Friday, March 23, 2012

F is for Familiar

I don't claim to be an expert on familiars or even really and truly understand what they are. I just know I had one, and it was a relationship unlike any other. And now it's over. My familiar was a dog. And while I should probably be writing something educational or profound, instead, I'm going to be writing an ode to my dog. My familiar.

Although I've been a Pagan most of my life, I only got to experience a relationship with a familiar once. Oh we had guardians, spirit guardians on the Astral plane and a family guardian cat that keeps reincarnating into our lives (and haunting us in between). But a familiar? That was something I never really believed in. It was either metaphorical, or something made up for witch hunt evidence.

I got my dog on impulse. I was thinking about getting a dog as we had just moved into a new house after living in apartments all of our lives and my children were eager to get a dog, but I was not in a hurry. Providence brought us to him and we had to bring him home.

There wasn't really anything special about Griffin at first. He seemed healthy, he was friendly and playful. He potty trained easily, he everything trained easily. It was almost as if he could read my mind. One day I was tired and dozed off before it was time for his evening walk. When he came to bug me about it, I just let him out in the yard and groggily thought "I will take you for a walk tomorrow morning before work if I wake up early enough." He did his business and hopped into bed and I gratefully fell asleep for the night. The following morning, before the sun came up, there he was, ready to walk. Griffin was never a morning person. I knew then that he could read my mind.

It was also obvious that he was very tuned into me emotionally. When I became upset he would bark and howl and jump all around like a maniac. If someone I didn't like was around, he would be aggressive toward them, no matter how hard I tried to pretend. Even if I was only temporarily annoyed with someone, Griffin knew and behaved accordingly and was friendly to them later.

Griffin and the Peanut Butter JarHe was about two years old when someone referred to him as my familiar. I didn't think much of it. It was just one of those things that people say to Pagans, you know. I soon realized it was true, but the physical evidence scared me just a little and I didn't share it with anyone for fear of being, well, fluffy.

Griffin really enjoyed being part of my magical working. He always sat at attention in the Circle and I could feel his energy alongside mine. He was never disruptive, and always helpful. My spells have always worked, and they continued to work. I have also always experienced rebound, but that stopped after Griffin started joining me. It was sometime before I realized that he was internalizing it. He began to get sicker and sicker. When I ran afoul of another witch and he made it very clear that he was cursing me, I saw no effects, but Griffin got sicker. He no longer slept at night, his coat became dull, he had trouble walking and his skin was extremely itchy and often covered with sores. He also became more irritable and snappy the more uncomfortable he got.

Although I've done dozens of successful healing spells for other people and their pets, there was nothing I could do for him. I spent thousands of dollars on vet bills, tests and medications. In the end, we couldn't help him and had to put him to sleep.

Griffin did not fight his death and he did not suffer. In fact, those last few moments were the first in a long time that he was calm and not trying to get an itch or moaning in pain. He also has not been back since his death. Having experienced a lot of post-mortem visitations in my life, I found this odd and somewhat painful. Oh I still expect to hear him bark as I approach the door and I still expect to feel his fur on my toes when I stretch out on the couch and my eyes still naturally fall to his nap spot but he is not there even in spirit. I feel a sense of guilt when I take a walk or go for a ride in the car and he's not with me. I feel a whole lot of guilt associated with Griffin.

PhotobucketGriffin changed my life. He is the reason I became a dog trainer. His issues required so many specialists that I soon felt I needed to share what I had learned to help others. He inspired my mother to get her dogs and they inspired her to become involved with various canine related social and charity organizations, which inspired me right back.  Griffin loved me in a way that I have never been loved by anyone. He was always there for me with comfort, affection or a bit of clowning to cheer me up.

