Friday, March 29, 2019

A Primer on Daily Devotional Prayer

Over on the community site for Natib Qadish, I have posted a primer on how to start and engage in a practice of  daily devotional prayer

This very short "how-to" is intended primarily for those wanting to practice Natib Qadish and honor the Canaanite deities, but there may be a few things here of use to the budding lay-polytheist of other traditions. 

"Sometimes the best remedy to establishing a relationship, keeping a relationship vibrant, or healing a broken one, is just to spend time with the other, to appreciate the other, to do something for that other, or to express a desire for that other to be well. Just spend a little time devoted to Them. It can do wonders."

Establishing and maintaining good relations with the deities is aided by setting up and engaging in a daily devotional prayer practice. If you care about Them, let Them know! Set aside time each day and let Them know how important They are to you. It's a simple practice, and it's a good one. Try not to let a day roll by without consciously taking a moment to focus upon Them and honor Them. 

Tuesday, January 16, 2018


It occurred to me recently in conversation that sometimes we polytheists throw around terms that many of us understand but that  many others do not. I would like to take a moment to clarify that term for those who are unfamiliar with it and its use in the context of some polytheistic religions.

If you are very new to polytheism, you may see this word or another word related to it "recon" or "reconstructionist," used every now and then. "Recon" and "reconstructionist" may be used interchangeably to refer to a person who employs the method of reconstructionism.

Reconstructionsim, here in this case, is a reference to a methodology. It is a methodology which relies on historic content, folklore, linguistics, archaeological finds and so on to reconstruct a facsimile of what an ancient religion, or parts of it, might have been like, and to bring that facsimile forward to the modern day.

A lot of modern polytheists employ reconstructionism to a certain degree in various different groups under broader categories from Celtic to Hellenic, Roman to Kemetic, and so on. This is to say that not all who practice a Celtic polytheistic religion—or a Hellenic one, or a Roman one, or a Kemetic one, et cetera--employ reconstructionism, but some groups and some individuals do, and some groups or individuals may employ the method to a greater degree than other groups or individuals.

As for benefits: I think reconstructionism can be a good fallback if a person has little to go on and is just starting out to honor a deity who does not have modern cultus, and a person is new to developing a relationship with the deity. It’s can also be used to fill in gaps where relationship or understanding isn’t quite there yet. Or, it can be used in concert with deities, under their guidance, and with their needs taken into consideration. There are other situations, too, where it can be of use. Reconstructionism is a tool for a job. It’s not the only tool, but it is a tool, and it can be helpful.

A few drawbacks: When folks use this method sometimes there is a tendency to force relationships with deities into human-centric molds, expectations, and demands. Sometimes this is done even to the exclusion of what a deity would prefer, or even to the exclusion of an actual relationship with a deity at all. Or even to the point of assuming real immediate relationships with deities don’t happen. There is also a tendency to expect that reconstructionism is the best, most intelligent, most educated, systematic way or even the only way, or the only “real way,” to go about engaging in religion in regards to the worship of an ancient deity. There’s an idea that others who do not employ this method are engaging in inferior methods, or are just “making stuff up.” There’s a tendency, too, to dismiss real relational content simply because it may not fit the human-made mold or meet the human expectations. There are ways of measuring validity of an experience which doesn’t require a citation from three different historians who don’t cross reference themselves…but I digress, and that’s another topic for another day.

Sometimes in using reconstructionist methods, there’s a focus on matching the religious structures to what we know of from history…while missing the point of the religion in the first place: religions are dynamic systems of structures, agreements, expectations, rules of engagement for relationships with deities. I use that word "dynamic" to indicate that sometimes systems are not static, sometimes it changes in accordance to needs of the beings and Beings, human and otherwise, in those relationships. Without this relational component, religion is a house with no one living in it, a cup that remains empty, a library with no resources. When a religion is minus relationships with deities, it is without depth, without core, without wisdom, without breath, without soul or animation, without connection, without the very splendor for which it is supposedly created. You might as well have a history-culture-and-deity fan club (which is fine, too, but it’s not a religion!).

A big problem, that often shows in practical use of reconstructionism, lies in a failure to account for the limits of history, what history can be used for and what it cannot be used for, the biases in historical record, and the biases of historians and their interpretation of the information available. I’m not throwing out all of history or all of the study of history, here, or useful historical background in these matters; I am simply saying that there are limits. There is a risk of over-valuing the word of a limited human account about what a deity wants, while missing or dismissing experiences gained in the relationship with the deity Themselves.

In short: Reconstructionism is a good tool; it is only one tool of many a person could use. Reconstruction is a method where by a person can look to history for cues in creating religious systems and structures. Accounting for the limits of reconstruction is necessary as well as accounting for the limits of history. It is necessary, too, to avoid misunderstanding the structure and systems (a religion) for what it should hold (relations with deities). I say this with a soft spot for reconstructionism; I have found it useful over the years. It’s not a bad tool, and it has its benefits. There is a problem in an over-extension of the tool's use beyond its "factory specs," beyond its actual limitations. There is a problem in not understanding generally where those limitations are and working with those limitations in a conscious way.

Image Credits: Photo of a brick wall texture by Aardappell, public domain.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Two Way Traffic: Choices and Requirements in Restrictions

People often have a very difficult time resolving matters of choice and requirement in polytheistic relationships and in regards to restrictions some of us have in our Work. (Take a moment to consider whether or not you’re the Intended Audience for this post!)

When I speak of a restriction here, I am referring to a habit, a way of life, a custom that one engages in, whether that restriction is brought about by personal choice, or through an element of requirement (non-choice), or both.

In my perusal of social media, a flashback popped up to a post I’d written in 2015. The themes there are just as pertinent today as they ever were, and I have decided to revisit the subject. Many folks are confronted with their own fears of difference and the loss of their own personal liberties when they see someone else engaging in restrictions and religious customs. The fear response causes them to want to erase those differences so that they will not have to confront their fears around mistaking some folks’ religious customs as a mark of oppression. While some religious restrictions are used socially, by human beings, as tools of oppression, it is a great act of cultural erasure to assume that this is always the case in all circumstances—and that is a topic for a different day.

Sometimes a person who chooses and/or is required (or both!) to live in a way that is unfamiliar to dominant culture ends up being a catalyst which brings forth the others’ own fears. The fear-reaction of one person is not the fault of the other person who is different.  Enter the mobs bearing pitchforks and torches...or large signs...or public shaming on the internet in an effort to coerce someone to conform. (Note that these are all just tools—pitchforks, torches, signs, public shaming, and the internet; it is in their use that they can be forces for help or harm, or anything in between or otherwise. Also, conformity itself is not always a bad thing, but when it is used as a tool to destroy diversity, it certainly causes harm.) Until we consciously account as best we can for our fears and work through those fears, our choices in how to deal with those fears are exceedingly limited. We can end up being ticking time bombs around folks who committed no crime. Being different is not a crime. We may not have had a choice as to whether or not we feel fear--as human beings, we're born that way with a fight-or-flight program installed as a system standard, as a requirement, as an element of non-choice--but we can choose how we deal with it (or not). Those choices open up options and close down other avenues. And those choices most certainly affect other people even to the point of personal safety.

When a polytheist engages in a religious restriction, that restriction can often take the form of a custom or a way of life which is unfamiliar, different, to dominant culture. In regards to the restrictions I carry, I run into folks who will try to ferret out whether my restrictions are based on choice, or if they are based on requirement (non-choice). To probe for whether a restriction is based on choice or based on requirement is usually a means to see which tactic an uncomfortable person can use to manipulate the different person into conforming to dominant cultural standards—whether the uncomfortable person is conscious that they are doing this or not. Hey, look, another dichotomy which keeps you guessing: is a person is really conscious of the harm they're causing, or not. I'm not saying that all folks who try to probe you on these matters are being intentionally mean. I usually assume that folks mean well, but meaning well and acting well are two different things even if the person hasn't a mean bone in their body. I am, however, saying that the assumptions which underlay their questions can be problematic even if the person isn't trying to be problematic or willfully hurtful. They're usually not aware of their assumptions, and they're not aware of how problematic those assumptions are, but it helps if you are aware of these things.

If I say my restriction is required, the translation-filter in their brains may feed what I say through a garbled, broken misunderstanding based on assumptions, fear, and generations of bad patterns, and is rendered into “This person ‘thinks’ it’s a requirement, but I know it’s not!” and thus they may respond with variations on a theme: "Oh, you poor oppressed dear, let me save you from your misguidedness. To be free, you must be like me." Being coerced into conforming to a dominant cultural standard for the sake of someone else’s comfort…is not freedom. If I were to say that my restriction is a matter of personal choice, the variations on a theme go something like this: "You chose to live a different life, therefore you chose to be mistreated." And thus there is bullying to conform to a dominant cultural standard.

