Archives For Polytheism

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Emerald Tablet depiction, c1608 (Public Domain)

Emerald Tablet depiction, c1608 [Public Domain]

The sun is not the brightest star, but it is the closest, the loudest.

The sun is so close that it blinds from our eyes all those others who, by mere virtue of distance, must wait for the darkest of hours to remind us of their light. Without that garish ferocity, we cannot live, but it is at the cost of the myriad that this one Truth shines upon us.

If these words were in German, her warmth could bronze and perhaps sear your skin with rays of feminine brilliance. Were you reading this in French, his beckoning light might bring you instead to think on his mannish illumination gently coaxing out the life of plant from soil. The sun is feminine in many Germanic languages, while masculine in many Latin-derived tongues, and the moon is likewise gendered. It is female in French and male in German.

Is the sun male or female, though? It certainly cannot be said to have identifiable genitalia, so we are unable to resort to a particularly base methodology to discover our answer. One might even suggest that it has no gender at all, in accordance to our manner of ordering nouns in English. If this is the case, though, we must immediately judge all speakers of languages, which gender the sun, to be fools or, charitably, inheritors of a hopelessly primitive linguistic system.

Another interesting possibility exists. Perhaps the sun is both female and male, according to how and where one views it. We know, certainly, that the sun can both give life and take life away. It can both warm and burn; it might illuminate or blind depending upon where you happen to be standing or looking. That is, the sun is many things simultaneously; many things to many people. In the far northern hemisphere, I experience it in subtle degrees as the year grows cold. My friends in that other hemisphere now feel its coming strength as their winter thaws and spring flowers bloom. Those betwixt our homes at this moment shield their eyes from it, sweating fiercely under its burdensome weight.

The sun is both warm and cold, distant and close, searing and life-giving. Within Her and His and Its intensity is all the contradictions and opposites which compose a wholeness, a unity only understood in its fragmented difference.

One, Two, None, All

For more than a millennium there was one God. Before, there were many, but then there was but one, and he was male - a fierce, strong, creator-lord full of justice and power, might and judgment, as well as love, mercy, and some degree of kindness to those deserving of his favors or loyal to his causes.

We need not be so simple about it, though. There were certainly others gods; otherwise our Paganism is mere aesthetic, and vast civilizations utterly misguided, as the fundamentalist believers in Progress would have us think. The “progression” of religion from Animistic Shamanism to Polytheism, then to Henotheism, then to Monotheism and finally, at the top of glorious and final present, Atheism relies upon the hope that our present existence is somehow “better” than yesteryear, and that we should consider the succession of this forced march closely.

It proposes first a “simplistic” relationality between nature and humanity, followed by an unfortunate anthropomorphization of natural forces into human-gods. Then the desert cults, laboring under the searing, garish and very-loud sun, chose just one of the many and, when a prophet is hanged upon wood, they decide their one is an only.  Nearly two millennia later, some French and English writers decide there’s no god at all, and we are finally now enlightened–from all, to many, to one, to none – and too bad the billions in Africa and Asia just can’t catch up.

Beyond the extreme arrogance of asserting that a mere 2% of the world has accurately answered the question of the existence of gods, we should specifically complicate the “evolutionary” narrative of progressive ascension. Since so many ancient and indigenous cultures think in circles and wheels rather than vertical lines, it’s surprising that such a theory of religious succession could still maintain a grip upon Pagan thought – a theory which can be seen particularly in an unfortunate misstep of Wicca regarding the gender of the gods.

Adam And Eve in The Garden of Eden--by Lucas Cranach The Elder

Adam And Eve in The Garden of Eden–by Lucas Cranach The Elder

A popular reading of the re-introduction of “The Goddess” into modern religious thought (not just Pagan, but also some strands of Christian ‘Theology’) is that it’s a necessary correction of two millennia of male-centered, Monotheistic thought. This is a fair reading, and one can certainly point to all sorts of social and religious tendencies which, through a belief in an a male-gendered Only-god, contributed to the systematic degradation of a full half of humanity. That there was only one god, and that this only-god was male, is certainly peculiar and suspicious, particularly considering the patriarchal succession of priesthoods of this only-(male)-god.

As a political act, the insistence on an equally-important Goddess was quite radical, but also incredibly problematic. Besides the failed attempts of some writers to re-narrate a matriarchal past into pre-Monotheistic Europe (and history is only narration, so we should applaud their attempts as much as we cringe at their failure), the question of the only-(male)-god is hardly answered by giving him a mate, as if the Hebrew god’s act in Eden were a model to emulate.

Worse, this Goddess is a no-one; just as the monotheistic God was also a no-one.

They are not just no-ones, but also All-Ones, or Half-Ones. The Pagan (particularly Wiccan) Goddess is a conglomerate principle, a pastiche, a compound being encompassing half of a split divinity gendered female, or a corporate entity sometimes named the Divine Feminine. What then is left which is not of the one-Half-(female)-Goddess is then re-pasted upon a feral-yet-civil hunter dressed up in sacred loin-cloth and antlers. And, we are thus supposed to sigh, relieved that the One-God’s rib forms his eternal companion.

I do not say here that there is no Goddess, rather that there are many of them, a multitude, a myriad.  Nor would it do much good for us to debate precisely the theological import of such statements like, “I acknowledge the Goddess in all Her forms” (a sort of universalist-monism) or “I worship the Goddess by her many names” (a less corporatist approach). Rather, we should ask precisely why, as inheritors and escapees of monotheistic power, we’d settle for two gods as a solution to the tyranny of the (male) one.

Being a believer in the existence of gods (by which I also mean goddessess–let none say English does not possess gender!) requires me to be a bit extra polite when another Pagan, in ritual or in conversation, speaks of Pagans collectively worshiping “The Goddess.” I must do a bit of translation of their statement in order to not be offended. It’s an allowance for their shorthand, regardless of how much I really wish to ask, “wait–which goddess? I’ve met five of them, and have heard of another eighty, at least.”  

To say they are all-one, that all the goddesses enfold into one great Goddess is a bit colonialist. It’s also understandable, since we do the same thing with gender.  We speak of “female” and “male” as if all humanity is easily divided into two sorts of people, each composing a half of a corporate whole called “humanity.”

It’s a short-hand, a quick-sorting category, which is certainly useful in some circumstances, but it is also only that. And, like all categories and labels, often times they don’t fit, no matter how hard we try to peg certain beings into the spaces we’ve created for them.

Which Man? Which Woman?

Like race, we often approach the idea of gender as if it is a naturally-derived or divinely-revealed thing, though we forget we must actually be taught these categories. I had many black friends and female friends and even a few (but very few) wealthy friends when I was a child. But it was not until our differences were explained (and re-iterated, and enforced) that I understood that there was a difference between them and I. The skin-color of my friends was a mere characteristic, not a difference until I was told that being “white” meant something and being “black” meant something else. Similarly with female: a girl was a sort of a friend, not an opposition to boy. Different genitals was like different hair-length–utterly inconsequential.

But male and female, like white and black, mean something, or mean something to lots of people. Being one means you get paid less, being the other means you get paid more. It’s better to be white and male than all the other things, depending on where you live, but only because people have decided that white and male are better things than black or female.

Even our divine was male for awhile (and maybe even white, judging from most popular depictions of Jesus). Having a female divine as well is certainly nice and having her be equal (and in some traditions superior) to him corrects some imbalances certainly.

But there are many sorts of men, and many sorts of women. There are very old, withered-but-wise men, and very young, mewling, just-out-of-the-womb men. There are the strong and muscled ones, the furry ones (my favorite), but also the lithe or round ones. And the same for women–the maidens, the mothers, the crones, the really strong ones and the really graceful ones, the large and fecund or the diminutive and fierce. To say they are all women or are all men is a strange thing to say.

There are several ways people have gone about re-imagining gender, or re-enforcing gender, and several of these attempts are worth staring at.

One of perhaps the more common treatments has been to re-inforce the divisions between them, cutting deeper “no-man’s lands” betwixt her and him. One strand of thought focuses primarily on the genitals of the person, and to some degree the genetics. On the side of “her” has been Z Budapest and other Second-Wave feminists, insisting that women are only those who’ve been born into such things as “the uterine mysteries.”

