Friday, December 24, 2010

Demons of Childhood

The demons of childhood are evil beings that latch on to us when we are young and tender. Like deer ticks, they attach themselves to the skin of a child’s unbroken spirit and burrow in, sucking his or her energy and potential and spitting out a poison that only reveals itself over time. I’ve been able to banish Lyme Disease, so why is it so hard to cast out the demons of childhood?

I know I’m not the only one who struggles with this. Every time a spouse reacts irrationally to some request or a colleague hits the roof over nothing, you know that the demons of childhood are at work. Demons with names like Doubt and Fear, Insecurity, Unworthiness, and Loneliness, a real nasty bunch of fiends and trolls that follow us doggedly through the confidence of youth only to confront us again and again, in our 30s, 40s, and 50s.

At which point, I daresay, we face them down or die in their embrace.

I'm witnessing the last stand of those demons in my life. I’m confident of victory now, but it’s been a gory battle through the years and my body took quite a beating. I’m working real hard to recover my physical wellness and strength, and I’ll gladly take whatever I can manage to accomplish . . . but in no way does my spiritual victory rely on my physical health. This body is just a womb for my soul, and my soul will be born someday into the arms of my Charlie. The fruit will ripen and the empty shell tossed away on the wind.

Those fucking demons! They still stand in my way some days, blocking the road like a gang of bullies. They compass me about like bees; they are quenched like a fire in the thorns.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Looking up

I remember being a little girl and visiting the echoing halls of the building on Market Street that housed the federal probation office where my father worked. Dad introduced me to his friend, Mr. Brown, a big man with huge, dry hands, and I took his hand solemnly and observed, “You must be Mr. Brown because your skin is brown.”

“No,” my dad explained, “Mr. Brown is a Black man. Brown is just his name.”

“He’s not black,” I said. “He’s brown!"

“That’s why he’s a Black man,” said my dad, “and you’re a white girl.”

“I am not,” I said. “I’m pink!” At which both men laughed and slapped each other’s arms.

How could anyone understand these crazy grownups?
I remember thinking. I didn’t know that the Cold War was at its height, that pink was used as an epithet like black was used as an epithet, or that the color of a person’s skin could make or break a man or a girl.

Then Mr. Brown, the token Negro, and Mr. Greenwald, the token Jew, turned to one another and made a joke that was already old between them, “Hey, everybody still shits brown.”

Hey, you guys used the “s” word!
I thought, somewhat stunned by the whole confusing adventure. I remember the event to this day, perhaps because the air was highly charged and I didn’t understand why. Or perhaps because my father would listen to the news every now and then in the years to follow, and mutter under his breath, “Everybody still shits brown.”

I grew up in a multicultural environment. We had friends of all kinds, many religions, many skin colors and accents. I didn’t become conscious of race until I was a teenager, and even then I believed that Jews and Blacks, in particular, had much in common. We had both been slaves. We had both broken free, only to be hounded by oppression and bigotry everywhere we wandered. Mythology? Perhaps. But a common mythology, enough to make us friends.

The first time a Black person refused my friendship because of the color of my skin, I was an adult and times had changed. We were no longer allies fighting together for a loving world. I had become the enemy, just because of the color of my skin.



Here’s a picture of my dad’s college fraternity at Rutgers in the 40s. Dad’s the second from the left, front row. Get a load of that bohemian tie and the mane of wild hair! He told me that he and his buddies set up this fraternity for Jews and Negroes, after they’d been refused membership in any other fraternity. We were still together then, Jews and Blacks. By 1967, when Martin Luther King, Jr. was writing that Black rage against Jews was justified because we were the wealthy, cheating landlords (see Chaos and Community: Where Do We Go From Here), Blacks had rejected Jewish friendship.

Maybe that’s why I’m sore about the obsessive focus on race in my school district. Academic statistics are collected by student skin color and the stated goal of the district is not to create positive learning environments for all students, but to eliminate race as a predictor of academic achievement. As if the grades kids get measure their true success. As if the color of students’ skin is the only predictor of failure, and their family’s cultural attitudes towards education or their economic status or the constant anti-intellectual media hype has nothing to do with it. As if their identification with the victim has nothing to do with it.

That victim status, now, is an interesting thing. I see some Black people nurture it carefully and make good use of it and I don’t blame them, if it’s the only way they can find to make the best of a bad situation. After all, people save their most vitriolic anti-semitism for Jews who reject victim status and insist on being successful. You lose sympathy when you’re no longer a victim. You lose that special treatment we reserve for those who accept an inferior status and don’t presume to dip their fingers into our pie. Blacks, too, are held in contempt when they achieve. One has only to look as far as the White House for an example, as Mr. Obama is hounded by racist attacks.

