Friday, December 28, 2007

Mistletoe, schmistletoe

I must say I am getting rather tired of reading blog posts and web pages about Yule that claim all sorts of Pagan symbolism for stuff that only goes back as far as the eighteenth century, such as mistletoe (and I am a Pagan). If people are going to hold forth on this or any other topic, they should check their facts first. I guess it's partly a tit-for-tat response to the type of Christians who want to purge Christmas of Pagan influence.

People ought to read Ronald Hutton's Stations of the Sun: a history of the ritual year in Britain which debunks some of the wilder claims and establishes what is really ancient and Pagan about Christmas customs - namely, bringing greenery into the house, and giving presents (which was a Saturnalia custom).

As Adventus says, it's very unlikely that people knew the exact date of the solstice, but they would obviously have wanted to rest and feast during the short days and long nights around the solstice. Also, as he further points out, it's rather insulting to our ancestors to assume that they feared the sun wouldn't come back, or they were afraid of Odin.

Whatever, I think there are both Pagan and Christian impulses and symbolism in Yuletide and Christmas, and we should not try to purge the Pagan festival of Christian impulses, or the Christian festival of Pagan impulses, but rejoice in the delightful smorgasbord that is the season.

Actually, axial tilt is the reason for the season - but humans are storytelling apes, after all, and we love a good story. And the Nativity, whether true or not, and whichever god is being born in a cave or a stable, is a very good story.

Benazir Bhutto

I was deeply saddened to learn that Benazir Bhutto has been murdered. I have always admired her for standing up for democracy and people's rights, for being a woman not afraid to speak her mind in a patriarchal culture, and for trying to limit the power of feudal landlords. She was the first woman prime minister of Pakistan. I also thought it was brave of her to return to Pakistan for the current election campaign.

Please sign a petition to demand an investigation into who was responsible for Benazir Bhutto's death, and stop violence in Pakistan. I don't know how much good it will do, but it's a gesture of solidarity with Benazir Bhutto, at least. Of course one should not have to sign a petition to ensure someone's killers are brought to justice, and it is to be hoped that President Musharraf's government will be carrying out an investigation anyway.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Northern Lights

We went to see the film Golden Compass last night, and really enjoyed it. Generally speaking, Lyra's world was pretty close to the way I imagined it from reading the books. The alethiometer was beautifully designed, and the daemons worked well too, especially Pantalaimon and Hester. Also Nicole Kidman was very scary as Mrs Coulter (though her monkey daemon wasn't quite how I imagined him), Eva Green was excellent as Serafina Pekkala, and all the casting was rather inspired, I thought. The CGI was 99% convincing, apart from one aerial shot of London (slightly blurred, but I notice there is a Gherkin in Lyra's world too) and the fight scene between Iorek Byrnisson and Ragnar (not as much blood as one might have expected, but perhaps that's just as well in a children's film).

Serafina PekkalaApparently the Vatican has complained that the film is anti-Christian, but I say, if the Catholic Church recognises itself in the mirror held up to it by the Magisterium, maybe it should do something to clean up its image. Stop telling people what to think, and people like Philip Pullman will stop writing unflattering portraits of your religion. Note what a good press witches (nonconformists and freethinkers all) get from the book and the film. If Christianity had stuck to the radical message of Jesus instead of transmogrifying itself into the heir to the Roman Empire, then it wouldn't bear such a close resemblance to the Magisterium.

It is your values that count, not what you believe.


In a move worthy of a Jeunet & di Caro film, a cultural "guerrilla" group has restored the clock of the Panthéon in Paris. They are called UnterGunther.
For a year from September 2005, under the nose of the Panthéon's unsuspecting security officials, a group of intrepid "illegal restorers" set up a secret workshop and lounge in a cavity under the building's famous dome. Under the supervision of group member Jean-Baptiste Viot, a professional clockmaker, they pieced apart and repaired the antique clock that had been left to rust in the building since the 1960s. Only when their clandestine revamp of the elaborate timepiece had been completed did they reveal themselves.
That is awesome - not only did they sneak into the building under the noses of the curators, but they restored the clock and built themselves a small living room, which is rather chic. They were recently cleared by the Paris Court of Justice of breaking any laws.

» More photos at (he compares it to an Umberto Eco novel)
» Interview with Lazar Kunstmann, a member of UnterGunther

Friday, December 14, 2007

save the "witch children"

Children who are accused of witchcraft in Africa have been beaten, abused, abandoned and even killed. This scandalous state of affairs is exacerbated by the arrival of evangelical Christianity in Africa.

Now there is a charity which helps children accused of witchcraft, and gives them a new start in life. It's called Stepping Stones Nigeria, and you can donate via PayPal.

If you're having any sort of social event, please consider using it as a fundraiser for these kids.
I have created a facebook group to promote awareness of this issue.

ban incandescent bulbs

The Irish have just banned incandescent lightbulbs, and the ban will come into effect by 2009.

In this country, they have introduced a voluntary scheme to come into effect by 2011, which is pathetic and will have no effect, as a number of major retailers have no intention of complying.

You can send a letter (via the Greenpeace website) to the Minister for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs asking for a proper ban.

what kids really want

According to a series of interviews by the BBC, what children really want from their education is more time to learn about other cultures and the world around them, more innovative use of technology, more social networking, and more support services. I'm surprised there was no mention of the environment, but was heartened by the interests expressed.

I think education should start by discussing the world as it is, and then use that as a starting-point to explain how it came to be that way. For example, when I was at school we studied the Tudors and the Stuarts - presumably because that was the period when the current arrangements of Church, State, Parliament and so on came into being - but if that was the reason for studying those periods of history, no-one ever said so explicitly. If they had, people might have found the topic more interesting.


watercolour day
muted green, brown and copper -
painted pheasant struts.

mist obscures the hills,
familiar shapes soft grey,
a world of spirits.

birch leaves, golden coins
hang motionless on the tree -
winter's treasure hoard

climate change petition

24 hours to go, and crisis at the Bali climate talks. In the last day alone, over 150,000 of us have surged to the global rescue -- calling on the world not to give in to wrecking tactics by the governments of the US, Canada and Japan. We're putting a full-page ad in the Jakarta Post?s summit edition where all the negotiators will see it, warning them to avert Titanic-like disaster -- and we're coming together with other NGOs to deliver millions of signatures for climate action to governments.

If the world can muster well over 200,000 crisis signatures in the last 24 hours for our actions tomorrow, we can show negotiators how urgently we care about setting a course for decisive climate action.

Last week, things in Bali looked good: near-consensus on a delicate framework of 2020 targets for rich countries, in return for which China and the developing world would do their part over time. IPCC scientists have said such targets are needed to prevent catastrophe. But Japan, the US and Canada are banding together to wreck the deal. The rest of the world is starting to waver, so we must do all we can - please sign the petition.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Bristol Interfaith Midwinter Circle

We went to the Bristol Interfaith Midwinter Circle last night, and it was fabulous. Each community representative lit a candle on the main table before offering their contribution.

