Student Reviews, Yay!

12/08/2010 03:30:00 PM | | 0 comments »

Every semester, students get to rate me 1 through 10, and they can write comments about me.  I don't get to read them until the beginning of the next semester.

I always face these things with trepidation.  I'm made of pretty stern stuff, and I know that a lot of the negative comments come from students who didn't really apply themselves, but I always resist reading them regardless.

I just looked through last semester's reviews.  Not only did I get some of the highest scores to date, I got a lot of positive comments.  Lots of stuff about how they appreciated my study guides and exam reviews.  Lots and lots of comments about how I know my material (an issue which always makes me nervous, since I cover such a large span of time and can't be an expert in everything).

No mentions of the Black Death being a cover-up for a zombie apocalypse, but I can't have everything.

Really the only complaint I regularly got was that I require a lot of reading.  Welcome to Humanities.  Get over it.  It's a reading-intensive subject.  Nothing I can do about that.

Happy, happy happy dance. 

Writing Projects

12/08/2010 12:44:00 PM | 0 comments »

I'm still looking for ways to motivate myself to write more regularly.  One of the problems is I have too many projects.  I never have enough time for all of them, and my lack of prioritizing often means none of them really get done.  The problem with writing for this blog is that I'm already blogging over at  That kind of blogs me out.

Over the Christmas break I will, yet again, attempt to finish a book to submit for publication.  I actually have two in the works, which again is part of the problem.  I'm never sure on which I should work.  But there also seems to be a psyuchological block about getting either project finished.  I have, in fact, sat down to work on one, had things to type, and just never started actually working on it.

I've been teaching now for two years, and I love it. There's a lot of reasons for this, but it recently struck me just how much I am able to say what I want at this job. Sure, standing in the front of class yelling "bite me, wankers" would probably hurt my career, quite frankly I'm not often motivated to do such. Here I can generally speak my mind with very little self-censoring, a requirement that stifled me at my previous place of employment as an executive assistant.

For example, if someone came in complaining of not having a stapler for his report, I previously would have been expected to express understanding or even apologize for his inconvenience, volunteer to find a stapler, staple the report and then ask if there's anything else I can do for the person. Now, when a student comes in saying the same thing, I can quip, "That would be poor planning on your part," and go about my business.

I knew the assistant job would be taxing in that area, I just never realized how taxing until I had something to which I could compare it.

I hate putting on false faces. Just abhor it. It earns me the label "tactless," and occasionally I have to reign in the more extreme expressions of it, but in general I'm fine with that summation of myself. I despise forced sincerity and false praise. I am frustrated when I ask for input and people refuse to criticize, as well as when others ask me for input and then are put off when I don't pat them on the head and tell them it's the best I've ever seen.

On the other hand, I also recognize that there are still right ways and wrong ways to express a negative thought. Recently someone protested online, "How can you accuse me of being rude when I'm just expressing my honest opinion?" I can honestly think someone looks like a cow in that dress, but I'm certainly not going to share that unrequested. Even if the person asks for input on her appearance, I'm going to phrase it differently, probably focusing on suggestions to improve the appearance rather than just taking a verbal sledgehammer to her. But I'm not going to shower her with false compliments.

Today I may just have deep-sixed a friendship.

Yahoo, being the overly clever thing that it is, started automatically sending me a friend's Twitter posts as status updates. I haven't seen him in a while, but we cross paths every few years. Regardless, I was shocked by the hate this generally gentle man was posting over and over again about "Islamists."

Read more: Anger and 9/11 @
(Sorry, I'm not allowed to publish blog posts in full on other sites)

An interview of myself is now available at Real Wicca, a podcast dedicated to stripping away some of the silly myths attached to Wicca. I'm featured in episode 2. It gives some insight as to how I personally got to where I am today religiously.

So, I was over on Facebook, and I was assaulted with an advertisement for "Free Wiccan Enrollment," which, among other things, promises training from "First to Elder." And I thought, "Oh, this will be good. Is this the Corellian Tradition, or has someone else upped the cheese factor?"

Meet the Sacred Mists Online Wiccan College. It teaches a blend of Celtic Traditional and Faerie Wicca, which I can only translate as "random grabs of shoddy scholarship and plagiarism, dumped on top of a vague and undefined God and Goddess."

But wait, there's more! They'll train you to be a High Priestess and ordain you! (I would LOVE to know if these people even have the legal capability for ordination, or if they are confused as to what ordination means. In any event, the ULC will ordain you for free.) In addition, you'll get "A beautiful custom Certificate of Degree Attainment" after every elevation. But wait, how can I be elevated online? Don't worry! They have "online degree initiations" as well as other "online rituals"! I'm sure those are just as effective as in person. [/sarcasm]

Classes will cover such topics as "Tarot, Potion Craft, Candle Making and Magick, Kitchen Witchcraft, Healthy Witches, Scrying, Pendulum Use, Runes, Palmistry, Reiki, Ogham, Astrology, [and] Numerology." In other words, absolutely nothing that has to do with Wicca. Bravo. Well done. Now tuck those bunny ears back under those pointy little hats.

I gave up thinking of my country, the United States as particularly progressive some years ago.  Today I found one more reason to discount that claim:  South Africa has a Wiccan member of Parliament.

