Posts tagged ‘ancestor veneration’

Celtic vs. Mediterranean Polytheisms

In pan-polytheistic online discourse I frequently see assumptions about polytheism from different cultural or philosophical types of polytheists. For better understanding of where I’m coming from as an Irish polytheist, a previous post compared Celtic & Germanic polytheism. This is an attempt to compare Irish polytheism and a little about continental Celtic polytheism with polytheistic religions bordering the Mediterranean, specifically I’m thinking of Greece, Rome and to a lesser degree, Egypt.  These are generalizations referring to several spectra of cultures that existed (and still exist just in different forms) across a long time period. Feedback, corrections and critique are welcome and I’ll make note of changes.

Differences

Theology– Our theolog(ies) are very much up to us as contemporary revivalists to discover and develop. Beings in our lore and literature are not easily categorized as gods, ancestors, heroes and spirits of place. There is much overlap between them. It’s debatable how much particular gods were euhemerized by monks or whether the Irish Dindsenchas- that explains the legendary origins of place name or the tales of Mythological Cycle are more authoritative.  Even the question of whether a particular being is friendly or not towards humans can vary by place or even specific person! For example, Balor is a monster thought to symbolize the dangers of the late summer sun being too hot and threatening the harvest. He was defeated by the god Lugh in battle, the young, many skilled god who brings the harvest. But in the folklore of the Tory Islands the two were reversed and it was Balor that was honored!  The Good People are for the most part avoided and propitiated but certain individuals do make treaty and develop a relationship with a spirit or group of spirits. Sometimes these people are called fairy-doctors and act as an intermediary between the spirit and a local community.

Departmental Deities– I often hear people in Irish/Gaelic/Celtic pagan or Druid groups explain to newcomers that “unlike the Greek or Roman pantheons we don’t pigeon-hole gods into departments like god of love/sun/thunder.” Fair enough, but that’s also not an accurate description of either Greek or Roman religion. It’s an oversimplification that might fit a specific cultus at a given time or for your classical mythology class, but not for all times, places and practices. This is also the case for Irish gods. There also isn’t a fixed, organized pantheon with a set hierarchy, no “chief god” and the family trees of the gods and other beings contradict each other in different sources. You know, like in Greek mythology!

Purity– there is a concept of ritual purity, but it doesn’t seem to be a emphasized as it is in Greek and Roman polytheism. Here is an essay discussing concepts of purity/impurity in Gaulish polytheism.

Hubris (or hybris  in the original Greek)- isn’t really a concept that exists in Celtic religions. There are certainly boundaries of respectful and disrespectful behavior in general and in ritual specifically, particularly related to hospitality and reciprocity. Threatening the gods or spirits, especially with weapons or use of iron in general (esp. towards the Good People) are all certainly ill-advised. Boasting, especially among warriors was as common as it was in ancient Scandinavia. The consequences for going too far with boasting were social and sometimes legal in nature, resulting in a loss of honor and possibly being publicly satirized.

Images– statues and images in continental Celtic territories seem to be mostly a later Roman influence and earlier images seem to be syncretized or influenced by Thracians and Scythians. I occasionally come across the assertion than the Celts had a taboo on divine images, but that is likely a projection from Abrahamic laws against idolatry. That said modern Celtic polytheists do typically use various images for the gods in worship.

Lack of primary sources from pre-Christian times- as with most Germanic & Slavic traditions, we don’t really have anything recorded directly by polytheistic Celtic peoples themselves, We have secondary sources from the Romans who were fighting or trading with them, and later ruling over them but of course these have some built-in biases.  Texts written by monks in Ireland recorded native literary traditions and combined them with classical and Biblical references. Christian era folklore & customs end up being really important in Gaelic & Brythonic traditions because they give us more of an idea of everyday spiritual practice of regular people, particularly towards local spirits and the dead. Reconstructing continental Celtic religion involves study of archaeology and comparative linguistics, religion and mythology.

Similarities with Kemetic religion (from my limited knowledge of it!)

-Strong belief in afterlife, alternate realm, though in Celtic cosmology typically there is an Otherworld existing parallel to our own that is partly afterlife realms, but many other realms belong to gods and the Good People.

