Non-Binary Mysteries 2: Solar and Lunar Symbolism

March 7, 2015 § 3 Comments

(This is my submission for Prompt #2 of the Non-Binary Mysteries. See the masterpost here.)

The sun rises, dawning color and warmth into the world, nurturing and burning, illuminating and changing. It visits any given area for longer and shorter times throughout the year, rising through the sky, falling through the season. Hours and seasons are set by its movements, heating and cooling, growing and harvesting.

The sun sets.

Back in the 1980’s and 1990’s, a researcher found that people who fit solidly into the gender roles proscribed by society were far more likely to assign gender to words and objects than people who didn’t fit so cleanly into societal gender norms. Read up on Gender Schema Theory by Sandra Bem and the fascinating research and ideas within it. It’s a bit dated and incomplete, and yet it has usefulness within its limitations, like any model.

During a cognitive task study, people who were strongly gendered and gender-normative (“sex-typed” in Bem’s theory, meaning they process and integrate traits and information in line with their assigned gender, conforming to the cultural definition of what it means to be “male” or “female”) tended to remember more traits assigned with their gender role, and processed “sex-type congruent” information more efficiently… perpetually reinforcing their concept of gender normativity, a continual process of confirmation bias. When given a list of words to cluster either by semantic meaning or by gender, they were also more likely to cluster words by gender. They are “gender-schematic”.

In contrast, “cross-sex-typed” individuals (in Bem’s theory, people who processed and integrated information and traits in line with the opposite gender role from their assigned gender) had the lowest percentage of words clustered by gender, followed by “androgynous” individuals (people who process and integrate traits and information from both genders). They are “gender-aschematic”.

Strong gender-schemata provides a filter through which people process incoming stimuli… making it easier ability to assimilate information that matches the stereotypes, which further solidifies the existence of gender stereotypes. It is one model through which to approach reality, and a highly dominant one in a number of societies, enforced and reinforced throughout the culture. It is incredibly prevalent, too, in much of Neo-Paganism: Lord/Lady, God/Goddess, Male/Female, elements and correspondences all sorted into Masculine and Feminine. Sun God and Moon Goddess, in so much of mainstream Paganism.

The moon rises, lining the world in silver and shadow, the cool colors of night. The face of the moon waxes and wanes, cast in growing shadow, brightened in growing light. Months are measured by its cycles. Its pull sets the rhythms of the oceans, the tides and waves, and perhaps it even influences the rhythms of mind and heart.

What, then, for those of us who are gender-aschematic?

I am fortunate in that my tradition leans gender-aschematic, itself. Kemetic philosophy is non-dualistic and polyvalent, the One and the Many, both/and. Many seemingly contradictory things can be true all at once. There are deities with the title of “The Great He-She”. There are deities that are explicitly hermaphroditic, deities that are very male, deities that are very female, and deities that are downright sexless. There are deities that are more concept than person. There are deities that merge into one another, split into pieces, and those pieces join with pieces from other deities to make new ones, fission and fusion and fluidity.

The sun is a goddess and the sun is a god and the sun is a scarab. The moon is a child and the moon is a god and the moon is only rarely a goddess, but the gods of the moon are not strongly masculine. The sun and moon are not so much gendered as they are personified in many different ways.

The sun takes the form of scarab, cow and bull, lioness, falcon, cat and leopard, cobra, vulture, and heron. The sun is nurturer, warrior, queen, king, healer, lover, creator, avenger, guardian, mother, father, and son. The moon takes the form of ibis, baboon, and falcon. The moon is healer, defender, scribe, protector, creator, child, traveller, embracer, time-keeper, mathematician, magician, judge, mediator, arbitrator, counselor, and scientist. Both sun and moon are incredibly multi-dimensional, and go so far beyond gender.

Wepwawet is my Parent deity, and I associate Him with shadows and night – though not the moon itself. So often for me, He is gentle soothing darkness, and also an edge of mischief and unknown mystery. He is the moonlit crossroads where your shadow stretches black and long before you at the point of choice and possibility. He is a magician and something of a gambler, a warrior and a scout, the standard-bearer and guide. Yet He has never seemed strongly gendered to me, this wolf-wanderer of the ways between.

