Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Condolences to the Gods

Arch from Temple of Bel in Palmyra, 2005 before its destruction August 30, 2015

Words cannot express my horror and my grief at the loss of the Temple of Ba'al Shamin and the Temple of Bel in Palmyra. 

Words cannot express my horror and grief at the loss of this sacred place, at the losses endured by the gods Ba'al Shamin and Bel Marduk, at the loss endured by the ancestors, at the loss endured by ourselves and the countless generations to follow. My deepest condolences to the gods, to the ancestors, to all the beings affected including us humans.

The Temple of Ba'al Shamin was destroyed August 23, 2015, and the Temple of Bel was destroyed August 30, 2015. Updates from satellite imagery tells us that both temples were leveled to dust. I would put a link here that shows pictures of the devastation through satellite, but I just cannot bring myself to do it. I simply do not have the heart to look at those again. 

Palmyran Stele of Palmyran Gods. From left to right: moon god Aglibol, god of heavens Ba'al Shamin, sun god Yarkhibol or Malakbel.

Hail Ba'al Shamin, God of the Heavens, Lord of the World, Highest God, Holy Heavenly God, Lord of Heavens and of the Earth, Holy Lord, King, Creator of the Earth, Chief of the Gods, bringer of rain and sunlight and goodly weather, one who saves his people from drought, establisher of wisdom, warrior, avenger. Our deepest condolences. May your Temples be built anew. 


Bel Marduk, in bas relief from Elam

Hail Bel Marduk, First-Born of Enki, Calf of the Storm, King of Gods, bearer of Fifty Names, god of exorcism, god of abundant and fertile land, guarantor of destiny, god of lineage, god of kingship, god of society, god of magic, god of wisdom, god of judgement, bearer of the triangle-headed spade, rider of the snake-dragon Mushhushshu. Our deepest condolences. May your Temples be built anew. 

Lion of Al-Lat in 2010 before its defacement June 27, 2015

The Temple of Ba'al Shamin and the Temple of Bel were not the only sacred items destroyed and defaced at Palmyra. We may not know the extent of the damage until the terrorist group Daesh leaves. We do, however, know that the Lion of Al-Lat was damaged or flat-out destroyed. This statue, devoted and made in honor of the goddess Al-Lat, bears an inscription promising blessing upon those who do not shed blood in the sanctuary of Al-Lat. It was all that had remained of the temple of Al-Lat at Palmyra. 

The scribe god Nabu, and the god Ba'al Hammon, all had temples here in Palmyra, as well, and this was in ruins before Daesh, but if the Temple of Al-Lat, the Temple of Nabu, and the Temple of Ba'al Hammon had not already been in ruins, it is likely we would be mourning more losses of more temples. 

Seeing Palmyra destroyed is like seeing the Pyramids of Egypt wiped off the planet, or Stonehenge demolished, Machu Picchu missing. It is a great and deep loss, and it is one that we will suffer and all the generations that come after us will suffer. To honor the loss more keenly, here is a virtual tour of what Palmyra--and especially the Temple of Bel--looked like before the destruction wreaked in August 2015. What some people have a difficult time wrapping their heads around is that this isn't just a loss to the study of history, of heritage, of humanity, of art, and of architecture--although it is a loss to these things. It is a loss to diversity and religious diversity. It is a loss of sacred holy places touched by the deities themselves, and touched over generations of hands in devotion to these gods. Although the argument can be made that these were "dead" sites where devotion no longer occurred, consider that even just the heroic octogenarian archaeologist Khaled Al-Asaad was beheaded simply for wanting to preserve what little he could of Palmyran antiquities. How can anyone practice devotion or rebuild the crumbling temples in that environment, when practicing simple preservation of artifacts is considered an offense fit for death?

The damage isn't to Palmyra alone. They target temples, statues of deities, and the images of lions or magnificent beings who stand guard at gates, or the gates themselves. They destroyed the gateway lion statue at Al-Raqqah. They've jackhammered a lamassu guardian gateway statue at Nergal's Gate in Nineveh. They bulldozed an Assyrian palace in Nimrud and destroyed the lamassu guardian statues there. And they've been busy since March bulldozing Hatra. At Hatra, they've also shot at sacred images and have done their best to behead these images. They blaze their path of destruction using jackhammers to smash these things and guns to pelt these things with bullets, and they use bulldozers and explosives. 

