In the Spirit of Ethics…

…I present a dive into robocalls/phone scams, through podcasts I listened to over the weekend.

First, Planet Money, episode 789 (Robocall Invasion).  Then, Reply All, episodes 102 (Long Distance) and 103 (Long Distance, Part II).




Whether you agree with the accuracy of the statement “you only live once” or not, the meaning behind it is clear: make the most of what you do, and live life to the fullest.  For me, as a FlameKeeper and a Kemetic, that means doing the following things:

  1. Living ma’at as best I can.
  2. Recognizing that we are all Divine* and acting accordingly.
  3. Taking responsibility for my mistakes (aka owning my shit).
  4. Trying, in future action, not to repeat the mistakes I’ve made.

Not very glamorous, I admit, and hardly the fodder to post on Twitter under a hashtag.  In fact, when I did a little exploring (something I think you should do, at least once) of the hashtag YOLO (#YOLO) on Twitter, few seemed to be using it the way I do.  People tag some amazing things with #YOLO – for every affirmation of friendship, or child’s first step, or road trip, there’s drunken Christmas caroling, and law-breaking, and -ist** comments.  All of this is…well, you know what?  It’s not my place to tell other humans not under my direct supervision what to do or how to do it unless they ask me for an opinion.  And, no one has.  So, I’ll give you a couple of cents on the topic and let you draw your own conclusions.

My religious path requires action in place of stagnancy, choice in place of passive-aggressiveness, and moving forward in place of looking back.  I am much less concerned with what happens after I die than I am what happens in life.  These things are piety in my practice – I am a pious person despite not doing the things that traditionalists would imagine because I adhere to the need to act, and choose, and move forward.  YOLO, for me, fits right into that – I make a choice and follow-through and, if it backfires or goes horribly askew, I acknowledge it, regroup, and move on.

Now my choices and backfires aren’t nearly as adrenaline pumping as, say, a civilian pulling over a police officer, but they’re still the result of action.  I’m not sitting back and watching things happen around me; I’m precipitating them.  And that, I think, is really the point of YOLO: take that leap and make something happen in this life rather than waiting for the next.  Life’s too short for regrets, even if you believe that we get more than one.

(Maybe the thrill seekers are on to something, after all.)

Paludal Dilemma – Real World Ethics

I was listening to an episode of the Radiolab podcast this week called “For the Birds”, and was struck by the story they told.   In short (from their website):

“…When the conservationists showed up at Clarice Gibbs’ door and asked her to take down her bird feeders down for the sake of an endangered bird, she said no. Everybody just figured she was a crazy bird lady. But writer Jon Mooallem went to see her and discovered there was much more to this story…”

The more to this story?  Mrs. Gibbs’ husband had severe Alzheimer’s Disease and the only time he was present was when birds were in the yard and at the feeders.  In the midst of her turmoil, Mrs. Gibbs found moments when she could almost forget everything she was going through – moments when her husband came back to her.

I recommend listening to the episode in full before pondering the questions I’m about to ask:

  1. Where is the point at which the needs of many outweigh the needs of an individual?
  2. Does that change when one side is human and one side isn’t?

There are a number of ways that I can look at this particular story, and each one reminds me how situational ethics truly are:

As someone who believes in the conservation of endangered species, especially those who are endangered due to human intervention, I can take the side of Operation Migration.  They have worked so hard for so long to keep whooping cranes alive and thriving.

As someone who lived through a loved one’s descent into dementia, I can take the side of Mrs. Gibbs.  I would’ve given anything to have my grandmother come back from where her mind trapped her – my heartbreak remains with me now, even though she’s gone.

As someone who believes that sensible laws on the books should be upheld, I can wonder why the focus is on Mrs. Gibbs and her husband instead of on the vandals that are senselessly destroying migratory birds.  Bird feeders in a yard do less physical damage to a bird population than people who kill animals for the joy of destruction.

As someone who feeds birds in her own yard, I can wonder whether Mrs. Gibbs uses seed feeders or suet feeders…and also whether anyone’s spoken to her about providing sources of water instead of seed, and providing suet in winter to keep insect-eating birds around.