Just for the record, the number of Wiccan members of the US Congress is zero. No member of the US House of Representatives nor the US Senate identifies himself as any form of neopagan. Wikipedia gives a neat breakdown of the current religious demographics.

Read more:  South Africa Parliament Has Neopagan Member @
(Sorry, I'm not allowed to publish blog posts in full on other sites)

At the beginning of this month I posted the article The Devil Made Me Do It, concerning a man on trial for murdering his wife, which he claims he did while being possessed.

A reader asked if I was actually suggesting that there might be merit in the man's claims. My answer was essentially that my opinion had no relevance on the issue.

Religion is problematic to write about precisely because much of what religious people believe cannot be proven, although they themselves may have very good reason for believing. We call those reasons "unverifiable personal gnosis." It's personal knowledge that cannot be proved to others. I believe in my gods, for example, because I have experienced their presence. I can't prove that to anyone, and MY experiences are, quite frankly, a poor reason for someone else to believe in them....

Read more:  Opinion and Reality: Unverifiable Personal Gnosis @
(Sorry, I'm not allowed to publish blog posts in full on other sites)

While I am not a manic depressive, I certainly have a certain minor manicness to my creativity.  I'm in one of those periods now.  I approached this blog today with some trepidation.  I haven't been in the mood to write.  Yet once I started writing, I wanted to continue.  I tend to work like this.

It's probably why my projects are so unfocused.  I flit from one thing to the next.  I'm not someone who wants to invest a lot of time into something long-term...which would be why I've never really made any money from my various hobbies, and why I would be a terrible shop owner.

I'm also slowly realizing that what I like more than writing is actually speaking, which is rather a shock to an introvert like me.  I think that's why I'm more successful online than in print:  less time investment and with a certain expectation of feedback and give-and-take.  It's why I've largely given up my book projects, but I'm still teaching after three years.  (Also, I get paid for being a teacher, while writing only offers a hope of getting paid at some point in the future)

Incidentally, it took me forever to figure out I wanted to teach.  When I announced I wanted to major in history, everyone presumed I wanted to teach.  I didn't.  Even when I went to grad school for history, teaching was my backup plan (although, I confess, I didn't really have a fleshed out "plan A").  As an adjunct professor/associate lecturer (the title keeps changing), the pay is lousy, but it's the second best job I've ever had (and the best job was with a company with an untenable business plan and no longer exists).

The question was asked of me about a dozen times in the last week:  What is steampunk?  At least twice it was asked by people who were actually AT the steampunk ball.  They heard about the party last minute and threw costumes together with the help of friends, but they still weren't sure what the heck steampunk really was.

Steampunk is the future past that never happened.

Steampunk is an alternate reality when steam engines could do more than what steam engines should ever be able to.

Steampunk is Victorian science fiction.  Steampunk as a concept is very new (within the last two decades), but the writing of Jules Verne is often highlighted as quintessential steampunk.  H.G. Wells and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein are also decent examples, as well as some of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's non-Sherlock Holmes works.  (Although the new Sherlock Holmes movie has a steampunk flair to it.)

In modern works, the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is very steampunk.  Then again, it does star a Jules Verne character.  Wild Wild West is also steampunk.  The anime Howl's Movie Castle is set in a magical steampunk world.

Steampunk is a world of airships, mad scientists and giant steam engine machines.  Technology is science fiction, but it's generally large, as it's understood to run on vacuum tubes, steam pipes, pulleys and gears.  As such, brass ray guns are fairly popular.  Etiquette runs the gamut from Victorian high society to egalitarianism, with women just as commonly taking on the persona of mechanics, pilots, and scientists as they are a bustled damsel.

Seven days after surgery, I headed down to Milwaukee last night for a steampunk ball.  I haven't previously been big into the scene, but I can definitely see myself really getting involved.

Steampunk, fashionwise, just might be the new goth.  I was a goth back when being goth was an actual alternative movement of individuality, rather than something you bought at Hot Topic to rebel like everyone else.

Really, there's a fair amount of goth attire that can be refitted for steampunk, particularly if you were one of those antique-minded goths.  Corsets: still in.  Shiny accoutrements: still in, in the form of zippers, buttons, chains, and various notions such as compasses, pocketwatches and keys.  Leather?  Absolutely.  Colorwise, steampunk emphasizes browns over blacks, but there's plenty of black gear that's still completely appropriate. 

Because this was a ball, we dressed in high class steampunk, but there's a lot of low-class steampunk too: aviator gear, complicated tool belts, gadgets, and the ever-present goggles.  You can claim your place among steampunk with little more than a pair of goggles, really.  The goggles don't even have to be functional.  Here they are worn on the hats of men who already have glasses on their faces. 

Or, as I learned, as a really quick costume, a wrench might even replace a set of goggles.  At least when you're bold enough to wear it as a tie, as the gentleman in front did, as his addition to our group was a last minute thing.

I've been absent for the last week or so due to an oophorectomy and cystorectomy.  For those interested in medical details, I went in to drain a cyst on my left ovary that had bloated the organ to a size larger than a baseball.  There was concern that they would have to remove it entirely, which was avoided.  However, the right ovary, which was expected to be fine, was discovered to be so badly scarred from endometriosis that it was removed.