Either way results in the assault of someone's personal liberty in favor of someone else’s dubious comfort of dominant conformity activated by their own unexamined  fears. It shouldn’t matter if a person “chooses” or if they “are required”—or both at the same time! It ranks right up there with "Did you choose to be a polytheist?"  Just. No. Just Oh-hell-No with a side of Nope Sauce. There are so many wrong assumptions to unpack with just that simple misleading question, and it points back to (accidentally or intentionally or both) kicking foundation out from under someone’s identity, choices, lack of choices, responsibilities, personal liberties, wants, needs, relationships, and life experiences. It is a disregard of someone’s own personhood. Questions like that one dismiss that these matters are often the result of complex and nuanced factors operating together, not one or the other in a dichotomous, binary vacuum. (I’m pretty sure Dichotomous Vacuum should be a band name. But I digress.) So what, if a person does choose restrictions? So what, if a person doesn’t choose restrictions? So what, if the matter is right down the middle? Memo re: Someone Else’s Personhood Is Not Subject to Another Person's Scrutiny for the Sake of That Person's Comfort or Understanding.

Some of us polytheists may be drafted into a situation in regards to the deities, but ultimately, we have the choice whether to accept assignment or dodge that draft and bug off to Antigua and work as an underpaid Captain Jack Sparrow impersonator for the rest of our lives, or be a bassist for Dichotomous Vacuum, or both. Whichever way we choose, there will be matters which result from that choice, options which will open up, options which will close, and options which this choice neither opens nor closes. Some matters are mutually exclusive and some are not. These are matters of natural consequence, just as they would be for a person who is intrinsically a healer (mostly non-choice) and who exercised that call, that need, by becoming a doctor (mostly choice), and how she no longer has time to pursue serious study into auto mechanics: a natural consequence of her choice for becoming the kind of healer she decided to become. These matters cascade as a complex flow chart-web from how (or if) we choose to participate and what we decide to do or not do, or partially do, or do differently. 

As polytheists, we recognize that there are many individual deities with their own volitions, and most of us who recognize this matter have some kind of relationship(s) to some deity(s). Sometimes a relationship is there already (non-choice) but we can acknowledge it and decide to interact with it (choice). Sometimes a relationship with a deity comes into being over time, whether by a human person’s choice or not by a human person’s choice—as a result of a deity’s choice, or as a result of relationships a deity has which end up bearing on you, or as a result of a (human) group’s needs with or without the involvement of a deity, as a result of inheritance, as a result of the land on which you live…or…many, many other various situations and scenarios. Relationships usually come with a set of expectations on us (non-choice) we can decide if that’s something we’re willing to take on or not (choice). Some relationships can be initiated where there wasn’t one before (choice), and sometimes those too come with expectations or requirements to meet (non-choice).

Relationships come with responsibilities, expectations, hopes, rules of engagement, on the part of all parties involved, and they come with different levels of responsibilities for each person involved. This is the case whether you’re in a relationship with a deity, another human, or a housecat: every relationship is a dance amidst things you choose and things you do not choose. For instance, you may have chosen to have a housecat, but you didn’t choose to step barefoot in cat vomit in the middle of the night. Or you may have had an element of non-choice in the matter: your auntie in her will left you the responsibility of caring for kitty, so you have a choice whether to honor auntie or not. If there’s no one else to care for Mittens the Destroyer, and your only other option is to send kitty to a kill-shelter—and you won’t do that—you’re going to have to deal with shredded furniture and cat vomit…as well as the unplanned joys of purring, cuddles, and a new furry family member.

Dealing with these choices and non-choices are what make us responsible adults, responsible for the things we did choose, responsible for handling what we chose, responsible for working through the consequences, responsible as best we can be for dealing with the things we did not choose, and responsible for working through options which open up and options which close as a result of our choices, our requirements, and what’s in between.

How those relationships operate is up to the Beings and beings in those relationships to figure out together, and is a matter of co-creation and participation in varying amounts. When we engage in good relations, we choose to behave responsibly to the other party(s) in that relationship. If a relationship comes up or an offer of relationship is made, we can choose to acknowledge a relationship, be in the relationship, politely decline relationship, rudely decline a relationship, renegotiate it, make counter-offers, ask for guidance or clarification, put it on hold, ignore it, pass it off to another generation, leave it, pretend it doesn’t exist, call in a favor, issue a challenge, flip a coin, or anything in between and then some. Relationship almost always comes with responsibility (requirement / non-choice). Relationship and responsibility are often a package deal, even if the responsibilities and the level of responsibilities shift,  but how we exercise those responsibilities and how we co-create that relationship with other Being is up to us (choice) and we have every option under the sun which is ours to have within the limitations and scope of being human and in being the particular individual humans we are with our own particular individual, unique limitations.

For some of us, accepting religious restrictions is a requirement of the particular relationship we’re in with a particular deity (or groups of deities), or religious group, or profession, or ancestors, or land, or more. By example, a doctor knows that there are some requirements which come with her job like being on call, or working longer hours, or taking continuing education credits, or missing a nephew’s ballet recital. Sometimes we know ahead of time what we’re getting into, but sometimes we don’t know or can’t know. By contrast, some of us may take up a restriction more as a means of ongoing personal offering, as a votive to a deity. This does not make that choice any less valuable or legitimate, nor does it make that choice more valuable or more legitimate. It’s just different. If you engage in restrictions, whichever way and whatever way in between is a matter up to personal relationship and is not subject to someone else’s digging in order to tailor coercion and erasure tactics to target your situation and your personhood.

In regards to exercising religious restrictions and customs in polytheism, there is a spectrum here that ranges from Choice on one side to Requirement on the other:

Choice Requirement (Non-Choice) 

It’s just a jump to the left: 
A person, by way mostly of their own decision, who chooses to live a particular way, should not be subject to cultural browbeating and chest-beating to erase their choice and force them to conform. Just because a person could, theoretically, conform, shouldn't mean that they must or even should, and their choice shouldn't be treated as irrelevant or worthless. Though their behavior falls more towards the “choice” side of the spectrum, it does not mean that they are antisocial and hazardous, and it doesn't mean that it is an "open season" on mistreatment simply because they could, in theory, choose to be different. They may also encounter elements of non-choice, especially in regards to living with their vow in everyday life, and in regards to how others will react to it.

And then a step to the right: 
A person who lives far to the other end of the spectrum where they are required to live a particular way (because of genetics, “born this way,” familial situation, ancestral situation, or a situation of a series of life events which have eliminated other options, etc.) should not be subjected to forced conversions of cultural erasure. Remember Mittens the Destroyer? That was a non-choice, and one would generally not accuse auntie of abusing power, she was just looking out for her beloved feline companion. Though their behavior falls more towards the “requirement / non-choice” end of the spectrum, it doesn’t make those actions worthless, meaningless, or signs of personal weakness and feeblemindedness. And, there are still going to be elements of choice within the matters of non-choice. 

Put your hands on your hips, and bring your knees in tight: 
A person who is directly in the middle of that spectrum between choice and requirement damn well also should not have to put up with interrogation tactics designed to deceitfully dichotomize; tactics which discredit, demean, dehumanize, delete, in an attempt to destroy one’s personhood. No one should. 

This attempt at forced dichotomization erases nuance and complexity through its single-minded stereoscopic tunnel vision. The result is the destruction of diversity. This forced dichotomization is a means to extract the matter from its context, divest it of its meaning, and remove this unique, distinguishing element (if you engage in it) from your life and your personhood. Either way, when it is demanded of you to pick one end of the spectrum or the other, your exercise of restrictions and your personhood in this matter are being put at risk. It’s just a matter of helping the enemy choose the best weapon for attack—the enemy being best described here as a heady toxic brew of unquestioned assumptions, fear, erasure, coercion of dominant culture, destruction of your personhood, and an elimination of both your choices and your requirements at the same time. Being demanded to view your restrictions through a dichotomy of “either choice or non-choice” ends up locking you into s an endless, useless debate. You end up wearing yourself out by constantly wondering whether what you’re doing is choice or not choice, and whether either one is more legitimate than the other…when that’s not the point at all and you've gotten stuck in a frantic standstill unable to break out of that debate which only causes distraction, and which flattens the depths of your experiences into a poor two-dimensional substitute.

It’s not either-or. It’s both, at the same time, without diminishing the importance of either and without erasing either end of that spectrum. Even if you tend to be more on one end of a spectrum than the other, there are elements of both within the other, and where you are and how you act in these matters makes a good deal of difference to you and in your relationships. 