-the concept of Ma’at -meaning roughly justice & order in a cosmic sense reminds me a lot of An Firinne- which means truth in Irish, cosmic order with a moral dimension

-The ritual role of kingship, relationship to people and the land. This does not necessarily mean a need for a contemporary king/queen, but the concept of kingship/queenship and sovereignty is key to cosmology. Were Celtic kings/queens deified after death, as with pharaohs or some Roman emperors? Not as a rule that I’m aware of, naturally they’d be important ancestors, founders of particular dynasties, kingdoms, chiefdoms, clans were historically viewed as family patrons, and this practice has been continued with the revival of polytheism with key ancestors.

There are a couple more common pan-polytheistic topics that I am unsure of. What do we know about expectations of piety in pre-Christian Celtic societies? In Ireland, which is the area I’m most familiar, our sources of information about ethics are Brehon law, a system which continued with some modifications long after Christianization, and advice for kings on good behavior. I will have to check them to see if anything is said about piety. But my general feeling is that a sense of piety would be pretty different than a Greek or Roman one. Celtic traditions overall strike me primarily as animistic in character and secondarily polytheistic, they are more primal and localized and tribal. Those elements are definitely in place in both Greece and Rome especially in earlier periods and even later on in certain aspects- the cult of Dionysus seems like something Celts would totally be down with. Whereas Greece and Rome seem more primarily polytheistic.

October 13, 2018 at 8:40 am 7 comments

Topics in Polytheism: Race/Ethnicity

Topics in Polytheism #7 Race/Ethnicity

First view: Neither ethnicity nor “race” are important in polytheism, because religion is a matter of spirit and practice and toleration

Second view: “Race” is not so much a social construct as a reality, and therefore necessary in polytheism. Ethnicity is less important and reliable, because it can change or overlap.

Balanced view: “Race” is a rather useless word, but ethnicity is an indispensable concept in polytheism that needs to be redefined* in today’s troubled, modernized and global world.

To begin with not all forms of polytheism are based around a specific culture or ethnic group.  There are newer polytheist religions like the Otherfaith and the Fellowship of the Phoenix which have their own pantheons.

One can also be a polytheist within many different religions and philosophies that include different theologies such as: Wicca, Thelema, Discordianism, Unitarian Universalism, ADF Druidry, Revival Druidry, Core Shamanism, the women’s spirituality/Goddess movement and theistic Satanism/Luciferianism. In addition to of course, un-interrupted polytheisms-  indigenous Asian, African, North & South American religions/spiritual traditions. The so-called “polytheist movement” or “polytheist community” doesn’t always reflect this, making it seem as though all polytheists in the “Western” cultural sphere are reconstructionists, revivalists or traditionalists of some type. We need to be careful to say what we really mean when we say polytheist, who are we including or excluding? I find conversations with polytheists from other culturally focused traditions very illuminating, but I also enjoy conversations with polytheistic Wiccans, Druids, Thelemites etc. Of course many of us have multiple affiliations and spiritual/cultural identities. That’s one of the great things about polytheism, after all! 

For those of us drawn to culturally based religions I would tend between the first view and the third view. Rather than ethnic ancestry however, I would define it more by cultural upbringing since many of us are far removed from the cultures of our ethnic ancestors, if indeed we even know who they are. Certain people (typically some folkish Heathens) are prone to claim Heathenry or Asatru as pan-European and the label “Celtic” is often defined so loosely that anything vaguely resembling nature spirituality regardless of cultural or historic origin gets lumped in. I know many people who have made a serious effort to connect with traditions that they have ancestral connections to, or believe they have connections to with not much success, while instead stumbling across a connection to cultural tradition that they are not related to. Some of these people were later able to more easily connect with their roots after exploring another, non-ancestral tradition either temporarily or in addition to their ancestral tradition. Many people also honor their own ancestors within their adopted tradition- indeed it is often a requirement of their tradition!

