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Purification: my least favorite topic. As a Pagan, I can understand the need for ritual purification, and the ideas surrounding it. I used to study Ceremonial Magick, and purification was a primary way for the mind to set aside the mundane and continue in the sacred world. In Paganism, purification is a necessity to come before the purity of divinity. It is the practice of removing the energy sticking to you that is antithetical to the performance of and participation in the coming rite. It is separating yourself not only from the mundane, but also from negative thoughts and emotions, such as hatred, anger, suspicion, fear, and worry, which do much to hinder most ritual.
As an animist, however, I’ve always seen purification as a futile exercise. The spirits are always around us. They live here, too. They already know you delve in the muck and mud to earn your daily bread, they already know that you travel through the mire to get to the ritual space, and if they are paying attention, they’re already aware of whom you have helped, whom you’ve wronged, whom you’ve had sex with, whom you have upset. If the Gods and Spirits want your attention, they tend to make themselves known, whether you’re “pure” or not. As much as I understand the purpose of purification, there’s always that part of me that rebels against the need to do so.
It’s been said before, it will be said again. The Proto-Indo-European Religion is cobbled together from the similarities between descendant religions and languages. From my point of gnosis, the Deiwos are real, and just as present as Thor or Zeus, but that does not change the fact that the beliefs and practices of PIE religion are a “best guess” based on what information we have currently. Some things have been lost. Some things have been altered to fit the sensibilities, morals, and laws of the time. It is possible that some things are along the same vein as 3000 years ago, but because it’s the only surviving example among all of the cultures we have to pull from, it has been overlooked or ignored.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The practices of Paganism are wide, diverse, even contradictory. Neopagan Animism is nothing like Wicca, which bears little resemblance to Hellenic Paganism, which is in turn very different from Dianic Wicca or Feri or Reclaiming. Anyone not saying, “Duh!” to this statement really hasn’t spent a lot of time in the community, or outside their own tradition.
The number of times I have heard the statement, “You’re Pagan? I didn’t think you were into Goddess Spirituality…” has exceeded the number of fingers on my hands and toes on my feet. Most of these times occurred back in Columbus, but there have been enough times in Denver and in Colorado Springs for me to think that this is by no means isolated to one area. It’s unfortunate. In the ranks of the Pagan community, we can count Jungian archetypists and “soft” polytheists, hard polytheists, animists, nature-focused materialists, duotheists, feminine-focused monotheists, atheists, philosophers, speculators, and (who can forget?) various flavors of magicians, as well as several combinations of any of the above. Being Pagan does not mean exclusively following any particular dogma or set of beliefs or practices.
Neopagan Animism was born from this fact as much as from any particular tradition. I was introduced to a number of religious practices and beliefs under one umbrella term when I was introduced to Paganism, from Wicca to Heathenry to Druidry, and many of the magical practices found within these traditions. Furthermore, we all practiced our religious beliefs together, several belief systems coming to one focal point and one practice in our rituals. Since then, I have heard hundreds – if not thousands – of times that this was the highest form of blasphemy to the Gods and Spirits. I heard this not only from elders in various local Reconstructionist and Traditional communities, but also from lovers, friends, and energy work partners. For a time, I even partially believed it. The development of a tradition which emphasized the animistic aspects of Pagan practice was an ultimate rejection of this attitude.
Original post here. Yeah, I’m blog trolling again. Dwib.
First, Teo? You’re a good guy. If you’re reading this, I apologize, dude, but you asked for it. *points* Right there. End of your blog post.
Teo brings up some interesting ideas in his post: Embodied Theology, Reciprocity vs. Grace Theology, whether the Gods and Spirits actually need what we give to them, and so forth. He’s asked for thoughts and opinions on these ideas. Read, then, what I have to say on the subjects, under each heading.
I’m a strong proponent of conflicting theologies not necessarily being mutually exclusive. Transcendent and immanent deity is possible both at the same time. A deity that is within you can also be outside of you, and vice versa. From what I’m reading of this embodied theology that Teo talks about, the arguments are that a) transcendent deity forms lead to eventual Fundamentalism, and b) despite many Pagans believing that deity comes as much from within their world (if not themselves) as anywhere else, we use language that makes it sound that they are nowhere near us.
