Sunday, November 20, 2011

Less Mirth, More Reverence: for Jennifer Jolicoeur

Jennifer Jolicoeur, owner of Athena's Home Novelties, has responded to Wintersong Tashlin and yrs. truly.  While I'm going to address some of her responses in greater detail, I should first make one clarification and apology. Her reasons for naming her company after Athena are quite different than the motivations behind the Virgin Mary Dildo or the Baby Jesus Butt Plug. She is not coming out of a place of willful disrespect and honestly believes that she is honoring Athena. I accept her sincerity: in return I would ask that she be open to the possibility that her critics are also acting out of a sincere reverence for Athena.
I believe that if you took a moment to research my company - Athena's Home Novelties before casting harsh judgement, you'd find a female company owner who is a proud pagan. 
I find it disturbing that these blogs judging my company were written without anyone contacting me first to ask WHY I named my company after my patron Goddess.
We were going to get you a dreidel... 
While I acknowledge her sincerity (as I said above), I also note that her response is in keeping with my earlier point.  Jennifer seems convinced that any offering she might make to Athena is fitting so long as she makes that offering respectfully. And while I recognize her good intentions, I would also note that there is a long history of divine taboos and proscriptions. There's an equally long history of people getting in serious trouble for violating those taboos unwittingly.  Motivation is important to modern people and Method Actors. Throughout most of history moral codes focused on actions: what you did was far more important than why you did it.

Jennifer makes another interesting statement:
I don't think it is fair that some feel that only "virgins" can serve her. 
I do not place myself higher than Athena. She is my patron Goddess and I worship her at my alter.
First, I would note that nobody was saying that only "virgins" could serve Athena. The question was whether it is appropriate to name a sex toy shop after Athena, not whether one needs an intact hymen to worship Her.  One may engage in discussion about Athena's modesty and virginity - two qualities which were central to Her character and mythology - without implying that virginity and modesty were the only or even preferred options for a society.  This is one of the great strengths of polytheism: there are many ways to honor the Divine as an individual and as a culture. But those ways are generally well-delineated with clearly marked right and wrong turns.  

I must protest this injus... AAAGGH!!
I would also point out that life is rarely "fair." It's not fair that some people are born with perfect pitch and others with tin ears; it's not fair that some are born with an innate sense of rhythm and balance while others have two left feet; it's not fair that some are born with high IQs and others with developmental disabilities. The ways of the Gods are mysterious, but rarely are they fair.  It was hardly fair that Odysseus be yanked away from his loving family for twenty years because Paris had the hots for Helen of Troy. Nor was it fair that Laocoön and his family be strangled by Poseidon's sea monsters because he was doing his job as a Trojan seer.  But if the Iliad and Odyssey are to be believed - or to be recognized as a valuable part of Hellenic mythology - we will have to address that the Gods can sometimes be unjust, arbitrary and downright cruel. 

Jennifer goes on to provide a lengthy list of things she has accomplished and charitable donations she has made through her store.  She also notes "If the mighty Athena was not pleased with my path, she would have stopped me long ago. Instead, she walks beside me, guides me and is a powerful ally." This is not an entirely unreasonable assumption. Jennifer's UPG (Uncorroborated Personal Gnosis) that Athena wanted her to name a sex toy store after her seems to be supported by the fact that said store continues to succeed and to thrive.  But this also points to a problem with UPG - namely, that not everyone is going to accept it, especially in cases where the UPG seems to conflict with the established lore.  If I say that peace-loving Kwan Yin wanted me to set up a mixed martial arts and weapons supply house in Her name, or the most sober of Orishas wants me to open Obatala's Liquor Store, I can hardly be surprised if people question my motivations.

In the end this is a dispute about theology.  It is possible for reasonable people to disagree on these issues and yet remain cordial or even friendly to each other.  I don't accept Muhammad as the Seal of the Prophets, nor do I believe the Q'uran and Hadiths should be the ultimate arbiters in all matters spiritual, social and scientific. But I can still acknowledge the contributions Islam has made to our world and remain friends with Muslims. In a similar vein I might question the decision to name a sex toy shop after a modest virgin Goddess yet recognize the sincerity and devotion of those who do.

In fact, I'd say this kind of discussion is vital to developing a polytheistic spiritual community.  The fact that we care enough to debate these topics suggest we are moving beyond play-acting and into genuine devotion.  We are arguing about how the Gods should be respected, but we are in agreement that They are worthy of respect.