As such, childbearing is still technically possible with the left ovary, but it's probably a fairly small window of opportunity.  Well, at least we now know why previous attempts at pregnancy haven't been working.

Growing up, I've always wanted kids, but I've always had the nagging suspicion that it wouldn't happen.  My body is just, let's say.  The fibromyalgia probably would complicate things.  And as my menstrual cycle fell into more and more discord these last several months, I read the writing on the wall.

I'm strangely OK with that.  That might be the depression talking, although I'm actually doing fairly well on that front, between meds, life, and, perhaps, surgery.  Right now, kids sounds more like a chore than fun.  That's probably life talking: meeting some new friends and finding new things to do.  So I guess maybe this is a also a wakeup call of how routine my life was getting.

Adoption or foster care is certainly on the table.  My husband and I have discussed it several times.  He  preferred a biological child, but he also greatly prefers me not to risk my health on a dodgy pregnancy.

I've always seen the "Mother" phase of life as having to do with more creativity than just biological child raising, and with the lift of depression, not to mention the confinement of post-op recovery, I've been much more creative lately.  I've been encouraged to get artwork done, and I created the first new costume in ages for a steampunk ball, which will be covered in other posts.

Isaac Bonewits passed in his sleep this morning after a long battle with colon cancer.  He was 60 years old.  Bonewits was a  highly respected member of the neopagan community, where he has been influential for decades...Read more at my Alternative Religions blog.

There isn't actually a punchline here.  I'm just describing last Thursday night.

Once I year I attend a huge gaming convention in Indianapolis.  The first night there, I went out for drinks with a tableful of new-found friends.  Most of the time we talked about gaming, but at some point religion came up, I think when someone mentioned the Christian was also a Methodist youth minister.  Then we learned the Jew was not only a rabbi, but also officiated the atheist's wedding.

Religion doesn't have to be divisive, not even among the truly devout.  And sometimes we can be brought together by the most unrelated of things, like role-playing.

Got to view the Season Five finale over the weekend, and it left me very, very angry.

The show has never been big on clear cut rules of time travel.  But there have always been certain things that they seem dedicated to avoiding just on the grounds of common sense.

This weekend, for the first time in 31 seasons, they stooped to Bill & Ted time travel.  Specifically, the current version of the Doctor is rescued repeatedly by a future version of himself...a version who could only exist if the current version was indeed rescued.  It's the equivalent of Bill and Ted commenting "After all this is done, we've got to remember to go back in time and drop an anvil on this guy's head," and then see an anvil fall out of the sky.  (Ok, it probably wasn't an anvil.  It's been a LONG time since I watched it.  But you get the picture.)

Bill & Ted got away with it because it was a comedy.  It wasn't supposed to be taken seriously.  But Doctor Who is a tad more serious.  More importantly, it's a series.  By allowing such a ridiculous mechanism to work, the writers have removed any future challenge to the Doctor.  Someone can always say "Well, why doesn't a future version of himself just rescue him again?"

And they didn't just do it once: the entire episode is rife with it.  It's like it was mocking those of us who expect competent writing.

In addition, most of this nonsense was yet again accomplished through the random introduction of a piece of technology. This time it's a bracelet that can time travel.  Apparently it can do everything the Doctor's TARDIS (which is large and bulky) can do, except it fits on your wrist.  Thanks for making the staples of the show obsolete, all because you were too lazy to write a real plot.

Finally, I'm left with a few, teeny, tiny questions, like:

  • Why does Rory eventually remember the events of the episode, even though he was very, very dead for all of it?
  • Why I am expected to believe that the power of one person remembering the Doctor can pull him across the boundaries of the universes?
  • Did the villians really create fake Romans in *real* Roman Britain?
  • BTW, how does basing their inventions off of things in Amy's head make it more compelling mystery to attract the Doctor?  I mean, other than it allowing River Song to easily figure it out by wandering through Amy's bedroom.
  • Why, as the universe is collapsing, is the Earth the last to succumb, especially since the Sun was already eradicated?
  • Why, if the TARDIS is exploding in all point of space-time, it also just happens to be burning in space at the exact right location to keep the Earth livable?
  • Why, if the villians could finally agree on working together to get rid of the Doctor, could they not comprehend that getting rid of the Doctor does not stop the TARDIS from exploding, which was their ultimate goal?
  • The Pandorica needs living DNA of Amy to revive Amy.  Check.  Yet it only needs one molecule of the universe to revive the universe?

I understand that doctors get frustrated with overly-pushy patients, particularly those who come in with a diagnosis already in mind.

However, that's not the same as being well-informed about your own medical situation.  If you have no major ailments, and only occasionally see a doc, it's not terribly applicable.  However, when you see docs as often as I do, and you have something like fibromyalgia (FMS), not only do I find it helpful to keep myself informed, but doctors are now saying the same thing.

Twice this week I've been complemented by doctors for bringing it up.  In both cases I've been asked about pain related to current ailments.  While I answered to the best of my ability, both times I added "I've got fibromyalgia, so all questions regarding pain are loaded questions."  I presume it's because doctors are better understanding FMS.  Because I suffer chronic pain, I suspect my brain largely ignores certain pains.  Unless I want to curl up in a ball from pain, I don't think of myself as being in pain. 

