Tag Archives: Search Terms

Search terms: “rhiannon grant jesus”

What I love about this search term is that it’s suggestive, but ambiguous. What did the searcher actually want to know when they put “rhiannon grant jesus” into the search engine of their choice? They could have been implying that I am Jesus, but that seems unlikely. (Not impossible – the Quaker idea that Christ is within us all can come to something similar – but unlikely.) Perhaps they wanted to know about a course I’m teaching soon, with my colleague Mark Russ, called “Who is Jesus?” Or perhaps they wanted to know what I think of Jesus. What do I think of Jesus? That’s a simple question to pose and a complex one to answer.

Sometimes I think of Jesus as a character who appears in the Gospels and other stories in the New Testament. I think of him as a character when I’m thinking about things like how he compares to other characters – how he is like and unlike Adam or Moses, like and unlike Osiris or Odin. I also think about him as a character when I think about the symbolise of the actions he takes – about what performing a healing might mean as a metaphor, for example, rather than a story about physical health conditions. 

Sometimes I think about Jesus as a historical figure. I usually bounce of this pretty quickly, though, partly because I’m pessimistic about how much historical fact is included in the records we have, and partly because that’s not the question about Jesus which interests me most.

Sometimes I think about Jesus as an example which tells us something about a broader situation. I can think about Jesus and the stories about him as an example of the kinds of things the Spirit would do if the Spirit had a body. I think this is the closest I get to understanding what is meant by ‘incarnation’ and I might call this a view of Jesus as Christ – Jesus not as an individual but as part of a story about how God works, one particular version of a story which had happened before and continues to happen as the Spirit or Light of Christ speaks to people and supports us to act in God’s ways.

Sometimes I find Jesus profoundly annoying. Some versions of the story make him seem smug and know-it-all. Some of his followers hate my body and sexuality and are convinced Jesus would hate me too, which doesn’t make him seem friendly. Sometimes the Spirit asks me to do things I really do not want to do, and it can be tempting to blame that on Jesus. Sometimes he really is shown, in the stories we have, doing things which are either profoundly challenging (that is, doing things I should do but don’t want to) or profoundly disturbing (I don’t want to do that kind of thing and can’t understand why Christ would either). Of course, the story also says he got put to death by the Roman authorities, so perhaps this annoyance is a way into understanding the situation – and noticing what I cannot understand about his actions and why I sometimes find them baffling as well as annoying may be important to applying the lessons of this story to modern situations.

One way I don’t usually think about Jesus is as a saviour or redeemer. Those versions of the story are very important to some Christians, but I can’t make them fit with my other understandings of the world and God. 

Overall, thinking about Jesus always makes me think about what I don’t understand, both emotionally and intellectually. I have never experienced the personal closeness with some people feel with Jesus. I’ve had experiences I think are similar in some ways – a sense of the movement of the Spirit in my life, visions of and direct encounters with Brigid and Hecate and other goddesses – but the Jesus story doesn’t speak to me that way. Similarly, I’ve studied theology at various levels and although I can follow the philosophical moves well enough, the metaphysics around incarnation, redemption, and resurrection continue to feel weird to me. I’ve been reading up on Hebrews recently and one of the commentaries I looked at noted that the ideas often seem alien to modern readers. Perhaps they should: paradox and mystery are always part of the theological process.

Search terms: quaker values as a unifying force

This phrase, ‘quaker values as a unifying force’, appeared in my search terms recently and I think it makes a couple of assumptions which are worth discussing.

Are Quaker values really a unifying force? Is that what brings Quakers together, or what helps us work with others? And what are ‘Quaker values’ anyway? Is this a useful way to think of what might also be called ‘testimony’ or ‘the testimonies’?

When people say ‘Quaker values’, I think they often mean the list of abstract words which, in the mid-twentieth century, began to be used to describe the actions we are led to take, the ways we make our faith concrete in the world. The list varies a bit, but it usually includes peace, equality, truth, simplicity, and sometimes community, integrity, sustainability, earthcare. These are often called the Quaker testimonies. This is both a strange way of using the word ‘testimony’ – think of giving testimony in court – and tends to make these things remote and sound acceptable to everyone. That has political uses, for sure. But it also hides the counter-cultural nature of many of them. Having an equality testimony could be mistaken for a belief or paying lip-service to equality, rather than actually behaving as if everyone is already equal – as we all are in God’s eyes, but very much aren’t in the social structures in which we live.

