My cultural anthropology professor in college told us about a conversation she overheard between two men from Africa. One was from a patrilineal tribe, the other from a matrilineal tribe. The matrilineal man explained, “Of course the baby belongs to the mother. She carries it, births it, and it’s only right that her family name and inheritance should come down through her.” “Oh no!” said the patrilineal man, “you are wrong. If you have a bag of coins, who owns the coins —you or the bag?” This sums up the different perceptions concerning women in matrilineal and patrilineal societies.
Our society has changed slowly toward more rights for women over the centuries. The musings of the tribesmen seem lightweight compared to what the new radical right has in store for women here in the US. A Supreme Court zealot named Justice Alito has written a draft to overturn Roe v Wade, which would outlaw abortion. The draft was leaked.
If passed, half the country will immediately ban abortion. And because the Republican party is no longer benign, the red state Trumpists are falling all over each other to see who can be more cruel. Most say no abortions with no exceptions. The Texas law encourages vigilantism. Missouri is writing a law that would outlaw travel to a neighboring state to have an abortion. In Missouri the total ban includes ectopic pregnancy, which is fatal to the mother. This ugly conversation now pivots to birth control. One low IQ senator from Tennessee said out loud that birth control should only be allowed for married couples. A Florida representative wants to outlaw IUDs. He also wants to join Missouri in barring women from interstate travel for abortions. In Idaho a rapist’s family can sue anyone who helps the rape victim get an abortion. Louisiana wants abortion to be felony murder.
A representative from Missouri who helped pen the ban on all abortions admitted he did not know what an ectopic pregnancy was. My guess is that a lot of the extremists don’t know or don’t care that, for instance, pregnancy can be fatal to breast cancer survivors. The flush of estrogen needed for developing a fetus is poison to a woman who has had estrogen-receptive breast cancer. She will likely not survive after that pregnancy. D and C’s (a D and C is the the surgery used for abortions) are performed to remove fibroids, cancerous tumors, and infected tissue. Will these important procedures be outlawed?
Alito’s leaked draft references a 17th century English misogynist named Mathew Hale. Hale did not believe rape could happen in a marriage. Women, wrote Hale, were formed from Adam’s rib as helpmates to men —how can men rape themselves? In the US, rape in marriage could not be prosecuted until the late 20th century. Oh yes, we have a history with Hale. He also convicted two women of witchcraft and had them hanged. Shades of The Handmaid’s Tale. In the eyes of this man, and his current fanatic followers, women are not fully human.
Mathew Hale, Justice Alito’s words, and the merciless laws being written in the red states leave me with the same queasy feeling as the patrilineal tribesman left me with; women are bags to carry something belonging to men, or the state. We are not more important than what we carry in our wombs.
Let’s dispense with the term pro life to describe the new right. Forcing a thirteen year old rape victim to carry her rapist’s child is not pro anything. It’s flat cruelty. To forbid travel to another state is authoritarian. Putting the fetus above a woman’s life is misogyny. Announcing that life begins at conception, then imposing laws to enforce this belief is fundamentalist Christian theocracy —not democracy. Once the theocracy takes hold, women, non-Christians, non-heterosexuals —we are all in danger. Whatever the Republican party is today, it’s not pro life. A minority of nihilists and fascist friendly right wingers want to hold power. And they will do anything to grasp it. When extremists come to power, women’s rights go out the door. Mussolini, Franco, and Hitler outlawed abortion. Limiting women’s rights is one of the markers of fascism —along with calling the press an enemy of the people, violence against peaceful protesters, and trying to steal elections. All of these have happened in the Trump era.
It’s hard to describe the level of anger, sadness, and fear many of us feel right now. It’s our country. And Roe was a right we grew up with. So was democracy.
So I meditate. Every day. And I relish that moment when all fleeting thoughts recede. And at the end of fretful thinking and regret —all that’s left is goodness. Love. Joy. The act of connecting to that ultimate love exists in every religion. In my own spiritual path we believe this earthly life is sacred. The gods and goddesses are loving aunts and uncles, warm and close. I’m a pagan. Every season offers a reason for joy, for reverence, for acceptance of change. Every celebration ties us to the earth, to land spirits, to our ancestors, and our gods. We revel in the magic of it all. The multiverse is beautiful.
All world religions provide guidelines for being a better person. Even people who aren’t religious can find deep meaning and points of light. One friend, an atheist and alcoholic in recovery, pictured her dog as her higher power. Good choice. The judgement-free love of a dog has no equal. Another friend dances to find oneness with the ether. Some people look to philosophy, reason and science for well-being and illumination. A man on death row told me he never he had never been moved by a religious feeling — until he read Plato.
Now we can talk about the real meanings of pro life and pro choice, which are not mutually exclusive.
If your inner wisdom guides you to believe that life is serendipitous, and if you find yourself pregnant unexpectedly, you may want to choose to bring that life into its full mystery and meaning. Or perhaps, because of a condition listed above, your love for life informs a difficult decision to end that pregnancy for self preservation. Both decisions are OK. Both are life affirming. Both invoke life and choice. Both may be difficult. And women must be trusted to decide. We are not bags.
Right now, at this difficult juncture in our country, we need to pursue what inspires us to love life and make clear choices. What’s at stake here is not just fetuses or a woman’s right to self determination. Our democracy is in danger. The rising tide of callous power-grabbers on the right want to turn us into an ugly authoritarian country. Climate change legislation, private choices, access to books and honest history in schools, freedom of the press —all in danger. The left/right spectrum reminds me of those flitting thoughts during meditation. It’s a distraction. What matters is good people meeting a dangerous moment with grace and determination.
We should harness ourselves with the connection to whatever higher power we own and step forth into the fight of our generation. Vote these fanatics back to the fringes of society where they can lurk, disgraced and shunned. Other actions may include marching for women’s rights, growing flowers for bees, volunteering for an animal shelter —anything that nurtures life and makes our world better. If the red states turn into authoritarian laboratories, some of us may help women get to friendly states for their healthcare. Maybe all you do is treat others kindly and with respect —and tell the truth. It’s all good. As long as we are aware and engaged.
My last article, https://dorianmuse.com/2020/10/16/a-moment-of-truth/, was written before the November 2020 election. It was full of warnings about violence, potential Trump style authoritarianism, and the dangers of QAnon and other Trumpist current event nightmares.
After the election, I wrote a postscript to A Moment of Truth. Trump was repudiated, but not Trumpism. Even so, most of us sighed with relief that the sociopath Trump was gone. We felt sure that since a sane person claimed the executive branch —all would right itself eventually.
Now I’m back to check in. I write to make sense of the world. Indeed, maybe eventually we will begin to see a return to sanity, facts, science, and a rational democracy. But not now. Alas, Trumpism has taken hold of the Republican party. Let me present an overview of what happened after the election.
Trump did not concede. In fact, he fought the election results in one federal case after another. He called state elections officials and bullied them like a mob boss might. “Find me 11,780 votes,” he told Brad Raffensberger in Georgia, a Republican elections secretary. Sixty three federal judges rejected his cases at last count. Republican law makers stood silent as he threw temper tantrums and lost court cases and raised millions from his base. Trump’s gullible, radicalized base believed him. Acting on the belief the election had been stolen, they sent their nickels and dimes to the grifter Trump. Fox news, OANN, and Newsmax spread misinformation about the election, blaming corrupted voting machines and widespread fraud. They even hauled out a dead president from Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, into the hysterical cacophony. Oh yes! Hugo Chavez controls the voting machines, they screamed. We fretted and wrung our hands, knowing violence may be coming.
And violence did arrive. Not just the street fighting between white power and Antifa that has become common. This time Trump and his henchmen riled up thousands of people who had come to DC for a Stop the Steal protest. It was January 6, 2021. The electoral votes were being counted down the street at the Capitol building. Trump, Congressman Mo Brooks, Trump’s lawyer Rudy Guiliani, Don Jr. —among others —riled up the gathered thousands with fighting words about fraud, stolen elections, and fake news taking over the country. Trump directed them to march to the Capitol and help take back the election. “If you don’t fight like hell, you are not going to have a country anymore,” he yelled.
