SAAM 2017: Engaging New Voices

The theme for Sexual Assault Awareness Month is Engaging New Voices. According to the NSVRC (National Sexual Violence Resource Center), the targets for involvement are: Greek life members, Coaches, Fathers and Faith Leaders. It’s one of those occasions where I get to don my faith leader hat and use it to further an important cause.

I’m Pagan. Those words are already a turn off to a lot of people, and I know that. All it means is that I find the divine in nature. I think that’s pretty amicable grounds-Chrsitians often cite nature as a way to prove their beliefs. Islam’s holy book is filled with depictions of nature. It’s universal because it surrounds us. But I’m bringing this up for a different reason.

A LOT of mythologies contain depictions of assault. Native stories about Coyote have them, Celtic stories, Norse stories, Greek and Roman traditions, even Slavic ones. And there are mentions of it in Judeo-Christian texts as well. It would seem, from the beginning of the written word (at least), sexual assault has occured. I think though, the most well-known story about it is Medusa. This story is one that I hold dear-but for a little different reasons. I’ve told other people, but I think it’s a really good lesson for others as well, plus it fits with the current climate.


(Cellini, 1554)

The version that is spread around in academic settings, and even in pop culture is the following.

Enter Medusa, an incredibly beautiful woman who devoted herself to her beliefs. She worshipped the goddess Athena, who was a virginal goddess-meaning her followers would also be virgins. Poseidon, god of the sea, seeing that Medusa was beautiful, came to visit her and try to woo her. Medusa was devout and refused his advances, returning inside the temple to pray. Poseidon followed after her and raped her. Athena, then angry, cursed Medusa to live as a Gorgon-a winged snake woman with snakes for hair and eyes that turned men to stone. Medusa is then killed by Perseus and her head was removed and used later. Perseus is hailed a hero, having vanquished a foe, with the help of other gods.

But that’s not the version I know. Here’s the version I learned.

Medusa, an incredibly beautiful and intelligent woman, lived her life devoted to her faith. She worshipped the goddess Athena, known for her wisdom and strategy, as well as being a virginal goddess. Her followers, then, chose to remain chaste as well. Poseidon, god of the sea and enemy of Athena, saw that Medusa was beautiful and came to visit her, to try to woo her and make her one of his followers instead. Medusa refused his advances, returning to the temple to pray in safety. Poseidon, angry at her rejection, followed her and raped her, then left. Athena returned to her temple to find Medusa, no longer a virgin, crying. Athena told Medusa that she could no longer be a servant in the temple, but that Athena would like to help her. When asked what she needed, Medusa told Athena that she needed a way to protect herself from all who would harm her. Athena then turned Medusa into a Gorgon, giving her the power to stop anyone who came to harm her in her tracks.

The first version is told from a male perspective. Perseus conquers the monster and sets everything back in balance. The thing I couldn’t ever get past was Athena punishing Medusa for being raped. That wasn’t her fault. Rape is NEVER the victim’s fault. And for the longest time, I felt like mythology had made a giant mistake. Until I came across the version I know. Instead of punishing someone who was already punished, the victim became a survivor. And that’s why I share that story.

Sexual Assault and Rape and Domestic Violence is not the victim’s fault. It doesn’t matter the circumstances, the clothing, the drinks, the location.  That’s why SAAM is important. 

Rape culture isn’t a new concept. It’s not a myth. 

Snow Falls Slowly On the Mountain

Hi there everyone. I’ve been taking things slow for a few days. I really miss the chances to just connect, to just simply be-without emotional necessity. I’ve been working fervently on several things all at once and I needed a chance to clear my head. So that is precisely what I did. And I really wanted to share my Ramadan experience in light of the recent attacks in Turkey, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. But now I think I want to do a little bit of introversion as far as blogs go. No expectations, just thoughts.

