Posts filed under ‘Theology’

Yes, Virginia! Wiccans Can Be Polytheists

One of my values is *sovereignty* and that means respecting the rights of individuals, as well as different traditions and cultures to speak for themselves and define their boundaries. That includes Wicca. Some Wiccans are polytheists. They have explained their polytheism, though they shouldn’t have to, only to have *some* (not all) polytheists explain this away.

This not mean that I accept everyone who claims the label polytheist as polytheist- I have an inclusive definition, but it still has limits, so the word doesn’t become as watered down and meaningless as “pagan” has. Words can have some fluidity in meaning yes, but we need some degree of shared meaning in order to communicate.  I wonder a bit if the adjective might be more helpful than the noun. I also like the Anglo-Saxon “manygodded”- it’s a description, not an “ism”.

I just added this to my Inclusive Polytheism post- since it seems some folks need a reminder-

  • Polytheists do not all adhere to any one political ideology or party, apart from most likely, supporting religious freedom and impartiality towards a variety of religions and non-religious people. (As for separation of church & state- this may very by country)

Granted, there are polytheists out there that have political/ideological and theological beliefs and practices that I have serious moral objections too (racism, sexism, homo/bi/transphobia et al) But I’m not claiming their polytheism isn’t genuine just because I disagree or don’t want to collaborate with them.

There are many religions like Wicca that include polytheists in their midst, but aren’t *only* polytheist by definition. Other examples-

A theistic Satanist or Luciferian might be a henotheist- who focuses worship on Satan or Lucifer within a framework of polytheism, or a more general polytheist.

Buddhism is often depicted in the West as the Super-Rational Atheist-approved No Gods Here! religion/philosophy, but in spite of it tending to be less worship focused, deities, buddhas, boddhisattvas (who are more like saints) and ancestor spirits are honored. There’s also some overlap with Hinduism, and Shinto…and I will just let more knowledgeable folks explain this more.

There is a lot of disagreement about whether polytheistic monism (as found in Hinduism, some types of Neoplatonism, some kinds of Wicca) counts as “true” polytheism. Honestly, I am mostly just sick of the hostility of this debate. If theology nerds want to hash it out in a civil fashion, OK great.

One of my fellow members (indeed a founder!) of Clann Bhride, a devotional Brighidine order I belong to, is Chris Scott Thompson, and he has a well-put together explanation of polytheistic monism here on Patheos- Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4. Agree or disagree respectfully with his theological views or his scholarship- in any case, he knows a lot more about Neoplatonism and Hinduism than I do, but more importantly to me anyway is that he’s a great person who does a lot of good work for his communities and his Gods/spirits/ancestors. We have a quite diverse membership in Clann Bhride and hold these Nine Elements in common, but there is much room for interpretation. Devotion, ethics, and fellowship are to us what matter.

March 11, 2016 at 7:52 am 1 comment

What Atheopaganism Won’t Do for You

A lot of what Mark Green shares here also applies to polytheistic/animistic forms of Paganism. The Gods are not our cosmic babysitters. Sh*t will happen, in spite of all our best efforts to avoid it. (Frankly I think the My Little Jesus forms of Christianity misinterpret their theology as well!) The virtues of Heathenry & Druidry are social and relational in nature- rather than “Do This to Please God(s)”, it’s Do The Right Thing so you can help yourself, help take care of your friends/neighbors/family and keep human society from falling apart- and human society is viewed to some degree as a microcosm of the larger Universe, Maintaining the social order and one’s place in it is part of upholding the laws of the Universe- whether we refer to this as wyrd, orlog, Ma’at (Egyptian) etc. One can *loosely* identify those spiritual concepts with the laws of physics, nature and such- laws that the Gods and Spirits are subject to us just as much as humans are. That is a key difference with monotheism- in that scenario typically God is believed to be in control of everything, which creates a lot of theological, ethical and philosophical problems!

Atheopaganism

Recently, I have experienced some severe life challenges. A period of disability followed by a one of unemployment drained my savings away. I finally landed a good job with a great organization…only to be told, one paycheck in, by my landlord of 18 years that my beautiful home has been sold and I must move by Sept. 1.

Without any money. And 18 years’ worth of accumulated possessions.

I believe I will get through this, as people do. I have community and fundraising skills and ideas, and I am earning a salary now. Nemea and I will find another home, and survive.

But it occurs to me that members of other religions tend, in times like these, to speak of their religions as “a comfort to them”. In moments of grief, sorrow, adversity they can look to their beliefs for reassuring platitudes: God has a plan. Everything happens as it should…

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June 8, 2015 at 9:32 pm 2 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

Covenant Theology & UUism- Intro

Unity Unitarian has a worship theme for each month- November’s is Covenant. This is an important idea in UU history and theology that has its origins in Calvinism and the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible). Since I was raised Methodist and later attended a Lutheran college, before joining Unity my understanding of covenant was primarily that of the historical covenant between the Hebrew people and YHWH. The idea that in return for following only God (or placing him before other Gods), they would have his special protection as his chosen people. Throughout the Hebrew Bible, God makes several covenants with different patriarchs on behalf of their family or people- Adam, Noah, Moses and David. These covenants are repeatedly broken, and God punishes humanity as a whole, or the people of Israel specifically, but then forgives them and makes a new covenant.

Some Christians believe in a New Covenant between God and Christians as the new chosen people- some see this as replacing God’s covenant with the Jewish people (supersesessionism). This is not the type of covenant that Unitarians believe in, especially considering we don’t believe in the doctrine of substitutionary atonement- the idea that Jesus “stood in” for all of humanity to atone for our collective sin.

