Interview with Author P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

Masery: You go by the name P. Sufenas Virius Lupus. If I’m correct the translation of Lupus is wolf. What do the other names mean?

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus: Indeed, “Lupus” does mean “wolf,” and though I’m very close to wolves for a variety of reasons, that isn’t necessarily why I have that as part of my name. My full name is actually the names of (at least) two historical Romans who are important to my own practices in a variety of ways, or (in one case) might be, for lack of a better set of terms, an echo of a past life or something of that nature. P. Sufenas was a phratriarch in the city of Neapolis, better known now as Naples, Italy, of the phratria of Antinous in that city; he was also a Lupercus, the youthful wolf-warrior priests of the Roman ritual of Lupercalia in mid-February. The existence of that individual is one of the reasons that in the Ekklesía Antínoou, Lupercalia is one of our most important and enjoyable rituals, which we have often performed at PantheaCon each February if the con’ runs on the 15th in a given year. Virius Lupus is the name of at least two different historical individuals: one of them was the governor of the province of Britannia that was appointed in about 197 CE during the early part of the principate of Septimius Severus, who for various reasons I seem to have some memories about that can’t be directly confirmed by research on him, and yet other parts of those memories can be confirmed by research. A second Virius Lupus came to my attention a few years ago, who was the first priest of the Roman cultus of Sol Invictus, which only existed as of the mid-third century CE under the Emperor Aurelian. Long before that, the Romans worshipped Sol Indigenes, whose cult was not particularly remarkable or important; then under the Emperor Elagabulus, the cult of the Syrian solar god El Gabal Invictus came about, and because he was such a hated Emperor, it took the Romans several decades to get over their allergy of “invincible” solar gods. I’ve always enjoyed celebrating the birth of Sol Invictus on December 25th, so perhaps it’s a further connection to the numen of that particular name and family on a spiritual level for me. So, interestingly enough, the actual direct wolf connection is not in the name Virius Lupus, but instead in the P. Sufenas part of my name!

Masery: You reside in the North Puget Sound area and are dedicated to some of the land spirits there. What is the area like? What is your relationship with these spirits like?

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus: From my perspective, this area of the country, and all of what we’d call “western Cascadia,” from about northern California all the way up into British Columbia, Canada, is one of the most beautiful bioregions in the world. The climate suits me quite well, in that it doesn’t usually get too cold during the winter and we tend not to have snow (which I don’t enjoy that much), but likewise in the summer we only have a few days at most where we’re in the 90 degrees or higher range. It’s grey and misty and often rainy a lot of the time–remember, this is the region that gave birth to grunge music in the 90s, and so we’ve all got a bit of that aspect to ourselves in certain ways if we are from this area and enjoy living here, as I do. Many people comment that it is similar to parts of Britain, Ireland, and Scotland, and indeed when I first went to some areas of Ireland, like Glendalough in County Wicklow, it looks almost exactly like Pass Lake which is only a few miles from where I live now. I was born on Whidbey Island and grew up there, and now live on the next island up (Fidalgo Island), but my main work-for-pay is on Whidbey, and I actually teach in the town where I grew up and graduated from high school, and in fact took my first college classes when I was a sophomore in high school! We have a lot of evergreen trees, and one is almost always within sight of both mountains and water, which I love.

