Friday, 31 October 2008

Samhain blessings...

To all in the northern hemisphere (and to those in the southern, beltaine blessings). The wheel turns and we are entering the darkest time of the year. It is a time for calling on our dead and remembering them. Here, in Hungary, it is a time when families come together and go to the cemeteries to visit those who have died. If tomorrow had fallen on a weekday, it would have been a holiday and people would have gone into work on the nearest Saturday. This tradition was one the first big differences I noticed from the UK. There are many more that I noticed later - and many more, I am sure, to discover.

Samhain is also the time for descent into the underworld of our own souls - to discover the jewels that lie hidden in the dark and repressed areas that we have been taught to hide from others and from ourselves. Tomorrow, we will again be enacting Inanna's descent into the Underworld as part of our ceremony. It is now a year since I began a journey which led to the edge of despair. There were times when I did not know if I would survive but as a result have discovered my own strength and power and a very real feeling of the presence of Inanna in my life. I do not believe I could have found this without taking the risk of non-return.

In a post a few days ago, Andy wrote of the labyrinth of initiation.

The journey of the labyrinth isn’t easy, because as one spirals in, so one spirals into death. At the centre of the labyrinth resides Cerridwen’s cauldron, and this is the cauldron of transformation, knowledge and rebirth, but before rebirth and knowledge can be bestowed, there has to be a death. There’s no shortcut, this process cannot be avoided, and although it may happen over many stages and on many levels, happen it must.

This description cannot be improved upon. Neither does it need expansion. I have been trying to do both but deleted each attempt. I only suggest that you go to Andy's site and read it for yourself. And I will close by repeating:
a very wonderful and magical Samhain to you all!.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Who benefits from "innocence?"

My post on sex-ed reminded me of the US presidential campaign in which, if I remember aright, it was alleged that Obama was in favour of sex education for 6 year olds and that this made him somehow dangerous to the moral fabric of the nation. Apparently, the aim of this subversive activity was to help children understand the concepts of "good touch" and "bad touch".

What is so wrong about that? The only people who can conceivably benefit from forbidding this are child molesters. If, in some sort of sentimental attachment to the notion of the innocence of childhood we prevent them from learning how to protect themselves from the sexual attentions of predators, how does this serve children?

I experienced some molestation at around the age of 5. It was not, as these things unfortunately go, serious but it was bad enough for me. The thing was, I felt at the time that this was "bad touch" - I did not like it- and yet was not given the power to name it as such. I thought it was just one of those things that adults did and I had simply to allow it to happen.

We do not protect children by keeping them ignorant and calling it innocence. We protect them by giving them to tools to define their own boundaries. I did not have them and consequently was not "innocent" because the shame and guilt - not to mention great anger - that I felt then lasted well into late adulthood.

The only people who lose if children are empowered with the information they need are those who seek to abuse them. I would hate to think that this underlies any of the resistance to sex education but....

Monty Python sex-ed

After my last post, I could not resist posting this. Do not view if you are offended by the naming of body parts. :-)

Sex without pleasure

The UK government has announced that sex and relationship will be part of the national curriculum for all schools in England. It is not before time and I welcome the fact that the usual nutters have not succeeded in maintaining the state of dangerous ignorance that they call innocence. A recent survey has shown that 40% of school leavers have no sex education whatsoever throughout their 11 years of compulsory education. One of the usual nutters,
Stephen Green, national director of Christian Voice, said the proposals would only "encourage experimentation" and contribute to the rise in teenage pregnancy and infertility
- and this in a country which already has some of the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Europe and where STD infection rates are soaring.

I do not follow these people's logic. If England - without effective sex education - has a higher teenage pregnancy rate than, say, the Netherlands which has such education then surely there might be some connection between education and safe sex. But then logic has little to do with any of this - why let facts get in the way of an opportunity for moral outrage? And, of course, the government will probably allow such parents an opt-out so that they can continue to perpetuate the cycle of ignorance. I am, I confess, more concerned that, according to the Guardian report, headteachers are objecting that this will add too much to their workload by overloading the national curriculum. They may be right, but surely the answer is to make other subjects optional - not everybody will need or have any aptitude for, say Shakespeare or quadratic equations, but most will be sexually active at some point in their lives.

What I do not expect to see in these lessons, however, is any form of teaching on how to give and receive sexual pleasure. For example, will the lessons in safe sex teach young men and women how to pleasure themselves and their partners in non-penetrative ways? Will they be taught where and how to touch? How to state clearly what they like and what they do not like. Will they be taught the pleasures of non-sexual physical contact - how to massage each other and how to hug? Will they be taught how to use their PC muscles? The list of what I am sure they will not be taught goes on and on. The mechanics and hydraulics and the desirability of establishing relationships are, despite the nutters, fairly uncontroversial and unthreatening to the status quo. Pleasure, however, is quite another matter.

Oh well. I suppose it is a start. Belated and woefully incomplete as it is.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Sex and the Sacred

Trinity of The Strangest Alchemy wrote a very interesting piece on her blog a couple of days ago about the spirituality of BDSM. I cannot, through lack of experience (as yet, who knows about the future?) speak about this form of sexual expression but I would like to speak about sexuality and spirituality in general.

