Thursday, December 20, 2012

December 21 and the Mayan Long Count Calendar

(But first, a note. I was going to pepper this post with lovely images of Mayan ruins that I took on my trip to Mexico a couple years ago, but I can't find the digital versions of said images anywhere! I have a mere seven that I printed out that I will scan and post when I get home this evening. Until then, I'll tell you where the image will go and what it will be and you can use your imagination! Yeah. I know. Onward!)

It's not the end of the world.

Really, it's not.

The thing that people say is the Mayan prediction of the end of the world is a calendar. It's a very long calendar (a very. long. calendar), but it's still a calendar. What do you do when you get to the end of a calendar? You probably get a new calendar, right? That's all that's going on here. That's not even what's going on here. There is still more to the calendar. I'll get to that.

The Long Count Calendar is pretty cool. It's based on earlier systems of counting days and allowed the Mayans to ascribe a unique identifier to every day. Their first system was only good for 52 years before identifiers started repeating. It's exactly like the Gregorian calendar we use today, the system is only good for 12 months, and then those identifiers would start repeating. The Mayans had two early calendars, a 365 day solar calendar, called Haab' (not unlike the Gregorian calendar we use), and a 260 day calendar based on 13, which was a number sacred to the Mayans, called Tzolk'in.

{Insert picture of El Caracol, the observatory in Chichen Itza}

The starting date of the Long Count Calendar is the day that their mythology says people were created, which is 13 b'ak'tuns after the world was created. A b'ak'tun is 20 groups of 20 groups of 18 groups of 20 days, or something close to 394 years; 13 b'ak'tun is roughly 5122 years. Because people were created 13 b'ak'tuns after the creation of the world, the Mayans expect great things to happen after the next 13 b'ak'tuns. According to them, we are in the fourth world, so at the end of this cycle of 13 b'ak'tuns, we will be in the fifth world.

But wait, there's more, the Long Count Calendar doesn't actually end after 13 b'ak'tuns, it counts 20. So, after December 21 2012, we start a 14th b'ak'tun in the current Great Cycle (a Great Cycle is 20 b'ak'tuns, or 2880000 days which, not accounting for leap years, is something close to 7890 Gregorian years). We are in Great Cycle 0 (remember when we're talking calendars, the very first is always 0). There will be 6 more b'ak'tuns before we hit Great Cycle 1, somewhere around October 13, 4772.

{Insert picture of El Castillo, the main temple in Chichen Itza}

Now, what does that mean for us? Nothing, really. One b'ak'tun ends and another begins on December 21st. But if you want to feel neat, and it's ok to do so, everyone alive on December 20 will see the end of the 13th b'ak'tun, and everyone born on December 21st and after will be born in the 14th b'ak'tun. The 15th b'ak'tun won't happen until March 26, 2407! When you're shouting at those kids to get off your lawn, remember you weren't born in the same b'ak'tun!

Why did the Mayans need such a long calendar anyway? Beats me. The very first explanation I heard in one of my anthropology classes (where I admit I focused on Incas instead of Mayans for that class) is actually rather ridiculous. It was said that the Mayans just hated turning the calendar over, and they hated repeating days, so they created a very long calendar that would give each day a unique identifier for a very long time so they would not have to change it so much. Yeah, that's kind of silly. Another reason I heard was because they were fascinated with the stars, they were always observing, always looking, always calculating what would happen next. Things, like meteor showers and eclipses, that happened in the skies would not have surprised the Mayans like they did some other early peoples. They tracked comets, calculated eclipses, and built amazing works of architecture based on how it would look when the sun hit it on a certain day. If you are going to take the time to work out all of that, you might as well write it down, right?

The architecture is pretty interesting. That main temple in Chichen Itza is pretty fascinating. The structure we can see dates around the 9th century. The feathered serpent on the north staircase was carved in such a way that the sun hitting the temple on the equinoxes casts a series of shadows that make it look like the serpent is crawling down the stairs. I wasn't there for an equinox, so I did not witness this, but the temple itself was quite impressive. It is believed that the observatory, an far earlier structure, was used in part to design El Castillo so that it would be properly oriented to the equinoxes. Additionally, El Castillo was actually built over a smaller pyramid that was not discovered until the 1930's, but I digress. The 91 steps on each of the four sides of the pyramid, together with the temple platform at the top, equals 365 steps, the number of days in the Haab', that solar calendar that I mentioned earlier.

{Insert image of a Cenote, the Blessed Well, because it's pretty and I swam in it!}

Now, that observatory, El Caracol, is really awesome. I was more fascinated by that than El Castillo (everyone knows El Castillo anyway). Anthropologists believe that there were twenty-nine astronomical events that the Mayans were interested in studying (to include the solstices and equinoxes, movements of planets, eclipses, and the like). The dome of the observatory included sight lines, openings cut into the dome at specific places for the purpose of observing a specific astronomical event, for twenty of them. Some of the tower is missing, though, so it is possible the other nine were there. This means there is an opening for observing where the sun rises on a solstice day, where Venus appeared on the horizon at the start of its cycle, the position of the sun in the afternoon on an equinox day. It is fascinating.

Anyway, my point is the Mayans weren't predicting the end of the world. They just wrote a very long calendar. But, this end of 13 b'ak'tuns might be worth considering. The Mayans believed something big would happen, something that would end the fourth age and start the fifth age. Priests reported it would be something large and drastic, mystics said it could be subtle, like a simple shift. Remember, the calendar doesn't end for another 2760 years. It could be compared to changing from August to September on our calendar, there are still three more months to go before you need a new calendar.

Will something big happen that causes the end of the fourth age? Probably not. Will something subtle happen? I doubt that too. For all the ages Mayan mythology says we are in, this is still only the second time in Mayan history that 13 b'ak'tuns have passed. Who knows what will happen. I say we should all throw one awesome new b'ak'tun party!

Party like it's!

Monday, December 10, 2012

What and How and Where and When

I'm splitting this topic up a bit, and I apologize in advance if the next few posts seem disjointed or repetitive. I think they may.

I thought I would go into the specific styles that I've previously mentioned, but that will have to wait until next time. Instead, I want to talk about the veil: what it covers and what it doesn't, some styles available for borrowing, and where and when I choose to veil. Remember there are no rules in modern paganism practices to dictate these things, so where you go from here, how you incorporate veiling into your path, is completely up to you.

What gets covered?

The short answer is: it depends. Some Amish and Mennonite communities allow hair to be pinned up a certain way with a sheer prayer cap on top. Essentially nothing is covered from view, but the hair is not displayed either. Some other communities encourage full bonnets that cover all hair from view. Jewish tichels cover all hair. Muslim hijabs cover hair and neck and, depending on the style, some cover the face also. My Plain Quaker friend Valerie had this lovely thing to say about how she observed other Plain Quakers' dress, "We don’t have a Quaker Hat Store, so women solve that problem by selecting a kerchief, a veil, a prayer cap used in other Plain communities, or make their own, or use a scarf, or adapt until they are comfortable.  I’ve seen braids hanging down behind the prayer cap, hair all the way up (like mine), a tiny veil the size of a spread hand pinned on top of loose curls, and everything in-between."

There are no rules in paganism about hair covering, so my guidelines are completely my own - and that which I sense I am called to do. Really, my point is not to cover my hair (though some days I may), but to cover my crown chakra. Valerie's observations made a great and valid point to me. Even in a community where plain dress might be prevalent, they had no rules. "Adapt until they are comfortable."

As a pagan feeling the need to cover my head, this completely applies. My main drive is to cover my crown chakra, but what to do with my hair? I could leave it loose, so it shows under my veil, or tie it all up in a bun, or leave a braid hanging down. I have bangs that I could keep out or brush back under my veil. I could cover with very opaque fabric or very sheer fabric. There are no rules and no guidelines. This part is completely up to me. And with no guidelines of my own, I take a lot from the other cultures that do have a veiling practice, while trying to keep appropriation in mind.

Let me talk about that for a moment. I've touched on it before, in that people often get mistaken for being a member of a group of which they actually are not. That may not be a bad thing, but it might mean they have to deal with prejudice born of ignorance that they otherwise would not experience. As an anthropologist, I try to be very mindful of how I present myself, trying not to allow myself to be mistaken for following a practice I don't actually follow. I'd be lying if I said I was not trying to avoid any unpleasant reactions from a random stranger on the street, but my main reason is respect. Veiling traditions in most cultures that have them come from something special or sacred, like a religious text, or guidelines set forth by religious and/or community leaders. It is those traditions, those faith practices no matter how they began, that I must respect. Do I know if any of those groups would consider it an insult if a non-follower adopted their practices for entirely different reasons? Of course not, though some people I spoke to at the start of my research did express not being bothered by it. That being said, in many ways paganism is late to the veiling party, and a pagan choosing to veil has little choice than to borrow the styles and practices that have already been adopted by other traditions. It's an amusing and perhaps fitting turn, as other traditions have been borrowing pagan traditions for centuries (consider the "Christmas" tree, that has absolutely nothing to do with the birth of Christ. And there are so many other examples). This is the way the world works, cultures are constantly borrowing from other cultures- borrowing from traditions, languages, styles -  and I don't see this as a bad thing at all. It promotes cultural evolution. [I will say that it becomes a bad thing when the borrowing culture suddenly claims exclusive ownership of the borrowed tradition (consider the "Christmas" tree again) but that's a completely different discussion for another time.]

