In my previous column, I came out as asexual for the first time. This was a scary thing to do in many respects, but the response it has caused both here and elsewhere took me by surprise. More than one person I’d known for years has said to me, “you know, me too, I think.” I’ve also had a few questions about ways to navigate the Pagan world as someone who identifies as asexual. I have a gut feeling that there are probably way more people who quietly identify as asexual than there are members of some of the far more prominent letters in the LGBTQQIA alphabet soup, yet no one talks about this. At all. This post is the second ever on Patheos to include asexuality as a tag. The first was my previous post, and that was across all of Patheos, not just the Pagan area.

If you identify as asexual, or you want to know how to accommodate someone who is asexual in your coven/grove/lodge/hackerspace/tennis club/whatever, these suggestions might help.

Rule 1: Accept that asexuality is an orientation, just like being gay, straight, bisexual, pansexual, etc.

For years I told myself that it was a phase that would pass once I’d overcome some other milestone. No. Really, no. Orientations are as fixed as eye color. We can explore, but we can’t make ourselves something we’re not. If someone wishes to be an ally, then accepting this rule is mandatory. People don’t stop being asexual once they have found the right partner.

Rule 2: Don’t assume that asexuals are sex-negative.

Asexuality isn’t a synonym for prudishness. At a cough-traditional-cough Beltaine, don’t assume that by not getting directly involved I disapprove of what’s going on. More likely I’m just simply going to be really bored. Sex positivity is orthogonal to asexuality – if you know someone is asexual, pretty much all you know is that they aren’t interested, it says nothing about their opinion of what others do.

Rule 2.5: Don’t assume that asexuals are sex-positive.

To be clear: just because the author of this column happens to be not even slightly concerned what you choose to do between the sheets or who with, this shouldn’t be extrapolated to all asexuals.

Rule 3: Don’t assume that asexuals are going to run screaming if you pull out an athame and a chalice.

A lot of Pagan imagery is inherently sexual in nature. Sexual imagery, for me and many other asexuals, tends to be somewhere between personally irrelevant and boring, rather than offensive. It is, however, pretty much guaranteed to remind an asexual that they are effectively an alien who isn’t quite successfully passing as human. Whilst they might well be fine with participating, the symbolism will not impact them in the way it would impact non-asexual participants.

Rule 4: Don’t assume that asexuals are introverted.

Just because someone isn’t interested in sex, it doesn’t necessarily follow that they aren’t interested in human interaction. Everyone needs human interaction. A good conversation is an awesome thing – for myself, this aspect of being a member of a coven is hugely important to me.

Rule 5: Don’t assume that asexuals don’t have relationships.

Some asexuals are also aromantic – they have no interest in being in a relationship with someone else regardless of the sex issue, while others, myself included, have partners and prefer to be partnered. I am legally married, and very happily so.

Rule 5.5: Don’t assume that asexuals are interested in a relationship.

You can’t fix someone’s asexuality by falling in love with them, however earnestly. It isn’t something that you can fix. Trying will at best be irritating, and at worst will result in a restraining order.

Rule 6: Don’t ask, “So what do you do instead?”

Pro tip: don’t ask anyone else this – it’s pretty freaking rude – but I’ll answer here so hopefully you won’t feel tempted. I do all sorts of things. Some of those things I do on my own. Some of them I do with my wife. No, not those things. Dinner and a movie. Arts and crafts. Read a book. Endless discussion of Game of Thrones and Doctor Who. Calling up a daemon, turning the cats inside out, curtains on fire, ooze down the walls. You know, a typical Friday evening’s entertainment.

So, practically speaking, what should a group do to accommodate someone who happens to be asexual? Honestly, I really don’t think this has to be difficult. I’m not exactly a shrinking violet. I won’t explode in a puff of ire if you just, you know, ask me what I would prefer. If you organize a sex party for Beltaine, I’ll probably not be too interested in going because I’d be concerned about sitting alone all night bored out of my mind. If you ran a Beltaine where people on the top floor did their bad thing while others hung out in the dining room talking and playing tabletop games or some such, I’m most likely in.

If you have a tradition that uses a lot of sexual imagery but that resists redaction, then you may find that someone like me might hang around for a while then drift away due to lack of connection. This might be mutually acceptable, or not. If accommodating someone like me really matters to you, then considering alternative symbolism makes a lot of sense, just as it does for people who are survivors of sexual violence, though for quite different reasons – what might just bore me could cause someone else considerable trauma. There is plenty of symbolism in Paganism that doesn’t depend on sex. Much of it is really interesting. Maybe take a look?


The best known resource for asexuals is probably AVEN, the Asexual Visibility and Education Network web site, which includes a lot of good information as well as some excellent forums.

AVEN’s founder, David Jay, appears in the documentary (A)sexual. You can find this on Netflix or Amazon – I’d particularly recommend giving it a watch either if you’re struggling with coming to terms with asexuality yourself or if you want to become a better ally.

My wife, Rev. Gina Pond, runs the podcast This Week in Heresy. In Episode 9: Asexuality in Paganism and Other Fantastic Things, I was a guest on her show, during which we discussed this issue in far greater detail than I’ve space to include here.

Queer of Swords is published on alternate Thursdays. Subscribe via RSS or e-mail!

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Peter Grey’s talk “Rewilding Witchcraft.” A small taste:

Our enemies are not our sisters and brothers in the craft, they are the named individuals and corporations and their governments who are tearing out our living flesh. Witchcraft has never been about turning the other cheek to this. The witch has been created by the land to speak and act for it.

(A quick caveat: I realize that Grey makes some pretty sweeping generalizations about Witchcraft, Wicca, and Paganism. All I can say is that if that last line resonates with you, then you’re the kind of Witch he’s talking about.)

Grey’s essay is about the human-caused mass extinction event that no one wants to acknowledge. He explicitly states that “our loyalty lies” “in plant and insect and animal and bird.” He doesn’t talk much about people. Yet his essay comes to mind when I think of Ferguson, of America’s history of gunning Black people down simply for existing. His essay comes to mind when I think of the multiple massive interlocking systems that culminate in human bodies lying dead on concrete.

* * *

In Judaism there’s this concept of tikkun olam, or “repairing the world.” It started as a way of fostering social harmony through law, and was then refined by the Kabbalists into the mystical concept of repairing not just the world, but God him/herself. Then it gradually made its way into mainstream Judaism, so much so that it’s now pretty widespread even among secular Jews. The reason it’s so popular is that at its core, it’s so simple and commonsense. Anyone can see that we have broken our world. We must put it back together.

It’s been fairly easy for me to transfer this concept into Witchcraft. It’s more or less already present in the Reclaiming Tradition, which sees the world and everyone in it as the living, breathing body of the Goddess and views pursuing justice as a sacred act.

