Quick Notes: Trademarking the Gods, the Birth of Freedom, and Telltale Signs of Santeria

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  December 28, 2010 — 61 Comments

A few quick news notes for you today.

Trademarking the Gods: Video game company Nintendo just received permission from the Japanese Patent Office to trademark the name “Amaterasu” in relation to video games.

And you thought it was bad when Nintendo filed to trademark the phrase “It’s on like Donkey Kong.” The Japanese Patent Office recently revealed that Nintendo trademarked the kanji “Amaterasu” as well as the katakana form in relation to video games. “Amaterasu” certainly seems to refer to the Shinto goddess, but the full name for the deity is Amaterasu Omikami. This name was not trademarked, as it’s unlikely that the Japanese Patent Office would allow Nintendo to copyright an actual god or goddess.

While this may seem like no big deal to some, it could set a troubling precedent. If corporations and private businesses start grabbing trademarks to the names of deities within different contexts, what will that mean for the religions that worship and revere those figures? This is especially true as video games, art, and social interactions start to blur within contexts like Second Life. If someone can trademark a god’s name in one context, there’s little to stop them from doing it in others.

The Birth of Freedom: City Journal features an essay by Andre Glucksmann concerning the birth of the idea of freedom, and the differences between the “epic freedom” of Hegel or Marx and the “tragic freedom” of Athens and Socrates. Glucksmann notes that polytheism creates a more “radical” idea of freedom than most monotheistic conceptions.

With the Athenians, however—and this is an important difference—the gods are as imperfect as human beings, and the divine words are consequently doubtful and impure. In this sense, the Greek experience seems more radical than that of the monotheisms, since it presupposes no adherence to a unique word that would dominate the thought and freedom of men and women. For the Greeks, there was no way around the permanent crisis that constitutes the existence of a free human being.

Glucksmann also credits ancient Greek thinkers with providing the framework for the separation of church and state, and our modern ideas of “human rights.” The whole text is worth a look.

Telltale Signs of Santeria? What happens when you mix “occult experts” with animal parts? You get assertions that the dead animals are a “telltale sign” of Santeria.

“Don Rimer, who spent 30 years as a law enforcement officer and now provides training in the fields of ritual crimes and the occult, said the decapitated animals are telltale evidence of people who practice a faith known as Santeria. Followers brought the faith with them to the New World when they were taken from Africa during the slave trade, first establishing themselves in the Caribbean region, he said. Santeria is a blend of ancient African religion and Catholicism, Rimer said. A Utah state agency alerted Rimer to the Park City cases, he said. Rimer, who lives in Virginia Beach, Va., said the circumstances of the Park City discoveries resemble those of Santeria practices elsewhere. Rimer said people who adhere to the faith sacrifice animals and then place the carcasses close to transportation corridors like pathways, railroad tracks and streams in honor of the means slaves used to move about.”

Yes, you read that right. The expert was Don Rimer, who also happens to be an expert on Paganism, Satanic crime, and vampires. One wonders where he gets the time to become so knowledgeable when he’s so busy traveling the country giving talks. No doubt Rimer thinks his influence was positive because he asserted that animal sacrifice was legal and the alleged practitioners of Santeria meant no harm, but instead he verified the for many the idea that leaving dead bodies lying around is a normal practice for Santeria (instead of acknowledging that there could be other explanations).

Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • sean

    Thanks for posting this! The first thing that comes to mind is the Greek god Nike, whose name has long been usurped by Western corporations. I bet there are many more!

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      And "Thor" is (or was) the name of a comic book, now emerging as a movie.

  • I wanted to come up with some witty rebuke to Rimer's statements, but all I can think of as a response is, "LOL."

  • For the Greeks, there was no way around the permanent crisis that constitutes the existence of a free human being

    No way out but through.

    • Well put. It seems that Gluckmann would agree:

      "To discover one’s freedom is to recognize a capacity for self-intoxication and self-deception, and thus to condemn oneself to doubt. This experience of freedom is primary for a current of modern philosophy, just as it was for the thinkers of antiquity."

