Archives For IndoPaganism

Happy Diwali!

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  October 26, 2011 — 4 Comments

I would like to extend my best wishes on this Diwali to Hindus (and Indo-Pagans) worldwide. May the triumph of light over darkness bring more understanding, cooperation, and opportunities to our respective faith communities in the year to come. May the blessings of Lakshmi reach us all in these trying times.

Lakshmi by Raja Ravi Varma

Lakshmi by Raja Ravi Varma

Diwali, the festival of lights, is a major Indian holiday representing a spiritual new year, and a triumph of good over evil. Depending on the region and tradition, this day commemorates the return of Lord Rama, the birth of Lakshmi, and the Austerities of Shakti (among other events). Celebrants usually light lamps, set off fireworks, and wear new clothing to commemorate the day. The Hindu American Foundation has a special page set up for this year’s Diwali featuring news of a congressional proclamation, an explanation of the holiday, and Diwali greetings from a variety of Hindus, politicians, and prominent figures from other faith traditions. This year several Pagan voices, including T. Thorn Coyle, Andras Corban-Arthen, Angie Buchanan, Phyllis Curott, Patrick McCollum, Barbara McGraw, and Rachael Watcher share their blessings.

“On this wonderful holiday I bring you Greetings on behalf of the Covenant of the Goddess. It is an amazing opportunity to see offerings of service as worship, alleviating suffering, inequality, and the darkness of ignorance. I cannot help but be deeply moved by the vibrant and active Hindu community that I have found in working with the Hindu American Foundation and its members. I will light candles seeking my own inner wisdom in companionship with you and look forward to a long and happy association on this most joyous of festivals.” – Rachael Watcher, Elder National Board, Covenant of the Goddess, Public Information Officer

For more information on Diwali, check out the Washington Post essay from Aseem Shukla, co-founder of the Hindu American Foundation.

“A contraction from the Sanskrit word Deepavali, that literally means rows of earthen lamps, the day has varied religious significance for Hindus, Jains and Sikhs.  But the metaphysical import is the same across all traditions: let the lighting of the Diwali lamp illuminate and vanquish the dark forces–the vices–that abound in the recesses of the intellect. The light symbolizes the victory of knowledge over ignorance, and goodness over evil and awakens an an awareness of God in every life.”

Again, a very happy Diwali to all!

Happy Diwali!

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  November 5, 2010 — 3 Comments

A very happy Diwali to all my Hindu and IndoPagan readers. Diwali, the festival of lights, is a major Indian holiday representing a spiritual new year, and a triumph of good over evil. Depending on the region and tradition, this day commemorates the return of Lord Rama, the birth of Lakshmi, and the Austerities of Shakti (among other events). Celebrants usually light lamps, set off fireworks, and wear new clothing to commemorate the day.

This year Barack Obama, the first US president to participate in a White House Diwali ceremony, is in India during the festivities.

For more on Diwali you may want to check out the Hindu American Foundation’s special page for the 2010 festivities.

May you experience happiness and good fortune on this day, and in the year to come.

Word has come to us that Pagan teacher, performer, and elder Len Rosenberg, known to the wider community as Black Lotus, passed away on October 15th due to complications from pneumonia. Black Lotus had also been battling colon cancer and was receiving chemotherapy. A Shakta (Hindu Goddess worshipper), and devotee of the South Indian Holy Woman, Ammachi of Kerala, Rosenberg also co-ran Mnemosynides Coven within the Protean Tradition of Witchcraft, a thealogically liberal group within the Gardnerian family. His writings were excerpted in Judy Harrow’s “Wicca Covens”, and in Cristina Biaggi’s “In the Footsteps of The Goddess”.

Len Rosenberg (Black Lotus). Photo by Eric Robbins.

Rosenberg was partners for many years with noted Celtic scholar, linguist, and author Alexei Kondratiev, who passed away this past May from a heart attack.

And when at last, I take the road
That leads to journey’s end,
I’ll find a Guide to show the way,
And recognize my friend.

– Black Lotus (Len Rosenberg), Excerpt from Song to Hermes

Here are some shared thoughts and remembrances from some of Len’s friends, acquaintances, and co-religionists.

“Len entered my life May 1992. He was my High Priest, mentor, teacher, and above all, friend. He would call every member of the coven at least once a week, often more often, to touch base and just kibbitz a little. We (Mnemosynides Coven, aka Children of Memory) met at least every other week, outdoors as often as possible, and participated in community networking events.

