Saturday, February 25, 2012

Losing My Religion

Today, in case you weren't aware, is Saturday February 25. If you do the math, that means that Tuesday of this last week was the 21 of February, the day before Ash Wednesday. Yeah, Mardi Gras. You know, the big holiday where you go out and get wasted and show your breasts for lots of cheap plastic beads. (Incidentally, what is it men do to get beads?)

Anyway, the reason I feel like it is important to point out that Tuesday was Mardi Gras was because our city is having it sAnnual Mardi Gras pub crawl tonight. Now, in case you aren't familiar with the concept of a pub crawl, the basic idea is that a group of nightclubs in the same area all get together and decide that for one night, you can buy a bracelet (usually at a rediculously inflated price) and it will get you into all the clubs instead of you having to pay for each individual one. The idea, I suppose, is that since there's a holiday or something fun to celebrate, you might want to go to more than one bar to get drunk. This is usually paired with a lot of drink specials so that you, literally, by the end of one night "crawl" from one location to the next.

Our town has a pub crawl about every other month or so. We celebrate every thing from HAlloween, St. Patricks Day, Mardi Gras and other big holidays to things like "Dead Day" which is the last day the colleges have to study before finals begin. A great idea, if you ask me, getting wasted right before taking finals..I digress. I'm not a huge fan of pub crawls. I could go on for days about why. I won't. I'll simply get to the main point of this post...or the kickng off point for this one, anyway. The Mardi Gras pub crawl is tonight. Tonight. Four days after the beginning of Lent.

If you're Catholic, or familiar with the concept of Lent, or you've seen 40 Days and 40 Nights, you know that beginning with Ash Wednesday you go through a period of self denial until easter. This usually involves dietary restrictions such as no meat on the weekends and also "giving up" something that you would normally have (I have friends who have chosen everything from coffee to sweets to smoking) as a for of growing closer to God spiritually by denying things you would normally have on a day to day basis. While I don't personally agree with the concept, I understand it. Mardi Gras, then, (Fat Tuesday in French) is the night before all this begins, where you indulge in all your vices one last time before the Lenten season.

So why, some one explain to me, is my terribly culturally unaware city having a Mardi Gras celebration AFTER Lent has already started? They've done this three years running now, and I can't fathom it. Why can't they do it the weekend before? Anyone who goes to the pub crawl tonight is going to be violating the precepts of Lent. Isn't that sort of backwards from the whole concept of Mardi Gras? I mean, I understand that most people who go tonight aren't Catholic. We don't live in a heavily Catholic area. We're more of an Assembly of God and Baptist area. But got me thinking about how much it annoys me, the perversion of religion, and religious holidays, and holidays in general for that matter, in this area of the country.

I spoke last week about how much Valentines Day irritates me. I mean, St. Valentine was a martyr. Yes, he did become the patron saint of married couples and relationships, but somehow I don't see the holiday as we celebrate it now as particularly in keeping with his Martyrdom. St. Patricks Day, another pub crawl holiday in my area, is another one where religiously, we're celebrating the patron saint of Ireland. I get that now we're really celebrating Irish culture, and yes, Lenten restrictions are lifted for this holiday as a way of celebration, but I think a bunch of American college students dressing like leprochans and drinking green beer until they pass out is rather missing the point. Do these kids even know what the wearing of the green is? Do they know where they could find the blarney stone? Do they even know anything about Irish history? I somehow doubt it...

I could go on for days about Cinco de Mayo too. Of course, working in a mexican restaurant, I work this holiday every year. Every year some new kid asks me what Cinco De Mayo means. Outside of its literal translation, the answer they are most given is that its Mexican Independence. Not true, actually. That's on September 16. Its actually the celebration of the Mexican's unlikely defeat of the French at the Battle of Puebla, which is only celebrated in that reigon, and in the United States. Cinco is actually more of an american holiday, and one that is more a reflection of our southwestern and southern roots than anything, although you couldn't convince all the idiots wearing sombreros and drinking margaritas of that...

I suppose I find myself frustrated because I think that one, these holidays are pointless and two, for people who might actually find meaning in them, its a huge insult. I hate the perversion of religion in any sense, and as a person who doesn't normally celebrate "traditionally" celebreated holidays in the US I find it especially irritating. People, as a general rule, have no idea what most of my holidays are, and they aren't celebrated, Halloween being the notable exception. Halloween, of course, is a completely different thing to me than it is to 90% of the US population, and I find that insulting. I can't help but think that these other holidays have got to get on the nerves of some other people as well. Of course, holidays in general irritate me.

I'm not particularly eloquent today, but I'll do my best to explain myself.

Christians, as a general rule, have a set amount of holidays they celebrate. Now, I could go on for days about the perversion of those holidays by the church itself, but lets let that go. I can allow for freedom of choice in religion, and if they want to celebrate the birth of Jesus in December when its actually more likely he was born in summer, I can let it go. A lot of pagans wouldn't because there's a direct history there with regards to my holidays, but that's something that I'll mix into the argument a bit and we'll live and let live. What does irritate me is that Christian holidays are so commercialized.