Oath Keepers, Proud Boys, magas, some current and former military, and hyped-up citizens who believed the vote was being stolen —they surged to the Capitol building and descended upon it violently, killing and maiming cops. They broke windows, shat in the halls, carried confederate flags, stole computers and statuary, left threatening messages, howled, and overtook the Senate chamber. Outside someone constructed a gallows. “Hang Mike Pence!” the crowd chanted as they prowled, searching for the vice president who had just refused to overthrow the electoral votes for Biden. They banged on doors, calling for Nancy Pelosi with deadly intent. Congress members from the House and Senate ran for their lives, hiding in locked rooms beneath.
The siege went on for several hours. Trump did nothing. Finally he presented a video urging the rioters to go home, and telling them he loved them. The effort was insufficient and pale, even supportive of the marauders. I suspected he really didn’t want to end the siege. Indeed, eye witnesses would later testify that Trump loved what he was seeing on TV that day, gloating about it. He enjoyed the ruckus and mayhem perpetrated in his name and was loath to end it.
In the aftermath, Trump has continued to lie about the election, sell himself as a victim, and make money. Republicans have embraced Trump as the leader of their party. Anyone who speaks against Trump or the election lie is cast from the family of right wing sycophants —into the prospect of losing primaries and into eternal vilification from Trump and his supporters. Law makers who tell the truth or, say, vote for Biden’s infrastructure bill, face death threats. Decent principled Republicans are being cast aside in favor of nut jobs like Marjorie Taylor Green and Paul Gosar, who support Trump and assume the narcissistic conspiracy-loving mantle that has become the Trump trademark.
Let me bring home this dizzying state of affairs. I report to you from a red state, an artist’s colony in Arkansas. We are a town of creative weirdly wonderful people —which already tells you we are not a typical red state town. Creative minds tend not to jump on personality cult trains. But the support of Trump still crops up in ways that surprise me. A certain percentage of our population are back to earth hippies. Sadly, many of the peace and love generation, the new-agers, have aligned themselves with Trumpism. They go about it by way of QAnon, with anti-Western medicine beliefs. Many of them are anti-vaccine. What was once a fringe left wing belief that vaccines were harmful has spread to the Trumpist right. The sheer number of un-vaccinated people in red states last summer drove a variant of Covid called the Delta to sweep through. Our count now is up to 750,000 people dead in the US, and over 5 million worldwide. And yet, a new-ager at the grocery store the other day droned on about alternative non-cures —Ivermectin, hydroxychloroquine, hydrogen peroxide —anything but that nasty vaccine. One local man pulled away from a hug from his vaccinated friend because, ventured the anti-vaxxer politely, vaccinated people shed their altered DNA. People I used to believe were, at worst, eccentric and misinformed, are now raging purveyors of conspiracy theories. Blithering idiots. And those new-agers add to the growing throng of people who believe untruths. Trump mishandled the pandemic, lied about how serious it was from the start, and created an army of anti-vax and anti-mask warriors. “Donald Trump is a light worker,” said one new age person recently. How disappointing. Not true, I say. Donald Trump is a conman, grifter, and a criminal. The QAnon hippies are going down in history along with magas as misled and errant.
Here are more examples of divorce from reality perpetrated by Trumpists.
The Trumpist governor in Florida, DeSantis, nominated Dr. Ladapo, MD, as the state’s surgeon general. This anti-vaccine MD is associated with a group of doctors promoting Trump’s hydroxycholoquine cure for Covid. The spokeswoman of this group of doctors believes that cysts on the ovaries are caused by women having sex with demons.
Texas’ Trumpist governor, Abbott, has all but outlawed abortion, and created a vigilante system by offering bounties of up to 10,000 dollars to anyone in the country who can track down those who help a Texas woman get an abortion. No clause for incest or rape in this new abominable law. Trump’s supreme court let it slide for now. They may shoot this one down, but Roe vs. Wade is on the chopping block. Women’s rights tend to go downhill with the populist right, or authoritarians.
Trumpists across the country are attending school board meetings. They threaten school board members who promote mask mandates to protect children from Covid. Proud Boys provide a menacing backdrop sometimes. Recently magas have been caught on camera wearing yellow stars as they protest masks, equating the victimization of Jews in Nazi Germany with the victimization of freedom-loving maskless wonders such as themselves. Some laugh at this behavior and say the Republicans have become the new party of snowflakes and cry babies. But it’s worse. I agree with Tom Nichols that the trickle down effect of Trump is a nation of narcissists. How self important and smug to don the symbol that marked you for ghettos and death camps — imposed on an entire race in WWII. How utterly incoherent and devoid of historical factual understanding or empathy. This behavior is simply not laughable. It’s disturbing.
A recent governor’s race in Virginia landed a win for a Republican, who ran on Critical Race Theory. He told parents in Virginia he would ban it. Not sure how you ban something that does not exist. CRT is taught in law school, and in no K-12 school anywhere in the country. But Fox and the right wing Trumpist media have created a myth that CRT is alive and well and trying to make white people feel bad about themselves. So Trumpists are crying about the novels of Pulitzer Prize winning author Toni Morrison. Her books, like any others that speak candidly of slavery or women’s sexuality should be banned —even burned, they say.
What was once a fringe element of the right wing, the white power movement, is now mainstream and normal in the new Trumpist Republican party. Tucker Carlson shouts from his Fox platform about how white people are being replaced. He questions vaccine safety and efficacy. Recently he made a pseudo documentary about the insurrection at the Capitol —casting it as a false flag event (it’s really the FBI and Antifa, don’t you know). He portrays the ongoing trials of the insurrectionists as a punishment directed at being conservative and patriotic. “Prisoners of war” is Carlson’s name for the howling mob members currently in jail. They endure torture, he says. In Arkansas —in all the red states, people spend hours consuming Fox, and they think Carlson is a reporter. In short, an alarming number of Americans believe him, and believe the election was stolen. An effort to re-write history is underway, downplaying the insurrection and painting it as a patriotic rally. Indeed, Trump says the real insurrection happened on election day —with the stolen election —and January 6th was the protest.
What can we do about all this?
Here is where I want to share something personal. I volunteered in prisons for almost 20 years, both state and federal, from low security to high security. I conducted pagan religious services for Wiccans, Pagans, and Odinists. In the federal prison system, because they were white (Odinists), and gang members, I met individuals from the white power and militia movements. The gang members did not bother me a bit. I knew that if gang members showed up then sex offenders would not. As a woman locked in a room with thirty men, I appreciated knowing that. I just let the leaders know that I was not recruitment material and not interested in prison politics and we got along fine. Today, in fact, long after retirement from prison outreach, I’m married to an ex-federal prisoner who was caught up in a white prison gang before he stepped down. Today he is a successful business owner, an artist, and we share a horror of the Trumpist wave. We see it for what it is. We both understand something about the white power movement.
Because of my exposure to the militia and white gangs in the prisons, I had the opportunity to glimpse a world I had never encountered. I didn’t talk politics with the convicts, but I attended events and knew people on the outside who were former skinheads or white nationalists. Most had left the political movements for a more spiritual and constructive life, and I respected them for that choice. Through these friendships and acquaintances, I came to understand more about what motivated people to join such groups. First of all, like most people, they actually believed they were acting in good faith to protect their families. The belief that white people are categorically singled out for extinction provided the motivation. Once indoctrinated, these people became warriors for the white race fighting an existential battle for survival. That’s where nationalists find an identity and a reason to get up in the morning. It’s an emotionally charged movement, loyal and hierarchical. Oddly, the far right leadership, even outside the hate groups and among the more spiritual people, sounded a lot like the new-agers at times. I read articles about how masks cause C02 poisoning, and that the pandemic was planned, and vaccines have tracking devices. Sound familiar? Seems to me the far right as well as the far left have lost their minds. Anyway, this gives us a glimpse into current Trumpist cult members. They are emotional, they aren’t fact checkers, and they believe they are threatened. If the GOP is really going down the white nationalist road, which it looks like they are, we will need to understand what we are up against.