Wherever you are on this spectrum in regards to restrictions, or even if you’re not on it at all, it's totally ok! Chose this life, born this way, or both had to be this way and choose to be this's ok! Have zero restrictions? Yay! Have a lifetime of service in honor of your deities and a plethora of restrictions? Yay! Have some restrictions which apply only in certain contexts? Terrific! Have some restrictions which apply only for particular amounts of time? Peachy! Have anything in between? Great! Gone off to Antigua to join Dichotomous Vacuum as the Captain Jack-dressed bassist? Send me your next album and the t-shirt! If you exercise requirements in relationship to your deities, it’s ok whether it’s more a matter of choice, more a matter of non-choice, or anything in between. It's your business where you fall in that spectrum. It is not the business of someone else uncomfortable with your differences to ferret out where you are in that spectrum--a situation which can bring about (an often unconscious and often not deliberately mean-spirited) tailoring of dominant cultural coercion which erases your choices, your non-choices, and everything in between.

Image Credits: View west along old US Route 40 just west of Wells, Nevada. Photo taken by Famartin. Used through Creative Commons license. 

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Saltwater Taffy Government

I am apolitical. This is useful to take into context and consideration upon reading this article. I am apolitical because I am required in a religious context to be apolitical. Being apolitical is different from being anti-government, or from being an anarchist—often the categories overlap but it should be remembered that these categories are different things. I am not an anarchist, and I am not anti-government. Also, my situation stems from my relationships and my Work, not from apathy of politics. My interaction with government is limited and I maintain a nonpartisan view. I abide by the laws and the local customs.

I stand for human rights, personal liberty, sustainable interaction with the environment, an awareness of climate change, human reproductive rights, the ethical treatment of animals, and the right to protect oneself and each other, the right to marry another consenting adult (or more than one, of any gender, of any adult age, it’s none of my business), and many more concerns. The things that I listed above that I support are not synonymous with government interaction, even if often they are protected, destroyed, or both, through government interaction.

I am as neutral regarding politics as I can be, and I try to step back and allow room for those far more educated on politics, the specialists, those who understand these things more than I, to step up and speak. I am a priest; I am not a politician, I am required to be apolitical, and thus I do not speak on politics.

I would also have it noted that I am not championing being apolitical as a better thing than being political; it is just different. Nor am I advising that anyone “should” be apolitical (indeed, far from it!). My being apolitical has to do with a specific relationship, in a specific role that I have with my Work and my deities, and it is not reflective of how things are or should be with other folks whose relationships and situations are different from mine. Indeed, I would hope that most people are quite involved with their local government and with politics; these are useful and necessary interactions and I support interactions with these things and our rights to interact with these things.

I give this much background on myself so that you will have a better understanding of where I am coming from and so that you might avoid writing me off as Pro-That Thing You Hate or Anti-That Thing You Value.

It is because of this restriction, of being apolitical, that I have kept my speaking of certain issues to a bare minimum during the US election season. I do not have to remind you, dear reader, of the difficulties the US finds herself in. I cannot and should not do your political research for you. Suffice it to say, like the old saying goes, we live in “interesting times.”

What I am going to talk about now is not politics and the actions of government; I will instead speak on the difference between government and other things. What I speak on now is a matter of differentiation, of understanding what things are from what they are not. I am at an intersection in my religious practices and requirements because while I am apolitical on the one hand, I must also speak on issues of differentiation on the other hand, so I engage in a careful balancing here.

Being apolitical requires a little bit of understanding on what is political so that a person can be other-than-political. Politics is a noun which covers the activities associated with governance (usually of a country), and in this light, politics usually indicate an involvement with the government and involvement in the activities of that government. Being apolitical, therefore, means a lack of involvement with the government and a lack of involvement with activities of governance (usually of a country). Because of being apolitical, I will restrict my remarks to a very basic sense of what government is—the word itself, not the activities, details, or the merits of the activities which go on under that word. I will also discuss very briefly what government is not. My goal is not the discussion of politics here, but the discussion regarding differentiation and understanding what an item (which happens to be government) is from what that item is not.

A government is a tool used in the hands of people. When that tool does not perform the desired function, sometimes it is because the tool is in disrepair, the tool is handled by inept hands, or what we thought was the tool turned out to be something else which only resembled the tool.

  1. A screwdriver is a tool. Saltwater taffy formed into the shape of a screwdriver is not a tool. A screwdriver made of saltwater taffy…is not a screwdriver even if it looks like one. It’s not going to function as a screwdriver, and if you try to use it as a screwdriver, you’re going to be terribly frustrated when all it does is bend, stretch, and mush itself against the screw’s head. Saltwater taffy is great for what it is: candy is a wonderful, tasty thing, but it cannot be used as a screwdriver. It must be appreciated for what it is (candy, which happens to be in the shape of a screwdriver) instead of being misunderstood for what it is not (a screwdriver).
  2. A tool which is an actual real tool, not made of saltwater taffy, will work best if it is of good quality and in good repair. If it’s broken, you’re not going to get far on the job you set out to do. If it is not broken but it is of poor quality, it may break in your hands as you try to do the job you set out to do. Tools must be of decent quality and kept in decent order so that they can function to do the job that they are intended to do.
  3. In looking at tools, we must also take into consideration the hands that wield the tool. No matter how good quality and in good repair a screwdriver is, if a person doesn’t know how to use it, then the tool won’t work. If you have asked a person to do some complicated home repairs, and the person does not know how to do what it asked, then a good tool is of no use, and a tool in disrepair is a moot point. If a person who does not know how to do home repairs has represented himself to you as a handyman, he is at the very least deceiving you, and he may well also be deceiving himself, too. Nothing in the house is going to get fixed. It does not matter how many people that “handyman” may bring with him, if they also known nothing about fixing tools or about home repair,  or are misguided or deceitful on how much they know, our home will remain in disrepair and so will the tool to fix it. If the situation is left unattended and out of competent hands for too long, the house will fall into a state of disrepair so bad that the foundations will start to crumble and the roof will cave.  

We are living in a house which is in a state of disrepair, with a tool which needs repair before we can fix the house, and with hands which are not expert at doing the job they are set to do at either tool repair or home repair. That the “handyman” does not have the expertise is a matter of public record; it is not a matter of personal opinion. (A person who claims to be a politician but who has not participated in an active role in an elected office of that government is not a politician. A handyman who has never fixed anything is not a handyman even if he has qualified expertise in another field.) This is the state of affairs in our red, white, and blue painted home.

I have a separate statement to make in regards to totalitarianism. A totalitarian “government” is a saltwater taffy “screwdriver”. It looks like government on first glance from a distance. People use totalitarianism as if it were government, but it is not government. If a leader doesn’t like the government he has—a tool which he doesn’t know how fix or how to wield, or he won’t fix and won’t wield well—he may well replace it with a nicer looking “tool” of saltwater taffy that he can bend to his will, and use it like a good a stage prop. But, even if that saltwater taffy replica looks like the real thing, it is not. Even if totalitarianism resembles a government, it is not.

Government is a tool for managing people, and no matter what type of government is used, from monarchism to communism, it is usually done with some nod towards the good of the people involved. When that nod towards the good of the people becomes a middle-fingered gesture of curse and a sneaky confiscation of liberties, it’s no longer government even if it pretends to be. These things often do not occur as sudden change, it’s a slow creeping one, and as such, it is difficult to see and more difficult to realize.

Prison camps also manage people, but we know that prison camps are not governments because the camps are lacking in that precious key word: liberty. Ideally governments balance personal liberty with the need to function together as a society. When a people have complete liberty with no government, this is called anarchy and it's a state of chaotic lawlessness which is not necessarily a good thing. Lawlessness means there is no longer a government, and on a sliding scale it looks like 100% chaos and 0% order; I am reminded of the book Lord of the Flies and a breakdown of society. With complete anarchy, people get hurt, and might becomes “right”: ironically, peoples’ personal liberties end up being diminished or destroyed. On the other side of the spectrum, when you have 0% chaos and a paralyzing soul-crushing, liberty-demolishing 100% order, you have a prison camp.  A totalitarian dictator starts sliding to the side of the spectrum of 75% order or greater, and 25% chaos or less. A totalitarian regime ends up no longer being a government because the space for personal liberty is so deeply reduced it becomes nonexistent.  Anarchy is not government; totalitarianism is a structure of order which impersonates government. Neither one of them is government.

These sliding scale estimates I give are based on my right-brained assessments through very casual, non-scientific, non-expert, layperson observation and are not evidenced through any study or hard data. They are personal observation and estimation.  This scale is not meant to be relativistic; it’s not meant as a scale for “I feel one way, but my conservative / liberal neighbor feels another way, and both ways of feeling are ok.” Each person has a right to feel what they feel; and, making these observations about what’s going on around you isn’t about individuals’ feelings. Instead, this scale is meant for you to apply to the things you see from a variety of credible news sources—not from clickbait or “fake news” websites—and to make your determinations from that material as best you can, as objectively as you can. As always a person should seek out and listen to the experts who know more about these things, and take expert opinions into full consideration. This sliding scale is meant as an informal personal tool to judge the events and to see more clearly beyond the political dualism, beyond fear of change and fear of scarcity, and beyond systemic and difficult-to-see problems, beyond complacency and comforting slogans.

