R – Raccoons! (PBP week 35)

How could you not love those faces?

The common raccoon, Procyon lotor, is a nocturnal, omnivorous, and highly intelligent forest creature native to North America.  The name “raccoon” is a bastardization of a Powhatan phrase that translates roughly as “one who rubs, scrubs, and scratches with its hands.”  In many languages the names these animals were given refer to their manual dexterity or their peculiar habit of dowsing their food in water.

Raccoons are very common in the Northern California redwood forests where I grew up.

When I was a girl, my family would spend every summer camping in Humboldt Redwoods State Park.  This is where I met my first raccoons.  They would occassionally wander into our campsite in the evenings looking for handouts – sitting just outside the firelight while the kids tossed them snacks.  Just as often they would come into the campsite after everyone went to bed and break into our food locker.  Padlocks were no obstacle to them.  (Did I mention “highly intelligent?”)  Even so, they were much more welcome than the other wildlife that frequently made its way to our camp – the skunks. 

Angry raccoon is angry! 
Do not disturb his sleep!

Sometimes the raccoons would visit looking for other kinds of amenities.  One night I and my god-sisters, all pre-teen girls, wanted to sleep outside in our sleeping bags.  My parents agreed, but only if my older brother, Russ, camped nearby to keep an eye on us.  To this day, my mother delights in telling the story of Rusty waking up in the middle of the night to a growling noise.  It seems a raccoon had crawled into his sleeping bag for warmth and resented it when my brother rolled over on him.  Both brother and raccoon were out of the sleeping bag in seconds flat, unscathed, but never to see each other again.

What?  Cunning?  Who, me?

I’ve been searching online for raccoon lore, because of the experience I wrote about the other day, but I haven’t found much.  Since they are North American animals, there is no mention of them in the European traditions that I am familiar with.  Raccoons appear in the stories of several of the First Nations, often as a trickster who outwits other animals.  They have the reputation as cunning bandits, due to their intelligence, manual dexterity, and facial markings.  Oh, and their tendancy to claim any food product that isn’t nailed down. 

A bit of UPG (“Unverifiable Personal Gnosis” for those unfamiliar with the term):  If raccoons had been native to Europe, I think they would have been strongly associated with Hermes.  I get the impression He likes them.  (The mask-like markings make me think of Dionysos as well.  But then, that’s just me.)


Q – Quid Pro Quo? (PBP week 34)

The idea of reciprocity is a key concept in many pagan religions.  We give to the Gods so that They, in return, might give to us.

Unfortunately, many people seem to view this as a “quid pro quo” arrangement along the lines of:  “Oh Great Spaghetti Monster* here are your meatballs.  Now fix my life.”

Reciprocity doesn’t work like that. 

I think of it this way:  I give a birthday present to my friend because I like her, I like to make her happy, and it strengthens our friendship – not because I expect something in return.  When my birthday rolls around, she might be more inclined to give me a gift.  But she might not – she might be short on cash, or maybe she forgot.  Maybe she just doesn’t do birthdays, but may do something nice for me on another occassion.

The Gods are not obliged to give us anything, regardless of what offerings and sacrifices we make.  What we should hope to accomplish by giving offerings is to forge a relationship with Them, one in which reciprocity is a natural result of good will.  This can be anything from a liege/vassal or patron/client arrangement something more personal depending on our beliefs and our Gods.  However, like with the people in our lives, it is the relationship that should be our focus, not what we can get out of it.

The Gods may or may not accept our offerings.  If accepted, They may or may not choose to grant our requests.  Maybe They don’t think its as important as we do, or They want us to stand on our own feet, or They have something else in mind. 

Or maybe They just don’t do birthday presents.

(*Not to imply anyone is praying to a made up deity.  “Great Spaghetti Monster” just sounds more interesting that “God X.”)

Q – Quotes (PBP week 33)

(Trying to find a good “Q” topic, I opened my OED and compiled a list of really awesome words:  quandry, quagmire, quantum leap, Quakers, quietism, quarrelsome, quartz, Queen Anne’s Lace, quest, Quixote, quixotic, quinoa, quintessence, quisling…  I skipped queer, queenship, and quackery because there had been many very good blogs on these subject already, and I didn’t feel I had much to add.  But the others are all topics that I thought it would be fun to explore, and find a pagan slant one.

The thing is, I’ve been having a couple really rough weeks.  I just don’t have the mental capacity right now to put the kind of energy into those projects that I would really want to.

So instead I decided to cheat, and do something that was just fun.) 

The following are quotes that I’ve found inspirational in some way.  They are not specifically pagan, but all are of spiritual significance to me – though it might not be obvious why, since my spirituality is wrapped up in so many things.  Some seem to contradict each other – I take strength from each at different times.  People are complicated.

A few are from pagan sources, many aren’t. 

Many are from people of other faiths – Christians, Buddhists, Sufi – talking about their own Gods, spirits, and philosophies. 

Some are from completely secular sources. 

And, me being me, many are from U2.

I hope others may find some of them as inspiring as I do.