I think of repairing the world, healing its wounds, sucking out the toxins and applying nourishing balms, and my mind jumps to Lilith, the lamia, the badb-as-witch, the outcast woman, the hedge-walker, the sacred heretic, the fierce one. There is wildness in oppression, in the hysterical worship of military equipment, in a hatred of your neighbors so consuming that you call them “animals” when you’re the one with your teeth and claws bared. One of the most sickening things about the wildness of oppression is that it cloaks itself in rationality. It gaslights its victims. It denies its wildness even as it flaunts it.

My job, as a Witch, is to explore my own wildness–to embrace it and understand it and fashion it into a weapon that heals. My job is to embody that deep paradox. My job is to face it without denial, rather than ignore it and thus let it control me.

* * *

So, anyway, tikkun olam. I actually don’t have a whole lot to say about it, except that it needs to happen. Some common wisdom about justice work is not letting yourself give in to despair. I used to think I knew what that meant. Then, a few days ago, I let myself give in and emerged stronger.

Some context: my two-year-old daughter prefers my husband over me, to the extent that she sometimes cries if I’m the one who comes in to take her out of the crib in the morning. All the parenting websites assure me that phases like this are normal, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.

While I was dealing with a particularly bad few days, I was also digesting the backlash against my last post–backlash that, it turns out, was likely at least partly motivated by antisemitism. (Tellingly, I haven’t seen comparable levels of outrage at other essays and articles about the Morrígan, including others that stray from convention.) You know what’s hilarious? I’m not even fully Jewish. I’ve been pushed out of Jewish communities for not being Jewish enough, and now I’m being challenged in Pagan spaces for being too Jewish. Blessed be the in-between places!

So the other day, with all that weighing on my mind and the curfew in Ferguson and the children fleeing drug cartels and the Palestinian lives that take a back seat to squabbles about who’s allowed to think what about which deity and by the way, those Nigerian girls still haven’t been found, I sat down to work on my prayer shawl. My daughter was playing on the other end of the couch and, without warning, she launched herself into my lap. She didn’t gouge an eye out on my needles, thank goodness, but she did make me drop two stitches.

Irritated (although later I’d be encouraged at the display of affection), I went upstairs to repair it with a crochet hook. I thought it’d be easy since I was still working on the garter-stitch border and hadn’t started the lace pattern yet. But, as sometimes happens when you try to fix something, I found that the damage went deeper than I thought, and the tools I was using just made things worse, and soon I realized that I’d have to unravel the whole project and start again. I began to cry. Then I began to rage.

For the rest of the evening I cried and raged. I let it all pour out. I gave in. I despaired. Because doing good can be so straightforward in theory but so difficult in practice. Because so many people tell themselves that hatred and division and power-over will fix the world, and then they can’t figure out why everything continually unravels around them.

I faced my despair and I let myself be wild. Then, after awhile, the despair subsided and the wildness relaxed into peace. I started the shawl again.

Detail of antlered figure on the Gundestrup Cauldron. Image by Bloodofox. CC license 3.0.

Isn’t that remarkable? At the heart of wildness is peace. At the end of despair is clear sight. Today my daughter gave me a Super Duper Toddler Hug and told me she loves me.

Here’s to a wild, healed, peaceful world, even if it only exists in our dreams.

Jewish Witch is published on alternate Tuesdays. Subscribe via RSS or e-mail!

Fyrkat hus stor. Image by Malene Thyssen, . (CC BY-SA 2.5)
Fyrkat hus stor. Image by Malene Thyssen, . (CC BY-SA 2.5)

In a previous article on frith, I raised the topic of community. I’d like to expand on that and how it relates to modern day heathens. We live in an exceptionally mobile world in which we form personal and social ties in a multitude of ways. Does this mean that our communities are expanded, or are these extended relations just an addition to our social outlets, external to true community?

From my perspective, community is formed by those who are closest to me at home, my family being the central point of focus. It is for these people that I put in time and energy, with whom I work according to our shared values, ideals, and understandings. It is their welfare and well-being that I am dedicated to. These individuals are my innangarð. Providing for their needs, establishing rules and disciplines, teaching my children, and continuously building on those communal concepts are directly tied to the continued prosperity of my home and the people who live under its roof. Real community comes with direct personal responsibility and accountability, whether the members are family or an extension of it.

In the worldview of the elder heathens, the foundation of community was a tribal platform comprised of families and individuals who worked together to preserve and support their own livelihood. Additionally, they had established community rules and social structure. Anyone living outside of the community was distinguished as separate and apart — dwelling outside of the boundary of shared responsibility. This distinction made clear what individuals were accountable for and what they were not. What lay outside of their community was considered wild, perhaps even dangerous, and it was viewed with careful consideration. While tribes were known to have communicated with one another and shown a certain courtesy, it was done so in keeping with the best interest of the tribe. Elder heathens’ highest priority was their families, and then the individuals who made up their community.

Modern heathens attempt to reconstruct the ways of the ancient Germanic tribes as accurately as possible. This can be accomplished through doing research on how the ancient Germanic worldview and practices were implemented and then applying those concepts. The religion of the ancient heathens was native to their understandings and practices. Though we no longer live in that time period, we still have similar reponsibilities. If we can apply their worldview and perspective on community, we may better understand their reasoning and develop our own practices to be in line with theirs.

Networking and social connections are often made today via online media outlets, and we can utilize these tools to further our social circles. They can be valuable places of research and learning, or places to share experiences. However, it is becoming common to hear the term “heathen community” applied to strangers in various online groups, meetups, and open discussion boards. Terms like “brother” and “sister” are randomly dropped onto individuals who are little more than strangers.

Personally, when I am engaging in group dialogue, I do not see a “heathen community” but rather individuals who may be similarly invested in learning about heathenry. This means that some heathens I encounter online or in a pub moot might share my ideals, and some may not. While these people can provide an excellent social outlet, I do not have a responsibility for them any more than they have a responsibility for me.

Referring to a stranger as “brother” or “sister,” or using “our heathen community” to imply that someone I do not personally know is accountable for me, devalues the meaning of these words. Using such terms in such broad ways also makes assumptions that may not be true. For instance, if I said, “in the heathen community we all do the following,” and continue with a statement based only on my personal experience, then I have hefted my assumption onto others unfairly, and quite likely inaccurately.

We spend a great deal of time working at jobs, meeting extracurricular demands, and otherwise participating in tasks outside of the community of people that we are responsible for. It’s a busy world, and there hardly ever seems to be enough time to keep up with it all! Whether we are attempting to keep our lives in line with the worldview of ancient heathens or simply trying to maintain our household responsibilities, it’s vital to ensure that we are available for preserving our homes and caring for our immediate family. That time is an investment. This is where community lies – with these people. Those who work with us to establish and help build our real community is where I believe our time is best spent.

It is easy to spend a good deal of time finding and maintaining social connections online. Online communication can be a wonderful way to meet new people and discover new things. However, I do not believe that this should be a substitute for developing and nurturing our real world community, especially if our goal is to emulate how the ancient heathens would have lived.

