Posts tagged ‘Theology’

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.

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March 11, 2016 at 7:52 am 2 comments

ADF: Bridging the Gap Between Neo-Paganism & Polytheism

Initially when I began exploring Paganism, it was from talking to a friend and checking books out at the St Paul public library like Drawing Down the Moon, and books on feminist theology (Christian, Jewish & general Goddess-y goodness alike) at Hamline University, which my mother at the time was attending. The Internet, while available was a lot smaller at the time, and when you searched for “goddess” in Netsuck, you’d come up with more porn sites than pagan ones (Though I suppose in some cases they could be both!) Witchvox was the hub of the English-speaking Pagan internet, and I also hung out a lot on the Cauldron Forum, Beliefnet fora and Yahoo groups. A lot of Pagan organizations, websites, internet forae and such have come and gone, merged and split since those days. One that is still around after all this time, chugging along is ADF.

After going to this retreat, and thinking about all my experiences with ADF- both offline and on, I find myself shaking my head at this supposed conflict between Pagan and polytheist “movements”. The Pagans are wild & crazy hippies that only care about partying at Renfests & casting spells that invoke cartoon characters and the Polytheists are snooty elitists with a Holier Than Thou attitudes. Other folks have different impressions of what these words mean that are just as misleading It seems to be that ADF has been doing things as both pagans & polytheists, that each supposed “faction” thinks the other incapable of!

Regardless of how “recon” others consider us to be, people in ADF have probably done more to promote good scholarship to the general Neo-Pagan masses than any single group of polytheists in the United States at least. For some, ADF is a gateway to other types of polytheism and Druidry, and certainly a better gateway than pop Wicca!

We have room for both scholarship and personal inspiration.

We have a standard ritual structure that people can recognize wherever they visit an ADF grove or protogrove, which each grove has a unique style, and regional cultus.

We have a well-developed clergy training program, while still keeping a healthy debate about the role of clergy in and outside of ADF, as well as other training programs (Dedicant, Initiate, Liturgist, Bard, Warrior etc.)

We have people of many political viewpoints, while maintaining inclusivity of race, sexuality, gender identity, class et al. religious freedom, and conserving the environment- exactly *what policies* an individual ADF member supports in regards to these values is up to them!

Our rituals are polytheistic in practice, and we have certain principles and values we hold in common, but individual members have a variety of personal theologies. Monistic Goddess-worshippers, Liberal Christians, archetypalist Pagans and duotheistic Wiccans might attend our rituals but so long as they don’t make theological proclamations in the middle of things we don’t really care!

We use words like “worship” and “piety” that some people complain are “too Christian” but we refuse to cede those concepts to Christianity alone. Honoring the Kindreds (Ancestors, Nature Spirits & Deities) is the main focus of our rituals, joy, communal fellowship, aesthetic pleasure, and magical workings are aspects as well.

While you have to seriously win the geographic lottery when it comes to managing to find another Slavic, Hellenic, Norse or Celtic polytheist who is willing to play well with others within decent driving distance of where you happen to live (even sometimes in a big city!) by founding or joining an ADF grove, you can pool all these people together into one big Indo-European family! I’m not saying this is a perfect solution for everyone, and I know some people will prefer specificity even if it means solitary practice over compromising for the sake of having a community. But many folks who assert this often state that they are capable of and enjoy doing much of their own research and writing their own rituals and figuring out most things for themselves or happen to be loners or introverts by nature.  But not everyone has the skills and resources, and whenever I see a polytheist proclaim that they want polytheism to spread and replace monotheism, and then see them snark & condescend towards people looking for basic resources I kind of wonder how they expect this to happen! Most people are busy with their jobs and families, and they might be willing to pitch in to help put together a community but they can’t all be Super-Scholar/Liturgists of Awesomeness.

I live in one of the largest Pagan communities in the country, and I still ended up joining a UU church, mainly because it gave me more stable social & emotional support than I could get from Pagan groups I could find, though it is spiritually far more general than ADF. Still I have great hopes for ADF in this region!

