Archive for October, 2014
(Belated post) Happy Samhain, and Happy Halloween! Today I will mostly be celebrating Halloween, American-style, feeding the munchkins that come to the door, and playing board games with my partner & his brother. This weekend and next, I’ll be attending 2 different Samhain events. This is the time of year when we focus on honoring the dead, and I often hear from people of various paths, that find this to be a stumbling block. Often this is because they had (or still have) difficult, painful and abusive relationships with their family members, both living and dead (or the dead are “guilty” by association with the living relatives). This has often been a topic of discussion on the ADF lists, and people who were adopted often express awkwardness surround this. I am lucky in that I have a great relationship with my own family and a cordial one with my partner’s family.
Adoptive Family– if you were formally adopted, your adoptive family’s ancestors are yours. Adoption (especially by relatives) did happen in various ancient cultures, and all those stories about foundlings and orphans being adopted are not just stories 😉 Informal “adopted” parents, grandparents and aunts & uncles can also be honored. Search for your birth parents & ancestors if you so desire, but remember that it is not required to feel like a “Real Pagan”. If you were adopted from another country or ethnic background than that of your adopted family, adding symbols of that country or culture to a physical or online shrine and honoring cultural ancestors would be good ways to honor your heritage.
Ancestors by Marriage/Partnership– Your partner or spouse’s ancestors are also your own. Personally I find this can be a nice way to share one’s spirituality with a non-Pagan spouse and even their broader living family- you can gather pictures and mementos together to create an ancestor altar, without announcing to everyone that This is a Pagan Thing! It’s not just a Pagan Thing! Many cultures and religions honor their ancestors, and respectfully listen and learn if your partner’s family has its own ancestor-honoring traditions- Jewish, Mexican Catholic, Chinese Confucian, etc.
Spiritual Ancestors– in some traditions such as Feri, they are referred to as “the Mighty Dead” founders or influential practitioners of your tradition, or other thinkers that have been influential on your path. They can be part of a recent revival, or priests and shamans of long ago. This is a good category to focus on in ritual, since our groups are usually made up on unrelated people. Many people also see their coven, grove et al as being like a family.
Ancestors of Place– people who lived before you in your house, the land it sits on, the general area. This may blur with non-human spirits of place as well. In the U.S. and other colonized lands we often find it easier to acknowledge and honor European founders of our cities and countries, while steering clear of discussing the many victims of genocide and forced relocation. Understandably, if some of these spirits are present they may be angry with us. I’ll expand on this another time, as we get closer to Thanksgiving, but in short, dwelling on guilt is pointless, but acknowledging the wrong-doing of the past is important. I think what would be best in honoring these spirits, is to pray for healing and reconciliation between Native and non-Native peoples. Do not say prayers that “thank” the Native peoples for the land, when it was not much of choice for them to sell it. I would also suggest avoiding doing rituals near or on Native American burial grounds.
Ancestors of Trade/Profession/Calling– if you have a trade or profession, be it mundane, spiritual or a combination, you can honor deceased accomplished members of that trade, along with patron gods or saints, or perhaps the founder(s) of the company or organization you work for, or your union/trade association. Honoring activists of the labor movement would also be cool- I think this category would be even more appropriate for Labor Day (in September in the U.S.) or May Day, or a special day associated with your profession. If you are a student, trainee, or job-seeker of a particular field, you can also honor people of related professions. You can also honor deceased alumni of your college or high school, if you feel a special attachment to the school, especially at homecoming.
Queer Ancestors– If you identify as queer, GLBTQA+, or otherwise have an interest in queer history, cultures and civil rights, there are all kinds of cool people throughout history you can honor. Something to keep in mind however, is that the concepts of sexual orientation and transgender/transsexual are modern constructs, however gender fluidity/nonconformity and same-sex love and sexual behavior have existed throughout human history throughout the world. This is another reason I like the word “queer”- it is inclusive of anyone who has a relationship or gender identity that does not fit with the norm. Pinterest shrine here. Nornoriel has an inspiring tribute to Harvey Milk (one of the first openly gay politicians in the U.S.)
Disabled and Neurodiverse Ancestors– as with queer history, the history of people with disabilities is also quite hidden, there are many famous people who had disabilities that we don’t talk about, and people who are not remembered because they were shut out of society in institutions. (Sometimes even members of our own families!) “Neurodiversity is an approach to learning and disability that suggests that diverse neurological conditions appear as a result of normal variations in the human genome.”-Wikipedia I like to use the term neurodiverse, because there are many historical figures that people try to post-humously “diagnose” with various mental conditions such as Asperger’s Syndrome or bipolar disorder, and while we can make educated guesses we will never really know the truth. Thus we can include people with various diverse ways of thinking without giving them a specific label. Pinterest shrine here, Nornoriel has a lovely tribute to Helen Keller here.
