Saturday, June 11, 2011

Naked was I made and naked I will return

My latest cartoon shows Puny and Little Judy on the beach. Puny has proudly baked a cake for her little one with chocolate icing, and the cake is made of love. Love, says Puny, is the key to insuring a future for our children.

What’s most important about this cartoon, however, is that Puny and Little Judy are naked and unashamed. I’ve been thinking a lot about nudity this week, since I have a friend who associates the naked body with sexual perversion, and I felt sad about that. I often draw my characters naked, especially when they are speaking for the gods or are filled with the holy spirit.

A fundamental belief of the new animism is that humans are spirits in animal bodies and that the animal body is good. The body is good when it’s engaging in sex and good when it’s doing the household chores, good in public and good in private.

Welcome is every organ and attribute of me, and of any man hearty and clean,
Not an inch nor a particle of an inch is vile, and none shall be less familiar than the rest.

                -- Walt Whitman

Of course, the body can be used to cause harm. It’s possible for a man to strangle a child with his bare hands and to rape a child, too. But the body does what the mind tells it to do, and it’s the man himself who chooses to use the body to hurt instead of love. In spite of this, the naked body itself is beautiful; fragile and strong as a hen’s egg, crafted, I believe, on purpose by the hand of our Creator, who saw that it was good.

In the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus' disciples ask him, When will you become revealed to us and when shall we see you? Jesus answers, When you disrobe without being ashamed and take up your garments and place them under your feet like little children and tread on them, then will you see the son of the Living One, and you will not be afraid.

Christian naturists declare that they are not ashamed to live in the “image and likeness of God” and neither am I. Not anymore, anyway.

I was brought up in a rigidly anti-body household. The body was ugly, evil, and disgusting. I was never to speak of its parts. This was an extreme situation, I know. I became physically numb. I lived in my mind and emotions, fine tuning them, but I had little physical sensation. This extreme shame and disgust with my own body, and my consequent dissociation from it, caused me great harm. It kept me from from caring for my body, beginning a lifetime of struggle with ill health. It set the stage for allowing my body to be sexually used in my youth. It let me deny the pain so that my appendix ruptured before I went to the hospital and I had three traumatic deliveries of my babies. If I had not experienced such deep shame and revulsion for my body, I might have enjoyed my pregnancies and had calm deliveries. I might be in good health today.

To see you naked is to recall the earth.   -- Federico Garcia Lorca

And then, I found earth-centered religion and the goddess. Always a religious person, I found in paganism a response to the body-hating of my childhood and the general social shame around the physical body. In all the earth-centered religions, including the animism I now practice, a key concept is the one-ness of the physical and spiritual. All material being is sacred and the animal body is good.

And you are free from slavery; and as a sign that you are really free, you shall be naked in your rites; and you shall dance, sing, feast, make music and make love, all in my presence. For mine is the ecstasy of the spirit, and mine also is joy on earth. -- from the Charge of the Goddess.

Paganism helped me understand that the body is good, and life in the body on the earth is good. It seemed so right, but how could I embrace this idea after such deep wounding around my fleshly form? All I knew is that I wanted to be free from shame, so I worked at it diligently. In many settings, I tested the waters and learned more about the body's goodness. At Brushwood, I skinny dipped for the first time. At pagan festivals, I saw real men and woman naked for the first time. I was amazed at their variety and beauty. Complicated by the disfigurement caused by my heavy pregnancies and abdominal surgeries, I struggled to accept myself. I had my body painted as a way to be nude in public while still having some covering. I participated in women's rituals of body acceptance. I talked and talked to people about it, and all this time, my pagan friends provided a compassionate and stalwart support.

Full nakedness! All my joys are due to thee,
As souls unbodied, bodies unclothed must be,
To taste whole joys.

 -- John Donne

After several years of this learning, my pagan family, The Stray Dogs, offered me an initiation. I didn’t know at first what they had carefully constructed for me. As I walked through one gate after another, they challenged all my fears and errors. My ability to laugh at myself was tested, and there were other gates leading to the fivefold kiss, a loving adoration of the body and its gifts. Then I was blindfolded and told to remove my clothes. In terror, but wanting to face my fears, I took off all my clothes, and when the blindfold was removed, I found myself by a blazing fire surrounded by loving, happy faces . . . and all my friends were also nude. See? They said. It's ok. It's good. You're beautiful. We're all nude. It's ok. It's ok.

From that moment on, the real work of body acceptance could begin. I'm still working on it, but I believe that as Adam and Eve were naked and unashamed when they lived in the light of their Creator, I too, can be naked and unashamed.