I've also been through doctor offices enough that I can with some authority declare what does and doesn't work for me for a variety of conditions.  After all, at 35 I can recall more medications than most people will ingest in their lifetimes (Ceclor, pennicilin, ammoxicilin, codiene, darvocet, percoset, effexor, flexiril, wellbutrin, elavil, prozac, zithromax, predisone, solbid, ventolin, alupent, anaprox, celebrex, erythomicin, ultram, ambien, lexapro, ritalin, donatal, dicyclomine...and that's just the stuff I remember.  In retrospect, I clearly should have started making a list long ago.)

For those who may not have heard, Isaac Bonewits, who has been very positive and generally level-headed voice in the pagan community for decades, is dying of cancer.  He's been battling it for many months, and he and his wife have been blogging it, but at this point they know the end is relatively near.

The Bonewits have had financial difficulties even before this happened.  Now, they are overwhelmed with medical bills.  Previously, supporters had organized a Rolling Thunder ritual to send healing energies his way.  According to the Wild Hunt, those same people (and I'm not sure who exactly those people are), are organizing what they call a Rolling Coin ritual, which involves everyone donating money on the same day.

While I certainly have nothing against a call for (or offer of) charity, the whole "ritual" terminology turns me off.  Maybe they came up with it tongue-in-cheek, something they could giggle over, but it's that kind of stuff that makes us look like phonies and wannabes.  Pushing a donate button on the Internet is not a ritual.  It's a fine cause, but it's not a ritual!

I visited the doctor's office yesterday to address some medical questions.  In the course of our discussion, the nurse practitioner asked me if there was anything in my life making me anxious or depressed.  I answered no.

But then I started thinking about it, and realized that while there truly isn't anything in my life which should depress me, I am indeed depressed.  I'm finding it hard to motivate myself to do things I want to get done, things I even generally enjoy doing.  My memory has gone to hell, which I've been writing off to "fibro fog." I cry at times when I can even recognize there's no reason to cry.  I even blogged the other day about how I couldn't find anything positive to write about.  I've just been sort of writing everything off, sort of an "eh, that's just how things are."

That's depression.  It's been about ten years, but I have been down this road before.  now that the idea has finally sunk in, I'm recognizing all sorts of mannerisms that further suggest it.  And no, I don't think it's power of suggestion.  When it comes to my health, I'm pretty good at staying objective.  I find of have to with the fibromyalgia, since there's no test or machine that can externally measure symptoms.  I've tried puzzling out what has been going on with me, and none of the suspicions have fit. 

This fits.  This is depression...or perhaps whatever has caused depression in the past, if there's something more complex coming on.  And that makes me paradoxically happy.  Depression can be fixed.  Like I said, I've done this before, and just knowing why my body is doing something it's not supposed to is a victory I don't get nearly often enough.

I came across a discussion today on book burnings and people's opinion of it.  I've always been against it, but this discussion gave me the impetus to consider the specifics of why I disagree with it.

I consider people who practice such things ignorant and backward. Knowledge is never bad, only what one does with it. Book burners accomplish nothing of substance. There's billions of Bibles in existence. While burning used to have the practical purpose of making "dangerous" knowledge less available or unavailable to others, today it doesn't even accomplish that. It's nothing more than an attention-seeking tantrum.

Ever seen the advertisement in which a man's computer screen reads "You have reached the end of the Internet?" That's sort of how I feel tonight. At least, I've hit the end of the Internet that's worth reading. I'm trying to come up with something appropriate for my blog at, but I have reached an impasse.

I could go on about the recent antics of the Westboro Baptist Church, or the fact that I can remain relatively unbiased about darn near everyone but them.

I could report on soldiers who have been informed that they cannot be conscientious objectors because they don't want to serve with homosexuals.

I could lament on the the 50th time I've seen someone claim that Satanism is the world's largest religion because all non-Christians are Satanists.

But what I would really like to do is write about something positive. Something new. Something that hasn't annoyed me for the umpteenth time.

BTW, my spell checker accepts umpteenth as a real word. I guess that's my positive contribution for today!

One of my great loves for a very long time has been Doctor Who. I watched the old series fanatically, and I have adored damn near everything they have done in the new series, although I find more and more problems creeping in as they continue.

For those not familiar, the Doctor is an alien time traveler who has the ability to regenerate rather than die, which helpfully lets the series continue after the lead actor is ready to move on. The new series has had three incarnations, played by Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, and Matt Smith.  (The previous series went through seven incarnations over 26 years, and Fox did a TV pilot in 1996 that introduced one more incarnation that is considered canon)

I've tried, really tried, to like Smith. At first I thought him too young (only 28), but then I saw him in costume, and I thought they had overcome that problem. But the fact is this season has been mediocre at best. Part of the problem, certainly, is writing. It's derivative and unimaginative and incongruous, rather than clever, smart and witty like some of the previous seasons.

