Monthly Archives: September 2014

Some Announcements and My First Vlog


Sheep Knuckles and Cylinder Seals

I’m blogging today about a piece of information about cylinder seals I ran across in a children’s nonfiction book on Mesopotamia. The book is Passport to the Past: Mesopotamia by Lorna Oakes.

Cylinder seals are small cylindrical carved pieces designed to make impressions in clay. They were used in Mesopotamia to sign documents and affix ownership. Kings, officials, and just about anyone with wealth or rank had their own unique seal which they guarded carefully. These seals might be carved of ivory, shell, bone, limestone, or lapis lazuli. According to Oakes, some believe these seals evolved from sheep knuckles used for the same purpose. The book has a picture of a seal with a knob in the shape of a sheep. I could not find a public domain photo of this cylinder, but I did find another cylinder pictured here that has sheep carved into its knob.

Cylinder seal. Top knob has a sheep design.

Cylinder seal. Top knob has a sheep design. Uruk 3200 b.c.e. Photo Marie-Lan Nguyen.

The sheep knuckle is a small roughly square six-sided bone from the hind legs of the animal. This bone, or analogous bones from deer, antelope, and goats, has been ubiquitous in cultures all over the world. Most commonly it is used for playing games (knuckle bones were the prototype for gaming dice), but it is also used for divination and casting lots. Sheep knuckles have also been carved as amulets and votive offerings. Animal knuckles are often found in burial sites. I don’t know if the sheep knuckle could be used in forensics like fingerprints, but the pictures I’ve seen show considerable variation, so it’s plausible that indentations in clay from a sheep’s knuckle could have been used like a signature. A carved knuckle would have been even more recognizable.
Roman women throwing knuckles.

Roman women throwing knuckles.

I have quite a few books on Mesopotamia but none go into the evolution of cylinder seals. Oakes lists the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago as sources. If anyone has a written source about the role of sheep bones in the evolution of cylinder seals please let me know.


Like a Vague Malodorous Stain Seeping into the Theological Discourse

Photo Ervin Popisil

Photo Ervin Popisil

Note: I am aware that the words “male” and “female,” used to signify biology, have moved from the passe to the forbidden and are now considered by some to be offensive and bigoted. I am going to use them anyway, because I cannot make a coherent point without them. That is probably why these words have become verboten in these post-enlightened times. The road of postmodernism, if followed far enough, will end in the forced fealty to the idea that nothing exists. And yet the strong will still take from the weak.

This article discusses the parallels between fascism and political movements that view themselves as rooted in postmodern philosophy, especially Postmodern Feminism and Queer Theory. I wish to show how postmodernism is harming feminist religions just as it has ruined about everything else. I am not implying that fascism and postmodernism are the same thing; they are two very separate ideologies, albeit similar in certain presentations, self-conceptions, and tactics.

Fascism is classically defined as a version of romantic nationalism that became a political force a century ago in Europe. It was characterized by obedience to an authoritarian militaristic state. Postmodernism seems to be the polar opposite of this. It is characterized by amorphousness, lack of definition, and fuzzy boundaries. In fact, many people are unsure exactly what postmodernism is. At one time postmodernism simply referred to bad poetry and atrocities in the visual arts. Later it transitioned to mean obscure, unintelligible, and increasingly irrelevant academic papers. Although enthusiastic acceptance of the philosophy in academia implies some grounding in theory, the political and social manifestations of postmodernism are so contradictory to claimed post-structural origins that it is as difficult to link postmodernism to theorists Foucault or Derrida as it is to trace Nazism to Nietzsche. It is as if the Postmodern Feminist insistence that sex be replaced with gender identity were an example used to illustrate Foucault’s thesis that knowledge is used to regulate people. It is as if students who band together to prevent scholars critical of Queer Theory from speaking at their universities were demonstrating Lacan’s chains of signification on the unconscious self. Or maybe they are queering their role as students by performing the role of the uptight university president.