Our nation has a civics lesson problem for sure, but we don’t have generations of time to self-correct that weak link. The GOP may gain power in 2022. Former white power movement people, who subsequently came to their senses, quietly help people walk back from hate. Whether behind the scenes or openly, I hope these people continue their good work. We can take a lesson from them. Walking people back from cults happens individually, person to person.
I understand why some may be hesitant to confront the hard core Trump base —some 40% of Republicans. Actual nationalists and full tilt cult members may appear to be lost causes. The calls for civil war and the blind eager love for Donald Trump is frightening to encounter. Be calm around them. Don’t wrestle in the mud. Stick to innocuous topics. At worst, treat them like children on time out.
If you want to forge ahead, the following are some suggestions.
Anne Applebaum, the author of Twilight of Democracy, has offered suggestions about confronting family members or friends who are Trump Republicans. One of these suggestions stuck with me. Respectfully ask what their values are. For instance, “Is it really in the best interest of you and your family to trust a man who says he likes to grab women by their genitals? Is that in keeping with your values? Aren’t Republicans the party that believes character matters?“
Someone said to me recently, “Tucker Carlson said it, and since he’s a reporter there has to be truth to it.” I replied calmly, “Well, he’s an entertainer, isn’t he?”
When family members spout the Antifa false flag at the Capitol theory, point out that the gallows represents the Day of the Rope, a page right out of a white power book called The Turner Diaries. No —not Antifa.
Take a minute to ask people about their values, and calmly state facts, and call them gently on their inaccuracies. It’s time to consider what each of us can do to avoid the possible death of the American experiment. Confronting individuals is just one way.
Vote. Talk about voting. I asked a young woman about her voting status in the weeks before Trump lost. “My husband does not believe in the electoral college, so he doesn’t vote.” “What about you? What do you think?” I asked. In that moment I made her uncomfortable. Good. I made a point. She won’t forget it.
We live in interesting times, which is disorienting. It’s painful and jarring. One of the two major parties in the US is no longer recognizable, moving toward right wing nationalism under Trump. Donald Trump was the most destructive person to ever sit in the oval office. He still wields power. We may be frustrated by the left in their pursuit of proper pronoun sensitivity and their strange inability to recognize and act upon the rising danger of violence and authoritarianism in the country. But as frustrating as they are, Democrats are still the only party that believes in democracy. Elect people who are non-Trumpist Republicans and Democrats.
The conservative anti-Trump folks have risked their careers and their safety to speak truth about their party. Adam Kinzinger, Liz Cheney, Charlie Sykes, Tim Miller, Bill Krystal, Mona Charon, Steve Schmidt, Joe Walsh, Stuart Stevens —these are a few. Let’s give them the respect they deserve, and listen to their counsel.
Finally, there is hope. A new pro-democracy coalition —everyone from Liz Cheney to AOC —is rising up. We are coming together as a popular front against the rise of autocracy. Principled Republicans are calling out Trump’s lie about the election. A bipartisan select committee is busy uncovering the January 6th insurrection. It turns out it was, in fact, a planned coop attempt —initiated at the top of the Trump administration (stay tuned). People are slowly getting vaccinated, even in red states. If all else fails, protesting in the street actually works. Large non-violent protests in DC alert the world that not everyone agrees with the status quo. They also effectively bring discussions to the dinner table. Democracy works if people pay attention and understand facts. Protesting in the street also gives heart to the participants, and a sense of hope. If Roe vs. Wade is struck down, I will protest. If the Trumpists win power in 2022 and 2024, my husband and I will go to DC and march with the inevitable hundreds of thousands.
In my town, artists continue to create and think freely —and put up with misguided new agers. Fall is breathtaking this year. The red maples and yellow ginkos, and the rust color of the oaks —all inspiring and beautiful. My husband and I are finishing up a mural depicting a magic oak forest. We are animists, and the trees, the cave and critters in our mural reflect our values and beliefs —that the spirit of nature permeates in and around everything, and it’s good. This earthly life is sacred, and I do believe we will eventually be ok. In the meantime, if things go sideways, maybe I’ll see you in DC.
A fly alighted on the carefully coiffed white hair of an otherwise remarkably unattractive man. His red eyes and pasty skin only helped accentuate the dark fly, which lingered for two minutes and three seconds. The man was Vice President Mike Pence. The fly chose the vice presidential debate with Kamala Harris to zero in on his landing, visible to millions watching. Two minutes was the allotted time for each candidate to answer questions —a rule Pence broke over and again. This lent meaning to that extra three seconds. The fly mirrored Pence’s obnoxious behavior, and gave rise to general mirth. The Twittersphere roared into metaphor. Garbage attracts flies, of course. The novel The Lord of the Flies gained sudden popular attention given the dysfunctional relationship between this White House and the people. We now grasp that downward spiral that gives rise to a primitive dictator. Oh, but the comic relief washed over us like a much needed shower. Even news anchors giggled gleefully. This was last week.
You may wonder why this story bears telling. Well, it’s October 2020, that’s why. Cruel facts and circumstances require a sense of humor to get through the next day. Donald Trump, while projected to lose this election by a landslide, has announced he will not concede defeat. His supporters include armed militia members. In the spring Trump directed his followers to liberate Michigan from stay at home orders. Covid was spreading fast. The Governor, a woman who favored strident measures to stop the virus, became a target. Armed right wing protestors hung her in effigy at the state Capitol. Recently the FBI unveiled the protestor’s plan to kidnap and assassinate her — all because she wanted people to wear masks and stay at home for a while to minimize the exposure to Covid. When Donald Trump called, angry armed white men answered. What will happen when he loses the election? He has fallen short of condemning violence from the right, militias, or white nationalists.
Early in the pandemic, Donald Trump knew Covid was potentially lethal, spread through the air, and could affect children, the elderly —anyone. He covered it up, downplayed it, and disdained mask wearing. The damage was done. His followers made news by throwing tantrums in public places, shouting at people, cussing, and landing punches. They ranted about a constitutional right not to wear masks, and that Covid was a hoax —invented to make Trump look bad. From the dark crevices of the fringe came the conspiracy theorists. They found a home in the stampede of selfish, if not stark raving, anti-maskers. Freedom to be stupid hit a new low with QAnon, a pro-Trump theory. In short, QAnon postulates that the Democrats and Hollywood run a child sex trafficking ring , and shoot up with the blood of children. Only Trump can save us all, they say. Flat-earth anti-science proponents, anti-vaccine activists, and misinformed New Age people joined the cacophony, and here is what I’ve heard them say: Dr. Fauci, the top epidemiologist in the country, is an agent of Chinese Communism. Forcing us to wear masks is where it all begins. Covid vaccines, when they appear, will have tracking devices and mind altering components designed to transform us into ‘sheeple’ —their word— as the wave of new world order sweeps away our freedoms. The ‘plannedemic’ —their word— is the home run for the leftist takeover of the world. Donald Trump to this day will not deflate these theories. Hero worship is more fun than flattening conspiracy curves. He still disdains masks. To this day he’s out hosting super spreader rallies for maskless fans. The white house counted more positive Covid cases last week than the country of Taiwan.
