Sep. 29th, 2011

vixenmage: (coexist)
There's a site-- Mark Does Stuff -- where Mark Oshiro reads/watches various media and writes up a review for what he's... watching/reading. He did Twilight, famously, first, because he was sick of everyone bashing it and wondering if it was all that bad (Spoiler alert: Yes. Yes, it is/was, and yes, when he was finished he agreed.), then moved on to Harry Potter, bitter and full of dark expectations, only to be delighted by the whole series. Right now, he's reading through American Gods, by Neil Gaiman.

This is absolutely one of my favorite books, even one of my favorite books by Neil Gaiman, which is saying something. (This may be one of my best bastions against being called a hipster. I do not care, nor will I ever care, how popular Neil Gaiman is, he's still awesome.) Anyway-- Mark is going through the chapters one per day, squeeing in delight like so many of us have at Gaiman's work in the past. (I am amused by the fact that Firefox now recognizes Gaiman as a word.) But it threw me, a bit. I may comment there, at some point, but for now I'm too sort of shaky/shy to do it, so I'll put stuff here, instead.

Regarding Chapter Five:
I don’t know what Gaiman is doing to me at all, but I like it. I love that Shadow is at a point in this journey where everything is so bizarre that there’s really no point in actively challenging what he’s seeing or experiencing. And perhaps this is me doing that thing where I read into something far more than I should, but Shadow just submits himself to the experience, and I find that to be an intriguing subtext to me.

See... I don't quite get it. I will agree that giddy enthusiasm is the correct way to react to the book - any books of Gaiman's, in fact! He's bloody awesome! And I think a huge part of it is that he weaves this story so well, and writes it so matter of factly, that you find that willing suspension of disbelief is all but unavoidable. But...

This world, this world where the spirits and gods and ancestors and brownies and fae and piskies and ifrits are real? This world is not unfamiliar to me. And I am only realizing now that the reason for that has, I think, a lot to do with my upbringing. Y'see, the branch of Evangelical/Fundamentalist Southern Baptistish Christianity that I was brought up in never told us magic wasn't real. Instead, it attributed magic to the Devil, or 'familiar spirits,' and chalked it up very firmly on the Evil column. (Everything in the world, you see, is either on the Evil column or the Good column. That is the religion I was raised in.) When you prayed, you always prayed to Jesus Christ of Nazareth, because if you only said 'Jesus,' then your prayer might be interpreted by a demon who went by the same name. We didn't have books of mythology not because "They're myths, not true, and therefore damned lies," or whatever other Good Christian reason you might think of, but because the gods in those books might tempt us from Christianity, to graven images and/or idols, because that's what they were. False gods. There, very much present, very much holding some power, but not Our God, and therefore evil.

Everything that ain't human (or animal) and ain't Yahweh is in the Evil column, you see. Very firmly in the Evil column. (Even angels are untrustworthy-- the Devil, you know, can appear as a being of light. They're not infallible themselves, anyway.) But still there. I remember reading Aladdin for the first time, and understanding (and agreeing with) the titular character's mother, as she unleashes the djinn and goes "It is an Evil Spirit, my son, and you must get rid of it." (Being about ten years old or so at the time, I also sympathised with Aladdin, and had a spiritual crisis that lasted damn near six years on whether I would be able to resist such a temptation.) Later on, I changed my opinion. The djinn is clearly a sentient, sapient being-- the immorality here is not in his magic, it is in his enslavement. The evil in Aladdin's choice is not in his decision to continue using the djinn's magic, it is in his never considering if he should set the spirit free. But then, they often seem pretty evil in the tales-- but I don't know. I have a complicated opinion on jinni. I would love to find one someday and have a conversation with xir. (Hopefully not one that ends with "...Well, if you must behead me, can I make a phone call to my boyfriend first? Or an epic cross-country walk to bid him farewell? It's only fair.")

ANYWAY.

My point is, although I no longer believe that the entire spiritual realm between man and God is inherently evil... I do hold the belief that it's There. I don't think it's all awesome light and goodness, either, but I think the hold that realm has on my mind is very deeply seated. It was easy, very easy, for me to believe in Coyote. It was much harder to believe that he was not an evil being, another facet of the faceless, demon-bound EVIL that walks the Earth.