The ancestry doesn’t matter at all stance goes too far. I’ve seen some polytheists become so concerned about racism and nationalism that they discouraged even mentioning or honoring ancestors as part of their practice. In particular I recall a Heathen group in Austria that had that policy– they didn’t honor ancestors in their rituals. That is going way too far. Veneration of ancestors and the dead is key component of any traditional cultural polytheism, and I also think it’s important in other forms of polytheism, simply because we’re all human, we don’t live a long time, and remembering our past and where we come from either by familial or adoptive descent or other kinds of lineage is key part in knowing who we are. In fact, I believe that instinct is the most basic ingredient of religious reverence, we can see it in our Neanderthal cousins, as well as intelligent species such as elephants. Another Pagan, NeoWayland has a unique take that some might find more approachable. Here’s another post I’ve written about different types of ancestors.

 

July 19, 2018 at 8:03 am 2 comments

Neat Polytheistic Projects

Signal-boosting some cool stuff I see other folks doing on social media- it’s not all strictly polytheistic content, but at least of interest/relevance. Let me know if there’s anything you’re working on that you’d like to share, and if I like it I will add it to my next link round-up.

Polemical Topics in Polytheism Series– this topics are all too big for me to fit into mere comments, so I may make my own posts on them!

Sarenth’s Ritual Praxis Series -this is from an intentionally pan-Germanic perspective

Podcasts-

Bespoken Bones Podcast – this podcast interviews folks from a variety of spiritual viewpoints about ancestor veneration practices.

Brute Norse– Scandinavian archeology, history and culture

 

February 20, 2018 at 4:14 am 4 comments

Transgender Remembrance Rituals

Thanks to everyone for this discussion- Galina Krasskova has written a post clarifying the Cuban origins of the ancestor elevation ritual, (though she is not the one organizing it) I don’t feel there is any cultural disrespect going on here, in fact I think people are being very intentionally respectful in honoring people who otherwise might be forgotten. I’m making a list of links of Trans* Memorial Rituals- both for the Ancestor Elevation one as well as others. Blessings to everyone participating.

Paganarch/Rhyd Wildermuth- For the Trans Dead

Both of the following are Tumblogs & links to them are not specific to the rituals. Since TDoR is coming up in a couple months, this would be a good time for me to update this list.

Alice Coltrane Memorial blog by Sylvan- “Alice Coltrane Memorial Colosseum & Wazoo is a live-in performance, ritual, and art space in Portland (Or), housed in an ex-Hare Krishna Temple once attended by a college-aged Steve Jobs.  We maintain, under the blessings and protections of our spiritual headmistress SwamiTuriyasangitananda Alice Coltrane, a public altar space dedicated to our artistic ancestors and inspirations.  In a tradition of experimental, improvisational, and conceptual transgressors particularly in sonic experimentation, many of our Honored Dead are also cisgendered males (as are all the current monks of the Colosseum). I have been trying to subvert this equation, and our alliance to the Transgendered Rite of Ancestor Elevation is an act in that direction.”

Alder Knight/Once Bitten, Twice Born

 

November 15, 2014 at 9:48 am Leave a comment

FYI: Ancestor Elevation Rite Purportedly of Cuban origin

Some of my colleagues are participating in the Trans* Ancestor Elevation Rite that I (re)posted earlier. While I greatly support trans* rights, and honoring the dead, I decided not to participate mainly because I felt the need to learn more about the deceased individuals being honored (until I was putting together my Ancestor Calendar post, I did not even know the names of the person who started Trans Day of Remembrance (Gwendolyn Ann Smith) or the person who inspired her to start it (Rita Hester) and also figure out theologically & ethically where I stood with the practice of ancestor elevation. I certainly believe in & practice ancestor veneration but wanted to know more about the origins of this specific practice.

Well, it came to my attention on this forum thread that the Ancestor Elevation Rite is of Cuban origin. *Galina Krasskova has explained to us in the comments that she learned this technique from a friend/colleague/roommate and was given permission to adapt it for her own use.  Galina has since come out with her own book- Honoring Ancestors, a Basic Guide. Others have created the Trans Rite based on this material. Here is a post by GK acknowledging the Cuban origins of her ancestor ritual style. I am *not* accusing Ms. Krasskova of misleading anyone as she does state this on her blog. However, I was not sure other people involved in this ritual were aware of its cultural origins and wanted this to be clear.