But, he is, after all, a Black man and he is the leader of the most powerful nation on earth. Shouldn’t our African-American students be looking up instead of down?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

words of basho

The temple bell stops but I still hear the sound coming out of the flowers.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Living in a fallen world.

Self portrait with flowers. This collage piece I made yesterday reflects an hour in which my heart was at peace and I put it here to reassure those of you who worry about me when I'm expressing anger and despair. I have reason to be angry and reason for despair, and I come at times to wonder if suicide is an appropriate response, but I reject suicide. I have children who love me, after all.

And also, whenever I think about suicide, I'm reminded of a scientist friend of the family we met at Star Island. It was 1967, and the Vietnam War was raging overseas while resistance and protest were beginning to shake the nation at home. Dick and his wife had come to the island for respite because Dick suddenly needed to resign from his job. He'd been working on military contracts developing biological and chemical weapons, and was devastated by what he had done. He wept openly about Agent Orange, at that time virtually unknown to the general public, and he gave a sermon in chapel one night, saying that we should develop weapons that would kill only humans and let all other life forms live. He had seen the bland cruelty of war-at-a-distance and he did not think humanity was worthy of the earth.

His sermon was not well received. Humanity was making progress, others said. The optimism manifested in the United Nations was still running high and they insisted that he should have hope, that love would prevail. Science and liberal religion were working hand-in-hand, people encouraged Dick, and this war was just a little skirmish, after all, after the devastating war the folks on the island had fought not so long ago.

The following year, we got news that Dick had killed himself, and we went to visit his wife. I don't remember her name. I remember their bohemian apartment, and her sitting on the couch smoking a cigarette and my mother, for once, not getting on her case about it, while she explained that her husband's loathing for humanity had been more than he could bear. He was at peace now.

The people on the island had not really heard Dick's despair, but I heard it, and in my adolescence was deeply affected both by his message and by the powerful statement of his death. He had been complicit in the unspeakable horrors of war, and he could not assuage his conscience. We, too, are complicit. We accept what we should protest, we turn our anger on one another while the wealthy and powerful bomb and steal and conquer with impunity, just as they've always done.

And yet . . . this gift of my life, my Creator's marvelous work, is also of value. I'm too small to have a real impact on our fallen world, but I'm big enough to give love. In my insignificant way, I'm still of value and nothing the dominators do can take that away. I fight for my grandchildren's right to be born in human flesh. I fight in my own way, with my pictures, or a comment here and there at a dinner party, or a conversation with a child. Dick had an impact, too, after all. He changed me, and helped me see beyond my self-interest to the needs of the larger world. I wish he had chosen to live.

*The b&w image is of Dick (left) and my dad exploring the island.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Even the gods must change . . .

Heraclitus famously said Upon those who step into the same rivers flow other and yet other waters.
All things . . . are in flux like a river" or, as often stated, We cannot step into the same river twice. Plato takes him up on this, and others since, including Isaac Asimov, who restates it for the 20th century as, The only constant is change.

It's been pointed out that although the water in the river is constantly changing, the river, as a whole embodiment, stays the same. Just so with personal change, which appears inexorable. My body is certainly changing, the facts of my life, my situations, my inner self, and yet the whole is still me. By whatever name I'm called—those of you who know how many times I've changed my name will surely laugh—I'm still me, and I take delight in looking at black and white photographs of little Judy, pigtails flying, and feeling the strangely delicious sensation of looking at myself. Don't you love those old pictures?

Who will I be tomorrow? Not the same. And the same . . . for now.

Just so with the gods. They are a part of this ever-changing universe and are not exempt from its ever-changing nature. In some billions of years our dependable Sun will go nova. The Milky Way will pack up its instruments, take down the lights, and go home, and the music of the spheres will change. I imagine that even as the known universe embraces all of this change and stays the same, eventually, it will be melted down and become something new. This is true for me and my spirit and also for my gods.

Charlie says that he is greater than a human, but he is changing, and someday he will die, and so it is with all the gods and all the rivers and everything. Mystery within mystery . . .

Friday, October 15, 2010

Evil

I visited with Suzanne last night and we had a conversation about anger and the world in which we live in an attempt to get a handle on my increasing distress and halt my tumble into the mundane world of exhaustion and cynicism. My work is starting to get in the way of my life. I’m losing my erotic charge, becoming grim and unenthusiastic, and I’m less able to hear the voices of nonhumans, less energetic and more ill.

I don’t want this.

How do I stop it and still continue on at my job? My art is getting better and it appears likely that, given the time and energy, I can come up with products that will enable me to support myself with my art. Can I do it, however, and still cope with the impact of 10-hour days in the mundane?