Deities as Ancestors– Last but not least, in many traditions deities are our literal or metaphorical ancestors, and specific deities are said to be the ancestors of particular countries, tribes and clans. Illustrious ancestors are also often deified, or at least get a hero or saint-like status.
See Tutelary Goddesses post
Some people will of course fit into multiple categories! I will be writing more posts about these groups of ancestors, and individual ancestors as the Muses move me, and adding to the shrines, while trying (probably in vain) to not get too sucked into Pinterest!
Of all the Nine Noble Virtues, the one that I most wanted to re-write/re-frame from a disability-inclusive perspective was self-reliance. Even from a historical view-point, it does not really make sense. A tribe or village or household had to rely on itself but an individual did not have to be completely self-reliant unless they were utangard– cast out from society and left on their own. This “virtue” seems to be more of an influence from extreme individualist capitalism than ancient Norse culture.
The Greek Delphic Maxim of “Know Yourself” also comes to mind. From what I understand this is often seen as “know your limitations, know that you’re human, mortal, imperfect”. This sort of idea is a lot more emphasized in Christianity, but in European polytheist traditions we often go to the opposite extreme of proving how awesomely heroic we can be, how many mystical, magical powers we can develop and so forth.
Self-advocacy is a movement among people with disabilities, particularly developmental/intellectual disabilities. Self-advocacy means explaining your disability or health condition to others, and advocating for accommodations, equipment or other considerations that you need. When growing up as a child with a disability, parents and others do advocacy for them (well hopefully they do!) but as a child gets older, he/she/zie needs to learn to effectively self-advocate for themselves. Non-disabled people do self-advocacy as well- a pregnant woman might ask for accommodations in her working conditions, a left-handed student might ask for a left-handed desk, and so forth.
Being a self-advocate is different from being a disability rights activist, because it is only asking for getting your own needs met, and not trying to change broader social structures to make society accessible to all. However, being an effective self-advocate can be a great step towards becoming an activist.
History of the Self-Advocacy Movement– Interesting that it started in Sweden!
Yes and No.
The conclusion that I’ve come to is, sure you can be a feminist with a personal moral or religious objection to abortion, and believe we should try to reduce the need for abortion by advocating for accessible childcare, healthcare and comprehensive sex education and healthy non-abusive relationships. But if your political priority is banning abortion or until then, making it as inaccessible as possible, then no I don’t consider you a feminist.
Because you’re in league with a movement, that on the whole does not support the above things I just mention that could help women, relationships, families and children be healthier, and you’re opposing movements that *do* support those things. So at the point, I can’t really trust you to have a meaningful commitment to advocating for women and feminism.
There are some feminists that are not as supportive and understanding of issues mothers, and women in relationships with men (married or not) face, and this has alienated many women from our movements.
However, who’s been promoting laws protecting women from domestic abuse? Building and operating shelters? Laws against marital rape? Who’s been accusing these activists of “breaking up families” and denying that marital rape, or even date rape are real things? Who’s been telling us that if women and children obey husbands & fathers as the God-appointed “head of the household” that they won’t be abused? That if girls and women dress in the right way, and keep company with the right men, that bad things won’t happen to them?
Take a good look at who you are supporting, and ask yourself, are these people advocating for the best interests of women?
Another thing, 21st century Western feminism means that yes, you need to be pro-GLBT. I do expect this to spread to the rest of the world, it is not an Evil Decadent Western thing that we are shoving down other people’s throats, even if some Christians and Muslims in the developing world may claim.
I understand that some religions and cultures around the world, and even right here may need to do some re-examining and re-thinking about how they see gender and sexuality , and that those reform efforts are best led by people within those cultures and religions. Feminists outside those cultural contexts can lend their moral and financial support, and spread the word about pro-feminist/pro-GLBT and progressive Muslims, Mormons, Catholics, and so forth. We can keep examining our own cultural prejudices and assumptions and create space for other points of view, without compromising our principles.