Muslim contribution – Samina Aslam & children – relating to the Prophet Ibrahim & the Hajj, also a Sufi poem by Rumi. This was great, because Samina told the story of Hagar / Hajar from the perspective of Islam, and it is slightly expanded from the Biblical version. I always thought it was sad that Hagar was sent away, so was glad to know that she was looked after (it mentions the spring and the idea that she was the ancestor of a nation in the Bible).

Progressive Jewish Congregation contribution – Rabbi Ron Berry – celebration of Chanukah, and about the Hanukiah. The Chanukah story is always rather moving, and also he lit a candle next to the Muslim candle, which was deeply symbolic in many ways.

Christian contribution – June Ridd – telling us about the significance of Advent. I never knew that each of the four Advent candles stood for something different: the first week is the Prophets, the second week is the Patriarchs, the third week is John the Baptist, and the fourth week is the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Spiritual Assembly of the Bahais contribution – Angela Parr – a reading & a poem. She read from Baha'ullah and then a poem by John Masefield, Laugh and be merry.
So we must laugh and drink from the deep blue cup of the sky,
Join the jubilant song of the great stars sweeping by,
Laugh, and battle, and work, and drink of the wine outpoured
In the dear green earth, the sign of the joy of the Lord.
Buddhist community of Lam Rim contribution – Mike Austin – he read from the Capala Sutra, which reminds Buddhists how to stay awake.

Hindu contribution - an explanation of the daily Aarti ceremony and how it employs the symbolism of the five elements (sky, air, fire, earth, water); a mantra that goes with it; and a reading about the spiritual journey in Hinduism, which culminates in moksha, union with the Divine.

Pagan contribution – Yvonne Aburrow and Nick Hanks – a brief overview of the Pagan customs of Yuletide, past and present. I talked about Saturnalia as the inversion of the usual social order; Yule as the turning point in the wheel of the year, and the oldest known symbols of Yule, which are the antlered man and the old woman; and the Pagan origins of decking the house with greenery and exchanging gifts. Nick talked about how Pagans celebrate Yule now, and about the symbolism of the Christmas tree.

Unitarian contribution – Bernard Omar read a piece about the interfaith significance of the scouting movement, and the interfaith commitments of Unitarianism. He also had the lights turned out during his reading, and read by candlelight, and invited us to imagine we were sitting around a large bonfire, like the Scouts!

Sokka Gakai contribution – Will Grealish led the chanting of Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, a mantra from the Lotus Sutra.

Sikh contribution – Mr Singh Bisla & priests - singing accompanied by harmonium & tabla. This was very beautiful and full of yearning for the Divine.

interpreters betrayed

I am absolutely disgusted by the betrayal of the Iraqi interpreters and other people who worked for the British in Iraq.

Safa, 28, one of the rejected interpreters who worked for the British for more than two years, received a letter from the Locally Employed Staff Assistance Office in Basra which said: “We have considered your case very carefully but we are sorry to inform you that, because your service with the British Forces was terminated for absence, you do not meet the minimum employment criteria for this scheme.”

Safa told The Times that he had never resigned but had been forced to stop working after receiving two bullets and a written death threat at his house in Basra in April. Married with one child, he said that he was advised by an army liaison officer and intelligence officials to stay at home until he felt safe.

A few months later the interpreter contacted the military to see if he could return only to be told that he was not needed but would be called if an opening arose.

Talk about faceless bureaucracy. Not to mention perfidious Albion, high-handed colonialism, and outrageous betrayal of good faith.

The government needs to help these people, and fast.

Lynne Featherstone MP has posted an entry on her blog today about how you
can help keep up the pressure on the government on this issue

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

my daemon is...

RAVEN - Your daemon may be a member of the crow family. You are intelligent, observant, and gregarious. Just as a crow or raven picks shiny objects out of the dirt, you pick up tidbits of information or ideas and store them away. You have a good sense of humour, but sometimes lose patience with people who are antipathic to your nature. You are swift to alert others when you find the truth, and you have no tolerance for those who would hide it.

Take this quiz!
His Dark Materials

Saturday, December 08, 2007

just plain thick

People like this should not be allowed to spout their nonsense in the public domain:
The new co-host of "The View," Sherri Shepherd, insisted Tuesday that Christianity was older than ancient Greece, and even Judaism.
Even Whoopi Goldberg didn't seem too sure whether there were any Christians around at the time of Epicurus (341-270 BCE), even though she was pretty sure there weren't. Hmm, you would have thought the popular usage "BC" would have been a big clue...

I would imagine that even creationists, who are total numbskulls, know that Judaism predated Christianity, because the Bible makes it clear that Judaism came first (unless the reader is severely intellectually challenged). It also mentions the other religions that were around at the time when Christianity started, and which fairly obviously predate it (e.g. in the Book of Acts when the silversmiths of Ephesus raise a clamour against Paul, saying "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians").

You would have thought that before somebody went on TV to talk about Epicurus (or any other topic), they would be required to get their facts straight. Not only does this woman think that there have always been Christians (what, even in prehistory?) but she also said earlier this year that she didn't know if the world was flat or round.

This would be funny if it wasn't deeply, deeply tragic that this kind of nudnik is actually allowed on TV, or indeed, allowed out on their own without supervision.

[Thanks to Caroline Tully for sending me this.]

Friday, December 07, 2007

plastic shamans

Fresh controversy has broken out over the issue of plastic shamans and other new-age wannabes ripping off Indigenous American rituals. Jason Pitzl-Waters comments:
While I think that modern Pagans and polytheists should strive towards solidarity (when feasible) with those who practice pre-Christian faiths and rituals, our support should never be confused with the notion that we have a "right" to "borrow" (and take out of cultural context) their spiritual practices for our own benefit. Empathy for the Indian struggle does not confer the right to appropriate Native traditions and practices. Praying like an Indian doesn't help the Indian preserve their culture and integrity, it only serves our vanity and dilutes authentic practice.
There's an excellent article about Responsible Eclecticism and Cultural Appropriation which outlines the difference - basically if you take someone else's ritual and plonk it down in your spiritual context with no thought about what you are doing, that is cultural appropriation. If in addition to that, the group you have borrowed from is in danger of having its culture and land-rights stomped all over by mainstream culture, and you do nothing to help them in their struggle, that is the pits. And most of the plastic shamans have done nothing to assist in the indigenous struggle for self-determination, they've just ripped off their rituals and made a great deal of money out of them.

If on the other hand you look for parallels within your own tradition, and adapt the borrowing to your own context (an example being centering prayer, which is an adaptation of meditation) that is responsible eclecticism.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

I am Che

...hear me roar!

I used to have a photo of me aged about 14 wearing a beret and looking like Che (only without the beard) but unfortunately I lost it.

[meme via gamoonbat]

prison for religious bigots

A pair of religious bigots who posted entirely false and unsubstantiated allegations of "satanic" child abuse on their web site have been given a nine month prison sentence in Australia.

