Daily Archives: October 17, 2011

Now for something completely different… Amateur Religious Ethnography Botched, Or the Pagan Interviews, Part 6

Born in rural Iowa, Tannen Van Horn now resides in Memphis, TN where she is a member of Summerland Grove Pagan Church.  While studying to become legally ordained clergy through this esteemed organization, she is also the gythia (and founding member) of Ulfar Kindred of Memphis, a heathen group open to all who walk the paths of the Northern Traditions.  I did this interview in August after the failure of borders. Also I am sick of writing on politics every fifteen seconds so I  am publishing another interview.

Skepoet: What is your religious background and how did you come to it?

Tannen Van Horn: I grew up in a largely non-religious home, though I was often taken to church (of varying denominations) by family members and friends.  I was led to a pagan group when I was 13 that was a Wiccan/Celtic Reconstructionist…something.  I knew it wasn’t quite right, so I began studying on my own and connecting to various pagans via the precursor to the internet, bbs.  I’ve studied Celtic Recon, Hellenic Recon, Kemeticism (briefly, mostly for curiosity’s sake), and Wicca before finding my home in heathenry in 2007.

Skepoet: What is your academic background?

Tannen Van Horn: I am a high-school graduate, but I will be going to college starting in the spring semester to obtain my degree in meteorology.  Even though I haven’t been in school all this time, various skills in studying and researching gained in high school have served me well in my quest to find my religio-spirituality.
Skepoet: How do you see these interacting with each other?

Tannen Van Horn: They already do.  I’ve always been curious about how mythology explains various phenomena that we now have a scientific answer for.  And this isn’t relegated to my personal path, either, but to all mythologies.  It’s been a pet hobby of mine for years, starting in grade-school.  I mentioned in the second question that skills I was taught in school have helped immensely throughout my spiritual growth.  Most of what I learned about the various gods I have served over the years (as well as how to serve them) started with several teachers fostering my love of studious research and pointing me in the directions I would need to go, even if they weren’t aware of my religious leanings or why I really wanted that information. I was also taught to question everything until I got the answers I sought, so it was pretty early on that I learned that Christianity wasn’t for me.

Skepoet: What was it that enabled you to settle in with heathenry?  What called you about it?

Tannen Van Horn: Answering the second question first, what called to me was the gods themselves. In working with them, I learned that, for the most part, they’re pretty relaxed and easy to relate to compared to deities of other pantheons. My experience, especially in the beginning, was/is that they won’t task you with anything that you cannot handle and they feel like a part of your family pretty quickly.

What allowed me to settle into my path was that I had found someone who shared my faith, even if it was slightly dissimilar.  The man who is now my oath-brother was invaluable in providing for me the resources I lacked in regards to heathenry/Asatrú, shared his own experience with me, and yet didn’t judge me when I shared my own experiences with my gods, no matter how we differed. Further, he and I shared a few friends who also walked a Northern Tradition path, each markedly different but remaining similar enough at the heart to share our experiences and become a Kindred. Another point was that I had been feeling a need to connect with certain parts of my ancestry (notably German/Austrian), and heathenry, in its sundry forms of practice, has a virtually universal acceptance of ancestor veneration that strongly appealed to me. Of course, the short answer to both of these questions can be summed up as “it felt like coming home.”

Skepoet: Often it seems like Wicca is often treated by many Reconstructions as a metaphorical “gateway drug” into paganism.  Do you think this is a fair metaphor?

Tannen Van Horn: It’s more than fair, I think, to consider Wicca a “gateway drug” to paganism, though with today’s technology and proliferation of publishing I think it’s becoming less so. In my beginning days, it was so much easier to acquire information on Wicca versus any other pagan path. These days we have the internet and all of its vastness to plunder for information on ANY religion one wishes to learn about.

Skepoet: Do you think there has been a shift in publishing in Pagan circles?

 Tannen Van Horn: I don’t believe there has been a shift in publishing in Pagan circles. The shift that has occurred has been in publishing in general. We have a level of convenience as both writers and consumers that were unheard of even ten years ago.  If one finds traditional means of publishing unavailable, now they could self-publish, both by print-on-demand and digitally.