  • The silly idea that the Hellenic Gods were somehow "imperfect" is mostly due to naive misreadings of Euripides and, to a lesser extent, Homer, Ovid, etc.

    It is also based on a blatant double standard. The petty, vindictive God of the Old Testament is portrayed as every bit as imperfect as any of the Deities one finds in anywhere in classical Greco-Roman accounts of the Gods.

    If one bothers to read the theological literature of the ancient Hellenes and Romans, one finds that they conceived of the Gods as always acting in accordance with Justice, and always acting in ways that were beneficial to all.

    • caraschulz

      I would agree with that. As some Hellenics put it – much of the literature has *Truth* in it, but much was also like reading about celebrities in the gossip magazines.

      And I feel uncomfortable disagreeing with someone like Gluckmann – but the story of Antigone isn't about a separation of church and state. The Greeks wouldn't have understood the concept of separating church and state as there was no separation of religion, culture, and politics. It's about what happens to man when he tries to disturb the Natural Order and shows contempt for the Gods.

      Not even rulers can go against Kosmos. Gods cannot go against the Natural Order, either. Yes, Antigone killed herself after her heroic and pious act, but it was Creon who suffered. His wife and son suffer and die due to Creon's actions – trying to upset the Natural Order – his acts of hubris. Hubris isn't just pride on steroids – it is disrespect towards the ethical order of the Kosmos (Natural Order) and showing contempt for the Theoi (Gods).

      When hubris is shown, restoration of the balancing measures of the Kosmos takes place, not punishment (although it may seem like punishment), and is the responsibility of the Goddess Nemesis to restore this balance. Which She did.

      • Furthermore, the Greeks and Romans, especially the latter, had the concept of state-controlled religion so down cold they used it to persecute the Jews and the Christians in their turn. Participating in certain rituals was mandatory for citizens of both nations. How is there a separation of church and state when the state dictates orthopraxy?

        • There was no such thing as "state-controlled religion" in Pagan Greco-Roman societies. These societies had dozens of different religions, perhaps hundreds depending on how one does the counting.

          The Pagan Roman state, in particular, far from imposing a "state religion" on its citizens, served as a conduit for the spread of different religions far and wide. Judaism and Christianity were among the direct beneficiaries of this openness.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            Apuleius, Brenda's note is not the only place I've heard that the Romans had a few mandatory observances that rubbed the wrong way some Jews, some Christians and possibly Jesus personally. Is this mere urban rumor?

          • If you have some information to share, please share it. If you have vague impressions of what you think you may have heard about somewhere, well, you have already shared that.

            I happen to know all about, and in some detail, the sources that you and Brenda are vaguely aware of. These sources do not substantiate what Brenda stated.

            Here are the basic facts:

            (1) There were no official state religions in the Hellenic Pagan world or in Pagan Rome.
            (2) There were instead many dozens or even hundreds of religions that were all accorded protection and support by society in general, and by law and by government institutions and officials in particular.
            (3) Both Christianity and Judaism thrived under Roman rule, and both religions openly practiced proselytizing throughout the empire.
            (4) It is well documented that individual Christians sought to intentionally martyr themselves by committing acts of criminal violence, up to and including murder. These acts also included illegal acts of desecration against all other religions. This phenomenon is now sometimes referred to as "voluntary martyrdom."
            (5) Christians were widely considered to be obnoxious and anti-social because of their open hatred and intolerance for all other religions.
            (6) Jews were generally considered to be followers of an ancient and respected religious tradition, despite their bizarre insistence that theirs was the "only" God.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            My sources are literary, multiple and second-hand. The assertion is that everyone was obligated annually to burn a pinch of incense for the benefit of the Deified Emperor.

          • Bookhousegal

            Much is, of course, made of that, but as a case for 'Pagan Rome had an oppressive state religion,' it's pretty darn thin. Emperors, of course, can be pretty inherently problematic, as many Romans said at the time. (Part of the 'evidence' that is used to demonize 'Pagan Rome' is in fact comprised of the rhetoric by Pagan Romans *against* what were Imperial excesses by their own standards.

          • "The assertion is that everyone was obligated annually to burn a pinch of incense for the benefit of the Deified Emperor."