I came to the decision some time ago that, aside from clearly blatant disrespect for other cultures, I would not be accusing people of cultural appropriation. While I do agree this is a major problem among Pagans and New Agers, and Unitarian Universalists, the exact definition of it, different limitations of different cultural knowledge sets and so forth are very complex, and I’ve seen too much in-fighting and division in the Celtic Reconstructionist community specifically over it. There are people who truly want social justice, and their are people with personal agendas, and it is tricky to tell them apart- especially on the Internet! Instead I will follow the policy of sharing information about where practices come from, and who is claiming to have what training and so forth, and their relationships (or lack thereof) with cultures of origin.Then the information is out there and people can make informed decisions, and people from these cultural traditions can respond.

I am not personally familiar with Cuban spiritual traditions, so I do not know the rules of transmission of their teachings, and how that relates to Galina Krasskova, and anyone participating in these rituals- both alive and dead. Anyone who follows Cuban spiritual traditions in encouraged to share their position if they feel comfortable doing so- others can respond to- but voices of Cuban people themselves will be need to be heard over others.

*Thanks to everyone for the feedback! Comments will remain open, civil discussion is good!

November 14, 2014 at 5:42 am 20 comments

Transgender Rite of Ancestor Elevation

Reposted from here– Some people have been having trouble reading with the background, (not sure if there are any accessibility probs for people using screenreaders?) Not sure if I am participating (guess I better make up my mind quick though!) Regardless, I do plan on going to a Transgender Remembrance Day event on the 20th, I’m sure there are probably some at the area’s rainbow flag waving churches.

“This is a ritual to honor the transgender dead.

Ancestor elevation, in the words of polytheist scholar and ancestor worker Galina Krasskova, “is a sacred practice that is done to help the soul of a dead family member who was troubled or angry or depressed in life, perhaps doing harmful things to themselves or others, perhaps never able to live a happy life due to their own inner demons…. In doing an elevation for a particular ancestor, we are engaging in ancestral healing, in cleansing a tiny bit of mess, blockage, pain, strain, hurt from that particular line.” [1, p. 50]  We have adapted her suggested ancestor elevation ritual format to elevate our transgender ancestors, those who came with us and before us, those who survived struggles and violence and hardships, as well as those who didn’t survive them. There is incredible pain and rage in the ranks of the transgender dead – we the living can understand it all too well. We seek to help relieve the suffering that persists after death, and to offer back to those who gave so much so that we could simply exist today. We elevate our ancestors out of the miasma that clings to them. We hope to bring them healing and peace.

The format of the ritual is as follows: for nine consecutive days, beginning on November 12 and concluding on the Trans Day of Remembrance, participants will set out a candle and a glass of clean drinking water on an ancestor altar, and then read a series of prayers offered to the dead. That, plus the physical raising of the altar itself to counterpoint the spiritual raising of our ancestors, is the basic framework within which we will be working.

In subsequent posts, we will discuss the altar itself, a more specific step-by-step ritual format, and the prayers that we will be using. Follow this blog for updates as the date of the rite approaches.
Thank you for joining us in honoring our beloved transgender dead. ”

[1] Krasskova, Galina. Honoring the Ancestors: A Basic Guide. Sanngetall Press, 2014.

November 13, 2014 at 4:03 am 1 comment

Ancestor Calendar

Here’s a list of dates for honoring ancestors year round- it’s started out very U.S. based, but is a work in progress. It is quite open and adaptable to people of any religion (or none) Starting after Samhain- it’s the Celtic New Year (or Witch’s New Year) Important Note: As you explore history, please make sure to sort out who is dead and who is still living! Some of the Mighty Dead honored below have spouses or friends who are living, and they too can be honored with a toast, but offerings and ancestor shrines should only hold images and symbols of the dead. If you honor people of other cultures and religions, please be sure to check what customs and traditions are appropriate and respectful.

11th November- Remembrance Day (U.K., British Commonwealth) in honor of service members who died in World War I (Personally I think civilian casualties should also be honored) This is also Veteran’s Day in the U.S. is to honor still living service members. Still, even in the U.S. this would be a day for remembering World War I. Called Einerjar in Asatru, Martinmas or St. Martin’s Day

12th November- Beginning of Transgender Rite of Ancestor Elevation

20th November– Transgender Day of Remembrance (International)  Day to remember transgender people who were murdered- or took their own lives due to the pressures of a society that did not understand them. It was started by transgender advocate Gwendolyn Ann Smith as a vigil to honor the memory of Rita Hester, a transgender woman who was killed in 1998. Find local events here

4th Thursday of November- Thomas Morton Day– a Pagan take on Thanksgiving (U.S.) in honor of a man who rebelled against the strict laws of the Puritans, founded his own colony & erected a Maypole!

