Saturday, 21 July 2012

...and they saw that they were naked

Stephen Gough has been rearrested again after having spent most of the last six years in solitary confinement in prison.  This is far longer than many muggers, burglars or even rapists will serve and yet he has harmed nobody.  His only crime is to be naked.

In this, he is not alone.  We are all naked beneath our clothes.  Nobody came into the world complete with underpants.  I am naked as I write this. It is, unusually for this summer, warm in my flat and I like the lack of constriction and the feeling of air against my skin.  It is not in itself sexual, although it could be in certain situations.  But, then again, so could a meal or a trip to the cinema.  Context is important in this as in most human activity.

If I were, however, to walk outside into the small garden, in order to feel the warmth of the sun and the cool of the breeze, then I could find myself in court for the garden is overlooked by others.  Although my intention would be to enjoy the sensations felt by my body, I would be accused of an offence against public decency, or behaviour likely to cause a breach of the peace, or some other circumlocution. Those who saw me could, if they were offended, simply look the other way.  That is their freedom.  I am no Adonis and would not expect anyone to be so overcome with desire that they find it hard to unglue their gaze.  I would not be thrusting my genitals in their face.  They would simply remain where they always have been - and in a condition of flaccidity.

It is easy to look away if we don't like what we see.  No-one can force us to look, short of taping our eyelids open and holding our heads in a fixed position.  Daily, I am assaulted by noise I find unpleasant, traffic, police sirens, car alarms, piped music in shops, the ranting of street preachers - the list can go on forever.  I cannot close my ears nor does turning away from the sound have much effect.  But there is little regulation of any of this.  The owner of the burglar alarm that goes off, for no apparent reason,  in the middle of the night, keeping me from sleep is not prosecuted for causing a public nuisance.  Nor is the shopkeeper whose music spills out into the public space or the chain store that bellows its advertising by loudspeakers.  They breach my peace and I have had to learn to live with them.

Appearing naked where it is possible for others to see you is, however, deemed serious enough for someone's liberty to be denied.  Gough is not a flasher; he shows no desire to cause alarm; he does not use his nakedness as a weapon.  He is simply asserting his right not to be coerced into wearing clothes.

The question is simply this: why is the human body unfit to be seen by others?  Why does the wrath of the state descend on someone who is doing no tangible harm?  It is as if civilisation would collapse were it to allow people to reveal themselves as human beings, genitalia and all.  And this leads to a further question:  if this is true, does such a civilisation deserve to survive?

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Why Inanna?

I have been pondering the title of this blog.  When I first started it there was no doubt in my mind that it should be called "The House of Inanna" .  However, there are many posts in which I do not mention Her name and some few in which I make no explicit mention of Goddess.  At one point I pondered setting up another blog for personal and political posts that were, on the surface, unconnected with thealogical matters.  That way, I considered, visitors would be more likely to find what might interest them and not be put off by matters irrelevant.  Thus, someone looking for information on Inanna specifically would find it here.

However, I decided to keep the blog as it is.   I live in the House of Inanna in that She is always present somewhere within my consciousness - sometimes clear and dominant and at other times in ways more subtle and hidden.  Sometimes, indeed, I forget Her presence and become too enwrapped in daily cares and worries to give  thought to anything beyond them. Then, when I have posted, the posts reflect this self-absorption and Inanna seems to be invisible.

Why Inanna and not any other goddess?  Why that name and not any of the other 9,999?  The reason for this is simple.  Inanna is the only goddess who has come to me in a dream and spoken directly to me.  I am not given to remembering dreams and have little truck with channelling.  I do not presume to speak for any other than myself.  However, in the dream Inanna spoke seven simple words. "I want you to tell my story" is all She said.  Then the dream ended.

At first, I thought that this simply meant that I had to use my story-telling skills and recount the stories written in Sumer.  So I went to Amazon and bought the book and that is what I did for some time.  Then I found that the more I told the stories, the more discontented with my life I became.  I became restless and unsatisfied,  There had to be something more that was needed.  I had, somehow, to enact them in my life.  Which I proceeded to do, often unconsciously and more often very hesitantly and half-heartedly.  But, willy-nilly, things happened and my life took an unexpected and often unwelcome and uncomfortable course.  I discovered things about myself that I did not like and would, if I could, rather have left unexcavated.  I then had to incorporate those unwelcome insights into my life - a process that is still unfolding.

I am a man born into a particular set of circumstances - with unearned privilege I did not seek but accepted nevertheless.  I am a product of my class, my gender, and a particular place and time.  As a result of other accidents I came to see the fundamental unfairness of life as it is today - where I could thrive while others struggled and died.  There is simply no justice to it all- an arbitrary set of circumstances dictated for me opportunity unheard of by the majority of humanity.  I was and am, however, no saint.  Far from it.  I welcomed the relatively ease I had inherited and did little to concretely improve the lot of others.  I still do little.

Except research, study and think.  Of which I have done a lot all my life.  Because I cannot truly see into others' hearts and minds I have used my own as my laboratory - pushing ideas to extremes and seeing what emerges.  I have analysed and re-analysed my thoughts and actions often to the point of absurdity.  I have seen, to a degree, my own motivations; my own hopes and fears.  And because I do not imagine that I am unique in the world assume that these also operate in others; that they are part of the condition of being human.

And the conclusion I have reached is that, for whatever reasons, humanity in general made a collective decision several thousand years ago that has profound consequences today.  Probably as a result of the invention of agriculture, divinity, which previously had been envisioned as female, came to be seen as male.This did not happen overnight.  There was really no conspiracy behind the development of patriarchy.  That is too simplistic a model.  Slow and imperceptible were the changes but, incrementally, they became the World Order that we see today.  Much has been written about the New World Order of American Right Wing fundamentalism but there is nothing really new about it.  It is simply the latest manifestation of an old dream of Dominion - of an elite ruling with the blessing of Divine Right.  James 1 of England and VI of Scotland and his son Charles both tried to live by it but failed.  Louis XVII of France and, later, Tsar Nicholas II met similar fates to Charles. Stalin, Hitler and Mao all claimed similar dominion assuming the right to decide for millions.  Now in country clubs and government buildings, corporation headquarters, embassies and churches, similar dreams are dreamed by men whose faces do not necessarily appear on any television screen.  This is not, however, a conspiracy.  It is more subtle than that.  It is, rather, the meetings of people with like minds and like assumptions who believe that their wealth and power is a sign of the favour of their god.  They are not evil as any could define the term.  They may truly believe they are right.  They are, however, tragically wrong.

 Inanna, as the earliest goddess of whom we have written record, is a living echo of the time before.  She, and Her stories are a bridge to the earlier, now supplanted, times of our species.  Overlaid by a later gloss, older wisdom can be discerned.  And this is the wisdom of finding out who and what we are at root.  We are human.  We are, if such a condition exists, also divine in that humanity. As far as we know, the notion of divinity exists in our species alone.  We have externalised the internal and created gods of our own imaginings; giving them the characteristics of humanity for humanity is all we can know for we are human.  As such our gods are fallible.  Inanna's descent is a recognition of this fallibility.  She has to forsake all Her regal and divine trappings and embrace the shadow of Her mortality in order to discover who she really is.  She is mourned in the ruins of dead cities - for all human constructs die.  She is reborn fully aware and partially in command of her own demons who accompany her back to the upper worlds.

I do not know what happens after death.  I mostly feel it is oblivion but sometimes have an inkling -a feeble hope?  or fear? - that something lies beyond.  St Peter's pearly gates, however,  are to me a metaphor for those other, more fleshy,  pearly gates that lead us into life.  All religion, all stories of goddesses and gods, including Inanna, are simply metaphors.  We daily face the Unknown and seek comfort from the Dark.  The god of the present Order, however, prescribes nightmare for all but his elect.  Those who seek a healthier dream must look elsewhere.  I look to Inanna. 

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

The Golden Age

The Golden Age by Lucas Cranach the Elder.

