gra_is_stor (gra_is_stor) wrote,

a question to consider

I have now been working with a new band that I am super happy and super excited to be working with so far, and this seems to be a mutual thing for them as well. :)  I do still have one issue that I'm kind of stuck on, though, and I wanted to post it here and see what my friends here think.

I'm still stuck on the Rede song that I mentioned before (the Wiccan Rede).  They really want me to add to it, and there are certain lines of it I really don't want to sing.  Which are of course the exact lines that need harmony vocals in my voice range more than anything else in the song.  *sigh*

I've listened more carefully, and the song itself is mostly not something I would be opposed to at all.  The basic premise is that being polyamorous and pagan doesn't hurt anybody, so if that's what works for you, go for it.  That it itself I can totally get behind.  It's just the way some of it is worded that I take issue with.

Oddly enough, the verses I have no problem with at all, and there's a pre-chorus that I'm totally happy with, lyrically speaking.  It's the chorus itself where the lyrics go where I do not want to go, at least not with my voice.

It is a song that has already been released (The Rede by Gaia Consort), so if anyone has it, you can probably follow it easily enough.  As I said, basic premise, verses, and pre-chorus I'm all good with.  Chorus itself not so much.  They repeat the actual Wiccan Rede at the beginning and at the end ("an it harm none, do what you will"), which really really isn't my thing.  I personally found this to be a total utter failure as a system of ethical guidance.  It did inspire a different way of looking at things than what I had been taught as a kid, and it was a step up, but given how low the bar is when we're talking about what I was taught as a kid, that really isn't saying much.  I still found it to be abysmally lacking as an actual system of ethics.

And there's the line "As the circle has bound us, bound we are still".  Oh boy do I have problems with that.  I don't take binding in magic lightly; I have done it for protective purposes, but I don't find it something to be taken lightly.  Plus, I've done quite a bit of removal of energetic cords, which can result from inappropriate binding; not cool.  I also don't really find it fulfilling to cast circles, and I don't like the idea of needing a cast circle in order to feel like you're in sacred space (I know they didn't say that here, but I could see some people understanding it that way; the circle does seem to be meant to symbolize sacred space in my interpretation of this line).

Melodically, the line with the circle could go without a higher harmony and the chorus wouldn't necessarily sound off balance.  Both of the times they actually say the Rede, though, it is almost begging for a high harmony.  And there are only 2 women in the band, I have the higher voice, and the other one is already doing the main melody on this. 

I had thought about just doing something with my harp instead, but the chorus itself is really where the band is coming together vocally, and missing a voice really does stand out.  I've also thought about just doing vocables, particularly vocables that have some assonance with the words (ah during "an it harm one", for example).  But that also sounds lame and limited, and there really aren't good English vocables for things like "will", "circle" or "bound".

I also thought about changing the words just for me, but a) I think people would notice, and b) that would make it a derivative of the original song, which the band is doing because the guy who wrote it is a friend who went atheist and won't do his Pagan catalog any more, but has a great one and wants other pagans to be able to continue to benefit from it.  And our band is full of poly pagans, so this song would be great, if there wasn't a nit-picky CR for the soprano. :)

And I thought about just singing the actual Rede part, as being ok in this one specific context, even though I still find it lacking as an ethical system in general.  Part of me feels like that's selling out, though.

I really do want to support the band, but I also really don't want to sing stuff I really don't agree with.  Does anyone here have any suggestions?

(I'm deliberately not posting this to Facebook because my bandmates are over there, but not here :) )

Update 1/8/12, almost midnight: I just wrote to the band directly about this.  Wish me luck.

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I've looked up the lyrics, and they don't seem too bad to me. Personally, I think that you should think of it like I think of Christian carols. They're fun to sing, even when I don't agree with the sentiments. Heck, one of my favorite carols ("Christmas Is Now Drawing Near") is one with which I sharply disagree with the content (though I admit that part of the attraction is how over-the-top it is, making it almost a parody of Christian thought).

Plus, maybe you could leverage it to convince the band to do something more CR-friendly.
Oh, they're all excited for me to bring CR and other Celtic stuff in. They're already working with several songs I wrote years ago, when I was already CR, and they know I plan to write more. They're thinking of a both/and approach, not an either/or; which in general I agree with, except when they want my voice for something I don't want to sing the lyrics to.