Bast-Mut is my Beloved deity, and She is most definitely the sun. She is Bast on Her throne, Bast Who is Mut, the Devouring Lady, the hunting-cat goddess crowned with uraei. She is an Eye of Ra, a title given to a number of martial or protective solar deities. Fierce yet motherly, regal yet warm, and I see Her in the kind of sun-warmth that invites basking, the sun that warms me slowly and gently down to my bones. For me, She is the revitalizing warmth of the sun, and I feel Her most strongly in the dark of winter when the sun shines forth and brings me back to life. She is joy and care, protective nurturing.

The sun has many different faces to me. There is the harsh beating sun-in-summer, Ra as King and Sun, the Apis-bull, Sekhmet’s wrath. There is the warming sun-in-summer too, Mut and Heru and Wadjet. There is the cool distant sun-in-winter, hawk and scarab, watching, becoming. There is the warm revitalizing sun-in-spring, Hethert returning from Her travels, Bast crowned in glory. There is the fading sun-in-autumn, Hethert-Nut as the Wandering Eye in Her departure.

Sometimes the moon sings to my blood, intoxicating and invigorating. Sometimes the moon is a rabbit and sometimes the moon is an ibis as Djehuty or a falcon as Khonsu. Sometimes the moon is a mystery, magic, and the hunt. Sometimes the moon is madness, its fullness corresponding with a spate of crisis in the mental health centers I’ve worked in. Always, the moon is genderless. Never have I experienced it as feminine, and never have I identified with the menstrual cycles that so much of modern mainstream Paganism associates with lunar cycles. I love the moon and thrill to the sight of it, sparking dreams and visions in my mind.

The sun is a different thing entirely. I connect so strongly to the sun, and I am keenly aware of its seasonal increase and decrease. The seasonal rites of equinox and solstice resonate with my heart and biochemistry, not for their celebration of the cycles of agriculture but rather for the marking of the sun’s departure and return. My mood brightens with sun’s presence and suffers significantly in its absence, seasonal affective disorder weighting my body and mind. The hawk in me is a solar creature, thriving in the daytime, hunting in the sun’s light. The phoenix I identify with at the core of my soul is solar above all else.

The moon sets.

The sun rises.

Heat and Dryness, Cold and Moisture

July 12, 2013 § 2 Comments

I noticed two major things upon moving to Denver from Cleveland.

First: the altitude. Denver is called the Mile High City for a reason, while Cleveland is at sea level. The unacclimated visitor (or new resident) finds their breath going short and harsh with even such minimal exertion as walking up a flight of stairs. The air is thinner here, and even just a mile’s difference leads to unexpected complications. Water boils at a lower temperature. Yeast works oddly, such that baking bread is an experiment in frustration even with high-altitude flour (yes, it exists). Go high enough into the mountains and you can’t even cook rice properly – the liquid boils off at too low of a temperature, requiring a closed system. Even down at Denver’s altitude, rice can be tricky.

Over time, though, you acclimate to the altitude. It’s fun going back to Ohio each year. The air tastes thick and rich at sea level (last visit I was sick with it, dizzy and lightheaded, drunk on oxygen for the first two days), and you feel like you can run for hours and never tire. Nowadays I only notice the altitude when I go up into the mountains – 8000 feet, 9000 feet, and that’s just the foothills, not even proper snow-capped fourteeners. Denver’s height no longer affects me.

The second thing is the dryness. I don’t think you ever fully adapt to it. Lip balm, a water bottle, and hand lotion are utter necessities, as this is (essentially) a desert. Winter is the worst. I can go without hand lotion sometimes in summer, but in winter my knuckles turn red and cracked and chapped, requiring frequent hydration. It’s easy to keep to the recommended eight-cups-a-day of water here, necessary even; if I get less than three large water bottles of H2O each day, I feel dehydrated. I have oily skin, but since moving to Denver I’ve had to use facial moisturizer daily, at least in the winter.

