A Higher Purpose

The final thing on the list of characteristics of religion is the idea of sacredness.  In most religions, some things are sacred and some profane.  There is a division between things which are of or related to the faith, the deity or deities of the religion, and those things which are of the mundane world.

This is where it’s a little bit difficult to draw a parallel between activism and traditional religion.  Activism doesn’t involve worship, per se, only a communal agreement and commitment to particular action.  There’s an end goal, a unifying purpose, but no deity to follow or please.

On the other hand, there is an obvious sense in these times that there are activities which are productive, progressive, involved, and those which amount to avoidance and escape.  There are ways of living which contribute to progress and the elevation of humanity, and those which contribute to maintaining the oppression of the status quo.  There’s even a clear division between action and those things which we are supposed to do when we feel worn out and stressed by the weight of reality.

I think, perhaps, the clearest parallel to the sacred/profane dichotomy in religion is the duality between things which serve a greater purpose and things which serve only ourselves.  That is not to say that to partake in self-focused activities or self-indulgent things is bad any more than religion condemns paying bills or watching television.  But just as religion absolutely condemns (in most cases) a focused dedication to the mundane world which results in an abandonment or rejection of faith, activism calls for us to speak out very loudly against a focused dedication to one’s own existence in order to ignore the larger problems faced by humanity.


A Feminist Tarot: The Fool

I think sometimes we’re addicted to new beginnings.  We romanticize them, especially when we imagine the hero of the story to be the emancipated woman breaking free to follow a passion.  It’s an inspirational archetype, especially when we feel particularly aware of all the cultural restrictions under which we all live.

At first glance, there would seem to be something inherently feminist in the idea of the Fool, carrying all she needs as she takes the first steps on a new journey.

But what of the journey after that?

I’ve started over many a time in my life, and I’ve watched friends and family do the same more times than I can count.  And I’ve also watched myself and everyone else repeat the same mistakes and follow our hearts right back to the same situations we thought we were walking away from.  Clearly, too many of us don’t know the difference between freedom and avoidance.

I also suspect that too many of us have never learned a better way of dealing with circumstances less than ideal.  The heroine escapes and the princess is freed from her prison, but the fairy tales don’t tell us enough tales of women who actually work to change anything.  Yes, sometimes removing ourselves to a better situation is the best solution to our struggles, but I think too often we choose the escape because we don’t know how to approach the alternative.

The thing about the Fool card is that it doesn’t tell us anything about the journey besides the fact that one has taken the first step.  In fact, many have pointed out that the traditional iconography carries a bit of a warning: the sky-gazing fool may be about to walk off a cliff.  But I think what’s more important than realizing that we need to watch where we’re going is that we need to think about why we’re starting over.   Is this an escape to a possibly nonexistent paradise?  Or is this an expedition to a trove of useful treasure?  Is this a one way trip, or a journey we mean to return from with better tools and better skills and a vision for building the future?


Here’s Your Sign…

The seventh element of religion is material expression.  In other words, religions tend to have “stuff” which adherents use in their practice or to identify themselves with the faith.  Rituals involve certain items and specific settings, even sometimes costumes or modes of dress.

Personally, I’ve noticed that the more deeply involved and committed I get to a cause, the more my collection of tshirts and sweatshirts grows.  People knitted and crocheted thousands and thousands of pink pussy hats for the recent Women’s Marches, and are still knitting them.  We paint signs and carry bullhorns, wear stickers and buttons and bracelets and flags.

Much like many traditional religions, most would say no one needs the “stuff” to participate, but the stuff is nevertheless ubiquitous and common.

We like the stuff.  It reinforces our allegiance and message visually as a way to attract those who are with us and confront those who are not.  It amplifies our voices.  It lets us say what we wish to say even when we can’t get our voices heard.

Project in Progress: A Feminist Tarot

One of the first tools or trappings of paganism that I fell in love with as I started down this path was the Tarot.  And while my beliefs about it, my manner of working with it, may be different from the norm, I find it to be a very useful and enlightening thing to work with.

However, it’s long bothered me that the imagery is – and understandably so, given its history – so steeped in outdated gender roles and iconography.  Even as it lifts some female or feminine figures into powerful places, these women are still caged in ideas of feminine purity, sacred motherhood, or spiritual mystery.  Worse, when I read interpretations of cards, the gender divide is rarely challenged.  Most uphold the idea that certain traits indicated not just an feminine or masculine ideal, but could indicate a specific male or female person who fits that description.

