Posts filed under ‘Judaism’
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.
Info about animal sacrifice/ritual slaughter in various religions:
What is Voodoo? Understanding a Misunderstood Religion, Pt 1, Part 2 by Saumya Arya Haas
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
(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
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!
A friend and neighbor of mine mentioned that she participates in a monthly interfaith discussion group, hosted by the St. Paul Area Council of Churches. I told her I might interested in checking that out, but I asked- is this really “interfaith”? Or is it more like “inter-monotheist?”. She told me who attended varied each month (due to availability or interest in the topic) noting the Jewish folks (like herself) were actually often over-represented, different types of Christians, a Bahai’i who moderated the discussion, some Muslims and Buddhists. And atheists- though she said they called themselves “Rational Pluralists”.
The mention of enthusiastic Jewish interest didn’t surprise me- after all, religious minorities have to deal with members of more dominant faiths every day, whereas a Christian has the luxury of ignoring the existence of other religions, having them only occasionally intrude into their bubble. I felt better when I heard the atheists and Buddhists mentioned, and upon looking at the website noted mention of Sikhs, Hindus and American Indians. Sikhs are also a kind of monotheist, but part of the Dharmic family of religions (along with Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism) often Hindus involved in interfaith or PR efforts like to frame their religion as “really” monotheistic- all those thousands of Gods are really One, and that’s what matters! Now I totally respect that it’s their choice on how to publicly present their faith, but I hope they are not allowing a monotheist bias to influence them. Anyway Hindus are such a huge and diverse group it’s hard to say.
I knew my friend has some sympathy for this, because even more frequently, especially in areas with less diversity, an “interfaith” event really means ecumenical or intrafaith- between different types of Christianity, sometimes made “interfaith” by inviting the town’s token Jew. Now having ecumenical Christian events, or pan-Abrahamic or just Jewish-Christian dialogue events are fine and dandy by me, they are very much needed. But as religious minority that feels especially well, minor I ask that those events be clearly labeled as such, stating their focus and purpose. Focus and purpose are key to making an interfaith group or event successful (heck any event successful!)
As I mentioned, I felt more included once I heard about the atheist participation (if they can deal with someone who doesn’t believe in any gods, they can deal with someone who believes in many gods is my rationale) And I’m guessing the sorts of atheists that like to go to interfaith shindigs, are the kind I get along with- much like the folks who might be sitting next to me in a pew at Unity. These are the positive Humanists, who believe in working to make the world a better place, and affirm the value of science and reason, and God and religion doesn’t jive with their worldview. And they want to work with religious people to help make the world a better place, and share the values of science and critical thinking with them. But they aren’t anti-religion. I believe religion- like anything created by human beings can be used for good or evil. And as much as I value science and reason as ways of knowing, I find there are emotional, aesthetic, social, and intellectual things that I get out of religion. I can lead a meaningful, ethical life without religion or Gods. I’m frankly agnostic about the existence or nature of the afterlife, so that is not my motivation. But something would be missing for me. And it would be for a lot of people. The anti-religion atheists who don’t understand that need to work on their empathy. But the Humanists who share my view of religion as neutral, they are on my team.
This is the post I spent so much time fussing over, but didn’t end up using for Pagan Blog Project. I decided to post it after all before I spend any more time on it that I could on other things! Another very insightful post about a broader perspective on privilege can be found at the World of Dust & Bones Blog: Paganism & Privilege Part 1: How We Talk about it (which in turn was a response to this post by John Halstead)
Note: I’m going to discuss religion and privilege in the United States specifically because I can better understand & explain it, I would be greatly interested in hearing viewpoints and experiences specific to other countries.
Some “privileges” are really rights that everyone should have, while others are simply unfair advantages that no one should have. Everyone should have the right to practice their religion freely, (or not practice any religion) in a way that does not interfere with others’ rights. Christians in the United States and many other countries have this right, but it is more protected and unquestioned than it is for those of minority faiths. Christians in the U.S. also sometimes misuse their privileged status to get favorable treatment for their religion that other religions do not get. These are facts that most Pagans would agree, and most Christians that have any self-awareness at all. (I.e. not the ones who think this was founded as a “Christian nation”.)
On to Wiccan(ate) Privilege
Wicca, and pagan religions, that closely resemble it, are like it or lump it still the largest group of self-identified Pagans. Anytime a group has been around longer and is bigger, it is typically going to get social privilege along with that.