Such allegations could have extremely serious consequences for the victims (and have had such consequences in the past), so it is only right and proper that the people making untrue allegations like this should be jailed. This case should also establish a precedent for clearing other bigoted and libellous nonsense off the internet, such as this list of supposedly dodgy organisations (some of which are not dodgy), which should be replaced with this list of how to spot the warning signs of a dodgy group (see the section 'Some danger signals to watch for').

Read the Australian OTO press release for more details. Also see the Wild Hunt for more background information.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Persecution of witches

I have just read and signed the petition: "Stop the Mpumalanga Witchcraft Suppression Bill 2007"

The above 2007 Bill and 1957 Act undermines, denies and violates S.A. Constitutional Rights to religious freedom, expression, equality, liberty, dignity and security of a religious minority in South Africa.

Please take a moment to read about this important issue, and join me in signing the petition. It takes just 30 seconds, but can truly make a difference. They are trying to reach 6,000 signatures.

Why is this important? Because people have been murdered and maimed on suspicion of being witches, and giving a legal basis to the persecution of witches will make the problem of attacks on innocent people even worse. And it will also adversely affect Wiccans and Pagans in South Africa.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

word power

This is fun! Check out your word power and give free rice to the world's hungry via the United Nations. I got four words wrong (one of their definitions was incorrect) out of 104 words, so I donated 1000 grains of rice to the project. Mind you, some of the words are really hard and I had to guess using etymology. My "vocabulary level" went up to 50 (the top level) at one point, but occasionally dropped down to 47. Apparently it is rare to go above 48. Woohoo!

The only problem with it is, that there is no stopping point, it just goes on for ever - potentially addictive.

Friday, November 16, 2007

the darkness at the end of the paradigm

The other day we went to a very thought-provoking talk by Jocelyn Bell Burnell (the discoverer of pulsars) at the Bath Science Café at The Raven.

There was talk of dark matter and dark energy, which are basically 'dark' in the sense that no-one knows what they are. We do know that dark matter is probably non-baryonic, unlike most matter in the universe. (Baryonic matter is matter with protons and neutrons in the nucleus.)

So, she said, there will be a paradigm shift when the nature of dark matter and dark energy is discovered.

There was a similar paradigm shift when it was finally realised that phlogiston didn't exist. Natural philosophers studying burning materials assumed that, since they gained weight after burning, they must be emitting a substance that had negative mass; they called this substance phlogiston. Joseph Priestley almost had it right when he produced "phlogisticated air" (air that, he believed, was rich in phlogiston), but it was Antoine Lavoisier who realised that phlogiston didn't exist, and that rather than losing a substance with negative mass, the burning material was actually fixing oxygen out of the air. The theory of phlogiston may seem daft now, but it made sense at a time when it was assumed that air was all one substance, not several different gases mixed together. (I remember watching a video about this in O-level Chemistry.)

Another paradigm shift that Professor Bell Burnell told us about occurred in astronomy when looking at planetary orbits; it was assumed they were circular, but then people observed anomalies in them and called them epicycles, and it all got very untidy until Johannes Kepler pointed out that the orbits were elliptical.

And of course the most famous paradigm shift of all was the one when Copernicus pointed out that we live in a heliocentric solar system, not a geocentric one.

At least nowadays you are not likely to get burnt at the stake or kept under house arrest for suggesting a radical new scientific idea. The worst thing that could happen to you is loss of tenure.

The point of all this is to say that, although there is speculation as to what dark matter and dark energy might be, it may be that something else is wrong, such as the basic assumptions which led to the need to theorise their existence, in which case whatever is causing the need to insert them into the theoretical models turns out to be something completely different. In a hundred years' time, people could be laughing at those early 21st century scientists who believed in 'dark matter' and 'dark energy', in the same way that we find phlogiston, flat earth theory and geocentric cosmology amusing nowadays. Such is the weirdness when we're sitting on the brink of a paradigm shift. Maybe a bit like sitting at the event horizon of a black hole - nothing will ever be the same again once you have passed the threshold.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Colours of Paganism

I have a guest post up at The Colours of Paganism. It's part of a series on the colours of religion - the symbolism, mythology, and festivals and the colours that go with them.

The photos came from the CreativeCommons licensed photos on flickr.

I think this is my favourite, the one I chose for Beltane:
Maypole Beltane
by yksin

Narnia haiku

Open wardrobe door
snow drifts in from Narnia -
melts in English sun.

If the Macready
had not chased them, would they have entered?
Permanent winter.

Thawing icicles
Sweet chime of water ringing -
Jadis' most feared sound.

Four thrones stand empty
In the castle by the sea.
Earth, Air, Fire, Water.

The Lion's return:
a slow alchemical change
creeps over the land.

A Cair Paravel sunrise:
Four heads are crowned; flags flutter,
Mermaids are singing.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

I am right-brained

... apparently. If you see the dancer in this graphic going clockwise, it means you are right-brained, and if it's anti-clockwise, it means you are left-brained. I could only see it as clockwise, I couldn't make it go the other way. Assuming this is based on genuine psychology and isn't just balderdash, that's really interesting and useful.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Lest we forget


Move him into the sun -
Gently its touch awoke him once,
At home, whispering of fields unsown.
Always it woke him, even in France,
Until this morning and this snow.
If anything might rouse him now
The kind old sun will know.

Think how it wakes the seeds -
Woke, once, the clays of a cold star.
Are limbs so dear-achieved, are sides
Full-nerved, - still warm, - too hard to stir?
Was it for this the clay grew tall?
- O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth's sleep at all?

Wilfred Owen
I first heard the following in a remembrance assembly when I was teaching at Oxted School; it has haunted me ever since.
Henry Gregory of 119th Machine Gun company was interviewed after the war about life in the trenches:

When we arrived in the trenches we got a shock when the other soldiers in the hut took their shirts off after tea. They were catching lice. We had never seen a louse before, but they were here in droves. The men were killing them between their nails. When they saw us looking at this performance with astonishment, one of the men remarked, 'You will soon be as lousy as we are chum!' They spent the better part of an hour in killing lice and scratching themselves. We soon found out that this took the better part of an hour daily. Each day brought a new batch; as fast as you killed them, others took their place.

One night, as we lay in bed after doing our two hours' sentry - we did two hours on and two hours off - my friend Jock said 'damn this, I cannot stand it any longer!' He took off his tunic - we slept in these - then he took off his jersey, then his shirt. He put his shirt in the middle of the dug-out floor and put his jersey and tunic on again. As we sat up in bed watching the shirt he had taken off and put it on the floor it actually lifted; it was swarming with lice.

from spartacus.schoolnet
British 55th (West Lancashire) Division troops blinded by tear gas during the Battle of Estaires, 10 April 1918.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.

- Wilfred Owen, from Dulce et decorum est

Fallen leaves

Each year with the falling of the leaves we shall remember them,
As the years drift into the silence of longing -
The longing for the ones who never came back.

