Black Tome Books’ fey themed anthology of fiction and poetry will be out at CONtraflow 2018. We will be doing our best to organize a reading either at the con or before it.
Submissions of fiction and poetry will be accepted through October 31st via email@example.com.
A new voice in the field of steampunk and gaslamp fantasy fiction, New Orleans-based fantasy and science fiction author Brandon Black has a Bachelor’s in Military and Political Journalism and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. His most recent story, “The Night Mississippi Declared War on the Moon,” was published in Dark Oak Press’ Capes and Clockwork II, edited by Alan Lewis. His short fiction has appeared in Dark Oak Press’ Dreams of Steam III and Seventh Star Press’ A Chimerical World: Tales of the Seelie Court. Brandon lives with his guardian and protector, Battle-cat Princess Kaleidoscope, in his hometown of New Orleans, Louisiana. Find out more about Brandon’s work at http://www.brandonblackonline.com.
All original text copyright Brandon Black 2018.
Both The Other World and Paris By Gaslight will be published in 2017 some time about the middle of the year. They will definitely be on the shelves before this year’s CONtraflow. No final decisions have been made yet as to which stories and poems will be included but everyone selected will be informed when the time comes.
A new voice in the field of steampunk and gaslamp fantasy fiction, New Orleans-based fantasy and science fiction author Brandon Black has a Bachelor’s in Military and Political Journalism and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. His most recent story, “The Night Mississippi Declared War on the Moon,” was published in Dark Oak Press’ Capes and Clockwork II, edited by Alan Lewis. His short fiction has appeared in Dark Oak Press’ Dreams of Steam III and Seventh Star Press’ A Chimerical World: Tales of the Seelie Court. Brandon lives with his guardian and protector, Battle-cat Princess Kaleidoscope, in his home town of New Orleans, Louisiana. Find out more about Brandon’s work at http://www.brandonblackonline.com.
All text copyright Brandon Black 2017.
In these times of economic woe and political uncertainty, many people have decided there is nothing to believe in. But we know that there is. Faith is its own reward and those who bask in the waters of faith will know its blessings. Yes, friend, I’m talking about the Good News about Thor.
Thor is a loving, accepting God who doesn’t judge Humanity like many false icons. Thor understands the Middle Path of moderation between self-righteous total abstinence and wanton self-indulgence and has tasted the refreshing sweetness of fine ale, the saltiness of a good piece of roast pork and knows the lusty pleasures of the soft and supple arms of Valkyries, mortal women and Goddesses alike. Thor understands and accepts human frailties for what they are, often the source of our greatest strengths and triumphs. He understands and pulls to His hairy bosom all those who try to do what is best in life, not just for themselves but for their friends and loved ones, even strangers; for Thor is ever a friend to Midgard and all those who dwell within.
Render unto Thor your prayers and He will hear and answer them. Thor will not turn a deaf ear to you nor ask you to bear more than your fair share. Thor will ever stand with you in adversity as befitting a true and proper patron God. Thor loves and understands you and even now, is willing to guide you in the kind of moral and proper life you need to live in order to cross the Rainbow Bridge to Asgard.
Thor rewards all who, in this Yuletide season, choose to honor the ancient pagan ways and bring within their households the Yule log and mistletoe as did the ancient druids of Ireland and the pagans of Anglo-Saxon England. Thor looks kindly upon all those who do adorn their homes in this time of year with a shining star, the five-fold pentagram traced across the night sky by the planet Venus, eternal symbol of the Goddess of fertility and sensuality. For in such ways are the ancient Gods celebrated even unto this day.
Send to this every good hearted person you know and care about. Thor is willing to come into their lives today.
New Orleans-based fantasy and science fiction author Brandon Black has a Bachelor’s in Military and Political Journalism and a Master’s of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. His short fiction has appeared in Dark Oak Press’ Dreams of Steam III and Seventh Star Press’ A Chimerical World: Tales of the Seelie Court. Brandon has published a short anthology of steampunk and gaslamp fiction short stories entitled Mechanical Tales and is working on completing his first novel. His most recent story “The Night Mississippi Declared War on the Moon,” has been published in Capes and Clockwork 2.
