Wrestling with God(s)

February 17, 2015 at 2:19 am 4 comments

I’m a thinker who often over-thinks things to the point of worrying and getting depressed and angsty over Big Questions- and even little questions. What Does It All Mean? What is My Purpose ™? Do God(s) exist, if so, who are they, do they give a @#$* about me, and what should I do? In Hebrew, wrestling with G-d means Israel. As I was discussing in an earlier post, both Christianity & Islam seem to have more a tendency towards “This is the Way it Is. Just Believe and Obey- or you will make Baby Jesus cry or Allah will be displeased” Not always how it is, but those are dominant messages they tend to give us. Judaism, on the other hand often seems to have more space for wrestling with G-d, debating what does this verse mean- there are centuries of texts of back and forth rabbinical debates! I just finished watching a both hilarious and insightful web series called Dude, Where’s My Chutzpah? by filmaker Jessie Kahnweiler. http://www.dudewheresmychutzpah.com  It’s about a woman (based on Jessie herself) in her 20’s who is wandering rather aimlessly thru life, but then after her devout Jewish grandmother dies, the rabbi gives her a challenge based on her Bubbe’s wishes- to spend a year finding her “chutzpah” and figure out what it means to live a Jewish life/be Jewish. I don’t think I’m spoiling much when I tell you that Jessie finds the answers lead to even more questions! But seriously, go watch, regardless of your belief/cultural background, it’s fun.

So what does this have to do with Paganism/polytheism/UUism/Spiritual Label of the week?

I guess we Pagans are typically more concerned with what we do, and how and why we do it, rather than what we believe. I think theology and what we believe does matter to some degree, but it’s ok to be uncertain. It’s part of being human. John Beckett had some good wisdom about this- advising “Practice Deeply, Hold Beliefs Loosely” and keep re-examining your beliefs. Don’t get so stuck on them that they become obstacles. Of the many discussions over What Does it Mean To Be Pagan?! (oh teh angst!) one that struck me the most was from Steven Posch, an elder Witch of Paganistan*, who is generally more into Actually Doing Stuff than just arguing about how to do it online. He thinks Pagans are a people…an emerging culture. There are many ways to be Pagan, and it’s an essence that transcends and defies all our attempts to define it! We are a diasporan people, by choice and chance rather than historical circumstance, having to figure out who we are as distinct from the dominant culture(s), and varying at how much we differentiate ourselves. Now maybe you identify as Pagan, but don’t see yourself as part of “a people” or a culture. Once again, it’s not a perfect comparison with being Jewish, but really nothing is. Something to ponder at least.

As I’ve been exploring the polytheist faction that is branching away from Greater Pagan-dom and the Heathens who in large part already see themselves outside of it, I’ve realized that my people and my culture can still be found among the Pagani, and moreover the overlapping geeky subcultures that surround it. I am still a hippie Romanticist tempered with some pragmatism, practicality and post-colonial critiques of Noble Savage & Orientalist mindsets that pervade. I am not a Genuine Heir to Traditional Gaelic Polytheism, Irish or Scottish culture, ancestry or no. This does not mean I am phony, I am quite honest about who I am.  I think we sometimes have this haunting feeling of insecurity because we are not Authentic Enough ™ According to who? Anthropologists? Scholars of ancient religions? Sneering evangelicals or secular atheists? If we were that worried about “What Will The Neighbors/Interfaith PR reps/mainstream media Think?” we wouldn’t be Pagans, would we?

But seriously, look at other cultures that we think of as More Truly Authentic- y’know the ones we often feel tempted to “borrow” from because we need to jazz up our shabby American-Euro-mutt stuff? Native Americans for example- many of them have lost much of their traditions and culture. Many of them combine their cultural practices with Christianity. They create new practices as the need arises, or creativity inspires them to do so. Even more so- look at your fellow descendents of immigrants from around the world. What have they brought with them? What have they left behind? How have they adapted what they brought to fit in with their new environment? What have they added in from American culture and made their own? How has this been passed on to other Americans to the point where forget its origin? There are many German, and specifically Deitsch (Pennsylvania Dutch) customs that have sunk into the American mainstream- Groundhog Day, Christmas trees and translated carols like Silent Night (Stille Nacht), the Easter bunny and dying Easter eggs.

More about “tradition” and authenticity- https://paganleft.wordpress.com/2014/01/10/authenticity-whats-traditional-anyway/

*Paganistan- his term, now widely adopted for the Twin Cities metro area Pagan communities.


Entry filed under: Judaism, Mental Illness, Pagan Communities, Theology. Tags: , , , , , .

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Laine DeLaney  |  February 17, 2015 at 2:45 am

    I don’t necessarily think that a need for authenticity goes hand-in-hand with all Polytheistic and Heathen movements. There is a fair amount of Lore-thumping, but that’s often in reaction to garbled mythology and uncertain scholarship.

    Indeed, there’s a movement developing among Polytheists to embrace new understandings of old lore, and to cultivate the UPG (Unverified Personal Gnosis) that so many people sneer at. Unlike the lore and liturgy that the Abrahamic Faiths have, we don’t consider ours to be infalliable, nor revelations of deities (in most cases), but text written by other humans about the same concepts.

    When you don’t have a cultural context for a particular practice or spiritual technology that seems pretty universal to humans or useful/indispensable, what can you do but draw from other traditions and other examples? The Polytheist factions that are blind to that close many doors to themselves by refusing to take part in the evolution of their path. Regular trimming can produce growth, but if you trim a tree down to the bark it will have no way to receive what it needs to grow further; I think of the more close-minded Reconstructionists that way.

    • 2. caelesti  |  February 17, 2015 at 3:04 am

      I believe we are more in agreement than you think! I meant to say that “authenticity” is a rather overblown and over-simplified concept. Apparently I need to work more on my writing skills to clarify that, but I have another post about that very subject, I will post it when I have access to another computer, this tablet is not good for posting links.

  • 3. Léithin Cluan  |  February 17, 2015 at 6:45 pm

    Lots in common with recent thoughts I’m having on the Pagan movement, here.

  • 4. mollykhan  |  February 20, 2015 at 7:25 am

    This speaks to me so strongly. From the attempted alienation of pop culture Pagans to the strict adherence to lore, I see so much of this in Heathenry and it becomes so frustrating.


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