Heathen Woman is published on alternate Fridays. Subscribe via RSS or e-mail!

Greetings, and welcome back to Wyrd Words. Keeping the Thor in Thursdays, every other week here on Agora!

Religious politics on the western side of “the pond” are notorious for being a tad ridiculous. So when big political news stories emerge, like the recent events in Iraq, it’s really no surprise that the standard of research behind the responses is somewhat subpar. As we saw only a few weeks ago, we’ve already established that our laws can be founded exclusively in religious rhetoric, and that actual facts really mean about as much to the court as the number of licks it takes to get to the center of a tootsie pop. Possibly less.

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“It is the opinion of this court that the number of licks shall be three. Four shalt thou not lick, neither lick thou two, excepting that thou then proceed to three… Because Bible.”


For those of you who have simply given up on trying to make sense of America’s conservative religious lobbies, or simply have no room for “spelunking into a soul-crushing pit of madness” on their itinerary, here’s the CliffsNotes version:



Recently American media has been FLOODED with reports of the events going on in Iraq and our government’s decision to send military assistance. An organization known as ISIS has been attempting to set up a Caliphate (khilafa: An Islamic state governed by religious leaders) and has thus been driving non-Muslims out of their area of influence. One of the groups that’s being hit the hardest by this purge is a small religious community known as the Yazidi, who follow an Abrahamic faith that falls a little outside the spectrum of the “big three” (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). Of the three they are thought to be most closely related to a very early form of Christianity, so it’s understandable that the Christian community in the USA would have some very strong opinions on the matter. (And if the Republican party could use that outrage to attack the administration, well then that’s just a happy coincidence…)

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When this issue first came to the attention of the American public, there was an outcry demanding that the government supply humanitarian aid for the Yazidi. The administration, however, was still hesitant to commit to any kind of long-term engagements in Iraq. (Seeing as it worked out so well for us last time…) So far this was all pretty par for the course. Arguments for and against US involvement were, while passionate, all still fairly reasonable. We had good reason be cautious about going into Iraq, like the past 11 years of very expensive guerilla warfare. We also had very good reasons for getting involved, like an armed military group that’s threatening to (further) destabilize the region, not to mention a GENOCIDE IN PROGRESS. Unfortunately, political rhetoric rarely stays this logical, and inevitably outside agendas always seem to muddle an already complex debate.



Within a week of the initial news, we had the first signs that the “productive” stage of the debate was about to end. While the administration was still attempting to determine if we would get involved at all, the religious right decided to use the Yazidi’s situation to attack the Democratic party. Suddenly the Yazidis were oppressed Christians, and Obama was abandoning them to their fate. (The more fringe elements of conservative media generally used this as an opportunity to tack “Because he’s a secret Muslim” onto the headline.)

Even this isn’t TOO extreme for American political rhetoric. We’ve already established that the Yazidi religion is most likely an offshoot of early Christianity, so it’s natural that they would feel a certain empathy with their plight. The crazy bit came after the White House announced that they would be assisting by sending military advisers and humanitarian aid.

Talk about an about-face! If you could get whiplash from political one-eighties, we’d all be in neck braces!

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“I’ve got to stop following these people…”

Now the Yazidi were about as popular among the religious right as they are with ISIS. Suddenly these weren’t oppressed Christians that were abandoned by our “godly nation”. Overnight they magically became “Satanists” and “Fire Worshiping Pagans”. (Which, ironically, is EXACTLY what ISIS says about them.) These people attacked the administration for not helping the “Christian” Yazidi fast enough, and then turned around and attacked them again for assisting the “Satanist” Yazidi while somehow ignoring the plight of Iraqi Christians.

There is an entire population of people that are being systematically EXTERMINATED, and these various conservative media outlets have proven that they only care so long as this genocide can be used to further their agendas. The issue may be presented in religious terms, but the goal is entirely political. (Having much more to do with classic “Red vs. Blue” posturing than any actual matter of faith.) They are able to present two apparently contradictory stories to the same audience, convince people to believe them, and use both to support their actual goals, because the average American consumer has simply decided that they no longer care about facts. Too many people would rather accept whatever they hear from a thirty second sound bite than do five minutes of research to find out what’s actually happening in the world around them.

We live in an age of information and have vast stores of knowledge and human experience at our fingertips. We have the ability to explore and understand the world for ourselves. All we need to do is choose to use that power.

Wyrd Words is published on alternate Thursdays. Subscribe via RSS or e-mail!


In my day business, I do a lot of networking, which means that I attend various events, meet people, learn about what they do, and figure out how I can help them, either directly or by referring them on to someone else. Learning how to network has taught me a lot about how to connect with people and become more involved in the communities that I am part of. In fact, I’d have to say that it’s because of networking that I’ve come to recognize my connection to the community, and as a result I have felt a sense of responsibility beyond taking care of my own needs. This isn’t all that surprising when you understand that networking is more than just passing business cards around.

When you think of networking, what first comes to mind? Do you imagine a bunch of people in business clothes exchanging cards and trying to sell something to each other? If so, you aren’t alone in thinking that way about networking. Many people associate networking with sales or tend to think of it as strictly a business activity that has no associated service component. However, I find that if anything, what networking can do is teach people how to become more aware of each other and the needs that all of us have. It can also, when done right, create an opportunity for equity in the community.

One of the organizations I belong to is the Oregon Association of Minority Entrepreneurs (OAME). The founder, Sam Brooks, states at each meeting that everyone is included and that the only people not welcome are those who discriminate against others. The organization is set up to provide opportunities for people of color and women-owned businesses, and it has an annual youth conference, where it teaches teenagers about what it takes to become a business owner. OAME also offers microloans to start-ups and small businesses and provides some consulting. There are other organizations who have similar focuses, such as Mercy Corp. All of these integrate networking into their activities as a way of helping people connect with the resources they need.

Networking is a state of mind that initially starts out with a desire to get business. People attend networking events in the hopes that they’ll meet people who need their services. But eventually, that state of mind matures to a recognition that such meetings are really opportunities to discover what someone needs in order to help that person. The networker starts their day out with the question, “Who can I help today?” and this question isn’t restricted to networking meetings, but instead spills over into everyday life. The networker starts paying closer attention to other people and discovers what they need, and then connects them to the resources and people who can help meet those needs.

Networking also teaches you to recognize that you have a community of people you can connect with. When you are part of a network, you are connected to a variety of people who offer a variety of services, but you are also connected to them as allies and friends. You learn how to share what you need with them as well as discover what they need. These are skills that many people don’t have because of the increasing disconnection of our culture. Nonetheless, these skills can be learned, and you don’t necessarily need to be in a sales profession or self-employed to learn them. All you really need is to feel a sense of curiosity about other people and a desire to help in whatever way you can.