According to Hesiod, the Golden Age was a time when:

[Men] lived like gods without sorrow of heart, remote and free from toil and grief: miserable age rested not on them; but with legs and arms never failing they made merry with feasting beyond the reach of all devils. When they died, it was as though they were overcome with sleep, and they had all good things; for the fruitful earth unforced bare them fruit abundantly and without stint. They dwelt in ease and peace.
 Throughout European history there has been a feeling of nostalgia for this Age and it has manifested itself in many different ways.  Abrahamic religion has of course its own version - the Garden of Eden and other cultures throughout the world have similar references to a simpler, more natural way of being.   Ovid wrote of this time, echoing Hesiod that:
The Golden Age was first; when Man, yet new, No rule but uncorrupted Reason knew: And, with a native bent, did good pursue. Unforc'd by punishment, un-aw'd by fear.
His words were simple, and his soul sincere; Needless was written law, where none opprest: The law of Man was written in his breast.
 When Columbus first encountered native people in the Americas he wrote back to his sponsors, Ferdinand and Isabella:
So tractable, so peaceable, are these people that I swear to your Majesties there is not in the world a better nation. They love their neighbors as themselves, and their discourse is ever sweet and gentle, and accompanied with a smile; and though it is true that they are naked, yet their manners are decorous and praiseworthy.

It would seem, from this description, that Columbus had discovered a place which still lived in the Golden Age.  But the gold he and his successors sought was far from metaphorical.  I do not intend here to describe what happened to these "decorous and praiseworthy" people - but it is enough to say that in North America today, power has a white European face.

The discovery of the Americas sparked the imagination of Europe.  While some saw it as an opportunity for wealth others saw  a land of souls awaiting salvation through knowledge of Jesus.  There was a third current which idealised the inhabitants, following such accounts as Columbus'.  Perhaps, they said, the natives of the new World were living as humanity lived before the Fall - perhaps America was the new Eden.  This strand of thought can be seen in Shakespeare's The Tempest where Gonzalo proclaims that were he king on the island.
I' the commonwealth I would by contraries
Execute all things; for no kind of traffic
Would I admit; no name of magistrate;
Letters should not be known; riches, poverty,
And use of service, none; contract, succession,
Bourn, bound of land, tilth, vineyard, none;
No use of metal, corn, or wine, or oil;
No occupation; all men idle, all;
And women too, but innocent and pure;
No sovereignty;--
...All things in common nature should produce
Without sweat or endeavour: treason, felony,
Sword, pike, knife, gun, or need of any engine,
Would I not have; but nature should bring forth,
Of its own kind, all foison, all abundance,
To feed my innocent people.
I would with such perfection govern, sir,
To excel the golden age.

In 1622, some 11 years after the first performance of the Tempest, however, John Donne preached to the Virginia company on their bounden duty to spread Christianity and European values:

 ...bless it so in this calm that when the tempest comes it may ride it
out.  Safely bless it so with friends now that it may stand against
enemies hereafter. Prepare thy self a glorious harvest there and
give us leave to be thy labourers that, so the number of thy saints
being fulfilled, we may with better assurance join in that prayer
"come lord Jesus come quickly" and so meet all in that kingdom
which the son of GOD hath purchased for us with the inestimable
price of his incorruptible blood    

(spelling and punctuation modernised)

Donne himself, however, also saw in the Americas a source of wealth other than souls:

Licence my roving hands, and let them go,   
Before, behind, between, above, below.
O my America! my new-found-land,
My kingdom, safeliest when with one man mann’d,
My Mine of precious stones, My Empirie,
How blest am I in this discovering thee!          
(From Elegy XIX, To His Mistress Going to Bed)

The Americas, therefore, had  a triple appeal to the imaginations of the Early Modern Europeans.  They were, simultaneously, a source of great wealth, a land to be claimed for God and, lastly, an Edenic paradise.  Donne seemed to have had no difficulty in reconciling the first two and in so doing seems to have gone some way towards the establishment of the doctrine of Manifest Destiny.

The third, however, retains an appeal to this day.  Everyday on Facebook it seems to me that someone posts a picture of a Native American above a quote extolling the value of closeness to the earth.  Laurens Van Der Posts writings of the Kalahari had a great impact on many, not least the heir to the British crown.  The Golden Age cherished by royalty and the aristocracy however has been that of a pastoral Arcadia. The Tudor and Stuart courts  encouraged pastoral drama and poetry, including As You Like It, works by poets like Marvell and Herrick, and some delightfully scabrous satires by John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, such as Fair Chloris in a Pigsty Lay. (Warning maybe NSFW!)

A century or so later,  Marie Antoinette dressed as a shepherdess and milked thoroughly washed cows into fine porcelain churns in the gardens of Versailles 

And our present monarchy delights in appearing to be close to nature, reserving vast tracts of countryside in order to do so.  Although I must say that Elizabeth's costume is more appropriate than Marie Antoinette's:

and Charles does not pretend to be doing any real work:

The Golden Age that seems to appeal to many, including Royalty, is an age of rustic charm.  A Merrie England where Herrick's maidens dance around the Maypole or where old ladies cycle back from Evensong.  It is the land of squires and swains living in charming villages with duckponds and roses. It is the land that Danny Boyle seems to wish to evoke in his design for the Olympic ceremony.  It is a land where, as MacNeice put it, "all the milk is cream and all the girls are willing".   It is also, in another context, the land evoked by Nazi propaganda:

It is, in reality, Tess Darbyfield dancing with her friends before she aspires to become a D'Urberville.  For this is, and here is the serpent in this particular garden,  above all a land where hierarchy is honoured and unchallenged.  Even Gonzalo, in his evocation of an ideal state puts himself - as his companions point out - in the position of king.  It is in the acceptance of the hierarchical paradigm that the pastoral version of the Golden Age differs from that described by Hesiod and Ovid.

In his famous sermon at Blackheath during the Peasants' Revolt of 1381, the Lollard priest John Ball said:

When Adam delved and Eve span, Who was then the gentleman?  From the beginning all men by nature were created alike, and our bondage or servitude came in by the unjust oppression of naughty men. For if God would have had any bondmen from the beginning, he would have appointed who should be bond, and who free. And therefore I exhort you to consider that now the time is come, appointed to us by God, in which ye may (if ye will) cast off the yoke of bondage, and recover liberty.

Ball speaks of the rise of hierarchy as having occurred sometime, but not immediately, after the fall from Eden.  He invokes the equality of all human beings as ordained by his god.  Hierarchy, he says, is the work of "naughty men" who have enslaved the free people of god.  What is notable about his image is that it all clearly takes place after the discovery of agriculture.  In Eden food was freely available and, as Adam and Eve were both naked, there was no need of spinning.

Eden and the Classical Golden Age clearly preceded agriculture. The ideas are clearly  memories of the time when our species survived as hunter-gatherers, as we did for most of out history on the planet.  Bands of hunter-gatherers that survive today tend towards social equality with leadership, when necessary, dependent on skill, experience and the respect of peers.  The optimum number that such bands can contain appears to be around 150 - when numbers exceed that, there tends to be a split into two bands.  Such small numbers mean that each member knows each other member very intimately - they are fully aware of the strengths, weaknesses and personal foibles of each.  They are dependent on each other and tend to rely on co-operation rather than coercion.  They eat what is available, and when food sources dry up they move on.

According to Hobbes, their lives were "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short".  Hobbes was writing in defence of absolute monarchy at the time of the English Civil War and he saw strong centralised rule as the only alternative to the chaos of "the war of all against all".  For all its apparent ills, he maintained, strong government was a prerequisite for any functioning human society. The opinions he articulates still inform much of today's discourse.  They can be seen as one of the strongest motivations behind the missionary endeavours of the Christian churches and can be seen as already present in Donne's sermon.

It was with such views that the earliest Europeans landed in Australia.  What they saw there appalled them.  The native people were clearly starving and impoverished since they ate grubs and rats and were nearly naked.  Furthermore, they were lazy and spent most of their time sitting or lying around.  Clearly, it was the duty of good Christian men to do something about this and bring them up to the standards of civilisation.  It was, after all, for their own material and spiritual good that this should happen.  If any should resist such a mission it was then necessary, regrettably, to punish them.  This mission continued well into the 20th Century.

However, what the early settlers also noticed, but conveniently ignored,  was that many of the "starving" people were fat and healthy.   Far fatter and healthier, in fact, than those who arrived from British cities and villages.  For the world they lived in was, to them, a world of abundant food ready to be plucked or hunted with relatively little real effort.  Modern foraging inhabitants of the Kalahari, which to outsiders seems bleak and desolate, can consume over 2000 calories and over 90 grams of protein daily.  It is, moreover, a varied diet and far more balanced than that of most inhabitants of modern cities.  Hobbes was, in short, wrong.