Generally speaking, whether after this election, or a previous one, or one in the future, consider the following. Even if you believe that a leader is not set out to do harm, whether you like that new leader or not, whether you agree with that leader’s politics more than you disagree (or vice versa), even when you think “things aren’t that bad…four years isn’t so long,” I urge you to do three things: get out that sliding scale, listen to expert opinions, and listen to credible news sources. Start observing the personal liberties which are challenged (or outright confiscated!) even if--and especially when--those personal liberties are not yours but someone else’s.

Confiscated liberties signify an amount of order that creeps towards a totalitarianism chokehold. When those rights are overridden by a larger group, then that pattern is codified through law: that would be evidence of totalitarianism. On the other side of the spectrum, the fragility and absence of the personal liberties of smaller groups, due to the stronger, larger groups' interference in combination with a lack of order and lawful protection of those rights, can point to a greater amount of anarchy.  It is certainly possible that within one government structure, a person can observe anarchy in one place and totalitarianism in another; the world is a complicated and nuanced place. Neither anarchy nor totalitarianism is government; neither anarchy nor totalitarianism will protect anyone’s rights. Too much chaos will not safeguard rights; too much order will not allow those rights.

Measure what you’re seeing between a spectrum which ranges from chaos/anarchy on one side to order/totalitarianism on the other side. Contemplate the situations very carefully.

If you’re a visual learner, draw a line on a bulletin board with Chaos / Anarchy (maybe symbolized by a little fly) on one side and Order / Totalitarianism (maybe symbolized by a barbed wire fence) on the other; clip out articles or headlines, put a date on them and note where they come from, and put them on a bulletin board on the side that the information seems to fall more towards. If it’s hard on the side of order, put it all the way there by the barbed wire fence. If it’s more of a middle ground, put it more towards a middle ground. If it’s a little more on the score of chaotic, put it a little closer to the fly. Make sure the articles you find are in regards to many different segments of the population, not just the dominant one, and try to ensure the articles come from credible news sources. You will have a record and a visual representation when you do this.

As for this past election, take a good hard look at the news coming out: issues regarding civil rights and personal liberties are ignored or overridden, there are associations with racism, there have been internal memos of gag orders issued, there's a suspension of involvement with the rest of the world, there are promises of a wall between countries, there is evidence of foreign interference in elections, we've even started to have questions as to what constitutes “real news” versus “fake news” and talk of “alternative facts,” the media have been treated with a heavy hand, and there's an active dismissal of objective information and of science, and there are many other factors. Look into what's going on, and listen to expert opinions, and credible news sources, and weigh what you're hearing and reading on that scale between chaos/anarchy and order/totalitarianism.

The thing you weigh on that spectrum doesn’t have to be 0%-100% to be flagged as a problem. As I said before, totalitarian regimes look more like 25% or less of chaos to 75% or greater of order, and although totalitarian regimes usually don’t reach the 0% chaos and 100% order that a prison camp has, it is still a totalitarian regime even if it would pretend to be a republic. Look into these things and judge these things for yourself.

At what point between 0% chaos and 100% order are you willing to accept before realizing something is amiss? At what point between 0% chaos/anarchy and 100% order/totalitarianism are you willing to accept that things are not ok? At what point in that scale does it fall for those of us who aren’t a part of dominant culture, and at what point are you ok with these personal liberties being interfered with? At what point does liberty, the liberty of any law-abiding citizen, become an acceptable casualty? Could the current state of affairs be edging in the direction of totalitarianism, or could they even already be there? I ask you to put these questions to yourself. We all have a different role to play in ensuring the rights of ourselves and each other; maybe your role is political, maybe it’s less so, but whatever that role is, in order to claim those roles we must first be cognizant of the goings on.

Friday, January 20, 2017

A Statement on Natib Qadish

Natib Qadish (a Canaanite polytheistic religion) does not discriminate on the basis of race, sex, gender, sexuality, age, ability, heritage, biological ancestry, or economic situation. We support human rights. We support responsible care for the environment, the lands, the skies, the waters,the plants, the animals, and various forms of life surviving here on earth. We support humane treatment of animals. We support the care and ethical treatment of all beings and Beings to the best of our abilities, on, in, and around our world. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

A Winter Solstice Prayer

May we ever remember that
What we have done yesterday,
What we do today,
What we do tomorrow
Lays the foundation
So that future generations can worship the many Deities freely and in peace;

May we ever remember that
What we have done yesterday,
What we do today,
What we do tomorrow
Lays the foundation
So that the great Temples can and shall be rebuilt, kept, and tended;

May we ever remember that
What we have done yesterday,
What we do today,
What we do tomorrow
Lays the foundation
So that those who follow us may make their offerings and sacrifices in peace;

May we ever remember that
What we have done yesterday,
What we do today,
What we do tomorrow
Lays the foundation
So that the traditions can have life breathed into them again, that they may live, grow vibrant, and thrive.

May we ever remember that
What we have done yesterday,
What we do today,
What we do tomorrow
Lays the foundation
So that these sacred, holy things can be brought forward to future generations, and be ever renewed.

May we remember this and keep our eyes ever-fixed on that distant point on the horizon even as we lay the foundations. We must be the bedrock of hope on which future generations build, for they have no hope if we have no hope now. We must be the heroes we need. We must be the hope.

Time to refill the lamps. Time to rekindle the fires.

Image Notes: Photo of oil lamp by Siddharth Varanasi, used under Creative Commons License. 

Friday, September 2, 2016

'Ashuru Mothbati Greetings

Today we celebrated the 'Ashuru Mothbati, the Festival of Dwellings, and the beginning of our new year.

This holiday is the first holiday of the new ritual year. It takes place at the new moon in the month of Niqalu during around mid-September to mid-October. During this holiday, in Bronze Age times in the city of Ugarit, temporary dwellings, mothbatu, are built on the roofs of temples. These temporary dwellings, made of cut branches, housed the representations of deities for the duration of the festival. It was likely that before the deities' images were brought into the temporary dwellings, that the deities' images (and thus the deities they represented, conveyed, and embodied) were brought around through the city streets in procession. I think that it is also likely that while the deities' images were on procession and in the temporary dwellings, that this was time spent to clean and care for, and repair, the temples.

At the end of the festival, the king of Ugarit was to ascend to a rooftop and “speak what is in his heart.” Note that in Canaanite thought, the heart was the center of mind and thought, not of emotion. The liver was considered the center of emotion. Thus, when the king "speaks what is in his heart" he is basically speaking his mind at that time. When the king did this in ancient times, I believe that it was likely he was representing his people before the gods.

I speak now, in this post at this time, as the leader of my religion of Natib Qadish, as tradition and as need would urge. (Please take a moment and consider whether or not you're the intended audience for this post.) I have never before made an address regarding the state of our religion, and it is time that I do so, so that matters are clarified and we can move forward. At this time and in this space, I address you, the people who are adherents of Natib Qadish or who would seek to become so. My address on behalf of you the people before the gods will occur at a different time in a different setting.

This past year has been full of many conflicts and many changes within Natib Qadish, and within the broader polytheistic community with which we associate. Within Natib Qadish, this past year has seen the closure of the sites and groups I have maintained for a long time—the oldest of which was the CanaanitePaganism Yahoo! group which had been open since 2002. This year has also seen the close of the Natib Qadish Facebook group as well as the Natib Qadish website. The website was in need of overhauls which I hope to do so at a later date when funds allow. The groups are another matter and it has been a rocky matter since 2013.

What happens in the greater polytheist community affects us, since we are a polytheistic religion nestled within that larger community. (Polytheism is a religious regard for many individual deities.) Since 2013, the polytheist community has seen major changes. The polytheistic community has been galvanized—I use that particular word “galvanize” with intent because it means to have been startled, electrified, shocked. Since 2013, the polytheistic community has been jolted into the action of coming into its own. It has been a process fraught with difficulty as polytheists struggle to understand what polytheism is (1), what it means, how to maintain and protect diversity(2) and a diversity of religions. It has been a struggle to understand how polytheism looks while being fully present in a world that is not only hostile to polytheism but which actively seeks to erase polytheism. The changes as polytheism comes into its own largely have been good, and it should also be understood with compassion that changes are traumatic and we are still going to see change, growth, trauma, and conflict in the broader context of polytheism. Growth happens and is happening… and it isn’t easy.