Instead of a list of abstract values, we can also see Quaker testimony as something more like the testimony we might be asked to give in court. Like in court, we’re called to give it – and the quality of it will be judged by our peers (the jury) and by the judge (God?). Like a witness statement, it will be individual – if I didn’t see the crime, I mustn’t say that I did; and if you and I both saw it, we might still have seen very different things. Multiple testimonies might point in the same direction (the butler did it!) but they can’t be reduced to that conclusion. Instead of a crime, though, we’re giving a witness statement about what we see as the truth of the world, revealed in our spiritual experiences and through meeting for worship. And as well as using words, we can give our testimony through actions – behaving as if the world we’ve glimpsed, the Divine Commonwealth or Kingdom of Heaven, is already here.

Will that be a unifying force? The list of values certainly can be unifying in some ways. Lots of people agree that peace, truth, and equality are a good ideas. What we tend not to agree about is how we should get there – the pacifist and the just war advocate both want peace, but they don’t agree about the route to it. Sometimes it isn’t obvious – I don’t use any titles because I want to achieve equality, but in some professional settings where sexism is a strong factor, not using my earned title, Dr, might prevent me from being treated equally with men who are my peers. Neither path is an easy or automatic route to equal respect for all people. Explaining our reasons, as well as acting and naming values, might be necessary in order to make common ground with those who agree with our aims but might be using different methods.

Another question we might want to ask is: do we want a unifying force? It sounds good, but it might not be that simple. I would need to think carefully before I declared myself in unity with, or even on the same side as, some of the people who are working for the same goals – but through means that I think are contrary to those goals. Consider, for example, the ‘this just war is this one which will bring peace!’ position. As a pacifist, who thinks that war is always wrong, does it help me to be ‘unified’ with people who hold that view? Or those who uphold ‘equality’ between some people by contributing to the exclusion of others – speaking out against that, rather than trying to be unified with it, might be part of my testimony.

Alternatively, perhaps the searcher was wondering whether the Quaker values are a unifying force within the Quaker community. I would say that they are to some extent. The list of values can be useful as a shorthand, a teaching device, or a test of knowledge – starting any analysis of anything by reference to ‘the testimonies’ can provide a shared structure from which to move forward. However, the existence of different lists in different communities, and the problem of explaining that the lists are recent convenient devices rather than a core or central truth of Quakerism, suggests that they are not as unifying as all that. The lists can also be a bit lacking or weak – why don’t they include Love and Justice, for example? Given that, would we want them to be the unifying force in Quakerism? Do we need anything extra to unify us as a community? This sometimes comes up in discussion where there’s an underlying anxiety about something else – that our theology is too diverse, that our practice of unprogrammed meeting for worship isn’t clear enough or lacks a shared understanding, or that our bonds of friendship and love aren’t strong enough to hold us together.

Articulating our testimony/testimonies can help us explain and teach our faith, and living a witness to the truths we know is part of that faith itself – but ‘Quaker values’ can’t stand in for other work we also need to do.

Search terms: “pagan eschatology”

Wow, what a question! What would a pagan eschatology look like? For one thing, of course, if you ask three Pagans you’ll get five answers, a standard situation in religious communities with questions of this type. For another, I would expect it to depend on the particular type of Pagan you ask; some, drawing on ancient Egyptian material, for example, will have very clear ideas, while others will have very little if any idea.┬áReincarnation is a common idea – in 2003, Berger, Leach and Shaffer published a census of Pagans in the USA, and their data suggests that 75% of Pagans believe in reincarnation and only 4% reject it, with the others unsure or not answering the question (p47; you can consult this source on Google Books).

As I said in my previous post about eschatology, I’m a bit wary of the concept as a whole. There’s a kind of materialist re-phrasing of reincarnation, in which it’s the idea that the molecules which make up your body will continue and make up other things, living and not living, in the future. This is evidently true, and indeed is true during life as well as in death. However, I don’t think that this is the claim which most are making when they refer to reincarnation. The word is usually used in a stronger way, with an implication of the continued existence of the mind, soul, or consciousness – and here is the tangle, because this implies that such a thing exists separately from the body itself (a position we might call ‘dualist’ in some contexts). This seems to me to be very unlikely, and I do not accept it as the explanation for alleged cases of past life regression.

An alternative Pagan eschatology might focus on framing death as a melding back into the Earth or the Divine – for many Pagans, these will be the same thing. As in the interpretation of reincarnation given earlier, the attention is on the building blocks of the body entering the natural cycles of the universe and being re-used in new forms; at the level of metaphor, this is expressed as becoming one with the world after a temporary – illusory – separation. In the words of Z Budapest’s chant, “We all come from the Goddess and to her we shall return.”

Search terms: some quick hits

From time to time, it’s interesting to see how people arrive at my site – if it’s not from a Facebook link, it’s often from a search term. Here are some comments on some of the quirkier ones.