On the side of “him” have been writers characteristic of the New Right gaining increasing popularity within Paganism, such as Jack Donovan. “Men” for them are those who possess not just testicles, but also certain physical characteristics defined precisely by their opposition to an imagined Feminine.

In both cases, it is the fault of the other which has brought them to such matters. Second-Wave feminists cite patriarchy as the cause of their need for exclusion, and writers like Donovan cite Feminism as the reason men are bound to desk-work and served “manly” drinks in thin stemware.

A second treatment of gender fails equally. The “Radical Feminism” (which is hardly radical at all) of people like Lierre Keith and Derrick Jenson of Deep Green Resistance, as well as certain positions leftover from late 60’s American Paganism, attempts to resolve the matter of gender by abolishing it altogether. On its surface, such an idea is appealing, as must have been Atheism to Enlightenment writers, noting the problems of European Monotheism. Without gender, there is no division, and all humanity becomes one. Only in its particular violence against a certain group of people, however, does one begin to see the flaws in this.

In fact, what all these attempts have in common is a shared hatred of a specific class of people–trans-folk. Humans, who have chosen to physically embody a gender according to their will rather than circumstance of birth, attract such vitriol from all these groups that we should seriously consider why. Donovan, Budapest and Keith, all on apparently opposite sides of the gender question, stand united in their venom against trans-folk. Why?

The trans-person (and, equally perhaps, the queer) stands in a place more revolutionary and radical than any of their critics can hope to occupy. By choosing their gender, they do not abolish gender, they transform it into a human act, reminding the rest of us that gender, like race, is something we create and can choose to embody, rather than something we are born into. The all is split into many; each half of humanity split into a multitude of individual embodiments.

This transformation is revolutionary because it affects the rest of us. I am a cis-male, deep voiced, muscular, “man,” but if I rely only on accident of birth to claim my specific maleness, I exist in a passive realm of non-choice. For the multitude of other sorts of men, is it not the same thing? As well, for women; if a female relies on her uterus for her identity, what sort of identity is that?

That is, we cannot merely say woman, we must also ask “which woman?” Just as we cannot merely say Goddess or God, but rather ask which goddess? Which god?

"Starry Night" [Photo Credit: ESO/H. Dahle  Lic. CC - Wikimedia]

“Starry Night” [Photo Credit: ESO/H. Dahle Lic. CC - Wikimedia]

The Multitude and the Myriad

To lump a very large group of things, or people, or beings into one whole has not gone very well for us humans these past few millenia, particularly because we’ve had to, like Cinderella’s step-sisters, take some bloody steps to force things to fit into the receptacle of our categories.

Monotheism required the annihilation of other gods except the One God; just as it required the destruction of cultural forms to make people fit into its categories. Communism and Fascism both require similar annihilation, crushing all humans within their realm into the worker or the volk. But likewise, Atheism is hardly an adequate answer, which abolishes all gods just as some would abolish all gender. More pernicious has been Capitalism’s answer, which erases identity altogether, except what can be purchased or sold, leaving individuality to one’s choice of smartphone or automobile. Any anyway, it hates forests.

Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt introduced the idea of “the Multitude,” the vast teeming flood of humans and their experiences which threaten always to overwhelm Empire. I suggest we Pagans embrace it and expand upon it. I like, particularly, the word Myriad, as in a “myriad of stars,” an immeasurable number which likely has a limit but one we cannot quite reach.

In all our multitudes of experience, we define ourselves and our genders. Each man is a sort of man, each woman a sort of woman. Each goddess is a sort of goddess, each god a sort of god. They are themselves them selves, just as we are each neither cog nor component.

How many gods are there? I do not know, anymore than I could hope to innumerate the sorts of women I’ve met, or of trees. I know it’s more than two and, definitely, more than none.

Likewise, how many ways of encountering the Other, or of making love, or of relating to each other are there?  How many sorts of sunlight are there, how many kinds of illumination does the sun shine upon the earth?.

A multitude, certainly.

A Myriad.

“It’s a damn fine time to be a Polytheist.”

That’s an unofficial tag line of polytheist.com, a web site launched on September 8, 2014 as “a safe online hub devoted exclusively to the topics, issues, discussions and news of the growing Polytheist movements.” With the official tag line of, “honoring many gods,” the site promises to give voice to the perspectives of a population that occasionally feels silenced by the wider Pagan community — or who bristle at the idea of being identified as Pagan at all. They most frequently are described as devotional or “hard” Polytheists, and are generally characterized as relating to their gods as external beings that were not created by human thought or deed.

Polytheist.com banner

Polytheist.com banner

The idea for creating a site dedicated to the Polytheist movement was the brainchild of Anomalous Thracian or, as he explained, “My gods made me do it.” Thracian’s vision was a site that not only provided a platform for those among his co-religionists who felt they weren’t being heard within broader Pagan sites, but also a place where lesser-known writers could share and discuss their experiences. “There are non-professional voices, but it will be a professional, quality product,” he said. “Someone taking a college course should be able to learn from our articles, even if they can’t cite them.”

The site launched with contributions from ten different columnists. In a press release, Thracian promises:

Over two-dozen talented writers, voices and visionaries from around the world, representing a diverse expression of religious traditions, lineages and communities brought together in solidarity around one basic, foundational principle: honoring many gods. In providing dedicated space for these important conversations, and fostering responsible dialogue and practice, the site brings together a group of priests, shamans, spirit-workers, theologians, philosophers, educators and prayerful dedicants from a varied set of backgrounds and walks-of-life, to share in this essential community undertaking.

The term “columnist” is not accidental. “This is not a blog site,” Thracian said. “It’s professional columns, and it’s content-driven, not personality-driven.” That’s why he’s opting not to contribute to the site himself, preferring to keep himself in the background as a means to ensure that a plurality of voices are what’s heard. “It’s not my vision which is reflected,” he said.”It’s vision reflected.”

Anomalous Thracian

Anomalous Thracian

Another way that the site avoids being a cult of personality is through its funding. “It’s entirely out of pocket, and I don’t have any pockets,” Thracian said. He quietly sought donations from a number of individuals to pay for everything from the domain name itself, which was bought at auction, to the server space that houses the WordPress multisite installation and powers the whole operation. “I didn’t want anyone to have such a stake in it that there was a sole controller,” he explained.

Polytheists are only just developing a group identity, and that has been in no small part due to feelings that their experiences are not being heard and sometimes not welcome in the broader Pagan community. Some Polytheists refuse the “Pagan” label entirely, seeing it as describing a religious approach which they scarcely recognize. While others, Thracian said, have felt torn between their Pagan community and their Polytheistic devotions.

One of the more visible attempts for this group to become a more cohesive community was this summer’s Polytheist Leadership Conference held in the Hudson Valley of New York State. Like the conference, polytheist.com is another step within that same process.

Nevertheless, Thracian was clear that the site does not represent “a war on Paganism.” Instead, it is intended to be a place where those who perform devotions to external gods can write and learn about those experiences. “If a Jungian comes here and says we’re doing it wrong, we can tell them that this isn’t the place for that,” he explained.

Unlike many who call themselves both Pagan and Polytheist, Anomalous Thracian wasn’t a Pagan first. “My Pagan identity is only about six months old,” he said, but he’s been a Polytheist for years. He credits Sam Webster with shifting his thinking to something he refers to as, “and, not or.” When compared to the dominant monotheistic religions, he sees more commonalities between Polytheists and Pagans than differences. “The line between them can be a lot blurrier” in some traditions than others, he pointed out.

Pagan Leadership ConferenceThe site’s launch date was originally set for September 2, not September 8. While there were some technical glitches, the reason for the delay was to avoid distracting from recent online controversies. Although drama is a notable characteristic of online communities, Thracian doesn’t expect that tendency to short-circuit polytheist.comInstead, he’s focusing on the fact that the internet has made it possible for Polytheists and Pagans alike to connect in ways that was not imaginable a generation ago, and to build upon that momentum. 

His sense of hope was echoed by Sannion, who remarked that the site may actually defuse such tensions:

“One of the reasons I think there has been so much flamewarring over the last couple years is because it’s an opportunity for us to come together across communal lines and talk about issues that impact all of us. Well, what if we did that without controversy fueling everything? Now with this new communal hub we have an opportunity to find out.”

