Saturday, 31 January 2009

Coming out of the closet

Today I have been teaching in the Goddess Temple all day, and during one of the long periods when my co-teacher was leading and the conversation was way beyond my limited Hungarian, I drifted off into reverie for a bit and remembered a walk I had last weekend in the Buda Hills. I meant to blog about it at the time but things got in the way. More accurately, my new relationship got in the way. Which has been something I have not written about before and yet it is a major part of my life. In fact, it has been central to my life for the last four weeks.

So I started to wonder why I have not mentioned it before. I am not normally reticent to talk about myself. On the contrary, I sometimes feel that I may be a little too self-revelatory and should adopt a more impersonal, objective, academic approach. And yet I have remained silent about this. I am not going to mention her name nor give any details for there is no reason to do so. So her privacy is, at least to those who do not know either of us personally, guaranteed.

No, the reason I have not written is more personal. And it is born from fear - the fear that the relationship will not last and so is better not mentioned. And that fear is born of many things but foremost among them is a deep-seated belief that I do not deserve love. One of the themes of this weekend's training is healing the wounds received in childhood. Which is where this fear was born. I am not going into the details here - for they are, in fact, irrelevant. The message I received was identical to the message so many people I know have received - or, at least, as near as damn-it identical. It is that there is, in my fundamental being, a wrongness and that eventually this wrongness will become evident and that the inevitable rejection - the "depart from me, thou cursed one, into the place prepared for you" will be pronounced and an eternity of alienation from the possibility of love would follow.

This script has been very active in my recent life. It was partly, although by no means totally, behind my move here. Again, details are not necessary but behaviour that, although wrong, would on any rational scale of seriousness rate very low became an occasion of shame so great that it came close to destroying me and was a cause of great pain elsewhere. Even today it reverberates and much of me would wish to turn back the clock and act otherwise. That this is impossible has been, and still is, something that grieves me greatly.

However, from all of it there have been gains. I have been able to delve deeper into myself and see myself more clearly - that I am simply human and fallible and do not have to apologise for that. I still act badly and selfishly at times and hurt others by that. For actions or inaction I will apologise. I will, however, no longer apologise for being me. For that I cannot change - I will be me until the day I die and, after that, who knows? In fact, the more fully I can become myself then the less I will hurt others for what I have learnt is that it is not so much what I do, nor who I am, that hurts but the lies and evasions I have used to try to hide who I am. Not least from myself.

For it is in the lies to myself that all the other lies have their genesis. In a recent email exchange in which I was talking of models for masculinity, I was asked why I had not mentioned Dionysus. And I hadn't. In fact, in all the posts on this blog there has been no mention of him. "The elephant in the room", I replied. To which the answer came "bloody big elephant". Bloody huge!.

For this is what has sent me running into hiding so often in my life. It is what I have tried to deny to myself and to others. For, warring with the Dionysian there has ever been an Apollonian overlay and I seem always to have oscillated between the orgiast and the intellectual - never being totally one nor the other but always an angry and frustrated being who felt torn between the two. I feel that I have long inhabited the no-man's-land between two armies in a war of attrition. A very uncomfortable place.

The thing is, I can be pretty good at the intellectual stuff. I really do enjoy it. I love playing with ideas and seeing where they lead. I loved, and still deeply miss, conversations in which I could share the delight I feel in such games -where mind met mind without, it seemed, any need for an interpreter. Or even, sometimes, a body. I do not have that here. Which is perhaps the reason I started blogging. For here, I always need an interpreter and this is slow. So I have been forced to write and hope that my words are received with understanding and, at times, appreciation. I will get better. All my life, I have spoken of wanting to write but - apart from University - have not really done so until I came here.

Which brings me back to my new relationship. This cannot involve playing with words and ideas for she speaks no English and I, as yet, very little Hungarian. This latter will have to, of course, be remedied for two of us scrabbling around in dictionaries makes even the simplest conversation - such as when to meet or what to eat - difficult (I exaggerate a little - my Hungarian can just about manage that - but not by much.) So for the communication of ideas there is still only writing here and elsewhere.

Which is not to say that the relationship is orgiastic - that would be one hell of an exaggeration - but it is largely non-verbal. And this is very new. Somehow, and I do not quite know how, we communicate. And in this communication where there are no words I fear that I misunderstand and misinterpret. And this feeds my deeper fear of ultimate rejection - that she is only with me because she does not know what I am and when she knows more will reject me.

So, I have kept the blog and my private life separate and not mentioned her. I have written of love but not mentioned those that I love now and those that I have loved in the past. Which is a form of lying - for by doing so I can omit to mention those many ways in which I have fallen short of the love they have held for me. I can paint myself in brighter colours and try to appear as someone who has reconciled the inner conflict between intellect and body. But this I have not previously been able to do because I have not dared to name Dionysus and to claim his kinship. I have written much about Inanna but little of Dumuzzi except to lightly mock him. This I will now begin to remedy. One of the things that I said today, in response to a question, was that I no longer feel the need to apologise for being a man and a sexual being. And I realised as I said it that it is the truth but it is also true that for the bulk of my life until very recently - perhaps yesterday, I don't know - I have felt an inner need to apologise - or hide. I am no longer willing to do so. Dionysus is coming out of the closet.

"Not simply war criminals, they are fools"

This condemnation of the Israeli authorities comes from Gerald Kaufmann MP - raised "an orthodox Jew and a Zionist". Movingly, but calmly, he denounces the current actions of the country some of whose previous leaders he names as friends. He does use the "cheap gut shot" of comparison to Nazism but relates this to the murder of his grandmother as she lay ill in bed. I will write no more commentary but leave you to listen for yourself:

Thursday, 29 January 2009

BBC bans disaster appeal

The Disasters Emergency Committee, made up of a large range of aid charities, has made an appeal to the British public for donations to aid the victims of the fighting in Gaza. Or, to be more accurate, it has tried to. The BBC and Sky television, citing the need for "impartiality" has refused to air it. In the meantime, the people of Gaza die.

Here is the appeal:

I cannot see how this ban can be justified. That people are suffering is undeniable and the appeal does not make any statement of support for Hamas nor does it comdemn Istrael. All it says is that children, women and men who have neither the responsibility for the devastation nor the power to stop it are in desperate need of help.

This help is what the BBC is denying.

Tony Benn, as ever, gets to the heart of the matter.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Are comparisons alway odious?

Renegade Evolution has declared that she will not allow unchallenged accusations that someone or other is like the Nazis to appear on her blog. She writes:

If in your comment you compare anyone or anything to Hitler or the Nazis, you will either NOT be published OR I will mock the ever living fuck out of you.

WHY? Because one, invoking the Nazis or Hitler is a cheap, emotional gut shot and is rarely germane to the actual discussion at hand. It is a cheap argument with no solid footing. Comparing anyone or anything to a man and a group of people who killed millions of marginalized people is a total shit argument. One person is akin to Hitler- and that would be it? Same goes for similar comparisions to Stalin, the Khmer Rouge, so on.

If you have a point or an argument to make, make it, but do it on your own, with facts and proof, and not the emotional gut shot tactic of comparing everyone and every thing to people responsible for the deaths, torture, and suffering of millions of people.

Got it? Good.

She has a very good point to make here and in the comments section there are other points that are equally valid. I recommend all to read them.

There is indeed a form of lazy rhetoric in which anything with which one disagrees is likened to such extreme movements. The term "feminazi" comes immediately to mind - as does the use of the word "holocaust" when used by anti-abortionists. Such is nothing more than flaming and as such should not be taken seriously - the delete button being designed for just such idiocies. I fully agree with Ren's policy in such cases.