So much wondering, and in the end, my point-of-view has little bearing on this specific situation…but it speaks to my thought processes in general.  Which way am I inclined to lean, and why?  What could convince me to choose another way?  Am I as open-minded and ready to hear things that contradict my own opinions as I’d like to be?

In Kemeticism, the “right” path is the one that upholds ma’at.  To be true to this concept, I must look at the situations in which I find myself and try to predict the choice that will best serve.  In FlameKeeping, the “right” choice is one that promotes growth and improvement rather than stagnation.  To be true to this  concept, I must apply action in ways that move the Divine forward; I must look at the connections between myself and other parts of the Divine and choose accordingly.  When these pieces are put together, though, the “right” way may not be ethical when seen from anywhere outside my own head…and this is why I continually refer to ethics being situational and not always “right”.

Which brings me back to the questions I asked about this particular story, although I’d prefer to alter them slightly to address the world at large:

  1. Where is the point at which the needs of many outweigh the needs of an individual?
  2. When does that point change?

The Victim Blame Game

I don’t know what it is about this time of year but after weeks of Wabbit Season 2013 (or Duck Season, if you take Mercury Retrograde into account) with its attendant folkish fools and fluff and drivel from The Secret and cries about Christians stealing ALL THE THINGS, Star Foster’s post Square Gods: We Are What We Worship just pushed me over the edge into sheer pissed-offedness.  I must, apparently, respond to her nonsense by writing ALL THE THINGS, as commanded by my brain and those who run it.

To summarize, Foster states in her post that if we, like her, “...crave more normality and stability in my life...” we should look carefully at the gods we worship.  If you (or I) worship “…Jotuns, dramatically dark gods, or highly political modern inventions, then you shouldn’t be surprised if your life is in some turmoil.”  Apparently, if we worship gods that are outside Foster’s norm then we should expect to live outside of her norm…and that’s exactly what we deserve.  In her words, “If you are given over to Dionysos’ madness, then don’t expect to live a sane and comfortable life.

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen victim blaming on a pagan blog, and I’m sure it won’t be the last but like I said, this post got under my skin.  It broke the camel’s back, and got me really thinking about blame in general and victim blaming in particular.  The post is yet another post saying that if shit is happening, it is because of something we’ve done.  This time, it is worshiping gods that Foster believes are destined to lead us into a life of turmoil and destruction and craziness and ruin…and this could all be avoided by choosing other gods.  Next time, it’ll be a diatribe about modesty and not dehumanizing ourselves through sex and actions that some arbiter of values thinks are immodest…oh wait.  We already had that one.  My mistake.

I’m having a hard time with this post because I’m a little bit ragey and also trying to apply Words Mean Things (my favorite tool), but here are my issues in a nutshell:

  • No gods, to my knowledge, fit into a nice, square hole.  Hearth deities, and forge deities, and storm deities (Zeus, anyone???) are not boring compared to other gods.  They’re different, and they have different spheres of influence, and that does not equal boring…even when compared against Eris, or the Morrigan, or Lilith.
  • Not everyone is able to give up worshiping one deity for another.  I did not choose any of my gods, except in the sense that when they came for me, I agreed to go with them.  They sought me out and while I realize this isn’t the norm for every pagan, it is valid and I cannot throw over my oaths lightly and choose to worship someone else when things get difficult.
  • I am currently going through an enormous pile of shit in my personal life and none of it was caused by my worshiping of the gods I do.  It was caused by the owners of a particular company making particular decisions.  It was caused by upper managers not knowing what I do for them, behind the scenes, every fucking day. It was caused by economics and not the fact that I perform puja for Ganesha, or do work for Nut and Ma’at, or worship Set and Sekhmet, and a number of other deities.

The idea that I am choosing “…to be marginalized, living on the fringes of society, a special snowflake…” based on worshiping the gods that called me to service makes as much sense as the idea that I don’t need medication for my Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) if I visualize having a healthy mind, or that I wouldn’t get respiratory infections if I was right with the Lord, or hundreds of other stupid statements that are meant to devalue people who have real issues.  Set did not cause my asthma, just like my sexual assault was not caused by the clothing I was wearing at the time.

