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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Personal Boundaries, Sovereignty, and Consent Culture

  I was recently reminded of an older blog post by John Beckett about boundaries and it got me thinking. We all have personal boundaries, of course, but I think too often in interacting with others there is a default assumption that others share either our personal boundaries or else wider cultural boundaries. To me, when we talk about personal boundaries I immediately think about consent culture and the idea of personal sovereignty.
     Whether we like to admit it or not we live in a society that assumes our bodies are not really our own, especially if you are female*. From a young age most of us are taught to hug people whether we want to or not, because it's "polite". Children learn quickly that it doesn't matter whether they want to or not, its expected. Of course some people enjoy this contact and do it by choice, but there is also an underlying assumption that it is a social norm. Women constantly fight against the ideas that being female means owing physical contact to other people usually expressed as intimacy. The whole concept of the "friend zone" exemplifies this because it carries the implicit belief that if someone likes a woman and tries to court her she is somehow being unfair or manipulative to deny that person an emotional or physical response they want. Many pregnant women experience having their belly touched by strangers, without their permission, as if being pregnant in itself ceded such consent away. I have had my hair, tattoos, and (yes, really) breasts touched in public by strangers who believed they had a right to touch me without my permission. In the pagan community there is also often an assumption that physical touch is wanted or accepted so much so that I have sometimes seen people refer to hugging as the pagan handshake, as if it were the default greeting.
   Here's the problem. Not everyone wants to be touched, especially by strangers or people they don't know well. There are many reasons why someone may not want to be touched, but honestly it doesn't matter. The point is that not everyone welcomes casual touching or hugging. For some people there is a strong boundary that exists at the limit of their personal space which says please stay out, in the same way that another person might feel about strangers or acquaintances going through their purse or wallet without asking. To me part of  our right to control our own body and what happens to it includes being able to decide where that boundary of personal touch is.
    What baffles me here is the offense people take when someone who doesn't want to be touched expresses that. People who want to hug seem to believe people who don't want to hug are rejecting them on a personal level, when that is not (generally) the case at all. It isn't a judgment on the hugging individual as a person (again usually) so much as it is an expression of the non-hugging individuals personal comfort levels. I'll use myself as an example. I do not like being touched by most people, and being hugged by people I don't know or don't know very well and trust causes me anxiety. You'll note I said most, so right off I get criticized because I say I don't like being touched but then I do let some people touch me - as if it's only acceptable for me to have this boundary if I make it all or nothing, again removing my ability to choose who I am and am not comfortable being touched by. Most people don't ask, they simply hug, putting me in the extremely awkward position of either letting them violate my personal space in a way that I find upsetting or of ducking away which they find offensive. I usually brace myself and put up with it, because in my experience rejecting unwanted physical contact that is socially acceptable, is ironically not socially accepted. And for those of you reading this and thinking I'm exaggerating, the next time you go to a larger pagan event try to enforce a strict "no touching" rule. When I was at Pantheacon I even wore a ribbon, bright red, which said "No touchy!!" and it made no discernible difference, although several people did apologize after hugging me, then asking permission, and being told I would really prefer not to (and I appreciate the apology, even retrospectively).

  I have seen an online discussion about this subject in a pagan group where people argued that hugging shouldn't require consent and that non-huggers needed to conform. One person even went so far as to suggest forcibly hugging people who expressed a desire not to be touched, because they needed to get over it. I've also seen people who don't want to be touched called un-pagan, mean, and heard it said that if you don't like hugs you're missing out on some essential aspect of community building. In the same way that people who are very open to touching are judged negatively, so people who don't like to touch are judged.
   Not wanting to be touched has nothing to do with me judging you. It has everything to do with me needing to feel like I am controlling what is happening to my own body. This is where personal sovereignty comes in, because personal sovereignty, to me, is the idea that we as individuals are in control of what happens to our own bodies; you are the supreme authority of your own flesh. I decide what I am comfortable doing and not doing, and I decide who can and can't enter my personal space and what they can and can't do there. To put a twist on an old saying, however, my sovereignty ends where the next person's begins. Some people have permeable boundaries, and that's fine if that's what they are comfortable with. Some people have rigid boundaries and that should be fine too, if that is what they are comfortable with. The key here is that we each should have the ability to decide for ourselves what happens to our own bodies*.
   Another vital aspect of this, which could really solve many of the problems caused by the assumption that touching as social norms are okay, is the idea of consent culture. Simply put, ask first. If you want to hug someone, ask. And respect their answer, even if it's no. Don't take that no personally or assume anything about why the answer is no, because likely it isn't about you at all. Consent culture is rooted in respect and the idea that by asking first we are acknowledging the other person's sovereignty over their own body, just like we would their car or purse (I hope).
       Consent culture is not something we have right now, it's a work in progress, but it is something we can make a reality. In the same way personal sovereignty is something we each must work to understand and establish for ourselves, because no one can give us sovereignty it is something that we must learn to stand up for. I highly recommend JD Hobbes"The Hug as a Personal Greeting" for guidelines on good etiquette on touching other people at public events. And hopefully as we move forward we can learn to respect each other's limits, instead of judging those who have comfort-zones different from our own.

