Five Memorable Blogposts of 2015

I read loads of really awesome blogposts and articles in 2015. Bloggers on Patheos Pagan, Gods and Radicals, and elsewhere. The conversation is deepening. We are starting to wrestle with how we as Pagans respond to suffering, oppression, doubt, death, pain, and fear. We are starting to frame Pagan understandings of consent and community.

So it was hard to select five blogposts that were a “must-read”. The five blogposts listed here are some of the ones that really stood out for me. When I thought back over the year, these were the ones that I remembered reading and going, “wow, yes, this”. There were many other blogposts and bloggers that also made me go “wow” and “yes”. Thank you to all of them for some amazing and thought provoking reads. If you aren’t reading Niki Whiting, Crystal Blanton, T Thorn Coyle, Cat Chapin-Bishop, Annika Mongan, Laine Glaistig, Molly Khan, Alley Valkyrie, Nimue Brown, Jason Mankey, Thorn Mooney, John Beckett, Rhyd Wildermuth, Naomi Jacobs, and the articles at Gods and Radicals, you are missing a feast of great writing.

Here are five excellent and important posts that I remembered when I sat down to make a list.


Why racism is Paganism’s business – Cat Chapin-Bishop

Many Pagan bloggers have written urgently and well in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, and many Pagans, polytheists, and other people of faith have turned out to protests and shown up in solidarity. Cat has been doing this consistently, in her community, on Facebook, and on her blog. Here she gives a Pagan social and theological explanation of why we should support people of colour and challenge systemic racism and white supremacist ideology.

[Racism] it isn’t something that happens “out there”–and when Pagans of color draw it to our attention, if we white Pagans respond by minimizing what they’re saying, by calling it hand wringing or accusing Pagans of color of making too much of a fuss, we’re actually supporting the overculture’s lie that talking about racism is “divisive” or somehow the problem–that being “race blind” (which usually means white people being willfully blind to racism) is the way to support justice.


Editorial : Against Authority, Against Terror – Rhyd Wildermuth

There are so many quotable bits in this editorial, which shows the many ways in which terror and authority reinforce each other. The opening paragraph sums it up:

I don’t need to tell you what happened. You’ve seen it already, the images of carnage, the collective mourning, the shaking anger, vows for reprisals, calls for restraint. And then the near-simultaneous retaliations in multiple countries by anti-terror police, new crackdowns, increased arrests, tightened security.

Rhyd has written so much good stuff this year but this piece really stood out for me because I wanted to print it out and stick all the quotable bits on my wall and make everyone read it. I used a quote from it as a chapter heading quote in the book that I am writing.


Do We Act Justly? Disability, Mental Illness and Vulnerability – Naomi Jacobs

This piece offers a new model of disability and how society relates to disabled people. Instead of treating them as vulnerable and victims, which removes their agency and autonomy, we should be treating them equally. I think this is important because it challenges even those people who think they are being disability-friendly to challenge the assumptions on which their attempts at inclusion are based.

If you have to make special arrangements after the fact, you didn’t start by thinking about access for all. You thought of us as vulnerable people who need help, not as equal people whom you forgot about when designing your festival, or ritual, or meeting. And that’s a problem for all of us who want to live in a society where there is equity and justice for all. The social model of disability says that we are made more disabled, made vulnerable, by societies that are created for non-disabled people and that don’t want to change to include us.


Deep Polytheism: On the Agency and Sovereignty of the Gods – Morpheus Ravenna

Not exactly a blogpost, as it was actually Morpheus’ keynote address at the Many Gods West conference, but I suspect it will come to be seen as one of those defining moments in polytheist history. What gods are and how we relate to them have been key themes in the Pagan blogosphere over the last year.

Morpheus offers a metaphor for understanding the relationship between the gods, the world, and us, and how we see the gods. Among many interesting points and insights, she explains how to understand archetypes in relation to gods.