First of all, there is no conflict between the two. Osho, who said many very wise, and often very funny, things said, "any religion which considers life meaningless and full of misery, and teaches the hatred of life, is not a true religion. Religion is an art that shows how to enjoy life." If life is sacred, then it is here to be enjoyed. Generally, we have been taught that it is " a vale of tears" in which we have to control or suppress our desires so that we can gain the rewards in the hereafter - whatever that may bring. And foremost among these desires is the desire for sexual contact with other human beings. This, according to the dominant ideologies on this planet, is the major threat to spirituality.

But sexuality, far from being the threat it is alleged to be, is in, of and by itself sacred. Only belief systems that worship death would demonise that drive which leads to the perpetuation of life. Sexual desire arises from and is an expression of the life force within us. It is the desire to merge, both with another human being and with the larger universe - the divine however that is expressed.

That this is so can be seen in the way sexual union has been used as a metaphor for union with the divine. Take, for example, this picture:

Outside of the religious context, this picture is fairly explicit. A young musician sits in a tree while a group of erotically posed women below demonstrate their desire for him. It is a very striking picture and is, no doubt, a rather common heterosexual male fantasy. It is interpreted, however, as an allegory of the yearning of the the soul of the worshipper for union with the divine in the person of Krishna. One reading is "profane" and the other "sacred". But the picture remains the same. Is the picture sacred or profane? Or is this a false dichotomy?
i think so. I cannot see how something profane could serve as a metaphor for something sacred. The latter would, I think, be tainted by association with the former. Similarly, the erotic poem known to christians as the Song of Songs, or Song of Solomon, is glossed as an allegory of Jesus' love for the church. Similarly, in the medieval instructions for anchoresses (women who lived in walled up cells in churches) called The Ancrene Wisse refers to Jesus as the perfect lover, always attentive and never tiring- unlike mortal men.

In order for such devices as these to be effective there must be something sacred in the one that can be transferred to the other. Sexual desire must therefore be intrinsically sacred. And if the desire is sacred then so is the pleasure that the desire brings. I remember when, as a teenager I converted to Catholicism, being taught that I would inevitably have erections and there was nothing sinful in this. I was, however, told that I must not enjoy them. Something did not compute and my sojourn in that particular branch of christianity lasted only a few years. It seemed to portray the divine as a sort of sick practical joker, giving the means of attaining pleasure but forbidding that pleasure from being taken.

Pleasure is sacred. Inanna, in the sacred wedding songs, sings of of Dumuzzi's erection and her own wet vulva. She sings about the pleasure to come and the feel and taste of him. This is no metaphor - it is a celebration of physical lust and the joys of the bed. Inanna is the young woman who, in another story, leans against an apple tree, looks upon her "wondrous vulva" and "applauds herself". No camera panning away here - any photo at the time would be labelled by many as pornographic.

Furthermore, in the later epic of Gilgamesh there is the tale of the wild man Enkidu who is causing havoc to livestock. A priestess is sent out to tame him and she does it through seven days and nights of sex. She civilises him. Sexuality in this story is, far from being destructive of civilised society, that which makes it possible. It is also, incidentally, in Gilgamesh that Inanna, now known by Her semitic name of Ishtar, is labelled a whore. Something profound has happened between the stories of Inanna and Gilgamesh and that is a shift in the way desire is perceived. We are still living with the consequences.

These stories predate the bible by many centuries. The evidence within the bible, however, shows that the worship of Inanna/Ishtar/Astarte/Ashtoreth - for She was known by all those names - persisted in Palestine for most, if not all, of the time until the destruction of the Temple by the Romans and the diaspora that then ensued. This event effectively meant that Christianity could take a very partial ( in both senses of the word) reading of Jewish history thereby erasing any notion of the sacrality of sex within the middle east. It was, however, impossible for it - try as it did - to eliminate desire. It therefore had to accommodate it within its own sets of rules and restrictions - and limit it (officially anyway) to missionary position only between married heterosexual couples. Which is, essentially, where it remains to this day. And we are told that this is the norm - that all other expressions of sexuality are, if not perversions, then at least something less than ideal- particularly if the sole aim is, as in most sexual encounters, pleasure. In fact, the Krishna consciousness movement expressly ordains that sex can only occur between married couples and then, ideally, only once a month with the express intention of reproduction.

On the other hand, the Charge of the Goddess - the closest thing in Goddess paganism that I can think of to a creed - states that "all acts of love and pleasure are my rituals". And in this pairing, I feel, is a definition of sacred sexuality. Love must be present with the pleasure and it is here that the question of consent comes in. Where love is present then consent must also be present as love cannot be in a space where consent is not. The feelings of transcendence - of merging with the other and with the the universe - that come in in ecstatic union are not only a metaphor for the sacred but are themselves sacred. There is no separation.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Samhain approaches...

and as it does, the good folk of Landover Baptist Church will be vigilant. A full description of Wicca and how to spot a Wiccan is now available on their website - a hilarious parody!

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Buzzwords and patriarchy - sheep and goats

Kim,, at Bastante Already, has written a fine piece about the unthinking use of buzzwords such as patriarchy and misogyny. I will not repeat her words here - it is better to go to her site and read them there. I will, however, like to say something about this. I may well, in the course of this, say things very similar to Kim but I will try not to.