The Golden Age was, then, the long period of time when human beings lived as hunter-gatherers, moving around as the season dictated.  It was the time before the invention of agriculture, before the Fall when all around was Eden.  It was also, according to archaeology, a time when divinity was seen as female.  We cannot know how she was honoured then nor how people viewed her interactions with humanity.  We cannot replicate such things in a world of cities, rapid transport and the internet.  We cannot become hunter-gatherers roving a sparsely-inhabited, mostly abundant, world.  We may, to use Joni Mitchell's words, be starlight and golden but we cannot return to the Garden.

Not as it was, that is.  There is, however, another Garden that we can strive for.  We can choose which of two different sets of human characteristics we value. For most of our time on the planet, we survived through co-operation and human society reflected this.  Since the advent of agriculture the dominant value has been competition and rivalry.  Both sets characteristics are "natural" - they are maybe part of our evolutionary development. The  "naughty men", however, have had things too  long their own way..  It is time to reinforce the peacemaker.  It is time to bring back the Goddess into public consciousness.  And She is returning. 

It will not, however, be a Golden Age.  It will be, and is now being, actively opposed. For those deluded enough to think that the purpose of life is to accrue wealth and power, co-operation between free individuals presents the ultimate threat.  The world today, with 7bn inhabitants, is vast and complex.  For those who serve Goddess there are many challenges, both from without and from within the patriarchally conditioned minds we inhabit.  It needs far more than healing ceremonies, valuable though they may be,  and wishful thinking.  It needs both vision and work.  It needs reaching out to others of similar vision, however they define themselves.  We are attempting something entirely new, grounded though it may be in our imaginations of the distant past. However accurate those imaginings may be and however supported  by empirical evidence, we can never claim them as undisputed fact - at best they can only be probable.

Just as John Lennon said "There ain't no Jesus gonna come from the sky", Goddess will not descend trailing clouds of glory and, while wiping away each tear, create the world anew.  That is down to us, fallible though we be.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Elephant Trunk

I know that I am on a bit of a MacNeice trip at the moment but feel that the following short poem sums up nicely much of  my spiritual experience:

Elephant Trunk

Descending out of the grey
Clouds elephant trunk
Twitches away
Was not what I expected,
Joke it seemed to me;
'What about a levitation?' I had said,
Preening head for halo,
All alert, combed, sanctified,
I thank Thee, Lord, I am not like other men
Descending out of the grey
Clouds elephant trunk....

(and so ad nauseum)

Flight of the Heart

 After writing my last post, I remembered this poem, which I have known for at least 45 years.  Reading it again today, I can see how, in a very few words, it has summed up my life to date.  I offer it without further comment beyond observing that MacNeice is possibly one of the greatest but most under-appreciated poets in English of the 20th Century

Heart, my heart, what will you do?
There are five lame dogs and one deaf-mute
All of them with demands on you.

   I will build myself a copper tower
   With four ways our and no way in
   But mine the glory, mine the power.

And what if the tower should shake and fall
With three sharp taps and one big bang?
What would you do with yourself at all?

   I would go in the cellar and drink the dark
   With two quick sips and one long pull,
   Drunk as a lord and gay as a lark.

But what when the cellar roof caves in
With one blue flash and nine old bones?
How, my heart, will you save your skin?

   I will go back where I belong
  With one foot first and both eyes blind
   I will go back where I belong
   In the fore-being of mankind.

Louis MacNeice  (1907-63)

Spirituality and action

Although I may have profound disagreements with Fr Berrigan with regard to doctrine, I cannot help but agree with the sentiments expressed in this article.  I certainly admire his lifetime and principled opposition to capitalism and war and his focus on the social message of Jesus' ministry - to which I can find no objection.

What particularly struck me was this paragraph:

Some people today argue that equanimity achieved through inner spiritual work is a necessary condition for sustaining one’s ethical and political commitments. But to the prophets of the Bible, this would have been an absolutely foreign language and a foreign view of the human. The notion that one has to achieve peace of mind before stretching out one’s hand to one’s neighbor is a distortion of our human experience, and ultimately a dodge of our responsibility. Life is a rollercoaster, and one had better buckle one’s belt and take the trip. This focus on equanimity is actually a narrow-minded, selfish approach to reality dressed up within the language of spirituality.
I have on many occasions found myself prone to the belief that I need to set my own spiritual house in order before committing to political action.  There is some justification for this.  I was fairly active in my youth but found that within the radical left there was a tendency to reproduce the old power dynamics of the the system we were ostensibly trying to change.  It was difficult at times to determine whether the principal motive was to improve conditions or to simply become the "man at the top".  It seemed that ideological purity was often more important than actually helping people.  This scene in "The Life of Brian" is painfully accurate on this count:

The left became, or appeared to become, so fractured that it ceased to have any real credibility and was totally unable to present any coherent narrative to counteract that of Thatcher and Reagan when they launched the disastrous experiment whose inevitable result we are seeing today.

The rise of feminism, however, has led to the emergence of a new way of seeing things.  As the political became personal and the personal became political it became clear that hierarchical/patriarchal thinking was ingrained within each individual and that this had to be addressed.  Consciousness had to be raised so that the old scripts could be recognised  when they threatened to dictate actions.  The scripts, however, live within our deep memory and act in very subtle ways so that it becomes very difficult at times to see that they are present.

This does not mean, however, that we can defer action until we are clear of them.  This is something of which I now realise that I have been guilty.  I am now 65 and am no nearer enlightenment than I was when I was 20.  In fact, in many ways I am further off.  I am, however, a little more self-aware.  I know that my emotions are rooted in my own narrative and that of the society from which I sprung and in which I live.  I cannot escape this no matter how much I may try to do so.

In the meantime, things have gone from bad to worse politically and economically.  The very fact that I can spend time writing, reading and thinking is due solely to my dumb luck to have been born into a very small portion of the human race.  Although I may be considerably poorer than most of my compatriots I am vastly richer than many if not most who live outside the Western bubble economy.  I am among the privileged and tend often to forget that inconvenient fact.  The time that I have spent seeking self-awareness is a luxury unavailable to many whose daily task is to survive.

This is the reality that Berrigan's words have brought home to me today.  I now feel an urgency to get involved in something that I have not felt for some time. I am an anarcho- socialist by conviction and have ever been so.  I am also a follower of Goddess and see no conflict between the two.  Each feeds and feeds on the other.  What I now need to do is put my beliefs into action and do so with both aspects of my belief acting together in concert. It is vital that self-awareness and social action must in some way become partners.

The question that remains is how.  But to find out, I must go out of my door.  And that is scarey.


Monday, 11 June 2012

Trans women in female space

On and off, for a few weeks now I have been reading about the dispute between different sets of people, both identifying as feminist, abut the exclusion of trans women from women-only spaces.  It seems, from my reading at least, to have polarised with both sides levelling accusations of misogyny at each other.  No-one appears to be looking at a way forward but each seems to have retreated to the trenches and dug themselves in for a long war of attrition.

I am at a loss to work out exactly which side I agree with.  The best I can come to, at the moment, is both and neither. As a man born male, I am on the outside, of course. But this does not exclude me from thinking about it.  The furore a few weeks back concerning the exclusion of trans women from the Goddess Temple of Orange County was particularly disturbing. On the one hand, I can appreciate that for some women, the presence of people they perceive as male can make them feel unsafe. That is an important issue and cannot be dismissed easily.  On the other hand, the issue of sexual identity is nowhere near as binary as it appears at first glance. There are people with ambiguous genitalia and those who, although outwardly female, have no internal female organs.  There are women whose chromosomes are XY and men who are XX. One estimate of the frequency of intersex conditions is as high as 1.7%. (To put this into perspective, a recent survey by the UK Office of National Statistics revealed that 1.5% of the respondents identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual. Few, if any, in the Goddess movement would suggest restricting attendance to those who were heterosexual.)

Thus, it is statistically likely that any large random group of women will contain at least one person who is intersex.  That woman may not meet the criteria for inclusion as set out by the Orange County Temple. She could, in effect "fail the medical". The population of Orange County is such that there would be around 51,000 intersex people living there.  This number is not insignificant.

