Linkspams, and Writing What You Don’t Know

Courtesy of Miss Turdle, here are  two handy guides for tastefully writing characters of colour and LGBTQ* characters.

Read, when you think you’re finished, read them all again. Read them however many times it takes you to get all the information to sink in.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to talk about the phenomenon of “Writing What You Don’t Know” (WWYDK) or, “Can a member of the dominant culture write about a member of a minority culture?”

“Write what you know,” is a good place to start writing. If you’re familiar with the ins and outs of a job, it’s easy to stick a character into that profession. If you know something about being a middle class white kid in the American midwest, then you can take that experience and put it on a page. Writing what you know can be a great starting point.

However, I don’t think it should be the only avenue you ever explore.

Yes, seriously, I have heard folks say that writers should only write what they know, and if you want my honest-to-goodness, completely uncensored opinion: that’s a load of shit.

Let’s take this to its logical extreme. If I were going to write a book about people like me, they would all be geeky, white, middle-class, cis, disabled, unemployed Canadian lesbian women who stayed glued to their computer monitors for most of the day, writing, surfing the web, occasionally playing with their dogs.

You know what that is? Boring, that’s what it is.

Okay, let’s say that I’m not that specific, and I can just write about white cisgender disabled lesbians, here are people that I can’t write about:

  • Men
  • able-bodied people
  • anyone who isn’t a lesbian
  • anyone who isn’t white
  • trans* people in general (some of whom are included under the first category)

You get the idea, right?

It’s just silly to suggest that a writer only write what they know. I don’t know about you, but I interact with plenty of people on a daily basis who aren’t like me. My dad and brothers are all men, my mom isn’t disabled, my entire family is Christian, and the members of my immediate family are all heterosexual. It would be impossible to accurately portray my experiences without at least making reference to these people, and the same would go for any character I’ve created.

Now, having said that, I will say that writing what you don’t know carries a high possibility that you will fuck it up, you will fuck it up royally, ESPECIALLY if you are a member of a dominant culture writing about a member of a minority culture.

See, for instance, the many, many, many instances of heterosexual men and women writing gay and lesbian characters simply because “Girl on Girl/Guy on Guy is Hot” or the white writers (and I myself am a white writer) who write characters of colour like ZOMG SO EXOTIC!

Is it really any wonder that certain communities get so sick and tired of this sort of thing?

Now, don’t get me wrong, there are writers that I want to serve a “never write about these characters again. Ever,” notice (Orson Scott Card, I’m looking at you and your butchering of Hamlet). These are people that Fangs for the Fantasy gives a “pass at writing X people” because the depiction of X is so horrible that they would rather the author not include them at all.

Yes, you read that right, being erased is preferable to a horrible attempt at inclusion.

But, you know, I wouldn’t want to be the one to pass that sort of ban (which is pretty ridiculous, now that you think about it) because then we wouldn’t have Jim C. Hines’ amazing Princess series (Jim C. Hines is made of awesome, seriously) nor Ellen Kushner’s Privilege of the Sword (because it had men in it, bisexual men) Vanyel (Vanyel has his share of problems, but he’s still awesome), or any series that isn’t set on a monolithic planet (except Jane Fletcher’s Calaeno series, which takes place on an all-female planet, actually, that’s not entirely true, but that’s a spoiler).

In other words, media as we know it would die.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of shit out there, and all the shit out there adds to the big steaming pile of [insert your -ism word here], and sometimes it seems like there’s so much of it that you probably think “is all this crap worth it for a few good portrayals?” And to be honest, sometimes I’m not so sure, but it’s a lot like Yahtzee’s (of Zero Punctuation’s fame) sequel dilemma, where he states that he’d like to make all video game sequels illegal–which means he’d have to sacrifice Silent Hill 2, one of his favourite games. And, you know, I’ve played plenty of bad sequels (Parasite Eve 2 can GTFO) but I’ve also played lots of good sequels–currently Devil Survivor 2, Virtue’s Last Reward, before those, Persona 3 and 4, and I swear I am the only person alive who actually liked Chrono Cross, Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones–I could go on all day listing sequels that I enjoyed, even though nothing really compares to popping in something like Fire Emblem for the first time and being like “HOLY SHIT! WHAT IS THAT BEAUTIFUL MUSIC COMING FROM MY GBA?!”