All text copyright Brandon Black 2016.
Just got in a story from Kirsten Corby! Getting closer to the point where this project will be completed. There’s still time to get in a submission for The Other World. We can still use both poetry and short stories although at this point, poetry is needed more than additional stories.
The Other World is an anthology of poetry and fiction about the fey set in the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. Poems and short stories should be sent to blacktomebooks [AT] mail.com.
I’d like to have this wrapped up by the end of the month but if you have a submission and you want to get it in, just drop me a line and give me an idea as to when you think you’ll have your submission completed. I don’t mind waiting a few more days if we can put out a book of the size and quality our readers have come to expect.
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New Orleans-based fantasy and science fiction author Brandon Black is the editor of the By Gaslight steampunk anthology series. He has a Bachelor’s in Military and Political Journalism and a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. His short fiction has appeared in Dark Oak Press’ Dreams of Steam III and Seventh Star Press’ A Chimerical World: Tales of the Seelie Court. Brandon has just published a short anthology of steampunk and gaslamp fiction short stories entitled Mechanical Tales and is working on completing his first novel. His most recent story “The Night Mississippi Declared War on the Moon,” has been published in Capes and Clockwork 2.
All text copyright Brandon Black 2016.
This post contains a scene of explicit sex. You have been warned.
This is a scene from the cutting room floor if you will from my story “Songs of the Divine Pulsation,” a steampunk erotica story I published in New Orleans By Gaslight. This scene wound up being cut from that story after David Ducorbier, local celebrity and man about town, physically lifted up the pages with this scene on it from my story and dropped them to the floor as being non-essential to the plot. I agreed with him then and when I returned to “Songs,” to add back in some of the material I had cut from it, this scene remained on the cutting room floor. That said, I still think it has some lovely writing.
Dave said I just want to get it on with Marie Laveau. He may be right about that.
The scene involves one of the main characters of “Songs of the Divine Pulsation,” a young black man named Evan who has a great deal of mystic potential and has elected to study under the New Orleans sorceress Sabine rather than with the voudouns of the city.
Evan and Marie
by Brandon Black
Evan gathered tools and supplies from his basement lair to take back to Sabine’s workshop. He placed the metal implements in a large bag for the trip. A knocking sounded on the door and Evan went to answer. The open door revealed none other than Marie Laveau.
Evan stood, silent, in surprise for a moment.
“Hello again,” Marie said.
“Hello,” Evan said with a nod, clearly wondering what this was about.
“I wanted to talk with you again about studying at our temple,” Marie said.
“Why are you so interested in me?” Evan asked. “Or is it that you just can’t stand to see me trained by Sabine because I’m black and she isn’t?”
“It is about Sabine. But it’s not entirely about race. It’s more about the fact that she does nothing with her power. I serve the lwa, I serve the community. People like you and I are rare. Everyone has the basic potential to serve the spirits but only a handful of people are strong enough to be adept at it. I just hate the thought of someone like you, someone who could be a houngan, a strong one, and a real asset to this community, going down her road and never doing any good for anyone.”
“I see,” Evan said.
“I just want you to see what we have to offer. Come to the peristyle and see what we do. It may interest you.”
“I’d like that. When?”
“Why not right now? We’re having a ritual tonight. Come to the salon. My peristyle, my temple, is out back. Come see how your ancestors served the spirits.”
“Let’s go,” Evan said with a nod.
Marie led Evan through the streets of New Orleans to one of the older neighbourhoods and a lovely, if modest, house with a building in back. The pair of them went up the stairs and into the house. Each and every room of the house held a small shrine, some just small tables with a cloth and statuettes and offerings but others the size of large dressers and covered in an array of exotic objects, incense holders, candles and candle holders, statuettes and figurines, carvings of snakes, skulls and sundry other mystic symbols all festooned with swirling pictographs and painting. Cigars, cigarettes, candies, flowers, coins, dollar bills and glasses and bottles of rum were left in offering on the various altars all over Marie’s home. Adjacent to the master bedroom, was the house’s temple room, painted entirely in black, with a main central altar and two sub-altars in the corners, more elaborate than anything he had seen in the house before.
