Humanistic Paganism

Skin-Deep Sacrifices

We’ve all walked down a string of shops before and passed that familiar looking tattoo parlor. It starts with the sound of constant buzzing from the motorized tattoo gun, as though a swarm of killer bees is stinging some unfortunate victim. Then you look through the window and see the typical glass case in front, housing various bone gauges and earrings while the top is littered with portfolio books. Dragons and resin skulls decorate the walls, and the muffled sounds of heavy metal are heard from inside, and you start to think about that tattoo you’ve wanted for years now. But all the quotes you’ve received are all so expensive and what if you get tired of it in a few years? It would be on you forever! That’s more commitment than marriage or buying a house. That is, unless you get it from Ephemeral Tattoos, a company that has designed a new ink that uses smaller molecules so the body can eventually absorb it into the immune system, creating professional temporary tattoos. They offer 3-month tattoos, 6-month tattoos, or (for “the braver ones”) an entire year. But if three months still seem too long, then you can always go back in and have them trace over it to have it removed immediately. And if you think this new fancy stuff must come with a higher cost, it’s less than standard tattooing. So there you have it! No more excuses or reasons to not get his name inked on your index finger or a woman’s leg tattooed on each side of your hairy armpit. If you guys break up or it’s too vulgar, it’ll just go away soon anyway. And with 36% of young Americans of ages between 18 to 25 to currently have at least one tattoo (Pew Research Center, 2017), that number will likely rise with the emergence of this new ink. Hail to the frivolous.

And while I can understand the convenience of real temporary tattoos in some situations, I can’t help but see this as a cultural loss. The point of body modification is that it’s meant to be a sacrifice. The mother whose son was shot in Iraq getting a memorial tattoo over her heart, a family crest on a man’s chest, a pentacle or a spirit animal on a shoulder, or a tramp stamp of the moon’s phases. It is a sacrifice of money, pain, blood, and skin. It’s not about regretting it when you get old because it’s faded or sagging like everything else on your body, or that the reason behind it may no longer be relevant in time, because how do you know that you’ll live to see that day? How do you know that you won’t die in a car crash tomorrow? It’s about living for today and commemorating that moment in your life and what it meant to you. Now, I can understand if a lover became extremely abusive to you and you’d like your tattoo that represented them to be gone forever, so you won’t have to think of them every time you see it. But that’s when you symbolically and physically turn it into something better by finding a decent cover-up tattoo artist. The same can be said if you simply had a change of heart or the original tattoo was poorly done.

Of course, I may be biased since I am heavily tatted. Getting inked on a monthly basis has caused me to understand the world of tattooing better than I ever thought existed, by just conversing with these artists and getting to know them. Once, I had the opportunity to watch my artist get tattooed by his friend, Maya Sialuk Jacobsen, from Oslo. Maya used to work with tattoo machines until over the years the vibrations from it destroyed her wrist. Her doctor told her “no more tattooing,” and so she changed her tools to the more indigenous style of hand tapping (when one stick taps another that has a needle attached with ink, over and over) and kept on with her passion. As Maya was inking my artist, I asked her what she loved most about her job. She smiled and said, “Popping that young boy’s cherry with his very first tattoo and all the courage he built up to get it. Then a year later, see him come back to get his girlfriend’s name on him. A couple of years go by, and he wants something else important to him on his shoulder, then another and so on, until one day I see him a grown man covered in the stages of his developing identity. Some of them I’ve done, and some by others, but knowing that my work was the beginning for him. That’s what I love.” Seeing her with the hand tapping technique reminded me of how in the old days of some cultures, tattoo artists were a kind of shaman. Before a battle, the warriors would come to them, and the tattoo artists chose the design and placement instead of the other way around, within a religious ceremony. Sometimes this was for the battle, and sometimes it was for the individual, as a rite of passage.

