I’m just going to jump right in. This particular post is both a reminder to me of making sure I understand these concepts before continuing, and an explanation for anyone who is reading the blog.
I began this blog to keep a journal of my musings as a member of a Neopagan religion, as a Celtoi-Norse Polytheist and Animist. The phrase has always been misleading. Sometimes I call myself a Heathen. Sometimes I call myself Vanatru. Sometimes I call myself a Neopagan Animist. All of these are true, and all of these are somewhat misleading. I am not just a Heathen, I am also Druidic. I am not just Vanatru, I am Celtoi-Norse. I am not just Celtoi-Norse, I believe in multiple pantheons, each their own set of spirits, each with their own personalities, desires, and agendas. I have worked with Apollo, with Zeus, with Veles, with Thor, with Nit, with Wepwawet, with Djehuti. I have worked with other Pagans who worked with Kuan Yin, Tsukuyomi, and Astarte. While I have, up to this point, considered myself primarily a Northern Germanic practitioner with Celtic leanings, I have done things and helped out in ways that I could probably be considered a member of any of a number of religions within the Pagan umbrella, as well as Gnosticism.
I’m not good with keeping a journal, and a year’s hiatus from a blog that was supposed to chronicle my on-going journey shows that flaw in my practice. I love to write, but some days, the words to put to pen seem to escape me. Like anyone, I have work and projects that attract and even demand my attention. So allow me to start by stating that while the changes chronicled in this post may seem sudden, they are the product of a year of confusion, research, practice, and change.
Been a while since I have posted to this blog, been a busy year. Haven’t really had access to this particular blog for a while. Hmm, need to finish the Virtues posts…
Inspired by this post on the New Civil Rights movement site.
Anyone who knows me, knows that I am a straight ally of same-sex marriage and LGBT rights. A friend of mine posted the above link to her Facebook, and at first, it was simply another in a series of pastors bashing gays for being gay, and trying to come up with reasons and excuses for why they should not have the right to marry, or even in some cases the right to live. Then it took a turn, and I decided that I wanted to rant.
There is often an assumption from outside observers that Neopagans are nothing but hedonistic freaks, willing to indulge any desire or participate in any depravity they wish. We are often portrayed as crazy or even criminal. One of the first questions I’m asked when I tell people I’m Pagan (as opposed to saying “heathen” or “animist”, to which people say, “Huh?”) is, “Do you sacrifice animals?” Sometimes they’ll even follow up with, “You don’t sacrifice people, do you?” I deal with some real winners in life, let me tell you.
The fact is, while Pagans tend to be a little more lax when it comes to bedroom etiquette, this doesn’t make us necessarily hedonistic or immoral. No, we do not sacrifice people, and most of us do not sacrifice animals. There are groups that do, but they do so cleanly and respectfully (we’ll touch on this in a later post). In general, we Pagans are much like those of other religions: we go to work, work hard, come home, tend to families and friends, go to worship services (like others go to church or temple), and simply live. Our values are somewhat different, but as we are recreating our religions in modern society, our religions include values that are quite compatible with that society.
Perhaps the biggest difference between Pagan values and more mainstream ones is that many in our community tend to emphasize virtue rather than discouraging vice. That which one should not do is often seen as something relegated to society, to government or to its laws, and we focus instead on what we should do, what is right to do. This is a view we certainly have worked hard to cultivate in Neopagan Animism.
The concept of world view is important in Paganism of most stripes, because we have so many different world views represented within the Pagan umbrella of religions. From Celtic Reconstructionism to Asatru to Wicca, the world view of the adherents strongly shapes their practice. We have already seen examples of this in Neopagan Animism, chronicled in previous posts, yet we have not defined what a world view is or how it affects what we do.
Broken down, a world view is very simply an understanding of how the world is composed and how it works. In short, it is how the adherent views the world. Simple, no? Yet the concept stretches as far as the concept of *ghosti, to touch on and influence every aspect of one’s practice.
“What is a God?” This is a question that is important to ask in any deific religion. “What is a Spirit?” In any animistic tradition, it is good to define this as early as possible. “What is an Ancestor?” In any religion that recognizes and honors those who have passed, this is a worthwhile question to ask in the earliest stages of discovery.