I feel that networking teaches people a sense of social responsibility for the community they are a part of. You learn how to connect with people you don’t know, and in that process you learn how to acknowledge where they come from as well as their cultural and ethnic backgrounds. You also develop relationships that become stronger over time, because all of you recognize that you want to help each other succeed. You feel a sense of responsibility, an awareness that you need to think about more than yourself and your own needs. Networking needn’t be limited to business to be effective. It can start with the simple desire to reach out to people around you and get to know them better.

The first skill of networking is listening.  Listening involves learning to still your own thoughts while you listen so that you can hold presence and really hear what the other person is saying. As you learn to listen to people, you also learn how to recognize what they need in what they say. Much of the time, what people are communicating about is what they need.

The second skill of networking is asking questions. You need to be curious and open-minded and also able to listen to the answers to your questions. I like to ask people what they need, but I also like to ask about who they are and what they do. These questions allow me to discover the person in the answers that are provided.

The third skill of networking is the desire to help. You aren’t connecting to people for no reason at all. Ideally, you want to be of genuine service to your community. This means that as you get to know someone, you try to think of ways to help the person, provided they actually want your help. If they want the help, you might help them directly or you might refer them to know someone you know who is qualified to do so.

Socially Responsible Magic is published on alternate Wednesdays. Subscribe via RSS or e-mail!

As you may have remembered, I took the summer off from this column to head back to school in search of my MFA. It was the first of many amazing summer semesters, filled with new friends, stimulating experiences, and awesome opportunities, and I loved every minute I was away. However, being gone for the summer also afforded me the opportunity of returning home, an experience which I’d forgotten can be both transformative and powerful.

Although I was able to jaunt back and forth on the weekends, for all intents and purposes, I was living in Virginia for six weeks this summer, the longest stretch of time I’d been consistently away since I studied abroad in Italy ten years ago. Then, I packed light and didn’t really try to inhabit the space. This time, I knew I needed to try to make my dorm room feel more like home. I even packed some of my altar supplies (my favorite tarot deck in the hand-carved wooden box with a pentacle on the lid, one of my altar cloths, and some of my mala beads), thinking that spiritually inhabiting the space would help me to feel grounded and at home. I also packed my Egyptian veil, a beautiful blue headscarf I purchased at the temple of Isis at Philae, but at the last minute, I pulled it out and left it folded beside my altar in the corner of my bedroom.

Something I missed while I was gone; the prisms I’ve got scattered around the house!

I didn’t use any of the tools I brought with me, and although I inhabited the small space in other ways (with books and ideas strewn about every surface), I didn’t make my dorm into my spiritual home.

Instead of leaving me feeling bereft, the absence of my regular rituals actually strengthened my appreciation for returning home and renewed my desire to make conscious choices about my magical practice. Stepping away from the altar gave me a different perspective, and I realized how rote some of my actions had become. Every night when I’m home, I light a candle on my altar, veil with my scarf, and work my way through one hundred and eight recitations of one of my chosen gratitude mantras. I could do the whole process with my eyes closed, and I’ve realized that I often was simply going through the motions, forgetting the reasons behind my actions after so many years of long use.

Somewhere along the way, I’d gotten complacent about my path.

A goddess to watch over me as I work at my altar.

When I finally moved home from my summer away, I found myself approaching my nightly ritual with an overwhelming sense of gratitude. I hadn’t realized just how much I’d missed working in my sacred space while I was away; it was easy to get bogged down with term papers and presentations and to ignore the disruption in my nightly routine. But now, instead of rote words and movements, my time at my altar each night is charged with gratitude and awareness. When I put my veil over my head, I take a moment to consciously connect with Isis, and as I recite my mantra, I allow the ancient words to resonate deep within me, filling me with power and joy.

Going away gave me the chance to return home, both physically and spiritually, and as the fall speeds up, I want to hang onto the lesson I learned. Will I become complacent in my spirituality again? Undoubtedly; familiarity breeds contempt, it’s been said, and as much as I cherish my nightly routine, it is a routine, and the danger of letting it become rote once more is ever-present. But because I was away, I’ve got fresh eyes, at least for the time being, and I am striving to approach my solitary practice with mindful joy and gratitude. It really is a blessing to be able to worship how and where I want, and despite the cliché, when it comes to my connection with the gods, there really is no place quite like home.

The Busy Witch is published on alternate Tuesdays. Follow it via RSS or e-mail!

Bathing Witch” by Ren Wicks, 1964. To the best of my ability to discern, though American Art Archives owns the copyright to some of his work, this piece is not among those pieces, and to my knowledge, no one owns the copyright currently. If I am mistaken, please let me know and I will remove it immediately.

In my last three columns, I’ve examined many of the contentious issues around sacred sexuality and the teaching of sex magick.  I’ve dealt with ethics, protection, confrontation of lifestyles and a lot of very serious matters.  You can read them here, here, and here.  This week I conclude the series with a look at the practicalities.

Getting Jiggy with the Gods

Many of us choose to worship our gods and goddesses in a sexual way.  Some of us engage in Great Rite to unify with our deities sexually.  Some of us are called to become sacred prostitutes and heal with sacred sex.  Some of us are godspouses; we are bonded with a particular deity, whom we may or may not unite with sexually on a regular basis, and that deity asks a great deal of us but also looks after us.  And some of us are Vestal Virgins or just not interested.

Just as there are infinite variations in human sexuality, there are infinite variations in ways to relate to the Divine through sex.  As long as no one is getting hurt, none of them are wrong.  Great Rite can be done in an almost infinite variety of ways, in pairs or in groups or through solitary masturbation, through whatever gender(s) or cultures as desired.  I have personally drawn down the moon to lie with the Lord in the form of a priest, drawn down the sun to lie with the Lady in the form of a priestess, served as a cheval for Erzulie, called to gods and goddesses to couple with me in the wilderness and in my bedroom, sometimes one at a time and sometimes in groups, and Herne and I have a . . . thing.  Storm Faerywolf has some marvelous work on his website on queer sex magick that I referenced in my book.  I think there’s room for all of this, and I think people who don’t like that should get over themselves.

So what if you feel called to engage in sacred sex with a deity and you don’t know where to start or who to ask about it?

First of all, determine if the entity you are dealing with really is a deity.  Logically, if gods and goddesses can exist in forms that you can engage with sexually, other entities probably exist like that too.  Ever heard of a succubus or an incubus?  They’re out there.  So how do you know the difference?  Well, the answer is, does it make you feel good, or not?  Do you feel tired and drained after interacting with this spirit-being?  Do you feel ashamed and guilty and unable to help yourself?  Chances are, this is not a creature with your best interests in mind and you should banish it, cast it out, and ward against it.

Coupling with the gods should be invigorating, empowering, and liberating.  Your soul should feel rejuvenated and enlivened, even if your body is tired (Erzulie can sure wear out the mortal flesh!)  It should be a transcendent, powerful and holy experience.  Just like in human relationships, it’s not a relationship unless it’s good for you.

