Think, think, think

To be, to have, to think, to move—which of these verbs is the one you feel most connected to? Or is there another verb that characterizes you better?The Daily Post

To be: This sounds like the goal of meditation practice. Not identifying with either my thoughts or my body, just existing in the moment. On rare occasions, I may even have reached this state, if only for a few seconds, but not nearly enough to feel like this is “my” verb.

To have: When I first read this, I pictured materialism, an attitude of I am what I have. Images of shallow, greedy characters from books and movies leaped to mind. But then I considered what I have. I try to only hold onto things that reflect me in some sense: my interests, my style, my personality. I find it hard to let go of my things because often they’re keys to my memories (apartment as giant, unwieldy scrapbook!), even if they no longer fit who I’ve become. So this verb, too, is part of me.

Picture of dictionary definition of think.
photo credit: jDevaun.Photography via photopin cc

To think: This is me! Well, I’m not alone: a quick glance over the other posts for this prompt suggests that many people connect to this verb. Only every now and then can I move beyond my thoughts and see them as separate from me—those rare moments I manage to just be. Most of the time, though, I put a little distance between myself and life, not just experiencing things, but analyzing what I’m experiencing.

To move: This is the complement to thinking, not being in my head but in my body, acting rather than analyzing. Unfortunately, it’s almost as alien to me as simply being is.

If I tried, I could probably add an armful of verbs to this list that I could make better use of to describe myself. Although if I did so, all that mental exercise would show over and over again exactly how connected I am to think! 🙂

F is for feminine and masculine

Once upon a time, I encountered Paganism—specifically Wicca. To state the obvious, Wicca has a (the) Goddess, and it is probably no surprise to learn that I was deeply impressed by this. Deity as female. A deity that was like me in that oh-so-fundamental sense. The feminine as divine. Along with that Goddess, Wicca had a God. Now Christianity had a God, one who was described with terms like “Lord,” “Father,” “he,” and “him.” Despite that, the Wiccan God seemed more masculine to me, maybe because he didn’t have to both be male and still somehow represent the whole of humanity the way the Christian God did. So in becoming Wiccan, I ended up with two deities whose gender was part of their divine nature—the Divine Feminine and the Divine Masculine.

Traditionally, we have classified far more than just the Goddess and God as feminine and masculine. The water and earth elements were considered feminine, while fire and air were said to be masculine. And as the elements can be used to describe just about everything in the world, this meant that just about everything in the world could be said to be feminine or masculine. You can still see traces of this system. In A Beginner’s Guide to Practical Astrology (1931), Vivian Robson writes, “The odd signs, namely Aries, Gemini, Leo, Libra, Sagittarius, and Aquarius are termed Positive or Masculine, while the even signs Taurus, Cancer, Virgo, Scorpio, Capricorn, and Pisces are Negative or Feminine. The latter are more receptive and less forceful than the former.” Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs lists the traditional gender for each plant, either feminine or masculine.

That was then, this is now. Although we still classify things along these lines, today we favor other terms, terms without gender. The energy of each entry in Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Crystal, Gem & Metal Magic is described as “receptive” or “projective” (if either). In Astrology for Yourself, Demetra George and Douglas Bloch state that they “will be using the terms Yin and Yang to describe astrological gender, for they have less perjorative [sic] connotations than the traditional descriptive phrases of ‘masculine/feminine’ and ‘positive/negative.'” Another introductory astrology book, The Only Way to Learn Astrology, describes the energy of the signs as “active” and “passive” rather than Robson’s positive/masculine and negative/feminine. In Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Correspondences, Sandra Kynes explains, “I chose this terminology [yin and yang] to avoid gender bias as well as to encompass the fuller aspect of each energy.”

So…it can be empowering to see Deity as female or male—the Divine Feminine and the Divine Masculine—but limiting to see the world around us in terms of gender. Feminine-with-a-capital-F good, feminine-with-a-small-f not so good?

Female and male symbols.
But you’re not thinking of women and men at this moment, right?

No easy answers, but I’ll hazard a guess. Okay, obviously the Goddess or a goddess shows us the divine as female. Sure, not all of us human beings neatly divide up between female and male, feminine and masculine, but it’s still a boost to see the feminine considered as holy as the masculine, not just relegated to an “other” “not good enough” category. The divine, bigger than human, can be feminine as well as masculine or both/neither. However, it can be incredibly difficult to keep a distinction between real women and men on the one hand and all the characteristics we’ve been taught are feminine or masculine on the other. If we call a zodiac sign or a behavior or a color or a piece of clothing feminine or masculine, it is way too easy to link it in our minds to women and men. At some point in the future, I think it’s entirely possible that this linkage won’t be automatic and we won’t have to consciously work around it and through it. But for now, yes, feminine and masculine are more loaded and possibly more harmful than (the Divine) Feminine and Masculine.

Magic(k)

mag·ick: n. In Wicca and certain other belief systems, action or effort undertaken to effect personal transformation or external change. Variant of magic. (American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th edition)

Years ago, I thought Wicca and Paganism had made a great advance when their definitions appeared in mainstream dictionaries. Now, not only the names of the religions but some of their terms are considered common enough to merit entries. I was delighted to find magick is in the dictionary. If only the word itself didn’t annoy the heck out of me.

Like many children, I grew up with the standard Western fairy tales, and magic was common to most of them. Fairy godmothers, witches, mysterious beings who granted wishes for a price: every tale had magic in it and magic captivated me. As I grew older, I moved on to fantasy novels, still my favorite genre. The stories were more intricate, the characters better developed, but there was still that wonderful, impossible magic running through them. So you can guess how I felt when I discovered Wicca. Indeed, many of you may have had similar experiences. There were real witches in the world. There were wands and (sighs happily) magic. Except magic was misspelled for some reason.

It didn’t take long to learn that reason: the whole bit about how this was to show the difference between stage magic and, well, magick. (For some reason, the magic I’d grown up with, the magic in the fairy tales and the fantasy novels, was never mentioned.) This spelling had existed for centuries, but it looked as if Aleister Crowley was responsible for bringing it to prominence in the 19th and 20th centuries, and Pagans had adopted it enthusiastically.

I understand the reasoning, but I don’t agree with it, both for my own idiosyncratic reasons and because of what I think this says about Pagans as a whole. Personally, I just don’t like what magick looks like—yes, the appearance of the written word. It reminds me of other words with “ick” in them that don’t have positive connotations for me: ick, of course, and icky, as well as sick, panicked, and dick. If I’m trying to entice Younger Self, my inner child, or whatever, then I want to do magic, the stuff I’ve loved since those earliest fairy tales. On a larger scale, the Pagans I’ve met over the years could understand the difference between stage magic and magic(k) without a visual hint (and it’s only a visual cue: magick is pronounced the same as magic). It does the Pagan community no credit to act as if we casually confuse these two unless constantly reminded of the difference. I’m wondering if stage magic was more common in Crowley’s time; maybe he did need to differentiate between them. But nowadays, magic is more likely to bring up images of Harry Potter or Gandalf, not Penn and Teller.

I know I’m going against the current here. Even my beloved dictionary sees magick and only magick as the Pagan/Wiccan practice. Although the definition above says that magick is a variant of magic, the definition of magic doesn’t include magick. Nevertheless, I persist. We understand what modern witches are, what historically witches were, and what the Halloween stereotype of witches is without different spellings; why not with magic(k)?