Archive for January, 2015

A UU Pagan & a Muslim walk into an Irish pub

So, a couple of days ago my partner and I were discussing an article he had just read, written by a Muslim critiquing the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. More on that another day!

I made some comment about my accepting attitude towards Muslims, and he challenged this by bringing up an incident he witnessed in which I offended a Muslim co-worker/friend of mine. I found this rather ironic, considering that we’d just established that offending Muslims (intentionally or unintentionally) is not the same as hating or excluding them. Still, Little Miss Amateur Interfaith Diplomat has been racking her brain trying to remember what this was and recalled today that it was something about the story in which God asks Abraham to sacrifice Isaac to him, and then at the last minute, a lamb shows up as a substitute sacrifice. If I recall correctly, I brought this up after noting that fairy tales in their original forms were not what we’d consider appropriate reading material for children, but then children back in Ye Olden Days were not protected from “Scary Adult Stuff” in the way that they are now. I then noted the similar irony to the popular belief that the Bible is this nice kid-friendly book, the Abraham & Isaac story being a prime example of Great Ways to Traumatize Kids. Children’s Bibles typically include this story, along with Noah’s Ark, Creation and “the Fall” etc. (To be fair, we also need kid-friendly versions of Greek and Norse myths…) Anyhow, being a mom to 3 sons, and a Muslim my co-worker was taken aback to hear me speak ill of this story, she thought it was a nice one about having faith in God (which is how all 3 of the Abrahamic faiths typically view it) I can’t remember if I said much more, but I did decide it was wisest to let it go, and agree to disagree so no further offense would take place, especially since we were there to entertain the guests on the tour at an Irish pub, and more light-hearted conversation would certainly be preferable!

Thing is, even if it was somehow an appropriate situation for discussing, I’m not sure if there is really a way to explain without horribly offending Muslims, Christians and Jews alike how this story conflicts with my basic theological, philosophical and ethical principles. (And I’m sure some of y’all struggle with this one yourselves!) I have trouble imagining this story being used in a UU Religious Education setting (yes, Biblical material *is* included in our curriculum, along with material from lots of other religions!)

Some Christians approach this story by trying to connect it with God giving up his only son, Jesus in sacrifice instead of humanity- but Abraham doesn’t give up his son, as a lamb is sent as a replacement. This sort of “See, this old Jewish story *really* supports the Whole Jesus Thing!” is why I tend to prefer looking at Jewish interpretations of Jewish texts, with more than one viewpoint.

It’s also looked at as- in the Bad Old Days of idol-worship, people sacrificed babies, but now that the One True God has come along, we know better than to do that! According to this Biblical scholar, human sacrifice was a widespread but rare practice in the ancient Near East, including in Israel.

In the Qur’an, the son being sacrifice is Ishmael but the basic “Have faith in God” message is the same. Is this supposed to be more about obeying God, no matter what, even if what God asks seems crazy or impossible? Or is it about trusting that God will provide, even if a situation seems hopeless? Both are recurring themes throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. I’ve also heard claims that God doesn’t test or tempt people. (Just blame Satan instead, right?) Wait, are you reading the same book as me? Job? Joseph? Moses and all his buddies? Really, following this advice in the modern world could result in a lot of Bad Things- homelessness, unemployment, alienating most of your friends and family. Having your kid taken away after you threaten to sacrifice him or her.

Now I was raised Methodist, and we were taught that it was ok to interpret the Bible for yourself, and use strange Satan-influenced things like…(gasp) critical thinking skills. And it was mostly about Jesus, and his ethical teachings, not so much his death and God screwing with people’s heads. But still, I was like, what the heck do I do with this book that everyone says is so important? What does it mean? It was no wonder that I got into mythology and fantasy, and no one was claiming that those things had All The Answers, and yet I found deeper truths there, of a more poetic and less literal nature.

It’s funny that I still can go on about this, when none of this really matters to my religion, but still these stories pervade my culture, my memory. They are part of our heritage as Unitarian Universalists and we do talk about them even if we view them as less authoritative. They’ll be made into books, movies (hopefully not by Walden Media, please God!) again and again. Our kids will hear about them from *somewhere* and ask, and I will probably just end up saying- God acts like a jerk in the Bible. A Lot. Like a boss who makes arbitrary orders that don’t make sense.  Just don’t say anything about this to Grandma..