There is, of course, a vast difference between intersex people and trans people. The former could be accommodated by restricting membership to those who were assigned by the attending physician to be female - although in the case of genital ambiguity that would often be as a result of surgery - and socialised as female.  Trans women, however, although unambiguously physical males at birth and treated as such by both family and society, report that they have always felt themselves to be female and vice-versa for trans men.  The lengths to which they have gone to remedy their conflict are, surely, worthy of some respect.  No-one, I feel, would undergo such necessarily extreme disruption in their lives and risk their relationships with families and friends without courage and commitment.  The figures are, according to one estimate, around 1 in 10,000  for assigned males and 1 in 30,000 for assigned females.  Far more uncommon, then, than intersex conditions but still making for around 300 trans women and 100 trans men in Orange County. Estimates about the proportion of trans women who may be attracted to a female-centred spirituality are hard to make but I would imagine that they may be significant, but if only 1% of them would like to attend the Temple that makes for 3.  What also would the reaction be to a trans man who wished to attend?  Further, many trans people appear, without very close examination, to be the gender they they have always felt themselves to be and, conversely, many women born women may appear somewhat masculine.  How is any ban to be maintained without some form of medical certification or physical examination?

In conclusion, although I can see merits in both sides of the argument, I feel that the answer is to strive for spaces as inclusive as possible with segregation only being imposed for specific purposes. These would include, but not be limited to, blood ceremonies and the healing of sexual wounds.   This I see to be a goal - and we are a long way from it at present.  Many nowadays find it difficult to express themselves in mixed gender settings and there is a need to honour this.  I would hope, however, that this need will cease over time to be as strong.  If it does not do so, then perhaps the movement is failing.  There are many unresolved issues yet to be addressed, including the definite complication of sexual attraction.  However, I do not imagine the single sex environments are free from all possibility of power trips and sexual misconduct.

We are all children of Goddess and we all have our faults and our virtues, our wounds and our joys and these are seldom gender-specific. I respect the wishes of those who today feel it necessary to exclude men from ceremony, in order for them to feel secure and safe. I cannot see, however, how this can remain as absolute as many would wish it to be.   The link in the second paragraph above leads to an article in which a woman born woman felt very strongly that the insistence on excluding trans women in effect excluded her.  According to the comments others agreed with her.  Thus, the exclusion of one, very small, section of potential worshippers resulted in the exclusion of a much larger figure.  This cannot be a good thing.  the movement is very young and already we see signs of schism.  For this reason alone we need to find a space for a more reasoned and nuanced debate. Insults do not help. There is also the very practical question, as outlined in the previous paragraph, that a ban on transsexuals is ultimately unenforceable without gross invasion of personal privacy.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Goddess is alive...

... and always has been.


Words by Leonard Cohen.  Music and sung by Buffy Ste Marie

I first heard this song sometime in the late 60s and have never forgotten it.  Nowadays, I would, of course, change the gender of the deity but that is somehow irrelevant to what the song is saying.  Cohen is talking about a force which is intrinsic to nature and to human beings and cannot be ordered or contained within a structure.  It defies classification and definition.  It simply is and always has been.  We know it and we feel it.  It moves within and without us.  It is what makes us alive and alert to all that is and all that could be. 

We call it, among other things, imagination. In Exodus, Yahweh declared war on it when he decreed "Thou shalt not create graven images" .  You must not allow your imagination to take form - to emerge into the world.  The word is written and cannot ever be changed.  Imagination must be subservient to the predetermined order of things.

Imagination, however, does not work like that.  It is far bigger and more powerful than any structured system of thought.  It emerges in dreams and in nightmares.  It knows no morality and is both destructive and constructive.  It is the dance of Shiva and of Kali. The destroyer and creator of worlds.  It is Chartres Cathedral and it is Auschwitz.  It is the Big Bang and the nuclear bomb.  The Universe and the quantum field.  It is paradox and illusion; life and death.  All these exist in imagination.  In imagination we  conceive the inconceivable.  With it we balance the tension between all contraries.

We pin butterflies to a board and categorise them.  We describe the mechanics of their metamorphoses but cannot describe their experience of life.  Only in imagination can we approach the meaning of all things for things themselves have no meaning beyond what we ascribe to them.  I tap a sequence of keys and electrical impulse translates them into shapes on a screen.  To me these shapes have meaning but such meaning only exists in my imagination.  I try to be precise and lucid but have no control over any meaning that you might perceive therein. I trust that your imagination approximates enough to mine that some communication is possible.  But there is, and can be, no guarantee of that.  My imagination is shaped and moulded by heredity and experience.  So is yours.
I cannot experience your experience. You cannot experience my experience. We are both invisible men. All men are invisible to one another. (R D Laing. Politics of Experience)
 It is within imagination that we try to see what is invisible - bring it into the light of our meaning.  This is the magic of which Leonard wrote and Buffy sings.

It is within imagination, as Blake said, that all deities exist.  And those deities we imagine are those that shape our lives and give them meaning.  I imagine Goddess where once I imagined Yahweh.  I imagine Inanna where once I imagined Jesus.

Now  imagination is no longer constrained by thoughts of straying into error or sin.  Gone are the binaries to be replaced by a cycle of becoming.  Growth and decay, life and death, are no longer irreconcilable but are simply parts of the same process.  All is change; one becomes the other. With Goddess all things that can be imagined are possible for there is no already-written book in which possibility is limited by divine decree.

Of more immediate concern is the fact that, having rejected the dictates of the Fathers, it becomes possible to look more clearly at the world around us.  It is not Fallen and neither are we.  The old script is so powerful that even those who claim no adherence to any god accept the assumptions inherent within it.  We are told of a nature red in tooth and claw and that we are a violent and mistrustful species. There is certainly ample evidence for this belief, as a brief glance at history will reveal.  But there is other evidence, largely overlooked, which points another way.  It points to us a species which evolved to be co-operative, not competitive.  We were not always as we are now, but organised ourselves differently.  Poets and visionaries have always known this.  A Golden Age may never have existed but it is imagined and has been since the beginning of written history.

Louis MacNeice wrote, in the last month of 1938 as war became clearly inevitable:

...pray for a possible land
 Not of sleep-walkers, 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,
Where the altars of sheer power and mere profit
 Have fallen to disuse,
Where nobody sees the use
 Of buying money and blood at the cost of blood and money,
Where the individual, no longer squandered
 In self-assertion, works with the rest, endowed
With the split vision of juggler and quick lock of a taxi,
 Where the people are more than a crowd.
 (From Autumn Journal, xxiv)

It is to the poets and not the theologians that we must look for the work of the Goddess.  It was not without reason that Plato desired a Republic with no room for poets.  Poetry goes beyond the chains of Reason, always founded as it is on a pre-existing assumption, and points towards Truth whilst never presuming to limit it in words.  For words cannot encompass Truth, at best they are the finger which points towards.  The soaring in the heart that comes when listening to music or looking at a sunset is the butterfly that has not been pinned down in our desperation to explain and categorise.

In the beginning was not the word but a single soaring note of jubilation.  From this we were born and to this we will return, whether we be conscious or no.  Good, bad and indifferent we may be but our end is the same.

In the time between our beginning and our end, we can imagine many things.  I imagine MacNeice's possible land.  To me, it is the land where Goddess is honoured fully and completely and the spark of imagination within each person is free to develop. It is a land without the latent consciousness of Original Sin which still haunts even the most secular.  Magic has always been afoot.  Imagination can seize power.  Just Imagine...

Monday, 28 May 2012

Do we want a Goddess Religion?

There has been quite a flurry of postings on other blogs in response to a Catholic blogger's assertion of the notion that monotheism, and particularly Catholicism, represent the pinnacle of an evolutionary process.  In the course of his argument he invokes what he sees as ancient paganism to attack in order to attack "post-christians (whoever and whatever they may be). There are a couple of well-considered responses to the nonsense he writes here and here. I urge anyone interested to read them. My own major issue with the post in question is not the ignorance and arrogance that is displayed but the sheer misogyny therein.  He is certainly well in line with mainstream theology in that regard.

The post and the rebuttals, however, chimed in a way with something that I have been trying to write for a few days.  What are religions?  How do they emerge?  Is religion a "good thing"?  And following this, is what might be loosely called the Goddess Movement developing into a religion?

As a starting point for this, I would like to turn to Blake.

