Posts tagged ‘spiritual experience’

Exploring Heathenry

For a long time, I’ve been a Celtic polytheist/Druid and a Hellenic polytheist, and while I still have an interest in the Greek gods, I feel the context of the culture is much too foreign to me, though I have tried grounding more in American culture. I’ve long had an interest in Heathenry/Asatru but dealing with 3 cultures just seemed like too much! But I think I will it explore it more, and put Hellenic stuff on the backburner for now. I also have been realizing that while I can certainly re-embrace my Gaelic (both Irish and Scottish) heritage, study the language, and so forth, I am really much more grounded in an Anglo-German cultural worldview.

After the looong Pagan definition post, I decided to untangle the various traditions labeled “Heathen”, “Germanic”, “Norse”, or just “Northern”. I understand there is a lot of confusion on the Internet about what is what, and I try to take a neutral stance by going by how different groups seem to identify themselves, so we can clarify what is typically considered part of Heathenry, and what isn’t (like Norse Wicca). Plus I could pigeon-hole into the Pagan Blog Project by started the title with “Odinism” for O. Which is funny, because that’s a term I don’t see people use all that often.

I started on another section about Germanic-based magical/esoteric traditions, since they are often practiced outside of a Heathen religious context. I’d heard of Pow-Wow magic before, the healing charms and hex signs of the Pennsylvania Deutsch (not Dutch!)- the term they use is Deitsch, but noticed some time ago that there is also a revival of Heathen religion surrounding it- Urglaawe, based on German folklore in the area. It would also be cool if I could find Minnesotan and Wisconsin takes on German folklore, for more local adaptations.

Another more unfortunate motivation for my interest in Heathenry, is that I am really fed up with all the racism that infect certain parts of it. We have those problems in Celtic and other European traditions as well. On the Hellenic side, I don’t generally have to deal with it, because the people in that tradition that advocate Greeks-only are pretty only communicating in Greek, as far as I know. So while that is certainly NOT my primary motivation, it has become even more of a concern since the shooting last April in Overland Park, Kansas.  After that happened, I wanted to write letters to local activist groups explaining the religion and that it is NOT what we are about- but I wasn’t part of the “we”, so I did not feel that I could do that.

 

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July 19, 2014 at 2:44 am Leave a comment

Clarifying Callings

Part of the reason I wrote that long post on Functions of Clergy was to develop ideas on what role(s) I feel called to play in my communities. Among Pagans, there is sometimes an assumption that anyone who is a “serious” spiritual practitioner has the goal to be clergy. In Wicca, getting a 3rd degree initiation generally means you are considered a priest/ess, and it was once assumed that was the goal for all Wiccans, but it’s not necessarily the case these days. It’s even trickier when your entire religion is rather misleadingly named after an elite caste of educated clergy/judges/magicians etc- Druids. ADF has a clear definition and training system in place for our clergy, and we have many other roles that are greatly valued within our organization. We have the Guilds- Bards, Warriors, Brewers, Artisans, Scholars, Liturgists, Magicians, Seers, each has its own training program. We have Orders that focus on particular deities and mysteries. You need to go through the basic Dedicant Program to go on to these other types of training, but we try to be clear that the DP is not required to be a good upstanding ADF member.

Anyway, back to me- after my numerous attempts at involvement in Pagan ritual groups, I’ve found that leading and participating in them doesn’t seem to be working out. There may be a right situation, with the right people that comes along, but I am not going to force it out of desperation for community if that community is dysfunctional or just doesn’t fit with my schedule/transportation needs.  This situation reminds me a lot of being single but open to relationships that arise (quirkyalone), vs. compulsive dating even when you’re burned out because you feel like you “have to” be in a relationship. Or staying in bad relationship for the wrong reasons.

I am interested in being possibly being involved with broader groups like Paganicon and discussion/meetup type groups (a friend of mine is thinking of starting one up) I am interested in helping with projects in ADF and various polytheist groups. I am interested in working one on one- or in small groups to help seekers and solitaries learn more about various polytheistic religions. This may involve teaching a class or leading a workshop. In other words- peer solitary ministry. Because guess what: 80% (or more?) of Pagans are solitary and lack access to many of the social functions that organized religion provides- then again so do most Pagans who belong to ritual groups.