If you're celebrating the birth of your religions main god figure, it seems like this would be somethign more reverant than what its become. I mean, yes, there are some beautiful church services, music and retellings of the story that go on. I am all for that. Storytelling, music and ritual are a huge part of my religion too, and I think you could stretch and say most religions. But then there's the gift giving and the reindeer and the tree and the fat elves that have nothing to do with the Christian holiday. Actually, the reindeer, the tree (and the decorations on it) and the elves is part of my religion, and part of my winter holiday Yule. And it does serve a purpose in my religion. But for Christians? I don't think it does?

When you decorate your tree, do you know why you put bulbs on it? I do...blbs are traditionally red and yellow and orange...the colors of the sun. They're put there, on a LIVE tree I might add, to entice the sun back during the cold months. Did you know that? Did you know pagans actually bring in a living tree and keep it alive all winter before replanting it in the spring as a way or showing reverence to the earth? Yeah, cutting a tree down is bad juju in my religion. I don't know how that got started. The candies and popcorn and berries that go on the tree? They're put there to feed the elves and fairies living inside it. True story. And the candles (which we're replaced with LED lights not) are a symbol of the warmth of the coming months, and are there to keep those fairies and elves happy and thinking of the spring. Its like a photo of home for them.

I could go on and on about mistletoe and peppermint and snowflakes. But lets face it, I'm not dogging Christians for incorporating these things into their celebrations. If it has a religious meaning for you, go for it. These things are now all a part of the Christian holiday. That's fine with me. What does irritate me is that so many people are unaware of what their religious holidays and symbols mean. If the candy cane is a sheperds staff to you, awesome. Use that symbol and celebrate. I don't care what shape it is so long as its peppermint. The cool and the heat are there to remind me that the cold months are followed by warmth. That symbol works for both os us, so lets share it.

I don't mind sharing. But being unawre of what your religion means is what really sets me on edge. I live in a really conservative part of the US. I'm trying to fix that, but in the meantime, I know that its okay for me to be tolerant of other people's religion. And honestly, I try to be educated about the religions around me, because I want to be respectful. I know how and why Purim (Jewish holiday) is celebrated. I understand, better than most Christians, the meaning behind all the big Christian holidays. I respect them. I truly do. But I think sometimes they don't.

I have to mention here, my wonderful sister in law Cat and her husband Brother, are devout Christians. I really admire them. They practice their faith with diligence and discretion. Their wedding was beautiful. And they are good, honest, kind people who are excellent examples of what I think a Christian really ought to be. I know that we hve differences. What I love isthat they areso respectful. Cat never tells me I'm going to hell because I married her sister. She might be concerns (hell, I don't know, we've never broached the subject) but I think what is important to her is that I love Kitten and that her sister and I live a moral and upright life according to our religion. And I appreciate the fact that because she didn't know a lot about our faith, she took the time to learn. She asked questions. She asked about books she could read. She didn't make assumptions. And you know, despite the fact that I know she probably doesn't agree with my faith, she's respectful to us, and she is always concientious about wishing us well on our holidays, which means a lot to me. She could have assumed we spend all our nights dancing naked around a fire and killing animals for blood sacrifice to worship the devil. Instead, she listens, she learns and she's willing to be kind to us about it which is a refreshing change.

As much as I bitch, I am pretty lucky. Mr and Mrs Boss are alwys good about making sure I have at least the night of all my holidays off, which most places wouldn't do, since technically, Wicca isn't a recognized religion in the US. (Paganism is, but that's rather an umbrella term for a lot of stuff) They respect my faith and the need for me to take time to be with my spiritual guides. Of course, it works for all of us that my holidays are not usually on the same ones as tehirs, because I can work them. But my coworkers have a lot of respect for me, and that's uncommon. I know I got lucky. And for the most part, I think its interesting to see how they have a modicum of faith in what Ido, which might explain why religions get so mixed up in this part of the country, which raises my ire sometimes.

When someone at work is sick, or hungover, or is having period cramps or whatever, they'll take whatever I give them. It might be a nasty tea or a smoothie blend designed to make them feel better. But they take it. No questions. Because they know I'm good at what I do, its part of my faith and it works. It always works, that's the trick. Mrs Boss jokes I could poison the whole staff because they'll drink anything I give them. I wouldn't, but she's right. I've had people who have asked me to do spell work for them, or cast natal charts for them. I've done tarot readings and auric readings. And my coworkers don't treat me like I'm a travelling gypsy or a freak show. They always ask about the mechanics of what I do, and how its important to my faith. Most of them have done their research. In return, I do my research for them. If I cast a spell for a coworker, I use a ritual for them that involves their incarnation of diety. Because I respect that they may not have the same belief in god as I do, so I try to make sure that this is a prayer (because that's what spellwork really us) that works for them. They have to believe it, and mean it, and praying to your own god is what works. Not praying to someone else's.

I think its that mixing of religion that somehow ends up working its way into other holidays. I mean, yes, do I know that its partly the result of maneuverings by the Catholic church that most major Christian holidays occur on our near solstices? Yep, I sure do. And politics of it aside, I don't care. Easter for them is Easter no matter when they celebrate it. So its fine by me. What makes me angry is when someone accuses me of stealing their religious holidays and perverting them for pagan purposes.