At the end of this blog, the author posed this lovely question, "for those who say it’s cultural appropriation… whose culture? If most cultures covered their heads at some point, then who is offended, exactly?" A valid question. Even some ancient pagan traditions involved head covering. The neo-pagan movement seems to lack it on a large scale, but it is an old practice that we can draw upon.

Now that we've been through that, what gets covered? Whatever it is that you need to cover in your personal practice. If you're called to cover your head and all hair, do that. If you want to cover your neck too, do that. If it's just the crown chakra and showing hair is okay, do that. If any given day it can be any of these things, do that too. It's completely up to you and your gods (assuming your gods care if you cover or not).

How do you wear that?

I don't mean 'how to tie a tichel' here, I'm talking options- what styles and traditions exist that could be applied to my practice. After the bunches of links (worth following and exploring), this blog post has several lovely photographs of different styles and touches on their associations with different practices (followed by a ton more links- though I honestly haven't gone hopping through any of them yet). I would love to post all the images here for you and talk about them, but they do not all mention a source and I'm not willing to start claiming images I find randomly on the web. But if you follow none of the links I post here, check that one out, if simply for the pictures.

Style means I still want to look good, I still want to look like myself, and I want to appear in a way that respects the culture from which I'm borrowing a style. In relation to this, here is a fantastic post from a blogger responding to a comment someone made about borrowing styles. She said she found as long as it is not something that is just fashion, that there is some meaning to it, people of the other cultures are mostly accepting. I'm inclined to agree with her, and in my research I have found this opinion to be true. Remember why we veil, whatever that reason may be, and use whatever style works for you.

In that regard, I'll probably never wear something in a hijab style. I feel no need to cover my neck except when it's cold, so that style doesn't resonate with me. Also a prayer cap doesn't really suit me. I love the tichel style. I love the look of it (not saying I don't love any other look; for example I think hijabs are quite beautiful- in fact, there's no style I've yet seen that I absolutely don't like aesthetically), I love how versatile it is, and how easy to tie while looking so complicated. I'm also a big fan of snoods, so I expect I'll be wearing those a lot when the weather is warmer. I wear small, triangular bandana type cloths or kerchiefs sometimes, usually when I'm doing chores around the house (I'll get to this). I'll probably never just loosely drape a square or rectangle of fabric over my head as is seen in many depictions of the Virgin Mary. It would work if I needed something temporary and had no reason to use my hands, but I'm more of a tie it on and leave it there kind of person. Most often, I leave my bangs out and have the rest of my hair tied up in some way.

I was and then I wasn't going to talk about the topic of this article. When I was first researching, I just glanced at this page and it looked like someone was using the Bible as a reference for why covering does not apply to Christians in this age. Further reading and really looking at the information being presented shows that it is just the opposite. That makes it apply to my previous topic of oppression: "The Bible says so!" Ok, maybe that is so (hear that, Christians, get your heads covered! I'm kidding.) but further down on this article one realizes that it's actually quite liberal. The part I want to draw your attention to is in what the author has called Myth number nine: "It is significant that God does not specify a style of head covering or give details about how the head should be covered. Should it be a hanging veil, or a hat or cap style? God doesn't specify. Should all the hair be covered? God doesn't specifically say. The emphasis is on a verb, covering the head, rather than on a noun, the head covering. This is significant. By not specifying a style, God gives freedom for a variety of styles and colors of head coverings to be used. God gives freedom for the headcovering to be creative and attractive. It does not have to be old-fashioned, a drudgery, or an embarrassment." Even in the Christian source for head covering, how the head gets covered is open, and communities that follow the practice interpret it in their own ways.

So how do you wear that? Whatever works. Whatever does what you need it to do. If you need a full hijab to cover everything you need to cover, go for it. If a small cloth pinned to your hair covers what you need to cover, go for that too. If one day a wide headband serves your purpose and the next day a bunned tichel does, that's okay.

Where and when do you veil?

You're heading out to buy some groceries: you put on a shirt and some pants, grab a coat, and throw a scarf on your head. You're getting ready for work: you pull on your slacks, suit, or skirt, button up a shirt, and tie a tichel over your head. You're getting ready to do some house cleaning: you put on some grunge clothes, maybe an apron, and tie your hair back with a bandana  You're on your way to visit family: you might just throw a hat on for the journey but take it off for your visit, or pick a shear scarf or bandana  You're sitting at home reading a book: you might pick some lounge wear and leave your hair down. You're crawling into bed, you might don a night cap or just braid long hair so it doesn't strangle you in the night. Some practices encourage veiling at all times, some only when outside the home or not in the company of family, some are required only during active religious observance and ritual.

I've mentioned that one of the places I feel I really need to cover my head is at work. If my main reason for veiling is to protect my sensitive crown chakra from random office energies, that makes perfect sense. Along that same vein, I'm exposed to similar energies when I'm out in the world, so I need to cover then as well. When I am tending to my home, that's a direct communion with hearth goddesses that I have been drawn to of late, so I veil while doing chores around the house as a symbol of devotion (not exactly devotion to a deity specifically, but devotion to a path might be more accurate). Additionally, when I'm in ritual, I feel the need to utilize that same symbol of devotion. I know that some practices cover while sleeping, but I don't feel a need to do that. I do tend to braid my hair, but that's because it's long and I or a cat can easily get tangled up in it during the night. I thought I would be the kind of person who would not need to veil when I'm among family or very very close friends, but it hasn't worked out as I expected. I have different views than many of my family members and I find I need some covering when I'm around most of them for the same reasons I cover at the office. I tend to pick something more sheer and leave more hair exposed when I'm among family, but I have found that I need to cover with something.

I want to explore that last sentence a bit. I have discovered that the types of covering I choose does seem to relate to the situation. I wear no covering at all when I'm with my boyfriend. I don't need to be protected from his energy nor do I have any particular need to express devotion to my path (unless I'm currently doing some activity that relates to that, like washing dishes or making dinner. Even then, sometimes I do and sometimes I don't). Among family, I tend to pick small or sheer veils, or headbands, or hats. Things that usually cover just the crown chakra and not my hair, though sometimes I may do that as well. During hearth-tending activities, I also mostly use those small or sheer kerchiefs, often with my hair bunned or braided for practical reasons. Going out into the world or at work or among company that may be mixed with familiar and totally not familiar individuals, I tend to cover the most, picking opaque veils that tie up my hair as well as cover my crown chakra. In ritual, I have a hood I made for that specific purpose, and I wear it both when I'm practicing a ritual at home and with a group. At other times, not actively in ritual but with that group, the same guidelines apply as when I'm with family. I've noticed that I don't cover when exercising, whether I am alone at home or in my yoga class at the office. It started both because I want to be open and accepting of the energy around me during yoga and because wearing something on my head that will probably fall off after a few down dogs isn't very practical. There's also no real reason to cover when I'm alone at home (exercising or lounging), so I don't do it.

You're probably wondering, dear readers, what this means for you. Where do you veil? Wherever the thing that draws you to veil applies, whether your matron goddess says "all the time" or your compulsion leads you to only veil at work, or you are drawn to veil any time you are outside of your home. No rules means you practice it where you need it, for whatever reason you need to do it.

If you're feeling some kind of inclination to veil, I hope you can get some idea of why and how and when from my series. As pagans, we have so very little to go on, but it is gaining in popularity and I do hope that I've shown that it is not inappropriate for a pagan, or anyone, to choose to adopt the practice if they feel they need to. I hope also that my information might help some non-pagans who might have wondered if and how they could fit veiling into their own practice. If you are not drawn to veiling, I hope you learn a bit about your sisters and brothers of any faith practice who are.

But, I'm not done yet. Next time, I will try to define, describe, or otherwise illustrate the specific kinds of veils that I've talked about (like tichels and hijabs), as well as the specific veil styles that I choose. Likely after that, I'll point you to some great shops for buying a variety of veil styles, maybe share some videos I've found with instructions for tying. I'd also like to post some pictures and possibly videos of my own to help your journey. I understand that I've presented a lot of information in a boring text with links format, and some of you have been asking me to show you what I mean when I talk about certain things. I am happy to oblige and I will figure out how to make that happen, but it might take a bit of time.

Monday, November 12, 2012

But First

I will go back to my exploration of veils and head covers and other modest dress stuff. But first!