The first set of columnists include writers who are decidedly laity and, even one, who is presently incarcerated in the penal system. The stable of writers come from at least four different countries and follow several different traditions, including Kemetic, Hellenic, and the Otherfaith, a Polytheist religion which has only recently emerged. There are plans to continue to build the diversity of the site. “I’d love to get someone from a middle-American Heathen group,” Thracian said with hope evident in his voice.

Just as polytheist.com is not intended for baiting members of the Pagan communities, it’s also not about converting readers to any particular Polytheistic path. Instead, it’s a safe space for dialog among those who honor many gods.

“If the pagan polytheisms have always lost, … it is, among other reasons, because of their exceptional capacity for tolerance…” – Marc Augé

510U4nBPTUL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The books you read can often illuminate patterns within the culture and society that you may not have noticed, or re-contextualize thoughts you’ve already had. Such is the case with “A Million and One Gods: The Persistence of Polytheism” by Page duBois, a Distinguished Professor of Classics and Comparative Literature at the University of California, San Diego. For the well-read Pagan or polytheist, much of what duBois says regarding the worship of multiple gods and powers won’t be all that new, but the cumulative goal to advocate for a course-correction within academia regarding the concept of polytheism underlines just how pervasive monotheism is within Western culture’s assumptions and thinking, even from the scholars who are supposed to be dispassionate observers and analysts.

DuBois writes with the zeal of someone working to right a wrong, noting that “the attempt to deny its [polytheism's] presence produces intolerant assumptions,” and that when “we naturalize monotheism, or see it as the telos, goal or end of religious development, perhaps a stage on the way to atheism, we accept the homologies that have governed Western modernity.” Monotheism as norm has been so rigidly enforced, notes duBois, that we have a hard time seeing the truth about ancient polytheisms, let alone the fact that “polytheism is always present.”

“Our residence in a predominantly and dominant monotheistic cultural setting, one that has been defensively, even militantly attempting to patrol and police monotheism for millennia, has had its effects on obscuring the nature of ancient societies.”

Seeing an academic stand up and advocate for a re-thinking of polytheism, even if it might be limited to academia, is welcome. As I’ve been reading this work, I couldn’t help but notice how many adherents of the dominant monotheisms constantly engage in the work of boundary maintenance, ever-vigilant in their quest to see polytheism remain outside the bounds of “normal” and “rational” discussions of religion and faith. Or, if polytheism must exist, it must be content to do so from the margins of society, or in distant lands far away from the concerns of Western modernity. For example, this editorial by Bryan Gray at The Davis Clipper on a 10 Commandments monument being erected on government property in New Mexico that was successfully challenged by two Wiccan residents. Gray makes sure to insult the Wiccans, and paint their beliefs as strange.

bloomfield nm

©jorndorf/roughshelter.com

“The New Mexico lawsuit was brought by two people who practice the Wiccan religion. I’m not versed in Wiccan beliefs, but figure the religion’s precepts are somewhere between the Great Mandala and Harry Potter. Frankly, I would have no problem if the Wiccans wanted to pony up money and put their own display outside city hall. The groundskeeper would have less lawn to mow [...]  Yes, we need freedom from government-sponsored religion. We also need freedom from stupidity.”

Further, Gray, seemingly forgetting that the 10 Commandments were handed down by the God of Abraham, argues that they are largely secular, glossing over the many explicitly religious rules laid down. Reinforcing that monotheistic religions are so normal that their removal from a secular public square is suspect, even in the face of non-monotheists speaking up. People like Gray have the luxury of not being bothered by these monuments, because they see monotheism as the acceptable manifestation of religion, and no rebellion (even from within their own theological boundaries) can be tolerated for long in such a system.

“Archbishop Coakley says the Civic Center is a venue where the community can experience a positive form of entertainment. He says this satanic organization has an agenda, that has no place in our society. ‘The Satanic ritual that is scheduled to be performed at our Civic Center is to invoke those dark powers, which I believe are very real and call them into our city, into our community.’ said Archbishop Coakley.”

This endless vigilance against polytheism happens even when it seems like monotheism is winning. Mere adherence to a monotheist identity isn’t enough, they must also be willing to erase any trace of what once was. For instance, Christians love the successes brought about by evangelizing their faith to the “Global South,” until that form of Christianity risks becoming the dominant form of the religion. Then, the hand-wringing over “animism,” syncretism, and polytheism begins.

“When the Church’s center of gravity has completed its transit to the Southern Hemisphere, would any Catholic alive today still recognize it? It is hazardous to predict the full effect of that demographic shift on the historical practices of Christianity. Still, we ought not discount the chance that this tectonic shift could yield a syncretic, creole Christianity more congenial to animism than Thomism. [...] Numerical growth tells us nothing about the blurring of religious distinctions among African congregations or among clergy themselves. A priest might preach Christianity by day and, under cover of the communion of saints, visit an animist divine at night to consult his forefathers.” 

nones_gssHere, we arrive at the deepest fear of the monotheist: That polytheism is actually natural to humanity, and when social controls are lifted, people either leave, or change the faith into something unrecognizable to the purists. As duBois puts it, there is “an inevitability to the persistence of polytheism, an undercurrent that cannot be suppressed, a popular culture that holds to its many gods, a recurrent resurfacing of polytheism within monotheism, or an exhaustion of monotheism that dialectically produces polytheism.” While Christianity still numerically dominates in the United States, the last 20 years have seen the population of those called “nones” (those who claim no formal religion) skyrocket, while non-Christian religions have also continued to grow. This, along with the ragged persistence of secularism, has caused some Christians to adopt language of being in “exile” despite experiencing mild inconveniences at best.

“The harder task is to face the fact of our lingering privilege, tarnished and dimmed though it may be, with an honest and critical heart. Harder still may be the task of reaching out to those whom we managed to drive away from the Kingdom of God all on our own, with no help from music videos or the Supreme Court.”

The invisibility of polytheism in the West is a manufactured invisibility, it didn’t just happen. Western society after the rise of Christianity was built on making sure no competing theologies interfered in the narrative. Dissidents were commodified and defanged, or villainized and mocked. This status quo is maintained in a myriad of ways, such as a mainstream religion news organization increasingly hiring journalists who came up through denominational or evangelical Christian media outlets. Think that doesn’t matter? In their coverage of the current crisis in Iraq, Religion News Service have published one story on the plight of the Yazidis, who practice an ancient pre-Christian religion, and seven on the plight of the Christian minority. Perhaps this imbalance could be waved away as them simply catering to the Christian majority in the United States, but they then also run an editorial lambasting politicians for “ignoring” Iraqi Christians.

“The Yazidis deserve protection and humanitarian aid, but so do the Christians who number in the hundreds of thousands in Iraq. While the Yazidis received air drops of food and water, nothing has been dropped to the Christians who are homeless and in dire need of food and water. Each day that passes is a matter of life and death.”

One could point out that the Yazidis can’t turn to a hugely powerful network of Christian faiths that number in the billions, control huge assets, and walk in the halls of power across the world to advocate for them, thus making the comparison obscene, but let’s simply recognize this for what it is: A reminder that one must not take the focus off the dominant monotheisms for too long. Despite this enforced invisibility, polytheism endures, all we need to do is open our eyes and it is everywhere.

“Polytheism is not primitive, an early stage of human development, to be transcended as people progress toward a more sophisticated understanding of divinity, nor do religions necessarily oscillate between polytheism and monotheism. Rather, I contend that polytheism is always present, officially or unofficially, and that the attempt to deny its presence produces intolerant assumptions among monotheists and even atheists, who claim a moral superiority to polytheists.” – Page duBois, “A Million and One Gods: The Persistence of Polytheism”

I think that no empire lasts forever, they crumble, or consume themselves, or over-estimate their powers and fail, and such, I think, will be the ultimate fate of the dominant monotheisms. The controls that once worked lose their effectiveness over time, and thus freed, the inevitability of polytheism(s) will reassert itself. I won’t pretend to know what that world will look like, and perhaps the time of transition will be a bleak time, as it often is when oppressive powers finally fall, but I can only think we will better off with an existence that acknowledges our need for interweaving and interconnected relationships as a model. I think a renewed global polytheism will provide that, but for now we need only to push back against the invisibility while we await the inevitability.