Also riveting this year are the Black Lives Matter protests across the country. Police shootings and brutality reached a point of no return and Blacks took to the streets. Whites joined them. All across America, hundreds and thousands of people marched. Although 93% non-violent (the number courtesy of an FBI report), the protests drew Trump’s ire. Trump TV networks, like Fox News, painted a grim picture of violent leftist extremists led by black-cloaked masked Antifa members —coming to a city near you to —what? Force you to wear masks? Undermine the rule of white people? I have never been clear on the end game of these leftist hordes depicted on the Tall Tales of Fox Newspeak. All groups have extremists, including the left. But for the most part lefties are tree huggers. I know. I come from the left. The FBI, in fact, has determined that most violence is from white nationalists and militia. Even so, without regard to truth of actual leftist mischief, The Trump administration sent in unidentifiable goons in camouflage to several cities. Videos of protestors pulled off the street and hauled off in unmarked cars circulated. Trump’s pseudo cops tear-gassed people, and used sticks to beat people. Trump rallied the angry armed white people again with his call to law and order. A seventeen year old shot two protestors to death and was hailed as a hero on Fox News. Trump has never labeled him a murderer. My brother lives in Seattle, a seat of long-standing police brutality protests. A Trumper family member has asked him several times, “What’s happening with the violent riots over there?” My brother tries to tell her that from his vantage point two blocks away the violence is mostly from federal goons and Trump supporters against protestors. It never quite sinks in.
I know something about protests. At age fourteen I attended an anti-war rally in DC during the Vietnam conflict. It was one of the big ones right before the end of the war. Someone lifted me up and I gazed out over half a million chanting, marching people, some brandishing candles. At that moment I knew. People can change things. And we did. The war ended in part because so many people took to the streets.
In the mid 1980’s, hundreds of us protested at the CIA building in Langely, Virginia. We came from the left, the right, the middle. A fervent desire to never see another dictator installed in central or south America united us. We opposed The School of the Americas and American intervention.
During the first gulf war, San Francisco erupted into widespread protests, often led by Vietnam veterans. Spontaneous demonstrations of 5,000 people or more became the norm for a while. Eventually half a million marched down Market Street. The veterans led it. Somehow they didn’t trust the reasons the government gave for that war. I marched with them.
After 9/11 we knew there were not weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and we opposed the Iraq war with good purpose.
I grew up taking American democracy for granted. We believed protesting was patriotic. We cared enough to speak out, to bring our concerns out in the open, to even get arrested. What better way to contribute to a democracy than to participate directly? First the issues have to be laid out for people to see on the news. Then people might talk about it at the dinner table: “What is the School of The Americas?” Nobody can change anything if nobody knows about it. The honest exchange of information and accurate news reporting is part of democracy. Jounalists and TV stations used to report facts, especially during Vietnam. ABC might have been more conservative that CBS in its opinion pieces, but the news brought home the visual devastation and suffering in Vietnam —the napalm, the killing and maiming of civilians —and the beleaguered American soldiers engaged in impossible jungle warfare.
Not once in all my young resistance years did I question the freedom to dissent, to express my love of country by pointing out bad policies. We brought awareness and transparency to national problems. It was the honorable thing to do. “Get in good trouble,” said the iconic civil rights leader John Lewis. We did.
That freedom was never in question —until now. If the election of Biden is derailed, we are looking at the take down of the American experiment called democracy. Instead, our country will resemble a fascist dictatorship. Trump is already talking about “Patriotic Education” in schools. He has ordered federal agencies to stop diversity sensitivity training. Any media not parroting Trump is an enemy — fake news. Women’s reproductive health choices are suddenly in question. Health insurance for people with pre-existing conditions will cease —during a pandemic, I will add, where the Covid diagnosis will itself become a pre-existing condition. Alarmingly, Trump and his criminal cohort Bill Barr are floating the intention to bring sedition charges for protestors who destroy property. In my day throwing fake blood on bombs was called Criminal Mischief and amounted to a slap on the wrist.
Paul McCartney said, “You can judge a man’s true character by the way he treats his fellow animals.” You can also judge an administration, and this one has been cruel to animals. The following is a partial list: high speed slaughter houses that potentially boil pigs alive, or otherwise kills them while conscious; gutting the endangered species act; polar bears drowning from melting ice; wolf packs shot from helicopters, and pups gassed out of their maternity dens and killed; Mustangs out west rounded up and sold for slaughter so cows can graze on public lands —animal suffering brings tears as I write. Climate change denial will be the law of the land under the next four years of Trump. Large swathes of sacred ground and national parks —sold to oil and gas interests. Glorious Leader Trump at the helm with a cult following, backed by armed right wing fanatics, purposely uninformed conspiracy nuts, and big business interests. I see it coming. The sorrow, anger, and fear most of us feel at this prospect is almost beyond words.
How did a con man from Queens with multiple bankruptcies sell himself as a business man worthy of a presidential vote? How did the Republican Party allow itself to be hijacked by Trumpism and by Trump, a man who has tallied over 20,000 lies? This is not an anti-Republican treatise. Indeed, Republicans with a conscience, bless them, are jumping the Trump ship in droves right now. If Biden wins, a big thanks goes to disaffected Republicans who put country over party. I’m an avid fan of the Lincoln Project. Trump, say the wordsmiths of the Lincoln Project, is dangerous and unfit and does not reflect the honor and decency of Republicans. I applaud and support these patriots.
An even more important question is this: how did 30% of the American public, including Republican senators who enable Trump, choose irrationality over reason? QAnon adherents can be dismissed as people with mental health issues. What’s alarming, though, is the underlying mistrust in science . The willful rejection of factual reporting in favor of magical thinking. Discarding common sense in support of the most corrupt president in history. What is this? It feels like an ideological and moral catastrophe. Are some people suffering from a personality disorder where they need an authoritarian to direct them? Is it base selfishness? A lack of education? For the senators, is it about clinging to power?
Friends and family, or any reader who voted for Trump the first time —it’s OK. I can forgive a mistake. But the second time? If you do this, I won’t be able to look at you the same way. Please switch channels. Liberate yourself from the echo chamber of Fox News. Listen to Emergency Room doctors treating Covid patients. To date, 210,000 Americans are dead and it didn’t have to be that many. Bodies piled in refrigerated trucks and buried in mass shallow graves because more people are dying than can be processed —no, not the flu. The virus is still largely a mystery, and appears to affect all ages, not just the old and people with underlying conditions. My cousin has Covid, and her doctor, a 32 year old with no health concerns, lay in a hospital bed for 7 days on oxygen with Covid. The Trump plan of herd immunity is simply a non-plan from a failed leader. Millions will die. Stubborn loyalty to whatever Trump or Trump TV says is not an excuse. Please fact check, and listen to actual epidemiologists. There is too much at stake. Indeed, our country is in danger. Check out the Lincoln Project. You will be in good company.
Our country is unique in the world. We were founded on ideals —not on tribal identity, not on religion. Life liberty and the pursuit of happiness, government by the people for the people —is only possible if everyone takes responsibility. It’s my responsibility to write this essay today, before the most important election of my lifetime. We stand at a crossroads. On one side is a steep precipice. We will fall. The experiment will be over.
My hope is that we choose to keep trying to do the hard work of democracy. I hope we will reject the magical thinking of flat earth non-science, the malignant narcissistic leader, and intentional brain fog —the singing choir of authoritarianism. I will, for my part, never take our American experiment for granted again. And I voted for Joe Biden, a decent character who stands for healing, reconciliation, and a rational approach to problems. This paper is my march on Washington. People can change things. We must.
Laurel Owen October, 2020
Postscript to A Moment of Truth:
It’s Wednesday, November 4, 2020. The ballets have been cast, people have stood in long lines to vote during a pandemic. And the results are trickling in. We may not know the outcome of the count until the weekend. And before us, a tragedy unfolds. Although Biden will likely win the presidency, the victory is narrow. Trumpism was not repudiated. Many Americans voted for a person with a repugnant character for the purpose of ‘owning the libs.’ That appears to be the platform. Thoughtless, mindless, miserably stupid and shortsighted. It’s not about conservative versus liberal. Policy differences do not play a role here, because the party of Trump presented no platform. Indeed, character plays no role here, either. The Republican Party used to be the party where character mattered. That was the past. Trumpism does not care about character, policy platforms, truth, or democracy. Right now, the US president is attempting to steal the election. Last night he announced victory and threatened to go to the supreme court to end the ballet count. No one is paying him any mind —except his blind followers. Here is where things could get dangerous. If people are oblivious enough to vote for a monster, those same people may believe him as he tops his 25,000 lies with the worst yet —that he has won. My fervent hope is that everyone will take a breath and let the votes be counted. In the years to come we will have to beat Trumpism. It won’t be this year. But right now, I think we can, and will, beat Donald Trump.