“It is not our intentions, it is our actions.”
– Bono, numerous occassions

“Beware! Beware
His flashing eyes, his floating hair
Weave a circle ’round him thrice
And close your eyes in holy dread
For he on honeydew has fed
And drank the milk of paradise.”
-Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Kubla Khan

“Ἐν οἴνῳ ἀλήθεια” – Alcaeus
“In Vino Veritas” – Pliny, the Elder
“In Wine, there is Truth” – common knowledge

“Kindness and a good heart are the foundation for success in this life, progress on the spiritual path, and the fulfillment of our aspirations. Our need for them is not limited to any specific time, place, society, or culture.”
– HH The Dalai Lama

“Let the beauty you love be what you do. There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the earth.”
– Rumi

“He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying.”
-Freiedrich Nietzsche

“To touch is to heal, to hurt is to steal.
If you want to kiss the sky, better learn how to kneel”
-U2, Mysterious Ways

“They sicken of the calm,
Who knew the storm.”
– Dorothy Parker

“I believe in a long, prolonged, derangement of the senses in order to obtain the unknown.”
– Jim Morrison

“This, therefore, is a faded dream of a time when I went down into the dust and noise of the Eastern marketplace, and with my own brain and muscles, with sweat and constant thinking, made others see my visions come true.  Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find all is vanity; but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act out their dream with open eyes, and make it possible.”
– T E Lawrence, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom

“I pray for the love of madness…”
– The Mission, Kingdom Come

“As you enter this life
I pray you depart
With a wrinkled face
And a brand new heart”
-U2, Love and Peace or Else

“And learning better to feel joy, we learn best not to hurt others or to plan hurts for them.”
-Freidrich Nietzche

“You shall no longer take things at second or third hand…
     Nor look through the eyes of the dead
     Nor feed on the spectres in books,
You shall not look through my eyes either,
     Nor take things from me
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from yourself.”
Walt Whitman

“It is not necessary to accept everything as true, one must only accept it as necessary.”
– Franz Kafka

“Love, lift me out of these blues
Won’t you tell me something true
I believe in you”
– U2, Elevation

      “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”
– Bishop Desmond Tutu

      “Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods.”
– Albert Einstein

“We chased our pleasures here
Dug our treasures there
But can you still recall
The time we cried
Break on through to the other side
Break on through to the other side”
– The Doors, Break on Through

“I believe in a celebration
I believe we can be free.
I believe you can loose these chains
I believe you can dance with me, dance with me.”
– U2, A Celebration

P – Pagan Piety (PBP week 32)

Piety gets a bum rap these days.

When someone is described as “pious” the intention is usually derogatory.  It is taken to mean that they have a holier-than-thou attitude or are hypocritical – faithful in action, but not in spirit. Also, because it is usually used to refer to members of the majority faith (Christianity in the US), members of the pagan minority who have had bad experiences with that faith or it’s members can sometimes react negatively to the word, even when it is intended to be complimentary.

Yet in pagan religions that place a large emphasis on practice, piety again becomes a real virtue.

To use the ADF definiton, piety in a pagan sense is “correct observance of ritual and social traditions; the maintenance of the agreements, (both personal and societal), we humans have with the Gods and Spirits. Keeping the Old Ways, through ceremony and duty.”

I like this definition, though I would prefer one that also addressed intent, (though not belief.) Because most neopagans come from cultures heavily influenced by the monotheistic faiths, we often bring with us their idea of pious intentions in addition to pious action. This may not be historical, but I believe it is a good addition. A proper relationship with the gods begins in the mind and heart of the individual.

As for societal traditions and agreements, that’s complicated.

In ancient times, piety was an important civil obligation, not just a religious one. The success or failure of the society as a whole depended on every member maintaining their proper relationship with the gods.

Today it is different. Worshippers of the old gods are a tiny minority in their communities. In the west, our societies are either purely secular or are under allegiance to the god of Abraham. If I believed that I was responsible for maintaining the agreements that my society has made with the divine, I’d be obligated to be Christian and to follow the rituals and traditions of that faith.

So how to be properly pious in a social sense? A few ideas come to mind. We can define our society more narrowly – taking on the obligations of our family, coven, or other group. We can, in the course of honoring our ancestors, try to make good on obligations that they weren’t able to fulfill. We can also partake in the religious festivals of the community in which we live, as much as outsiders are welcome to. Because of the pluralist nature of much polytheism, many pagans have no issue attending rituals for deities that they do not personally worship. For those of us comfortable with the idea, this courtesy could be extended to the God of Abraham – for example, by attending mass on Christmas and Easter without participating in communion.

I think the most important aspect of piety for modern pagans is the reminder that we should be actually practicing our religion. It is easy for so many pagans, myself included, to get wrapped in study, in learning what the ancients did (and then blogging about it). But it cannot end there.

A religion that exists only in the mind of the believer is not a religion.

And, to borrow a Christian aphorism, the road to Hel is paved with good intentions.


(Post written and originally published 9/29/12.  Backdated to reflect PBP due date.)