“What is a God?” We have been hinting at the Gods’ existence since part 1. We have sheaves and sheaves of notes and chronicles of the Gods that populated Europe before Christianity. Of course, most of those were chronicled by Christians after the fact, but we’ll get into that later when we talk more about lore. We have some idea of what the Gods were viewed as, especially considering most of them are portrayed as often in, er, compromising situations as in virtuous ones. We have some idea as to the power some gods were viewed to have, such as the lightning of Zeus and Thor’s Mjöllnir hammer, or the shape-shifting powers of Gwydion, Loki, and Artemis. But what is a God?
We can speculate until the end of time at what our ancestors conceived a God or Goddess to be; the fact is, we will never know, because we have no unbroken line of practice and worship back to that time. Let me say that again:
We have no unbroken line of practice and/or worship back to Pre-Christian times.
We have traditions, sure. We have old poems and half-remembered charms, certainly. We even have full sets of spells and incantations that come to us from that ancient world. However, we do not have anything that is untainted by the religion that conquered and superseded it. Christianity warped and changed much of the ancient views of religion, and even those that practiced both Christian and Pagan ways could not stem that tide completely. In the same manner, Pagan ways did influence and change Catholic religion, though that influence was much more subtle. As an aside, anyone claiming an unbroken line back to Pre-Christian times is likely lying, misinformed, or misrepresenting their tradition. So we have no certain way of knowing what exactly the ancients thought the Gods and Goddesses were.
ADF was useful in several ways, but never so useful as to introduce me to the Proto-Indo-European word *ghosti. *Ghosti can be interpreted loosely as hospitality, but more correctly indicates an equitable exchange between parties. One can have *ghosti in one’s relationship with others, with a business partner, with other business associates, and even with strangers.
*Ghosti is very tightly bound with the concept of community, but assumes a wider definition of community than one might normally be familiar with. As I said in the previous post, community includes the spirits involved, which may include Gods, one’s own Ancestors, the Ancestors of close friends, and the spirits that commonly inhabit the area, as well as other spirits that a given adherent might work with. In addition to this possibly long list, community in relation to *ghosti also includes visitors to one’s home, traders, those bearing news or messages, and so forth. *Ghosti can even be applied to enemies, such as the idea of an eye for an eye, but it can equally be applied to the idea of repaying evil with kindness – much depends on the situation.
To have *ghosti is to treat someone with respect, but it is also to foster good relations of friendship and partnership with your equals, to keep your word when you give it, to respect the role of those in a position of authority, and to show generosity freely to those less fortunate than yourself. The relationship between crime and punishment is also part of the idea of *ghosti, though the actual perpetration of crime and punishment is still a function of society, not necessarily religion. Part of the whole point is to foster community ties. To show *ghosti is not always reciprocated, but to have *ghosti means that the relationship works in a way that is more or less equitable to all involved. It can be seen easily in the phrases, “Pay it forward,” and, “It all comes out in the wash.”
In the Pagan community, especially among Reconstructionists, this concept (regardless of what we actually call it) is one we are desperately trying to recapture and hold in our lives. We look at the process of government and see corruption and misrepresentation. We look at the process of business and see hundreds of hard workers fired because labor is cheaper overseas, or because they are getting older and accruing raises and hiring younger specialists out of college is cheaper. We see neighbors no longer speaking, prices getting disproportionately higher for the same services, and dinners getting disproportionately smaller for the same price. All of these things have bothered Pagans since Neopaganism started. None of these are examples of *ghosti. The unfortunate side effect is, there isn’t much that can be done about most of it. As we believe the practice of hospitality and fairness begins in our own lives, we start with treating the members of our community as we believe it should be, answering kindness with kindness, and hurt with firmness. We keep our word when we give it, as best as we possibly can (as in, if we can’t, we’re likely in the hospital, or dead). We deal honestly with others that keep their words, and for those that don’t, we don’t deal with them at all. For now, the scope of community is fairly limited on the whole, though there are those of us who include our neighbors, business associates, and others, as well.