As the new century dawned, his mobility and health issues became more of a problem, and we met less often, and always indoors. Regardless of the limitations imposed by his body, Len’s mind was always sharp – especially his razor-sharp wit!

I was elevated to 3rd degree in 1999, so in 2004, when he stepped down for health reasons, becoming “High Priest Emeritus”, I stepped into very big shoes as High Priestess alongside Alexei.

He was an amazing human being, with interest in and expertise in many diverse topics: In addition to the Craft, there was writing, art, music, dance, sci-fi, Hinduism, Norse and other World religions. Having a conversation with him was always an invitation to learn something new – something you had never thought of before, and certainly had no idea that he knew anything about! Len was always full of surprises. When I announced that I was going to grad school, to study Oriental Medicine, he began chatting about how Ayurvedic medicine compares to Chinese medicine, with some Tibetan medicine thrown in!

My brother once said, after hearing Len sing, (with, of course, a preamble story explaining the mythology behind the song), that he belonged on stage.

His was a very big, and forceful personality. We loved each other very much – and often drove each other crazy (we actually had a counselor mediate between us once! His idea. I’m not that brave). Such is the reality of such a long running and intimate relationship.

But he reached out to keep it, when I was retreating. I’m glad he made that move all those years ago. Huge understatement. My life is richer for having had him in it. I know that he was assured nothing more than 3 – 6 months of misery, and I know it is selfish of me to say that I wish he could stay, but I will miss him terribly. Now, he is reunited with Alexei, well, strong, and whole. There are no limitations imposed on him now. ” – Karen Agugliaro, High Priestess, Wu Ji Coven, Florida

“I will remember him best in the Bardic circles and for the volumes of naughty songs he knew. While we will (and do) miss his presence – he is now free of the body had trapped and confined him to a life that left him dependent, isolated and lonely. I prefer to think of him and Alexi dancing in some Wild Place and arguing over how they will come back to us…” – Catherine LaForza, long-time friend of Len & Alexei’s

“About 25 years ago I met him during a bardic circle at a small festival in upstate New York. He sang several wonderful Pagan Filks in a sweet, reedy, Tom Paxton-like voice, even adding a little dance routine to a couple of them, hat and cane in hand. For years I looked forward to hearing him sing again, and then one year he was more solemn, and introduced a song of his own, the Sapta Matrikas, or the Seven Little Mothers. Just a few words into the song, we were all captivated, by the way he almost glowed with reverence as he sang, by the beauty of the song. To this day it is one of my favorites, and I sing it often. He practiced Hindu Wicca, was devoted to Kali, and could recount stories from the tradition for hours, captivating his audience, even in recent years, when his illness kept him seated and short of breath.” – Eric Robbins, founder and board member of EarthTides.

May he find peace and rest in the Summerlands, be reunited with Alexei, and return to us again.

ADDENDUM: I’ve attached an obituary from Judy Harrow, founder of the Protean Tradition.

Here’s a short excerpt:

Len brought the energy of mirth and reverence to whatever he did. His humor – plus his talent with words – came across in his satiric songwriting. His performances of “Witches Want to Cast Spells” (to the tune of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun) and other similar songs enlivened many a bardic circle. And he was usually the emcee of the bardics around here.

One moment is particularly cherished in Proteus Coven. We were in the elevator on the way up to a covener’s apartment for a ritual when a neighbor woman got in with us. She had apparently been walking her little dog. The dog, on a leash, was wearing one of those little doggie sweaters. As soon as the woman got out of the elevator, Len solemnly intoned, “I am the Mother of all things, and all things should put on a sweater.”

Thank you to Judy Harrow for sharing this with us.

Namaste, Wild Hunt readers! Many thanks to Jason for his invitation to bring some perspective on a subject that is more and more relevant – the issue of worshipping Hindu deities as a Pagan.

As the Pagan community grows, so do the various approaches to deity and ritual. While much of the Pagan world is involved in creating new traditions, reconstructing ancient ones, and everything in between, there are more and more Pagans who are drawn to living traditions such as the various African diasporic religions, Buddhism, and Hinduism. These practitioners typically want to maintain their basic philosophy and approach to religion, which often allows them to worship many deities in a spontaneous, eclectic way, and allows them to connect with many different Gods and Goddesses, while also incorporating deities or practices they find themselves drawn to.

