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Posts Tagged ‘polytheism’

 

I was in high school when I started to seriously study and practice any form of Paganism.  I was solitary except for a few experiments with an equally curious friend.  I didn’t meet any other Pagans in person until college.  The introductory books did not prepare me for the diversity in our community.  I remember an elder  looking down his nose at me when I blurted out a socially awkward “Blessed be!” in the local metaphysical store after I heard what he was talking about.  (We later had a very positive relationship.)  I vividly remember the first time I met a self-proclaimed Vampire.  (It was really uncomfortable.)

Although I never experienced witch wars or anything like that, I occasionally butt heads with people in the eclectic group I belonged to in Utica.  I came to realize Wicca did not resonate with me, but many people in the group embraced it or its teachings.  I realized I was a polytheist, a liberal reconstructionist with a blossoming interest (calling?  obsession?) in Irish culture.  I no longer embraced the Law of Three or the Rede.  Fueled by youthful passion, I wanted to remind everyone, whenever I could, that I didn’t always share their perspectives. While I seldom work a curse, studying Irish (and other Indo-European lore) revealed that it was part of those cultures and not demonized in any way.  Indeed, some of the earliest Irish curses are against inhospitable rulers who were not treating their people with dignity.

The moment you admit any of that, the moment you dismiss the Law of Three, the moment you stand in contrast to Wicca (by your ethics, your tools, your methods,  etc), lines form.  I don’t always mean for that to happen, but it’s been part of my learning curve.  It became painfully divisive whenever I shared my concerns of cultural appropriation when we planned eclectic rituals.   It was exhausting, but I loved everyone I worked with.  They were patient with me, encouraged me to share my own interests, and we always strove to be respectful, even when things became heated.  I’m really lucky that my first foray into the Pagan community was like that.  It could have been worse.  I know many people who refuse to celebrate with others because of really bad experiences.

Now that I’m a little older, I hope that I’m a little wiser.  I realize there is strength in our diversity.  It forces us to think and not become mired in tradition.  It’s good to see things from other perspectives.  Although I prefer to work with and learn from fellow Druids, polytheists, and traditional witches, some of the kindest, smartest, and most talented ritualists I know are Wiccan or influenced by those teachings.  While I find the sacred in the forests and rivers, I now understand that many find it in city streets.  I may be a vegetarian, but I know many who very respectfully hunt or lovingly raise animals, then offer some of the flesh.  I may lean towards hard polytheism, but I understand and appreciate that others see all gods as aspects of one spirit.

If you haven’t already, you should read “Undoing the Hard Work of Pagan Pioneers” by Bekah Evie Bel.  (Fair warning – it’s a Patheos blog update.  They always slow my browser.)  The author explores a topic that I and others sometimes think about.  How society sees us, and how we see each other, play a role in the novel I’ve been writing.  More people are talking about “rewilding” our traditions.  Some are calling anew to Aradia.  In our fight for rights and recognition in larger society, many worry that we have declawed ourselves in the process.  Why is it somehow possible for  Western people to accept that cultures in other countries make offerings, revere their ancestors, talk to plants, or dance while their gods ride them?  When it happens in other countries, it’s interesting, entertaining, it’s so  weird you can’t look away, it’s exotic.  When it happens in a Western country, especially in your own backyard, it’s suddenly alarming to many.  (Obviously, indigenous people live here, but the dominant culture tends to treat their traditions as exotic, too.)  Within our own Pagan community, certain practices will draw ire – you may even be ostracized.  Most people regard Paganism as a monoculture.  Heck, many people within our own community still view it that way, leading to culture shock and conflict upon encountering different traditions.

I’m not sure exactly where I’m going with this…  just that I’ve been thinking about these topics.  I seem to come back to them every once in awhile as I reflect on my growth.  While there are definitely certain practices that must stay in the past based on laws and evolved perceptions of human decency, I think it’s important that individuals within the Pagan community continue to grow in a spirit of mutual respect.  We don’t have to agree all the time, but recognizing that not everyone will embrace the same practices or traditions is important to our preservation.  It’s important that we continue to learn about each other and come together to celebrate our diversity.  When we can do that, we’re better able to brainstorm and ameliorate issues concerning race, gender identity, cultural appropriation, elder care, and others challenging our growth. It’s part of why I’m involved in my local FAE Fest and enthusiastically attend PPD – to promote education so we learn about each other, celebrate our similarities and differences, and support each other.