A coworker just asked me how long it takes me to get ready in the morning because I always look so clean and neat. Today, I'm wearing one of my woven cotton skirts in navy, with a light purple shirt. My socks are gray and purple stripes, my shoes are black. My tichel is navy with bangs exposed, and I have a purple crocheted headband accent. She said it looks simple, clean, and classy. I feel accomplished. 

I'm actually quite liking this outfit for today. Maybe it's because all the various shades of purple I have on are so close to the same shade, you can't really tell that they're not. And the skirt and tichel in navy are a nice compliment. Maybe it's because it is the simple not-quite plain look that I like without sacrificing my personal style, like color or funky stripy socks. Maybe it's because I just got an order of new tichels in and can wrap my hair in a style that I've always found very lovely. Maybe it's because I feel good today, I feel presentable and put together and comfortable, and maybe that is apparent in how others perceive me today. 

Whatever it is, it was nice to get that compliment. And the answer to her question: maybe ten minutes. There's nothing like waking up in the morning and knowing what you're going to wear. And being able to just throw it on, tie a few knots, and call it done. 

Thursday, November 01, 2012

I'm Covered Today

I was going to tack this on to the end of my research post for the day but, while this is related, I decided it really needed its own entry.

First, I hope everyone had a Blessed Samhain, I hope Hurricane Sandy was kind to my East Coast readers, and Happy New Year!

Samhain, the night that most people know as Halloween, is one of the most sacred in the pagan calendar. It's when the veil (there's that word again!) between the world of the living and that of the dead is most thin - allowing for easier communication across the veil during this time. It's a great time to honor loved ones who have passed on. It's also the third harvest, when farmers would determine how much feed they had for their herds and which animals were most likely to survive the winter. The rest were slaughtered and the meat preserved to provide food for the long, barren winter. It is considered to be the Pagan New Year, completing one full cycle of the year Samhain to Samhain. It is both the end and the beginning, and a great time to get rid of old things you no longer need to make room for new things in the coming year.

This week, the blessed and sacred time of Samhain was preceded by Hurricane Sandy. This was a huge storm, a convergence of three weather systems above a very densely populated region. Everyone from Virginia to New England and as far inland as Ohio were told to hunker down and prepare for the worst. There were things about my situation in riding out the hurricane that I wished were different but, in any event, I sat in my home with Phantom and Miss Luna listening to the storm get fiercer and fiercer outside. One of the first things I do when I move to a new home, even a temporary one, is cast a shield around it. It is tied to a protection charm that I make, and fill with herbs and stones and talismans that I feel are appropriate for protecting my home and those who dwell within. I have made such charms for friends before as well. I'm not going to go too much into this right now because that's not my purpose, but tying the shield to a charm means that it is always in place, protecting my home from the forces without.

Shields such as these need regular maintenance - cleansing and refortifying. I have to admit that I've been lax about this one. When I lived with my parents, I maintained that shield very regularly, I even still do when I visit; the charm is still hanging from the mantle. But the one on my own house, I don't think about it much. With a big storm approaching though, I thought about it a lot. I spent a lot of time on it as part of my storm preparation. No amount of preparing, be it physical or spiritual, will guarantee being protected from a physical threat, but it certainly doesn't hurt.

When I lost power, I had nothing to do but sit there listening to the rain pelting my roof, the wind whipping the trees around violently, the storm gathering in intensity. Every now and then, I would poke at the fire I started in the woodstove for warmth and light, but there was nothing else to do. Just me and my cats, and the person I most wanted with me for comfort was entirely out of reach. Even people who are not at the top of that list but would have still been a comfort to have them there were not able to be. Just me, my cats, and my shield against the full power of nature. I was worried about being without power for days like I was at the end of June, I was worried about the tall trees that border my property - a tree had fallen on my house before, long before I owned it. I was worried, and for all intents and purposes, alone. I did something I haven't done in years: I prayed.

Pray is not a word I use in my practice. It doesn't really fit in my path. Maybe it's a remnant of my Catholic upbringing  but prayer to me means talking to God, and I really don't talk to that god anymore. For some reason, when I say prayer, it means communication with that god and only that god. Additionally, I don't believe that the gods are above us, but that they walk with us. They're on a different plain and they see things differently, can manipulate the world differently, but I don't worship them. In that moment, in that storm, alone but with my beloved animals, I prayed. Before that fire, I prayed to Hestia to protect my hearth and home. In worry for the storm, fear for my home and my animals and myself, sadness at being so worried and without the people who mattered the most, I asked a goddess I've never really talked to before for help.

It's not like I hadn't been through a storm alone before. I rode out Hurricane Irene last year also with just myself and my cats and my shield, and that was after an uncharacteristic earthquake and several aftershocks and energies were already scattered and anxious. Maybe it was because Samhain was approaching and the veil was thinning and the energies around this time of year are always different. Maybe it was because I knew my boyfriend would have been with me if he could, and I have been lamenting the distance between us a lot of late. Whatever it was, I prayed to a goddess (which, in itself is unusual for me) for comfort and help. I've been drawn to Hestia in recent years, but I admit I haven't yet explored her mysteries or really considered what Hestia as my matron would mean for my path.

Was it a prayer to a goddess to whom I have not dedicated that helped my home come through the storm with minimal damage? I'll never know, that's why it's faith. I didn't see anyone that day after the storm, but on Halloween night, before heading out to ritual at Shadow Grove, when I was preparing for trick-or-treaters, I was frantically searching my house for something to put on my head. I actually have quite a few things that would serve this purpose, at that moment the only thing I knew was that I needed something on and I needed it before the first child came to my door. I ended up with a crocheted triangle over the top of my head and felt properly dressed. I then wore my regular crocheted hood to ritual as has been my custom for at least a year.

Today, I am covered. I have a long, sheer rectangle scarf wrapped around my head in a tichel crown style. I've packed a variety of things for my weekend visit with my family, including long scarves like the one I'm wearing today, some small triangles like the one I donned last night, a few tubes that are kind of like open snoods or like the wraps that people put around dreadlocks, even some tie-on headbands. More than I actually need for the weekend but they don't take up much space and there's nothing wrong with having options. My power suit and pumps wearing manager isn't here to challenge me today. I'm trying to prepare myself because I know that day will come. I will ask for a letter from my ministers if it comes to that.

I thought I would start covering as I've been pulled to do after some kind of ceremony or retreat. I'd take a couple days off of work so it wouldn't be too much of a shock (I essentially had a couple days off with this storm). I'd take that time to meditate and to prepare and have all my reasons firmly in place for when my boss challenged it. I don't know why I felt it had to be some big event in my spiritual life. But really, what is bigger than a major storm in the days before one of the most sacred days of the year?  It's something I've been needing to do for a while and it's something that I can't resist anymore. It was an epiphany. It's a new day, a new year, and I know it's time.

Perception and Controversy

One of the things about living in a society is that people want to conform to the standards of that society. Even people who claim to be non-conformists still conform in a lot of ways (bet they pay taxes, wear clothes, maybe even have jobs - all of that is conforming to what society expects of you). Conformity in fashion has its own special word, it's called a trend. And it's often the fashion industry that tells us what styles we are to conform to in any season, but that's another topic altogether.

Fashion in this society does include a variety of options, but they are still relatively limited. Just walk through a department store. This season, you'll find jeans, long sleeve t-shirts, denim, sweaters, and skirts that end above the knee are easier to find than ankle-length. The colors available are pretty much from the same palette. When you're looking for something to fit as modest dress, you're going to have trouble finding it on the rack at your local clothing store. For example, the heavy cotton skirts I wear to work during the colder months came from Greentree Weaving at the Renaissance festival.

What I'm getting at is there is an idea and an ideal of what people in this society think that people and the clothing they wear are supposed to look like. Anything that does not fit into this idea gets instant attention. It's not always a good thing, often you're believed to be an outsider, you're abnormal and you don't belong. I see this all the time when I'm wearing my Renaissance festival uniform and I have to get gas or run into a drug store for something. Most of them are positive reactions, but I do get the occasional "what the hell is she wearing" reaction too. Some of the reasons a group might advise or require covering is to protect the wearer from unwanted attention. Most modest dress is meant to be simple and unremarkable. In many societies, it is exactly the opposite. Especially if you are a member of a small group with such rules in a larger group that does not have them.

No one would think twice about someone wearing a beret (which could serve the purpose of a veil) but almost everyone notices a woman in a hijab and abaya, or even a woman in a sari (though a sari is more a garment of showing off a woman's beauty rather than obscuring it). The clothing that is meant to protect you only serves to show how different you are. This blog is a fantastic account of how people react to a hijab. It was just an experiment that she did; she wore a scarf in a hijab style for no other purpose than to see how people would react to her. Some people reacted by trying really hard to ignore her altogether. And when one little girl asked her mom if the people wearing scarves were terrorists, mom failed to say "no, honey, those women follow a religion that calls them to wear those scarves as a sign of devotion." Instead, she glared and walked away.