The status of Wicca and Wicca-like forms of paganism within broader interfaith pagan settings (8 sabbats, use of magic, Goddess or God/Goddess theology etc) is similar to the status of Protestant Christianity within monotheist religions. Talk about God and religion in the public square- “civil religion” historically reflected this, and excluded Catholics, Jews and Muslims. The Catholics and Jews are *kind of* more included, and the Muslims are slowly starting to be, though they face an uphill battle of xenophobia and anti-terrorist paranoia. Then there’s all kinds of wrestling over who’s “really” a Christian, as we saw in the 2012 election with a Mormon and a *suspected* Muslim running for President.
After Wiccans, Druids and Heathens/Asatru are the most commonly known pagan religions. If you’re a pagan of some sort, you probably know of all three, and likely specific traditions and organizations that fall within them. If you’re a monotheist or atheist in the broader U.S. culture, it’s likely you know of Wicca, think of Paganism in general as “Wicca-like” or the same, and may have vaguely, in passing heard of Druids and Heathens.
Druids are usually considered “close enough” to Wicca to benefit from some types of Wiccan privilege. As in, we typically celebrate the same 8 holidays, consider ourselves nature/earth-based. British-style revival Druidry such as OBOD is even closer to Wicca. (Ross Nichols, its founder was good friends with Gerald Gardner after all) And as with Wiccans and their close cousins, many Druids have interest in movements like feminism, environmentalism, peace, some kinds of New Age spirituality and magic.
Ruadan: “And ADF really seems to have more in common with Wiccanate paganism than it has with Celtic Reconstruction than some people want to really believe, even though it does seem to generally be a recon-friendly group.” Spot on. As someone who is part of both, I think that is very true. We celebrate the 8 “standard” holidays and have a ritual structure that be adapted for various pantheons.
Heathens worship some of the same Gods as Wiccans, and celebrate some of the same holidays (like Yule) But in general the Heathen community has less in common with secular aspects of Wiccan subculture. (link to the Hammer & the Pentagram article) The Heathen community has developed a very distinct identity from Wicca-centric Greater Pagandom, and the positive interactions they have had are much due to the efforts of people like Diana Paxson, who was Wiccan before becoming Heathen, intermarriage and friendship between the two and so forth. To the Heathen’s advantage, the United States has major English & German cultural influences- secular holiday customs, and various other customs and social mores that we are familiar with not to mention the English language itself.
Further afield, we have Roman, Greek, Egyptian reconstructionists/revivalists/polytheists. Other pagans may be familiar with Roman, Greek and some Egyptian God names and mythology, but the ritual practices, calendars, and cultural worldviews are likely to be very foreign to them. And the knowledge many pagans do have of these cultures is often superficial and distorted by outdated Victorian or feminist scholarship, and Western occultism. (Actually the knowledge people have of Celtic cultures is usually pretty superficial too, but that doesn’t stop them from thinking they know all about it.)
More posts on the subject:
Baring the Aegis: On Interfaith & Privilege– this is one of the most moderate polytheist responses that I feel closest too.
Unity & Diversity by Helio Pires, Golden Trail blog
Conor Warren- Division Conor hopes for an amicable division between pagans and polytheists.
I just read an interesting post by Agrikosos in which she makes an extended analogy of the online pagan/polytheistic communities being like a universe with a an invisible influence in the center- a black hole. Monotheism. This influence is inevitable and unavoidable, we need to recognize and admit when it is present, and work around it. All too often, I think we see suspicions of Pagans with an interest in aspects of Christian or Jewish mysticism while avoiding seeing ways other Pagans are influenced by the Big Three.
I remember a Hellenic organization called Elaion* that arose that took the position that patron gods were not proper eusebeia (piety) that modern Paganism had adopted the idea from Jesus is My Personal Savior/Therapist style American Protestantism, and ancient Greeks had patron gods of professions or families or cities, but not individuals. Much of the Hellenic polytheist community has rejected this view, citing ancient precedent- Sappho’s relationship with Aphrodite for example. We do have very limited information on the practices of everyday Greek peasants, most of our evidence is of state cults and mystery religions. It may be that patron deities are more common in modern practice, and I do think monotheism probably is a major reason for that. I think patron deities are a valid practice (not just due to historic basis) but I do think they are over-emphasized in modern paganism. I see a lot of beginners asking on forums how do they find (or choose) their patron? You don’t just “find your patron” so easily and you might never have a patron in your lifetime. But that’s OK. Since these are New Religious Movements after all, there are going to be many more eager converts with intense mystical experiences. Many prophets and godspouses and shamans. More than there probably will be, later as our religions mature.