One, transcendent deity forms leading to Fundamentalism? What about immanent deity forms leading to a sort of self-delusion, a different idea of fundamentalism even? As I’ve stated before, I play old Mage, and one of the primary problems that these characters in this game face is the “My God can beat up Your God” routine. Immanent deity, deity that is a part of the local flora and fauna, including human beings, can be as devastating a prospect as deity being apart from everything, transcending everything. The idea that your local Gods somehow transcend fundamentalism by being immanent is, in my way of thinking, fundamentally flawed. Fundamentalism is not a problem of the religious viewpoint, it is the problem of the social viewpoint. Fundamentalism can be as simple and as local as its adherents wish it to be.
Case in point: let’s assume the “deity within you” standpoint for a moment. Since deity within you usually leads to deity being able to speak with you personally, one’s UPG can be written and accepted by any number of individuals, from one to many to a whole “tribe”. Those that disagree might be accepted, or they might be singled out as being somehow wrong. Everything from misinterpretation to misunderstanding to simply being wrong can come as accusations, and yet this is still (from what I understand) an “embodied theology”, where these folks still believe deity is immanent in themselves. My point is, regardless of the theology, those who subscribe to this idea of deity can still devise a sort of “my way is better than your way, even if deity is in you, too” philosophy about it. Fundamentalism is the problem of the individuals seeking a stable or even static base from which to view their theology and practice, not from the theology itself.
Two, I believe that yes, they’re already here. They’re also bigger than that, they can stretch themselves halfway across the world or several places across the world at once. I also believe that they are beyond here, in the world of spirit, in the world of their own making, in the center of the world. Deity is fluid, Hel, spirit is fluid, and thus it spreads and fills space and can be multiple places or times at once (still talking my own theology here, not anyone else’s). Establishing that deity is beyond is not to deny that deity is also here. Again: transcendent deity can still also be immanent deity, the two are not mutually exclusive. Spirits inhabit every living thing, and most (if not all) non-living things. Since deity and spirit is fluid, they flow into one another and the separation of what is and is not can sometimes be painfully, annoyingly difficult to suss out.
The calling of the Gods to ritual, such as in ADF or in Neopagan Animism, is the acceptance that deity is bigger than one area, and yet can be in one area. Spirit is fluid, and can take up a spread of space or can be condensed in a smaller area but with more volume. Honestly, I don’t really know if the volume argument is even valid, as spirits can and have made themselves bigger or smaller as needed. Calling the spirits to ritual is akin to acknowledgement of their presence as much as it is to bring them to the ritual in the first place. They are already there, but we are saying, “You are welcome, pay attention to here, please!” The language used of calling them in is the invitation for the spirits called to fill the space with their presence, rather than simply being present. It is an acknowledgement that the spirits that are already there are also not completely there, because they are broad in scope, size, and purpose. They are more than our local area, yet they are part of that local area. We see deity called throughout the world on our holy days: Eostre or Freyja being called to dozens if not hundreds of Spring Equinox rites across the world. I work very closely with Freyja, she’s here daily, but I still invite her in, for the purpose of respect to her, for attention from her, and for acknowledgement that she is more than my one place and one time. She is both immanent to this local area, filling me with her presence and power daily, and beyond me, doing the same with others she has called to her service or worship or whatever you want to call it. We are not denying the immanent by acknowledging the transcendent, is what I am saying.
I agree with Teo in the idea of a balance between reciprocity and grace. We often receive things from the Gods we don’t earn; they’re gifts. This is a good thing. We also give things to the Gods even though they may not have pleased us that day, week, month, year. We appreciate them; it’s a gift, not done for any other reason than they are a part of our lives. This is also good. This is a part of what *ghosti is about: the giving of gifts to maintain a friendship is not for the value of the gift, but for the respect of the giver and receiver.
However, there is also an understanding in the process of offering to the Gods that there is a point when the friendship is not enough in and of itself. A friend who continually abuses you or your trust or resources is eventually unwelcome. A friend who doesn’t come to help when you need it is often known not as a friend at all. “Being there” for a friend is an expectation, even in this day and age. This is where offering becomes a sort of understanding: I do for you, and you do for me in return. Capitalist theology? How about just plain and simple respect? I believe the Gods and spirits are real beings; if I believe this, I should be expected to do for them, as they have done for me. I offer beverages, objects, and service, and they perform services for me in return.
It is not the nature of offering that needs changed at this point, it is the attitude of offering that requires a change. I don’t often need the gifts I receive from friends, but they are always appreciated. When someone pays me back for gas money I lend them, it is not a requirement, but it is appreciated. When someone helps me move, I’m not keeping score, but if I’ve helped them move in the past, or something equally big or effort-full, I appreciate the help all the more. If they’re not available to help me move, as has been the case several times, I understand. Again, I’m not keeping score, but too many times of it, I will start to question the nature of the respect they say they have for me, as opposed to the respect I receive.