I love thunderstorms. That should surprise no one. I often compare my existence to storms, hurricanes and weather of assorted variety. But one of my favorite things is when I’m so connected to the storms. I believe that the thunder and lightning are the sky spirits speaking to us, and I whenever there is a big storm, I go out on my balcony and sing to them. And the coolest thing is that when I reach a really emotional part, a power chord or a really high note, the storm inevitably picks up with a momentary deluge, thunder clap or lightning show. It’s my very favorite thing about storms.

I spent Litha (summer solstice) in quiet meditation. -Here’s where I should probably give you the Campbell’s soup (condensed) version of some things.- So ever since I left the church some years ago, I haven’t found a way to pray without feeling like a monster. So when I say “pray” I very strictly mean “rejoice in my blessings” not “ask for things”. When I do have things to ask for, I light a blood candle and ask, no ceremonial “Please may I…” stuff. So just know that it is VERY unusual that I asked for guidance. I can talk about the particulars of my belief system later if people are interested.

I used a couple meditation videos for spirit guides and began my journey. I’d heard from several people that their guide came to them very quickly (or not at all) and either said nothing or gave them a present (like a gemstone or a kiss on the cheek). So I tried to mentally visualize my way through the exercise, trying not to focus on animals I dearly love, faces of ancestors and the like. So it was my great surprise when I was not greeted by a “realistic” looking spirit, but a great big stag made of dimly glowing light (I found a picture on Google). And when given the chance to speak, all he said was “Why do you seek that which cannot be found?” He nudged a small present (yellow box, red ribbon) towards me and inside it was hope, glowing like sunshine. And then he was gone.

Stag spirit animalOdd, I thought. And very peculiar-because I hadn’t really been searching for anything. So I asked a couple of spiritual leaders I trust, and they were helpful, but nothing really *stuck* so I waited a week or so and tried again. This time, it was the same stag, made of light. The meditation exercise I was listening to mentioned finding out their name, and I asked. “My name is Snow Falls Slowly on the Mountain” he said. “So it has been found, She Who Guides the Water.” That was the name he gave to me. I thought that was pretty nifty, thanked him for coming to me and ended my meditation.

So where does that leave me? Well, I’ve had some time to get everything sorted, and I think I have some answers.

That which I seek: myself
What cannot be found: the perfect version of myself, which fits into each niche perfectly
What I found: the perfect version of myself that I need, the one I deserve to love.
It took until today, when the storms rolled across the sky that I understood why he called me She Who Guides the Water. It’s the storms.
Yellow=creativity. Red=passion.
The stag of light is symbolic of a great change coming, a shift in life meant to be interpreted as a call to preparation.

I thought this was probably the nicest spiritual milestone I’ve come across. And I’m sure there are people out there who would love to break it down, as though my spiritual journey weren’t valid. It is, though. And I don’t want to spoil it, but I had a dream this morning about the specificity of that shift, and let’s just say, my future is looking bright indeed.

And what’s more? My application for the new apartment (or lease is just about up in this one) was approved-without a cosigner. Turns out, when I stop panicking every second of every day, life lets me focus on the positives. I have less than 3 weeks to get everything set for moving because ready or not, my life is changing.

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I’m probably going to do a double-post today. The next one will be more structured, more typical of “me”. But we’ll see I suppose. Happy Tuesday everyone!

 

My PSA

April 1 marks the very first day of April (obviously) but it is the beginning of an entire month of awareness. April’s awareness topics range from Autism to Organ Donation, from several types of cancer to Stress. But there is one thing that it is, which needs to be mentioned loudly. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. And it is that topic which is the focus of today’s message.

On a personal note, there are very few topics which get me so fired up that my big heart shows right through. This is one of them. I am VERY passionate about improving the conditions of women with regards to sexual education and safety. What started out as a tangent-concern (I’m a woman and of course, I’m concerned about those topics) quickly became an all consuming passionate need to improve the world around me. This is what I’m going to do for the rest of my life. I’m writing a book about it, I’m going to school for it. I have lots of ideas, and I would love to share them all. If you want to know more about this topic, or any others that I blog about, please, just ask. Educating others is the biggest blessing I could ever have.

Trigger ALERT: This post contains information on sexual assault/rape. If you find those topics to be triggers, please, know that you are not alone and that life is still beautiful-even if your skies are grey.