Anyways, as much as I’d really like to strangle people who put out things like the tarot deck in my last post or the discrimflipped Out in the post before that, I’ll just settle for poking fun at them and urging you not to buy them while supporting awesome authors like Sarah Diemer, who is currently doing a lesbian YA extravaganza called Project Unicorn (because lesbians in YA are almost mythical and non-existent, although some would argue the non-existent part).

And no one has cooler hair than her. Seriously, the pink! It sparkles!

Remember the Tarot Deck of Heroes?

I found a deck that’s like a genderflipped version of the Tarot Deck of Heroes

I’m not sure whether to laugh or be offended by the Sensual Goddess Tarot (NSFW, NSFW, NSFW!)

On the one hand, there’s so much boobage on display that I find it almost campy and absolutely ridiculous. On the other hand, does anyone else find it ironic that a deck that purports to celebrate “the power of the feminine aspect in the tradition of the great master artists whose sculptures, paintings and drawings praised female beauty as one of the greatest creations ever,” by….reducing them to T&A and constantly putting them in subservient positions (especially the kings).

I just checked, the artist is a man, that explains everything.

 

Remember “Save the Pearls”?

Remember that horribly racist book that I still haven’t read but I decided to comment on anyways?

There’s now a version for queer folks! (Trigger warning: homophobia)

I wish I was kidding.

Can we just ban all straight people from writing stories about gay people until they pass a test? I’ll happily write a test for writing characters of colour, if that’s what it takes. Let’s see, question one: “What sort of metaphors should you never use to describe the colour of someone’s skin?” Food metaphors, of course!

Seriously, I cannot headdesk enough, or I will end up in the hospital.

Actually, this segues neatly into a post I’m working on. I’ll probably have it up tomorrow, I’m tired, too much homophobia makes my brain hurt. I should go finish Magic’s Price. Despite it’s somewhat datedness, Vanyel is light years ahead of this shit. He isn’t even in the same universe as this shit. Save me from all this homophobia, Vanyel!

Review: Jambalaya by Luisah Teish

I’m slowly working my way through my giant Pile o’ Books, and since I just, just finished this one, it’s time for another review.

In a nutshell, this book is part memoir, part spiritual workbook, and part New Orleans Vodou 101, which, as it turns out, I’ve been confusing with hoodoo this whole time (I’m more familiar with Haitian Vodou). In this book, you will learn how to set up an ancestor altar, basic candle magic, a bit about hexing and crossing, information on the Seven African Powers (I should note here that she doesn’t include Orunmila in her list, as he is patron of a priestly office open only to men, so she substitutes Oya instead, a much more appropriate choice for a book geared towards women), and a whole lot more than I can cover in this brief paragraph. Throughout the book, Teish switches from the autobiographical to the practical as she recounts events from her life and follows that up with a ritual, or “work”, at the end of each chapter. The exercises in the book range from simple (setting up a simple altar for your ancestors) to the more complex (a specific ritual to be performed if you ever visit Marie Laveau’s tomb in New Orleans).

My previous exposure to Teish’s work is a brief segment in one of the Women and Spirituality films, where she tells the story of Yemaya’s included in this book. Teish is a wonderful storyteller, and writes with a very friendly style, as if she’s sitting talking with the reader over a cup of coffee.

