"Live your questions now, and perhaps even without knowing it, you will live along some distant day into your answers. "
-Rainer Maria Rilke

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Becoming An Animist, Or Why I Gave Up All My Shit

By Fionnlaech

When I was thirteen my parents told me that they would buy me my weight in books.


They did this too encourage the stunted growth in my taste for reading. Well... it worked. I read all the books I could (mostly science fiction and fantasy) and for the first time I started to collect stuff with the intention of keeping it for a long time. I collected sci-fi books, Magic: The Gathering cards, music, and comics. They bought a computer for me and I began to use it for games and surfing the internet. Years passed and I built up a decent book collection (1000 books ish) and card collection ($1500 when I sold it). When I left for college I took everything I could with me and put the rest in storage. I picked up new interests and started collecting camping equipment, weapons, and religious tools. During my time in college and after my household grew by, in no particular order, several fish, a wife, two snakes, two cats, a husband, and a few dogs. In addition I kept a good deal of clothes, machining tools, and a large collection of stuffed animals.

But I was unhappy.

The reasons why I was unhappy are far too complicated to get into in this writing but a little piece of it was stuff. I kept feeling that I had too much... stuff. When I got divorced I took the opportunity find homes (I now deeply regret that “home” mostly meant “landfill” at the time) for my MTG collection, clothes, stuffed animals, weapons, camping equipment, games, and most of my books. Just doing that made me feel so much better... but I didn’t know why. Fast forward a year.

I was unhappy again.

The end of a relationship had brought the happiest 6 months of my life to a close and I felt uncomfortable with my living space again. I had a tv, computer monitor, tables, chairs, other furniture, appliances, utensils, xbox, wii, the remainder of my book collection, and I was trying to figure out what the fuck to do with it all. After much consideration I decided to give it all away (I found better homes this time) which made me feel much better, but again I didn’t know why. This time I decided to figure it out.

I’ve been mulling it over in my head for a while and I have an hypothesis: it’s all about animism. For those who aren’t familiar with animism I’ll use Graham Harvey’s definition: “[Animism] ...is a way of living that treats the world as a community of living beings, persons, most of whom are other-than-human.” My paganism always had a quietly animist thread but as the years have passed I have found it braiding with other parts of my wyrd to become an increasingly large part of my spirituality. If we take seriously the idea that EVERYTHING in our lives is a person (who just doesn’t often happen to be human) then what does that say about the stuff we touch? Your Wii is the gaming buddy who comes over and hangs out with you. Your forks, knives, and napkins become your caregivers. Your handkerchief becomes the friend you invite over when you need someone to be there when you cry.

I’ve known for years that I am not a really social person. I like have a few close friends and cordial, but shallow, relationships with everyone else. What I unconsciously realized is that my life made no sense unless I applied that to the non-human persons in my life. When I was living with my husband and wife I think a part of me felt that I couldn’t have the kind of intense relationship that makes me happy if I had so many roommates (furniture, shower curtain, microwave) and friends (books, computer games, camping equipment) who lived with us, no matter how much I enjoyed their company individually. The living space in Seattle didn’t work because I brought most the stuff I had with the thought that someone else would be spending a great deal of time there. Imagine how you would feel if you signed an apartment lease for three people, moved in, and the third person never showed.

This helps me explain some of my past motivations and aids my understanding of current relationships in my life. Clothes for example. I’ve noticed that since I got rid of so many clothes over the past year I have enjoyed the company of the clothes I have much more. In addition, my buying patterns have changed. If entertainment objects are the friends of the non-human world our clothes are surely our lovers. The are constantly in contact with us, touching us, caressing us. We take the clothes we find most attractive out on dates. They see us at our most vulnerable. They are frequently the only external objects we take with us to the grave.

Last year, with a few exceptions, I stopped buying new clothes. I now shop almost exclusively at thrift stores. The change was partially due to cost but a big part was that what I looked for in a relationship changed. I wanted clothes that were experienced, that have scars, that have stories. Not some naive freshly starched virgin shirt that I have to patiently train about the ways of the world, about loving. The exceptions are for clothes that already seem perfect for me (how often have we all disobeyed our iron-clad dating rules for that one hottie who seems into us). I now understand my clothes much better. If I look at my favorite clothes the way I do a lover my feelings make much more sense. In my human lovers I look for people who will accompany me on otherworldly journeys and whose blood I can share. My corset, my hakama both make much more sense to me if I think of them as fluid-bonded lovers, the gods know I have bled on them enough.