Here’s a model I’ve used to illuminate this: Imagine being inside a church, and here is a stained glass window. The window contains an image in colored glass, and that image is lit and brought to life by sunlight pouring through the window.
Here, the image in glass is the archetype – it is an image, a symbol, and as we experience it, it can be alive with light and power. But, in truth, it is not in itself alive or exerting force in the world; it is a kind of passive vessel which is being enlivened by the agency of a greater force. That force, the sun that is generating the light enlivening the image, is the Gods. The church, in this model, is the human mind.


Spiritual Buffets and the Value of Traditions – John Beckett

In this, and many other recent posts, John argues for deep engagement with the tradition you are in, instead of pick and mix spirituality that hasn’t been carefully thought through.

Doing fusion well – with food or with spirituality – requires a deep understanding of elements and themes, not just picking things at random because they look appetizing.
Without a tradition it’s hard to get started.  Without a tradition it’s even harder to movev beyond the basics.  If there’s nothing to tell you that crab legs are delicious, you’re not likely to ever try to eat them.  They look creepy and eating them is a lot of work!

There were loads of other good posts, and I am sure other bloggers will have lists of good ones.

Best wishes to all our readers for 2016, and may we continue to deepen our conversations and strengthen our community, both online and face to face.

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Embodied Spirituality: Haiku Writing

The haiku is a Japanese form of poetry which evolved out of the philosophy of Zen Buddhism. Traditional Japanese haiku have 17 syllables, but it has been suggested that English haiku should have more syllables, because English is a more long-winded language than Japanese, and you can pack a lot more concepts into 17 Japanese syllables than you can into 17 English syllables. However, I tend to stick to the 17 syllable structure, divided into 3 lines of 5, 7 and 5 syllables. Haiku also traditionally include a kireji, a ‘cutting word’. The cutting word divides the poem into two contrasting sections with imagery that adds a surprising twist or contrast to each other. It’s difficult to find ‘cutting words’ in English, so haiku writers in English use a dash to separate the two sections of the poem.

"Basho in Ogaki" by Kichiverde - Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Basho_in_Ogaki.JPG#/media/File:Basho_in_Ogaki.JPG

Basho in Ogaki” by KichiverdeOwn work. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.


Haiku are essentially poems about Nature, so Japanese haiku also have a season word, to indicate in what season the action of the poem takes place. The season word does not have to be the name of the season; it can be something that is obviously associated with that season – for example, plum blossom would indicate that the poem was describing spring. The imagery of a haiku is simple and unpretentious, and generally does not use similes to achieve its effects. The natural phenomena described may very well be metaphors for something else, but the haiku may also be enjoyed for the images of natural beauty, and the human response to it, that it conjures up.

Haiku poets would often gather together to compose haiku on the spot. One poet would begin, and then another poet would respond with a haiku of their own, and in this way a series of linked haiku (known as haikai-renga) would be composed by the group.

Sometimes haiku would be combined with travel writing or other prose. The most famous example of this form is The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Matsuo Basho, which describes Basho’s travels to the far north of Japan. The combined haiku and prose form is known as haibun.

Writing haiku teaches one to strip things back to the bare essentials, to distil experience into its pure form, and to observe Nature closely. It is a very satisfying process, because haiku are so short, and so complete in themselves.

 

Embodied Spirituality: Gardening

Gardening is well known to be therapeutic, but it is also deeply spiritual. It is a process of fostering life, of working with the land and Nature to create beauty – what could be more spiritual than that?

Embodied spirituality is about responding to the world with wonder, creativity and joy; it is not some abstract process – it is about connecting the inner with the outer.

The planting of the seeds in the ground teaches us hope and care for small growing things. Watching the seeds come up is an experience of hope rewarded. Then we must care for the tender seedlings, watering them, planting them out, protecting them from being eaten. We create patterns in the garden – arrangements of plants that flower and fruit in their season. The plants might be herbs that heal, or flowers with scent and colour, or leafy trees, or fruit and vegetables. Plants have symbolism and mythology and folklore associated with them.