* cis-, trans-, or any other form of female identification are all considered female here
* you can pretty much guess from this view how I feel about most subjects relating to body-choices. I admit though that children are a grey area because they should be raised with a sense of personal sovereignty but also must, by necessity, fall under their parents decision making processes in many things. That's a topic for a blog on it's own however

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Excerpts from Cóir Anmann

 Just as the Banshenchus can give us some insight into the different Irish Goddesses, the Cóir Anmann can give us insight into a few of the Gods. Below is an excerpt of the relevant  original material which is mostly Middle Irish and a bit of Latin followed by my translation:

149 Tuatha Dea (.i. Donann) .i. dée in t-áes dána & andeé in t-áes trebhtha; amail asrubhairt Cú .cc. for Taín Bó Cúailnge, día m-bái a toirrsi & a n-ítaidh mhóir déis Lóich meic Mofeidbis do mharbad. INtan bói Cú Chulainn isin comrag sin Lóich, taínic chuigi In Mhórríghan inghen Ernmhais a richt anaichnidh a sidhibh do bhasgadh Con Culainn isin comhrag. Tug Cú Chulainn root n-urchuir donMhórrighain gura bhris a lethrosc. Taínic sí aridhisi a richt t-seantainne d'innsaighi Chon Culainn, & dobhí sí ag bleghan bó tri sine ina fiadhnaisi. IS ime tra táinic sí arbíthin a foírithnech do Choin Culainn, daigh ní ghonadh Cú Chulainn nech araterná[d] co m-beth cuid dó fein ina leighis. Conaitecht Cú Chulainn in bleóghan fuirri iarna dhéchradh d'ítaidh. Dobreth sí blegan sine dó. ‘Rob slán an neim damh-sa só!’ ar Cú Chulainn. Bá slán didiu lethrosc na ríghna annsin. Ar Cú Chulainn robhris a lethrosc roime sin. Conaitecht som bleoghan sine aile fuirri. Dobert sí dó. ‘An neimh rob slán intí doridhnacht’, or Cú Chulainn. Conatach som in tres n-digh & dobert bleghan sine dó. ‘Bennacht dée & anndée fort, a inghen’, or Cú Culainn. Batar é a n-dée in t-aés cumhachta{folio 582a} & a n-andée in t-aes trebaire, & bá slán in righan iarsin.

150  Dagda .i. dagh dé .i. día soinemhail ag na geintíbh é, ar do adhradháis Tuatha Dé Danann dó, ar bá día talmhan dóibh é ar mhét a chumachta.

151 Eochaid Ollathair .i. uilliu é inna a athair. N[ó] ollathair .i. athair oll do Thuathaibh Dé Danann é.

152 Ruadh Rofesa .i. is aigi robhoí óighi ind fessa g[e]inntlidhe, & is aigi bádar na tréidhe ildealbhaidhe.

153 Eochaid Bres .i. Eochaid cruthach, ar cach ní caem & cach ní cruthach atcíther ind Erinn is co Bres samhlaither .i. Breas mac Ealadhan meic Dhelbaith is fris atberar, & Eochaid ainm aile dó.

154 Núadha Airgetlámh, cidh día tá? Ni ansa. A lamh dheas doben Sreng mac Senghainn de a comracc a cath Muighi Turedh Cunga, intan tangadar Túatha Dé Danann a n-Eirinn. Dochuiridar leaghaThúaithe Dé Danann lámh airgit co lánlúth cacha laimhe for Núadhait. Is aire sin tráth aderthi Núadha Airgétlámh friss iarsin.

155 Tuirenn Beggreann .i. grenn beg bhói fair .i. ba beg a ulcha. Dealbháeth ainm aile dó, & is do Thuirinn bá clánd in chlann remhraíti .i. clann Tuirinn .i. Brían & Eochaid & Iucharbha.

156 Manannán mac Lir .i. Oirbsin a ainm. Oirbsiu proprium nomen eius Allaei nomen patris eius. .i. cendaighi amhra robí a n-Inis Manann .i. issé lúamhaire is dech robhí for muir a n-iarthar domain. Rofinnadh triana engnacht sic. leg. tria nemhghnacht, as in marg. sup. i. tría dheicsin ghné índ neime .i. ind aeoir, ind airet nóbhith in t-soininn nó in doininn, & intan conclaechlobadh cechtarde araile, & is aire sin rothoimnetar Bretnaigh & fir Erenn eissiumh gur' bhá dée in mhara é & Mac Lir aderthi fris .i. mac in mhara. Manannan dano do rádh ris a Manainn.

