Posts filed under ‘Monotheism’

Christian-Pagan syncretisms: the Why

One recent search term that brought up this blog was “Is Christo-Paganism safe?” I’m guessing that was in reference to concerns about the use of magic, or possible punishment by YHWH or other Gods who may not get along with him. I’m going to take a step back from this first-

Why do you want to combine Christianity and Paganism? What is your understanding (not your parents/guardians, teachers or ministers- but yours) of Christianity, its teachings, how the Bible should be interpreted, the nature of Jesus and so forth?

What is your understanding of Paganism? Don’t worry at this point how broadly, or narrowly Paganism should be defined- after all, I’m a longtime Pagan, and I’m not really sure on that either! What aspects of Paganism interest you? Are they things that also can be found within Christianity?

I’m not asking any of these questions because I want to get you to stay “within the fold” of Christianity, become a full-fledged Pagan (however defined) or combine them in some way. But I have met a lot of folks over the years who became Pagan that had a rather narrow understanding of Christianity based on their upbringing. In order to see the Divine as feminine as well as masculine, find social/spiritual gender equality, view sexuality and the body as positive, or view nature or the Earth as sacred or divine, they felt they needed to become Pagan. Many of them remained Pagans, and lived happily ever after. For a few others I’ve known, Paganism was a sort of gateway that led to more options- liberal/feminist/ecological Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, atheism. Others I know have a Pagan practice that includes elements of Christianity.

Now, since I’m not a Christian, I am not going to tell this or that belief or practice is theologically and Biblically OK or not OK. There’s a zillion individual personal and institutional interpretations. You’ll have to decide for yourself what and who is a trustworthy authority about these questions.

More questions you might have- (assuming you are an independent adult who is free to make these choices) I may write something more specifically for teenagers, with the understanding that I cannot directly advise you via e-mail or in person without parental or guardian permission.

Should I still go to church if I’m exploring other religions? If you feel comfortable doing so, then sure. Depending on what church it is, there may come a time when you need to decide if some forms of participation are still appropriate- such as reciting the Apostle’s or Nicene Creed or taking Communion (particularly if you are Roman Catholic or Orthodox)

OK, I’m stopping this for now because I realize my answer to every question is “it depends on the church”! To be continued…

October 29, 2015 at 3:19 am Leave a comment

Resources for Ex-Muslims & Their Friends

Between being part of the Pagan, GLBT, disability and feminist communities, I hear a lot of stories about people leaving the faith traditions they were raised in (though I know many GLBT, disabled folks and feminists that find welcoming religious or non-religious communities- just not always the same ones they started out in!) Oftentimes the stories of people leaving Christianity predominate, to the point that we forgot that some folks come from other backgrounds- Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, secular, “red diaper baby” etc. Ramadan, the month of fasting for Muslims is coming up, and this is often a difficult time for people who are not “out” to their families about their non-observance. There’s also a range of potential scenarios involved depending on what country a person lives in, their family, particular sect and culture. To people from a non-Muslim background reading this- please keep in mind there is a huge range of diversity of levels of tolerance, religious freedom, and observance and practices both in predominantly Muslim countries and in countries with small or sizeable Muslim communities.

Here is a video with suggestions for how to deal with Ramadan for ex-Muslims who are not “out” to their families.

Another great video, useful for both Pagans/polytheists, liberal/moderate religious folks as well as non-theists is about Criticizing Religion Intersectionally The video is from the perspective of a ex-Muslim woman from India who now lives in Britain- she explains how to criticize the claims or ideas of a religion without attacking the people holding it, especially when they are from a minority background.

We Need More Liberals Willing to Criticize Islam, says Ex-Muslim Leader– While ex-Muslims can typically rely on both religious liberals and atheist activists to oppose the Christian Right, they often encounter racist insults and other unfair accusations from many directions when they critique Islam, policies in mostly Muslim countries and so forth.