So what happens, one might ask, if, say, one of the Greek deities chooses you and, just like in the myths, doesn’t give you much of a choice?  I would argue that rape is rape is rape, whether it’s the gods who do it or mortals, so drive them out anyway.  Maybe seek out another deity to protect you.

You think I’m kidding?  You think this is hubris?  Maybe it is hubris.  But I believe that we are co-creators with the gods and we have the right to free will.  If a god is not benefitting your life and your soul, then that being is no better than a demon.

What if you feel called to “Aphrodite work?”  Well, be practical about it.  I subscribe to a blog called The Honest Courtesan; Maggie McNeil has some great practical advice.  Always practice safe sex.  And always be up front with your lovers or your partners about your calling.  Also, be sure it’s a calling, and not you trying to deal with a guilt complex, past traumas, or addictive behavior.

Finding People to Practice With

Finding others to work with can be challenging.  First of all, how do you ask?  Secondly, what if you are not interested in engaging in sex with another person in the group?  What if you’re in a tradition that initiates traditionally and you’re ready to take your Third Degree and you think the priest smells funny?  We all have our personal sexual interests and quirks.  What if most of the group is straight and you’re gay?  What if you just don’t like big breasts and one of the women in the group has triple Es?  What if you don’t like another person in the group?  Also, how do you avoid groups that are unethical or possibly threatening?

Ideally, in the spirit of “perfect love and perfect trust” we should be able to find the Divine in anyone.  But in reality it just doesn’t work that way.  Much of the time we’re not even consciously aware of why we are attracted to one person but not another (it might be smell, by the way; apparently studies indicate that much of our sex drive is connected to smell).  Again, I think the key is complete transparency.  Just be honest.  And try not to take rejection personally.  One person’s trash is another’s treasure, remember?  I like curvy women myself so I’ll probably be perfectly delighted to work with the lady with the triple E brassiere if you don’t want to!

Also, I think we can take instruction from the various swinger and kink communities.  First, clarify everything that is going to happen in advance.  Second, ask if everyone is okay with that.  In couples work, clarify with each other at each step of the way that everything is still okay.  In groups, there should be a referee who is organizing and communicating that.  Remember that anyone can change his or her mind at any time and only yes means yes; an absence of a “no” is not permission!  Establish conditions and safe words, and never continue when someone has asked that things stop.  Don’t ask why and don’t try to persuade them to continue; just stop.

Seeking others is probably best grown out of natural circumstances.  Perhaps you may meet a group of like-minded people at the Sabbat or the Gnostic Mass.  Maybe you might meet a bunch of Pagans at the local fetish club (I’d be surprised if you didn’t, actually.)  If you allow anyone else into the group, screen your candidates carefully first.  Make sure they’re a good fit before you start playing together.  And yes, that includes physical elements as well as personality elements; you don’t want to pair the skinny chick with a guy who prefers BBWs, and you don’t want to pair the Sasquatch’s cousin with the man who prefers his men to be smooth.  There’s nothing wrong with preferring one thing to another, any more than it’s wrong to prefer chocolate ice cream to vanilla; but there’s no need to deride the vanilla ice cream because it isn’t chocolate either.

As to finding ethical groups; interview group members.  Interview other people who have had experiences with that group.  Do not trust to hearsay but be aware of a negative reputation and proceed cautiously.  Bonewitz’s Cult Evaluation Guide serves especially well in this regard; don’t be afraid to use it.  And if at any time you are unhappy, feel free to express your concerns and if you feel you ought to, leave.  Trust your gut and never do anything about which you are uncertain.

And what if you’re just not interested in this sex business at all?  You know what?  That’s cool too.  Don’t feel you have some obligation to get involved just because others around you do!  I’ll defend your right to stay out of the pool.  I’ll even make sure to come and hang out with you on the dock for a while.

Honesty is a Pagan Ethic

I have run into situations in which people in monogamous relationships feel a genuine calling to engage in a spiritual sexual practice that they feel trumps the situation in their relationship.  I personally believe that the only ethical thing to do in that situation is to end the relationship. [1]  If you are the person who is so conflicted, you have the obligation to inform the people you intend to practice with of the conditions of your relationship and let them make their own decisions.  I have heard of this occurring more than once and have been placed in the awkward position myself of having been misled in this regard.  Not cool.  Do not ever do that to another person.

Also, be transparent as to expectations.  If you’re going to call upon Pan or drum up Erzulie, people should know that things might get . . . interesting.  Please warn them.  If you’re doing a fertility spell, it’s only fair to alert the man you’re spending the night with, since he might have to pay you child support for eighteen years.  Non-consensual magick is a violation of free will and that’s not cool; remember?  And for the love of the gods, don’t be casting lust spells or frigidity spells on people!

Festival Advice

Some festivals are sexual.  Some aren’t.  Some have specific places dedicated to sexual themes.  Here’s my advice; don’t cross the line.  Don’t take your orgy out of the Pan’s Lair if that’s where such things are designated; don’t bring your kids to the adult Beltane.  Respect each other’s boundaries.

Don’t cross the line in regards to limits and boundaries either.  The woman you had a casual fling with at Beltane might not want a relationship; don’t take it personally and don’t act like you’re in one.  Don’t go touching people without permission; even the hugging that people often do freely at festivals is a violation of personal space if you haven’t asked and might be very triggering for someone.

Don’t pressure people.  Some people just aren’t interested. Some people just aren’t sexual at all.  There’s nothing wrong with that; they’re just not interested.  Leave them alone.

One idea that I have picked up from a sexually-themed event I have attended in my area: because of our cultural biases, it is a good idea to put the right and responsibility of proposition in the hands of women at large, mixed-gender gatherings.  Rightfully or wrongfully, men are often perceived as being pushy about sex.  When women have the power and the responsibility to broach the question, there’s less chance that anyone will feel coerced.  It helps to create a safe space.

Safe Sex Magick

I thought this issue was resolved back in the nineties, but I have recently run into situations that tell me that it bears revisiting.  In the sixties and seventies, when Witchcraft was sexy, people were engaging in unprotected sex all the time with multiple partners in all kinds of different situations.  In the age of AIDS, I believe this is no longer realistic and we are obligated to practice safe sex.

There are certain practices involved in sex magick that you therefore can’t do; not without a great deal of preparation and planning, and also, the full, transparent consent of everyone involved.  For instance there are different magickal properties associated with comingled bodily fluids, which sometimes are used to bless talismans and sometimes consumed.  I believe the only ethical way to handle that is complete honesty, STD testing, or even limiting things to couples or groups who are already “fluid bonded.”

In group activities, there needs to be special care taken with this.  I would even suggest that one person be appointed as an officer to look out for such things (is the condom on properly?  Did the fluids of one couple get cleaned up before they broke off to engage with others?  Where was her tongue before she moved it to that spot?)  Gloves and dental dams, safes and lube need to be applied to all toys as well as body-parts.  Safe sex aids can be blessed and consecrated just like any other magickal tool (though I’d advise you skip the salt water.)


