Epiphany Day 2015

Happy Epiphany Day! May all your creative endeavors blossom and may you not spontaneously combust.

Epiphany is an Otherfaith spirit overseeing learning, creativity, and luck. She was originally a Book Keeper – a type of spirit who lives in the great Library of the West – and in an attempt to find the one single subject she would care for in her life, she… accidentally tapped into the full connected knowledge of the Library, caught fire, and transformed into the spirit Epiphany we know and love today.

As you do.

My life is blossoming right now, strange as it is. I’ve started seeing a chiropractor for my ongoing back pain, and that seems to be working. I’m finally cleaning out closets and drawers that have been jammed packed for years, tossing out or donating lots of things that just need to go. I’m letting go of old momentos from Bryn Mawr that I held onto not because they made me happy, but because the people who gave them to me loved me and I didn’t want to somehow deny their love by acknowledging the fact these gifts were hurting me. I have plants growing happily on my old altar space by the window – I’ll need to repot the bean seedlings later today. I’m applying to new jobs, in my last calendar year of graduate school, and generally… being alive. It’s great!

This is an important time of year for me because the Spring Equinox is my anniversary as a Pagan. In 2007, little tiny Sage did their first awkward Pagan ritual in secret. Eight years as a Pagan and I barely recognize that teenager lighting candles and sending out a message to Whoever might be listening.

Personhood and Deities

Original image by Amy West. https://www.flickr.com/photos/amy_elizabeth_west/3876549126
Original image by Amy West. https://www.flickr.com/photos/amy_elizabeth_west/3876549126

Alternative title: What I’m blogging about for the Otherfaith this week that has me both confused and fascinated in turn.

I’ve really become interested lately in this notion of personhood. What is it that makes a person? Who decides, and by what standards? And what implications does that have on those of us with religions or philosophies that respect personhood?

As an avid reader of sci-fi and fantasy, I’ve long been exposed to the notion of there being people who aren’t the same species as I am. Robots, androids and AI programs; elves, dwarves, and qunari; turians, Vulcans, and Wookiees; gods, land spirits, tutelary ancestral spirits, and fairies. I know that Brighid is a person, like me, but someone who experiences a different kind of personhood than my own. I know that not all humans have access to the same rights and recognitions of personhood due to systematic oppression of race, gender, class, ability, and other axes of vulnerability. I also know that there are a great number of animals – especially whales, the great apes, corvids, and elephants – who many argue are people, and thus deserving the rights and protections that human people already (theoretically, ideally) possess. Fetuses and corporations are at times allotted this category of personhood as well – in America, at least.

Right now I have more questions than I have answers. I’m looking at the Wikipedia articles on personhood and transhumanism, though I have the feeling I can barely scratch the surface for the essay I want to write for the Otherfaith. I could easily write an entire series, or even create a brand new blog, just to tackle the ramifications of personhood in Pagan religion(s).

There are important ramifications of approaching the gods, local land spirits or fairies, and animals, plants, and geological features as people we can be in relationships with. And for the Otherfaith, with its pro-technology stance and its discouraging of seeing humans, nature, and technology as somehow being separate from each other, that personhood would extend to all things – cars, cities, urban parks, computers, trash heaps. We are in relationship with all things whether we acknowledge this or not.

So is that my “answer” to personhood? That a person is anyone or anything we can have a relationship with? It does let me avoid defining personhood in terms of sapience or sentience, which.. may or may not be a good thing.

It also occurs to me that this is one of the Serious Questions of Philosophy that humans have been grappling with for ages and I’ve only started to untangle my own assumptions about it.

The State of the Sage

Good Lords and Ladies (does that sound too pretentious? I feel like that might be too pretentious) it’s been a long time since I actually blogged for Sage and Starshine instead of just reblogging content I’d written elsewhere. Let’s recap what I’ve been up to in the past few months.

Library Stuff

I’m in my final calendar year of my MLIS (Masters of Library and Information Science) and will be graduating next December/January with my expensive piece of paper that says I’m a real live library adult and can be paid real live adult money. I’m both excited and terrified at the same time.

This semester I’m in Multimedia Production, which builds on an earlier class on web design. Our final project will be a website that functions as our online business card of sorts. Fun fact: Holly Black (yes, the Holly Black, and if you don’t know who she is drop everything in your life and go to your local public library’s YA section and check out all her books) took this exact class in my exact university in 2002 and her final project is still used as an example of building a cool website. That practically makes me royalty, right? Here’s the first project I turned in this week, which is just a basic site to house my analysis of another website. I’m so ridiculously proud you have no idea.