The spirits I’m most in contact with are what I think are two different–but perhaps related (I have not confirmed this in direct communication or local Samish and Swinomish nation lore at this point, though)–female land spirits: one of which is called Kukwálulwut, the “Maiden of Deception Pass,” and the other of which is the spirit of Mt. Erie, and I think largely of the land of Fidalgo Island itself. Mt. Erie and the other nearby hills, when viewed from a distance, somewhat looks like the body of a woman lying down. From the mountain top, on the lookout to the south, one can literally see the place where I was born. I go up to the top of the mountain regularly to have rituals of various sorts, all of which also honor first and foremost the lady of that mountain and this island; there is a rock formation with some fallen trees in it that make a natural torii–a Shinto arched gateway signifying a Shrine space–where myself and my friends and co-religionists do these rituals. I could describe my approach and my relationship with the lady of Mt. Erie as “mountain mother”: she is where my own life comes from, I think, and I honor her for that whenever possible, and every day in a small way when I pass her on the way to work. The Maiden of Deception Pass appeared to me in an older form when I was at college on the east coast one time in a dream, and I called her “Grandmother Seaweed”; however, in appearance and manner, she was almost exactly like the usually younger woman who is the main spirit of the Rosario Beach and Deception Pass area for the Samish nation that is indigenous to this island and this area (along with several other Native American nations, including the Swinomish and the Skagit peoples). While I likewise get nurturing feelings from her, at the same time she’s a bit more dangerous; there is a lot of death and drowning involved in the history of Deception Pass, and as someone who is dedicated to a god who drowned, it is often difficult for me to be at Deception Pass where so many deaths occurred; but down at Rosario Beach, where the Maiden is said to come ashore to see her people, I always feel much more peaceful and like that is her “good” side. I think it’s important to remember that the powers in the land are not always benevolent, nor should they be, and that no matter what they are like, we owe them respect and reverence for our continued existence here.

The two islands, Whidbey and Fidalgo, have similar but very distinct feelings about them, and as someone who was born and raised here, and who has lived most of my life here, I feel the land is and very likely always will be an important part of me in every way, physically and spiritually. I hope that I will be able to find steady work in the Cascadia region so that I can stay near to this land for the rest of my life.

Masery: You are a very prolific author having written several pieces for anthologies, including Rooted in the Body, Seeking the Soul: Magic Practitioners Living with Addiction and Illness. You’ve also written five full length books. What motivates you to keep writing?

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus: Actually, I’ve written a total of seven full-length books, but only six of them have been under the PSVL name. I think that writing is a kind of disease in itself, as much a physical infirmity as a mental difficulty: and in my own case, nothing settles a flare-up more than just producing as much as possible! It’s something that I feel–and that many writers in various media and genres feel–is something that is rather necessary to my survival. Not unlike respiration and excretion, it’s something that needs to be done to continue my air supply, and to make sure that I purge myself of materials on a regular basis (though I wouldn’t say that what gets purged is necessarily bad or negative or poisonous, and it’s certainly not waste!).

A lot of what I know about myself, as a person who is seriously ill with multiple conditions, and who has been such for more than thirty-two of my thirty-seven years of life, is that my time is limited on this earth, and very likely I won’t get to do as much as I’d like to get accomplished eventually before I die, and that death could come quite unexpectedly. The more I write, the more of a record of myself and my work that I can leave behind for others to potentially benefit from, and thus I think it’s all the more important to write and publish as much as I have, to leave what wisdom I have found in a form that others can access in the future.

Masery: What is your advice for people who want to write a book?

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus: My advice on this is similar to the advice I give people who are starting out in a Ph.D. program and don’t know what they want to write their dissertations on: choose a topic that you’re willing to have an OCD-level amount of interest in for as long as it takes to finish the project. My most successful books–whether it is a collection of poetry or of essays or of various chapters that end up developing a consistent theme–have been produced in a relatively short period of intense, obsessive activity. I’ve been working on several works that have been more piecemeal and haphazard, and not as focused, and those are still not finished…five or six years on, in some cases, unfortunately! But, when the inspiration strikes, it’s useful to just focus and push through, find the time wherever one can, and just get it done as fast and as well as possible in as thorough a manner as one can manage at a given time. In today’s world, it’s too easy to get distracted, to put off finishing that chapter, or even reading it over and editing it, another day or week or month. In 2012, I ended up writing and publishing three books during the year, and each one took about three weeks to a little over a month to produce; sometimes, the germ of the idea or some of the content existed before that, but it took that amount of effort and total focus to finish them. As I was very short on paid work at that stage, it felt like a waste to be using my time for anything else, and the idea for one of them pretty much came out of the blue in a moment of inspiration when I was trying to figure out a way to raise money to help some friends.

I suppose, thus, the advice I’m giving here is advice that I have not taken as often as I should have: don’t procrastinate. If you can hold on to the moment and the feeling of intense and complete absorption in your work in order to see it through, you’ll get it done and produce a work that is something you can be proud of. While I still hope to eventually finish some of these projects that have taken much longer, it has ended up being too easy to let inertia set in with them, and to stay at rest rather than get moving on them again. So, to use the old cliché: strike while the iron is hot, and very likely the sword you’ll produce will be much finer and more effective at cutting NOW than it would be to have such a tool available to you five years down the road.

