Posts tagged ‘spiritual identity’

Finding my Path Again

As Paganicon approaches, I find myself re-evaluating my (rather dormant!) spiritual path. I think for the past year, with the depression, it’s kind of like I’ve been wandering through the mists and need to find the path again, only to find it rather hidden and overgrown. I need to do some weeding, replace broken pavement stones and such. Being a caretaker of an old house, these home maintenance analogies come very easily to mind!

My main focus has had to be managing the depression, becoming active and involved with my communities in a sustainable manner that helps me get away from sitting at home alone stewing in my thoughts. One aspect of that has been becoming a Director of the Bisexual Organizing Project, a way to give myself a job (even if unpaid) with responsibilities that helps me develop my self-confidence and skills. The next step is to psych myself up enough to start looking for work again. I don’t have a specific idea of what I want to do, mainly Please Not Customer Service!!! Or at least not certain types. This time I would like to network with other people with disabilities- particularly learning disabilities/autism/developmental disabilities, and perhaps their family members and so forth.

Anyway, I am ignoring spiritual approaches that others do that don’t seem helpful to my situation (the Put the Gods first type stuff) and looking for ones that do seem helpful. I am looking for spiritual practices that might help me build up my confidence, reduce my anxieties, and re-direct negative though patterns in positive directions. I am not sure if I believe in magic, but if I’m not mistaken there are magical techniques that are more about changing how you think than changing the world around you. Without being totally, The Secret and the power of positive thinking can totally solve your problems!!!

I am also trying to back away from more intense and extreme versions of activism and social justice stuff. I’ve noticed that I feel good about going to meetings and doing things in person, but online discussions have a tendency to get really negative and depressing, so I am avoiding or at least being more selective about participating in them. In particular, climate change/Big Environmental Problems OMG!! are things I avoid, which is difficult because it’s also a big thing at Unity Unitarian. I have sat through at least two sermons about environmental destruction one of which listed in detail all the types of species that were endangered or going extinct that made me cry. It was like, yes I get it, humanity has messed up, and all this bad stuff is happening, but there wasn’t much space in the sermon for redemption, and oh here’s something small and manageable that you can actually do. It just fills you with despair, not a desire to be active. There’s also a lot of elitist baggage involved which is really alienating to someone who doesn’t have much money.

The other political area that I have to get away from for sanity reasons is the anti-capitalism and anarchism. I am not an anarchist, but I hang out with some of them online, and they can be cool people with whom I agree with some things. But a lot of the stuff they write I have to avoid, it’s like drinking a giant depression dose. I am skeptical of capitalism in many ways, and I realize it has a lot of problems but I kind of need to set that aside and well believe in it enough to go find a job, keep it etc. It seems like we’ve gone to the opposite extreme of Keeping Up with the Joneses, to a contest of who can intentionally live the simplest life on the least amount of money, involving the least amount of working for “The Man” and feeling morally superior to people who have regular jobs. When I signed up to be Pagan, that didn’t mean signing up to be poor. Wanting a decent job does not automatically make me Scrooge. I feel like we can’t have real discussions about these things because there is too much political division. Well that was long enough. More on the path development thing another day!

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March 6, 2015 at 11:24 pm 7 comments

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.

 

July 19, 2014 at 2:44 am 1 comment

Who’s With Me?

In our very divided world, that’s the question that is always asked. Man or Woman? Gay or Straight? Black or White? Liberal or Conservative? Christian or Atheist? There is almost always only two options, nothing in between can be a trustworthy position. That person is light-skinned- are they “really” Black or white? We can’t trust the bisexuals, or the trans*, or genderqueer folks- they have to pick a side. You’re too moderate, you can’t caucus with us.