The plural here is curiously apt. Although it’s not standard usage at the moment, perhaps it should be. There are many words we can use to describe the varieties of Quakerism found in the world today: unprogrammed, semi-programmed, programmed; conservative, evangelical, quietest; liberal, liberal-Liberal, not actually liberal; Christian, rooted in Christianity, Christocentic, universalist, hypenated; pluralist, inclusive, diverse, exclusive, elitist; spiritual, humanist, religious; theist, atheist, non-theist, agnostic, gnostic; honest, transparent, open, silent, unknown, secret; clear, sure, uncertain, exploring, vague, confused, determined, open-minded… and maybe all of these at once. How many Quakerisms are there?

“quaker-friends church bloggers 2014”

I guess this person might have been looking for the Quaker Alphabet Bloggers, or perhaps they were just looking for Quaker or Friends Church bloggers in general. There are plenty of them about!

“what does buddha look like”

It was the tense of this query which caught my attention. This isn’t, apparently, a search for information about the historical figure known as the Buddha, but a question about what the Buddha looks like today. This might be about the way the Buddha is depicted in art today, but perhaps it’s a more mystical question. Would you recognise a Buddha if you met one? Would a Buddha introduce themselves as such, or is it more like meeting an angel, an experience you only understand in retrospect?

“wittgenstein space”

I’ve no idea what this searcher was seeking. On first reading, it sounds like a sci-fi premise: Wittgenstein in Space! He analyses the grammar of scientific spaceship jargon! He meets a race of aliens who claim to have a private language! He threatens crewmate Karl Popper with laser-poker!

However, I did once give a paper in which I used Wittgensteinian ideas to explore the ways that we interact with space, specifically with the space inside a Skyspace. If you’re interested, you can listen to the whole piece at the Go Inside To Greet The Light website. It’s officially called ‘wordless thought’, but I’m not sure that’s what it’s really about!

“pagan brigid upg”

UPG, or Unsubstantiated Personal Gnosis, is knowledge gained about a deity through a personal practice – meditation, prayer, divination, or similar. I’m fascinated by the processes and vocabulary which are growing up in the Pagan community around this, and especially by how they compare to Quaker processes for seeking and agreeing on ‘the will of God for us now’, but I haven’t yet written at length about them. Nor do I have particular UPG of my own about Brigid; in fact, I don’t especially feel the need of it, and one of the reasons I was drawn to Brigid in the early days of my Pagan exploration was that there’s enough material on her that it even appeared – a few mentions here and there – in my local library. For reviews of books and other resources about Brigid, I heartily recommend Brigit’s Sparkling Flame.

“brigid and the fox”

I see the confusion here! The Fox in my blog title refers to George Fox, founder of the Quaker movement. The story this search is looking for is about Brigid and an actual fox, or in some tellings a wolf: there’s a very short version here and a much longer one here. A charming tale about her power over nature, even if the fox does (usually) run away back to the woods at the end!

Search terms: is OBOD too Wiccan?

I can’t actually answer this question, because I’d need to know: too Wiccan for what? Too Wiccan for the tastes of the searcher, perhaps. There’s a certain amount of judgement implied in the way that this enquiry has been worded.

A question I can address, though, is: how Wiccan is OBOD (the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids)? My answer is ‘a bit but not very’. Whether being slightly Wiccan is ‘too’ Wiccan for your purposes I will have to leave as an exercise for the reader. Disclaimer: I am a member of OBOD currently working on the Ovate course, but not a member of any Wiccan group.

How Wiccan is OBOD?

OBOD and Wicca have some common roots. Accepting that Gerald Gardner was the driving force behind the movement we now know as Wicca, and that Ross Nichols is the founder of OBOD, we know that there is commonality in the founding of OBOD and Wicca. Nichols and Gardner were operating against the same cultural background, in England in the mid twentieth century, they were interested in similar things, and they knew one another. Later on, there are more connections: Philip Carr-Gomm, who re-energised OBOD and created the correspondence course, also has a background in Wicca (and in psychology and Paneurhythmy, both of which are arguably influences on the teachings of OBOD).

Some points are very close. A friend of mine who is a Gardnerian read Carr-Gomm’s book Druidcraft, which deals with Druid magic, and says that the only differences between Druid magic and Wiccan magic are minor externals, trappings. (You can read an extract or buy a copy of the book via OBOD.) On the other hand, I’m not sure that magic – this kind of magic, anyway – is at the core of the teachings of OBOD. (I’m not sure it’s actually at the core of Wicca, either, for all that it is a big feature in many introductory books.)