Masery: On your “Queer I Stand” column at Patheos you write that “I am metagendered, meaning that I do not identify as a man or a woman, nor as male or female, nor as transgendered of any sort, nor as androgynous or ‘neutral’; I consider metagender to be one of the many ‘other,’ non-binary possibilities for gender that are available to humans. My gender identifications are not dependent upon any single or grouped characteristics (physical, genetic, or mental), performances, mannerisms, or anything else.” At what age did you begin to identify as metagendered? How did you discover this about yourself?

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus: One thing about me is that I have a very excellent memory back to the age of three, and even a bit before that. From that earliest age, I knew I was different, that I wasn’t like the girls who I tended to associate with, but I was also not at all like the boys that I also sometimes played with at day care. For my first few years of school, I tended to have equal numbers of male and female friends, and wondered why it was that all of us couldn’t play together, but I could go between the different groups and get along relatively well. Of course, things changed later. I knew there was a gender component to this, though I didn’t have the language or the fuller understanding of it that I do now.

I heard the term “metagender” for the first time in about 1997 when a friend of mine introduced it to me, but that friend didn’t exactly define it. I later came to define it in various ways, and my definition of it has shifted a bit over the years, but the one given above fits it pretty closely.

In short, I think there’s many more options for gender than male or female; and, even though there are nearly infinite ways to perform each of those genders as “valid” men or women, at the same time, I don’t think that all of the people in the world or all of the needs in people’s lives are fulfilled by only those two options, even with all of the variation that each allows. I think an important cultural role, which has existed in many non-Western and premodern Western cultures, and which does still exist in some cultures, can be fulfilled by people of alternative genders, and I know that I’m one of those individuals. We’ll never be as common as the dominant genders, but I think having a space for us, whether in the larger overculture (which would be great, but it’s pretty far off at this point), or even in the spiritual subcultures of modern Paganism only, would be beneficial not only to our own senses of self and well-being, but also to the cultures which do decide to include us and have a distinct and specific role for us, apart from “universal stand-in” or “happy medium” in terms of gender performance and identity. I’m not here to be every gender to every person (that’s something that pangendered people can do, though!); but I am here to be my own particular and peculiar gender to whomever chooses to accept that. Anyone who doesn’t?–Well, that’s their choice, but their understanding of my gender along binary lines will never be accurate, and I am not responsible for fulfilling their expectations about what they perceive is my gender in my own actions or ideas. If they refuse to take responsibility for their own perceptions and expectations, I can’t do anything about that, other than disengage with them at worst, and correct them and move them toward something not only more accurate, but also more respectful, at best.

Masery: On your blog you also write about the hard decision you had to make between buying insulin for your diabetes or inhalers to treat severe asthma. Ultimately you went with insulin since diabetes is the more serious of the two, though both are serious. What is your take on the current healthcare system?

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus: I think it is a “healthcare system” in name only, and that it is truly neither health, nor care, nor a system. As I’ve lived in various countries in Europe, I was told repeatedly by people in the medical professions in the U.K. in particular that every civilized (or, since we’re talking about the U.K., they might prefer “civilised”!) country has socialized medicine as a right of all its citizens, and I think that’s a very good thing. Governments should have an interest in the continued life and health of their citizens, and socialized medicine is a good way to do that. But, because health and access to medical treatment has been considered a privilege in this country rather than a right, and a privilege that people should have to pay top dollar for, and that the government has helped to insure costs more than any other country on earth to provide to its citizens due to medical, pharmaceutical, and insurance lobbies being extremely powerful, our country pretty continuously spits in the face of the first of the inalienable rights outlined by the Declaration of Independence, i.e. life. Politicians are happy to squabble over when life actually begins and preventing women from having control over their own reproductive processes, and likewise over whether or not citizens have a right to end their life with dignity in the face of debilitating illnesses, and these people are (wrongly!) called “pro-life,” but the huge middle part of life with all of its potential difficulties is of no interest to anyone unless they can make huge financial gains off the suffering and unfortunate situations of others. What’s worse is that very few medical providers realize how serious this situation is for people, and there has been more than one occasion over the last few years when I’ve been in a medical difficulty and end up having a doctor lecture me along the lines of “Can you get a job that actually has insurance?” (If I could, you patronizing overprivileged medical professional, we wouldn’t be having this conversation!) It’s disgusting, it’s unjust, it is an offense to the gods and the ancestors, and it’s a travesty to every value that I personally hold dear.