My biggest interest right now though, is to help empower other adults and teens on the autism spectrum.  To help them live happy, full successful lives- and by success I mean as they define it, not as hyper-capitalist society defines it. Pursuing their interests, connecting with other people in healthy ways (friends, romantic partners, family) finding work that is economically, emotionally and intellectually sustainable, stable housing, healthcare etc. And finding a spiritual path and perhaps community, if that is what they seek, that suits their needs as an autistic person. To do this work I will need to partner with many different types of communities and organizations. I would love to use my skills and experiences as an autistic adult to help people in Pagan, spiritual and geeky subcultures because I believe there are many people with autistic traits who are not getting the help that they need. Many of these people are not identified or do not identify as autistic, and I do not consider it my place to label them as such. I will educate other folks about autism, and ways of coping and working with it, and if people recognize traits in themselves or others, and they see solutions that might help them or their loved ones, then awesome. If they need services and accommodations that require a documented disability, then I can help refer them. But for some folks recognizing, “I’m an introvert, or have trouble with non-verbal communication, or sensory issues- and that’s OK! There’s nothing wrong with me, I’m just wired a little differently, and here are some ways I can deal with a world that isn’t designed for people like me.” is a huge first step.

 

April 8, 2014 at 12:35 am Leave a comment

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

The Conversion Narrative

Over on the Cauldron Forum, there was a thread about conversion and Naomi J  made a comment about the concept in sociology of religion of conversion narratives that many converts to a new religion create a “spin” on their life story that explains how it was destiny or somehow inevitable that they would convert. (see post #9) I think that’s perfectly understandable, after all, when looking for a religion a person is often trying to find a way to make sense of the world and their life, but the problem is when they begin to distort events so that they fit into the narrative and deny and invalidate their past.

I wonder about this myself. As time has gone I’ve realized how some of the ways I viewed things spiritually as a kid ultimately led me to paganism. Also upon more conversations with my parents, I’ve realized how theologically liberal they are compared to their peers in the churches we attended.  At this point my dad is basically agnostic but OK with (non-fundie) religious people, and my mother is from my conversations with her, an animist essentially. I think she’s always believed in fairies to some degree, and rocks and plants (and of course animals) hold an importance to her that they don’t to other people.  My mother’s family is from Montana, and being good Westerners they all have a certain reverence for nature, and sense of wonder and respect for it. My mom’s twin is a retired park ranger who worked for many years in Yellowstone National Park. My uncles like to go hunting, and I know for them respect for the animals and the ecosystem is key. My oldest uncle even belongs to multiple hunter conservation groups, like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Another uncle has lived for many years on a Crow Indian reservation, and has kind of been “adopted” by them to some degree, he is even a trained sweat lodge leader.

Back to myself- sometime in toddlerhood my parents realized that I was different – I threw tantrums more than other kids. A doctor labelled me as having “fragile moods”, a brilliant deduction that did not impress my mother.  Later this was identified as “autism” and my brother was labeled autistic as well.  One situation in which I would often throw tantrums was in church. I had to sit quietly and listen to some guy drone about stuff I didn’t understand. So naturally (to me anyway) I protested with “This is BORING!” and demanded to leave. My parents ended up taking turns going to church or staying home with me until I matured more.  But I still had anxiety and social problems which made fitting it at church, school or any other setting difficult.  So I’ve often thought the me ending up pagan is related to me being autistic- not fitting in, and looking for someplace else where I did, following my interests avidly, and just plain thinking differently than other people.

I was a voracious reader from a young age, and my fascination with fairy tales continued as I got older. The fairy tales were next to the mythology books in the library and so I got into those even further. I became an expert on Greek Mythology by the time I was in junior high, and I began exploring other topics I came across- Atlantis, Theosophy, Buddhism. It was more “New Age” than Pagan to begin with, as that was what was available.  I remember feeling sad that the worship of the Greek Gods had gone away. I remember wondering in Sunday School class about  the contradictions I felt between the religious tolerance that my parents taught me and the “thou shalt have no other gods before me” and idol-smashing that went on in the Bible. Wasn’t that intolerant? What’s wrong with Baal or Asherah? What made them “false gods”?  I also remember my mother talking about Mother Nature, and coming to the conclusion that Mother Nature/Earth must be God’s wife. God, Our Father who art in Heaven- that seemed to fit together just right. But then I learned that “Mother Nature” was just a poetic metaphor.   And once again, the contradictions- I was taught to believe in gender equality by my parents, and yet God was always male.

