Is there anything funny about the divine? Any joke-telling gods? From the days of Abraham until today, the gods and their preachers are a very earnest lot intent on saving us from our sins and building congregations.
Like it or not, we neopagans are still children of the society we’re endeavoring to change. Some of us seem to want to switch patriarchy to matriarchy, but that’s just swapping Big Daddy for Big Momma. It’s still a hierarchical arrangement with the deity at the top of the mountain. Immediately below the “arch” are angels, men, eagles, lions, and other superior beasts. At the bottom of the mountain are women, mud, and matter. (In case you don’t recognize it, this is the 18th-century Great Chain of Being.)
Any humor in spiritual and religious writing? The Hebrew Bible (which Christians refer to as the Old Testament) is a collection of laws, canonically approved versions of history, prophetical preachings, and poetry. The Christian Bible (aka New Testament) give us different approved versions of history, plus further preaching, plus myth and mysticism. The writings of the medieval Fathers of the Church are famously grim and misogynistic. The Qur’an offers ethical guidance and moral preaching. In the Far East, the Tao is also profound, as are the preachings of the Buddha. The writings of Confucius present instructions for maintaining the correct social order (another version of that Great Chain). The great stories of Hinduism are filled with wonder, adventures, and philosophy. But they’re not very funny.
These are the standard texts of the standard-brand religions, and though I’ve greatly oversimplified them—no offense intended to anyone—I think it’s safe to say that while we can have conversations filled with humor, gentle or ironic, with followers of these religions, we are unlikely to discern anything funny in the holy books. From the beginning, spiritual writing has been unrelentingly and highly serious.
One of the blessings of the Goddess religion—spiritual feminism or feminist spiritualism—is playfulness. I know many neopagans who are extraordinarily creative. I’ve been to some truly inventive rituals. I have read hilarious jokes and postings in the social media.
Nevertheless, what I see in most of our books is that same old high seriousness. Perhaps we’re so busy inventing our new old religion—and so defensive in explaining to the standard-brand folks that it’s a genuine religion—that we seldom see anything to joke about. At least on paper. We offer highly serious theaology. Our Goddess studies and our zines are sober and thoughty.
The Charge of the Goddess tells us, “All acts of love and pleasure are My rituals. Let there by … mirth and reverence within you.” We’ve found the love and we’ve found the reference. I think it’s time to find the pleasure and the mirth. It’s time to lighten up. It’s time to play with our goddesses. These are the days that call out of Found Goddesses.
We still honor the ancient and classical goddesses—the Willendorf Mother, Isis, Athena, Brigit, Green Tara, and all the other personifications of the Great Mother. The traditional goddesses are important to us. We build altars and shrines to them, create rituals around them, hang their likenesses on our walls, set their figures on our shelves. We invoke them for wisdom, love, abundance, courage, peace, healing, and anything we need or want. Often they reply, giving us what we need … if not always what we want.
But what about issues that don’t seem to be addressed by any of the traditional goddesses? Whom do we invoke for safety in freeway traffic? Which goddesses help us decide what to take to a potluck? Help us find proper healthcare? Who do we call when our computer crashes or our iPhone explodes?
In 1988, Morgan Grey and Julia Penelope, a witch and a linguist living “in extreme circumstances” in Nebraska, came to understand that the “underlying principles of language and magic are transformational.” They understood the basic principle of magic, which is that “new realities are created through radical transformations.” As they started “playing with the idea” of creating their own goddesses, the first one appeared. This was Asphalta, whose invocation we all know:
Hail, Asphalta, full of grace:
Help me find a parking place.
Another goddess Found by Grey and Penelope is Pedestria, goddess of footwear.
Fifteen or so years ago, when I was working on a Y2K project, I was inspired by Grey and Penelope’s Found Goddesses http://www.amazon.com/Found-Goddesses-Asphalta-Morgan-Grey/dp/0934678189/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1325612864&sr=1-1 to start Finding my own modern goddesses. In 2003, they were collected in a book titled Finding New Goddesses. http://www.amazon.com/Finding-New-Goddesses-Reclaiming-Playfulness/dp/1550225243/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1325612937&sr=1-1 Among my Found—made-up—goddesses are Acme, Goddess of High Tech (well, high in 2003); Caloria, the Triple Goddess of the Potluck; Fixorrhea, Goddess of Duct Tape; and Zombonie, Goddess of Taxes. Here’s my favorite, Verbena, Goddess of Wordplay and Really Awful Verse.
“I don’t get no respect,” Verbena complains, and it’s true. Worship of this inconspicuous but divinatory Goddess has been likened to addiction. Falling under Her spell is contracting an infectious disease. Once you start punning, they say, you just can’t stop.
Playing with words is a form of self-abuse that can start in childhood with little jokes picked up on Sesame Street. Or a child can be infected by an adult, who, finding an infant not wearing shoes, maliciously inquires, “Are you a barefoot boy or a boyfoot bear?”
Then it spreads. Some little ones are taken to Dr. Seuss, but instead of offering a cure, he actually makes it worse. It was Seuss, maker-up of words, who took the French verb grincher to name that green fellow who tried to steal Christmas.
The next stage is Muppetry, which is truly communicable, and if verbal frolic is allowed to grow, we reach the point where an apparently innocent child may announce—in mixed company, no less—that “transcendental” means “beyond teeth.”
Left untreated, the verbenized mind continues to disintegrate. It moves into limericks and doggerel. It falls into amphigory, psalmistry, and sonnetry. It can sink as low as vers libre (during the 1920s, free verse was so shameful that one such poet was transmogrified into a cockroach named archy). The verbal abuser may become a poetaster. He may spend his days writing rock lyrics. If sent to school, the punster may stumble into houses of dithyramb and epithalamia, by which time not even a strong dose of thesaurovaccine can help. Scholars in extremis have been known to resort to figurative language and literary allusion, and it is on record that a certain not-to-be-named graduate student once actually titled a term paper “Complex Oedipus.” Sad to say, such scholars often become professors, and professors are often anthologized.
The final stages of the overzealous worship of Verbena are sophistry and punditry. By then, it’s not funny anymore. But the sophists and pundits go on television. They judge, they argue, they split hairs, they bore, they earn big money.
Hail, Verbena, you’re the one,
Help me find just one more pun.