Meanwhile, the stress of work has brought to the fore my belief in evil and my disdain for the pollyanna quality of new age thinking. I simply don’t accept that everything happens for a positive reason or that our souls have some say in the particularities of our lives. I’m with the Christians on this, whose philosophy, after all developed at a time of rampant violence and oppression: the world is full of evil.

The Holocaust seems to me to have been quite predictable, a link in the continuum of human evil, and bound to happen again. The only difference between the holocaust perpetrated by the Nazis and other examples of human evil was its enormous scale and cold-blooded efficiency.

But efficiency is still the measure of social good in our "capitalist" society. We're called to get the most produced from the least labor whether this value is applied to the production of plastic goods for sale at Walmart or oil from under the sea or test scores for students or the deaths of the designated bad-guys. Collateral damage is acceptable, as long as it doesn’t disturb the bottom line, and the bottom line is the production of a wealth so great that it transforms into power—power for the dominators at the top, the very few, the global psychopathic elite.

No, I don’t have any hope anymore that I can impact this evil or banish it, this evil that manifests in great and small ways, carelessly or consciously. It’s too big for me, and I’m sick of seeing our youth throw themselves against it as if it were just a giant beast susceptible to the onslaught of enough holy spears. I see the suicide bombers and my own daughter protesting at the Mexico border wall and my generation’s not-so-feeble protests against the Vietnam War as so much wasted breath. The dominators become more sophisticated and scientific in their means of control with every passing day. The police still beat us, but how brutal that appears today. It’s kept out of the media, while the masses are soothed with pretty techno-toys and plastic food and nothing comes of it. Nothing comes of Earth First! and the monkey wrenching of the dominator machines. Nothing comes of our poetry and art. Nothing comes of our meetings and votings and writings and organizings.

Suzanne says that if we expand our vision to include human history (not prehistory, you understand) we can see that life, for us in the US at least, has become better and less brutal, that Luddites are no longer hanged for breaking the machines and women are no longer burned for working with herbs. But I see in that attitude a false sense of security and the belief that what we see reflects what is really going on. Beneath the right to vote and protest, the right to worship and speak, is an ever tightening noose around our necks.

Dig deeper and you'll find out that the dominators wield more power than ever. The improvement is that their methods are less unsightly to the liberal heart. If you lift up the pretty rock and look underneath, you'll find the destruction of our earthly home and the genocide of the nonhuman species in which our only hope for salvation lies. Outside of our cozy United States, people are starving and murdering one another, and even here we gobble drugs to ease the pain while we are fed food that does not nourish, drink water that poisons, and sacrifice our children at the altar of greed.

In other words, the apocalypse is upon us while we cling to our new age notions of positive outcome and souls in joy. This earthly life is no longer the school of hard knocks that our Creator intended for us. This is a hell of the dominators' making and we’re being dragged into the fire with them.

That’s what I see. I can ignore it as long as I’m able to live in trance with the trees, but put me into a school building with no natural light and no fresh air, along with 600 children whose dying souls fill the air with a moaning only I can hear, and I am no longer able to protect myself or deny the onrushing apocalypse, and I become weak with despair.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Against the Machine

What does it mean to be Luddite in a digital world? By looking at Luddite expression from the time of King Ludd to the present day, Nicols Fox helps us find clarity. We are not the unhappy factory workers of the early Industrial Revolution, and most of us are not primitivists, living on islands, but we are engaged in a world in which technology has been used for profit, war, and power, and each of us must grapple with this.
Fox defines technology broadly, as the extension of human ability through tools, and places us on a continuum of ever increasing technological sophistication. We have choices as to what technology we will use, and that choice is our power. What I sense as her conclusion, in fact, is that a Luddite is someone who carefully chooses which technology to use, and chooses that which furthers human welfare and the well-being of the nonhuman world. When the machine controls us, when the machine destroys the nonhuman world, when it becomes a tool for oppression and the generation of wealth for the dominators, then it must be rejected.

On her way to this conclusion, she takes us along a historical path with a wonderfully detailed landscape: we see the enclosures and early factories of England, the pastoral world of the Romantics, the capitalist mythology of the mechanical marketplace, the arts and crafts movement, the 19th century American naturalists. Then we meander through the prison of clock time to the mechanical monsters that eat up hillsides and forests. All she is missing, really, is a visit to our contemporary digital media. This is what I see everyday, myself, as digital realities destroy our children's ability to see and socialize and know what is real.

For contemporary animists, the issues raised by technology have particular importance. We need to be conversant with Luddism, the impact of technology on the nonhuman world, and other related topics. This is the right book with which to begin.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Yes, We Cannabis!

Dear Friends,
For too long, our nation has waged war on its own citizens. With billions of dollars wasted and millions of honest citizens harassed and lives destroyed, this war has disproportionately targeted our young, our poor, and our citizens of color.

