Dead Horses, Smart Freshman, and Rednecks

Y’all what know me, know the last thing I’d do to a dead horse is beat it.

But I feel like I haven’t quite stirred up the ire of my community quite the way I’d hoped. Oh, now this is not to say that The Bad Witch has a death wish and want to be metaphysically exterminated.[1] It’s just to say that there are some hard questions in this-here pot I’ve been stirring and no one seems to want to let them bubble to the top. And it’s time for the world to see just precisely why I’m called The Bad [shuchyo mouth] . . . .

I’ve recently been caught up in a world of neoPagans.[2] Though I can’t tell you all of the ins and outs of the situation, I can tell you that the kinds of things that have been brought to the table tend to exasperate me.

I love irony and paradoxes but I hate when folks cling unreasonably to one end of a Catch 22 without even examining the other, I get a little lathered up.

Let me digress into my secular life for an anecdotal-parable. I teach a Freshman class on Cultural Diversity in a university in the Deep South. Just let that sink in for a minute. Take what you know about the clannishness (and the kkklannishness) and the good ol’boy-ishness, and the Bible-belt-ishness, and the anti-intellectual-ishness of the South and put it in the sweetest package with the prettiest blonde hair and the bluest eyes and the designer-est shoes and the nicest manners. Now teach it cultural diversity. When I moved here from Chicago, I was confused for a few years, but I get it now.[3]

The boys and girls who sign up for my classes think they want to learn about cultural diversity. And some of them even do.

At the beginning of each semester I tell them, “I am a woman of great faith. But faith, the evidence of things not seen, has no place in the scholarly arena. I know you’ve been told that liberal college teachers want to turn you away from God, but I am not here to take your faith away from you.” Here, they seem very relieved.[4]

I also tell them, “If your faith is strong, nothing I say can shake it. The only thing I want you to be able to do at the end of this semester is articulate your faith. Defend it. In logical terms. With evidence. Which is not to be confused with faith itself. Besides, defending faith with faith is a little redundant.”

They rock with it for about six weeks. But once we start talking about non-Christian religions as valid, intrasexism as natural, and Affirmative Action as still necessary, they get antsy. Sometimes they get downright pissed. Last week, one of my brightest (my secret favorite) got very angry with me for suggesting that “male and female created He them” was a scriptural basis for the naturalness and divine intention of androgyny and intrasexism[5] – i.e. He created them (multiple humans) to be both male and female. Then we looked at the Tosefta and Torah Bre’shiyth. She may not forgive me. But really, she can’t hold me accountable for what her infallible god supposedly wrote, right?

That’s my parable.

In this parable the Freshmen in the Bible-belt stand for some Pagans. Now I’m not saying that the Pagans to which I am referring are like affluent eighteen-year-olds.[6] But the point remains: What good is faith if the slightest breeze can blow it away? What good is a belief system if challenging bits of it makes you feel like your only option is to disregard the whole thing?[7] No. Meet the challenges. Headlong. Take them in your hands, turn them over. Embrace them and stroke them like a thick-furred tuxedo kitten. Then – make the answers you find in the challenge part of your faith. Your new-and-improved-with-better-stain-fighting-action faith.

So, if hearing that the Sagas and the Eddas are quasi-Christian texts bugs you, don’t assume that your only options are to either reject this information or to throw Odinism out with the blacksmith’s water. Obviously, TBW finds Asatru and Heathenism valuable. TBW blots. And then blogs about the blots. But TBW also sees that our written texts have been infected with modern religion.[8] But TBW also knows that she knows that she knows that the ways we have of accessing the gods has nothing to do with written texts.

I have had a number of face-to-face (and phone-to-phone and keyboard-to-keyboard) conversations over the last two weeks with some brilliant Pagan thinkers. The points I have been hearing are that folks either have faith or they have religion. Both are equally value. There is, indeed, a place for “religiosity.” If all someone wants is a religion to call their own, that’s cool. What is not cool is self-deceit, egotism, and elitism. Much of this last morsel is derived from written texts.

Here’s the kicker – if you read enough of these books you will notice that many of the *major* tenets of all of the books are these: 1) love is good; 2) hurting other humans (and often non-humans) is bad; 3) god (pick a god, any god) is bigger, smarter and stronger than humans; 4) a creator of some sort made us the way we are and we should, therefore, give praise – in a community when possible;  5) if it’s not yours, don’t touch it; 6) don’t lie or spread rumors, it sucks; 6) days of remembrance (like today, 11/11) are important.

It’s the stinking *minor* points of all of these books that seem not to agree. It’s the how to love and what to call god and what to say when we call god and what gender that god may be and what order things were created in and how long it took and what gods’ intercessors look like and how to communicate with them and what constitutes praise and what constitutes not-praise and who gets to be in the community and what, precisely, is worth remembering and how do we go about doing that? And it’s the stinking *egotistical* parts like who gets what title and what vestments go with what honor and what “degree” gets invited to the prom[9] and what name we call ourselves. Another of my students pointed out that at the end of the day, it seems not to matter to some people if there is even a god at all. All that seems to matter is that the “rulebook” they wrote is getting the most re-tweets.

In committees, I find myself saying things like:

“It’s a religion, not a Renaissance Faire.”

“What’s my salutation? – – Doctor.”[10]

“OK, who spilled the metaphorical ylang ylang?”

