Disability

Lame

Galina Krasskova (whom I once had the pleasure of meeting) writes about a controversy over the use of the word “lame” to refer to the smith god Hephaestus (Vulcan, for you Roman fans).

She starts by pointing out that the Norse tradition, too, has its deities with disabilities:

I practice a tradition that has many impaired and disfigured Gods: Odin is missing an eye, Heimdall by some accounts his ears, Hodr is blind, Tyr lost a hand, and other Gods are scarred and so on and so forth. There’s power and tremendous wisdom in each account of how these Deities became as They are. Sometimes, as with Odin, the act of disfigurement is a hugely important part of His mythos, one of the defining moments of His nature as a God. So when I come upon a Deity that has specific epithets that refer to, as in this case, lameness, I pay attention.

While it would be less than polite to refer to a person with mobility issues as lame, Krasskova argues that the use of the word in describing the god is a different case:

Homer presents Him as having crafted delicate, almost sentient automatons (the first AIs!) for instance, and almost never refers to Him as the “lame God” without also referencing His strength and vigor. It’s as though the two are inextricably linked. For this reason, not to mention simple respect for these Gods, we ought to be careful before we strip those holy titles away.

Like Krasskova, I am pleased that our gods are imperfect, for that helps us to understand our own disabilities and abilities. One thing I find troubling is that imperfections — lameness, missing limbs or eyes, scars — are far more common in historical descriptions of male deities than female. This offers us — Krasskova, me, and other Pagan women with disabilities — a challenge, to create our own mythos and role models.

Ritual with special-needs kids

Meredith, at Witchtastic, has an excellent post from her experience as a Pagan and mother to a child with special needs. She makes some interesting points about creating ritual experiences that can include her boy, who has sensory integration issues:

  • Heavy work — some kids find it comforting to get their whole bodies involved in a process like casting the circle, pushing on walls or otherwise getting their physical selves deeply immersed in the experience of creating the temple.
  • Inclusion despite limits — Meredith’s son is nonverbal, but can wave hello to the elements or the gods. She uses a push light for “fire” to give him a way to safely invoke that element.
  • Respecting where he is — if he’s not up for doing ritual at a given time, he doesn’t have to.

I know many Pagan parents struggle with how to keep their own spirituality alive while respecting their children’s individual needs and abilities (whether or not they are “neurotypical”). It’s nice to see a voice publicly speaking up for inclusion.

Doing it right

Burning ManI am not the sort of person who goes to Burning Man. But I know lots of such people, and in the context of a conversation I had occasion to look up the Burning Man Web site.

If you haven’t heard of it, Burning Man is a large festival, or as they call it, “experiment in temporary community,” which takes place in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada every year. Participants create art, music, theme camps, and communities, and then they pack it all up and go away again. The challenge is that along with participating in the event on whatever level pleases you, you also have to provide for your own survival in a very challenging environment, including your own food, water and protection from the sun.

As I say, I’m not a Burning Man sort of person. My kind of festival takes place in a nice hotel with modern plumbing. But I was impressed by the Burning Man page on Wheelchairs on the Playa. It neither encourages nor discourages people with disabilities from attending. It just tells you what you need to know to have a good experience. Planners and promoters of Pagan festivals might do well to take this attitude to heart.


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It really does get better

I doubt anyone reading this blog has gone through life without experiencing the feeling of being different, perhaps even being excluded or bullied or abused for your differences. I think that may be one reason so many of us resonate to the “It Gets Better” project, started by columnist Dan Savage to try to stem a wave of suicides among young people who were (or were thought by their peers to be) gay.

Likewise, you don’t have to have ever carried an extra pound on your body to understand why Maura Kelly was wrong when she wrote in Marie Claire about how much she hates watching fat people walk or kiss. But you have to be a pretty awesome person to realize that Kelly’s hatred comes from a place of fear and self-hatred, as the awesome Plumcake of Manolo for the Big Girl does in this excellent post. Sample quote:

Other people don’t need to be bad to make you feel good. Other people don’t need to be ugly for you to be beautiful. It’s not a zero-sum game. Never has been.

And I’ll warn you that this video made me cry like a baby, and you should totally watch it anyway, and share it with everyone you know who is, or has been, hurt by others for being different.

If you’re reading this and other people are making your life miserable because of your religion or your race or your sexuality or your disability, please know that this is not forever, that you can live to prove everyone wrong about you, just by pursuing happiness on your terms. But the key word is “live.”


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Disability Goddess?

Venus de Milo (sculpture in the Louvre)When I was looking for a name for this blog, I did a little searching to try to find the name of an ancient goddess who had some kind of disabiity. Aside from Themis, the Greek goddess of justice (who is blindfolded, not blind, and was not even blindfolded in early depictions), I found nothing.

It is tempting to argue that in cultures both ancient and modern, there is more of a role for the man with a disability than a woman, that women are/were simply expected to be beautiful and perfect, and ignored if they are/were not.

But I don’t want to imply that being disabled is any less of a problem for men (indeed, in today’s cowboy-up culture it may be more difficult for a man to admit he needs help), and I also am aware that there are many areas of world religion where my knowledge is scanty. So: Are there any disabled goddesses?


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Time Warp: A Lesson in Dance and Mobility

Here’s a lesson in inclusiveness from “Glee,” of all things. (Gosh, I feel old. I remember when “Rocky Horror” was the dirtiest movie I’d ever seen.) The dance, as described in the lyrics, includes jumping, stepping and pelvic thrusting, yet who can doubt that the guy in the wheelchair is well and truly a part of this Time Warp?

Good post on this topic

from P. Sufenas Virius Lupus at Aedicula Antinoi. Sample quote:

Something else that I see more and more is the idea that, with proper spiritual practice, those who are on medications for psychological and physiologically-based mood or mental disorders will somehow “get over” their need for such things eventually.

Yes, thank you for your concern, but my issues will not go away if I become a vegan/eat only raw foods/take elderberry supplements/get cranio-sacral therapy/believe in fairies.

Virius Lupus also gives some fascinating historical data on a set of games held at the Egyptian city of Memphis in about 220 CE. Along with categories for competitors who were children and teens, the athletes also included a category that we might interpret to include people who were blind or disabled.

Read the whole thing here.


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There’s Another Way

Yesterday’s post discussed a Pagan organization that did not do a good job of making a mildly disabled festival-goer feel welcome. I’m fortunate to be part of a community where there is a concerted effort to do things differently. They prefer to keep a low profile, so we’ll just call them the SSPG (Sooper Sekrit Pagan Gathering).

On SSPG’s e-mail list, an organizer of next season’s annual gathering is already gathering ideas for ways to include people of varying mobilities in the main ritual. She was challenged by a former dancer to come up with ways that everyone can dance — not just participate, DANCE. Among the suggestions from the group:

  • Raising energy by joining hands and making a “stirring the cauldron” motion with the joined hands.
  • Creating a center focal point where mobility-challenged people can move and drum (the outer group then performs a spiral dance, and at the center you have to kiss a drummer!).
  • An idea from a past SSPG ritual, in which participants sort themselves into Earth, Air, Fire and Water groups. Air, Fire and Water leave the ritual area to explore the outdoors and bring back symbols. Earth remains in the ritual space and does Earth-related work (I can envision consecrating a stone altar, for example).

I don’t know what the final ritual will look like, but I know that the organizers have shown courtesy and thoughtfulness in preparing for a variety of people to take a meaningful part — including listening to people who have disabilities.