So to all my fellow pagans, polytheists, Heathens and Druids- in ADF and outside- keep being awesome and figuring out what is your way of doing things, share with others and support new folks (regardless of age and path)

June 10, 2015 at 12:23 am 2 comments

Fanfiction as Midrash

The next topic in the Pagan Experience is Wisdom, Knowledge and Gnosis. I’m writing about “the Lore”, Holy Writ or Official Canon.
There’s an old post by Greta Christina, an atheist blogger called “Why Religion is Like Fanfic
I remember agreeing with a lot of what she had to say, but taking away a totally different message than what she intended. She was demonstrating how silly religion is, because religious people keep explaining away gaps and inconsistencies  with theological interpretations and midrashim- in Jewish tradition, a midrash is a story that “fills in the gaps” in stories in the Torah, and Christians do similar things. This looks completely ridiculous to someone outside of the religious tradition, just as a non-fan might look at Star Trek fan fiction writers doing somersaults to explain discrepancies in TV show plotlines. Unlike some religious people might be, I wasn’t insulted by the comparison. (To be fair, my religion wasn’t involved!) Though it might seem petty to others, I know that for myself and many other fans, Star Trek and many other fictional narratives are in fact deeply meaningful, in fact some of us find more relevance in matters of ethics and philosophy in our “silly stories” than in religious texts like the Bible which according to other people are “serious stories”. More about “fandom as surrogate religion- or sometimes actual religion” in another post!

Like many atheists, Greta Christina is going off of the “if this religion isn’t completely literally true, then why bother with religion at all?” mentality. Polytheists and Pagans are people who find value in myth and story, and we don’t typically view our myths literally. What matters isn’t that the story literally happened, but what the story is telling us. The question is not “Is this story true?” but rather “Does this story work?” That is what any good storyteller or writer asks themselves, or their listeners and readers, for that matter. If someone wants to base their worldview completely off what can be scientifically proven, that is fine. I am not interested in trying to win converts here. And I indeed find much value in scientific discovery and am very glad human beings have developed the scientific method.

As I’ve said before, particularly in the Celtic and Norse traditions, we aren’t always sure if some of our Gods are literary creations or actually historically worshipped beings, or even original historical people who were at some point deified. These stories are medieval literature, written down by monks and other Christians rather than as intended religious texts. We should be careful about viewing them as such. Heck even with things that were written down in pre-Christian times like the Iliad and the Odyssey, were they really intended as religious texts that gave people an idea of what the Gods are like and how they interact with mortals, or mostly as entertainment? It’s really hard to separate the two, because most art produced back then had at least some type of spiritual significance- anything from painted pottery to plays.

I am completely fine with admitting that my various components of my religion are human creations from parts created by medieval monks, bards that predated Christianity, the bards of the Celtic Twilight, to theologians and ritualists of the modern revival like Isaac Bonewits, to ideas of my own creation. Yes, that’s right, I just admitted my religion is “made-up”. That isn’t the same as saying that it isn’t real. Most human beings, religious and non-religious alike find value in the arts- music, dance, painting, sculpture, theater. We might even consider sports and games as another type of art. There are various theories about the evolutionary social functions of the arts, but people are not generally thinking about that when they suggest going to a concert. We can all go to the same concert and have different experiences, some may enjoy it, some may not, and we’ll all have different reasons for why that is. But there is no scientific way of measuring what music is good or bad. I see my religion as an art form, and furthermore a sort of language that I share with others. I can’t get everyone to do art the same way, or appreciate the same type of art, and I can’t get everyone in the world to speak the same language. Why would I want to? Diversity is far more interesting. The problem comes when some people *do* want to make rules about what type of music you’re allowed to play or compose- this is no joke, these sorts of laws have been made in various authoritarian regimes. Languages *do* limit what concepts you can express and how you can express them, just as religions can. This is why I enjoy being multilingual.