            As a general rule, everyone everywhere was expected to show respect to all Gods, especially to the "local" Gods, and in the case of anyone living in the Roman world these "local" Gods would include deified Emperors.

            The Arabs had a saying, prior to the coming of Muhammad, "When you enter a village, swear by it's Gods."

            The extent to which such an expectation (that proper respect be shown to all Gods) was translated into an explicit obligation under Roman law with criminal penalties for those who refused, is a thorny and complex issue.

            The short version is that there was no such legal obligation as a general rule. But there were some efforts, starting with Decius (around 250 AD) to try to more clearly define what it was that was so objectionable about Christians, and to take some steps to formulate what today might be thought of as "hate-speech" legislation to curb the more offensive and intolerant aspects of that particular cult.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            So the Pagan Roman state did indeed intrude intrude into personal life, religious obligations targeting an obstreperous minority. (It happens to be the minority that grew up into the majority that many Pagans today love to hate, but that's history for you.)

          • "So the Pagan Roman state did indeed intrude intrude into personal life, religious obligations targeting an obstreperous minority …."

            Not as a general rule, no. All religions were minority religions back then. This is obvious when you consider the sheer number of religions.

            Christians went out of their way to win the hatred of their neighbors. That was their stated goal, and they met with a certain amount of success in achieving it. They proudly and loudly proclaimed their hatred and contempt for all other religions. To this day such anti-social behavior is one of the hallmarks of that particular sect.

            But no group was punished because it was in the minority or because it's beliefs were different, for this was true of all cults generally.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            Not as a general rule, no, but in a specific instance, yes. And it's a little sophistic to say that Christians were targeted for their hatred and contempt but not because their beliefs were different. It was their different beliefs that manifested in hatred and contempt.

          • Bookhousegal

            Actually, it's an important distinction: it wasn't because they were *different,* …people were 'different' all the time. It was that they 'manifested in hatred and contempt.'

            Of course, in their writings of history, they project this back onto the very idea of 'all religion,' (except their own.) Basically, it was their own intolerance, not their 'difference' as difference.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            I didn't say "difference," I said "different beliefs."

          • Bookhousegal

            Well, Baruch, the fact that there were state *observances* tends to be taken as some means to claim that Pagan Rome imposed a 'state religion' over people as in fact the Christians were the ones to do when they took *over.*

            There were religious rituals involved in the performance of government, (And a certain amount of temple involvement in the bureaucracy, meaning there were in fact pontificies running the big state temples: functions like treasury and bookkeeping and history and law libraries were often placed in those temples,) but this didn't mean there was a 'Pagan State religion' imposing dogmas that everyone had to swear or limit themselves to.

            It seems to be hard to communicate the difference to some. Polytheistic context, remember. 🙂

          • Just to chime in with what Bookhousegal has already said: In traditional Pagan societies there was no compartmentalization of religion. Governing was a religious act, so was cooking. And yet there was at the same time a degree of religious freedom and diversity that is almost completely incomprehensible to the modern western mind.

          • Bookhousegal

            It's also my understanding (I'm afraid I'm blanking on the source at the moment: maybe someone remembers, ) that Jews got some kind of exemption from those state observances at some point, or in general practice. The Christians were interested in using the notion as part of that martyrdom thing.

          • Don

            Then the Collegium Pontificam was what, exactly?

          • If you want to claim that the existence of the Collegium Pontificum proves that Pagan Rome had a single monolithic "state religion" that all Romans were required to exclusively adhere to, then you really need to brush up on your history.

          • Don

            That's not what I'm arguing. But the Collegium Pontificam attests to the fact that the state was involved in the religious life of society and its citizens.

          • Robin Artisson

            Actually, it's the other way around- many religious cults were involved in the life of the state, because the state itself- Roma- was a divine being, a Goddess. The "State" wasn't in control of the cults. The cults were not in control of the state. They had a reciprocal sort of exchange, a mutual recognition. And Roma herself was the object of a Cult that had many, many expressions. There was no "secular" government back then. There was no "government apart from religion" to "be involved in the religious life of society" as though society had a secular life on the one hand, and a religious one on the other. All of society's life was religious, down to making bread, walking down the road, crossing the threshold of a house, having sex, eating dinner, and tending to the hearth. This is Rome we're talking about- they had a divinity or a numen for EVERYTHING- sparing nothing. Even the Sewers of the city had a Goddess- Cloacina.