Even as these major changes shook, convulsed, and have begun birthing a restoration(3) of polytheism in our modern world, the birth pangs shook and tore at the Natib Qadish community. It became apparent that many folks in our Natib Qadish online spaces did not have a religious regard for many individual deities. Natib Qadish community discourse kept being disrupted and returning to a baseline assumption, whether consciously or not, that the deities were viewed as human mental constructs, or as the products of human social interaction, or as human mental constructs amidst human social contexts, instead of as viable individual real beings of their own agencies and free wills. Also, there were many people curious about the religion, but those numbers in our groups and spaces were greater than the people who actually adhered to the religion(4), and thus in displays of popular opinion adherents to the religion were getting drown out by voices of people who weren't even in this religion. Furthermore, there was a sense of “anything goes”--whatever one feels is right is right, and everybody is an expert at this religion simply for being human and showing up to the group: this is not so. Engaging with the deities is difficult business and it is not without its risks; as such it is important to listen to those who have been practicing this religion longer and who have forged long-lasting deeply-rooted relations with the deities you’re striving to honor. In Natib Qadish, that person is me.

Natib Qadish is the best known and the oldest of a newly reviving set of polytheistic religions, and thus sometimes it looks like it's almost the only one available, but it is only because our numbers overall are so small and our communities are nascent. Other religions are developing, but this takes a great deal of time. Natib Qadish is only one religion, it is not the whole of Canaanite polytheism or Middle Eastern polytheism, or Eastern Mediterranean polytheism, or Mediterranean polytheism, or Bronze Age-based revivalist polytheistic religions, and so on. Canaanite polytheism and Middle Eastern polytheism are small communities with small numbers even amidst the larger community of polytheism in general, which is still quite small itself. Our communities (Natib Qadish, Canaanite polytheism, Middle Eastern polytheism) are tiny: we don’t look like our Hellenic neighbors, our Kemetic neighbors, our Roman neighbors, or our Heathen neighbors. Our religions and communities are not as established as our other polytheistic neighbors yet. That’s ok. Slower growth in a quality manner is preferable: it's far better to have smaller numbers of people who treat our many individual deities and our ways with respect, than larger quantities who do not.

Moving forward on these understandings, this year ahead in Natib Qadish will be focused on developing strong roots, of attending to our foundations and to structural matters so that we can grow in a steady, functional way. It will be a year of exploring who we are (and who we are not) in the greater context of polytheism in general. It will be a year where we establish where we stand, in our ways and in honoring our deities. It will be a year of clarity and of depth. Over the course of the year, I will be posting more about these matters, and I will be working with the deities through divination and other means, to establish our community in keeping with the deities’ goals so that we, as a community, can deepen our relationships not just with each other, but with the deities themselves.

In my capacity as leader of this religion, I offer this blessing to those of my Natib Qadish community, and I offer this blessing for those beyond our religion who would wish to accept such a blessing:

May you have a pleasant new moon, and may this year ahead be blessed. May you have clarity of thought and clarity of emotion. May your Works nurture the restoration of polytheism on our beloved earth, may your heavy liver (and heart) be lifted, may you be blessed with strength and wholeness. May your burdens be shared and lightened and your pains reduced, and may this year bring us ever closer in restoration of good relations with the deities, with the ancestors, with the spirits, with our lands, and with our communities. May our year be fruitful with good Works. Peace, wellbeing, and wholeness to you all. Yishlam le-kumu!

1. When I say "polytheism" here it should be noted that I refer to many different religions and of many different people who treat with religious regard many individual deities. I am not referring to a steamrolling, homogenizing of this diversity, or of "one way for all." Far from it: I would see these differentiations and differences protected. The only thing we have or need to have in common is that of treating the many individual deities with religious regard.

2. I speak of diversity in a general sense here: diversity of different views as well as diversity of race; gender; sexual orientation; skills; economic situations; geographic locales; ages; political views; positions from priests to laypersons; levels of physical health, ability, access; and more.

3. I use the indefinite article here: "a restoration" as in one restoration and one kind of restoration, not as "the restoration" as in "the only restoration" or as "the only restoration of the only polytheism" as if polytheism were one homogeneous monolithic thing. Nor am I disregarding polytheistic religions, traditions, and peoples who have maintained their polytheistic ways over the ages. I refer instead here to "a restoration" of polytheism, namely the particular restoration of polytheism which is happening right now and which is largely centered in the US with ripple affects abroad.

4. I have no problems with those who are curious and with those who are seekers. Those who are curious and those who are seekers have a responsibility to realize that they are not adherents to the religion, and that their voices should not overpower or take precedence over others who are in this religion. Those who are seekers and who are curious need to remember that they are receiving hospitality, and as such they should not make excess demands or try to take over the group who is offering that hospitality: be good guests.

Image Credits: Pomegranates, Majorica by John Singer Sargent, 1908. Public Domain.

Monday, August 15, 2016


It cannot be honestly claimed that a concept Christianity misappropriated and misused, from polytheism, has no place in polytheism. It's an awkward moment to see people claiming that an ancient polytheistic concept isn't polytheistic.

Yet this is exactly the claim I see running around on the internet lately inside and outside of our communities. The concept of sin has roots which extend into Canaanite polytheism. Judaism and Christianity, over a very long time, over several cultures and throughout a large swath of geography, ended up altering the Canaanite idea of sin from what it had been. Sin is an ancient polytheistic concept which predates the religions which co-opted it. The concept of sin is originally polytheistic. The Ugaritic word for sin and the Hebrew word for sin are identical. (The Ugaritans were a polytheistic culture considered part of a cultural continuum of Canaanites.) There is a 3200-year old primary document in Ugaritic cuneiform which details a rite intended to cleanse the city of sin, and the concepts therein find their way into ancient ideas of the Jewish Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), and from there into Christianity.

Sin is an ancient polytheistic concept.

It may not be a concept in your polytheistic religion, but sin is an ancient polytheistic concept which the polytheistic Canaanites practiced. And, the ancient concept of sin is not what the modern concept of Christian sin is, nor is it the unconscious and conscious associations we make with the idea of “sin.”

People are (legitimately!) upset and frightened from the abuses and the dysfunctions of the Big Three monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, in a general sense). However often people are so frightened, upset, and angry that they don’t settle those churning emotions for a moment to stare straight in the eyes of these things that upset  them long enough to ask “Are there ideas in these monotheistic religions which may have roots in polytheistic religions? Are there parts of the story we’re missing?” This is one of those situations. Thus Canaanite polytheism, an original polytheistic context from which the Big Three sprang, gets thrown under the bus. Again. Only this time, Canaanite polytheism isn’t just a casualty of the Big Three’s dysfunctions and the diversity-killing homogenization which drives these dysfunctions, but also a casualty of the fear, ignorance, and accidental diversity-killing homogenization of we polytheists ourselves, and some of our neighbors in other communities.

There is a complex relationship here between the Canaanite concept of sin and the Christian concept of sin because although they are not alike, there are aspects of the Canaanite concept which inform the Christian concept, and there are aspects of the Canaanite concept which become decidedly changed over time so as not to be the same concept any more. The death of Jesus Christ as an expiation sacrifice can trace themes back to Jewish observance of Yom Kippur, and then further back to the Canaanite concept of a king offering an expiation sacrifice during a mushru rite to facilitate a collective clearing of misdeed for the entire city. As awkward as it is, and as much as it pains me to say it, when some of you react poorly to the idea of sin and claim that sin isn’t polytheistic, you’re in part reacting poorly to an idea of sin which ended up getting culturally misappropriated and misused from ancient Canaanite polytheists, right along with a few Canaanite deities recast as Christian demons, texts plagiarizing descriptions of Baʽlu Haddu the storm god then used in descriptions of Yahweh, and many, many more ideas ripped off, pilfered, and riffed from the polytheistic Canaanites.

And now, I have the laborious, unenviable task of trying to separate out what this polytheistic concept of sin is...from the emotional baggage, misuse, abuses, dysfunctions, and compounded misunderstandings which have gone on, unchecked, for aeons, just so that there is even a chance at beginning to understand this concept.

Talking about sin is a difficult topic, and it’s all the more difficult for a Canaanite polytheist since these ideas got hijacked. The topic of sin is actually becoming increasingly taboo from a well-meaning socially progressive standpoint which is uneducated on the subject and seeks to obliterate anything which they may see as an infringement on free will, or anything which they fear may, by having structure and standards, be the misuse of structures and standards to create human-based oppression. The dysfunction of structures and standards should never be confused for how structures and standards really function.

“Sin” is a loaded word with a difficult past. Like how the word “cult” has been misused (“cult” just means a system of religious veneration, it does not mean some kind of brainwashing group or some kind of group which tortures animals or some other nonsense), sometimes we just need to acknowledge the baggage layered on a word and move past and through that baggage, but we also need to be as clear as we can about what we mean when we use the word “sin.” Furthermore, we need to be conscious of the often quick unconscious associations we make with the word so that we can better look at what the word means in the context it’s being used.

Before we discuss this matter further, please take a moment to consider whether or not you’re the intended audience for this discussion.