For some time now, a religious division has been arising, in small subset of the population- Pagans vs. Polytheists. Some “hard”- (the gods are totally separate) polytheists argue that the Pagan subculture emphasizes an all-Gods-are one theology,  a secularized hippie culture that doesn’t fit with their values, and has a bias towards Wicca, and religions that resemble it. There was conference last weekend, the Polytheist Leadership Conference in Fishkill, New York that discussed many of these issues. I’m glad to hear of its success- many thoughtful, talented and dedicated people were involved in it, and plans are being made for another one next year. I’m glad to see polytheist traditions grow and develop spiritually and intellectually. I’ll talk more about that in another post. But for now I will put this into perspective in my own life.

As I’ve discussed before, I’ve tried to do what I can for my local Pagan community. I’ve served in a couple of leadership positions, I’ve tried started groves that haven’t gotten off the ground due to different scheduling and commitment issues. Other people have planted groves in places I couldn’t get to by bus. I’ve accepted that. I was in a cult-like Celtic group at one point. I moved on from that, and in keep with the subcultures code of silence regarding abuse, I even kept my experiences to myself. (A decision that I am not proud of)

One of the things that has kept me going, in the Neo-Pagan subculture is, as an autistic person, and one who suffers from depression & anxiety, it was one of the few places I could feel truly accepted. I rarely had to explain myself, my quirks, my difficulties. No matter what, there was always someone at a Pagan gathering who was weirder than me. Some of them are autistic or neurodiverse- wired to be weird. Some of them just had a goofy personality.

But acceptance isn’t enough. I’m very fortunate, for an adult on the autism spectrum. I was identified at an early age. I had the opportunity to go to college, and one with a great learning disability program to boot. I completed my degree. I live in a community with many social services for people with disabilities, and a fairly good awareness of autism. I’ve never been homeless, I’ve for the most part avoided the abuse folks with disabilities so often receive from various “loved ones”. I’ve met many others who weren’t so lucky. I can do a lot to help these other people, but I need to help myself first. But I can’t do it all alone.

Whenever I look for work, I rarely think of asking other Pagans for help. It always seems like they’re struggling to keep afloat. The economy sucks, and some of them have disabilities too. Maybe the more well-off and well-adjusted Pagans keep to themselves. Besides, it always seems like much like when I go to one of my sci-fi or gamer-geek events, people come to Pagan events to escape their “mundane lives”. To reconnect with the past, their ancestors, their gods. Their cultural roots. All the things they feel the need to deny and bury and hide when they go back to work. They don’t want to talk about that stuff. It’s just too depressing. I don’t blame them. Many Pagans have strong political opinions, but I rarely see them at the political events I attend. Maybe they’re too busy with their religious activities- or geeky activities. Maybe they are more involved in radical anarchist type groups. I don’t know.

I go to Unity, and sometimes I feel as if everyone there has their lives together- at least if they don’t, they don’t seem to advertise it as much as Pagans do. Sometimes maybe Unitarians are a little out of touch in some ways. Maybe a little too privileged, or idealistic or optimistic. Most of them don’t know a lot about Paganism beyond Wicca or feminist Goddess worship 101. But it still seems they are a lot more in touch with reality than most Pagans I meet. Certainly I go to church in part to relax, to find support and community, but the Unitarians very much ground themselves in the issues that are happening in the community- locally and globally. I wasn’t sure how to ask them for help either. I went to their “career transitions” support group, which mostly was populated by middle-aged job seekers who didn’t seem to know what advice to give me.

So look folks- I know we want to talk theology, or ritual design, or spirit work. Or sometimes things like should we raise funds for a building, or what the role(s) of clergy should be. We’re a religious community those things should naturally be our focus. What about people in small town and rural areas? Many of them just one understanding person to talk to them about their religion, in their town, regardless of their personal beliefs. What about people who are getting out of prison (or are currently there) whom society rarely gives second chances to?