And, my personal favorite, “Would you mind terribly? Your Christian-based phallus is getting all over my sacred ritual again.”

Look folks. Here’s a hard truth. Pagan means countryfolk. Heathen means countryfolk. Earth-based religions are, by effing definition, earth-based. We occupy a place as the rednecks of the religious neighborhood. Can I get an Amen? Can I get somebody to quit posturing long enough to be a little bit proud of that?

Shit. I grew up in a gang-driven neighborhood on the Southside of Chicago (with Alabama-born parents) and I moved my happy-Pagan-ass to the Deep South. I know redneck when I see it. And I love redneck when I see it open and proud to be redneck.

Nothing is uglier than nouveau riche, twenty-seconds out of Momma’s double-wide, done lernt how to eat caviar, eloqute, shop for Michael Kors, and hire an interior designer the right way, yet snubbing cousins that look like they stepped out of an episode of “Swamp People” and pretending not to know nothin’ ‘bout cornbread and that unless there’s gumbo comin’, okra needs to be deep-fried. You can dress it up in Dolce and Gabbana and send it into a corporate office if you like, down under your silk stockings, your behind is still country. Worst thing you can do is hide it.

Know your roots. Own your roots. Wear them on your godsdamned-head like a crown.

Same goes for Pagans. I can’t think sacred thoughts when I see Pagans posturing and putting on airs like mules in horse harnesses.

Occultist, I haven’t even gotten to you yet. 🙂 But I will. (Doesn’t that just tickle you?)

[1] Or slain by a . . . what do we say is a group of Pagan communities? A School? A Herd? A Troup? A Pride? A Covey of Covans? A Watch of Wiccans? A Horde of Heathens? A Murder of Magi? I could go on . . . .

[2] To use Polyphanes’ metaphor from my last post about this, I was always the solitary “geek” who tinkered-out my own spirituality. By the time I figured it out, I had a few other geeks who wanted to learn, so we made our own geek-leading-the-geek-community. Sure, I read everything I can get my hands on but I still work it out my own damned way (and sometimes it is, indeed, damned . . .).

[3] It didn’t take Momma at  “Big Northern Girl Goes Down” as long. This may well be due to my having spent childhood’s summers in North Alabama, where “they been known to pick a song or two,” and so, having been blinded by desensitivity. Then again, it may well be that Momma’s just a little brighter than I am.

[4] You should know, this is my first semester teaching as an “out” Pagan. Last week, just before they got really antsy, I may have made the mistake of letting them know about this blog. (Shout-out to CK! Dr. Momma-Witch loves your darling heart!)

[5] It’s an English class, not a Theology class (though we often digress into Theological debates – which is my favorite) and I don’t get into my personal reflections about gender and balance in the spiritual realm. If they ask, I refer them to my late-90s work on Hildegard von Bingen. (Damn. I just realized that I missed the opportunity to teach Hildegard in my Ancient Lit class. *kicks-self*)

[6] But to be honest, that wouldn’t be an insult. Not this semester. This semester my Freshman have got it going on. Heck, I know some grad students who don’t think on their feet as well as these kids.

[7] In the days between my having written this and having finally posted it, the prodigal daughter returned – all smiles and ready for debate.

And – and – and –I got one of those moments I live for; it may be enough to keep me in the classroom for one more semester. One of my darlingest (oh, who am I kidding, I think I adore all 25 of them), told me after class that she learned things in my class that both blew her mind and strengthened her faith. Amen. I love to hear a Christian who is able to articulate; it does my Heathen heart proud. I believe some of her exact words were, “I just feel less ignorant.” And at that, I may live to teach another day.

Plus, one of my Lit students sent me a crazy-groovy link to a manuscript I had never heard of. (I will share it when I figure out what it is!) When they get excited enough to email me links to stuff they’ve been looking at “just because it’s interesting,” my job is done.

[8] By the very virtue of being written.

[9] Of course, I’m for degrees and for training at a variety of levels. But not for the sheer sake of egoism. See my post on degrees if you care to know how I feel about it.

[10]  When I go by my eke name, I go by Soror and I am a HP in my own coven; but in the meeting in question, no one else is in my coven or even part of my same religious branch. Gods forbid I ask these people to elevate me to royalty. And I’ll be shitfucked if Imma bow to a mortal in Cosplay.

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10 comments on “Dead Horses, Smart Freshman, and Rednecks

  1. Mal the Error Duck is your note 2? I’m confused.

    While you’re sorting that out, you can (for extra credit, haha) change “tenants” to “tenets” unless the beliefs in question are actually paying rent 😉

    I’m glad it’s not all awful. I’m also glad I’m so long out of college!

  2. MrBlack says:

    Well said, preach!
    *church organ music starts playing*

  3. freemanpresson – Note 2 required approval from another blogger. Don’t let such minor points confuse you, I’m sure it will sort itself out. As for my near-homophonic typo, thanks for catching that. But, damn, if all I can raise is an editorial eyebrow, I’m not doing my job. 😉

    MrBlack – I still want to get drunk with you.

  4. You couldn’t raise more than an editorial eyebrow from me because I am sitting just behind MrBlack in the choir. My Pagan and redneck credentials are both impeccable.

    Since I’m at least as much occultist as Pagan, maybe you’ll get me stirred up with that post. Or maybe I’ll just sing louder!

  5. […] one of those Catch-22s like “profane” as I described in “Smart Freshman” at The Bad Witch […]

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