Posts filed under ‘Cosmology’

Gods of Hollywood vs. Gods of Asgard

I wrote the previous post to survey what all is included in the large umbrella category of “Pop Culture Paganism” and what within it I personally find to be of interest. That does not mean I am giving my stamp of approval on every type of PCP-ism that exists and everything that each PC Pagan says or does. That would silly. Heck, even in more specific traditions/organizations I belong to like ADF, I certainly don’t agree with all of my co-religionists on everything and share all their individual beliefs and practices. 

Anyway, Lovemydane brought up an issue that is a major point of contention among the Asatru/Heathen community- the depiction of Thor, Loki, Odin et al. in Marvel comics.  I haven’t read any of the Thor comics or seen any of the movies so I can’t comment on them too directly. However, I do enjoy watching Oh My Goddess! an anime series (based on manga) that draws inspiration from Norse mythology. The main character, Belldandy (Japanese rendering of Verdandi) works for a “Goddess Help Line” which is accidently dialed by Keiichi Morisato, a shy college student. Belldandy appears in his dorm room and tells him that she will grant him any wish he makes. Befuddled by this gorgeous woman claiming to be a goddess, he thinks it’s a joke and wishes that she will stay be his side forever. She stays on Earth, realizing that she has created a contract with him that she is bound to fulfill. Later her sisters, Urd and Skuld show up.

Those of you who are familiar with Norse mythology know these three sisters as the Norns, the powerful Goddesses who decide the fates and  of humans by measuring and cutting the thread of life- and Wyrd. The cosmology of Oh My Goddess! is very different from Norse cosmology, and bears an obvious influence from Christianity- the universe is divided into Heaven, Earth and Hell, Verdandi, Skuld and Urd and others are under the authority of the Allmighty One (Odin- with some Jehovah influences) whereas in Norse myth, there are 9 worlds, and Odin, while powerful cannot determine Wyrd as the Norns can. Likewise, in Greek mythology Zeus is subject to the power of the Fates/Moirae. Watching this anime is just a form of entertainment, a purely secular activity though I find it interesting and fun to compare with what I know of Norse mythology. 

So, what if someone were to watch Oh My Goddess! and decide that they want to worship Belldandy, the character as a goddess. Would that be a problem? Well that depends. If they decided to completely base a religious practice off of the show and manga, it could be a rather unbalanced and shallow practice, because the media are designed to entertain, not to do all the things religions are intended to do. But that would be a problem for that one individual and would not really be anyone else’s business. Now if this person decided that Belldandy was the same as Norse myth Verdandi, and Oh My Goddess! cosmology/laws of the universe trumped Norse mythology, and was more “real”, “valid” and called themselves a Heathen/Asatruar and came into a Heathen forum, or offline in-person blot with all of these ideas, or tried to explain to the public (or just their friends/family) that what they’re doing is actual Heathenry, then yeah. Those would all be major ethical violations of Heathen community norms of piety and hospitality and we would be right to be offended. 

  On the other hand, there some people who initially come across Norse or Greek mythology references in pop culture and get interested in learning about the originals. It might just remain an intellectual/aesthetic interest for them or it might develop into a religious practice. If they come into a forum and mention that their interest was piqued by Hercules, Xena or Marvel comics, we shouldn’t attack them for it, but we should check to make sure they understand the difference. In works of fiction that draw on history, people will often put in a disclaimer that this is a work of fiction and not historically accurate. However they do not have that responsibility with mythology. (This movie not approved by Homer or Snorri Sturlson!) We can be offended when they get our mythology “wrong” but I think it’s better to just see as a different, alternate mythology. 

So if you want to worship a pop culture version of a deity, do you have ethical responsibilities to a community that worships a more traditional form of the deity? (Which you may or may not see as the same being, but they probably don’t) Yes, you do. You have the responsibility to not misrepresent yourself or your religious practice to the general public, the Pagan public and that specific community. As long as you do that, the more traditionally-minded polytheists ought to leave you alone. 