Neither of those two words - and all other such - are bad in themselves. They are very useful words with describe very real and present phenomena. Patriarchy is the ruling ideology and at its base is misogyny. Where and how these two arose is a matter of debate - some would indeed maintain that they are part of human nature and as such can never be eliminated. I do not hold to this view for the evidence of ancient civilisations tells us that human society has not always been structured in this way. Even as recently as Celtic Europe, it is clear that the position of women was far higher than it was in later times until, arguably, the 20 Century. Iron Age society was certainly no Utopia, they were, for example, often headhunters and the economy was based on slavery, but it seems to have been better than the civilisation that followed it.

Prior to the Iron age, there is evidence that the position of women was even higher - one has only to read the rantings of the hebrew prophets to see this. It was in the Neolithic period and earlier, however, that I believe that an entirely different set of beliefs were dominant. I say "believe" because the evidence although convincing to me is by no means so to others.

For me, then, patriarchy originated around 5,000 years ago and has since colonised our thinking to such a degree that it is well-nigh impossible to see how people can think outside its patterns. They were imprinted in us while we were still in nappies and observing the interactions of others around us in order to learn how to survive. I have written about this before and will do so again because I think it is important to remember that it is the sea in which we swim and in which we can drown if we are not careful.

It is easy for me to point the finger at another and say "That is patriarchal thinking" and it is normally completely accurate - but the very act of finger-pointing and "othering" is of and by itself a patriarchal act. It is the separation of the sheep from the goats and the wheat from the chaff. And, of course, only one of each of those binary pairs is (another buzzword) privileged. And the basic, if unpalatable, truth is that we are all privileged if we have enough food in our bellies, roofs over our heads, access to computers, and a chance at education. Which includes most, if not all, of the blogosphere. Within this there are, undoubtedly, levels of privilege and I, as a middle-class, white, english-speaking, heterosexual male, am clearly among the winners in this regard. But, as a man without a bank account, credit rating, regular income, or secure home I am also among the lesser privileged. Life ain't as simple as we would like it to be.

Neither is it dualistic. Good and evil are fine motifs in, say "Lord of the Rings" with its clear, and at times apparently racist, divisions between the opposing forces. Who cares if an Orc is hewn into many pieces? Because they are of the "enemy" and therefore incapable of salvation. Sheep and goats. Wheat and Chaff. Black and White. Woman and Man. The list goes ever on and on - down from the time when it began - and we must learn not to to follow - if we can. (Here I nod to Tolkien - a dualistic thinker and patriarch if ever there was one)

I believe that only by acknowledging that the basic pattern of our thoughts is thus tainted by patriarchy - including, all too often, our use of such demonising buzzwords - can we start to find a way out of the mess we are in now.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

I wonder why....

I have been very quiet for a while. Medusa at Gorgon Resurfacing has referred to it as a period of introspection. She is right. There has been a lot of work to do on myself - a period of detoxing from both physical poisons and unhelpful mental patterns. Quiet, sitting, meditation has been invaluable. It has not, hitherto, been a major part of my life. What it has done is to help me see that my thoughts seem to be random and not really part of me. They float into my mind and, unless I grab them and hold onto them, they float out again. And I have also begun to see how many of my thoughts are really rehearsals for speech and writing in which I can gratify and stroke my ego by trying to appear clever.

Which is not to say that I have not been thinking. Nor that I have left my ego behind. No, it is still very present as I type this - then go back and delete what I have already said. I still want to appear clever and am very pleased when people tell me that I am. I have been wondering, in fact, how much of my desire to write is just a grown-up way of saying, "Look at me, mummy!"

And, of course, much of it is. Furthermore, I have the definite suspicion that much male endeavour - whether it be in the arts, sport or business - is simply refined primate display behaviour - to gain access to sexual partners.

Perhaps. But I do not believe it matters and it certainly is not the whole story. Freud's major insight was that many of our drives are unconscious and that sexuality was an important part of this. He was wrong, however, in his dismissal of spirituality - although he is certainly not alone in this as many modern prosyletisers of scientism such as Richard Dawkins also claim that human behaviour is largely determined by the need to reproduce.

Such materialism, however, whether it be freudian theory or evolutionary biology, seems to me to miss a major point. Whatever the mechanism, life itself and the self -awareness to observe it is fundamentally inexplicable in scientific terms. We can measure, perhaps, the "how" but the "why" remains mystery. We can be told that "why?" is a meaningless question but it nevertheless remains and is ineradicable. We seem programmed to ask questions, "why?" being foremost among them, as most parents will testify - I know that I have at times, in sheer frustration, found myself repeating the authoritarian line I swore I would never use - "Because I said so!".

And I wonder why we as a culture seek to impose standards of sexual behaviour on others and condemn those who do not conform to a perceived ideal. Perhaps it is because sexuality and spirituality are not, as we have been taught, adversarial but are inextricably intertwined. Things that are taboo are things that are, or were, regarded as sacred. And nothing is more tabooed than sexual expression, particularly those forms of sexual expression that deviate from the norms sanctioned by those in positions of power who have all, by and large, inherited their sexual attitudes from the last five millennia of patriarchal thinking. This is unavoidable for we cannot think completely "outside the box" - all we can do is imagine.

And here I will quote Louis MacNeice, who in January 1939, as he saw Europe sliding towards inevitable tragedy, wrote

...of a possible land, not of sleepwalkers, not of angry puppets
But where both heart and brain can understand the movements of our fellows
Where life is a choice of instruments and none is debarred his natural music
Where the waters of life are free of the ice blockade of hunger
And thought is as free as the sun.