Check out the orgs- Ex-Muslims of North America and Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain

One thing I’m wondering about is why these groups seem to only include non-theists, I imagine ex-Muslims who join other religions may still be looking for support and community. If any ex-Muslims who practice another religion have had good or bad results in getting in touch with these groups, please let me know. There are probably groups for Muslims that have become Christian (especially ones that try to convert Muslims) but I’m especially wondering about people who don’t fit into any of those categories. Here’s one personal account by a Muslim woman who become Unitarian Universalist-

From Islam to Unitarian Universalism

To be frank, I think a lot of ex-Christians in Western countries should examine how really oppressed and marginalized they are in their families and communities compared to the things ex-Muslims have to deal with! Yes, we do have problems, but listening to these stories really puts things into perspective!

June 19, 2015 at 11:23 pm Leave a comment

Saint Dymphna

As March rolls around, which means St. Patrick’s Day, my thoughts turn to my Irish Catholic ancestors and their faith, particular the many saints that hail from the Emerald Isle. One lesser known lady is Saint Dymphna- purportedly the daughter of an Irish pagan chieftain who converted and devoted herself to Christ. She is the patron saint of epilepsy, mental illnesses and victims of abuse and incest and runaways. Apparently, her father was horribly distraught after her mother’s death, and looked all throughout Ireland for a woman that resembled her to re-marry. After much searching, his messengers gave up, but pointed out Dymphna, and the king, mad with grief declared that he would marry his own daughter. She fled to Antwerp, Belgium along with the court jester and the priest Gerebran. She was followed by her father and his men, and beheaded. Her body was buried at the church in Gheel and many people came from far and wide to seek healing for their troubled minds and souls. Apparently this town was very advanced for its time in treating mentally ill people humanely, which was rare in the Middle Ages. I need to do more research, but I have gotten the impression that this humane treatment of disabled and mentally ill people was more common in the Early Middle Ages, but then declined as madness and other disabilities became more associated with being sinful or possessed by the Devil.
I also thought the mention of the court jester fleeing with her was interesting, as the role of jester was often played by people with disabilities- hunchbacks, dwarves, and people who now would be considered developmentally disabled- “natural fools”, they were called.

I started adding images of her to my Pinterest shrine to Neurodiverse & Disabled Ancestors. I am not sure if she should be part of it since she herself wasn’t neurodivergent. But by extension this category could include anyone who is especially known for helping or advocating for disabled people. I suppose as the board grows, she may get her own shrine.

So to be honest, there isn’t really clear evidence that Dymphna actually existed as a historical person. Her story is suspiciously similar to various fairy tales about a daughter whose father wants to marry her- the most well-known being Donkeyskin. In many variants, there is some type of garment that belong to the dead mother and the father declares that he will marry the woman who fits into it, and the daughter unwittingly tries on the garment. However apparently, because there has been so many reports of healing miracles, the Catholic Church is like “Eh, hey if it works…I guess that’s cool.” Besides declaring that a saint is not historically legit doesn’t exactly stop people from venerating them. St. Christopher, anyone? Heck, Santa Muerte?!

Symbols of St. Dymphna
Lily- for purity and chastity- it could also be further associated with purifying the mind of disturbing thoughts
Sword- weapon of her martyrdom
Shamrock- since she’s Irish
Doe, Fawn- her name in Gaelic is Damhnait- meaning little deer (dahv-nit)
Symbols for specific neurological/mental conditions, recovery/support for abuse victims/survivors

Caelesti’s Devotional Ideas-
Naomh Damhnait would be her name in Irish (Naomh= Saint, related to the word for holy/sacred)
Write prayers for her, write healing prayer that includes both her and St/Goddess Brighid
Read Deerskin, Robin McKinley’s feminist adaptation of the Donkeyskin tale type
Work on your own recovery, engage in self-care, stop and smell the lilies
Donate/volunteer/advocate for individuals with mental illness, victims/survivors of abuse, rape and incest
Support feministy/social justice-y women religious (nuns) and Catholic women in general who are working on reform.