When he died, I was devastated and, without him, I didn't know how to cheer up. I didn't talk to anyone about it, because it was too painful. The loss of him coupled with the guilt that I couldn't help him was too overpowering to put into words. I considered quitting my job as a dog trainer, but my boss wouldn't hear of it. He informed me that I had a class to teach and it was either go or be that person who lets other people show up and be left standing. I can't even consider at this point getting another dog - aside from the fact that I have a new baby and can barely keep up with the housework as it is - the idea of bringing another dog into this house, one who isn't Griffin, one who I might love and screw up just as much and have to watch die someday, is just too much. But I do know that one day I will get another dog, and he may be my familiar. But at least this time I'll know it when I see it and I can take the necessary steps to protect him as well as truly enjoy the relationship for what it is.

PhotobucketWell, this whole thing is getting me all emotional, so I'll just end with a brief eulogy. Griffin was a good dog, for the most part, and he was so much more than that to me. He was a friend and a partner. He enjoyed sitting by the bonfire, snuffling around in snow, pestering geese, french fries, and long naps at the end of the couch. And also the accordion, apparently. His life was brief, only 7 1/2 years, but it deeply impacted ours. And though everyone I know says I gave him the best life he could possibly have had given his issues, I still wish I could have given him better.

Monday, March 19, 2012

I Believe...

Posting about fluffy bunnies and the comments I have received has made me think about beliefs. One of the things that people throw out the fluffy bunny phrase over is belief. Either you believe too much, or not enough. As in, those who believe in pixies, unicorns and instant karma verses those who don't really believe in spirits as entities with their own personalities and who scoff at the idea that your magical actions can come back to bite you in the ass. Either one of these can be labeled fluffy bunny and the two of them might just point fingers at each other.

Which leads me to the question, what do I believe?

And, of course, that answer isn't simple.

You see, I haven't led the most traditional life as an adult. I was already divorced with kids when I started college and graduated at the age of 30. I had already experienced my fluffy bunny days and had thought a lot about my beliefs and values and was somewhat set in my ways. I majored in Anthropology and minored in Biology. If you have ever spent any time in academia, especially in the sciences, you know that the cattiness of that community makes witch wars look like the Three Stooges. One thing I had a problem with was belief. That is, what you were expected to believe if you were a scientist and the idea that if you did not believe appropriately, you could not be objective.

In the Social Sciences, the idea is that if you believe too strongly in your religion, your beliefs will cloud your view of the culture you are studying. (Never mind that we've got a ton of really good information about pre-conversion cultures from the Jesuits.) This idea has given license to your various rabid atheists to tear into anyone who is anything but contemptuous of any and all of what they call "superstition".

(The Biology corner had its own annoying rules about beliefs, but it doesn't really come to bear on this discussion so I won't go into it at this time. )

So the time came came that I felt I needed to make a decision. If I was going to pursue a career in science, could I be an atheist? There was no way. I simply did not want to live in a world without magic. I can't believe that all of it doesn't exist. After all belief has a profound effect on societies and the way they interact with the world. To say that people are only affected psychologically- that it is the fear of a spell is the only reason for its effectiveness, for example, that causes its effects, seems awfully disrespectful to me and ignores evidence to the  contrary. After all, haven't I cast spells on people without telling them and haven't those spells been effective?

As a student of science I was taught to base my view of the world on evidence. So how does dismissing things out of hand fit in with the scientific method? And so I decided I would believe in everything, unless I encountered proof that it wasn't real.

So do I believe in Gods? Sure. There's lots of evidence that Gods exist. How bout the Christian God, Jehovah? Sure there's at least as much evidence for him as the rest. I don't think anybody's got it right. Spells? Yep, lots of evidence.

One day my daughter asked me if pixies were real. The very idea of believing in pixies seems incredibly fluffy to me. But was a scientist, right? So I said, "I have never seen a pixie, but I have no reason to believe they aren't real."

Yea. Total cop out. But those four years of college had to count for something, right?

I didn't become a scientist. I became a dog trainer. But my kids might, and I'd like to see the next generation of scientists have minds a little more open then some of the last.