You become keenly aware of fire and water. I never thought much about water before moving to Denver, never really took notice of its presence or use; northeast Ohio is rich in it, thanks to Lake Erie, the broad deep rivers, constantly cloudy skies with regular rainfall and snowfall. Here, though, water is rare and precious. There are lawyers who make their careers specializing in water rights. In particularly dry years, some counties set water use restrictions. Others simply set costly fees if you use more than a certain amount of water in a period.

We don’t quite have the four seasons of a classic temperate climate here. Spring is short, desperate, and late; fall is crisp and beautiful but equally short-lived. Winter is regularly broken with days or weeks of sun and warmth; summer is unpredictable and storm-ridden but with little rain. The growing season doesn’t last long enough to support much agriculture even if the soil and moisture levels allowed for it, which they don’t; livestock is far more viable here, cattle roaming the prairie like a more domestic echo of the once-great buffalo herds.

It’s easier to think of the Front Range’s seasons as “dry” and “wet”. Our wet season is January through April; we get an occasional snowfall before that, brief and pleasant, but the real snow – all the blizzards – are in January, February, March, and sometimes April. The bulk of our water comes from snow. It’s most valuable in the mountains, renewing the streams that flow to the thirsty urban valley. March sees some rain. April sees a little more. In June the storms come like clockwork, summer squalls sweeping down the mountains each evening across Denver for a brief downpour before sailing off across the high plains.

Then – it’s dry. Dry and windblown, which is worse. June, July, August, September: this is fire season, though it seems to begin earlier with each passing year. This year has been abnormally dry. March is usually the snowiest of all, but this year it’s the driest on record – and the fires began yesterday, fueled by hurricane-force winds. 100+ acres in Jefferson County, south and west of central Denver, turning the skies gray and brown until you could smell the smoke even in Denver proper. The fires aren’t improved by a beetle epidemic in the foothills, killing the pines and reducing them to tinder; it’s not gotten cold enough in years to kill them off like it once did on a regular basis. Climate change in devastating action.

In the dry season, fire bans are posted everywhere. There’s a joke that if you kill someone, all you have to do to get pardoned is put a gas can in their hand. It’s a black sort of humor because it’s not far from the truth – we take fire very seriously around here. It was a surreal experience to visit the Midwest again and see a towering bonfire in the middle of a grassy field, practice for local firefighters. My heart made it into my throat before I remembered how much wetter the ground was out east.

There are actually several upshots to the dryness, though. Heat is more bearable without the thickness of humidity. The temperature drops the moment the sun sinks behind the mountains, and a shaded spot is noticably cooler than a sunny one, with no moisture to trap and distribute heat. The arid climate leads to fascinating adaptations in the flora, creating a land defined by textures: cacti, sage, juniper, a waving sea of prairie grasses. It means sunlight, too, more days with sun than most of the country; seasonal affective disorder is so much more muted and bearable here than in wet, cloudy Cleveland. Lack of moisture means deep blue skies, vibrant and unobscured by clouds; it means spectacularly starry nights, especially in the foothills and mountains – you can even see the Milky Way with startling clarity when you’re 8000 feet up. The dust and dryness and altitude make for fantastic sunsets against the silhouette of the Rocky Mountains.

It’s not just grandeur and splendour – there are little mundane advantages too. Hair dries at an astonishing rate. With my short, fine hair, I never use a blow dryer anymore. Mildew and mold are rarely concerns. Towels and clothing dry within an hour or two. Mosquitoes are short-lived and sparse.

This is not a gentle land. It’s not fertile or hospitable. In the eastern parts of the States, the land feels tame, domesticated, fully turned to agriculture and small sleepy towns by generations of grooming. Here in Colorado’s Front Range, though, even the urban places don’t feel tame. The city has shallow roots, and the arid wild creeps in at the edges and through the cracks. We bow to the land’s demands in order to survive, rather than gentling it to our desires; there are too few resources for domestication to be a viable option. Fire reminds us when we overreach, and drought.

It is not a gentle land. It is rugged, sometimes brutal, and starkly beautiful in its own way. It’s an amazing place to live if you are willing and able to adapt to its nature – for the land here will not adapt to yours.