Although Ren can, of course, set whatever rules she likes for her own blog, I would be wary of a blanket ban such as she proposes. Because there is an underlying assumption that Nazism was an aberration and a unique event. I fear that it was not. It is certainly true, as commenters have said on Ren's blog, Nazism has so far been the only ideology which has had as its central tenet the eradication of a particular group of people. It is also true that this occurred as result of a particular set of historical events that will, we hope, never be replicated. It is probably true that, modern neo-nazis notwithstanding, we will not see a significant political party that could be called Nazi.

Nazism, although shaped and given spurious legitimacy to the German people by the terms of the Treaty of Versailles and the subsequent travails of the Weimar Republic, was not, however, born from them. It drew upon a long-standing tradition in European thought. For example, there was an Englishman, Houston Stewart Chamberlain who married Wagner's daughter. In 1900 he published "The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century" in which he exhorted the "pure" German people to embrace their destiny as "lords of the world" by defeating and suppressing the German Jews. He was only one voice among many. Anti-semitism was the cultural norm - as a reading of John Buchan and Evelyn Waugh among many others will soon demonstrate.

The feelings, beliefs and emotions that fuelled Nazism were not new and neither have they been eradicated from our culture. And it is for this reason that I am wary of a blanket ban on comparisons with Nazism. Hitler himself will not return, but the disease he exploited is still here, ready for anyone else. It is based on the notion that some human beings are more worthy of consideration than others - and that, in fact some people are less human than others. It was the justification for the eradication of the native Americans and for the expansion of the European Empires. The disease is manifest in our popular tabloids with their rampant xenophobia. It is manifest in anti-gay rhetoric and other hate-speech. It is in the pronouncements of both the Israeli Government and Hamas. It is endemic to our civilisation and must be named whenever it is detected

Ren is right, however, that name cannot be Nazi. But a comparison may be justified.

Friday, 23 January 2009

A tale of two chakras - among other wandering

Have had a very frustrating evening trying to watch a DVD. My machine has been erratic to say the least for a while but now seems to have decided to call it a day. It has been freezing for long periods and then jumping scenes. Now it is refusing to recognise any disc I put into it. This is infuriating, particularly as I had decided to give myself a night off from thinking.

And there is a lot to think about. I am both excited and scared by the life ahead of me. It is a time when I am moving into very unknown territory. I know that I can no longer maintain myself through teaching English. It is too demanding of time and energy and leaves me little of either to spare so that I can do the work I feel I have been called to do. So I must trust in Inanna to provide my needs. My phone has just been cut off - which is ok, I will be able to pay the bill next week and my broadband is on a separate contract. I will have my rent next month and can pay gas and electricity. But what then?

This issue of trust is a big one. On the one hand I believe that I am on the right path but on the other I am often beset with doubt. This doubt tells me - as I have said before - that I am kidding myself, that I am delusionary and that I will end up on the street. Or worse. It tells me that what I perceive as a call is merely hubris and hence nemesis will come, as night follows day.

But as I write this, I realise that I do not believe it. That if I did I would not be here now. Still hanging in. Which I am. I will be able to eat until the end of the month - it is only a week or so now. I am not alone but have people who care about me. And I know that She has a purpose for me and will enable me to fulfil it.

Where Earth's Heart Throbs by *AgiVega on deviantART

The first time I came to Hungary, I was taken up to a place called Dobogókő (the "pulsing, or drum, stone"- up the Danube from Budapest. A very heautiful and magical place which has been referred to as the heart chakra of the planet by no less an authority than the Dalai Lama. I was told but the woman who was guiding me that there had been a connection of some sort between Shambala, Avalon and Dobogókő but that this had been broken in the 13 century due to some lapses on the Hungarian part. Having come from Avalon, I felt that this was not in fact the case but that perhaps it was the awareness that had been broken. For I felt the same there as I felt in Glastonbury/Avalon, another reputed site for the heart chakra. And I had a vision of a healing ceremony, with drummers from every nation in Europe drumming for the wounds and the generations of blood that had been shed - much of it in the land I was standing in. In the centre - the heart - of the continent so stained with blood. This is still my vision, and I believe it will happen.

The point is, that I complain that I do not know where I am going - nor do I know, I say, what She wants me to do. Which is bullshit. For She tells me - in simple and direct language - or in a picture, a feeling, which is unsummoned and comes out of the blue. What I am not given is a road map, just a picture of the destination and the general direction I must take to get there. The rest is just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other and keeping going when things do not seem easy.

To get back to Dobogókő. I must confess, that having lived and worked in Glastonbury, I was taken somewhat aback when I first heard that there was another claimant for the heart chakra position and was, at first, inclined to pooh-pooh it. That is, until I stood there and felt the power for myself. It is real. There is a stone where, if one places one's ear on it, the earth's pulse can be heard. I did not hear it and last time I went could not recall the exact stone. But that does not matter. What I felt still remains strong in my memory - and is so very similar to what I felt in Glastonbury that it is well-nigh identical.

I know very little about geomancy and its technical details - geometry, sacred or otherwise, was not one of my best subjects at school. I have seen lovely pictures of the earth chakra system from English-speaking websites - which do not include Hungary as an integral part of this system. But the Shaolin monks, for example, have a monastery close to Dobogókő, and the Dalai Lama has spoken favourably of Dobogókő. And the woman who guided me on that first, fateful, visit spoke of the ancient psychic link between Shambalah, Avalon, and Glastonbury. And I do know how I felt when I first stood there , and still feel whenever I go there. Does each chakra have to be singular? Can they not manifest in several places? Or do they, perhaps, move? I have no idea but would welcome suggestions.

The fact remains, however, that I must hold true to the original vision and all those that have followed, and must not give way to fear. In Hungary I first learnt that the five elements are earth, air, fire, water and love. In tantra I have learnt that there are only two emotions, love and fear and that what is not love is fear - by whatever name we call it. The path that led me to Glastonbury has now led me here. Much of the time, my primary emotion has been fear. I have run, as a deer flees the hunt. I must now learn to trust in love. That what I need will be provided.

A rambling post, I know. This is how my brain is operating at the moment. Ever since I initiated as Priest of Inanna I have felt a huge change within me. But at times, my brain starts to question. Which was why I did not want to post today, preferring to lose myself in a film - ironically "Kundun" - the story of the Dalai Lama. I managed half and then the player went on strike. So, here I am, using this forum to try and sort out the various voices in my head and order priorities. Not too sure what it all means and do not really care. I may never reach the end, but the journey is interesting.

PS to the last posting...

A short advertisement for peace and understanding.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

An open letter to the new president

I listened to your address yesterday, Mr President, and was impressed by your mastery of rhetoric and the concern you expressed that this should now be the beginning of a new relationship between your country and the rest of humanity. I am hopeful that this may be the case. I am glad that you have taken immediate steps to close down Guantanamo and hope that the innocent inmates will receive fitting compensation for the agonies they endured. This is a vital first step. But it must not be the last.

I can well appreciate the desire to draw a line under the irregularities of the last eight years and begin anew. I understand your desire to move on and not look back and try to lay blame. This cannot be done, however. Leaving aside the, if not wilful then at least incompetent, misleading of Congress and the American people in order to invade Iraq, thereby giving Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld's corporate buddies an opportunity to obtain billions of taxpayer's dollars out of the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians and over 4000 American soldiers and the maiming of tens of thousands more, your predecessor and his vice-president are on record as having authorised torture This is criminal. Pure and simple. It is a war crime and the techniques authorised by these men were the cause of execution in the trials held after world war two.