Sorry, Star.  You don’t get to live in your happy bubble of “normal” life and live your everyday existence while posting such victim blaming on your blog without also being held up as an example of what not to do.   Even removing the ability for people to directly comment on your work doesn’t prevent those of us who disagree from speaking out.

Polytheistic Values – a Words Mean Things response

Every time I read a blog post that sticks in my craw, I want to run around and tear things open with my bare hands.  However, Raging Sadist and I have agreed to channel the feels into something readable rather than something sticky, and so I am going to respond to something I read recently with the application of my favorite tool – words mean things.

Once again, Galina Krasskova is trying to make herself the arbiter of all things polytheist and, in doing so, has managed to piss off actual polytheists that don’t agree with her.  (Let’s all gasp together now, shall we?) That fact would seem odd when you consider that Krasskova writes what she considers to be gospel truth and the one true way things should be done…except that, of course, there is no ONE TRUE WAY for all polytheists.

Let me say that again: there is no ONE TRUE WAY to be a polytheist.   There are as many ways to be a polytheist as there are people who practice polytheism and that will never change, no matter how many people make self-important pronouncements about how to do it.  Even if we were all dragged into some alternate universe where things were all polytheism all the time, there would still be differences in how it was practiced.  This is because people are not the same.

I know – you’re shocked and awed by this, aren’t you?

So, here we go – I’m rolling up the sleeves and diving in:

  1. Using the words ‘every’ and ‘all’ when one cannot possibly be familiar with ‘every’ culture or ‘all’ polytheists isn’t appropriate.  If what one means is ‘all polytheistic groups with which I am familiar’, then that is the language to use.  Otherwise, one runs the risk of sounding like one knows everything.  Of course, if that was the intent I say, “Brownie, you’re doing a helluva job!”
  2. While ancestor veneration is certainly common among those who practice polytheism, it is also occurs on other paths and isn’t always done ‘before anything else’.  I even know some polytheists who don’t do anything for their ancestors.  *gasp*
  3. Values, like morality, are not static and not universal.  I believe there’s a fluidity to morality (blog title, people) just like there’s a fluidity to gender and to sexual orientation.  In fact, I might go so far as to say that I believe anything involving human beings must be fluid because we ourselves are not static, unchanging creatures.  Even if no one else agrees with me, it still means that whatever universal values are being written about cannot be universal…because there’s at least one person ranting in disagreement.
  4. Painting monotheism as ‘soul-butchering’ and having ‘pseudo-moralities’ indicates bigotry.
  5. Stating that those who do not practice like you are following “…religions without discipline, religions where one can do anything that one wants, behave with unthinking abandon, ignore obligations to the gods and spirits, abrogate all boundaries or good sense, or twerk until one’s heart is content, etc. etc. ” also indicates bigotry.  See number 4.
  6. The list of five values includes four that fit into my own polytheism.  I venerate my ancestors, I approach the gods as separate and individual unless they tell me otherwise, I am pious, and I have the courage not to violate my own moral code.  However, I am pretty sure my ancestor veneration is not like every other polytheist, the way I approach my gods is not like every other polytheist, my expressions of piety are not like every other polytheist, and my morality is definitely not like every other polytheist.  There are no universal values in polytheism – see number 3.
  7. The only type of modesty that applies to my polytheism is my own.  The definitions and judgements of others are invalid to my practice.  Oh, and I’d like to offer congratulations on the slut-shaming!  Nice touch, like a cherry on a Madonna/whore sundae.

The problem, as I’m sure any readers have guessed by now, is that words mean things and when someone writes on behalf of ALL, well, some of that ALL might just stand up and let people know that, maybe, the writer isn’t such a good representative of what is actually going on in anyone’s practice but her own.

(And for those in my own religious community who are laughing now, yes, I know.  But I had to respond – someone was wrong on the Internet!)


I had an actual vacation this month, meaning I left my home to go elsewhere and didn’t take any work with me.  During the week I was gone, I neither responded to phone calls or emails unless they were from my husband (who was not with me on the trip).  When I returned home, I felt rejuvenated and relaxed…and started thinking about the benefits of having downtime from my usual routine.

