Archive for July, 2014
Strategic Sorcery is not a blog I usually read, since it’s more about magic than religion, but the author has come out with a series of posts on eclecticism that I found very insightful and relevant for religious eclecticism as well. I know as an American, and a Unitarian Universalist I am probably always going to be learning from many cultures and religions, even if I focus mainly on a couple. The key is to figure out how to do so well!
I’ve heard various people explain the difference between syncretism and eclecticism but frankly I’m still not clear on it. When recon polytheists it is usually with the motivation that Syncretism is Better! Why? Because These Books Said So. No, actually it’s because they’re a recon and they said so. Anyway for some other views:
Oldie but a goodie essay on the Cauldron Forum-
You Say “Eclectic”, I Say “Syncretic” Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off! by Erynn Laurie, Celtic recon
Actually upon re-reading these again, neither Erynn nor PSVL has a problem categorically with eclecticism, then again they are both more liberal/innovative recons, so big shock I would link to them…
Another thing I’ve seen is- it’s OK to borrow from anything- except Christianity! (Judaism apparently is OK if it’s Kabbalah…) Or pop culture…
On Friday, August 1st, Visions of Vanaheim by Nornoriel Lokason will be coming out. Back in 2009, this was published under the name Svartesol, and later went out of print. Now it’s back with more content based on Nornoriel’s spiritual experiences. I’m glad to hear about this, because I remember enjoying reading Svartesol’s scholarship and unique insights regarding the Vanir and was sorry I did not get a copy when I had the chance. I’m also hoping he will re-publish American Wights.
If you have an interest in Norse mythology (or myth in general) and are open to new interpretations, Visions of Vanaheim should be a treat. I feel all too often we are too afraid to share our personal experiences for fear of judgment as “fluffy”, and I think that is really getting in the way of growth. We can read about other people’s spiritual experiences and take what we find useful and what resonates with us, and set aside that which does not.
Here are some previews of the material:
Vanic Deity Symbols (Note: while only Frey, Freyja and Njord are mentioned historically as Vanir, the others are included based on the author’s experiences)
So, I’ve been reading blogs written by people of color. Or sometimes even talking to them *in person* whoa! I have a message for my fellow white people- folks of color are really sick of talking about race with us, they are really sick of educating us, and not being listened to and they want us to educated ourselves. So I’ve been trying to do that. But y’all are kinda defensive and difficult to talk to, and I’m starting to understand why my friends, neighbors, co-workers, fellow bloggers and activists are so frustrated. Part of the problem is, a lot of well-meaning “I’m so not racist!” white people think they don’t need to be educated. It’s only the people in pointy hoods that have the problem. They learned about MLK in elementary school. They have that one adopted Korean friend. They did “diversity awareness” training at their Fortune 500 company, etc. I realize that I am still in a learning process and I always will be. I could recommend a big reading list to you folks, and maybe some of you would read some of it (and you’re white so, of course you’re literate, right?) but I’m going to start with some videos. Educating yourself can be fun!
Sh*t (non-Jews) say to Jewish people (some Jewish people are considered white, some aren’t)
I admit it, I’ve probably said some of this stuff. In fact, I’m sure I have!
Can you admit it?
I found some more models of Heathen ethics that could possibly be part of my Self-Care Virtues project, Harrison K. Hall has an excellent series of posts, beginning with an examination and critique of the Odinic Rite’s Nine Noble Virtues. He comes up with his own list, the Ten Guiding Tempers, which are designed to balance each other out.
Commentary: Personally, I think *most* of the virtues can be good principles depending on how they are interpreted- unfortunately all too often they are interpreted in a very “might makes right” manner. The main problem as I see it is that this set is rather unbalanced and incomplete. Several concepts, like “discipline and perseverance” are very close and arguably redundant. Self-Reliance, Discipline and Industriousness have to be *seriously* modified and qualified for people with disabilities, and all too often are used to shame them.
Taqiyya is a “loophole” in Shiia Islam that if a Muslim’s life is in danger for revealing his/her beliefs, the person can pretend to be a non-Muslim (and violate the faith) without being guilty of blasphemy. I understand the point he’s making here about the hypocrisy of racist Heathens. But I thought use of “taqiyya” would be more directly relevant in the case of Heathens who pretend to be Christian out of fear of discrimination.
Part 3: AFA’s Nine Noble Virtues (the “honor is better than dishonor” one)
“The best of the bunch, to my mind, is “Realism is Better Than Dogma”. It’s probably the only one of the virtues that I can appreciate without conditions, because it balances two things that can both be considered valuable in the right circumstances. You can use tradition and scripture…but all things being equal, chose the most pragmatic option.”