See also: http://daoineile/2015/02/06/friday-c-is-for-canon

February 27, 2015 at 1:45 am 5 comments

Being Human

Feeling like a human being, and connecting with other humans can be a struggle for me as an autistic person. So often, qualities that are defined as essential and “natural” to humans don’t come as naturally to me, or as I’ve come to realize, simply *work differently*. Over time, the definition of human has broadened- in Western Enlightenment tradition, only white land-owning Christian men were accorded full human rights. Hundreds of years later, we are still working on the whole “all are created equal” thing. In Unitarian Universalism we acknowledge this in the First Principle- “We affirm and recognize the inherent worth and dignity of every person”. This is in contrast to the Christian belief in Original Sin- which was actually not a part of early Christianity, we have stodgy ol’ St. Augustine of Hippo to blame for that one. We believe in Original Blessing, that every child is born a redeemer. 

I do not interpret the First Principle as meaning that humans are perfect. At some point we are all going to mess up in both minor and major ways, and we need to find forgiveness, atonement and redemption. I believe these concepts are often missing in Pagan religions, with their emphasis on cosmic justice and harsh honor codes, but I think they can be found if we look more deeply. They may express themselves differently in Paganisms but they are still present. Paradoxically, in different types of Christianity forgiveness and redemption can be at times too easy and too difficult. I’ll go into this more in another post (and after more research!) but suffice to say that in most Pagan religions, personal responsibility needs to be taken for wrongdoing. It is not easily forgiven by a god who will take away your sins. There is usually some type of ritual purification, both spiritual and physical that takes place, and atonement made to the community and to the spirit world with material offerings.

In the esoteric philosophy of Thelema, “Every man and woman is a Star”. Each person, then must find their True Will (Thelema means “will” in Greek) their higher purpose, which cannot conflict with that of any other person. Freemasonry also focuses on human self-improvement.
It is not surprising to me to find similar ideas in these other philosophies, because they also are very influenced by the humanism of the Enlightenment. For anyone who has interest in both UUism and magic, those are two paths I would suggest checking out, and both are very theologically open.

February 26, 2015 at 1:21 am Leave a comment

Wrestling with God(s)

I’m a thinker who often over-thinks things to the point of worrying and getting depressed and angsty over Big Questions- and even little questions. What Does It All Mean? What is My Purpose ™? Do God(s) exist, if so, who are they, do they give a @#$* about me, and what should I do? In Hebrew, wrestling with G-d means Israel. As I was discussing in an earlier post, both Christianity & Islam seem to have more a tendency towards “This is the Way it Is. Just Believe and Obey- or you will make Baby Jesus cry or Allah will be displeased” Not always how it is, but those are dominant messages they tend to give us. Judaism, on the other hand often seems to have more space for wrestling with G-d, debating what does this verse mean- there are centuries of texts of back and forth rabbinical debates! I just finished watching a both hilarious and insightful web series called Dude, Where’s My Chutzpah? by filmaker Jessie Kahnweiler. http://www.dudewheresmychutzpah.com  It’s about a woman (based on Jessie herself) in her 20’s who is wandering rather aimlessly thru life, but then after her devout Jewish grandmother dies, the rabbi gives her a challenge based on her Bubbe’s wishes- to spend a year finding her “chutzpah” and figure out what it means to live a Jewish life/be Jewish. I don’t think I’m spoiling much when I tell you that Jessie finds the answers lead to even more questions! But seriously, go watch, regardless of your belief/cultural background, it’s fun.

So what does this have to do with Paganism/polytheism/UUism/Spiritual Label of the week?

I guess we Pagans are typically more concerned with what we do, and how and why we do it, rather than what we believe. I think theology and what we believe does matter to some degree, but it’s ok to be uncertain. It’s part of being human. John Beckett had some good wisdom about this- advising “Practice Deeply, Hold Beliefs Loosely” and keep re-examining your beliefs. Don’t get so stuck on them that they become obstacles. Of the many discussions over What Does it Mean To Be Pagan?! (oh teh angst!) one that struck me the most was from Steven Posch, an elder Witch of Paganistan*, who is generally more into Actually Doing Stuff than just arguing about how to do it online. He thinks Pagans are a people…an emerging culture. There are many ways to be Pagan, and it’s an essence that transcends and defies all our attempts to define it! We are a diasporan people, by choice and chance rather than historical circumstance, having to figure out who we are as distinct from the dominant culture(s), and varying at how much we differentiate ourselves. Now maybe you identify as Pagan, but don’t see yourself as part of “a people” or a culture. Once again, it’s not a perfect comparison with being Jewish, but really nothing is. Something to ponder at least.

