Over on Raise the Horns, Patheos Pagan Channel Editor Jason Mankey has a post titled The Jealous Witch. It’s an introspective piece, listing some of the people Jason is jealous of and why. I’m amused to be named in his post – Jason is jealous of my writing output.
It’s amusing because I’m annoyed with my writing output. As a kid I was always the fastest one to complete tests and in-class assignments. I didn’t finish first every time, but if more than three or four people finished before me I started wondering if I was doing something wrong.
Writing comes slowly for me. Except on those rare occasions when the Awen is flowing and I’m not writing so much as I’m typing what Someone else is telling me, blog posts take hours and hours to write. Sometimes they take all day. Other bloggers are much faster. I remember times when I’d write something for the Great Polytheist-Atheist Kerfuffle and 30 minutes later (or so it seemed) John Halstead would have a 1500 word rebuttal on his blog.
There’s a grass-is-always-greener syndrome going on here, and the internet makes it worse. We only see what people show us, and people only show us their good stuff. We see the end result but not all the labor that went into it. Click on “all posts” at the top of the page and go look at some of my stuff from 2008 and 2009. Or better yet, don’t. It’s proof of Ray Bradbury’s observation that “everyone’s first million words are crap.” By my estimation, I hit a million words some time in 2012.
But I can sympathize with Jason, because I’m jealous too.
I’m jealous of the kids at my UU church. I grew up going to Baptist Sunday School. To be fair, Sunday School wasn’t that bad – it focused mainly on learning the stories of the Bible. The adult church service that came after Sunday School was a different matter, with its constant emphasis on believing and living like the preacher said and the threats of hell and damnation if you didn’t.
At Denton UU and at most other UU churches, the kids stay in the main service until after the Story For All Ages, after which we sing them out as they go their religious education classes.
May your minds be open to new learning,
May your lips bring truth into the world,
May your hearts know love as you go your way in peace,
As you go your way in peace.
And they go off to learn about all the world’s religions. They learn Unitarian Universalist values. As they get older, they start to explore their own beliefs and how they can incorporate them into their lives. The RE program gives them a solid grounding in religion without attempting to force them onto one particular path. I’m jealous that they’re learning things I didn’t learn till my twenties, and they’re doing it without constant fear-based coercion.
But I’m glad I learned the Bible stories. They’re part of Western culture and it helps to know them well. And while I’m not glad I had to suffer through all the bad theology, because I did I know how to get out, and I can point others in a helpful direction.
I’m jealous of Pagans who found this path early in their life. In the 1970s there was nothing in mainstream book stores besides psycho-babble self-help books and some dense books on Buddhism. Now there are shelves of Pagan books in local stores and anything and everything is available on Amazon. I’ve always had a closeness to Nature and an interest in magic. But the only context I had for Nature was non-theistic and I was sure magic wasn’t real.
I didn’t discover Paganism till I was 31 and I didn’t get serious about it till I was 39. Where would I be now if I had gotten started 15 or 20 years earlier?
I have friends who were competent witches in their teens and have only gone up from there. Others got a later start but didn’t have to spend years working through fundamentalist baggage. I’m certainly happy for them, but I’m jealous too.
But because I didn’t know what I really wanted, I made a serious attempt at being a Christian. It didn’t work. I made a serious attempt at being a corporate success – that really didn’t work. I have no doubts this is my true calling, because I tried everything the mainstream culture told me I was supposed to do and be, and I was miserable. I’m now on the high side of middle age, but this is all still new and exciting to me, with no end in sight.
I’m jealous of professional Pagans. I’m an industrial engineer who works in the corporate headquarters of a large manufacturing company. As corporate jobs go, it’s pretty good. It’s a nice match with my skills and interests, and it pays the bills. But still, I look at those 40+ hours a week I spend juggling spreadsheets and sitting in meetings and I dream about what I could get done if I could spend that time writing, teaching, and practicing my Paganism and my Druidry.
There aren’t a lot of full time Pagans, for reasons we don’t need to rehash here. Most either cobble together a living from writing, teaching, and art, or they have a spouse that generates most of the family income, or both. I’m jealous of the time they can devote to their path, and I’m anxious that the government and the economy may screw up my plans to become a full time Druid after retiring from the corporate world.
But I’m glad my religion isn’t my job. I can write what I’m called to write and say what I’m called to say and not worry about whether or not it will sell. While it’s nice to get paid for my writing (even if it’s not much more than a token amount) it’s even nicer to know that if my blogging hosts ever try to censor my work (they haven’t and I don’t expect they ever will) I can walk away from it without worrying about how I’m going to pay the mortgage.
I’m jealous of Pagan intellectuals. Brendan Myers. Edward Butler. Gordon White and many of his guests on the Rune Soup podcast. There are others – these are the names that come quickly to mind. These people know stuff, they have a deep context for their knowledge, and they can clearly articulate what they know and its implications for our religions and our lives.
I had a good formal education and I’ve done a decent job of continuing education over the years. But reading and listening to our Pagan intellectuals reminds me of just how much I don’t know. I’m very thankful for their contributions to the Pagan community, and for helping me expand and enrich my practice. But I’m still jealous of their learning, and in a couple cases, of their raw intelligence.
But the same reason I’m an engineer instead of a scientist is why I’m a Druid and a priest instead of an intellectual or an academic. As much as I want to know, what I want most is to use what I learn. “That’s cool… now what can I do with it?” For me, understanding the nature of the Gods isn’t as important as experiencing the Gods for myself. Learning the ancient context of magic isn’t as important as figuring out how to work the magic myself.
Jealousy isn’t always a bad thing. Jealousy is a problem when it causes us to treat others poorly or to think poorly of ourselves because someone else has something we don’t. But Jason Mankey said “my jealousy often inspires me to try harder.” He’s right.
I can be jealous of the kids at my UU church and still work to make sure they have a better experience than I did. My jealousy of Pagans who found their path early in life serves as a reminder to use the years I have left as wisely and effectively as I can. My jealousy of professional Pagans motivates me to make my public work as good as it can be. And my jealousy of Pagan intellectuals reminds me to always ground my work in the best scholarship and the best thinking available.
Sometimes our jealousy can be inspirational, but many times we are jealous because we do not have the full picture, or because we choose not to see it. Regardless, may we live our own lives in as virtuous and as heroic a manner as we can.