One of the issues that comes up when this happens is appropriation. Cultural appropriation happens when someone from one culture borrows symbols, rituals, and practices from another culture without fully understanding the context, meaning, and complexity of those things, and then passes them off as one’s own, or uses their own interpretations and then passes them off as “authentic.” This becomes especially problematic when dealing with interactions between members of cultures with historical roots in colonialism, slavery, and exploitation.

With Hinduism, we often see Gods and Goddesses appropriated to give an “exotic” feel to a product, and in a religious sense when someone wants to worship a Hindu deity, but believes that their personal interpretation and experience of the deity is all that matters, and use pop cultural knowledge to essentialize these deities (i.e. Ganesha is reduced to a “remover of obstacles,” or Lakshmi becomes a “money goddess”). While putting a Hindu deity on a T-shirt isn’t so culturally offensive like putting one on a toilet seat is, plenty of my fellow Hindus are rightfully upset about the various appropriations of our religion, as it often betrays a simple disrespect or ignorance of Hindu culture and Indian history and philosophy, or a sense of entitlement to colonize and appropriate important symbols and deities.

From my own experience talking to and teaching people in the Pagan community about Hindu worship and deity, I have seen how paralyzing the fear of cultural appropriation can be, and I’ve also seen plenty of positive and negative sycretism. Some people feel drawn to these deities, but don’t know where to begin, and don’t want to step on any toes while they’re learning, so they never pursue it. I’ve seen plenty of neo-Pagans doing a great job at respectfully approaching Hindu deities and incorporating Hindu worship into their own with some amount of care and respect. At the same time, I’ve also seen a few neo-Pagans worship Hindu deities with some bravado, and have seen and heard about some rituals that are at best ignorant and at worst blatantly disrespectful of Hindu traditions and culture.

So what does it mean to worship a Hindu deity? Can you worship a Hindu deity if you are not Indian or Hindu? If you can, what does it require? I’ve run into a lot of spoken (and unspoken) misconceptions in the Pagan community around these questions, and I’d like to share some of my own perspective by debunking three common myths. You’ll also find this discussion relevant to approaching other living traditions.

Myth #1: You have to be Hindu to worship Hindu deities.

There are some very orthodox Hindus who believe that you have to be an Indian to be a Hindu, and there are many temples that bar entrance to non-Hindus (generally meaning non-Indians, but that can also mean those of low-caste, or who have any known non-Hindu ancestry). But there are also plenty of Hindus who believe that it’s what is in your heart that makes you a Hindu, not your nationality or the color of your skin. Hinduism at its best is incredibly accepting of many ways of knowing Truth. There are also plenty of temples that welcome people from all religions to worship the deities housed there, with a recognition that no one can put a limit on God, or on the human heart.

So, you don’t have to be Hindu to worship Hindu deities, but you do have to have respect for Hindu traditions and culture if you decide to become a devotee of a particular deity.

For example, I am a student of classical Indian music, and I can relate to you countless examples of Muslim music masters who were devout Muslims, but nevertheless worshipped Hindu deities, often through heartfelt religious songs and Sanskrit prayers. In the same way, if you are a neo-Pagan and you feel drawn to a Hindu deity, it’s important to learn the ways in which that deity is worshipped, so that you can be respectful to the tradition from which it comes.

Learning how to do a simple puja (worship ritual) and sing a couple of simple traditional songs is a good first step. Learning from a qualified teacher within the tradition is a great way to deepen your knowledge and practice, and there are a number of books, free videos, articles, and even email listservs that can help you with the basics. The best way to respectfully incorporate worship of Hindu deities into your own Pagan worship is to put in the time and energy to learn how they are worshipped traditionally.

Myth #2: You have to learn Sanskrit to worship Hindu deities.

I hear this one a lot! Hindu deities are worshipped with Sanskrit, and in order to develop your worship, you should learn a few basic Sanskrit prayers (mantras) to offer to your chosen deity. This is both a sign of devotion to your deity, as well as a sign of respect for the tradition.

But the fact is, most Hindus, regardless of nationality, don’t know Sanskrit beyond the basic chants and mantras they have learned from going to temples or performing simple worship in their own home, and history is full of saints who worshipped deities with ecstatic poetry and songs in their own native language. And most Hindus have small shrines in their homes where they offer very regular, very simple worship.

Sanskrit has two levels of power – the meaning of a given word or phrase, and the vibration created when spoken. Some mantras cannot be translated, but are purely spoken for their vibrational power. Even if you don’t know the meaning of a mantra, speaking it will evoke the power and blessing of the deity for which it was formulated hundreds or thousands of years ago. Thus, it’s important to learn some Sanskrit in order to perform basic worship, both to honor the tradition and to honor the deity properly. But you need not learn the entire language. Just learn the mantras you need to worship your deity, and learn them well so that you can infuse them with your devotion.

