Posts tagged ‘history’

Which “Modernity” Do We Mean?

When polytheists & pagans discuss and debate the role influence of modernity on our worldviews, which “modernity” do we mean?  And what are we contrasting that with?Because historians have a couple of definitions of when the modern era begins, it’s also different if we’re talking about art history or philosophy. A couple years ago people were talking about this on blogs and their modernity was not mine, I can tell you that much. Caer, Galina and other folks were equating the rise of the modern era with the dominance of Christianity. Or what some call the Axial Age of religion. So I want to clarify for the Topics in Polytheism series (#2 Modernity) that this here in this video, is more what I mean by the modern era- pretty big and not very specific right? More specifically I usually mean at least Industrial Revolution or after. I think as far as religion goes specifically, I’d tie the modern era of religion to the Protestant Reformation, which is believed by sociologist Max Weber to have connections to the Industrial Revolution. Everything else in sociology cites Weber, so I haven’t read him yet. 



June 29, 2018 at 10:25 am 4 comments

A Polytheist Among Unitarians

After joining my local UU congregation some years back, I have struggled with figuring how I fit in, socially & spiritually into UUism. I sought out Unity for many reasons- a major one being that I wasn’t finding the social stability I needed in Pagan groups. I’ve belonged to, or attempted to help organizing, multiple Pagan groups that failed (it wasn’t just me, I swear!) I occasionally enjoyed attending chapel services in college, the worship service structure was psychologically familiar, and I like singing along with consistently good music- certainly music & chanting in pagan rituals can be good, but there is a lot less practice & professionalism. Having trained clergy with no other “day jobs” is also nice.

As a whole, I wonder how compatible polytheism is with Unitarian Universalism. Unitarianism is after all, a movement that started to try to make Christianity more monotheistic- by rejecting the very notion of the Trinity and emphasizing the Unity of God. The traditional Unitarian view of God emphasized his transcendence (even more so as the Transcendentalists came along) and took a liberal non-creedal form of Christianity, viewing Jesus as merely human, discounting belief in miracles in the Bible- Jefferson Bible anyone? When attempting to explain my church to others, I often call UUism “the church of Enlightenment values”. Reason, freedom, equality, science.

Neo-Paganism, on the other hand is a child of the Romantic movement- which was an earthy, emotional artistic reaction to the perceived stodgy and dry Enlightenment.

In spite of its broad philosophical/theological inclusiveness, Unitarian Universalism does have a distinct worldview, which emphasizes several “meta-narratives” large over-arching trends- The Myth of Progress and the Perennial Philosophy- which I will focus on for now.

The Perennial Philosophy is one term for the general idea that “major world religions” such as Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism all teach the same perennial truths. Proponents of this idea like to use metaphors like “we are all walking different paths up the same mountain” or tell the old story about the blind men and the elephant. That’s an old standby in UU Sunday school.  I also wonder if some blind people would find the story offensive? I used to find these metaphors more useful when I was back in high school, but my studies of religions have led me to the conclusion that their similarities are often over-emphasized to the point of oversimplification. Even Christianity and Judaism are much more different than they appear. Christianity is focused on salvation by faith in Jesus. Judaism is mostly focused on living a good life. The afterlife is not very emphasized in many forms of Judaism, but it is central to most forms of Christianity. Hinduism is hugely diverse, and I get the impression that certain types of Hinduism- those that focus on unity rather than multiplicity are favored over others in the Perennial Philosophy. Polytheistic religions don’t mesh into the Perennial Philosophy very well- Teo Bishop actually has a post on this, and after reading it I was not surprised that he returned to Christianity.

(I started this post way back in December, and have periodically been adding to it- time to release it into the world!)

March 17, 2014 at 3:43 am 2 comments

Being a Bastard

I am a bastard child of the British Empire, a genetic mish-mash of people that got together because the British nobility decided they wanted Land, Tea, Spices and Cheap Labor. Mostly Irish, Scottish and English and some German.  I’m a heir to their glorious and hubristic culture, neither proud nor ashamed of it. I simply am what I am. The problem is all too often, those of us Euro-mutts who live in the United States, Canada, Australia and other former British colonies (or other former European colonies) feel as if we are “bastards” illegitimate regardless of what traditions we try to follow.  We don’t feel as if we belong in European traditions, but when we try to draw from indigenous traditions we tread into dangerous waters of cultural appropriation. Even folks who have some Native ancestry may feel trepidations if they aren’t very connected to their heritage.

Some of us “bastards” don’t know our entire ancestry, or sometimes any of it, due to histories of immigration, slavery, tribal records getting lost/stolen/destroyed/falsified. Or relatives just not telling the truth because they were ashamed of where they came from.

We can try celebrate our own national holidays in uniquely Pagan ways, but so many of our holidays have legacies of colonialism and slavery behind them. But really, enough self-pity. Enough guilt. We need to acknowledge the negatives of our history, but we need to move on. We can’t change the past but we can learn from of it, and listen to voices who don’t usually get to tell the their side of history. We can take a step back and look clearly at how it’s impacted us and our cultures. We can claim our European roots without posturing at phoniness and explore other cultures with sensitivity- on their terms. And we can figure out what is our culture now? How am I uniquely American, Canadian, Australian? How do I celebrate Imbolc/Lunasa (or whatever your next holiday is) in a way that is relevant to my heritage (ancestral or not) and my place and time?

How do I work to make my country a more just place for all people?

Here is some “homework” reading material but it is just the beginning to understand what cultural appropriation is and how to avoid it.