What is our natural music? How many people can in honesty say they are playing it? I know that most of the time i do not play it but try to dance to other people's tunes. And at the heart of this is shame - that deep within I am ashamed of my own desire. Of my own sexuality. And this means that I have to hide who I am and try to express myself within a set of parameters chosen by others - and at which I constantly fail. And, as spirituality and sexuality are both expressions of the will to be and become, then in denying one, I deny the other.

Which is not to advocate a free-for-all. Central to this is the question of consent for without full and informed consent by all parties it is impossible for each "to play their natural music".

In all the debates about contemporary sexual mores one thing is certain and that is that there are multitudes for whom free and joyful sex is a meaningless set of words. Our sexuality and thus our spirituality are deeply ill and this disease could be terminal. As an old hippie, I remember chanting, "Make love, not war!" I still hold by that ideal.

6 Random things about me.

Andy, the Somerset Pagan, has tagged me. The protocol that I should now follow, apparently, is six-fold:

1. Link to the person who tagged you.

2. Post the rules on your blog.

3. Write six random things about yourself. (See below)

4. Tag six people at the end of your post and link to them. (See further below...)

5. Let each person know they've been tagged and leave a comment on their blog.

6. Let the tagger know when your entry is up.

So, numbers 1 and 2 are now done -

Random Things:

1. When I am at home, I find trousers and underpants too constricting and uncomfortable so wear a sarong.

2. I crave mature cheddar cheese - most cheese here is rubbery and bland - and will soon cease to resist the temptation to go to the fridge and open the block a friend brought me a month ago - the first was eaten within a week!

3. After I don't know how many viewings, my heart still skips at the sight of Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca

4. I think sport should be a private pursuit between consenting adults and nothing more than that.

5. I love the smells of autumn.

6. I read a lot of often rather gruesome crime fiction

so that is number three

Here are the other blogs -

1. Debi Crow - in her various blogcarnations, (the link is to the latest) Always interesting to read - with insight and clarity
The Green Witch
- for an honest and ever-readable blog

3. The Wild Hunt - for its regular round-up of Pagan news

4. Paul at Evoking the Goddess - for his wonderful evocations of landscape and sacred sites

5. Medusa at Gorgon Resurfaces - for thoughtful and well-written blogs which get me thinking

6. Finally, (and the link goes with a word of caution that the content may not be to everyone's taste - and is for adults only) Renegade Evolution, for her well argued and usually colourful challenges to the orthodoxies surrounding pornography and prostitution.

Now all that are left are steps 5 and 6. So, I will post this and then attend to them

Thursday, 16 October 2008

A brief update

It is a while since I have posted but things have been happening in such a way that I have not wanted to write about them until the process had reached some sort of end. It is not over yet but I want to speak about it very briefly. A while back I wrote a post about having reached a turning point. This was, and remains, true.

In order for the new to enter, however, there must be space cleared and a welcoming fire lit. This is what has been happening. I have come to a new understanding of myself and of my power - which is not mine but that of Inanna who is within and without me. She it is who is, and has been, guiding me and it was She who led me here. And I know that She will make clear what I must do.

So, I do not need to worry. True. BUT old habits die hard and when I awoke on Monday and realised that I had very little money and no definite prospect of any before the end of the month + a new transport pass to buy and an overdue as bill to pay, I went immediately into panic mode - it is all over and I should sell all I own and return to the familiar world of the UK! I have failed! I have been deluding myself! Etc etc.

But these things are not true. They are the voices that I have been listening to since I was a child. They are not my true voice. I am only just beginning to find that.

I will return to more regular posting very soon.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

meaning of life - fear and love

One of the joys of the internet is discovering what has hitherto passed me by in life. A few days ago it was Nick Cave - thanks Debs-. Today by a series of clicks I found Bill Hicks. I had heard his name and not much else. I have spent a lot of time catching up and am lost in admiration.

I realise that for many this might be old hat. But it is not so for me. There is still a freshness and directness which the world still needs. Are there any similar voices today that I am missing? Here is just a taste:

The reading of myth

Got this on a email this morning.

Ten Commandments for Reading Myth

Joseph Campbell

1. Read myths with the eyes of wonder:
the myths transparent to their universal meaning,
their meaning transparent to its mysterious source.

2. Read myths in the present tense: Eternity is now.

3. Read myths in the first person plural: the Gods and Goddesses
of ancient mythology still live within you.

4. Any myth worth its salt exerts a powerful magnetism.
Notice the images and stories that you are drawn to and repelled by.
Investigate the field of associated images and stories

5. Look for patterns; don't get lost in the details.
What is needed is not more specialized scholarship,
but more interdisciplinary vision. Make connections;
break old patterns of parochial thought.

6. Resacralize the secular:
even a dollar bill reveals the imprint of Eternity.

7. If God is everywhere, then myths can be generated anywhere,
anytime, by anything. Don't let your Romantic aversion to
science blind you to the Buddha in the computer chip.

8. Know your tribe! Myths never arise in a vacuum;
they are the connective tissue of the social body
which enjoys synergistic relations with
dreams (private myths) and rituals (the enactment of myth).

9. Expand your horizons! Any mythology worth remembering
will be global in scope. The earth is our home
and humankind is our family.