Basically to sum up relevant history- Unitarianism arose in Transylvania & Hungary, Poland (the Socinians) and spread to England. Meanwhile Congregationalist churches had been founded in the Plymouth Colony & the Massachusetts Bay Colony by both Puritans & Calvinist Presbyterians. Some of them became influenced by Unitarian theology from England. So how does this connect with covenant theology? The founders of the Plymouth Colony wrote the Mayflower Compact together as an agreement of self-governance. They made a commitment to each other as a community. Really this document is a cross between the secular social contract (a tradition going back to the Magna Carta) and the covenant, because it was seen as an agreement between the people themselves, as well as between the people and God.

However, since Unitarian Universalists as a whole are rather “sorta kinda maybe?” about the existence of God, is the idea of covenant still relevant to us? This question has been raised, particularly by humanist/atheist UUs (one person I’ve been conversing with online claims the use of covenant is reflective of a “fetish” for Christocentric language) I’m not sure I agree with that, but it does raise a valid question. I’m also interested in comparing the idea of covenant to similar concepts in polytheistic religions. Stay tuned for more!

November 14, 2014 at 1:20 am Leave a comment

Inclusive Polytheism

So with various discussions of “devotional polytheism” vs. “immersive polytheism” going on, I find myself puzzled by what these terms mean and if I personally relate to them at all. Once again the Unitarian Universalist in me is saying “Who cares what someone’s theology is if they act like a jerk?”

Now I think theology does matter in helping us find others who have enough in common with us spiritually to create in-depth and meaningful worship. I do enjoy and find meaning & beauty in UU worship, but it’s more about sharing with others the sacredness of Life, the Universe and Everything than expressing devotion to specific divinities and spirits. From a polytheist/animist viewpoint, UUism’s strong point in the piety department is towards ancestors and heroes, particularly individuals important to UU history and various social justice movements. I believe this is an area that we can keep building on theologically and liturgically, in a way that is still very inclusive of UUs of different belief systems.

So here’s my idea of “inclusive polytheism”- by inclusive I do not mean anything goes, I do not want a lowest common denominator definition that paganism now has, I want a meaningful definition.

  • Functional ritual polytheism– treating gods or spirits as individual beings in ritual & prayer
  • Expectation of reverence & respect for deities and spirits by ritual participants (if not literal belief) thus balancing obligations of guest & host
  • Soft agnosticism (gods might exist, leaning toward belief/treat them ritually like they exist even if belief is uncertain), polydeism– many gods that are less directly involved in the world and straight up polytheism, primarily philosophical polytheism and primarily magical polytheism as parts of a theological spectrum/cluster
  • Animism, a belief in many spirits (or that everything has a spirit)
  • Whether service to the Gods is “more important”, less or equally important to helping fellow humans is up to the individual, and has no bearing on whether they are a “true” polytheist
  • Reconstructionism is a methodology, not an end to itself. Not all polytheists are reconstructionists.
  • Inclusion of syncretism, eclecticism and following more than one tradition. Practicing blending & mixing of religions is like playing with a chemistry set: sometimes it blends together well. Sometimes explosions happen.
  • Patron and godspouse relationships happen but are not a requirement, people who have more intense relationships with deities/spirits are not necessarily “better” or “more spiritual” than others, they just have a more specialized path/role. Same with being a temple/cult priest/ess. If you don’t recognize them as being a Real Legit Thing within your tradition, cool. It’s not your tradition.
  • Nontraditional deities/spirits (that people may have channeled, created, discovered in popular culture/history/legend/their imaginations) happen in polytheism. However, Tinkerbell/American Gods theology (if I believe it, it exists/has power if I stop believing, it doesn’t) is bad polytheistic theology.
  • Archetypes, eregores and magical “thought constructs” might be Things in your path, but they are not gods.
  • People with polytheistic theologies/practices may or may not primarily identify as polytheists. They may prefer calling themselves Pagans, Heathens, Witches, Wiccans or other more specific terms.
  • Polytheists do not all adhere to any one political ideology or party, apart from most likely, supporting religious freedom and impartiality towards a variety of religions and non-religious people. (As for separation of church & state- this may very by country)
  • Question: is a “polytheist community” one in which participants primarily identify themselves as polytheists, or people who happen to be polytheistic, regardless of self-identification? 

Notes: the reverence & respect portion is an opinion I came to after reading this interview by Jason Mankey with Amy B., an atheist pagan who says she does ritual (as a priestess!) for “entertainment purposes”. Understandably, many Pagans and polytheists were offended, and other humanistic pagans like John Halstead were “horrified”. The second portion was inspired by writings on PSVL’s blog about hospitality in ritual. Can’t find the post!

The statement about theological diversity, is I think much more reflective of the reality of ancient polytheism than the way some have promoted polytheism in modern times. Some people in both ancient and modern times were/are more focused on the pursuit of philosophy, ethics, truth and knowledge, others focus more on magical practice and occult knowledge, and may do so while still being legitimate polytheists, though they likely won’t call themselves devotional polytheists, or use the term polytheist much at all.

I’ve also seen several people assert that they consider serving the Gods to be higher priority than helping other humans. As a humanist and a polytheist, I don’t take that position (it seems a false dichotomy!), but I do consider it one of many ways of being a polytheist. I can see there being a place in community for a small number of individuals whose primary calling is serving the Gods/Spirits directly. However for most of “serving the Gods” is going to be part of a long to-do list!

August 12, 2014 at 12:36 am 7 comments

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