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Before we get into the “heart” of today, we need to know what it is that this month actually means.

According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network), sexual assault is a crime of power and control. The term sexual assault refers to sexual contact or behavior that occurs without explicit consent of the victim. Some forms of sexual assault include: Penetration of the victim’s body, also known as rape, attempted rape, forcing a victim to perform sexual acts, such as oral sex or penetrating the perpetrator’s body, fondling or unwanted sexual touching

This list is only a partial list, however. According to Marshall University the list also includes:

Sexual assault includes:

  • Rape—sexual intercourse against a person’s will
  • Forcible sodomy—anal or oral sex against a person’s will
  • Forcible object penetration—penetrating someone’s vagina or anus, or causing that person to penetrate her or himself, against that person’s will
  • Marital rape
  • Unwanted sexual touching
  • Sexual contact with minors, whether consensual or not
  • Incest (Sexual intercourse or sexual intrusion between family members.)
  • Any unwanted or coerced sexual contact

Let me break it down for you: if it is physical contact that is in any way sexual (kissing, touching, feeling, etc) and you didn’t want it-it is sexual assaultALL rape is sexual assault, but not all sexual assault is rape.

I always assumed that the word assault meant “violent”. That sexual assault basically equaled rape, or some sado-masochist stuff that you see in Law and Order: SVU. Turns out, I was wrong. It doesn’t have to be violent at all. I didn’t know the actual definition of sexual assault until I was 23 years old. And that’s exactly what’s wrong with America today. Someone grab your butt? It counts. Someone kiss you without your consent? It counts. And that’s the start of why so many people don’t report it (of course, there are other reasons).

If you don’t even know it’s sexual assault, then why would you report anything?

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According to the Center for Disease Control, “1 in 5 women have experienced completed or attempted rape, and about 1 in 15 men have been made to penetrate someone in their lifetime. Most victims first experienced sexual violence before age 25.” (CDC) But the statistics do not stop there.

According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network)

·         Every 107 seconds, a sexual assault happens.

·         68% of these will not be reported to authorities

·         About 293,066 people are assaulted or raped EACH YEAR

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Some effects shown by the victims are: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Self-Harm, Sexually Transmitted Infections/Diseases (STI/STD), Depression, Substance Abuse, Sleep Disorders and more.

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Here’s what RAINN recommends you do if sexual assault happens to you.

1.       Your safety is important. Are you in a safe place? If you’re not feeling safe, consider reaching out to someone you trust for support. You don’t have to go through this alone.

2.      What happened was not your fault. Something happened to you that you didn’t want to happen—and that’s not OK.

3.      Call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673).You’ll be connected to a trained staff member from a local sexual assault service provider in your area. They will direct you to the appropriate local health facility that can care for survivors of sexual assault. Some service providers may be able to send a trained advocate to accompany you.

I’m going to just attach the link to RAINN about reporting assault, which includes some reasons people may not.

https://rainn.org/get-information/legal-information/reporting-rape

So there are the facts, and the data and the definitions. Now, we need to look at the real life faces of an issue that has made its way into our society. It’s time to make prevention personal.

Baylor Story                 Self-Blame                    Devalued, Discounted and Unprotected

Huffington Post, Kesha

These links are from people (or are about people) with real lives, real concerns. And in the effort to be fair, here are some links with resources and “help” information.

Good Therapy        Victims of Crime       S.T.A.R.S.

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If you took the time to look at the links above, you’ll notice one strikingly concerning thing. The phrase in question is:

It’s not like I was raped…

Let me say this in the plainest English I can:

It. Does. Not. Matter. 

You. Are. A. Human. Being. Worthy. Of. Respect. And. Love.

Seriously. “Just because it wasn’t rape” doesn’t make it less awful, nor does it negate the effects. Rape is awful. That is true. But NO ONE asks to be assaulted. NO ONE. And it doesn’t matter if you were at a bar and someone comes up to you and gropes you, or someone comes up to you and starts kissing you and “feeling you up”. It doesn’t matter if you knew the person or if they were a stranger.

