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Unfortunately, there is no getting around the current trend in the United States against Islam. This has been growing in spurts since 9/11; I remember a Pakistani friend of mine in Columbus, OH, having to replace the sign in front of his restaurant after 9/11 first occurred, because someone took it on him- or herself to break the sign in a show against Islam and Pakistan. Just recently, a bookstore I used to frequent, Isis Bookstore in Denver, CO, had its sign violated in a similar way after the attacks in France. In this latter case, the folks inside are Pagan, not Muslim, but the identification of ISIS for the Islamic State terrorists has culminated in a painful backlash for those following the Egyptian Goddess or associating with her. (I’ll probably say something about that tomorrow, though it’s not really PIE related.)
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.
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.
Read here for the original post I’m responding to. Honestly, I’m not just responding to the post. I’m also responding to the program listed in the post called “Way of the Master Radio” with Kirk Cameron and a couple of others. In this post, I’ll be criticizing everyone involved, so if you feel offended, at least you’re not left out.
Before I begin, I must mention that I was a member of ADF. Still am a member of the organization, even though I don’t practice in their way anymore. I was a member of Stonecreed Grove in Cleveland; I helped to start Silver Branch Golden Horn Grove in Denver, and The New Village Grove began as an ADF protogrove. Having been immersed in the organization for almost five years, I can name several things I loved and hated about it, and I can name specifics as to why I am no longer practicing in their way. I even completed their year-long Dedicant Program, so I am quite aware of ADF beliefs and practice. I still use a number of their terms, like *ghosti.
First of all, Fundamentalists tend to do this sort of thing. They go to rituals and don’t participate. They criticize other modes of belief and practice, they put themselves out as superior to other belief systems. We know this. Why are people surprised? Granted, some of their criticism is baseless, factless, even simply inflammatory, designed more for the emotional response rather than rational thought. What about the rest of their arguments, though?
More under the cut…
In Gus diZerega’s blog today, I read an interesting article on the “edginess” of Paganism. Here. Read it. I’ll wait.
Edginess is hard to reconcile with Recon religions, such as Asatru and Celtic Reconstructionism (CR). On the one hand, they’re naturally edgy: many of the virtues and values are imported from over 1,000 years ago, which means you may or may not have a given Reconstructionist who adheres to “American” values. On the other hand, you’re speaking about groups of Pagans who are notoriously conservative in their interpretations of lore, and oddly at home with maintaining the status quo in modern politics, regardless of their political persuasion.
The reason I bring this up is that many polytheists are at some level Reconstructionists, or at least “Recon Lite”, such as ADF and similar groups (credit Ian Corrigan with that quip). The number of polytheists in the US who are more gnosis-based are very rare, and lore/gnosis balanced groups are also uncommon. In Recon religions, edginess and the ability to FReak Out the Mundanes (what I and my associates call “fromming”) seem to be largely a function of ancient culture rather than any actual modern attitude. Some of the freakiest Recons I know (who live in Denver, of all places) still are quite at home at a board meeting or in a “normal” social gathering. Their religion is something they talk about freely but don’t really display as a general rule.
On the one hand, it’s good to be a “normal” Pagan, especially in the workplace or in most public venues. Paganism is a way of life not unlike any other, in the sense that we value hard work and compensation for it. To be seen as a person first and a Pagan second is a worthy goal, and some of us have already achieved it. The question is, “Why?” Why do we wish to be mainstream, to not rock the boat or be outspoken, to go on with “business as usual?”
There is yet another question we should be asking. What is it that makes polytheism, and even Neopaganism, “edgy” or “mainstream”? There are several definitions of both words. A further fact is, Paganism need not be one or the other.
When I think of a mainstream religion, I think of a religion that is accepted as a viable choice of belief system according to the society of a given region. In this respect, Wicca at least has already gained some mainstream status, depending on your location. Being a Wiccan in Denver, for example, is about as important as being a plumber or a banker. It is just one more choice in a variety of choices available. On the other hand, down in the Springs, being a Wiccan still can earn illicit looks or put one’s job in danger.
There is another definition of “mainstream”, which I hope we avoid as polytheists, even as Wicca is succumbing to it. This is the “mainstream” of being available to the lowest common denominator, yet another selection with about as much flavor and importance as the green Jell-o you order at lunch. This is being a religion which does not counter corporate or consumerist values, a nice and safe predicament to be in. Our religion has never been “safe”, you want safe, join Christianity, that’s my opinion. Gus makes the same point, but seems to think that not being this kind of mainstream religion is being “edgy” somehow, as if countering consumerism in principle was somehow societally dangerous. It’s not, at least, not yet. What is dangerous is looking at a Recon and telling them the lore only matters so much in the long run, because it was all written by Christian monks when the old religions had all but been replaced. I’ve ducked more than one punch from that one.
Edginess is partially attitude. I don’t have an edgy attitude. Partially for that reason, people at my place of business can look at me and go, “He’s a little weird, but he’s OK.” They know I’m polyamorous, they know I’m Pagan, and this is in a fairly conservative district. It’s not Colorado Springs, but it is upper-middle-class status quo, and there’s plenty of Fundamentalist attitudes going around. Yet I’m treated as normal, even liked, partially because I try to be a nice guy, and partially because I don’t make a big deal about being different. I’m different, and I have different attitudes about things, yeah. No big.
Gus seems to imply that Paganism should return a degree of edginess to itself, in regards to countering the corporations and the consumer society they have created. I counter with, we don’t need to be edgy to do that. We can be normal, everyday people, and still tell a corporation to flock off. In fact, Paganism will have less impact if we designate and separate ourselves from others who feel the same way, but might not hold our world-view. This is where the Quakers succeeded: they weren’t they only abolitionists in that time period which Gus is speaking of; they coordinated with others who shared that viewpoint even if they didn’t agree with the Quakers religiously. This is not edginess, this is cooperation, *ghosti. This is what needs to happen.