In Frazer’s The Golden Bough there is some exploration of the notion of the sacred king. There are a number of components to this idea. One is in the Divine right of kings to rule, and subsequently that they are the representatives of the Divine on Earth. Then there is the belief that the kings are connected to the land. As the king succeeds the land thrives, as the king fails or falls ill the land is depleted. In a system that holds these principles to be true, the logical outcome is to demand the sacrifice of the king to relieve a drought or natural disaster. Frazer took that philosophy and connected it to the agricultural cycle of reaping and sowing – death and rebirth.
I came back from spending a long weekend on the land to see my Facebook full of images of our Secretary of the Interior assessing National Parkland for its value to sell to industry for development. Moving from visiting a Prairie reclamation project at the height of success to a clearly out of control consume and profit narrative was disheartening to say the least.
On the way home I noticed the corn was starting to come in from the fields. The corn harvest is the mark for me of the Lammas celebration, John Barley Corn is dead, long live John Barley Corn. This is the representation in Wicca of the sacred king mythology. The grain God is sacrificed to feed the people.
It’s been difficult to sort out the sacred from the political. Police are shooting people, healthcare continues to be threatened in spite of an overwhelming majority who clearly want to have coverage, and our sacred lands are being sold out from under us – again and still.
I see spiritual representatives from around the world being dismissed by Big Oil at Standing Rock. I see a spiritual leader in my hometown, trying to help a neighbor in distress, being shot by police. I see places that I’ve stood in awe of nature being looked upon as a feast for mining, logging and manufacturing industries.
Included in the sacrificial king mythology is the Arthurian story of the Fisher King. This is part of the grail quest. The sacred chalice, that has magical qualities including the ability to heal, is apparently in the possession of the Fisher King. The king has a grievous wound and is failing, as is his land. Somehow he doesn’t have the wisdom, moral integrity, or desire/belief to use the grail. Percival, who was raised by a single mother in the forest away from the society of men, sees the solution but fails (out of politeness?) to ask the question that will heal everything.
We need to ask the questions. We need to keep asking until we get answers that go beyond pats on the head and being told we can’t possibly understand. Why can’t we get along? Why does the notion of “equal rights” always seem to have an “except” clause? When and how much is enough? Who has the vision for our future? Does that vision include life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? For everyone?
Previous blogs about the holiday season:
As amazing and awesome and hopeful as my experience at the Parliament of World Religions was, the event wasn’t without its controversy. Most of the complaints can be attributed to communication issues. However, some of those communication issues seem to stem from a failure of the decision makers to examine their own systemic cultural bias. To tell this story I’ll go back and forth between the Macro and Micro viewpoints.
On the Micro side, I contributed to the Parliament by participating in one of the offerings presented by Macha Nightmare of Covenant of the Goddess. As a COG member myself, as well as knowing Macha, it was easy enough for me to shoot her a message offering help. She said yes, so I got to be a “grace” (tech crew) for her ritual theater piece: Goddesses Alive.
On Macha’s end she sent ahead lots of information about what she needed. She included a diagram of the set up and seating arrangements. She requested rehearsal time and space. She asked for a changing/staging area for the women wearing the masks of the Goddesses. All of this was confirmed in advance and the entire cast and crew (singers, readers, Goddesses, and tech) received copies of the schedule she was given.
When the Parliament opened, I told you about the wonderful welcome from the Native elders to the land. I may have mentioned that even before the Parliament started – for the first time ever – there was a Women’s Assembly. This pre-Parliment event was programing specifically targeted to women’s issues. After the elders concluded and the anthem (written by two women specifically for the Parliament) was presented, the rest of the opening program consisted of men in suits yelling at us about what we need to do and patting themselves on the back about how inclusive THIS Parliament was for women.
“Separate but equal” is never really equal. I heard several women that evening talking about how disingenuous the whole presentation felt. The word “tokenism” was bandied about. Many of these women had been present for the Assembly earlier in the day. They were hoping to take that energy forward into the Parliament itself. In fact, many of them felt they were shut down. The rumors were this lack of women presenting in the opening ceremonies was intentional. There was a reception afterward (which wasn’t on the schedule) where women were invited to present. There is no excuse for this. Thankfully the next morning was the Plenary: Focus on Women, which was fabulous and even though it didn’t address the problem did help shift the anger.