But I can't keep solely blaming the writing. Matt Smith is dull. They are not giving him much to work with, but he is doing nothing with what he has. In "The Pandorica Opens", the Doctor is reunited with Rory, who he believed to be killed and erased from existence. At first, Smith's Doctor is too preoccupied to notice, which follows his character. But when it does dawn on him who is before him he does…nothing. There's just awkward silence, almost like he's waiting for a direction. Had it been Tennant, he would have screamed for joy, picked him up and spun him around. If it had been Eccleston, he would have been demanding and accusatory, furiously insisting he be told how this is possible. But Smith just stands there.

And just to hammer home the point, my husband and I caught an old Tennant episode last night, and at the first commercial with both spontaneously confessed how clearly superior Tennant was, far more than either of us expected. We aren't huge fans of Tennant, but he's 100% better than Smith.

There's a great video on YouTube somewhere on the failures of Episodes I, II, and II in Star Wars, and one of the best points comes from an exercise in which you pick a character and then try to describe them without referring to their job or their appearance. You can do it with the original characters, but not with most of the new ones. Han Solo is cocky, a rogue, a ladies man, does his own thing, does a bit of fence sitting but ultimately stands by his friends. Amidala Amidala has a poor choice of boyfriends. That's about as far as I can go.

You can do the same thing with Doctor Who. Both Smith's Doctor, and his companion Amy Pond suffer a similar lack of definition. They're just two vague characters that go along with the plot, and the plots themselves are hamfisted efforts with little originality or creativity, instead depending on things like bringing back fan favorites like the Weeping Angels without recognizing that their previous episode was so cool because of the skilled writing, not just the presence of these particular adversaries.

I'm hearing rumors that Smith will not be kept on for next season. That's probably a good thing, but only if they understand the problem is more than Smith.  The writing needs to return to it's roots.  And they absolutely have to cast the right person for the Doctor.  I think they've been stressing demographics too much, making the Doctors progressively younger.  The Doctor doesn't need to be sexy!    Nor does he need to be someone to whom the fans can relate: that has always been the point of the companion.  The Doctor IS an alien, after all.

You can check out a two minute survey of this season on YouTube, which at least gives the flavor of what Doctor Who  is supposed to be.  For those who haven't seen the entire season, there ARE spoilers.

Also, in terms of comments, please remember that Americans have not yet seen the season finale.  It airs this weekend.

I never thought I would agree with Tracy Morgan, of all people, but I love his quote on the recent Mel Gibson recorded rant of expletives: "The Mel Gibson tapes…calling women bitches and using the N- word, they ain't nothing but hiphop. He stole that concept from Lil Wayne."

I am so tired of hearing about what Mel Gibson says in private conversations.  is he being rude and offensive?  Absolutely.  Is it national news?  No.  Does it warrant boycotting his movies?  If you think yes, I suspect you have an overly positive image of humanity.

When people get pissed off, they say really stupid things.  And I'm not saying being mad or drunk excuses the behavior.  I am saying that this should largely be between him and the targets of his rants, not the entire country.  I'm also saying this is a fairly common occurrence.  And, as Morgan points out, significant aspects of our culture encourage this sort of vocabulary.

Part of it is we don't always connect words to their full meanings.  I've talked about getting "gypped" most of my life, never realizing it's a derogatory term for Gypies. 

Moving to Wisconsin has introduced me to phrases like "Jewing down the price," and "don't be a Jew" (i.e. cheap), and when discussing this phenomena with students I had one who admitted her father used the phrases regularly, even though he had nothing against Jews.  (I suggested he might want to weed those phrases out of his vocabulary regardless).

I hear atheists exclaim "God damn it!"  on a pretty regular basis.  Clearly they don't mean that literally.

Again, I'm not excusing Gibson.  I'm just tired of it being a national crisis.  He should apologize to whoever he was speaking.  He should not need to apologize to the entire world.

I've never been big on philosophy.  Never had a head for it.  But I do find quite a bit of philosophical inspiration from more common sources: TV, movies, books, comics, etc.

People get angry at God when they don't get what they want.  It's like we're entitled to perfect, wealthy and happy lives and everything that gets in our way is clearly God deliberately spiting us.  "It's not fair!"  They whine.  "Why can't a get a break?  Why weren't we all born rich?"

Because that's not what life is about.  It's not about winning.  It's not about collecting the most stuff.  It's about making the best of what you've got.  "But Bill Gates has more to work with than me!"  Perhaps, although I'm confident Bill Gates has his own issues as well.  But what does Gates' success have to do with you?  Why are you making Bill Gates the measuring stick?

"You get what anyone gets - you get a lifetime." It's a quote from Death in the Sandman comic series.  Some are longer, some shorter.  It's not about getting the most.  It's about what you do with what you have.  It's about quality over quantity.

There are a few things we can do with that lifetime.  We can set reasonable goals and be happy as we achieve those goals.  We can set very high goals, work very hard, and risk not getting those goals.  Or, we can set unreasonable goals, probably not do much to attempt such goals (since we know they are out of reach), and then complain about a lack of results."

There are a lot of very poor people in the world, many many of them live happy lives.  They rejoice in friends and family.  They measure success in what they can accomplish locally in their community.  Which makes middle class Americans complaining about a lack of divine fairness sound all the more spoiled.  We're all dealt pros and cons.  It's up to us to make use of the pros to overcome the cons.

