Wicca, censorship, and the library

[So, one of my goals this year is to update this blog weekly on average. I did not quite expect to start with this topic, though.]

I’ve just seen a number of news stories come across my professional blog RSS feed about the case of a resident of Salem, Missouri (Anaka Hunter) who (supported by the ACLU) has sued both the library and various other named parties (including the library director) for blocking reasonable access to material – namely information about Wicca and Native American religious practices, among other topics.

 Ars Technica has an excellent overview, and links to the PDF of the complaint.

Reading the stories I’ve seen so far, I have both a few questions – and the thought that a lot of people don’t know how libraries are supposed to handle this sort of thing, or what the common considerations around filtering/etc. are in public libraries and schools.

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Coping with the unexpected

Today, at the tail end of my work day, I had one of those moments that gets the adrenalin going, but where I had to stay calm. (I’d say it ended well, but while the library side of it was about as well-handled  as one can expect that kind of thing to be, I’m afraid that at least two people are worse off than they were this morning. Which is not so good.)

But a conversation with a friend by IM afterwards, where she asked me about how the Pagan-related skills helped, made me realise I had something useful to share about that. (This is what a friend of mine refers to as being a professionally-trained stunt priestess, which always makes me grin.)

So, three general tips, and then the list of things I keep on hand at home to help with this kind of thing.

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Cycle on cycle

This weekend – the US Thanksgiving holiday weekend, whatever days it actually falls on – always reminds me of how cycles begin to stack, once you’ve gone through enough of them.

Thanksgiving has never been a big family holiday. First, my parents were English and raised in the UK, respectively (Christmas was always the big holiday). Second, my father generally took advantage of the long weekend in the US to lecture and perform in Canada without missing classes. And third, we just didn’t have extended family.

(My parents are both only children: from the time I was born until my father’s death when I was 15, the people in the world I knew I was related to were my parents, my sister and brother, and my mother’s mother in England. My sister married shortly after that, but it was a while longer before there was a nephew, sister-in-law, or nieces.)

But in my adult life, it’s picked up a lot of associations. It’s almost the time my ex-husband and I got married. And it’s the weekend he fully moved out when we separated.

However, it’s also the weekend of my 2nd and 3rd degree initiations (which is what happens when you work for a school that gives you almost no discretionary vacation time, and you want a couple of days of preparation and recovery, and waiting for spring break is not desireable for various reasons.)

And of course, there are lots of memories of good times with friends, at various tables over the years.

So, one little span of time stands there, holding a whole lot of different memories and ideas – and yet, simultaneously, not holding the weight and history and complicated stuff it does for most people I know, who have much larger families, long-term traditions, etc. (I am very aware of the originating history, mind you – I grew up close enough to Plymouth Rock and Plimoth Plantation that it was a regular school trip, and Mom and I went every year or three.)

And I’ve got my own harvest cycles to celebrate, too, of course.

When I start talking about cycles in ritual practice, this is one of the things I’ve made vague handwaving gestures about for years, though.

You can stand there and say “Thanksgiving” to the end of days.

And yet, unless you get a lot more specific, you will have some people for whom that word evokes family (for good or bad), specific tastes and smells. But you’ll have people who have a dread of it because they had to deal with a difficult family situation. Or the people who come from places that don’t celebrate Thanksgiving like that. And the people for whom the word evokes a painful period in history of appropriation and loss.

When you can build a harvest gathering that brings everyone in that room to the same place about what you’re celebrating, then you’ve got a good ritual.

(This, by the way, is why I’ve preferred to celebrate with friends in an ‘orphans Thanksgiving’ mode, rather than tag along to a friend’s family: there’s a lot more conscious discussion about how this meal, this approach, this ritual serves the people who will be there this year, both physically and emotionally.

With family traditions, that doesn’t always happen so well. People and families change over time, so what worked 20 years ago or 10 or even 5 may no longer create a space of thankfulness and grace and community in the ways you want. Doesn’t mean you throw out the traditions – but that all good ritual should look at what those practices serve.)

So, what I wish this Thanksgiving, is that you have one (if you celebrate it) that leaves you and everyone there feeling included, well-fed, and grateful for the wonderful things in your world. There are lots of ways to answer those questions, and you don’t need to get there by the same roads as anyone else.

And if for some reason that doesn’t happen this year – well, the good thing about cycles is that we get another one next year.

Echos over time

About half an hour ago, I finished the major work I wanted to do for this year’s Samhain.

It reminded me of one of the powers of tradition. In my tradition, the Samhain ritual has been one we’ve done in much the same way for my time in the tradition (ten years and a bit). Of course, it’s been adapted – for number of people present, for number of people to take roles, for overall energy.

This year, I’m 1500 miles away from others in the tradition. (And in fact, I’ve been in Maine for 13 weeks.) And I’m working by myself, so many of the pieces of my tradition’s practice are simply not going to happen.

And yet, there are ways in which I stepped into ritual tonight, and all the chords of all those rituals were right there with me.

I hear certain music, in the dark, in the midst of ritual, and there is no space but the space of the circle, no time but those shared moments of dark and remembered grief, and yet hope for the coming year, mingled and echoing across the years.

Bites of food in ritual remind me of how amazing ritual foods taste – there is nothing in the world like the first bite of pomegranate on Samhain night, or even of the meat pie that’s been my contribution to ancestor feasts for those ten years. [1]

So what did I do?

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Floating, not falling

Still working around to getting enough brain to do a substantial post (or more than that, really) but I’m slowly getting there. (And I have real plans to do one of the meaty posts this weekend.)

The thing I want to talk about right now, though is that I’ve been mulling over my inertia over getting a new solid personal practice going here, and why that is. Some of it has been situational (a stomach bug, wrenching my foot, so that anything that involved movement took longer), and then the cat doing the same thing to herself (different mechanism), so I’ve been worried about her. (She’s doing a lot better.)

But part of it – the part I keep coming back to – is the title of this post.

I keep feeling like I’m floating – and that that floating is okay. I don’t know if I’m the only person who did (okay, still does) this – but given a chance at a sufficiently empty pool, one of my favorite things to do (beyond just floating) is to spin myself. Part of it is making a 360 circle in terms of where the top of my head is pointing in the pool, but the other is simultaneously rotating on my own axis: right shoulder and hip up, over, so I’m face down in the water, then bringing the left shoulder and hip back and up, so I’m facing up again. Repeat until gloriously dizzy, and deeply relaxed. Do not try in anything like a crowded pool.)

It’s that feeling. That there’s a lot going on, but at the same time, everything is settling into place, and what I really need to do is stay out of my own way, and stop overthinking it.

So, y’know, I mostly am. I’m starting to be less overwhelmingly tired after work, up for doing slightly more than keeping up with friends online, some simple knitting, and a lot of computer game playing. One of my classic markers of how well I’m recovered is way down (how long it takes me to get through my morning/evening online space checks: on good days, it’s 30-45 minutes, depending on how much I comment. On slow brain days, it’s 3 times that or worse.)

More soon. But floating. Not falling.