The ancient Poets animated all sensible objects with Gods or Geniuses, calling them by the names and adorning them with the properties of woods, rivers, mountains, lakes, cities, nations, and whatever their enlarged & numerous senses could percieve.
And particularly they studied the genius of each city & country, placing it under its mental deity;
Till a system was formed, which some took advantage of & enslav'd the vulgar by attempting to realize or abstract the mental deities from their objects: thus began Priesthood;
Choosing forms of worship from poetic tales.
And at length they pronounc'd that the Gods had order'd such things.
Thus men forgot that All deities reside in the human breast.
(William Blake: Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Plate 4)

Here Blake seems to see a sort of evolutionary process going on - from poetry to priestcraft.  He does not, however, see this as a good thing but rather as something that appropriates for its own ends humanity's innate direct connection with the divine.  In so doing it eradicates the human individual's own ability to connect with the deity within her or himself.

I am not going to offer an exact definition of what constitutes a religion.  There does not seem to be a scholarly consensus on this, as can be seen, from an anthropological viewpoint here or a legal one here. Religion is, as it were, a broad church and can encompass everything from animism in New Guinea to Zen to the Quakers to the Catholics, from the Vatican through Mecca to Salt Lake City and every station in between.  Many aspects of religion appear also in nominally atheistic regimes such as the Soviet Union or today's North Korea.  A religion seems to need a shared communal vision and that vision is often, but by no means always,  guided or controlled by some central authority.  Very often, in literate societies, there is a set of sacred texts which are referenced in which the transcendental is somehow codified and the means of access to it are laid out.  In those religions with sacred texts there has developed a class of people whose task it is to communicate the meanings of the texts to those who cannot spare the time or have no ability or have no interest in doing so for themselves.

As a species we need social interaction.  We need  spaces in which we can congregate together with those we consider to hold certain values in common, whether they be the gospels or a certain football club.   Religious ceremony meets such needs.  My father once described his ultimate spiritual experience to me as standing in Cardiff Arms Park watching Wales thrash England at Rugby.  He was not being ironic.  He meant it.  I must confess to having experienced a very faint echo of this in the last Six Nations contest as the Grand Slam was achieved.  (For non-UK readers, the Six Nations are Wales, Ireland, Scotland, England, France and Italy and the Grand Slam is a victory against all).  This is despite an aversion to all other team sports.  Religion, particularly in the home, is infectious.

For all practical purposes sport is not a religion, however. It does not claim for itself any sort of authority or control over the day to day life of its adherents.   The off-side rule, for example, applies only on the pitch and has no relevance elsewhere.  Once the match is over, the beer is drunk and both the players and spectators go home, either elated or chastened. Once home, their life is guided by whatever they hold to be their religious, or secular, values.

For the sake of argument, then, I would suggest that religions as we know them in  the West share certain characteristics: they are expressed communally,  they promote a set of values and behaviours, they have sacred texts, they have a revered founder and they have a belief in a reality different from the current one.  There is also a liturgical element: a set of activities designed to bring the participant into the fight frame of mind to experience .  Under this set of criteria we can include Marxism and Buddhism, which do not have as their basis a belief in any deity beyond History in the former and Dharma in the latter. 

If the above is accepted as a working definition then it is clear that the Goddess movement as it stands today is not a religion.  Yet.  I fear, however, that it could become so.

My journey to Goddess was one of individual exploration and some revelation.  Dreams and synchronicities guided some of it and some was a deliberate search for meaning based in those individual, unmediated, experiences.  The experiences came first and the reading and the explorations were undertaken in order to give some sort of context and coherence to them.  It seemed to me that the books did not give me new information but served as a reminder of what I already  I knew but had forgotten.  Gradually, I have built a sort of system that meets my needs and understanding.  I have, in effect, told stories to myself.  This is what human beings do - we need narratives in order to give our lives context and coherence.  The story, moreover, changes over time. For as long as my life continues, I expect and hope the story to be edited and re-edited in order to fit each new situation I meet.

For this reason, I have always been reluctant to write.  For, once written, words take on a life of their own.  They persist long after the author has moved on.  They are, for me, a snapshot - albeit often blurred - of a particular moment in my thought.  Thoughts are temporary, but the written word has a permanence determined only by the length of time that there are readers reading it. Elsewhere on this blog, there are words that today do not hold true for me, even though they did then.  I am, in that sense, inconsistent and I hope that I will always remain so.  Whatever I may write it is nothing other than a story -contingent on time and space.  Whatever it may contain, it contains no eternal and universal Truth.

Not that my words have any great currency.  My stats show that my readership is very small.  There was a time when this would have discouraged me.  But it does so  no longer.  The blog serves the purpose of allowing me to formulate my thoughts and you, dear reader, are a means towards that end.  I am striving to a greater understanding and this is one aspect of this.  My book, when it is written, is likewise probable to have a very limited readership.  This again, apart from the lack of the boost I would get to my ego, is no real problem and will not stop me from continuing.

For the book will be one among many.  Just as this blog is.  When I first started to search for Goddess, books that I could read were rare and I pounced upon them as I would the finest jewels.  Now there are many, some excellent, many good, many indifferent and some downright bad.  Where my own offerings stand in that spectrum I have no idea.  It is, anyway, a mere matter of taste.

What I fear is that one or two books among the excellent and good may, for future generations, come to be seen as scripture.  This is not the intent of any of the writers who would be horrified, were they alive, to see that this had happened.  Nevertheless, our culture's reverence for the written word may bring it about and things within them repeated as articles of faith, to be defended against all criticism.  An example of this is the figure of nine million women dead in the Burning Times. This figure is clearly highly inflated - such a death toll of women in Medieval and Early Modern Europe, given the populations of the time, would have left an obvious trace in the record and yet there is absolutely no evidence for it.  The anger with which I  have sometimes been met when I ventured to question the figure is evidence of the beginning of an orthodoxy,  Furthermore, the Inquisition was concerned with heresy and the eradication of Islam and Judaism, not witchcraft - which was usually dealt with by the civil authority, albeit with input from the clergy. 

Thus the Burning Times are like the Exodus or the Davidic and Solomonic Kingdom.  There may be some historical basis for them but the details are exagerrated.   Many, possibly hundreds of thousands of,  witches were tortured and executed - some by burning.  But not 9,000,000.  I am not sure where and when this figure first appeared but I suspect that its currency has much to do with the figure of 6,000,000 Jews killed in the holocaust.  And it has made for a very good song.

All of which is not to say that the old pagan religions of Europe did not suffer persecution.  They did. But so did the Cathars and the Templars, Jews, Muslims and Gypsies, and Protestants by Catholics and vice-versa.  The war was not focused on pagan practitioners but on all who were perceived as a threat by Authority, be it temporal or spiritual.  Plus, they were a useful scapegoat in times of public distress.

Likewise, there is no independent evidence of an organised continuity of belief from pre-Christian times.  There was, rather, an accommodation in most instances between the Church and indigenous beliefs and practices - with the old goddesses and gods being canonised as Christian saints and local customs being honoured as Christian celebration.  Some indeed may have been aware of the co-option but the veneer of Christianity was intact.  Intact, that is, until the Reformation when the new book-based theology took precedence.  It was during the tumult that followed Luther that the witch hunts reached their peak, with Protestants being more alert to a perceived pagan threat and, if anything, more  zealous in applying the text "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live".

It is very useful for a religion to have some sort of founding myth.  Islam has Mohammed being visited by an angel.  Similarly with Joseph Smith and Mormonism.  Jesus was born of a virgin and rose again from the dead.  Siddhartha Gotama, having been shielded from birth from the sight of anyone suffering, left his royal palace and after many years became Buddha.  The Burning Times serve many in this fashion.

What I believe is happening today, with the new awareness of Goddess, is not a reawakening of an old repressed religion, but the birth of something entirely new.  It is, of course, informed by the past.  We can, without necessarily claiming them as co-religionists, honour all those who refused to compromise their integrity by bowing the knee to authority, even if they were Jesuit priests in Early Modern Britain.  We can look back at the beliefs and practices of Classical Greece or further, as I do, ancient Mesopotamia.  We can look to the insights of such as Gimbutas and Mellart as to the prehistoric eras, without denying that they could have been in error in many places.  For they are human.

What we gain from our ancestors and modern scholarship is, for me, the distinct probability that things have not always been as they are today.  That there is another way of relating to the divine and to each other.  They give us hints as to how we can relate remote experience to our present situation and build on firmer foundations.

What we must not do, I feel, is to cease from questioning Authority, even if it is our own.  Each individual will, and must, have a different relationship with Goddess and no-one should can prescribe how this must be.  For a long time, I practiced as priest and teacher but have now ceased to do so. I am uncertain that such a position is necessary.  I may take it up again or I may not.  That is open.  But I cannot do so in the way I did before.

