Last spring I went along with members of my Unitarian church to visit the Hindu Temple of Minnesota. It’s actually the largest Hindu temple in the United States! It’s a beautiful building, and I was very honored and grateful for the opportunity to see it. I just wish I’d had more time to explore, because the tour guide spent way too much time (in my opinion) explaining Hinduism, after we had already learned the basics- from another member of the temple who teaches classes there. He kept emphasizing, and wanted to make sure we all understood before we entered the sanctuary filled with shrines of gods, that Hindus are really monotheists. It seemed as if he were desperately trying to convince us of this, and essentially apologizing for his religion’s polytheistic veneer. That he was worried that Unitarians, who rejected the Trinity and affirmed the Unity of God, would pass judgment on Hinduism. Obviously, he doesn’t know us very well.
However, I have gotten the impression that Hindus, in general aren’t especially concerned with whether they are “really” polytheists or monotheists.
As for Neo-Pagans, at one point we were just polytheists worshipping different gods, but then one day it became a big deal who believed the gods were “real” individuals and who saw them as aspects of a whole. And then we had to get into a perpetual debate over who was a real, bona fide polytheist. Not one of those fake fluffy Neo-Wiccans.
There is a difference between viewing the Gods as psychological Jungian archetypes vs. different aspects of the Divine or the Consciousness of the Universe, or something. “Hard” polytheists often claim all “softies” are proponents of the former. Soft polytheists are also said to not view the Gods as “real”. My inclination is to ritually treat the gods as separate beings, and to take an agnostic position about whether they are ultimately One, because in the truest sense of agnostic, its on such a distant level from human comprehension.
We can’t claim to be any better than monotheists in this regard. They’ve spent thousands of years arguing how separate the persons of the Trinity are, how divine Jesus is, or whether honoring Mary, saints and angels is idolatry. In the end they could call Trinitarian Christians “soft monotheists” and Jews, Muslims, Unitarian Christians and Bahai’is “hard monotheists”. But does it really matter? Don’t they all worship the same God? And sorry Hindu assimilationist apologists, and Great Mother Goddess worshippers- but most of these monotheists do not see you as part of their fold.
I think what matters, as far as as figuring out who has what in common with me, and who I might want to include in my community, or be a part of theirs- is functional polytheism. Of the aforementioned Hindus, some focus on meditating on the Oneness of the Universe (Brahman) and others more on puja devotions towards particular deities. You could say that these folks are functional polytheists.
So call yourself a polytheist. Or don’t. But don’t go out of your way to claim that your gods are all really One in some way that doesn’t really reflect your religion. Practice intellectual honesty. And tolerance, respect- don’t make absolutist statements that ridicule or condescend towards other peoples’ beliefs. Above all, be true to yourself, your gods and your communit(ies) and culture.
A follow-up to my earlier post on the recurring “Jack” figure in English folklore- Jack Frost being one form. Here’s a brain-storming list of spirits and personifications of winter- winter in general, not Yule/Winter Solstice specifically. I would like to do some more research and go into more depth with them individually.
- Jack Frost- a sprite who paints frost on windows and the colors on leaves. I think his trickster aspect comes into play as he sneaks in before you are expecting frost, maybe haven’t finished harvesting or covering your flower beds, or doing certain kinds of chores- like painting outside.
- Old Man Winter- metaphorical phrase, like Mother Nature. Also makes me think of Old Man River- a nickname for the Mississippi.
- Father Frost- Russian version of Old Man Winter, though he actually shows up in folk tales. It would be worthwhile to take a look at Russian folklore, the climate in some areas is certainly a lot closer to Minnesota’s!
- Snow Queen- a fairy tale by Hans Christian Anderson, the Snow Queen has made it into American & Western European culture as a broader archetype. Also makes me think of the White Witch in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe- in fact I think it is intentional on the part C.S. Lewis to have a vain, beautiful and powerful woman who tempts children into the cold.