I hope that if nothing else, I have sparked some thought and discussion.  Be safe, be ethical, and celebrate the Divine according to your own free will – an it harm none.

Next column: Divination vs. Free Will


[1]  I recommend Shauna Aura Knight’s great blog post on this subject.

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“…understanding the ultimate truth and spiritual forces involved”? I’m not sure about that…

The paperwork for my promotion last spring to godan, fifth degree black belt, has finally caught up to me. I got a piece of paper that says I understand “the ultimate truth and spiritual forces” involved in karate. I’m not so sure about that, but it’s signed by a living legend in the martial arts world, a man whom the famous Zen roshi Hakuyū Taizan Maezumi once wrote was the “ideal type” and had “wonderful insight and understanding”. So who am I to argue?

(I make it a rule, when talking about my wacky “Zen Pagan” ideas, to not identify the style of karate I study. I’m very proud of that school, but I do this to emphasize that I’m not speaking on the school’s behalf or in my capacity as a karate teacher, and also so that search engines don’t flag these writings as being relevant to it. But it’s hardly a secret, five seconds with the search engine of your choice can reveal it. And heck, in this case it’s in the photo.)

My Zen is mostly Karate Zen. I’ve managed to cultivate a seated mediation practice only because I started with the moving mediation that is karate. The relationship between the budo (martial ways) and Zen supposedly goes back 1,500 years to the legendary Buddhist monk Bodhidharma, who came from India (or maybe Persia) to the Shaolin temple and both founded Ch’an (the Chinese word for Zen) and taught physical exercises that developed into the Asian martial and healing arts. Seven centuries later in Japan it happened that Zen arrived there around the same time as the shogunate got started, and the new sect formed lasting bonds with the new warrior class bosses. (The legend of Bodhidharma is probably bunk but it’s a good story. I tell that tale and many others in Why Buddha Touched the Earth, shameless plug.)

Most readers will recognize the idea that there are “spiritual forces” of some sort in martial arts training. You’ve watched the old Kung Fu TV show or The Karate Kid or that clip where Bruce Lee says “Be water, my friend”. I hope that even if the mall ninjas at the local McDojo didn’t quite live up to that, you’ve encountered some hints of the real thing.

But a few weeks ago during a discussion at Starwood I found myself saying that the martial arts can be a magical practice. That’s a more specific idea, and I’d like to take it as the topic for this month’s column.

So what do we mean by “magical practice”? This might be old hat for well-read Pagans in the audience, but it’s worth getting specific for people new to these ideas. And if I don’t nail this down, my fellow budoka who read this might think that I’m suggesting that advanced practitioners can perform supernatural feats, the sort of stuff demonstrated by various charlatans.

When I speak of magic here I’m speaking of it in a context that arose during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when certain philosophical societies became interested in the use of ritual as a tool for spiritual growth and transformation. We can get a sense of what magic means in this sense from definitions and comments offered by several experts on the topic:

  • Aleister Crowley: “Magick is the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will….Every intentional act is a Magical Act.” [Crowley, “Magick”]
  • And Crowley in another piece: “Our Ceremonial Magic fines down, then, to a series of minute, though of course empirical, physiological experiments, and whoso will carry them through intelligently need not fear the result.” [Crowley, “Initiated”]
  • Dion Fortune: Magic is “the art of changing consciousness at will.” [Starhawk]
  • Margot Adler: “Magic is convenient word for a whole collection of techniques, all of which involve the mind. In this case, we might conceive of these techniques as including the mobilization of confidence, will, and emotion brought about by the recognition of necessity; the use of imaginative faculties, particularly the ability to visualize, in order to begin to understand how other beings function in nature so we can use this knowledge to achieve necessary ends.” [Adler, p 8]
  • Ross Nichols: “Ritual is poetry in the realm of acts.” [Shaffer]
  • Charles Leland: “And so all was, and is, in sorcery a kind of wild poetry based on symbols, all blending into one another, light and darkness, fire-flies and grain, life and death.” [Leland]

(The spellings “magick” or “magik” are sometimes used to distinguish this ritual practice from the performing art of illusion and prestidigitation.)

To attempt a synthesis of these ideas, I propose:

Five Principles of Magic

1) Magic is distinguished by the intentional use of imagination to raise and direct psychological energy in order to alter consciousness in a manner conducive to a specific desired change.

2) Magic has an external side, where the desired change is a visible result, the achievement of some practical end.

3) Magic has an internal side, where the desired change is a matter of self-cultivation, of contemplative understanding: the quiet side of magic.

4) Magic is a subtle practice, in which we leverage small forces and seemingly minor matters to produce large results.

5) Magic is an art, operating in the realm of the poetic and the beautiful, of metaphor and symbolism.

(I should note that while some believe that the alternation of consciousness we are talking about includes some sort of psychic faculties or the ability to communicate with supernatural entities, this not a necessary point of dogma for the modern magician. A skeptical reductionist or a philosophical materialist is no more banned from the Art Magickal than from the arts of poetry, painting, or music.)

So. Let’s see how traditional martial arts stack up against these ideas.

The martial ways use imagination to direct the most primal form of psychological energy: the drive for survival. The martial arts bring us right up against life-and-death — nothing else concentrates the mind, alters consciousness, quite as strongly as that. But if we make that too literal students die and we run out of training partners, so the confrontation with death must be imaginary. We visualize the opponents in kata, we simulate deadly combat when sparring by pulling our punches or using dulled weapons or protective gear. If we do not engage our imagination to make those conflicts real, it’s just a dance of the most spiritless sort.

“…Change may be effected by application of the proper kind and degree of Force in the proper manner through the proper medium to the proper object.” — Crowley

Are there aspects of martial arts training that are about external change? Definitely. Someone is trying to hit me, and through the skills of my budo training I cause a Change in conformity with my Will which removes their ability to harm me.

And are there also internal aspects? Yes. A fighter must not learn just action but also calm, the still point in the maelstrom. Anybody can get angry and throw a punch but such a situation will usually not end well. To act correctly, to see and decide calmly in the midst of combat (sporting or real), requires a deeper practice. (We also speak of “internal” versus “external” martial arts, but this is a somewhat different context.)

Are the martial arts a subtle practice? Undoubtedly. A small amount of force properly applied can cause a person to go flying through the air or collapse to the ground. Victory and defeat, success and failure, turn on fractions of a second and fractions of an inch.

And are we in a realm of art and metaphor? We call them the martial arts for a reason: we speak of the beauty of a kata or of a technique combination.

But metaphor?

I speak of being light on my feet, but my weight as measured on a scale does not change. I talk about being rooted, but no roots emerge. I tell a student to extinguish an attack like a wet blanket falling on a fire. When I break a board, in my mind’s eye my hand is moving through nothing but air. In some exercises I visualize ki (known as qi in the Chinese arts) as a light moving through my body, and my movements are stronger.