Talking About the Elephant: Neo-Pagan Perspectives on Cultural Appropriation ed. Lupa Megallithica Press

Hinduism, Indo-Paganism and Cultural Appropriation  From the Wild Hunt blog Positive suggestions for non-Hindu Pagans with an interest in Hinduism

Cultural Appropriation: Gaels and Other Natives by Michael Newton 

How the Irish Became White by Noel Ignatiev

This post is part of the Pagan Blog Project 2014. 

January 17, 2014 at 12:47 am 2 comments

Dionysos, Deity of Drama

This fall I began giving tours of the State Theatre in downtown Minneapolis. It was built in 1921 and it is truly a historic treasure, from its ornate foyer to the spectacular house (main room where seats & stage are) There are some interesting parallels between the history of the theatre and polytheistic revival. At one time, when it was no longer being used as a theatre, it was used by the Jesus People church, and they covered up nude artwork.  The theatre was almost torn down in the late 80’s, but a group of people managed to save it, starting the Hennepin Theatre Trust, which also maintains the Pantages and Orpheum theatres.  Uncovering what was hidden and taboo, and saving something from destruction.

Like many theatres it is decorated with a Greco-Roman theme, and while this is generally common with older buildings it is particularly apt since Western theater originates in Greece. In ancient Greece, plays were put on to honor Dionysos, the God of Wine.  Dionysos himself is not depicted in the theater (from what I’ve noticed) but there are grapes and other kinds of fruit draping from chandeliers and wall sconces and decorating walls symbolizing abundance.

Why him? It seems he is not just the god of wine, but of celebration of the pleasures of life: beauty, the arts, sexuality, great food and drink.

Another commonality with Dionysos and theater is that they both attract controversy. He was a later god to appear on the scene, and to begin with, many kings tried to suppress his worship because of the wild behavior of his followers, the Maenads, often joined by their daughters!  They would get smashing drunk, scantily dress in animal skins, and run wild through the hills.  Especially scandalous in a culture that had a very conservative view of women’s roles.  There are many stories of this in Greek myth, always ending with the king in question being punished by Dionysos, and/or his father, Zeus.  Likewise, theatre has often been subversive, satirizing authority, events and cultural mores, often laced with ribald humor.

The word “satire” comes from satyr- a mischievous and well, horny half-man, half-goat spirit of the woods  depicted as companions to Dionysos and the Maenads. (Note: the Romans called him Bacchus, and the satyrs fauns) You may remember good ol’ Mr. Tumnus from the Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe.

This post is part of the Pagan Blog Project– the idea is you write a blog post every 2 weeks about a topic starting with a particular letter.  I’m starting a little late (not as bad as last year when I started with P!)

I saw that a couple other PBP bloggers wrote about Dionysos as well-

Aranahk- Dionysus 

Bri- Dionysos, God of Life





February 15, 2013 at 1:32 am 2 comments

Some Nifty Resources

Here’s a couple of nifty resources I discovered recently, of the audio variety.  I went to a presentation & performance about  Tobar an Dualchais or Kist o Riches (meaning Well of Heritage). It is a archive full of recordings of traditional Scottish Gaelic & Scots  music, poetry, speeches on history, folklore, stories and traditions. Ethnic You can search for specific songs, artists, key words, etc.  Folklorists have been collecting recordings since the 1930’s, and they are in the process of being digitized and uploaded to the website. I haven’t even explored it yet, but it sounds amazing!

Since most of what I know of Irish (and other Celtic) history is from the pre-Christian era, I wanted to learn more about later periods. But to a Yank, with only a 300-some year old country  it is such a  long history, I didn’t know where to start. When I searched “Irish history” in the St. Paul library catalog, I got hundreds of hits. So I poked around online and found a the Irish History Podcast. The fellow who does it, does a great job of explaining things- I particularly enjoy  how he discusses what everyday life was like.  For the next step in this journey, I will pick a time period or topic that especially interests me (women’s role in history for example) and read more on that.


July 22, 2012 at 12:35 am Leave a comment

Of Snakes and Saints

Every March I hear Pagans proclaim that we shouldn’t celebrate St. Patrick’s Day because he converted Ireland to Christianity and suppressed the old religion. First off,  St. Patrick wasn’t entirely responsible for the conversion of the Irish people. Both Scottish and English missionaries had come there before him, but he was very influential in spreading the religion.

Secondly, the conversion of Ireland and Britain was fairly peaceful. So it wasn’t this “Evil Patriarchal Christians vs. Good Goddess-Worshipping Pagans” scenario you find in Mists of Avalon and other fantasy novels.  They’re just that:  fantasy novels!  The Irish people were quite receptive to the Gospel- here is an article about the conversion of Britain, and the reasons an Anglo-Saxon king found it appealing- it was probably similar in Ireland.

Well, enough history. So, should we, as Pagans celebrate St. Patrick’s Day? We aren’t a monolithic group, it’s a personal choice.  I think those who do and don’t celebrate should respect each others choices.

In the United States, and other countries in the Irish Diaspora (Canada, Australia etc.) St. Paddy’s Day is a cultural holiday rather than a religion, a celebration of Irish heritage and culture. It’s more of a religious holiday in Ireland, but the American version has been spreading there as well.   I was raised with pride in my heritage and so we always had fun wearing green, listening to music and such.  So why change that?

If anyone reading this is in or near St. Paul- I invite you to the Irish Music & Dance Association’s celebration at the Landmark Center.  It’s a great time, with music, dancing, workshops on topics of interest and vendors

Enjoy yourselves, but  please drink responsibly and choose a Designated Driver just in  case. Metro Transit also has free rides after 6pm on March 17th.


March 9, 2012 at 4:19 am 1 comment


June 2023

Posts by Month

Posts by Category