Can such wanton disregard for international law be unprosecuted? If it is, then it gravely imperils your hope for a new relationship with the world. You spoke fluently of despotic foreign governments and their disregard for basic human rights. How can you, therefore, ignore the gross, blatant and unapologetic violations of human rights authorised by your predecessors? Did torture take place under Bush's watch? Yes - undeniably. Did he and Cheney authorise it? They have said as much on television. If torture is a crime then they are criminals. If any have died as a result of the torture they have authorised, then they are murderers. You as a lawyer must surely acknowledge that.

If you do not take action against the manifest crimes of the Bush regime and bring the perpetrators before the courts, Mr President then, to quote the scriptures you follow , your fine and inspiring words yesterday are naught but "as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal". They will mean nothing to those who have directly suffered as a result of the actions of the US over the last few years. They will mean nothing to those of good will who hope that the US will return to the values that informed its revolution and of which you spoke so eloquently.

There can be no immunity for torturers - however eminent they may be. Pinochet discovered that. Do not leave it up to a prosecutor from, say, Spain, to issue the warrant for the arrest of Bush or Cheney on charges of war crimes, do it yourself and show the world that this really is a new era and not simply a reality show cosmetic makeover.

Monday, 19 January 2009

A mystery solved?

In my time, I have heard many explanations as to how the great stone circles such as Stonehenge were built. They have include using sound, levitation, mana, snow, etc. I have always tried to use Occam's Razor and look for the simplest explanation for any phenomenon. Sometimes, that simplest explanation can indeed be what we call magic. More often, however, it is not. I received this video on my Facebook page and it strikes me as utterly credible that very simple, mechanical, methods identical or similar to these may have been used by our ancestors.

Donovan -An often underestimated musician

A welcome honour for an musician who has never got the full recognition that he should have done. In the early 60s, Donovan suffered from being promoted and marketed as "The British Bob Dylan", which he wasn't and never could be. Now, he is referred to as a "hippy icon". What on earth does that mean? A label that is meaningless beyond the lazy cardboard stereotypes of tabloid journalism - here evident on the BBC website. It relegates an original and substantial song writer to a period curiosity.

The French Ministry of Culture, however, has given him a medal in honour of his outstanding contribution to culture.

A very early song

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Men, heterosexuality, and the embodiment of Goddess

Laughing Medusa wrote this on her blog a few days ago in response to earlier posts of mine:
But my question remains. When I turned to the Goddess some years later, I did not feel that I needed to approach an unapproachable Being and state my case. I felt I already belonged. I did not even feel that I had to petition for love. It seemed automatic to listen to myself as an innately embodied Goddess energy. I even came to know that what I termed Goddess was already a part of me, I just didn’t recognize it. How this differs from my Christian “conversion” is stark. Approaching a male God as a separate entity is a far cry from realizing that I am essentially Goddess myself; as are all men and women. Now, when Brian describes his encounter with Inanna, he too uses language of separation from the Divine. But I’m not sure if I’m interpreting that correctly. I am curious to know whether the limitations I felt coming to the God are the same for men coming to the Goddess

This is a question to which I have been trying to find an answer ever since I found myself on the Goddess path. Can a man embody Goddess in the same way as a woman can? I do not know - since I cannot partake of her experience. Neither can I speak for other men. I can only speak of my experience. LM says that I am using the language of separation and I can see what she means. "Language of separation", however, seems to me to have a harsh quality to it - implying some sort of existential angst. Which is, sometimes, how I have felt. But then, I can simply breathe and feel her presence. Not within but neither without. Perhaps the word is simply "with" me. She is immanent and I feel Her and breathe Her. But I am not Her. She is something other than I. For when total awareness of Her presence is there, then there is no "I" to be separate. I, as a separate entity, have ceased to be. There is an awareness of a being called Brian and an awareness of Goddess as everything there is - including that being called Brian. Such moments are not the stuff of the everyday, however.
In the everyday I do not feel a separation. It is more like an otherness which shows me my completeness - or, to put it better, allows me to see my completeness and, fully and without judgement, accept myself in that totality as partaking of Her divinity. Language is wholly inadequate to describe what I mean but I will continue to try.

I like to dance to dance the 5 rhythms. I like to allow music to enter my body and move it. When this happens, my head gets out of the way and allows me to be fully myself and fully in the moment. Then, when I find myself dancing with a partner, the movements can become effortlessly co-ordinated and the dance an expression of an encounter between two aspects of the divine. A perfect meeting for the minute or two that it takes - and then on to another perfect meeting. In these meetings, there is a feeling that the separation between two strangers no longer exists - that they are both aspects of the One.

This does not yet seem to be answering LM's question. Is my experience, as a man, of the immanent presence different from that of a woman? I think, perhaps, it is and it must be. I have many images of goddesses - some fat, some thin, old, young and coming from many cultures. Whatever the details of their physical shape, they all possess breasts, vulvas, wombs etc. I do not. I am therefore, in that sense, other. We talk of maiden, mother, crone - these are marked to a large extent by the workings of the female reproductive system. I am a man and, although I am now entering the final stages of life, have never experienced the onset of blood nor its cessation. I have brought up a child on my own but never experienced one in my belly, nor one sucking at my breast. Neither have I had such things as even the remotest possibility. They are and always have been completely absent from my life.

I cannot, with Inanna, call on Dumuzzi to "plough my vulva". In this story the only possible being I can embody is Dumuzzi. Dumuzzi, however, is mortal and is raised to divine or semi-divine status only through his union with Inanna. In another story, Inanna flirtaceously entices Enki, the god of wisdom, to get drunk and then takes all the gifts of civilisation that he, in his cups, showers upon and flees back to Her own city. But it is Enki, long after his hangover has subsided, who has the wisdom to see the necessity and value of Her descent and provides the element of empathy necessary to effect her return. Where she sets the demons on Dumuzzi - eventually giving him the gift of insight into his own inner darkness and thus allowing him access to total being - which he had never known before. Wonderful stories - but with Inanna calling all the shots and the males answering to her needs.

There is a lot more to be written about this - I feel that I am just starting. I do not feel that I can answer LM's question. I do not see an identity between her earlier experience of Jesus and my experience of Inanna but I do feel that it is impossible for me to embody Goddess. I am heterosexual and my relationship with the female body includes a large element of desire. I cannot escape it, and neither do I want to. Desire is sacred and must be honoured even when, and this is most of the time, not acted upon. I do not know how a gay man relates to Goddess. I do not even know how another heterosexual man does. They would have to say. To me, She is other but She is what makes me complete within myself. If that makes any sense.

I will be returning to this subject again and again - it is a journey of discovery for me and no final statement can be made. I am looking forward with delight to road ahead.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Can our will be free?

Reg, in his comments to my last post, has asked again for some clarifications. I am certainly not averse to acceding to this request.

The first question regards Glastonbury and my training as priest of Avalon and how that relates to my identification of a voice I perceived as genderless as that of the Goddess. The first time I had even heard of Glastonbury was in the late 60s in an article in an an underground magazine called "Gandalf's Garden". In it, there was an explicit reference to the Tor being the "yoni of the landscape goddess". This caused a literal physical shiver and an inner "of course!" I had never read of the Goddess as a living entity before - there had only been charming but irrelevant (as I then saw them) stories from Greece and Rome. But, at that moment, I seemed thoroughly to assimilate this entirely new perception. And, despite many strange alleyways in the future, it never entirely left me, although I buried it deep at times.

Thus Glastonbury and Goddess were inextricably linked together. Even though it would take over 25 years before I first visited the town, I always knew that it would someday be important to me. And so it was - for a long time being the centre of my universe. So, when I decided to become a priest, it was not the immediate response to the voice but a delayed one. When I heard the voice in the kitchen I had little concept of a personal deity - a vague and amorphous and definitely genderless presence was all. But when I answered the call, it was to the Goddess I dedicated myself. The call and my answer, although separated by a couple or so years, were linked. That is the best I can do here - although Avalon/Glastonbury is certainly worth many posts in the future.

