Archive for January, 2014

The Conversion Narrative

Over on the Cauldron Forum, there was a thread about conversion and Naomi J  made a comment about the concept in sociology of religion of conversion narratives that many converts to a new religion create a “spin” on their life story that explains how it was destiny or somehow inevitable that they would convert. (see post #9) I think that’s perfectly understandable, after all, when looking for a religion a person is often trying to find a way to make sense of the world and their life, but the problem is when they begin to distort events so that they fit into the narrative and deny and invalidate their past.

I wonder about this myself. As time has gone I’ve realized how some of the ways I viewed things spiritually as a kid ultimately led me to paganism. Also upon more conversations with my parents, I’ve realized how theologically liberal they are compared to their peers in the churches we attended.  At this point my dad is basically agnostic but OK with (non-fundie) religious people, and my mother is from my conversations with her, an animist essentially. I think she’s always believed in fairies to some degree, and rocks and plants (and of course animals) hold an importance to her that they don’t to other people.  My mother’s family is from Montana, and being good Westerners they all have a certain reverence for nature, and sense of wonder and respect for it. My mom’s twin is a retired park ranger who worked for many years in Yellowstone National Park. My uncles like to go hunting, and I know for them respect for the animals and the ecosystem is key. My oldest uncle even belongs to multiple hunter conservation groups, like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Another uncle has lived for many years on a Crow Indian reservation, and has kind of been “adopted” by them to some degree, he is even a trained sweat lodge leader.

Back to myself- sometime in toddlerhood my parents realized that I was different – I threw tantrums more than other kids. A doctor labelled me as having “fragile moods”, a brilliant deduction that did not impress my mother.  Later this was identified as “autism” and my brother was labeled autistic as well.  One situation in which I would often throw tantrums was in church. I had to sit quietly and listen to some guy drone about stuff I didn’t understand. So naturally (to me anyway) I protested with “This is BORING!” and demanded to leave. My parents ended up taking turns going to church or staying home with me until I matured more.  But I still had anxiety and social problems which made fitting it at church, school or any other setting difficult.  So I’ve often thought the me ending up pagan is related to me being autistic- not fitting in, and looking for someplace else where I did, following my interests avidly, and just plain thinking differently than other people.

I was a voracious reader from a young age, and my fascination with fairy tales continued as I got older. The fairy tales were next to the mythology books in the library and so I got into those even further. I became an expert on Greek Mythology by the time I was in junior high, and I began exploring other topics I came across- Atlantis, Theosophy, Buddhism. It was more “New Age” than Pagan to begin with, as that was what was available.  I remember feeling sad that the worship of the Greek Gods had gone away. I remember wondering in Sunday School class about  the contradictions I felt between the religious tolerance that my parents taught me and the “thou shalt have no other gods before me” and idol-smashing that went on in the Bible. Wasn’t that intolerant? What’s wrong with Baal or Asherah? What made them “false gods”?  I also remember my mother talking about Mother Nature, and coming to the conclusion that Mother Nature/Earth must be God’s wife. God, Our Father who art in Heaven- that seemed to fit together just right. But then I learned that “Mother Nature” was just a poetic metaphor.   And once again, the contradictions- I was taught to believe in gender equality by my parents, and yet God was always male.

I dutifully went to confirmation class at my Methodist Church and was confirmed. (Back in Iowa, I dropped out of confirmation class in junior high due to bullying- the bullies in question were the children of the Queen of the Church Ladies, hence they could do no wrong)  I remember telling my teacher that the concept of the Trinity didn’t make sense to me, and she tried to use the metaphor that water can be liquid, solid or gas but it is still water. That answer didn’t quite satisfy me, but I went ahead and was confirmed anyway.  Reciting a creed in front of the congregation was a big mistake. I didn’t understand it, and I didn’t know what I believed. Who was Jesus? Who was God? How can someone else “die for your sins”? My parents never knew how to answer my questions, and they became rather uncomfortable when I asked them.  So, I looked for my own answers. I briefly considered plain ol’ atheism/agnosticism but I found religion much too fascinating to give up, so I went to the Hamline University library and the St. Paul Public library and hit the books.  I found books on feminist theology at Hamline, like Womanspirit Rising and yes, good ol’ Drawing Down the Moon. I know some people find that one to be a rather tedious tome, but I was fascinated. There are other people who want to worship the old Gods? I was amazed, and I knew I was one of them. This was who I was meant to be.

