Pagan Tea Time, Part One: John Halstead

(this is the first entry of what I hope will be many as part of Christine Kraemer’s call for Pagan Tea Time.  I’ll collect these separately, as well)

Last night I got a cold, one of those rather obnoxious sorts which start somewhere between your nose and your brain and then, the next morning, has decided to travel into your throat and chest, a plague upon all the parts of your flesh which take in the element of Air.

Air.  Clarity. The intellect.  Swords in the Tarot, one of the two realms of conflict, the other being Wands, Fire.  Last week I read in my Gwers for OBOD something which has become quite profound for me, something I’d forget (I’m mostly Air and Fire)–“Fire needs Air to breathe, Air needs Fire to move.”

All these internet conflicts are quite fascinating, are they not?  Someone writes something; another writes something in response, a third picks it up and suddenly there’s an epic pile of people all taking sides.  Jason Mankey’s (very irresponsible, I think)  recent post on Galina’s statement in regards to Halstead’s statements spawned a comment thread which looks awfully like Palestine (or is it Israel?),  hoards of otherwise intelligent folks on all sides losing their heads to provide support for one person or another, or to attempt to mediate (and do more damage), or, or, or…. as if we’re all fighting over a tiny piece of land given to us by our gods (or non-gods, or whatever) and forgetting that there’s this other problem that we cannot always see and there’s externalities that shape and constrain and affect these conflicts.  Palestine or Israel may have been given to one people or another by God, but Israel was in part created by the British with some really bizarre help from a really horrible Nazi, Eichmann (see Hannah Arendt for this). And in context of massive European anti-semitism, and the Holocaust.  And of European imperialism and colonization of Arab lands.

Yes. I’m comparing the conflicts between Polytheists and Humanists to Palestine.  But there’s no suicide bombings, or bulldozing of homes.  I do not mean this literally, but the polarization of sides is certainly similar, because sometimes it feels like we’re all huddling under a “Big Tent” that gets a lot smaller the more of us there are.  And, fun fact–there’s a lot more, and more every year.  And sad fact–we’re pushing each other kinda hard, on all sides, and maybe we need more than just a tent, y’know?

This isn’t to say I think “we’re all right.”  It’s a tragic fallacy of Western Liberal Democratic Hegemony that “tolerance” is the answer to intolerance.  And no-one’s gonna give up their strongest beliefs “just to get along,” because, well, what’s the point of belief, then?  In fact, compromising on beliefs belittles belief to mere “opinion” or “preference,” like–do you like one soda or another?

I’ll admit.  I think John Halstead is wrong.  He probably thinks I’m wrong, too.  And that’s why it was really fucking cool that he was the first person who agreed to have tea with me.

Tea With John Halstead

What’s John like?  I don’t know how to answer that.  He’s cool.  He’s unassuming.  He was sitting in front of a cool tapestry of grapes and wine, which made it a bit amusing to me when I was discussing my pilgrimage with him and telling him the story of St. Denis and Montmartre.

He’s never been to France, but he intends to go with his family. His family obviously means lots and lots to him, by the way–he chauffeurs his children most days, he said, and he introduced me briefly to his son (who was kind enough to take a short break from video games to say hello to the strange guy on his father’s computer screen).  His daughter’s really into Paris, and I don’t blame her, because it’s great (and brutally expensive! I warned him, I’ll warn everyone–it costs like 50 euros just to breathe there!  Beware!).

Also, he talked about going to Machu Pichu, and I liked how excited he got when he talked about it.  It’s obviously one of those sacred places that has caught his imagination and soul, and he hopes to go hiking there with his son.  I really liked hearing about this, because I am utterly in love with dreams, be they my own or particularly those of others.  Dreams weave meaning into the world, and also weave how we weave meaning.

He lived in Brazil for two years as a missionary. He speaks Portuguese and French (but was worried it’s been so long he may not know it right off when he visits Paris).   We talked a bit about how you can study a language for years and suddenly find yourself not knowing it at all when you first encounter it spoken natively.

I think I talked a lot.  I do this, by the way.  I kind of wax ecstatic about stuff, particularly my pilgrimage, and music. I played him a song on my Alto recorder–Baerentanz–, but just before that the candles on my altar set off a fire alarm, the first time that’s ever happened.

We talked a tiny bit about how things explode on the internet, which brings me back to thinking about conflict in general.  A lot of our massive arguments rarely focus on the actual content of our beliefs.  I have a theory on this, which is from Slavoj Zizek, and it has lots to do with hegemony.  But the short version is this–the secular compromise of Western (Capitalist, Democratic, Liberal) Hegemony makes it awfully difficult for us to talk about Belief as something that affects the world and our actions, except in the realm of Psychology.  When arguing about Belief, we don’t actually have access to the terms and tools to discuss them without resorting to perceived intentions.

That’s not to say we’re not aware of our actual motives, and particularly of feared consequences, but we don’t talk about that.  And the internet is no fucking good for those sorts of conversations, and Americans are not used to such discussions at all (consider Pro-Life/Pro-Choice, or Conservative/Liberal–the dualities are part of the problem, of course, but more specifically that we don’t seem to be able to acknowledge how our beliefs affect–and are affected by–the external world and the internal landscape).

So, I’d love to tell you that John and I solved all the problems of Paganism and also fixed Palestine in an hour-long video-chat, that he now worships Brighid  and I now love the Archetypes.  But….no.

However, I’d happily talk to him again, and we spoke of taking up correspondence with each other about such things. And he let me play him a song, and he introduced me to his kid, and I hope he gets to go Machu Pichu.  No one bulldozed anyone’s home, and there were no suicide bombings, just a pretty good conversation and some tea. 


UPDATE: John wrote a really heartwarming account of out conversation.  I mean “heartwarming.”  I mean wow, it felt like a tea-soaked hug. : )

13 thoughts on “Pagan Tea Time, Part One: John Halstead

  1. Funny, I’ve been working on a piece trying to describe why I’m expressing my religious Relationships in a primarily in a poetic rather than declarative mode. This convinces me I likely made a good move.

      1. “English classes” in K-12 schools and college teach an business/academic mode of language that makes broad claims and reduces the subjectivity of the writer. Poetic modes, at least in modern use, are generally read as having local, relational, momentary, and subjective truth. (Scare quotes added because native English speakers learn most of our English well before kindergarden. What’s actually taught are the modes and rhetoric of the dominant culture.)

        Poetry provides a frame in which I can write about Beings as agents worthy of my veneration without attempting to explain foundations, tacit mystical experiences, or wrangling the implicit persuasive voice that’s a feature of the dominant mode of English.

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