Reg goes on to say:
I think that there is ultimate reality, and that it is our perception of it which is so malleable. Just because we are essentially subjective beings who have no chance of knowing true reality from a hole in the head, doesn't mean that reality is itself an illusion.

I think that I agree with Reg but that is only a belief. I have no real evidence for it beyond a subjective feeling that it must all somehow make some sort of sense. In this, I may be wrong, however, and it may all be totally random and meaningless. What I am wary of, however, is putting Goddess - or God - or the flying spaghetti monster- or Science- or whatever else - into a box labelled "ultimate reality". Perhaps there is only chaos and a reality truly "without form and void (with) darkness on the face of the deep". I suppose that I am looking for a spirituality which will embrace all possibility and not exclude any.

I am not sure whether I am clarifying or further muddying - but am enjoying the process so will continue.

And I come to a question about Imagination. Reg asks:

I'm somewhat confused about existence as "imagination". Would this be our imagination or something else's? If something else's, I don't know how you could have a sense of being a "player"; you would be a puppet rather wouldn't you, whose free will was also an illusion.

This is the question that has stimulated me most today. When I wrote about this in my last post, the passage he refers to just seemed to write itself - I did not give much thought to it. And looking back, I cannot find anything I wrote that I would edit out now. So, just what did I mean by imagination?

This is a word I associate with William Blake - a man of whose thought and genius I am only just beginning to have any sort of understanding. I do not see Imagination as the property of anyone - neither human nor divine. One way I often look at it is as an unchoreographed but coordinating dance - where all move in harmony even though each moves according to their own nature and as an expression of it. Or, perhaps, like a good jam session, where each musician expresses their own skill and personality but remains aware of the needs of the larger whole - the music. Therefore, they move from lead to backing to silence to lead again - each ceding place to the other. None of them sacrificing their own ego in the process but realising that the full expression of their own music needs them to be aware of and accommodate themselves to the music of others. For only then can the full music be heard. In these circumstances, which of the musicians owns or controls the music? None. Which musicians have lost autonomy? Again none. Who has lost? None. Who has gained? All - for music has its own rules. As does imagination - it is not a zero sum game. It is not either-or but both-and. It is beyond duality. It is not for nothing that the most hidebound fundamentalists - of all the Abrahamic faiths - have had a major problem with music!

I would like to spend a bit of space looking at the question of free will versus predestination which Reg has raised and extend it a bit. And personalise it. I cannot speak in the abstractions of academia in which the word "I" is almost heresy. I must use it - for all I know is gleaned from perceptions filtered through the mesh of personality.

For most of my life I, in fact, had little free will. I reacted to external events in ways that had been determined and laid down very early in my own socialisation process. I inherited from my family a set of given responses and internalised a whole galaxy of assumptions about myself and my capabilities. And these acted on the unconscious level. I was not really aware why I behaved in the way I did. Patterns were set - so that, like Pavlov's dogs, I would react to stimuli in conditioned ways. Despite having relatively few obvious external constraints, I was as free as a monkey in a cage - or a laboratory rat. I was powerless to change my responses to stimuli. Action/ reaction was all. My own inner censor ensured this through the imposition of shame concerning all and any manifestation of true spontaneity.

It is only recently that I have begun to see the full extent of this enslavement to reflex/reaction. And it is only now that I am beginning to see the paradox intrinsic to this. Free will is only gained through knowledge and acceptance that one aspect of personality is a collection of impulses and reflexes that have been acquired from others. I may never fully eradicate these and that is really no problem. Again and again, I may find myself repeating the same pattern. Furthermore, the more I fight the pattern, the more entrenched it becomes and the less free will I possess.

The paradox is that it is only through not fighting for self- assertion and not striving for an unachievable perfection that i am beginning to see what free will means. My free will is part of a larger will - a larger music - a larger Imagination. I can keep it locked up in my cell of shame or i can allow it to fly - to soar in the summer sun - and winter snows - and to sing its true song> A song that is in harmony with all other true songs. My will has been locked away - and I must free it. I am only just now beginning to.

So my answer is that I see free will as something that cannot exist until there is awareness that one is enslaved to the past. After that awareness, and only then, can free will even have a chance of existing. How can my will be free when I do not even know what it is?

For me, Inanna is the courage to exercise free will. To demand it. At each stage of Her descent, she demands entrance. She has "turned her ear to the Great Below" and will not be diverted from Her course. She has chosen the path of conscious choice as opposed to the path predestined.

I will close here, because it is late and I am tired. I welcome all and any comments - providing they are polite - and wil return to this subject later.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

The world a stage?

In his comments to yesterday's post, Reg asks me a question:

Concerning the individual's "experience", a friend describes Goddess Energy as "general female energy". Whereas you refer specifically to the "will of the Goddess", as of an individual divine entity, with a "voice", telling you to do certain things.
What are your thoughts on the divine as an individual, and the divine as general spiritual force?
If the individual divinity has real existence for you, is she one among many, or does each person who is aware of her or him have their own version of what is essentially the same thing?

I would here like to attempt an answer- and hope that in so doing i might invite further questions.

I do indeed speak of Her "voice" because that is what I heard. As clearly and distinctly as I hear any sound. With a very specific message - "I want you to be a priest". It was while I was at University - and working as a cook in order to keep semi-solvent. I was chopping onions and the voice came from behind me. Clear and strong. I looked around. Nobody to be seen. That was it. No choirs. No angels. A voice like any other - but genderless. I do not remember any indication whether the voice was male or female. In fact, having left the Goddess path for a while, I even wondered whether I was being called to be a Christian priest and went to see the local vicar, who suggested that I attended church. Well, two Sundays were enough- they quickly reminded me of why I had left!

I could not forget the voice, however. And, eventually, I found myself strongly drawn to the Priest/ess of Avalon training in Glastonbury, taught by Kathy Jones. And knew that I had come home. I then knew that the voice I had heard had been that of Goddess. For a while, I thought that perhaps She was the Lady of Avalon - and maybe she was for that while - but soon it became clear that She was, and is, Inanna.

There were other times when I heard Her. And there were occasions of dream and vision which seemed highly significant. Of Inanna identifying Herself to me in a very visual dream - and then seeing the dream replicated in detail in the initiation ceremony as Priest of Inanna last November. There were others, but these will do for now.

So what does this tell me about Her nature? Not, in fact, very much. For they are deeply personal and are mediated through a consciousness that I know to be fallible. My first acid trip was enough to show me how malleable reality is. And subsequent events left me for a long time with little concept of any possibility of stable identity and an even greater difficulty than before in living in the world.

As a human being, I edit and editorialise my perception. Every second, I am bombarded with a universe of sensory information and my response is to select a small proportion and reject the bulk of this. Thus, any conclusion I may reach is based on partial (in both senses of the word) information because I may well have ignored any that did not accord with my own preconceptions.

So the only answer that I can truly give is that I do not know. To me, She is personal and individual with a quirky sense of humour. She is part trickster, part lover, part mother, part daughter, part this part that. She cannot be labelled or pinned like a butterfly in any display cabinet. I cannot say She is this or She is that for she is both, and neither. I can only speak of my experience of Her.

So I cannot speak of another's experience of the divine because I simply cannot know what that is. All I do know is that whatever form She - for to me that is the correct pronoun - takes, it can neither confine nor define Her. She is far larger than any box we can put Her in. I name her Inanna - others see Her in different forms. I also see Her in other human beings - they fully embody Her and yet remain uniquely themselves. In fact, the more they are fully and uniquely themselves, the more they embody Her.

