Spooky Movies: Grabbers

grabbersA straight-laced policewoman arrives on an island off the coast of Ireland for a two-week stint and, together with the local policeman, discovers that the island is becoming infested with carnivorous, tentacled sea monsters that need blood and water to survive. When one drunken islander manages to survive an attack, it’s determined that alcohol is toxic to the monsters. So naturally the two officers team up with the pub owner to throw a party with free drinks to get the entire town drunk. This isn’t a perfect film, but it’s charming and funny and the monsters are pretty great.

Spooky Movies: Mr. Vampire

Mr. Vampire 3If you’re as sick to death of glittery, mopey, love-struck vampires as I am, I have a perfect palate-cleanser for you: Mr. Vampire, a Hong Kong horror flick released in 1985 and directed by Ricky Lau and produced by Sammo Hung. Taoist priest Mr. Kau and his painfully inept students are hired to rebury a weathy man, but when they see the body, Mr. Kau determines he is a vampire. The corpse escapes, causing all sorts of mayhem, and Mr. Kau and the students—one of whom bears a striking resemblance to a young Jerry Lewis, Jerry Lewis were Chinese—fight the vampire with martial arts and large amounts of sticky rice. The Chinese vampires are undead—I’m told the film’s title translates from Chinese as something like “Mr. Undead Walking Around Guy”—and they spread their condition by biting, but they also hop around like stiff rabbits on pogo sticks and can be stopped—but not killed—by simply sticking a prayer paper to their foreheads. The film is delightfully silly and has a bonus of a neat little ghost story subplot.

Spooky Movies: Night of the Demon

nightofthedemon5I love, love, love scary movies*, whether they’re genuinely creepy or just plain cheesy. So for fun, I’m going to recommend some favorite scary movies between now and Halloween.

Did you ever wonder what the heck these lines from the opening of the Rocky Horror Picture Show are referencing?

Dana Andrews said prunes

Gave him the runes

And passing them used lots of skills

That would be Night of the Demon, also known as Curse of the Demon, released in 1958. Dana Andrews plays American skeptic Dr. John Holden, who attends a paranormal symposium in London and runs afoul of occultist Julian Karswell. Karswell slips Holden the runes—a piece of paper with occult symbols containing a curse—and Holden finds himself hounded by strange occurrences as the titular demon closes in on him. The only way he can avoid the demon is to slip Karswell the runes in return, but can he do it before it’s too late?

This film has genuine suspense—we aren’t sure whether there’s really a curse, or whether the demon is in the characters’ imagination—decent performances, and pretty great special effects for its time. Just ignore the the fact that the moviemakers knew as much about Stonehenge as these guys.

*Spooky movies to me usually have a supernatural element or a monster, or both. I don’t do slasher movies or torture porn.

Why Do I Have to Wait?

I get some variation of this question in my inbox at least once a week, if not more often:

  • I’m thirteen. Will you be my teacher? And by the way, don’t tell my parents I emailed you.
  • I’m sixteen, but I can’t find a teacher in my area who will teach me unless I’m eighteen or older. Isn’t that discrimination?
  • I know a lot of teachers won’t take a student under eighteen, but I’m seventeen and very mature. Can you help me?

I know it must seem like Pagan teachers who won’t take minor students are discriminating against teens, and I know that is incredibly frustrating when you are excited about learning and want to start now. But the truth is, any teacher who takes on a minor student risks breaking the law.

For better or for worse, people under the age of eighteen (nineteen in Alabama and Nebraska, twenty-one in Mississippi and Washington, DC) are legally under the control of their parents. That means that their parents are entitled to make decisions about pretty much every aspect of their lives, including their religious education. It is against the law for an adult to interfere with parents’ rights to determine the religious education (if any) of their children.

Some Pagan teachers will take a minor student with the permission of the student’s parents. In many cases this works fine, but if a student’s parents suddenly change their minds or decide that what their child is learning is not what they thought it would be, that can spell legal trouble for the teacher. Some teachers attempt to prevent this by requiring the parent(s) to attend classes with the child or having regular parent-teacher check-ins, but even with these precautions, there is no guarantee parents won’t become upset by something their child is learning and cause problems for the teacher.

There are other reasons why some teachers won’t take on minors. Wine is an important part of some Pagan practices, and some Pagan traditions use sexual symbolism in their rites. (Some cut out the middle man and use actual sex.) It is utterly inappropriate and illegal to expose a minor to any of these things.

So what’s a teen who wants to study Paganism supposed to do? If your parents are at all receptive, try asking them if they would allow you to study, either with a teacher or by yourself. They might freak out at first, but they might come around with time. If they are opposed to you working with a teacher, ask if you can read Pagan books and websites with their supervision. Involve them in your study so they understand what you’re learning and can make choices about what to allow. If you are honest and responsible and earn their trust, they might allow you to learn more than if you try to hide things from them.

If your parents are not receptive, do not lie to them. It is absolutely not okay to lie. As long as you are under their roof, you have to live by their rules. Everybody who writes me about this topic wants a different answer than this, but the truth is as long as you’re a minor, your parents are in control, and there’s no way around it. It won’t last forever, even if it seems like it will.

If your parents are opposed to you learning Paganism now, there are many other things you can study while you are waiting. (And no, Mom and Dad, they’re not “gateway drugs” to Paganism, although they could inform Pagan practice if your child decides to become Pagan some day.) Some of these topics are:

  • Tai chi or yoga (to learn more about focus, meditation, and energy work—plus it’s just good for you!)
  • World mythology and comparative mythology
  • World religions
  • History of religion and Pagan cultures
  • Your ancestry (many Pagans like to follow a tradition that honors the gods of their ancestors)
  • Your parents’ religion (makes it easier to have a healthy conversation with them, and you might find you actually like their faith)
  • Herbs and stones
  • Animals
  • Ecology

If you have to wait until you’re of age, hang in there. Waiting sucks, but Paganism isn’t going away, and it will be there if and when you’re ready for it.