January 29, 2015 at 2:54 am 5 comments

Approaching the Runes

For the last week of each month, the Pagan Experience prompt follows the format of Pagan Blog Project, writing an entry for each letter of the alphabet. I’ve decided to instead focus on a different alphabet- the Elder Futhark Runes, the oldest known Germanic writing system. We actually don’t know if it was used for divination in ancient times, but the runes are found carved into jewelry, weapons, stones and other items. They were used to indicate ownership, commemorate events and accomplishments on rune-stones and perhaps imbue objects with magic power and luck.

Personally I am not that into divination or magic- though that may change! However, I do find the runes to be a useful way to understand concepts that were important to the ancient Norse and immerse myself in their cultural worldview. The runes can also be used to add a different perspective to choices and problems that we face in our own modern lives.

Questions people have when approaching the runes-

Do you need to be Heathen/Asatru/Northern Tradition (etc.) to study/work with or use the runes?

Well, you certainly don’t need to be a medieval Christian to read Tarot, and that’s who invented it. Some Heathens think that you need to be, but I don’t believe this is the case. However, I do think you will get a lot more out of the runes if you make an effort to learn about Norse mythology, the Rune Poems, and Norse history and culture.

Do I need to worship/honor/believe in the Norse gods to work with runes?

(This is actually a different though related question, as there is theological diversity among Heathens)

Not necessarily, studying the myths and learning from them does not require worship or belief. If you are a Pagan or polytheist who focuses on another pantheon, but wants to study runes, I would recommend paying your respects to Odin in particular, and other deities associated with specific runes. If you have a spiritual problem/issue with Odin, then I would recommend not studying the runes too deeply. Being the Wander, he does “get around” and I hear of many Hellenic polytheists and folks of other traditions who honor Odin.

Is this a Nazi thing?

The runes were (mis) used by Nazis for political purposes, but this was not because they or Hitler in particular was Heathen. They were promoting a sense of pan-Germanic identity, and so they took symbolism, myths and ideas throughout various Germanic cultures and distorted them for their own purposes. In particular, Sowilo (used for the letters SS) Othala and Algiz tend to be used by Neo-Nazis, so you might want to avoid wearing those as necklaces or other obvious ornamentation.

Ref: How to Spot a Racist/White Supremacist in the Heathen Community 101

January 26, 2015 at 11:56 pm Leave a comment

Belief vs. Worldview

I’ve been reading with interest (and at times annoyance!) about the next round of debate over the place within the “Big Tent” of Paganism of folks who variously identify as Atheo-pagans, Humanistic Pagans, Naturalistic Pagans et al. To begin with, I’ll just say, like it or lump, these folks exist, and they can and will believe what they want, call themselves what they want and practice as they choose, whether it fits with other people’s personal or collective visions of What Paganism Really Is ™ Here are some of my thoughts sorting out things that I think actually matter, and things that we should not waste our time worrying about. Civil questions and comments that add to the discussion in a constructive way are encouraged, from a variety of viewpoints.

Belief vs. Worldview– I consider myself loosely, an agnostic with a polytheistic worldview. I use agnostic in a broader sense that I’m not sure about the existence of deities, or if they exist, what their nature is. Most agnostics have a monotheistic worldview- they are unsure or believe the existence of one god is unknowable. But leaning towards a polytheistic worldview, feels right to me in a way that a purely scientific materialist mindset does not. I frankly also have stronger leanings towards atheism when I am feeling depressed, but a healthy spiritual life seems to help me with my mental health. I think there are a lot of Pagans out there, who if it really came down to brass tacks, are a bit more tentative in their beliefs in deities, spirits and ancestors. But they practice, and they have some type of Pagan worldview. I think this would be an important question to (politely!) ask non-theistic Pagans- is your worldview primarily Pagan, as you understand the term, or is it primarily scientific materialism with some Pagan elements included? I could also ask the same question of Christo-Pagans, Buddho-Pagans, Judeo-Pagans, and UU Pagans. 

Lived Values Follow Worldview– hopefully after developing a worldview, or during the process of developing one, values and ethics come to be a lived part of one’s life. This has been primarily what I have been focusing on this past year with my Self-Care Virtues project- the virtues are based on Celtic and Norse polytheistic worldviews, and there are also influences from my UU values. I know other folks who have a non-deity focused philosophy that use other starting points- Humanistic Jews still use Judaism as a starting point for their worldview and value system, UUs who identify as Christians, Jews and Buddhists draw from those traditions and so forth.