These rites of passages that we sacrifice our skin to are not passive aggressive, they’re scars. Battle wounds. Markers and milestones along the journey. Even a tiny unicorn above the ankle or a tribal armband has a story to tell and a right to its existence in our lives. Permanence should be feared; commitment is scary. But if our bodies always change, leaving all kinds of marks as we age, why can’t we be in control of some of those? And for that matter, why can’t they last even more permanent past our lives? Lately, I’ve been thinking of updating my will from having my body placed in an Earth burial to having my tattooed skin turned into drums -into music. Or hell, I’ve even thought about being taxidermized and passed around loved ones’ homes, forever scaring the snot out of them when they wake up in the middle of the night for a glass of water and forget I’m there. My hopes are that this unique new form of tattoo ink will be grouped with other temporary styles, like Henna, and not affect the culture and experience of getting inked. In all honesty, I believe it will be a phase and not change the ancient and ever-evolving culture of tattooing. That said, if you have a nice stash o’ cash and design in mind but not sure of its placement, then maybe have Ephemeral Tattoos continuously tattoo it on various places until it looks right, and then get it done permanently!

Reference:

Pew Research Center. (2017). Tattooed Gen Nexters. Retrieved from http://www.people-press.org/2007/01/09/a-portrait-of-generation-next/

Five Thirty Eight. (2014). Retrieved from  https://fivethirtyeight.com/datalab/how-many-people-regret-their-tattoos/     

Kansas Stanton

Kansas Stanton is a Naturalistic Neo-Pagan who resides in Seattle, Washington. He belongs to, and practices with, a local group of Reform Pagans and blogs at https://leavesontheroad.wordpress.com/. He also volunteers every year at the Esoteric Book Conference in Seattle and regularly attends various Pagan festivals and events.

He is a full-time student, earning his degree in Environmental Science and a Certificate in Sustainability, after which time he will move on to law school to receive his Juris Doctor in Environmental Law. When Kansas is not in class or working his job in the art industry, he also attends heavy metal concerts both locally and internationally. He is also a vegan outdoorsman who frequents the trails and whitewater rivers of the pacific northwest and loves to spend his time with friends over a cold, dark beer.

See Kansas’ posts

[A Pedagogy of Gaia] An Equinox Paradox, by Bart Everson

From a photo by Sean Benham, licensed under Creative Commons.

I thought I spotted something in the ligustrum tree that grows behind our house.

“Is that a nest?” I asked my wife. She’s a better naturalist than I.

“No way,” she said. She was skeptical that I would notice something like that before she did. Then she took a closer look. “Wow, yes. Maybe it is.”

We saw a couple blue jays hopping around our backyard. One of them flew up to the bramble of twigs in the forking branch, and that removed any lingering doubt.

“It’s awfully low to the ground,” my wife observed. She was worried that it would be subject to the predations of the many feral cats who pass through our yard. We live in Mid-City New Orleans, and the feral population is quite high. My wife makes an effort to trap, neuter, and release unfixed cats when they show up.

“Hmmm,” I said, sipping my beer. “In the epic battle of cat versus bird, whose side are you on?”

“The birds! Haven’t you seen the news? It’s a huge problem. Cats are killers.”

It’s true. Over the course of my lifetime, blue jay populations have declined almost 30%, and cats are a primary culprit. Blue jays are just one example of a larger trend. A recent study suggests that feral cats “are likely the single greatest source of anthropogenic mortality for US birds and mammals.”

I find it taxing to think always of the big global picture. What we were considering in our backyard was the micro-local level, an individual drama. And I thought to myself privately that I might be rooting for the cats.

Mr. & Mrs. Jay

That changed the next next morning. I spent a long while watching the blue jays through the window. They were clearly operating as a couple. One was digging for worms on the ground while the other kept watch overhead.

A lot of people don’t like blue jays. They run off other birds, I guess, though woodpeckers and grackles and even squirrels can be more aggressive. Blue jays also get a bad rap for raiding other birds’ nests, but I’m not sure they really do that very often. They really dig acorns, and our neighborhood is inundated with acorns from the live oaks lining the streets. They would have plenty to eat here.

I found myself overjoyed by their presence. Blue jays are pretty to look at. Their coloring comes from melanin. That’s the same pigment that makes our human skins various shades of brown, only in the jays it looks blue, refracted by the structure of cells in their feathers.