I am reluctant to use the word "energy" because that seems to deny agency and also to disembody. "Energy" is nice and clean - does not have the inconveniences of physical form such as blood, sweat and shit. Energy does not feel pain and grief and neither does it feel love nor joy. Energy does not feel anything - that takes matter. Energy is what is experienced by matter and without matter there would no experience. Energy would be formless. It is matter that gives it form. There is no gender to energy - it is undifferentiated. For gender demands form and form demands matter. You, I and the universe are, ultimately, undifferentiated energy swirling in a void. We are imagination. Maya. This was Buddha's great insight. But he made a judgement and privileged the void. Or, to be fair, his followers did. This perhaps is an error.

"All this world is but a play,
Be thou the joyful player"
Incredible String Band

Perhaps the trick is to recognise the part we have to play and then play it. Some might call it fate. But perhaps it is some sort of cosmic script - a working out of some great huge drama whose final scene we cannot foresee - only take "our exits and our entrances" and "strut and fret our hours upon the stage". But finding the joy of so doing.

This has rambled a lot from your question, Reg. I will get back to the substance and say that I simply have no idea and am trying to stop asking. As an actor, I love the script and find joy when I follow it with heart and soul. My terror is of drying - losing, literally, the plot. To me, Inanna is becoming ever more as real and as individual as any human being. And She is present in them all - she is what makes them all unique and beautiful. She is both immanent and transcendent and she is what eliminates any such distinction. When others invoke Isis, or Artemis or any of the other thousands of names, I cannot know what they mean nor what they perceive. But the universal is infinite and cannot be bounded by any human perception. Thus each and every manifestation and sincerely expressed perception can merely be a thread in the tapestry - a small, but essential and beautiful, part of the whole.

What aspiration could be more beautiful,

Jewish voices for peace

.... are many. Despite the actions of the Israeli Government and the unthinking support of the US and other western governments, they are a very sizeable minority - if not an actual majority - of Jewish people both inside and outside Israel. This is despite such obscene sentiments as are expressed in the pro-Israel New York rally shown in this video here.

Last Saturday there was a demonstration in Budapest to protest against the actions in Gaza. I was unable to attend, but would have left very quickly because, from all accounts, it was hi-jacked by the extreme right in order to express their racist hatred. This is deeply and tragically ironic. For had it not been for the ideological forebears of these people it is highly doubtful that the state of Israel would ever have been created. It was born of Nazism - and, I fear, has been infected by the same virus of hate, fear and scapegoat hunting that lay behind Nazism. Certainly some of the comments on the video could have come direct from Goebbels - such as the reference to "cutting out a cancer". It is terrifying that the Gaza action has served to further the legitimation of Neo-Nazism, at least here in Hungary but I am sure elsewhere.

There is never any justification for the wholesale slaughter of human beings in pursuance of ideology or religion, no matter who commits it.

In the article that accompanies the video linked to above, there is an extract from “The Holocaust Is Over, We Must Rise From Its Ashes,” which is described as a powerful new book by former Israeli Knesset speaker and Jewish National Fund chairman Avraham Burg:

“If you are a bad person, a whining enemy or a strong-arm occupier, you are not my brother, even if you are circumcised, observe the Sabbath, and do mitzvahs. If your scarf covers every hair on your head for modest, you give alms and do charity, but what is under your scarf is dedicated to the sanctity of Jewish land, taking precedence over the sanctity of human life, whosever life that is, then your are not my sister. You might be my enemy. A good Arab or a righteous gentile will be a brother or sister to me. A wicked man, even of Jewish descent, is my adversary, and I would stand on the other side of the barricade and fight him to the end.”

Just one of the voices we do not hear.

Monday, 12 January 2009

More things in heaven and earth

In her prologue in the Canterbury Tales, The Wife of Bath states:

1: Experience, though noon auctoritee
2: Were in this world, is right ynogh for me

and for those who are not familiar with Middle English:

Experience, though no authority
Were in this world, were good enough for me,

She then goes on to relate this statement to marriage in particular and it is clear that Chaucer's purpose here is anti-feminist, albeit very entertaining. I am, however, particularly interested in the claim she makes of the equivalent values of authority and experience, particularly as relating to my last post about academia and personal experience. In many of the posts I read, and there too many to link to, there appeared to be a disdain for certain elements of pagan practice and belief because of a perceived lack of "rigour". I confess that there have been many occasions, and may well in the future, when I have made similar disparaging remarks. I apologise to any I may have offended.

The thing is, I know nothing of spellcraft, for example - never having practised it. Nor, to be frank, have I ever really wanted to- it seems to much like hard work to get it all right. So I have nothing of real value to say about its efficacy. I have, however, a fairly wide experience of ceremony and that has convinced me that it works. Subjective and anecdotal? Yes. By its very nature it must be. I would find it very difficult to devise any meaningful ceremony that would meet laboratory conditions. Nor could I replicate it. Any ceremony is dependent on the conditions of the time - the season, the people present, phase of the moon, the weather, international and local events, personal mood - not to mention the will of the Goddess. Almost an infinity of variables. There is not, thank Goddess, any fixed liturgy yet that can be parroted and mumbled by rote.

I see the inadequacies of this but do not see any way to avoid them. In order to have the possibility of real meaning to all concerned, ceremonies must - as far as I can see - be fluid. A general direction and plan may well be essential but these must always be provisional, ready to be adapted or abandoned in response to need. Not all ceremonies will be equally successful - there are some that I have thought rather lacklustre both facilitated by myself and others. And yet, I have heard others speak of how moved they were by these same ceremonies and how they found hope, courage and comfort within them. Who am I to call them liars?

If this makes me sound hopelessly relativistic, so be it. I have no real problem with this label. In fact, in many ways I rather embrace it. I have found myself returning, over the last couple of days, to a subject with which I was struggling before I abandoned my MA course. It was concerning the pivotal cultural position of Hamlet and I cannot go into the details here because, on the one hand, they never became too clear, and on the other, they are not strictly relevant. But integral to them was the oft-quoted lines from Act 1 Sc 5:

There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy

Another quote has just come into my mind, this time from RD Laing, Politics of Experience, chapter 1

I cannot experience your experience. You cannot experience my experience. We are both invisible men. All men are invisible to one another. Experience used to be called The Soul.

I am not too sure why both these quotes came into my mind at the same time. I think it is because they both pertain to the invisibility of the Soul, of the individual human experience to the scrutiny of others. My beliefs are to a large extent a result of my own, unreplicatable experience. They cannot be measured and neither are they really accessible to reason. Reason can only be a tool in the process of forming belief but never can reason dictate belief because even the conviction that human reason can explain everything is, in itself, a belief.

Philosophy is a wonderful tool - but nowhere near a full answer to the woes of humanity. Most of us do not live in those elevated spheres- whether they be in the academia of today or of ancient Athens - in which the labour was done by others and philosophers had leisure and security to ply their trade. Most of the world does not have that luxury and has to live in a world of unrewarding and unstimulating labour with all the compromises with power that this entails. They live in the world of experience and the irrationality of emotion. And they are prone to be ruled by that emotion. We will never fully understand how it happened but we must never forget that a nation of high intellectual and philosophical calibre - Germany - fell prey to one of the most insane and irrational ideologies to ever hit this planet - with many of the intellectual elite scrambling on board the Nazi runaway train. Perhaps they thought they were immune and therefore rationalised their own irrationality.

It is folly to separate soul (for want of a better metaphor) and brain and then privilege one over the other. The only healthy option is to give each equal consideration. Some individuals, of course, will be naturally inclined to one sphere and some to the other. Both must be honoured. Experience without "authority" is formless, authority without experience, lifeless.

Then, of course, we have to include the body. A tricky factor in this civilisation. And one I will return to again and again

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Growing out of paganism?