What follows here in this post is less about what the Canaanite idea of khats’a (sin, transgression, misdeed) is, but more an exploration of the associations, whether conscious or unconscious, that people often associate with the idea of sin, and the associations people may read into the Canaanite concept of sin which aren’t there. I do this because sometime the best way to know what something is, is also to know what that something is not. This unconscious association can happen to a person especially coming from a Western dominant cultural perspective and especially coming from a desire (understandably!) to run, screaming, from the misuses of power dynamics found in some Christian backgrounds. Note that I am not condemning Christianity: I am condemning a dysfunctional and inappropriate use of power and the use of concepts of sin as a tool to further that misuse of power, and I am condemning the diversity-killing homogenization which is frequently behind these dysfunctions and abuses.

Sin, in Context Here

Sin is simply a transgression, a misdeed. In Canaanite polytheism, sin is understood as a matter of social interaction (people and/or deities and/or other beings), social context, and locality, and as such it can be context-specific. (When something is context-specific, it means that the context informs the situation. It does not mean that it is relativistic in the sense that “anything goes, it’s all ok” and “nothing matters” or “it’s all the same.”) Most societies and cultures, whether an individual person likes it or not, also have ideas and preferences as to how folks should participate in the communities and with the people, beings, and Beings around them. This is normal, and when it functions well, it is not a sign of oppression, it is the sign of a healthy society.

The Canaanite polytheistic concept of sin is not a mechanism to coerce people. The Canaanite polytheistic concept of sin acknowledges that we as people sometimes do things which damage relations (with other beings and Beings) and along with this acknowledgement that we people sometimes make mistake and damage relations, there are methods which help restore those relations and restore the damage done to ourselves and those relations. The Canaanite polytheistic concept of sin has no concept whatsoever that a person is born “sinful,” nor is “sinful” the natural state of humanity.

The Canaanite polytheistic concept of sin is not necessarily a matter of shame. It can be a matter of shame, personal shame, or public shaming, if a person has done something truly shameful, such as torturing small animals or engaging in child abuse. Often, sin is simply a misdeed, a mistake, with no more guilt, shame, or bad associations than having folded an origami crane wrong. (One must remember that shame can be and often is misused, but the abuse of shame is not to be confused with the appropriate expression or experience of shame. Shame, as an internal function, is the experience of remorse in response to having done something wrong. Shame, as an external function, is an action and/or attitude used by others to elicit a person to understand the depth of that person’s wrongdoing. A person who has committed rape should be ashamed, and the chances are higher that a rapist should be or will be publicly shamed. But, this post isn’t about shame at all and I digress.)

The Canaanite polytheistic idea of sin, and the clearing of it, have nothing to do with the Catholic rite of confession. The Canaanite polytheistic concept of sin does not involve the Seven Deadly Sins. There’s no Canaanite concept of a Hell, either. There’s also no codified set of rules, no Ten Commandments. The Christian concept of being “saved” does not apply here. The clearing of misdeed in Canaanite polytheism is not about avoiding a fiery, painful afterlife; it’s about living in good relations.

The Canaanite polytheistic concept of sin is not necessarily a matter of ultimate, absolute good versus ultimate, absolute evil, even if it sometimes (often) includes some idea of good and evil, ideas which are often context-specific. I won’t even get into that debate of what good and evil are and how this fits into sin or doesn’t fit into sin here because that will take us pretty far afield.

The Canaanite polytheistic concept of sin is not necessarily about right or wrong, or the extra baggage people carry when considering matters of right and wrong. Sin can have overlap in matters of “wrong” but not always. And no, I’m not going to get into a debate about what right or wrong is, either broadly, or more contextually-specific here because again, that’s moving further afield.

The Canaanite polytheistic concept of sin is not a matter of reward versus punishment. It’s not a matter of violation of arbitrary rules, and often it’s not even necessarily a matter of written rules. An angry god is not necessarily going to render you into smoking ashes for your having committed a misdeed. Likewise, a satisfied god isn’t necessarily going to give you free ice cream and pony rides for having done the right thing. However, accruing goodwill with a deity through being observant in regards to ethics can result in blessings; and likewise a lackadaisical attitude can sometimes land you in challenging situations. Even as being a decent neighbor may earn you a good relationship with that neighbor, being a jerk will not further any goodwill between you.

The Canaanite polytheistic concept of sin is far less about good versus evil, right versus wrong, and reward versus punishment, or the misunderstandings and dysfunctions of these dichotomies. The Canaanite polytheistic concept of sin is far more a matter of personal responsibility, collective social responsibility, and living in right relations with beings and Beings.

Because there is a Canaanite polytheistic concept of sin, this does not mean that a person is expected to be perfect and without sin all of the time. That’s misguided, illogical, and impractical. Most of our deities (“our” being in reference to Canaanite polytheists) have an understanding that this is not going to happen and that that level of perfection is in some ways…imperfect and not helpful. The key here is that misdeed and transgression happen, and we can do what we can to limit our misdeeds and transgressions if we want, and/or there are methods of cleansing after these things occur. It’s not about some idea of perfection or guilt about how a person will never measure up; it’s about acknowledging that there are two different states here and that one can pass from one state to another. If a person has done wrong, then the person ideally should atone for that wrongdoing; this does not mean that the person is inherently “evil” or “bad,” it just means they’ve done something wrong and they’re taking steps to repair the damage and to be better people moving forward.

The Canaanite polytheistic concept of sin is not preoccupied with matters of sexuality. There are basic ethics in regards to sexuality: take care of babies you make, be responsible sexually, don’t rape people. Also, we need to be mindful that there is an interplay sometimes amidst sexual ethics and issues of purity / impurity and there are times, places, and states where some activities, sexual or not, are appropriate and some activities are not. Sexual acts, as well as bodily discharges, childbirth, menses, excessive sweat, vomit, blood, dirt, contact with corpses, and so on, can render a person into a state of impurity for a short time, but that state of impurity in these cases has nothing to do with sin. That state of impurity can be shifted back into purity, and there is no sense of shame, or of inherent wickedness, or guilt associated with these things. The Canaanite polytheistic concept of sin has a relationship with Canaanite concepts of purity and impurity, but it can also function somewhat on its own, apart from but in relationship to matters of purity and impurity. Accruing sin can bring a person into an impure state, but it is not the only way a person may end up being in an impure state.

Impurity, dirtiness, and profanity absolutely have their places, their importance, and their usefulness, and their value. Yes value. Yes I value the impure, the dirty, and the profane, …and the sinful…when in appropriate context. Do not insert broken value judgments on these things, or worse insert broken value judgments on these things and assume that this was what I meant or that these things are part of Canaanite polytheism. They’re not. However, just because I say that impurity, dirtiness, and profanity are useful and valuable, it doesn’t mean that anything goes and everything is ok: these things are context-specific, and there are places where impurity, sin, dirtiness, and profanity are not ok.

The Canaanite polytheistic concept of sin is not a matter of people making the rules then forcing other people to follow them. It is not a matter of people making rules and then trying to cover for that fact by saying a deity told them to do it. Sometimes deities do have rules and they will make these known. However, also in Canaanite polytheistic culture, sometimes a deity may well expect you to keep the laws of your locality and of your king (who is also required to adhere to those rules) if you have a king. This would be part of a relationship negotiated amidst people, land, king, and deity or deities. If you are a Canaanite polytheist who adheres to this structure, and adheres to these relationships, then this is a matter of concern for you; but for everyone else, this is not about you at all and you are in no way obligated in this manner. (Please keep in mind that the dysfunction of these structures and power-dynamics is not to be confused with how they can, should, or could work in a functional way). This matter is specific to a very tight context.

Adhering to a Canaanite polytheistic context sin is not the same thing as abrogating free will. You can choose how (or if) you want to (or don’t want to) participate with these matters and in relationships with deities and with beings and Beings who take these matters seriously and who support these structures and standards. And, if you are not a Canaanite polytheist, this does not pertain to you at all.

It seems absurd to go through an entire almost 3000-word essay on what, generally speaking, the Canaanite polytheistic concept of sin is not. Considering how many unconscious associations people make with the concept of sin in a general sense, it is necessary to clarify. Indeed, my post on what khats’a actually is, is a much shorter post. I do this because when we do not know what something is not, sometimes we do not know what something is. Sometimes people do not realize where their knowledge ends, and they start filling in with assumptions about what something is, and forcing that thing to fit those preconceptions. In so doing, they prevent themselves from seeing what something actually is, apart from their erroneous assumptions and projections.

Because of the layers of misunderstanding and preconception, it has taken me a full three posts (plus a post to clarify my audience) to get through the Canaanite polytheistic concept of sin, so that a decent foundation could be laid and some misunderstandings could be (hopefully) prevented.

These posts include:
Free Will, Restrictions, and Misdeed
Khats'a, Misdeed in Canaanite Polytheism
This post here on Sin
...and a word about my Intended Audience.

Image Credits: Le Péché Originel. Circa 950-955 CE. Public Domain.