Skepoet: But outlets for purchasing those books seem to be decreasing.  Do you  think Border’s closing will have the effect that many think?

Tannen Van Horn: Ultimately, no, at least when it comes to books on Paganism. Personally, I’ve had issues finding the books that I want at hard-site book stores. Especially here in the Bible Belt, the Alternative Religion sections have always been very, very small. Online book stores became my prefered way of purchasing what I’m after.

Skepoet: Are there any particularly ancestral deities you feel more attracted to than others?

Tannen Van Horn: Like most Americans, I’m kind of a mutt; my heritage is Germanic/Austrian, Danish, & Scots-Irish. I have more of a kinship with the Norse gods (particularly Odin and Freyja) than with others. Though, the Celtic pantheon is still an attractant.

Skepoet: Do you think there is a clear relationship between the two pantheons historically?

Tannen Van Horn: It’s pretty well known that the Celts traveled far and wide throughout the European continent, but I don’t think there’s a clear relationship. My personal studies show that both cultures tended to have a “your gods are your gods” type of mentality, even during the Viking surge on the British Isles. It is possible there were, in some areas, a blending of culture/pantheon, but I have yet to see anything to confirm this.

Skepoet: Are there any rituals that you find not useful in a modern context that there is archaeological evidence for?

Tannen Van Horn: I wouldn’t declare any ritual “not useful.” Impractical, yes. The only one that I have found that is largely impractical is the rite for declaring Oath Siblings. It’s basically a “rebirth from the earth” type of ritual that requires those pledging their oath to walk/crawl under a strip of unbroken sod that’s been pried up. (There’s more to it than that, but this is the example of what makes it impractical.) The others (blót & sumble) work extremely well in a modern context.

Skepoet: Are there any positive changes you’d seen in heathenry since you got involved?

 Tannen Van Horn: More groups (kindreds/hoffs/etc.) and individuals are getting more involved in both their communities and in the greater, online community. This goes a long way towards dispelling the notion that all heathens/Asatrú are white-supremacist,  insular folk. As a collective group, there is a lot that we can both share as well as learn from the world of Paganism.

Skepoet: Anything you would like to say in closing?

 Tannen Van Horn: I would like to remind folks (especially reconstructionists) that what writings we have had handed down to us from the ancients are not the be-all/end-all of our paths. Doing so can leave us vulnerable to schisms/fracturing when we should be attempting to come together in the name of community.

There prior interviews in this series can be found here, here, herehere and here.  

OWS Agitiprop from a friend of mine

This gentleman, a fine fellow from Canada who encouraged me to be more active in both my skepticism and my political activism (although I am to the left of him), told me I could post this:

The text reads:

I am the 1%. I am a physician, and I make a fine living, for which I am extremely grateful. My education was subsidized by taxpayers, and I happily accept my obligation to treat the sick without regard for their ability to pay, because a just society invested in me. It also wisely created a universal health care system, accessible to all Canadians. But I am getting worried. University students now graduate with a B.A. carrying as much debt as I had at the end of my M.D. My Government is about to purchase F-35 Fighter jets for $165 Million dollars apiece. It also plans on enormous expansion of prisons despite compelling evidence of dropping crime. Who will pay? My medical corporation only pays 13.5% in taxes, so it won’t be me. My government might lower that rate even more. We cannot quietly go down the road to ever greater debt, wealth-disparity, and inequality. Doctors can’t heal a sick society. You, the 99% can!!

I can forgive him his doctor’s handwriting if you can.

Occupy Everything Worldwide: odds and ends. . . and finally a critique from someone other than Marxist that’s semi-legitimate

So this will not be a coherent post, but a list of links on OWS an Occupy Everything that are interesting paired like a gourmet meal with cheap wine by some comments by me.   First off, happy one month anniversary Occupy Wall Street. 