Your Tradition/Organization/Ritual etc. Your Rules– I can tell some people are getting worried about the Wrong Kind of Pagans joining their traditions, rituals, organizations et al. OK, this is something that has not changed- every Pagan tradition and organization has its own rules and requirements for membership, initiation and so forth. While it’s true Pagans tend to focus less on theology, and more on practice, most groups still have some philosophical concepts that they expect prospective members to agree to, though they are often more like principles than creeds. In some pagan groups, belief in magic and astrology might be more important than literal belief in deities. We’ve already had for a long time, included people in our communities with these beliefs- ceremonial and chaos magicians and witches alike, can be of many different theologies, but it is their magical practice that draws them together. I think the brouhaha is that people are becoming more assertive in their beliefs and in using labels that specifically describe them.

Rituals, even open public ones, still will often state borders and parameters that participants agree to- like for example, this ritual requires consumption of alcohol, standing for X period of time. Most Asatru are not going to want you to raise the horn to Zeus, and most traditional Wiccans are not going to want you invoking the Flying Spaghetti Monster.  Likewise, we may end up having rituals run by humanist pagans that won’t appreciate someone asking for healing energy or prayers in the middle of it. Many traditions and groups also may have different expectations for what’s appropriate belief-wise for basic layperson or guest participation vs. being a candidate for initiation, clergy or leadership positions.

Superior ain’t Just a Lake– Other grumpiness surrounds perceptions (whether distorted or accurate) of non-theistic pagans claiming superiority, that their paganism is better, more rational and other people should jump on their bandwagon. In case that this is true, this is indeed contrary to accepted norms of Pagan-dom, however they are not the only ones making these claims. Others have stated variously that monism, hard polytheism, and particular traditions are the Real Wicca, the Real Heathenry, Hellenismos, Druidry or Paganism in general.

Science, Critical Thinking, Reason, Logic et al are Good Things and Should be Part of Paganism!  Many folks have stated that they became humanistic pagans in part due to widespread problems with sloppy thinking, bad scholarship and hostility towards science in Pagan communities. Interestingly, many polytheists and reconstructionist, the very folks who often argue the loudest with HPs, share many of the same concerns. If we stop shouting at each other, we might actually find some commonalities! However, non-theistic pagans and non-theists in general do not have a monopoly on logic, intelligence, being scientific etc. and many religious people are scientists and do not see an inherent contradiction.

Cultural Imperialism and other Isms which can influence science, Pagans, Christians, and atheists/humanists alike Are Bad!  This is another one where examining our worldviews is really important- science can be a useful tool for many things, but are beliefs that can’t be proven by science necessarily bad? Religion and spirituality are inseparable parts of many cultures, and the cultural identity of individual people. I think a failure to recognize and appreciate this, is in part a major reason for the overwhelming whiteness of the organized atheist movement. Atheism can be the ideological flip side of monotheism (some say the next evolutionary step) and science can be used in oppressive and unethical ways, as can every religion human beings have created.

Cultural imperialism is also a big problem for Pagans- with issues of cultural borrowing or theft, labeling of indigenous religions as “Pagan” when they may not identify with that term, and so forth. Is use of the term Pagan by humanists and atheists cultural appropriation? I think that may depend on their relationship to Pagan communities. If they are participating and contributing in positive ways, and not tearing down other’s beliefs, while standing up for their own, no. Frankly I will take 10 atheist pagans who reliably show up to rituals and events on time, help set them up, publicize them, answer questions the public asks, plays nicely with pagans of other traditions, over 1 pious polytheist, Goddess-praisin’ Wiccan or what have you that just bitches and moans on the internet.

Links to others folks thoughts on these matters (linkage does not imply my personal agreement, just showcasing other views)

Atheism & Paganism– Ian Corrigan, ADF Druid

Religion & Smart People- A Reasonable Response to Unreasonable Smugness– John Beckett, UU & OBOD Druid

In Support of Theologically Diverse Community– Lon Sarver, Dionysian Hellenic polytheist

An atheist Pagan, an animist and a devotional polytheist walk into a ritual– John Halstead, Jungian neo-pagan/ humanistic/naturalist pagan

Stop It!– Matt, naturalistic pantheist and ADF member

Atheopagans & Scientism– Finnchuil, Celtic polytheist

*edited for formatting & readability

January 20, 2015 at 4:44 am 14 comments

Holda, Lady of Hearth & Spindle

I have been learning about a mysterious and fascinating goddess this past year, in my studies of Urglaawe, the Deitsch tradition of Heathenry. Frau Holle or Holda is the chief goddess of the Urglaawe pantheon, and is believed to have led the Deitsch people to the New World. You won’t find her listed in most books or websites on Asatru, as she is specifically a German goddess, appearing as a witch or a lady in white in fairy tales to teach young girls the value of hard work, how to spin and keep the house clean, or teaching a man how to plant and grow flax. Perhaps it is due to her closeness to the home and her protective and teaching role she takes with humanity, that she lived on in folk memory and now can reclaim her rightful place as a goddess.