Now, I’ve come back from vacations feeling relaxed before, but usually that was because I was overseas without access to email or a mobile phone…or camping without access to email or a mobile phone…or, well, you get the idea.  This recent vacation involved a six-hour drive to the destination and a week of hanging out with friends and my deliberately not accessing email or my phone unless, like I said, it involved my husband.  It’s become obvious to me that my vacations should not include anything work-related or, rather, that my vacations should actually be vacations.

So why is this a startling concept for me?  I am a corporate trainer and constantly preach about work-life balance, usually with the following exercise:

  1. Raise your hand if you’ve missed a doctor’s appointment due to work.
  2. Keep your hand up if you’ve missed something family or friend related on a weekday/night due to work.
  3. Keep your hand up if you’ve missed something on a weekend due to work.
  4. And, finally, keep your hand up if you enjoy this.

At this point, the hands come down and everyone is either looking around the room at one another or sending messages through private chat (if I’m training via web-meeting).  I then launch into ways to actually achieve balance between job and non-job which, in my experience, is incredibly difficult for Americans working in corporate environments.  We’re beaten and battered with the idea that timelines matter and metrics matter and key performance indicators matter and corporate objectives matter to the point that we start to believe they matter more than anything else going on in our lives.  Friends take a back seat to work, as does our health, and our family, and anything beyond the next status update we have to give to someone above us in the corporate hierarchy.  And right about when we feel like we’re going to keel over or run screaming through the cubicle maze waving a stapler…they bring me in to speak about work-life balance.

It’s a joke, really.

Except, it isn’t.  Without that balance, we wither.  Without that balance, we falter.  Without that balance, we’re never going to be able to be who we truly are and that, for me as a FlameKeeper, just isn’t acceptable.  If I am Divine, and my colleagues are Divine, and everything we do impacts the Universe and alters it in one direction or another, what are the consequences of having thousands of parts that aren’t healthy bumping into one another?  How do things grow and improve on the large-scale if we cannot take care of ourselves on the smaller scale?

If it took my most recent vacation to really apply the idea of balancing work and life, after working in corporate America since 1997 and following a religious philosophy that requires self-care, how many other people are having the same issues???

I’m not going to give tips here on how to prioritize your life, or filter the amount of useless communication that comes in each day, or get off the email hamster wheel.  I’m not going to preach about doing tasks in 25 minutes bursts with 3-4 minute breaks in between, and I’m certainly not going to list out the habits of effective people for you to follow.  I’m simply going to write this rant and hope, and pray that it makes one person think about balance.  If one person thinks about this topic, I’ve done my work as a FlameKeeper and helped shape the Universe.

And, really, that’s the goal here.

Never Say Never

What wouldn’t you do?

Think about that for a moment.  Is there anything you can say with all certainty that you will never EVER do, no matter the circumstances?

Are you sure about that?

Now, take that thing that you will never EVER do, no matter the circumstances.  Why won’t you do it?  Are there circumstances in which that thing is justified, even if you wouldn’t do it?  If someone else did it, could you excuse it?   Could you forgive it?

Where do you draw the line?

This post seems full of questions, I know, but I’m actually trying to make a point here.

My blog title should tell you a little bit about how I view morality, but I’ll restate for the sake of repetition – I believe that morality is fluid and situational.  I believe that the ethical choice, as deemed by society, may not always be the right choice.  I believe that no action by a human being should be called inhuman, as are so many actions by people who commit acts we deem abhorrent.  An action by a human cannot be anything but a human action and yet we persist in using “inhuman” to define action for the purpose of separating what one human did from what another human does.

The fact is, dear reader, if we are human (and I assume most of you are) we have the capacity for all human actions.  Never say never – we have the capacity for murder.  We have the capacity for assault.  We have the capacity for rape.  We have the capacity for fraud, and theft, and trafficking, and acting solely toward getting our next fix.  We have the capacity for acting holier than thou and being a total asshole and making shit weird.  We are all capable of these things and to deny this is to turn the human race into “US” and “THEM”.

When has “US” and “THEM” ever been of benefit?  Could you do it?  Could you excuse it in someone else?

What wouldn’t you do?

Are you sure?