Why is this? The body movements and mechanics needed for competence are just too complex for the rational intellect to execute in realtime. We must invoke the unconscious, the intellect, the non-rational mind; and it speaks in metaphor and in symbols.

There’s nothing supernatural in the result, nothing that couldn’t be analyzed after the fact by physics and physiology. (Though it’s possible our current understanding of the relevant physiology is incomplete — after all, we are talking about a science that just discovered a ligament in the knee.) But such analysis will not get you to the point of being able to do these things.

The martial arts are magic. Those looking to understand magical practice might want to look to the example the arts provide, and those involved in martial arts training may want to look at magic for ideas to deepen their training.


Adler, Margot. Drawing Down the Moon. New York, N.Y: Penguin/Arkana, 1997.

Crowley, Aleister. Magick Without Tears.

Crowley, Aleister. “The Initiated Interpretation of Ceremonial Magic”. The Book of the Goetia of Solomon the King.

Leland, Charles G. Aradia: The Gospel of the Witches.

Shaffer, Alison. “The Three Elements of Druidic Ritual.”

Starhawk. “A Working Definition of Reclaiming.”

This month’s column ran long — thanks for sticking around to the end. I promise next month something sure to draw an audience: nudity! Tune in for the September edition of The Zen Pagan when I’ll discuss naked Pagans.

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In the public consciousness, first came G. Then, eventually, people got the idea that L was a thing, not just spinster herding behavior. B, despite being demonstrably everywhere is even today still contested by those who would rather that one of the first two be decided on and stuck with. T was, still is, widely misunderstood as being a subtype of the first three, rather than being orthogonal, and still today has a tendency to be thrown under the bus as payment for the rights of the far more numerous G and L.

More recently, we added a Q, capturing those that don’t really fit the first four, but who aren’t exactly cookie-cutter mainstreamers. Then another Q, as a home for those who are still seekers in all this. An I came later, providing an identity for a group that has to take a lot of the same abuse as T, but for reasons that check a different set of boxes. Welcome to the alphabet soup. LGBTQQILesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex. Come on in! The water is warm, and there are carrots. There are always carrots. Nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more.

There is a tendency for people to think that LGBTQQI is all about the sex. For some on the inside, this isn’t too far from correct, if truth be told. For others, the majority, it’s not really about anything – you just are, and it’s really just living and loving and seizing the day and planting tomatoes and paying your taxes and cleaning up after the cat.

The intersection between LGBTQQI and modern Paganism is complicated. There’s certainly enough juice in there to give me plenty to write about, so I can’t complain. Though some of the issues are analogous to the struggle between conservative and progressive factions of the mainstream religions – old habits die hard when people convert – Paganism’s innate diversity tends to create a much more complex landscape than the usual don’t-do-that-you’ll-go-to-hell vs. the it’s-all-fine-$DEITY-loves-you-anyway dichotomy.

Many of our Pagan traditions have more than a small dose of fertility-worship going on. Wicca, I’m mostly looking at you right now, but you’re not alone. Though fertility isn’t a huge thing for L or G, it can be very much a concern for some members of the B, T, Q, Q and I. For many of us, making our rites more about the sex than the fertility makes a whole lot of sense, since it is more inclusive of those for whom sex isn’t – and can never be – anything to do with fertility. And family planning of course. Won’t someone think of the (lack of) children?

The soup is still missing something, however. A letter so singular, so rare, that many dare not speak its name. A letter that is even more widely misunderstood than any of the others.



There, I said it. I know quite a bit about this letter, because it is me, and I am it, even though I lived most of my life never having heard the term. I have struggled for decades in trying to understand this aspect of myself. I also check the T box, and to some extent the B box, so unpicking the A from all of that was incredibly difficult, but tremendously empowering once I finally managed it. But what does that actually mean, practically, for myself, people close to me, and for my practice as a Pagan?

Literally, to be asexual means to innately not feel sexual attraction toward other people. Some people who identify as asexual are also aromantic – specifically, they neither feel sexual attraction or romantic attraction toward anyone else of any gender. Some people who identify as asexual are still sexually active, in some cases because they do so to feel close to their partners, but more usually they aren’t. For me, I’m asexual but I’m not aromantic. The way I used to try to explain this to people, before the term asexual was coined, was that I have a bit of wiring missing. I can appreciate beauty, fall in love gently or just as damagingly obsessively as anyone else. I’m just not wired to make the further connection to sex.

20 odd years ago when I was first dealing with being transgendered, I quickly learned to flat out lie through my teeth to anyone in the medical profession. In those days, if you didn’t follow the 1950s stereotypes for masculinity or femininity, or (worse still) admitted to not identifying exclusively as one gender, you were thrown out of the program. To my doctors, I was Straight, oh yes, and I desired to get myself a Boyfriend and do the Stereotypical Thing, with the Thing, and the Other Thing. Thankfully, the medical profession has since largely (though not entirely) got a collective clue and has (mostly) stopped torturing us. It did mean, though, that I got very good at denying my asexuality, even to myself. As unguarded as I ever got was to describe myself as, “either, neither or both.”

Without question, being asexual has substantially affected the way that I understand and interact with the concepts and practices of Paganism. Undoubtedly, there are Mysteries that I will never quite grok, because I simply lack the wiring for it. The Great Rite will never really have any meaning for me, quite apart from any misgivings I might have about its heterosexist connotations. Nevertheless, I have wrestled with the concept of gendered polarity in rites for years, to the extent that finding alternative ways to deal with it was for some time central to my own practice.

If you aren’t X, then you can’t possibly be a real Y.

I have been told that I can’t be a witch because I’m not straight. I’ve also been told that I can’t be a real witch because I’m transgendered. No one has told me – yet – that I can’t be a real witch because I’m asexual, but I’m pretty sure it’ll happen eventually. I feel about that question pretty much the way I feel about sex: Meh. Whatever. What’s for dinner? Are there any carrots?

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When I first heard the Morrígan’s call, I didn’t know what to do with the thought of working with a battle goddess. The things I liked best about Witchcraft were frolicking through the woods and dressing candles with herbs and singing to the stars. But this? War? Sovereignty? It was heavy. It felt too stern, even patriarchal. I strained against her even as I craved her.

However, in my (admittedly short) time as a Morrígan devotee, I’ve learned a couple of things:

1. A goddess of war can be a goddess of the land, and a devotee of the land can benefit from a serving a goddess of war. As Morpheus Ravenna has written, “the fields that grow the shining grass, the fields where the royal horses run, become the fields of battle too. Because land becomes territory, and territory is tribal politics, and tribal politics is war.” To love and serve the land, both settled and wild, is to understand the bloodshed that comes with it. When nations go to war, they are virtually always fighting over land: who gets to control it, who gets to live on it, who gets to use its resources.