Now, there are a few things to keep in mind before you all run out to get a copy, the most important being that this book was written in the late 80s, which means that you will at times run across a reference to “the burning times” (especially in the intro, written by Starhawk). I don’t know a thing about the Louisiana Purchase (other than that it sounds like somebody was purchasing Louisiana) so I can’t judge how accurate the rest of the history in the book is (she does admit that some of her information on Marie Laveau is, well, UPG though) but I’d suggest having a grain of salt handy. There’s also one particular ritual centered around rape survivors that strikes me as being potentially unsafe (the ritual involves suddenly grabbing them and spinning them around in the middle of a cleansing bath, or, alternatively, making a sudden loud noise when they’re finished quietly listing their problems) but that is for the survivor to ascertain. Still, it is something to keep in mind. Again, grain of salt.

Actually, no, salt repels the ancestors (and other spirits), so maybe it’s more accurate to say have a pinch of tobacco handy. 🙂

So, what can you learn from this book? Well, if you’re at all interested in Vodou a la New Orleans, this book is a good place to start (though it is obviously not exhaustive or academic). Personally though, as a white woman of European-descent, I’m more than a little hesitant to try any of the exercises in the book. It just seems highly culturally appropriative, though the candle magic in the book is very similar to candle magic in eclectic Wicca 1o1 type books. However, if you have no clue where to start honouring your ancestors (for instance) you might learn something from the strong tradition of ancestor reverence in ATRs and diasporic traditions. Teish even offers advice on what to do if one of your ancestors was a Nazi, a slave-owner, or another sort of person who Did Shitty Things.

So, yeah, I learned about New Orleans style Vodou, what gumbo ya ya is, and that blood makes Ogun hungry, so no exposing him to menstrual blood or cuts on the body.

Fire Emblem Awakening Demo Impressions

Usually I wouldn’t post my impressions of a demo because I don’t play many demos, and it would be much easier to just post a full review but OMFGS SO EXCITE FOR THIS GAME! EXCITE!

So I just finished downloading and playing the demo on my brand shiny new 3DS, and here are my impressions:

Ooh, a choice of three difficulty levels: Normal, Hard, and Lunatic, I’ll just pick Normal, because I think that’s the only one they’ll let me pick.

WHAT DO YOU MEAN I CAN’T PLAY WITH PERMADEATH? (The game now has an option to turn off permadeath, undermining the entire point of the series, but just call me a purist.)

WHAT DO YOU MEAN I CAN’T PLAY AS A GIRL? AND WHY DOES MY MALE PC HAVE A STUPID VOICE? (This is just for the demo, though. You can customize your character’s appearance in the full game as well.)

At least I can pick my birthday….

My character has amnesia I HAVE NEVER SEEN THIS BEFORE IN A GAME, EVER!

Ylisse? Seriously? That’s the name of this place? Okay, whatever. BTW these cutscenes are great!

Ooh, this co-op battle thing is neat. Not only do you get bonuses to certain stats, characters will attack with you or deflect damage.

I LOVE SULLY SO MUCH! Her response to Virion’s unwanted flirting? Threatening him with a boot to the face! Virion is, well, full of himself, seriously full of himself. Sully is awesome. Cavaliers are the best.

P.S. Don’t worry Lissa, I’ll promote you to something cool so you won’t have to cower and let all the big strong men save you all the time.

MAAAAAAARTH! (What’s wrong with his voice?)

Aw, it’s over? WTF now I have to wait until February?

In short, this demo is all kinds of awesome, I was already going to buy the full game, but if I were on the fence I’d totally be picking it up.

Review: Sea, Sky, Soil: An Introduction to Waincraft

Sea, Sky, Soil: An Introduction to Waincraft is the first book in the Waincraft series by Nicanthiel Hrafnhild. Waincraft is a new, emerging tradition that is an offshoot of Vanatru. Waincraft draws it’s inspiration from various Eurasian mythologies, indigenous European cultures (Basque, Finn, and Saami cultures, among others), modern non-reconstructionist traditions (particularly Feri Witchcraft), ecological psychology and shamanism into a tradition that the author considers to be a form of Feral Paganism (see this essay on feral Druidry for more information).