The world is chaotic. I make sense of my world by writing. An article feels therapeutic about now.
I should begin by saying: I just want to meander in words, because that’s the flavor of my life at long last. Each morning we stroll around a perfectly beautiful lake just a five minute drive from the house. Every season offers a visual feast here, and this little part of the world feels surrounded and infused with spirits. For example, there is the Angel Rock. He has a face, and wings. I fancy him to be the spirit of the park. Sometimes you can decipher an expression on his face, as if he’s predicting the day or participating in your actions and thoughts. Is he foretelling the future? Or does it just feel comforting to acknowledge the possibility that a sentient rock exists? Can he sense life’s rhythms down through the ages —right up to the present and even into my personal sphere? Maybe not. I say hello to him regardless, because he has a face and is ancient.
I have arrived at an inner peace and fulfillment … walking daily around that lake with my partner and our two dogs feels like a meditation in maturing, measuring, seasoning, and depth. And for the record, I do believe in spirits, and sentient rocks.
What is there to say? I have a lot to say, to rail against. So bear with me. Trophy hunting has inched closer to mass acceptance. The presidential sons, for instance, enjoy killing magnificent beasts. What motivates a person to stand with elephant parts for a photo? I’ve never understood, and never will. Actually, the current administration appears to be anti-animal. During the first month of the reign of #45, the USDA blacked out the part of their website dealing with animal cruelty violations. Why? Opinions and theories abound. I wonder if it’s simply because big business holds sway under this president? Anything in the path of big business gets swept away, and animals are the first to fall? I suspect that’s the case.
In my last political essay I mentioned that the confederate flag controversy appeared nonsensical to me. Flags don’t cause people to hate, or to shoot each other. That point of view seems like a long time ago. 2015. Before the news that —wait! —who is running for president? That’s got to be a joke, I remember saying. 2016. David Bowie died in January, then a string of musical icons from my generation followed him. Many of us mourned, continually, all year as one more would die. The dawning realization that Donald Trump was actually running for president sank in. No joke. It was an unsettling year.
Right now I want to say that my defense of confederate flags expanded to include the defense of the artwork of confederate statues —but is in no way an endorsement for the shrill dweeb Richard Spencer and his alt right miscreants. That’s important. I consider them at about the same low rank as trophy hunters. I will turn down both on the dance floor and think uncharitable thoughts about them.
When an elephant or a lion hauls off and kills a trophy hunter I actually quietly applaud the animals. Undeniably uncharitable, but true. I don’t believe in the death penalty. The state should not have that much power. But I do believe that if a wild animal kills a trophy hunter —there is self defense and poetic justice at that moment.
As for Richard Spencer and his followers –they should just be cold-shouldered. They deserve no more. Narcissists hate being ignored. Any attention, good or bad, just feeds a person like Spencer. I think the left has that one all wrong, trying to pick fights with losers.
For the rest of the chaos? The left and the right are currently yelling about who has more powerful sexual predatory men. Which party has more gropers? The other day I read that a woman had been paid to blow the sexual harassment horn about someone from the other side. Something like this was bound to happen. In an atmosphere of partisan finger pointing and misinformation, can the real issue of violence, power, and sexual assault ever come to truth and light? Who is real and who is not? The “Me, too!” movement, while righteous, has become one more tool of the bickering parties. Unwanted sexual advances are wrong, and sexual assault will shrivel even the most stalwart of souls. Most of us have had an experience of sexual assault. I have. But I’m not sure that in an age where an unstable president is telling people that Fox is the only real news —this does not feel like a safe environment to honestly deal with a national disgrace. Though I support the justice of sending powerful men home to think about their bad behavior, I also see the potential for more smoke and haze —more noise— here.
The noise itself is suspicious. What lurks under the flotsam and jetsam of the news? What are we meant to miss? I suspect that there are elements of truth all around, but hidden. The time to be discerning is upon us. What’s hidden beneath the noise, and around it?
What we buy and how we buy it —good deals— consumerism— defines the lives of many people today. The result is hollow and vapid. News is big business, another consumer product. Private details gleaned from our browsing activity –sold to bidders. Big business rules the day, not representative democracy, not clear headed thinking, not science. We have been misled. Indeed, we are lied to –by the left and the right.
This is the point where I despair, and find sustenance in lakeside spirit rocks, the close loving relationship with my partner, and my dogs. People are disappointing right now. It’s not just Trump, or congress, or Trump supporters, or the anti-science, alt-right, or born again Christian types —who are all plenty disappointing. The pendulum inevitably swings and all this will change. My disappointment is in the lack of good manners in the face of disagreement. The use of the word “evil” to describe points of view. The absence of civil intelligent discourse. And the breakdown of social skills in this day of the smart phone. Young people are not learning to dance, or play together in the mud, or love animals, or think logically. Everyone’s opinion is fact, and nobody is listening. Idiocy rules the day. There is no respect —not for animals, not for people, not for other opinions, not for experience.
One solution is a hands-on, small -is-beautiful approach to social and political change. Today I called the chairman of the FCC to voice my support of net neutrality. I care about animals, so my partner and I raise two rescue dogs. I marched on Washington against dog fighting a few years ago. Marching on Washington is a transcendent experience, by the way, and will place you right in the living experience of free speech. Every American should participate in a demonstration. What do we love, believe in, or stand for?
For over a half a century I have lived with passion, appreciating the beauty of the seasons, this earthly physical life. I believe in the power of learning, of reading books, and in the importance of simply showing up for my own life. Every day. Even for shitty days. Life is, above all, worth living. I admire people who raise children to have open minds. Kind people, who live their passion and joy without hurting other sentient beings –they rank high. I admire compassion even though, when it comes to trophy hunters and dog fighters, I fall short. Artists and writers, the antennae of society, push the undercurrents to the fore so we can look at ourselves, and I love them for it. I aspire to live creatively and with daring, and to be graceful, like people I admire.
A bright red sky bit through the morning cold at dawn. I smiled when I got a picture of it. Beauty in everyday life, in a photo of dawn, in an adept turn of phrase in a well worn library book, the sensual joy in taking a good run, playing an instrument, or walking at the lakeside with dogs–these things are important as well.
Heartlessness, cruelty, the vapid noise of liars, and leadership devoid of common sense can not hold sway forever. Despair can not win. The sentient rock told me so.
Douce Dame Jolie was composed in the C14th by Guillaume de Machaut who lived between 1300 and 1377 around the area of Rheims in France. It follows the conventions of the ‘Ars Nova’ style which flourished in France and the Low Countries during the C14th and the structure of a ‘virelai’, a verse of three stanzas with a repeated refrain before the first and after each subsequent stanza.
Machaut was a master of this form and Douce Dame is probably the best known and most performed of his virelai pieces. Many contemporary performers continue to sing versions of the song with different tempi and voice styles but it remains consistently haunting and intoxicating to the ear.
The virelai was one of the three ‘Formes Fixes’, along with the ballade and rondeau which were popular in the C13th – C15th and together with motets and lais formed the basis of secular musical…
Most of us hold in our mind’s eye the kind of person we want to be. Then we spend time trying to live up to that image. Some want to be more spiritual, or more patient. Some people want to be famous, or richer, or they want to be a fighter for causes, or an ideology. Some would like to avoid confrontations, so they imagine themselves submissive –others envision themselves as leaders, decision makers.