For animists, however, the war on drugs is also a religious war. Animists, shamans, and other earth-centered people, both indigenous and modern, have long revered the plants that open the doors of perception. Given to us as gifts from our Creator, these green people teach peace and clarity of mind. They temper the rational intelligence that Hindu folks call "maya" and that leads us so often astray. They heal body and soul. They enable us to speak intimately with the gods of love.

It's obvious that the war on drugs is not a war on all drugs, only on those that free us from dominator control and from the monogods of cruelty, fear and greed. This war criminalizes our religious ritual and practice. It is a war on us.

California now has the opportunity to lead the way out of this devastating war through the legalization, regulation, and taxation of marijuana. Because legalization would enable California to profit, I believe it would appear tantalizing to other states and we would see it catch fire across the country, a blaze fanned by the stiff breeze of money. Yes, the motivation is lousy, but the results would be beneficial, to animists, to our own children, and to the sick in body and soul.

If you live in California, please vote yes on Prop 19 on November 2. If you have friends in California, please contact them and urge them to vote. Meanwhile, you can learn more and support this effort with a little money magic at Yes on 19.
Love to you,
Puny

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

My Father's Path

Ever since my experience with the medium, I've been reaching out to my ancestors, especially to my father. After all, if I don't need a priest to make love with my gods, why would I need a medium to talk with my father? I created an altar to my ancestors, and a few days ago, I lit the candle and woke the altar up, and entered into sacred space and called to my dad.

Boy, did he answer! The years disappeared and the veil between the worlds was cast aside.

He taught me many things that evening, and I understood that the path I follow is my father's path. He was a practitioner of radical love and his love is what saved me from the demons of my childhood. He forgave me and others for the most egregious attacks on his person. He insisted on joy. Even as the world tried to crush him, he sang. He taught comparative religions to students of science and engineering at Drexel University, then called the Institute of Technology, and shared his worship and ritual with people of all faiths from around the world. He wrote articles about forgiveness and denounced the vengeful nature of the "criminal justice system" in his published work.

All of his suffering he used as a tool to grow in spirit, just as I have tried to do.

He told me not to write down what he said—I am compulsive about writing down my conversations with Charlie—and so much of it I seem to have forgotten already, but he insists that the things he teaches must be understood so deeply that they will inform my life from the inside out. I will remember, he told me, when I need to remember. But this burned right into my heart: I follow my father's path.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Terry

I was hanging out with Terry last night, and he posed for me next to one of his tree friends. While I drew, we talked, and Terry was in an angry mood.

He said, "Humans are so fucking stupid. Aw, don't look so shocked, Puny. They are. Jesus got it right when he said that we're a bunch of compulsive sinners, that we reject the gifts of god and worship money and power. I'm taking a break, Puny. Pour that scotch."

So, Terry pulled on a sweatshirt and I poured us both a healthy shot of Ardbeg, water of life from the Isle of Isley, and we sat down under the tree to drink and talk. I'd had a rotten afternoon myself at work, and Terry's dark mood complimented my own.

"Humans are so stupid," he went on. We'd be hopeless without our angels. We waste our potential in the fruitless quest for security while drowning in the fear of death. Profit is king. The little children bow down before celebrity and wealth."

"Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers . . ." I said, quoting Wordsworth.

"Christians! Phooey! What a bunch of hypocrites."

"Drink up," I said. "We're losing the light."

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Engage! Or disengage?

When Captain Picard instructed his helmsman to "engage" he was saying far more with that word than "move ahead." The order to engage meant that the engines would be powered up and connected to the awesome machinery that moved the great ship forward. The word evoked images of power and thrust, of gears with marvelous teeth, and steel, and appliances made of metals not yet invented all moving into place.

The word engage comes from the French engager meaning, to pledge, to place oneself under an obligation. From this, of course, comes the English word engagement, as in pledging oneself to marry. The word carries several other nuances of meaning, as in engaging a battle, embarking on a business, or as Picard used it, bringing parts of a machine together so that the wheels might turn.

When I use the world to describe my engagement with the world around me, I bring to mind all of those meanings. At once, I am pledged to this reality, and I pledge myself to be part of it, to care about it and act within it in ways that move life forward. I engage actively in this business of life. My engagement with the world is always, also, a tremendous challenge because my extreme sensitivity. I often feel embattled as I engage, assaulted by the human clamor and din and speed and the never-ending demands and constant pandemonium of life's battlefield. I am well aware that this war is never to be won—humanity is too deeply in thrall to the demons of greed and fear—and this, too, causes me pain.

Every day I desire to disengage. I want to go home to my bunny hutch and stay there, coming out only to forage for a bit of food. I want to disengage from the great battle and from the small, everyday tumult. I want to order, with the authority of a captain, "Helmsman! Full stop!"