10. Read between the lines! Literalism kills;
Imagination quickens.

I have not yet read Joseph Campbell, although many, including those closest to me, have. I must, however, have absorbed his thinking through some sort of osmosis since the above list describes the exact way I try to read myth. Myths are not literal history and to read them as such leads to great danger. The history of the Abrahamic religions is ample evidence of this.

I had read little about Inanna until relatively few years ago. Then, a few days after I initiated as Priest of Avalon in Glastonbury, I had a dream in which she appeared and said, "I want you to tell my story". Which meant that I had to read it - so I bought "Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth" by Diane Wolkstein and Samuel Noah Kramer. From the first reading I was hooked and remain so.

For I found so much to feed my curiosity and stimulate my imagination. In the story of the "me" (the sacred attributes of power and civilisation), for example, we are told of fear, treachery and deceit as among those things given to her, during a night of flirtatiousness on her part and heavy drinking on his, by Enki, the god of wisdom. The list goes on, with enigmatic references to other "minor" characters, such as her servant Ninshubur, whose roles in the stories are often pivotal.

Now, as I am writing this, I feel Her very close to me. I started this post this morning and all day I have felt a lightness of heart. Lately, I had begun to feel doubtful and a little afraid - worried that I will not last the month financially. Today, however, this does not seem an issue. I have food today. I am certainly not the only person with financial worries at the moment.

For me, Inanna speaks now. She speaks of the world which denies and seeks to control our sexuality. She is those who stand and say "this is who I am". She is those who show that they can weep and they can laugh - that they can hurt and that they can rejoice. She is those who walk, step by frightened step, into the unknown world, into the labyrinth of the underworld, to meet and embrace their full being. She is the force of life. She iz Kundalini, she is Shakti and she is Kali. She is there among those who fall and are reviled as she is among those who triumph and are lauded. She is human courage in the face of the unknown and defiance of limitation. She is all that and more. She is the Goddess of Total Being. She is that image of femaleness that does not apologise for being who she is. She is proud and She is fierce. Yet She is tender and She is loving. She is the Queen of Heaven and Earth and to fundies of all denominations, she is The Whore of Babylon and the enemy of the sterile saints whose desire is for a world beyond this. For a world where the messiness of bodies and of emotion is no more.

She is the Marriage of Heaven and Hell. The world beyond/before duality. She is a memory of the Goddess of the time before the victory of the patriarchs. She lives today in the people, women and men, who say "NO!- I will no longer live by the rules of fear but will seek my own true and live by that alone".

For we are all different and each has her or his own gifts. The "mes" are the skills of all who comprise human community - including the tricksters and storytellers, the actors and the shamans. Every true voice is valuable. Truth is not a monolith to be defended by restriction and censorship, but what emerges when all voices are heard. For we are wonderful in our diversity. I may not like some people just as I may not like some foods. But that does not mean, except to my ego, that I am more worthy than they.

And here it is my ego that is the danger. The I AM that claims my truth as universal. It is only mine. It has been difficult at times to remember this, but all I am is a man. With dreams, visions and an occasional inner voice. Sometimes I am noble and a other times craven. That is all. And I am glad to be alive.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Seriously scary stuff from Naomi Wolf

I truly hope she is being alarmist but I fear she is not.

Please pass this on.

...and in the meantime,

In the run-up to the coming election, combat troops are now deployed within the United States. These troops are, of course, under the control of that great upholder of peace and democracy, George W Bush. A little worrying, given that according to one US congressman, martial law has been threatened in the successful attempt to get congress to approve the bailout. See more in this article by Naomi Wolf and in this by Amy Goodman of Democracy Now

And, further to the debate on the sex industry, Naomi, in another article makes a convincing case that the abuse of prisoners in such places Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo should be viewed as sex crimes - planned in and authorised by the White House. I quote a particularly telling passage from the article:

The sexualization of torture from the top basically turned Abu Ghraib and Guantnamo Bay into an organized sex-crime ring in which the trafficked sex slaves were US-held prisoners. Looking at the classic S and M nature of some of this torture, it is hard not to speculate that someone setting policy was aroused by all of this. And Phillipe Sands' impeccably documented Torture Team: Rumsfeld's Memo and the Betrayal of American Values, now proves that sex crime was authorized and, at least one source reports, eroticized: Diane Beaver, the Staff Judge Advocate at Guantanamo who signed off on many torture techniques, told Sands about brainstorming sessions that included the use of sexual tension, which was "culturally taboo, disrespectful, humiliating and potentially unexpected."

"These brainstorming meetings at Guantanamo produced animated discussion," writes Sands. "Who has the glassy eyes?" Beaver asked herself as she surveyed the men around the room, thirty or more of them. She was invariably the only woman in the room, keeping control of the boys. The younger men would get excited, agitated, even: "You could almost see their dicks getting hard as they got new ideas" [reported Beaver]. A wan smile crossed Beaver's face: "And I said to myself, you know what, I don't have a dick to get hard, I can stay detached." [Sands, p 63]

Here the issue of consent on the part of the detainees is clearly absent. Rape and sexual torture as state policy authorised by an administration which wraps itself in the flag and carries a bible. And is, according to Palin, doing god's work.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

and, for the hell of it - sheela-na-gig - pj harvey

Because she is wonderful!!! And I feel it relates directly to my last post.

A blind alley - the porn debate

I have spent quite a lot of my time lately surfing around various blogs written by sex workers. It has been very interesting. I have seen humour, passion and anger and some very fine writing.