Some folks involved in the conference are primarily spirit-workers, they have stated, and I understand this- that their primary calling is serving the spirits and the gods, rather than the community- or that they serve the community by serving the gods. That’s fine. I can respect that. I feel called to serve the gods by serving community. I’d just like to remind you of something. Yes the gods have been neglected for thousands of years, and they want our attention. But the gods are not going to starve if you don’t feed them, or freeze on the streets if you don’t house them. They will not commit suicide if they feel alone, abused by their families or spiritual leaders, abandoned by the American Dream.

So I ask you, are you with me?

July 17, 2014 at 12:57 am 2 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

‘Nuff Polytheist Street Cred?

Last spring I went along with members of my Unitarian church to visit the Hindu Temple of Minnesota. It’s actually the largest Hindu temple in the United States! It’s a beautiful building, and I was very honored and grateful for the opportunity to see it. I just wish I’d had more time to explore, because the tour guide spent way too much time (in my opinion) explaining Hinduism, after we had already learned the basics- from another member of the temple who teaches classes there. He kept emphasizing, and wanted to make sure we all understood before we entered the sanctuary filled with shrines of gods, that Hindus are really monotheists. It seemed as if he were desperately trying to convince us of this, and essentially apologizing for his religion’s polytheistic veneer. That he was worried that Unitarians, who rejected the Trinity and affirmed the Unity of God, would pass judgment on Hinduism. Obviously, he doesn’t know us very well.

However, I have gotten the impression that Hindus, in general aren’t especially concerned with whether they are “really” polytheists or monotheists.

As for Neo-Pagans, at one point we were just polytheists worshipping different gods, but then one day it became a big deal who believed the gods were “real” individuals and who saw them as aspects of a whole. And then we had to get into a perpetual debate over who was a real, bona fide polytheist. Not one of those fake fluffy Neo-Wiccans.

There is a difference between viewing the Gods as psychological Jungian archetypes vs. different aspects of the Divine or the Consciousness of the Universe, or something. “Hard” polytheists often claim all “softies” are proponents of the former. Soft polytheists are also said to not view the Gods as “real”. My inclination is to ritually treat the gods as separate beings, and to take an agnostic position about whether they are ultimately One, because in the truest sense of agnostic, its on such a distant level from human comprehension.

We can’t claim to be any better than monotheists in this regard. They’ve spent thousands of years arguing how separate the persons of the Trinity are, how divine Jesus is, or whether honoring Mary, saints and angels is idolatry. In the end they could call Trinitarian Christians “soft monotheists” and Jews, Muslims, Unitarian Christians and Bahai’is “hard monotheists”. But does it really matter? Don’t they all worship the same God? And sorry Hindu assimilationist apologists, and Great Mother Goddess worshippers– but most of these monotheists do not see you as part of their fold.

I think what matters, as far as as figuring out who has what in common with me, and who I might want to include in my community, or be a part of theirs- is functional polytheism. Of the aforementioned Hindus, some  focus on meditating on the Oneness of the Universe (Brahman) and others more on puja devotions towards particular deities. You could say that these folks are functional polytheists.

So call yourself a polytheist. Or don’t. But don’t go out of your way to claim that your gods are all really One in some way that doesn’t really reflect your religion. Practice intellectual honesty. And tolerance, respect- don’t make absolutist statements that ridicule or condescend towards other peoples’ beliefs. Above all, be true to yourself, your gods and your communit(ies) and culture.

December 6, 2013 at 5:28 am 2 comments

Who’s a “Real Pagan”? Well, who’s a “Real American”?

I’m not going to add much at least directly to the eternal debate over the definition of the term pagan/Paganism, pagan community etc. Ruadan McElroy, and others have expressed along similar lines what I think on the issue. Instead I will take a step back to contemplate the messiness of another label of mine: American.

When I call myself American, people in much of the world will assume that I am a citizen of, or reside in the United States, in spite of the fact that anyone living (or originating) from North or South America and neighboring islands could call themselves by that label. Canadians, Brazilians, etc. may take offense to me calling myself “American” with that assumption. On the other hand, Mexicans use the term “fútbol norteamericano” not “fútbol estadounidense” to refer to American football, in spite of the fact that Mexico is considered part of North America.