Ill-Advised Party Discussion Topic #56: Science and Religion

I received this question recently:

I am a scientist to the core. How would you advise someone who is trying to believe again that there’s more than science out there or that [science and religion] sometimes work hand-in-hand?

Choosing to walk a spiritual path pretty much requires finding an answer to this question for yourself—one you can live with and that feeds, sustains, and resonates with you. So consider this post simply a starting point for exploration rather than a concrete answer. I wouldn’t want to rob you of the experience of sorting this out for yourself. Or not, as the case may be.

I love this question, but in my opinion, the fundamental problem with it is its underlying assumption that science and religion must be at odds. I think this is a false dichotomy brought about by rigid thinking about what science and religion are and what their value and purpose are.

So often I see an argument from the science “side” like this: Logical = good, illogical = bad, religion = illogical, therefore religion is bad/pointless/harmful/ridiculous/contemptible, and, by extension, people with spiritual beliefs are not just wasting their time; they’re stupid. And the other “side” is no better, with climate-change deniers, people who think they can cure cancer with crystals, school boards demanding creationism be inserted in textbooks because evolution makes people question their faith, and Chick tracts  saying the earth is only 6000 years old and showing dinosaur-riding humans, as if The Flintstones were a documentary. This inflexibility on both ends serves no purpose, other than to make people feel smug and self-righteous—attitudes that have no place in either science or religion.

Although they go about things very differently, in my view science and religion spring from the same source: a sense of wonder and deep curiosity about the world, and a desire to understand it better and express that learning to others. Einstein said, “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead. His eyes are closed.” It seems more important to me to focus on the similarity of the underlying desires behind science and spirituality and how they can inform each other rather than deciding they irreconcilable, with one utterly right and the other utterly wrong.

We can have the best of both science and spirit if we let go of the idea that things that aren’t logical or supported by scientifically rigorous double-blind studies are somehow less important, useful, or valuable. Anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski basically said (I’m way over-simplifying this) that culture and religion meet the needs of individuals—especially in times of crisis—and by meeting the needs of individuals, they meet the needs of society as a whole. Essentially, the value of religion is not in whether it is “true” or not, but in what it does for the person participating in it.

Humans see symbols and meaning in everything from DNA to their breakfast cereal. Multiple realities can be “true” and meaningful to individuals from a relative, if not an objective, point of view. It doesn’t mean these realities are universal or scientifically verifiable, but it doesn’t mean they are irrelevant or that an insight should be rejected outright because it can’t be recreated or measured.

But as spiritual people living in a world of science, we need to be reasonable in our flexibilty—to be rationally irrational. The Dalai Lama himself said about Buddhism and science, “If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change. In my view, science and Buddhism share a search for the truth and for understanding reality.” The late Joseph Campbell, who wrote extensively on comparative mythology (and was not remotely Wiccan, but is still my go-to guy for this kind of discussion), also indicated that flexibility and reason are key, “Every religion is true in one way or another. It is true when understood metaphorically. But when it gets stuck in its own metaphors, interpreting them as facts, then you are in trouble.”

Wicca is well-suited to be compatible with—if not completely in sync with—science. Wicca’s focus is far more on orthopraxy (“right practice”) than orthodoxy (“right thinking,” or dogma). We don’t have to accept spiritual teachings or any religious book on faith alone, and we are encouraged not to evangelize or try to convince others we’re right. This gives us a great deal of freedom and responsibility to make our own decisions.

One of my favorite quotes from Campbell is, “I don’t have to have faith, I have experience.” I think that applies to many Wiccans (and scientists too). We try out practices and philosophies and decide for ourselves how to interpret, integrate, and use them—or not. This leaves a lot of room for dovetailing our spirituality with science and any other important learning we encounter.

For many Wiccans, science greatly enhances Wiccan practice and philosophy. Learning about the elements present in all life, for example, or that the golden ratio appears in both leaf patterns and architecture informs our quest to connect with nature and helps us feel like we are part of something greater than ourselves. Another great Campbell statement is, “The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature.” Science is an extraordinary tool to help us understand how we fit into the greater scheme of our world. And scientists and Wiccans tend to have at least one important goal in common: preservation of the earth and its resources.

If the part of religion you struggle with is the idea of the existence of the gods themselves, remember that being a Wiccan doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to believe that the gods are autonomous entities. Although many Wiccans do believe that wholeheartedly, others believe that the gods are thought-forms, archetypes, or parts of our psyches, or that we and the gods co-create each other. And there are plenty of Wiccan atheists—people who find meaning and value in Wiccan symbols and rituals, but who don’t believe in the gods themselves. The gods can “exist” in many forms, in many ways, and we can gain insights from studying them, even if we don’t think they’re “real.”

As for magic, energy, and visualization, I can only tell you this: when I walk into a Wiccan circle, I make a conscious decision that in that sacred space, all things are possible. This frees my mind to see things in ways that I wouldn’t if I stuck to the rules of the mundane world. Like those Las Vegas ads, what happens in circle stays in circle, and circle reality doesn’t extend into the greater world (for me anyway). But what I take away from being open to that experience can be applied in any aspect of my life that I choose.

If you’re at all like me, you’ll address and re-address this question many times during your life. I think that exercise in itself can be extremely valuable.

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