Sunday, 26 May 2013

Islamaphobia



I feel the need to comment upon the Islamaphobia that has increased over this Woolwich murder. I can't talk about this topic enough and sadly the fear is so ingrained in society that it'll be hard to budge.
It's such a huge topic and my arguments about it mirror those of so many others. I see countless anti-Islamic rhetoric circulating online and in person because of this terrible murder and all of the others committed in the name of Islam. I feel deeply sorry for the innocent Muslims who are suffering blame for this. Innocent people (who happen to believe in Islam) have even been murdered - to call justice for a crime that someone else committed (who happened to use Islam as an excuse to kill). People who are Middle Eastern in appearance, who may not even follow Islam at all (who may be Hindu, Buddhist, Christian or Atheist for all we know) are even being targeted! There is NO sense in this.
In order to murder someone or commit and atrocity there has to be something deeply wrong with you. 
I have Muslim friends who, just like me, would not be capable of such a thing. Just like any normal person! Any psychopath can commit a crime and blame it on whatever pleases them: Islam, Christianity, the Economy, the class system, famine in Africa, adultery, it being a Monday morning! That doesn't then mean that the thing they blame is necessarily at fault - but they are. If the thing blamed happened to produce this kind of result in EVERY person exposed to it then, yes, maybe there is a problem. But let's look statistically at the majority of innocent Muslims there are, and the MINORITY who have committed these crimes.
We could go back in time and look at other group-centered crimes. How about the numerous Christian crusades and their mass murder of innocent people? Christian's are included in the people critisising the Muslim minority group today - yet in the name of Jesus their faith represented the same act. Their faith was REPRESENTED by this dreadful act, but that does not mean the faith has anything to do with it. Jesus taught about peace and love and forbade murder - yet here we are with armies marching in and slaughtering innocent people (men, women and children) in his name. The same is happening in a modern context in the name of Allah.
In some cases their murderers have been indoctrinated by messed up, sick individuals whose ideology has passed on. Again, this is originating with someone who has misunderstood the religious teachings and is mentally ill, passing these teachings on to either vulnerable children or equally sick individuals. These are the people who need to be stopped and dealt with - not every Muslim. Just like it is the white murdering rapist who needs to be dealt with, and not every white male. 
This anti-Islamic media coverage and manipulation, and the misinformed, upset and frightened public opinion, a dangerous situation is appearing. Anyone can be a Muslim, a black man from Liverpool, a white female working at Sainsbury's, a teenager going through a tough time at home.  But not just anyone can be a murderer. Being a Muslim is nothing special. Just like being a Christian isn't, or being a Conservative, or a Labour-voter. By spreading this hate we are tearing ourselves apart, hurting our neighbours and our friends and innocent people who have no connection to these crimes.
Hate the the crime and stop the criminal. Keep people safe. This generalised hate towards a whole population of people is not keeping people safe at all.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Drawn to the Sacred


Over the last 5 years of studying religion, in particular Pagan religions and lately Abrahamic, I have had many mixed feelings and confusion. When I found things that ringed true for me in the Abrahamic faiths I questioned whether these faiths had got it right, and whether they were the right way; then logic told me that that couldn't be, if other beliefs that did not belong to these faiths also ringed true to me. There had to be a mixture of truth and falsehood in all religions. 

I have spoken about Universalism before and how I believe in truth residing in all religions. I believe in Goddess, who is masculine and feminine and neither, One and many all at once; She is the Divine Being who has made Herself known to all faiths and even non-religious people.

There is a difference between being religious and being spiritual. I know people who are deeply religious but who lack any spirituality; I know spiritual people who are not religious; and I know people who are a mixture of the two.

I've found that I have been called to my own Eclectic path because I am drawn to the sacred, which can be found in all religions. 

I am drawn to the sacred standing stones and Pagan rituals in ancient woodlands.
I am drawn to the sacred headscarf and song of Quranic verses.
I am drawn to the sacred icon of the Virgin and child in the cathedrals.
I am drawn to the sacred dances and mantras of the Hindu traditions.
And so on and on...

The sacred exists in all of these religions, and even outside of religion, within the natural world and the ancient ruins of civilisation. There is no need to restrict yourself to just one source of sacredness and you can explore as much of it as you can.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Belly Dance: The Spiritual Art Form


I have been Belly Dancing for about 4 years now and am preparing to teach a class of spiritual Belly Dance to our local women's group. There are aspects of the dance that I would like to talk about in this post:
1) The Respectable Art Form
2) The Spiritual aspect of Belly Dance

1) Perhaps because of the costumes or the nature of the feminine body, Belly Dancing has a stigma around it and a stereotype of being highly sexualised and inappropriate. Every time I see fantastic dancers appear on talent shows the male judges shamelessly gape at them and make jokes of letting them pass the round, without needing to see their dancing ability. I danced for a charity event last year and was actually told to aim our shimmies at the 'rich older men' in the crowd and even allow them to donate money to our hip scarves! - I was appalled at the lack of respect and obvious misunderstanding of our dance form.

We are performers and skilled entertainers, with thorough training and discipline behind our dancing. In most cases I've seen the women dance for themselves, for their love of the dance and how it makes them feel; they also dance for other women. Shows like Project Belly Dance and dancing Haflas, where most Belly Dancer's perform, are watched by other women (maybe the occasional and rare male dancer included). We do not aim ourselves at all men's clubs and dance for men. It is a feminine art form for the most part and is shared by women.

The costumes are often but not always revealing. You will commonly see a dancer in a bra and split skirt. Again, this is for her own beauty and the practicality is that the dance is focused on hip and belly movements - which is not best appreciated behind a t-shirt and jeans! But there are a whole range of other costumes too.