Part of my issue is that I deliberately cultivated a personal magical practice about what I voice. I really haven't been in a position where it made this much difference before; either I was working solo and could choose (or ideally, write) my own material, or I was singing in a large group and it wasn't a big deal if I dropped out for a couple of lines here and there.

The thinking of it like a carol at least gets me started thinking; I don't sing Christmas carols much, but there are medieval songs I love that are very heavily Christian. I still don't sing anything I strongly object to or find potentially harmful though, even if it is really pretty and right in my voice range (see comment about Hildegard von Bingen under erynn999's comment below).

Thinking of it as a parody brings up for me that I could try to reinterpret it in a way that I have less objection to. Kind of like I mentioned above, just singing it anyways because I find it not necessarily harmful in this very specific context (except the being bound to a circle thing). But it also then feels like trying to rationalize something that really isn't rational to begin with. Meh.

More thinking...

Deleted comment

I have actually told them I'm CR and not Wiccan, and we talked about other possibilities for supporting music even from traditions that none of us follow -- we were considering covering "Skellig" by Loreena McKennitt, which is Christian, but singing it doesn't feel like I'm supporting something I don't agree with. I also gave the example that I've done the music for Jewish weddings and for Catholic masses that were in Gaelic, when they couldn't find anyone else who could do it, and I honestly didn't mind. I do feel more strongly about letting people have devotional music that works for them than about only working with music from my own traditions.

But even when I do music for completely other traditions, I don't sing lyrics that I don't want to lend support to with my own voice. The mass parts that say stuff that I think isn't good for people, even the Gaeilgeóirí can just speak those parts as far as I'm concerned, and I'll do music for other mass parts. And that one song where St. Patrick drives out the black-hearted druids with nothing but evil in their hearts - yeah, I'm not singing that. But, I can find other stuff to sing for a Gaelic Catholic mass that I don't disagree with as strongly (or at all), so it has so far worked out fine.

The idea of doing it like a carol is something for me to think about, given I also like medieval music. The Cantigas de Santa Maria are among my favorite medieval songs, and they are all to the Christian Mary. On the other hand, quite a few of them do not contain lyrics I strongly disagree with or find potentially harmful. Hildegard von Bingen made very pretty songs right in the most powerful part of my voice range, and seems to have managed to get about one line I strongly disagree with into each of her songs. But I have sometimes just skipped the offending line in performance (or singing it to myself), and the song itself usually works fine without it.

Hmm, more to think about.
Can you sing the line with the Rede, but then on the other line just use vocables and say the words "circle" and "still"? I mean, if you're just saying "circle" and "still," there's very little harm in it...and, particularly, if you are able to do something lovely and high vocable-wise on the word "bound," I don't think anyone will really care that you're not singing the actual word there.

I don't know how the song goes personally, though I probably have heard it at some point, but I can imagine that this could potentially work quite nicely based on the soundtrack I'm making up in my head to go along with it.
Yeah, that's a doozy of a musical/social issue. I gotta say, though, I'm far more interested in the philosophical/religious issue with the Rede. I mean, I shouldn't even be getting into this discussion because OMG ARISIA HOMEWORK NOT DONE, but, speaking as someone who's working on putting together a talk on the nature of evil based on her conversations with, among others, abusers and codependents: so, whatcha got that's better? Not that I don't think better is possible (I don't know one way or t'other) or that I think it unlikely you have one (you're as likely as anyone I know) -- I don't mean it as a rhetorical question -- and as a non-pagan (and non-Wiccan) I have no horse whatsoever in that race, I'm just curious where you went from there, ethically speaking.

Having gone back and read your objection, it sounds like you have one or both of two issues:
1) That people impaired in certain ways have trouble telling whether or not an intended action causes harm, and/or
2) Sometimes causing harm is morally justified, and the Rede doesn't cover that. Perhaps self-defense falls here?