Masery: Do you have an opinion on the Affordable Healthcare Act?

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus: My opinion on this is nowhere near as nuanced or informed as it should be, mostly because it will largely not help me, and there’s little that I can do about it. I think it is likewise a kind of contradiction in terms and is very poorly named. One of the only reasons that many people in the U.S. today do not have insurance is because they can’t afford it, and what coverage it will give them still doesn’t make it possible to get the services they need–I found this recently myself when I had insurance temporarily for about three months. Even though it helped with the costs of my insulin a great deal, it did not help with other medical supplies, nor with getting doctor’s appointments that didn’t break the bank for the given month they occurred in–and, on these latter points, it was totally misleading and deceptive. So, now, under this new act, people will be FORCED to have insurance, and thus the insurance companies–even the ones that end up having affordable (but likely not very useful) plans–are the only ones laughing all the way to the bank, and those who are struggling financially due to medical difficulties to begin with will likely be even worse off. It’s a travesty, yet again.

The only good thing about it is that insurance providers cannot refuse someone coverage due to pre-existing conditions. This is something that plagued my family when I was younger every time there was a change in insurance providers or jobs or anything else; and at every possible stage, the insurance providers would attempt to get out of approving a particular medical treatment for me, or to pay for certain prescriptions, etc. It caused more mental and emotional havoc and trauma for me as a young person, and for my family as well, than the actual diseases themselves. That should just not happen to anyone anywhere. When Mitt Romney and other politicians were talking about these things during the 2012 election, I couldn’t believe all of the able-bodied privilege, as well as the economic privilege, that was involved in the discussions without any acknowledgement or self-realization whatsoever.

Masery: You are involved in Greco-Roman and Celtic Reconstructionism. First, I want to ask you about your Greco-Roman traditions. You are one of the founding members of the Ekklesía Antínoou–a queer, Graeco-Roman-Egyptian syncretist reconstructionist polytheist group dedicated to Antinous, the deified lover of the Roman Emperor Hadrian. How was this group started? Who are the other founding members or member?

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus: Back in 2002, I was one of three individuals who started a group that was the first in the modern world to be dedicated to the worship of Antinous in an organized fashion: there were other individuals worshipping him since the 1970s in some cases, but they did not do so in an organized manner, nor did they draw upon the actual texts that have survived relating to him from the late antique world. However, after five years of that group running, I ended up having some irreconcilable theological differences with the other founders, and thus left it in June of 2007 and started the Ekklesía Antínoou. An ekklesía is not a “church,” despite certain creedal monotheistic religions having re-interpreted it in that fashion and appropriated it since antiquity to designate their religious bodies’ memberships; and, it is not a “church” despite many modern Pagans insisting on calling it that. An ekklesía is, essentially, the basic unit of an ancient Greek democracy, i.e. the voting population of a given district. Thus, it is a communal group, and a group of citizens, but also by necessity a democratic institution in the best senses of that word–and, indeed, very different from the hierarchical churches as they emerged in late antiquity with Christianity! While we do have roles of leadership, which I hold, and thus there is a hierarchy of both experience and effort involved in what we do (as George Cecil Ives said, “All are equal as regards authority; not all are equal as regards effort”), at the same time, I try to keep things on a day-to-day basis in running the group as democratic as possible. Membership in the Ekklesía Antínoou is self-selected, but the best way to exercise one’s rights as a member is to vote (early and often!) on whatever issues arise with us, no matter if you’ve been a member from the start or just joined moments ago. This has been a difficult and uphill battle to get people to understand even within the group…we have so many flawed ideas about how groups work, how religious communities can and should function, what constitutes “true” membership, and what some of these terms even actually mean, that it’s no wonder there are some difficulties that modern Pagans generally experience.