Bullshit. Oastara (yeah, sounds like easter doesn't it?) our spring holiday, or the big one anyway, is close to Easter. But, I hate to say this, the bunnies, the eggs- those are ours. Hell, all that pink and yellow and pale blue you wear? That's ours too. You see, colors have meaning in my religion, and when you dress your daughter in a frilly yellow and pink and lavender dress to go to church, she's wearing the colors of my holiday. She's a symbol of rebirth, flowers, and sunlight. Like I said, you want to use those symbols? Cool.

I once saw a trick with an easter egg that told a story, it had dogwood flowers and a nail in it. Some other stuff too. It was awesome. The egg represented (once opened) the rebirth of Jesus through the empty tomb. The dogwood flowers were for the crown of thorns on his head. The nail represented his death on a Roman cross. It was beautiful. I liked it and I think its awesome that Christians are finding ways to bring meaning to the pagan symbols that have over time become incorportated into their religion, like it or not. But I'd be angry if someone told me that those were the original meanings.

You can't convince me that there were dogwoods in the middle east in ancient times and that's what his thorn crown was made of. Ask an anthropologist, or hell, a botanist. In my religion, eggs are a symbol of fertility. Dogwoods are used for protective magic and for wish magic. I'd tell you that Iron is a symbol of protection in my religion. It drives away death. In Ireland they would drive nails into food and plans to prevent death and disease from entering a house. You can even use it for healing purposes. Speak not of all the uses of nails in Voudon and Hoodoo, which I could go on about for days. Even rust on a nail has meaning for us.

I could go on for weeks about the perversion of Halloween by Christians and the media and commerical groups, but I won't. You tell me if you want a post about that and maybe I'll save it for another day. Suffice to say, the symbols that I use for Halloween have been perverted by people, and almost no one truly understands what that holiday is really about for witches. Ask me why we use pumpkins for jack o lanerns and I'll tell you we used to use turnips and why. Ask me why we put candles in them. As me what a cauldron is for. Or a bat. Do you know? Because most people don't.

I'm running long, and maybe wandering from the point. The point is, triggered by all this post-Mardi Gras Mardi Gras madness, I get really irritated at the total and complete lack of disrespect people have for religion- both for tehir own and for other people;s. I hear over and over (especially dring this election season) that we're a country founded on religious principles. What kills me is most people don't even know what those principles are. They don't care. What they care about it what they get to do what they want, when they want, and then stumble into church with a hangover and get god to forgive them for wht they've done. Or they don't believe in god at all (totally cool, again ,your call) and they feel like that gives them the right to disrespect every religion. I don't think that's right. I think that there's a total and complete lack of respect for cultures and history that belies the fact that we, as Americans, are supposed to be open minded, educated people. We aren't.

I may respectfully disagree with some of the other religions I run into, but I respect them, that's the point. I may not undersand every religious holiday I come across, but I try. And that's really what I'm getting at. If you want to celebrate Mards Gras, and you aren't Catholic then go ahead. Torture yourself by giving up stuff for Lent. But party on Fat Tuesday, take time to think about what Ash wednesday means to you. Do your penance for your sins and talk to god when you feel weak. That's a beautiful thought. Maybe you will get closer to god. I'll be happy for you if you do.

But do me one favor, eh?

Skip the damn pub crawl tonight.



  1. Well, I don't know how "devout" we are really. Work at the store has meant I skipped a lot of church. I'm going to have to work hard to get my punch card filled enough to get in the pearly gates! lol!
    Anyway, I paraphrase your blog to my honey & we agree that we are proud of our sisters and he feels proud that you call him Brother.
    But yes, you are correct. Most people do not know/care about the history and development of their chosen religion. I find that disturbing that there is that blind acceptance. Yes, religion is a huge part faith, however, the management and administration of that religion plays a part as well.
    Even within the same denomination there have been churches I refuse to go to because the feeling there is poisonous. If I am unable to find a church 'home.' I won't go. I feel my spiritual health does not require regular visits to a physical address if that place is icky.
    I know a lot of people who think I'm wrong for that but hey, lucky for me I don't have to answer to them.
    By the way, for Lent I'm trying to curb my tendency to judge people. Sometimes it's hard, especially in WalMart.

  2. I think devotion to your religion has very little to do with how much time you spend in church, and a lot more to do with how much time you spend with god. I agree that a poinsonous church environment is a huge hinderance to spiritual development. Its one of the things that I love about my faith (I'm not prostheletizing I swear) I know that my coven environment is safe. That's why we have seeker ceremonies, and time with a coven before you're admitted. It keeps out poisonous minds. It protects our karma.

    I don't give things up for Lent, because, well, I'm not that religion. But if I did...judging people would be a good one to choose. Especially at walkmart, haha. The workplace,and the way our society operates puts us in a mindset to judge. You're right, its not healthy.

    I'll always be proud to call you and the Sweetie my family. You're wonderful people, and I have always felt loved and welcomed in your family, especially by you. You're a good sister to have.