Posts filed under ‘Christianity’

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…

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October 29, 2015 at 3:19 am 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

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

Wait, Which Christianity?

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.

October 22, 2014 at 1:55 am 2 comments

All Wrong: Religion, Culture and Country

Wrong Country: It doesn’t matter if our ancestors didn’t all come to the United States (& various other colonies) for the specific purpose of enslaving and conquering people, but mostly were trying to escape poverty, famine, war or religious/political persecution. Or came here as slaves, prisoners or indentured servants. It doesn’t matter how long our families have lived here. We’re invaders. Or “settlers”, I guess that’s a little nicer. OK, we’ve realized that we messed up. Or someone else did, and we benefited from it. So we’re going to “decolonize” now. It sounds very enlightened and progressive. Wait, does this mean we need to move back to Europe? Black folks have to move back to Africa. (Tried that already, by the way) And so forth. Or is it OK that we stay here, so long as we admit that we have no right to be here? Just lose the sense of entitlement and gain some humility and be a good ally.  But wait, which Tumblr guide to “How to Be a Good White Ally” should I follow?

Wrong Culture: Sometimes I come across European pagans/polytheists (and non-pagans) who are baffled by Euro-American interest in their cultural heritage. But you’re Americans! You’re over there! Go do Indian stuff. Uh, no. Not touching the peace pipe. It hasn’t been offered. So be Wiccan! It’s sorta kinda generically European… Sprinkle with deities of your chosen ethnic identity. Some of us try to prove how Truly Serious & Sincere & Respectful we are. We study the languages, the customs. We become reconstructionists.  But…

Wrong Religion: We still get criticism- here’s a Scottish fellow complaining about how not Gaelic neo-paganism is. Most “Celtic” paganism isn’t very culturally Celtic, I agree to that. What I found baffling was that he specifically approved of the website Tairis, but complained about the CR FAQ. Celtic Reconstructionism was actually founded for the specific purpose of avoiding cultural appropriation that is rampant in the U.S.  Annie Gormlie, the author of Tairis is Scottish, basing her practice on Scottish folk customs. Very cool lady. The CR FAQ is pan-Celtic and written by Americans. Americans? Well in that case they must be evil cultural pillagers.  And because they talk about doing research about pre-Christian religion, they can’t care about modern culture at all, right? This is a false dichotomy Proper Scots are atheists, according to him. Another one I came across said True Scots are Presbyterians. Real Authentic Irish people are Catholic of course, no wait- atheists according to this guy. Another critic here.

Maybe we should stop arguing about which religion (or atheism) is superior and do our parts to learn & teach Celtic languages and customs? I’m in my Irish class, and there’s also a Wiccan in the class as well. No one cares what our religion is, we’re there to learn Irish. I don’t know how Pagan-friendly every nook and cranny of the Irish community is, so I don’t announce it to everyone. 

There seems to less of this among Germanic heathens- they don’t have the cultural colonization historical chip on their shoulder the way the Celts do. There are some Europeans who look down on American Heathens that get most of their info from book-learning rather than oral tradition.  But that goes both ways. 

Culture, religion, country. It would be nice if these things “matched” but life is messy and they don’t. Humans move around. They change religion and language. Deal with it. I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t care that much about other people’s approval. I try to do the Right Thing social justice-wise, or culture or religion-wise, but it’s always the Wrong Thing to someone else. It’s nice to get approval and affirmation when it comes but condemnation and condescension will always be coming from another direction. Once again, hey I’m an American. Guess I’ll throw caution to the wind. 

August 13, 2014 at 3:24 am 6 comments

Integrating Muslims

I am oddly enough, a polytheist that frequently ends up defending monotheists- Christians, Muslims and sometimes Jews. I do this mainly when others make broad unfair generalizations against groups of people. However, I don’t necessarily defend their religions, as I don’t consider it my job to do so. Judaism is a tribal religion that follows one God, and because of this Jews don’t proselytize (though they may try get non-observant Jews to become more religious) Christians and Muslims traditionally have a duty to spread the worship of their God. Islam ascribes rights to Christians and Jews to keep their religions (including if a Muslim man marries a Christian or Jewish woman but not the reverse) . Some liberal Christians and some Muslims (Sufis in particular) view all Gods as ultimately being the same being, and so  I still consider that view a little arrogant, but I’ll take it if it means they’ll leave me alone.

Anyway, as part of my Irish culture tour in St. Paul, I give a tour of the St. Paul Cathedral, then we go to O’Gara’s pub for fish and chips and sing Irish and Scottish songs. Somehow the conversation while we were eating awkwardly drifted towards several people claiming that while Christianity had been taken out of public schools, Muslim students were getting “special treatment”. I wasn’t sure how accurate all of their claims were, and I strongly suppressed a desire for a flat-out rant. I ended up saying, well separation of church and state means we need to treat different religions equally, and not giving Christianity special status doesn’t mean Christians are being oppressed. I noted that I have a lot of Muslim co-workers at my other job, I don’t care about how they dress so long as they do their job. I also noted though that while I’m fine with people holding on to their religious beliefs and traditions when they come here, our culture can only accommodate them so much. Hijabs (head coverings) are no big deal, but in American culture, people will not trust you if they cannot see your face, so we can’t really make room for covering one’s entire face in job interviews, customer service jobs etc. That said, even with the large Muslim population in the Twin Cities, I rarely see a woman in a full burqa. I suspect most women who dress that way would not work outside the home based on their beliefs. That seemed to cool people down, and we switched gears by starting in on a new Irish song.

Anyway, I have been doing some research on how and in what ways Muslims are being accommodated in schools and workplaces. I still am rather careful of what I read, because there are a lot of people who do have an “all Muslims are part of a giant terrorist conspiracy” mentality. That said there are some instances where I do think some people have been going out of their way more than I think appropriate. I found this clip from a Canadian news show (if this was an American show, there would’ve been assertions about how “this is Christian country damnit!) in response to Qatar’s dress code policies it has issued to foreign tourists, and changes within Canadian culture to include Muslims. For the most part, I agree with what Anthony Furey said, the segment with Tarek Fatah gets into some issues that I am not sure about (such as the Bergdahl prisoner swap) so I’ll leave that aside.

Poking around a bit more, I found an article about how Betsy Hodges, the mayor of Minneapolis, wore a hijab while meeting with Somali-American leaders. I had to go look for a different article however, because it was misrepresenting Islam! I wasn’t sure what to think of it- I was not offended the way the conservative commentators were. It was obviously intended as a diplomatic gesture on her part, a gesture of respect. Did it come off as obsequious or weak? Or insincere and over-the-top to the Muslims? I’m not sure. Muslims do not expect us to dress like them. Wearing a head covering may be expected while inside a mosque (just as a kipa may be in a synagogue for men), but that is different- it’s a sacred space. When I’m in someone’s else’s home or sacred space, I respect their customs. She was meeting in a Somali mall, not a mosque. You can read her closing speech of her campaign here.

“I have worn hijab, and it changed me.

I have run and danced my way through the gay pride parade.”- This is just a very odd juxtaposition of statements. Now, what I’d love to see would be a group of Muslim women marching in the parade in hijab!

June 17, 2014 at 11:44 pm 4 comments

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