Thursday, November 12, 2009

Drawing Down the Moon by Margot Adler - a review

So, I've once again been chewing my way through Drawing Down the Moon, by Margot Adler. This is my third try; I first picked it up in spring of 2001 (inspired by liner notes for a Dar Williams song), but was soon distracted by an immediate and unforeseen need to leave the place I was living at the time. I started reading it again a few years ago; can't remember why I didn't make it all the way through that second time. Anyway, this is attempt #3, and I'm making good progress. I'm further into the book than I got on my prior attempts, and a lot of it is sinking in and making sense (or in some cases very clearly not making sense).

I just finished the chapter on "Women, Feminism, and the Craft". The first half of the chapter didn't do much for me; I'm reading an old edition of the book, and a lot of it seemed dated. Second wave feminism. I understand (at least, I think I understand) the importance from a historical context, but it all seems a bit reductionist/dualistic to me. I'm glad we've moved on.

With those caveats in place, there are some really rich passages in this chapter. Let's start with these two quotes from page 210:

Despite what some psychologists say, no one really has the slightest idea what a woman (or, for that matter, what a man) is.

"...the great mystery of our society is that men and women are exactly alike and this truth is hidden from us under an incredible load of bullshit."

That second quote gets right down to the heart of the matter. Politics, religion (which is just another word for politics), and 99% of what we call gender - they are all based on the bullshit of false dichotomies and a fearful desire to call things Other. Apart from the gross physical level of genetics, hormones, brain structures, and plumbing (important to note that the last two list items are wholly dependent on the first two list items), is there any inherent difference between men and women? (For the moment, let's pretend that these two categories are mutually exclusive and exhaustive.) And how amazing is it that this dichotomy that every one of us buys into to some extent is almost wholly fabricated? We as humans have the capability to invent something that orders our entire universe and never, ever gets questioned. Wow. I'm not saying that's either good or bad. Mostly it's just amazing.

Also, quoted from Robin Morgan's Sisterhood is Powerful on page 206:

If you are a woman and dare to look within yourself, you are a Witch. You make your own rules. You are free and beautiful. You can be invisible or evident in how you choose to make your witch-self known. You can form your own Coven of sister Witches (thirteen is a cozy number for a group) and do your own actions...

Your power comes from your own self as a woman, and it is activated by working in concert with your sisters...

You are a Witch by saying aloud, "I am a Witch" three times, and thinking about that. You are a Witch by being female, untamed, angry, joyous, and immortal.

Part of the reason I started with the discussion of gender was to lend this description of witchcraft some degree of universality. What I love about this quote is that it makes it very, very clear that witchcraft/neo-Paganism is not about superficial action; it's about essence. You can't convert. You either are or aren't, and if you aren't, there's no way in, and if you are, there's no way out (stakes and bonfires notwithstanding). Also, modern witchcraft, unlike conventional religion (and much of the rest of neo-Paganism), is independent of power structure, hierarchy, bureaucracy. It is wild, untamed. "You make your own rules."

Another element of witchcraft/neo-Paganism that's really struck me on this third voyage through the book is the idea of imminence rather than transcendence. The divine is not off floating in the clouds shooting the shit with saints and angels. If it's anywhere, it's right here. Where else could it be? And here's where the connection to yoga comes in. (You knew that was coming, right?) The first line of PataƱjali is atha yoga anusasanam - now, yoga instruction. The key word is NOW - not yesterday, not tomorrow, not in the afterlife. Now. Here. Imminence. Not transcendence.

The risk with a philosophy of imminence is that the divine has nowhere to hide; it's all out in the open, immediately available to everyone. This is a threat to traditional religion because traditional religion is based on hierarchical power structures. If those at the bottom of the hierarchy have equal access to the divine as do those at the top, it obviates the need for the hierarchy. Also, the game of "I know god's will but you don't so you need to listen to me if you want to go to heaven" becomes impossible to play. There is no heaven, there is no hell, and we all have access to divinity.

This post is dedicated to the memory of my friend Byron, who would have been 40 today, and probably would have humoured me by listening to all these musings.

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