For more on the Marvel Thor issue:

Worse than Breasts & Melanin by Kvasir amongst the Gods

August 15, 2014 at 9:42 pm 1 comment

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

Spirits of Winter

A follow-up to my earlier post on the recurring “Jack” figure in English folklore- Jack Frost being one form. Here’s a brain-storming list of spirits and personifications of winter- winter in general, not Yule/Winter Solstice specifically. I would like to do some more research and go into more depth with them individually.

  • Jack Frost– a sprite who paints frost on windows and the colors on leaves. I think his trickster aspect comes into play as he sneaks in before you are expecting frost, maybe haven’t finished harvesting or covering your flower beds, or doing certain kinds of chores- like painting outside.
  • Old Man Winter- metaphorical phrase, like Mother Nature. Also makes me think of Old Man River- a nickname for the Mississippi.
  • Father Frost– Russian version of Old Man Winter, though he actually shows up in folk tales. It would be worthwhile to take a look at Russian folklore, the climate in some areas is certainly a lot closer to Minnesota’s!
  • Snow Queen– a fairy tale by Hans Christian Anderson, the Snow Queen has made it into American & Western European culture as a broader archetype. Also makes me think of the White Witch in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe- in fact I think it is intentional on the part C.S. Lewis to have a vain, beautiful and powerful woman who tempts children into the cold. (Link to post about Frozen, a modern “re-mix” of the Snow Queen)
  • Cailleach Bheur– Scottish female spirit- some think her to be a legacy of an older goddess- particularly associated with storms in March. March is a winter month in Minnesota, and we often get a lot of snow then. Awesome post by Leithin Cluan on the Cailleachan- a group rather of weather & land spirits in Scotland and Ireland
  • Boreas– in Greek mythology, the god of the north wind. His wife is Oreithyia, representing the cool mountain wind, and their daughter is Khione, the goddess of snow.
  • WinterPower/Archetype in Waincraft, a good distillation of ideas/concepts related to feminine wintry figures in European folklore

Note: as I write posts on these characters, I am linking them back to this post.

November 28, 2013 at 2:20 am 2 comments

More on Outsiders

I was curious to see what other people had to say about Outsiders, here are some things I found:

An essay on the ADF website- he also discusses the idea of outsiders as emotions, and talks about the social/anthropological aspects as well as cosmological.

Earrach of Pittsburgh- Senior Druid of the Sassafras Grove- gives some explanations and instructions on this part of ADF ritual.  Similar to the above, pretty standard ADF viewpoints.  He makes a good point of recommending calling it “acknowledgement” of the outsiders rather than invocation or offering.  He affirms that we are trying not to draw their  attention.

Outsiders: What, Like It’s Hard or Something? Goofy post- but makes a good point that who the outsiders are depends on the focus of the ritual. Amusingly, she calls herself the “Elle Woods of the Occult” (from Legally Blonde)

Adapting the ADF Ritual Format for Families– Tressa Belle thinks the Outsider step is unnecessary, and suggests instead a blessing of the space for protection.  She says simpler rituals are best for families, and I must agree. Long, complex rituals = not kid-friendly, which makes typical ADF rites a problem. Nice blog overall. Though I don’t have kids currently, I often find family-oriented Pagan resources to be useful- I am kind of a big kid myself!

From the Celtic Reconstructionist FAQ “Some CRs strive to make “treaty” with such beings, usually at the boundaries of their property or some distance from a ritual site. This is done to make an agreement that if the Spirits take the offering, They are promising to not disrupt the home or ritual.”

So, it’s not just an ADF thing. This section also describes Outsider as an ancient & modern social role. To differentiate from this, some folks in ADF use the term “Outdweller” for these spirits.  It looks like others are having some of the same feelings/thoughts as I am on this.

August 9, 2012 at 8:00 am Leave a comment

Alternative Views of Outsiders

In most Indo-European mythologies, there is a primordial battle between the older forces of darkness & chaos and the younger forces of  order and light.  For example, the Jotuns vs. the Aesir, the Fomorians vs. the Tuatha De Danann, the Titans vs. the Olympians.  Neither is  strictly good or evil, it is really a story being told of the universe being brought into order.