I was blessed to be born in one of the richest countries in the world to parents who, among other things, believed in sending their children through four years of college.  That was a blessing, not a right.  I got through grad school on my own.  I got a car on my own.  No one owed me those things.

I was also given a brain that doesn't properly interpret neurological signals, particularly those associated with pain.  It was debilitating enough to twice confine me to a wheelchair.  Marathon running is not a reasonable expectation for myself.  That's not a curse.  It's just a fact of life.  I can either bemoan that fact, or I can consider other options like martial arts and road biking and scuba diving, all things that I have done as an adult that once seemed impossible.

As Mchael J. Fox said several years ago: "I'm not crying 'what a tragedy', because it's not. It's a reality, a fact."

If you're going to hang out on Yahoo!Answers, you have to be able to handle trolls and haters.  I can deal with that.  I can even deal with the non-Wiccans spouting silly stuff about Wicca.  The bit that really gets me is the nonsense that comes from Wiccans, like the answers to this question.

The questioner was told that Wicca was a fertility religion with sexual undertones, and she was wondering if that was true.  I'm not surprised this was a surprise to some, but I kind of want to weep at the number of people who jumped to Wicca's defense swearing Wicca had nothing to do with sex and decrying the sources of such information as fraud.


Wiccans approach Wicca in a lot of different ways.  No foul there.  But Wicca absolutely was structured as a fertility religion.  And the arguments against it being a fertility religion are just as painful as the initial claim.  Things like the central point of Wicca is the Wheel of the Year.  First, I'd argue against that being the central point, but let's just say for a moment that it is.  Can someone, anyone, explain what the "Wheel of the Year" is?

Goddess has baby son, son grows up, goddess takes son as lover, lover impregnates goddess, lover ages, passes into the underworld, and is reborn in the spring.  I'm sorry, you're right.  There's absolutely nothing about fertility there.  Carry on.

And then there's the warning that "Any group that emphasizes sex and not Spirituality should be avoided."  True statement, but totally misleading in this conversation, since nowhere did the questioner state that these Wiccans claimed to emphasize sex over spirituality.  Sex and spirituality are not mutually exclusive.  That's the sort of crappy kneejerk reaction that turns Wicca into an ill-defined mush.

Is fertility all Wicca is about?  Absolutely not.  But it's a central theme.  Also, incidentally, fertility can be a central theme without everything being about sex.  Fertility is sexual but it's also generative, creative, increasing and developmental.  It's the foundation from which the new springs into being and part of the cycle that is fed by the passing of the old.  It's bad enough that this culture freaks out at the mention of sex or nudity, but now even related topics are being thrown into the "sex is naughty" bin.  One wonders if these people can discuss, say, gardening with a straight face.

I  had it in mind to go through these points in-depth over time, but the question was just asked on Yahoo!Answers about personal beliefs, so I figured I'd share the list I typed up.

I believe in my god and goddess, and I presume there are others in existence

I believe all actions have consequences

I believe energy out requires energy in: you don't get a large result from little effort

I believe the spiritual and material worlds are reflections of one another and connected

I believe the gods evolve as the world evolves

I believe that balance and moderation is good, and extremism in any form is not

I believe harm is a necessary part of life, but we should generally strive for what harms
least, and harm should have a positive purpose (i.e. survival or protection, for example rather than vengeance or blind anger)

I believe there can be negative consequences for good actions

I DON'T believe that the universe returns things threefold.

I DON'T believe that good actions produce all good things and bad actions produce all bad things. The universe does not hand out cookies.

I believe good and evil are choices, not forces.

I find this exercise to be useful.  Studying religion can be incredibly complex, and people are often overly caught up in the whats and hows rather than the whys. For all of the shelves of knowledge in my head, I can condense my major beliefs into a handful of sentences, and those statements are the basis of how I view the world and live life.

It's come to my attention that I would probably be both more productive and more successful if I could focus on a couple interests.  That, however, is apparently not my nature.  I've been an artist for years, occasionally professionally. I've been out of the mood for more than a year, but now I'm back to it and part of that interest includes constructing a new online portfolio: The Art of Catherine Noble Beyer.  Yeah, yeah, I know, I'm at a loss for a more creative name.  I've been trying for a company name now for about...well, a decade at least. 

Art is a tough thing to get into.  There's a fairly wide skill gap between stuff your friends think is only mediocre and stuff companies are impressed with.  I fall in that gap.

On top of which, interest in art is always changing.  When I first got into color, Prismacolor pencils were all the rage.  By the time I started showing my portfolio off to companies, they were out of style.  Too grainy in texture.  I tried traditional acrylics and oils, but I discovered I'm not a big fan of painting.  Then some genius invented watercolor pencils, and those made me pretty happy.  Now the rage is digital.

In preparing for this new portfolio, I flipped through an old sketchbook to double-check I hadn't missed anything.  In fact, I had completely forgotten about two images, features in the portfolio as Shaddowrunner and Down and OutDown and Out is particularly ironic because it's a failed attempt of depicted one of my roleplaying characters, yet is visually one of the better pieces I've done.