As I’ve been exploring the polytheist faction that is branching away from Greater Pagan-dom and the Heathens who in large part already see themselves outside of it, I’ve realized that my people and my culture can still be found among the Pagani, and moreover the overlapping geeky subcultures that surround it. I am still a hippie Romanticist tempered with some pragmatism, practicality and post-colonial critiques of Noble Savage & Orientalist mindsets that pervade. I am not a Genuine Heir to Traditional Gaelic Polytheism, Irish or Scottish culture, ancestry or no. This does not mean I am phony, I am quite honest about who I am.  I think we sometimes have this haunting feeling of insecurity because we are not Authentic Enough ™ According to who? Anthropologists? Scholars of ancient religions? Sneering evangelicals or secular atheists? If we were that worried about “What Will The Neighbors/Interfaith PR reps/mainstream media Think?” we wouldn’t be Pagans, would we?

But seriously, look at other cultures that we think of as More Truly Authentic- y’know the ones we often feel tempted to “borrow” from because we need to jazz up our shabby American-Euro-mutt stuff? Native Americans for example- many of them have lost much of their traditions and culture. Many of them combine their cultural practices with Christianity. They create new practices as the need arises, or creativity inspires them to do so. Even more so- look at your fellow descendents of immigrants from around the world. What have they brought with them? What have they left behind? How have they adapted what they brought to fit in with their new environment? What have they added in from American culture and made their own? How has this been passed on to other Americans to the point where forget its origin? There are many German, and specifically Deitsch (Pennsylvania Dutch) customs that have sunk into the American mainstream- Groundhog Day, Christmas trees and translated carols like Silent Night (Stille Nacht), the Easter bunny and dying Easter eggs.

More about “tradition” and authenticity- https://paganleft.wordpress.com/2014/01/10/authenticity-whats-traditional-anyway/

*Paganistan- his term, now widely adopted for the Twin Cities metro area Pagan communities.

February 17, 2015 at 2:19 am 4 comments

Interfaith- or Inter-monotheist

A friend and neighbor of mine mentioned that she participates in a monthly interfaith discussion group, hosted by the St. Paul Area Council of Churches. I told her I might interested in checking that out, but I asked- is this really “interfaith”?  Or is it more like “inter-monotheist?”. She told me who attended varied each month (due to availability or interest in the topic) noting the Jewish folks (like herself) were actually often over-represented, different types of Christians, a Bahai’i who moderated the discussion, some Muslims and Buddhists. And atheists- though she said they called themselves “Rational Pluralists”.
The mention of enthusiastic Jewish interest didn’t surprise me- after all, religious minorities have to deal with members of more dominant faiths every day, whereas a Christian has the luxury of ignoring the existence of other religions, having them only occasionally intrude into their bubble. I felt better when I heard the atheists and Buddhists mentioned, and upon looking at the website noted mention of Sikhs, Hindus and American Indians. Sikhs are also a kind of monotheist, but part of the Dharmic family of religions (along with Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism) often Hindus involved in interfaith or PR efforts like to frame their religion as “really” monotheistic- all those thousands of Gods are really One, and that’s what matters! Now I totally respect that it’s their choice on how to publicly present their faith, but I hope they are not allowing a monotheist bias to influence them. Anyway Hindus are such a huge and diverse group it’s hard to say.

I knew my friend has some sympathy for this, because even more frequently, especially in areas with less diversity, an “interfaith” event really means ecumenical or intrafaith- between different types of Christianity, sometimes made “interfaith” by inviting the town’s token Jew. Now having ecumenical Christian events, or pan-Abrahamic or just Jewish-Christian dialogue events are fine and dandy by me, they are very much needed. But as religious minority that feels especially well, minor I ask that those events be clearly labeled as such, stating their focus and purpose. Focus and purpose are key to making an interfaith group or event successful (heck any event successful!)