A photograph, dimmed by time, is all that remains;
A lock of hair, a memory, a name, each evoking
A man that lived and breathed and laughed.

Poets and dreamers, craftsmen and lovers
Farmers and ploughmen, boys from the shires
Fallen leaves in the autumn, returning to the soil.

Yvonne Aburrow

Friday, November 09, 2007

religions as software

Christianity is like Microsoft:
  • It's a large corporate venture, bent on world domination
  • Once you've installed it on your hard drive, it's really difficult to get rid of it
  • Nearly everyone's got it (and they use it in schools), so it has become the default option
  • It is incompatible with other software
  • It takes up a lot of space on your hard drive
  • It fails to conform to international standards
  • But the user interface is attractive and the support is 24/7
Paganism is like Linux:
  • It's dead set against Microsoft
  • It's small and developed by a dedicated community of geeks
  • It comes from Northern Europe
  • The support arrangements are a bit patchy
  • It's eclectic and has lots of shareware
Reconstructionism is like programming via the command line:
Satanism is like a computer virus:
  • It's parasitic upon Microsoft and exploits its vulnerabilities
  • People blame it on the Linux geeks but it's actually done by spotty teenagers with no social life
  • Naive Microsoft users are always claiming there's more of it about than there actually is (there are only about 100 actual Satanists in the UK)
Google is like an insidious cult:
  • It appeared from nowhere and everyone thought it was peace-loving and non-corporate and cool
  • Now it is trying to take over the world by stealth
  • It started with the motto "Don't be evil" but then got into bed with a totalitarian regime
The New Age is like Facebook:
  • Light, bright and has lots of shiny gizmos
  • Uses social networking to connect people
Quakers (Friends) and Unitarians are like Apple Mac:
  • Generally owned by intellectuals and arty types; not corporate
  • Adheres to international standards
  • Great user interface; universally agreed to be cool
  • But hardly anyone actually owns one
Wicca is like Firefox:
  • Wicca discovered the Divine Feminine way before Christianity, and now they're stealing our clothes (so everyone will think they discovered Her) - Firefox invented tabbed browsing way before Microsoft, and now Microsoft have finally adopted it, and everyone will think they invented it
  • Both Wicca and Firefox have a great logo
  • Both adopted by a small community of dedicated users
By Yvonne Aburrow (if you pass this on to anyone else, please link back here).

See also: Religions as ex-girlfriends by Al Billings

Monday, November 05, 2007

My new Facebook apps

I have created two Facebook apps using feeds, Yahoo Pipes and the blidget tool offered by Widgetbox.

White Poppy promotes ideas for peaceful ways of living and images of peace. It also remembers with respect all those who have died in war, and seeks to bring an end to conflict so that such deaths might not happen in future. It is a mashup of two feeds: items tagged 'peace' on and items tagged 'peace' on flickr. Check out the official white poppy site. You can also buy a white poppy from various outlets.

MetaPagan is a Pagan and Heathen blog aggregator, to go with the Pagan community blog of the same name. It brings together blog posts by, about and for the Pagan community. You can contribute via

Friday, November 02, 2007

Mughal Muggles

"Muggle" a long gone muslim empire in India. [citation needed]

~ from Wikipedia entry: Muggle
Harry Potter in UrduDurr, I think they mean Mughal. But this conjures up images of the Indian version of Hogwarts, hidden away somewhere in the Hindu Kush, and a small boy somewhere in Pakistan receiving a letter penned in green ink from Safed Shehed Ki Makhi inviting him to attend the Suardhabba School of Jaadoo.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Justice is done

I am extremely glad to hear that the evil Westboro Baptist Church, who spew hate at funerals of both gay people and soldiers killed in Iraq (claiming that God is punishing America for its "tolerance" of gays - not that it is entirely tolerant towards us) have been fined $10,900,000 for their actions at the funeral of Matthew Snyder, a soldier who was killed in Iraq. As they have been behaving like this for over a decade, it is a shame that it has taken their appearance at soldiers' funerals for something to be done about it. Fortunately the good people of Angel Action have been there from the start, shielding the mourners from the hate-mongers.

If the mere mention of the evil of Westboro has left a bad taste in your mouth, then I recommend a visit to the SoulForce website, which is all about LGBT and straight people of faith working together to end prejudice and discrimination against LGBT people.
Romaine Patterson as an angel of peaceRomaine Patterson, founder of Angel Action

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Avaaz newsletter - Burma

Dear Avaaz member,

What Avaaz members have done so far:

789,479 petition signatures, hand-delivered to UK Prime Minister and UN Security Council member Gordon Brown. (Video here.)

$315,000 raised for the Burmese democracy movement.

33,403 emails to EU leaders urging targeted sanctions.

1,952 messages sent to Singapore's Foreign Minister George Yeo.

100+ protests in cities worldwide against the Burmese regime.

1 global ad campaign, including a full-page ad in the Financial Times pushing China to act.

If they haven't yet, ask friends to
sign the petition
Burma's streets are quiet--no mass demonstrations, no riot police. But the calm is an illusion. Change is coming to Burma, and we are all a part of it.

Here's where we stand: The regime has massacred, tortured, and intimidated its critics at home, and continues its night arrests and brutal interrogations. But while it has momentarily silenced the domestic opposition, its attacks on the revered Buddhist monks ignited an anger amongst the Burmese people that cannot be extinguished. Contacts inside Burma tell us that the demonstrators are steadily regrouping, even in the face of the deadly crackdown.

And around the world, the roar has grown deafening--so powerful that governments are scrambling for ways to bring new pressure to bear on the junta. Government leaders and the media have publicly credited the outcry of global civil society. Look at the statistics in the box on the right to see how, working alongside allies around the world, Avaaz members have begun to make a difference.

Many Burmese members of Avaaz have written in. Here's a note from one of them--Trisa, now living abroad:

I am one of the 8888 uprising generation. Since the September uprising in Burma, I can't get good night sleep. I can't contact my remaining families and friends if they are ok... The voice of the world is very powerful. I have heartfelt thank you for all the supporters. Your voice can change our lives!

And here's a note from an Avaaz member, Lynn in London, who joined a group of Burmese monks to hand-deliver the Avaaz petition--contained in a big red box--to UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, on the steps of 10 Downing Street last week:

When I put my hand on the red box, which held the 753,000 signatures from around the world collected by Avaaz, I imagined the outrage of the many people from every country in the world, every culture, every race, and every religion, contained within this box which was about to be presented to the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. I thought about what it might mean for these Burmese monks whose religious brothers far away had been hurt and mistreated by the crackdown, to know that in every country in the world, people were supporting them.

And here's what May Ng, a Burmese writer, editorialized on the news site Mizzima after seeing our petition:

As their voices have been heard and their faces have been seen, Aung San Suu Kyi and the people of Burma will no longer be alone., whose mission is to ensure that the views and values of the world's people shape global decisions, will make sure that Burmese people will have a voice over their own fate from now on.