However, whatever we may call it, it is essential to avoid appropriating what Blake termed the poetic stories.  They must remain just that, stories.  What each individual takes from the stories is up to them.  I read them one way, and you read them another, whereas a third sees things within them that neither of us has seen.  What I love about Goddess is diversity.  However, we are already seeing temples being opened,  including the one I was very closely associated with for several years, and the inevitable result has been a development of liturgical form.  This may be necessary as the movement grows but it presents a danger.  Once a ceremony has been written down, it may begin to be repeated even when the original ceremony was devised in response to a very particular set of circumstances that no longer apply.

Likewise a book may present a particular individual's way of relating to Goddess, but those who read may well try to emulate the exact devotional forms of the author.  Thus priestesshood becomes entrenched in people's minds and we may well begin to believe that the goddess ordered such things.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Garden of Love

Just to follow on from the last few posts:

I went to the Garden of Love,
And saw what I never had seen;
A Chapel was built in the midst,
Where I used to play on the green.

And the gates of this Chapel were shut,
And ‘Thou shalt not’ writ over the door;
So I turned to the Garden of Love
That so many sweet flowers bore.

And I saw it was filled with graves,
And tombstones where flowers should be;
And Priests in black gowns were walking their rounds,
And binding with briars my joys & desires.

William Blake (1757-1827)

No comment from me is necessary

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

A tale of two vulvas

In the piece from Albertus Magnus (Albert the Great) that I posted yesterday this curious sentence stands out:
Woman is strictly speaking not cleverer but slyer (more cunning) than man. Cleverness sounds like something good, slyness sounds like something evil.  thus in evil and perverse things woman is cleverer, that is, slyer, than man.
Just what is lying underneath this statement?  The only thing that could have prompted it is a desire to refute the suggestion that women are cleverer than men.  He would not have bothered to do so unless there were  contention over the matter and that there were some people who asserted female intellectual superiority.  Such apparent superiority is, however, he explains due to a confusion in categories.  Women's intelligence is of a different nature to men's due to a superfluity of water. Albert was of the strong, Aristotelian, position women were the result of a failure in intrauterine development and therefore imperfect men.  They were, as he says, "misbegotten". As they are imperfect it is very difficult if not impossible for them to acquire true intelligence.  Whereas they might appear to be intelligent, this appearance is deceptive. It is a diabolical imitation of the true glory of the intellect, driven by emotion rather than reason.  It is cunning.  Like a fox.  A foxy lady.  The connection between cunning and women still pertains to this day

Although there may be no basis for claim made by Barbara G Walker and many others that there is an etymological connection between "cunning" and "cunt" the similarity in sound has led to many puns such as this from Antony and Cleopatra:
ENOBARBUS: ...There's mettle in death which commits some loving act upon her, she [Cleopatra] has such celerity in dying.ANTONY: She is cunning past man's thought.
Here the pun is double, depending on the secondary meaning of "dying" as "having an orgasm".  In other words, Cleopatra's orgasms surpass all male imagining.  (There remains, however, the initial meaning; that Cleopatra possessed a mental ability that was way beyond man's use of reason).  Albert was, of course, writing in Latin, where to the best of my knowledge the pun does not apply.  However, we still speak of the fox as being cunning and still speak of women as "foxes".  Cunning, be it linguistically connected with the cunt or not, is still associated with the human being who owns it.

Women, according to Albert, are like, Cleopatra, sexually curious and demanding. They fantasize of threesomes. They are inconstant. Perhaps the most famous formulation of this idea comes in the Malleus Maleficarum which states that "all witchcraft comes from carnal lust, which is in women insatiable". Kramer was certainly not the first to say this; all the weight of Catholic tradition agreed with him. Women embody lust and must therefore be shunned.

It is clear from the existence of this passage, however, that there was a counter-discourse. Some among his intended readership must be of the opinion that women are cleverer than men. He is not, after all, writing for women but for men. He is, above all, addressing a church in the middle of a struggle to impose universal priestly celibacy. Although such celibacy had been the ideal proclaimed by popes for a long time, many of the clergy were still resistant to it, although "wives" had now been degraded to the status of "concubines". (It is worth noting here that whenever the drive towards clerical celibacy was successful, the erstwhile partners of the priests - be they regarded wives or concubines - often became the property of the Bishop and were many times sold on into further slavery - a really good incentive for a Bishop to be zealous!)  Instiling the belief that a woman's seeming intelligence is nothing other than diabolical cunning was maybe, in part a propaganda attempt to persuade reluctant clerics that they must surely shun them for fear of being led into perdition. 

There is also the danger that some, like Peter Abelard a century before, may enter a relationship that is both sexual and intellectual. All his readers undoubtedly would have been all too aware of the results of Abelard's love of Heloise, his castration. A salutory warning from history is thus reinforced with the reminder that women have no intellectual pretensions worthy of the name. Where Hildegard of Bingen stood in Albert's estimation I do not know but assume she had the status of honorary man. For she was, like Mary, untainted by the sins of the flesh.

The same cannot be said for Chaucer's Wife of Bath. Her Prologue in The Canterbury Tales depicts her as one who was both sexually immoral and one who challenged the validity of the clerical notion of morality. How can, she asks, a celibate clergy speak about marriage? Her experience is a far better qualification:
Experience, though noon auctoritee
Were in this world, is right ynogh for me
To speke of wo that is in mariage;
For, lordynges, sith I twelve yeer was of age,
Thonked be God that is eterne on lyve,
Housbondes at chirche dore I have had fyve,

A very rough and ready prose translation is :
Experience, even if there were no Authority in the world, gives me the right to speak about the woes of marriage. For, sirs, since I was twelve-years-old, I have, thanks to God who lives in eternity, had five husbands at the church door.

She then, however, with typical Chaucerian irony, cites biblical precedence for her apparent immorality. The wedding at Cana is referenced; as is the Samaritan woman at the well. She asks questions about them and their relevance to her own particular situation as a sexually active woman.
I do not want to go too much into Chaucer here. There is simply too much to write and will need to be the subject of another post. I include it here to show that the attitude to women articulated by Albert was a still being challenged actively enough for the challenge to be satirised by Chaucer nearly two centuries after Albert's death.

The conflict articulated by the Wife of Bath is very much the conflict between theory and practice. Male celibates can, by definition, only speak in theoretical terms whereas, for her, it is a living reality. From very early in Christian history a theory of sexuality was developed that had its base in a neurotic rejection of the body and its pleasures, and thus of women, that is totally at odds with the Jesus described in the gospels No matter how they have thundered in the pulpits, their body-hating, woman-hating, rhetoric has failed to succeed. Human beings are simply not built that way. 

And what is most ironic is that, in orthodox theology, a central matter of faith is the condition of a woman's genitals. Inanna's vulva was celebrated as a source of pleasure and wonder. Mary's is celebrated as unsullied by either.

Monday, 21 May 2012

A disease without a cure?

There are 33 people honoured by the Roman Catholic Church as Doctors. These include Gregory, Augustine, Jerome, Ambrose, John Chrysostom, and Albert the Great.  They are considered pre-eminent in their exposition of the word of their god and as such have been hugely influential in the formulation of Christianity in the West.  Fundamental to their thought, and indivisible from their perceived sanctity is their fundamental misogyny.  I could fill many posts with quotations from them but will content myself with a passage from just one, the great Albert, who is highly praised to this day for his contributions to the development of scientific thought. His open and enquiring mind, however, did not lead him to challenge the prevailing opinion with regard to women.  On the contrary, he eloquently restated it:

Woman is less qualified [than man] for moral behaviour.  For the woman contains more liquid than the man, and it is a property of liquid to take things up easily and to hold on to them poorly.  liquids are easily moved, hence women are inconstant and curious.  When a woman has relations with a man, she would like, as much as possible, to be lying with another man at the same time.  Woman knows nothing of fidelity.  Believe me, if you give her your trust, you will be disappointed.  Trust an experienced teacher.  For this reason prudent men share their plans and actions least of all with their wives.  Woman is a misbegotten man and has a faulty and defective nature in comparison with his.  Therefore she is unsure in herself.  What she herself cannot get, she seeks ot obtain through lying and diabolical deceptions.  And so, to put it briefly, one must be on one's guard with every woman, as if she were a poisonous snake and the horned devil.  If I could say what I know about women, the world would be astonished... Woman is strictly speaking not cleverer but slyer (more cunning) than man. Cleverness sounds like something good, slyness sounds like something evil.  thus in evil and perverse things woman is cleverer, that is, slyer, than man.  Her feelings drive woman towards every evil, just as reason impels man toward all good. (Quaestiones super de animalibus XV q 11)
 He does not quite state in this passage his qualifications for saying all this.  I assume he derived it from his predecessors in the Church and also from his studies of Aristotle.  He speaks of his vast knowledge of women, such that it would astonish the world (by which I suppose  he means men) but, as a celibate enclosed in a homosocial universe, his claim to expertise cannot be through observation or close contact.  Hardly scientific method or anything approaching it.