          • Don

            That's a good way of putting things. But the CP was still an institution that organized and regulated certain religious affairs, such as the ritual calendar.

          • Daniel

            If I remember correctly, or correctly at all, wasn't the Cult of the Goddess Hestia and the Sacred Flame integral to the well-being of Rome?

          • As was the cult of the Phrygian Great Goddess, Magna Mater, credited with saving Rome during the second Punic War. And then there were the sacred Sibylline Books, written in Greek and originating from Anatolia, and also the sacred Etrusca Disciplina (of the Etruscans) which also played a major role in "Roman" religion. Another important cult was that of Aventine Diana, whose temple was modeled on the sanctuary of Aphrodite built by the Lydians in Ephesus. Eventually Rome also become a major cult site for the worship of Isis, one of whose Priests was consulted by Plotinus.

          • Bookhousegal

            Interestingly, not a 'theocracy' in any kind of sense people think of: not in the sense of church running state and thus controlling popular religious belief, or using that so much as a means of control for the government: as with many other activities, the Gods were very much a part of how the state ordered the universe: in some ways the pontificates were like cabinet or committee appointments, (certainly, one can be sure, putting a check on too much religious power as well as a means of representing such interests: you can be sure there was plenty of politicking involved, but it really wasn't about imposing orthodoxy on popular religion. ) …but to the Roman view and organization, a lot of those temples had functions as state institutions. People don't hear much about the Capitoline Trio as such and what you might call the 'Gods of being the government.' 🙂 Much of which meant doing the proper rituals in the proper way as a matter of keeping everything in *order.* I've always meant to do more reading on that, myself.

          • It is also important to emphasize that much of religion was private and did not involve the state at all (or only very slightly and incidentally). This was true of both household/family religion and also of the personal, internal, religious life of the individual.

            Also, religious "freelancing" was widespread. Pagan prophets, seers, healers, etc, very often functioned without any approval or recognition from either religious institutions or the state. Whether or not such freelancers ran afoul of the authorities was determined on a case by case basis.

            Going back as far as Euripides' Bakkhai there are dire warnings against rejecting "new" cults, so long as a new cult does not set itself up against already established beliefs and practices (as the Christians did).

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    "Rimer said people who adhere to the faith sacrifice animals and then place the carcasses close to transportation corridors like pathways, railroad tracks and streams in honor of the means slaves used to move about.”

    Where did he get this? Is there a shred of respectable scholarship to back him up?

    • Crystal7431

      The voices in his head told him.

    • Phaedra B

      I don't doubt he heard the slave story in good faith from someone, but it certainly sounds like a post-rationalization by someone ignorant of the folk magic practices. Sacrifices are left by crossroads to confuse the spirits ("Which way did they go?"), or by transportation corridors or moving water so the kinetic energy can disperse the energy. Railroad tracks, bridges, and other large iron structures are sacred to Ogun, and are appropriate places to leave sacrifices to him.

      • Pitch313

        It's also possible to read between the lines of the Park Record story, including Rimer's remarks, as a sort of agit-prop warning the established citizens of Utah that "outsider" followers of Santeria are entering the state as "refugees." And doing improper, if legal, things that mar and disrupt the good order and correct stability of Utah.

        Oops! Did I say "agit-prop"? Of course, I meant "considered warning" from an "occult expert."

    • Ymptree

      As Phaedra said, railroad tracks are sacred to Ogun. Streams are sacred to a couple of Orishas, Oshun in particular, and roads, paths, etc. are Eleggua's. It's entirely possibly that someone might leave a sacrifice alongside one of these — however, I've never heard of it being done for the reason Rider gives. I'm slowly making my way through the academic literature on Santeria, and have not encountered his "slave movement" theory anywhere there yet, either.