In either case, what doctrine do you feel handles the case better?
Yeah, well, I wasn't supposed to be discussing new directions for me and music when I was supposed to be preparing my Irish class last week but was instead on here enjoying the musical instrument discussion, so there you go. ;) If it's any consolation, my Irish class came off amazingly well, I just ended up a bit sleep-deprived. I tended to expect I may get sleep-deprived around Arisia - everyone else is. I could _plan_ to go to bed and wake up at reasonable times throughout the weekend, but ooh! Shiny! Person I miss dearly and might not see again until next year! New person who is a freak like me in ways I've been lonely for company! Thing I've been looking for and never thought I would find! And there's only one left at this price! Or something. ;)

My biggest issue with the Rede is that I find it potentially dangerously inadequate an ethical guideline, which it is pretty much always assumed to be. You did pretty much nail it in your numbered points. My own personal experience with it is that I first learned about the Rede when I was 18 and freshly out of my family of origin, and trying to figure out how best to move on. I was surrounded by a culture where people simply expected me to stay attached to my family of origin for support, but I knew this was simply not possible -- my family of origin had never provided support, I just happened to be in a college setting that wanted to expect its students to have access to more resources than an independent 18 year old can gain access to. Yet, people's explanations when I would scoff at their attitude about staying attached to family of origin would always revolve around emotions (and often emotional manipulation, but again, I hadn't figured that out yet) -- but we NEED our families, they LOVE us, even when they do bad things. It probably didn't help that my first college was also a Catholic school (though that does add to my personal glee at having started leading pagan rituals in the woods on campus as quickly as my 2nd semester there, which continued for a few years :) ).

I find it very appropriate that you mention your interest in this involves studying abusers and codependence - codependence and abuse were exactly what led to my personal aggravation with the Rede. I knew at the time (still 18) that I wanted to cut off from my father entirely, but also wanted to continue to protect my siblings (I'd been the eldest and totally did the superhero thing when I was still in the house). There was ABSOLUTELY NOTHING I could possibly have done in that situation that would hurt no one. If I went back, that would obviously be putting myself in significant harm. If I cut off from all of them, that would hurt them and me -- some because of actual grief and loss, as well as my own fear/anxiety for the well-being of my siblings; plus, codependent abusers always claim whenever anyone leaves them (or shows any sign of independence) that that harms them. For a little while I agreed to be the on-call babysitter so my father could go out on dates, and I could protect my siblings briefly that way. But this was compromising my integrity in interacting with my father, and enabling him to find someone else to abuse (which he did; it took her 10 years to divorce him, after she and her kid nearly died, for different reasons but not surprising to me).
In trying to decide what to do in that situation, working with the Rede was utterly useless. And I could easily have seen how it could have been worse; I hadn't counted how I might be harmed in any way other than living with him (I actually got harmed myself no matter what I did -- being trapped in my father's house would have sucked more, but being a homeless teenager panicked about my siblings was no picnic either). I also had originally not counted enabling as contributing to harm. For me, it got glaringly obvious pretty quickly, but even I missed it at first. Plus, I knew other survivors of similar situations who were far more detached from seeing how letting someone harm them (or enabling them to harm others) had anything to do with choosing a harmful thing to do. Plus, while a lot of codependents and abusers (is there actually a difference? I know the labels refer to different behaviors, but do those behaviors occur separately?) will cry that someone is harming them whenever someone leaves them, I actually see this as a very worthwhile thing to do to get out of an abusive situation. It could possibly convince them to get help and try to change (not highly likely, but possible; as opposed to continuing to enable them, which is certainly not going to motivate them to change). And even if it doesn't, it can decrease the amount of harm they are regularly doing, at least short-term, based on the new lack of opportunity. Plus, if _anyone_ breaks out of those patterns, that's a great thing, and that includes giving victims a chance to break out of their own cycles.

I do feel self-defense would also qualify as something I could see some people refraining from because of their interpretation of the Rede, and I would disagree. Again, sometimes there are situations where THERE IS NO OPTION THAT HARMS NONE. In such cases, I'm generally for whatever allows the least harm to occur, and often that can mean stopping a violent person from being violent by quickly incapacitating them. If I were to knock a drunken, uncoordinated angry guy down with one well-planted shot, he would not be able to beat anyone for at least a while, and it would call attention to him if he were in a crowd, so others would know to keep themselves safe. That's one hit and done. If I were to not stop said guy while he went and hit one person, threw himself at another, stepped on another while not looking, and caused a wide-ranging ruckous, that allows for a lot more harm, even if I myself stay out of it. Sometimes it's just not my responsibility (if this took place in a tavern or bar, for example), but sometimes I might find it worth it to reduce the potential harm (such as if it were my sibling's/friend's/partner's abusive ex coming for vengeance or something, or if it took place at a family gathering). And again, the Rede is useless in such situations because there ISN"T an option that harms none.