(Next chapter- me entering the Twin Cities Pagan Communit(ies)

Other Cauldron Blog Project Posts on Conversion:

The Conversion Narrative by Naomi J (she explains it a lot better than me)

Seeking & Conversion by Juni 

Childhood Religion & Conversion: from Buddhism to Witchcraft and Back Again by Morag Spinner

Conversion & NRE (New Relationship Energy) by Veggiewolf

January 31, 2014 at 12:00 am 1 comment

(Don’t Stop) Believing

As I look back at the past year and a half, much of it seems like a blur. I do have to say though, now it does seem like my life is actually going somewhere, I do not feel as stuck as I did a couple years ago. I realize now that it was a choice to see myself as stuck. My employment status does not define my life, but I was letting it. I put aspects of my relationship on hold, my spiritual life on hold while I meandered thru endless job-hunting.  The Gods didn’t seem to answer my prayers when I asked for help, so I stopped believing in them. But what I really stopped believing in was myself. The funny thing is, after I had really drifted away from my spiritual path, doors started opening for me. I found a position doing research for an organization, and while the project ended in December 2011, I was invited to become an Experience Guide for a new program they were trying out, beginning in May 2012. I’ve been doing that work ever since, and and the social skills I’ve learned help me in the additional job I found in August. I’m working about 20-30 hrs a week at a department store, and I’ve been enjoying it pretty well. So perhaps an atheist would say that all this shows that I don’t need Gods after all. Maybe, but that’s not the message I’m getting out of this. I do believe that we all need to make our own efforts, the Gods don’t just rain down blessings on us when we don’t do anything to help ourselves.  I needed to learn to become more confident and believe in myself, before I could really believe in powers beyond myself.

For the past couple years, I’d become involved with an independent Druid grove. It seemed a great fit, I felt comfortable with the people, and even took their introductory class, along with two other students. We were hoping to eventually become dedicants and initiates, but that was not to be. Winter 2012 if I recall correctly now, each of us were told that we would no longer be a part of the grove. This was really disappointing. I was kind of expecting it, as I knew the leaders were planning on moving too far away to be leading a Twin Cities based grove. But the way they talked to me about it was strange, something about how my magical energy “wasn’t right”. I got this phone call on a Sunday morning and considered skipping church because I was feeling too down about it. My fiance convinced me otherwise, and indeed I did feel quite better after I went to Unity. I may have doubts about Unity sometimes but one thing I do feel certain about them is that they are there for me when I need them. Pagan groups come and go, (depending on how you count it’s my 5th one) but Unity has been around a century and isn’t about to disappear in a puff of air.  I’ve been struggling to figure out why most of these Pagan group-organizing attempts haven’t worked, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a lack of commitment on the part of the participants. Unfortunately, I fear the people who are more committed keep getting burned by slackers and give up, even after many attempts. Unity on the other hand, does have many committed volunteers and donors, but they also expect that as part of membership. If Pagan groups have no real expectation of commitment, then they will continue to fail. We can be understanding that some people have more time to offer, and some people have more money to offer, or good ritual space, or vehicles to share transportation, or skills in ritual planning, performing, media relations, counseling, spirit-work, finance and legal skills, and so forth. We all have something we can contribute, we should not be afraid to ask for contributions of many kinds.

I think sometimes Unity is a little heavy-handed about asking for money, and I feel like I’m forced to think about my pocketbook more than I’d like to when I go there, but they do emphasize that other contributions matter, and I give a little a month and try to remind myself that the pledge-nagging is more for people that actually can pay taxes.  I could certainly volunteer more, though a barrier for me is that I can’t plan out my work schedule very far in advance.  So long as I’m an “extra hand on deck” rather than a committee head, I can still sign up for things.