Both pieces are done in pencil, and the thing I suddenly remembered was pencil will always be my strength.  I'll keep struggling with new ways of working in color, but dammit, my graphite pencil works are darn good, and I need to stop being so deppreciative of my own talents.  And I should probably go back to pencil work a little more often to remind myself of that fact.

For all of the random knowledge stashed in my head, I find I keep coming back to a few pretty fundamental beliefs.  The one I quote perhaps the most often is that you only get out of something what you put in.  In other words, there's no such thing as a free lunch.

Online, this is most often brought up in the more ridiculous complaints and demands.  "Teach me how to fly!"  "Why didn't I pass my exam after lighting an intelligence candle?"  Just saying "those are unreasonable expectations doesn't usually fly, so I attempt to offer some sort of explanation that hopefully will sink into the brains of such deluded people.

If you want to fly, you have to overcome gravity.  Period.  For humans, this generally involves an engine.  Can you look me in the eye and honestly say you think you can generate that kind of power through some gestures and wishful thinking?  Likewise, I don't care how good you are at amount of energy will make information spontaneously appear in your head.

But the premise can be applied in mundane life as well.  if you want to accomplish something, you're going to have to work for it.  Sometimes we get lucky, but no one can live off of luck.  It frustrates me when people complain they "can't get a break."  Is there something you really want to have happen in your life?  Then why aren't you doing something about it?  I'm not saying effort guarantees success, but effort pretty is much a prerequisite for success, and people who complain about the lack of luck are most often people who aren't doing anything other than hoping something drops in their lap.  That's not how the universe works.

A Beliefnet article by Gus diZerega was promoted on CNN today. Entitled "10 Bad Portrayals of Witches and Pagans in Movies and TV," is is the result of a poll conducted by diZerega about movies "that most drove [Pagans] up a wall, limiting my request to those depicting witchcraft and NeoPagans."

The resulting list is largely comprised of movies about witches, which the article complains repeatedly depict witches as evil, murdering, and selfish.

Just how long are we going to continue perpetuating this nonsensical equation of modern witchcraft and historical folk belief?  For many hundreds of years, "witch" denoted precisely what these movies depict: a person, generally a woman, working highly malevolent magic against the community either for her own ends or else simply to make everyone else's life terrible.  These movies have nothing to do with the neopagan movement, and continuing to take folklore depictions and then claim they falsely depict modern witches is just disingenuous.

Of his entire list, I find only a few should even have gotten consideration:

  • The Wicker Man (original, apparently the new version is too absurd to invoke outrage) - This film plays to a lot of stereotypes that were circulating in Britain in the 1970s when the film was made.  Ironically, I don't find most neopagans object to this movie.
  • The Dark Secret of Harvest Home - I've never seen this one, so I'm going to just have to trust diZerega's comparison between it and The Wicker Man.
  • The Craft - This film follows four high school girls who start following a witch religion.  Some of them become selfish with their power, while others struggle to discover the responsible path.  While this film never mentions Wicca, many elements are clearly derived from Wiccan ritual.  On top of which, this movie has long been credited by many pagans for glamorizing witchcraft/Wicca and attracting the Wicklets to us in droves.  I therefore understand why this film annoys neopagans, even though I don't really blame the film itself.
  • Scooby Doo and the Witch's Ghost - This is the only film I personally find offensive.  Again, I haven't seen it, but apparently Wicca is not only mentioned, by a character flagrantly misuses it, claiming to be 1/16 Wiccan.  Bad research annoys me.
The mention of TV show Supernatural on this list I think deserves special mention. Again, it's here primarily because it depicts witches as bad, and again I have to remind folks that this is the historical use of the word.  Here I find the complaint doubly annoying because for five seasons this show has made it clear that in their world, practically everything supernatural is malevolent: demons, witches, ghosts, gods, shapechangers and even most psychics.  Heck, even angels are jerks.  While not specifically malevolent, most of them really don't care what happens to humanity and tend to trample them to achieve their own goals: which is, incidentally, the Apocalypse.  The world of Supernatural is dark for those in the know, full of terrors with very few bright spots.

The only valid complaint I see against Supernatural is the episode in which witches summon the god "Sam Hain."  Again, bad research annoys me, especially when the only place I head about the god Sam Hain is anti-pagan conservative Christian rhetoric.  So I've had a problem with one episode.  Again, it didn't personally offend me, but I don't like the repeating of blatantly bad information.

Clearly, I'm not very good at this blogging thing.  I just don't find enough to blog about concerning Wicca.  In addition, I'm coming to the conclusion that focusing on a single aspect of my life - religion - is probably not the best way of reflecting on my life.  I tend to get overly focused, cutting out other things for the benefit of what I focus on.  That's rather counter to what I learn as a Wiccan.

As such, starting today, this is going to be a more widely focused blog.  Topics may include anything I find interesting to blog about.  We'll see if that actually ups my posting frequency.  Clearly, everything I talk about is seen through a Wiccan viewpoint, since I am, after all, Wiccan.  But often that's not going to be terribly obvious, and I don't think it should be.  I am a whole person, not just a Wiccan.