As I mentioned, I felt more included once I heard about the atheist participation (if they can deal with someone who doesn’t believe in any gods, they can deal with someone who believes in many gods is my rationale) And I’m guessing the sorts of atheists that like to go to interfaith shindigs, are the kind I get along with- much like the folks who might be sitting next to me in a pew at Unity. These are the positive Humanists, who believe in working to make the world a better place, and affirm the value of science and reason, and God and religion doesn’t jive with their worldview. And they want to work with religious people to help make the world a better place, and share the values of science and critical thinking with them. But they aren’t anti-religion. I believe religion- like anything created by human beings can be used for good or evil. And as much as I value science and reason as ways of knowing, I find there are emotional, aesthetic, social, and intellectual things that I get out of religion. I can lead a meaningful, ethical life without religion or Gods. I’m frankly agnostic about the existence or nature of the afterlife, so that is not my motivation. But something would be missing for me. And it would be for a lot of people. The anti-religion atheists who don’t understand that need to work on their empathy. But the Humanists who share my view of religion as neutral, they are on my team.

May 16, 2014 at 4:38 am 1 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

Favorite “D” PBP Posts

Dagaz- Huginn & Muginn’s musings

To Dare- Super-Duper Space Witch on activism

DánSeeking Imbas

Deity/ies/Divine

Druid Bird– My Relationship with Deities

Seeker Sight– Divinity: a guide for seekers to concepts of the divine

Scathcraft- Divinities (in French, Google translate link on site)

Mistress of the Hearth– Devi, the Great Goddess

Deity Communication- Witch of Valenwood   “I am not a Pagan because I have chosen a priestly path to non-Abrahamic deities, and I don’t believe that communication with deities is integral to a Pagan identity. Your pagan beliefs may allow for such communication to occur, and the praxis of your pagan beliefs include such a thing as a goal, but it is not obligatory.   I believe in the gods, I love a few of them, and I believe that occasionally I can feel their presences. But my praxis is to live in a way I believe will please them and make offerings in their names. Whether I pray to them or not, they exist, and I am wary about meddling in the affairs of gods, for they are subtle and quick to anger. My love and respect for them is too sincere.” -That’s piety, my friends.

Specific Deities: Miach Rhys writes about Dian Cecht, an Irish God of Healing

Seeking Imbas- The Dagda and his epithets (actually the name Dagda itself is an epithet meaning Good God)

DependencyLeithin Cluan

Devotion/Devoted/Devotional– Strip Me Back to the Bone:  “Devotion is, I believe, ultimately a private affair that can not reliably be measured empirically by outsiders — and in this case, outsiders means anyone other than you personally”

Spirit Stitch– A Place Where All Forces Come Together

Isleen – Daily Devotion to the Divine

Echtrai “In addition, it has been the experience of many polytheists that you do not choose a god. If they desire a devotional relationship from you, they’ll come knocking. Imagine if someone walked up to you on the street and said “I’m going to marry you.” Wouldn’t that be weird?

Abgeneth– Unlikely Devotionals: Everyday Things in My Life I Find Brought Me Closer to the Gods

Delight in Doing the Work- Grave Moss & Stars “Doing the Work is a common phrase used to indicate doing the hands-on, occasionally tedious work that is related to or directly causes a sense of personal and/or spiritual fulfillment.”
Delightism– Donald Engstrom

Discernment- Red Menace “Discernment, I find, is a topic that is strangely absent from a lot of pagan books I’ve read. I’ve seen books go on at length about the clair abilities, the various methods of divination, but there never seems to be a discussion on training yourself to understand when the divination is coming from an external force, and when it’s you seeing only the patterns you want to see. ”

Disillusionment- from Thorn the Witch

Disney & Callanish StonesKnot Magick on the standing stones depicted in Disney’s “Brave” and information about them in the real world. I hadn’t heard of these stones before reading this post, so thanks to the writer and Disney from bringing them to the fore (even if Disney just happened to find them convenient Scottish scenery)