At Palmyra, just look at what Daesh destroys--for this will harm them. They would try to blot out Bel Marduk, thus undermining their own legitimacy, strength, and claim to rule, as well as bringing sterility to the land they try to live in, and they would try to destroy a bringer of destinies. In trying to blot out Ba'al Shamin, they bring drought to the desert further destroying the fertility of the land they would try to live on, they would destroy a being who could have protected them from all manner of enemy and malady, and they would destroy wisdom itself. Not to mention the djinn who frequent ruins and are now homeless: remember, Daesh didn't just destroy the homes of these djinn, but they destroyed the Temple of Bel Marduk, and Bel Marduk is a god of exorcism. 

Daesh destroy not just old statues and sites known for tourism and history, but sacred places and blessings themselves. They literally destroyed a blessing. They literally destroyed an avenue through which the goddess Al-Lat and her consort pour their blessings when they destroyed the last guardian at the entrance of the already ruined Temple of Al-Lat. Destroying blessings is not only disgraceful, it is also a keenly stupid thing to do.

Beyond Palmyra, they smash the guardians at the gates, and they smash the very gates themselves. They smash the remnants of things cherished by protector guardian beings. Smashing things favorable to guardian beings is not a good way to ensure the guardians' continued support, protection, and guardianship; but it is certainly a way to encourage these guardian beings to remove their blessings and take those blessings elsewhere.

How egregiously stupid they are to try to pit themselves against the very forces, the very gods that make life livable and make life worth living. They have not assured their legitimacy. They have not blotted out the memory of the gods, and they surely have not killed the gods themselves. Instead, they have assured their own demise. 

A host of angry gods, several displaced protective guardian spirits, and a pack of furious homeless djinn biting at their heels? It's an image that soothes me to sleep when the hot, bitter tears threaten to overcome me. 

Let us mourn the loss of these Temples, the deity statues, the guardian statues, the holy gates, and these sacred things. Let us mourn the loss of sacred and holy space, of avenues through which the deities communicate and pour forth their grace and their blessings upon the world. Let us mourn that we cannot rebuild these temples, we cannot bring them back they way they were. We cannot see their grandeur again, and our children and their children and their children will never see these things either. We must mourn these things honestly and fully and deeply. We must experience the horror, the rage, and the sorrow. We must be fully cognizant of the depth of this loss for the deities, the ancestors, other beings, ourselves, and our future generations, and the devastation that these acts of violation cause to the relationships amidst us and the Divine Beings. Let us curse the ones who erase, and let us curse them with every drop of venom we have. But even as we mourn the loss to our deities, and even as we curse the ones who erase, let us also prepare for the future. 

We must not just rebuild, but build anew. The ones who erase have one fear, and that is that their erasure will fail, and that we will remember these deities and that we will remember and keep well the sacred places and the sacred things that these Divine Beings would share with us. We must honor these gods and keep them in name, in devotion, in memory, in art, in song, in poetry, in conversation. We must ensure that they are Gods Not Forgotten....

No matter how powerless we feel at seeing this rampant horrific destruction and violation, we have the two powers that matter most: Memory and Devotion. We should use them well. 




Image Credits: 

Friday, August 7, 2015

Steak and Stakes

As I gleefully fork-stab the overwrap on my vegetarian frozen dinner so that I can heat it up in the microwave, I am reminded of something. I have been vegetarian-pescetarian* now for almost six months. But…I am not vegetarian-pescetarian for the reasons you might think. I am not opposed to meat-eating; I am opposed to the meat industry and its lack of respect for the processes of life and death.

I am disturbed at a meat industry that constantly denigrates the lives of animals in many different ways from large-scale operations which make common practice of confining too many animals in too-small cages or pens, and feeding the animals hormones and unnecessary antibiotics. (Some antibiotics might well be necessary, but often the animals are over-medicated and would probably be less sick and in less need of medication if the animals were given proper living space and proper diet in the first place.)  Thus the animal's life is a travesty.

When it is time for that animal to die, the death of that animal is treated with equal indignity and disregard. Their deaths are not quick, and the deaths are not performed with the least amount of trauma--physical and emotional trauma--as possible. Thus the animal's death is also a travesty.

I am disturbed not just by the meat industry, but by us, people, who often mindlessly perpetuate these indignities without question, without consciousness, without thoughtfulness. Most people do not contemplate where the meat that they eat comes from, and who--not what, but who--gave its life so that we might be nourished. We could do better to nourish the lives that nourish our lives.

The animals of meat industry, both in life and death, are typically treated as disposable commodities. The animals, and their lives and deaths, are not commodities for thoughtless, mindless human consumption. These are matters of life and death, and as such should not be treated with disregard or with lack of thought. There is a reason that the phrase "it's a matter of life and death" carries with it such marked importance, and indeed these are exactly matters of life and matters of death, and thus need to be met with compassion and consideration.