“This was our main temple before we built the peristyle in back. We still hold certain special rituals here.” Marie led him back into the master bedroom and they sat down. “So, what do you think?”
“I am impressed. And curious. I want to learn more about what it is you do.” Evan said.
Marie smiled, triumphant.
“But,” Evan continued. “I’m happy learning from Sabine and Vespers. I’ve learned a lot and I know there’s more, much more, to learn. I’m not ready to give it up.”
“What has she taught you?” Marie asked.
“How to marshal and gather the forces of my body and spirit, how to commune with the Divine Presence,” Evan said. “She’s shown me things I never thought were even possible. I won’t turn my back on her or her teachings.”
“So, show me.”
“What?” He asked.
“Show me what you’ve learned,” she said.
“Are you sure?” Evan asked.
“Yes. Show me what you’ve learned,” Marie said.
“All right,” Evan smiled and began to unbutton his shirt.
“What are you, ” began Marie but Evan simply lifted his index finger gesturing for her to wait a moment and finished opening his shirt. He lifted a hand towards her and waited. She offered him her hand in return and he placed it flat over his heart, enfolded his hands over hers and closed his eyes.
In his mind’s eye, he gathered himself and his flows in his heart chakra, felt the probing, questing essence of Marie’s life force from her hand, felt it interweaving with his own flow. His eyes were closed but he knew when she felt the connection too when he felt the gentle shudder of surprise trickle down her fingertips.
Evan opened his eyes and smiled and drew Marie close; she spoke no word of restraint, made no move of resistance. She pulled the shirt from him and cast it to the floor. Evan brushed his lips gently against hers, his mouth open, exhaling gently across her lips before drawing her into a warm kiss. As their lips met and Marie’s hands began to rove across the warm flesh of his naked, muscled chest, she reached down to unbuckle his belt. Evan kicked off his shoes and let his pants and underwear fall to the floor. He began to disrobe her, helping her out of her dress. Evan knelt before her and removed the dress and allowed her to slip out of her shoes, one at a time, placing them together besides the dress. He then stood as she turned around and he began to unlace her corset, his fingers working quickly and nimbly as it too then fell to the floor. Marie lifted her hair with both hands as he undid the drawstring on her chemise and lifted it over her head. The garment removed, she shook her head, letting her long, luxurious hair fall gracefully about her neck and shoulders. Finally, he turned her around and reaching for the drawstring on her waist, undid and slid down her bloomers, his fingers sliding gracefully down the curving flesh of her backside, and pulled her bloomers to the floor as she stepped out of them.
The resplendent form of her nude body before him, her pert, shapely breasts and erect nipples, her generous and supple curves revealed before him clad only in her soft, immaculate mocha skin, Evan felt his manhood stirring and taking her hand in his, he led her to the bed and wordlessly bid her to lay down, which she did.
He placed his palm flat over her sex not in contact with her skin but an inch or so away from her.
“Close your eyes. Move your pelvis forward slightly in time with your breath. Breathe in, breathe out, draw full and complete breaths from your diaphragm, ” he drew a fingertip across the curve of her stomach. “Let your belly and your pelvis rise and fall as you breathe, that’s it, now imagine as you do so, that your drawing your breath through your flower, inhaling and exhaling prana, or life force. In, out, in, out.”
Evan straddled the edge of the bed and leaned down and kissed her gently across the lips, keeping a hand on her rising and falling belly.
He kissed her on her throat and opened his mouth slightly to exhale across her skin as he drew his lips gracefully down the curve of her slender neck. Marie trembled.