They talk about a world far removed from my experience. A world, moreover, which is both demonised and mythologised. I have read and been impressed by Andrea Dworkin and I have seen and been impressed by "Boogie Nights". Dworkin's analysis, when I read her many years ago, struck me as convincing and that porn was instrumental in the subjugation of women. And yet, her insights were later used by right wing christian moralists in the service of their vision of a return to family values. This struck me, and still does, as a horrible irony - that feminist analysis should bequeath as its legacy intellectual respectability to bigots and moralists.

Something does not quite seem to fit here. To me, feminism was the herald of an end to tyranny - of the move away from power/over to power/with. As a man, I saw the struggle not simply as "women's liberation" but as "human liberation". I still do. I have posted before about the patriarch within. His ways are subtle and they revel in the concept of "absolute truth". It thrives in the world of duality, of us and them, of good and evil, of right and wrong. Of the sheep and the goats, the damned and the saved. It is clever, and can hijack any movement to suit its own ends.

The women I have read lately do not seem to be subjugated - on the contrary, they are clearly well capable of fighting their corner. They are far removed from the category of victim. They also seem to be active in supporting those who are unwilling participants in the industry in which they themselves earn their livings. The posts are certainly illuminating - I must confess to a certain surprise when hearing of the preparation needed prior to a porn shoot which features anal sex. But I suppose that if I had given the matter any thought I would have realised that such would be necessary.

That being said, I find most porn that I have seen to be repulsive. I have gone into sex shops here in Budapest and been, I suppose, shocked to see the amount of coprophilia and bestiality available on DVD here. I find it difficult to imagine that women can willingly take part in such activities. But maybe they can. Taboo breaking does have its appeal, but being covered in shit is not one that I find tempting in any way, neither as participant nor observer.

But there is porn I have enjoyed. I like to see naked women - I find the female body both beautiful and mysterious. For me, it is the "other" - a state of being to which I can never aspire - experience which is forever alien to me. My reactions are sometimes lustful but often simply a sense of wonder and joy. Inanna found her body wonderful and so do I. I also wonder at my own form - not as firm, slim and smooth as in my youth - but still serving me well.

Sexuality and desire are not neat - neither can they be rendered ideologically sound. Fantasy and dreams can take me into places that do not fit with my own set of values. These fantasies preceded the availability of porn and have not been modified by it. I have, for example, no desire to ejaculate on any woman's face nor do I enjoy watching it being done by others.

The world we live in is nowhere near ideal. Its value system is totally out of synch with the needs of both human beings and the planet we live in. We are obsessed with the sex lives of others and pretend outrage at the antics of celebs when in fact, they may be living out those fantasies we wish to deny and repress. It is easier to point at those outside than to acknowledge our own leanings towards the ideology we are trying to oppose. So, sex workers can only be admitted into discourse if they accept that they are "fallen women" - but not if they insist that they are free agents who have exercised choice.

I have followed many links to both sides of the "divide" and have come across some rather frightening stuff in the anti camp. One was a link to a woman, highly praised and described as an ex sex worker who was involved in helping women get out of the trade/industry. As I read it became clear that her desire was not to liberate but to "bring them to Jesus" with tracts and sermons. Another was to a site about a 12 step programme for "sex addicts". There is a diagnostic questionnaire here - and it seems, having played around a bit, that any deviation from normal, traditional, morality is deemed to be addictive behaviour. And on yet a third link, aomeone seriously suggests that porn stars should "not be allowed" to have children. Eugenics, anyone? Compulsory sterilisation? That has been done before.

This sort of stuff gets us nowhere. All it does is to divert attention from the real issues of slavery and consent. The sex industry will not be wished, argued or even legislated away. The people involved are human beings, the people opposed are also human beings. That is the only starting point. This whole interest of mine started with a post from Debs. How about everybody listening to each other?

For whatever we think of porn, it is fulfilling a need that people perceive. This need is a result of the culture in which we live. My feeling is that we need to look to the roots - for that is what "radical" means. And the roots are not porn - they are not even men - they live in the notion that one group of people are intrinsically superior and more valuable than another. It started perhaps with men over women but has extended into all our interactions and our thoughts.

And the start of our journey out of this mess is, I believe, the simple statement - "I may be wrong, but....". If I do not see hear this said or implied then I see little value in further exploration of anyone's thoughts.

Monday, 6 October 2008

A strange day's journey

I awoke very early this morning with a feeling akin to despair. I had been dreaming of having to return to penury in Britain and the details were very clear and based upon the loss of my wallet a few weeks ago. I had thought that I had got over it - that my life was back on track - but this did not seem to be the case. I thought that this whole adventure might have been a huge mistake and that my conviction that I had somehow been called to it was a delusion.

This feeling lasted for couple of hours and then lifted enough for me to find the motivation to go to the temple for what is now my usual period of meditation. It was without much conviction I went - just a feeling that perhaps things would appear differently after it. I arrived and went into the room in which we have placed many paintings of vulvas. This room is so powerful! It is difficult to describe the feelings it evokes. First there is the sheer beauty of the physical form and then there is the sense of the individuality woman who is depicted - for each is as unique as a face. Then there is knowledge that all human beingd emerged from the space that is depicted. Ir is a room of multiple wonder. Anyway, Before sitting I evoked the Goddess, Normally, this would have been to Innana alone but this morning i found myself addressing the Lady of Avalon, to whom I had made my initial vow. This surprised me but I continued and then called on Inanna and sat.