Out of respect for the processes of life and death and a desire to honor both, I choose, as much as possible to avoid participating in a system that denies the sanctity of both life and death. I avoid eating meat when I don't know the history of that animal's life and death. If, however, an animal was treated in its life with proper care and with dignity, and the animal met death under circumstances also carried out with care and with dignity, then I have no problem eating meat.

If you’re a carnivore, I am not passing judgment on you. There are many good reasons for eating meat, and there are some folks whose bodies just don’t work on a vegetarian diet. As such, it is all the more important to fight for and to vote for better standards of animal care both for the animals’ lives and the animals’ deaths, and it’s important to be at least vaguely informed on these matters. It is that much more important to understand where--and who--the food on our plates comes from.

This leads me deeper into a topic of consideration for many polytheists—the matter of animal sacrifice. Animal sacrifice is a far better standard of care and treatment than animals who have undergone life and death within the meat industry. Animal torture is not properly any part of animal sacrifice…and yet, by contrast, animal torture has become commonplace within the meat industry. There is a deep misunderstanding and a deep state of cultural amnesia and anesthesia when we overlook and fail to be awake to this matter.

I don’t call for people to give up steak, I call for people to have a greater stake in matters of life and death.




(*A pescetarian is basically a vegetarian who eats fish from time to time. I prefer wild-caught were possible. I do not, however, eat shellfish. I would be a straight-up vegetarian and I eat fish probably less than twice a week, but this is the compromise that I have had to make for my body and my physical needs.)

Friday, July 24, 2015

Circles Again: More Fear-Mongering and Distrust of the Deities

Recently, there was a blogpost written attacking the Morrigan and her holy people. The post also attacked many other deities, as well. I would like to address the logical fallacies and problems in that post. I do not link to the post, I do not mention names; I would prefer the post does not get any hits from my blog. There is a reason that some pundits say the most outlandish things; it is because they will continue to get notice and air time, fame and fortune, and they are rewarded for this behavior. The only reason I address these matters here and now on my blog is so that people who have read that post have an opportunity, if they wish, to see some of the problems inherent in the post and so that they can begin sorting out the irrational which is clothed in the “rational,” and the disrespect clothed in “respect.” My hope is that with a few spare notes about the matter people can begin, if they so choose, to dismantle the labyrinth of the mind which that particular blogger has tried to propagate through the misuse of logic and overt appeals to emotion. I do this also in support of the deities—primarily the Morrigan, but also Woden, Hermes, Aphrodite, Venus, and Pan—as well as their priests, holy people, devotees, and worshippers, should they wish for this support, and if this is of use to them.

I would like to draw attention first to the heavy-handed appeals to emotion in that blogpost. These appeals are so heavy-handed it is like taking a nut-shot from a mace. It is very difficult to read through anything while maintaining a semblance of rational sensibility while being bombarded with references to the terrorist attacks of 9-11 and the atrocities of World War II (and by extension, the Holocaust), complete with pictures. Then, later, that post touches on other emotional issues having to do with rape, consent or lack thereof, and venereal diseases. Pictures of the smoldering ruins of the Twin Towers along with pictures of sieg heil render any compassionate reader to a state of emotional distress. This has the effect of causing a reader to respond generally in one of two ways:

“Gods are awful!” or
“How could he say these things about our gods!”

Either way, these emotional appeals result in the same thing: they have hijacked rational thought. The reader has had emotions compromised to the point where looking past these intense appeals to emotion and looking rationally at the argument itself is very difficult. The blogger is therefore leading people around by the nose through emotional appeals, and distracting them from rational thought. Doing this to a person is not an act of respect, compassion, or rational thought, despite what the blogger may indicate otherwise. It’s just plain mean.

Once a reader is able to get past this emotional poison, if a reader can, the post begins to fall apart. It is especially interesting when you consider that these arguments here about the Morrigan in that post are similar arguments to what the same blogger posted when he decided to go after Dionysos and Dionysos’s holy people late last June. The overarching themes of both verbal attacks are: the blogger’s own fear and distrust of the deities, attacks born of this fear and distrust, and his rhetoric to convince others to fear and distrust the deities. If you would like to revisit my dismantling of that same blogger’s attack on Dionysos, please feel free as the discussion there is still pertinent here.

Let’s take a look at the core arguments provided in that post on the Morrigan.

The core argument is implied and not specifically stated. The assumptions are this:
Deities are stronger than humans.
Deities use this strength to hurt any human for any reason.
Deities are interested in hurting people.
We must be on our guard against the deities.

Combined with:
War is bad.
We must eschew or avoid war.

Added together we get:
The Morrigan is a deity.
She is stronger than humans and will use this strength to hurt anyone for any reason.
We must guard ourselves against her.
And as a deity of war, the Morrigan must therefore be avoided or eschewed.

