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.")


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.
vixenmage: Beautiful bird which people dislike because it is a crow-related animal (grackle)
When I was about... ten or so, my middle school class went to the Mohegan museum, up where Foxwoods is. The guide actually explained to us at some point that Fox-woods was a literal translation of the name of the area. We oohed, ahhed, and I discovered for the first time that no, not everyone can trace parts of their family back to a Native American tribe. This was a strange, strange thing to my young mind; I'd always assumed "Melting Pot" meant that everyone was literally a little of everything. Anyway, at that point in my life I was beginning to outgrow an obsession with wolves; they just weren't filling a gap in my mind anymore, and the Noble Wolf Tribe Fantasies were wearing thin. But when we saw the polished stones, with animals carved in, for sale at the gift shop, I grabbed what I thought was a silhouette of a howling wolf; it turned out to be a coyote. After lunch, the small group I was in went for an outside tour, to see the way food was kept, and shelter was built, etc. We got lost. On a little circuit that never left sight of the museum on the map, we wound up in an unspecified woods, with no significant landmarks in sight.

The following summer, my family went up to Mt Desert Island, and camped in Acadia National Park for a week. It was a sort of tradition, or became one-- I think that was the first time we'd gone as a family in my generation. I remember thinking it was the most beautiful place on Earth; I was totally enchanted. I also remember hiking along with no particular ambition or thought, admiring the beauty of the world around me, and suddenly realizing my family was nowhere in sight. Usually if I sat down and had a drink they'd be coming up behind me in a few minutes, but still; it was quite funny, especially when I got into the habit of finding a decent hiding place and scaring the crap out of my siblings when they caught up. My dad, at some point, bought a book of Native American Myths And Legends. Terribly thick, heavy, and altogether awesome. My siblings and I all perused it from time to time, but I was probably the most into it.

Which is probably why I was the one who found The Story. The Story, of which I don't remember the name, the origin tribe, or the ending, had a few key components that my young brain collapsed beneath. First, there was a witch who had a special power: She had teeth Down There. Second, she used them to devour warriors by having her beautiful daughter seduce them. Third, in order to do this the warriors put their Thingie... uh, Down There. Which was apparently how they got around to baby-making.

Confused, disgusted, and altogether horrified, I summoned up my courage and asked my dad if that was, indeed, how babies were made? (Prior to this, I had been starting to refuse to swing on the rope swing with my brother, in case I accidentally got pregnant, which would be a sin because he was my brother, Ew. This is probably because the K-12 RTC Pentecostal (Yep! They're out there!) school I went to forbade all physical contact between the sexes, even for games of tag. Nonetheless... I have to feel bad for my father. That's an awkward conversation among awkward conversations.

Anyway. When I was eighteen, we went back up to Mt. Desert for the fourth or fifth time; it was my dad, step-mom, step-brother, little brother, and sister. We went on one or two family hikes, but my favorite hike was the one I took myself-- which was also one of the hardest things I've ever done, physically speaking. Nine miles, between ninety-five and one hundred degrees Fahrenheit, and I ran out of water 2/3 of the way through. I'd had a little foresight and drank from a clear stream earlier (yes, I was that desperate), but the last three or four miles were pretty crazy. I broke off the trail at one point, deciding to cut along the shore of a pond, which was a shorter route to my destination-- but off the trail(s). I made it about 1/4 of the way, realized if I collapsed from dehydration I probably wouldn't get found, and returned to the trail*. I remember this one hill, it felt like 60 degrees up. I was literally chanting prayers under my breath because I was certain I wouldn't make it. But I did-- all the way to the top of that hill, and the next, and then down the mile or so of road. At some point I found a wild blueberry bush and devoured every one I could reach.

That night I couldn't sleep. I eventually left the tent, walked outside and down the path, to where there was a clearing in the woods with no camp spaces, and looked around. Overhead, there was the biggest, brightest shooting star I have ever seen-- you know the ones that are actually green? Yeah. It was breath-taking. I went back to the tent, and fell asleep, and had the wildest dream-- and I do mean Wild. I don't remember it-- all I remember was waking up with Coyote on my mind. I'd been doing more research into spiritual journeys, and shamanism, and no matter how I tried I could not shake the thought of Coyote from my head. (It probably didn't help that you can hear coyotes howling in the night, up there.) All week, I felt freer and happier than I had in a long time. I was full of this wild joy, this energy, and it didn't go away. Eventually the laughter faded, after we'd come home, but... the feeling lingered. I thought about it a lot-- I was relatively unchanged, but... not. The restlessness at night was not so miserable; laughter came more easily; I started running, spontaneously in the night, for the joy of it. There was no sudden realization, no turning point, no spark of understanding. Just a gradual change of heart and mind, as I went from "Christian who's interested in mythology" to "Christian who believes in shamanism." This is not to say I don't still struggle with it, from time to time. I've wondered if I'm being led astray by an evil spirit, or somesuch. Pretty sure that's not the case, though.

The thing is, I find it hard to believe that God would have provided Eurasia with the prophets, and then Christ, to guide them to the light-- and utterly ignored Australia, Africa, and the Americas. It doesn't make sense. I think C. S. Lewis was right; there is a spiritual element to this world-- something between humanity and God. I think we blanket-label those beings as Evil at our own peril. In his Space Trilogy, the premise was that Thulcandra Earth was the Fallen Planet, and the eldil angels thereupon were all Bent Fallen, every one. I have to disagree with him there. Humanity is Fallen-- is every single one of us inherently evil? We have the potential for good, and the potential for evil. Why should we not assume the same of our brethren?

I don't worship Coyote. He's my brother, and he seems to alternate between looking out for me and pulling pranks, depending on circumstances beyond my understanding. I worship God, Jehovah, Yahweh-- Christ. And I figure Coyote probably does, too, in his own way, by his own means.

*(Unrelated: several times, I looked at the ground and went "somebody's done this before. and not that long ago, either." I was pretty psyched when I found out I was right.)


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

May 2013

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