So I think we can find a happy medium between the Pagan-means-no-strings-attached mentality and the Must Give Everything to Church mentality (which Unity does not have- I am probably more sensitive based on my socioeconomic status relative to many other people in the church) Way more thoughts on community organizing but that’s it for now!

January 29, 2014 at 9:24 am Leave a comment

Favorite “B” PBP Posts

While I was writing about Being a Bastard, Jack-a-Dreams wrote about Being Respectable, in response to some declarations that were made on another blog. I commented on his post, and a related one at Adventures in Vanaheim.  I know I’m going to end up writing more on it myself. But back to the “favorite b posts”- as with the A’s I’m combining both weeks:

Belief– at the Crossroads Forest, Kaye comes up with a list describing her beliefs- one excerpt I like “To be frank, I often refer to myself as a “sleep number polytheist,” with the levels of hardness and softness being adjusted as the need arises. My personal belief is that all gods exist, though I only work with a few of them from a few pantheons, and that these deities are all made of the same “stuff” or divine energy.” Baphemetis’ post was simple but profound. one quote- “I believe in folklore and fairytales, because I believe there is always a grain of truth to something.” As a skeptic, I also related well to Grumpy Druid’s post “For me, my beliefs are a working model, a theory to serve as a starting point for working out all the other stuff in my life, like love and taxes and the platypus.” (not sure where the platypus fits in…) Prairies & Pyramid writes on how a harrowing experience in her life impacted her spiritual development. In “Bars & Bond’s- Believing When There’s No Light“,  Stumbling Through Faith writes of leaving Christianity, but finding healing from her hurtful past in a church.

Bees and Bulls– insights on symbolism from Sulischild

Beowulf– Valkyrie in the Juniper Tree, writes of this importance of this saga to her as an Anglo-Saxon Heathen. “Modern heathenry owes a lot to Beowulf, even heathenry that has precious little to do with the Anglo-Saxons. In Beowulf we see a perfect outline of a drinking ritual, we see a right proper boast and challenge, and we see the social structure of such a rite. ”

BilingualCrafty Rose compares learning/exploring a new religion to learning a new language.

Binary- Rethinking the Ci Cyfarth on how Pagans need to re-evaluate our attitudes surrounding sex and gender

Birch is the one symbol that is shared by both the Irish Ogham and Norse runic systems. At Musings of Huginn & Muginn, Ravensong explains the basics of Berkano the Birch rune (earlier posts are on Ansuz and Algiz.)  Scathcraft wrote an excellent description of the birch with some analysis of what it symbolizes in Ogham. (in French, but there’s a link to Google translate) Looks like another good Celtic polytheist blog. As both a Gaelic & Saxon Heathen, Aiwelin discusses both systems.  Aromawitch also writes on this topic.

Brighid– is definitely the deity I feel closest to so I am always interested in learning of other people’s experiences with Her. Isleen gives a brief summary of info about Her, and another post with correspondences. Most of them I recognize, but there are a few (like associations with stones, the Empress tarot card) that I think are modern UPG.  Rocquelaire and NanLT both wrote about how the Irish goddess of healing & creativity helped them through difficult times.  Anonywitch writes about how she feels drawn to work as a midwife by Brighid.   At Shanda-ism the writer expresses a little confusion at an encounter with Brighid, as she follows a path that is nature-honoring but not deity-focused. At Walking in Beauty, Donald Engstrom writes of his experiences with Bridget’s Flames, and shares the artwork he has created to honor Her. More posts on Brighid: Philosophical Pagan,  Echtrai, Leithin Cluan

Book of Shadows– Abgeneth shares some cool crafty ideas on how to make hand-bound antique-y looking blank books.

Boudicca– the New Pagan writes of the British warrior queen- great synopsis of history with nice pictures!

Boundaries, Respect Them by Ravan Asteris  pulls no punches about about some basic rules of Playing Well with Others that are all too often ignored.

The Broom Closet– Kathleen writes on why its important to be out as a Pagan if you can, referencing arguments Dan Savage has made to the GLBT community. Related to this- That Baffled Look- Your Paganism is Showing– Kel writes on confusing people with the religious symbols she wears and her attempts at explaining her faith.

