Christians vs. Witches!

30 06 2011

Oh my god. The other day I wrote the driest, most politically correct blog entry ever. The sad thing is that it was on one of the coolest and funniest things ever. I wrote about this blog on motherhood called Circle of Moms that was hosting a “best blog” competition for its subscribers. Basically, subscribers would vote on one another’s blogs through the Circle of Moms site–Circle of Moms was sort of the meeting place for voting on the blogs of its subscribers. (It’s a SEO strategy—everybody benefits when sites interconnect with one another through a site they all have in common.)

The competing blogs were categorized according to topic. One of these was “faith”, and it had a lot of stuff about “Biblical womanhood”, Biblical patriarchy, home-schooling, premarital sex, and all of that crap that Christian American soccer moms eat up like Starbucks protein bars. Anyway, a pagan mother submitted her blog, Confessions of a Pagan Soccer Mom, in the competition, and it was put in the “Faith” category, and boy, oh, boy, was there a shit-storm over that. Basically, acting as if they owned the “Faith” category, some of the Christian mothers descended on her like a flock of flying wolf-maidens and tore her apart, sending her nasty comments on her blog—after all, it is about witchcraft, magic, potions, and all of that scary stuff.

Ironically, however, the pagan mother won the blog competion. Guess why? The rest of the Christians defended her, sending her messages of support like “Oh, shit! We’re sorry! Christians shouldn’t act that way! We respect you and your faith tradition!” and even voting for the pagan mother’s blog as well as other pagan blogs. In fact, six of the top ten winning blogs were related to paganism. Now, six out of ten Americans are not pagan, so obviously the figures reflected this dispute. But in the end, people came together despite their different backgrounds. How about that for solidarity, girls?

Anyway, my blog entry on the whole debacle had to be polite and respectful-sounding, and I couldn’t tease any religions or make fun of anybody, because, well, it was a professional blog entry, and that makes sense—if I want to keep my job, I can’t do any dirty writing. But here and now, I can do what I want. And what I want to do is re-write that entry. I want to re-imagine it. I want to tell you what really went through my mind when I read about this hilarious catfight between Christian and pagan soccer moms, and the superbly elegant defection that led to an ultimate pagan victory. So read on.

The twilight slowly gave way to a lurid reddish haze which silhouetted Oxford’s innumerable stern spires, illuminating the soft, curvaceous, cottony English hills of the surrounding neighbourhood. On the town’s eastern border, with the rising of the sun, stood the daughters of Christ, and on the western border, the daughters of Earth. The former were servants of Yahweh, blood-god of the Israelites, and the latter, defenders of Nature, idol of the pagans. Both forces steamed with a heady passion and an impetuous lust. A hush fell over the gracious, still-sleeping city. The grizzly-mommy Sarah Palin, word-mangling publicity whore and leader of the Christians, flew forth to parley with her dread adversary, the numinous Laurie Cabot, leader of the pagans and high priestess of witchcraft in America.

“You will not refudiate my claim to the Throne of Morality!” clucked Palin in her grating Minnesota twang.

“I beg your pardon?” responded Cabot. “That isn’t a word. You cannot win the Throne of Morality with such illiteracy. Such neologisms are entirely ill-conceived.”

“Whaaat?” responded Palin. “I don’t care what you say, smarty-pants! I believe in Jesus Christ! He saved my soul from damnation when I accepted his sacrifice!”

“Well, yes”, replied Cabot with a roll of the eyes, “he did—by killing himself to propitiate himself for the imperfection he himself planted in you, so that you would no longer have to slaughter goats to propitiate him for your sins. Makes perfect sense.”

“Huuuh?? Stop trying to impress the people with your big words, you…you expert! It’s not as though people need to be treated like—”

“—like intelligent interlocutors? No, we wouldn’t want to treat the people with dignity, to address them as ladies and gentlemen. We wouldn’t want to hold them to such a high standard. Let’s talk to them like the retards we want them to be.”

“Grrrrrrr!” roared the angry grizzly-mommy. “I’ve had enough! Grizzly-women, attack!!”