First generation immigrants sometimes call me “American” to distinguish me culturally from themselves, and while I have assured them that they are just as American as I am, I still know what they mean- a long assimilated descendent of European immigrants. Some people who encounter immigrants (even ones who have lived here for decades) will consider them to not be “real Americans” if they have accents, haven’t stopped speaking their native language and given up obvious aspects of their culture. (clothing, religion, holidays etc)

Furthermore, an “American” is also often thought of a resident of the “lower 48” and even when Alaska and Hawaii are included, territories like Puerto Rico and Guam are often forgotten. So we can divide who is considered “American” up into a bunch of overlapping groups, members of which identify with the label to varying to degrees, and are identified by other self-identified Americans, and non-Americans, and dual citizens (included tribally enrolled American Indians)

But at the end of the day, none of us who are self-identified or identified by others as American are _just_ Americans. I’m a Midwesterner, a Minnesotan, a St. Paulite, a British Isles mutt and German-American. Regardless of who labels who, no one is just a Pagan. What’s the point of fighting over it? Just be a Pagan or don’t be a Pagan, a polytheist, a Wiccan, Druid, Heathen whatever. Don’t worry about what others call themselves if they are not claiming to be part of your specific religion.  And to other folks, just be who you are, don’t go around trying to get everyone to affirm your “right” to call yourself pagan. And focus on doing something positive for yourself, your spiritual practice, your community. Arguing is pointless.

July 3, 2013 at 1:32 am Leave a comment

Beyond Reconstructionism

Like many Pagans, I began my path with Wicca, at least the non-traditional eclectic forms of it that were being popularized in the late 90’s, early 2000’s when I became interested. Cast a circle, call the four elements, invoke the God and Goddess. Wicca is certainly a valid religion for those who practice it honestly but as I grew spiritually and studied more, I found it wasn’t for me.

I discovered many historical and cultural flaws in modern pagan books and began shifting more towards scholarly sources. I encountered websites describing reconstructionist religions, which seek to study a particular culture (Irish, Norse, Egyptian, Greek, Roman) and revive its religious practices as accurately as possible while adapting to modern social mores (rejection of animal sacrifice, slavery etc)

With the exception of Asatru/Heathenry, most reconstructionist movements are very small and there are few options in most places for groups. So I was very lucky to find a Celtic Reconstructionist, Aedh Rua O’Morrigan locally who was teaching classes. I learned a lot from him, and later another of his students. Later I found myself solitary again, and I struggled with how to practice CR. I worried so much about the ‘right’ and properly Gaelic way to do things, that I didn’t do anything! There is an emphasis in polytheistic traditions on orthopraxy, right practice, but often we don’t know what that is!

I’d rather just call myself a Gaelic/Hellenic polytheist and leave “reconstructionist” out of it. That way people can’t accuse me of not being “recon” or traditional enough. And besides which, both my teachers, who were big influences on me, have been declared “not CR enough” by many in the community. Well, I just don’t care anymore.

We’re missing the point here, people. Scholarship is good, but we can’t base our whole spirituality on it. We need roots, but we also need to reach our branches out and grow. The funny thing is the founders of CR actually said this- that they wanted to balance “aisling” (dreams, inspiration) with archeology. The CR community is dividing between a more traditional faction and a liberal, innovative faction.  Now it would be fine if different subgroups formed and just agreed to disagree but it seems like there is some antagonism- even ostracizing going on. I realize any group of people is going to have disagreements, but we are such a small community we can’t afford this infighting.

Various friends of mine are going this direction also- Gavin describes being led by Hermes, while Ben discusses his frustrations with the movement itself as well as trying to reclaim his Gaelic heritage as an American while native Gaels accuse him of New-Age style cultural misappropriation.

May 5, 2009 at 2:37 am 3 comments


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