Evan kissed and suckled at Marie’s breasts, cupping her breast delicately with his right hand and drawing his thumb across her erect nipple. He drew two deep breaths in time with hers, exhaling across the nipple of one breast while fondling the other with his right hand.
“In and out. In and out.”
He began to plant gentle kisses down the warm curve of her belly and then drew his thumb across the soft sable fur of her womanhood once, twice.
“In, and out.” Evan exhaled across her pearl in time with her inhalation before placing his mouth to her flower. He licked, delicately, up and down the curve of her petals before kissing her on her feminine bud. He flicked his tongue in sensuous curving patterns across her bud while pushing two fingers into her warm, wet and inviting womanhood.
Evan moved his tongue in swirling patterns across her delicate, delectable flesh, drawing across the petals of her feminine flower, kissing her on the inner thigh, before returning to tease and entice her pearl. Marie rolled her hips gently from side to side in a rocking motion and moaned with pleasure.
He turned her over and worked two fingers of his left hand slowly into her sex, which was wet and pliant. Marie moaned louder as he pushed deeper into her and deeper. With his right hand, he drew his fingertips up along her backbone from the base of her spine towards her head, lifting his fingers from her to start again at the base of the spine tracing upwards.
“The kundalini, the primary motive force of the body, resides in the base of the spine. All these techniques are eventually aimed at liberating that force, freeing it to flow unchecked upwards through the chakras of the body towards the top of the head, the crown. The goal is expansion of consciousness through the union of the body’s vital flows. One with body and mind, one with the universe.”
The echoing sound of mighty drums rolled outwards from the peristyle as the evening’s ritual began. As the servants of the lwa, clad in white, danced their way around the circle in celebration of spirits ancient, African and powerful, Marie and Evan made love in time with the pulsating, pounding beat roiling from the temple.
Evan removed his fingers from her flower and anointed his shaft with her juices. Evan lifted her buttocks until she was up on her knees and he moved in behind her. Rubbing himself from the tip of his shaft to its base, he placed his other hand on her beautiful, curvy behind. Then, wordlessly, he spread her buttocks apart with his hands and gripping her tightly, pulled her into him, thrusting forward into her. Marie let out a sudden cry of surprise and then whimpered, shuddering, as he thrust deeper inside.
Evan pulled her hips into his in time with the drumming, the deep chocolate tones of his own skin against the lighter mocha of her soft, curvaceous derrière. He thrust into her over and over plumbing the deep recesses of her full, supple buttocks, again and again and again.
When Marie came, it was with the force of a thunderbolt and every muscle in Evan’s body went rigid as he climaxed and he felt the two of them speared through, transfixed, by the black current of the void flowing through them both.
That indescribably long moment passed, both their bodies went limp and the two of them collapsed together in a heap of spent, sweating flesh.
Evan rolled off of Marie and still panting for breath, looked her deep in the eyes and smiled.
Marie smiled back at him. “Well, that was something.”
Hearing the ongoing ritual in the peristyle behind Marie’s salon, the two dressed quickly, Marie handing Evan a shirt and trousers both made of white cotton as was the custom for worshippers to wear within the confines of the peristyle. Clad for ritual, the two joined the other celebrants, taking their place in the circle and dancing to celebrate the ancestral spirits of their common homeland.
Sweat pouring down their faces, drummers strummed their hands across their doumbeks attaining trance weaving a staccato lattice of sound as men and women partook of the long-standing communion of the Cosmic Dance, each one unique dancing as their hearts and spirits directed yet at one with the circle of rhythm and life all around them.
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Fantasy, science fiction and steampunk author Brandon Black is the editor of New Orleans By Gaslight, a first of its kind anthology of steampunk and gaslamp fantasy poetry and fiction set in Victorian-era New Orleans. Brandon is also the web content manager for the Week in Geek, New Orleans’ favourite fantasy and science fiction themed radio talk show, every Thursday at 6 pm CST on FOX Sports 1280 AM. Click here to check out Brandon’s ever-expanding list of published works.