For me, gracefulness was the goal. I grew up in a dancing family. Much of what I learned about human interaction I learned from dancing. You always give a firm grip, and put your weight into the push and pull with your partner. You look people in the eye, and you laugh and smile –enjoying the social and physical experience. Life, at its best, is music and dance, a deep rhythm in the multiverse that you share with others. In step. In an ecstasy of movement and patterns. That was my training from a young age. It stuck.
Grace translates into non-dancing situations as firm handshakes, interacting appropriately with eye contact, giving just enough weight (opinions, or points of view) to add balance, and looking for patterns, as in the celebration of earth’s seasons. It also means searching for meaningful connections in the physical and emotional planes. A dancer seeks communion, to hear rhythms of speech, not just words –and the physical interaction with other people in the pleasant cadences of language. Grace is sensual and intuitive.
Much of what I grew up to emulate, as grace, is disappearing. Balance, in terms of world views and respectfully shared opinions, is out the window. Everyone is yelling at each other and using words like “evil” and “dangerous” to describe opposing points of views. Physical connections have diminished with the internet. As has language. As much as I love my Mac, and my iPhone, they don’t convey individual speech patterns in emails or texts.The rhythm has gone, replaced by acronyms and quick bypass words. The emphasis today swings to quick fixes, instant relationships devoid of the dance of courtship, and language cooled down and filtered through electronics. Handwriting, unique as a fingerprint, is no longer taught in schools. Even the actual art of couple and figure dancing has been replaced by modern methods resembling individuals plugged into their own sockets and reacting to varying degrees of electrical charge. It can be fun to dance alone, of course, especially when combined with house cleaning, from room to room. But it’s only with others you learn grace.
The question becomes: How to embody grace in today’s world? I’m too old to develop another image for myself. And I’m stubborn –ask my friends.
As I consider this question, I recall one of my favorite dancing partners, Tom. He and I were enjoying a contra one night. Contra dancing is a line of women and a line of men, facing each other, and the dances involve intricate patterns and movement up or down the set, depending on your placement in the line. We had arrived at a large dancehall in Kentucky. Probably three hundred people were packed in that hall, and about 5 separate sets ( of two lines per set) extended longways from wall to wall. The live band played a reel. It was loud and thrilling. We had the best musicians from around the country –a full band resonating in a hall with warm bodies, and everyone dancing in time.
At some point, once we learned the pattern of the dance, a fluid, trance-like state befell us as we repeated the geometric figures up and down the room. Suddenly, at that moment, the dance grounded itself into body memory. The shift happened. The sync with other dancers, and with each other, transcended linear thinking. The musicians felt the moment too, and the music flowed effortlessly, exuberantly.
Tom and I were so caught up in the moment that we sailed, mid-dance, over to another set. The mistake was honest, as the room was packed. For a moment chaos ensued as we realized our mistake and everyone in our new set had to re-configure to accommodate another couple. But in the end, we laughed, formed to the new set, and kept laughing, and never missed a beat. It was funny. We laugh about it to this day.
So perhaps part of grace is a sense of humor. Disruptions occur every day, much more drastic than our set change that night. But even if I don’t compose myself as readily as on a dance floor, maybe I can still maintain an ability to laugh at myself.
Grace may also include looking for and appreciating new patterns –even if I have to reach a little further to find them today. In other words, I will not be afraid to change arrangements, paradigms, or motives.The body remembers new dances in time. Change is unchangeable and necessary. Nothing is constant. The dance ends, another begins. Partners may change. The reel changes to a waltz.
The good news is the seasons still change in rhythm. That pulse is my religion. And I can still count on two hands the number of people who are close to me, in whom I trust. Connections don’t need to number in the hundreds, as on a dance floor. Natural seasons and cycles, and the polytheistic rituals I observe, provide abounding sustenance –as do my close friends. I take heart in these things.
As for the recent barrage of bad manners, particularly during this presidential election year, from all sides –I don’t know what to do with that. I wish more people would learn to dance, or write, or otherwise communicate effectively. I suppose there will always be people who bang heads together, or can’t pull themselves out of electrical sockets.
Here is what I can do: I will always present with a firm handshake, be attentive to my place in the big picture, as in sets, and remember to laugh if I lose my place for a minute. I can gracefully lend the weight of my convictions with my every step , and love the dance of life. Maybe if I keep offering that love to people, I can create a new dance, one person at a time.
I’ve been interested in ‘archetypes’ for a long time as I am very drawn to myth and to aspects of Jungian psycho-analysis particularly with regard to how we analyse the personalities and character of historical figures.
Often ‘myth’ is classified as something unreal or untrue yet myths also contain the essence of experience and accumulated wisdom or truth carried down for generations and that is why they retain their power to fascinate us. Myth goes hand in hand with the concept of ancient models which are carried in our sub-conscious and applied to our analysis of characters.
‘The term “archetype” has its origins in ancient Greek. The root words are archein, which means “original or old”; and typos, which means “pattern, model or type”. The combined meaning is an “original pattern” of which all other similar persons, objects, or concepts are derived, copied, modeled, or emulated.’http://www.soulcraft.co/essays/the_12_common_archetypes.html
I wrote this article a few years ago. Pre-Trump. Pre-alt right. Before David Bowie died and the world tilted funny. I still stand by these words, but will be writing another article soon with updated ideas and points of view… Laurel Owen, 2017
Another intro, now in 2020. After the Charlottesville Unite the Right rally, I understood that confederate statues signified something I am not. I believe now that confederate statues should go into museums. They are art, and they define history in a way only art can, abstractly and intuitively. They should not be destroyed. But if they are going to be used as a pivot for hate groups, then I’m not in favor of them. Otherwise, I leave this piece as an on-going train of thought on the subjects of the day.
It’s hot, and the world has gone crazy. Really? Confederate flags are offensive, and cause people to shoot one another? Goodness. It rings like 1984 hyperbole and distraction. What is the real issue the government does not want us to see? Perhaps that nasty trade agreement which will destroy American jobs? I’m not surprised.
The soldiers who ran into battle with a rebel yell didn’t have the money for slaves. The banning of the confederate flag seems to me to be disrespectful of the men who fought under it, who did not own slaves. The civil war was about state’s rights and the spread of industrialization. The soldiers who fought with the confederacy were mostly defending their homes.
It’s all baffling to me. When did we become a society of whiners and hurt feelings? People are afraid to speak English and be honest for fear of offending someone. It’s one of the reasons I stopped being a liberal –that and the self-righteousness. Liberals are open minded until you disagree with them, then you are worthy of shunning and censorship, which is hypocrisy. I just couldn’t find genuineness in calling myself a liberal anymore. Of course, I did not go out and join the Republican party, either. They are whiny and irritating as well. The Christian right is nauseating. A theocracy is not what Thomas Jefferson and the other founders had in mind. So I have decided I’m left-leaning Libertarian. Pro gun, pro privacy and private choices, anti-war, anti death penalty, social liberal, and anti censorship. Pro free speech. Pro small government. Safety nets for people who need it as well as free market solutions. Live and let live. I don’t care what political worldview or religious belief anyone has, as long as they don’t harm others in the pursuit of these values and ideals.
Don’t know why I’m sharing about politics, but there you have it. I used to be an activist. We took to the street, and believed so deeply in our causes that we risked arrest. My first arrest was in 1987 when we surrounded the CIA building in Langley, VA, and for a short time, prevented the employees from going to work. We opposed intervention anywhere in the world –especially, at that time, in Central and South America. I still have a federal record from that event, and I’m proud of it. I can remember crying and laughing as the feds handcuffed us. A veteran anarchist patted my hand and said, “You’re just young, and taking things a little hard.” Later she told me if we went to federal prison, to branch out and get to know people, that there were a lot of interesting people in prison. These were prophetic words.