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

Pagan Leadership ConferenceAs mentioned last week, the recently concluded inaugural Polytheist Leadership Conference was considered a success by all who attended. Conference co-organizer Galina Krasskova has been rounding up thoughts and reactions from attendees here, here, here, and here. Do check them out for a fuller picture of what went down. In addition the conference has already announced dates for next year, and who their keynote speaker will be: Morpheus Ravenna. Quote: “I’m delighted to announce that Morpheus Ravenna will be our key-note speaker at the Polytheist Leadership Conference in 2015. We just confirmed with her last night. An initiate of the Anderson Feri tradition, Morpheus is a Celtic polytheist, an artist, spiritual worker, and devotee of the Morrigan. She is the leader of the Coru Cathubodua, a priesthood dedicated to this mighty Goddess and was recently featured on the documentary ‘American Mystic.'” For further updates, check out the PLC’s official website.

Anomalous Thracian

Anomalous Thracian

In other Polytheist community news, a new website, Polytheist.com, will be launching later this Summer. Spearheaded by Anomalous Thracian (aka Theanos Thrax) the new site plans to be safe, dedicated, home to an incredibly diverse Polytheist population. Quote: For some time, many Polytheists have been seeking a place for discussing their religions, their divine relations, and their living lineages in such a way that effectively maximizes the vastness of the all-connecting technologies of the internet age to reach out to and commune with other like-minded and like-religioned groups and individuals, without inviting the targeting and resistance often experienced in spaces not dedicated to this specific aim.” In a recent editorial published at PaganSquare, Anomalous Thracian endorsed an ethos of “And, Not Or” when it comes to Polytheist-Pagan relations. Quote: “A Polytheist and a Pagan. Not ‘either/or’. No war implicit between the two. That does not mean that there is not conflict, and that there is not a need to fight for the rights of identification, of religious and social difference and differentiation; but it does mean that I can dually wield both of those identities. I am never not one, never not either; they do not compete, nor cancel one another out.”

702Pagan learning institution Cherry Hill Seminary has announced the graduation of Carol Tyler Kirk, awarding her a Masters of Divinity in Pagan Pastoral Counseling, the second such graduation since Cherry Hill Seminary first opened its graduate program in 2009. Quote: “Kirk served the U.S. Army as a nurse in a Vietnam MASH unit from May 1969 to December 1970, then returned home to a career in nursing management. Kirk’s master’s thesis addresses the needs of the ‘wounded warrior,’ those returning from deployment overseas and whose war wounds may be non-physical, running deeper into the soul. Publication of the work is in planning. Kirk has also led several covens, and currently serves as a hospital chaplain and interfaith activist in Huntsville, Alabama. A July 2013 article in the Cherry Hill Seminary newsletter relates Kirk’s role in establishing the Women’s Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., where she spoke at the dedication.” Kirk’s department chair and advisor, Dr. David Oringderff, said that Kirk set “high standards of excellence for all of our students who follow.”

In Other Pagan Community News: 

  • A new biannual print journal concerning polytheism and spiritwork, Walking the Worlds, has debuted and is looking for submissions. Quote: “Walking the Worlds is a new print journal that will be debuting on the Winter Solstice. Devoted to an exploration of spiritwork and polytheism from a variety of traditions, ancient and modern, we are seeking essays, reviews and poetry on topics such as: gods, ancestors, spirits, spirit-animals, heroes, land-wights, prayer, devotions, offerings, sacrifice, ritual, ritual tech, festivals, temple and shrine-keeping, music, dance, ecstasy, madness, trancework, cleansing, entheogens, healing, initiation, ordeal, divination, oracles, inspired and channeled works, magic, witchcraft, herblore, science, history, mythology and so forth.”
  • Yeshe Rabbit and Erick DuPree have launched dharmapagan.org as a free online resource that fuses their work with the dharma and Buddhism through a Pagan lens. Yeshe Rabbit and Erick host Dharma Pagan Dialogues and Discussion videos with guests like Sam Webster and Dylan Thomas, invitations to online sangha and practices such as Tea and Chanting and Chanting Green Tara, as well a guest blog. For more information visit: www.dharmapagan.org
  • Artist, writer, and scholar Sasha Chaitow is seeking crowdfunding help to attend and participate in the upcoming OCCULT art salon in Salem, Massachusetts. Quote: “I’ve been invited to the OCCULT Art Salon in Salem, MA this September to participate in the art exhibition and present a workshop on [visionary author Joséphin] Péladan’s work. I am preparing a painting for the exhibition, but I need your help to get there, as the travel expenses are well beyond what I can afford as a (barely graduated) ex-grad student.”
  • A Bad Witch’s Blog reports on the recent “Witchcraft Today” 60th anniversary event. Quote: “The tabloid papers often gave particularly lurid, sensationalist and inaccurate accounts of what went on in the Craft. Gerald Gardner was one of the few Wiccans willing to speak to the Press at the time and his book Witchcraft Today was partly written to try to redress the balance and give the public a genuine insight into what witches do.”

 

witchcraft-today-60-years-on

  • At PaganSquare Cat Treadwell reports on the first Pagan Symposium in London, organized by the Pagan Federation. Quote: “Since the discussions over the Census and the PaganDASH project, there has been a need for cohesive voices and a mature approach to the representation of Pagans across the country, as many of our international fellows are already doing. We would try to accomplish this, as individuals and within groups sharing identities and diverse beliefs under the Pagan umbrella. Even just for today, to see if it worked… these few hours would be a test, of sorts.”
  • The Moon Books blog interview Christine Hoff Kraemer, Pagan theologian, author, and manager of the Patheos Pagan channel. Quote: “I think the strength of Patheos Pagan is that it exists in an inherently interfaith context. One of our writers, Julian Betkowski, recently commented on the dangers of accidentally creating “echo chambers” rather than functional religious communities — small cliques of people in which an agenda is enforced and genuine dialogue is discouraged. Hosting a community of Pagan writers in an interfaith environment helps combat that in a number of ways. It forces us to continually refine our own viewpoints in dialogue with each other *and* with people of other religions. Having regular contact with thoughtful non-Pagans keeps us in mind that despite Pagans’ differences, we still have a great deal more in common with each other than we do with the other major Western religions.”

 

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

On a few different occasions now, I have been the face of modern Paganism in a world religions course at an evangelical Christian Bible seminary in Portland, Oregon. The class, at Multnomah University, is filled with individuals who are hoping to go into leadership and missionary roles within their respective church communities. I know that they want to convert me, and all like me, but I agreed to be there because I felt that humanizing Pagans was important, especially to those who might have heavily distorted or antagonistic ideas about what my beliefs were. It’s (relatively) easy to sit down with a liberal Episcopalian, peaceful Light-loving Quaker, or questioning Unitarian-Universalist, it’s quite another thing to engage with folks who might adhere to a spiritual warfare theology regarding non-Christian faiths.

Selena Fox (with Shauna Aura Knight) at Chicago Pagan Pride.

Selena Fox (with Shauna Aura Knight) at Chicago Pagan Pride.

When I step in front of that class, one of the first things I do is point out that modern Paganism is not a monolith. That we are a religious movement made up of distinct groups, traditions, and belief systems. That “Paganism” as a classification does not mean the same thing as the label “Christianity” might mean to them. If you speak to a Christian, they might have widely diverse views on a number of subjects, but there’s a central text (The Bible) and figure (Jesus) that makes them recognizable as a group. However, if you talk to a Pagan, you might be speaking to a Wiccan, a Druid, a Heathen, or one of a growing number of polytheist reconstructionists and revivalists. Of course, statistically speaking, they might also very well end up talking to an eclectic, solitary, practitioner who mixes and matches from the many definable communities that exist underneath our umbrella.