This argument forms the basic assumption of that blogger’s post against the Morrigan. First off, just because a being is stronger it does not always follow that this deity is out to harm people. Just because a person is sporting six-pack abs or a shark has rows of teeth, it doesn’t mean that the person or a shark is immediately out to hurt anyone. It also completely ignores that if deities choose to exercise their strength against people, they have good reasons for it, and it completely ignores that sometimes what we may think are divine acts is actually attributable to human drama and not deific activities. If you follow out the line of reasoning that we must therefore be on our guard against the deities, it stands to reason that the next step in this progression is a defensive war to protect ourselves against the deities; and with this verbal attack against the Morrigan it appears that this is already in play. In this instance, it is not the Morrigan declaring war against people, but a human person making the first steps of aggression, even though the person in question is giving the appearance of being anti-war. This attitude without being honest that this is what one is doing, is a dishonest representation of one’s own motives especially while one is trying to appear compassionate and respectful of the deities, the deities’ holy people, and the deities’ religions.

Next, not all war is always necessarily all bad. There are many who would say it was a human rights duty to end the Holocaust of World War II. Not all war can be eschewed or avoided: some fights just end up on your doorstep whether you want them or not.

The next set of premises basically sets the Morrigan up as public enemy #1, as a being who is out to harm people for kicks and grins regardless of any particular purpose or reason. It tends to attribute deeds and atrocities committed by humans through human drama as her deeds, when human drama is often simply human drama and has nothing to do with her at all. It also assumes that the Morrigan is hell-bent on seeking out humans and attacking them for seemingly no reason. This is a pretty big assumption, and it is an assumption based on fear, especially fear that a being higher on a hierarchy is necessarily “out to get you,” or it is an assumption based on views of the deities prevalent in fiction such as in Hollywood movies, or both.

The next argument is built on the first argument above and continues the premises implicit with the first argument. It goes like this:
Jung is an expert on both archetypes and gods.
Jung conflates gods and archetypes.
Jung says that a nation can be possessed by a “god” (here: an archetype).
Jung says Germany was possessed by a “god” (archetype) during World War II.
Jung says Wotan possessed Germany during World War II.
If a “god” (archetype) or god can possess Germany in World War II, a god or a “god” (archetype) can possess a nation now.
The hysteria and warmongering in the US post 9-11 is evidence that the US is possessed by a god or a “god” (archetype)

So let’s look at this rationally, devoid of pictures of the sieg heil and the burnt twisted ruins of past atrocities acting as gut-wrenching distractions to the actual arguments. Jung was an expert in psychology, archetypes, and archetypal theory. He was not an expert on any deity; the priests and holy people who are in the deities’ services are the experts on their respective deities. The blogger dismisses the expertise of these deities’ people and relies instead on Jung as an expert. (This is not the first time this blogger has dismissed the expertise of the deities’ holy people. I cover this in the past examination of his blogpost which attacks Dionysos.) Seeking Jung as an expert on deities is like asking a baker for advice on gardening—it makes no sense because you’ve asked an expert in one area for advice in an area that is completely out of his expertise, whether or not he is honest with that and realizes that this is outside his expertise. Although a baker may work with grain and occasionally fruits and things that come from agriculture, this does not mean that a baker is an expert in planting, growing, tending, weeding, and anything to do with gardening in general. 

There is a sub-argument in play here, too:
Archetypes have (at least partial) volition.
Deities have volition.
Therefore deities and archetypes can be conflated without any problem and without ignoring their respective categories.

There’s a deep fault in this argument. Just because two items have something at least partially in common, it does not mean that the two items can be conflated. Look at it this way: a book is flat, a desk is flat, therefore a book and a desk are the same thing and can be used interchangeably. This isn’t so: a desk can hold books, a book cannot hold a desk. You could use a book as a makeshift desk for a short time, but it’s not as good as a real desk. A book can hold information and words, but a desk does not function in the same way. The two function best differently and are not the same thing. Deities and archetypes cannot be conflated, and yet the argument proceeds from a place where deities and archetypes are conflated and it is assumed that this is ok and factually correct because Jung, our expert on archetypes--but not on gods--says it is ok.

The blogger further explores Jung’s idea that the god Wotan actually possessed the entire nation of Germany and spurred the nation on to World War II and the atrocities which occurred therein. Again, Jung is an expert on archetypes, not on gods, and certainly not on the god Wotan. Since Jung was not a priest of this god, in constant communion with this god, it is nonsense to make the claim that Jung knows who and what Wotan is, or if there was any connection between Wotan and World War II. This argument has a decided ring of “devil made me do it” in regards to partially(?) holding Wotan responsible for World War II instead of setting those atrocities firmly on the very human shoulders who committed them. The deities are not responsible for human drama and human failings—to conflate human drama as acts of the deities is a gross misunderstanding of the nature of deities, and a gross misunderstanding of the nature of humans, and a gross misunderstanding of the relations between deities and humans. 