On this blog is an account of a pagan woman wearing a hijab style veil on her way to an appointment and another woman spat in her path. This story from the same blog (I really wish there were more than two stories on that blog, really) talks of another who witnessed two women in hijabs being harassed by a man and she stepped in to defend them. Being so obviously different, and in a way that a lot of people in this country don't take the time to understand, is met with prejudice and hostility.

This is a fantastic article about the double standards of veiling. A Catholic nun in her habit is seen as pious and devoted. Even a Mennonite in prayer cap and simple dress, who is wearing that kind of clothing for the same reason as a Muslim in hijab and abaya, does not encounter prejudice at the same level. (I am not going to say that these women in non-Islamic veils don't encounter prejudice - everyone does - but Islam gets more negative press than any of these others combined.) Really, oppression about veiling seems to come mostly from the prejudice of people who don't take the time to understand.

From a pagan standpoint, this blogger covered it, "pagan women suddenly found themselves exposed to prejudices aimed towards a religious group they themselves did not even belong to." And why is that? Perception. A person sees a woman in a veil and they make a judgement, and often they make that judgement based on misconceptions.

Additionally, many pagans feel like veiling is taking a step backwards in the feminist movement. That comes entirely from thinking that a woman wearing a veil is oppressed. This forum topic has a couple people commenting on the veil as a symbol of oppression. I would argue that it can't be oppression if it's my choice. One of the administrators of that forum said something wonderful that I would urge everyone to keep in mind, "We all do or wear things that make us feel more confident, and many of us wear things that make us feel more connected to our Gods (jewelry, tattoos, etc.) that others may not understand or would not choose for themselves." I love this statement. Maybe my scarves and veils serve the same purpose as the pentacle pendant that average Diana Pagan dangles from her neck. I wear pentacles too, as a matter of fact. A pair of small earrings  always in the middle of my three ear piercings, and I have worn them every day since I bought them over ten years ago, except on days when I don't wear earrings at all. I wear two rings that are pieces of religious jewelry; one has "Harm None" inscribed on it and the other is a ring of glass beads that a friend made for me in 1993 (that I have worn every day since except for seven days. And yes, I can tell you about those seven days and why I didn't put my ring on those days). The friend who gave me that ring got me started on this path all those years ago. No one forces me to wear these symbols of my faith. Additionally, no one tells me that they are or should be symbols of my faith. They have meaning because I give them that meaning.

I've mentioned a thread on the Noble Pagan forum, that requires membership to read. One of the staff there mentioned she was in a conversation with a pro-choice woman who was stating her opposition to Muslim women veiling and asked "what happened to 'my body, my choice'?" What a great question! If you believe your body is your own, why can't you wear what you want? To those who think these women are embracing a symbol of oppression and dominance need to realize that it actually supports the feminist movement - women are wearing what they want.

I did so much research on this topic that I seem to have lost one of the links I really wanted to point you towards. It was a comment on a forum (not either of the two I have linked/mentioned previously - that I can tell) of a pagan woman who was so vehemently against veiling that she actually had some rather nasty things to say about the people who choose it. It is, perhaps, best that I managed to lose that link as it was rather shocking coming from someone who, essentially in the same breath, said that being pagan was about being in control of one's own faith and practice and life. I was really taken aback that a stranger's clothing choice could conjure such a negatively fierce reaction from someone who should already know what it's like to be so judged for doing something different.

But that's part of it too. As pagans, we've already chosen to follow our hearts and practice a faith that many do not understand and do not bother to look beyond the stereotypes and learn what we're really about. I've been told that my exposure to the pagan world at large has really been rather limited and that the elitist attitude that one pagan's ways or path is better than another's is actually quite common. I did know this, while I've only experienced a small fraction of it directly. Remember when I stated above that everyone encounters prejudice? Sometimes it comes from within, too.  

We're getting to the end of my research on this topic, though I'm sure that doesn't mean I'll stop talking about it. Next time, we'll look at types of veils and ways they are worn, what shows under the veil, a little bit about pagans 'borrowing' styles, and I'll share some shops I've found for buying veils and other modest dress.

Thursday, October 25, 2012


I somewhat covered the why of it yesterday, but this deserves its own entry. I'm looking a what is beyond "some ancient text says I should" or "the restrictions of my community say I must." I want to explore the choice. When the option is there, why is it taken?

The reasons for veiling are as many as the people who do it. That being said, the simplest answer, and by far the most prominent, is "because I feel called to do it." That calling, that compulsion, can come from faith ("my gods say I should") or a desire to give a certain impression, or a need to identify a certain way, a hope to get a certain effect or benefit.

I have mentioned that my Reiki sensei recommended it. She said it would help with my concentration and focus, reduce the potential for headaches and for being overwhelmed by the emotions of the people around me. In this case, the veil would be a shield or a piece of armor. It is mentioned here and here (the same link noted NSFW yesterday) and here and in a few of the accounts and comments here. While I've felt this pull for years prior to my Reiki training, this recommendation was why I actually tried it. And it wasn't a matter of "sensei said so" but "sensei said this might be helpful and I might want to see if it works for me."

And the answer? It did. I felt safer, more protected, less exposed. And that's probably part of why I still feel called to do it. I feel bombarded, vulnerable. I can cast an energy shield and it helps, but not as much as that physical barrier did- and not nearly as much as the two together did.

Many pagans say their matron goddess requests it of them. Some of the links I've posted already include references to this. Hestia and other hearth goddesses seem to be at the top of the list of goddesses who request this action. In this blog post, the writer mentions specifically that her goddess made a request, not a command. Of all the blogs I've come across in my research, I really enjoyed this one. She gives great examples of how covering works for her and I love that she pointed out the two biggest arguments pagans make against covering are not her reasons for covering. This blog touches on the religious devotion aspect of veiling. This blogger states "My deities don't require it of me, but I feel as though something is telling me that it's the right thing for me to do." My Plain Quaker friend describes it as an individual calling among Quakers as well. Quaker Jane had this page about why some women choose to go plain. This is not the same as modest dress or even just veiling, as I mentioned yesterday, but the reasons are just as relevant.

As for me, I don't have a matron right now. I have, however, felt a pull to hearth goddesses, specifically Brigid and Hestia, for some time and it has gotten much stronger over the past few years - perhaps owing to the fact that I now have a hearth of my own to tend. Likewise, that urge to veil has also been growing stronger since. Second to the recommendation of my sensei, veiling as a sign of my devotion to my path is a very intense desire.

Further along these lines, people are saying that a physical barrier reminds them every day of their faith. The last blog I linked above said "I once heard somewhere (no idea where, now) that the reason Jewish men cover their heads is to remind them that there's something above and beyond them that needs to be paid attention to." I've seen that last part "to remind them that there's something above and beyond them that needs to be paid attention to" quoted over and over among the many blogs and articles I've come across over the past few weeks. This theme of feeling more connected to deity or to faith can also be found in many of the links I've already posted.

Outside of modesty that I talked about yesterday, some pagans say that veiling puts them more in control of themselves. My favorite example of this was in that very first article I came across, "Somewhere amidst the many blogs I read a woman made a comment that she veiled because she didn't have to share herself with everyone. She made the choice on who saw her hair. She deemed a part of herself sacred and set it apart from everyone else, to only share with a select few. I find that concept interesting, that idea of reserved power. A woman may be showing cleavage, wearing a short skirt, and dancing in heels, but her covered hair would represent that she was fully in charge of her body and the decisions made over her body." The article didn't point back to where that came from. I really like this thought. This post also mentions that it can be empowering to be completely in control of who gets to see their hair.

I read a comment on a thread in the Noble Pagan forums (you have to be a member to read it, and I signed up just because the cache indicated there might be some good information there, so I won't link it because of the membership requirements) where a Catholic woman said she recently joined an Eastern Catholic church where the priest encourages women to veil. The reason given was, in her words, "he said that in every major religion of the world anything that is considered Sacred and Mysterious has been veiled and hidden from common site. He then looked at all the women in the church and asked us 'What could possibly be more Sacred, more Mysterious than Woman from whom all life comes.'"

Along the same lines, there are several cultures and faiths where hair is held sacred in some way. Sikhism (a beautiful religion of which so little is known in the mainstream that followers are often mistaken for extremists) is a big example of this. The practice of kesh, allowing one's hair to grow naturally, is used as a way to honor God and the perfection of his creation. The turban that a Sikh wears over his hair is part of this honoring as it keeps the long hair they are forbidden to cut clean and protected. Sikhism is a great example of men who are required to veil as a sign of their devotion! There is even a touching observance called Pag Vatauni where two people may exchange their turbans as a sign of deep and permanent friendship. Women may also wear a turban if they choose, or some other method of covering the hair, but covering the face with a veil is forbidden for both men and women. Some Eastern and Native American cultures believed that hair was sacred, I have heard it explained as an extension of one's soul and so it was not cut. This principle is sometimes why it is covered, though it is not always covered in cultures that adhere to this. In the Victorian era, hair of a deceased loved one was often made into jewelry or wigs for dolls because of its connectedness with the person who is no longer living.