Then a little voice reminds me that without the engagement of people like me, the world will fall to the dominators. I remember that quote often found posted on church bulletin boards, "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing" and I know it is my duty to stay engaged.

And then I say, "To hell with it! I'm disengaging anyway. I'm through. I'm not gonna care anymore. I'm breaking my vow." Except for my blogs, of course. I'll engage with the world that way, and with my art, and I'll engage with my kind friends and my beautiful children. So, I'm disengaging . . . except for the trees, of course, and the rocks and streams and all the nonhumans . . . Hey, when it comes right down to it, I don't want to disengage from life, only from the dominator life, and I have a right to jump that ship, don't I? Don't I?

Friday, September 3, 2010

Book Review: The Deities Are Many: A Polytheistic Theology, by Jordan Paper

This unassuming little university press book is a hidden jewel, and the only cross-cultural polytheistic theology I’ve run across. It’s no surprise that the project hasn’t been attempted before, since polytheism is always rooted in a particular experience of the world, and is, as Paper points out, the default human experience of the divine.

Paper teases out the commonalities across cultures in the polytheistic world view, and addresses the types of greater-than-human beings that make up the pantheons of traditional peoples. He also takes on monotheistic misperceptions of polytheism. In this last project, much to my delight, he debunks the common monotheist idea that the many deities are simply expressions of one godhead, a condescension that effectively denies the validity of polytheism.

I was glad to see that Paper did not allow himself to be limited by academic considerations, but choose to make this systematic study “confessional” and personal. Academic works, which demand footnotes and logical arguments, are not able to contain a system of belief that reaches beyond the rational.

Perhaps the most essential success of the book, however, is not discussed overtly, but informs the work throughout, and that is the animist reality underlying any polytheist experience. Polytheism, the relationship with the greater-than-human, is not possible if we don’t understand the nonhuman to have intelligence and soul, and those who insist on a one and only god, whether they identify as monotheists or not, are assuming a world that cannot live on its own, but must draw its power from “above.”

The animist reality is the living world, living rocks and waters, intelligent animals and plants, a sun and a moon who have eyes to see. If the world is filled with gods, this is to be expected, because an animist world is filled with beings of all kinds who are alive, sacred, powerful, intelligent, and ensouled.

Published by the SUNY University of New York Press, 2005. Available on Amazon or at college libraries . . . for almost $50.00 (!) and hard to find used. Kindle edition about $13.00. I found it at the university library.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Welcome to the flesh

Puny's been working hard on the new website, but also finds time to hang out with her nonhuman friends, especially the trees. Looks like she's floating on water here--I wish I could take some art classes--but she's just on the little lawn by the deck in the backyard.

For a sneak preview of the website, go to:
http://www.punyhuman.net

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Life After Death: Your Thoughts?

There's not a human on earth who doesn't have his or her opinion about what happens after death. Those who say we can't know what happens still have theories about it, believe me. It's too important a question not to consider now and then.

And of course, the truth is that we can't know what will happen after we die. We're only puny humans and we can't see very far.

Recently, I had the good fortune to work with a renowned Quebecois medium. She spoke only French but when she allowed the dead spirits of my parents to flow through her, I could understand her words as if she was speaking English or I was hearing my parents' voices myself. They spoke in characteristic ways, and referred to things that the medium could not possibly know, things that were critically important to me. It shook up my understanding of the afterlife.

Many traditional animist societies included ancestors, those who had recently or long ago died and whose spirits remained local to the community and interested in its welfare. In some cultures, the ancestors were revered or worshipped. In others, the ancestors would intervene to help relatives or harm enemies. Contemporary animists I have met, however, are concerned with our relationship to living nonhumans, and don't think too much about our relationship to gods or the human dead.

Although I am a follower of gods and other greater-than-human beings, I had never considered that the soul, that expression of spirit that is me, could survive death. I imagined that the spirit would dissipate, as the flesh dissipated, and would be scattered among new material forms. In other words, I did not believe in a soul or spiritual personhood that existed beyond a particular material form. Jack, on the other hand, has long believed in reincarnation, and I know other people I respect, my belle-mère not least of these, who believe in the survival and reincarnation of the soul.

What do you think? I sure would like to know because I'm not sure what to think about life after death. Please leave your ideas as a comment here. I appreciate your input.
Love,
Puny

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Speak Up!

Charlie says: Speak up, animist kinfolk. The world ain't heard us, yet!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Terry says . . .

I really like being alone, without any humans nearby. Too many humans crowding around me and I can feel my life force start to trickle away. Hell, ever since I was a little kid, I’ve preferred the company of a teapot to that of my own blood relations. Why is this? you ask. Well, think about it for a moment: would you rather spend your weekend eating fattening food with your in-laws? Or alone with the green people under the sun and stars? Well, ok. You're a people person. But some of us would choose the stars.