All content copyright © Brandon Black
Witches In Steampunk Fiction
Witches are and have always been a popular trope to use in fiction and screenplays, now more than ever. We are experiencing an occult renaissance due to a combination of an unprecedented availability of information on the subject and the lack of laws prohibiting occult practice and study.
The first thing to remember — as some witches will be very quick to point out — is that Wicca and witchcraft are not one and the same. Wicca is witchcraft to be sure but not all witchcraft is Wicca. Even here in New Orleans, where voodoo practitioners have told me that Voodoo and Witchcraft are one and the same, they wouldn’t necessarily say that Voodoo is Wicca, nor Wicca Voodoo. They are two very different systems that work to achieve the same ends. The easiest and quickest way to think of it is that these are both religious systems that seek to encapsulate the ways and means of modern shamanism. That’s painting with a broad brush to be sure, but it is accurate.
Wicca As A Steampunk Anachronism
Two points can be raised about the ahistoric use of Wicca as a magick system in steampunk fiction. Point one: Wicca is based off of authentic Italian witchcraft practice and the practice of other similar systems the world over for centuries. The exact forms and words Wicca uses weren’t assembled and complied until the mid 20th century but for the casual reader of fiction, that really is a bit of a quibble. Individual practitioners ever since Gardner’s time have substituted their own words and ideas for the specifics laid down by Gardner and I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to imagine witches of an earlier time performing rituals that were equivalent to Wicca with a few changes here and there.
The second point to raise is that the migration, if you will, of Italian witchcraft to Britain or anywhere else could have easily occurred naturally through increased contact between cultures. With air travel being as predominant as it is in most steampunk worlds, it would be perfectly natural to imagine interested American, British or persons of any stripe becoming aware of the ways and means of Italian witchcraft and translating those forms into their home language for use. And so, even though modern Wicca as it is clearly did not exist in English prior to Gardner and his fellows, there is absolutely no reason to avoid using Wicca as a basic form of witchcraft practice even in the 1800s — in a steampunk world, of course.
Wicca Is A Historic Form
The form Wicca takes as witchcraft was constructed by Gardner and his fellows in the middle of the last century but the forms taken and assembled by them come from actual historic practice. The bulk of what appears as modern Wicca comes from Italian Witchcraft or Stregheria. Gardner and his fellows drew from a book entitled Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches, a detailed examination of Italian witchcraft practice. So, the complaint that what Gardner was doing wasn’t traditional British witchcraft, in that it wasn’t a form exactly that British witches had historically practised, is true. But at the same time, the point Gardnerian Witches raise that they are using the forms witches have used for centuries is also true.
More important, to the practitioners of Wicca, is that as a religious and magickal system, it works. Wicca provides for the needs of its followers as evidenced by its meteoric rise from obscurity to one of the most predominant alternate religions available today. Part of the appeal of Wicca is its use of ancient systems and concepts found in cultures all over the world. The use of the protective magick circle, for example, appears in ancient Babylonian magick. Wands and other such similar tools as used in modern Wicca were used by the ancient Egyptians. This makes Wicca particularly well suited for use as a system of magick in steampunk fiction. It’s not the only historical system to be sure and systems like Kabbalist ceremonial magick and Freemasonry practice make for useful study for specific applications but Wicca, especially eclectic Wicca, works very well as a general understanding of the ways and means of real world magickal practice.
Wicca As A Remarkably Rugged Platform
The ways and means Gerald Gardner chose to assemble Wicca out of are historically accurate magickal models — they just aren’t the ways and means used by traditional British witches. Ironically, enough time has passed that many of the groups practising strict Gardnerian Witchcraft refer to themselves as Traditional British Witches but the fact remains that the form of witchcraft practised by Gardner and his fellows was a recreation and not an unbroken tradition of British witchcraft.
