Knowledge Pupates Part 3: how I left paganism for science

Part 3
(Read Part 2 here about my reasonable University days.)
Part 1 here about my pagan-ish High School days.)

Back in my coffee-slinging days, a co-worker of mine pointed out how some customers never change their style. You know the type; they are stuck in the seventies, tucked-in plaid shirt & jeans, kind of shoulder-length hair that's not long enough to be committed to being long hair. Or they are stuck in a sixties-hippie earth-mother look, lots of swinging beads and mismatched patterns on layered clothing. You observe them with a fashion-forward eye, and think, "if they just tweaked it, it could be very retro-cool". But fashion is passing them by, and they are content, or at least oblivious.

The painting at left is kind of like that for me. I hadn't finished developing a look, and maybe it was over before I began this painting. I was still elated by the final product of Symbiosis that I kept painting these figures in sap green and naples yellow. This painting resides inside an antique black box with wire wrapped around it through the lid to evoke threads and wrapping.

I have blogged briefly in the other two parts of Knowledge Pupates about how I began to find reason & science more appealing than superstition and old fairy tales. And my thoughts continue to develop. I don't want my learning to stop, I want to keep learning throughout my life, and right now, I hope I always feel that way. One can no longer contain the sum of all human knowledge in a lifetime; we have access to so much information, the mind reels. I wish I could live a thousand years, a million years just to keep learning, and to see how humanity develops, how I would develop. Instead, I am content with my lifetime and its abundant opportunities to develop myself.

My fashion continues to evolve, from hip-hop lite teen, to gothy university days, to a general darker aesthetic now. My art feels different now, still dark, but maybe a little less cluttered. And my beliefs have altered, and I have sought out different positions to sort out how I feel. 9/11 changed things for a lot of people. I can remember the confusion it caused. A few years later, I read Richard Dawkins essay, Time to Stand Up in A Devil's Chaplain and I was amazed at the strength of his statements. They cut right to the heart of the harm irrational religious thinking can do.

And religious thinking worries me. I plan to have kids, and there are children I care about in my family, and I want them to continue to be little questioning machines their whole lives, always asking "why? why?" after each statement. Religious thinking can carry on with the "why"'s for a bit, and then it comes down to trusting "God said so" or having faith that irrational ideas will work out in the end. In sci-fi authour Kim Stanley Robinson's excellent Green Mars of the Mars Trilogy there is a classroom scene where the kids play a game to have their science teacher keep regressing into finer and finer explanations by asking "why?" until the game comes to a triumphant end: the teacher stammers and replies "we don't know", to the childrens' delight. In this time and place in the universe, I can think of no greater purpose for humanity than to continue to ask questions.

I started this blog with the intention of showing my artwork, self-promoting, and generally giving myself a weekly challenge. I don't want to stop looking at the bagginess or fitted-ness of men's pants each season, and I don't want my art to play out the same couple of techniques and images over and over. I don't want to stop developing my opinions on the politics and religions of the world, because although themes re-occur, the situations are still developing.

I think I have painted enough creepy green people for now.

Knowledge Pupates: how I left paganism for science

Part 1

With my birthday once again marching merrily toward me, I have been reflecting on how my mindset of memes has gotten me to where I am today as a skeptic in love with imaginative things. Knowledge pupates. It's a phrase I wrote on the bottom of the drawing to the left, when I gave this piece to a friend & co-worker. I've come a long way from my disorganised muddle of pagan ideas in my teen years. Over the next few weeks, I would like to indulge (it's my birfday!) in noting some of the mental roads I believe helped me travel to where I am now. I will continue to link from each part of the series on each post. Comments about other people's experiences are most welcome.

In my larval stage, (kids can be gross, it's an appropriate one eat a popsicle), I was raised mostly without organised religion. My father was raised under the United Church, and my mom's family was "high" Anglican. Our family heritage is mostly English-Canadian from my dad, and my mom's was a mixture of English, Irish, Jamaican & Panamanian, and both my parents were born & raised in Ontario, Canada. My mom became a single parent when I was 8 years old, and had always filled the house with books. My siblings & I had books on just about any topic in the house. Tons were about science, and many books, fiction or not, had excellent illustrations. I learned to read for pleasure at an early age. On one school project, I listed dinosaurs, Star Wars, the Muppets and dragons as my biggest influences.