So, the other founding members were the other people who joined the group immediately after it was formed, who were mostly from the membership of the previous group. It could not be an actual ekklesía if I was the only member, so I try and make it clear that the foundation of our group was a group effort and can only work if it is a group-oriented, communal, more-than-one-person activity. Even if one is isolated and only has a local community with the gods we worship, I hope that members of our group understand that all of our major prayers have “we” in them because of our solidarity with one another, no matter where we are, and with the larger communities from which we have each originated and to which we have connections–the great mass of people who have worshipped Antinous in the past and present, the great many queer and spiritual ancestors that we have and acknowledge, the various communities that all of us come from and are still active parts of (religious or otherwise), and the many gods with whom we deal and who have worked with our main god, Antinous.

Masery: One of the forms of Celtic Reconstruction you are interested in is Gentlidecht. If I understand it correctly from your essay “Gentlidecht: Ireland Before Christianity (Sort Of),” it takes a lot of Celtic mythic information from the stories that were saved by Christians before their religion was wide spread.  What is one of your favorite stories?

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus: Before I give you a story, I should clarify slightly. Gentlidecht is, in my definition, what can be understood of non-Christian Irish religion from medieval Christian sources. While Irish is a Celtic language, and Irish culture has Celtic characteristics, not everything in it is automatically Celtic, and the differences between the broader category of “Celtic” and the more specific and limited one of “Irish” should be understood and not synonymized. In many cases, I don’t think Christians intended to save what was the native Irish religion in their sources, and thus they inadvertently tell us something that they might have preferred would have gone away, and which they mention at all only for the purposes of critique and ridicule…and yet, they did mention it and treated it as a reality, and thus it’s important to take seriously as a potential component of pre-Christian Irish religiosity.

But, you wanted a story…!

One of my favorite parts of being a polytheist is never having to say that I only have one “favorite” anything, be it a god, a myth, or pantheon! Likewise, I think that the medieval Irish tradition often doesn’t play favorites with either the pre-Christian Irish polytheistic and animistic religion, with the classical Greek and Roman traditions that they inherited alongside Christianity and greatly respected, or with Christianity (and even several different schools of thought within Christianity): each is highly regarded and given voice, to some greater or lesser degree, in the material preserved. Even when there is an overt Christian element to a given story, or a classical tale is being retold, it can still reveal a distinctly Irish way of dealing with an issue, even in a Christian context or a classical adaptation.

Thus, one of my favorite tales that I’ll mention for the moment is the story of the historical king Níall Frossach, who was renowned for his piety and his justice (even though, historically speaking, his period of rule was not especially good or prosperous). He judges the paternity of a child whose father is unknown, and who is engendered by two women having had sex together; and in correctly judging the child’s paternity, through a series of coincidences, the soul of an apostate Christian priest is freed from demonic torment. Not only does this story involve lesbian lovemaking, it involves lesbian lovemaking in essence leading to the salvation of souls–and of a Christian priest’s soul, no less! (When I think of the modern situation of Catholicism both totally demonizing homosexuality, while also harboring a lot of sexually abusive priests–particularly in Ireland–I look back to the medieval period in which this story was written and lament how badly things have changed since then!) For various reasons, we commemorate this story on March 25th every year, though the actual events were said to have taken place at Óenach Tailtenn, which takes place on Lugnasad around August 1st. While much could be said about how this story relates to Irish ideas of kingship, supernatural beliefs about the location of the otherworld, native Irish views on sexuality and law, the historical realities of the “Easter Controversy” in seventh-century Ireland and Britain, and a variety of other topics, I think it can also be metaphorical for other things. Imagine Christianity as St. Mary, if you like, and pre-Christian Irish Paganism and polytheanimism as the goddess Brigit; then imagine the two of them having sex together, and one getting pregnant from the other because one of them had been inseminated shortly before (and which one is which for these purposes is anyone’s guess!); then imagine the problem of determining the paternity of the child produced from this union leading to the liberation and salvation of an apostate Irish priest. It’s not unlike the project of Gentlidecht itself: it’s a tradition that can only be known due to the union of the pre-Christian Irish tradition with the literate and classically-informed traditions of Christianity, and the child engendered from that union is equal parts insemination from the distant fathers of the Irish, the classical, and the Christian traditions. Trying to determine the proper paternity of that child, and tracing its lineage back to pre-Christian Irish polytheanimist traditions, can end up liberating apostate priests, here understood in this metaphor as the Irish tradition itself, apostate from its original polytheistic roots but still functioning in a sacred role within a new religious context. Determining, as the pious Níall Frossach did, who is the father in this unusual union can end up redeeming that priesthood and the sources–no matter how “contaminated” with Christianity they might be–themselves.