The call to move money from Bank Accounts to Credit Unions by Occupy Wall Street seems to have caused Citibank and a few others to fear a bank run.   There apparently was between 22 and 25 people arrested for trespassing by Citibank in NY :

Similarly there have been swamping of JP Morgan Chase without said arrests.  Meanwhile it is there is some honesty about the increasing influence of these protests and their global reach even at Bloomberg Business News.

So let’s look at the world for a minute: Occupy Rome apparently went “smashingly.”  I’ll point you to the Libcom article on the topic

The urgency of the impending Euro-crisis may not hit most Americans, but the fear that Ireland and Greece may eventually become Argentina and what that could mean for the Eurozone is in the back of there mind.  Plus Europeans are less pansy when they protest: perhaps let’s blame soccer riots?

On my home front: Occupy Seoul is expanding and going again next weekend, October 22. The crowd apparently was only 200 people according to the Korea Times. I’ll admit that I can’t confirm this from my visit, but that seems like it might be slightly low-balled. Hopefully, I will make it out to this weekends events as it would be a interesting way to celebrate my birthday.  In general though, Occupy Seoul was orderly and in step with the rhetoric of the American version.  This 99% meme is spreading, although I don’t think wealth disparity is actually that bad throughout Asia it is getting worse in Korea.

American and Korean graffiti in Itaewon, Seoul from my personal collection

Meanwhile, another city close to my heart, Taipei is still occupied.  But focused primarily on Taiwan’s moloch idol to consumerism, Taipei 101.   Apparently the numbers were counted as low in Taipei as well with only 500. However, I’d expect that to grow.  Taiwan’s economy has not fared as well as Korea’s in the last decade.

Taipei 101

Taipei 101 from my personal picture collection

So let’s go back to North America for a second because there is a whole lot more going on at home. In bizarro land, The Financial Times endorses Occupy Wall Street. Paul Krugman continues to break ranks and endorse the protests as well, although I am sure he doesn’t quite get how radical it all may be.  Obama himself has tried to co-opt the protests, but as the James Joyner rightfully says,

This is shrewd positioning, identifying himself with the frustrations sparking a movement as well as its most effective slogan without embracing the movement itself and its potential baggage. The wee problem with it is that, not only is Obama part of the 1 percent, he’s been the single most important voice in American public policy for the past three years and has done nothing about these issues. Indeed, he was the chief cheerleader for the massive bailouts of the banks that gives the movement its name.

But Occupy Wall Street is not quite sure that it trusts Obama and Democrats may be missing the point:

So Gawker did an article on a man who had been giving information to the various intelligence gathering operations by NYPD:
The Occupy Wall Street protests have been going on for a month. And it seems the FBI and NYPD have had help tracking protesters’ moves thanks to a conservative computer security expert who gained access to one of the group’s internal mailing lists, and then handed over information on the group’s plans to authorities and corporations targeted by protesters.

Since the Occupy Wall Street protest began on September 17, New York security consultant Thomas Ryan has been waging a campaign to infiltrate and discredit the movement. Ryan says he’s done contract work for the U.S. Army and he brags on his blog that he leads “a team called Black Cell, a team of the most-highly trained and capable physical, threat and cyber security professionals in the world.” But over the past few weeks, he and his computer security buddies have been spending time covertly attending Occupy Wall Street meetings, monitoring organizers’ social media accounts, and hanging out with protesters in Lower Manhattan.

As part of their intelligence-gathering operation, the group gained access to a listserv used by Occupy Wall Street organizers called September17discuss. On September17discuss, organizers hash out tactics and plan events, conduct post-mortems of media appearances, and trade the latest protest gossip. On Friday, Ryan leaked thousands of September17discuss emails to conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart, who is now using them to try to smear Occupy Wall Street as an anarchist conspiracy to disrupt global markets.