Business & Bragging by Kylara On the hang-ups Pagans have over charging money for spiritual services.  I’ve gotten so sick of this debate, while I agree we need to be careful of avoiding self-aggrandizing I think we have fallen too far on the Virtuous Pagan Poverty side of things.  It is nice to hear some common sense cutting thru the B.S.

Way more where that came from but I think that’s enough of a list.

January 26, 2014 at 12:49 am 1 comment

Bioregionalism

Bioregionalism is one of many environmental ideologies- there are so many to study and comprehend- and I think there is something we can learn from all of them- environmentalists like many others can get into One True Way-ism and dogmatism and I think to avoid that a more “multi-pronged” approach is best. Bioregionalism seems to be one that I think could be very insightful and useful to developing a locally based spiritual practice and learning to engage with the natural world and local culture in a sustainable manner.  This website on Bioregional Animism was the first place I saw this idea proposed.

Bioregionalism is a political, cultural, economic ideology focused on bioregions- areas defined by ecological traits, such as the watershed, geological makeup and wildlife. Bioregionalism sees nature and human culture as interconnected, and seeks harmonious interconnection between the two. In that way it differs from other environmental ideologies that see human culture as “the enemy”. It favors decentralizing political power to bio-regions, which sometimes cross international boundaries.  Size-wise eco-zones are the largest, followed by bio-regions and eco-regions. (All this is kinda new to me, I’d only heard of bio-regions and biomes. )

Key points of Bioregionalism from Wikipedia:

*Ensure that political boundaries match ecological boundaries.[7]
*Highlight the unique ecology of the bioregion.
*Encourage consumption of local foods where possible.
*Encourage the use of local materials where possible.
*Encourage the cultivation of native plants of the region.
*Encourage sustainability in harmony with the bioregion.[8]

I’ll set aside the political boundary aspect for now, though it would be an interest idea to consider for organizing Pagan groups.

Resources:

Radical Ecology: the Search for a Livable World by Carolyn Merchant

This is an excellent side-by-side comparison of different green/environmental schools of thought, from deep ecology, eco-feminism, to eco-anarchism etc.

Ideas for adapting spiritual practice to local ecology:

Re-Vamping the Nine Sacred Woods– a Witch in Texas “tweaks” the British Isles tradition of 9 sacred woods for a Beltaine fire with trees that live in her area

A Pacific Northwest Ogham– by  John Michael Greer ” The process of creating a tree-Ogham appropriate to the Puget Sound country – or any other environment sufficiently different from northwestern Europe — is not unlike that of translating poetry from one language to another. Inevitably, some meanings are lost, and others are gained which were not present in the original. The tree-Ogham that follows should be considered a first, rather exploratory venture in this direction. If Druidry is relevant to the whole world, though – and I believe that it is – it must be able to put down roots in forests very different from the ones where it originally grew. There must someday be a cactus-Ogham for the Arizona deserts and a jungle-Ogham for the rain forests of northern Australia.”

JMG & AODA in general really walk their talk in their efforts at both spiritual connection to nature and advocacy for sustainability in the broader world

Australian Wildflower Oracle– review of a lovely divination tool. This blogger is working on writing about Australian native flora & fauna herself.

Waincraft: Resources & Links. Waincraft is a new neo-Pagan tradition (originally an outgrowth of Vanatru) that is  a general religious framework that can be adapted to ones’ bioregion and cultural focus.

American Wights by Svartesol, Gullinbursti Press  A Heathen approach to American spirits may be useful to non-Heathens as well. I am having trouble finding a copy of this but have heard good reviews of it.

Kill You and Eat You! Or, a Well-Intentioned Celt’s Guide to Non-Celtic Bioregions

Another PBP post on Bioregionalism from Thalassa, Musings of a Kitchen Witch. (added Feb 3rd)

Please add to my lists of resources in the comments. They may need to get their own page(s).