This has nothing to do with capitalism. Do the Gods and Spirits need our things, our offerings or praise or love? I don’t know for sure. I think they appreciate it, regardless. It is the showing of our respect for them; to distill this to the name of Capitalist Theology is a very different concept, perhaps even insulting. I want to be in good favor with my friends and family; does this mean that the gifts I give them are a Capitalist concept? I don’t think so! This is simply part of the respect that are due to them for being my friends and family! I care about what they think and feel, and the same is true of the Gods and Spirits I deal with. I want their favor, certainly. More than that, I want their respect and a relationship with them. The respect I give them, whether that be a shot of rum and Coke or a poem or song in their honor, or simply thanks for the things they have provided, is a natural extension of that desire. If I did not respect them, the rest would be moot: offerings would be as ash in their mouths, thanks would be hollow and empty. It has very little to do with need, and everything to do with the respect I have for them.
The thing is, and I’m moving now to the
portion of the discussion, is that while Teo and I may agree that we are both acknowledging something that is already happening, I believe that it can also not happen for a person, or for a Spirit. Respect, reverence, and such are not spiritual constants, in my opinion, they are conscious choices. I choose to respect the Gods and Spirits for what they do. If I do not respect them, they can withdraw their respect, aid, and even presence from me, leaving me empty and alone. The divine spark that is immanent within me does not guarantee that presence, that respect or aid. It gives me relation to them so that the dialogue of respect can occur. That divine spark, the part of deity that is immanent in me, is the universal translator, not the individual spirits. They are a part of me, they flow through me and my locality, but they can also flow elsewhere.
Some would ask how one could recognize the spark of divinity within everything and not respect it; to that, I say it happens all the time. I see people who claim to be Wiccan High Priests or Priestesses ignoring their own professed beliefs out of convenience, or ignorance, or even spite, in a few cases. I don’t care what they believe, or if it’s different than how I believe (that is, I accept their difference of belief as valid for them), but I do care if they profess something then act completely opposite to it. Christians have one thing right, if nothing else: “[Deity] is spirit, and those that worship [the Gods and Spirits] must do so in spirit and in truth.” Key word made bold for emphasis. Respect is that truth that is spoken of here, and it is something I don’t see in many expressions of belief, from denominations of Christianity to various forms of Paganism to even atheistic philosophies (replacing Deity with Philosophy, of course). The lack of respect in my opinion enforces an expulsion of deity from self, and from the world around that person.
Now, the Gods can fight back, which is something a lot of people don’t acknowledge. A God who really wants a relationship with someone can make their lives a dream, or a nightmare, despite the lack of respect on the other side. Why do Gods or Spirits do this? Well, why do humans? Why do some animals? And in my opinion, the Gods and Spirits can often be much more patient than we.
All of these musings for me come to one vector, one point. Respect. This is not a grace theology, this is not a capitalist theology. In my view, this is a theology instead of relationship, plain, pure, and simple. Without respect, everything else in our beliefs is lacking, especially for Paganism. This is where fundamentalism can creep in, not in what kind of beliefs we have. Respect for the Gods and Spirits provides the balance between reciprocity and grace that we spoke of earlier. Respect for others allows us to remove much of the obstacle of fundamentalist thinking which seems to have plagued Christianity again and again. Respect for oneself keeps one on the path. This isn’t simple theology to me, this is central to any system of dealing with and honoring deity.
Yesterday, Star Foster posted about Kirk Cameron being blasted in the media, and added in an old Way of the Master Radio broadcast from 2006 where Kirk and a buddy “infiltrated” an ADF ceremony in California. Jason over at the Wild Hunt blog also made some comments. I mentioned some personal reactions to the program, which I now continue today.
First off, Mr. Cameron commented in the program how “creepy” the entire experience was for him, and it was mentioned on the program that no Christian should try to attempt what Kirk had done, because it was so dangerous. Really, dude, you chose to portray an ADF ritual as creepy? Come on, they’re like Methodists, only with beer. Star describes ADF ritual as “mundane, pedestrian, and dull”, and depending on the ritual, she’s right. I don’t find ADF ritual dull most of the time, but mundane and pedestrian? It certainly can be. But OH MY GOD, the worship service was held OUTSIDE, amongst a GROVE OF TREES! The HORRORS! So creepy! Seriously? I found the inside of the first Fundamentalist church I went in more creepy than that!
Oh, speaking of Methodists? The stuff in the chalice was probably… beer. Unless Fundamentalists have stopped taking communion, I really don’t see the bad here.
More under the cut…