The later is echoed by Comrade Glen Beck:

If only Comrade Beck, but I don’t think the Protesters were lining up rank and file behind Zizek.  Speaking of which, Louis Proyect had some interesting things to say about Zizek and his OWS speech as well as the idea of Communism conference.  This brings me to the other Academic leftists behind the theories of the protest, I have already pointed an article out that attributed the protests to Hardt and Negri, this article talks about Hardt, Negri, Graeber, and a bunch of anarchist theorist.  This is sound, but looking at the agenda for Occupy Wall Street assemblies and what they are proposing, it hardly seems like anarchism. For example:

We demand CONGRESS PASS HR 1489

This is despite NY Times saying things like Protesters debate what if any demands are to be made. Furthermore the Big Idea saying things like

1. No more bailouts: Bring back real capitalism
2. End TBTF banks
3. Get Wall Street Money out of legislative process

I love the “bring back real capitalism” who throw out that leftists are pulling a “No True Scottsman” fallacy on when insisting that Marxist-Leninism and Maoism aren’t the only viable forms of socialism. If capitalism almost always ends with state-private collusion, current we make a similar critique of “actually existing capitalism.”

Oh, while I am on the topic of special pleading.  Those ever-so-consistent libertarians at Reason  are saying the OWS is Anti-Semetic and they have videos:

But note they were saying that liberals were cherry-picking and tarring the Tea Party as racist unfairly.Still there were videos there too:

But let’s not worry with holding libertarians to things like the intellectual consistency they supposedly pride themselves on.  Let’s just look at the truth of the matter as an editorial for AL Jazerra points out:

The Emergency Committee’s evidence is presented in the video, which shows three anti-Semites and two anti-Semitic signs among the protesters. That’s it, out of a crowd of thousands. (Far be it from me to guess at the number of anti-Semites who might be at a Tea Party event, but they don’t define that movement either. Mass movements attract all kinds of people, some invariably unsavoury.)

In any case, the Emergency Committee for Israel is not concerned about anti-Semitism or Israel. It is, rather, dedicated to defeating Democrats and promoting its billionaire donors’ economic interests. During the 2010 congressional campaigns, it produced videos almost as deceitful as the Wall Street video that lied about Democratic candidates. It used Israel and Jews as devices to direct money and votes toward the Republicans.

In attacking Occupy Wall Street, the Emergency Committee’s goal is simply to smear Democrats. If, in the process, it reinforces the stereotype that Jews and Wall Street are interchangeable, so what? How different is that from its usual practice of suggesting strongly that American Jews should vote only based on Israel’s supposed interests, not America’s? To put it not-so-mildly, the Emergency Committee for Israel does not care about fuelling anti-Semitism in America.

Because that last video of a couple of anti-Semites may have left a bad taste in your mouth, here’s another one. It was shot at the Wall Street demonstration on Yom Kippur Eve and it features not a few anti-Semites but thousands of Jews celebrating the holiest day of the Jewish year, a day dedicated to the same ideals as Occupy Wall Street: Repentance for putting our desires before the needs of the poor, the homeless, and the exploited.

I keep getting told that this is “protesting for protesting sake.” Now I have never known Protesting for Protesting sake to be so large in Europe as well:

Well maybe the French, but definitely not the Danes or Tunisians  or the Turks. But even the OWS seems hardly as aimless if you look at their consensus driven demands:

“Make no mistake about it, we are not aimless; we simply speak a different language – a language of mutual respect, participation, self-management, and action.” -October 13, 2011 

So I’ll start to wrap this up on a few other developments:  Cornell West, a man who I respect sometimes but can’t seem to figure out if he’s a Social Democrat or just a Democrat, got arrested protesting at the Supreme Court., Goldman Sachs got stormed in MilanSteve Rattner tells us that globalization has losers and we should be happy about that,Occupy Wall Street assault: lawyer demands action on policeman’s punch, and the NYPD has been adding much fuel to the fire. 

For all the critiques that I have read from someone without a fairly radical agenda, this one from the
 Last Psychiatrist merits discussion:

The protests will fail.  They will eventually be co-opted by the pre-election media orgasmia, branded as either this team or that and assigned a leader no one would have ever picked, ever, ever.    The Tea Party may have started with Rick Santelli but they soon got Sarah Palin, figure that out.  Half of you will vote, all of you will complain, and nothing will change until the day we are buying fake iPads with real yuans, hey, who’s the balding guy on the 20?  And the 50?  And the 100…?  And the reason it will fail is that you don’t want it to succeed.  You are still holding on to the mercantilist, zero-sum economic delusion that tariffs and gold standards and less money for Wall Street means more money for you, and then you can go back to living like it’s 1999 again.  You  can’t.  It’s over.