"Saihouji-kokedera01" by Ivanoff~commonswiki - Self-photographed. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Saihouji-kokedera01.jpg#/media/File:Saihouji-kokedera01.jpg

Saihouji-kokedera01” by Ivanoff~commonswikiSelf-photographed. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

The word paradise means an enclosed garden; the earliest gardens were oases of fertility in the desert, such as the famous Hanging Gardens of Babylon, which must have required considerable watering. The fabled Garden of Eden was the mythological model for such gardens. Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ uncle Zovár said that the Garden of Eden was really the whole Earth, because everywhere on Earth is capable of flowering like a garden, and is full of the divine presence if you know how to be aware of it.

Composting (an essential aspect of gardening) is a wonderful metaphor for the process of change and transformation. We compost our dead matter (past experience) and it helps to fertilise new growth (the wisdom that comes from experience).

Embodied Spirituality: Meditation Hut

The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids suggest building a meditation hut. The idea of the hut is to have a secluded place in Nature, where simplicity and quiet are available.

The actual process of building the hut could be a mindful and meditative process, using recycled and sustainable materials. The Order’s founder, Ross Nichols, got the idea of his hut from the poem The Lake Isle of Innisfree by William Butler Yeats. 

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honeybee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a-glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

Yeats was inspired to write the poem by Henry David Thoreau’s account of how he retired to a hut beside Walden Pond, there to contemplate the wilderness, be self-sufficient and find himself. 


Ross Nichols suggests that one of the benefits of living in a hut is that there are fewer distractions there; no electricity, no running water, only yourself and the wilderness (or your garden) for company. It was important to Nichols that the hut should be a semi-permanent structure, so it felt safe and secluded.


This post was originally published at UK Spirituality.

 

Embodied Spirituality: Making an Altar

An altar is a focus for devotion, prayer or meditation. It can be simple or complex, small or large. It can have no images, a single image, or multiple images. It can be themed around a particular idea, deity, inspiring person, or festival.

You can have more than one altar or shrine around your home.

"India - Family altar - 7090" by © Jorge Royan / http://www.royan.com.ar. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:India_-_Family_altar_-_7090.jpg#/media/File:India_-_Family_altar_-_7090.jpg

India – Family altar – 7090” by © Jorge Royan / http://www.royan.com.ar. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

If your altar is for meditation or prayer, choose a spot in your home that is quiet and peaceful. Consider how you will use your altar. If you are going to place flowers on it, or use it in ritual, make sure there is space for everything you need, and that the altar is easy to keep clean. Some people like to light a candle or ring a bell before they start their ritual, meditation or prayer.

The typical altar might have a bell or singing bowl, some sacred pictures or statues, some natural objects such as pebbles, shells, feathers or wood to make a connection with Nature, a candle, prayer beads, and perhaps a sacred book. It may be a shrine to a particular deity, saint, Buddha or bodhisattva, or to multiple sacred foci.

In Orthodox Christianity, the shrine at which the family prays is known as the Beautiful Corner, and is decorated with icons of favourite saints. Icons are seen as windows into Heaven, and depict the transfigured face of the saint. Before praying, people will light a candle and cross themselves.

In some traditions, people build altars or shrines at particular times of year. In Mexico, people build shrines for El Dia de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead) to commemorate their loved ones who have died. There might be photos of the loved one, together with their favourite foods, and flowers. Many Pagans around the world have borrowed this idea.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes, in her classic book Women who run with the wolves, describes how women built altars to commemorate losses in their lives, and how this helped them to grieve properly and to recover from the trauma. You could also build altars for particular rites of passage, such as the transition from childhood to adulthood, or for marriage or divorce. The altar might include symbols of the phase that is coming to an end, and symbols of the new phase to be embarked on. You could even build one altar for each phase, and then have a ritual progression from one phase to the next.Another way of making an altar is to find a special tree or rock, and decorate around it with found (but biodegradable) objects arranged in a pattern, such as twigs, leaves, berries and feathers.

There is no right or wrong way to make an altar. Each altar is personal and special. If you are following a particular spiritual tradition, it may have particular ways of making altars, but even within that, there is plenty of scope for creativity.