Info about animal sacrifice/ritual slaughter in various religions:
What is Voodoo? Understanding a Misunderstood Religion, Pt 1, Part 2 by Saumya Arya Haas
What is Halal? (Islamic dietary laws)
Discussion on Pagan and Polytheist Blogs– if not obvious, religions are noted in parentheses
The Wild Hunt: Perspectives: Blood Sacrifice in Modern Paganisms
(Magna Graecian Bacchic Orphism) Sannion/House of Vines: The red thread of our tradition
(Heathen/Northern Tradition shaman) Galina Krasskova: On the Nature of Sacrifice
(Hellenic) Of Thespiae: A story about the power of sacrifice
Thracian Exodus: Let us find a better way
(Hellenic) Gargarean- Animal Sacrifice
Northeast Heathen: On Blood Sacrifice
Writings of a Pagan Witch: Making Sacrifices to the Gods
Church of Asphodel: Towards a Better Understanding:Animal Sacrifice & the Community
I am now up to 200 followers! A lot of new folks who have signed up have an interest in my mental health and autism posts, and I thought some might be unfamiliar with my religion when I discuss it here- indeed I sometimes encounter people who think Pagan or Heathen means atheist or unbeliever, which I suppose it can it some contexts but that’s in lowercase 😉 While not perfect, I still find Pagan Pride International’s definition to be a pretty helpful description-
A Pagan or NeoPagan is someone who self-identifies as a Pagan, and whose spiritual or religious practice or belief fits into one or more of the following categories:
- Honoring, revering, or worshipping a Deity or Deities found in pre-Christian, classical, aboriginal, or tribal mythology; and/or
- Practicing religion or spirituality based upon shamanism, shamanic, or magickal practices; and/or
- Creating new religion based on past Pagan religions and/or futuristic views of society, community, and/or ecology;
- Focusing religious or spiritual attention primarily on the Divine Feminine; and/or
- Practicing religion that focuses on earth based spirituality.
Caelesti/Mariah’s Spiritual Path:
I myself fall between agnostic and polytheist theologically (basically like Fox Mulder, I “want to believe”!) focusing on Irish/Scottish polytheism and Germanic/Norse polytheism- which is more commonly called Heathenry. I am a member of ADF, Ar nDraiocht Fein, an international public tradition of Druidism- that’s mainly Celtic, but we are pan-Indo-European, so we include Germanic, Slavic, Greek, Roman and Vedic- (that’s early Hindu) cultures. I’m also a Unitarian Universalist, which is a post-Christian, non-creedal Protestant denomination that includes people of many beliefs and practices who share common values in common. Phew! Can you see why I often just say “I’m Pagan”?!
Polytheism- belief in, reverence of many gods
Animism- belief in, reverence of many spirits (or belief that a spirit resides in everything)
Agnosticism- belief that the existence of god(s) is unknowable- as I and many others use it, to mean uncertainty of belief
humanism- lowercase, not how other people use it see: Humanism Can Include Theism
I was born in Montana, and only lived there til I was three, but still have relatives who live out there, as well as in Wyoming. In both Montana & Wyoming, there’s a lot more cattle than humans, and its dry and scrubby out there, so they are beef cattle. Some of these cattle are lucky and get better treatment in how they are raised and slaughtered, others aren’t so lucky and go through great suffering before they end up on your plate.
I also have several uncles who enjoy hunting- both birds, antelope and deer, and an aunt and uncle who were rangers in Yellowstone Park. Like many kids, I got the “oh no, hunting is bad, that mean hunter killed Bambi’s mom!” view, but that was soon corrected. Without hunters, the deer population would outgrow the available food and some of them would starve. Hunting (while following local hunting regulations) is a way to responsibly maintain the natural equilibrium.
I am putting all this personal back story in, because I understand many of my friends and colleagues having spent all their lives in the city or suburbs and their idea of “animals” is- my pet dog/cat/”fur-kid”, meat, milk and eggs that magically appear in the supermarket, and Romanticized Innocent Bambi in the woods threatened by Scary Rednecks. Well, to be fair most people I hang out with aren’t that clueless, but a few of them are. Like my vegetarian friend who refused to use wool, because shearing sheep “is cruel!”. Actually *not shearing sheep and making them suffer through summer heat* is cruel, and I also notice she has plenty of leather shoes and boots. Don’t get me wrong, there are many vegetarians, vegans and people who carefully choose meat that comes from humanely treated animals that think out their lifestyles a lot more carefully and consistently, and I greatly respect them for that. Not everyone is able to be that careful, due to their financial, time and sometimes geographic constraints, but I applaud the efforts of those who try.
Anyway, this is all a long lead-up to a controversy among some Pagans and polytheists over the issue of animal sacrifice. Some people have knee-jerk reactions to it, assuming that it must be cruel, is unnecessary because we can buy meat at the supermarket, and this isn’t the Bad Old Days, we’re modern, civilized people! There are even more messed-up ideas bound up with the assumptions of “civilized vs. savage” but I will set that aside for an additional post. OK so here we go:
1) If you’re vegetarian/vegan, for health, spiritual, bio-ethical and/or environmental reasons, that’s fine, I have no problem with that. What I do have a problem with is people claiming that veg*ism is automatically more ecologically and economically sustainable when this is not always the case, or claiming that it is always ethically or spiritually superior lifestyle, along with sometimes implying that other religions and cultures are inferior to your own. (Likewise, the same sorts of arguments that Everyone Must Be Meat-Eaters, are just as wrong)
2) If you’re concerned about animals being raised and slaughtered humanely, great! So am I! Most meat that you can buy in America or Canada today comes from animals who were treated quite poorly. People who practice slaughter in a religious context should be trained to treat the animal humanely and do so in a way that is sanitary and does not threaten human and other animals’ health. Some polytheist religious leaders (Afro-Caribbean, Heathen, Hellenic), do indeed get this sort of training and insist that others who want to practice animal sacrifice do so as well. Though their worldviews/theologies are different, our Jewish and Muslim neighbors do this in kosher and halal slaughter as well, and have been doing so for thousands of years.