Also of note: the blogger, by bringing up this matter, further makes the faux pas of relating Wotan, therefore Woden and therefore Odin, to the Holocaust and racial, ethnic, sexist, and cultural atrocities. The blogger accidentally (I’m assuming it is an accident) supports an implied link between neo-Nazis, Asatru, and Odin worship—a link which is patently false, harmful, insensitive, and extremely insulting to Odin, Odin worshippers, and Asatruar. It is an erroneous link which the Asatruar have been fighting against for a long time. 

The argument then evolves into this:
Jung says (gods + archetypes) can possess nations.
The Morrigan is a goddess, and therefore she can possess a nation.
The US was possessed by a god or an archetype after 9-11 in the hysteria and warmongering that followed.
The Morrigan is (perhaps) the goddess who possessed the US.
     Or if not the Morrigan, Hermes may have done it for unknown ulterior motives.
     Or another “dangerous deity” did it
The Morrigan (or other “dangerous deities”?) operates a reign of terror against us humans and we are her puppets. 

All of these things may have, especially in the haze of emotional appeals, appeared rational and linked. But once they are looked at on their own for what they are, this appearance of being rational starts to fall apart and we begin to see that the argument is only based on fear, not on thoughtfulness. 

It is a huge leap to assume that any deity has ever bothered possessing a nation. It is a huge leap to assume that that deity is the Morrigan. It is a huge leap to assume that she would possess the US post 9-11. It is an even bigger leap of absurdity to assume that Hermes may have done it, posed as the Morrigan, for an unknown unspoken devious ulterior motive, and furthermore that this ulterior motive would somehow be detrimental to human beings. Look at how the fear has bent and warped things into shadow-threats, and see how this blogger is shadow-boxing with his own fears. See how the blogger is bringing the reader into his own shadow-boxing match by instilling his own fears into the reader through heavy-handed emotional appeal. 

There is a sub-argument here as well, and that argument is this:
The deities are dangerous.
The deities, because they are dangerous, would seek to harm us and have an agenda against us.
We must be on guard (perhaps even protect ourselves) because the deities seek to harm us.

This, too, does not hold up. Again, with the shadow-boxing. Again with the distrust and the fear. 

At best, what we’re seeing here is a frightened person airing his own fears, emotions, and very human drama, who is seeking comfort in the strength-in-numbers of other people he has terrified. This person has constructed a monster under the bed. He then convinces people to be terrified of the monster under the bed so that he can wrap them up in the cold comfort of a pseudo-religion devoid of the messiness, the trouble, the discomfort of actually dealing with real deities who are higher on the hierarchy and hold more strength than humans. He created the monster, he terrifies others into believing the monster is the “real” deity and that the monster is the thing to fear, and then he steps in with the savior of “rational” atheistic thought where people are “safely” at the top of the hierarchy. The problem is that there is very little here that is rational, as we’ve seen in these “logical” arguments which fall apart and end up not being logical. And there is something decidedly unsafe about this fear-mongering and these verbal attacks against the deities, all of which is disguised as “respect.”

At worst, what we’re seeing is someone who is targeting the deities, the deities’ holy people, and the religions of these deities. This targeted verbal attack is not an act of respect no matter how much this particular blogger stresses that he indeed has the highest respect for these beings, people, and structures. This is akin to a scene in the 1996 movie Mars Attacks where the space aliens say “we come in peace,” while they shoot their ray guns. Whether or not he realizes his actions are not respectful even though he claims respect, it still results in the same level of disrespect and blatant attack. He seems to believe that because the deities are stronger than humans they must therefore be evil and anti-human (“evil” and “anti-human” are two different things which could sometimes overlap, but the blogger tends to conflate them and point to them as the modus operandi of the deities), and therefore we must be on our guard against these “deific” boogeymen. It’s bizarre how this blogger tends to view the deities as some kind of almost Christian-like devils to be called out, exorcised, guarded against and fought.

Either way, I do not have to be inclusive of someone who would verbally attack the deities (whether my deities or not), the holy people of these deities, and those who venerate these deities. I do not have to offer respect to someone who is bent on attacking the deities, and destroying these religions, even if he claims to respect these beings and these things. I do not have to respect someone who seeks to propagate fear and distrust of the deities, and I do not have to be inclusive of someone who constructs threats only to provide the pseudo-antidote to the very threats he constructed in the first place. I do not have to believe that someone is nice when that someone would be so thoughtless as to use peoples’ emotions against them in order to pass off his broken arguments as appearing rational.