The man/god he claims to follow, however, did not seem to share his views.  He consorted freely and, for his time, scandalously with women.  It was to the sinful Samaritan woman that he is alleged to have proclaimed himself the Messiah and it was a woman who first witnessed the resurrection and became the Apostle to the Apostles.  It was a woman who anointed him.  It was women who funded his mission.

Yet the church that is led by a man who is claimed to be the Vicar of Christ and has, as such, declared as infallible his refusal to countenance the ordination of women.  And it is really impossible for him do so without a complete break from the writings of the warped minds of the woman-hating celibates who composed the texts that define intellectual tradition. The Vatican's war against the very notion of such ordination includes the threat, and in some cases, the use, of the nuclear option - excommunication.  And yet  the church has sheltered and enabled child-molesters within its ranks for untold generations.  No threat of excommunication there, just a quiet move to another parish.  Until, of course, they got found out by the secular society that they now so condemn.

Over the last couple of years I have read much of the Bible and come to a greater understanding of it.  It is impossible, even in the rantings of such as Jeremiah or the letters of Paul to find anything approaching the loathing and disgust  that is evidenced in the long history of Christianity.  Sometime in the first couple of centuries of its existence a deep sickness entered and it still rages.  When such as Albert are still held to be doctors, there is little hope of any cure.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

That's the way the money goes. Pop goes the weasel

I am not an economist.  I do not really understand in what ways the financial system differs from a gigantic casino.  Hedge funds, credit swaps etc are all beyond my ability to comprehend.  I do, however, understand one thing.  It is that, although individual players can win fortunes, the casino itself exists for the profit of its owners.  As do banks and other financial institutions.

For a long time, banks have portrayed themselves as public services which exist in order to help individuals and companies to manage their resources.  This is how they advertise.  They project an image of probity, sobriety and social responsibility.  Pillars of the community, they are lampooned as such in popular culture.  Captain Mainwaring in "Dad's Army" springs immediately into mind.  They have been portrayed as similar to the clergy, often comic but always reliable and honest. In fact, many if not most of the staff seen by the general public are, if not comic, reliable and honest.  They honestly want to help.  They provide the banks with the mask of respectability

The events of 2008, however, destroyed such illusions and revealed these institutions as the self-serving predators they are.  The benevolent public mask slipped to reveal the face of naked greed.  For a brief historical moment the curtain was lifted and the illusion broken.  After aggressively extending credit to all and sundry, their chickens had come to roost when to their feigned surprise it turned out that many could not pay them back.  I say "feigned" because this fact was known to them as it had to be known to any intelligent human being.  In fact, they had calculated that it did not really matter as they knew that, in the main, they would be rescued.  Lehmann Brothers and others fell, it is true, but Goldman Sachs and J P Morgan Chase and others survived despite the blatant illegality of many of their practices.  They were all "too big to fail".

So they didn't.  Using taxpayers' money, governments bailed them out.  In order to recoup the funds lost from the public treasury, austerity measures were introduced with the intent of reducing the funds available to the general public.  Under the euphemisms of rationalisation and reform, public services are cut, many public sector workers dismissed and benefits to the vulnerable and needy cut.  With unemployment rising, those who were previously receiving those benefits are exhorted to go out and find jobs which do not exist.  For it is, we are told, our fault that this has happened.  Our Welfare State is unsustainable and must be trimmed.  All the main parties agree with this. This agreement is not, in fact, surprising since all the main parties are drawn, at the high levels, from the same socio-economic class.  Some may be more critical of the free market capitalist system than others but they are all wedded to it.  They all profit from it. They can all, on leaving office, expect to be looked after by it.

Meanwhile Goldman Sachs, Morgan Chase et al have moved in force into the global commodity market, buying up the basic stuff we need to survive.  Having done that, prices start to soar.  Thus, while incomes fall prices rise.  People go hungry.  In Greece this is most acute, but the crisis will spread.  It is difficult to see how it could not as long as the rules of the game, which are heavily rigged in the casino owners' favour, are obeyed.

So what has happened to all the money paid in taxes by working people?  Where has it gone?  I do not know exactly but the figures produced by the Sunday Times Rich List give a clue.  In 2008 the thousand richest people in the UK owned £412.85 billion.  In 2009 this fell drastically to £258.235 billion.  In 2010, however it rose to £335.5 billion, in 2011 to £395.8 billion and this year has reached £414.26 billion - higher than before the recession started.  In September 2011, according to the Guardian, the total cost of the bail-out had reached £123.93 billion.  If this figure is added to the 2009 Rich List figure we reach a total of £382.165 billion, not much short of the 2011 figure.  Thus, these 1000 people have got collectively richer by an amount very close to that by which the rest of the nation has got progressively poorer.

Here we can see who the casino owners are.  And I will predict that, as the cuts deepen, so will their wealth increase.  Pointing this out is not the politics of envy it is simply the politics of reality.  Without positing some sinister conspiracy, whether hatched by lizard people, Masons or the Illuminati, it is clear that the system is designed by the owners to profit the owners.  This is what the science of economics, if science it be, as practised on a global scale by the disciples of Hayek and Friedman has led us to.  An impoverishment of the many in order to enrich a very, very few.

This system has its roots deep in the past.  Exploitation is the essence of patriarchy.  Without succumbing to the ever-present temptation of a dream to the return to the Golden Age of pre-civilisation, it is essential to refigure the way society is run.  The change will need to be be radical.  An economic system must be built in which co-operation rather than competition is the guiding principle.

The word "economy" is itself derived from the Greek word meaning "household management".  For too long it has mirrored the hierarchical patriarchal vision of the home, with power residing in the paterfamilias.  His role is now taken by the likes of Goldman Sachs, who instructs that the mess they make is cleaned up by the rest of the household. A new vision is needed and this must begin with a new vision of the relationship between women and men. And it is here that a look at our prehistory, at anthropology and evolutionary biology can give us insight.  Human beings have not always arranged their lives according the dominant values of our time.  In fact, human beings are not built that way.  We are social animals who happen to predate, not predators who happen to be social.

I do not know the way forward beyond the need to change minds.  I believe that the change is already underway.  Hampered as we may be at times by the patriarchal thinking we inherited, there is within the Goddess movement a desire and a will to challenge that thinking and move beyond, above and below it.  I will not see this change manifest on a global scale.  But I believe it will.  And this, despite the despair I see around, gives me hope.

PS:  Since posting the above, I have seen that Cameron's outgoing strategic adviser is calling for another £25 billion to be cut from the welfare budget.  If this is added to the sum of 2009 wealth plus the bail-out money it reaches around £407 billion.  This is even closer to the total wealth on the Rich List.  Another yacht or three, anyone?

PPS: The title of this post refers to a popular song.  "Popping the weasel" was the practice of pawning the tools of one's trade on a regular basis.  Anyone who lives in one of our cities cannot help but notice the recent increase in pawn shops and short-term loan money shops which charge the poor extortionate rates of interest.  At least one sector of the economy, the most nakedly predatory at that, is experiencing growth!  As it says so eloquently, albeit in another context, in the Bible:   

Unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath 
(Matthew 25, 29) 

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Of Inanna, sex and poetry

My posts since returning have been very much concerned with my own journey.  They have also been, as is clear from their titles, very much concerned with sex.  I cannot really speak for anyone else but there is, for me, a clear connection between my own condition of spiritual and emotional health and the way that my sexuality is integrated into the rest of my life.  And it is clear that, for most of my life, it has not been so.