“The problem with big tents is, well, they’re big. Try to embrace the whole tent and you can find yourself bouncing back and forth between pouring libations to Zeus, protesting fracking, organizing the Beltane picnic and meditating on The Fool.  Those are all worthwhile things to do, but they can lead to a personal religion that is the proverbial mile wide and an inch deep.”John Beckett

As I move forward with my talk, I notice that I steer away from my personal beliefs as much as possible. Not to protect myself, I care little if a group of evangelical students know my views on divinity, but because I realize that I’m a filter for something incredibly vast. How do I do justice to both P. Sufenas Virius Lupus and Cat Chapin-Bishop? To Don Frew and Cara Schulz? The more I personalize, the more they’ll equate my views with the entire movement, so I try to avoid making it about me. Instead I draw diagrams explaining hard and soft polytheism, explain how there can be humanist Wiccans, and even note that there are groups who increasingly want nothing to do with the term or community that has formed around the word “Paganism” for a variety of reasons. In the end, I point out that religious discourse with a Pagan can’t be about a list of preconceived ideas about what we believe, or do, it has to start simply, as an organic attempt at friendship, or else it will ultimately fail.

“While it has been building for the last few years more and more, I wonder if we have not, at last, reached a kind of definitive “breaking point,” so to speak, where polytheism and general paganism can no longer realistically say that they’re at all related.”P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

Paganism is often explained as a collection of “nature-based” faiths, and while that sweeping classification is both limiting and alienating to some groups and individuals within our movement, it does make for a handy metaphor. Like nature, Paganism can be, and is, endlessly diverse. It can be both embracingly populist and extremely individualistic, focused on the esoteric and concerned with the dirt beneath our feet. Pin-point local or hugely universal in its scope. The mere notion of unity can be a difficult prospect, and one that is often mired in politics. There have been times, even recently, where I felt somewhat intimidated to enter into dialog with my fellow Pagans because I wasn’t sure if my own theological views would be seen as safely within our boundaries, or hopelessly heterodox. Not in the same fashion as some of my outspoken polytheist friends, but I too have questioned the utility and usefulness of the term Paganism as an umbrella. I have even entertained the thought that perhaps we’d all get along better if the term, if not the movement, went away. Because I’ve been to the big intrafaith events, and I know that despite our immense theological and cultural diversity we can share fellowship, discuss common problems, and even mobilize around things that we know to affect us all.

Don Frew (center) at the Parliament of the World's Religions (2009).

Don Frew (center) at the Parliament of the World’s Religions (2009).

“I like to say that as religions seeing the Divine manifest in and as the material world, we have to expect that the Divine is both as unified and at the same time at least as diverse as is the natural world. There is one Earth, but innumerable climates and geographies, flora and fauna. It should be no surprise that our spiritualities reflect this.”Don Frew

All of the recent debate over community, terminology, and theology, is, I think, a sign of our collective success. When our religions were under constant threat, when we truly feared jail, or worse, because of our beliefs, we huddled together for safety and solidarity. We created advocacy groups to speak for us, and empowered authors and activists to be our public face(s). We worked very hard at simple acceptance, and have gained a lot of ground in the last 30 years. Even in the ten years of doing The Wild Hunt, I have seen amazing progress, stuff that would have seemed remarkable to our founders from the 50s and 60s. With these advances comes a branching out from that place of huddled safety, where thousands now work at evaluating what they want from a modern Paganism, and if it still suits them. Margot Adler, famous author of “Drawing Down the Moon,” has publicly said on more than one occasion that had she the option back in the 1970s, she would have become a Hellenic polytheist instead of a Wiccan, but Wicca was all she could find at the time. The Margot Adler’s of tomorrow don’t have to worry about those limitations. Thanks to our ascendancy, growth, and technologies, our choices are more expansive, and at least in most Western nations, relatively safe to explore.

Margot Adler, Michael Lloyd, at Anniversary Pagan Way Lecture Series; photo by Brian Brewer

Margot Adler, Michael Lloyd, at Anniversary Pagan Way Lecture Series; photo by Brian Brewer

Going forward, our leaders and elders need to take seriously the need not only for interfaith outreach to religions like Christianity, Hinduism, indigenous traditions, and Buddhism, but a renewed intrafaith discussion among the many faiths that operate within our movement, who still stand (for now) under the Pagan umbrella. We can no longer assume that everyone is going to simply go along, or that criticisms are coming from an ignorable minority. A not-often discussed fact, is that Paganism is largely solitary and eclectic in its makeup. The “large” Pagan organizations have membership rolls that number hundreds, not thousands, and there’s no group that can truly claim to speak for our movement in any unified way. This means that constant engagement and re-engagement within is critical towards achieving the many movement goals we might have (infrastructure, legal rights, pan-movement activism), and a failure to see the importance of such engagement will ultimately lead to our shopworn umbrella truly shredding apart in the decades to come.

If we want a full and rich “Paganism” moving forward, we’ll have to work for it anew. We will have to respect our increasing diversity, and the changing mores of the individuals willing to stand with our movement. Alternately, we can redefine Paganism to mean a smaller number of faiths, and accept that a growing number of religious communities are going to exist apart from us. Whatever “we” want, we should act on it, otherwise time and inaction will make the choice for us.

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

PFI PhilippinesIn the wake of Typhoon Haiyan, which has wreaked havoc and destruction through the Philippines, the Pagan Federation International in Philippines has started raising funds to aid in providing food, water, and shelter to those directly affected by the storm. Quote: “Let us help ease the burden of our friends from Northern Cebu by helping with our mission to give aid to the Northern Cebu Typhoon Victims such as Daan Bantayan and Bogo. Pagan Federation International is needing volunteers and donations.” Vivianne Crowley, a longtime member and organizer within the Pagan Federation, added, quote, “many of you will have seen on news programs the devastation in the Philippines following Typhoon Haiyan (known locally as Yolanda). The Pagan community in the Philippines seem to all be safe, but some have lost their homes and many people are lacking food, water and shelter. Our friends in Pagan Federation International Philippines are appealing for help.” The Wild Hunt’s Heather Greene is currently following up with PFI Philippines on this effort, and we hope to bring you a more in-depth report this Sunday. I have embedded a poster created by PFI Philippines below, which lists contact information and a list of needs.

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Peter Dybing

Peter Dybing

Meanwhile, Pagan activist and disaster relief first responder Peter Dybing has issued a challenge to our community to give during this time of crisis. Quote: “Here is the challenge. I ask that every individual identifying as part of our community do the following things. 1. Select a relief organization that is doing work in the Philippines and donate what you can. 2. Post a link to the organization and call on everyone you know to take a similar action. 3. When the disaster fades from the news show support for the idea of a Pagan lead disaster relief organization. I have never directly asked you to share my blog posts. Today I am, please share this challenge far and wide.” Dybing added on his Facebook profile that “The American Red Cross has an outstanding record of being of assistance in small local disasters. Their record in large scale disasters is however, marred by very poor performances in responding to disasters like Katrina and Haiti. Millions of earmarked funds unspent years later. Better to donate to the local Philippines Red Cross directly.” A link to the Red Cross in the Philippines can be found, here. I’ve also provided a link to Doctors Without Borders, here.

worldwide heathen census asatru norse mythology blog norsemythBack in October I mentioned the launch of the Worldwide Heathen Census, a project of the Norse Mythology Blog that is attempting to “establish an approximate number of adherents through an anonymous survey with only one item: a pull-down menu where the respondent selects his or her home country. It is hoped that the anonymous nature of this census will attract responses from heathens who may not want to put their name on an official form from a governmental agency or research institution.” According to Dr. Seigfried, the census was in part sparked by frustration over Heathens being “mostly invisible in major surveys of religious affiliation,” and seeks to remedy that. Below, I’ve embedded a graphic from a November 9th update on the census, which will run through December of this year. So far, the United States seems to hold an overwhelming majority of contemporary Heathens, with Germany running a distant second, and the UK and even more distant third. Regarding the UK number, we do know that the census of England and Wales counted nearly 2000 Heathens (with another 150 or so in Scotland), so that number should climb a bit if participation increases. I’ll keep you posted on the final results once the census closes.