If you didn’t want it: it’s sexual assault. And that is a crime.

If you are a victim, you are not alone.

Spirit Animals

I wanted to go in a slightly different direction today. This is a mental purge, a way to get out of my system some of the bits of information floating around in there. I don’t think it’s too incredibly political, too advocating or too anything, really. It’s just what I said- a way to expel some of the thoughts which bound around in the top of my being.

  When I was younger, I had a deep fascination, and someone what infatuation with dolphins. I drew them all over my stuff, I bought posters and books and binders with them on it. And I mean, who didn’t want something with a Lisa Frank dolphin? That animal, to me, represented all that I wanted in life: freedom, the ocean, happiness and a boundless place to roam. Dolphins were a symbol of great beauty and I attached all my wants to that symbol.

  When I grew a little older, I found myself slowly attaching those same ideologies to butterflies. They were just as free, just as beautiful, but they took to the sky, drinking from the beauty that is nature. I once more drew them on my things, made little artworks with them on it, went out of my way to help them live, to feed them. I held butterflies in highest regard and found myself wistfully hoping to be one of them one day.

  I force-fed the next animal down my own throat. I felt like I needed something cunning, powerful and strong. I needed something that embodied those traits, but also some of the ones quickly seeding in me: introversion, solitude, independence. And I settled on the wolf. It isn’t flashy, like say a lion or a tiger, but it’s also very symbolic of the person I wanted to be, and still do. A wolf hunts ruthlessly, sometimes alone, sometimes with others, but remains a wanderer. And as much as I wanted that to fit, the wolf and I are just mutual friends. It was simply not to be.

As I watch life pass by, I realize more and more that I don’t need to be like everyone else, that I don’t have to use my twenties to make crazy, irreversible mistakes. I certainly can, and will likely do so, but I do not need to feel pressured into it. I do not feel the need to sit at a party, guzzling drinks. I do not feel the need to vandalize things and riot. (Although, there are several things I will defend vehemently, but non-violently.) Instead, I am the watcher. I look at the people who are where I want to be, people who are not on the path I want to be on and everyone in between. I embrace solitude, but know that I am not alone.

I could be free, free to travel the world, free to settle down. I can keep my eyes wide open, waiting patiently. I can sneak up on life, as it does to me so often, take it by the hand and lead it where I want to go. And I can choose to not be afraid to ruffle some feathers, even if they’re my own. It seems that all along, I was being chosen. And I love life’s little lessons like that-where you’ve been doing things which lead up to a certain point without actually even knowing it. Your subconscious is a beautifully terrifying thing. And I do not find it at all mystifying that when I searched for an animal who embodied all the traits I was after, I came upon the owl. 

  All of these animals have been my guides, my spirit brethren. And I will value each of them and their lessons. But I know that I am not finished and this journey is just one fork of many on the red road of life.

(No credits were given on Pinterest for these photos, so I unfortunately can offer no credit either.)

It Isn’t Like They Say

Yesterday I started my job, and it was just swell. But by the time I got home and got finished with my homework, I barely had enough time to eat before I fell asleep. Thank goodness my husband understands and just let me sleep. Today I’m back at the grind, but also, I’m back to posting about things that mean worlds to me. I wanted my first post in this last month to be about something I hold very dear to my heart: beliefs. And before I jump right in, I’m going to preface by saying that these truths are my truths. Everyone has different experiences and that leads them down different paths. These are the ones for me. And therefore, you are free to make your own conclusions, but it will not affect mine because I have lived them, I have experienced and grown as an individual.

As you can see, I changed my blog title to To Be An Equal. I got to thinking, isn’t that what my point is anyway? Pointing out reasons why we should all be accepting and help foster the levels of equality amongst all peoples? So I wanted something that reflected that. Also, I want to open up the option of suggestions. If you have something that you wish to see me rant about from an anthropology student with a deep love of people and bring in facts and whatever, let me know. I’m always up for a greeat discussion. So anyway, back to my story.

So where to begin? The beginning, of course.