I chose the quotation from the stories of Inanna that appears to the left of this post deliberately.  When I first read it, I experienced a sense of shock.  There was also awe.  What really struck was the matter-of-factness of the statement.  There is no echo of prurience or shame within it.  Only celebration.  It implies a state of being in which sex is a cause of pleasure and joy.  Of wonder.  That wonder is something that I have experienced often.   What has seemed to be the inevitable consequence, however, is that this wonder has later been eclipsed by a sense of regret and shame.  Somewhere deep within me arose the conviction that I had surrendered my spirituality in favour of the indulgence of my animal nature.  I felt that I had betrayed my rational impulses towards purity and clarity and succumbed to the primal urge to rut.  I had descended from the search for enlightenment or salvation and become as the beasts of the field.

This is the narrative that I had heard throughout my life, from the earliest remembering. It is the narrative that underpins our civilisation.  Propagated by priests and teachers and echoed in the more secular fields by news commentators and talk show hosts, it says that sexual desire must and should be hedged around by taboo and restriction.  Above all, it tells us that our only natural and healthy option is to embrace exclusive monogamy, preferably for life, all other sexual arrangements being contrary to our very being.  In living by this code we will maintain our position as human and not animal.

But we are, of course, animal.  We are apes.  No amount of theological and moral wrangling can alter that fact.  All of our cathedrals, concert halls and art galleries must and do provide facilities that enable us, like all other apes, to shit and piss. Indeed, we are born, as, I think Augustine said, between those two excretions.   No amount of fine clothes can shield us from our basic needs.  No amount of money can buy us freedom from the fatal end that comes with being animals. Neither can fame nor status.  Since Gilgamesh tried, and ultimately failed, to achieve immortality his quest has provided the template for myriad stories but still we die

It is perhaps our tragedy as a species that we try to deny these facts.  It is also, however, the source of much of our glory.  The quest for immortality, if only in the memory of those surviving, lies, I believe, beneath the creation of much beauty.   In our imaginings, we can grasp at the ineffable and deliver an approximation that lives on when we are gone. Or we can strive for worldly power and  ensure a name lives on.  Thus Augustus was deified and Hitler has become a cliche of evil.. Most, however, achieve only the fate of Ozymandias, and become simply a name surrounded by a desolation of forgetting.  For rulers rarely create - their forte is so often the attempted co-option of that human spirit which yearns for love, beauty and freedom so that it can be used to further their own desire for immortality.  Thus, only a statue remains and the man is forgotten.

Religion, at its most extreme in Christendom, has prospered through  the harnessing of that will for immortality and claiming it as its exclusive domain.  St Peter holds the keys to the kingdom and will determine who enters and who is cast into the outer darkness.  And the prime qualification is to deny and strive to overcome our animal nature.  Coupled with this and seemingly indivisible from it is the denigration of women.  For these men, and they are almost exclusively men, it is women who provide the constant reminder of who and what we really are.   The human  body, with its needs and drives, becomes the battleground on which salvation is decided.  The world, the flesh and the devil are always there awaiting the unwary soul and are always ready to bring it back into corporeality.  Religion thrives on opposition.  Its model is military discipline, always alert for attack and ready to defend.  And, as the sole vehicle of salvation, religion itself must be defended just as the individual soul must be.  Crusade and jihad are both divinely ordained. And, incidentally, those twentieth century children of Christianity, Nazism and Soviet Communism, have aped and in many ways surpassed their parent in this regard.

No church has been able to eradicate our human need to excrete.  It would be very difficult if not impossible for them, however, to imagine the perfect human, Jesus, straining to expel a turd.  But he must have done so, for he is certainly depicted as eating and drinking.  It is simply not thought about.  But it is conceivable that he could have fucked and a whole literary genre has been created around this notion.  The reaction of the churches to what was a bad book and an even worse film, "The Da Vinci Code", is testimony to the desperate need they feel to deny that sexuality is compatible with sanctity.  And yet, if he was perfectly human and sharing all facets of our lives, he must have at least experienced desire and nocturnal erections.  Religion demands that such unpleasant facts must remain unthinkable.  Augustine's tortured speculation, derived from Stoic philosophy, about sexual congress without the inconvenient element of desire was in part an attempt to solve the dilemma posed by his belief in Jesus being both perfectly man and perfectly god.

In its desire to regulate sexuality to the greatest degree possible, religion has inflicted incalculable harm on the human spirit.  The first victims of this were women and later, by extension, homosexuals and others who did not and could not conform to the rigid model of the moralisers.  It has also ever failed in its mission, for the human desire for sex, and we are particularly hyper-sexualiseded apes, cannot be contained but ever breaks out into transgression, no matter how severely such transgressions are punished.

Inanna, however, comes from a time before this sick charade began.  She is among the earliest goddesses of whom we have written record and She revels in her sexuality.  Her vulva is the boat of heaven from which all the gifts of civilisation have been born.  The wild man, Enkidu, is brought into the civilised world through congress with Her priestess.  But She is also the memory of what was before civilisation: those many statues with wondrous vulvas that have been unearthed by archaelogy.  She is the muse, for the love of whom the poets write and the painters paint.  It is She, by whatever name, who has inspired the immortal works that enrich and strengthen our lives.  Plato knew of her power and banned poetry from his Republic, for the poet, like sexuality, cannot in the end be tamed.                      

Friday, 11 May 2012

Down, down, down, where the iguanas play...

In February this year, Dory Previn died.  I cannot overstate how important her music has been to me.  Here is a taste of it:

This song, the title track of her second solo album, sums up exactly what I have come to realise is the problem that awaits many who embark, willingly or no, on a "spiritual" path.  It certainly awaited me.  Conditioned as I was by the anti-body bias of the Abrahamic worldview, I was looking for a reality that transcended the physical.  I feared the irrational demands and drives of the reptile brain.  I strove for something better.  More spiritual.  I did not want to go into the dark of my own psyche and embrace the reality that lay within and below.

But this was a fool's errand.  For the iguanas were there all the time and my desire to transcend them only served to warp me.  I thought that I could control them, tame them.  In my arrogant reliance on my own intellect, I started to believe that I had done this.  I kidded myself that the quest was finally over and the holy grail nearly won.  I was now able to harness these forces to my will and thereby seize enlightenment.

The reality was that it was at this point that the forces I thought I could control had seized control of me.  And I acted on them.  I fell prey to hubris.  I thought that I was something special and acted on that thought without regard to any other person.  I used and abused another person whilst telling myself that I was acting nobly.  I was not.  I had simply been responding unconsciously to the call of the iguana, whose needs are primal.

This happened several years ago and the results were catastrophic both to my life and those who loved me. I  spun out of all control whilst at the same time trying to convince myself that I had not.  Before long, I returned to the heavy drinking  that had characterised my earlier life and found that the downward spiral simply accelerated and the damage was compounded.  I descended into the underworld and remained there for a long time.  I retreated from the world, from contact with anyone beyond my partner, who for some reason has stuck with me, and focused, inasmuch as I could, on the intellectual search for Inanna within texts.  This done, however, I found myself stuck.  She was there indeed within the pages of the bible but where was She in my life?  Nowhere to be seen.  I wasn't really looking.  All I could see were the iguanas.

And then, out of the blue, someone asked me to become her teacher.  I agreed and we met a couple of times.  It was then that I realised where I was.  In the underworld still hanging on the hook of my addiction.  I could not teach and I could not lead.  I had first to get out.  I had to put the bottle down again.  I had to embrace and cease to fear the iguanas.  To learn to play with them.

It has been a while now and it is only in the last few weeks that I have come to realise that I am no longer in the underworld but have now emerged.  I no longer fear my libido or wish to conquer or channel it.  I no longer want to submit it to my will even though there are aspects of it that are not pretty.  In so doing I have found new energy and drive.  However, like Inanna, I do not yet know where to direct this.  But my descent has not been like Hers.  She went in response to some inner prompting but I seem to have gone willy-nilly, without a real sense of purpose.  I am more Dumuzzi.  For, in the story, Inanna points to Dumuzzi and he has to replace Her in the Underworld whose ways are perfect and cannot be questioned or evaded.   One of my last acts before leaving the UK to go to Hungary was to take the part of Dumuzzi in a sacred drama.  Like him, I fled, seeking to escape, but in the end could not.  Kicking, screaming and lashing out at all and sundry, I was dragged into the palace of the iguanas.  For it was only there that the healing could take place.  And I feel it has.

I am debating whether to contact the woman who approached me again.  I am ready now to do as she asked.  She, however, may well have moved on.  Nothing stays as it was. I will meditate on this for a while. My life feels new again.  My life feels good. The future is open.