3) If you just don’t believe in the whole concept of sacrifice, that’s also fine- there are plenty of other religions that do not involve sacrifice! Feel free to join them!
4) If you think modern Western societies are not ready to culturally deal with the idea of ritual animal sacrifice taking place in public, you’re probably right! Most polytheists and followers of indigenous religions do not kill cows and chickens in the public square for this reason. There are indeed, many laws and regulations governing slaughter that we need to be aware of. In ADF, blood sacrifice is forbidden in *public rituals*, however this does not preclude what we do in private rituals where everyone understands the reasons and cultural/spiritual context. Similarly, I doubt animal sacrifice will be likely to take place anytime soon in a CUUPs or Unitarian Universalist setting.
5) Even in polytheistic religions that may include animal sacrifice, not everyone is going to feel called to practice it, or be in the right circumstances (city mouse vs. country mouse, issues of health/physical and mental) to practice it. That’s OK, there are plenty of other items we can offer to our Gods, Spirits and Ancestors! If some of our co-religionists are doing this practice with proper training, we can respect the skills and services that they offer to their Gods/Spirits and their community, even if we don’t want to attend their rituals or participate ourselves.
6) For polytheists, Pagans and others who practice hunting and or fishing, this can also take place within a spiritual context. Prayers for beginning the hunt, encountering the animal and killing it can be said, and thanks can be given to the spirit of the animal as well as the spirits and gods of the hunt.
One of the things that drives me nuts that Christians, atheists, Pagans and Pastafarians alike seem to do is to make statements like “Christians believe….”, “Christians think…” “X is a Christian movie/book/musical album/chicken restaurant” “That was very Christian (nice/generous/hospitable) of you” or conversely “Sheesh, now you sound like a Christian (mean, close-minded, prudish), eww”.
Take a step away from that, and remember you are talking about billions of people around the world, and hundreds (maybe thousands) of formal sects and churches, and well as individual people’s idiosyncratic theologies, ethics, and religious and ethical practices.
There is no Generic or Typical Christian, any more than there’s a Generic Human. There’s a huge spectrum of beliefs, practices, cultures, languages included here. The problem is that everyone seems to have a pre-conceived archetypal “Christian” that they are imagining when they talk about Christianity, whatever form they happen to be most familiar with, raised with etc.
When I lived in Iowa, people who sometimes ask me, “Are you Christian or Catholic?” which I found rather baffling. “Uh, last time I checked Catholics were Christians. But I’m Protestant, Methodist to be specific to answer your question.” I later realized that these questioners were some variety of evangelical who didn’t view Roman Catholics as genuine Christians. Chances are, they didn’t consider me a legit Christian either. Oddly enough, the people who most often come to my door to tell me about God, Jesus and the Bible are either Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons, who often aren’t considered Christians because their beliefs aren’t in line with the Nicene Creed, or whatever other yardstick you’re using.
Since I’m not Christian, it’s not my job to worry about watering down the definition of Christian. To me it’s more of a cultural identifier than a matter of theology. (Heck, I could say the same of “Pagan”!) What matters me to is determining whether they are the sort of Christian I can have a civil but honest discussion about religion, or the sort of Christian with which I have to keep myself on guard so I don’t set them off like a trigger-happy car alarm. Come to think of it, a lot of Christians actually have to deal with this as well, deciding whether it’s worth it to tell cousin Shelly that in fact, they are not Her Kind of Christian. I also just can’t relate socially to, and frankly have a lot of trouble respecting on an intellectual level people who never question anything they are taught. Or heck, people who never read or seek out information since they graduated from high school. This is not a class thing- poor people can go to the library! I politely tolerate them, but that’s as far as it can really go.
What I commonly do is what feels like coming halfway out of the “broom closet” by explaining that I’m Unitarian, without mentioning Paganism, and I talk about that if the person seems open-minded enough and has a long enough attention span (it’s already pushing it by explaining UUism!) Most people tend to think UUism is “Christian enough” for them to not be scared away (though they may not be aware that we let in riff-raff like atheists and pagans!) I wonder if it’s dishonest and cowardly, or if it’s just being pragmatic.