Hall makes the point that following “traditional” Heathen virtues have different social consequences and impact in a as a tiny minority in a non-Heathen modern industrialized society than in an ancient Norse feudal/tribal society.
“If you are willing to weaken the entire strength of a community for the sake of your own ego? You shouldn’t belong to a community. You can be Heathen, Asatru, or whatever; these aren’t terms that any one person gets to bestow upon or remove from another person. A community, however, requires a certain amount of sacrifice for the greater good.”
OK, so if this other stuff isn’t working, what factors should we consider in constructing modern Heathen ethics?
1) Anthropological Sources Cannot Be the Primary Source for the Material
I think we should look at history to help give us an idea of the worldview of our spiritual ancestors, but being too wed to the past makes it difficult to make it relevant to modern realities.
2) No Mystic Hangups– ethics aren’t mystical, there don’t need to be nine of them
3) Nothing Included that Speaks to Politics and/or Racism, One Way or the Other
I think if we construct our ethics carefully enough, anyone who is actually honorable won’t be using them to justify some form of oppression or discrimination. If they are, then why the Hel are they in our community?
I also think ethics definitely have political implications, but what those implications are and what policy ought to be pursued as a resulted should be left up to the individual.
Part 6: Taking it Back– discussion of the “We Are Our Deeds” concept
Aren’t all of our ancestors sacred and worthy of reverence?
Other Heathen/Germanic Ethics Models
Urglaawe Virtues– There’s a great article here (it’s on a PDF, didn’t want to give a direct link so people didn’t get a “surprise download”) about contemplating the virtues of Urglaawe, the Pennsylvania Deutsch Heathen tradition on the 12 Nights of Yule.
Rokkatru Ethics & Values– I realize Rokkatru, the tradition/path that focuses reverence on the Jotuns, may or may not be considered “Heathen” but I think it’s worth a look.
Further analysis of these ethical systems will be forthcoming, for now I will continue working on the lists I began with!
The pursuit of beauty and elegance in thought, form and speech. (Vanic Virtue)
Text of image: Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do. MAKE GOOD ART
– Neil Gaiman
I think of this one more as a “value”- a concept that’s important, rather than a virtue, because to me that implies an ideal to live up to. I was reminded of this one while reading a post by a Christian friend- The Absence of Self-Care in the Church by Kati Hammar. She talked about how she felt selfish in her church in even taking simple pleasures like painting her nails, because she felt she was supposed to be thinking of others at all times. “One of the most hurtful things someone ever told me was, “You don’t have real problems. You aren’t precious. Children in Africa are precious and they have real problems.”
This is one of the reasons I don’t feel comfortable in churches anymore. For the most part, self-care and mental health are subjects that are stigmatized or even forbidden in some circles.”
Reading that made me feel really sad. Kati is such a sweet, thoughtful young woman, any church or community of any sort should be happy to have her. (Virtual hug!) Anyway, back to beauty. It sounds like a petty luxury at first- beauty. A luxury for wealthy, non-disabled, “sane” neurotypical people.
But take a step back from the great false idol that is the commercial beauty industry. One thing you notice about anthropology, is you study the world’s cultures and you find anywhere, in every society no matter how so-called “primitive” or focused on basic survival that culture is, they make art and music. They create beauty. Look at prisons and jails. Even prisoners of war and people on death row will create art with whatever materials they have available- even if they’re not allowed to, and the art they create is taken and destroyed. Why? Out of boredom, or to create trouble, prison guards might assume at first- but also to demonstrate their humanity. To express a voice that is silenced. Mentally ill people are also terribly dehumanized and silenced, and often end up in prisons and jails, sometimes because they have nowhere else to go.
Related Virtues: Creativity, Eloquence, Confidence, Dignity
Note: Beauty is also one of the 8 virtues mentioned in the Wiccan Charge of the Goddess.
Practices for Cultivating Beauty:
Follow Neil Gaiman’s advice- Make Art/Music/Write etc. I’m leaving out the “good” part, because who’s to judge what is good art or bad? Just make something, have fun with it, and don’t worry about how good it is. Stay away from people who discourage your creativity, and stifle your inner critic. Remember the prisoner artists- you don’t necessarily have to spend a bunch of money on art supplies. I would also count cooking and baking in ways you consider fun, rather than ordinary “oh, I have to cook dinner”, better yet invite over a friend!
Embrace Your Inner and Outer Beauty
Look in the mirror- think about what your good qualities are, and speak them aloud “I am kind, smart, beautiful, wise” etc.