Avaaz will share the struggle of the Burmese people until the struggle is won. Our goals are constant: transition, dialogue, reconciliation, and democracy. We will also continue to take action together on many urgent issues, from climate change to peace in the Middle East to human rights--but we will not turn from the cause of the Burmese people. We believe that every human life has equal value, whether in Berlin, Beijing or Rangoon.

As Aung San Suu Kyi once urged, we will use our freedom to promote theirs.

With hope,

Ben, Ricken, Paul, Galit, Graziela, Iain, Sarah, Pascal, and Milena--the Avaaz team

PS: 52 years ago today, the UN charter enshrined "the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples." Twelve years ago today, Aung San Suu Kyi was imprisoned. And today, in key cities around the world, protesters held a new wave of protests; the first shipment of supplies, paid for by Avaaz members, left for Burma--and the junta agreed to re-admit Ibrahim Gambari, the U.N. envoy who is working to build a dialogue between the regime and the opposition, earlier than previously announced. It's been a long struggle, but the most important ones always are.

PPS: If your friends haven't yet signed the petition, urge them to sign at:

PPPS: Some further reading:

Voices from within Burma:

Avaaz's Paul Hilder "People Power can win":

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


I'm a Type 2 - The Humanitarian

Friends, family, and colleagues probably appreciate your caring and generous nature. They're also apt to know that when they come to you with a problem, you'll usually offer a shoulder to cry on and unparalleled compassion. As a Humanitarian, you're likely to be seen as a loving and helpful person with a kind heart.

Being a member of this type puts you in good company. Mother Teresa, with her tireless devotion to aid the sick and destitute members of society, and Bishop Desmond Tutu, with his emphasis on nonviolent protest against racial injustices, are also Type 2s

This means that compared to the eight other Enneagram types, you have a strong sense of empathy for other people. In fact, you're the kind of warm, sincere person who can be uniquely capable of seeing the good in others.

(Yvonne blushes and looks around for something to hide under)

More about Type 2 from Wikipedia:

Twos: Helpers, Givers, Caretakers

Twos, at their best, are compassionate, thoughtful and astonishingly generous but they can also be particularly prone to clinginess and manipulation. Twos want, above all, to be loved and needed and fear being unworthy of love.

Ego fixation: flattery
Holy idea: freedom
Passion: pride
Virtue: humility
Stress point: Eight
Security point: Four

do you know what it is yet?

According to a poll conducted in 2003:
Nearly half of those surveyed could not identify Leonardo Da Vinci as the painter of the Mona Lisa.

And 7% thought Australian TV presenter and artist [Rolf] Harris had painted Monet's Water Lillies.

The survey, conducted by Encyclopaedia Britannica among 500 people, found 85% could not name Edvard Munch as the creator of The Scream.

British art also caused problems for many, with more than half could not being able to identify the Hay Wain as by John Constable, while one in 10 thought Botticelli had painted David Hockney's A Bigger Splash.

The survey also discovered that 43% of those questioned had never visited an art gallery in their lives, despite 68% of people citing art as important factor in society.
My knowledge of art is pretty good, so I thought I would see how well I did in various quizzes. I got all of the items on the BBC quiz right. I got 6 out of 10 on this slightly more specialised quiz on twentieth-century art; 12 out of 20 on this quiz about the Impressionists; 7 out of 9 on Art Schools 1860 - 1900. Not bad, as the questions were quite abit harder than just identifying who painted The Scream or the Mona Lisa. But even if Brits know nuffink abaht art, I hope (probably naively) that they'd do better than this on questions about current affairs.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


Have you got a permit for that aura?
China tells living Buddhas to obtain permission before they reincarnate

Proving that absurdity knows no boundaries, the Communist Chinese regime has banned reincarnation by Buddhas and bodhisattvas without permission from the government. I suppose the Chinese will now begin rewriting the Tibetan Book of the Dead to include the new “bardo of governmental approval.”

And people call practitioners of religion irrational!!!!

Monday, October 15, 2007

still 100% Pagan

I hereby certify myself still 100% Pagan, or should that be NeoPagan?

Either way, I enjoy Taoism, love of nature, animism, non-theism, pantheism, compassion for all life, communing with the Universe, and seeking to balance myself with the Way of Nature (variously known as the Tao, Yin and Yang, Fire and Frost, Wyrd, etc). I affirm that we are all related (mitakuye oyasin). There was no fall, only an arising. The Universe is the Beloved.

Having re-lived the entire religious history of Europe in the past two months, I don't recommend it! From Pagan Polytheist to Orthodox Christian (missed out Catholicism, but waved to St Francis as I rushed past him) to a vague protestant feeling, to Unitarian, to non-theist, humanist, romantic animist NeoPagan. But I'm very glad to have found the Unitarians, where being a non-theist Pagan makes perfect sense, given their humanist and universalist tendencies and interest in wisdom from other traditions. Anyway, being a non-theist is excellent, I heartily recommend it. As Terry Pratchett so wisely said, witches don't believe in the gods, it would be like believing in the postman.

Saturday, October 13, 2007


I came across the concept of egregores on Notes from underground, the blog of an Orthodox anarchist. It seems to me a very useful concept for describing "group mind" - the projection of self beyond the boundaries of the body in order to include others. Sometimes, if the values embraced are liberal, inclusive and humanitarian, such an egregore can be useful; but at other times, it can be destructive and divisive, especially if it involves demonising (projecting a shadow onto) another group.

The clever part about the more inclusive and liberal monotheisms is the idea that there is only one supreme being, who encompasses the whole universe (this is good, because instead of worshipping the egregore of your group, denomination, religion, or country, you are instead worshipping something which is regarded as the parent of all humanity). But the problem of monotheism is that if such a being existed and was omnipotent and omnibenevolent and omniscient as monotheistic religions claim, she would need to be perfect, and not allow evil (such as genocides, pogroms, the Holocaust, etc.) to occur.

Shekhinah theology
is quite a good way to account for this problem, but it still does not explain why a perfect being could create a universe in which mind is flawed.

The existence of egregores would certainly account for the narrow, bigoted and sectarian views of many religionists, who are seeking something less than the All - worshipping an egregore of their own cultural values. As Douglas Adams said, many people can't handle the size of the universe, so they choose to live in something smaller of their own devising.

Buddhism has managed to get on for centuries without deities (it acknowledges their existence, but is more interested in liberation from samsara).

Personally I still find Buddhism too interested in liberating spirit from matter, rather than awakening the Mind of the All, but it still has some interesting ideas. That said, if we really want to awaken the mind of the All, we'd better be sure we give it nice liberal and inclusive values....

I must also acknowledge the influence of Numenism on my new train of thought.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Burma - act now!

Squeeze the Burmese Junta - write to your foreign minister
This Monday October 15, the 27 foreign ministers of the European Union will meet--and decide whether to keep their word on Burma.