November 9 Worldwide Heathen Census 2013 Results by Country Norse Mythology Blog

In Other Pagan Community News:

  • Several Pagans, reconstructionists, and polytheists have spoken out over a stunt “God Graveyard” put up by atheists in Wisconsin. Sannion has rounded up many of those voices at his blog, here. P. Sufenas Virius Lupus noted that “they [atheists] are so concerned with evidence and proving things and making sure everything they say is factual, that they get to ignore all of religious studies, history, real people and traditions that are occurring today, and other matters that might shed light on anything that has to do with religion since all religion is unreal/false/nonsense, etc.” At Baring the Aegis, Elani Temperance adds that the atheist group’s stunning lack of ethics in this matter undermines their argument for unbelief, quote, “ethical behavior is not religious, but social, and the AHA would do well to remember that.” Or, as Sannion puts it in a follow-up, “it’s a dick move to tell another person that their god is dead; doesn’t really matter whether you’re laughing while you do it or wielding a knife.”
The "God Graveyard" in Wisconsin.

The “God Graveyard” in Wisconsin.

  • Last week I mentioned Operation Circle Care, a program that sends care packages to active duty Pagan soldiers serving overseas during the holidays. This week, OCC wanted to add that they are urgently looking for names of individuals who want/need this service. Quote: Service members can submit their own names, or those here at home can submit their information. We keep all contact information absolutely confidential. To submit a name we’re asking people to send the full name, rank, branch of military service, country where serving, postal address, email address, and spiritual path for the Pagan service-member, and also include your own name and contact info, plus your relationship with the service-member. We keep contact information confidential to circle@circlesanctuary.org with cc to: occ@circlesanctuary.org.” For more information, see Operation Circle Care’s official page. So if you know someone who needs this service, please get in touch!
  • Publisher Bibliotheca Alexandrina has announced that they are lowering the prices of all their titles effective immediately. Quote:  “Bibliotheca Alexandrina has lowered the prices on nearly all of our print titles. In general, books with a page count of 0-199 pages will be $10.99 US, 200-299 pages will be $12.99, and 300+ pages will be $14.99. There are a few exceptions, as some books have higher production costs, but we plan to stick as close as possible to this pricing scheme moving forward.” They also add that the new prices are effective immediately on their CreateSpace store, but will take a couple of weeks to migrate to places like Amazon and Barnes and Noble. There are some excellent titles in their roster, so stock up!
  • Pagan chaplain and activist Patrick McCollum has launched an IndieGoGo campaign to fund a trip to India where he has been invited by Sri Tathata to help facilitate the MahaYaga. Quote: “Sri Tathata, a great spiritual leader in India, has asked Patrick to be one of the primary facilitators at the MahaYaha, a 6-day event of rituals and prayers designed to create world peace. The intention of this ritual is to shift the course and consciousness of our planet.  This is a revival of an ancient and sacred Hindu ritual called the MahaYaga, which is written about in the Vedas and goes back many thousands of years. This ritual was stopped a couple thousand years ago and is only now being re-created. In addition to facilitating the ritual itself, Patrick has been asked to be a keynote speaker both as an individual and at a round table with some of the foremost religious and political leaders from around the world where the topic is world peace, women’s issues and planetary sustainability.” Patrick is trying to raise over $10,000 dollars for the trip, and has less than a month to do so.
  • In a recent update sent to supporters, Cherry Hill Seminary puts the spotlight on Dr. David Oringderff, Chair of the Department of Pastoral Counseling and Chaplaincy, and co-founder of the Sacred Well Congregation, for ten years of service to the Pagan learning institution. In the piece, Dr. Oringderff stresses the importance of accreditation for CHS. Quote: “Because I work a lot with the military, and we’ve got a lot of fine young military people who want to become military chaplains, and of course, it’s a very rigid procedure to be accepted as a chaplain in the military. The biggest hurdle is the educational requirement. And so they’re stuck. They have to go to a traditional seminary, or they have to go to a traditional seminary; there’s just no alternative.  Yet.  Until we reach that point.”

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

We’ve long known that Pagan and polytheist revival and reconstruction movements are a global phenomenon, and that has included, quietly, tentatively, the Middle East. While most countries in the Middle East are culturally, religiously, and demographically dominated by Islam, that hasn’t stopped a few adventurous souls from embracing various forms of modern Pagan religions. This isn’t safe, and in some cases it has led to deadly tragedy, but this thread persists, alongside the sorts of syncretic esotericism that have always existed on the margins of the dominant monotheisms. A recent article in Arab Times, notes that in Kuwait people are buying statues of pre-Islamic gods, much to the outrage of some local officials.

Statue of the goddess Anahita in Maragha, Iran.

Statue of the goddess Anahita in Maragha, Iran.

“MP Abdulrahman Al-Jeeran has recommended banning the sale of statues of the gods followed by idol-worshippers during the pre-Islamic times of paganism, indicating that he had discovered the sale of statues as works of art and gift items by some shops, reports Al-Rai daily. He revealed that statues representing gods believed by non-Muslim pagan worshippers during the primitive era are commonly seen at various shopping malls across the country. He added that the retailer sells these items under the pretext of selling accessories and fashion materials without considering the real meaning behind those artifacts.”

There’s been a school of thought which posits that polytheism is humanity’s default religious setting, which is why religions like Christianity and Islam must constantly be in a process of conversion, re-conversion, and solidifying power to maintain the massive numbers they currently enjoy across the globe. If they don’t, or if they are limited by secular governments, the “old” beliefs start to re-emerge. As scholar Jordan Paper put it in his book, The Deities Are Many: A Polytheistic Theology, quote:

The goddess Isis.

The goddess Isis.

“Given the history of homo sapiens, it may be that polytheism is inherent in human nature, not so much in the sense that is part of our DNA structure but that it arises from the human experience in conjunction with our nature. For unless we accept the arguments of the ur-monotheists that is contrary to  the above, monotheism is extremely recent, given the sweep of human history; arose in a tiny part of the planet; and is constantly breaking down.”

Of course, that “tiny part of the planet” happens to be the Middle East, and there are immense vested interests within all the monotheisms to ensure that the birthplace of their theology remains solidly in the hands of those who believe in the God of Abraham (though they also struggle amongst themselves for dominance). But, if religious freedoms were really guaranteed, could polytheism, Paganism, truly emerge in the Middle East? Right now, Egypt, which has been rocked by revolution, coup, internal fighting, and unrest this year, is currently trying to write a new constitution for their country that will be accepted by both Islamic hardliners, the military, non-Muslim religious groups (like the Copts), and a large secular-minded minority. A key point of contention is what form religious freedom will take in this new constitution, and by extension, this new government.

“One significant change, says committee head Amr Moussa, is that Article 3 which guarantees Christians and Jews the right to exercise their religious rites will probably be extended to include all non-Muslims. Article 3 currently states that ‘For Egyptian Christians and Jews the principles of their religious law will be the main source in regulating their personal status, matters pertaining to their religion, and the selection of their spiritual leadership.’ The amended version is expected to state that ‘for all Egyptian non-Muslims the principles of their religious laws will be the main source in regulating their personal status…etc’. The proposed change is opposed by Mohamed Ibrahim Mansour, the newly-appointed representative of the ultraconservative Nour Party. In a closed meeting on Monday Mansour issued the melodramatic warning that the term ‘non-Muslims’ would open gates to ‘religious sects like worshippers of the devil’.

Expanding religious freedoms beyond the “People of the Book” is increasingly seen as necessary by religious minorities and secular Egyptians, first, because faiths like Baha’i “cannot legally marry and continue to have trouble with matters such as inheritance because the law does not properly recognize their presence.” In addition, there is a growing number Egyptians who aren’t simply secular, but have embraced atheism, despite the grave social disadvantages inherent in that choice.

“‘Atheists are all around Egypt,’ said Othman Othman, pointing to a group of young people sitting at the table next to us. The number of atheists in Egypt is not less than three million, Othman claimed, but they do not label themselves ‘atheists’ as society would disown them. Those who have come out publicly as atheists have been not only isolated by their friends and families, but also society in general. However, others who turn down their familial religion have faced many worse trials than mere isolation. Asmaa Omar, 24, who has just graduated the Faculty of Engineering, said that once she revealed her beliefs to her family, they began to physically and mentally torture her. Her father slapped her in the face and broke her jaw. She was not able to eat properly for seven months.”

Once you open the door to Baha’i and atheists, it is only a matter of time before we see a Kemetic/Egyptian polytheist revival (or even Egyptian Wiccans). After all, Egypt is already a global hotspot for seekers, New Agers, and yes, Pagans, wanting to see the many ancient treasures and wonders of the country. Once the chaos abates, Egypt will want the massive tourism revenue to return, and with it will come the exchange of ideas that results from a flood of visitors. In fact, we know that there are already Pagans in Egypt, but a more open society might spark unexpected growth.