Our attitude towards texts is also very much a legacy of the People of the Book. We are the People of the Library**. Never enough books! This may be more pronounced among reconstructionists in particular, though some Wiccans certainly like to quote the Rede and the Law of Three the way Christians cite the Bible. They’ve got nothing on Heathens though. Good Gerd, those saga sluggers!
For one, we rarely take our myths literally. There are some that are more historical (or pseudo-historical)
We also only have the shards left from ancient writers, Christian monks, many pieces are missing. And so when putting together the picture, it is going to be distorted both by the absence of those pieces, and by the perspectives of the writers- we hear mostly from poets and nobility, not farmers, from Christians or contemporary warring cultures (Romans writing about Greeks or Celts) we get misrepresentation. And modern scholars all have their own biases, and almost none of them are revivalists of the religions themselves.
After writing all this I realized something. The black hole isn’t monotheism. It’s atheism- the absence of monotheism. Monotheism is a big star exerting a gravitational pull, and pagans who live in more secularized parts of the world are more affected by the black hole. For many of us, an even more distorting influence on our value systems is actually capitalism and hyper-individualism. More posts on those topics!
*Initially when writing this I wasn’t sure if Elaion was still around, but I am pleased to see that they are. I am all for there being a diverse range of practices and organizations available in Hellenic polytheism, just as there was in the ancient world.
**The People of the Library quote has been attributed to Stephen Posch, whom I’m proud to claim as a Twin Cities elder.
Last spring I went along with members of my Unitarian church to visit the Hindu Temple of Minnesota. It’s actually the largest Hindu temple in the United States! It’s a beautiful building, and I was very honored and grateful for the opportunity to see it. I just wish I’d had more time to explore, because the tour guide spent way too much time (in my opinion) explaining Hinduism, after we had already learned the basics- from another member of the temple who teaches classes there. He kept emphasizing, and wanted to make sure we all understood before we entered the sanctuary filled with shrines of gods, that Hindus are really monotheists. It seemed as if he were desperately trying to convince us of this, and essentially apologizing for his religion’s polytheistic veneer. That he was worried that Unitarians, who rejected the Trinity and affirmed the Unity of God, would pass judgment on Hinduism. Obviously, he doesn’t know us very well.
However, I have gotten the impression that Hindus, in general aren’t especially concerned with whether they are “really” polytheists or monotheists.
As for Neo-Pagans, at one point we were just polytheists worshipping different gods, but then one day it became a big deal who believed the gods were “real” individuals and who saw them as aspects of a whole. And then we had to get into a perpetual debate over who was a real, bona fide polytheist. Not one of those fake fluffy Neo-Wiccans.
There is a difference between viewing the Gods as psychological Jungian archetypes vs. different aspects of the Divine or the Consciousness of the Universe, or something. “Hard” polytheists often claim all “softies” are proponents of the former. Soft polytheists are also said to not view the Gods as “real”. My inclination is to ritually treat the gods as separate beings, and to take an agnostic position about whether they are ultimately One, because in the truest sense of agnostic, its on such a distant level from human comprehension.
We can’t claim to be any better than monotheists in this regard. They’ve spent thousands of years arguing how separate the persons of the Trinity are, how divine Jesus is, or whether honoring Mary, saints and angels is idolatry. In the end they could call Trinitarian Christians “soft monotheists” and Jews, Muslims, Unitarian Christians and Bahai’is “hard monotheists”. But does it really matter? Don’t they all worship the same God? And sorry Hindu assimilationist apologists, and Great Mother Goddess worshippers– but most of these monotheists do not see you as part of their fold.
I think what matters, as far as as figuring out who has what in common with me, and who I might want to include in my community, or be a part of theirs- is functional polytheism. Of the aforementioned Hindus, some focus on meditating on the Oneness of the Universe (Brahman) and others more on puja devotions towards particular deities. You could say that these folks are functional polytheists.
So call yourself a polytheist. Or don’t. But don’t go out of your way to claim that your gods are all really One in some way that doesn’t really reflect your religion. Practice intellectual honesty. And tolerance, respect- don’t make absolutist statements that ridicule or condescend towards other peoples’ beliefs. Above all, be true to yourself, your gods and your communit(ies) and culture.