Disting– and other Heathen Holidays in February Pagan Grove

DivisionConor hopes for an amicable division between pagans and polytheists

DomovoiWitch’s Journey– domestic spirit in Slavic folklore

Domatites (Poseidon) Strip Me Back to the Bone “The biggest reason early on that I decided I was not and could not be a Hellenic pagan was because Hestia would not be my hearth; Poseidon was. Poseidon would remain so. Fast forward years later. Just last April I was reading through Pausanias’s Guides To Greece, as one does, and I stumbled upon a reference to Poseidon Domatites – Poseidon of the house, or, more specifically, of the rooms.” I vote that she can jolly well call herself a Hellenic pagan or polytheist if she wants. You don’t need to strictly follow “Old Stones, New Temples” to be one.

DoubtBaring the Aegis

DraugadrottinWytch of the North (she is doing a series on Odin’s epithets/titles) This one basically means “King of the Zombies”

Drawing Down/Drawing In– In general I wasn’t interested in posts on Drawing Down the Moon, but Raven Scribe has her own meditation loosely based on it, to help her deal with seasonal depression- asking help from Brighid (so of course I couldn’t resist)

Druids/DruidismPhilosophical Pagan– Allec, on why she doesn’t call herself a Druid

Ci Cyfarth untangles a mess of historical Druid definitions

Duir, the Mighty Oak at Raven & Oak

February 22, 2014 at 12:15 am 4 comments

Influence of Monotheism

I just read an interesting post by Agrikosos in which she makes an extended analogy of the online pagan/polytheistic communities being like a universe with a an invisible influence in the center- a black hole. Monotheism.   This influence is inevitable and unavoidable,  we need to recognize and admit when it is present, and work around it.  All too often, I think we see suspicions of Pagans with an interest in aspects of Christian or Jewish mysticism while avoiding seeing ways other Pagans are influenced by the Big Three.

I remember  a Hellenic organization called Elaion* that arose that took the position that patron gods were not proper eusebeia (piety) that modern Paganism had adopted the idea from Jesus is My Personal Savior/Therapist style American Protestantism, and ancient Greeks had patron gods of professions or families or cities, but not individuals. Much of the Hellenic polytheist community has rejected this view, citing ancient precedent- Sappho’s relationship with Aphrodite for example.  We do have very limited information on the practices of everyday Greek peasants, most of our evidence is of state cults and mystery religions. It may be that patron deities are more common in modern practice, and I do think monotheism probably is a major reason for that. I think patron deities are a valid practice (not just due to historic basis) but I do think they are over-emphasized in modern paganism. I see a lot of beginners asking on forums how do they find (or choose) their patron?  You don’t just “find your patron” so easily and you might never have a patron in your lifetime.  But that’s OK. Since these are New Religious Movements after all, there are going to be many more eager converts with intense mystical experiences. Many prophets and godspouses and shamans. More than there probably will be, later as our religions mature.

Our attitude towards texts is also very much a legacy of the People of the Book. We are the People of the Library**.  Never enough books!  This may be more pronounced among reconstructionists in particular, though some Wiccans certainly like to quote the Rede and the Law of Three the way Christians cite the Bible. They’ve got nothing on Heathens though. Good Gerd, those saga sluggers!
For one, we rarely take our myths literally. There are some that are more historical (or pseudo-historical)
We also only have the shards left from ancient writers, Christian monks, many pieces are missing. And so when putting together the picture, it is going to be distorted both by the absence of those pieces, and by the perspectives of the writers- we hear mostly from poets and nobility, not farmers, from Christians or contemporary warring cultures (Romans writing about Greeks or Celts) we get misrepresentation. And modern scholars all have their own biases, and almost none of them are revivalists of the religions themselves.

After writing all this I realized something. The black hole isn’t monotheism. It’s atheism- the absence of monotheism. Monotheism is a big star exerting a gravitational pull, and pagans who live in more secularized parts of the world are more affected by the black hole.  For many of us, an even more distorting influence on our value systems is actually capitalism and hyper-individualism. More posts on those topics!