A view of the pyramids at Giza from the plateau to the south of the complex. From left to right: the Pyramid of Menkaure, the Pyramid of Khafre and the Great Pyramid of Khufu.

A view of the pyramids at Giza from the plateau to the south of the complex. From left to right: the Pyramid of Menkaure, the Pyramid of Khafre and the Great Pyramid of Khufu.

The question remains: can Paganism emerge in the Middle East? Will it be allowed to? If secular governments (or at least pseudo-secular hybrids) start to emerge, it could happen, and if/when it does, what happens next?

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

Patrick McCollum with Jane Goodall.

Patrick McCollum with Jane Goodall.

September 21st marked the United Nations International Day of Peace, and Pagan activist Patrick McCollum was there. McCollum, who is a board member of the NGO Children of the Earth, escorted a group of refugee youth to participate in the UN’s ceremony and held meetings with UN officials and prominent activists like Jane Goodall. In an update sent to The Wild Hunt, McCollum described some of the interactions and experiences he’s had. Quote: “I got to shake hands with the Secretary General of the United Nations, and to have casual conversations with numerous other movers and shakers on the world stage. In particular I was moved to meet Monica Coleman who has been designated as the UN’s Ambassador for women’s and girls rights. Having given one of the two Keynote addresses on empowering women at the largest gathering of women in the world last February in India, I feel powerfully called to work together with Monica to change the status of women worldwide. As I have said in the past, until women have equality worldwide, we can never achieve world peace or planetary sustainability.” Of the refugee children he worked with, McCollum said that he “was quite proud of both their presence and their projects toward peace. They are the future, and to have a part in sharing the path with them and helping to mentor them, is wonderful to say the least.” You can read further updates at the Patrick McCollum Foundation website, or the Patrick McCollum Foundation Facebook page. This an important and historic moment of inclusion for modern Pagans on the world stage, one that has come about through Patrick’s tireless service on behalf of modern Pagans, and a pluralistic, peaceful, world.

vikingdomOn September 16th, Dr. Karl E.H. Seigfried of the Norse Mythology Blog published an open letter to the makers of Vikingdom, a low-budget Malaysian production with Norse themes. In it, critiques the production for “wholeheartedly accepting the darkest propaganda of the Christian missionaries and their allies who violently persecuted followers of the Old Way.” Quote: “I hope that you have not set out to insult the memory of the many, many followers of the Old Way who were tortured & murdered for their refusal to abandon their ancient faith. I hope that you have not set out to insult the international community of followers of Ásatrú, the living religion that venerates the Norse gods & takes Thor’s hammer as its holy symbol. I understand that this is simply “a fantasy, action adventure” aimed at a mass market. However, pop culture can make a serious statement, as well. What statement are you making with this movie?” This open letter ended up getting nearly 25,000 likes, over 60,000 views, and the attention of Malaysian news media. This prompted director Yusry Abdul Halim to respond in Malaysian media, insinuating that Dr. Seigfried may not be qualified to criticize, that the jury is still out on the existence of vikings, and that the film is ‘just fantasy’ (despite the film trumpeting their research). You can read Dr. Seigfried’s reactions to Yusry Abdul Halim’s response, here. He’s inviting people to respectfully give feedback to the production company, and suggests that the filmmakers donate “all profits to interfaith charities that build bridges between religions, for that is the truly righteous path.”

The Maetreum of Cybele's building.

The Maetreum of Cybele’s building.

Pagan teacher and activist Shauna Aura Knight reports that The Maetreum of Cybele, Magna Mater in Catskill, New York, was attacked by a young man throwing rocks and epithets at the order’s house. Quote: “Last night while I was enjoying talking to Cathryn Platine at the Maetreum of Cybele, a teenager/young man started throwing rocks at the house. At first we thought it was just branches falling, but then the window in the kitchen broke from two rocks that were thrown through the window. It was just Cathy and I downstairs so I followed her outside. The young man ran from the bushes near the road across the road, and then began taunting us [...] Cathy called the police, who responded a few moments later, but the police didn’t catch the guy. Cathy filed a report and they took a cursory look at the rocks and the window, but they wouldn’t file this as a hate crime.” Rev. Mother Cathryn Platine of the Maetreum added that “unlike the past, the police response time was fairly fast but they didn’t even take a proper report and ignored my telling them it was a hate crime as evidenced by one of the little bastards hiding in the bushes screaming anti LGBT slurs, swearing and taunting us [with] anti Pagan slurs.” The added expense of the broken window is one the order can scarcely afford, as they are still locked in an expensive ongoing legal battle with Catskill over their tax exempt status. A “stop the hate” rally is planned at the Maetreum on September 28th.

The Warrior's CallThe Warrior’s Call, a public Pagan ritual to protect Britain from fracking, to be held at the Glastonbury Tor, is coming up on September 28th. Here’s a description from a recent press release sent to me: “We, as Pagans, believe that the natural world is profoundly sacred. In particular though, sites such as Chalice Well are our holy places. To have them desecrated is a direct attack upon our ways and upon us. Fracking will not alleviate fuel poverty, nor will it provide us with greater fuel security. Its long lasting destruction to land and water is neither needed nor wanted. There are many practical alternatives, yet they are being ignored (with catastrophic consequences) because of corruption and ideological extremism within the government. Corporations should not dictate state policy. Around the world on the 28th of September, rituals (both large and small) will be held to protect these sacred islands from harm. Although we all come from many different pagan paths, on that day we will speak with one voice. The Warrior’s Call is that unified voice. And it sings with the blessings of the Gods and Goddesses.” One prominent supporter of this action is Druid leader Philip Carr-Gomm who has posted a suggested ritual/meditation for those who want to join in, but cannot come to Glastonbury on that day. Quote: “If you would like to protect the Earth from the invasive and toxic process of fracking, you might like to join in spirit with thousands of people around the world who will be holding rituals and meditations at 12 noon GMT on Saturday 28th September 2013.” You can read my previous reporting on this upcoming event, here. I’m hoping to bring you more insights before the action begins, and reporting after the fact as well, so stay tuned!

In Other Pagan Community News:

Abraxas #4 Launch Party. Autumn equinox 2013 Speeches

Abraxas #4 Launch Party. Autumn equinox 2013.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

Value

You Are What You Believe

Or

You Are What You Do.

 

We fall somewhere on the spectrum between these two statements.

 

We are either driven by our beliefs, or we allow our beliefs to be informed by our practices.

In this regard, there is a distinction to be made.

Many Pagans have a spiritual practice that starts from the ground up (quite literally). For them, the lived experienced and the wisdom gained from their engagement with the earth, the land, or with their own sense of self is paramount.

Many polytheists (particularly non-Pagan identifying polytheists) have a religious practice that is deity-centric. For them, the relationship with their Gods, informed as it is by the precepts of their tradition, is of greatest importance.

But some of us float in between. Some of us are not so certain of how comfortable we are with either of the extremes. Some of us are in a process of unpacking our beliefs in order to inform our practices, and close-examining our practices in order to articulate belief.

We are not simple creatures, human beings, and there is no need to try and simplify the complexities of our spiritual lives in order to have dialogue with one another.

We can remain complicated and still have community.

I am not seeking to begin a new debate, nor am I interested in hashing out an old one. This post, and the by-products of this post, will be an attempt at sparking more intra/inter-faith dialogue within and around our communities.

Plain and simple:

I want to know what your values are.

When I asked you to crowdsource Pagan theologies, you came out in droves. You represented yourselves in ways that, in my opinion, demonstrated a healthy approach to interfaith dialogue. You started with your individual perspective, and you offered it up to the community. In turn, the community responded with respect. We listened. We took in the meaning. We saw the contradictions, but we did not rush to criticize. In my view, this was a healthy and successful activity.

Now, as we approach the 5th annual Pagan Values Event that begins on June 1st, we have the opportunity to try out this approach another time.