Myth #3: I can worship this deity any way I want, because it’s all about my relationship with them, and what I intuit.

This is a tricky one. Intuition is important when working with any deity, but what we see when we look at a symbol (including representation of deity) is informed by our own cultural information. Cultural appropriation happens most egregiously when we adopt symbols from other cultures, and then reassign meaning without regard to their original meaning or purpose. This is why the sacred texts and reputable gurus and teachers are important – they help us to understand the deeper meaning of mantra and ritual, contextualize symbols and experiences, and help us learn how to listen to our highest selves in more meaningful ways.

When we look at the Goddess Kali, for instance, one might see a terrifying Goddess of death and destruction. In fact, many in the Pagan community misconstrue and appropriate Kali as a Crone Goddess, emphasize Her as destroyer even while acknowledging Her role as creator, or essentialize Her as a Goddess of transformation. But this would be a terrible misconception of this Goddess who embodies but is also beyond Maiden, Mother and Crone (in fact, She is nothing less than Infinite Being), who is understood as benevolent and loving in West Bengal, where some of Her most famous temples are, as well as in Kerala, Assam, Bihar, and elsewhere throughout India.

To say it more succinctly, Hindu deities don’t exist without Hinduism. Hinduism doesn’t exist without community. So the best way to understand Hindu deities and offer respectful worship is to actually understand Hinduism and Hindu culture by participating in it. If you haven’t had the benefit of being raised in a Hindu culture, that means you’ll have to spend some time learning about it.

Although it’s uncomfortable to talk about, I also find that there are a surprising number of white Pagans who are afraid to visit Indian temples because they are afraid of being the only white people, not because they are worried about religious differences. This is an important fear to acknowledge and confront, because it goes to the heart of the cultural appropriation problem. If you can’t worship a Hindu deity in the midst of Indian Hindus, if you can’t be yourself and make friends in a community of people who share your devotion to this deity, then how can you claim to really respect the deity and the culture? If you feel uncomfortable, then good! That means you’re probably ready to learn something! Not just about the worship and the community, but about yourself, which is part of both the Hindu and the Pagan journey toward Truth.

I’ll say it again: Hindu deities are not separate from Hindu culture, and have been worshipped in much the same way for thousands of years. Learn and respect the path!

I now consider myself a Hindu, but I have been a practitioner of Goddess spirituality for nearly 20 years, and I started firmly rooted in the Pagan community. I’m also not Indian – I’m of European descent – and so being a Hindu and running a very small Hindu Goddess temple constantly challenges me to learn more and interact fully with the culture and the traditions from which the Hindu tradition comes. But I’m grateful for the generosity and good will of those who have shared their knowledge and their traditions with me, which includes my gurus, teachers, and friends. And I’m committed to helping people of all faiths learn more about respectful, traditional worship in a way that is simple and straightforward for the average devotee.

My own temple is explicitly a Hindu Shakta Tantric temple, and we welcome anyone from any path who wishes to come and worship the Goddess. We also offer a number of articles and a podcast to help both Hindus and non-Hindus learn more about the deeper meanings of deity and worship. There are also plenty of Indo-Pagan groups out there, and you may find that someone has already forged a path that speaks to your own desire to worship Hindu deities within a Pagan context. And finally, Hindu temples are generally welcoming to non-Hindus, as long as you are a respectful devotee. Dress conservatively, and if you don’t know what to do or how to worship, just ask someone to help you. Human beings are generally helpful and generous creatures when asked sincerely, and Hindus are no exception.

Even if you don’t worship Hindu deities, if you feel drawn to deities from a living tradition that is from a culture other than your own, the guidelines above – learn the worship from a qualified teacher, learn the basic prayers, engage in the community of devotees – are good ones to follow. I hope that this has been helpful, and I look forward to seeing the discussion develop!

Of all the Hindu goddesses, the image of Kali is perhaps the most well-known by those who know virtually nothing else about Hinduism. She’s been invoked and adopted by countless modern Pagans in America, sometimes with little to no knowledge of the religion or culture she sprung from, a fact occasionally satirized by Pagan humorists. In addition, she has become part of America’s cultural (and subcultural) short-hand in invoking an “exotic” Indian other (along with Ganesha and the dancing Shiva). However, as Hindus in America start to gain more political and economic clout and confidence, there’s been a push-back against appropriation and uses of Hindu imagery that they find offensive and demeaning. Take, for example, the recent case of the “Kali Mints”.