It's probably worth mentioning that as someone who been left to whatever happened because it was "none of my business" to the people who knew what was happening, I don't find letting it happen and staying out of it to not actively contribute to harm. My roommate, who grew up in similar circumstances to mine, has talked many times about how if EVEN ONE person had ever stopped his father and said "That's not ok", it would have helped him care more about himself and understand what was happening without internalizing as much of the abuser's storyline (about we deserve it and we're worthless and so on). But when he saw that people knew and let it continue without even saying anything, he took that to mean approval. I know in my own experience I did too, exactly the same as he did.
To get to your main question, what works better for me: thank you so much, I love that question. I will admit my answer isn't simple, but I suspect you were probably prepared for that.

So, back to when I was a young person newly on my own and newly able to access pagan stuff: a few months before my 19th birthday I got into a transitional housing program for homeless youth (where I was living when I first started showing up to Carolingia, in Arlington, MA). After a while I got a roommate who claimed to be anything he thought would shock people, including a pagan, vampire, satanist, witch, wiccan, tantric priest, and several things that actually contradict each other if you know what each of those terms mean (and I did). At the time I still had a calligraphied copy of the Rede on the door to my room, since it was a present from a well-meaning pagan friend, and gave me some sense of belonging somewhere. He used to point to it and quote "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law!" every time he saw it (he liked to use his love of everything Aleister Crowley ever wrote to also try to shock people). After a while I started answering "yeah, the law gets awfully convenient when you cut it in half, huh?", which oddly enough got him to stop doing that. :)

Over time, though, I did start learning a bit more about Crowley through this guy (I have a pretty bad reading disability, and didn't want to waste what little reading I can actually get done in a limited time on Crowley's works myself, but I figured I could just get info from him without having to read it). He honestly really wanted someone to talk to about this stuff, so he got really open. At one point, I mentioned I'd had a passing curiosity about a book called _Moonchild_, which is one of Crowley's novels. My then-roommate had also picked up an interest in runes. I had rune books, and he had _Moonchild_, so we decided to lend them to each other. And as transient populations go, he then disappeared with my books while I still had his.

I did actually read _Moonchild_, and got 2 useful things out of it: 1) a much clearer understanding of multiple dimensions (I'd been fascinated by the book _Flatland_, but couldn't quite get it from that; I actually got it from Crowley's explanation (or his character's explanation) more clearly), and 2) a far more consistent approach to making ethical decisions, that I absolutely loved. While I don't think Crowley consistently followed this system himself, I appreciate that he was at least able to articulate it, even if he was not able to set a living example of it.

One of his characters gets into a rather long and detailed discussion with another character in the novel about what exactly he meant by "do what thou wilt shall be the whole of law." A large part of the argument focused on defining "will" (or "wilt") very, very precisely. He contrasted it with the idea of whim, which is clearly what I saw most people using that quote actually doing (including said roommate at the time).
"Whim", as defined by that character, would cover when you do what you want to do, what you feel moved to do in the moment, or when you do something out of habit. You're not necessarily fully present or grounded, you just have feelings and desires and you act on them. From a healing-from-trauma perspective, it could also cover decisions you make while dissociating, triggered, having a severe mood swing, manic, or in any state that is not grounded and centered.

"Will", from this character's explanation, was meant to refer specifically to the link between 3-dimensional humans and divinity. I didn't know this at the time, but Crowley also has followers who call themselves Thelemites, based on "Thelema" as the name of g-d in early Jewish texts that represents will. So basically, it means you'd have to get into a state where you can experience your connection to divinity (which I took to include meditation and mystic experiences, both of which I had experience with by then), in order to know what really is the right thing to do when making important decisions.

That worked much, much better for me. I could ground and meditate when looking at what to do in a certain situation, and while meditating, if I could honestly let go of my personal issues, I could get a whole lot clearer about what was the right thing to do, and what I would need in order to do it.