There has been quite a debate about this recently. Some people who were, apparently, prominent in the "community" as podcasters have closed down their site because they consider themselves to be no longer pagan. This has prompted a lot of responses which can be read here, many of them highly articulate and interesting with their talk of philosophy and academic rigour. I can see where they are coming from and appreciate what they have to say.

I am, however, puzzled that so much time and effort can be expended over the decision of two human beings that their path had deviated from one route to another. Surely this is what has happened to most self-identified pagans at some time in their lives - otherwise they would still be christians, jews, atheists or whatever. That it should happen again to some is surely no surprise. And, in the end, is no loss. For surely it is better that people be honest and open than they should stick to a lying appearance of consistency in order to remain in a perceived community? It is painful to break from those with whom one was once very close and strike off into unknown territory - but it is something that may become essential. I wish these two individuals, of whom I have never previously heard, joy in their future explorations.

And , in many ways, I can see where they are coming from. It took me decades before I could admit to myself that I was a follower of the Goddess and another few years before I could say that She was, in particular, Inanna. I am aware that my experience of Inanna may lack academic rigour - that is one of the reasons I was so reluctant to articulate it. My experience in Higher Education is limited to a first class degree in English as a mature student and an abortive attempt, (I was unable to combine study, aged 50, with a full time job in a night shelter), to gain an MA. But this limited experience of academia was enough to give me a deal of respect for the virtues of the academic method. And I am aware that, if challenged on my own perceptions of Goddess, of Inanna, then I must ultimately retreat into the realm of personal experience. Put simply, I heard Her voice. More than once. Telling me that She wanted me to do certain things. That is what overrode all the scepticism with which I was all too abundantly supplied.

So I was left with two possible conclusions. The first, which dominated my life for a very long time, was that I was simply mad. Deluded. I ran from the voice and hid in drugs and alcohol. The latter I can still do. The second was that, perhaps, the call was real and the voice I heard was Hers. This was, in fact, the more functional conclusion. When I accept it and refuse to listen to the inner sceptic then life becomes simpler and I feel happier and more empowered. And doors open in my life. When I reject it, telling myself I am being "realistic", then I feel diminished, small and depressed. The evidence leads me, therefore, to the conclusion that She is a real presence in my life and one that cannot be explained or philosophised away.

I am aware that there may be all sorts of psychological explanations for the way I am but I really do not care. I may simply have an "imaginary friend", as Dawkins would say, but so what? Acknowledging Her has made me a happier human being and therefore one who is more likely to survive -therefore, assuming I were still fertile (which I am not) - more likely to reproduce. Which in Darwinian terms is what the whole thing is about.

I do not tend to call myself a pagan - for many reasons, but primarily because I am purely focussed on Goddess and have no real concept of the God. But I will use it for the sake of simplicity and because that is historically what I would have been called by the Christians. In this sense, it has taken me very many years to grow into paganism. I cannot see myself growing out of it.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Support the Shministim

Another cut and paste job:

From the Jewish Voice for Peace

Shministim. Have you heard of them? I have - just now. And once I heard about them, I had to do something.

The Shministim - all about ages 16, 17, 18 and in the 12th grade - are a new breed of conscientious objectors in Israel and right now they are taking a stand. They believe in a better, more peaceful future for themselves and for Israelis and Palestinians, and they are refusing to join the Israeli army. They're in jail, holding strong against immense pressure from family, friends and the Israeli government. They need our support and they need it today.

The Shministim have asked Jewish Voice for Peace to reach out to people like us to let the Israeli government know we are watching, and that we support their courage. They're hoping to receive hundreds of thousands of postcards to be delivered to the Israeli Minister of Defense. Especially now-while bombs rain down on Gaza and we are reminded that when the soldiers say no, there will be no more deaths.

The Shministim are hoping to stand strong representing not only the thousands of refuseniks who came before them, not only the many young people to whom they are an example of a better world, but also to represent us. They have asked you, me, and every person who strives for peace to support them. I will.

Please add your signature, as I have,
in support of Israelis, who refuse to comply with their government's anti-humanitarian policy.

Will you join me? It's simple. Sign a letter. Click here:

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Israel, Palestine - the tragedy unfolds

A few days ago, I cut and pasted a long email from Starhawk. I said then that any comment would be superfluous and I am not really deviating from that statement. I would urge any who have not read it to do so now.

For a while now, my attention has been focussed on developments in my private life. I may comment on these later but they are outside the scope of this post. I have, however, been aware of developments in the larger world. And one of these is the tragedy of Gaza. Milton wrote in "Samson Agonistes" of being "Eyeless in Gaza" and this seems to be still the case. There is a wilful blindness here.

Starhawk wrote this:

I don’t get how my own people can be doing this. Or rather, I do get it. I am a Jew, by birth and upbringing, born six years after the Holocaust ended, raised on the myth and hope of Israel. The myth goes like this:

“For two thousand years we wandered in exile, homeless and persecuted, nearly destroyed utterly by the Nazis. But out of that suffering was born one good thing—the homeland that we have come back to, our own land at last, where we can be safe, and proud, and strong.”

That’s a powerful story, a moving story. There’s only one problem with it—it leaves the Palestinians out. It has to leave them out, for if we were to admit that the homeland belonged to another people, well, that spoils the story."

Herein lies the problem. And it goes back millennia. It goes back to the pernicious nonsense of the "chosen people" and their "promised land". Because the land that the Israelites coveted was not uninhabited. It was already the home of a highly sophisticated civilisation when the wanderers from the desert overran it with, according to the bible, genocidal efficiency and attempted to assert their own, sterile, religion upon it. The same divine sanction is still claimed by those who defend the State of Israel. It goes something like this:
"We are the chosen people and thus every one of us worth infinitely more than those who are not so chosen. We are not, therefore, subject to the rules that apply to the rest of humanity". I would refer any curious reader to the bible for compelling -and nauseating - evidence of this.

This, lest I be accused of anti-semitism, is not a feature of Judaism alone. On the contrary, it has infected all those civilisations of "the book" which are in dominance today. Could the state of Israel have existed without the guilt of those who had ignored the plight of European Jews in the 30s? Somehow, I think not.

There is absolutely no doubt about the horrors attendant on European anti-semitism. However, since 1948 this problem has been displaced to the peoples of the Middle East who had played absolutely no part in the horrors of the Tsarist pogroms or the Nazi holocaust. And. lest it be forgot, these were not committed by Moslems but by nominal Christian nations. Who then, confronted in 1945 with the full horror of the logical extension of their own belief systems, decided to create the state of Israel. It was not as if this was inevitable. Along the line, other territories had been considered, including Madagascar.

What these territories had in common was that they were the "property" of European powers. Israel was, and is a
still, a European imperial project, It is not without significance thar Israel has long been a contestant in the Eurovision Song Contest. It is deeply and tragically ironic that Israel has inherited the manifest destiny ideology of those powers that for so so long persecuted Jews. The very "non-person" attitudes of 20th century racist ideology are all too obvious in the justifications that apologists give for the latest killings in Gaza.

My point is that the only way forward is to accept that people have the right to enjoy and gain full benefit from the place in which they were born and in which they subsequently raise their families, colour of skin or putative divine promises notwithstanding. If a Jewish farmer wishes to till her or his land and bring forth crops, I can see no reason to restrict her or his rights to do so. If however, the exercise of this right infringes the rights of others then I would hope for an impartial adjudication.

This, however, is not the case. I fear that the blood guilt of the European Powers, justified as it undoubtedly is by history, has now been transferred to the Palestinians. This has resulted in belief that an Israeli life is intrinsically more valuable than the life of a Palestinian. Thus it is now the Palestinians who are bearing the costs of pain and trauma that centuries of European anti-semitism have perpetrated, But they have brown skins and are therefore, according to the racist ideology that is still highly prevalent, less worthy of respect and consideration.