This introductory text to this brand shiny new tradition contains information on the Five Cosmological Beings: deities (the “Great Powers”), Ancestral/Animal Tribes, The Fair Folk, Nature Spirits, and the Dead, information on the Three Worlds cosmology, a brief section on the Elements, and detailed appendices for the Great Powers, including deities arranged by category and quick correspondences (including offerings).

The material ranges from theoretical to practical. The sections about the Great Powers and the Tribes are a bit more theoretical/poetic, whereas the seasonal cycles (including solar, lunar, and general seasonal observances) are a bit more practical. The quick correspondences at the back are probably the most practical information in the book. My overall impression of this book is that it’s, well, an introduction, meant to give the reader a taste of the banquet that awaits them, or an appetizer before the main course (the rest of the books in the series being courses in the meal). I suppose a person could turn the appetizer into an entree with a bit of work, but as it is, it’s a nice introduction.

However, and I feel that it’s very important to get this across, this path is definitely not for everyone. If you think of “mainstream” Heathenry as highly lore-based and other traditions like Vanatru (or even Northern Tradition Paganism) as straddling the line between lore and inspiration (and, some would even say, moving to a tradition that is much less-focused on lore) Waincraft plants itself squarely on the side of the experiential, or, to put it another way: the Asatruar toasts the gods and wights with a horn, the Vanatruar goes wading in a pool to try and connect with the water-wights, and the Waincrafter goes for a Polar bear dip, that’s oversimplifying things a whole lot, but you get the idea. Suffice it to say that Waincraft is definitely not a “religion of the book” and you will hardly find any quoted sources in this text (and absolutely no bibliography. Remember a post or two ago where I talked about “fairy tale logic”? This is fairy tale logic, rooted more in experience and a little cross-cultural examination than study.

It’s not hard to see the influence of comparative mythology in Waincraft. The Great Powers aren’t known by individual names but by A-A-A-Archetypal (there, I said it) titles and epithets (The Lady of Night, The Shaman-Father, etc.) although a list of individual deities is provided in one of the appendices. The reason for this more archetypal model is explained by the author in this article, but here’s the relevant quote:

First, releasing the essence of the Powers from their prior European faces enables us, as worshipers, practitioners, and/or followers, to connect more deeply with the Powers that call us without much of the baggage that can often accompany prior associations. For example, though I originally encountered Her in the form and mask of Hertha/Nerthus, I found my relationship with and understanding of my Mother grew to a whole new level once I worked with her as simply Earth, because I could experience parts of Her that were not relevant to the Nerthus mask. Naming a thing gives it an identity, a place, a purpose, but it also limits that thing’s power, potentiality and relevance.

Right off the bat, I can tell that this more “soft polytheist” approach will probably tick off more than a few of my hard polytheist friends, as I said, it’s not for everyone (though the author does encourage the reader to relate to the Powers according to their own cultural context).

There are parts of the book that I found to be very intense “Too intense for me!” I thought, but then there are parts that I found absolutely intriguing, particularly the section on the Animal Tribes (the ones that “clicked” for me were Snake, Goose, Swan, Bee, and Fox, to a greater or lesser extent). I would very much like to explore this avenue further.

There are a couple of caveats, though, the first is that it seems as if you will get a lot more from this path via journeying than if you’re someone like me, with feet firmly planted on the ground on a permanent basis. This may not be the case, but it certainly seemed so at points to me. The second is that this tradition is extremely Eurocentric, which will probably come as no surprise, but I found there was a definite tendency to claim that the tradition was “Pan-European” while overwhelmingly focusing on the pantheons of Northern and Western Europe (and only certain pantheons in those areas, the Greeks and Romans hardly get a mention at all). One possibly problematic element is the advice given to those who are practicing Waincraft outside of  Europe, which is to view the (Western European) animals tribes as “Grandmothers and Grandfathers” which strikes me as odd considering that non-European practitioners might well be connecting to civilizations that are even older than European ones, but as I said, Eurocentric. Still, I suppose the upside to this is that they are at least trying to work within a European system instead of stealing from, say, Native peoples in North America (unlike some other movements I could name).