Of course Wall Street has excessive profits, but just as your life has been an inflated delusion of easy credit, so has theirs; yes, they have received an obscene share of that fake money, and ten-twenty years ago maybe you could have redistributed that fake money, but that ship has sailed.  Now, the moment you take it away from them it ceases to exist, poof, it’s gone.  It’s fine if you want to do it to punish them, I get it, it’s the right thing to do and Glass-Steagall and all that, but it won’t help your situation one bit.

$3.6T out, $2.4T in, those are the numbers, and in case you want something on letterhead here’s the CBO saying taxing the rich would get us $450B over ten years. Ten years!  Double the taxes, triple the taxes, it makes no difference, it’s over.  The only way out is a massive tax on wealth; cold fusion; a war; a new media; or inflation.  Inflation has the side benefit of pushing you into a higher tax bracket and we’ll all get to see what a $1000 bill looks like.

“We are the 99%.”  Stop it.  There is a 1%, fighting another 1%, and while both of those megalomaniancs dominate the media coverage the other 98% has no recourse, no representation, no allies, and no savings. If you’re over forty 2007 was the best you will ever have it, make sure you backup your photos, it may not get worse than this but your only hope for growth is the next generation so you better change your expectations and your priorities.  If you want to eat something other than canned goods and insects when you’re 80 you better prepare your kids now,  work them harder in math and get them to read better books, make some kind of/all kinds of a sacrifice for them, because the only thing keeping you from the hellacious Medicare funded nursing homes and the Social Security that will not exist is them, the 17 year olds you are screaming at for drinking too much of the whisky you are hiding in the bathroom.

But in the comments to the his post, there are some stern and well-thought answers:

 I am intrigued by the number of commenters who ape your style – that is, long on huffing-and-puffing (bordering on hysteria) and feel-good sneers at the “kids”, and short on analysis.

In the weak-analysis/hysteria department, let’s include this example:

“Double the taxes, triple the taxes, it makes no difference, it’s over. The only way out is a massive tax on wealth; cold fusion; a war; a new media; or inflation. Inflation has the side benefit of pushing you into a higher tax bracket and we’ll all get to see what a $1000 bill looks like.”

Actually, none of this is true. For example, given that tax receipts relative to the size of the economy are at multi-generational lows, there is plenty of room for modest tax increases that would stabilize the deficit, and ultimately reduce it, and reduce the national debt (if that is desired.) It will take time, but debt-to-GDP has on occasion been much higher in the past.

(The debt-train-wreck “narrative” is really only plausible if US healthcare costs continue to be double or more of what other developed nations pay (while getting poorer results, for the most part.))

There is plenty of good factual information out there on this kind of thing (economics texts are a good place to start), but you need to open your mind to the possibility that the perversely comforting apocalyptic debt narrative is false, and that the kind of accounting that a family does, for example, doesn’t really apply to governments (and no, governments are not like “businesses” either.)

For example, as a bit of homework, I’ll leave it to you to explain why it is that not every country in the world can have a positive savings rate and a “balanced” budget at the same time…

And this:

This is really something – that someone who seems to have some sort of education can write this stuff and brazenly post it for everyone to see. It takes a certain courage, and the hope he’ll remain anonymous, I imagine. The replacement of the simple declarative sentences of the high school-level essay of the old days with such constructions as this:

“Half of you will vote, all of you will complain, and nothing will change until the day we are buying fake iPads with real yuans, hey, who’s the balding guy on the 20? And the 50? And the 100…? And the reason it will fail is that you don’t want it to succeed. You are still holding on to the mercantilist, zero-sum economic delusion that tariffs and gold standards and less money for Wall Street means more money for you, and then you can go back to living like it’s 1999 again. You can’t. It’s over.”