January 25, 2014 at 1:19 am 2 comments

When the Gods Become Real

One thing that became apparent from the Pop culture Paganism discussion last year was a lot of assumptions people were making about how historic myths are, and where the distinctions lie.  The problem is if these assumptions are false then their whole religion falls apart. Hence part of my reasoning in the Authenticity post.

  • Mythological heroes (Heracles, Perseus, Odysseus) were historic and therefore worthy of cultus
  • Superheroes were never real people there therefore can’t be “real” gods
  • Certain characters in medieval Irish and Welsh literature, written by Christian monks were all historically worshiped as gods.
  • A counter-point by others: mythology and folklore was the pop culture of its day

Does this imply that the “high gods” of Olympus and Asgard (etc) were originally human, and that makes them more real? The funny thing is good ol’ Euhumerus made that argument a long time ago, that the gods were all deified humans, but he used that as a rationalist explanation of religion, and his ideas were later used by Christians to discredit polytheism. Which is rather ironic given their spiritual focus on a historic deified human.

While there are some who literally worship Superman, Sunweaver was originally just talking about using characters like him as a metaphor, but even that people freaked out about.  Saigh also writes about using a modern warrior woman character as an icon at her shrine, to serve as inspiration but clarifying that she is not worshiping her as a being. Gefnsdottir shares an intriguing anecdote: “A woman who posts on one of the fora where I lurk had been trying to get pregnant for a year without success. At the end of the year, she remembered a particular ritual from the Kushiel’s Legacy series, wherein D’Angeline women (who can’t get pregnant otherwise) light candles and pray to the goddess Eisheth to “open the gates of their womb”. She decided to perform the ritual, and the following cycle, she became pregnant, and has had no problems since.”

The evidence of worship of many supposed Irish divinities is sketchy and even more questioned is the divine status of characters in the Mabinogi tales such as Manawyddan and Arianrhod.  Some of their names are cognate with the Irish (Manawyddan=Mannanan, Llew=Lugh) memories of gods that have been “demoted” to powerful humans in the stories.  Other characters can be seen as heroes or demi-gods worthy of honor as well. The lines between God, Sidhe, Human Dead and Hero are very blurry in Celtic and Germanic traditions, and they often aren’t as clear in Greek & Roman traditions as people think they are. (Saigh addresses this historical iffy-ness in her above post)

Nowadays, instead of Euhemerus, we have scholars like Ronald Hutton that tell us, sorry to burst your romanticized bubble but that holiday custom was invented by a Scottish nationalist, and that god you’re worshiping was invented by a poet.  Nothing against Hutton, he has been a needed correction to Robert Graves and Margaret Murray, but what he says is historical should not determine our religious practices. If you want your practice to be all historically attested, fine but you’ll constantly have to re-invent the wheel whenever the new scholarly journal comes out.

This is why I’m becoming more comfortable with the idea of honoring folkloric and older literary figures as deities.  I prefer older characters (19th century or earlier) not due to the “older is more authentic” mentality necessarily but because they have had time to show their cultural staying power and relevance.  Also, by then the copyrights have often expired and the commercialism has faded.  A lot of characters come and go in waves of popularity, others stick around for decades or centuries.  At some point, new gods and spirits appear to us. Maybe they are old gods in new guises, trying to be noticed. Maybe they are totally new. Maybe old gods do disappear and reappear in other forms? But we can’t really tell for sure what’s new and what’s old we just have to follow our instincts. I think it’s the spiritual equivalent of evolution and biodiversity. Spirits and their cults and religions have their own eco-spiritual niches, they evolve with the times- or at times they die and come back in a different form if their “niche” no longer fits them.  Some spirits also broaden or narrow their cultural or geographic territory. Gaia, for example from what we know historically wasn’t worshiped very much as a goddess in ancient Greece, she was more of a distant, cosmic principle. But now she is widely worshiped among Neo-Pagans and even Hellenic recons due to modern ecological consciousness.

This is a rather rambling post- I am sorting out a lot of tangled threads, I’m sure I’ll find some of them are strong material, while other strands are thin, weak and don’t lead me anywhere.  Eventually I will start some more weaving!