Saturday, June 13, 2015

On the Use of Mind Altering Substances

Over the years, I have been asked many times about the use of mind altering substances in regards to ancient Canaanite polytheistic religions. Indeed, I’ve seen the subject cross my desk twice this week. Sometimes this has been asked only with genuine interest, but sometimes I would lay odds that it is asked more with an eye towards legitimizing a modern personal activity one already wishes to engage in. I realize that the use mind altering substances is a controversial topic, but I don’t think it always needs to be. For whatever the questions are asked, I think the topic of mind altering substance use in polytheistic religions is a topic that would benefit from discussion. My background is in Canaanite studies and I will include some of that here but this isn’t limited to Canaanite matters.

Shifting Contexts
In an ancient Canaanite polytheistic setting, people may well have engaged locally in using mind altering substances. There are at least four different contexts in which the substances may have been used. These categories include but are not limited to:
1.  Formal ritualized temple-complex religious rites or situations,
2.  Informal ritual religious rites or situations in private or in a less-formal settings,
3.  As a recreational substance, or for personal reasons, alone or in groups
4.  As medication and/or pain relief for people or animals
I would wager that similar contexts apply in many ancient polytheistic religions beyond ancient Canaanite worship.

When I mention “temple-complex” in this situation, I refer not only to a Canaanite temple itself, but also to the sanctified reserved grounds around it which often included a courtyard,  other facilities contained therein and administrative offices. In the research of Canaanite polytheistic religions, I have come across substances used in contexts two and four above.  This doesn’t mean that one or three didn’t happen, it just means that I have not seen evidence one way or another on those: they are plausible but I could not attest to likeliness or frequency.

Some of these contexts listed above in 1-4 can and likely did overlap; it does not mean that these contexts are the same, nor does it mean that anything goes in regards to using mind altering substances. Sometimes modern folks can misperceive what is an overlap in category as being an exception to rules, and thus make the assumption that there are no rules. Sometimes people then think that rules are meaningless and therefore useless. I’ve even seen the attitude that rules are silly constructs that we’ve somehow outgrown and become too evolved to bother with. This is a mistake. In the modern dominant western culture(s) we find ourselves in, the numbered contexts I have listed above have often become obscured and blurred, or lost altogether. We’ve forgotten, merged, ignored, and disrespected the distinctions between sacred contexts and non-sacred contexts, and all the myriad contexts in between.

Canaanite Substances, Contexts, and the Marzichu Drinking Rite
What could generally pass as appropriate for one context may not be appropriate for another.  We know the Canaanites used alcohol in an informal private religious setting, and probably used it as a mind altering substance. We also have evidence they used poppy somehow, but the context is uncertain and whether or not they used it as a mind altering substance is also uncertain. There’s a remote chance they may have had cannabis, but whether it was used at all for anything from clothing and rope to a mind altering substance, we just don’t know. It seems likely that the ancient Israelites, and perhaps the Canaanites, used nutmeg and a Hyoscyamus of some sort (Disclaimer #6)—since these were found surrounded by sacred artifacts it is likely that these substances were used in sacred rites of some sort but beyond this, we do not know.

It is clear that there is one situation which likely uses alcohol as a mind altering substance in a Canaanite religious context: the marzichu drinking rites. There was a social structure around marzichu including the use of a formalized contract signed by members of groups who met regularly for marzichu—this comes from a preserved clay text in Ugaritic cuneiform, from about 3200 years ago. In Canaanite polytheism, alcohol is the only substance well-known potentially to be used as a mind altering substance in context of a sacred rite.

A marzichu was (and is) often recreational and enjoyable, however it isn’t always necessarily a happy rite. Regardless, this does not mean that the goal of the marzichu is the recreational or personal use of a mind altering substance. The goal of a marzichu is honoring the deities and the ancestors, honoring the dead, honoring life events, and engaging in fellowship. Yes, it was (and is) generally expected a person got at least a bit tipsy at marzichu, but it’s not the same thing as “I just feel like getting drunk with a few friends. Let’s party!” There’s nothing wrong with getting drunk with a few friends—provided you’re following local laws; but that is not a sacred context met with the express purpose in honoring deities, honoring the ancestors, honoring the dead, honoring life events, and engaging in fellowship. Marzichu is. An end result of drunkenness is the same whether it’s a party with friends or a marzichu; but the original equation, the route taken to that drunkenness, is entirely different and it makes all the difference.


