To begin the story at the beginning, read "Part 1: Post 1: Beginning Again," published in January, 2013. To consult a description of the campus, read "Part 1: Post 14: The Greening of Campus," published in March, 2013.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Mastery Year 1: Part 2: Post 4: Thinking

"I can't decide if this place is religious or not," said June at breakfast.

"Paganism is a religion," asserted Kit. "Or, several religions, actually."

"I know that," said June. "Will someone please tell her that I know that? I'm not an idiot."

"She's not an idiot," I told Kit, straight-faced.

"Well, it's not like we haven't had people who questioned it," said Kit, somewhat defensively. And she's right. A surprising number of people seem to think that "religion" is synonymous with "Judaeo-Christian."

"Yes, I'm sure, but they're idiots," asserted June. "Come on, Kit, Daniel has better taste in women than that. He likes you, after all."

"Hah!" exclaimed Kit. "I like her, she's bold."

"I like her, too," I said.

I've never told June that I had a crush on Kit, by the way, but I've never tried to hide it, either. I'm not sure whether, technically speaking, I still do have that crush. I mean, the attraction is still there, but I don't put much energy into it anymore. The whole point of fantasizing about Kit was always that she was utterly unattainable, meaning I didn't have to make any decisions about her or in any way get over my crippling fear of women--and I guess I don't need that anymore.

"So, what do you mean, you can't decide if we're religious?" asked Kit.

"Well, you celebrate the sabbats," June explained, "and you have a spirit master, and Daniel calls this school a seminary, but you all believe different things. How can you, as a group, be religious, if you don't have a group religion?"

Someone asks a question like this every year--something about how we don't all believe the same things, so how can that work. The specifics of the questions vary, and the answers vary even more. June and I had been deliberately having breakfast with Kit, just to be social, and we'd chosen a sparsely populated table, but then Allen and Ebony had asked if they could join us, and we said yes. They both perked up when they heard the topic of conversation get all intellectual, and Allen opened his mouth to respond, but Ebony beat him to it.

"How do you know we don't have a group religion?" she asked. "What's a religion?"

Allen would have asked just one question at a time, but I'm fairly sure he would have asked one of those two.

"Well, you say you don't," replied June. "You and Kit are Wiccan, right? So, you believe in a Goddess and a God, and Elementals, and reincarnation, but Allen, you're, what, a Scientific Pantheist? So you don't believe in a spirit world at all. You think the world that can be scientifically investigated is all there is. That's pretty different."

"Actually, I'm a Jewitch," corrected Ebony.

"Jewitch. Sorry."

"It's ok."

"What makes you think you can look up my personal spiritual beliefs on Wikipedia?" asked Allen, and for a moment he seemed very much the dignified, if faintly amused, professor. June blushed, and looked down at her plate for a moment.

"I didn't use Wikipedia," she said. "I looked up the Scientific Pantheism website."

She sounded like a contritely defensive child and Allen smiled at her, even more amused.

"I am a Scientific Pantheist, at the moment," he confirmed, "but that's more descriptive than prescriptive. There might be things on that website I don't believe. Anyway, let me ask you a question. You and Daniel, here, don't name yourselves as the same religion. How do you expect to make a marriage together?"

She looked rather shocked at that--June isn't familiar yet with his style--but managed to get a hold of herself.

"Because we share values and ideals and priorities," she said. "Those are more important than beliefs. You do the same thing here--I wasn't questioning how you could form a community together."

"Do you remember when I said beliefs aren't an important part of religion?" tried Kit.

"Yes," admitted June. "But I didn't know what you were talking about."

Kit sagged and hung her head, with deliberate melodrama.

"At least she's honest," she said, addressing me. In fact, she makes this point every year in one of her introductory workshops for yearlings, and most of them don't get it. Not at first. It's something like you can go through the mental motions of believing in anything in order to make a given magical technique work.

"Ok, so try imagining how religion was invented," Kit said, trying again. "There's a small group of very early people, trying to figure out how the world works, how we got here...."

"And wait it all means," supplied June.

"Exactly," said Kit. "Values, ideals, and priorities. Religion."

"Are you trying to say you do share a religion? And so do Daniel and I?"

"And she's smart!" Declared Kit. "I like her more and more."

"So do I," I said. June blushed and shook her head.

"Kit and I have more in common, philosophically, than you might think," added Allen. "We all do.We basically agree on how the universe works and how it came to be, as well as those values and ideals you mentioned.We don't agree by fiat, but as a result of...a lot of conversations over breakfast. Just like that hypothetical community Kit was talking about."

After breakfast, on our way out of the Dining Hall, June asked me if I thought it was fair.

"If what's fair?" I asked. The morning was warm and lovely, and there were flowers starting to bloom in the grass and in some of the beds.

"Well, they can't sit and explain things like that to everybody," she explained. "But you and I get extra instruction because you're friends with half of them." By "them," I guess she meant the masters.

"There are about five to ten students at each table," I told her, "and six breakfasts per week. That means each master has breakfast with about forty students per week, and there are six of them and about a hundred and twenty of us. In point of fact, we can all have breakfast with them."

"You know what I mean."

"I know you can't do math," I said, but I was teasing. She can do math better than I can, and my simple little calculation had some problems with it. For example, more than one master usually sit together, and they're not all always at breakfast. She actually growled at me. Literally. She was joking, too I think.

"Do you think it's a coincidence that most of the current crop of mastery candidates are personal friends with at least one master?"

"No," I told her. "I think the masters make friends with people they have something in common with, and sometimes what they have in common is an interest in being masters. The causality runs the other way."

But she did get me thinking.

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