      For what it's worth, though some Lukumi do sometimes dispose of sacrifices out in the open, I personally wish they wouldn't. It's usually not hard to find a dumpster, or deeper woods, convenient to the crossroads or whatever, and usually it's fine to put the offering in it. It's neighborly, and avoids freaking people out.

    • He makes this shit up. I've confronted him face to face on his lies. He doesn't care. AND THIS JERK GETS MY TAX DOLLARS TO DO IT!

  • A.C. Fisher Aldag

    People who worship Jesus Christ often keep animals in small, filthy cages, before slaughtering them in inhumane methods. They store the animals' corpses on display in bright public locations, often with the talismanic symbol of a clown, a king, or a little girl with red braids nearby. Worshippers of this cult often are known to eat the flesh of these sacrificial animals. Just sayin'.

  • It seems odd that Nintendo was granted the trademark on Amaterasu. Clover Studio's well-loved 2006 game Okami (published by Capcom) had Amaterasu (in the form of a wolf) as the protagonist. That said, I know nothing about how copyright works, so maybe this is a pretty standard deal.

    • Spaz

      Trademarking "Chibi-terasu" makes more sense considering the sequel to O-kami that's coming out in April (at least coming out in the US).

      For those who aren't familiar with this all, "Omikami" is a title, not a last name. It's like trademarking "Jesus" and not "Jesus Christ." I, for one, wrinkle my nose at Nintendo.

      Then again, I've been very surprised at the lack of Shinto (kami-no-michi, whatever you wish to call it) knowledge by Japanese teens and young adults. They don't know Amaterasu (-omikami) and her stories. It's certainly not taught in school because it's considered religion. They're shocked that we have lessons in mythology in English classes here. I guess what I'm saying is don't expect an overwhelming outcry from Japan, at least from the younger folk.

      • Pagan Puff Pieces

        Well, I heard that, while Okami (fun game, by the way, especially if you like Zelda games) has its following, kind of underperformed in Japan I wonder if that's why. You really need a mythology 101 book to appreciate that game.

      • Rombaldf

        Well, the full name is "Amaterasu Omikami no Mikoto". In a sense, "Amaterasu" itself is only a title, meaning "Heaven's shine" in archaic Japanese.

        Westerners often try to impose a quasi-Greek pantheon on Shinto, as did the late-19th-century Japanese nationalists when creating State Shinto. However, although there are myths about the gods in ancient texts, I don't think polytheism, with clearly characterised gods, is close to the heart of Shinto, which I think is more about local spirits and holy places, family and the ancestors, social morality, forces of nature, and seasons and agriculture. It is very rare in Shinto for gods to be represented by statues.

        Basically, the fact that young Japanese have never heard of Amaterasu does not mean that they are ignorant of Shinto. The only people I would expect to place a lot of importance on Amaterasu would either have interest in the classics, or be ultra-rightists who hark back to the State Shinto era of 1870-1945.

        • Crystal7431

          I'm guessing that era is where the image of Amaterasu that most western Pagans are familar with originated?

          • Rombaldf

            Crystal: The myths about Amaterasu are taken from the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki, which were written down in the early 8th century. They're available in English, and are well worth a read if you come across them.

            In later times, Amaterasu was linked with the imperial family, and was also worshipped at numerous shrines. However, Japanese people seem to think "I will worship at the Ise Shrine", not "I will go and pray to Amaterasu" – people might worship regularly at a shrine dedicated to Amaterasu, and yet have never heard of Amaterasu. I don't think individualised gods are close to the heart of Shinto, and I'm not convinced they were in all pre-Christian European Paganism.

            From the 1850s onwards, many Japanese thought that their country needed a state religion, which they thought had contributed to the strengths of European countries. Some, despite not believing in Christianity, thought it should be officially Lutheran. What they did, from 1870, is dig out all the old classics, hammer all the myriad local cults into one mould, and link them with extreme nationalism, to make State Shinto.

  • Whatever happened to the good old fashioned idea that mutilated animals were the work of kids that might someday become serial killers? Does it really have to be faith related?

    • Robin Artisson

      Religious people are the new serial killers.