I list these only as an example of considering hair sacred and hiding the sacred from common view. This reason does not resonate that much with me. Only insomuch that I am a sacred being and my entire body is sacred, not just a part of it.(And that in no way is meant to imply that only the head and hair is sacred to these cultures, I'm just trying to illustrate that this would not be one of my reasons to veil.)

Another reason to wear a veil sometimes cited by pagans is as a symbol of marriage. The Jewish guidelines apply to married women, as do the Islamic guidelines in some communities, though unmarried women do sometimes make the choice. This woman says that she enjoys keeping her hair hidden from everyone except her husband.

The comment by Jennifer on this post shows that she does not agree with keeping a body part covered because it is owned by someone else. This post that I've linked before also mentions that it is most often unmarried women who feel their veil is not a representation of marriage but many married women do.

I'm of two minds about this reason, and perhaps my take could be related to the fact that I am currently without a husband, and that I have a wonderful boyfriend who has made absolutely zero demands on my appearance. (It should be noted that most of the women who say they veil in part to keep something else special for their husbands do not also say that their husbands asked it of them. In fact, I only found one reference of a spousal request, three links above.) My first thought is that there honestly is a part of me that likes the idea of considering my body to be something special and sacred and that I choose who to share it with, and if I share it with you, you should take it as the special and sacred act it is. Husband, family, close friends, those are the people who I would trust to allow myself to be completely exposed to them, which is what removing my veil would accomplish in this instance. Those who know me well know that my trust is hard to earn, and those that know me better know just how meaningful it is if I choose to share parts of my sacred and special physical body with them.

But then, I think of 1 Corinthians 11:3-16. In those passages, it indicates a man should never cover his head while praying (11:4) but a woman should always cover her head because an uncovered head is like shaving (11:5) and a shaved head on a woman is shameful (11:6). A man doesn't cover because he was made in God's image, where a woman was made in man's image, from man, and for man (11:3 and 11:7-9) 11:10 states, "For this reason, and because the angels are watching, a woman should wear a covering on her head to show she is under authority" (New Living Translation). That bit right there makes my mind shout "No! Resist, resist!"
1 Corinthians goes on to say that men and women are connected, because woman was made from the first man and all other men were born of woman (11:11-12). In 11:13-16, Paul somehow draws the conclusion that a man's hair should never be worn long but a woman's hair must be, but it must also be covered because it is her pride and joy (11:15). This last verse is interesting because it states "And isn't long hair a woman's pride and joy? For it has been given to her as a covering." This implies to me that a woman's hair is her veil, so I am confused as to why two verses ago a woman must cover her hair when the hair is the covering. It's not the first contradiction in the Bible, to be sure, but that's not why I'm here.

Of course, the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians, and indeed the Bible as a whole, is not a source for my religious faith and practice. So wearing a veil certainly does not mean that I am some man's property or under some man's authority. This is not a meaning for many who choose to veil either, but the historical reason is there, and that is a perception of me that I do not desire. Would it stop me from veiling? Nope. It might stop me from saying "for my husband" as a reason, though. Wearing a veil as a symbol of devotion to a spouse is not without merits. There is a part of me that sees it as a beautiful thing; a sign of my loyalty to the person who I choose to spend the rest of my life with. But it would not be done because he wanted me to, but because it would be something I wanted to do for him.

So I mentioned perception. I want to explore this more, so that's going to be the topic for next time.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

In Summation

I feel like my earlier post was pretty long and that I probably didn't draw the points I wanted to draw as well as I wanted to.

I talked about modest dress in Abrahamic faiths because that is the source of the vast majority of information I was able to find. This by no means indicates that it can't be relevant to my pagan life, nor is it an exhaustive exploration.

With the exception of those places where it is required by law, I do not believe that the vast majority of women who cover do so because they are being forced. Most of what I have been able to determine, from reading accounts and talking to people, is that they make this choice. It is a choice based on rules and laws that they may be advised to follow, but for most of them, they follow them because they want to.

This is important to note because so many people think that such coverings mean they are being controlled. Sometimes it does, but not always. What I really wanted to point out, the thing that a lot of pagans - Westerners in general - don't understand is that it is not about control. And where it is, those are the radicals, not the norm.

Is It Hiding?

The thing about modest dress is that it starts with modesty. Merriam Webster defines modesty as 1: freedom of conceit or vanity and 2: propriety in dress, speech, or conduct. It's interesting to note that what defines propriety, appropriateness or decency, is not universal. What is appropriate for one culture or group can be totally indecent to another. It would be impossible and counterproductive to my purpose to explore every possible aspect of what is modest in the scope of this blog, especially given my background in anthropology, so I'm going to give it my own definition. I'm going to say modesty is that factor of humbleness, of not drawing attention to oneself and, in the context of clothing, it is dressing in an unexposed, unassuming, and simple manner. That actually covers quite a lot (no pun intended, but I'm not going to revise it!), and at the end of writing this, I may completely disagree with my own definition. Peachy!

I want to include plain in my own definition, but that's not always the case in modest dress. I've seen some women in hijabs that were truly beautiful patterns. I remember a stunning one that was black with large bright roses, and one woman wearing a loose pant style in a lovely shade of lavender. That's not plain to me. Plain dress and modest dress do sometimes go together, but not always. I might touch on plain as well, though, where it's relevant.

I would begin by asking you to think of any and every culture, to include a religious community as a culture, that comes to mind that involves some form of modest dress. Islam is probably the first, or Amish, Mennonite, maybe Quaker, Judaism has some, and some other denominations of Christianity as well (of which Amish, Mennonite, and Quaker are).

Some of them, like the Amish - a denomination of Mennonites, have such precise rules on the matter that it not only serves to set standards for modesty but also identifies them as part of a distinct group. Interestingly, these rules, part of the Ordnung that also dictates all aspects of Amish life, vary from community to community. So one group might wear all black and one might allow colors or patterns in their dress. Mennonite communities also follow an Ordnung that could include rules for plain dress or allow their members to be as indistinguishable from any Joe Public they meet on the street. Plain dress among Quakers seems to be like this as well. Among the Christian groups, it seems pretty common that the rules of modest dress are individual to specific communities. I never felt that the Catholic faith I was raised in had any kind of strict requirement on how I dress, but my aunt and uncle are both modest dressers and I've seen them sometimes get stopped on the street by a random person asking if they were missionaries.

Christian guidelines for modest dress mostly come from 1 Timothy 2:9 "And I want women to be modest in their appearance. They should wear decent and appropriate clothing and not draw attention to themselves by the way they fix their hair or by wearing gold or pearls or expensive clothes." (New Living Translation) This is pretty liberal in the requirements, though guidelines for what is considered appropriate are found in other areas of the Bible.

The basis of tzniut in Jewish traditions is to dress in a way that does not attract attention. Halakha includes some other more specific rules about things, like how much skin should be exposed, from the Bible, Talmud, and rabbinic law sources. Halakha has largely been open to interpretation, so you can easily find Jewish groups who never expose ankles or collarbones and groups who do. Tzniut specifically states that a married woman must cover her hair. Snoods and tichels, a favorite among pagans, are common for this - some rabbis will even allow wigs for this purpose. The practice of veiling for married Jewish women is mostly observed in synagogue, with some covering whenever out side the home as well. Interestingly enough, the practice of wearing a kippah for men seems to be extremely common, relatively speaking. I can't say how many Jewish people I run into on a day to day, but I have certainly seen more men in kippahs than I have seen women in tichels.

The Qur'an includes rules on modest dress for both men and women. The word hijab is used as a name for the veil that covers the hair and neck as well as the practice of wearing such a veil, though the Qur'an does not use that term in that way. The Qur'an states, "And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and be modest, and to display of their adornment only that which is apparent, and to draw their veils over their bosoms, and not to reveal their adornment save to their own husbands or fathers or husbands' fathers, or their sons or their husbands' sons, or their brothers or their brothers' sons or sisters' sons, or their women, or their slaves, or male attendants who lack vigour, or children who know naught of women's nakedness. And let them not stamp their feet so as to reveal what they hide of their adornment. And turn unto Allah together, O believers, in order that ye may succeed." (in one translation) Even this is open to interpretation among Muslim communities. Some leaders will say that exposing the face and hands is appropriate where others may say it is not. Some follow guidelines relative to the society they are in, for example seeing a woman in a full burqa in the United States is fairly uncommon. It would draw more attention to them and the entire purpose of modest dress is to not draw attention. It's kind of a catch 22 in the Western world, though, because veiling in general is so misunderstood.