More than three weeks ago, the day before the junta's brutal crackdown began, the EU warned that it would "not hesitate to reinforce and strengthen the existing sanctions regime" if the government resorted to violence. As atrocities in Burma worsen, the EU must act. By threatening the generals' economic interests, targeted sanctions can squeeze the military and push them into negotiations without hurting the Burmese people. That's why the democracy movement and Aung San Suu Kyi are asking us to act, saying "Please use your liberty to promote ours."

Let's stand with the Burmese people and urge our foreign ministers to strengthen the sanctions - while offering aid and incentives for progress.

Godde doesn't exist yet

I had a radical and rather liberating thought this morning. There was no Fall, because there was never a Golden Age or a Garden of Eden to fall from. But there is an Arising. There was no Creator God or Divine Source, rather the universe and its inhabitants are becoming more conscious, more compassionate, more empathic, with the arising of the universal Mind (which proceeds from the unfolding of the Tao). As we interact socially with the Universe, we increase its consciousness. First we awakened gods and spirits of place, then gradually began to perceive the All and wonder at the glories of Nature and the Universe. (Evil occurs when we fail to empathise with others.) We are part of the Arising of the universal Mind, as we become more conscious and more empathic. We are all Future Buddhas. As we become more empathically connected to the All, when we die we contribute our consciousness to the All, and it is in this process of connection that universal Mind arises. Those who mystically identify the All as a Thou and not an It contribute to the process of expanding awareness and continuing the process of making everything more conscious. The process of individuation and self-development is part of the process of becoming aware of the uniqueness and preciousness of all life in its glorious diversity. The golden age is in the future, not in the past. The genius of Buddhism and Unitarianism is that they are focussed on a future golden age, not a mythical one in the past from which we fell. Bodhisattvas (such as Jesus and Kwan Yin) so identified with the All that their compassion / karuna / empathy accelerated the arising of the universal Mind, and they are still there in some sense, guiding humanity towards awakening. But the awakening will not be from the illusion of matter, but rather matter itself is becoming ever more conscious or ensouled - it is awakening. Only when the Mind of the Universe is fully conscious - when the kundalini of the Universe has arisen from the depths - only then will "Godde" fully exist.

See also: God as Manifestation of Mind

Tuesday, October 02, 2007


Harry came home! Apparently he was lurking in a neighbour's empty flat, and when the people who look after it opened the door, he shot out. I am now seriously considering fitting him with some sort of remote tracking device. I am hugely hugely relieved, and so is Nick.

I've phoned round all the people I phoned to report him missing to tell them he has been found, and Nick has gone out to take down the posters.

Thanks be!

Monday, October 01, 2007

worried about Harry

Harry has a heart murmur which means he could just collapse at any moment, and he's been missing for more than 48 hours now, and it's raining and cold. We last saw him on Friday morning. He's been on medication for a couple of months now, and has been a lot happier since he's been taking it - all his fur has grown back on his bald patches, and he's been rubbing round us and purring a lot. (I can't bear to use past tense.)

We've just been out and put up posters with a description and this photo, in case he is locked in someone's garage or shed. I put notes through the doors of people in our close on Sunday morning before we went off to chapel, but haven't heard anything. I've also phoned the RSPCA, the Vet Line, and the people who fitted his microchip, but no-one has taken him there. Various people we have spoken to have told us tales of cats that went missing for three weeks, so it's not time to give up hope yet.

The problem is that we just don't know what has happened to him, whether or not to mourn. We keep looking at places in the house and garden where he likes to sit - his favourite cushions and places he likes to sit outside - next door's extension roof, the top of the coal shed - and every time we eat anything that we would normally give him a titbit of, it brings it home that he is not there.

Any prayers or good vibes would be much appreciated.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Neil Gaiman in Bath

Thanks to one of my colleagues alerting me to the fact that Mr Gaiman was in Bath yesterday, we went to the Bath Children's Literature Festival to hear him read from his latest projects, The Graveyard Book and Od and the Frost Giants, both of which were excellent. I can't tell you much about them, as it would be unfair to reveal anything in advance, but The Graveyard Book has a small boy, some ghosts, a vampire, and some ghouls. The ghosts and the vampires are friendly, but the ghouls are distinctly ambivalent. As ever, his writing style gets you hooked and involved in the story straight away - I can't wait till it comes out next summer. Od and the Frost Giants seems to be for younger children, but is still gripping stuff.

Friday, September 28, 2007

is this really necessary?

Just seen this link to a Christian organisation posted on Facebook, and to be honest I found it to be a completely pointless organisation.
By bringing God's values, His Kingdom into the way we work, the way we build-up our relationships, the way we deal with our bosses, our customers, our suppliers and colleagues, we can truly make a difference.
I say pointless because there are already many groups trying to make a difference and bring respect, tolerance, freedom and other humane values (common to all religions, not just invented by Christianity), such as unions, multi-faith chaplaincies, international offices, equal opportunities committees and the like. I can't imagine many evangelical Christians wanting to work constructively with people of all faiths and none, or with LGBT people, for example. And I think most people would feel excluded by the evangelical Christian language.

Of course many workplaces need transforming into more ethical places, but why does it have to have a specifically Christian label? Only 10% of people in this country are actually practising Christians, so most people would regard this as a blatant attempt to impose a specifically Christian worldview, or to convert people to Christianity, even if it were not specifically evangelical (which it is). Also, I would hope Christians were already putting their values into practice at work (though not in the sense of discriminating against LGBT people and people of other faiths or none, or trying to evangelise their colleagues, of course).

The idea of wanting to transform workplaces into nicer places to work and where ethics were of prime importance would have a lot more credibility if it was a multi-faith (including humanist) alliance. And why can't Christians join existing organisations to make workplaces better?

I think the chief reason why this organisation annoys me is the sheer smug self-righteousness of it, as if ethics were invented by Christians. As a matter of fact, the first Western person to think in depth about ethics was Socrates, six centuries before Yeshua ha Notsri. And in the East, Siddharta Gautama also preached compassion about the same time as Socrates.

Personally, I'd like to see more Buddhist values in the workplace: compassion, tolerance, respect for the environment, right conduct towards customers, time off for meditation, respect for other people of whatever faith, and better décor.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

sad news

Ruth Bagnall
I just found out that Ruth Bagnall, with whom I worked at the Cambridge Blue pub, died in 2004. That is really upsetting. She was only 38. I found out via a mutual friend on Facebook.

I remember one night in 1993 or '94, we performed a rousing rendition of Tom Lehrer's Poisoning Pigeons in the Park as we were working behind the bar. She was also the person who introduced me to Queer Theory, as she was in a study group relating to it at the time I knew her. We always used to call her Roof, because she was very tall. She was friendly, witty, and passionate about politics. I wish I had known her better (and that I had kept in touch after I moved to Scotland in '94), and now it is too late.

Apparently there's a memorial tree for her. I just broke off typing this and had to rush outside for a cry at that point - I'm gutted about this.

Don't lose touch with your friends - this sort of thing happens rather a lot.