The authorities in the federal prison system chuckled about that conviction when I was being vetted to volunteer in prisons, years later. After 9/11, the things people got slapped on the wrist for in the 80’s would become terrorist activities in our century.
At some point I realized that real change would occur in small sizes. The Empire would not fall because of our civil disobedience and headline direct actions. So I volunteered in prisons, and welcomed the learning curve. It was a huge one. My entire paradigm changed. Volunteering in prison allows you (if you let it) to understand another culture. When you branch out from your comfort zone, the learning begins. Spirituality became political. As a volunteer for a religious minority (pagans and Odinists), I experienced a taste of discrimination, found myself on the receiving end of scare tactics, oppression, and sheer ignorance. The prisoners knew all about it, and had been standing up, and fighting, for years. They had spent time in the hole just for saying they were Odinist. One guy literally had bibles chunked at him by a CO deep in an Arkansas prison. I learned the hard way, suddenly, as an outsider without a clue, that the concept of white privilege was null and void in this prison culture. The spiritual beliefs of the white prisoners I encountered in my groups was feared and reviled by insecure authorities. Why? Don’t know. I figure one reason is because, historically, whites escape. They are smart. Perhaps a bunch of white prisoners in the same room under one banner was a threat, I don’t know. Perhaps it was just the close-mindedness of the monotheists.
In any case, for 20 years, as I fought uphill battles with the prison systems, I became a target myself. Ever been hauled off to a federal grand jury for a scare tactic –without any knowledge of a crime? I’ll save that story for another time. Trust me when I say it was scary. I learned. And it shaped who I am today. I would do it all again, as painful as it was. To stand with men and women who have fought long to stand and observe simple spiritual preference — was an honor. To feel the power of how present they were in the circle — it was a gift. The free world does not produce such focus and ardent connectedness.
Spiritually, I have lately experienced a shift. It’s as it should be, though. Life is fluid. Yoga teaches us that you are only as old as your spinal cord is stiff. It helps to change and move fluidly, not only physically, but also via thoughts, ideas, and life passages. I’m a pagan through and through, and will always be. But I no longer feel drawn to define myself via groups with labels. Boundaries are important, and I own boundaries. The new-age movement, for instance –the world of spiritual dilettantism, doesn’t do a thing for me. I find that movement groundless and ill-defined; borrowing from various pantheons, a little taste of hither and yon according to today’s whim, with no discipline or actual study. No thanks. But I have not –for a long while– had any truck with, for instance, the Asatru purists who shun the word pagan because it’s not a Germanic word, or who disbelieve in magic because magic is for Wiccan airheads. Maybe Wiccans are largely airheads. Probably true. But I don’t need to engage in these petty word battles and ego issues between this group and that group. I have small gatherings of friends on holy days, which are delightful. I employ western occult traditions with viking energy, the gift of gab and musicality of the Celts with the heartfelt toasts of the norsemen. Our ancestors were not prudish pedants. They were pagans, and alive with the great pantheons of aunts and uncles, who were gods and goddesses of nature, and personal to them. It’s the personal part that’s important. We used to say, in my activist days, the personal is political. Perhaps I have come full circle.
OK, that’s probably enough philosophizing. Thanks for listening.
I hope everyone finds a way to feel part of a family during the holiday season, since that’s the point. In the cold dark of winter, over the longest night, we share gifts and tell stories. We share hospitality and food, and we see each other through the dark time. A family can include a sense of kinship with people who are not blood kin. If you are completely, physically, alone, it may be a good time to communicate with the nature spirits (little green guys, who like crumbs), or to meditate on and wish well toward loved ones, whoever and wherever they are. If nothing else, wake up after the longest night and greet the sun. The birth of the sun is a wonderful moment, and brings hope and warmth.
Fake happy, forced joy, and sometimes gaudy lights tend to dominate the season. People buy gifts because they have to. Dysfunctional families get together because they feel obligated. Between the hypnotic lights and the rich deserts, and the lack of genuine sharing during this time of year, it’s no wonder that people often get depressed. The push is for extroverted behavior and consumerism. The essence of the season, however, is opposite.
This is an internal time of year. It’s a good time to look at oneself honestly and to break bad habits. It’s time to identify fears, hopes, and to see exactly who we are and what we are doing with our lives. Oaths made at this time are potent. The lights and gifts are an outpouring of hope at this trying moment of self-reflection. The trees that everyone mindlessly decorate actually represent the circle of life, life within death, the promise of light, warmth, and the return of a good harvest in this moment of utter cold and darkness.
The depth of feelings during this dark time can foster significant learning curves. What we fear, dread, the parts of ourselves that need work, or that we don’t like –all this falls on us with clarity that is sudden and compelling. That is, if we are paying attention. Part of the celebration of the birth of the Sun is facing our fears and coming out the other side stronger than before.
I have come to love this time of year. It took me years, and a meditation practice, to figure out how to balance the celebratory dressing with the underlying reason, often hidden, for the season –which is reflection, genuine connections, and inner exploration. Once I figured it out, I could ride out the gaudy lights and false joy without depression. I could create my own, tasteful, bright lights and healthy nutrition and give gifts that meant something. I could connect.
Be well, and remember to leave crumbs for the green guy! 🙂
So you think you want to start going into prisons? Remember the Wizard of Oz, where Dorothy and her friends are entering the Wicked Witch’s forest? Remember the sign? And do you recall how they gathered their heart, courage, and smarts and kept going anyway? In the end, they all come out fine as can be, with medals of Honor and with the clarity of one waking from a significant dream. In spite of the warning sign, I encourage anyone with the calling to go into prisons. It has to be a calling, though. If you are going in for anything less, you will be eaten alive. What I’m going to do is try to scare you a little bit and test your resolve. If, after reading this, you still want to stand up and make that choice, I can promise rich rewards, spine-tingling blots, friendships that last for life, a lot of interesting people, and a learning curve that will change you forever. Those will be the medals of Honor. They make the hard part worthwhile.
Let me just dwell on the hard part for a minute, so perhaps you can learn from my mistakes and experience. Nobody sat down with me and told me any of this. Indeed, I learned the hard way. I would like to help out the next line of people willing to do prison outreach by talking very honestly here. You will be lied to, back-stabbed, and you will have games played on you –by prisoners and authorities alike. You will meet people who make your hair stand on end and who you should never in your life trust –prisoners and authorities alike. You will get hit on by sex offenders, and you will be baffled by pathological liars. One week you will go in and everything is just as calm and peaceful, and the next time someone is missing. No one will tell you what is going on. You will hear from the chaplain the guy got his throat cut.
Rival gang members will compete for your attention and for a place of leadership (this will be especially true in state institutions, not so much in federal). You may even be asked to join a gang. I was. You will learn to be quick on your feet, trust your instincts and always maintain your line in the sand.
As soon as you walk in you will be sized up. Within 5 minutes everyone pretty much knows your strengths and weaknesses. It will be uncanny how accurate they are. You must know yourself and be confident in your own skin. You must have nothing to hide, and don’t ever lie to anyone. They will see through it right away. Remember that as a representative of Odinism/Asatru you will be feared and watched. The authorities will not be your friends. You may even encounter another level of intimidation. You may be threatened. You may get set up and find yourself in a legal situation with hard decisions to make. A friend of mine was followed home and shot at by guards who didn’t like what he represented. I was hauled off to a federal grand jury with no knowledge of a crime. Another friend was set up and accused of bringing in contraband. She almost got a case, and lost her job. She was innocent. Odinist/Asatru volunteers will be targets until we see religious parity in this country as it should be. You will be entering a battle zone and don’t forget it. Someone will knock you right off your square and you won’t know what hit you.