Take a bath, add some bubbles or bath salts, enjoy yourself, put on some soft music, later put on lotion, makeup if you want, fun accessories and clothing that is comfortable and adds to your beauty. Feel free to step outside gender norms and experiment with different clothes/make-up if you feel comfortable doing so!
Offbeat Bride– even if you’re not planning a wedding, this has a lot of fun ideas for fashion, (including many frugal ideas) entertaining for people who don’t fit the conventions of the wedding industry- GLBTQ folks, goths, geeks etc.
The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron (and sequels)
Ms. Cameron is a successful writer, who once believed that she “had” to drink in order to write, but came up with this self-help plan to help her learn to be creative without drinking. To follow this program, you make a contract with the “Great Creator” but this can be any deity you associate with creativity (I’m thinking Brighid!) , or perhaps an artsy ancestor like Frida Kahlo.
Play With Your Food– a book to help you create beauty and have fun
Pinterest board– with fun food visuals
What, me fluffy? (Photo of bunny rabbit in Viking helmet & shield.
So I signed up for a Asatru/Heathen group on Facebook, and I was reading thru their long list of rules, which hey, I do appreciate it when the rules are specifically laid out- and that is well-moderated. Unlike in person interactions where I may have to figure them out the hard way! But I was just thinking, Wow, I think hanging out with all these Lokeans and Vanatruar online has kind of “corrupted” me, at least as far as the No UPG Thanks, We’re Serious Asatru Recons are concerned. (This is the part where y’all get the chance to cackle!) I don’t necessarily have a problem with that, if they want to focus more on scholarly stuff in that group, and don’t want to get sucked into UPG arguments, fine.
Celtic Recons sometimes have a reputation for being anti-UPG, but the information we have available on Celtic polytheism is even more limited than what we have of Germanic traditions, so at they very least we have to be open to different ideas or we won’t have much to go on. Not to mention, every now and then some scholar will come out with a paper saying so-and-so wasn’t historically worshipped as deity. If someone has been worshipping that deity, and connecting with them and having experiences, it seems ridiculous to drop that practice based on the direction of current scholarship, which might change when the newest journal comes out. Same with Germanic religions- it was mentioned in the rules that discussing the worship of beings who are mentioned in myth but have no historic cult is verboten. Umm, that’s a lot of gods…I kinda wondered if that really was about Heimdall, Baldur, Skadi? Or someone else with red hair….
I pretty much consider myself neutral as far as the Loki/jotun worship issue is concerned, which is kind of like trying to be neutral about abortion among feminists or something…my partner (who’s agnostic, but familiar with Norse mythology) said to me once “Isn’t worshipping Loki kinda like voting for the Pro-Ragnarok party?” “Maybe so, I said. But everyone loves a rebel, particularly pagans!”
So no, I’m not going to say that honoring Loki & co. is a good or bad idea (heck, some people have rather dubious reasons for worshipping Odin…) mostly I’m just bugged by the obsessive Lokean-bashing that goes on among some heathens. I also notice that the most vocal about this, frequently use ableist, homo/transphobic language in their bashing, and seem to be more frequently (though not necessarily) associated with the folkish wing of Asatru. Hence I will be avoiding the AsatruLore forums… I also have made the acquaintance of many bloggers/posters who have behaved courteously to me, and share many interesting and thoughtful ideas in their writings who are Loki-worshippers. Are there other Loki-worshippers who behave badly? Yes, I’m sure there are, just as they are badly behaved worshippers of every deity.
As for Vanatru, I do not necessarily label myself as such, but I do find that many Vanic identified folks are a lot friendlier, more open to new ideas, but often still scholarly. They tend to have a less of a Macho Viking Warrior mentality- a mentality which I think is very unhealthy, and also more reflective of modern projections of what some people want the ancient Norse to be, and the bias of the limited information we have on the religion. Even people who don’t specifically call themselves Vanic/Vanatru, but happen to have one of them as their patron, seem to be friendlier.
I don’t care whether your spiritual practice is totally something you came up with yourself, or based on painstaking PhD. level research. If you behave honorably and politely, and treat people who are different from you and disagree with you with respect, and don’t put up with racists/sexists/homophobes/abusers etc. in the name of “frith” or “what will the neighbors think, let’s sweep this under the rug” then I will consider you a worthy person to discuss ideas with, whether online or offline- maybe even a friend. And I’ll tell other people that when they talk about you behind your back.
I don’t want to get into these arguments. I’ve had enough of many of the same ones among Celtic Recons. I will just be careful where I go, and what I talk about. Much like life outside the Internet.
(Oh and for the record, I’m pretty sure both major American parties are Pro-Ragnarok, at least as far as their policies are concerned…)