“Hindu leader, Rajan Zed, in a statement in Nevada, said inappropriate usage of Hindu deities or concepts for commercial or other agenda was not okay as it hurt the devout. Zed, who is president of the Universal Society of Hinduism, stressed that the goddess Kali is revered highly in Hinduism and is meant to be worshipped in temples and not used for selling mints.”

What’s so offensive about these mints? Let’s take a look at the product.

“Kali is a Hindu goddess that represents death, destruction, time and change. And what food comes to mind when you think of death, destruction, time and change? Curry! These exotic spice mints are great on their own or as an accompaniment to basmati rice and garlic naan.”

Not a lot of reverence or respect there. One could see how a Hindu group might take this product the wrong way (though I don’t think it’s nearly as offensive as that episode of Supernatural). Now, I’m not calling for my readers to boycott Accoutrements, or even write them a letter; but I do think this should raise some interesting questions about how our culture uses Hindu images and entities in our entertainment and marketing. Where should Pagans, and especially Indo-Pagans or those who profess to follow an Indian/Hindu god or goddess, stand on this issue? How do we balance our freedom of expression with respect for the culture and history that produced the gods, ritual, and rites many of us honor?

Meanwhile, a story out of India shows just how different attitudes are concerning the goddess Kali.

“The houses of this village have no doors, yet its residents don’t feel the lack of protection as they believe goddess Kali watches over them. What’s more, no thefts have been reported here for many years.  “It may be surprising for an outsider, but for us it has become a tradition. We have been living without doors from time immemorial,” Sajeevan Pal, 75, a farmer and resident, told IANS.  Singipur is on the outskirts of Allahabad district, some 200 km from the state capital Lucknow. Thatched, mud and cemented houses all exist in the village, but they share a common feature – not having the provisions of doors for its 140-odd houses.  Locals have a strong belief that goddess Kali protects their homes and would even punish those who attempt robbery or theft.”

One wonders what the villagers of Singipur, where Kali protects their door-less homes, would think of curry-flavored “Kali Mints”. Would they be flattered? Amused? Or would they find it sacrilegious and offensive? What do you think? Should we care about Kali Mints?

Happy Diwali!

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  October 17, 2009 — Leave a comment

A very happy Diwali to all my Hindu and IndoPagan readers. Diwali, the festival of lights, is a major Indian holiday representing a spiritual new year, and a triumph of good over evil. Depending on the region and tradition, this day commemorates the return of Lord Rama, the birth of Lakshmi, and the Austerities of Shakti (among other events). Celebrants usually light lamps, set off fireworks, play cards, and will occasionally pray to computers to commemorate the day. Of special note this year is that Barack Obama became the first US president to participate in the White House Diwali ceremony.

“Obama became the first US president to personally take part in a White House ceremony for the festival of lights, lighting a “diya” oil lamp inside the executive mansion and bowing respectfully before a Hindu priest. “While this is a time of rejoicing, it’s also a time for reflection, when we remember those who are less fortunate and renew our commitment to reach out to those in need,” Obama said.”

Not to be outdone, the British Prime Minister held a “historic” Diwali celebration at 10 Downing Street. For more information on Diwali and its traditions, check out the informative Hindu Blog.

May you experience happiness and good fortune on this day, and in the year to come.

Happy Diwali!

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  October 28, 2008 — Leave a comment

A very happy Diwali to all my Hindu and IndoPagan readers. Diwali, the festival of lights, is a major Indian holiday representing a spiritual new year, and a triumph of good over evil. Depending on the region and tradition, this day commemorates the return of Lord Rama, the birth of Lakshmi, and the Austerities of Shakti (among other events). Celebrants usually light lamps, set off fireworks, and wear new clothing to commemorate the day.

Hindu puja on the eve of Diwali.

“Diwali, the festival of lights, was on Tuesday celebrated across the city with traditional fervour as people decorated and illuminated their houses. People clad in new attire, thronged temples and distributed sweets and savouries among friends and relatives. The people, especially kids and youth, enjoyed the day by bursting crackers. President Pratibha Patil, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Union Ministers also celebrated Diwali. In the national capital, all small and major markets brimmed with activity as shoppers were seen making last minute purchases for the festival which marks the return of Lord Rama to his kingdom after 14 years of exile.”

May you experience happiness and good fortune on this day, and in the year to come.