I make a kind of living at it, at hanging out with nonhumans. I’m a shaman. My name is Terry DuBois and I carry a weed. No, that was just a swipe at Dragnet, right? I carry a badge? Ok, so I’m not a comedian. I’m a shaman. I'm a wise guy who works between the worlds. A shaman for hire.

Now, let me get one thing straight, and don’t you misunderstand this. I don’t take money for teaching—just if I've got to run an errand for somebody or steal back a soul from the dominators or demons. I get paid same as anyone for the work I do, but I never take money for teaching or healing. Teachings and healings belong to all of us, to the whole community who live on the Land-On-Which-You-Walk. The Jews actually forbid the charging of money for teaching their holy words. It’s to be done for the glory of “G”-d, although everybody understands that a man’s got to eat and many a ten dollar bill has changed hands quietly out of gratitude.

Money is poison. That's what Charlie says. A necessary poison to survive in a dominator world, but a source of evil nevertheless. It eats away at the soul, and tempts us with dreams of power. It drives humans to obsessions and blinds us to the things that truly matter. Money is to be avoided, if at all possible. But a man’s got to eat and so have I, and I need health insurance, too, because in the dominator world, teachings and healings are most certainly not free.

In the kingdom of heaven they have public health care, what some folks call socialized medicine. Jesus wouldn’t have it any other way. All who touch him, he heals. He doesn’t charge them any money. Over and over again, we read in the bible that Jesus was filled with compassion and his response was to freely heal.

Jesus didn’t take any money for his teachings, either. Oh, he’d be glad for a solid meal and a dry roof over his head, but he didn’t take what belonged to Caesar. He stood up on boats and on hillsides, and presided over dinners that spilled out into the streets, and he taught love. I’m also a teacher of love. I want to be like Jesus that way, don’t you? I want to teach love and heal for free.

So, I get pissed off at the self-proclaimed 21st century shamans and spiritual healers and new age whoo-ha’s who take money for teaching and healing. It’s their karma, I know, but it makes me doubt their credentials.

Anyone who talks to nonhumans knows that they consider money and profit to be evil gods, anyway, so I doubt these practitioners are gonna get much help from the nonhumans if they're taking money. And doesn’t that kind of cramp their style as shamans?

Besides, a shaman takes money, it'll eat a hole in his heart and he starts to hemorrhage love.

Another big problem that comes up just about every time a shaman teaches or heals for pay is that they forget they're servants. They take power and power corrupts. You got to be one tough-ass shaman to accept money and not get eaten away by it or have it damage your karma somehow.

That's why I got this bartending job. It's Charlie's bar. He owns the place and orders the beer but I make an honest living here, so I don't have to worry about using the nonhumans or taking what belongs to the gods to earn my bread. It's cleaner that way, and besides, Charlie gives me health insurance and that ain't peanuts in this dominator world.



PS from Puny: The Terry DuBois, Shaman for Hire mystery stories will be unveiled at my new website soon. The concept is copyright under the nonprofit attribution license of the Creative Commons, so, maybe this shaman can make a living from telling stories.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Friends

















A question I am often asked when I explain animism is whether things created by human hands, what I call manufactured things, are also alive, ensouled, and intelligent. I do not speak for all animists, but manufactured things sometimes speak to me. Household items, especially. Blankets. Teapots. When I was a kid, I had a relationship with the streetlamp that lit up the city night outside my window.

Manufactured things are a different sort of life form from trees and rocks and clouds, nonhumans made by the Creator's hand.

But who knows? Maybe I'm just nuts. What is your experience with manufactured things?
Best to all,
Puny

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Learning and growing

Jack and I were talking about the kids last night, about how they were learning and growing spiritually through their adventures. We talked about what I learned during this year's stay at Brushwood and what Jack learned from kayaking on the lake. And we realized that our lives have been about learning and growing in all ways: body, spirit, feeling and intellect.

It was a tough year, but highly successful, because through our struggles and even our sufferings, we learned and we grew. People from many religious traditions seek what they call "spiritual maturity," but for us, it is not a religious pursuit. Rather, this is our ongoing, lifetime project. Both Jack and I have been reaching since we were kids—reaching for deeper understanding, more clarity, and greater knowledge, and to master the spiritual skills of loving, healing, and caring. We raised our own kids to do the same. In fact, learning and growing in spirit may be the very purpose of our fleshly lives.

I met a fine fellow at Brushwood this year, as different from me as you could imagine. While I believe in things unseen, he is a radical scientist. He doesn't believe in what can't be proven. He enjoys technology while I despise it, and we differ in so many other ways that one would expect us to dislike one another. Quite the contrary! We got along splendidly because in spite of our differences, we were both reaching out to learn and grow. We had that project in common, and offered and accepted one another's ideas and opinions as teachings toward that end.