Macha’s group includes several “Grandmothers of Paganism”, and I would count Macha among them. There were women in wheelchairs, one with a broken leg, one with a serious chronic illness and Macha herself in recovery from a stroke she had this summer. When we gathered for our rehearsal we were told pointedly, “You can not be in this room.” Eventually a rehearsal space was found for us, in a much smaller room on the other end of the convention center. We lost almost an hour of our precious rehearsal time to mismanagement.
The other Glaring scheduling issue was in regards to Black Lives Matter. Initially several workshops specifically addressing this issue were scheduled opposite each other. The workshop presenters noted this and brought it up to the committee in advance. Changes were made and you would think that would alert them to be sensitive. Unfortunately the Plenary addressing that issue was scheduled directly opposite the evening’s entertainment at the Mormon Tabernacle. (Apparently “those people” aren’t interested in cultural enrichment?) To be fair scheduling this kind of event is a nightmare and some things will get short shrift. Still, just because you have black people on the board doesn’t excuse this kind of dismissal of a huge social justice issue in the country hosting the event.
The day came for us to perform the piece. We found a room (again not the one originally scheduled but at least just across the hall) and started setting up and getting our Goddesses dressed. Less than an hour before we were to open the doors we were confronted by an irate staff member. I’m not sure if this was convention center staff or Parliament staff (or both!). I do know we weren’t the only workshop to get this treatment. Apparently no chairs were to be moved over the entire course of the weekend.
I’m not sure if this is a union issue (only union members are allowed to move the chairs) or a fire-marshal issue (the fire-marshal approved the set-up and any changes will have to be re-approved) or something else entirely. There was a cost component, as Macha was told she would be responsible for a large fee (several hundred dollars) to “fix” it. What it felt like (and in all the cases I was aware of it was Pagans wanting circles rather than rows) was an insensitivity and disrespect of the practice of our religion.
There was another point, actually during the presentation, where a message came back to the tech crew that if we were to “Turn on the lights or I will shut you down.” We made it through (forgiveness is always easier than permission) and the presentation was very well received even if it wasn’t the vision Macha intended. Again, there was nothing done that hadn’t, in theory, been approved in advance.
I choose not to carry the anger of the larger organizational issue, but rather to focus my experience on the more intimate encounters I had over the course of the weekend. I do know several people struggled with the dichotomy of so much bad and so much good. I don’t want to believe any of this was willful disrespect. I think it just goes to show how deep systemic prejudice can be and how much work, even the best intentioned of us, still have to do to fix it.
I could choose to write about Father’s Day. I’m not worried about my father getting shot just going through his day. That’s Privilege. I could choose to write about the Summer Solstice. The longest day of the year when the sun shines, illuminating things. Maybe I’ll just shine my light on a Difficult Topic, #BlackLivesMatter.
We are taught a very highly Edited version of history. I had no idea how important the AME church was, historically, until Obama started talking about it. I believe it is our personal responsibility to educate our selves on the things going on around us that the System would rather we ignore. This is not an easy task. It first requires an understanding that what we are taught isn’t the whole story.
The reason people who are educated in this area talk about systemic racism is because it is invisible and perpetuated by the system. This is not a new thing. I remember Kent State. The first time the National Guard opened fire on campus? No. The first time a white upper middle class student was killed. Yes.
I hear white people ask, “Why is it always about race?” Because when you have to live with it every day, you begin to realize it is inescapable. There is a reason that #BlackLivesMatter is not #AllLivesMatter. It is not because all lives shouldn’t matter, but because it’s clear that Black lives don’t.
There is a difference between not actively perpetuating the problem and helping to solve it. That difference starts with awareness. The things that are so common it’s easy not to even notice are often referred to as microaggressions.
Learning to recognize these in ourselves,
in the media, and in others is a big step towards simply validating the problem. Then the next step is to Speak Up.
I end where I started, encouraging self education. Each of these links takes you to places where you can hear different voices, and perhaps learn more. Additionally I recommend checking out my friend Crystal Blanton’s 30 Day Real Black History Challenge. She’s been doing this for several years so check out her archives as well.
Crystal was instrumental in the editing of the anthology Bringing Race to the Table:Exploring Racism in the Pagan Community. I have a small essay in that book, and I’m very proud to be a contributor. I recommend it to non-Pagans as well. The book is structured with a section on People of Color’s experiences, a section on History, and a section where ally’s speak. I think the material is widely applicable and sometimes it’s easier to hear if you have a little distance.
Thank you for reading.
Photos from Huffington Post