Eclectic Wiccans have shown us through their actual magickal and religious practice that the means of Wicca make for an amazingly rugged platform to which the specifics of nearly any culture’s mythology may be attached and used as operators. There is Greek witchcraft and Roman witchcraft, Egyptian witchcraft, Babylonian witchcraft, etc. I know a witch — a male witch, mind you, in Milton, Florida who yearly conducts the assumption of the Goddess Kwan Yin from Chinese mythology.
Forms like calling the guardian spirits of the four directions and tracing a circle to work in are nearly universal and have been utilised by almost every culture on the planet at one point or another. Attention to the four quarters and pouring libations thereunto appears, for example, in Voodoo. While those with an attention to detail can and should do some research on whatever specific pantheon or culture they intend to blend with Wicca, it is of great utility to append a few choice details to the overall superstructure of Wicca when depicting witchcraft in fiction.
Powwowing, or German-American hexcraft, is an authentic historic tradition of witchcraft one may wish to study in detail to provide “authenticity” to certain depictions of witchcraft practice in the Americas in the 1800s. The objection that some will raise that it isn’t witchcraft — based on its use and manipulations of the Bible — depend on one’s definition of witchcraft to begin with and the use of the Bible can be omitted in any case in any particular fictional depiction as one sees fit.
To make myself absolutely clear — the Salem Witches were most likely not witches of any kind or stripe, just disturbed girls and the public hysteria reacting to them. But if one wished to depict them as authentic witches, then one could do worse than to make use of a system cobbled together from Wicca, Powwow and Freemasonry — the latter depending on the education of the individual witch in question. Detailed research into these matters may be counter-productive as folk magick tends to look like folk magick no matter who practices it after all.
The Best And Worst Reason To Use Wicca As Your Witchcraft in Steampunk
When I was in grad school, I was working on a screenplay about modern day sorcerers fighting a secret war in New Orleans. My instructor had made the suggestion that rather than research existing historic occultism that I just make the magick for the story up. I looked on this suggestion with some disdain as I had recently discovered Wicca and had found the ways and means of magick, both in Wicca and ceremonial magick, to be utterly fascinating and beautiful and assumed my viewer would likewise.
At the very end of the script, I had my main character cloak himself and his two companions with an invisibility spell. I wrote out the English words I envisioned him using for the spell and then purchased a forty dollar two-volume dictionary of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs (yes, I am aware that such dictionaries are largely a guess at how ancient Egyptian would be spelled and pronounced based off of Coptic). I translated the spell into ancient Egyptian — my main character was Black and had a tendency to use Egyptian ceremonial forms — and placed the translated spell in my script.
We would do readings of each other’s work in our screenwriting workshops. Various students would take on the roles of the characters and one student would read the narration and stage directions.
My best friend at the time, Alan, was reading the lines of my main character, which made me very happy. We were, all of us, writers not actors, so our performances weren’t great anyway so I was pleased to have my friend act as my main character.
He reached the part in my script with the translated Egyptian spell. I was thrilled.
And instead of the translation I had so thoughtfully provided, he looked at what was on the page and said out loud to all: “Humina humina humina,” to which no one batted an eyelash and the reading continued. And so I put forward the best and worst reason to just go ahead and use Wicca as your witchcraft in steampunk — your reader won’t know the difference and most likely wouldn’t care if they did.
Some of Leland’s scholarship and translations have been called into question, however a more recent translation via Mario and Dina Pazzaglini answers most of these charges.
Without delving into the issue of secrecy in magick, let me just state that the texts of the Book of Shadows used by Gardner are all now public knowledge and public domain. Gardnerians have added on to this in order to make some sense of their traditions of secrecy and silence but everything at the core of the Gardnerian system is available to you via the library and the internet.
This classic by Scott Cunningham quickly and easily relates both the beauty and the structure of modern eclectic Wicca. If you only ever read one book on Wicca in your lifetime, make it this one.
I don’t know how to boil down why I became pagan.
I didn’t care for pretty much anything about Christianity. The whole Old Testament needs to go. A god asks you to kill your first born child, you’re supposed to tell him to go fuck himself, not wait around for him to laugh and say, “Just kidding.”