Your clothes conceal much of your beauty, yet they hide not the unbeautiful.
And though you seek in garments the freedom of privacy you may find in them a harness and a chain.
Would that you could meet the sun and the wind with more of your skin and less of your raiment,
For the breath of life is in the sunlight and the hand of life is in the wind. 
     -- Khalil Gibran

Naturists are folks who believe that nudity is more wholesome and natural than clothing except when clothing is appropriate for the weather. They believe that social nudity would erase a great deal of social hierarchies and create a more equal and just world. As Kevin Bacon said, Take away the Gucci or Levis and we're all the same.

Naturists make a clear distinction between nudity per se, and sexual arousal. Sex is a function of the body, like eating is, but naked genitals are not engaged in sexual acts at every moment, just as the naked mouth is not. We can kiss a child with love and we can kiss a lover with erotic intention, but we don’t hide the mouth in shame because it’s sometimes engaged in sexual acts.

I believe that body shame and disgust with nudity are perversions caused by denial of the animal body and fear of death. Naturists teach their children to have no shame about their bodies. In fact, they believe, and I agree, that body shame is at the root of sexual perversion and sexual disability. Our babies suckle at our breasts. Their naked bodies are washed clean in the bathtub. They love to feel the sensations of sand or wind or grass against their skins.

After half a lifetime of loathing for my own flesh, I’ve chosen to walk naked and unashamed the way my Creator made me. I not only accept this body. I celebrate it.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Great Monotheistic Error

This animist is also a polytheist. I believe in many gods. I have to be careful in talking about my gods and in using the "g" word at all, because the great monotheistic error confuses people.

Jack suggests that I use a word like “angel” to describe my gods in order to avoid confusion, but I stick to the word “god” deliberately, using it as the classical polytheists used it. My gods are very like the Greek or Roman or Norse polytheistic gods. They’re fallible, emotional, greater-than-human people, with personalities and a penchant for meddling in human affairs. They may live so long as to appear immortal to us lesser creatures, but they have vulnerabilities and can be hurt and will eventually, like all things, be reabsorbed into the great Everything-That-Is.

Everything-That-Is (ETI) is Mastery-Mystery’s word* for the Unknowable One (which is Jack’s word for it) which MM describes, in short, as “Everything That Is, Is Not, Was, Was Not, Has Been, Has Not Been, Will Be, Will Not Be and Could be and Could Not Be . . . " This Great Mystery of Everything Universe As God All At Once is way beyond human comprehension. I can’t experience it, hence, like the animists of old, I leave it alone. I don’t try to know it or define it. It’s not my big-G “God.” Since I can’t experience it, I don’t “believe” in it. I don’t worship it. I don’t relate to it. It’s way too big for this puny human.

But the monotheists believe in it. Not only do they believe in ETI, they think that ETI is their personal, book-writing deity and that it’s ETI who created them on purpose and that ETI has a personality and meddles in their affairs. In short, that ETI is their personal god. That’s the great monotheistic error. Monotheists call ETI big-G God, but their capital letter doesn’t fool me. They can’t have a relationship with ETI because no one can. It’s way too great for any of us and It would be way too great to give much of a shit about us, if It had any shit to give, which It doesn’t. Monotheists confuse their little-g god with ETI.

Monotheists have got the market for gods on this earth cornered and monopolized in their corporate churches, and they’ve plastered their gods' various names all over the media for several thousand years. Therefore, a lot of people think their big-G God-of-Choice is the only way to think about deity. They think there only exists one big-G God (and it’s the God of their choice) and he has to be ETI. In other words, they deny the existence of any gods but ETI and claim ETI as their god.

That’s why I have to be careful. Because when I say the word “god” most people think I’m talking about some big-G God or other as my personal ETI. It’s not just traditional monotheists who get confused this way. Many new age folks and other ETI believers still think ETI is the only possible thing that can be called god, and that the ETI of their choosing (whether they call it One-ness, the Creator, Great Spirit, etc.) is their personal god. That’s impossible! ETI ain’t nobody’s personal anything. IMHO . . . in my humble opinion . . .

The great monotheistic error makes it difficult to be polytheistic in the contemporary world. As much as I disbelieve in a personal ETI, monotheists disbelieve in the possibility of any gods besides ETI. Many folks dismiss my gods as metaphors, emanations or messengers of ETI, mythologies (meaning fictions), or disembodied forces. Boy, it’s hard to convince even my closest friends that this highly functional, highly educated, professional person experiences real, embodied, greater-than-human beings with names and personalities. But I don’t believe in anything I haven’t experienced, and I’ve never experienced ETI.

Maybe you have, though, and I’d be delighted to hear your experiences and thoughts on this topic. There’s no right or wrong, after all. We’re all just puny humans struggling to understand what’s greater than ourselves.

*Thanks to MM for defining ETI and for letting me snag the word. At least, I hope he doesn’t mind. MM has his own understanding of ETI. You can check out his fascinating philosophy at Cosmic Rapture.