The Palestinians are not, by any stretch of the imagination, responsible for the situation today. That is the result of a combination of euro-=American guilt and the legacy of Empire. Except to the most warped, Auschwitz had revealed the true horror of the rampant anti-semitism that underpinned so much European thought. Where better to displace this anti-semitism than onto the brown-skinned Arabs? Thus, the ruling classes of "the West" can now sit and pontificate on the shortcomings of those people who were displaced in order to make the victims of horror and atrocity feel safe. For one thing, it enabled those who had funded the death camps to feel safe and free from investigation.

And in the end who lost as a result of this collective euro-american guilt? Well, certainly not the principals because they still make profits. And those very profits prove, according to the prevailing economic theories, that whatever caused that profit is in and of itself virtuous. Thus, if the latest incursion into Gaza results in profits to the shareholders then it is economically justifiable. Death, in these circumstances,is just one small part of the equation.

The state of Israel exists and its citizens have the right to life and liberty. They have the right to bear children and earn a living. Those facts are undeniable. But so do the Palestinians. They are equally human. This fact seems to get lost somewhere in the rhetoric. Starhawk makes a telling point when she writes:
Golda Meir said, “The Palestinians, who are they? They don’t exist.” We hear, “There is no partner for peace,” “There is no one to talk to.”

And so Israel, a modern state with high standards of hygiene, a state rooted in a religion that requires washing your hands before you eat and regular, ritual baths, builds settlements that don’t bother to construct sewage treatment plants. They just dump raw sewage onto the Palestinian fields across the fence, somewhat like a spaceship ejecting its wastes into the void. I am truly not making this up—I’ve seen it, smelled it, and it’s a known though shameful fact. But if the Palestinians aren’t really real—who are they? They don’t exist!—then the land they inhabit becomes a kind of void in the psyche, and it isn’t really real, either

This kind of disregard for others is truly horrifying.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Save Lascaux Cave Art

Apparently there is danger that these uniquely important paintings may be destroyed forever. Please sign this petition asking the French government to ensure their survival.

Monday, 5 January 2009

To swear or not to swear- that is the question

A while back, Livia wrote a post in which she listed her pet peeves. I considered doing so but was unsure of what to write, since I have so many. However, I came across something just now that really annoyed me whenever it happens. The author had written "d*ck-head". It could just as easily been f***ing or c**t, and my point would be the same. These words exist - the latter two are certainly in the Oxford English Dictionary - although cunt had to wait until 1928 (If I remember aright). They are not, however, essential parts of the language - there are many euphemisms, medical terms, insults, intensifiers etc available to the writer. Their use, therefore, is intentional. It seems strange to me, that having chosen to use the words, writers then attempt to mitigate potential offence by not writing them.

My plea to writers is, "Please. If you want to say "fuck", write "fuck". If you don't want to say it, then don't. There is no half-way point when you are neither swearing nor not swearing." It is a bit like a child hiding from others by hiding her eyes. I would be no less offended if I were called a f***ing d*ckhead than I would be if the words were written in full.

I would, however, have a deal less respect for the accuser.

Sunday, 4 January 2009

A letter from Starhawk

I have never before cut and pasted a complete posting but I will here do so. No comment of mine could add anything to this.

Dear friends,

All day I’ve been thinking about Gaza, listening to reports on NPR, following the news on the internet when I can spare a moment. I’ve been thinking about the friends I made there four years ago, and wondering how they are faring, and imagining their terror as the bombs fall on that giant, open-air prison.

The Israeli ambassador speaks movingly of the terror felt by Israeli children as Hamas rockets explode in the night. I agree with him—that no child should have her sleep menaced by rocket fire, or wake in the night fearing death.

But I can’t help but remember one night on the Rafah border, sleeping in a house close to the line, watching the children dive for cover as bullets thudded into the walls. There was a shell-hole in the back room they liked to jump through into the garden, which at that time still held fruit trees and chickens. Their mother fed me eggs, and their grandmother stuffed oranges into my pockets with the shy pride every gardener shares.

That house is gone, now, along with all of its neighbors. Those children wake in the night, every night of their lives, in terror. I don’t know if they have survived the hunger, the lack of medical supplies, the bombs. I only know that they are children, too.

I’ve ridden on busses in Israel. I understand that gnawing fear, the squirrely feeling in the pit or your stomach, how you eye your fellow passengers wondering if any of them are too thick around the middle. Could that portly fellow be wearing a suicide belt, or just too many late night snacks of hummus? That’s no way to live.

But I’ve also walked the pock-marked streets of Rafah, where every house bears the scars of Israeli snipers, where tanks prowled the border every night, where children played in the rubble, sometimes under fire, and this was all four years ago, when things were much, much better there.

And I just don’t get it. I mean, I get why suicide bombs and homemade rockets that kill innocent civilians are wrong. I just don’t get why bombs from F16s that kill far more innocent civilians are right. Why a kid from the ghetto who shoots a cop is a criminal, but a pilot who bombs a police station from the air is a hero.

Is it a distance thing? Does the air or the altitude confer a purifying effect? Or is it a matter of scale? Individual murder is vile, but mass murder, carried out by a state as an aspect of national policy, that’s a fine and noble thing?

I don’t get how my own people can be doing this. Or rather, I do get it. I am a Jew, by birth and upbringing, born six years after the Holocaust ended, raised on the myth and hope of Israel. The myth goes like this:

“For two thousand years we wandered in exile, homeless and persecuted, nearly destroyed utterly by the Nazis. But out of that suffering was born one good thing—the homeland that we have come back to, our own land at last, where we can be safe, and proud, and strong.”

That’s a powerful story, a moving story. There’s only one problem with it—it leaves the Palestinians out. It has to leave them out, for if we were to admit that the homeland belonged to another people, well, that spoils the story.

The result is a kind of psychic blind spot where the Palestinians are concerned. If you are truly invested in Israel as the Jewish homeland, the Jewish state, then you can’t let the Palestinians be real to you. It’s like you can’t really focus on them. Golda Meir said, “The Palestinians, who are they? They don’t exist.” We hear, “There is no partner for peace,” “There is no one to talk to.”

And so Israel, a modern state with high standards of hygiene, a state rooted in a religion that requires washing your hands before you eat and regular, ritual baths, builds settlements that don’t bother to construct sewage treatment plants. They just dump raw sewage onto the Palestinian fields across the fence, somewhat like a spaceship ejecting its wastes into the void. I am truly not making this up—I’ve seen it, smelled it, and it’s a known though shameful fact. But if the Palestinians aren’t really real—who are they? They don’t exist!—then the land they inhabit becomes a kind of void in the psyche, and it isn’t really real, either. At times, in those border villages, walking the fencelines of settlements, you feel like you have slipped into a science fiction movie, where parallel universes exist in the same space, but in different strands of reality, that never touch.

When I was on the West Bank, during Israeli incursions the Israeli military would often take over a Palestinian house to billet their soldiers. Many times, they would simply lock the family who owned it into one room, and keep them there, sometimes for hours, sometimes for days—parents, grandparents, kids and all. I’ve sat with a family, singing to the children while soldiers trashed their house, and I’ve been detained by a group of soldiers playing cards in the kitchen with a family locked in the other room. (I got out of that one—but that’s another story.)

It’s a kind of uneasy feeling, having something locked away in a room in your house that you can’t look at. Ever caught a mouse in a glue trap? And you can’t bear to watch it suffer, so you leave the room and close the door and don’t come back until it’s really, really dead.