I don’t want to worship a deity who according to his own holy book wanted humanity to be ignorant and punished them when they learned too much. He lies about them dying if they eat of the Tree of Knowledge and the serpent (some how cast as the villain) is the one who’s telling the truth. I don’t want to worship a deity who by his own holy book is a drowner of infants. This guy gives the finger to every man, woman and child on earth except Noah and his family and even kills all the animals except the ones on the Ark. That’s just fucked up.
I don’t like how Christians go on and on and on about the Bible being the One True Word of God — when it suits them — and ignoring it because “well, you just have to follow Jesus’ teaching of compassion” whenever it doesn’t. I mean really. I can’t remember how many arguments started with a quotation of an obscure verse from the Bible that backed somebody’s pet theory. I can’t remember how many times I heard someone want to ignore some tenet of the Old Testament because “Jesus brought a new covenant.” Don’t tell me this is the literal word of God and then treat it like a salad bar.
I don’t like how judgemental Christians are. I had a co-worker who was talking with some nurses. The nurses get into a religious discussion and ask him to participate. He says no thank you, I don’t want to get into trouble. They say, no, no, we’re inviting you to participate. It’s okay. So he says fine. One woman says, “I don’t see how you can resolve a belief in reincarnation with a belief that the Bible is the literal word of God.” And my friend says, “I DON’T BELIEVE THIS (emphasis mine) but it does say that you have to be born again to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” The nurse doesn’t like this answer. She complains to her nurse supervisor. The nurse supervisor calls our home office in Mobile. The manager responsible for the site calls my friend’s manager who calls him into his office and says, “Don’t discuss weird things in front of the nurses.” I nearly started a shitstorm over that one until my own manager simply said, “Look — you just shouldn’t talk about religion in front of customers. The other manager just didn’t phrase it right.”
I don’t care for the “unspoken rules” that have cropped up around Christianity. When I was a teenager, I assumed that it was a bad idea, religiously mind you, to date outside my race. Nobody told me in those words not to date white girls but no one in my Baptist church ever did it and since everyone was always proclaiming how moral and better than the “people of the world” they were — it logically followed that actions you didn’t see any of the congregation conducting were immoral actions. Now that might be a race thing. African Americans, as a minority, have always had a “group think” that I’ve found distressing. But that it took one of my fellow high school students asking me: “Let me get this straight: you come home. Your parents are out of the house and won’t be back for hours. There’s this white girl on your bed and she’s naked and beautiful and ready to go. You’re gonna tell her no?” for me to realize “No, I’m not going to tell her no.” and that it was okay to date white women, that’s just fucked up. And it took me until college to be okay with the idea of dating a woman older than me. And I wasn’t the only one. I have a friend — he’s black too — who thought the same way. No one ever told us you couldn’t date a woman older than yourself — it was just assumed — and it was assumed to be because of religious reasons. The Christianity we were taught was the legs holding up the status quo — and without any rhyme or reason given. “Lean not to your own understanding” is the most fucked up concept imaginable — it’s just created for abuse.
I left Christianity because it made no sense. It had no rules, no rhyme, no reason, no structure. Killing was bad — unless the Israelites did it — or God did it to little kids. It’s the worst thing imaginable for you or I to kill children but I had a girl in my Sunday school class actually say to me “You don’t understand — God made us so He can destroy us.” Like your parents can just murder you and it’s okay. That’s fucked up. I was in the car with my Mom once and she’s listening some preacher on the radio and this guy is whipping his congregation into a frenzy. I think he was talking about David. He made some statement about David killing so many enemies of the Israelites that he was unclean and thus unwelcome in the temple. And the crowd is eating this up. And I just start shaking my head. And my Mom looks over at me and asks why I’m shaking my head and I just say, “Uh — thou shalt not kill?”