- Cailleach Bheur- Scottish female spirit- some think her to be a legacy of an older goddess- particularly associated with storms in March. March is a winter month in Minnesota, and we often get a lot of snow then.
- Frau Holle, Holda or Mother Hulda- German fairy tale character (also thought to be a goddess legacy) She brings snow by shaking white feathers from her bed.
- Boreas- in Greek mythology, the god of the north wind. His wife is Oreithyia, representing the cool mountain wind, and their daughter is Khione, the goddess of snow.
I get a notice every time someone chooses to follow my blog, or likes a post, then I usually check out theirs. Since I write about a wide variety of topics, I seem to attract an interesting range of people. So I thought I would reciprocate and highlight what they’re writing about.
Aine Orga calls herself a pantheistic, naturalistic pagan. She has some insightful posts about her developing path of spiritual connection to the earth. I can certainly identify with her desire to remain spiritual while questioning the existence or nature of the Divine. Her post- Choosing Metaphors: Theistic Language in Non-Theistic Ritual would be quite useful to my fellow Unitarians. as well.
I recently noticed a link to my Mental Illness post from Ehsha Apple’s essay, “Pagan Psychopath?” Excellent research and explanation of important issues! I myself have encountered sociopathic behavior among Pagans, it is definitely something we should all educate ourselves about. She is an eclectic Witch who draws on a variety of American folk traditions, which I am intrigued by. Along these lines, also check out Ozark Pagan Mama, she has a lot of neat ritual ideas.
Moving over from the Ozarks to the Appalachians, here’s a witch- BlueStar Black Snake (connection to the Blue Star Tradition of Wicca?) I was amused by the spiritual theory about Sasquatch but hey you never know- if you can accept the existence of spirits, why not Sasquatch? and speaking of wild creatures that live in the woods.. Anne over here honors the Spirit of the Bear Mother- totemic kinda thing. I myself have felt drawn towards arctolatry- bear worship.
Heather Roberts is a writer of short stories, poetry and essays. Check out her take on existentialism, a topic I’ve trouble wrapping my mind around, but she explains pretty well!
There’s a lot more people/blogs I could review here, but that’s all for now!
Pagans, being more focused on spiritual practice than belief, don’t argue as much about theology as other religions. But there has been a growing clash between “hard” polytheists who believe and experience deities as real, individual beings that they worship & interact with- and eclectic pagans who view gods as archetypes- powerful concepts within their own minds, that they use to connect to the Divine more broadly. Chaos magicians, as I understand regard gods as symbols to center the mind during spellwork. They are more interested in finding what works magically rather devoting themselves to a god, pantheon and cultural tradition. Some even say that “god-forms” or archetypes are more powerful the more spiritual/emotional energy people direct towards them. If this is so, they should be asking Jesus for help. Instead, it has been become more popular to call upon pop culture characters in rituals.
I don’t really believe in magic, so for me the question of whether this is effective is moot. I think we should avoid stating beliefs as facts. The sun is made of helium and hydrogen. That’s a proven fact. Believing Helios, the Greek sun god is a real dude is a belief. So is the belief that Helios is an aspect of the sun god archetype, the same dude as Ra, Balder, Lugh etc. And for the record Lugh & Balder are not actually sun gods in their original mythologies, but they are often seen as such by modern pagans. But as you can see this can lead to a lot of sloppy lumping together of otherwise totally dissimilar beings. So moving along, you think hey, Luke Skywalker is a hero who conquers darkness and evil- wouldn’t he make a great sun god? So then the followers of Ra, Helios & Balder get even more insulted when their gods are equated with a mere movie character. (Would that mean George Lucas is the Creator? Scary thought) But really, should they care? This fight has become really stupid, folks. That’s why I haven’t commented til it cooled down a little.
I think the real problem is when one pagan or polytheist expects another to affirm their beliefs. Monotheistic Unitarians may believe they worship the same god as Catholics, even if they view him differently. But they don’t expect Catholics to approve of their beliefs or practices, and they aren’t even remotely part of the same religion or community. They may work together in interfaith and social justice groups, but they agree to disagree about specifics of their religions. If they don’t, then they avoid each other, with the exception of the occasional awkward Thanksgiving dinner or what have you. So that’s what we need to do. It’s not that hard, people!