I don't know.

The point is, when I read American Gods, willing suspension of disbelief was only partly required, because much of what popped up was so very familiar to me. When I finally did get my hands on mythology, I absolutely dove in. I never realized that the characters became so real to me; I never fully understood why, but I probably heard their names on the List Of Enemies at some point, either from my father or my mother or our pastor. And although I don't believe they're all unambiguous Enemies, their being real is so very much intertwined with my religion that I doubt I could ever shake it.

Alright, I have probably hammered this point in altogether too hard. My next point, of course, is the difference between idols and idolatry, and... all of the above.

I don't worship Coyote. He is my brother. Annoying as shit, funny as shit, I picture him with an infectious laugh, singing rowdy songs and getting drunk off his ass because he can. And so, sometimes, to make him laugh, I sing rowdy songs beneath the stars. Or make jokes, lewd jokes and simple jokes and complicated jokes, and have a Secret Plot to mess with my boss's head by slowly adding shades to his rainbow of *sharpies, leaving bottles upside down, balancing on their caps, replacing all the pennies in the safe with wheat pennies, etc. (That last is a bit more complicated, and must wait until I have enough wheat pennies to pull it off. Which may take a while.) And when I am walking down a straight and smooth sidewalk and trip for no reason, I laugh, and when I am balancing on a fencepost on a slippery moonlit evening in the middle of nowhere, I laugh with delight whether I make the jump to the next gap or not, because who really cares if it's a joke or a triumph? They're both fun.

I believe that God has a sense of humor. I think a being like Coyote has a place in the divine order of things. I don't think it's blasphemy-- or even idolatry.

Idolatry, to me, is simple. Letting something that is Not God subvert the place of God-- whose law, most importantly, is Love Thy Neighbor As Thyself. Who told his disciple, Peter, that in order to show love to God, we must take care of those around us. Whose main issue with the Goats in the parable of the Goats And Sheep was that they did not feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit those in prison. (I would note he doesn't say anything about why they might be in prison. Apparently it doesn't matter whether they were guilty or not.)

So the most common idols I see are the **American flag, the dollar, and the ticker on Wall Street; my own idols are pretty easily selfishness and intellect-- I had a conversation with Andrew the other day about hierarchies in humanity (notably, how I have trouble following them), and he pointed out that saying no one has the right to dictate anyone else's life seems to assume equality of intelligence. I used to think the same way, but... not so much anymore. Being smarter than someone else doesn't make you better than them. At all. It doesn't give you the right to push them around.

Anyway! This has certainly gone on longer than I intended it to. Mostly I just wanted to kind of laugh at the fact that my strict upbringing made me more tolerant of Paganism and Druidism and Shamanism. (I'm not Pagan, or Druid, but I am Shamanist, which overlaps with both of those in some areas.)

Which would've horrified my mother.

I really shouldn't be snickering at that. *cough*

Anyway. Off to work!

*He's obsessive about those: "Don't use them! They're for signs, they're apart for a reason, I bought them myself." He's got the basic rainbow, but the company makes a lot more-- shades of pastel pink, and blue-green, and stuff. So I'm going to subtly slip new shades into the array until he notices and freaks out. Should be fun.

**I should clarify.

One day, an illegal Hispanic immigrant was walking down a hot desert road, when a bunch of punk-ass kids set on him, beat him, took his money, and left him for dead on the side of the road. He lay there dying, and a preacher walked by, saw that he looked like he might have been an undocumented migrant worker, and walked on the other side of the road, so that he wouldn't get caught in any kind of crossfire. Then a priest walked by, realized that the man might have been caught up in a drug war of some kind, picked up the hem of his robe, and kept walking. Finally, a former Marine who'd just gotten a day off from Border Patrol walked by, realized that the man might be in serious trouble, and, after biting his tongue about all the trouble he could get in for this, took him to a hospital and paid out of pocket to have the man treated, so that his lack of health insurance wouldn't be an issue.

I, um, I'll get off the soapbox and be off now.

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vixenmage: St. Francis wiv a bird on 'is haid! (Default)
vixenmage

May 2013

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