This is why animism appeals to me as a way of life (animism, as I think about it, is less of a religion and more of a way to walk through the world) that will foster a more sustainable future. If you try to live an environmentally friendly life it is easy to get turned off by all the choices thrust upon you. Here’s a thought path that I cycle through. “Ok, I want to actually act environmentally friendly on a daily basis. How should I do that? Should I take public transport everywhere? What if I like visiting friends outside of the bus route? Do I buy organic or local? Which is better? What if I don’t have the money for that? Why should I buy expensive light bulbs? What is the right choice? ARRGGHH I GIVE UP!!!!!!!!!!!!! *sigh* I’ll try this again when I have more money.”

Animism makes simpler for me, although not easier. Animism doesn’t ask us to always make the right choices about stuff, just that we treat it with dignity.

Every. Single. Thing.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

TANSTAAFL

cross-posted from Notes From A Barking Shaman


There is a well know platitude that reads: When the gods close a door, they open a window.

Admittedly, I took a few pagan liberties there with my pluralization, but I am confident that the essential sentiment remains unchanged.

While undeniably clich├ęd, this sentiment has an element of truth (or perhaps truthiness) about it. However, there is a inverse truth that has failed to achieve quite the same level of Hallmark success.

When the gods open a door, they close a window.

Most people know me as “Wintersong Tashlin.” Granted it is not the name I was given at birth. Nor is it the name that adorns my state and federal ID. I was given this name in February of 1999, and in 2005 my legal name was amended so that “Tashlin” became my legal surname. For a number of sentimental and practical reasons I decided for the time being to leave my first name alone. However, the list of people who call me by my birth name is quite short. Nearly all of them are related to me by blood.

My life and Work as “Wintersong” has open many doors. Regardless of what community I am in, this is the identity I am known by. The freedom that has allowed me made it possible to establish a reputation working at the intersections of the communities that I hold dear: pagan spirituality/magic, kink/BDSM, queer/LGBT. With separate “scene” “circle” and “real” names, it would have been impossible to do much of the Work I am proudest of. Additionally, I have never made much effort to separate “Wintersong” from my legal identity. It seemed a loosing battle and one that I could never be happy while fighting.

The question of identity has always been one of interest in my life. The collection of poetry I wrote as an adolescent (some of which is surprisingly decent) asks the question “who am I” and “where am I going” with the frequency one might expect of a disabled queer kid that age. There are times I wonder, would ELL see his own future in WST? Would my childhood self understand the path our wyrd took? Or instead would he resent me for such gross deviations from the course he had envisioned for this turn of the Wheel?

In his wildest dreams, my younger self could not imagine the doors the gods have opened for me. Starting with those gods themselves, and continuing to spouses, lovers, friends, community, and a family of choice that, along with my family of birth, has made it possible to experience richer joys and weather greater pains in the last twelve years than some people experience in a lifetime. Of course there are moments I would love a do-over for, but never have I regretted the path itself.

Not regretting one's wyrd however, doesn't not prevent mourning what has been sacrificed to make it possible.

For instance, my life as a godatheow (god-slave) does not allow for children. I was raised to believe that as a parent, one's children have to come first, an idea incompatible with my oaths. Service to the Lady is my highest priority, before my partners or potential children. Germain to this essay moreover, my public identity as “Wintersong” effectively eliminates having children in our society. I am sterile, and someone on record as an openly unabashed polyamorous pervert has little chance of getting approved for the adoption process (note: I'm open about being poly AND a pervert, one does not automatically equal the other). A part of me longs for children, but even if an arrangement could be reached with my patron, there is no feasible way to become a parent with the openness my Work requires.

Career options have their own limits too. A friend and colleague of mine recently raised the prospect of some potential employment that would dovetail well with my current Work while fitting with my disability and schedule needs. However, the position requires being able to pass a level of hostile scrutiny that my legal identity cannot withstand. Googling my legal name ties it to “Wintersong” on the very first page of search results. Taking that into account it was obvious I was unsuitable for the position. Disappointing as that was, there was also relief. For most of my life I lived openly and doubt I possess the fortitude for a closet. My time at the car dealership would indicate that I do not. Hiding under the refuge of my legal name was an emotionally distressing experience (I should note that, to PCN's credit I was out as queer without issue).