In sum, I’m not about to hang up my Vanatru label, but I am interested in this new path, and would like to see where it goes. To those who are interested, the other books in the series are as follows:

Walking the Wagon Ways: Mastering the Elements in Waincraft

Hearth and Home: Prayers, Myths, and Rituals for the Waincrafter

Fur, Feather, Scale, Skin: Working with the Tribes of Waincraft

Also check out the home of Waincraft on the web: http://waincraft.org/

and especially watch out for their Pagan Blog Project: http://waincraft.org/world-view/the-waincraft-pagan-blog-project/

If you are interested in a highly experiential path that is deeply rooted (lol pun) in the land and the Powers that live there and you can tolerate archetypal understandings of deity and a very Eurocentric worldview (though definitely not as culturally exclusive as “mainstream” Heathen groups tend to be), I’d recommend taking a look at this as you’ll probably get a lot out of it. Otherwise, well, I did say it’s not for everyone.

Free Fiction Bonus! Splicer “Deleted Scene”

Maybe it’s too early to call this a “deleted scene” but I started writing part two and ended up writing a ritual that didn’t quite mesh with part one in terms of plot. My feeling is that I might keep it and stick it in soon after I finish explaining what it is I need to explain.

Anyways, writing this was intense (to the point of actually being physically draining, like I had actually been performing the ritual myself), so I was in the odd position of having to dig up my old Wicca 1o1 books so I could recall how to ground properly. A little excessive, maybe, but better safe than sorry.

A few notes, before I post this:

The following contains references to sex, ritual nudity, a description of a (modified) Five-Fold Kiss, and talk of erections, but no graphic sexual activity. Still, if any of this bothers you, consider this your warning. It’s likely NSFW.

Regarding the actual text of the ritual, I made it up from a variety of different sources, all horrible poetry is my own. Scott and Dave practice an eclectic Wiccan tradition focused almost entirely on the struggle between the Oak and Holly Kings (the “Ancient Foe” in the invocation is the Holly King) which I made up, although I believe there are groups for gay men that also focus on this story.

The Oak King is so powerful He can cut his own door into the Circle, ‘natch, and He has shown up before, He’s just very random about it.

In short: I made stuff up.

Sooo, yeah, here’s the scene. Enjoy!

Read More »

Deck Review: Under the Roses Lenormand

I’m jealous because submerina received a handcrafted Goddess Oracle deck from her friend Thalia Took so I’m going to review a deck that she doesn’t have! Muahahahaha!

The Under the Roses Lenormand was created by Kendra Hurteau and Katrina Hill. The name is taken from the phrase “under the roses” (sub rosa) something secret or confidential. The deck has thirty-six cards plus extra Lady and Gentleman cards (perfect for reading for same-sex couples or querents who might prefer a significator who isn’t white. The cards are the same size as a standard poker deck. The card borders consist of a black outline, a lighter section with the card name and keywords (see below) and a darker “tea-stained” section around the artwork itself. Each card’s number and suit symbol are placed unobtrusively in the upper corners. The backs have a rose on them. A few cards have been renamed: The Coffin is The Grave, The Flowers is The Bouquet, The Birds is The Owls, The Tower is The Clock Tower, The Heart is The Locket (which is heart-shaped), and The Book is The Journal. Besides the deck itself, the creators have included informational cards with instructions for three and five-card spreads as well as a bit of info on the deck itself and a brief word about the Grand Tableau, which uses the entire deck. The one downside is that there really isn’t a whole lot of “Lenormand 101” talk, so complete newbies might have to muddle through it or find a helpful book or website to get started. This is where something like a LWB would come in handy.