*Initially when writing this I wasn’t sure if Elaion was still around, but I am pleased to see that they are. I am all for there being a diverse range of practices and organizations available in Hellenic polytheism, just as there was in the ancient world.

**The People of the Library quote has been attributed to Stephen Posch, whom I’m proud to claim as a Twin Cities elder.

February 11, 2014 at 10:16 am 3 comments

We Are More Than Our “Special” Skills

Follow-up to “Anyone Noticed…” and “Autism” on two other blogs. In the first, Amanda Baggs. an autistic blogger who I’ve long enjoyed reading, notes that if you are autistic you can’t just be religious or non-religious without someone claiming that the reason(s) you are are due to your disability. Autistic or disabled people are inherently seen is being more or less inherently spiritual than others.  Leigh Archer, a pagan on the spectrum chimes in with her own experiences.  She notes that as a Loki-worshipper she often gets people dismissing her path, or attributing it there being something “wrong” with her.

“Disability and religion isn’t something that’s talked about much in pagan communities, and that really needs to change. Ableism is, to be honest, rather rampant in pagan communities, both online and off. Much of it is covert or “casual” ableism; things you might not notice if you’re not disabled and haven’t had to deal with it yourself. ” Very true, most ableism I’ve seen among pagans has been directed towards others- typically physically disabled folks. Yet when I’ve confronted it, I’ve generally gotten a bunch of paltry excuses.  Many from people who don’t know that I’m disabled in some way.

I’ve found some odd paradoxes about being autistic and belonging to various other “non-mainstream” groups- in some ways it seems that because I’m autistic I can “get away with” having interests (including religion) and behavior that are unusual.  “Oh, it’s just her cute little mythology special interest”My dad kept patting me on the head thru high school with that line’ til it finally sunk in to him that this was an Actual Religion.  Fortunately I haven’t had too much in the way of dramatic ecstatic spiritual experiences as a teen, or my lack of internal filter would probably have resulted in mental health practitioners getting trigger happy with prescriptions for anti-psychotics. My seizures only result in symptoms similar to hangovers, no cosmic trippy dreams. Hate to disappoint anyone.

There are several problems in this discourse that I’d like to highlight- the black/white thinking- you either must be atheist because you’re autistic, or have a less of a sense of love/empathy/a soul- or you must be a Child of God/angel/otherkin/psychic/Indigo etc. The Magical Retard instead of the magical Negro (case in point would be Forrest Gump) The dehumanizing of people with disabilities- generally related to “real humans do/have trait x, you don’t, therefore you’re not really human/Pagan etc. (The No True Scotsman logical fallacy)  Or you’re delusional. Moses, Muhammed, Jesus. All prophets are just nuts, right? Some people with disabilities or medical conditions will try to find spiritual ways of making meaning out of the circumstances of their lives. That’s fine. Let us do that. Don’t tell us what it means, or if it means anything. You can be compassionate and supportive without pulling in lines like “God has a plan”.  I don’t find that comforting, leaving aside which God you’re assuming I believe in, my response is “Well, all of his other plans have failed”.

The idea of having “special skills” I’ve had hammered into my head from a young age from Temple Grandin and a zillion other people who repeat everything she says- yes you’re disabled, but don’t make a big deal out of it- accentuate the positive and find your special skills, get really good at it, and then people will tolerate you if you’re a little odd, so long as you’re good at what you do.  Newsflash: Not all of us have a special savant skill. Or if we do, it’s not something someone will pay us to do on a basis which we can make a living.

And to my fellow folks with disabilities, let’s do what we can to challenge these attitudes- we get these messages from society and internalize and reinforce them. So let’s stop.

*my use of “retard” in this context is satirical, I’m making fun of the attitude behind that word, not people with  mental disabilities.

**Nothing against Temple Grandin, I’m just sick of everything she says being constantly repeated. Usually by people who claim they aren’t autistic ironically…

February 4, 2014 at 3:44 am 2 comments

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