Occam's Razor

A commenter on the facebook version of the "label, schmabel" post pointed out that the list seemed a bit complex, and said that for her the bottom line was whether the belief system was oppressive or empowering for women and lesbians.

That is part of the bottom line, for me. For instance, I don't see how women can be empowered without liberating men from the oppressive structures of patriarchy too. Another friend lives by Socrates' question, "How shall we live a good life?" which also seems like a good test. The spiritual is political, as many people have pointed out.

I guess my "bottom line" or Occam's Razor would be "Does it contribute to the well-being of all beings?" (including women, men, LGBT, queer, animal, tree, discarnate entity, Gaia, etc.) But one still needs to unpack exactly what that means and how it works out in practice, hence my previous complex list. But I can see how the list would seem weird if you didn't know what my bottom line was.

stand with the people of Burma

After decades of brutal dictatorship, the people of Burma are rising--and they need our help. Today over 100,000 people are on the streets of Rangoon, more around the country. When protesters last marched in 1988, the military massacred thousands.

But this time it can be different--if only the world stands with the marchers. The United Nations summit starts today in New York. Let's raise an emergency global campaign, demanding they press the Burmese generals to negotiate rather than crush the demonstrators. We'll deliver it to Security Council members--particularly China's Hu Jintao, until now the military junta's protector--and to media at the UN this week. Sign our emergency petition supporting the peaceful protests in Burma.

For decades the Burmese dictatorship fought off pressure--imprisoning elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and democracy activists, wiping out thousands of villages in the provinces, bringing miseries from forced labour to refugee camps. One-third of children under 5 now suffer malnutrition; millions are down to one meal a day.

But last Tuesday Buddhist monks and nuns, overwhelmingly respected in Burma, began marching and chanting prayers. The protests spread--now they're growing by tens of thousands every day, as ordinary people, even celebrities and comedians join in. They've broken the chains of fear and given hope to 52 million Burmese.

However, this hope is hanging by a thread. While hesitating to attack the respected monks, the regime is reported to be organising violence. Demonstrators have already been beaten, shots have been fired.

This is one of those moments where the world can make the difference: standing shoulder to shoulder with the Burmese people, helping to shine a dissolving light on tyranny. Let's call on powers at the UN--in particular, China (next year's Olympics host)--to warn the generals that violence will have the gravest consequences, and the time has come for change.

People power is rising through the streets of Burma today. Let the demonstrators know the world is with them.

Monday, September 24, 2007

what religion am I?

According to the Belief-O-Matic:

1. Neo-Pagan (100%)
2. Liberal Quakers (91%)
3. New Age (91%)
4. Mahayana Buddhism (90%)
5. Unitarian Universalism (86%)
6. Reform Judaism (75%)
7. Sikhism (73%)
8. Jainism (72%)
9. Theravada Buddhism (71%)
10. Baha'i Faith (70%)
11. Taoism (67%)
12. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (66%)
13. Hinduism (63%)
14. Orthodox Quaker (61%)
15. Secular Humanism (59%)
16. New Thought (58%)
17. Scientology (58%)
18. Orthodox Judaism (51%)
19. Islam (44%)
20. Christian Science (Church of Christ, Scientist) (40%)
21. Nontheist (32%)
22. Seventh Day Adventist (30%)
23. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) (30%)
24. Mainline to Conservative Christian/Protestant (29%)
25. Eastern Orthodox (19%)
26. Roman Catholic (19%)
27. Jehovah's Witness (17%)

There you go, I am 100% NeoPagan, 91% Liberal Quaker, 90% Mahayana Buddhist, and 86% UU. Maybe I am a Quaking Penguin, er sorry, Quaker Pagan. I resent being 91% New Age, though. And I'm only 67% Taoist, that's strange. I find it significant that my top 11 religions all acknowledge the validity of other religions as paths to the Divine (that's a big issue for me).

label, schmabel

Why I couldn't call myself a Christian under any circumstances
  • Christians have persecuted too many heretics, witches, people of other faiths, and sexual minorities - and they're still doing it
  • The Christian tradition is far too focussed on celibacy and asceticism
  • I don't want to "die to the world" - I love the Earth and nature
  • I don't believe nature is fallen; nor do I believe in original sin
  • Christians must submit to the authority of their creeds and churches; to me, authority comes only from the Divine, heard as the still small voice within, though possibly mediated through the interpretations of others which may give insight
  • They are too keen to convert others to the faith, and too many of them think it is the only truth
  • The Alpha course (it annoys me so much!)
  • I don't believe in the second coming as a literal event (and don't even get me started on those nutters who go on about the Rapture)
  • I don't have a problem with the Trinity, exactly, but nor do I have a problem with the Unity, Duality, Quaternity, or any other numeric representation of the Divine.
  • I can't believe Christ is the only way to the Divine source - and if you look at Yeshua's words in context (John ch 14), he doesn't seem to have been saying that
Why I am having trouble with being labelled Pagan
  • I'm fed up with the reburial issue - why are people worrying about the ancient dead when the Earth is taking a hammering from consumerism and industrialisation? and I'm interested in the individual stories of our ancestors discovered through archaeology, not the relationship of their bones with the landscape
  • I'm fed up with the constant bickering about what colour your candles should be, and lack of interest in theology and community values
  • Neither duotheism nor hard polytheism really work for me as models of the Divine - if you divide the Divine into genders, it implies that there is a "normal" way to be male or female; and the problem with hard polytheism is that it insists that you must view the Divine in a particular way - to me, it's a unity and a multiplicity
  • It is difficult to account for the problem of evil within Pagan theology
  • I'm fed up with the selfish attitude of people who think it's OK to turn up to a festival and drum, sing and play the didgeridoo all night without regard for the needs of others
  • I'm not sure any more if ancient deities can respond to contemporary needs - or rather, I am not so sure if religion should be about the interaction of people and gods, but rather between people and the universe and all its inhabitants
Why I am still a Wiccan
  • I love Wicca - it is my spiritual home: its rituals, festivals and people stir the depths of my soul
  • It is liberating and empowering for both men and women
  • I am an initiate of Wicca, and proud of it
  • Wicca has got me this far on my spiritual path, why should I abandon it now?
  • I feel responsibility to my trainees
  • It is an amalgam of Christian and Pagan themes
  • It acknowledges the validity of all paths to the Divine
  • You don't have to leave your sense of humour or your brain at the door
Why I am exploring and enjoying Unitarianism
  • It acknowledges the validity of all paths to the Divine
  • It feels like another spiritual home
  • It's the ultimate heresy, and I've always loved the heretics and mystics (must be some kind of British-sympathy-for-the-underdog thing)
  • In one of their leaflets they quote from Life of Brian - "you must all think for yourselves"
  • Some of the people I most deeply admire were Unitarians - Ralph Waldo Emerson, Erasmus Darwin, S T Coleridge
  • Even non-theists can join
  • They have cool hymns (and a saying that they sing badly because they're always looking to the next line to see if they agree with it - hey, I do that!)
  • They espouse the values of Yeshua but not necessarily subsequent accretions of doctrine (particularly the Trinity)
  • They regard Yeshua as a great soul, like other great souls such as Buddha
  • I want to explore my relationship with Kwan Yin as well as Yeshua
  • They have a "build-your-own-theology" kit (what a refreshing change from things like the Alpha course)
  • People are welcome, but they don't proselytise
  • They are not anti-LGBT (indeed, they co-founded the Lesbian and Gay Switchboard)
  • They love nature
  • They build links with other faiths and seek to make peace
  • They draw on science, the arts and other spiritual traditions for inspiration
  • I find the Tao Te Ching to be the most meaningful holy book - this wouldn't be a problem for Unitarians
  • They don't tell you what to think, they just put forward ideas for reflection
  • You don't have to leave your sense of humour or your brain at the door
  • They like discussing theology (but they don't have dogma)