3rd Monday in January- Martin Luther King Jr. Day (also called Human Rights Day in Idaho, and Civil Rights Day in Arizona) A day to honor civil rights activists in general, MLK was awesome but many others do not get enough credit: Bayard Rustin, Ella Baker, Malcolm X,  Rosa Parks has her own day on Feb. 4th

27th January-  Holocaust Remembrance Day (International) This is the most broadly observed, here is a list of other Holocaust Memorial Days in different countries, notably Yom HaShoah in Israel & the Jewish diaspora

4th February- Rosa Parks Day, could also be a day to honor contributions of women to the civil rights movement, and Black/African Diasporan women in general.

15th February Susan B. Anthony Day (U.S.) Hmm, this may also be a good alternative to Valentine’s Day! My birthday is the day after!

3rd Monday in February– George Washington’s birthday/President’s Day (properly the 22nd) As I discussed in another post, I do not honor presidents or First Ladies who were involved in slavery (owning or trading) or Indian genocide. However, I know many other Americans will continue to do so, often with justifications that “he was a product of his time” and “our country wouldn’t be what it is without so and so”. As an alternative, I propose that we honor the slaves of these presidents, more research has been uncovered about them, we know some of their names, and after all, so many things that made this country what it is, are owed to human beings who were owned and unpaid for their work. It’s about time we gave them some credit!

1st March- Day of Mourning (International)- for people with disabilities killed (or died due to neglect or abuse) by their caregivers. A time to read the names of individuals who were killed, recognize their humanity and educate the public about how these murders are often depicted in the media.

8th March- International Women’s Day- I think this is meant more as a day to promote issues of concern to women around the world rather than women of the past, but I added it to give an international option. This is another day with hidden socialist origins!

31st March- Cesar Chavez Day (California & other states) – he was a migrant farm worker who became a labor organizer and a great hero to Chicanos/Mexican-Americans. There’s a movement to make it a national holiday– Pres. Obama is in support. You could also add any other Mexican or Mexican-Americans that you find admirable.

1st May- Labor Day in many countries around the world- in the U.S. because we’re scared of its socialist associations, we observe it in September. A great day to honor labor organizers, reformers and other rabble-rousers, as well as regular workers, both living and dead.

2nd Sunday in May- Mother’s Day (U.S.) A day to honor mothers, biological or adoptive, living and dead, and other female relatives and ancestresses. Interestingly, an early effort to establish Mother’s Day in the U.S. was connected with women’s peace groups that united mothers who had lost sons on both sides of the Civil War.  Mother’s Days around the world listed here.

22nd May- Harvey Milk Day (California, other states) in honor of Harvey Milk, a leader of the gay rights movement, and others- Harry Hay, founder of the Mattachine Society, Bayard Rustin, Audre Lorde, Del Martin and other founders & activists in the Daughters of Bilitis, an early lesbian organization

4th Mon in May- Memorial Day (U.S.) – originally  for the Civil War, this now includes all war dead. At one time it was just for Union dead, and so there is a Confederate Memorial Day in some Southern states in January. Traditional beginning of summer, celebrated with picnics, barbecues- why not invite the Dead along? It used to be a tradition to have picnics in cemeteries.

3rd Sunday in June- Father’s Day (U.S.) A day to honor fathers, biological or adoptive, living and dead, and other male relatives and ancestors. Dates around the world here.

27th June- Helen Keller Day– in both her honor and that of other disability rights activists

26th August- Equality Day (U.S.) celebrating when women won the right to vote in the U.S. in 1920– a time to honor suffrage activists and later feminists.

1st Mon in September- (Capitalist) Labor Day (U.S.) Another day to honor workers and labor organizers, both living and dead.  Traditional end of summer, celebrated with more picnics and barbecues.

Sunday after Labor Day Grandparents Day (U.S.) A day to honor grandparents and great-grandparents, biological or adoptive, living and dead. In fact the founders of the holiday encourage youth to “adopt” grandparents. Dates around the world here.