Oh teh noes- is this Cultural Appropriation?!!! Just in case anyone asks…
Well, considering that term is generally used for historically or presently oppressed and colonized cultures- Ireland would fit that, but at the same time, Saint Dymphna is part of the Roman Catholic Church *in general* which has had pretty serious issues with colonizing and oppressing cultures from around the world. We could even say women, and sexual/gender minorities are groups that have globally suffered colonialism from various sources, not just religious. Personally, I feel some solidarity with social justice and feminist focused Catholics, and drawing on these traditions a little is a way for me to reclaim and connect with Irish history and culture, instead of just ignoring centuries of Catholic Ireland and digging back into the pagan past while modern Irish people look at me like I’m some crazy American. Anyhow, there are particular saints that have a lot of cultural context attached to them- as in Afro-Caribbean and Latin American syncretic traditions and if you are honoring saints syncretized with Orisha and such, I’d advise doing it within the social protocol and rules that are internal to those traditions. These are things you’ll need to find out from actual human beings rather than Llewellyn books and Tumblr. Anyway, those are definitely outside of my cultural bailiwick, so I am stepping off the soapbox.

Saint Dymphna: Out of the Shadows of Mental Illness

I am having trouble posting links again- but just Google her- you’ll find tons of prayers, amulets, prayer cards etc.

February 26, 2015 at 2:07 am 4 comments

Wrestling with God(s)

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.

February 17, 2015 at 2:19 am 4 comments

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

What’s a Protestant Worldview?

I read Galina Krasskova’s latest post on Polytheist.com about Resacralizing Our World. As with anything she writes, there’s a lot to take in and think about. I don’t always agree with her, but she does challenge us to think critically about our beliefs and practices. This is probably one of the reasons people have such a strong reaction to her views! Danger! Heathen woman with opinions! Anyhow- this was not really the main topic of her post, but it came up, and I’ve seen her and others discuss it before, the idea than American culture has a dominant Protestant worldview, which frequently gets in the way of spiritual development for polytheists. So I asked her- how does this different from a Catholic worldview?

Do Pagans from Catholic backgrounds have different spiritual approaches than those from Protestant, Jewish or secular backgrounds? I’ve known Pagans who came from the same religious upbringing to develop very different paths, in terms of cultural focus, theology, type of practice etc.

I guess growing up, I just saw Catholicism as being another type of Christianity (which I guess is very Protestant of me- it was “a church” not “The Church”) I grew up in a time when the idea of a Catholic President was once controversial was rather inconceivable, and Jewish people, while not always truly understood, were definitely white*.  I was baffled by Catholic feminists and pro-GLBT activist that dutifully kept going to mass. They couldn’t do anything to reform it after all- they could keep writing letters to bishops, patiently waiting and praying for their minds to change, but unlike the Methodist church, they couldn’t vote to send delegates to national conference to make decisions about stuff. Why didn’t they just join the Episcopalians? Indeed some of them do. But it wouldn’t be “The Church”, now would it?

Protestantism also includes a hugely diverse range of sects and denominations. I believe the Protestant worldview she is discussing is a more hard-nosed Biblical sort. The theology of continuous revelation that we find in Unitarian Universalism, our congregationalist cousins, the United Church of Christ (God is Still Speaking) and the Society of Friends is very different. To have a meaningful discussion, we really need to specify *which* Protestant worldview. I plugged it into Google, and mostly have found discussion of “sola scriptura” a la Martin Luther.

Perhaps the best person to ask would be a Catholic, or a former Catholic?

Here’s an Orthodox Christian view contrasted with Protestantism (now Orthodox, that’s even more unfamilar!)

*though Jewish people can be of any ethnic background, I’m referring to pale-skinned Jews who *weren’t* considered “white” in earlier generations.

November 20, 2014 at 5:13 am 3 comments

More Discussion of Ethics & Sacrifice

Info about animal sacrifice/ritual slaughter in various religions:

Do Neo-Pagans practice blood sacrifice?

What is Voodoo? Understanding a Misunderstood Religion, Pt 1, Part 2 by Saumya Arya Haas

Putting the Blood Back into Blot: The Revival of Animal Sacrifice in Modern Nordic Paganism by Michael Strmiska (link to paper)

The Split Horn- Hmong Rituals

Kosher Slaughtering: An Introduction by Rabbi Gersion Appel

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

(Druid) John Beckett: A Modern Pagan View of Sacrifice (from 2013) Sacrifice & Fear of the Real Gods (recent)

(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

October 28, 2014 at 1:26 am 2 comments

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