Let me give you an origin myth

In the beginning are these animals who walk on two legs and manipulate things with their paws and look up, above their heads–not at predators diving but at the trees, the sun, the moon, and the stars. Then one day something changes and they know they are not just animals. They are spirits. Spirits in bodies. And there are many other spirits around them.

They are humans.

The humans get to know the other spirits. Some are neighbors, the spirits of tree, rock, spring, plant. Some are the plants they eat and the animals they hunt and the animals who can hunt them. Some are neighbors but strange, near and yet distant, what their children in the far future will call fairies, angels, daemons. Some seem to be former humans. These spirits inspire friendship and collaboration; they have things to give and things that they want. Some other spirits seem to be threats and inspire fear; they can feed on human life without touching the body directly. And some spirits are so much more than all the others that they inspire awe, adoration, worship. Later generations will call them gods.

To connect with the spirits, humans give of their all, their best. They gather together wearing fine clothing and jewelry. They play instruments and sing like birds. They dance, imitating the animals. They put on masks and costumes to resemble the spirits. They act out things that have been and things they desire. They share their own food and drink. The spirits come to sing and dance with them, teach them, make love with them. From the greatest spirits, the shining ones, come the greatest gifts.

Over thousands of years, small bands become tribes, tribes become villages, villages turn into cities. Civilization means specialization, and the things that were once part of celebrating the spirits gradually separate into discrete disciplines. Music, theatre, and dance separate from religion. The knowledge of landscape and times, the movements of the heavenly bodies, the behaviors of other beings becomes science. Religion turns on the remaining branch of knowledge, magic, and pushes it out of the temple. Magic, the rejected teenager, grows up with a bit of a chip on its shoulder.

But all human knowledge, all human art, began in what we would now call religion, in the dance around the fire to establish and celebrate connection with the spirits. In the exchange between the visible and invisible worlds that we now call magic or shamanism or animism or some other word that means “that wasn’t real, we don’t do that any more”. Our creativity flows from knowing ourselves as a kind of spirit among other spirits and an exchange of gifts with the otherworld, an offering and a blessing, a blessing and an offering. The arts and sciences, including magic, grew up and left religion at home, but she is still there, tending the hearth, waiting for her children to come back and dance around the fire with the other spirits.

I write what I like

I write fiction, poetry, and essays. I write what I like.

I don’t write “realistic fiction” or “literary fiction”. Much of my fiction has been fanfiction, transformations of existing works. My original fiction, too, is transformative, a mix of fantasy, science fiction, myth, fairy tale, romance, and erotica. I do write sexually explicit fiction and not exclusively about male/female couples.

I write poetry about gods, goddesses, myths, magic, religous holy days, and my relationships with those things far more often than I write poetry about my family history or my landscape. My favorite poets include John Donne, George Herbert, Dante, T.S. Eliot, Marge Piercy, and Gary Snyder.

I prefer to review or discuss things I enjoyed rather than things I hated. I’d rather review a book I liked and hope other readers will enjoy than deconstruct a bad book word for word. I’d rather analyze the lyrics of my favorite singer-songwriter, Hozier, or share a video of a musical performance I liked than tell you why this So-and-so is Problematic and you shouldn’t like them.

I am basically a socialist politically and the current state of American politics fills me with incoherent rage–so I don’t write about it. I leave that to people who are better informed than I, who can be cogent and coherent about the failing state of our democracy. On the other hand, I am a political, sexual, religious, and gender minority, so I don’t believe in Art that isn’t political. Star Trek was and is political. Science fiction is political. Romance is political. Everything is political.

I also like birds, very, very much. My cockatiel has been my faithful companion for almost twenty years, and I hope he’ll be around for another decade or so. So you might see bird pictures and read bird stories here, too, along with writing about books, music, film, television, religion, spirituality, magic, gender, sexuality, and all the other things that make life interesting.

Truthfulness, gentleness, generosity

I’ve been thinking a lot about ethics lately.

It’s a subject that comes up pretty often for me, in various contexts. If you’re a regular reader, you might have noticed that I’m a big fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and of the Captain America movies in particular. Ethics is a central concern of Steve Rogers’ story: What is the right thing to do? How best can I do it in my particular circumstances? What if doing the right thing is costly, risky, or just plain dangerous? Steve Rogers doesn’t necessarily respect rules, laws, or orders, but he does have an unshakable commitment to his own personal sense of what is right.

Ethics comes up a lot in magical, pagan, and polytheist circles, too. Is the Wiccan Rede a sufficient guide to moral, ethical behavior? What does “harm” mean in that context? Is hexing or cursing magic ethical? Is there a difference between using magic to attract a lover or persuade an employer and using it to restrain or punish a rapist? If pagan ethics don’t derive from the specific commandments of a deity (as they do in Judaism and Christianity), what do they derive from? These are the sorts of topics I see discussed in the blogosphere and in my Facebook feed.

After over forty years of reading about religion, it’s my observation that ethical training usually starts with the negative. The Ten Commandments have more “shalt nots” than “shalts”. The five core precepts of Buddhism are all negative: no killing, lying, stealing, sexual misconduct, or using mind-altering substances. The ancient Egyptians listed 42 negative confessions for the soul in the afterlife, an exhaustive list of wrong things which the deceased denies having done.

Most religions share an ethical core. Theft, lying, and murder are wrong behaviors that damage social relationships. Prohibitions against sexual wrongdoing seem to me to be related to vows and covenants. If you have vowed to be celibate, don’t have sex. If you have vowed fidelity to a spouse, don’t fuck around. Even if you are under no vows yourself, don’t cause or help other people to break theirs. Specifics on what constitutes wrongful killing or sexual misconduct certainly vary widely from religion to religion, culture to culture, but there’s a fundamental agreement.

There’s also, I think, a fundamental agreement on what constitutes ethical behavior, starting with the reversal of the negative precepts. Tell the truth instead of lying. Refrain from killing and doing physical harm. Be generous and give to those in need instead of stealing or defrauding your neighbor. Make vows wisely and keep them once made. Welcome friends and strangers into your home and consider them sacrosanct while they are under your roof.

I have seen these ideas in pagan philosophy, in Judaism, in Christianity, in Islam, in Hinduism and in Buddhism. There is no religion or source of ethical teaching that says casual killing is ethical. There is no religion that recommends greed, stinginess, and denial of those in need. There is no ethical system in which generosity and hospitality are not virtues. No sage or philosopher has praised a chronic liar.

Yet here in the United States, right now, I see people who call themselves Christian, devotees of Jesus, who are shooting unarmed African-American citizens, eliminating social supports for the needy, profiting at the expense of the poor, and terrorizing immigrants by taking away their children and interning them (and interning is perhaps the most neutral word I can use). I see these people and others like them defending this unethical and definitely un-Christian behavior on legal or religious grounds. And it hurts to see it, to read it, to hear about it, to know that this is how the teachings of Jesus have been twisted and perverted.

I won’t engage in the “no true Scotsman” fallacy. If someone says they’re a Christian, I’ll assume that, yes, they were baptized, they are communicants in good standing of a parish or congregation, they have some sort of spiritual life based on the Bible. But I will, as a pagan polytheist, as a progressive Episcopalian, as an occasional Buddhist, as an ethical human being, argue that racism, sexism, violence, greed, homophobia, transphobia, nationalism, and terrorism have no place in Christian theology or behavior, no place in ethical behavior, whatsoever. Not if their Christ really is the Jewish teacher and healer who rejected nobody who came to him, disagreed with the religious authorities of his own culture, and was executed as a terrorist by an army of occupation.