Khats'a, Misdeed in Canaanite Polytheism

By request, I’ve been asked to tackle the matter of khast’a, a Canaanite polytheistic concept important in Natib Qadish. Khats’a refers to actions, misdeeds, which can accumulate and which need to be cleared from time to time Even as one can accumulate khats’a, one can also take steps to rid oneself of khats’a; a person can move between a state of having accumulated an amount of khats’a to a state where a person does not have khats’a, and a person can move freely between these states by choice, or by consequence of one’s actions or one’s circumstances.

(Before we move into deeper discussion on this matter, please consider whether or not you’re the intended audience for this discussion. Keep in mind that this discussion is about Canaanite polytheistic practices in a Canaanite polytheistic mindset. It is not intended to be a post detailing what other polytheistic religions "should" do, and this post does not detail practices that are matters of foundational polytheism.)

Khats’a accumulates as a result, generally speaking, of any one or any combination of these things, but may not be limited to:
An action committed which is inappropriate culturally
An action committed which is inappropriate according to social mores and social norms
An action committed which is inappropriate in ritual settings.
Unethical acts

For a person to commit an act which is inappropriate culturally, this would mean that, for example, he treats a fountain as a public latrine, or she curses out a nun, or they perform an act inappropriate to another culture when they are is immersed in that culture. An action which is inappropriate according to social mores and social norms would include something like incest or child abuse, and also include committing unlawful acts in accordance to the local laws. An action which is inappropriate in ritual settings would be desecrating a temple. Most of what we know about khats’a in the ancient world indicates that it was a matter of deeds in social interactions, in social context, and in regards to locality. Social interactions include, but are not limited to, interactions with other humans, with deities, with ancestors, with other Beings and beings. Social context includes but is not limited to the surrounding culture, matters of age, matters of profession, matters of seniority, matters of hierarchy and social events or situations like brunch, attending a public lecture, visiting a sick friend, family gatherings, going before a court, and so on. Locality includes but is not limited to settings of home, hospital, city, country, temple, street, market, library, school, office buildings, land, or sea. Thus what may constitute khats’a in one convergence of social interaction, social context, and place may not always constitute khats’a in another situation where there are different social interactions, social contexts, and places. It’s not “all relative” and it’s not a matter of “anything goes,” but it can be contextually specific. It can (but not always) change according to the context.

I would like to note that there are times where committing khats’a could be a means by which to diminish another, potentially greater, khats’a. This is not a thing which is done often and which should only be done through careful consideration and guidance. I mention it in passing to illustrate that being in a state of khats’a isn’t necessarily always “bad” thing, it’s simply a state with different attributes and different concerns. An example of this kind of act would be a matter of supporting polytheistic rights in a dominant culture which generally is dismissive (or worse). Or, it can constitute an act which is considered transgressive or abnormal in a culture in order to achieve a chance at greater clarity—some forms of satire might fit this description.

Performing khats’a and carrying around khats’a puts a person into an impure state. However, it must be noted that the matter of purity versus impurity is larger than just matters of khats’a—khats’a is not a synonym for impurity. Khats’a is only one thing which can bring about a state of impurity.

In order to be present for some rites and some settings (like being in a Temple) one must take steps to remediate khats’a. These steps can include, but are not limited to:
Washing hands (preferably with holy water)
Taking a bath or a shower (preferably with holy water)
Being cleansed through a handwashing administered by a sacred technician and/or priest
Being cleansed through a bath prepared by a sacred technician and/or a priest
Going through a specific anointing  rite with a priest
Going on a sacred pilgrimage to particular holy sites
Making special offerings to a deity, to a Temple, to a priest, or all three
Going through a collective group mushru-rite led by a king, a king-priest, or a priest

Doing one or more of the above actions helps remove khats’a and bring a person into a purified state.
There are some deities who prefer a person accumulate less khats’a, or take steps to remediate that khats’a more often, and then there are deities who are less concerned about it; however one must be mindful because even the deities who are less concerned with the matter still pay attention to context. For example, a deity may not be too concerned about a person who carries around extra khats’a, generally speaking, but will certainly dislike it if you enter a Temple while carrying khats’a and being in an impure state. Also, there are some roles in the social context of the religion which require that one carry less khats’a, generally speaking, than for other roles.

If you have accumulated a great amount of khats’a, sometimes you may see the effects in your life through a reduced interaction with the deities, through a reduced contact with ancestors, through a reduction in good luck, or through an increase in a susceptibility to illness or misfortune. This is not a matter of blaming the victim of bad luck or illness or misfortune…any more than you would blame a person for catching a cold because a person was stuck in a train station during flu season. Nor is this a matter of reward versus punishment. These are just natural things which can happen.

Khats’a does have a relationship to matters of purity and impurity, however matters of purity and impurity are larger concerns than just khats’a. A person can be in a state of ritual impurity, but without khats’a: for instance if a person is actively bleeding from a cut (depending on the context and the situation—a sacrifice performed in a sacred courtyard in a Temple complex, for instance, would not be a matter of impurity). A person who is actively bleeding from a cut is not is not state of khats’a from the bleeding cut (because that’s not how khats’a works) but the person can well be in a state of ritual impurity which will need to be seen to before entering into a Temple. A person returning from war, after having killed to defend her people, has committed no khats’a, but she is still in a state of impurity which will need attending. (By contrast a person who was called to war but who did not go to defend and aid his people has likely, depending on the surrounding context and circumstances, committed khats'a.) A person can also end up with forms of impurity from being around things, acts, or contexts which are impure, so these things can carry a little like contagion. However it should also be noted that purity can be carried around like a “contagion” of a different sort—it is rare that a person could carry purity that strongly but it can happen.

It should be noted that the term “purify” in Ugaritic encompasses an idea not just of purification, but also freedom from further cultic obligation on the matter, and also implies a movement into a non-cultic state. Purification also signifies a movement from sacred ritual shared with the gods in sacred contexts, and back into everyday mundane space. So, purification was done not just to purify, but also to signal and ease a transition between states. It is important to be aware that when we look at an idea of purity, many times we’re looking through a lens colored by our own dominant cultural background; we must be conscious that the ideas and emotional baggage we may have unconsciously associated with ideas of purity and impurity do not fit with concepts in Canaanite polytheistic religion either past or present.

So, let’s take a moment and discuss briefly why ritual impurity is something important. A person doesn’t just go out and get hot and sweaty and covered in dirt from working in a garden then walk right into a Temple. This is disrespectful. There is nothing wrong with being hot and sweaty and covered in dirt in a garden: this is the right place and the right context for it. However, a Temple setting is not the right context for that, and if you don’t stop to change your clothes and take a shower before going in a Temple, you will offend the deities and you will violate the Temple space. There are times, places, and contexts which are appropriate for different things: you don’t go around yelling in a library, you don’t go turning cartwheels in a tightly packed antique store, you don’t go show up in soaking gym sweats to a formal dance. These are matters of context and take into account social interaction, social context, and locality (just like we talked about earlier).

Quick Comparison of Khats’a and Miasma
Miasma is a Greek concept, rooted in ancient Greek social culture, Greek social context, and the locality Greece and the contexts shaped and influenced by ancient and modern Greek polytheistic religion. Miasma generally refers to a state of impurity. Miasma is sometimes thought of as a stain.

Khats’a is not “miasma.” Khats’a is misdeed, and misdeed can put a person into a state of impurity. There is no concept of “miasma” per se in Canaanite polytheistic religion because “miasma” is a Greek concept embedded in Greek polytheistic religion, however matters of purity and impurity are of importance in Canaanite polytheistic religion, and there is an idea that impurity can adversely affect whole social groups over time. In ancient Ugarit there was a large city-wide rite in which the king on behalf of the city would publically perform a mushru-rite. (Mushru means “rectitude” and this was a sacrifice intended to aid in the clearing of the city of khats’a.) Khats’a is often thought of as something which can mar one’s beauty (and when I say "beauty" here, I am not referring to an idea of "beauty" which is hinged on superficial lookism or on changing fads in standards of physical beauty).

Impurity and misdeed are not the same thing. Although you can accrue impurity from misdeed, there are types of impurity which can come about without sin.

Scroll back upwards and see where I used the word “cultic”, as in "cultic obligation"? I have a hunch that you assumed I wasn’t referring to some kind of Satanic Panic Brainwashing Baby-Eating Cult. I’ll wager you were assuming this has nothing to do with Jim Jones or Heaven’s Gate, either. The words “cult” and “cultic” in this context refer to a set of religious practices: that’s all. Nothing more, nothing less. Nothing loaded, nothing “creepy,” and nothing coercive or abusive. Just a set of religious practices. So I urge you, dear reader, to consider the context when I say the word “sin.”