Part of the misunderstanding, and thus the controversy, is that the majority of women who wear a hijab outside of places where it is required by law (like Iran and Saudi Arabia where the hijab is mandatory) do so because they choose it. Every single woman I spoke to when I started this research confirmed this. In contrast to the places where hijab is required, there are some where it is banned altogether. Muslims in those areas who choose to wear a hijab have been fighting for their right to do so. I remember a story fairly recently of a young girl who was fighting for her right to wear a hijab in France where it is banned in public schools. (It should be noted that it is not specifically a hijab that is banned in public schools in France, but any conspicuous religious symbol. This would include Christian veils and things like large cross jewelry as well.)

But now I think my train of thought is wandering a bit. The politics of allowing veils or not is not what I want to talk about, at least not at this time.

The main point here is that these "rules" for modest dress are open to interpretation across the board, and what rules a member must adhere to depends on the decisions of the leaders of the community they are in. They are not simply a means of female oppression, though how they are interpreted can lead to that. The basis of most of these rules is to set followers, both men and women, apart from those who do not believe that way. The stricter rules for women almost always state that it is for their protection; that men are uncontrollable creatures and the best way to protect women from their unwanted advances is to remove themselves from the gaze of men.

Yes, an argument can be made here that these rules are interpreted by leaders who are men and are written by men in patriarchal societies where women are more often than not treated as property. But if you really look into those societies, those origins, that may be true but being a woman was not without its privileges. Muhammad's wives were well revered among early Muslims, a lot of the laws pertaining to women's dress in the Qur'an apply only to them. The larger Islamic community following those laws is thus emulating the wives of the prophet; it is not unlike considering Catholic nuns to be brides of Jesus. The word hijab in the Qur'an originally meant a veil between men and Muhammad's wives when speaking to them, and it was the responsibility of the man to have that veil in place. Also, the laws usually allow a woman to be uncovered for her husband and male relatives. It could be further argued that the laws are in place to protect women of a certain group from outsiders - men who don't have the same restrictions on behavior because they are not part of the group who might be tempted to act improperly if they see too much of a woman. The rules are not, then, put in place to control women, but to spare them dealing with uncontrollable men.

What Does This Mean For Me?

The thing about modest dress is that it doesn't apply to pagans at all, at least not in these terms. A pagan does not need to be modest because women are shameful or because men are sinful. Pagan women, and men, are taught that bodies are beautiful and sacred, they should be honored and respected. In this article, the writer talks about modesty as an issue of self-respect. She states that she wants her daughter to know that she does not have "to show it off to attract the attention of a boy." In one of the comments, a gentleman states, "there's a big difference in clothing that reflects a healthy, innocent, casual, Pagan comfort with one's body and clothing that sexualizes the wearer." That's exactly it; a low-cut top might be considered immodest to some, but perfectly acceptable to a woman confident and comfortable with her body.

This blogger makes a distinction between being modest and being self-aware and responsible. Modesty among pagans is really about personal comfort and personal choice. The Charge of the Goddess indicates, "and ye shall be free from slavery; and as a sign that ye are truly free, ye shall be naked in your rites." I'm not a 'naked in my rites' kind of pagan. Many are, some are not. That's just not where my comfort lies. Part of being pagan means we have taken our spiritual journey into our own hands, and there are no hard and fast, across-the-board rules.

This article (it warns NSFW, though I didn't think it was so bad) goes so far as to say that pagan modesty is treating one's own body with respect and a lack of self-consciousness. She spoke of two well known priestesses in pagan circles as being modest not because of their long, flowy dresses but because "they own their bodies, they use their bodies, they respect them and they carry themselves with confidence and grace." "They own their bodies." I love this. Modesty, then is not about hiding from others, but about being in control of yourself.

I mentioned yesterday that I have been wearing long skirts as part of my work wardrobe for over a year. A couple months ago, I was stopped by a coworker in the hallway, I think it was on an 'ok to wear shorts' day but I was still in my regular skirt, who asked, "why do you wear those skirts all the time? They really hide your figure." Maybe that's the point, creep! And by the point, I don't mean I'm hiding my body because it is shameful or disgusting and shouldn't be seen by man or beast, but I am shielding myself from unwanted attention - especially in my work environment where even the comment about my figure is inappropriate. The way I dress means I am in control of who sees what parts of my body and when. There is no patriarchal head of my household standing over me saying I must do this because some obscure text says that flesh is obscene. I choose to present myself a certain way so I'm not judged on the curve of my hips or the shapeliness of my calves. What's wrong with that?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Held Back

I started writing on this topic years ago. Years, something like 10 years ago if I were to guess. It was initially to be exploring my first really deep research into the practice of veiling - in this case, the doctrine of some religions to encourage their followers to cover their head and hair. When my research began, all those years ago, I had only a vague understanding of head covering (and the closely related modest and plain dressing) for religious reasons. The blog post I started to write back then was prompted by an article that included a word I had never heard or seen before: hijab. Being the research-obsessed soul that I am, I looked up this word, and found other things; articles, accounts, scholarly explorations of the Western opinion of veiling. This one word led me to months of research on various religion's guidelines on modest dress. For someone who once seriously considered a cloistered life (and when I say seriously, I mean not a fleeting thought, but a long period starting in my childhood where I was certain that's where my life would take me), this was quite the interesting subject. Sadly, because my research started so long ago, all of the links to relevant articles that I managed to save are no longer active.

My first thought about modest dress was probably the same as most people in the Western world: it's just another way for a male-dominated society to repress females. Sometimes it is. But to most of the proponents of the practice it is far from it. One of the articles I found was of a journalist taking accounts of Muslim women and what wearing a hijab meant to them. At the time, a woman at my place of employment wore a full hijab and I had several opportunities to speak with her about the practice as well. What I found across the board was that most women felt empowered, not oppressed. They felt like they were being judged by colleagues on their abilities not on their bodies. It became my understanding that the guidelines for veiling in the Qur'an are written for just that purpose - to bring women to an equal playing field with men, so to speak. (Yes, it's true that in practice sometimes it is used for female oppression and control, but I'll get to that another time. That is actually not the norm.) Christianity and Judaism have guidelines for modest dress as well. For most of them, they are not hard and fast rules depending on one's denomination. Modest dress and veiling are a choice, more often than not. One of the more touching stories about making the choice to wear modest dress I have heard is from a friend of mine. She is a plain Quaker and one of her feelings of being called to plain dress was because she wanted people to know at a glance that she was trustworthy and helpful and decent. 

Frankly, I've always found a veiled woman to be extremely beautiful. I like the aesthetic of it. Maybe it's because I'm seeing a woman's face without distractions of hairstyle. Maybe it's the confidence that just radiates from these women, it is so much more than a power suit and pumps. I really can't explain it, I just find it beautiful. Maybe that look, wanting to be beautiful like those women in veils with bright, intelligent eyes and a confident, assured manner is one of the reasons I wanted to be a nun. Even when I left the Catholic church and started on my pagan path as a teenager, the thought of joining a convent never really left me. I used to say "I'd be a nun except I'd have to be Catholic." In many ways, that's still largely true. A lot of people who choose to follow their faith's doctrine for modest dress say they do so because they felt called to do so. Some part of their faith - God, angels, something - told them that was their path. And they felt more like themselves once they accepted it. At this point in my life, I have come to the understanding that I have been called to veil for most of my life.

This leads me to an interesting place. Having been firmly committed to my pagan spirituality for near 20 years, I know the drive to veil has been nagging at me for longer than that. There are always excuses for making the change. I have a rather narrow-minded, power suit and pumps wearing, Christian boss, and a "no hats other than for religious reasons" policy in the company. I tried seven or eight years ago to cover my hair at work with something like a prayer cap. My manager asked about it, I said it was a spiritual choice. She tolerated it on the day to day, but when clients came to tour the office, I was told to remove it. So I gave up. Why do I let my boss, who has zero understanding of my spiritual drives, dictate when my choice of dress is not appropriate? I don't know. A lack of confidence, maybe. The trouble I've found is that there really is no pagan equivalent to veiling or modest dress. There is no passage like I Timothy or I Corinthians or the tzniut in paganism with guidelines and rules. In fact, many pagans take that Western approach and think the practice is exactly the opposite of what paganism is. I've even spoken to other pagans, one a former Quaker, who have run into the same problems I have. We would veil, except that we don't want to be mistaken for following some religious doctrine that we don't actually follow. This is mostly out of respect for those doctrines and why those women veil, and additionally to avoid the notion that veiling is oppression. As pagans, we wouldn't have the "for religious reasons" fall back when someone says that way of dress is against the rules (as in my office).