I’m thankful to our Neo-Pagan elders and all they did to help us get where we are today, but I’m ready for certain stigmas to go away within our own diverse community.  The greater misconceptions are more likely to vanish from public opinion when we ourselves stop perpetuating the falsehood that we all believe or practice the same way.

 

 

 

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Meeting with and talking with people who think and feel differently, both online and in person, always makes me stop and consider my own perspectives.  Spiritual growth doesn’t just happen in the Other World or in your heart – it also happens in your mind, in dialog, in your relations with others.

I mentioned my friend Katrina the other day in my post about astrology.  It’s been awhile since I’ve had a long conversation with her, but she was always more of a soft polytheist.  She’s a very intelligent individual, and also open-minded and interested in having discussions.  She loves comparative mythology just as I do.  We always have some interesting exchanges.  Being more of a hard polytheist, Katrina helped me see different perspectives in a more positive light.  She is definitely one of my role models and I always think of her when the nature of Gods comes up.  And it often does in such a diverse world!

My feelings grow and evolve according to my experiences, studies, and moods.  For the most part, I have experienced the Gods as separate beings.  Before Druidism, I had a very strong relationship with the Egyptian Goddess Bast.  When our time together ended, she never became Brighid or any other Goddess. Some of my Wiccan friends, who have some Norse leanings, were doing a drawing down with Freya.  Not once during the ritual did I get the impression that Freya and Brighid were the same being.  In fact, experiences during that ritual lead some of us to believe that Brighid definitely did not want me to work with Freya.  I will also add as an aside that, despite Freya’s connection with cats, there was nothing in that experience that connected her in any other way to Bast.

I will not claim to be an expert on the matter.  I will not even claim to be an incredibly practiced spirit worker.  When I have been lucky enough to get into a productive trance state, and when I have been able to meet with my Gods, the question came up once or twice.  The Gods always laugh it away as a silly concern and ask me to focus on the here and now.  It’s become a bit of a mantra to me. When I ground and center, I focus on the here and now, even saying those words to myself as I breathe in and out.  In that moment there is only me, the altar, the nature around me, my ancestors, and my Gods.

And my Gods seem to be individual.  They are part of nature and connected by nature, yes.  Brighid is the fire.  An Dagda is the passion.  The Cailleah is the snow and wind.  Manannan is the sea.  But to me, that isn’t it.  Hestia, a Greek Goddess, is also fire.  Yet she isn’t Brighid.  They are of different lands, cultures, and lore.  To me, they are related through nature but distinct.  They can be described as an archetype but are more than that simplification.  Much as my sister and I are both archetypes of daughters, wives, sisters, women, and even artisans, we are still different people.  We are united by the same forces of nature that unite as all – a web of creation and destruction that, to me, is mindless.  It just is: creating, destroying, and uniting us in those simple truths.

To me, my Gods are intimately tied to a culture.  I don’t see this as a limitation of them. I always say I have an agnostic side to me, and that side argues that, yes, they could be more than that.  But they present themselves to me in that way, using that symbolism.  The symbolism of the Irish culture helps me better access them.  There is power already invested in those symbols and it works for me.  Perhaps Brighid really is the same as Hestia.  Perhaps I am only seeing one head on a hydra of fire.  Perhaps Brighid and Hestia really are the same as Bast and Lugh and Odin, and any other number of deities…    But I haven’t experienced them as that.  I continue to work with the Tuatha de Dannan using the symbolism of the culture associated with them – the culture of some of my ancestors.

I am equally comfortable going outside and honoring the sunthe windwaterlightening as is without cultural symbolism.  When some argue that hard polytheists don’t do that clearly haven’t met many and create a false dichotomy as my friend  Grey Wren would say.  Hard polytheists aren’t all so rigid.  I think the vast majority of us are more fluid and open to the mystery of who the Gods really are. We understand that mythology is symbolic rather than literal. We think and feel the way we do because that is how the spirits present themselves to us.  We do as we do out of integrity to ourselves and the spirits.  It is what makes sense to us.  However, that integrity is no excuse for the haughty, evangelical nature some hard polytheists might present to others.  Thankfully, that sort seems to be the minority.

But don’t feel like you can’t talk to us about your experiences as a soft polytheist.  Most of us are open-minded and understand that no human can truly understand the spirit world completely.  We can still learn from each other.  We can still connect because we are connected.  Exactly how is just a beautiful mystery. 🙂

 

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