 

Further reading: Sabina Magliocco, Neo-Pagan Sacred Art and Altars: Making Things Whole. University Press of Mississippi

This post was originally published at UK Spirituality

Embodied Spirituality: Food

The sharing of food and drink is one of the most ancient and basic rituals of hospitality and reciprocity. It is surrounded by symbolism and ceremony.

A nice cup of tea and a sit down

The Japanese tea ceremony is the ultimate form of this spiritual practice; in it each movement is choreographed, and the tea is prepared and served mindfully and gracefully. The ritual has deep meaning and resonance for the participants.However, the preparation and drinking of tea has a restorative effect on many people. The fragrance of the tea, the effect of drinking it, and the relaxation of sitting and being focused on the pleasure of tea, is all good for you. It’s even better if it is accompanied by conversation with a friend.The title of this section is taken from the excellent website entitled “A nice cup of tea and a sit down” which extols the pleasures of this activity, or should I say inactivity?

"Bain-marie" by grongar - originally posted to Flickr as Bain-marie - full. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bain-marie.jpg#/media/File:Bain-marie.jpg

Bain-marie” by grongar – originally posted to Flickr as Bain-marie – full. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons.

Shared meals

Many religious traditions have shared meals as part of their practice. Jewish tradition has the Seder or Passover meal, in which specific symbolic foods are eaten, representing different aspects of the Passover story. The youngest person present must ask, “Why is this night more special than all other nights?” and various other symbolic actions are performed, such as leaving the door open for Elijah, and raising a toast to the idea that one’s next Seder will take place in Jerusalem.Christianity has the Eucharist, which commemorates both the Last Supper that Jesus had with his disciples, and also the meal he is said to have shared with them at Emmaus after his Resurrection. The meal consists of bread and wine consumed in a sacred manner. There has been much conflict throughout Christian history about what the Eucharist means, who is allowed to partake of it, and what its effects are. Nevertheless it is a powerful ritual. Stephen Lingwood, a Unitarian minister, suggests that communion represents Jesus’ radical hospitality – his willingness to eat with people marginalised by society, such as prostitutes, tax collectors and publicans.

In Wicca, the shared meal is known as cakes and wine, and is usually consecrated by a woman and a man (but it can be a same-sex couple), and then shared among the participants in the ritual. A portion is kept for offering to the deities as a libation.

In some Hindu traditions, a portion of the food is offered to the deities while it is being cooked, and blessed food is known as prasadam.

The ancient Greeks had a ritual of sharing bread, which is where we get our word symposium, which literally means ‘together bread’. In ancient Rome, there were dining clubs devoted to the god Bacchus (god of wine), which presumably had a ritual or spiritual aspect.

Many religious traditions (including Buddhism, Christianity and Paganism) give thanks for their food before eating. Typically, the meal blessing might include thanks to all the beings and processes that went into creating the food, and a wish that everyone in the world might have enough to eat.

Cooking can also be a spiritual practice. It is in many ways akin to alchemy (the transformation of one thing into another); indeed, a cooking vessel invented by a medieval female alchemist – the bain-marie – founds its way from the laboratory to the kitchen. In Jewish tradition, the preparation of food has special rituals associated with it. The magic of a lovingly prepared meal is powerful stuff, restoring both body and mind.


This blogpost was originally published at UK Spirituality.

Embodied Spirituality: Making a Mandala

A mandala is a twofold meditation tool. The process of creating it is meditative, and it can be used as a focus for meditation once it has been created.

The idea of the mandala comes from Hindu and Buddhist tradition. The mandala is a diagram of the sacred cosmos. Tibetan Buddhist sand mandalas depict temples and palaces where particular Buddhas dwell, and pathways between them. A sand mandala is carefully and painstakingly constructed by pouring sand through special pointy tubes onto a surface, and after a certain amount of time, the sand is swept up and poured out as a blessing into a river, or given away to pilgrims.