A very belated post—but nonetheless—
A while back, I commented on a study that had come out that found a correlation between autistic adults and lack of religious beliefs (or unconventional beliefs) I thought it fit with my own observations of autistic people I’ve met (including myself) and that how we think doesn’t always fit in with mainstream religions. I was concerned though, that this might lead to people jumping to conclusions (Correlation DOES NOT equal causation, people!) and lead to further stigmatizing of both groups.
Yup. I was right. Fehmi Kaya, a Turkish doctor has claimed that autism causes atheism, that a deficiency in the autistic brain misses the ability to believe, and children need “therapy” to help them become religious. And to boot, he is no ordinary doctor, but the leader of Turkey’s Health and Education Associations for Autistic Children. Of course this caused an uproar among scientists, family members, autistics, educators as well as atheist/humanist/agnostic and religious communities, and Kaya has apologized though I suppose he may still privately hold these views.There is a panoply of responses on both autism, atheist and religion focused blogs. The Friendly Atheist sums it up well.
This is damaging to both autistic and non-religious people. It is completely unscientific- though there is some speculation about brain activity and religious experience- it is just that- mostly preliminary speculation and research. In addition to being obviously insulting to the intelligence and agency of people with autism (of any kind) it is also, from a religious viewpoint implying that we are spiritually inferior, created as lesser beings.
I take the position that religion itself is of neutral value- throughout human history and today, religions have inspired great artistic and musical beauty, a search for wisdom, the spread of literacy and charity and social justice work. They have also been used to justify war, conquest, oppression and the suppression of knowledge and science. I think we would be doing most of these things regardless of whether religion was involved, because either way, we are human and capable of Likewise, secular or non-theistic ideologies have been put to both good and evil ends.
On the other side, there also a view that autistic people (and folks with other types of disabilities) are somehow more spiritual or have some special wisdom and are inherently sweet and innocent. This is a seemingly kindler, gentler more New Agey cousin to the Noble Savage- instead of the “magical Negro” we have the “magical retard” and it leads to a condescending attitude.
This spring, an article came out with several studies showing a correlation between autism and atheism. My procrastinating self is finally getting around to responding.This connection does not at all surprise me. Most adults with autism I have met or interacted with online, (myself included) seem to be either skeptical or non-believing in God & religion, or have their own unique spiritual beliefs/practices. Some of these psychologists are attributing the lack of belief to autistics’ lack of theory of mind or mentalizing- the ability to understand what others are thinking. It was also stated that men as a group have a lower mentalizing ability compared to women. Maybe this is so, but I think it isn’t so much that autistic people don’t develop similar beliefs due to not intuiting others’ thoughts, but because we care less about what other people think and believe.
We also tend to be literal-minded, which can either result in rigid fundamentalism or questioning commonly held beliefs, traditions and customs. We also tend to edge away or outright refuse to do or say things we don’t understand or agree with.
A neurotypical child, who is more easily socialized may sit quietly during a service that s/he finds dull and little meaning in, and recite a creed in a confirmation ceremony before they are really old enough to have formed beliefs for themselves. An autistic kid? Don’t bet on it!Faith and emotion might hold together an individual’s religious belief system, but it’s social conformity that holds together religion as a whole. This is not to insult religion- conformity isn’t always a bad thing, we all must follow traffic laws to be safe for example. Nonetheless, organized religion with its positives and negatives depends on many people following leaders, rules and traditions that aren’t always so logical.
I hope this data does not lead to further stigmatizing either autistics or atheists- seeing autistics’ religious beliefs or lack thereof as a sign of their mental inferiority or thinking those poor misguided atheists must just be autistic.
But this does seem to reveal some sparks of autism in the lack of social tact practiced by prominent atheists like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and the late Christopher Hitchens.