Then, during the meditation, I found myself looking at two vague figures - it was impossible to see them clearly, but i felt them to be female - and one, on the left seemed to have a huge darkness where her belly should be. I felt I wanted to look into this darkness but was afraid to. A voice then invited me to look and enter - so I did. And the darkness seemed to overwhelm me but at the same time the fear went away. Then, there was shifting - a spreading of the skirts over the land - and I saw a forest and fields and a repeat of a vision from 35 years ago - of a place on the land where women and men can discover and be their true and loving selves.

Then i went for a walk in the woods of the Buda hills. And as I was walking along a path I have walked a few times before I saw from the corner of my eye a large beech tree and something told me to go up to it. It was large - the circumference at the base about two metres - and very high, towering over the younger growth around. And there, at the base, was a vulva shaped hole leading into the hollow interior. I was overcome with an urge to pray - to address the Goddess - and did so into this hollow. And I felt that this was the right thing to do.

And I realised that what had awoken me was a result of my fear of dedicating myself to Insnna. For, according to the Epic of Gilgamesh, she was not overly kind to men who loved her. And one of my last acts before leaving England was to play Dumuzzi, Inanna's husband in a sacred performance of Inanna's descent, directed by and starring a very dear friend, in Leamington Spa. For those who are not familiar with the story, it ends with Dumuzzi being chased be demons intent upon carrying him into the underworld.

So. Here I am. It is close to bedtime. And I am wondering why I want to publish this very personal and perhaps incoherent post. But after typing those last few words i remembered something else from the meditation which was that I was to explain the meaning of the title of this blog. And as i wrote that, i was overcome with a feeling of fear. For it seems to smack of hubris that I should say that I believe a goddess spoke to me. But it is true. Unbidden, She came to me 35 years ago when I was sitting in a ruined manor house in a deserted village called Wycoller- on the moors near the site of Wuthering Heights where my first wife and I were then living. I was sitting and listening to a Spring symphony of birdsong when a picture came into my head of women walking in a meadow. The feeling that accompanied this was that these women were free and strong - aware of themselves as beautiful and powerful. And with this vision came the conviction that I was to do something to help bring this liberation.

I did not have the background to put any sort of context to this vision. Which seemed even then to be presumptuous, particularly as I am aware of many of my weaknesses, particularly when around women> But the vision was so strong, i have never forgotten it -I can still taste it.

And it is this vision that has guided me. It was behind my work in Glastonbury with the Goddess Temple and it is what led me here. For I believe that somewhere in the countryside around here, there is a physical house awaiting. One of the ancient names of the Danube is Ishtar, the name by which Inanna waa known by the Babylonian invaders of Sumer. In a very real sense this is the land of Inanna. Hungarian folklore alleges a Mesopotamian origin of the Hungarian people and some scholars say that the Hungarian language is derived from Sumerian. But here, we get into the very murky waters of magical nationalism, so I will not say more. This house exists - this safe place to explore and discover our true divinity, and this blog is is virtual counterpart

I promised not to mention Sarah Palin again - but I must do so. One of the major doctrines of her former church is that they are engaged in a spritual war against the Queen of Heaven - aka The Whore of Babylon, aka Ashtoreth/Astarte/Ishtar/Inanna. They are at war, therefore, with me. For I serve Her.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Of acorns, a ferret, and sex workers

This week, after a bit of a lapse, I have resumed my walks in the forest. Yesterday, I sat above a small valley and watched as a slight breeze dislodged the leaves and they fell silently to the ground. The only sounds I could hear were birds and the falling of acorns. I still find it difficult to comprehend that I was still within the city limits.

Things get in perspective and the reality is that, no matter how we human beings fuck up, life on this planet will continue. Whether we are here or not, the beauty will remain. Although it may change radically.

But I like human beings and I think we are wonderful. So I hope we will survive. I have my moments of severe misanthropy but am glad to say they do not last long. Particularly when sitting in a clearing and watching a young couple taking their pet ferret for a walk. And then seeing that ferret climb up the woman's body in order to be carried very closely by her. Her partner, in the meantime, was taking close-up photos of leaves and sticks and stuff. Then they walked off into the woods, she with her dreadlocks and he with his neatly trimmed beard,

While walking, I was doing a lot of thinking as well. About sex mainly - both personal and general, but mainly general. I have been asked to write another article on sexuality for a magazine here and was wondering what I could say that I have not already said. My thoughts have been stimulated recently by other blogs, particularly those of Debi Crow and those that her site led me to, especially but not only renegade evolution.

As a heterosexual man with a fairly strong libido - albeit somewhat ageing :-) - I have often found feminist theory to be challenging. This is not a bad thing. Challenges force me to examine my attitudes and behaviours and accept that they can at times be out of order. But at other times, I find that I am OK - and that the theory may be somewhat askew. Nobody has a monopoly on the truth. This is particularly true as we attempt to find a new way of being human - and sexual. The sea in which we swim at present is patriarchal and i, for one, have been moulded by it. And under patriarchy, sex is something alien - to be badmouthed and policed. To be repressed and, surreptitiously and hypocritically, obsessed about. This repression and hypocrisy has been so internalised that I have had to wait until my relatively later years to begin to see it for what it is.

