Posts tagged ‘Shinto’

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 2 comments

Diasporan Polytheism

Diaspora is a Greek word meaning to scatter, usually referring to ethnic groups which have been scattered forcibly by expulsion, persecution, genocide and other not-fun thing humans do to each other. The most famous example which often gets the capital D is the Jewish Diaspora, the Irish and African diasporae are other well-known examples. A diasporan religion is one that is practiced around the world far from its origin- Judaism, once again, as well as African and Afro-Caribbean, Chinese folk religion, Shinto and Hinduism. How does the concept of diasporan religion work differently for broken traditions such as European polytheisms in the Americas, Australia et al.? It is tricky to call them “broken” per se, as there are folk customs of honoring land spirits, saint cults with possible pre-Christian roots and magical practices that have been carried across the oceans. Typically these have survived more strongly in rural areas, the Ozarks, Appalachia, Nova Scotia and Deitsch areas being good examples.

This is one of the difficulties of the Irish diaspora in the United States- a mostly rural people became one of the most urban. People even identify their origins by what city they are from- as I sometimes explain to folks that my father is “Philly Irish” (Philadelphia) rather than St. Paul Irish. Then of course we discuss what counties we know our ancestors came from. According to Wikipedia- in depth research I know- Philadelphia has the second largest Irish-American population, Boston being the first.

Like Sarenth discusses here (Broken Lines), there was very little in the way of ethnic cultural traditions that were passed down to me. Then again, I realize there was in way- this would make my father cringe but we are pretty culturally Anglo. It just tends to not be recognized as “ethnic” as its the Wonderbread of American culture (and German culture to some degree, just spell it Wunderbrod) And on the other side, various forms of resistance to dominant Anglo-American culture, including the assertion of Irish identity, trappings of hippie-dom and such. Perhaps it’s not surprising then, that I often find British Druids easier to get along with, while the few Irish-in Ireland people I encounter online seem a bit hostile to American Irish polytheists/pagans/New Agers  being concerned that we don’t care about the living culture, only the old stones of the past, think Ireland is stuck in an endless time loop of the Quiet Man, and we made their lives suck by funding the Irish Republican Army. And using their culture to promote white supremacy.  I understand and empathize with many of these concerns, except maybe the IRA one. WTF? Interesting essay about Irish assimilation here. I guess my dad’s take on Irish identity was the opposite of Sean Hannity & Bill O’Reilly- he saw supporting the Civil Rights movement as a moral duty- both as American citizens and in memory of the challenges our ancestors faced. It’s very interesting to compare the similarities and differences of these three diasporae, adding more in of course- I highly recommend Ronald Takaki’s book A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America, as well as PBS’ 3 documentaries- the Irish in America, Africans in America, and the Jews in America. There is also now one on Italians but I have not seen it yet, so I can’t vouch for its quality either way.

Polytheisms as Diasporic Religions

Vodou F*cks Everything Up

 

January 13, 2016 at 2:29 am 6 comments

Cultural Sharing vs. Stealing- Past Posts

There’s been yet another dust-up on Pagan Patheos about cultural appropriation- I’m not bothering to post links, you can find them yourself, and I found both of them had a mix of things I agreed with & disagreed with.

So, I’m re-posting links to some older posts I’ve written on the subject. My views may not be exactly the same as the various times these were written, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s very difficult to have all around hard and fast rules about what’s OK and what’s not OK- many folks on Tumblr use the concept of “closed” and “open” cultures, and while it’s good that gets the concept across that some things are off limits, I think it’s also an oversimplification. Many people think Shinto and Hinduism are “closed” but I know non-Japanese and non-South Asian-descended people who practice those religions in fairly traditional ways. Other traditions that are seen as “open” like revived/reconstructed European traditions still have etiquette and taboos, so it’s not like Woo! anything goes!

Cultural Appropriation Has Lost Its Meaning– the Blargh! Everyone’s talking past each other! post

All Wrong: Religion, Culture, Country– the whatever, I don’t care anymore, everything White Americans Do is Wrong post

Educate Yourself!  Attempt at figuring out some guidelines for approaching other cultures respectfully

Encouraging Respectful Language while being respectful

How Folkish Heathenry Differs from Judaism & Native American tribes

Fellow White Liberals, We Created Rachel Dolezal

September 30, 2015 at 1:54 am Leave a comment

It’s Easter Fox, Not Easter Bunny!

It’s now past the season for this, but I came across this and wanted to post before I forgot. And perhaps our friends in the Southern Hemisphere can use the idea come September…

Move Over Easter Bunny, here comes the Easter Fox! interview with a fellow who’s been trying to bust misinformation about Eostre/Ostara (If you’re familiar, the problem isn’t so much Bede, it’s Jakob Grimm- and the supposed festival was supposed to be in April, not March!)

Eostre, Ostara and the Easter Fox

An Easter fox- it just seems more appropriately German in character. And I’ve been following Trellia’s blog, and she’s a British Pagan who also practices Shinto, and is devoted to the kami Inari, who is associated with foxes. So I thought she’d appreciate it too!

May 18, 2015 at 6:47 am Leave a comment

Culture-Based Religions

Culture-based religions are often otherwise called ethnic, tribal or indigenous religions- all those terms have more limited connotations, hence why I came up with a more general one.  The label of “folk religion” is also sometimes thrown in with these by anthropologists, though that is a little different, so I’ll treat that separately. Individuals or groups who practice culture-based religions may or may not identify with the word Pagan, especially if they belong to a (more or less) continuous living tradition.