Like a horrific fractal, the locked room repeats on different scales. The Israelis have built a wall to lock away the West Bank. And Gaza itself is one huge, locked room. Close the borders, keep food and medical supplies and necessities from getting through, and perhaps they will just quietly fade out of existence and stop spoiling our story.

“All we want is a return to calm,” the Israeli ambassador says. “All we want is peace.”

One way to get peace is to exterminate what threatens you. In fact, that may be the prime directive of the last few thousand years.

But attempts to exterminate pests breed resistance, whether you’re dealing with insects or bacteria or people. The more insecticides you pour on a field, the more pests you have to deal with—because insecticides are always more potent at killing the beneficial bugs than the pesky ones.

The harshness, the crackdowns, the border closings, the checkpoints, the assassinations, the incursions, the building of settlements deep into Palestinian territory, all the daily frustrations and humiliations of occupation, have been breeding the conditions for Hamas, or something like it, to thrive. If Israel truly wants peace, there’s a more subtle, a more intelligent and more effective strategy to pursue than simply trying to kill the enemy and anyone else who happens to be in the vicinity.

It’s this—instead of killing what threatens you, feed what you want to grow. Consider in what conditions peace can thrive, and create them, just as you would prepare the bed for the crops you want to plant. Find those among your opponents who also want peace, and support them. Make alliances. Offer your enemies incentives to change, and reward your friends.

Of course, to follow such a strategy, you must actually see and know your enemy. If they are nothing to you but cartoon characters of terrorists, you will not be able to tell one from another, to discern the religious fanatic from the guy muttering under his breath, “F-ing Hammas, they closed the cinema again!”

And you must be willing to give something up. No one gets peace if your basic bargaining position is, “I get everything I want, and you eat my shit.” You might get a temporary victory, but it will never be a peaceful one.

To know and see the enemy, you must let them into the story. They must become real to you, nuanced, distinctive as individuals.

But when we let the Palestinians into the story, it changes. Oh, how painfully it changes! For there is no way to tell a new story, one that includes both peoples of the land, without starting like this:

“In our yearning for a homeland, in our attempts as a threatened and traumatized people to find safety and power, we have done a great wrong to another people, and now we must atone.”

Just try saying it. If you, like me, were raised on that other story, just try this one out. Say it three times. It hurts, yes, but it might also bring a great, liberating sense of relief with it.

And if you’re not Jewish, if you’re American, if you’re white, if you’re German, if you’re a thousand other things, really, if you’re a human being, there’s probably some version of that story that is true for you.

Out of our own great need and fear and pain, we have often done great harm, and we are called to atone. To atone is to be at one—to stop drawing a circle that includes our tribe and excludes the other, and start drawing a larger circle that takes everyone in.

How do we atone? Open your eyes. Look into the face of the enemy, and see a human being, flawed, distinct, unique and precious. Stop killing. Start talking. Compost the shit and the rot and feed the olive trees.

Act. Cross the line. There are Israelis who do it all the time, joining with Palestinians on the West Bank to protest the wall, watching at checkpoints, refusing to serve in the occupying army, standing for peace. Thousands have demonstrated this week in Tel Aviv.

There are Palestinians who advocate nonviolent resistance, who have organized their villages to protest the wall, who face tear gas, beatings, arrests, rubber bullets and real bullets to make their stand.

There are internationals who have put themselves on the line—like the boatload of human rights activists, journalists and doctors on board the Dignity, the ship from the Free Gaza movement that was rammed and fired on by the Israeli navy yesterday as it attempted to reach Gaza with humanitarian aid.

Maybe we can’t all do that. But we can all write a letter, make a phone call, send an email. We can make the Palestinian people visible to us, and to the world. When we do so, we make a world that is safer for every child.

Below is a good summary of some of the actions we can take.

Please feel free to repost this. In fact, send it to someone you think will disagree with it.

Friday, 2 January 2009

Don't die of ignorance!

Way back, when I still watched television, there was an advertising campaign on UK television which featured icebergs in the ocean, The slogan was the above - "Don't die of ignorance!" There is an apocryphal story of a child who had decided, because his teacher had exasperatedly called him ignorant, decided that he must therefore have a fatal disease. He was both wrong and, potentially, right. The campaign was to do with AIDS and the need for people to be informed of risk. Admirable. But nowhere, really, did it mention sex - that was too taboo. Icebergs. Very sophisticated and very artistic. But WAY off the point. But the prime imperative was observed - nothing, not even the AIDS epidemic, must offend mealy-mouthed Christian morality. All measures to address such a crisis must address the sensibilities of bigoted moralists and body haters.

I was reminded of this by a post today by Aspasia. She links to a survey which reveals that, due to the puritanical nature of abstinence-only sex education, many young people are convinced that anal sex carries no risk of disease. This is surely putting them at risk of death through ignorance.

I have written before about the inadequacy of sex education the UK. I am admittedly getting on in years but must say that at no time in my primary or secondary education did I receive anything that could be remotely described as sex education. Even today, I believe, parents can opt their children out of on conscientious grounds. This is all in the name of the protection of "innocence". WTF does this mean? Obama was accused of a dangerous liberal agenda for his support of a programme which introduced young children to the concepts of "good touch" and "bad touch"! This is astounding. Who, apart from those who prey on chldren, could possibly object to those children being taught how to protect themselves?

I don't know. But the scale of the opposition to sex education causes me a high degree of unease. Recently, I listened to an interview with a senior police officer who was in charge of the investigation of allegations of serious, organised, sexual abuse of children on the island of Jersey. In it - I would link but the interview is no longer available online - he speaks of a high-level conspiracy to undermine and ultimately discredit both his investigation and his professional integrity. I do not, and cannot, know the full facts of this case but, I am afraid, have a horrible conviction that his allegations are right. Particularly as the allegations are merely the latest in a series of child abuse scandals that have afflicted the "childcare" system over the last couple of decades or so - on both sides of the Irish Sea.

There is much hysteria against predatory paedophiles in the UK and has been for some years. There was even a case reported of someone's house being torched because people had heard she was a paediatrician. Such hysteria is fanned by the popular press. Who also run vitriolic campaigns against "liberal" sex education - particularly when it is concerned with variations of sexuality. I have asked the question before and ask it again now. In whose interest are children kept ignorant? Only those who woud prey on them. Only those who would not want them to know that daddy's or uncle john's "affectionate" cuddles have crossed a line that should not, in any civilised society, be crossed.

But this is a line that is crossed every day. While editorials and news pages cry of the "dirty old men" who haunt the playgrounds with sweets and kind words, the majority of sexual abuse is being carried out in respectable families every day - or perhaps, more accurately, night. But the "family" and its values are sacrosanct. Thus parents can opt out of giving children the information they need to protect themselves. While I am in no way alleging that all, or even most, of the parents who do this are abusive they are nevertheless simply enabling, however devoutly, the abuse to continue. Just as Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict did when he instructed the bishops to keep a lid on accusations of clerical abuse. He forgot one of the injunctions of the putative founder of his church:

Luke 17:2 (King James Version)

It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.

The stranglehold that Christianity exercises on such things must be broken. Surely two millennia are enough? How much more evidence is needed of the total inability of the institutions to police themselves in this regard? How much longer will they be allowed to prevent children from accessing the information they need to protect themselves from abuse?

I do not know. But I do know that children are the only hope humanity has. If we do not empower them, we do not deserve to survive.


Looking over my stats, I have noticed something very strange. At first glance, the number of hits appears to be fairly constant but on looking deeper I find that over the last few days the bulk of hits appears to come from only one isp, somewhere in Essex. Not only that but there are many page hits from this source. So, my question is this, is it only one person reading me again and again or is it that somehow many others are routed through this isp? I just don't know. But I am curious.