I brought up this topic that I started and left unfinished years ago because I've recently been led to do some more research  and I found that there actually are a good deal of pagans out there who veil. Everyone who makes the choice does so for their own reasons, of course, but the basis for most seems to be that they feel called to do it. That there is no pagan equivalent to veiling isn't entirely true. Hestia is a veiled goddess. As is Vesta, her Roman counterpart, and Frigga, and Persephone, and Brigid, and Isis, and many others. One article I came across led me to another and another and another and I am very encouraged to be finding so much information and accounts on pagan veiling. I know now I've been called to it for years, and the more I resist, the louder it gets. The sensei who taught me Reiki recommended covering my head because, as a Reiki master, my crown chakra is always open to accept the energy of the universe, and thus the energy of everyone around me. That was the reason for the spiritual choice to wear a cap at work that I have already mentioned. I gave up on it then and it's been nagging at my mind ever since. Within the last year or so, I started wearing a hood I made in ritual celebrations, and I feel a resonance within my practice when I do. I have worn a skirt to work every day for more than a year as my own little mini modest dress. But a veil or head covering, that's what I really feel drawn to, at least in certain situations. One of the main ones is work, and I still think I'd need to get permission somehow. Would they need a letter from my ministers? Is it enough to just say it is required of my faith (my own, personal faith, of which no one in the world has ever followed or would ever follow after me)? I feel encouraged by my recent research. Encouraged, but still resisting. I'm still letting others control this thing that I've needed to do for most of my life.    

My thoughts on this subject do not end here. Over the next few posts, I want to look at the practice of modest dress as a whole, which in this context will include veiling, and also the many reasons people might choose it. Modesty means different things to different people. I also want to look at the negative side. A friend of mine coincidentally shared someone's blog entry just today related to this, but I will save sharing that until I get to that part of the topic.  

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Just Discression

I've mostly kept things that pertain to my faith off of this blog. I had another one for that, actually, tied to one of my websites. But I never kept up with it as well as I should have.

The reason for the separation was, at first, out of fear. Most people have a reaction, a judgement, if one announces one is a pagan. It's not something most of us wear on our sleeves. Tied to the same reason was that I worried about what my family would think of me. Later on, it just became a way to keep my regular, every day life separate from an aspect of myself that is deeply personal. Then I slowly started putting things into the regular blog, like holiday wishes or the Gratitude Project, and those edges started to blur, and now I see that none of my reasons for the segregation are admissible anymore.

One is that I really don't care how complete strangers judge me. I've been on my faith path for almost twenty years, certainly longer than I've had this blog. If my readers don't know the kind of person I am, or if they think suddenly knowing my faith changes who I am, they can go follow some other blog. Of my family, most of them know. For some, we kind of adopt a 'don't ask, don't tell' approach. For all of them- none of them actually read my blog. So, no big deal! The last reason, keeping my faith and my every day life separate, I've since learned is an impossibility. My faith is a part of my everyday life and I can no sooner separate the two than I can take off my own hand when I'm not using it.

Well, my websites are down for the count and the associated blog got more spam than it ever had readers anyway. So, it's all going to come together. I'll be copying over some posts from the other blog that I want to save and I'll stop censuring myself with regards to my faith here.

So, in case you missed it:

I am a pagan!  

Neo-pagan is probably a more accurate term, but I don't self-identify with it. I consider myself eclectic with very strong Hermetic and Wiccan influences. Sometimes, I will even say I am Wiccan, but that's not completely accurate. Paganism is a unique faith in that it has as many denominations as it has practitioners  My path is my own and it is constantly changing and evolving, as well it should.

I just wanted to let you know, dear readers, in case you see me start spouting some crazy pagany stuff and wonder where it comes from!

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Gratitude Project - Day 52

I am grateful for my spirituality and the path I walk. My faith is a huge part of my life and I can't imagine it any other way.

Thanks for joining me for the Gratitude Project! I think it's important to remember the things you have, especially when it seems like everything is falling apart.

Blessed Mabon, everyone!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Something Totally Different

I did something new with my violin yesterday. I started playing with absolutely no music in front of me to read.

I've been asked before to bring my instrument to jam sessions and drum circles and I never have because I was taught on sheet music. How can I jam when I need to read the notation of whatever I'm playing (unless it was committed to memory, but I still had to read it at one point, so it's much the same thing)? I'm not a song writer, at all, and that makes me really limited in what I can play- limited to things that someone else has written, on paper that is in front of me that I can read.

So, last night I just pulled out my instrument, picked a key and started playing. I kept it moving and just let my fingers find the notes to play. It was so fun! I feel really accomplished at being able to free play my violin. I’m going to work more with this. Lots lots more. Maybe I'll tote the electric to the next drum circle after all.

The Gratitude Project - Day 51

I am grateful for experimentation and having the courage to leave my comfort zone. Even if it's something small to most, it's a huge leap for me.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


There is a song within my soul. I hear it all the time. It wants to be let out, but it's trapped and I don't know how to unlock the door.

The Gratitude Project - Day 50

I am grateful for sudden energy.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Gratitude Project - Day 49

I am grateful for my ability to keep an open mind.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Gratitude Project - Day 48

I am grateful for the element of fire. It grows our passions and feeds our desires. It does not consume, but transforms. What it seems to destroy, it changes and makes room for something new.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Gratitude Project - Day 45

I am grateful for my new nephew. He has brought so much joy to his family. Seeing my brother with his son was more amazing then any words I could possibly choose to describe it.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Gratitude Project - Day 42

I am grateful for the ability of people to continue on even when it seems like the world has ended.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Gratitude Project - Day 41

I am grateful for my kitchen, where I can experiment and explode as I will!

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Saturday, September 08, 2012

The Gratitude Project - Day 39

I am grateful for being able to step into another world for a day, or a weekend, or even a moment, and leaving reality behind.

Friday, September 07, 2012

The Gratitude Project - Day 38

I am grateful for my the element of earth. Grounding, stabilizing, and holding me up when I don't have the strength to do it on my own.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

The Gratitude Project - Day 37

I am grateful for my brother. Sure, we fought as kids and mostly tolerated each other as teenagers, but he grew into such a wonderful, amazing person. I wish we lived closer, but that makes the time we do get to spend together that much more precious.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

It's A Boy

My brother and sister-in-law welcomed a baby boy around 2020-something this evening. His name is Jefferson Andrew, named after our great great grandfather. I am so very happy for them!

Happy birthday, Jefferson! 

The Gratitude Project - Day 36

I am grateful for my sister-in-law. We met in violin class in 1992 and she met my brother some years later. They married on October 31, 2004 - because they met at a Halloween party. Since then, they've got through so many ups and downs, and some very very painful downs, together. My sister-in-law has been through so much in her life, so much before my brother and so much after. Her strength, her passion, her kindness, her creativity are inspirations. She is such a wonderful, beautiful person and I'm so glad to know her, and so glad that she is happy and makes my brother happy. He could not have fallen in love with a better person.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

The Gratitude Project - Day 35

I am grateful for the ability to fix things on my own.

Monday, September 03, 2012

The Gratitude Project - Day 34

I am grateful for old friends who suddenly appear in surprising and unexpected places!

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Saturday, September 01, 2012

The Gratitude Project - Day 32

I am grateful for days when I can get stuff done without rushing or thinking of the next thing on my list.

Friday, August 31, 2012

The Gratitude Project - Day 31

I am grateful for the age I live in. I can vote. I can marry whom I choose when I choose to do so. I can have a job. I can own my own property. I can speak my mind. I control my own life.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Gratitude Project - Day 30

I am grateful for the sense and sensation of touch.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Gratitude Project - Day 29

I am grateful for imagination. I never know what fantastic world my mind will enter.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Gratitude Project - Day 28

I am grateful for moments. As they happen. When I remember them. Moments.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Gratitude Project - Day 27

I am grateful for music. It distracts, it fills space, it passes time. It conjures memories; sometimes happy, sometimes sad. I sometimes lament that I don't have any skills to be a song writer, but I am grateful that I have some skills to produce music by instrument or voice. I may not be a song writer, but I will always be a song lover.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Gratitude Project - Day 26

I am grateful for a nice, comfortable bed covered in kitties.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Gratitude Project - Day 24

I am grateful for my family. They support me no matter what. They know just what to say to make me feel better. I'm lucky to have been born into a circle of such wonderful, talented, caring people.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Gratitude Project - Day 23

I am grateful for the element of air. A deep breath can refresh and rejuvinate. A warm breeze brings comfort. Soon the wind will play a great chasing game with the fallen leaves.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Gratitude Project - Day 22

I am grateful for the beautiful world around me. I'm grateful for the trees, the clouds, the rivers, the flowers, and all the creatures.This morning, I saw two fawns playing in a field and I couldn't help but smile.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Gratitude Project - Day 21

I am grateful for dreams. Sometimes I remember them and sometimes I don't. Sometimes they are beautiful and sometimes they are terrifying. They are a mystery.