A culture-based religion can be contrasted with a universalist religion– which typically has a prophet, or series of prophets and claims to have a moral code & message for all of humanity- such as  Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and Bahai’ism. Strictly speaking, we can’t really divide all religions perfectly into either category- for one, universalist religions are of course, influenced by the cultures from which they originate, though they tend to adapt themselves- and often syncretize (combine) with culture-based religions. For example, Shinto in Japan is quite seamlessly syncretized with Buddhism, so much so that Japanese people often don’t label themselves as being Buddhist or Shinto(ist). They just *do* Buddhist and Shinto-related practices.

That there is the clincher. The religion is an inseparable part of the culture- to the point where if there is a word for the religion, it’s often one invented in response to foreign missionaries- frequently with a meaning like “The Kami Way” (in the case of Shinto) or Old Custom (Forn Sidr- Danish) “traditions of our people” and so forth. Just as the word people call themselves in their own language simply means “People”, “People of the Mountain/River” etc.

To join a culture-based religion, one typically needs to be ritually adopted into the culture, if possible, or otherwise immerse themselves as they can into the culture. I have seen some people divide culture-based religions into “closed” and “open” traditions- and while that does help people understand that they can’t join anything they want to, I believe it’s an oversimplification. We’re not talking about joining or converting to any specific religion at this point, we are merely exploring and learning.

When newcomers enter the Pagan community, they often ask for suggestions on which tradition or pantheon they might start out with exploring. In the United States, Canada, Australia and other multicultural colonized countries, people are often told “Start with the traditions of your ancestors”. After a lot of observing of other folks journeys as well as my own, I actually recommend against that advice. Why? Because culture is more important than ancestry. Honoring ones’ ancestral roots is certainly an important part of many traditions, it’s not that I’m discouraging. But we are often very disconnected from the cultures of our ancestors. If it is our calling we can certainly make the effort to re-connect. But to begin with- I would look again at those questions I asked in my previous post- what aspects of culture were you raised with? What other cultures are you familiar with?

For myself- I was raised by college-educated liberal parents, multiple generations removed from my mixed British Isles ancestry- so fairly conventional mainline Protestant American culture, with its various holidays (Christmas, Easter, Halloween, Independence Day) I was always interested in learning the origins of holiday customs, and read up on all of them, as well as any fairy tales and mythology books I could get my paws on. I came to identify more with my Irish heritage, and have been studying the language, history and culture, Druidry and Celtic Reconstructionism. However, I have to admit that this has been a somewhat artificial process- all a choice on my part. I wasn’t raised with much in the way of Irish culture, other than with an awareness of being Irish, some knowledge of history of the Potato Famine, “No Irish Need Apply” signs and so forth. Lately, I’ve been pondering more about how to incorporate my mixed cultural influences- I don’t mean so much by ancestry, but more by environment. I talk with Druids from across the pond, in Britain and there are various things that strike me about our cultural differences- a lot them simply being- who the heck would I be, even as a “white” culturally Protestant American, without influences of Eastern European Jewish, African-American and many other cultures? I don’t belong to any those cultures, but I carry pieces of them with me.

What is culture? It’s all the stuff you take for granted. This is the way we do things of course! Any other way would be weird or rude or just “not feel right”! Most of it is less visible than all the things we point to when we’re trying to be multicultural (holidays, food, music).

May 16, 2015 at 8:36 am 6 comments

Friendships Beyond Faiths

I attended Paganicon this weekend- a conference held by Twin Cities Pagan Pride– which is why this post is so late, but the experiences I had there inform the post.

I went to various workshops- which I’d be happy to further discuss, but my favorite part of Paganicon was having informal conversations with people, and making new friends and re-connecting with old ones- both local and from around the country (and Canada too) The interesting thing in retrospect, is that I don’t think I had any in-depth discussions with anyone who I would say really shared my tradition or spiritual focus. No, I’ll scratch that- I talked to several people briefly who shared a devotion to Brighid. All from different types of paganism.

I didn’t attend the workshop on Kemeticism, but still learned a lot about it from several people that I knew from the Cauldron Forum– about open statues, the misinterpretation of Set and the myth of Osiris and Isis by the Greeks and later Christians and modern Pagans. I learned about the Kami of Misfortune from a Shintoist. I witnessed a procession and installation of a golden calf idol of Ba’al.

I reconnected with old friends and acquaintances from the Wiccan Church of Minnesota (thanks to Neva & John for the rides!)  and Standing Stones Coven, and various other pagans I’ve known a long time from hanging out in the community. I hadn’t seen many of them for a long time- I mentioned to some of them that I’d fallen away from spiritual practice and was trying to re-connect and find my place. No one really seemed to judge me for that.

And all the online fighting about “Wiccanate privilege” and what “real” polytheism is, and all that jazz just seemed so stupid.  I’ve had my problems with pagans. But funny thing- most of the pagans I’ve had problems with- weren’t Wiccan. They were recons or polytheists or Druids of some kind. (Though I’m sure if I had been more involved with the Wiccan groups, I would’ve had other problems.)

Twin Cities Pagan Pride, for the most part does a pretty good job of including a variety of paganisms. Do their events still to tend to have more Wiccans and Wicca-based programming?  Somewhat, yes, but that’s based on numbers of people who show up and get involved. Yes, some of us are busy with building our religions, devotions to our gods and so forth. That’s fine. Some of us don’t feel we have much in common with other pagans, and don’t feel the need to identify as pagan. That’s fine. Yes, some polytheists have experienced social exclusion (not the same thing as discrimination) at supposedly pan-Pagan events. So have various other groups (racial minorities, trans people, gay people, etc) We need to believe others when they make these claims- or at least give them the benefit of the doubt, and address things accordingly. We probably can’t do an opening ritual that will make everyone happy. (Maybe we just shouldn’t have one!) But we can be more inclusive.

March 17, 2014 at 4:23 am 2 comments


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