Some years later I found a more concrete meditation guideline specifically for making decisions, and have been using that ever since. It can be done on paper, but I've found that it works well for me most of the mind if I do it in my head and monitor my energy while I'm doing it. For a yes-or-no question, thoroughly consider (from a grounded state): best possible outcome if you choose yes, worst possible outcome if you choose yes, best possible outcome if you choose no, worst possible outcome if you choose no. Obviously this can be done without the meditating, but being the little mystic that I am, I feel better going into a somewhat meditative state to do it.

Obviously for people who aren't into meditating or any form of religion, this may not appeal to them at all. But I see that for me meditation offers a deliberate way to consider what mental state you are currently in, and if that's the state you want to be in. As a trauma survivor myself, I have found it incredibly valuable for checking to see if I'm triggered, dissociating, slightly panicked, or in any other way not fully present. Just thinking about that at this point (after many years of practice and experience) can sometimes snap me back to being more fully present, and better able to handle whatever's going on. So theoretically, anything that works to help someone be more mindful of how fully present they are could help with this decision-making process.

So that got me a pretty good foundation. I did notice that sometimes I just don't have the time or space to get into a fully meditative state, and if I can't go make one somewhere, I do have other general values and priorities I live by. Compassion is a top priority for me (and now clearly includes compassion for myself), integrity is also right up there, and there a re probably a few others I could name quickly if I was less tired. :) So, those give me some general guidance, and I have the meditative thing for when I can or want to go deeper with it. That combination has generally continued to work much better for me, for let's see, about 15 years so far. Wow, almost half my life now. I found it flexible enough to be able to expand to include other values or more specific tools I could apply, but that basic concept has remained a big part of how I approach ethics.

If you have any further question, please feel free to ask. And that does include _after_ Arisia - I'll still get the email notice if you reply here, so it doesn't have to still be a recent post for me to see that someone commented. :) And thank you again for asking. :)
New amusing thought -- it only occurred to me as I was answering lakmiseiru's questions below that I was in fact trying to make a decision in this exact case, and this time posted to my friends looking for advise (ie didn't go meditate and take it on myself from there). For my own view of divinity, this is not outside the realm of my other system (I see divinity in other people too), but it is different than my usual inward meditative approach. And from the "trauma-survivor making sure I'm not just reacting out of a triggered place" perspective, asking around still works for that too (provided I'm asking people I trust to be relatively grounded themselves ;) ). I suppose it's good to acknowledge I do sometimes go for other tools too. ;)

Two thoughts here - not sure how much use they'll be. First, from what you're saying with wire_mother and erynn999, it sounds like the issue is less "lines from another religion whose tenets you disagree with" and more "lines that you disagree with that prescribe or proscribe behaviors rather than being a celebration of deity" - does that make sense? e.g. it's okay to sing Christmas carols or celebrations of Mary, but not okay to tell people to believe or go to hell.

Second - given your higher vocal range - any chance you can work on a wordless descant to their melody, supporting it rather than participating in the words?
Since it's much quicker, I'm answering your 2nd question first - that's pretty much what I meant by just singing vocables. alfrecht had seemed to support that idea too. :)

First question - yes, exactly. I'm ok singing stuff to celebrate stuff I don't actively celebrate, but am open to, like actually devotional songs to Christian entities, plus I LOVE kirtan, which is essentially Hindu devotional chants to their own deities, some of whom I'd never heard of until I got drawn in by the pretty singing.

It's singing stuff that I have concern could hurt someone, even if I know that isn't the intent behind it. Like the binding thing - it may just be carelessness, or possibly a different approach from the perspective of the songwriter (which I suspect it is in this case). But I can think of situations where taking binding lightly could lead to potential harm.

I can also think of people who could be led to feel more isolated when they see/hear people celebrating the Rede as an ethical basis (which I suppose, honestly, is how I feel), or that it can even be used to excuse harmful decisions (see my new response to siderea above about how some domestic violence survivors forget to consider their own harm, and could feel like they can't leave an abusive partner if he cries that her leaving would hurt him (or whatever the appropriate pronouns would be in any given situation, but it's easier to use separate pronouns for victim/abuser in an example)).