Contexts and Modern Situations
By way of a modern example about different contexts, one doesn’t generally headbang at an orchestral recital. Just because both headbanging and orchestral recitals involve the use of music, it doesn’t make the venues the same things and it doesn’t mean that the same behavior is expected, warranted, or appropriate. Neither headbanging venues nor orchestra recitals are necessarily better than the other, and to focus on classifying one as always better than the other misses the point of the contexts being different and having different strengths, different weaknesses, and different uses. In this manner, contexts can be thought of as tools: a screwdriver is good at being a screwdriver. A hammer is good at being a hammer. Trying to use a screwdriver where you need a hammer, under the misunderstanding that they’re both tools they should be able to do the same things, isn’t going to get a job done.

Before going deeper into this matter, we also should consider that the substances ancient people had access to were usually not the refined, potent, highly addictive street drugs and pharmaceuticals we have today. (See Disclaimers 1 & 2) An ancient crude preparation of poppy is absolutely nothing like  morphine or heroin today, even though they are all opiates. Opiates are addictive, but morphine and heroin are even more so because of their potency. With the cruder ancient preparations of substances, these substances in general were likely not only less potent, but they also included a complex relationship with nature and with many other natural chemicals in the plant, or fungus, etc., which would affect the body differently from the modern extracted, refined, and often artificially constructed chemicals in most of the pharmaceuticals and street drugs of today. (See Disclaimer 3)

If a person wants to use a mind altering substance for recreation or non-recreational personal use, it is sometimes ok (See Disclaimer 1 & 2).  What a person puts into his body is his business. A person must be honest with herself, with the deities, etc., that she is using it specifically for personal reasons, and must follow common sense, local laws, and medical advice. If she is honest that she is using substances for personal use, and she doesn’t try to pull religion as an excuse or a reason when it is not, then using mind altering substances for personal use isn’t likely to do discredit to the deities, the ancestors, or individual choice, unless she does something really harmful or inappropriate. The substances must be used only in the proper context and with the proper supervision and knowledge. I also say “follow the laws” because that’s necessary—if you think the laws are wrong, work to change them (see Disclaimer 4). Although one could take substances for personal reasons on the same day as a rite, showing up to almost any religious rite while already under the influence is usually deeply inappropriate and potentially dangerous not only to oneself, but to others.

In sacred contexts, I would highly advise against using mind altering substances unless laws are respected; unless the deities or spirit beings in question require it through oracle; unless it is appropriate to the cultural and ancestral ways; and unless the people there know who in that situation is using, who will not be using, how that substance is best and carefully used, if people have allergies, and how a substance could interact with other medications that people could be taking, and only if all are consenting adults, and there are even more issues of safety and concerns to consider than I have noted here. These matters are complicated; if you are in any doubt about these matters, just go without the substance. I would highly advise that there is at least one person sober and functioning well enough to assess situations cogently and call quickly for emergency assistance if it is required.

The more unstructured people and events are likely to become, the more vital it is to have structure in place around them, serving as both safety net and containment field. If structure and context, and knowledge and consent, aren’t there or if you have even a shadow of a doubt that what is there isn’t enough, don’t use mind altering substances in a rite. If you even think it might not be right for the sacred beings honored at the rite: don't do it.

Just because mind altering substances can be used in sacred contexts and in personal contexts, it doesn’t mean that these boundaries can be ignored. Indeed, I would argue that especially with mind altering substances these boundaries are even more vital to providing safety, structure, and framework. Mind altering substances are dangerous forces of nature, and as such they should be respected and treated carefully.

So What’s the Big Deal, Anyway?
Using a mind altering substance for personal use while claiming that it is for a religious context messes up several things. It blurs the contexts, and therefore throws out the structures and frameworks both in ritual practice and in mindset that are necessary, valuable, and useful. Blurring contexts, ignoring contexts, and tampering with contexts effectively degrade these contexts. Degradation of context not only can change a holy thing into a unholy thing very quickly, it can also end up making the situation dangerous. Clear contexts are vital to someone who is in the midst of having his mind altered for purposes of sacred communication and communion. Degrading contexts and expecting someone to perform Work under those circumstances could be likened to demanding that someone perform a tightrope walk not just without a net, but without the tightrope itself, and over a sea of upended blades suspended in fiery lava.

Having these contexts blurred causes the erosion and failure of sacred rites and the Work done in them. It is disrespectful to the deities, the ancestors, the spirits, and other participants. It is demeaning to the priest or shaman and the Work, and it can endanger that person, and it can endanger other participants. It also causes us to be insincere in our rites and we can end up not taking the rites seriously. Others, too, end up not treating these rites with dignity and respect; how can they take our rites seriously if we don’t? It also means that by claiming “religion says we can do this,” we have ceded away our own responsibility for our own actions and choices; we have demeaned our own free agency which we as thoughtful individuals should not so casually throw away.