See, I think our community gets a bad rap. There’s a story that’s told about how we’re unwilling to communicate with each other, or that we’re so hell-bent on seeing the world through our own perspective that we can’t meet others with differing views where they stand. I think some of us are willing to perpetuate that narrative because it’s familiar. It feels easy. It keeps us from holding one another accountable, and holding ourselves accountable. Respectful dialogue, especially on the Internet, requires patience and intention. The story goes that people in our community don’t have a whole lot of that.

I don’t believe that story.

My experience in community is that we are a direct product of the stories we tell about ourselves. We are the thing we describe ourselves to be, and if we decide to describe ourselves as a conflicted people, one who will not or cannot be in community with each other, then we will have that experience.

But, likewise, if we begin to work with the narrative that we are a people of respect and honor, who listen patiently and who resist the impulse to lash out at one another, then that is the people we will be.

The Pagan Values Event is a month-long event which encourages people of all traditions to share, through whatever media is available to them, what their values look like. It is, as with the crowdsourcing theology exercise, an opportunity for people to bear witness to their own inner-experience.

These are some things to ask yourself as you consider participating in this crowdsourced event:

  • If you are a person who structures your religious life around a devotional practice to your Gods, how is that informed by your values? Or, how does your practice inform your values?
  • If you do not see yourself as religious, but rather as a spiritual Pagan, what informs your sense of personal values? How are your values lived out in your spiritual life?
  • If your tradition is being grouped in with “Pagan,” but you do not feel that comfortable identifying with that term (and all of what is associated with it), how would you define the values of your tradition? Do they line up with your values? If they are divergent, how do you reconcile the inconsistencies?

 

Write about these and other thoughts on your blog, or speak about it on your podcast. Once you’ve penned your contribution share a link at the Pagan Values site, on the Pagan Values Page on Facebook, or tweet @PaganValues with the URL and hashtag #PVE2013. Be sure to tag your blog post with “Pagan Values Event 2013″ or “PVE2013″. This will make it easier for your post to be curated on the site.

As you’ll see in the PVE archive, the process of curation is extensive. There is a record of dozens upon dozens of individuals sharing their values with the world, saying in effect:

This is who I am. This is why I do what I do. This is what gives my religious or spiritual life meaning.

I believe that at the heart of all of our divergent traditions is a quest for some greater meaning. We may be reaching for something meaningful in different ways, using different tools and technologies to uncover that meaning. Our vernacular may be divergent, and our viewpoints may be irreconcilable. But this desire for a meaningful life may just be a commonality that is worth greater consideration.

For more information about the event, visit the Pagan Values website, or read this post from 2011.

A Few Notes on Palo

Stacey Lawless —  May 24, 2013 — 9 Comments

Nsala malongo! I’ve been learning about Palo cosmology and history over the last couple of months, and slowly unraveling some of the confusion I had about how the religion works. I thought I would offer up some of what I’ve learned, detailing a little of our worldview and the fact that there are different denominations, or ramas, of Palo. (By the way: any mistakes here are entirely mine, while the goodness in this piece must be credited to my teachers.)

And without further ado . . .

The dead

The dead are the basis of everything in Palo.

We call them the bakulu, which means ancestors, but the concept of “ancestors” tends to make Americans think of family trees. “Bakulu” can (and does) refer to lineal ancestors, but the dead are so much more than that. They are the basis of all life. They are the stuff of the material world, and the sea of possibilities that configure and reconfigure the fates of the living.

Kongo cosmogram, showing the cyclical nature of human existence.

Kongo cosmogram, showing the cyclical nature of human existence. The horizontal line represents the boundary between the living and dead.

We do think about and work with individual dead people: named ancestors, spirit guides, the beloved dead uncle who always gave you good advice. Sometimes they come to us in dreams and intuitions; sometimes, if we’re fortunate, they come to us in possession and bless us with their healing and wisdom.

But we also think of the dead as an anonymous collective, a force, a field, a sea. The KiKongo word “Kalunga” means simultaneously the collective dead, the saltwater ocean, and the cemetery. To the people of the kingdom of Kongo in central Africa, whose traditions gave birth to what would become Palo, the land of the dead lay below the sea. The surface of the sea was the demarcation between the living and the dead, a site of creative tension and power. Graves, too, were points of contact, and dirt from a grave carried the power of the deceased person within. You can still find seashells left on graves in Black family cemeteries in the United States, a trace of the old philosophy.

The spirals of conch shells symbolize the cyclical nature of existence in Kongo thought: death is hardly an end, merely a transition to a new existence. The dead are being continually reborn, crystallizing into their lineal descendants, or appearing as trees, pools and stones, plants and animals. Everything in the material world is a form of the dead, precipitating out of Kalunga like grains of salt out of seawater, to exist for a while before being dissolved again.

Nzambi

The source of the living and the dead is Nzambi a mpungu. Nzambi is neither male nor female, and is the ever-present majestic force that brought creation into being and permeates it. In Palo we tend to think of Nzambi in these terms, as the creator, because the Kongo traditions in general have been in continuous dialogue with Christianity for centuries. But Nzambi can also be thought of as the first ancestor, emphasizing the continuous cycle of life and death. In that sense, creation just is, with no beginning and no end.

The mpungos

And then there are the mpungos. Mpungu is a KiKongo word that refers to power generated by something, or, as my Tata once put it, “a hot stove can have an mpungu.” So in essence, it’s just a force. However, some lines of Palo have developed certain of the mpungos into major powers, even to the extent of conceiving of them as divinities. The Internet is full of descriptions of the mpungos, who have names such as Chola Wengue, Siete Rayos, and Zarabanda, and the tendency is to syncretize them with the Orishas of Santería. Not all ramas (which are, essentially, Palo denominations) work with the mpungos in this way, however.

The Ramas of Palo

The way a rama regards mpungos and the dead seems to be one of the major distinctions between lines of Palo. (There are many other distinctions, but they have to do with ways of conducting ritual.) There are numerous ramas, but the three main ones are Mayombe, Briyumba, and Kimbisa.

Palo Mayombe is probably the oldest one. It works primarily with the ancestors of blood and spiritual lineage, and in the past, if you were not of Bantu descent, you could not be initiated into Mayombe houses. (“Bantu” refers to a group of related African languages, of which KiKongo is one, and by extension to the ethnic groups that spoke these languages.) Mayomberos tend to see the mpungos as natural forces only, not divinities, and to downplay them in Palo practice.

Palo Briyumba developed out of Palo Mayombe and broke away from Mayombe’s ancestral focus. Briyumberos began to initiate non-Bantus. They also developed pacts with dead spirits who had no blood or lineaged connection to the Paleros, putting them to work and in some cases effectively enslaving them. Briyumba came into its own during Cuba’s wars of independence, and saw justice in conscripting the bones and souls of deceased oppressors to serve those they had formerly abused. In Briyumba, the mpungos are used to give attributes and direction to the dead who serve the Briyumbero.

Kongolese crucifix

A Kongolese crucifix

Palo Kimbisa developed in Oriente, the eastern part of the island of Cuba, and has absorbed influences from several other traditions, including Haitian Vodou. (There is a long history of contact between Oriente and Haiti, which is only about forty miles away from the eastern tip of Cuba.) Some Kimbiseros make extensive use of Christian symbolism, and some work with the Catholic saints. One theory of Kimbisa’s origins is that they lie with Kimpa Vita’s Kongolese Christian reform movement, which blossomed in the kingdom of Kongo for a few years in the eighteenth century, before being brutally repressed. Kimpa Vita had thousands of followers, many of whom were subsequently sold into slavery in the Americas. It is an intriguing theory, but nobody knows for certain if it’s true.

It is Kimbisa that regards the mpungos as divinities, finding parallels between them and the Orishas, and focusing much of their work and veneration upon them, instead of upon the dead. The dead in Kimbisa are the medium that the mpungos use to affect the world.

 * * * * *

Dear readers, I hope you enjoyed this. When I was starting out on this path and trying to read everything I could find on Palo, I was very confused about who or what Paleros worked with, and what was up with all the crucifixes and Orisha comparisons and whatnot. If I can straighten a little of that out for other readers and seekers, that’s great. In fact, let me try this: if you have questions about Palo, bring them up in the comments section and I’ll try to answer them in my next post. (Just bear in mind that I’m new at this and there may be things I can’t answer due to ignorance or oath.) Malongo yaya!