We got a dog. I would take him for long walks, in any season, from hot summer to tall snow drifts and we usually went to a wooded park nearby. I'd sit under the creaking branches, and draw or read or think, while my dog enjoyed the air and the many things his olfactory system could sniff. Around the same time, when I was about 12, I began reading folklore & mythology, and began taking a "Saturday Morning Class" called When Knighthood was in Flower with an amazing teacher, who introduced himself as Salard of Eagle's Haven. Cool indeed.

Salard was a member of The Society for Creative Anachronism, and taught the class about the middle ages, and about sword-fighting. It was amazing, and coupled with my growing interest in celtic folklore, as well as teenage hormones beginning to run amok, I began to find belief in magic more & more appealing.

But for a society class, we had to do a project on "counter-culture" groups, and I focussed on modern witchcraft. I was disappointed with what I learned. Since most traditions had been oral, and since men did not write them down, much of modern witchcraft had been revived (or outright invented) by Gardener & Crowley. This was a bit of a blow. I wanted the real stuff. In my teenage arrogance, I assumed I could figure it out. (I was in a program for "gifted" students...we'd been taught to do research and critically think on just about everything, including pop music lyrics. Most teenagers would benefit from the teaching style in my opinion, but that would be a whole other post.) I kept looking for as many fairy tale books as old as I could find, and read everything voraciously. I looked for patterns, and saw significance in the number 3 as an element of change (ladders make a 3-way portal, I was convinced this would lead to change, not bad luck. I walked under a lot of ladders.) Most of the world's mythologies that I could find had the moon female and the sun male, except in ancient Japan, so I read what I could about the hero Raiko, and kept reading about Arthur & Cu Chulain and the Morrigan and her aspects.

I should have been paying more attention. The Society for Creative Anachronism was not about fantasy or the supernatural, it was about how people used to live. The classes Salard taught for the Board of Ed. were taught in a secular way, and the religious component was left out of it. (He's a fantastic blacksmith by the way...hit the link on his name).

Somewhere along the way, I decided I did not want to share a lot of these thoughts with others, even if they were people I could trust or assume to be like-minded. It was a private worship, taking place in the trees and the wind while spending time with my dog. I made up a few tiny rituals that never worked, and I did not repeat.

I had always been fidgety and liked to draw, and I found I liked to write. I worked on a book off & on for a few years of high school, and novel of vampires and magick that incorporated many of my ideas (it was called "Tears of Blood", and was full of high melodrama). A lot of the drawings & paintings were an impetus for the story. (At some point, I may be persuaded to post one.) The artwork of Alan Lee (below) was what first inspired me to develop my drawing and painting skills. Eventually I won an award in high school for the book, and I felt it had been a large part of my life.

And, one night in a flurry of creative outburst, I finished the thing. About another 60 pages, if I recall (it was about 300 hand-written scribble). It was cathartic. The book had seen me through major friendships, girlfriends, and my forming, pupating years as a teenager, and I had finished it. And although for a while I planned two more parts, they just weren't in me. It was an ending of one part of my life.

In Part Two of Knowledge Pupates: How a fantasy novel about vampires led me back to rationality! Parrots & Astrology! Eve & Richard Dawkins!


Symbiosis contains many of my favourite themes. The candles have DNA wicks, as a symbol I often use of mortality. The tardigrade, or "water-bear" is a lowly (read: small) organism we share puddles of water with. I was especially pleased when at a university exhibit, a zoologist friend recognised I painted a tardigrade right off. The distended belly (full of bacteria, of course) and the atmosphere suggests ( I intended) one of shared mortality.

I have a deep appreciation for the genius painters of the Renaissance. My feelings are best summed up in this paragraph of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion:

"If history had worked out differently, and Michaelangelo had been commissioned to paint a ceiling for a giant Museum of Science, mightn't he have produced something at least as inspirational as the Sistine Chapel? How sad that we shall never hear Beethoven's Mesozoic Symphony, or Mozart's opera The Expanding Universe....what if....Shakespeare had been obliged to work to commissions from the Church? We'd surely have lost Hamlet, King Lear and Macbeth."

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, p 86-87, Houghton Mifflen Co. 2006. Reprinted without permission but with the deepest respect. )

The world as revealed by the scientific method contains so many wonders. There is so little time to paint. To the linseed oil!