25th October Paul & Sheila Wellstone Day– this is not official, even in Minnesota, but many progressives here and across the land will remember the terrible day a plane crashed carrying Senator Paul Wellstone, his wife Sheila, daughter Marcia and staffers Tom Lapic, Mary McEvoy, and Will McLaughlin. To me this is of great personal importance as after finding out while in college, I decided to be a political science major and dedicate my life to political activism. There’s a great organization which I linked to above, Wellstone Action, which teaches community organizing using Paul’s campaign techniques.

November 8, 2014 at 8:14 am 2 comments

Thinking Creatively about Ancestors

(Belated post) Happy Samhain, and Happy Halloween! Today I will mostly be celebrating Halloween, American-style, feeding the munchkins that come to the door, and playing board games with my partner & his brother. This weekend and next, I’ll be attending 2 different Samhain events. This is the time of year when we focus on honoring the dead, and I often hear from people of various paths, that find this to be a stumbling block. Often this is because they had (or still have) difficult, painful and abusive relationships with their family members, both living and dead (or the dead are “guilty” by association with the living relatives). This has often been a topic of discussion on the ADF lists, and people who were adopted often express awkwardness surround this. I am lucky in that I have a great relationship with my own family and a cordial one with my partner’s family.

Adoptive Family– if you were formally adopted, your adoptive family’s ancestors are yours. Adoption (especially by relatives) did happen in various ancient cultures, and all those stories about foundlings and orphans being adopted are not just stories 😉 Informal “adopted” parents, grandparents and aunts & uncles can also be honored. Search for your birth parents & ancestors if you so desire, but remember that it is not required to feel like a “Real Pagan”. If you were adopted from another country or ethnic background than that of your adopted family, adding symbols of that country or culture to a physical or online shrine and honoring cultural ancestors would be good ways to honor your heritage.

Ancestors by Marriage/Partnership– Your partner or spouse’s ancestors are also your own. Personally I find this can be a nice way to share one’s spirituality with a non-Pagan spouse and even their broader living family- you can gather pictures and mementos together to create an ancestor altar, without announcing to everyone that This is a Pagan Thing! It’s not just a Pagan Thing! Many cultures and religions honor their ancestors, and respectfully listen and learn if your partner’s family has its own ancestor-honoring traditions- Jewish, Mexican Catholic, Chinese Confucian, etc.

Spiritual Ancestors– in some traditions such as Feri, they are referred to as “the Mighty Dead” founders or influential practitioners of your tradition, or other thinkers that have been influential on your path. They can be part of a recent revival, or priests and shamans of long ago. This is a good category to focus on in ritual, since our groups are usually made up on unrelated people. Many people also see their coven, grove et al as being like a family.

Ancestors of Place– people who lived before you in your house, the land it sits on, the general area. This may blur with non-human spirits of place as well.  In the U.S. and other colonized lands we often find it easier to acknowledge and honor European founders of our cities and countries, while steering clear of discussing the many victims of genocide and forced relocation. Understandably, if some of these spirits are present they may be angry with us. I’ll expand on this another time, as we get closer to Thanksgiving, but in short, dwelling on guilt is pointless, but acknowledging the wrong-doing of the past is important. I think what would be best in honoring these spirits, is to pray for healing and reconciliation between Native and non-Native peoples. Do not say prayers that “thank” the Native peoples for the land, when it was not much of choice for them to sell it. I would also suggest avoiding doing rituals near or on Native American burial grounds.

Ancestors of Trade/Profession/Calling– if you have a trade or profession, be it mundane, spiritual or a combination, you can honor deceased accomplished members of that trade, along with patron gods or saints, or perhaps the founder(s) of the company or organization you work for, or your union/trade association. Honoring activists of the labor movement would also be cool- I think this category would be even more appropriate for Labor Day (in September in the U.S.) or May Day, or a special day associated with your profession. If you are a student, trainee, or job-seeker of a particular field, you can also honor people of related professions. You can also honor deceased alumni of your college or high school, if you feel a special attachment to the school, especially at homecoming.