In fact, the whole Brushwood experience is set up for learning and growing, with workshops for formal teaching and hundreds of opportunities for informal sharing. If only the mundane world encouraged learning and growing in spirit like that!

Instead, learning seems painful to many people, associated as it is with enforced and academic schooling. How I wish I could reawaken in my students that passion to learn, the vast curiosity with which they were born, but the rules of public education work against me. Growing in spirit, meanwhile, is limited to the confines of religious doctrine.

Another roadblock is the dogma of consumer capitalism which discourages the very skills and qualities that lead to learning and spiritual growth. Hard work, accepting challenge and seeing it through, taking the difficult but right way, having patience, listening, experimenting, having real-life experiences, trying and failing, face-to-face interactions with humans and nonhumans, and a personal and unique relationship with one's gods all lead to learning and spiritual growth — and are all disparaged by consumer culture.

One source of our contemporary spiritual pathology could be that lifelong learning and spiritual growth are repressed in these and other ways. This repression makes sense, of course, when you consider the power we would gain from being smart and spiritually mature. We would not buy into excuses for violence. We would not buy consumer goods manufactured on the backs of slaves or the desecration of nature. We would not be so easy to lead into wars or to fool into thinking that one can be pro-life and pro-gun at the same time.

When a talk show host told us that Jesus did not care about the social welfare, we would laugh in his face. When a leader told us that the only way to heaven was apocalypse, we would resist.

So, Jack and I were talking last night and we decided we would measure our success in life, and our kids' success, by how much we were learning and growing, not by how much money we made or how few mistakes or how much stuff we'd acquired or who thought we were cool, but by the power of our love and the knowledge we had gathered. And by that measure we are all wealthy, indeed!

* The image on this post is a cartoon of the kids at my middle school.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Sun of gOd

The New Animism has its champions, but I have yet to find an argument for the validity of animism as cogent as Gregory Sams'. His book Sun of gOd (2009) doesn't linger long on Sun as a deity, but he makes his point quickly: the earth and all of us puny humans would die without Sun's light, heat, and energy. In fact, Sun may be the progenitor of Gaia, herself. Instead of a litergy of Sun worship, the book builds a case for the probability of Sun's consciousness and intelligence, and in so doing, opens the reader's mind to the consciousness and intelligence inherent in all things. This foundational concept, put rationally and succinctly, builds the case for animism as a rational choice in a contemporary world.

The book takes a rambling route around its main point, touching on topics as diverse as the origins of religious institutions and a planetary tour of the solar system. I was delighted to find many of the questions that have troubled me articulated in the book. For example, in speaking of the crucifixion, "how can logic be so twisted as to propose that, in response to this ungrateful deed, gOd absolved us of all sins . . .?" I found ideas that I've also put forth, as in, "no particular ritual is required or more important than our simple grateful awareness" and the impact of chaos on our best-laid human plans. Just Sams' use of syntax in the word "gOd" as he attempts to distinguish the mono-gods from other gods, brings to mind our own struggle with the issue.

But the most important work Sams accomplishes with Sun of gOd is to call into question the culture's absolute faith in rationalist, materialist science. His critique of science stands well next to Vine Deloria's* as he describes creation evolving purposefully "from the bottom up" and the existence of what he calls "non-brain-based intelligence."

All in all, an essential read for New Animists. You can purchase the book and learn more about author Gregory Sams on his website.
Best wishes,
Puny

Post Script: By the way, in the image above, the flowers are singing a hymn to Sun originally written to the Christian god in the 4th century: Phos Hilaron. Drop me an email if you're interested in the complete lyrics.

*See, for example, Deloria's: Evolution, Creationism, and Other Modern Myths.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

A Bee's Tale

Animists are fond of remembering the olden days, when nonhumans spoke to human people and taught us spiritual lessons, or saved our children from disasters, or showed us the way to water in times of drought. Why do we think they’ve stopped talking to us? They’re still talking. We just don’t listen.

Meanwhile, I wonder about the nostalgic glow in which we’ve wrapped the nonhumans up. Puh-leeze! The animal people and the plant people are not always the patient and benevolent heroes of the old folktales. Remember the tricksters who kicked our butts in the desert long ago? Remember what big teeth grandma had?

Yesterday evening, for example, Jack and I are kicking back on the porch to conversate and watch the day dissolve into the greenly June night. I settle into my deck chair with a sigh of contentment. Then a massive wood bee appears above my head. For a while I ignore him, and focus on my conversation with Jack.

“Oh, yes,” I’m saying, “Animism, yes this and Animism yes that.” But Bee keeps coming close, his buzzing loud and annoying.