And yeah "believe or go to hell", "be like us or go to hell", "god likes us better than you", "it's ok to be violent (even only verbally) to women/ racial minorities/ queers/ gender nonconformists/ people from a particular country/ poor people/ people of a particular religion (or lack thereof), etc.", and stuff like that are much more obviously harmful. Excepting parody, as wire_mother mentioned - have you heard "Jesus Loves Me" by the Austin Lounge Lizards? That's actually funny, because it's obvious it's a parody, with lines like "Jesus loves me but he can't stand you..." :)
I recently shared a link on Facebook to an article called "The Penis Mom". In it, the school a woman is sending her son to was planning to build a trebuchet to launch pumpkins into the woods, for fun. Sounds good, but when the administration asked for help building said trebuchet, they specifically said "Could we get any dads to help?" The woman who wrote the article found this infuriating, and was concerned for the harm it could do to girls reading this, to reinforce all the gendered bullshit already out there saying women can't be strong, that even adult women aren't worth considering to help build a trebuchet. So, she responded "Do we seriously only want dads to help? Is lifting done with a penis?" on the shared email list for the parents and admins of the school. This led to some backlash about it being inappropriate to post her response to the list, and she became known as "the penis mom".

When I shared this on Facebook, the responses I got were divided almost evenly in half, with one half cheering on the penis mom for what she said, and the other half saying her response really was inappropriate. After a bit of discussion, we clarified that if this was the first time the school had ever done or said something like this, then it would probably have been more appropriate to write a more professional response first, that would be more likely to allow for someone who was simply careless (sending out the dad comment) to safe face. Those of us who had been cheering on the penis mom had not assumed this was the school's first offense. We all happened to be women who have dealt with undermining comments, arguments, and experiences about our physical strength as women on a fairly regular basis for a very long time.

The thing is, even if it was said out of carelessness and not an actual intention to oppress women, it could still BE potentially harmful. One of the other women in this discussion gave the example that when she started martial arts training, she insisted on dropping to the ground during mat work, because she'd been told insistently and repeatedly (outside of class) that she would be seriously injured if she tried to throw a man while standing. As it was, she got very good at throwing men from the ground, but the fact that she didn't even _try_ to fight standing up, because of what she'd been told, was infuriating after she finally learned her own strength. And she said what if this had been real life, where she'd been actually being attacked, and she _didn't fight back_ because of how many times she'd been told she would only injure herself if she did. This stuff IS harmful, even when done out of carelessness and not deliberate oppression.

While I generally appreciate when someone does not actually intend harm, I still include some actual likely consequences of what someone does to be something they are responsible for, regardless of intention. People actually get hurt all the time from something people didn't mean to be harmful. While no one can control all possible outcomes of anything they do, I do take a certain level of carelessness to not get someone off the hook when I believe they should have known better. I guess it's a difference between innocence and ignorance - if I believe they really did not intend bad outcomes and did not know bad outcomes were likely, then that's innocence. If I believe they really should have known better (how does anyone in the modern U.S. not know that patriarchy is harmful to women and females?), then I still hold them responsible.
In this case, I guess I largely see my bandmates, and the original songwriter, as innocent - I believe they honestly don't mean any harm, and are trying to celebrate something that I generally support -- being true to who you are even if you're polyamorous and pagan (both of which I am), and not listening to church authorities for actual ethical guidance. I'm right with them on that general concept. I believe in this case that they don't have trauma/domestic violence or other backgrounds that can make the Rede painful, isolating, or potentially dangerous, and likewise don't have as much (or any) experience with having to undo inappropriate bindings. If they had known about these things and were just promoting these ideas anyways, because it's easier or whatever, then I'd have a problem with them doing it too. In this particular case, I had been feeling like I didn't want to rain on their parade, since they had something that was working for them; I just didn't want to add my voice to it, given my own concerns.

Though now that I've written a bunch of this out and thought more about it, I think what I'm actually going to do is write to the band. I happened to have started the "sharing vs. ownership" conversation last night, and told them I tend to be very into communicating, a lot. So, perhaps this would be a good opportunity to communicate my actual concerns about those lines to the band, and see if we would like to consider: a) getting permission from the original songwriter to change the words just for those lines (and consequently, the title), b) write a different song with mostly the same message (but not what's in those 2 lines), c) pick a different pagan song from that songwriter to cover, d) other, or e) any combination of the above.

I honestly do feel much better about that. Thank you for getting me thinking in this direction. :)