There are also points which are included in Druid teachings – dealing with the elements, for example – which are shared by Wicca and many other neo-pagan groups; it can be argued that this have developed from Wicca, and certainly Wiccans have been heavily involved in popularising them, but they were also present in the pre-Gardner Western Mystery Tradition and ultimately derived from Greek philosophy, so it could also be said that this is simply part of our common heritage.

So if Wicca and OBOD are that close, what are the differences? Most Wiccan traditions are oath-bound, with secret teachings. (Many of these oaths have been broken by someone or other, but the principle stands.) OBOD asks people not to share spoilers about what’s in the correspondence course, valuing the slow reveal as part of the experience, but isn’t closed in the same way. (Druids do also have a vow but this is of quite a different kind.) There are other practical differences – OBOD functions mainly as a correspondence community, with optional gatherings sometimes, while, although there are solitary and correspondence Wiccans, a traditional Gardnerian coven makes extensive use of in-person meetings.

Rituals are notably different. Public Druid ceremonies and OBOD ritual scripts often have more emphasis on music and poetry than Wiccan-derived rituals; for example, the time of Eisteddfod at the end is fairly standard among Druids, but absent from Wiccan ceremony as far as I know. The emphasis of prayers can differ, too; Druids frequently pray for peace throughout the world, not something I’ve heard in Wiccan-inspired settings (which is not to say that Wiccans don’t want world peace, only that it isn’t a common prayer in their rituals). This list of differences could go on: Wiccans don’t chant Awen, they don’t use prayers written by Iolo Morganwg, etc.

Attitudes to deity are also different. OBOD includes people with a wide range of beliefs, but does not have the emphasis on duotheism, Goddess and God, found in Wicca. It does have an emphasis on nature – and when it comes to trees specifically, Druidry goes further than anything I know of in Wiccan teaching. There are many views on this but I think it’s safe to say that Druids are generally tree-huggers and find rich sources of spiritual nurture among trees.

Is OBOD Wiccan? No, not really. Do OBOD and Wicca have things in common? Yes, but there are also significant differences. Is OBOD ‘too Wiccan’? Not for me. Is OBOD too Wiccan for you?

Search terms: Quaker Dress

From time to time, someone searches for this blog and my site stats function records which term brought them here. Some are dull (the name of this blog, as intended, reaches this blog via google), and some very specific (“Britain Yearly Meeting 2013” found this blog among other things), but some are real questions, and when I haven’t yet answered them it’s interested to address them. Hence this mini-series of posts about topics related to, but not yet covered, by my previous posts.

The first one, which has reached this blog several times, is “Quaker dress”. At one time, Quakers were known for their plain dress, and this may be what the original searcher(s) had in mind. If you are interested in that, I recommend Quaker Jane as an excellent resource. However, sometimes it comes up in conversation that British Quakers today, having mostly left behind plain dress and certainly the strict dress codes which sometimes went with it, nevertheless still have some distinctive ways of dressing. We joke about the socks-with-sandals and the anything-accessorised-by-Guardian, and everyone tends to blend in better with the general population that we did in the days of plain dress, but there are patterns.

Some things are not. Some people who meet me, and then find out that I’m a Quaker, assume that all Quakers wear hats – there are religious groups who do cover their heads, so this isn’t a totally silly guess, but Quakers today do not wear hats. Identifying me by my head-wear works as well at Yearly Meeting as anywhere else. Nor do Quakers wear all grey or all black any more. Indeed, one Friend who, in most of his life, wears nothing but black once opined to me that he felt he should wear a little grey at Quaker gatherings in case they couldn’t cope with the Goth effect! There are, in fact, a number of Quaker Goths, and some of them can be spotted at large Friendly gatherings if you know the signs. (Hint: wearing all or mostly black is a big clue.)

Quakers today do tend, I think, to dress more modestly, covering up more of themselves, than the mainstream culture demands – especially for young women. This isn’t unknown in other counter-cultural spaces, but is enough to stand out on the train. There’s a general refraining from fashion – not from style, plenty of Quakers have strong personal styles – but from following fads and trends, especially where they cost unnecessary money. A general lack of brand names follows from this (although there may be a general tendency towards Marks and Spencer’s).

Just now and again, someone comes to Meeting for Worship dressed in a way which stands out – their heels are higher, their suit smarter – and even more rarely, someone comments on this. I’m pretty sure that, contrary to the claims made by some Wiccans, clothes do not impede the flow of Divine energies, and so there’s no need to police such things. In the cases where there is a real feeling of leading in the community, I think most people who are drawn to Quakers will find that in due course they have worn whatever-it-is for as long as they could.