Like a hive of wasps, the daughters of Christ ascended with the giant orb of the rising sun and flew like hawks at their enemy, through the spires of thriving schools and the steeples of long-empty churches, which jutted up mercilessly into the lightening sky. The daughters of Earth rose with the sinking moon as their harbinger of doom and shot at their opponent like a spray of arrows—a cloudy mass of horned bats and sharp-clawed cats. The two armies clashed with the bray of a shrieking eagle.

The leaders, Palin and Cabot, met each other head-on, their hosts crashing in behind them. Palin headed a phalanx of angels and grizzly bear-women that mauled and clawed at their opponents; Cabot’s vast host of flying cat-women and nature-spirits mauled and clawed and beat and savaged their aggressors. A frenzy of claws, bear-swipes, cat-strikes, bat-wings, and angel-wings blurred Oxford’s spikey skyline in a dark cloud against the early sun.

As the day dragged on, there was a temporary halt to the melee, and the two armies chose to employ their greatest champions. Palin submitted Michele Bachmann, U.S. Republican representative from the state of Minnesota, and Cabot submitted Doreen Virtue, PhD, doctor of counselling psychology and angel-whisperer from Laguna Beach, California.

Bachmann flew like a dragon toward the cloudy mass of light that was Virtue, and the light swelled to a near-blinding brilliance. Bachmann resorted to her chief power first, frustrating the light by constantly stating factual errors and making repeated, vacuous invocations of Jesus and God. For a moment, the light stood stunned and dizzied. At that point Bachmann lunged forth and slashed at the light with her bear-claws, but with effort the light regained its equanimity, invoking the angels. Gradually, like a trickle turning into a stream, a vast host of angels defected from Palin’s army and zoomed through the mass of clashing bodies to join Virtue, who absorbed them. The enlarged mass eerily invited Bachmann’s onslaught, unobtrusively absorbing and transforming the evangelical mommy into something like itself—a giant mass of bright, peaceful forgiveness.

“Fuck that New Age shit!” roared Palin. “I believe in the sacrifice of Christ Jesus! That sort of magical mumbo-jumbo is evil!”

“Why?” responded Cabot. “It was fair, and your champion was not killed; her consciousness merely melded with that of her opponent.”

“It’s the work of Satan! It says so in the Bible! Grizzly-women, draw now on the power of your Lord!”

“Seriously, you are one paranoid bitch. I have no choice—cat-women, attack!”

The rest will be conveyed to you in the following series of instalments, which will include such famous figures as Jesus, Stephen Hawking, and an assortment of individual angelic and divine personalities, among them the Archangel Gabriel and the Irish goddess of war and death, Morrígan.

Gender, Language, and Manholes

3 06 2011

I want to tell you a story about a debate I had with my friend Seth’s friend Alex over the use of the word manhole. Alex is a moustachioed, chain-smoking Romanian psychology professor at the University of British Columbia who has a love of opera and fine wine, a melodramatic, highly inflected accent, strong opinions on almost everything (including things he knows next to nothing about, like historical linguistics), and slight pathological hints of misogyny and imperialism. I just call him Dracula. I know, in analyses of Dracula, it is usually the title character who is viewed as the victim of imperialism, but, hey, vampires can be ungodly supercilious bitches too. Seth, Alex, and I would have these lovely wine-washed, opera-graced soirees at Alex’s apartment in Vancouver’s West End and discuss everything under the sun from music to art to philosophy to politics. (Usually it started with us talking about opera, since Seth loves that shit too, and ending with Seth falling asleep and Alex and me debating the more recondite topics.) Basically, Alex has a classical, reductionist, Western worldview, whereas I have a more Eastern, indigenous, holistic, pagan one.

Anyway, he mentioned (in a tone dripping with disdain from what could have been his fangs) that a group of feminists at UBC were complaining about the use of the word manhole because it was sexist, given that it includes man but excludes woman. The feminists, he assumed, had no understanding of the etymology of the word man, whereas he did.

“These feminists don’t know what they’re talking about!” he said with huge eyes and a magisterial wave of his cigarette. “The English word man comes from the Latin word manus, which means ‘hand’! It was a reference to physical labour using the hands. It has nothing to do with gender, thus they have no reason to complain that it is sexist. Psh.”