I Believe

May 20, 2012 § Leave a comment

I believe there are layers of reality, there is more than just the physical, and that the subtle (energetic, spiritual, etc) reality/realities affect the psychological and spiritual, just as much as the mind affects the subtle and the physical, and just as the body affects the mind and the subtle.

I believe there are multiple explanations for any experience, and all can be true simultaneously, for the reason stated above. Are you tired all the time because you are depressed, or are you depressed because you are tired all the time due to improper nutrition, or are you tired and depressed because of an energetic blockage, or do you have an energetic blockage because you are not eating right and you are depressed? I am more likely to believe you are tired because you are depressed and you have improper nutrition and you have an energetic blockage, and all these factors must be addressed for optimal health/improvement.

I believe that mythic truth is just as valid as factual truth, especially as memory and perception are unreliable: your brain lies to you. I don’t believe we can truly, completely be certain of anything, and one’s schema and experience and functionality is far more important than whether it is literally, factually true or not. Does it have meaning? Is it aiding or not affecting functionality? Is it adding to your life experience? Then it doesn’t matter quite so much.

That said, I believe it’s important to examine one’s beliefs regularly, and to consider multiple possibilities for one’s experience, and subject experience and belief to scrutiny and logic to see if they stand up to basic reasoning. This may seem like a contradiction to my earlier statement. It’s not. I have found that as someone who favors logic over feeling, it is easy for me to lose the experience in an endless cycle of scrutiny, skepticism, questioning, and considering possibilities, going in circles again and again without ever reaching a real conclusion about things that I cannot know for certain; and in doing so I lose the emotive and personal meaning of the experience, I become actually ungrounded by completely intellectualizing my reality. Yet I have known people who have done the reverse, have gone completely dysfunctional by not examining the use or meaning or validity of their experiences or their interpretation of their experience, and lose sight of physical reality as they dive into a fantasy land.

Thus: functionality, meaning, scrutiny, balance.

I believe in a variety of spirits: spirit of place, spirit of land, spirit of plant and animal and object. I believe in gods, and gods with distinct personalities and desires and motives that must be treated as individuals even as I believe They are connected to one another and sometimes blend in and out of each other and a greater essence. I believe some gods and some spirits are involved in the lives of people and some gods and spirits just don’t give a damn, and sometimes spirits don’t give you much of a choice in the matter and demand service, and some will take your service if you are foolish enough to offer but aren’t going to seek you out.

I believe that there are many humans who contain within themselves the essence of something non-human. I don’t know what the nature of that essence is, but I have seen it, again and again, in ways I can’t deny. It may be part of being human, and some people are just more affected by that otherly-essence than others. But it is vital and it is fascinating and it is beautiful.

I believe that there is an explanation and cause for all of human behavior, but sometimes it is so layered and complex that the behavior seems inexplicable or random.

I believe in reincarnation. I believe in an afterlife of some sort, though I don’t know if it’s just continual reincarnation or if it’s a return to some cosmic all or if it’s rest in the dead-lands of one’s culture/beliefs or if it’s a combination of all of the above.

I believe that belief affects reality, and so does will because will is often just an active outward believing, and perception shapes our reality. Dragons exist. Is it because our monkey-brains remembered ancient terrible lizards and fabricated dragons out of that inkling of memory, and that mythic telling shaped spirit-stuff into dragons; or is it because dragons existed, and we experienced them on some level, and told stories about them in our myth? I bet it’s a bit of both: that there were spirits that were like dragons, and we experienced them even as we remembered a bit of giant lizards long extinct, and our perceptions did not quite match the reality of those dragon-like spirits, and they shaped themselves to our perceptions or our perceptions shaped them or both, and now there are dragons.

I believe the stories we tell ourselves and the myths we create and live are as real and important as any age-old religion.

I believe that there is truth in every myth, every faith, of some sort: personal truth, emotional truth, spiritual truth, mythic truth – something to be gleaned from every culture and every person’s story. The human experience is fascinating and wonderful even when it is terrible.

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