My other class is Social Informatics which is, among other things, the field that studies how society and technology interact. It’s mostly a fun class, though I am frustrated by the number of older students and sources that are technophobic and complain about what the Milleannials and Homelanders are doing with their Googles and their YouTubes. One interview we listened to put technology at the opposite end of the spectrum from spirituality, which is of course bullshit. My religious life is plenty technological and vice versa. I like to stir up trouble in class.

Also, I’ve applied for a full-time position at a local(ish) library! I’m crossing fingers and toes.

Brighid Stuff

Last month, Clann Bhride started its own Flamekeeping Cill. I’m really excited about this and the growing Clann Bhride community on Facebook. I tend to go through cycles with my Brigidine practice; it’s been on the quiet side recently, but I’ve come to realize the embers never really go out. I often think of myself as a “Brighid kid,” not so much in that I’ve been chosen to be Her child, but in that Our relationship is always open and I’m welcome to come home whenever I want. It’s a comforting position to be in.

On Imbolc I gave the sermon at my local Unitarian Universalist congregation on Brighid and St. Brigit. It was pretty anxiety-inducing for me and I feel like I flubbed it, but the folks who talked with me after the service said I did well and no one could tell I was nervous. It’s so difficult to condense Who This Goddess Is in a twenty-minute slideshow presentation with Q&A afterward. It did have me think about how to communicate my ideas to a non-Pagan or non-polytheist audience. The UUA is a liberal religious organization but one that also has a strong intellectual, sometimes humanist or theologically secular bent. I actually find it easier to talk with my Baptist mother about my deity beliefs than I do folks who are largely nontheistic. (Not that talking with Mom is always easy; this past Christmas she told me she wished I’d reconsider Christianity. My insistence that I was a polytheist and couldn’t/didn’t want to make Christianity work for me didn’t really make a dent.)

It also reminds me of a conversation I had with a close friend of mine who’s a secular humanist. She’s known I’ve been Pagan for years, and we both actually met when we were evangelical teenagers who were Totally Christian and Totally Straight. (That didn’t last.) I realized that she didn’t realize that many Pagans and polytheists literally believe in the gods. It was… awkward. Not that she was disrespectful – she’s always been very supportive of me, which is why we’re friends 13 years later – but it was disquieting to explain my thoughts about Brighid.

It’s easy to be outwardly religious because I do go to a church (just not a Christian one) and we have things like sermons and hymns and meet on Sunday mornings at 11 AM. Oftentimes I can pass as Christian without overtly lying about it, which is a boon in this part of the state. I just also get frustrated at lacking my awesome online community in the physical world. What I wouldn’t give for Wednesday night prayer circle and spaghetti dinners for Brighid, you know?

Otherfaith Stuff

I’ve really enjoyed the past few months getting to know the Otherfaith community. Recently I started blogging on a mostly weekly basis on Of the Other People. What I love most about the Otherfaith is the emphasis on values like consent and personal autonomy, and the fact we value stories and modern folklore as a way to understand a pantheon of gods and spirits. Being part of a modern religious tradition is freeing, in many ways; there’s no Lore to creep around, no ancient traditions to care about resurrected, no cultural appropriation to avoid. Aine, the founder of the Otherfaith, has also made it explicitly clear that those of us without mystic bents have just as much ability to understand the gods and contribute to the faith. She’s been wonderful about answering questions and letting me bounce ideas off her at all hours of the day. Being able to write mythology and meet the gods that way is freeing and empowering.

Right now I have two half-finished myths. The first is about Epiphany, a spirit of books, knowledge, and chance, and her relationship with the Clarene, founder of the West. The second is about the Ophelene, a goddess of retributive justice, and the holiday of Reunion.

Speaking of Reunion – which is held from Dec 25 to December 31 – I had a really good time celebrating it with the Otherfaith community this past December. I’ve got a small project in the works of collecting the Reunion essays and poetry we all created and publishing a free, spiffy-looking PDF to showcase our work.

A Prayer for Epiphany

This is another work inspired by the Otherfaith, this time by a spirit named Epiphany. When I started mucking about with Otherfaith mythology two weeks ago the first to catch my eye was the story 5169814 to Epiphany. I’m sure this is in no small part thanks to the alphabetizing of the myths, but I like to think serendipity played a role here too. Epiphany is a spirit who had once been bound by her role in life, literally known only by a string of numbers. She was born a Book Keeper, a type of spirit who eventually dedicates their lives to one particular subject area in the Library and no other. Epiphany was unable to choose and her wonder at all the knowledge in all the worlds lit up every neuron in her brain in a fiery maelstrom. The shame she had felt at not fitting in, at not being able to be a “good” Book Keeper and being shunned by her siblings, was burned away in her immolation. From the ashes rose Epiphany as we know her today – spirit of all knowledge, information, and chance, Lady of the House of Books (sorry, Seshat!) and kind patron of writers and misfits.