Obviously, as one can have *ghosti with other physical beings, one should also have *ghosti with the spirits. This is especially so with the Gods; if your attempts at *ghosti aren’t reciprocated with a God, then it is not very likely you should be working with him or her. In the same manner, if the Gods are keeping you alive and safe and lucky happenstances are occurring often, it seems to me to be a good idea to throw in a little extra during offering, or to at the very least acknowledge and appreciate the help. In *ghosti, it’s not what you’re giving, or how much, it’s that you’re giving something that is equitable to what you’re receiving. If you’ve been blessed with abundance, and your gifts to them are very stingy or given in a miserly way, then that’s not reaching for *ghosti with your Gods, that’s throwing a token gesture, lip service. If on the other hand you give cheerfully and from that which you yourself treasure, then it is likely to be a more acceptable gift. (We’ll get into specifics on offerings in a later post.)
*Ghosti is the act and practice of an exchange of energies between the parties involved. One’s efforts, one’s offerings, one’s attempts at fairness with another, and even one’s respect for another all play an important role in the practice of this concept. Ultimately, the energy given is of the gift given, or of how one is treated. This facilitates the simplest of interactions in our communities and with our Gods, that of respect and responsible action. In many ways, most of the virtues that Pagans espouse (discussion to come) stem from this central concept.
One of the most basic complaints from “rational” religious people – and many atheists – is on the subject of superstition. As defined in Dictionary.com, a superstition is:
1. A belief or notion not based on reason or knowledge, in or of the ominous significance of a particular thing, circumstance, occurrence, proceeding, or the like.
2. A system or collection of such beliefs.
3. A custom or act based on such a belief.
4. Irrational fear of what is unknown or mysterious, especially in connection with religion.
5. Any blindly accepted belief or notion.
In an experiential religion, the experience of the divine or the spiritual often gives reason enough for a given practice. Central to this concept are the twin forms of chiminage and taboo. Chiminage is a term that originally corresponded to the toll one paid to pass on a forest road; as I define it, it is what one does actively and usually repetitively to honor or appease a God, Goddess, Ancestor, or spirit entity, such as the covering of one’s head for religious purposes. Taboos are the opposite side of the same coin: things one refrains from doing in order to honor or appease a God, Goddess, Ancestor, or other spirit, such as when someone gives up something for Lent in the Christian religion. (These terms may also be used culturally, without regard for spiritual entities, but that is outside the scope of this particular article.) From the outside view of mainstream society, both cases have the tendency of being highly scrutinized and disparaged, especially when there is something to be gained by belittling or debunking the practice. Mainstream Christianity is still often interpreted in such a way as to oppose religious and cultural viewpoints that differ. Atheism is plagued by a similar stance, ironically because of the former mindset. Those raised in one of these two viewpoints often port these views to the religious expressions they embrace later in life. Therefore, chiminage or taboos without a readily-apparent, physical reason are relegated to the realm of “superstition” and often disparaged or ignored as a result.
Just a side note: I get most of my subscriptions in email, so I keep forgetting those blogs have “like” buttons. So I’m always surprised when someone “likes” one of my posts.
Over the past twenty years, there are some observations I have made on the experiences I have had concerning the nature of physical and spiritual reality which have strongly influenced the premises I wrote about in Part 1. I’ll be listing some of them here, along with my personal thoughts on them.
First basic premise: What you experience may or may not be real, but it is part of your reality.
I have found myself for the past two years writing down what I envision Neopagan Animism to be: how it works in my practice, what my beliefs are. The simple fact of the matter is, as I continued to work on this treatise, my practices kept evolving, and I have come to the conclusion that they will continue to do so. This made me more than a little frustrated, as I struggled to keep up and to put down an accurate accounting. It only got worse in peer review, as things I thought I had made clear were torn apart by my dear brother-by-choice, who has been in the Pagan community for about 12 years longer than I have.
So, I “went down” to talk to the Gods about this dilemma, and they answered me with a strange and (for me) disconcerting idea: I was to start over, put my beliefs and practices on my blog, chronicling how I believed and worked at that point and time. Considering the whole point of the exercise was to be helpful to as many Pagans as may need it, the suggestion (alright, ORDER) makes sense.
The final question was, where to begin. This came to me as I was cleansing in the shower: the basics precepts haven’t changed in 10 years. They’re what led me to ADF, and they’re what led me away when the time came. So I will start with the basic premises of Neopagan Animism as I see them, the core fundamentals on which everything else is based.