I dutifully went to confirmation class at my Methodist Church and was confirmed. (Back in Iowa, I dropped out of confirmation class in junior high due to bullying- the bullies in question were the children of the Queen of the Church Ladies, hence they could do no wrong)  I remember telling my teacher that the concept of the Trinity didn’t make sense to me, and she tried to use the metaphor that water can be liquid, solid or gas but it is still water. That answer didn’t quite satisfy me, but I went ahead and was confirmed anyway.  Reciting a creed in front of the congregation was a big mistake. I didn’t understand it, and I didn’t know what I believed. Who was Jesus? Who was God? How can someone else “die for your sins”? My parents never knew how to answer my questions, and they became rather uncomfortable when I asked them.  So, I looked for my own answers. I briefly considered plain ol’ atheism/agnosticism but I found religion much too fascinating to give up, so I went to the Hamline University library and the St. Paul Public library and hit the books.  I found books on feminist theology at Hamline, like Womanspirit Rising and yes, good ol’ Drawing Down the Moon. I know some people find that one to be a rather tedious tome, but I was fascinated. There are other people who want to worship the old Gods? I was amazed, and I knew I was one of them. This was who I was meant to be.

(Next chapter- me entering the Twin Cities Pagan Communit(ies)

Other Cauldron Blog Project Posts on Conversion:

The Conversion Narrative by Naomi J (she explains it a lot better than me)

Seeking & Conversion by Juni 

Childhood Religion & Conversion: from Buddhism to Witchcraft and Back Again by Morag Spinner

Conversion & NRE (New Relationship Energy) by Veggiewolf

January 31, 2014 at 12:00 am 1 comment

(Don’t Stop) Believing

As I look back at the past year and a half, much of it seems like a blur. I do have to say though, now it does seem like my life is actually going somewhere, I do not feel as stuck as I did a couple years ago. I realize now that it was a choice to see myself as stuck. My employment status does not define my life, but I was letting it. I put aspects of my relationship on hold, my spiritual life on hold while I meandered thru endless job-hunting.  The Gods didn’t seem to answer my prayers when I asked for help, so I stopped believing in them. But what I really stopped believing in was myself. The funny thing is, after I had really drifted away from my spiritual path, doors started opening for me. I found a position doing research for an organization, and while the project ended in December 2011, I was invited to become an Experience Guide for a new program they were trying out, beginning in May 2012. I’ve been doing that work ever since, and and the social skills I’ve learned help me in the additional job I found in August. I’m working about 20-30 hrs a week at a department store, and I’ve been enjoying it pretty well. So perhaps an atheist would say that all this shows that I don’t need Gods after all. Maybe, but that’s not the message I’m getting out of this. I do believe that we all need to make our own efforts, the Gods don’t just rain down blessings on us when we don’t do anything to help ourselves.  I needed to learn to become more confident and believe in myself, before I could really believe in powers beyond myself.

For the past couple years, I’d become involved with an independent Druid grove. It seemed a great fit, I felt comfortable with the people, and even took their introductory class, along with two other students. We were hoping to eventually become dedicants and initiates, but that was not to be. Winter 2012 if I recall correctly now, each of us were told that we would no longer be a part of the grove. This was really disappointing. I was kind of expecting it, as I knew the leaders were planning on moving too far away to be leading a Twin Cities based grove. But the way they talked to me about it was strange, something about how my magical energy “wasn’t right”. I got this phone call on a Sunday morning and considered skipping church because I was feeling too down about it. My fiance convinced me otherwise, and indeed I did feel quite better after I went to Unity. I may have doubts about Unity sometimes but one thing I do feel certain about them is that they are there for me when I need them. Pagan groups come and go, (depending on how you count it’s my 5th one) but Unity has been around a century and isn’t about to disappear in a puff of air.  I’ve been struggling to figure out why most of these Pagan group-organizing attempts haven’t worked, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a lack of commitment on the part of the participants. Unfortunately, I fear the people who are more committed keep getting burned by slackers and give up, even after many attempts. Unity on the other hand, does have many committed volunteers and donors, but they also expect that as part of membership. If Pagan groups have no real expectation of commitment, then they will continue to fail. We can be understanding that some people have more time to offer, and some people have more money to offer, or good ritual space, or vehicles to share transportation, or skills in ritual planning, performing, media relations, counseling, spirit-work, finance and legal skills, and so forth. We all have something we can contribute, we should not be afraid to ask for contributions of many kinds.