I went to church in an exceptionally small town, so small I won’t even name it because you wouldn’t know it. It had, in its hayday, 100 people,  but most of the times that I remembered were 40-50. As a small child (of 4 or so), I was unfamiliar with the ways of the church, and my parents took me there. I remember one Sunday the teacher brought in a Qur’an and told us that in order to defeat the devil, we had to know who he was and told us to rip up the book. This also happened with the Book of Mormon, I believe. Later the papers were lit on fire. I was told what behavior was acceptable, including the need to squash down questions. When I was a preteen, I had several questions. Now, I was not asking these questions to be a delinquent. I thought that the questions I had would aid me in being a better Christian. (If women in the Bible have their heads covered, is hair enough, or should I have a covering? If anger is a sin, how can God be without sin if he got angry at the Jews…a lot? andan assortment of those questions.) I went to the pastor, because I assumed that he would have the most answers. He told me I shouldn’t ask questions and just accept God on faith alone, because that’s what true Christians did.

  Obviously that didn’t jive with me. I was an inquisitive person, with feelings and concerns who got shot down. I didn’t like hurting books. Books couldn’t harm people, could they? They were just words. (I admit, that was naive of me. But really, there is no reason to be murderous towards a book of peace.) And on top of that, the people there judged you on what you wore to service, and I witnessed one girl get removed for wearing a tank top and shorts (It was the only pair of clothes she had without holes or stains.) So by the time I was 17, I was out of church, I didn’t really want to return, but I went occasionally for my mother, although we did switch churches. I was saved, baptised, I was a member of the first church and everything. 

I entered college soon after and began to find something missing in my life. I wasn’t sure I was okay with the church stereotype I’d been given, and needed to find something else. I took a lot of quizzes, looked online and decided maybe I belonged to a UU (Universal Unitarianism) church. But I would find out that I didn’t belong there really either. I just didn’t like the way that everyone seemed to need a scape goat. SO I didn’t stay.

I stumbled onto Wicca through a series of bizarre recollections. I’d come across an article in the 90s about paganism from like 17 magazine! And I remembered reading it and relating, so I looked into it one my laptop. I alomst immediately loved what I read. It was a transition period, mind you. I had gone from one supreme deity with (as had been taught to me) a sexist attitude, a vengeful anger problem and jealousy issues to many deities and a connection to the energy of the earth, as well as the loss of a need for forgiveness. I could be whatever person I wanted to be. And the pat that made the most sense was theline in the rede (the “bible-like belief code) that said “And it harm none, do as ye will.” I had a whole new world open up to me, and I could still have a moral ground to thrive on.

  But as all good things do, this phase came to an end. I felt the pressure to be a supply hoarder: candles, books, incense, herbs, everything. It soon began taking over my life and I felt suffocated by it, just as I had with Christianity. There was also a reverse sexism that I understood much later: against men. We spent so much time focusing on the feminine that the masculine became marginalized. So I began my search once more. But where would I end up? It turns out, as a druid. Well, with hoodoo tendencies, anyway.

So what do I believe now? Well, let me explain it to you.

According to the teachings of druidry, there are three aspects of your life that are of utmost importance: wisdom, creativity and love. I think that describes my life perfectly. I shift between the acceptance of many deities and the focus on just my personal one: Danu. I found her through the Morrigan. Danu is the three aspect mother goddess. I can go into all that more if you’d like, but for today I will leave it there. I can also talk about after death, before life, and really all the other spiritual things in a different post, if anyone wants to know, but I think I’ve gone on quite long enough so I’m going to use the rest of this post to dispell some stereotypes about witches and magick folk, as well as hopefully answer some questions.

  Do I work magick? Doesn’t everybody? Have you ever made a wish on a birthday candle, a star or a dandelion? But yes, I do personally do so. I pray to my ancestors, I speak with the great mother, I use tarot cards and crystals, I have a juju bag for protection. How often? Every single day.

Do I curse people? No. That’s a personal choice, but I still hold by the “do not harm” rule. Do I have the capacity? Yes. Do I? No. I just don’t feel right about it.