157 Dían Cecht .i. ainm suithe leigís Eirenn, dían na cumachta, nam cecht cumhachta dicitur, unde Néidhe mac Adhnai dixit: Cechtsam derca áthsgeanmaim ailcne .i. cumhachtaigsium ailcni .i. sceillec romhebaid don ailig condombí fri[a] súil-seom. Coni cáecsom .i. imrubhairt a chumhachta. Non est ut imperiti dicunt Cechtsum .i. cáechsum. Nó dian (.i. deus) caech (.i. sui). Ut est deus salúitis.

  - Stokes, W., and Windisch, E., (1897) Irische Texte

 The Rightness of Names:

149 Tuatha Dea (that is Donann) that is Gods the people of art and not-Gods the people of the populous; as Cú Chulain said because of the Taín Bó Cúailnge, when he was sorrowing and he had a great thirst after Lóch son of Mofeidbis had been killed. When Cú Chulainn was there in combat with Lóch, the Mórríghan daughter of Ernmas came towards him in a strange form out of the Fairymound to wound Cu Culainn during the combat. Cú Chulainn gave a cast at the Mórrighain in response breaking one of her eyes. She returned in the form of an old woman approaching Cu Culainn, and she was milking a cow with three teats in his presence. And it was for the sake of this therefore to get his help for her previous wounding by Cu Culainn, because any wounding of anyone by Cú Chulainn a portion of the act of healing must be treated by him himself. Cú Chulainn sought the milking on her because of the furious thirst. She gave the milking of a teat to him. ‘May it be health not poison on me!’ said Cú Chulainn. Health was then in one eye of the Queen. Because Cú Chulainn had broken her one eye before. He sought the milking of the other teat on her. She gave it to him. ‘Not poison but may health be on her who grants this’, said Cú Chulainn. He sought the third drink and she gave the milking of the teat to him. ‘Blessing of Gods and not-gods on you, oh maiden’, said Cú Culainn. These were their Gods the people of power and the not-Gods the people of husbandry, and after that the Queen was healthy.

150  Dagda that is a good god that is an excellent god he was of the pagans; because the Tuatha De Danann adored/worshiped him, because he was a god of the world to them, because of the greatness of his power

151 Eochaid Ollathair that is greater he than his father. Or ollathair that is ample father for the Tuatha Dé Danann.

152 Ruadh Rofesa that is it was he who had the wholeness of heathen knowledge, and it is he who had the 
multi-formed accomplishments.

153 Eochaid Bres that is Eochaid the beautiful, because every thing fair and every thing beautiful seen in Ireland is compared with Bres, that is Bres son of Elada son of Delbaeth is called thus, and Eochaid is the other name on him.

154 Núadha Airgetlámh, why thusly? Not difficult. His right arm was struck off by Sreng mac Senghainn in combat during the first battle of Muighi Turedh, when the Túatha Dé Danann came to Ireland. The physicians of the Túatha Dé Danann put a silver arm filled with the movement of every arm on Núadha. So that afterwards he then gets Núadha Airgétlámh on him.

155 Tuirenn Beggreann that is a small beard was on him that is small was his beard. Delbáeth was the other name on him, and the children of Tuirinn where his children that is the family of Tuirinn that is Brían and Eochaid and Iucharba.

156 Manannán mac Lir that is Oirbsin his name. Oirbsiu was his proper name Allaei the name of his father. That is a wonderful trader who was on the island of Man that is he was the best steersman on the sea in the west of the world. He knew through understanding, as it was actually written, through sky knowledge, that is through gazing at the appearance of the sky that is the air, the length of the world, the fine weather or stormy weather, and when the two elements would change each other, and the people of Britain and the men of Ireland called him the God of the sea and Mac Lir he was called that is son of the sea. Manannan moreover he was called for the Isle of Man.

157 Dían Cecht that is the name of the master physician of Ireland, swift the powers, for his learned powers it is said, whence Néidhe mac Adhnai said: An eye blinded by a splinter of rock purified that is using his power; splinter of rock, that is a small piece of stone, strikes to the other decreased against his eye. So that it is not 'blinds' but is 'strikes his powers'. That is not to say skilled powers but blinds. Or dian (that is a god) caech (that is learning). That is a god of healing.*

* basically the word "cáech" means blind in one eye and this entry is a lot of linguistic gymnastics to explain Dian Cecht's name by explaining why it isn't related to blindness. In reality "cecht" is related to both learned knowledge, skill, ploughing, and later power (although this is probably a reflexive association coming from Dian Cecht's name)