Masery: How else would you describe this tradition?

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus: It is a tradition that is mentioned in medieval Irish sources directly, involving the worship of deities, the use of magic, the practice of divination, and even “the plundering of churches,” to an extent–and, as people who thus pore through the literate records made by medieval monks to get the material we want, we certainly are plunderers, no matter how pleasant we are in actuality! It is a tradition that uses the reconstructionist methodology, and it’s important to realize that reconstructionism is a methodology, not an identity or a religion unto itself. In using this methodology, it is primary reconstructionism in that it relies on going directly to the sources wherever and whenever possible; and it’s also active reconstructionism, because it is expected that the spiritual technologies involved and which are recovered should put one into direct contact with the deities, spirits, and ancestors of the tradition itself–if the technologies are working, that is!–and thus what one will end up with is not only confirmations of some of the things in the established lore, but expansions upon them.

While many people might learn from what Gentlidecht ends up being able to produce, I suspect not a lot of people will be able to actually do it, because it requires a lot of technical skills in language, scholarship, and interpretation that aren’t very available to most modern people without advanced degrees; but, that’s all right, there have always been elite and learned people who have had an active stake in not only preserving and interpreting, but also generating further examples of, the lore of a given culture. In Ireland of the pre-17th century CE period, those were the filid, the “poets,” who held esteemed positions not only in their own tribes, but across the totality of the Gaelic world and its cultures. Any reconstructed tradition has to be an active and continuing tradition, and must come alive again in our own time. If all we’re doing is re-enlivening the things of the past, then we’ll end up with an army of very attractive Irish zombies, not a living religion. Cú Chulainn and Finn mac Cumhaill don’t need to start wearing hoodies and using iPhones, but they do need to walk alongside of us and be treated not as the heroes of yesteryear, but as the heroes of today. And, we need to make sure that the differences between what the ancestors said about them and what we say about them are kept clear–there’s nothing wrong with a tradition changing or adapting to new realities, but knowing where something came from and what it consisted of originally is essential in knowing what it can do in the future and where it will possibly go next if developed further. Not conveying the traditions of the past accurately is a dishonor to the gods and heroes involved, and the ancestors; but, likewise, not continuing their traditions in the modern world in further ways and extending them is also a dishonor and an offense to them. Like the Corleck Head, which is a Janus-like stone carving from pre-Christian Ireland, we have to be looking both ways at all times, and our face as it looks in both directions should be the same.

Masery: Is there anything else you’d like to include about yourself?

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus: I like pina coladas and getting caught in the rain…Oh, wait, no I don’t. In actuality, I couldn’t tell you what a pina colada is, because I don’t usually drink alcohol; and while I don’t mind getting caught in the rain, given where I live, I do usually have an umbrella with me just in case. ;)