Mandalas can also be drawn or painted. Carl Gustav Jung (the psychoanalyst) drew mandalas representing his inner states, and encouraged his clients to do the same. Other Jungians also did this. Drawing a mandala can be a very satisfying experience – it doesn’t have to be great art; it’s the process of creating a picture of your inner world that is important. You can also make mandalas from seeds, pebbles or shells. 

Once you have created your mandala, you can use it as a focus for meditation, following the patterns you have created, or meditating on the meaning of the symbols within the mandala. In Buddhism, sand mandalas are deliberately made to be impermanent, and the sand is swept up and offered to a nearby river.


 

(This post was originally published on UK Spirituality.)

Embodied Spirituality: Storytelling

"The Boyhood of Raleigh" by John Everett Millais - Transferred from en.wikipedia; transfer was stated to be made by User:Mattis. Original uploader was Rednblu. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Millais_Boyhood_of_Raleigh.jpg#/media/File:Millais_Boyhood_of_Raleigh.jpg

The Boyhood of Raleigh” by John Everett Millais – Transferred from en.wikipedia; transfer was stated to be made by User:Mattis. Original uploader was Rednblu. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

Most spiritual and religious traditions have a corpus of stories which transmit their values and beliefs, and the stories of their saints and heroes. It is also good to create stories. In his essay, On Fairy Stories, JRR Tolkien expressed the view that when we create stories, we are exercising a gift from the Divine, the gift of ‘subcreation’.

One way of creating new stories is to practice storytelling in the round. One person starts off a story, and then when they have run out of ideas, the next person in the circle takes over. You can augment this practice by using cards with images or words to suggest ideas to the participants. 

Storytelling is an art which it is very satisfying to learn. To make your story come to life, include details of colour, taste, smell, sound and texture; imagine how the characters in the story feel about their situation.

Traditional storytelling does not go into much detail, but it gets across the experience with directness and immediacy.

You can also add your own personal twist to well-known stories, such as telling the story from the point of view of another character – how about the story of Little Red Riding Hood from the point of view of the wolf, for instance?

Try to find and listen to traditional storytellers and learn from their technique. 

Resources


This post was originally published on UK Spirituality.

 

The Taste of Magic

This is part 2 of this story. You probably want to read Part 1: The Gift of Naughtiness, first.


The kids at the fundamentalist bootcamp for LGBT children were slogging through the mud on yet another early morning run. They could see their breath freezing in the wintry air. They were running along the perimeter fence when they saw a glimmer of light through the trees.

Sally, a transgender kid from Oklahoma, nudged her friend Tim in the ribs. “Look – rainbows!” she said.

“Quiet at the back there, Samuel,” called out the youth leader, old-naming Sally.

Tim and Sally slowed to a jog to look at the curious phenomenon of the rainbow glimmers coming down from the sky, twisting and turning on the wind. The glimmers were clearly invisible to the youth leader, who ran on, oblivious.

The other kids started to notice the glimmers too. Gaby, a lesbian from Kentucky, smiled for the first time in weeks. The glimmers flitted about the children’s heads, and finally settled on their tongues. Each child tasted their favourite flavour – sherbet, marshmallow, chocolate, pistachio ice-cream. As they swallowed the delicious magic, they felt a warming, loving feeling inside them. The world was suddenly brighter. The judgmental God they had been told hated them and their kind receded from their minds, and they knew that their way of loving and being was right and good and beautiful.

Now that they had tasted the magic, they could also see the wind-being who brought the magic. The wind-being smiled at them, and ruffled the trees outside the perimeter fence. A shaft of sunlight illuminated a path through the woods.

Later that night, they held a secret meeting in the dormitory.

“We’ve got to escape,” said Tim.

“Too right,” said Gaby. “But how?”

“Weapons of mass distraction,” said Sally.

“I’ve got it,” said Cal, a bisexual boy from Arkansas. “We raid the pharmacy and put drugs in the staff food.”

“There’s enough sedatives in there to knock out a herd of elephants,” said Che (her given name was Charity, but she preferred Che, and had often worn a black beret in honour of the revolutionary leader, before it was confiscated by her right-wing parents).