It’s a very restrictive and, I believe, damaging way to look at the world.

If a querent cannot see herself in the cards or hear herself described by a reader, how can the Tarot fully describe her particular existence?  And if readers do not learn to look at cards such as the Kings or the Emperor and see in them the possibility that a woman is sitting on that throne, how can their readings be complete or accurate?

So, not one these days to sit on the sidelines and say “somebody ought to do something about…”, I’ve started work on a Feminist Tarot.  Not only do I want to portray all of the figures, archetypes, and ideas embodied in the deck as female, I also want to modernize and diversify the imagery.  I think part of the value in the Tarot is that it can potentially describe the entirety of a person’s experiences at some level, but it can only do that if we look past the restrictive iconography.  So why not remove it altogether?

Anyway, that’s the project I’ll be putting my attention and effort towards for the next little bit, and therefore I’m going to start posting about some of the interpretive changes I am making to the iconography in the deck.  Stay tuned!


The sixth element common to religion are “characteristic emotional experiences”.  Inner peace would be one example.  Profound conversion experiences are another.  Essentially, religion weaves a practice and philosophy around a series of experiences which have high emotional impact.  It’s those experiences which draw us into the faith and provide a common ground on which to relate to other adherents.  And continuing to have those experiences, to feel those extremes of emotion, keeps us engaged and invested.

Since last November I know a lot of us have had frequent and similar emotional reactions to what’s going on around us.  Anger.  Fear.  Motivation.  Solidarity.  Urgency.  Most of us have gone through the experience of realizing that there was so much more hate and discrimination and oppression in the world than we thought.

And, yes, most of us should have had that experience a long time ago, and there’s a lot of people who have battled this on the front lines relentlessly their whole lives, but even they had times in their childhoods when the reality of the world was revealed to them.  The lifting of the veil of naivete is one of those characteristic emotional experiences.

So are the events which bring protests and the birth of movements.

So are the protests and rallies themselves, where the communal release and expression of emotions gives way to a sense of motivation and optimism.

That’s what drives movements and religions alike.  We are pushed forward by the power of our deepest reactions to what we witness and experience.

And I think we all want a bit of that inner peace stuff.

For the Good of Humanity

The fifth element common to religions is a set of rules or ethics.  This, I believe, is where activism is really superior to traditional religion, in that what is right and important forms both the ethical core of a movement and it’s end goal.  Usually, too, this approach produces a code of ethics born of observation and agreement rather than handed down from a deity.

That doesn’t mean every movement has it’s ethical heart in the right place, but I think the track record for progressive activism has actually hit the mark more times than religion has.

Even more importantly, activism tends to focus on what’s the right way to treat others rather than the right way to behave for one’s own benefit.

If the current state of things gets more of us focused on how to best benefit humanity as a whole rather than worrying mostly about our own interests, our own selves, then surely our activism will have done more to advance human ethics and morality than millennia of traditional religion.

Keep Marching

The fourth common element of religion is ritual.  The important tenets of religion are taught and reinforced through ceremonies and traditional activities.

The religion of activism, as it were, is taught and made real through protests and marches, phone calls and letters, rallies, voting, and philanthropy work.  There are, unarguably, a set of activities which become the practice of activism.  Anyone who devotes themselves to the fight for a cause goes into it with an idea of what needs to be done.

Most of us don’t often think of these things as ritual or ceremony in the same way we think of religious observances, but in recent months the frequency and size of protests and marches I’ve attended has increased to the point that attending a protest is akin to going to church.  People talk about what we’re there for, what’s important, what the message is that we’re putting out into the world.  We hold up signs and chant and march.  It’s repeated often enough to be a common ritual.

It’s both symbolic and active, a gathering which makes the idea of a movement tangible and real.

And each group, each person, each community has their own individual ways of observing the rituals of activism.  The particular concerns and identities and cultures of a community show up in their ritual variants, just as different communities within a larger religious community have their own unique traditions.

Not only do these ceremonies and traditions and rituals bind a community together in common ideas, they are visible expressions of the things which are important to the group.  They are important both internally and externally, and they are events which serve to focus the energies and efforts of a group towards a single objective.  Much like ancient groups had hunts and feasts and communal fires which served to preserve group cohesion, rallies and meetings and marches serve to bind a group together and keep their focus on group goals.