2. The Morrígan implores us not to glorify war or reject all armed conflict on principle, but rather to understand and work through humankind’s propensity towards violence. Angelique Gulermovich Epstein writes in War Goddess that “life, and the land which provides it, are inextricably bound up with the gore and blood required to defend society….divorced from personal involvement in battle, the modern audience expects far too little complexity in a deity who personifies and oversees it.” We Americans approach warfare differently than our ancestors did. Our wars happen over there; our enemies don’t look like us at a glance, and the quickest glance is all we ever have to give them. Civilians never have to see them in person; even most soldiers are plunked in and plucked out of our wars within the span of a few years. People who live in war zones and contested regions and lands that must be defended from invaders have a very different understanding of war, and it is this understanding that the Morrígan tries to instill in us. When we see Hamas shooting rockets or Israelis dropping bombs, the Morrígan pulls us away from simplistic reactions like “they shouldn’t do that,” and instead pushes us towards nuanced questions like “why are they doing that? What’s at stake? What do decision-makers hope to achieve? Who benefits?” What are the root causes of conflict and hatred? How do we understand and–if we are very, very skilled and lucky–occasionally even resolve those root causes?

As I write this, at least 1,800 Palestinians have been killed in the past month, compared with 67 Israelis. If you start to get lost in the propaganda, anchor yourself in the numbers.

* * *

Here’s a history of Israel and Palestine, as brief as I could get it:

2,000 years ago my ancestors were expelled from Eretz Yisrael. We wandered until intolerable violence against us gave rise to the Zionist movement, which was backed by Britain, eager to gain a foothold in the Middle East. The Zionists and the Ottoman Empire expelled the Palestinians from their homes and drove them away. The neighboring countries expelled Arab Jews from their homes and drove them into Israel. My people, traumatized beyond comprehension from pogroms and expulsions and the Holocaust, developed a wild hatred of the Palestinians. The Palestinians–uprooted, scapegoated, and made into refugees–developed a comparable hatred of the Israelis. Both sides have suffered horrific violence. Both sides want the other gone, gone, GONE. But Israel, now backed by the US, has vastly more fire power and capacity for destruction.

Most people talk about Evangelical Christians when they explain why the US is so in love with Israel. But did you know that 75% of the aid we send Israel gets funneled right back into American weapons manufacturers? This isn’t a big secret. AIPAC considers it a selling point. Hamas is very good for the American economy.

Aside from that, though, the situation exposes some very peculiar ideas we have about sovereignty. We think that sovereignty, like resources under Capitalism, is scarce. If one party has it, another cannot. If one party has land, another cannot. If one party is human, the other party cannot possibly be also human.

This idea is so easily blown apart by a few minutes of reflection. But we construct so many myths to preserve it.

* * *

True sovereignty operates on many levels, and each level is crucial. Sovereignty depends on land. To be sovereign, one must have space to live and work. Sovereignty depends on self-determination. If one has access to land but is unable to leave it or partner with it, one is not sovereign. Sovereignty depends on control of one’s own body. Violence against the body is an attack on personal sovereignty. And, finally, sovereignty depends on free will and control of one’s own mind.

As an American and a Jew, I am required, by those in power, to love Israel. Not just like it. Not have mixed feelings about it. Not like some things about it and not others. I am required to love it.

If one level of sovereignty breaks down, the others quickly follow. A couple of weeks ago I heard an NPR story in which the brother of a dead IDF soldier–not even an Israeli citizen, but an American Jew who’d enlisted–justified his brother’s death. “If it was worth it for him,” he said, “then it’s worth it for us.”

* * *

I once had a student in one of my writing classes, a young Iraq vet with PTSD. In class he was an absolute horror. He constantly interrupted me, and rolled his eyes and made loud noises of disgust when I said something he disagreed with. He said ghastly things about the poor. In his essays he wrote about diving behind bushes at the sounds of car engines starting. In his writing he revealed a simmering, angry misery.

The Jewish people has a case of cultural PTSD. When my people look at a 4-year-old Gazan covered in blood, we see a burly Nazi holding a machine gun. I’m speaking metaphorically, but I’m not hyperbolizing.

Seek to understand war. The Morrígan screams this in my ear.

* * *

Would you take me seriously if I suggested that the Morrígan advocates nonviolence?

I’m going out on a limb here, but:

It’s well-known that one of the Morrígan’s tactics is to raise a terrifying din before a battle, either the night before or just before the fighting starts. Sometimes this din frightens the enemy to death, and sometimes it serves to weaken them in battle, either by sowing panic or by keeping them from sleeping. However, there’s an interesting detail from Roman accounts of Celtic warfare. Apparently Roman troops “were known to run away simply in terror” from the battle cry of the Celts (War Goddess, page 14).

Our understanding of war today–especially war against “the terrorists”–is that you’re supposed to eliminate every single person on the other side, as if they were a nest of termites. Then, the logic goes, there will be no more of them and you will win. But if that’s how war is supposed to work, why would the Celts–and thus, we may assume, the Morrígan–encourage enemy soldiers to run away? You know the saying: they’ll live to fight another day! Why not obliterate the threat and be done with it?

Because the absolute dehumanization of the enemy is not an integral aspect of conflict. You can believe that the other side is human enough that they will choose not to fight you if circumstances change. You can be far-sighted enough to know that violence doesn’t destroy your enemies; it only ever creates more of them.

So, if doggedly trying to kill every single last Hamas operative isn’t going to work (and let’s be honest for two seconds–if it was going to work, it would have worked decades ago), then what can we do to help end the carnage?

Here’s an easy first step. Speak out. Use social media. Challenge the propaganda machine that casts Palestinians as a faceless, malevolent horde. Seek out Palestinians’ stories and share them widely. Social media is having a noticeable effect on young Americans’ empathy for Palestinians, so use it.

Educate yourself about the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. You don’t have to become a part of it–you don’t even have to agree with it–but learn to distinguish between what the official campaign advocates and the strawmen its critics set up to demonize it.

Don’t let your criticism bleed into antisemitism (“Israel is controlling the US,” “Israel is the biggest threat to world peace,” “Jews have no reason to want their own country,” etc.). Aside from being wrong, it can and will backfire by destroying your credibility. Keep your focus on Palestine.

But above all, speak. Silence equals consent. Do you consent to this violence? Paid for, if you’re American, with your tax dollars? Committed, if you’re Jewish, in your name?

* * *

I have conversed with the Morrígan about Gaza. Do you know what she told me?

Choose to be your most courageous self. Speak. Speak. Speak.

Note: I will not respond to commenters seeking to rehash the usual talking points about Israel and Palestine. Not because I don’t have more to say, but because I don’t engage with people who are arguing in bad faith. I encourage other commenters to refrain from responding, as well.

Racist, antisemitic, and otherwise offensive comments will be flagged for removal.

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