“What will we do if we actually succeed in escaping?” asked Tim.

“I escaped before,” said Josh, an older kid. “I got caught, but the thing to do is to get onto a long-distance freight train. There’s a railroad track with a junction not that far away. If we can make it to there, we can get onto the freight cars while the train has stopped.”

The next day, the plan went into action just before breakfast, which was when sedatives were normally administered. Sally started overthrowing the tables in the dining room, scattering breakfast trays and cutlery and bowls everywhere. The other kids soon got the idea and joined in. Under cover of this distraction, which had most of the staff trying to calm things down, Che snuck into the pharmacy and stole the sedatives (her father was a pharmacist so she knew the names of the drugs to look for).

The rest of the morning was spent in an emergency prayer and healing session, with the staff laying hands on the kids and trying to exorcise the ‘demons’ that had clearly gotten into them.

The rainbow glimmers of vintage eighteenth century naughtiness were not to be defeated, however. They filled the kids with secret glee, and strengthened their feelings of validation.

The kids were also required to help with chores around the centre, and today Gaby was on kitchen duty. Che slipped her the packets of sedatives just before the duty started at 11:30, and told her what dosage to use.

Tim was in the handicraft workshop with the other boys, and was able to steal a small pair of wire cutters from the tool cupboard.

Back in the kitchen, Miriam, a normally quiet girl from Tennessee, pretended to faint. While the cook was distracted by that, Gaby passed out the packets of sedatives to the other girls, and they quickly put them in the celery soup, but not the tomato soup which most of the kids preferred.

At 12 o’clock, seemingly demure and biddable, the girls served the soup to the staff in the dining room. It wasn’t long before the staff were all slipping into slumber, snoring in their chairs. The kids stole more food from the kitchen, and slipped quietly out of the building. They ran towards the perimeter fence where the glimmers of magic had arrived. Tim cut through the perimeter fence with the wire cutters, and they headed for the path through the woods which had been illuminated by the shaft of sunlight the day before.

“So we have escaped, but now what?” asked Jacob, one of the younger kids, who had not been in on the original plan.

Josh explained about his plan to get on a passing freight train, and about the safe-houses in various more liberal cities, which he had been making for when he got caught and sent back to the bootcamp.

It wasn’t long before they got to the railroad track. As they came out of the trees and into the area beside the track which had been cleared to prevent forest fires, the wind brought them more of the rainbow glimmers. The tiny sparks of joy descended on each child who had not yet received one, and they too knew the happiness experienced by the others.

Che began to sing softly, a song from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. “Don’t dream it, be it…” The other kids soon joined in, even the ones who didn’t know the song.

It wasn’t long before they heard the mournful double hoot of a train in the distance. What met their eyes as the train got nearer was totally unexpected, though: it was a circus train. And riding on the roof of the first carriage was a being of light, dancing for joy to see the effects of his plan. It was Joulutonttu, brought by the wind-spirits to see the joyful sight of the children breaking out of the bootcamp.

As Josh had predicted, the train stopped at the junction. Among the circus folk was Cady, an artiste of high calibre. The circus was not the kind of circus with animals, but the kind with acrobats, and jugglers, and fire-eaters, and dancers. They were on their way from New Orleans to New York. Cady knew immediately where the children had escaped from; he recognised their beige uniforms from the time he had spent at the same bootcamp many years before. He had been experiencing feelings of distress for some time as the train drew nearer to the place. He jumped down from the train.

“Have you escaped from David House?” he asked.

The children were a bit hesitant to answer. They feared that they might get sent back, even now, even with Joulutonttu in plain sight on the roof of the train.

“Of course you have,” said Cady. “Get on board the train, quickly, and let’s get the hell out of here!”

The children clambered onto the train, and were welcomed by the circus people, many of whom had experienced similar sad things in their own childhoods. Tia Estella, the acrobat, found them suitable costumes from the circus’ store of spangly tights and sequinned tops. Sally pirouetted in her new outfit, and sighed happily. Soon the children and the circus people were exchanging stories, sharing food, and working out how the children could be incorporated into the circus performance.