Do I have a religious book? No. Not really. Although I do have in possession two bibles, one qur’an, a book of shadows and a cook book (that one I use most)

Would I ever go into a church? I do. Not regularly, but before I moved out of my parents’ house, I would go to functions held in churches. It doesn’t bother me. I like to think that the Christian God would approve of my attempts to be a good human being. I do, however, make jokes while I’m there about being struck by lightning or spontaneous combustion. It’s just to relieve the stress.

Do I face any discrimination? Well, yea. Doesn’t everybody? I’ve had people give me judgey looks and glares while wearing religious symbols, as well as the occassional ignorant comment. Mostly it’s just people who don’t understand that worshipping nature is my fact, just as Jesus is theirs. 

Anyway, I hope this has been an informative look into the beliefs of a religious dabbler. I’m sure it will come up more again. Thanks for reading!

   (This is my favorite picture of Danu. She is fierce, she is the great mother goddess, and a wonderful symbol for mother earth). Also, the artist, who I do not know, is fabulous.

Thankfulness, Day 13

Friday the 13th. Typically known as an unlucky day, but I want to see it differently. I choose to see today as a lucky day, a day in my favour. I have a job interview today with the administration of the department of my major and I really think that I stand a good chance to get it. I’ve packed a good mojo bag, made myself a giant cup of coffee before I left and now I’m blogging about it before I go up. (What else am I going to do for half an hour?) Last night I was working away, trying to get prepared for my day today, and hoping ot get ahead on the homework, when the idea came to me for my post today.

Today is different than the ones which came before. Today I will be thankful, of course, but today I want to be thankful for the sake of being thankful. Not all the time do I need a six page essay about why I’m thankful, or the inspiration for such (even though Ifeel very verbose today). 

I woke up still sleepy, afraid that if I didn’t set five more alarms (I’m one of those people.) then I wouldn’t wake up on time. I poured myself some coffee as the husband took the dog out and got dressed. In true Michelle fashion, I have a dress shirt, blue jeans and aqua converse. Everything is color cordinated. (I’m gonna save the reason why I’m wearing jeans for a different day.) I walked out of the apartment to leave and sure enough, I felt winter’s chill, and that excited me. I love winter. Not driving in winter, but existing in winter. And then I walked with my husband to his class and sat down to begin this post. It’s amazing to me that I can be so alive, so in the moment sometimes. (Everything amazes me at some point, but I feel great depths of amazement each time-so it counts.) 

  (Here’s an old picture of our puppy, just because I know you were all wondering haha. He’s been since groomed and shaved, but I don’t have a more recent picture. He’s a Havanese, born Christmas Eve 2012).

Last night as I was preparing for bed, I got on Pinterest, as I usually do. It is a great source of inspiration for me, as is the point of that website. And I got to thinking. When I was in church, prayer was a great deal of my time. Feeling sad? Pray. Feeling happy? Pray. Need a job? Pray. Need a friend? Pray. Have blessings? Pray. When I got out of the church (again, a post I shall save for another time), praying was something I retained. I like talking to the universe and to those who made it. (Maybe I should save my belief system for a different post too.) And I came to realize that even though I do not need a formal prayer like The Lord’s Prayer, The Shepard’s Prayer, Hail Mary or Our Father, a part of me missed having something that I could say that would be like a little ritual all its own. So I set to work on that before I went to bed. And may I present, A Prayer to the Earth Mother.

  

Sacred mother, living within,

Call to us by name

Your garden grows, rests and thrives

Now as we wait beside you.

Call us to action, that you may prosper,

Let your rivers run clear and sweet.

Fulfill our needs within your forests and glades,

And the grasslands, tundra and deserts.

May we never take for granted all the gifts you bestow

As protectors of paradise

And gather us back to you when our time comes

That we may nourish those who follow in our stead

May the full extent of our actions be shown to us,

As you are a just and nurturing mother.

Let us live amongst your finest creations

As equals, forever connected, 

With mercy and compassion as our guides.

So it shall be.