At present there are a number of projects vying for my attention: The first is to achieve greater market penetration and financial success as a presenter in the kink/BDSM and spirituality communities, which includes writing two books that will ideally improve my name recognition. At the same time I am working to complete and find a market for an unrelated writing project that must not be tied to the first task due to its subject matter. If, in defiance of the odds, the second writing project finds an audience and publisher, I will not be able to publicly take ownership of a work I'd be rightfully proud of. Changing gears between them would be hard enough without the knowledge that in the best case scenario I will still be unable to claim credit for the second work. The added pressure of teaching private students and trying to grow a nascent magical clan has not improved matters.

If an opportunity presented itself, I would certainly not go back in time and prevent myself from going out stargazing that night in mid-September of 1998 with the first friend I'd made at college. The encounter we had that night opened an incomprehensible door for us both, and even then, a part of me recognized our wyrds would entwine as part of something bigger than either of us. Returning home that evening battered and drained, but also exhilarated, I could sense the barest glimmer of an unimagined possibilities.

Perhaps it is merely my knowledge of what the future would bring, but I fancy that in that moment we both also felt a hint of sadness, recognizing on some level that by embracing those unimagined possibilities we were forever forfeiting a great many imagined ones. The Fates had opened a door, but over the coming months and years would close a great many windows.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A Journey Into the Desert

I have practiced human sacrifice. I have been Agamemnon standing over Iphigenia holding the knife, and I have the blood of my own child on my hands and on my wyrd.

I was 17 and dating a boy that I had known for several years in October of 1997, and for a 17 year old, the sex was good. Not adventurous, but good. I was not nearly as careful as I should have been with condoms, and I am essentially allergic to most of the hormonal birth control that was available at the time. The inevitable happened, as one might guess and I got pregnant. I realized that my period was late and took the home test the week after I came home from visiting Oberlin College. I was due to graduate from High School in May. I was not conflicted as to the course I would take. I found out at three weeks, barely long enough for a reliable result on the test. I had the abortion at five weeks, the earliest that the procedure could be done. The nurse at the Planned Parenthood was actually a little disturbed at my total lack of ambivalence towards the decision that I had made. I was a practical child, what can I say.

The life of my now never to be born child is not the only life that I have taken to shape my own. I have also taken my own life. When I walked into that sterile and cold office and signed those papers, I walked out of Eden and became a demon myself. I could have given up college, I was in love with the boy, at least in the way that a 17 year old can know such things. I could have chained myself to him, and he wanted me too. He did not want to lose the tight collection of cells that would be the only thing that could hold us together in the months to come, though in truth that was his only investment in said cells. But I did not. I chose to become a hollow womb, a dark blood stained pool, and I never even looked back at the shining walls of motherhood. I walked out into the desert, and while I did not know where I was going, I was not going back.

I left home and took my blood soaked body and new self with me. I gave birth to my own demon children, ideas and magic. Not totally on my own (I am not a goddess myself, I had help). Together we made our own oasis in the desert, and They did not care that I had taken the life of my own child to be there and be a part of this new creation. I bound myself to a new goddess and a new path. I became a sorceress and I taught others what I had discovered. I learned to weave and bend the energy of the land itself to my will.

I have taken one more life (though in truth I have probably taken many) to make myself full and whole. A little more than a year ago, I made the decision to undergo gender transition from female to male. I have nothing in particular against my female self. I never felt sundered, or alien in my skin. I never felt as if I was a prisoner in my body. It was just that the whole rest of the world kept calling me “she” and "her." It was made clear to me when a co-worker asked me once “How many children do you have?” Not do you have children, but how many. I had offspring, my demon progeny, but not like she was asking. My loins were a desert that had been vacuumed out, and sacrificed on the altar next to the white cows and snakes of my youth. How could I explain that to her? I couldn't. To stay female was to be confronted with this reality with increasing regularity by those around me. This was the first hard shove over the line from ambivalence to active dissatisfaction with my public gender presentation.

So now I have three lives worth of blood that trail behind me like the path of a snail. The blood is warm and I can feel it sometimes, as it runs through my now short hair and down my back, over my legs and into the flow of my wyrd flowing out behind me and stretching out before me. I can see the blood there too, sometimes, red threads and eddies over paths that now I will never walk.

Lilith and I have been courting for about a year now, and through that time I have struggled to understand what it is that she wants from or for me, why she has shown an interest in a slave bound so completely to another goddess. While I know that I will likely never understand fully, this at least is another part of the puzzle. In this way we are alike, we have been faced with the same realities and made the same choices. We have shed the same skins, and I think that she, like me looks back at the walls of Eden and if not regrets her course, at least wonders what the other path might have held.
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