While I was contemplating who my patron/matron deities should be, my best friend (who had also shown interest in Wicca but was more geared toward a more generalized, "eclectic pagan" path), staunchly declared hers to be Cthulhu, and bought a bust of him for her altar...Naturally, I asked her why she was dedicating herself to a "fictional" deity. She retorted that all gods were fictional, to the extent that they were made up by people, and that Cthulhu was no less valid than, say, Zeus. I was rather taken aback, but I could think of nothing else to say. Her choice seemed childish and more of a mockery than an honest dedication, but she seemed serious at the time.

Presently, I've started to think about her statement. Since all of humanity originated in Africa, and took thousands of years to spread across the continents, obviously it took some time for the cultures and religions that exist today to emerge. Where was Zeus before there were Greeks? Can one say that he existed before he was worshiped, written about, and depicted in art? I'm personally not comfortable saying that ancient peoples "made up" their gods, since it implies that they are not real, but my friend's words still ring in the back of my mind.
First, there's lots of different opinions as to the nature of the
gods.  I have problems with people calling themselves Wiccan and then
declaring that there are no gods, that what we call gods are just
mental archetypes; to me, that's a magic system, not a religion.  Why
would you honor a being you know doesn't exist?  However, I believe in
the possibility of an infinite potential number of gods, and I see no
reason why all of them have been given a name by some culture.  In
fact, while I address my gods by historical names, than previous
believers.  I've come to peace with that.

So I have no objection to non-historical deity names.  Whatever
information has passed between you and your god is really not for me to
question.  However, working specifically from fiction gets a little
more dodgy IMHO, since those characters were deliberately and
consciously invented. Although I suppose you could believe the author
was divinely (and probably unconsciously) inspired.

There's also a group of people called Chaos Magicians who will
literally use whatever they find works, and that includes references to
fictional characters.  However, that is by their own description a
magical practice, not a religion.  It's a totally different paradigm in
which to work.

Worshiping Cthulhu, however, particularly in a Wiccan context, smacks
of general silliness.  Cthulhu (as popularly understood) simply doesn't
fit in the Wiccan view of the universe, in much the same way that Satan
doesn't fit either.  I suppose it's possible this person has a very
complex theological view on the nature of Cthulhu (far beyond my
passing knowledge of Lovecraft), but somehow I doubt it, especially if
this person was in high school.  

I'm beginning to realize that christianity doesnt make sense to me. Wicca on the other hand, does but I have this fear to let go of Jesus Christ... when you went through your time of confusion and conversion, did you have this similar feeling? A fear that if you start to follow something that you actually believe instead of what you've been taught that somehow you'll go to hell? I know it sounds crazy but I cant help it, what did you do to get past that?

No, I really didn't. First of all, hell was never a big issue in my house. Christianity was more about God's love and sacrifice and how he wanted us to live.  Also, while I distinctly remember wanting to be raptured around age six so I could meet Jesus in heaven, I also know that a few years later I started having panic attacks at the thought of death, and I was thinking of death as final.  I don't think heaven or hell were really registering in my brain by then, even when I still believed in God and Jesus.

When I started questioning, it was really pretty matter of fact for me, which is just how my brain works.  I'm being told to come to a certain conclusion.  What is the supporting evidence?  And I just wasn't coming up with any, and so I sort of shuffled the idea away as unsupported...and if God is unsupported, then his Hell is equally unsupported.

As an adult, I've really taken a liking to the writings of Thomas Jefferson, which include statements like if there is a just God, surely he wouldn't punish people for using their intellect and coming up with the wrong answer.  I think unconsciously I probably thought similarly for a very long time now.

As far as "getting past it:" you can't force belief.  You really can't, and it's really frustrating.  There were a lot of times I came across things I wanted to believe in but kept coming up short.  All you can do is continue studying.  Either the evidence will eventually truly convince you, or it won't.  And if it doesn't, then clearly your path lies in another direction.

The following was prompted by a question on Yahoo!Answers:  Some are saying that given that Wicca is all about the gender polarity between the Goddess and the God, homosexuality in a Wiccan context is a bit of a problem; others argue that the point is that new life in a biological sense comes from male/female coupling, and that an individual's sexual orientation is not an issue in Wiccan practice.

What do you think? Is this even an issue? Do you have any thoughts on how it could be addressed in a coven context where male-female pairs are integral to the coven structure?

While the traditional imagery of Wicca is very heterosexual, I see no reason why that should require people to be heterosexual.  That's why its "metaphorical."

Also, we have a much more complex concept of gender than when Wicca originally developed.  Male and female designations used to be primarily decided by genitalia.  Today we recognize that very feminine people can still have a physical penis, for example. 

Thus, sexual balance isn't just about having a certain number of people with a penis and a certain number of people with a vagina.  I can see a group of homosexual men still having a metaphorical gender balance, depending on the people involved.

Finally, we seek balance in ourselves.  Women are encouraged to recognize that male part within themselves and men recognize the female part.  To me, the idea of insisting people fit into stereotypical male and female models is actually contrary to Wicca.  each of us is so much more complex than that.

Other projects

2/03/2010 03:43:00 PM | 0 comments »

I have a new project that is stealing my time in the short term...editting my photos from Egypt before my relatives lynch me for them!  So I'll be posting more infrequently here, but if you're interested you can check out the growing collection of photos 9with commentary) at