There are instances where Belly Dancers choose to show case themselves in the more stereotyped light, which is their choice, but it does not reflect the bulk of us. I must stress that it is a hard earned skill to master and certainly an art form. Give it a go yourself and see.

"Our troupe will not perform for Stag Do's or to male only audiences", says one dance teacher's website.

2) It is also a spiritual practice for many women. Even if a dancer is not normally spiritually inclined, the dance does connect her to her feminine body and lifts her spirits. It is a dance that celebrates the female form, in all of her forms. What is so freeing about it is that women of any age and size can look beautiful doing it and indeed feel beautiful too.

For some, they can enter a moving trance or meditation, feeling the divine feminine take over and express herself. It is a dance form that allows you to know what your body can naturally do.

In our group we plan to explore this dance spiritually together; some women feel uncomfortable or insecure about themselves when dancing in front of others. They feel like other women will be watching and judging. They may all feel that way, and the likelihood is, they'll either be concentrating too hard on themselves to look at you, or they may catch a glimpse at you and think that anyone is better than they are. What I plan to do is to teach the basic moves and then with safety measures taken, blind fold the women and allow them to dance freely without anyone watching. When they feel their body move naturally and freely they will become more comfortable and eventually the blindfold will come off. 

May Hathor move with you ladies )O(

Friday, 10 May 2013

Pagan Escapism

I am aware that this post will probably offend some people but I feel like I need to speak my mind here.

I have come to know of many Pagans out there who appear to delve in to the world of 'fantasy' and dress up a bit too deeply and a bit too seriously. To name a few examples (with the intent that these people cannot be identified on here): I have recently come across a woman who calls herself a 'female wizard' and as a part of this spiritual path of hers she wears a big blue pointed hat and blue wizard robes - just like you would see in a children's cartoon. I have also been introduced to an (actually lovely) woman who is a 'real fairy' and wears plastic fairies ears. To top this off I have also come across 'real vampires' and 'real werewolves'.

Now I think there is a point where us modern Pagans get a bit carried away. As Pagans the majority of us feel that we must be tolerant and accepting of all paths of Paganism, welcoming everyone with open arms, embracing diversity. Whilst I think this is important I do think the 'let anyone in' attitude can be detrimental in encouraging the world to seriously accept us. At a time where Pagans are trying to be accepted and recognised in society, with schools putting Pagan religions in the R.E curriculum and pentagrams being allowed on soldiers grave stones, it couldn't be more important to show people that we are normal and nothing to be afraid of.

How can we be taken seriously as a genuine spiritual path if the Pagans who stand out the most are the ones wearing wizard hats, fairy ears, and indulging in a form of vampirism? These people are the ones who stand out and are often the most outspoken about being in the 'Pagan' category.

I've seen many people come into Paganism for the wrong reasons. The media and history has lead people to know witches as evil women who can cast fantastic spells; so I have seen countless people sign up to Paganism and absorb themselves in trying to learn spells and magic, ultimately facing disappointment due to their false hopes and lack of magical understanding. 

To be a witch in the modern day there is no need to wear a witches hat, which is really aligning yourself to the negative stereotype rather than the genuine reality. Most witches I know of do not wear a witches hat seriously, and only don it in jest. So why do some paths then wear a fairy tale wizards hat, or plastic fairy ears? Not only this, but medieval garb, pharaoh's nemes crowns and all sorts of other outfits seem very popular.

There's also people who claim impressive titles and believe they were exciting figures in their past lives (there have been hundreds of Cleopatras some how). This is another part of this escapism, adding excitement to your life. In some cases such people are those who feel powerless in mundane life; they feel uninteresting, boring, unloved. Some coming to Paganism and finding this new found power, excitement and creating an interesting character for themselves - and being accepted into a community for the first time, can be a great incentive. But it really is sad that these people feel they need to do this. But we are all expected to except them no matter what.

Now - there is a part of me that understands the significance that such outfits could hold. Ritual drama is very effective at times and the old imagery could be of aid to us. But this is not appropriate for every ritual, and unnecessary as a public display of your spiritual path. There are ritual garments that we own that help us shift our consciousness from the mundane into the sacred. For me, this is the removal of shoes, wearing a skirt and my sacred jewelry; to others it is the robes, cloaks and that special medieval dress. This is why many of us feel conflicted in how to handle this whole situation. Sometimes it's ok, sometimes it's not; some clothes are fine, others are not... The balance is essential, but hard to find and impossible to enforce with any deal of fairness. 

Nevertheless, in my opinion what I deem as 'getting carried away', does seem like a type of Pagan escapism. In this modern world where we are absorbed in mundane life, the magic has been stripped from us. Getting in touch with the ancestors and reawakening a long lost time can be spiritually freeing. I have walked in the autumn woods in a black cloak and long skirt before, during a festival gathering. It feels exhilarating doesn't it? You travel back to a lost time and for a moment it feels real. But it's not. We should be able to recognise what is real and what isn't; we live in the modern day now and even with history aside, certain legendary people and creatures never really existed.

Now returning to this idea of tolerance. I do believe that in order for a peaceful and tolerant world to exist, with everyone accepting everyone else, then we cannot make exceptions. We must accept everyone, so long as they harm none. People who do insist on indulging in this world of fantasy and dress up are not hurting anyone. Really we should leave them to it, not harm them, not be nasty to them, or ostracise them. But we can all have opinions about them and so long as we harm none with these opinions then so be it. 

We are never going to agree after all.