As for the art, it has a very “Victorian” feel to it (and, true to the deck’s name, roses are everywhere). It’s a very elegant style. You can view all the art here. To be honest, there isn’t really a card that I truly dislike, though the expression on the Child’s face is kind of creepy.

There isn’t much else I can say about this deck because I’m still learning how to read with it. Lenormand cards are much more straightforward and much less intuitive than traditional Tarot The keywords on each card apparently cover a variety of traditions, so if you have a particular set of meanings that you like to follow, you can do so. For those of you who don’t like to use keywords, the creators are now offering an edition without them, but if you do choose the one with them, the keywords are very small and don’t distract from the imagery.

In close, this is a very nice deck with charming visuals and helpful keywords for the Lenormand newbie. You can order the deck here.

Review: Elves, Wights, and Trolls: Studies Towards the Practice of Germanic Heathenry, Vol. 1

First, a caveat, I have had the pleasure of conversing with the author via Facebook, so the following will probably seem more than a little biased, having said that, though:

Buy this book. Right now.

If you have any interest in the “lesser” wights: alfs, dwarves, trolls, etins, land-wights, sea-wights, etc. ANY interest at all, you NEED this book in your library!

This book is, as the title suggests, about elves, wights, and trolls. It is broken up into several chapters, each covering a different sort of being: earth-wights, etins, rises, and thurses, water-wights, light and dark alfs, and svartalfs (dwarves), respectively. In addition to containing a wealth of information regarding these various beings, Gundarsson includes chapters on finding wights, changelings, and rites that one can use should one wish to contact a wight or an alf (with all the usual warnings suggestions for how to minimize the risk of Bad Things happening, which is never a sure thing with these entities). Also included are two appendices, one on the concept of “Mother Earth” in Heathenry, and the other a translation of the “Berg-Dweller’s Song, in which a giant speaks of his kin and his travels.

This book is packed with useful information, not only from Snorri’s Eddas, but from folklore and folk-customs, in this book, you will learn the following:

  • That Freyja is associated with hemp
  • Information regarding etin-cults
  • The giantess who attacks a man by projectile -vomiting on him
  • How alfs are like and unlike the sidhe (for one thing, it is usually okay to eat the food they give you, apart from special cases, don’t accept beer from trolls)
  • Protocol for dealing with alfar and wights

There’s so much material in this short book that I couldn’t possibly cover all of it in such a short amount of time. Seriously, Gundarsson knows his stuff. He has a PhD. in Germanic Studies and taught at Uppsala University. In fact, Elves, Wights, and Trolls is very “academic” in style. (In fact, one of the complaints I’ve seen most often regarding this book is that it’s hard to read.) I found it to be accessible, but of course, I spent five years at two universities reading stuffy academic books. Suffice it to say that at times he can come across as long-winded, but I’ve read much, much worse. The tone of the book reminds me of a group of university students sitting down for an intellectual discussion per the prompting of a patient university professor.

If I had one teeny tiny miniscule quibble, it would be that he consistently does not capitalize the term “Christian” which, as a student of religious studies, is…kind of annoying. I could waste time speculating on the reasons why he does this, but I will just say that, even if you have, shall we say, issues, with a particular faith, it’s just good grammar to capitalize names of religions and religious terms.

But this is, as I said, a minor quibble in a book full of awesome. Buy yourself a copy, read it, love it, follow its advice (especially if you’re thinking about working with wights). Oh, and for those of you who really need to know, there’s lots of lore in this book, the author recounts his own experiences, but in a passing manner.

Seriously, why are you still reading this? Go and buy this book from your favourite retailer. I know I didn’t give you a lot of information about it, just trust me on this one, it’s an awesome book, and I’ve seen too many people ask things like “How do I start a relationship with my housewight? What kinds of offerings do I give them?” or, one I asked not too long ago “Is Ran’s hall really a bad place to go?” (Yes, this question is actually answered in the book.)

Okay, seriously, this book, buy it, save up for it, it’s worth it.