I think sometimes Unity is a little heavy-handed about asking for money, and I feel like I’m forced to think about my pocketbook more than I’d like to when I go there, but they do emphasize that other contributions matter, and I give a little a month and try to remind myself that the pledge-nagging is more for people that actually can pay taxes.  I could certainly volunteer more, though a barrier for me is that I can’t plan out my work schedule very far in advance.  So long as I’m an “extra hand on deck” rather than a committee head, I can still sign up for things.

So I think we can find a happy medium between the Pagan-means-no-strings-attached mentality and the Must Give Everything to Church mentality (which Unity does not have- I am probably more sensitive based on my socioeconomic status relative to many other people in the church) Way more thoughts on community organizing but that’s it for now!

January 29, 2014 at 9:24 am Leave a comment

Updates to Blogroll & CR Page

I majorly re-vamped the blogroll. I’m finding lots of nifty new blogs, and have removed dead links and blogs that have not been updated since Samhain. I may still keep a list of “archived blogs” that have good posts, esp. those of Gaelic/Celtic polytheists since there are only so many of us. Please  comment if you have moved your blog or re-activated it.

I put the Celtic Recon page back up, it’s still of course a work in progress and maybe I will be adding in more Neo-Druidy things. It saddens me that a lot of the online activity seems to have dissipated among CRs. I believe some of this is due to divisions that have arisen between different factions over how traditional or innovative to be.  I would recommend if you want to get more socially connected to check out the Gaol Naofa group. They have a public Facebook group you can join to learn more. They are quite committed to building their tradition, and have been very active in putting together a lot of great information on Gaelic polytheism. I have considered them myself, but currently I am just to trying to re-establish my path and I’m not sure how traditional of a form it will take.  Another place to check out (to which I do belong) is Hazel & Oak Reformed Celtic Polytheism Special Interest Group (whoa that’s a name) on the Cauldron Forum. They base themselves on scholarship but are more open to UPG and modern adaptation. Which is funny because CR was supposed to include that to begin with, but a lot of people have come to feel excluded for not being “recon” enough.  (See Erynn Rowan Laurie’s writing on aisling & archeology- will link when I find it)

January 18, 2014 at 1:50 am 1 comment

Doubt and Moving Beyond it

I have been struggling with depression & anxiety off & on throughout this difficult period in my life. And along with those issues often comes spiritual doubts. Hence the sparseness of this blog. During the summer my grove put their rituals on hiatus (more on that later) and I didn’t attend services at Unity.

Last Saturday, I attended a Humanist event in the morning, and a Druid ritual in the evening.  I learned a lot from the talk the Humanists had on Global Hunger and I found the attendees to be interesting to talk to. There is a lot I can agree with them on- and I consider myself a humanist (lowercase)- but I still believe in the possibility of the Divine and “super”natural things.

I don’t think the world would necessarily be a better place without religion. Atheists argue that religion creates more bad than good- wars, oppression of women, gay people, poor people, suppression of science and freethinking. But like any human creation, we can use it for good or for evil much like science its supposed opposing cultural force. We still would probably be doing many of the good and bad things that religion can inspire, or using it to justify our actions- even if religions never developed in human culture. It’s another example of the “butterfly effect” we don’t know what would happen.

I agree there’s really no proof that God(s) exist- but there’s no proof that he/she/they don’t exist. I also believe atheists, humanists, skeptics etc. can be irrational and dogmatic as well. Some of the more militant atheists do give others crap for calling themselves humanists or agnostics- implying that they’re not true, well unbelievers.

I’m not exactly sure what I believe- but really is anyone? I think very few people are 100% sure about matters of faith. What I can say though, is that spiritual practice feels right. So I choose to be religious. And in spite of all the goofiness and disorganization of Pagans, they are still my community. Much like my own eccentric family.

November 24, 2012 at 10:58 pm Leave a comment

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