Moreover, I took heart at their endeavors to build a life together in our yard. Like many birds, blue jays often mate for life, and I wondered how long this couple had been together. Were they young, new to all this, building their first nest? Blue jays can live almost thirty years. Maybe they were an old couple that had weathered many seasons.

In my mind, I named them Mr. and Mrs. Jay.

Surely nesting birds are one of the most iconic harbingers of spring. I couldn’t wait to show my daughter. We could watch the jays hatch their eggs and raise a family over the course of the coming weeks. This would be the best spring ever!

An ambiguous portent

But when my daughter woke up that morning and made her way downstairs at last, and I took her outside to see the nest, I was perplexed. I couldn’t find it.

I called to my wife again. “Where did the nest go? Can you take a look? Am I losing my mind?”

She found the remnants of the nest lying on the ground in two pieces. Twigs and string and a daub of mud. It had been in the tree just a moment ago. What had happened? Was it the wind? The feral cats? We couldn’t tell.

Mr. and Mrs. Jay were gone. Bye bye birdie. It’s been several days and they have not returned, nor have we seen any feathery remnants to suggest a battle.

I’m sad about this.

I am not prone to prognostication or seeking signs of the future, but my poet’s heart can’t refrain from seeing this as a parable and an omen. What exactly it means, I’m not sure. Turmoil and upheaval, I suppose. You don’t have to be a seer to predict that.

When I recounted this story to a friend, she saw an entirely different meaning. Perhaps it’s about disillusionment — how the future we envision is not the future we actually get. Perhaps it’s a cautionary tale — beware of growing too attached to dreams and desires.

There’s a delicate paradox here. This series of developments captured my attention and my heart. I want to invest them with a deeper meaning. But at the same time, I don’t want to force the issue. I don’t want to rush to judgment. To do so would be to crush the life out of it. Clumsy, like smashing a bird’s egg. Instead, I want to hold it gently, in my mind, and appreciate its many mysterious potentialities.

Ambiguous portents are best.

Bart Everson

15361388775_0be73debd1_z-2Bart Everson is a writer, a photographer, a baker of bread, a husband and a father. An award-winning videographer, he is co-creator of ROX, the first TV show on the internet. As a media artist and an advocate for faculty development in higher education, he is interested in current and emerging trends in social media, blogging, podcasting, et cetera, as well as contemplative pedagogy and integrative learning. He is a founding member of the Green Party of Louisiana, past president of Friends of Lafitte Corridor, sometime contributor to Rising Tide, and a participant in New Orleans Lamplight Circle.

Bart is also a regular columnist here at HP.  His column is called A Pedagogy of Gaia.

See all of Bart Everson’s Posts

Happy Spring Equinox!

Happy Spring Equinox, or Ostara!  Of course, our spherical planet also gives us the beautiful symmetry of the  Fall Equinox (& Mabon) being celebrated now by our Southern Hemisphere friends.  The moment of the Equinox is right now.  That’s 9:25 am, Monday, March 20th for those of us living East of the Eastern United States timezone.

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[Dead Ideas] “Russian Serfdom II: Serf World: Life on Serf Commune – RPG”, by B. T. Newberg

What was life like on a Russian serf commune? Experience it today in our very first role-playing game episode! That’s right, we’re doing this as an RPG for an even more immersive experience.

Be sure to support the show at www.patreon.com/deadideaspod to get your portrait drawn!

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Welcome our new Science Editor, Kansas Stanton

Kansas Stanton is a Naturalistic Neo-Pagan who resides in Seattle, Washington. He belongs to, and practices with, a local group of Reform Pagans and blogs at https://leavesontheroad.wordpress.com/. He also volunteers every year at the Esoteric Book Conference in Seattle and regularly attends various Pagan festivals and events.

He is a full-time student, earning his degree in Environmental Science and a Certificate in Sustainability, after which time he will move on to law school to receive his Juris Doctor in Environmental Law. When Kansas is not in class or working his job in the art industry, he also attends heavy metal concerts both locally and internationally. He is also a vegan outdoorsman who frequents the trails and whitewater rivers of the pacific northwest and loves to spend his time with friends over a cold, dark beer.

Please join me in welcoming Kansas!

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