Khats'a is sin. Sin here refers to a misdeed, a transgression. Nothing more, nothing less. The word khats’a translates as “sin” and denotes “acting improperly.” The Ugaritic word is for sin is the same as the Hebrew word: the word from this polytheistic culture, is the same as the word found in early Judaism. This idea of sin is over 3200 years old and is far, far  older than the Christian concept you might be more familiar with. So when I use the word “sin” I am not referring to a Christian concept, or even a Jewish concept. I am not injecting a Christian idea into an ancient Canaanite polytheistic context.

If you are worried about the matter of free will in all of this, please see my post Free Will, Restrictions, Ethics, and Misdeed.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Free Will, Restrictions, Ethics, and Misdeed

Free will only works if you can opt in, opt out of something. In our lives there are many different things over which we can exercise our free will, and some things in which our free will may be curtailed for various reasons, good or bad, of our own choosing and not of our own choosing. (And even in events that are beyond the scope of our free will, we often have some opportunity to decide how we want to respond these matters.) Free will only works if “yes” and “no” are both treated as viable possibilities, with their own sets of different responsibilities, consequences, and contexts.

Before we get started further on discussion of these matters, please take a moment an consider whether or not you are the intended audience for this discussion. 

When a person ends up with another person who claims that in order to demonstrate how sexually liberated she is, she must have sex with him. It’s not liberation when someone is using the idea of “liberation” as a means to push her into an activity she doesn’t want to do. It’s not liberation when she’s not free to say no and to have another person accept and respect that “no” as a valid and valued response. Furthermore, it’s a very dirty tactic to prevent any actual liberation that it pretends to champion at the moment. For a person to say "no" and thereby limit, restrict, something like one’s own sexual activity is an action expressive of one’s own personal free will every bit as much as saying "yes" is.

In another example, if a person wears a hijab because she’s forced to by law or social more, she’s not liberated. Also, if a woman is forced not to wear a hijab by law or social more even if that law or social more claims to be doing so in order to liberate her despite the fact that she wants to or needs to wear a hijab, she is again in a state which curtails her personal liberties. A “No, I will not wear a hijab” and a “Yes, I will wear a hijab” are both liberating answers, depending on the context, and depending on the personal choices of the person who’s head that piece of cloth is (or isn't) covering. Both answers are liberating, and both answers must be free to be expressed in order for both answers to be liberating. Both “yes” and “no” must be respected in order for free will to be expressed.

I offer a matter of my own life as an example to further illustrate these ideas, but this is by no means intended to be a post about me. I live under a long list of restrictions. (I would like to clarify that I absolutely do not expect nor suggest that any of you to live or do as I do in regards to restrictions—what I do is on me to do and is my Work. This is a result of decisions, relationships, and interactions I have made in my own life. This isn’t your Work. That’s ok. Indeed, in this advanced matter, I would strongly caution most folks against doing what I do.) I do it because I must do it--it is Work given to me by the gods to do. (In my case, it is a matter vaguely comparable to being drafted, I am required to do things, but one could in theory “dodge the draft.” I'm not a draft-dodger and I would consider the act of dodging the draft on my part to be deeply inappropriate, especially considering the needs of the matters-at-hand. Accepting a draft is a better thing for me to do with ramifications for me and beyond me. But that's me, that's a personal matter, and these are my choices and opinions, and my relationships with my deities.) And, I live under these restrictions because I want to do it. These restrictions aid me in my differentiation. Differentiation, and more specifically my differentiation, is necessary for my Work and is necessary for me to be a complete and whole individual person.

When someone looks at my restrictions, and tells me I’m not free and that in order to be free I must give up my restrictions, I have to give the person who says this the old fish-eye. For freedom to mean anything, I must be free to accept my gods-given restrictions-on-my-freedom, and I have to have my “no” to some human activities in human interactions accepted. If I cannot willingly accept the deities’ restrictions on my freedom and feel free to exercise these restrictions in my human life, then I was never really free to begin with. For another human to interfere with this is also to interfere with my differentiation, and my wholeness as a person with my own volition, my needs, my relationships with the deities, and my Work: this human interference and a misguided first impression of what “oppression” is, is where actual oppression plays out. It is here in human interactions and misjudgments, not in my restrictions, that I have the greatest risk of being actually, really oppressed.

If a person tells me that I cannot be free to have dietary restrictions, or to have my head covered, or to honor many other restrictions, then how am I free? That person just curtailed the freedom I have to accept my restrictions. That person is not a god and has no right or rank to interfere with my restrictions, or my freedom, or the freedoms I have which are achieved through restrictions. That person’s wrong conclusion on what it is for me to be free, and that person’s forcing of that erroneous conclusion on to me, is oppression. Even if he thinks it’s freedom, even if he thinks he has the best intentions in mind for telling me that I’m oppressed for adhering to restrictions, he’s the one who is acting in a manner oppressive to me and my situation and interfering with my own personhood and autonomy.

A person is not truly free if you force him to give up his restrictions (for whatever reason he has them) on his own freedoms and behaviors—restrictions like food prohibitions, restrictions on types of clothing; restrictions on activities like sex, swimming, or touching corpses, or killing spiders, or cheese making, or dancing naked on the sun-baked hood of a ’67 Chevy Impala, or working on Sundays, or almost anything else that can be expressed in a verb; or restrictions based on codes of ethics, behavioral standards, personal behavioral standards, group behavioral standards, concepts of sin (misdeed, transgression), and concepts of purity and/or impurity. Free will only works when we realize that there are different structures in which freedom can be expressed, restricted, or both.

This plays into matters of matters of codes of ethics. A person is free to express herself under a code of ethics, and thereby restrict her own behavior, and operate under her preferred mode of self-discipline. If a person is a polytheist, and adheres to a polytheistic religion that has a code of ethics and/or ideas of what constitutes misdeed (sin, transgression), and/or restrictions of some sort, she is opting into a system by which she expresses her freedom through the willful restriction of that freedom in accordance to her own personal ethics, as well as those of her religion, her religious community, her relationships and agreements between her and her deities, the relationships and agreements set up in her religious community with her deities, and her relationships with her ancestors. Her adherence to these restrictions is not a restriction on your free will, even if you may feel uncomfortable in  your personal response to her restrictions. (This is a matter I have covered before.)

These are matters of someone’s own personal autonomy, differentiation, and individuation. These are matters of someone’s own personhood*; they are not “doing” their restrictions “to you,” this is simply a matter of their own differentiation, their own free will, and how they live within the context of their relationships. It’s not about you.

[*“Personal sovereignty” is a popular buzz-phrase in many of our communities, but I avoid the phrase because “sovereignty” often implies a political system, and/or rulership, and/or rank, and/or authority, and/or power, and/or royalty, and/or the independence of a nation or a group of people. I am not making a value-judgement here on rank, or authority, or power structures, or royalty, or politics, it is simply a matter of "does the term 'sovereignty' fit well here." There are better terms which are more accurately expressive of this idea of the right of an individual person to be an individual person, the right to that person’s own personhood, that right to differentiation and individuation, and of bodily autonomy, hence I use “personhood” here to be more expressive, in a general way, of these ideas.]

When another person claims that adhering to restrictions, or behavioral codes, or concepts of purity or impurity, or concepts of sin / misdeed, is “oppression,” I think back to the example of a woman being told what she must do with her own private decisions in order to be “liberated."
This is usually done by someone who:
A) Doesn’t understand her restrictions,
B) Doesn't understand the concept of restriction,
C) Doesn't understand the concept of personal boundaries, autonomy, and differentiation
D) Doesn’t understand that one person’s restrictions are not being imposed on another,
E) Is trying to manipulate her, whether intentionally or unintentionally
F) Doesn’t understand that sometimes some forms of liberation are expressed through willing restriction,
G) Has not done the kind of personal introspection necessary to be conscious that s/he doesn't understand these things. and,
H) Is the kind of jerk who can't take "no" for an answer.
Maybe the person can't take no for an answer because s/he has some unexamined personal issues or s/he feels someone else's "no" is a personal attack or a blow to her/his ego--it's understandable, and yet it is a foul thing to manipulate someone into a yes just to save one's own discomfort. Maybe the person who can't take "no" for an answer has some deep-rooted unexamined fears in regards to restriction, freedom, and the interplay between the two--these fear are real, and they require careful, conscious attention, and healing. Regardless of one's own personal challenges, it's inappropriate not to respect someone else's boundaries, restrictions, and answers of "no". If you really support others' personhoods and autonomy, make sure you respect their restrictions, points of differentiation, boundaries, and answers of "no."

It is not a support of freedom to bully someone into giving up restrictions, ethics, codes of ethics, concepts of misdeed, and concepts of purity or impurity, through your own unexamined fears of “not being liberated" and through your own discomforts and conscious or unconscious attitudes on liberation.

Image Credit: Fuzzy pink "love cuffs" photo by "Nosferatu," used under CC-GNU License.