Last night, I had several very vivid dreams. I tried to lie in bed and retain some of them, but with Miss Luna howling for her breakfast, it didn't last.

I was taking a tour of a large piece of land in autumn. The leaves were fire red and the ground was covered. The land was owned by a friend and right next to a park. And I think we were exploring the property because we were going to build a house there....

I was in a forest of red and yellow and orange. It was like a shrine with five stones, standing about waist high from the earth. Each stone was carved with a symbol and covered in lichen. They were symbols I was supposed to know. I was leaving an offering....

I was in a room with several people. We were watching some video, though I don't remember why we were. None of us spoke the same language, and we all wondered why the other people were there. There were numbers on the video, like someone was doing calculations. People started shouting out the answers in whatever language they knew. Everyone was laughing. Then we started telling each other our numbers, teaching just that one part of a language that other people in the room didn't know....

Just dreams.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Gratitude Project - Day 20

I am grateful for my life. For all its ups and downs, all that I struggle and all that I hurt, and all the sadness that I've seen and felt. I'm still grateful for it. And for all the breaths I've taken, for all the beautiful sunsets I've seen, for the loving touch of another life upon this Earth. For feeling the wind through my hair and my tears on my cheeks. Sometimes it's wonderful and sometimes it's hard and one time I almost made an end of it because it hurt so much. I'm grateful for my life, for all of that, everything that is life. I've learned the value of it and I'm so glad I held on to it.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Gratitude Project - Day 19

I am grateful for the comfort I feel when wrapping myself up in a cozy blanket.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Gratitude Project - Day 18

I am grateful for my creativity. It means I always have something to do. It doesn't mean I don't get idle or bored, but if I need something to do and I don't know what, I can always create something. Anything. Try a new craft, pull out on old project, even researching something new to create is an enjoyable task.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Gratitude Project - Day 17

I am grateful for my mom. She's such an awesome lady and I love that we can spend time together as friends. That means she respects me as an adult, which I take as a compliment. Her sister once told me "I don't think you could ever do anything to make her really angry at you. You're like her best friend." I'm so thankful for how our relationship has grown. Even as I can count her among my friends, she'll always be my mom.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Gratitude Project - Day 16

I am grateful for coffee. Beautiful, wonderful, lovely coffee.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Gratitude Project - Day 15

I am grateful for my job. It's totally stressful and sometimes it really sucks, but it pays my mortgage and I'm glad to have it. I know I'd be far worse off without one and, while I don't like the idea of having to find a new one, I'll be happy to be out of it once I do. Regardless, I know I'm fortunate to have what I have and I'm thankful for that.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Gratitude Project - Day 14

I am grateful for my sweet kitties. They make me smile, they calm my nerves. They cuddle close at night. I sometimes worry about them, worry if I'm doing the best I can for them, but I am so glad I have them in my life. My home wouldn't be the same without them.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Gratitude Project - Day 13

I am grateful for the element of water. It supports life, it purifies and heals. And few things are so soothing as feeling water wash over you.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Gratitude Project - Day 12

I am grateful for my friends in all their variety. I'm grateful for their conversation, their support, their ability to entertain, their help. And I'm grateful for the chance to be for them what they are for me.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Gratitude Project - Day 11

I am grateful that I live in an area where so much history from all over the world and beyond and in so many different forms is so readily available to me.

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Gratitude Project - Day 10

I am grateful for the rain. It feeds the plants, it fills the rivers and streams, and it fills the aquifer that brings water to my home. Yay, rain!

Thursday, August 09, 2012

The Gratitude Project - Day 9

I am grateful for my boyfriend. He's talented and creative, open and honest. He's kind, caring, and puts up with me even when I'm in a nasty, grouchy mood. I wasn't ready to have him in my life this way when we met, and maybe he wasn't ready for me then either, but I know I am so lucky to have him now. He is one of the most beautiful people I know.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

The Gratitude Project - Day 8

I am grateful for....

I don't know. I'm actually rather depressed right now. I'm thankful that my dad came over last night to install the new thermostat in the water heater, but it didn't work. The water coming out of the hot tap was actually colder than the cold tap this morning. I don't know what the next move is. I'm feeling more frustrated than grateful.

I'm grateful that I have a house at all. Even if important systems break a lot and I don't have the money to fix them. It's still a roof over my head and it's my roof. Owning a home was a life goal of mine, and I did it. It's not the best, and I'm struggling, but I did it and it's mine. I'm grateful for that.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

The Gratitude Project - Day 7

I am grateful for my dad, who comes over to help me with house stuff even though he lives far away. (My dad is also awesome in many other ways, and I know how lucky I am that he's my dad!)

Monday, August 06, 2012

The Gratitude Project - Day 6

I am grateful for the locker room at work, that is equipped with showers that I can use when my water heater isn't working.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Saturday, August 04, 2012

The Gratitude Project - Day 4

I am grateful for innovation, technology, and invention.
And a great day at King's Dominion with great people!

Friday, August 03, 2012

The Gratitude Project - Day 3

I am grateful for my feet, that allow me to walk, run, and dance with the man I love.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

The Gratitude Project - Day 2

I am grateful for the beautiful morning; a big red sun rising, barely breaking through the fog hanging among the trees.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

The Gratitude Project - Day 1

I am grateful for my compassion that teaches me to value life, be it human, animal, or something else.

Monday, July 30, 2012

What is the Gratitude Project?

As written by my dear friend Liz Jacobs on the Friends of Shadow Grove Facebook page:

"The Gratitude Project was started by Julie McCord and has been adopted by many Pagans throughout the community. We think it's a wonderful idea and invite you all to share in this activity which starts on Wednesday, August 1st! Thanks to Irene Jericho for the reminder that this is about to begin again this year.

The Gratitude Project runs from Lammas to Mabon. It entails you being mindful of whatever brings you Joy and you journal "the something" you are grateful for each day between those Sabbats. No repeats - you can be grateful for your spouse/kids/job/friends, but the reason for the gratitude needs to be different for each entry. It can BIG or not, your journal/blog entry can be long or short. It can be on paper or in pixels and public or private.

If you would like to post your entries here, we would love to hear from you about what you are thankful for.

Brightest Blessings to all"

For the next 53 days (assuming I'm counting correctly), I'll be posting what I am grateful for each day.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Birthday Cupcakes

Dav's birthday was May 18th. One of his gifts was a Pirate Gnome. He has a piratical tattoo, which is why I thought about a Pirate Gnome. But you know, dear readers, that I can't celebrate anything without baking something! I know exactly what kind of cake I want to make for him, but it's going to take time to practice and with VARF and all the related things I had to do that Thursday, I just didn't have any time. So I had to come up with something simpler. Simple, but still significant in some way. (And, if my past cakes are any indication, three hours is a pretty standard amount of time to spend decorating, so that is considered simple.)

Cupcakes! Cupcakes are easy, bake faster and are (usually) less of a pill to decorate than an entire cake. Dav said he doesn't have a favorite cake, so I just had to come up with something. At first, I thought I would go with chocolate cake and vanilla icing, but I decided to reverse that. I'll tell you why in a minute. And then I decided chocolate on chocolate was even better. 

Dav is a video gamer like me, so I thought a video game theme on the cupcakes would be perfect. But what game? I turned to Google for inspiration and came across these cupcakes. He has a tattoo of the crest of Hyrule, which he said had meaning for him and two of his friends, so I knew instantly this would be perfect. I began plotting items I could put on cupcakes! 

It's been a long time since I played the original Legend of Zelda, so I searched around for images and ideas and found this: an image of the map that came with the game. Notice all the items in the lower right corner, and how they're all on black backgrounds? That's why I needed chocolate icing. 

There were no bells or whistles about making the cupcakes. Just mix, pour, bake, cool, and ice. Tada!

Icing Cupcakes

For the item shapes, I used four colors of fondant; yellow, red, blue, and white, and a black icing marker for fine outlines. I got 24 cupcakes out of the mix so I planned out the images for each.

Cutting Rupees

The beauty of an 8-bit game is that pictures are blocky and simple, so cutting the fondant sheets into the images was way easy.

Drawing Details

Then I drew on some details and added a tiny bit of white for shine. Rupees have to sparkle!

Items Important to Your Quest

Look at all those shapes! The three triangles of the Triforce got brushed with pearl dust to give it a bit of luster.

Collect Your Items

And then onto cupcakes they go! I cut out all my shapes free-hand. Now that I've done it, if I were to do it again, I'd make some paper patterns first. That way at least the rupees and bombs and hearts would be more uniform.

Completed Cupcakes!

It looks like Link has taken a bit of damage, but he's got a fairly full rucksack! There are rupees and bombs, a bow and arrow, five hearts, two candles, the magic sword, the magic book, monster bait, a key, and the all-important Triforce.

Behold, the Triforce!

I'm told that the cupcakes were well-enjoyed. I had such fun making them! Happy birthday, my darling!