Queer Ancestors– If you identify as queer, GLBTQA+, or otherwise have an interest in queer history, cultures and civil rights, there are all kinds of cool people throughout history you can honor. Something to keep in mind however, is that the concepts of sexual orientation and transgender/transsexual are modern constructs, however gender fluidity/nonconformity and same-sex love and sexual behavior have existed throughout human history throughout the world. This is another reason I like the word “queer”- it is inclusive of anyone who has a relationship or gender identity that does not fit with the norm. Pinterest shrine here. Nornoriel has an inspiring tribute to Harvey Milk (one of the first openly gay politicians in the U.S.)

Disabled and Neurodiverse Ancestors– as with queer history, the history of people with disabilities is also quite hidden, there are many famous people who had disabilities that we don’t talk about, and people who are not remembered because they were shut out of society in institutions. (Sometimes even members of our own families!) “Neurodiversity is an approach to learning and disability that suggests that diverse neurological conditions appear as a result of normal variations in the human genome.”-Wikipedia I like to use the term neurodiverse, because there are many historical figures that people try to post-humously “diagnose” with various mental conditions such as Asperger’s Syndrome or bipolar disorder, and while we can make educated guesses we will never really know the truth. Thus we can include people with various diverse ways of thinking without giving them a specific label. Pinterest shrine here, Nornoriel has a lovely tribute to Helen Keller here.

Deities as Ancestors– Last but not least, in many traditions deities are our literal or metaphorical ancestors, and specific deities are said to be the ancestors of particular countries, tribes and clans. Illustrious ancestors are also often deified, or at least get a hero or saint-like status.

See Tutelary Goddesses post

Some people will of course fit into multiple categories! I will be writing more posts about these groups of ancestors, and individual ancestors as the Muses move me, and adding to the shrines, while trying (probably in vain) to not get too sucked into Pinterest!

October 31, 2014 at 10:40 pm 2 comments

Unitarian Universalist Ancestors

Honoring ancestors is a key part of many polytheist & animistic traditions, however “ancestors” are much more than our blood relations, though they are certainly important. There are many groups of ancestors, spiritual, cultural and socio-political, that I consider worthy of honor- one of them is Unitarian Universalist ancestors, heroes, founders and martyrs. This is complex because while the American Unitarian and the Universalist denominations only merged in 1961, our spiritual roots go back much further to the beginnings of Christianity. Why do these people who questioned orthodox Christian doctrine matter to a Pagan UU? Because we are still UUs, and many of these people were promoting freedom of thought and religion far before the Enlightenment or the Bill of Rights! So anyone in the Western world, in particular who is not Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox can be thankful to these folks. (Pagans- whether UU or not certainly should be!) Since this is such a long time span- enough that I took a series of 3 classes on UU history at Unity Unitarian- I will start with some early heretics.

Early Christianity was much more diverse before 325 C.E. when the Council of Nicea formed and hashed out the Nicene Creed. After that, sorry unitarians* and universalists, you’re heretics now!

Some early unitarians like Arius, interestingly had Neo-Platonic influences on their beliefs. Neoplatonism is a classical Greek philosophy which also had a great deal of influence later on the development of Jewish mystical traditions like Kabbalah and some modern polytheists like Edward Butler are now taking a new look at Neoplatonism.

Arius– denied the full divinity of Christ. This was one of the biggest scariest heresies for the early church.

Pelagius– a British monk whose ideas became influential in early Celtic Christianity. He was very ascetic but also had a strong emphasis on human free will and the potential for humans to improve themselves spiritually and morally.

The Ebionites were a Jewish-Christian sect that viewed Jesus as the Messiah, but rejected his divinity. After migrating to Arabia, they may have later influenced Islamic views of Jesus. They had an emphasis on voluntary poverty (the word ebionite is related to the Hebrew word for poor or needy) and may have been vegetarians (as they believed Jesus and the Apostles were)

*Lowercase for unitarian and universalist as theological positions, rather specific sects that called themselves that

October 18, 2014 at 12:18 am 3 comments

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.

Practice:

  • 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
  • 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.

Theology:

  • 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)
  • 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.

Identity Issues:

  • 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)
  • 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
  • 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 8 comments


Calendar

September 2022
M T W T F S S
 1234
567891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
2627282930  

Posts by Month

Posts by Category