…is surely another symptom of the endarkenment. This is awful, awful writing – silly, fake-insightful, incoherent, but possessed of the boundlessly self-assured tone of the ignorant.

I spend my days drawing red lines through this sort of thing, and patiently explaining, one student at a time, that though the “ignorant pundit style” is all around us, there is still no substitute for clarity and speaking from a position of knowledge.

So I saw this quote form Baudrillard there:

“All that capital asks of us is to receive it as rational or to combat it in the name of rationality, to receive it as moral or to combat it in the name of morality. Because these are the same, which can be thought of in another way: formerly one worked to dissimulate scandal — today one works to conceal that there is none.”
– Jean Baudrillard

Here’s my problem with the posturing like that of the anonymous psychiatrist.  It is predicated on the notion that the now is somehow consistent with past time when only prior to the 1950s, which in human social time is still pretty much nothing, we lived in totally different contingent conditions.    The anonymous psychiatrist accepts that debt is real even though a great majority of the bonds used to great government debt are to the Federal Reserve in order to produce currency.

In fact, perhaps our self-righteous psychiatrist should talk to an anthropologist about the history of debt instead of posturing about how you are more enlightened than everyone else. That the funny thing about cognitive dissonance, even people who know better can’t apply to themselves.

An Open Letter to the future graduate who thinks (s)he’s not in the 99%

Now that brings me to this which I have been looking at on the internet.  I suspect its part of the 53% campaign.  Never mind that the 53% campaign is a misnomer. But even if its not, let me address it:

Everybody I am addressing one person now: You, Mr. or Ms-soon-to-be-statistically-likely un(der)employed, you seem to fail to see the situation you are in.   I was like you.  I too had a high GPA, lived in a moderately low priced apartment, and worked 30 hours a week.  You see you did not do everything for yourself: your state school is supported by taxes subsidizing your tuition, you have a scholarship, which is in declining availability by the way, and being that you clearly have white skin you had more access to grants than minorities despite myths to the contrary.   You should be proud, but you don’t get to decide if you are part of the 99%.  That’s not how statistics work, Mr. or Ms-soon-to-be-statistically-likely un(der)employed who, despite a high GPA, does not understand how income and class-based sociologically descriptors work.

Now I did that, my friend.  I got a job, then went to graduate school, my wife was laid off and we racked up medical debt due to diabetes and a knee injury I partially got at work and credit debt to buy food.   I spend four years paying that off, taking on only the debt to buy a car, and forgoing an academic career for a stable teaching job, when my school was gutted I left to avoid getting a non-renewed because the school did not want to formally lay anyone off and thus I could get blacklisted. I had to LEAVE MY COUNTRY to get food on the table.   This ended my marriage.  Now I love where I live and I am back in Academia, but it was luck and I didn’t achieve that on my own despite working extremely hard in all prior jobs and in university.

Now, Mr. or Ms-soon-to-be-statistically-likely un(der)employed,  I had scholarships to three schools when I was in undergraduate, I have three degrees (and a half)–two of which are graduate–and only took out loans when I had to, I have seven years of teaching experience, two years of corporate experience and I am just about to turn 31.   When you learn something about sociology then you can claim that you can pick not to be part of the 99%.    But until then, you, like the rest of us, don’t really have choice. Most of us didn’t want it either. 

In a fair economy, yes, someone like you would do well.  Even in Europe, unless you were in the UK, you would do better than you are statistically likely to.   When you have lived some of your life or you understand economics and sociology, then you hold up that sheet of paper.   Next time be brave though and don’t hide your face please.

So reach for your dreams, but realize the situation you are in and don’t belittle those who are doing the same.

So if someone talks about biblical marriage, remind them of this…


So whenever someone tells you they believe in “one man + one woman” as in the bible, please point out that they seem ignorant of what is actually in the bible for ideological reasons. I am an ignostic: I don’t even think most concepts of God are coherent enough to reject. That said, it would seem particularly problematic to be inconsistent or outright wrong about what a holy book advocates. One could see this ideological inconsistency as confusing ones personal opinion for G-d’s Even my atheistic and skeptically inclined self would classify this as hubris at minimum.


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