It is this same patriarchal toxin I see in those who proclaim that their ideological, anti-patriarchal, purity gives them authority to claim that the experience of others who do not share their own theoretical base is invalid. That those who disagree are liars - or even worse, tools of the patriarchy. Oh Goddess, would that the patriarchy were so simple! It is not - it infects the very language we speak and all our relationships. It is revealed in the dualistic nature of most discourse - in the belief that there is one truth applicable to all and that those who do not accept are damned. Patriarchy is not simply the domain of men but it is policed by women. They label other women as sluts and whores. They hold down six year old girls while they mutilate their genitals with broken bottles. Patriarchy is all pervasive - having a vagina does not necessarily immunise.

None of us, least of all me, is immune from such thinking. It is a universal disease. However, it is not an eternal one. In the forest, the fall of the leaves and the rotting of the dead things is simply part of the cycle, neither right nor wrong. It is us who have complicated things. Wordsworth wrote- while he was still young and hopeful - "in getting and spending we lay waste our powers". He was right, but only partly so. I would rewrite it thus: "in judgement and damning we forsake our power".

I do not like much of the pornography I have seen. Some I do. I question that liking just as I question the blanket condemnation of all representation of sexual acts by puritans of all persuasions. Yes, there is undeniable and vile exploitation - slavery being rife - but there is also slavery involved in the manufacture of chocolate. The latter does not justify the former. The sex trade is here and will, for the foreseeable future remain. Mnay women and children are enslaved within it. This is undeniable. But perhaps, and this is just my take on it, the issue is slavery, not sex. The issue is consent. With true, informed, consent, how can any sexual act be wrong? Only to the patriarch who polices our bedrooms. Who sits in our judgemental minds and tells us that we alone are saved.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

get them while they are young..

When ordering the massacre at Drogheda, Cromwell was asked what to do with the children. He replied - as was echoed by US generals in the Indian Wars - "Nits make lice". It appears this thinking is still around in the US today - being encouraged by the mainstream media in their desire to evoke fear.

see the link here

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

God/dess is alive, Magic is afoot...

Events in my own life and those that others have related have brought this song into my mind. Things seem to be moving in a very magical way.

I am a bit uneasy at the at the male language but the words were written by Leonard Cohen many decades ago and published in his novel "beautiful losers". However, Julie Felix has described LC as a true child of the goddess and I tend to agree. Here is Buffy Ste Marie's setting of it from her album "Illuminations". I first heard it 40 years ago and it still inspires me. Magic is indeed afoot.....

Sniffles, snuffles and a turning point

Last night I composed a very long post. Then it got lost somewhere in the e-bowels of my computer. So my carefully crafted wisdom is lost for ever.

Which is possibly just as well. I was struggling to articulate my own take on sexuality and desire and this is something with which I am still struggling. I do not feel like retracing the argument tonight but will return to it very shortly - and return again and again as I delve into my own being. The fact that several hours of work evaporated (and I still do not know how, as i saved regularly.) I will therefore take as a sign that I need to sit with my thoughts for at least another day and return refreshed,

Andy, the Somerset pagan left a comment to my last post wondering whether I am ok. I am. There has been a lot happening, however, and it is all taking time to settle.

At the weekend we had an initiation ceremony to mark the end of the first year of the second intake of the priest/ess of Danu training. The wheel has now nearly turned twice since I started working in an organised way as a teacher over here in Hungary. At Samhain another group of trainees will start and then the people who initiated on Saturday will begin their second year.

It was very exhausting and as soon as I got home i felt ill - sore throat, catarrh, slight fever - all the symptoms of a cold. I am still feeling tired but not nearly as unwell as I did on Monday.

I am not, however, too surprised at the physical manifestations because over the last couple of weeks I have been feeling very shaky. I will not repeat what I said in earlier posts - those who are interested can see them for themselves. What became clear at the weekend, however, was that I needed to make a further commitment and to this end I asked that a ceremony be devised in which I can formally dedicate myself to the service of Inanna. I have no idea, and want none in advance, what this will entail - I have left it entirely in the hands of the priest/esses. What I have said is that I see my service to Inanna as being in the area of sexual healing. I do not know what form this will ultimately take - and when I sit and look at it with my rational mind in gear I am, quite frankly terrified. I am only too aware of the degree of healing that I need for myself. But that is the path that appears to be opening up for me - to assist others to search and see how and where shame manifests in their lives and how to forgive others and, more importantly, themselves for the wounds they bear.

What is clear to me now is that I must move forward. I fear that I will be attacked by others who may disapprove of what I do. This fear is highly realistic - which is why I have put the quote by Harvey Fierstein where it will act as a constant reminder to me that I cannot allow the opinions and beliefs of others to dictate my life. I have doing that for far too long.

I hope to be able soon to post the articles on Inanna, shame and sexuality that have been published over here. My website should very soon be online and I will post them there. along with other longer pieces as I write them. It has been strange to be published in a language I do not yet understand, but to be published at all is good. Even when I get no feedback. It is now eighteen months after the first article appeared and I received my first spontaneous piece of feedback only a few weeks ago. But that feedback was received at a time when I was ready to believe it.

So, in conclusion, I feel really good. I am sure that there will be further challenges along the road but am confident that I will be able to meet them. On this blog and elsewhere I will dare to speak my truth and thus exorcise the demon of shame who has ruled my life for so long. To learn, finally, to be me and not the dead scripts I used to relentlessly perform.