But I am not going to get lost here in the contradictions between social/political postmodernism and the theories that spawned it. Instead I want to point out a curious parallel between fascism and postmodernism in practice: both have been heavily promoted as progressive and youth oriented. Nazism was so expertly packaged for appeal to youth that, despite being thoroughly discredited with the majority of the population, a brief flirtation with the ideology remains a rite of passage for a subset of white males. Postmodernism and its demon children are also posited as edgy and new even though 1) being new and being progressive are not the same thing, as those early postmodern philosophers would have been the first to agree; and 2) postmodernism is getting long in the tooth. I was way too cool for postmodernism when I was in my early 20s, and I am no longer a young woman. In fact, I am one of those “second wave dinosaurs” that postmodern feminists and their ilk contend need to “die off” to make room for a feminism queer-identified males approve of.

The postmodern cult finally got a toehold in Paganism several years ago with the demand that Dianic priestesses admit trans women into our rituals on the grounds that biological sex has been theorized out of existence, or at least relevance, in favor of self-identified gender. It’s the new best thing. Gender itself is not defined because nothing in postmodern politics is defined. Definitions are passe, especially when they create boundaries you want to crash. Demands to admit males into female spiritual space have been present since the seventies, but now they are based on the argument that the old women, “on the wrong side of history,” need to step aside for the new generation with the new ideas, an argument that drips with ageism. Ageism isn’t particularly new, especially when applied to women. Go read about the witch hunts.

I am not going to expound in this article about the right of women to set our own boundaries or the reason Dianics have decided that trans women do not belong at many of our rituals. I set out the rationale for this position in my essay for the book Witchcraft Today: Sixty Years On. What I want to say is that I am tired of hearing the position that biological males are entitled to erase the boundaries of biological females argued as new and progressive. It is a position older than fascism, older than monarchism, and older than Aristotle even if it is wrapped in some version of postmodern non-speak. Please postmodern third wave progressive queer theorist feminists, stop trying to tell me what’s old and what’s new, because I’m old enough to know the difference. And I’m sorry I made fun of your poetry: it seems pretty harmless, compared to subsequent developments.


Reflections on Recent Events in the Dianic Community

Portrait of a Woman as a Vestal Virgin by Angelica Kauffman

Portrait of a Woman as a Vestal Virgin by Angelica Kauffman

It has been reported on a few of the more popular (non-Dianic) blogs that Z Budapest and Ruth Barrett are at odds over Z’s decision to ordinate Brazilian Claudinay Prieto as a Dianic priest in the Kourete tradition, which is a matriarchal men’s path parallel to women’s mysteries. There have been press releases, official statements in protest, and responses to the official statements. I am somewhat bemused at the interest in our disagreements and squabbles to those outside the Dianic tradition; it is further proof that what we do is important, however much others claim to dislike us.

I have nothing to add about the disagreement between Z and Ruth, because I know nothing other than what is in their statements. Though I have been a Dianic Priestess for a very long time, I live in an obscure corner of the universe trying to keep a small number of worshipers nourished in the wilderness. I am saying a few words because I also have a modestly popular blog, and I want to address the speculation about “what this means.”

I try, as much as my integrity will allow me, to avoid telling priestesses in my tradition what they should do, or even making judgments about whether they are taking the right or wrong path. This is part of my practice as a feminist witch. Therefore, I am not going to comment on, or even try to decide, whether Z was correct in ordaining a man, or whether Ruth is correct in breaking with Z over this issue. My most immediate concern is for healing between Ruth and Z and their closest supporters, as their statements reveal that there are personal issues tied up with these disagreements over ideology and strategy. It is difficult to sort things out on the intellectual plane when there are uncomfortable feelings lying in the heart.

It may well be that over time Z’s decision will be proven to have been beneficial, but I think we do need a long, in-depth, and measured discussion about the ordination of Kouretes. The pros and cons need to be weighed both ideologically and strategically. I am mindful that this issue has arisen in the context of a persistent and at times vicious attack on biological women’s intentional space. The commitment of all parties here to women’s only space is strong, but we need to be conscious about the effect of our actions on our ability to keep this commitment, given the realities of the world we are living in.

I do not have a position on the ordination or participation of Kouretes, and I am resisting the impulse to form a conclusion at this time. I look forward to reading more and speaking more with other priestesses over the months and perhaps years ahead before reaching a decision. I think one of the most baneful habits of humans on the planet right now is the tendency to form quick judgments and take positions without allowing thoughts to ripen and many sides to be explored. If I can add anything to the discussion right now, it is not by producing an argument or a strategy, but by offering a reminder to take things slow.

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