Frau Holle makes it snow by shaking her feather bed, and her bird is the goose, whose feathers keep the bed warm. It has been suggested that the figure of Mother Goose can be traced back to her. She is the leader of the Wild Hunt, by herself or perhaps sharing the duty with Woden, who may be her consort. She may be the same as Frigg. She oversees childbirth and protects children, and watches over children who die young. Because of this death association, some see her as the same as Hela, but the Urglaawe folk I have talked have asserted that she is not. She is the mistress of magic, especially the patroness of kitchen witches.


Frau Holle- fairy tale from Brothers Grimm

From Fairy Tale to Goddess: Frau Holle and the Scholars Who Reveal Her Origins by Cat Heath



Winternights Ceremony to Frau Holle

Interesting Blog posts (sources not cited)

Frau Holle from the Urglaawe Perspective– interpretation of the fairy tale

Faces of the Golden Queen– American Folkloric Witchcraft

Question: Frau Holle, Skadi and Hel on grumpylokeanelder’s tumblog

Winter Goddesses– thoughts on Holda, Perchta & Baba Yaga from Dver

Beth identifies Frau Holle with Bestla, the mother of Odin

January 18, 2015 at 7:13 pm 3 comments

Self-Care as Spiritual Practice

The next Pagan Experience prompt is to write about a particular personal spiritual practice. I’m coming up blank, since for the past several years, I’ve been pretty much an armchair philosophical polytheist with agnostic leanings (or agnostic with polytheist leanings?) I think, and read and write, and rather obsessively collect information about religion but don’t use it! I think the problem is that I’m an extrovert, and I don’t feel very motivated to have a solitary practice.  Introverts get their energy from being alone, while extroverts get their energy from other people.

I have sometimes questioned this, being an Aspie and all, but my partner (himself an introvert) reminded me “Nope, honey you are definitely an extrovert.” I’m just a social butterfly that doesn’t fly straight…that’s OK so are a lot of Pagans! I actually think introverted Pagans might even be in the majority, that may be one reason why there are so many solitaries. Being an autistic extrovert though, means I do need to pace myself and sometimes take breaks from social activity to avoid over-stimulation and potential emotional and sensory burnout. For right now, self-care is my spiritual practice- working through emotional issues and getting it together to be a Healthy & Responsible Adult ™ That does not have to mean being perfect, having The Right Career (if such a thing exists!) Just start with trying as best I can to live a healthy lifestyle, eat, sleep, hygiene, exercise, keeping the house clean, social time.

A writing project I have been working on in relation to this is the Self-Care Virtues series of posts. It started because I felt the Nine Noble Virtues and similar virtue systems with a heroic, warrior focus left out people who need to focus on simply taking care of themselves- folks with disabilities, including mental illness, chronic illnesses, people taking care of loved ones with such issues, people living in poverty, in jail/prison or mental institutions and so forth. Some people need this temporarily, others will need it much of their lives. This is my own project, but if it helps and inspires other people to use it and perhaps write similar posts with other religious or cultural frameworks, I’d really like to hear about it, so please link if you have your own additions or comments.

January 15, 2015 at 9:59 am Leave a comment

Love Thyself

Since the Pagan Blog Project has discontinued, the Pagan Experience has popped up as its “heir apparent”. The first prompt for January is to write about one’s intentions or resolutions for the new year.

My main intentions are to re-direct and be mindful of negative thought patterns, not feel bad about them but to direct them in a more positive direction. Meditation and prayer are ways to help with this especially mantras or affirmations.

  • I intend to get more exercise- planning on going to yoga classes
  • Get crafty- art therapy!
  • Re-connect with old friends, make new ones
  • Enjoy/value relationships more
  • Love self, take care of self, before taking care of others

January 15, 2015 at 8:26 am Leave a comment

Pagan Blog Project Archive Post

(archiving this as a post, rather than a page)

Pagan Blog Project Topics


January 4, 2015 at 10:19 am Leave a comment


January 2015

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