Pagan and the Pit(bulls)

The political musings of a Pagan and her dogs.

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Drawing Down the Opinions

ddtmRecently, I read Drawing Down the Moon for a book club. And I have thoughts. Oh, boy do I have thoughts.

Margot Adler was a journalist who set out to investigate Pagans and Wiccans in the 1970’s. While Adler does deserve credit for DDtM being the first survey of Pagan religion in the United States and parts of Britain, all 400 hundred pages of her work can be (and should be) condensed into an elevator speech about the history of Wicca in America. Her writing drags, her psychotherapy background is displayed in haughty grandeur, and what claims to be a survey of Pagan religion in America is nothing more than blowing the egos of the Wiccan and Wiccanate religions while dismissing large swaths of the Pagan community.

In short, I am conflicted.

DDtM is a misleading book. The subtitle “Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America Today” implies that there will be some relatively equal coverage. Not so. Of the 460 pages of sludgy writing 203 are devoted to Wicca (including a fantastically rage inducing interview), 132 cover all of the other religions she deems worthy of her interest, 22 are dedicated to explaining the Pagan world view (with a highly Wiccan flavor), and the remaining 103 pages talk about Pagans today (if you count “today” and the 1980’s which is when the last revision occurred in that section, example: her sources describe computers as a fad). A lot of really cool groups got left out the Minoan Brother- and Sisterhoods got the barest of mentions, Asatru got a few pages, the Cult of Rhea and Hellenion none at all. Neither did the OTO, the Gnostic Church, or any of the Kemetic Orders. These are all groups that a) don’t subscribe or really support Adlers assertions that the gods are merely archetypes in the human mind or b) don’t subscribe to the romanticized versions of magick and Paganism that she does.

It’s that condescending bias that roils through the book that makes it so infuriating. She refuses to acknowledge that other Pagans practice differently, that other Pagans are theists, whether they be poly- or pan-. She refuses to acknowledge that maybe, just maybe, magick isn’t limited to how she practices. But then that would mean being exposed to new and radical ideas. One of the book club members knew Adler when he lived in New York, and described her as one of the old women one sees at a church—the kind that always criticizes when something new is being done. And her writing does very little to dispel that image. She’s flat out hard to read, and not to brag about my reading prowess, but I’ve read some difficult authors in my time. She doesn’t take the cake but she is on my top ten list of authors I really don’t want to read again.

But for all that, she does have moments of brilliance. She asks some very thought provoking questions on gender and spirituality, and some on initiations and traditions. But overall, I suspect that she will go the way of Margaret Murray. DDtM will be used in favor of better books like Triumph of the Moon by Professor Ronald Hutton, or Her Hidden Children by Professor Chas Clifton (who is also the senior editor of The Pomegranate, the Pagan Studies academic journal); and be considered authoritative until it really isn’t, and the shining moments will be forgotten in the melee of how wrong it is.

This is by no means the last of my gripes with Adler, and perhaps her second Pagan based book Heretics Heart (which is a horrible title, it sounds like a Harlequin paperback) is better. Maybe I’ll read it, or maybe I’ll wait for the SparkNotes.


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Happy New Year, Queen of Heaven

queen of heavenHera starts off the New Year in terms of devotionals, and I will be the first to say I think Hera gets a bad rap and that isn’t fair to her. Hera is the best example of the oversimplification of the gods to fit a cultural narrative. Let’s lay down some truth here: Hera is pretty bad ass. She has a pretty strong realm of dominion; Hera is the Queen of Heaven, the goddess of kings and empires, goddess of marriage, of women’s fertility, one of the three goddess of child birth (she is the protector of the mother, Artemis is the protector of the child being birthed, and Eileithyia the patron of the act itself), and the goddess of dynasties. Quite literally, she rules. Hera fights in the War of the Titans, and the War of the Giants, Dionysus Indian War, and she sponsors Sparta in the Trojan War. If the idea of Hera as a warrior queen seems counterintuitive, consider that Pausanias describes a strong cult to Hera Aigophagos (Hera the Goat-Eater) in Lakedaimonia and its capital of Sparta. Hera takes no prisoners.

But wait, her detractors say, Hera treats Zeus bastard sons and other consorts pretty shittily. My response to this is yes, she does. But look at those actions in light of her realms of dominion: she is Queen of Heaven, goddess of empires and dynasties and women’s roles in them. She isn’t going to let others come in and take what is rightfully the jurisdiction of her and her children. After all, even though Hera is considered the last consort of Zeus and tricked into marriage, she was Queen of Heaven in her own right before he got there. No upstarts allowed. It’s even debatable whether all of her divine children have Zeus as a father. Of her children, Typhaon and the Charities don’t have a mentioned father in myth; Hebe, Ares, Hephaistos, Eris, and Eileithyia have disputed paternity.

And through it all the ups and downs of enforcing her dynastic claim on Olympus, Hera does some very kind and loving things. Philostratus the Elder describes Hera welcoming Athene into the company of the Olympians. Hera fills the rivers with rain water of Argos for the devotion Inakhos after Poseidon dries up the island in rage. When the daughters of Pandareos are left orphaned she blesses them with wisdom to lead. And she sponsors Jason on his search for the Golden Fleece and his journey to bring prosperity to Argos.

Despite of all of this Queen Militant badassery, and kindness and support to her devotees, Hera is remembered as “that bitch who gets in the way of Zeus fun”. Hera is reduced from mighty queen of heaven on a cerulean throne to…shrew.

I’ve always thought that the Wiccanate Triple Goddess of Maiden, Mother, Crone to be heinously limiting. And that we need to reclaim the goddesses who embody more than the young nymphet, the voluptuous mother, the disfigured old woman. Women deserve goddesses who represent womanhood in all of its forms, not just the forms that are palatable to the public or described and defined by the older and sexist Pagan writers. Hera is the goddess of leaning in and while she may not be the goddess every woman needs, she is one of the goddesses that everyone deserves. So this month, I’m raising a glass and starting to bring her back.

O Royal Hera of majestic mien, aerial-form’d, divine, Zeus’blessed queen,
Thron’d in the bosom of cærulean air, the race of mortals is thy constant care.
The cooling gales thy pow’r alone inspires, which nourish life, which ev’ry life desires.
Mother of clouds and winds, from thee alone producing all things, mortal life is known:
All natures share thy temp’rament divine, and universal sway alone is thine.
With founding blasts of wind, the swelling sea and rolling rivers roar, when shook by thee.
Come, blessed Goddess, fam’d almighty queen, with aspect kind, rejoicing and serene.