Joulutonttu flitted amongst the passengers, spreading magic and laughter.


Featured image credit: CC BY-SA 3.0 – File:Munich – High trapeze act – 6879.jpg [Wikimedia Commons] Uploaded by Jorgeroyan – Created: 1 January 2007 – Jorge Royan / http://www.royan.com.ar


If you want to know more about kids who escape from fundamentalist bootcamps, I recommend the excellent novel Hidden by Tomas Mournian, who has also made documentaries about these awful places.

You might also like to find out about, and donate to, the excellent organisation Truth Wins Out, which campaigns against “gay conversion therapy”. The executive director, Wayne Besen, recently wrote:

Some people, particularly parents, feel conversion therapy is safe and there is no harm if their child gives it a try. In reality, such rejection of self can be psychologically devastating and leave lasting mental scars that must be undone with real therapy. The single worst decision a parent can make is forcing their child into conversion therapy. Still, a demand often fueled by religious fervor inevitably creates a pool of religious ideologues or greedy practitioners who bilk desperate and vulnerable clients with promises of healing or an elusive cure. This is why conversion therapy must be banned for minors in all 50 states. I urge everyone to get behind such noble efforts that protect teenagers and put conversion con artists out of business.

The Gift of Naughtiness

Old Father Christmas [CC0, Public Domain]

Old Father Christmas [CC0, Public Domain]


Yuletide was approaching, and the elven helpers of the Yulefather, who goes by many names (Old Father Christmas, Captain Christmas, the Lord of Misrule, Joulupukki, St Nicholas, and other names unknown to humankind) were preparing the magic to send out gifts of magic to human children.

Contrary to popular folklore, it is not the actual Christmas presents that are delivered by the old man with the sleigh, but more intangible gifts: the ability to see magic and mystery in the world; the ability to play, to laugh, to sing, and to be merry.

A sparkling, tangled, constantly shifting and changing cloud of magical energy was forming around Korvatunturi, the magic hill in Finland where Old Father Christmas lives. Occasionally it would get out of control, and the sky over much of the Northern hemisphere would be filled with great sweeping curtains of green and purple light. It is said that Korvatunturi is shaped like an ear, so that Old Father Christmas can hear the wishes of children.

The elves were getting ready to carry the magic to all parts of the Earth when they heard a terrible rumour. The children of North America were being beset with a hideous interloper, designed to crush the curiosity and magic out of children: the Elf on the Shelf. This simpering red impostor would move around the house, keeping an eye on the children’s behaviour, and reporting their behaviour back to “Santa Claus” – a red-clad impostor representing the spirit of consumerism and capitalism, who seeks to supplant Old Father Christmas in human hearts.

When this news reached the ears of Old Father Christmas, he was furious. “That red-clad impostor!” he roared. “That stalker, that peeping Tom! Not content with tormenting children with his voyeuristic tendencies, now he sends his minions out to do it! That is the final dollop of reindeer poop! It’s war.”

The elves all cheered wildly. At last they would see off those horrible impostors, the Elfs on the Shelf. For of course, a real elf doesn’t have a simpering expression and a little red suit. A real elf is a lithe wisp of energy, and can manifest in many different forms, so the elves were deeply offended at these interlopers, and worried that human children would stop believing in elves and faeries as a consequence of these caricatures.

Joulutonttu was the youngest elf – the one all the others regarded as a bit flighty and irresponsible. He decided to do something special to prove himself to the others. He would liberate human children from those little red monsters once and for all.

He went into the restricted section of Old Father Christmas’s library of magical tomes. He clearly needed something special. He worked his way through several tomes, getting quite dusty and cobwebby in the process. The stack of discarded volumes grew bigger: the section of the Kalevala dealing with the forging of the Sampo was stacked regretfully on the discard pile along with several long-lost grimoires that human magicians would dearly love to get their hands on.