    • Bear in mind that the vast majority of people reading such articles don't consider anything related to the occult as "religious." The notion that Wicca is a religion is not even agreed upon within the pagan community. A better and more inclusive term might be "spirituality" but, again, many readers won't even acknowledge *that* distinction.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    Pagans had spam-block!

  • Robin Artisson

    It never ceases to amaze me how some people- even supposedly decided anti-monotheists like Baruch, fight to defend the status quo of history, including this pernicious lie that Christians were targeted in ancient Rome for incredible persecution just because of their beliefs.

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      I reported honestly the thinness of my backup on this. Apuleius confirmed what I was talking about, and we've since been discussing the contrast/comparison with modern times. If you have a problem with the topic your complaint is with Apuleius; he confirmed my second-hand information.

      • "Apuleius confirmed what I was talking about …."

        Actually, I said that I knew about the sources you were referring to, but that these sources do not support what you were saying.

        • Baruch Dreamstalker

          I didn't offer any sources.

          • You did not name any specific sources, but at one point you stated: "My sources are literary, multiple and second-hand. The assertion is that everyone was obligated annually to burn a pinch of incense for the benefit of the Deified Emperor."

            My contention is that the sources that do exist do not support what you are saying, but if they were half-remembered or improperly interpreted, they could be misconstrued in that way.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            I generally rely on you, when you write about the ancient Pagan world, to make a distinction between what you can support on the evidence and what you'd like it to have been. This conversation is undermining that reliance.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    "Should" tags a statement out of one's own belief system. It may of course produce conflict if applied to part of another system.

    "We don't bust Santeroes because of their beliefs, we bust them because their animal sacrifices are objectionable." We'd call that sophistry in a New York second. This is the same thing.

    • Bookhousegal

      Actually, I think that one's pretty thin, Baruch, saying it was because of 'different beliefs' when it was Christians *believing* they shouldn't be tolerant, amid all the other different beliefs getting along fine, and generally defying authority to make the point, hardly makes a case that Rome was an oppressive theocracy all around: in fact, they were very tolerant and inclusive: what set the Christians apart was their claims that they were 'oppressed' by not being able to show *intolerance* over this ceremony: as mentioned, many went out of their way to break laws to *make* themselves 'martyred' to whatever degree.

      (I mean, many *were,* after all, trying to start an actual revolution and all. Believing the Boston Tea Party was the right thing to do didn't exactly make it *legal.* )

      Whether one agrees or not, that's what we know about the Roman social order: One can't iclaim that it was 'state religion' singling out the 'different' just on a few stories like *this,* especially when other motives and ways of seeing the issue are clearer all around, and plenty of people with *quite* 'different' beliefs got along fine.

      • Baruch Dreamstalker

        "what set the Christians apart was their claims that they were 'oppressed' by not being able to show *intolerance* over this ceremony."

        Jehovah's Witnesses made the same claim about compulsory pledges to the flag and school prayer. We regard those cases as victories for the right relationship between government and religion.

        • Bookhousegal

          True enough. Our modern notions of freedom from religion are in fact a different context. I certainly prefer it.

          I'm just saying you can't project that back onto what it meant about 'difference' in Rome and take that story as a reflection of the big picture or what the pinch of incense *meant* in that context.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            But you can compare the two. They are two ways of doing things and the fact that one is ancient neither embellishes nor tarnishes it. I prefer our way because we've fought to get it in the shape it's in for some 400 years and we're still fighting. I can articulate a preference.

      • Baruch Dreamstalker

        "One can't iclaim that it was 'state religion' singling out the 'different' just on a few stories like *this,*"

        I never suggested Rome was generally intolerant. In fact, it was the Christians who were generally intolerant.

  • I still can't believe Donny boy is getting my tax dollars to spread his BS! I've written to the Govenor of Va, the Department of Criminal Justice Services (who is giving credits to officers who take his courses), and my local state senator, Tommy Norment, and got no response from any of them! How about an e-mail campain to make sure that they know we're not playing with them!
    Heads up, there is an Anti Don Rimer page on Facebook, join if you wish.