I came to paganism by chance. I was taking a creative non-fiction writing workshop at LSU and my instructor asked us to interview someone we were afraid to interview. I had heard of a group of witches in New Orleans and decided to interview them. I knew I was on to something when I pitched my project to the class and the table went “oooh!” I interviewed the then male co-coordinator of CUUPS (the Covenant of Unitarian-Universalist Pagans) and after listening to him go on about his politics for four hours, he invited me to attend their Wicca 101 classes as part of my project.
This is where I learned much of the basics of paganism — this and the books of Scott Cunningham, which I highly recommend to anyone interested in the subject. Cunningham had a unique gift for simply, easily and quickly conveying not only the core ideas of the Wiccan religion but its inherent beauty as well.
Nature and ecology as the centre of one’s spirituality — this is a core concept. The Divine has wrought the world — by one means or another, who can say? And by understanding the natural world, we can understand the nature of the Divine Presence. And the first thing we note in Nature is plurality. There is nothing singular in Nature. We do not see ONE of anything. We see unique expressions of plurality — I am not you — you are not me — but we don’t see species of one. Even the Sun is just one star among many. Ecology — diversity — a dependence on interactive systems — these are at the heart of the Wiccan viewpoint.
Equality of the genders: Instead of a God, we have a God and a Goddess and all the myriad deities who comprise them. A Wiccan coven is led by a High Priest and a High Priestess working as a team, expressing the energies and force of their genders in tandem. Traditionally, initiation of a witch requires a member of the opposite sex. The understanding we have of the universe as being comprised of a multiplicity of forces is key here. Yin and Yang working together the way male and female come together to bring about new life. Fertility is key to Wicca. Other branches of paganism, particularly gay themed ones, de-emphasize this but the concept of a joining of diverse forces typically holds true.
Mysticism: We do not have a single holy book. Each of us is free to learn what lessons we will from Nature. I am fond of saying that “What is given for me to understand is not necessarily what is given for you to understand and vice versa.” Recall the story of blind men encountering an elephant. One man touches the trunk and says that an elephant is like a snake. One man touches the elephant’s side and says that an elephant is like a wall. One man touches the elephant’s leg and says no, an elephant is like a tree. The Divine Presence is like that. It is too complex an issue for everyone to have the same view as everyone else. We encounter different aspects of the Divine Presence in different ways. And we must always be true to that experience because I believe the Divine finds the best way to communicate to each and every one of us, if only we are willing to listen. So if you only encounter one God, then for you, there IS only one God. If when you encounter the Divine, you encounter the God and Goddess, then that’s what there is for you. If you encounter the whole Greek pantheon, the whole Greek pantheon is real for you. And you should structure your spiritual practice around these understandings. You should take no notice of anyone who tells you “This has to be done such-and-so a way or it’s wrong.” You should ignore that person entirely. Learn their reasons, give it a try if you care to but ultimately you must find the ways and means of religious practice that suit you and fulfil you and make you happy.
We do not proselytise: For the same reason as the above, we accept that you must find your own path. If you come to me and ask me to show you my path, I will but it’s with the understanding that my way up the mountain will not be your way up the mountain. We may walk similar paths near to one another and be able to talk as we go along the way but my path will always be a little different from yours.
Reincarnation: I like Babylon 5’s idea that “the soul is not a localised phenomenon.” It’s a bit more refined than my own simple idea that the Earth renews and reuses everything in its ecological sphere — so why not reuse consciousness? Living a single life to be tested and then die to go to some eternal reward just seems a primitive idea. That we, like matter or energy, cannot be destroyed but only transformed, just seems more valid, to me. We are renewed and then we go forth again to journey outwards to learn and to be.
Magick: Magick is a tough one but I do believe in it. I believe in the power of prayer — because that’s all magick really is — to change the world, literally. I believe we receive what we need from the universe and that we can take an active role in guiding the universe and it’s part of our tutelage by the gods that we learn how better to do that. But ultimately, magick is asking the universe for something and the universe is wise enough sometimes to tell us “No.”
So — that’s a little about why I’m a pagan.