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Mallory Speaks

The following poem is under a cut for two reasons: I wanted to explain a bit of context, and there are some trigger warnings associated with its content that my readers should know about.

The spirit Mallory is a being associated with the Otherfaith, a modern polytheistic religion featuring new gods and new spirits. Though I don’t have extra time or spoons in my life right now for devotional practices – perhaps evidenced by my lack of regular updates to this blog recently – I have been helping my friend Aine get the Otherfaith wiki fleshed out. I’m a librarian-in-training and score pretty highly on verbal/linguistic intelligence tests; both of these mean that I love organizing information and making it accessible for myself and others. While I don’t have space right now for prayers and offerings, I do have space for writing wiki pages, analyzing myths, and picking Aine’s brain about all the random minutia involved with the Otherfaith.

I’ve enjoyed getting involved even tangentially because there’s a sense of play and relaxation in understanding the Otherfaith gods that I don’t easily get with other “established” pantheons. At some point I’d like to write about my tangled relationship with The Lore, my gods, and the Pagan/polytheist communities at large. The Otherfaith – being small and new – doesn’t have the same hangups I’ve found with other expressions of my Paganism. Now, one potential downside for myself is that since the Otherfaith is so new, that the direct experience of interacting with gods and spirits seems to be of utmost importance. Despite stylizing myself as a devotional polytheist, I’ve written before on my own troubles hearing/sensing/whatever the gods, including my own Beloved. (Is it because of how I’m wired? Is it because I’m hung up on the idea of “not having a good godphone”? Who knows!)

For me, learning about the Otherfaith has meant reading the myths, curating Pinterest boards for the gods, and playing with mythological fanfiction in my head. Approaching the Otherfaith like a new fandom has done wonders both for my anxiety about “getting it right” and for incorporating these new divine characters into my headspace. I’ve had a few flashes of these deities over the past few weeks: the Dierne, god of pleasure, manifesting as I ate a particularly decadent dessert, and the Clarene, protector of the West and associated with (among other things) medical equipment, who along with Loki kept me calm during my wisdom teeth extraction yesterday. Perhaps this was in recognition of me learning Their myths and thus reaching out to Them; perhaps it’s only in my wishful-thinking head; perhaps that distinction doesn’t matter.

My first contribution to the Otherfaith is a poem for the spirit Mallory. Mallory is an inherently solitary spirit, though I do not think she’d consider herself lonely. She was rejected by her mother Lyra at birth and is connected to the river/goddess Ophelia, known for her melancholy and grief-stricken nature. Mallory’s touch turns all things to death, decay, or rust, and because of this the other beings in the West (the homeland of the Otherfaith) violently reject her. Because of her inherently destructive nature, she’s known as “the calamity of the West” and bides her time in the waters of the Ophelia.

Something that struck me about this spirit’s myths – found here and here – is that Mallory is described as being totally sure of herself. She does not question her own nature, nor does she apologize for it. She does not attempt to be anything other than who she is, exactly. And while her nature is destructive, it is others’ unwillingness to accept Mallory that cause conflict. Death and decay and rot are completely normal parts of life. They are part of the life cycle and without them the world would be overrun with boundless, unchecked growth. Mallory is entropy and rust, the natural breakdown of our bodies after death, the decay that must happen if life is to continue. Things cannot continue as they are now. This is something we must accept with grace and dignity if we are to live life authentically and unafraid. Otherwise we are deluding ourselves and others, and delusion is, at best, a warped mirror through which we view life – and at worst, an excuse to bludgeon reality and those that get in our way for not adhering to our own whim and fancy.

In lieu of all that, I offer the following poem for Mallory. There are trigger warnings for imagery around violence and decay including entomophoba (fear of insects), mysophobia (germs), thanatophobia (dying), necrophobia (dead things), and hemophobia (blood). A lot of these things at one point or another viscerally bother me, so writing this poem was an exercise in confronting that which is discomforting and hard to embrace. Feedback is very, very appreciated! You might also be interested in my Pinterest page for Mallory or her page on the Otherfaith wiki.

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