Friday, September 07, 2007


I am disgusted by the attack on the Bath Mosque (and by all crime, whatever its motives). The point about why this has caused outrage is not because the victims were practitioners of religion, but because when you are in a church or a mosque, the doors are left open for people to come in, so they are peculiarly vulnerable to attack. It's a violation of trust.

Also, I don't like the idea of something that is sacred to someone else being desecrated (whether or not I find it to be sacred). Add to that the fact that moderate Muslims are under attack from both the general public, who tar all Muslims with the brush of extremism, AND from the extremists for being too moderate, and you can imagine how isolated and vulnerable this sort of thing would make them feel.

Also I am saddened that this sort of incident undermines the efforts made by people of all faiths and none to live peaceably together in mutual respect and understanding. If someone came into my house and urinated in my sacred space, I'd feel very vulnerable and frightened.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

save the wobbly cats!

Apparently cats with this condition (cerebellar hypoplasia) are often put down needlessly, even though they're not in any pain and can have a normal life. If you have a cat with wobbly legs and poor motor skills, watch this video.

the journey

A humorous look at the snakes and ladders board of life...

Phase 1. There you are, trucking along, minding your own business, when wham! something happens to jolt you out of your complacency - maybe a contact with the numinous, or something that upsets or expands your current paradigm.

Phase 2. You try to ignore it, but it just comes back, louder and more insistent.

Phase 3. You give in to it and get involved. Suddenly all your prayers are answered (evangelical types), all your spells work (occult types)! "Woo-hoo", you think to yourself, "I've found the truth". "I must spread the word" (evangelical types); act all superior because "I know everything" (occult types); become a hermit (mystical types); or go on a pray-a-thon (CU types).

Phase 4. Your prayers (or your magic) stop working. Setback! "The God/Goddess doesn't love me any more / I've lost my super occult powers."

Phase 5. The pit of despair. Long dark teatime of the soul. Doubt. Assault by "demons" in the wilderness. Wrestling with angels.

Phase 6. You meet an inner guide, possibly an enlightened one. Possible responses to this:
  • Get massively involved in the tradition associated with the guide, assuming it is the Only Truth. As in the game of Snakes and Ladders (originally an Islamic analogy for the spiritual journey) go back to phase one.
  • Decide that all your journey prior to this point was worthless because you have now found the Truth, and previously you were deluded by the "powers of darkness". Go back to phase one.
  • Realise that all the guides that have ever appeared to humanity are messengers from the Divine Source. Proceed to phase seven.
Phase 7. Further up and further in. Acknowledge that all religions have the potential to facilitate contact with the Divine. Joyful embrace of the Divine Beloved. Find a tradition that resonates with your new inner reality.

Phase 8. Decide to both serve the world and enjoy its beauty. Share the blessing.

Observant readers may notice the similarity of this with Joseph Campbell's Hero Journey. I have seen facets of this journey in accounts of Christian mystics, the prayer lives of Christian bloggers, the spiritual journeys of Pagans and occultists. With variations, it seems quite widespread - perhaps even universal. Some people get stuck in one of the phases for a long time, in others they may last only a few days. And the journey may be a spiral around the mountain - we may revisit these phases several times in different ways.
"Faith is a state of openness or trust. To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don't grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead you relax, and float. And the attitude of faith is the very opposite of clinging to belief, of holding on. In other words, a person who is fanatic in matters of religion, and clings to certain ideas about the nature of God and the universe, becomes a person who has no faith at all. Instead they are holding tight. But the attitude of faith is to let go, and become open to truth, whatever it might turn out to be." ~ Alan Watts

Tuesday, September 04, 2007


You say you want a revolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
You tell me that it's evolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
But when you talk about destruction
Don't you know that you can count me out
Don't you know it's gonna be all right
all right, all right

You say you got a real solution
Well, you know
We'd all love to see the plan
You ask me for a contribution
Well, you know
We're doing what we can
But when you want money
for people with minds that hate
All I can tell is brother you have to wait
Don't you know it's gonna be all right
all right, all right

ah, ah, ah, ah, ah...

You say you'll change the constitution
Well, you know
We all want to change your head
You tell me it's the institution
Well, you know
You better free you mind instead
But if you go carrying pictures of chairman Mao
You ain't going to make it with anyone anyhow
Don't you know it's gonna be all right
all right, all right
all right, all right, all right
all right, all right, all right

~ The Beatles, Revolution

tolerance and intolerance

It's ironic, but the one thing that the tolerant cannot tolerate is intolerance.

If you try to impose your ideas on others, you will get thrown out of a UU church, a Pagan group, or any other group that espouses freedom of conscience.

The paradox of a multicultural society is that all must accept or at least tolerate each other for it to work. The only way this can work is through mutual listening, dialogue, patient work, forgiveness, and more forgiveness, together with an acceptance that no-one is perfect. "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." Qualities which are not generally apparent or widely cultivated in today's culture.

There is much discussion among Pagans (and UUs and others too) about what to do with the intolerant and those who seek to impose their ideas on others. The simple answer is, walk away - with compassion. To get embroiled in argument is just to give in to the troll.

Trolls are destructive - they seek to twist your nice inclusive liberal ideas because they (possibly subconsciously) know that's where you're vulnerable. they'll do it in real life and on the internet, and then whinge endlessly about how much you wounded them by refusing to be dominated by them, and how that makes you not really a liberal, because you tried to impose rules on them. Well let me tell you, rules are the only way we have for communicating with each other, to ensure fairness and equitability. Rules are a part of nature.

This little rant was brought to you courtesy of the latest troll to cross my path (the subject of the linked-to post).

Does this man drop by every potential new Unitarian's blog to tell them his story and try to put them off, just because he fell out with one UU congregation? (I've deleted his comments now, because I don't give air-time to trolls.)

The more I think about this, the more saddened I am that this has happened.

I declared that I have found something truly beautiful and joyful and life-affirming, and I got trolled.

Get over it, forgive, move on. Read the stories on The Forgiveness Project and ask yourself if the hurt you suffered (and inflicted) is anywhere near what those people have been through. If the people whose stories appear on that site can forgive, then so can the rest of us.