“Actually, Alex”, I said politely, “the word man does not come from the Latin word manus. It comes from a Proto-Germanic word meaning ‘person’.”

“But in order to prove that the word man does not come from manus“, he responded, “you must show that the word was not borrowed from the Roman conquerors. Words from the language of the conquering culture are often borrowed because they carry greater prestige.”

“I can show that”, I said. “The Romans didn’t invade Britain after it was settled by the Anglo-Saxons who spoke Old English—they invaded beforehand. The Romans invaded Britain in 43 C.E., when it was populated by native Britons (whom we now call the Welsh, a group of Brythonic Celts), and withdrew from Britain in 410 C.E. to respond to the sack of Rome by the Visigoths, leaving the Romanized Britons (think King Arthur) to their own devices. The Anglo-Saxons didn’t settle the island until an alliance of Jutes invaded in 449 C.E. In other words, the whole, entire Roman rule of Britain came before the very first Anglo-Saxon invasion—by a comfortable thirty-nine years. The Anglo-Saxons could not have borrowed the word manus from a conquering Roman army, since the Romans were already gone when the Anglo-Saxons arrived.”

“In addition”, said I, “the native population does not borrow words from conquerors arbitrarily; it borrows words from them for good reason. Language interaction does not work like osmosis, like some free-flowing exchange or interaction of forces; there are certain parameters that loanwords have to meet. Loanwords must have a certain cachet or exoticism, otherwise they are not worth borrowing. For example, Anglo-Saxon peasants did not borrow the words chicken or goose from the invading French forces, because these were already such common meats. They did, however, borrow the words porc and boef from them (hence pork and beef, and not pig and cow) because the upper-class Norman invaders had the luxury of consuming the flesh of pigs and cows. So a word such as manus,  meaning hand, is not likely to be borrowed by a poor indigenous culture, since it is so normal and every-day already. In fact, it is the last word they would borrow from the privileged invaders, since it is associated with physical labour, and the privileged are ‘above’ physical labour.”

“Hm. Maybe I have my history wrong”, he said. “I learned that the Germanics and Celts belonged to the same linguistic group”.

“No”, I said. “Proto-Celtic is no more closely related to Proto-Germanic than it is to Italic (the group to which Latin belongs). In fact, Proto-Celtic is much more like Italic given some cognates. For example, the Irish word (king) resembles Latin rex, Spanish rey, and French roi (hence royal and Tyrannus Rex) much more closely than the Germanic cyning, könig, or king. Here, we see no similarity between Celts and Germanics, but we do see a relation between the conquered Celts and the conquering Romans. So, no, comparing Celtic with Germanic, but not with Italic, is like saying Melissa and Jennifer, but not Heather, are sisters. Each of the three is a product of the same mother. Therefore you cannot treat Celtic and Germanic as one lump, and Italic as another.”

“Well, let’s look at the etymology of the word man“, said Alex, modestly pulling a volume of Roget’s Dictionary from his bookshelf. There was no copy of the OED in sight. “Let’s see. I may be wrong, but let’s see. Hmm. The origin of the word man looks to be OE. That means Old English. Let’s go back further. Hm. We can’t.”

“You’ve just proven my point, Alex”, said I. “The word is traceable back to OE (a dialect of Proto-Germanic), not the Latin word manus. Hence it is not a loanword from Latin, hence it does not come from the Latin word manus, meaning ‘hand’, hence it does not refer to using hands for physical labour—it refers to a Germanic word which used to mean ‘person’ and which now means ‘male adult’—and hence the feminists are right. It is a sexist use of language.”

So, actually, Dracula was wrong, and the feminists were right. Man meant “person” in Proto-Germanic, not “hand” in Latin; there was no England to be invaded by Rome; and a word denoting hand is too perfunctory to be borrowed from a prestigious invading culture. In addition, we know that man nowadays commonly means “male adult”, as opposed to female adults. Ironically, then, the feminists are correct in declaring the word manhole sexist. This makes me wonder why somebody so perceptive and accomplished as Alex should harbour such a rich conspiracy against the feminists’ complaint. I think it is fear. There is something about admitting the possibility of a paradigm shift that utterly shatters the ice-cold ego of the traditionalist.