More bloggy links-

Stone of Destiny: No Capes “Because fandom is not worship. Worship involves pouring energy outward to achieve a result.Fandom, on the other hand, is about the self. It’s about satisfying a need that we feel, filling a hole that our modern society has forgotten how to satisfy.”

January 21, 2014 at 11:43 pm 1 comment

Updates to Blogroll & CR Page

I majorly re-vamped the blogroll. I’m finding lots of nifty new blogs, and have removed dead links and blogs that have not been updated since Samhain. I may still keep a list of “archived blogs” that have good posts, esp. those of Gaelic/Celtic polytheists since there are only so many of us. Please  comment if you have moved your blog or re-activated it.

I put the Celtic Recon page back up, it’s still of course a work in progress and maybe I will be adding in more Neo-Druidy things. It saddens me that a lot of the online activity seems to have dissipated among CRs. I believe some of this is due to divisions that have arisen between different factions over how traditional or innovative to be.  I would recommend if you want to get more socially connected to check out the Gaol Naofa group. They have a public Facebook group you can join to learn more. They are quite committed to building their tradition, and have been very active in putting together a lot of great information on Gaelic polytheism. I have considered them myself, but currently I am just to trying to re-establish my path and I’m not sure how traditional of a form it will take.  Another place to check out (to which I do belong) is Hazel & Oak Reformed Celtic Polytheism Special Interest Group (whoa that’s a name) on the Cauldron Forum. They base themselves on scholarship but are more open to UPG and modern adaptation. Which is funny because CR was supposed to include that to begin with, but a lot of people have come to feel excluded for not being “recon” enough.  (See Erynn Rowan Laurie’s writing on aisling & archeology- will link when I find it)

January 18, 2014 at 1:50 am 1 comment

Being a Bastard

I am a bastard child of the British Empire, a genetic mish-mash of people that got together because the British nobility decided they wanted Land, Tea, Spices and Cheap Labor. Mostly Irish, Scottish and English and some German.  I’m a heir to their glorious and hubristic culture, neither proud nor ashamed of it. I simply am what I am. The problem is all too often, those of us Euro-mutts who live in the United States, Canada, Australia and other former British colonies (or other former European colonies) feel as if we are “bastards” illegitimate regardless of what traditions we try to follow.  We don’t feel as if we belong in European traditions, but when we try to draw from indigenous traditions we tread into dangerous waters of cultural appropriation. Even folks who have some Native ancestry may feel trepidations if they aren’t very connected to their heritage.

Some of us “bastards” don’t know our entire ancestry, or sometimes any of it, due to histories of immigration, slavery, tribal records getting lost/stolen/destroyed/falsified. Or relatives just not telling the truth because they were ashamed of where they came from.

We can try celebrate our own national holidays in uniquely Pagan ways, but so many of our holidays have legacies of colonialism and slavery behind them. But really, enough self-pity. Enough guilt. We need to acknowledge the negatives of our history, but we need to move on. We can’t change the past but we can learn from of it, and listen to voices who don’t usually get to tell the their side of history. We can take a step back and look clearly at how it’s impacted us and our cultures. We can claim our European roots without posturing at phoniness and explore other cultures with sensitivity- on their terms. And we can figure out what is our culture now? How am I uniquely American, Canadian, Australian? How do I celebrate Imbolc/Lunasa (or whatever your next holiday is) in a way that is relevant to my heritage (ancestral or not) and my place and time?

How do I work to make my country a more just place for all people?

Here is some “homework” reading material but it is just the beginning to understand what cultural appropriation is and how to avoid it.

Resources:

Talking About the Elephant: Neo-Pagan Perspectives on Cultural Appropriation ed. Lupa Megallithica Press

Hinduism, Indo-Paganism and Cultural Appropriation  From the Wild Hunt blog Positive suggestions for non-Hindu Pagans with an interest in Hinduism

Cultural Appropriation: Gaels and Other Natives by Michael Newton 

How the Irish Became White by Noel Ignatiev

This post is part of the Pagan Blog Project 2014. 

January 17, 2014 at 12:47 am 2 comments

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