At last he gave up on the library, and wandered off in search of Krampus – who, contrary to popular belief, rewards children for having an independent spirit and not being blindly obedient. He wandered all around the underground caverns of Korvatunturi, where the elves were hard at work massaging the dollops of magic and mystery into manageable packages which could be sent along the ancient trackways through the forests. Finally he found Krampus in the observatory on the peak of Korvatunturi.

“I don’t like it,” muttered Krampus to himself. “Those children are getting forgetful of the old magic. Not enough freedom to wander about and find things out for themselves, I reckon.”

Joulutonttu waited patiently while Krampus finished his observations.

“Ah, hello there, small elf,” said Krampus, looking over the spectacles on the end of his nose.

“Hello, Krampus,” said Joulutonntu. “I was looking for a way to save the human children from those horrible Elfs on the Shelf. I was thinking you might have an idea.”

“There are indeed some disturbing currents in the magic,” said Krampus. “The humans are too cruel, too greedy, too focussed on things. Most of them don’t care about the old ways any more. Those Elfs on the Shelf are a manifestation of their overwhelming desire to control everything.”

“But surely the children still have a tiny spark of magic?” asked Joulutonttu.

“Some of them do,” said Krampus. “But I believe I might have just the thing. Come with me.” He got up from behind the vast array of brass telescopes, finely calibrated sensors equipped with red feathers for measuring kindness and justice levels (many indicated critically low levels of either), and stomped off towards the door. Joulutonttu half-ran, half-flitted along behind him.

They walked down many winding stairs, through ornately carved doors, down into the deep caverns below Korvatunturi. They went through three doors bound with wrought-iron sigils (something of a trial for Joulutonttu, as elves hate iron), which had signs written in Runic, Old Gothic, and Finnish reading “High energy magic area – enter at your own risk”.

Finally, behind the last door, Joulutonttu beheld a vast cauldron full of shimmering, twisting energy, constantly changing colour from purple to green to blue. “What is it?” he asked.

“This, my friend, is pure vintage eighteenth-century naughtiness,” said Krampus. “The finest distilled essence of the childhood naughtiness of revolutionaries, the Luddites, William Blake, the Romantic poets, the Lunar Men, the early feminists – their moments of rebellion, their high-spirited games, their visions, and their flights of fancy.”

“Are we going to release this into the wild?” asked Joulutonttu excitedly.

“That’s exactly what we will do,” said Krampus. “Humans need a wake-up call – they are sleepwalking into an apocalypse on a tide of consumerism. This ought to stir things up a bit.”

“How do we release it?” asked Joulutonttu. “And how do we know it will get to the right children?”

“Ah, that’s the clever part,” said Krampus. “Each of these wisps of naughtiness will waft around on the winds until they find the human heart that will make a warm and welcoming nest for them – and then they will make that heart glow with merry wildness.”

“Let’s get to work!” said Joulutonttu.

So they carefully carried the cauldron up to the topmost peak of Korvatunturi. They summoned the spirits of the four winds, Dáinn, Dvalinn, Duneyrr and Durathrór.

“But it’s not Yule yet,” protested Dvalinn. “Why have you summoned us?” So Krampus and Joulutonttu explained what they wanted.

The four winds sniffed the contents of the cauldron appreciatively. “Ah, haven’t smelt naughtiness like that in many a long year,” said Durathrór. “It takes me right back to the Luddite rebellion, that. Heady days.”

“Oh yes,” agreed Duneyrr. “This is no ordinary naughtiness – this is the true spirit of freedom and creativity. Almost Promethean, that is.”

“Oh yes, Prometheus. They don’t make ‘em like that any more,” said Dáinn.

The winds agreed to carry the glimmers of naughtiness to everywhere they were needed, and soon the sky was full of many-coloured glittering threads, like sparks being carried aloft from a bonfire.

If you see a tiny wisp of light, perhaps out of the corner of your eye, it might be one of those very special glimmers – and maybe it’s just for you. So open your heart and hope that it makes its nest there.


Update: Part 2 of this story, The Taste of Magic, is now published.