one for my yard was probably going to take some doing.

Fortune smiled upon me by giving me a companion, Noodleman, who was in need of a Fool’s Errand to complete. My plan had been to supply any number of pictures and make this into a photojournal of our quest. However, I lost the camera immediately after returning home, finding it again in time for a party, only to have it vanish once again, so I don’t expect to be able to give that thousand-to-one ratio promised by pictures. It’s been a week and this post isn’t finished, so I’m just going to have to do this with words alone.

One of the things that’s nice about Laurelin is the plethora of stone walls. Any old agrarian area is going to have them, and central Vermont is no exception. Farmers and landsmen of all sorts learned the art of stacking irregular stones in such a way as to make sturdy boundaries between fields, both marking territory and relocating stones out of plow’s way. I’ve been trying to relearn those skills in the past few days with the stones I’ve been discovering in my compost pile.

None of the stone walls held my interest, and the searching up and down the various streams didn’t find a stone that called out an interest in moving to the Hudson Valley. Finally, we cleared our heads with a solid period of time sitting upon a soft carpet of moss, with no stones in reach.

When we did decide to return to camp, the first stone to catch my eye was perfect. It was sitting on a stone wall along the old road, its top half covered in moss that was populated by inch-long, rust hairs among the bright green carpet. It was in a dry area which was well-shaded, the types of conditions that are abundant in my yard, and particularly in the place where I’m cultivating my moss garden.

“His name is Tom,” Noodleman told me.

Geocaching for Fun and Profit

I’m usually a bit of a slug, preferring to sit at my desk and talk about how cool the natural world is than get out in it. So yesterday was a big day for me, as I got to put my money where my keyboard is and do a bunch of cool stuff. After exploring caves in Kingston I tried my hand at geocaching.

When my partner first suggested geocaching to me I was hesitant, because any hobby that requires a decent amount of time and money invested ahead of time should be approached with caution. I like to be careful how I use my money, so it didn’t seem like a good idea. However, I found out friends of mine have a GPS and take the kids out geocaching all the time, so why not?

The finding of the cache, seeing what’s inside, and trading some of those items for ones we brought was neat. What made it a different kind of walk in the woods for me, though, was the kids. Holding the hand of a three-year-old on a somewhat rocky trail makes you look at the terrain in a very different way. She is completely trusting in your ability to keep her safe from harm as she improves her locomotive skills. It was a new way to experience the world through a child’s eyes.