Friday, March 16, 2012

F is for Fluffy Bunny

Fluffy bunny is a derogatory phrase I have heard as long as I've been a part of the Pagan community. I believe it refers to those bright eyed and bushy tailed young witches eager to believe everything they're handed and take it all to extremes. The problem I have with it, besides the fact that it's derogatory, is that I believe we are all fluffy bunnies at some point.

I have been a witch and a Pagan just about all of my life. When I was about 24, newly divorced and newly moved to a new neighborhood, I decided to reach out to the local Pagan community and see if I could make some connections. I answered an ad and joined a Wiccan coven. Understand that I had zero experience with Wicca at this point and really didn't know what it was. As it was explained to me at first, I thought it was what I was. After a few Circles with my new coven I realized that I was not, in fact, Wiccan already. But I was willing to make a go of it, I just needed a little guidance. My questions got on their nerves and I soon learned a new word, Fluffy Bunny. Now I had more experience with herbal magic, kitchen witchery and spell casting than any of them, but I

I see fluffy  bunny trouble in our future
didn't know how to call quarters, was completely mystified by their concept of deity and needed more clarification on the rede. They considered me naive and immature and perhaps it was true when it came to their religion. They confused me, embarrassed me, and made me feel stupid and that was a fluffy bunny mistake I would make over and over. For a time I went by the policy that if you were Pagan, I would be your friend and I got burned by it until I finally got over it.

Spotted a whole busload in Baltimore!
My daughter was raised Pagan and was doing her first spells in kindergarten. My children ate empowered breakfasts over which we discussed the symbolism of their dreams, kept magic charms in their rooms, celebrated every Sabbat at home if not with a group and basically lived as out Pagan as one can. She's 19 now and she is a Fluffy Bunny, stumbling through the challenging task of integrating the beliefs she was raised with with the beliefs of the other Pagans she's gotten to know of her own generation. I cringe just a bit, but what can you do? There really are no two family traditions alike and the established traditions aren't like any of them. So whenever a Pagan child goes out into the world, she's going to experience a little friction with the other Pagans until she finds those few she can comfortably Circle with.

This fluffy bunny terrorist infiltrated
our Lammas celebration in '07
The funny thing is, although we are "out" Pagans and have been my children's whole lives, I can only remember one incident where another child teased my oldest son about being Pagan. The teacher put a stop to it and the principal asked if we couldn't call ourselves something other than Pagan. I laughed and told him we are actually Neo-Hellenic Polytheists following a self-defined family tradition that was hard to define and had no official name. He paled and said Pagan was fine. There was one incident in Girl Scouts when my daughter called another girl stupid for saying that all witches could fly, but that blew over. We have faced very little, if any, discrimination from the general community but from within the Pagan community we have been called fluffy bunnies, puritanical, fake Pagans, posers, etc. In my case it's been more than 10 years since I've had to deal with it and I thought it was dead, but there it is again.

No wonder the economy
is in the toilet
Why is it that those most eager to learn and discuss those things that most conflict with what we already believe suffer the most derision? It's as if disagreeing or questioning the status quo is heretical. I have been told that fluffy bunny is applied only to those who hold tight to those beliefs when they are wrong. Without getting into the discussion of whether anyone knows who is right or who is wrong, I can't help but point out that sharing your conflicting opinion does not constitute holding tight to it. Sometimes discussing different viewpoints can lead to a change of viewpoint, but it doesn't happen all at once. It shouldn't. If you're going to flop your opinion from one short conversation then your opinion isn't worth much in the first place.

Our family, and some of our friends, have embraced the term "fluffy bunny". We have quite a few stuffed bunnies that we take with us to Pagan gatherings and announce that the fluffy bunnies have invaded. These bunnies have had their pictures taken all over the place and sent home with messages like "As expected, the fluffy bunnies are all over Salem" and "uh oh, it seems the fluffy bunnies are attempting to take over the capital". They've become something like a "flat Stanley". We have had so much fun with it that I've been thinking of setting up a website to share our pictures on, but I lost interest when my camera broke. Perhaps it's time I got around to it.

Addendum: I added some of our fluffy bunny pictures, at least the ones I could easily find.