Posts tagged ‘synchroblog’

A is for Anthropology & Sociology

A couple days ago Dan & I visited the Minnesota Science Museum for their exhibit on the Maya. I felt that they did a great job, there were many original artifacts, as well as reproductions, and videos discussing different aspects of Maya civilization both ancient and modern culture. This reminded me of the importance of studying anthropology as a modern Pagan. With the tools of anthropology we can look at religions like the Maya that have been suppressed by Christianity, syncretized and later revived as well as uninterrupted traditions, like Hinduism and Shinto to give us an idea of how polytheistic/animistic traditions can be practiced in a modern context.

In college I did not take any anthropology classes, but I did study sociology. Anthropology is the study of human beings and their cultural development, sociology is the study of human society. Basically the two disciplines are coming from different directions, but sometimes study the same subjects.  Sociology started out as a way of attempting to understand social changes caused by urbanization and industrialization in the 19th century. Anthropology from what I understand, in part came from British and other Europeans trying to understand pre-industrial cultures that they were colonizing. Indigenous people were often exploited and misrepresented for the promotion of academic careers, and their cultures were harmed. Because of that there is a lot of suspicion from Native peoples toward anthropologists. Modern anthropology has moved beyond its colonial past, but it still has many Western biases. Those are important things to keep in mind.

So here’s my idea for Pagan Blog Project 2014: For at least half the letters I will be blogging about different concepts & ideas from anthropology and sociology that I think would be useful to Western culture-based Neo-Pagans, Polytheists and others in understanding our own religions & subcultures, and in building understanding with indigenous (non-European) traditions.



January 4, 2014 at 1:59 am 1 comment

P is for Psychology

Psychology can be useful in understanding of our spiritual and emotional development. Spiritual practices such as yoga, meditation, prayer and spiritual communities can be of great help in maintaining and recovering mental health. Yet practices that fall outside the “mainstream” may be seen as evidence of insanity- such as: communication with spirits, ritual possession, journeying to the otherworld.

There is a point at which these types of practices can become unhealthy, but it may be tricky for a therapist to tell unless they are familiar with the person’s religion.

In the past, shamans* often lived on the edge of society, and due to their way of life, may not have supported themselves economically- so the community supported them. In modern society, such people may be seen as mentally ill, and our society is not set up to support them.

Erynn Laurie, Celtic Reconstructionist author, gives an example of this in her description of the “geilt” of the Irish.

There is a concept in some cultures called “soul loss” which corresponds to our idea of depression.  I believe there can be bio-chemical causes of depression, but I also think the stresses and spiritual alienation of post-modern societies contribute as well. Sociologists speak of “anomie” a state of normlessness- alienation, purposelessness, a lack of social connection,

We don’t have roots, we don’t know we are. We aren’t connected enough to our families and communities. We change jobs, homes, spouses. We have more choices and seemingly more freedom than our ancestors, but we don’t know what to do with it.

We often too easily trust that anyone with a Ph.D or medical degree is an expert that will have all the answers. As one who has had many dealings with mental health practicioners, I have at times, found them to be wrong after doing my own research and following my own reason and intuition. We need to find a balance between accepting guidance from psychology and trusting our own spiritual truths.

 *Note: I am using the term “shaman” for lack of a better term across cultural boundaries. I mean no disrespect.

This post is part of the Pagan Blog Project

August 5, 2012 at 10:50 am Leave a comment

Samh and Geimh

There is a synchroblog on duality, though I found out about it rather late, I thought I would add some ideas from a Gaelic polytheist perspective.

The most important number in Celtic traditions is three and multiples thereof (9, 27 etc) But three emerges from two, and two emerge from one. Sure, a kindergartener can tell you that. But no, I mean this in an esoteric sense. Ultimately, all is One- everything came from one source- be it the Big Bang as in modern science or the Well of Segais or Ginunnagap in Norse myth. The One is separated into Two- or separates the Two into Light and Darkness, Order and Chaos or Female and Male. Or the Earth from the Heavens.

In Irish tradition we see these two cosmic principles as Samh and Geimh. They are Irish versions of the Gaulish concepts of Samos and Giamos. They are not words in modern Irish, but are coinages.

Samh- (sow) represents summer (Beltaine to Samhain) day, light, life, order, the waxing moon, the mundane.

Geimh- (geev) represents winter (Samhain to Beltaine) night, darkness, death, chaos (in a creative rather than destructive sense) the waning moon and magic or the uncanny.

Geimh and Samh are not inherently good nor evil, both are simply part of the natural balance and cycle of things. These two give rise to three- that which lies between them, which belongs to neither one or the other. The liminal, the edges of space and time.

Liminal times- sunrise and sunset, the turning of the seasons, times between the phases of life such as adolescence are when rituals and ceremonies are often held. The powers of the Sidhe (fairies) are stronger, bringing the potential for good luck or for great disaster.

While civilized, known lands could be said to belong to Samh, the wilderness and the unknown places belong to Geimh. Borders between the known and the unknown are the places where Fianna- the outcast warriors and other outsiders dwell.

These ambiguous places and times, which belong to neither one category or the other, are at once dangerous and holy. They inspired both fascination and fear in Celtic peoples.

Other posts on this topic:

May 23, 2008 at 5:30 am 7 comments


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