In ADF, there is a phase of the ritual structure in which these “Outsiders” or “Outdwellers”  the  spirits of chaos, are given offerings so as to discourage them from disrupting the ritual.  We do this instead of casting a circle, as they do in Wicca.

In the (non-ADF) Druid grove I participate in, we do neither.  Some of the members have mentioned that they think it is the idea that evil spirits need to be placated before ritual is just silly.  I think they believe we have nothing to fear from them.

I have mixed feelings about this as well. For one, it seems rather superstitious to me.  Also, some Druids have beings/gods they worship like Eris and Loki, which would be considered Outsiders.  In each of these mythologies, the two races are interrelated- the Gods are usually the children of the chaotic beings.  Also by addressing them, and giving them an offering, we may be drawing their attention when otherwise they might’ve just left us alone.  I also question if the reason for  including this step in the Core Order of Ritual (COoR) is based more on theology/philosophy or Isaac’s desire to include as many elements of IE cosmology as he could in the ritual format.

I’d consider identifying the Outsiders with emotions and other issues we want to set aside before the ritual- anxiety, anger, rivalry, worries about money etc. Another possibility occurred to me yesterday while weeding the garden. We could identify the Outsiders with invasive species. Not just any non-native species, but ones that are disrupting the ecosystem- around here these would include- milfoil, buckthorn, zebra mussels and Asian carp, and emerald ash-borer. In these mythologies, even after being defeated in the primal war, the Outsider races still continued to make efforts to destroy the world.  Human beings are actually the ones working on this, and these species which we’ve brought in, whether intentionally or accidentally, are doing their part as well.

August 8, 2012 at 10:18 pm Leave a comment

Neamh, the Sky

The final of the Three Realms is Neamh, the Sky. Neamh is associated with the Deithe (pron. djay-Huh) the Gods, and the Future.  However, keep in mind that the Deities of Irish mythology are seen as dwelling within the Land, not above us in the sky, like that the Olympians of Greece or the Aesir & Vanir of the Northern lands. So perhaps that association is more of a general Indo-European one than Celtic per se. It’s associated with the future and seership, because by looking into the heavens, we can see far, far beyond our little planet.

The paradox of the Sky is that during the day, our concept of it is what is visible under certain layers of atmosphere. But at night, when the sky is clear, we can see far beyond the Earth’s atmosphere to the moon and the galaxies beyond.  What does this tell us? That things are not what they seem.  Actually we can get the same lesson with the other two Realms. If you didn’t know otherwise, would you ever imagine that there was molten magma beyond the surface of the Land? Or what creatures might dwell in the depths of the Sea, in places too cold for any human to withstand?

The Three Realms  are below, above and all around us. We are constantly learning more about them through the exploration of science and spirituality. And yet there is much that has not been revealed and maybe never will be.

April 11, 2009 at 12:43 am Leave a comment

Talamh, the Land

While we think of land as being solid and permanent, ‘terra firma’ as it were,  the Earth’s land-masses and islands are constantly changing through geological activity.  Volcanoes create new islands and add to existing ones, while earthquakes, erosion and flooding destroy land.

Land is associated with the Nature Spirits and the Present. The Nature Spirits, the Sidhe, the Good People are believed to live in mounds and caves under the earth. In both Ireland and Britain, there are pre-Celtic burial mounds and ruins that the Celtic peoples incorporated into their mythologies. As you can see there is a rather blurry line between the fairies and the spirits of the dead. Dead bodies are buried and their bodies nourish the land. So it makes sense that they become part of the energies of the land as well. Here in Minnesota, Wisconsin and other areas there are burial mounds left behind by the Mound-Builders, a mysterious people that came here before the current Native peoples. Such places are great for leaving offerings and commune with the spirits of land.

As to the Present- we speak of people who are ‘grounded’ or ‘down-to-earth’- concerned with practical everyday matters, and not mulling over the past or overly worried about the future. As opposed to the ‘airheads’ and ‘space cadets’ among us. I’ve been called those names plenty of times, believe me- but hey I’m an Aquarius, an air sign. But that’s the next post…

February 28, 2009 at 8:00 am Leave a comment

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