At best, you will encounter BS at a level never before imagined. Keep in mind that no one is your friend, and that you are being watched. No matter what anyone tells you, they don’t consider you a team player. You are not part of the in-crowd as far as the establishment is concerned. Be polite, professional, and patient. Explain over and over that you are not a prison gang leader and that you represent a genuine spiritual path. You will sound like a broken record and it won’t be enough. One time a chaplain took me in his office. It was the first time at a unit in Texas, and he decided to scare me for fun. He told me everyone was a sex case. I called his bluff, because I knew that with a group of Odinists that would not be a realistic wager. He got flustered and tried to scare me by telling me everyone was in for aggravated murder. I said, “OK, I can handle that, now can I go set up the room?” You have to make your own judgments about people. Don’t let anyone try to scare you. When you meet someone who makes your hair stand up, be scared.
Understand immediately who the leader is in the group. Maintain a working connection with him. If you have a problem, go to him, not to a CO or the Warden. If you trust the chaplain, you might go to him. I have trusted one or two chaplains in my time. Just be careful how you handle problems. It’s best to try to handle them internally, within your group, with the leader.
The first day you go in, tell your group that gang affiliations are not your business and that you don’t want to know. Tell them the important thing is this: You are there for spiritual reasons, not to front for a gang. This will be more important in state than in federal. Tell them you are counting on them to make sure you are safe when you walk in to the prison. If you are a female amongst a group of men, they will appreciate that trust and rise to the opportunity to protect you. I also tell people not to tell me if something happens. You don’t need to know who beat who, or who in this gang won’t let the other gang member in the group. Not your business. It’s also a good idea to tell people this: “What you say to me will be confidential, but I have to report it if you tell me you want to kill yourself or someone else, or if you tell me about a crime against a child.”
Here are the main Do Nots:
*Do not lie or represent yourself falsely.
*Do not make a promise you can’t keep.
*Do not bring in contraband.
*Do not break confidence.
Here are the main Do’s:
*Present yourself politely and genuinely.
*Present your deep abiding ancestral faith with all you’ve got.
*Pay attention to rules and regulations.
*Always document. Every phone call, every visit, follow up with a letter.Positive reinforcement works well with prison officials. Thank them. The documentation also works well when you run into a problem. Keep all correspondence. When someone tries to BS you, document. Let them know in a polite way you are leaving a paper trail for BS. This could be used in court later.
*Maintain your line in the sand with everyone. In other words, keep good boundaries.
Now I would like to talk frankly about something else. In the orientations you will attend, you will hear all kinds of things you won’t ever need. The feds will drone on about the Stockholm Effect if you get taken hostage. You can sleep through that if you want. It boils down to this: Nobody is going to come in and get you if you are in a hostage situation. So what. It won’t happen, so let’s move on to what kinds of things really do happen.
In the world of most US prisons, Judeo-Christian tradition rules the day. Thou Shalt Nots must be a comfort at times. You have a clear idea of what is sinful and forbidden, and you either sin or you don’t. We as Pagans and Odinists don’t have Thou Shalt Nots. In other words, our morality is not as easily set down in stone. We are individuals who strive for honor, honesty, and other noble virtues. So what happens if you find yourself attracted to someone in your group? The standard Judeo-Christian answer to that is to avoid it and act like it can’t happen. Then you either sin or you don’t. We are more complex and honest than that, and I would like to talk about this for a minute. In an unnatural world of men in cages together, with Christian values at the fore, in a world where you have to watch yourself, draw lines in the sand, and always be prepared for the unexpected…what happens when something as natural as attraction happens?
First of all, you will often be attracted to people, and they to you. If you are half-way good-looking it will be all the more powerful. The first thing to do is acknowledge that this is natural. Then, rather than act on it or get all bent out of shape, direct that energy into the group. Make that underlying sexual tension constructive and part of the gift to the gods. Most men are going to be very polite and will never cross any lines (sex offenders are the exception). Most will go out of their way, in fact, to not show their attraction overtly. The most you will ever get is unobtrusive hints that say in so many unsaid words: “Hey, in case you ever get interested, I can be tamed.” Once in a while you will get a marriage proposal that is sincere, and you would be smart to laugh and be nice and just let it go. They know the answer is no. You can’t blame someone for trying. Usually you won’t have trouble if you just let natural feelings happen, acknowledge them, put them on the shelf, and direct these powerful emotions to the gods and the ancestors. Remember to have a sense of humor.
What happens if none of this works? What if you decide you have fallen in love with someone? What if someone crosses that line just a little and you find yourself responding? Now I will insert another Don’t:
I don’t say that because it’s sinful. Flirting is not even a Thou Shalt Not. We don’t have those kinds of rules in our value system. I say this because flirting is a promise, and don’t make promises you can’t keep. It’s not nice to play with people in cages. You are playing with fire. If you feel you are in love, have a conversation with this person. See if you both can put this away while he is inside for the good of the group. If the air gets too thick, and you find yourself going in just to see your man, quit your job and be the man’s girlfriend. We all have to think of the bigger picture. The struggle for freedom, to be Odinists in a world where we are often misunderstood –this takes priority over all else in the prison situation. You are on the front lines in prison. Love is a good thing. It’s neither sinful nor shameful. Love happens, and it’s a beautiful thing when it’s genuine. Just make sure it’s love, and not a fantasy. We are a minority. It’s hard to find good mates who are Odinist. If you are like me, you like tough guys. In prison there are plenty of attractive enticing tough guys who are Odinist. Here I will insert another Do:
*Know yourself and be responsible for your attractions.
Enjoy the company, appreciate the men behind the numbers and uniforms, and have fun. But keep a perspective. They are in cages, and you have more power than you ever had in your life. The entire situation is unnatural. Do not be irresponsible. Be aware of your motivations and make decisions based on common sense, with the big picture in mind, not impulse. Remember you are on the front lines and everyone is watching.
To the men on the inside reading this: I think it’s appropriate for you to also be careful. If our women take time to come in to see you, and stand up to all they have to stand up to, it’s not nice to play games with their hearts. They deserve your protection and brotherly love. If you decide to take feelings to another level, choose wisely, or better yet, wait until you get out, or are about to get out, and begin a real relationship.
Men, if you go into women’s prisons you will encounter the same in reverse. Everything applies.
Women, if you examine yourself closely and find that the only reason you are going in is because tough guys with tattoos float your boat, don’t go in. You will be eaten alive and ultimately defeated. You need a better reason than that.
To close, I will say that if you have a calling to go into prisons, and you have a deep abiding faith and the charisma to share it, you have my blessing. You can meet some very interesting people in prison. You will make friends for life. You will even meet a few chaplains along the way who are genuine human beings, and a few CO’s and Wardens who are fair. You will be touching people’s lives, and they will change yours. Everybody gets to learn a lot.
The prison environment is intense and focused; Blots will often tingle up and down your spine with their power. Free world people can afford to learn some about the brotherhood and perseverance inside; most of the guys you encounter inside will have spent time in the hole and been labeled a Security Threat just for being Odinist. They have fought to be who they are. You may find yourself acting as an emissary between the worlds to bring the community together. As you help people in prisons find their faith and practice their freedom of religion, you will be helping that high school kid who wants to wear his hammer to school. The state won’t have a leg to stand on if they try to suspend him. If prisoners can do it, so can our high school kids.
We need our men and women out of prison and being good friends, lovers, husbands, wives, and parents. The sheer numbers of our people in prison is good enough reason to justify prison outreach. The good news is that in a group of thirty Odinists in prison, there will be at least eight bright lights –the leaders and the genuine Odinists are mostly nice guys with a wild past. They are worth knowing. Believe that. Our folk need the direction and the good company. By all means gather your heart, mind, and courage and disregard the warning sign. Do it for the bright lights in the group. Don’t turn back, and I’ll be here for you if you need me.
This article was inspired by a couple of young single women who want to conduct Odinist services in state prisons. The information here is mostly for their benefit.
Laurel Owen, 2005
*Note: As the reader can see, this was written ten years ago. I spent many years volunteering in state and federal prisons, conducting Odinist and Pagan services. The advice in this article still seems relevant, so I’m publishing it in hopes that it may benefit someone.