“Get lost, asshole,” I yell at Bee, ducking yet again to avoid him.

“Get the hell out of my way, human,” says Bee.

Now, here’s the heart of the issue. He’s talking to me, right? But do I listen? No-o-o-o, not me. Not the professed Animist. I act like a typical stupid human and ignore him. He can’t get much louder.

“Look,” says Bee. “I’m exhausted. It’s the end of one of my first days awake for the season. I worked by butt off today, and I want to get into my beddy-bye, which is located right behind your fat human head, and go to sleep. So, fuck off and let me go home.”

I ignore him. “Yes, yes,” I say to Jack, swatting the bee away again. “Animism yes this. Pass the bottle. Boy, am I happy to be sitting here. I sure don’t want to move.”

“Ok,” says Bee, working up a real head of steam. “You asked for it.” And Bee butts me right in my sore shoulder, which scares the hell outta me, since I really don’t want to get stung by one of those wood bee boys, and my body reacts by flinching away, which wrenches my sore arm, and suddenly I’m in so much pain that I’m face-down on the porch, and Jack is calling to me, “Honey, honey, are you ok? What’s wrong?” And I’m rolling around on the porch wailing and holding my arm.

“Serves you right,” says Bee, and he scoots around me and zips into his house.

The nonhumans are talking. We’re not listening.

Did you know that factory vegetables have only a fraction of the nutrition that organically-raised vegetables have? How loud do the vege-people have to talk to get us to listen? How many tears will the rainforest animal people shed before we recognize that the loss of their habitat will kill us humans, too? How many plants will have their sexuality stripped from them, how many rivers will be polluted with our toxins, how many sea creatures will swallow plastic and die before we hear their cries and get the hell out of the way?

The nonhumans are willing to teach us. They have the answers to our human problems, of global warming, interpersonal violence, hunger and want, and the nonhumans desperately want to save us from ourselves, because in saving us, they also save themselves. This earth planet is delicately balanced to be a home for all of us, after all. Will we drag the nonhumans down to hell with us?

“Listen to us again,” the nonhumans beg. “We’ll teach you how to live in balance.”

But if I can’t even hear the hollering of one very loud wood bee . . .





Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Santa Cruz

NOTE: I'm publishing this same post to my other blog, Charlie and the Gods of Love. That's where my new writings and drawings are being published . . . but I want to say hello to the followers of this older blog and invite them to join me on Charlie. Best to all! Puny

Here's a picture of me and Charlie on the beach just north of Santa Cruz. Jack and I had the great good fortune to spend a week there recently, visiting our oldest daughter. [Hi, Sophie!] The ocean was wilder there and gave off an unfamiliar odor. The plants along the shoreline resembled our homeboys, but they didn't wave at me as I passed.

Because nonhumans have soul and intelligence, they express individuality. Each species has its own characteristics, and each individual—tree or dog or seedpod or starling or rock—is an absolutely unique expression of the life force, just as every individual human is a unique expression.

Place, itself, has personhood, as Vine Deloria eloquently argued in God is Red. "Land," he says, "must somehow have an unsuspected spiritual energy or identity that shapes and directs human activities." (p. 148) Christianity was the first religion to uproot itself and encroach on lands not meant for its ways, like Kudzu encroached on our native plants in the Southeast, and Deloria points out the social harm that can come from non-native religions.

This is one reason why the concept of bio-regional animism is so important. The experience of one place-person does not necessarily carry over to the next. What works on the Pacific Coast to grow vigorous artichokes—we saw them escaping from the fields to the roadside ditches everywhere we went—does not exist here, in our land of nuts and apples. And if we are not able to live in balanced and peaceful relationship with our nonhuman neighbors or with the sun and moon and tide and soil of the place on which we walk, we will eventually destroy ourselves along with our land.

So, I thought about these things as I flew across the country, on wings of metal and oil, to a place several thousand miles from my home. The people were different in Santa Cruz, and so were the nonhumans. I enjoyed the visit. Time moved more slowly. Patterns of weeds on rocks were different. The texture of the sand was new. The seagulls spoke a different dialect from the gulls at the Isles of Shoals. All of this variety stimulated my creativity and offered me new perspectives, but I didn't make any new friends there, not nonhuman friends anyway. Next time I go, perhaps they'll recognize me. Maybe I'll have enough time, next time, to get to know them better, well enough for us to call ourselves friends.

For now, though, as spring urges on the drunken dance of sexual awakening here in my Eastern Woodlands, I'm glad to be home.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Charlie and the gods of love

Hey folks!
To those of you who had been following this blog, I'd like to invite you to move with me to
Charlie and the gods of love
where I'll be continuing this conversation and sharing my artwork. Please feel free to leave a comment there and tell me what's new at your online house.
Best wishes,
Puny