I suppose one final note I’d insert here is that there’s often a perception that those who are extremely scholastic in their approach and who are “overly intellectual” are in some ways “less spiritual” than others in modern Paganism; there is a marked anti-intellectual trend in a lot of American culture, and it certainly spills over into Paganism as much as some of the other less-savory aspects of the overculture, whether we’d like to admit it or not. Certainly, lots of modern Pagans are very intelligent, and have often done impressive amounts of self-directed research, which is laudable. But, there are also actual professionals out there who have made studying particular subjects their specialty and their life’s work, and they shouldn’t be downplayed, dismissed, or disrespected just because their knowledge comes from “the academy” (such as it is). Academic discourse is no more mainstream to modern American culture on any level than modern Paganism is, and thus academically-trained individuals should not be treated as suspicious like they are. Being one such individual myself, I have often been dumbfounded about not only the ignorance on certain topics relevant to Celtic Studies (for example) within modern Paganism, but also the insistence by some Pagans that their uninformed and often outright incorrect opinions on some matters should hold equal weight and authority than those of people who actually have done the hard work of studying these things. Why does this pass so easily and readily in modern Paganism when it doesn’t in any other area of life, including ones that modern Pagans are involved with? No one should trust my opinion on how to fix computers, and anyone who is intelligent would thus not give my opinion on that matter any weight at all; so, why should any modern Pagan trust the opinion of someone who has decided they’re a reincarnated Irish druid and hasn’t even read D. J. Conway (not that it would help!) as equally as someone who has a Ph.D. in a subject? Very often, people don’t want better information or a more nuanced interpretation of these things, they just want their own preconceived notions to be confirmed and applauded; and while that may be perfectly workable for some people, and if one makes that choice consciously and deliberately and without self-deception on it it’s likewise perfectly fine, the movement as a whole needs to improve in this regard when it comes to factual information about premodern traditions, whether they’re Irish, Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Syrian, Germanic, or anything else.

But, further, intellectual training and excellent critical skills don’t necessarily mean that someone is “less spiritual” or that their “being in their head” is a bad thing. In fact, I think there’s a serious lack of critical skills being exercised in modern Paganism, for all of its talk of respecting science and logic and other such pursuits. The people who are the most intimidated and put off by intellectual approaches in modern Paganism, I think, tend to be those who would stand up with the least integrity in such critical scrutiny. There is a bit of charlatanism and chicanery that goes on in modern Paganism that doesn’t do anything useful as far as making things more atmospheric or performatively powerful. In every situation in a given religion when I’ve been told I’m “too much in my head” and thus am “doing it wrong” for a given religious activity, the deception and other things that Pagans often critique other religions about are just around the corner waiting to pop out. The fact is, the gods gave us our critical and intellectual skills just as much as they gave us the ability to sense energies, to have amazing sexual pleasure, to enjoy all the sights, sounds, smells, textures, and tastes of a beautifully prepared meal, and to enjoy a sunset and contemplate the stars and appreciate an ocean breeze on a beach. Applying those critical and intellectual skills to one’s experiences, even amidst having them, and having the discernment that is so necessary to an honest and fulfilling spiritual life, gets a very bad name in modern Pagan practice (even despite the valiant and noble efforts and attempts of some to emphasize this more recently), and that need not be the case at all.

And, while I hate to over-interpret things like this, I opened this particular set of answers with the Pina Colada song specifically to indicate, for those who don’t know me well and haven’t met me in person, that I enjoy humor just as much as the next person, if not far more…which may thus prompt the question of, then, why on Gaia’s green earth did I quote THAT song? Not funny at all. Oh well…can’t please ‘em all. Most intellectuals, and most spiritual practitioners, have to have a certain cultivated sense of self-irony, self-humor, self-deprecation, and humility in order to do what they do in a serious and dedicated fashion, and I think that’s important to remember. No matter how intellectual a discussion gets, I know very few true intellectuals who are completely (or even partially) “stodgy” and humorless. There are times to be serious and times to be ridiculous, and while I like to try and have an even mix of them as often as possible, it’s important to remember when I start going off on some esoteric topic in Graeco-Egyptian magical practice, or some gloss on a particular Old Irish manuscript, that I’ve probably come to my computer just after having looked in the mirror and asked, in all honesty, “Do these thigh-highs make my butt look too big?” ;)

There’s a hundred thousand things, easily, that could fall into such an “anything else” answer, but I’ll leave it there for now, and spare those readers who haven’t already given up any further annoyance with my long-windedness. Those who are long-winded have good breathing control; and those who have good breathing control will, hopefully, live longer… or, at least that’s what I try and tell myself!

About Tara Miller

Tara "Masery" Miller is a Neo-Pagan panentheist Gaian mage living in the Ozarks with her husband and pets. She's also a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church. She writes the Staff of Asclepius blog and has a personal website at www.taramaserymiller.com


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