As an example of some of this context blurring: we know of the use of Hysoscyamus from archaeological evidence—there was an article posted about it.  Although this article is of some limited usefulness, it misses another mark entirely because it defiles what was a sacred, holy experience and brings it into direct association with the crime, corruption, and filth by calling the ancient city where this find was discovered a “center of a thriving drug scene." This find was discovered with sacred artifacts in a sacred setting, and not as a part of illicit activity. When I talk about how dangerous and inappropriate it is to merge these context, this is at least one an example of some of what I’m talking about.

In another matter, it is dishonest for a person to claim that he is engaging in substance use for religious purposes when he just wants to legitimize his personal use of the substance. A person shouldn’t look to religion as a permission slip for using mind altering substances. That kind of dishonesty about one’s own motives in a sacred context constitutes a misdeed in regards to ritual acts. A person’s legal personal use of substances isn’t the problem; the problem is in claiming it is a religious act so as to add an air of false legitimacy to what he’s doing, or use religion as an excuse to get away with doing what he wants to do anyway. These acts ruin the very sacred nature they purport to preserve, can put people in danger, and can actually curtail personal freedom. That’s not ok.

If we want these sacred things treated with dignity and respect we must ourselves treat these rites, past and present, with the dignity and respect they deserve, and we must maintain these different contexts. We must maintain these boundaries between the contexts of sacred uses and the contexts of personal uses of mind altering substances. We must not claim “sacred use” as an excuse for personal use.




Disclaimers

Alas, I lament that I even think an article of this nature would be required to have disclaimers, but this is the dominant culture and times we live in. My disclaimers below can be summed up as: don’t hurt yourself, don’t hurt other people or animals, don’t do anything stupid, don’t do anything illegal. See a medical professional; consult a pharmacist. I am not giving medical advice, I am not prescribing, and I am most certainly not suggesting or condoning the use of any mind altering substance, medications, or drugs. I am not a medical professional, pharmacist or herbalist. Use common sense. Take personal responsibility for your choices.

Disclaimer #1:
I do not condone or suggest engaging in illegal activities. I am not in any way suggesting anyone can or should take any mind altering substances, medication, or drugs of any sort. Also, substance use and substance abuse are two different things: do not abuse substances. I do not condone using any mind altering substance and operating heavy machinery. Kids should never, ever “do drugs” unless they are under adult supervision and it is medication prescribed by a medical professional. Never give a person a mind altering substance without their express consent: that is a reprehensible and foul thing to do and it is the very definition of wrong. Also, do not give animals mind altering substances, drugs, or medication, without the advice of a qualified veterinarian. I don’t care if you think it’s funny, either with people or with animals. It’s no joke. It’s cruel.  Messing around with people and other beings in this manner is disgusting, loathsome, usually illegal, and often evil. Don’t hurt yourself, use care to avoid addiction, and don’t hurt or endanger other people and beings either. If you do end up in an addiction situation, this is serious business: contact qualified health care providers.

Disclaimer #2:
Alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine are the typical legal substances I can think of at the moment; provided you meet the required legal conditions for using these things. I do not condone the overuse of these substances because overuse can be harmful to the body, but ehn, it’s your body and your responsibility. I do not suggest or condone over-the-counter pharmaceutical medications for recreational or personal use, nor do I propose raiding the spice rack or hitting up the herbal section of a health food store, or trotting around the backwoods for mushrooms or wildcrafted herbs, and so on. I also do not suggest or condone other highs gained through the likes of sniffing glue, paint, or markers or whatever else people do for cheap barely-legal highs. All of these things can be quite dangerous especially if you don’t know what you’re doing, and worse, when you don’t realize that you don’t know what you’re doing. I don’t suggest or condone doing anything illegal, harmful, or ignorant. Please use some common sense; don’t earn a posthumous Darwin Award.

Disclaimer #3:
Do not take morphine unless prescribed by a doctor. Do not take heroin. I am not prescribing, diagnosing, or offering medical advice. If you are on medication, do not stop taking medication without consulting a medical professional. Always follow a medical doctor’s advice, and a pharmacist’s advice. Respect local laws, too. If you want to know about the evolution of an ancient drug into a modern one, ask a pharmacist—they are specialists in this field and will likely love the chance to nerdtalk with you. If you want more information on healing herbs, like willow bark, ask a professional certified herbalist. Do not take any herb or substance without consulting a professional first, and without gaining information ahead of time as to what that substance will do and how it will interact with your body or with other substances. While pharmacists are specialists in this field of chemical substances and their effects on the body, keep in mind that I am not a pharmacist nor am I a professional herbalist. I am not a professional on mind altering substances, herbalism, or medication.

Disclaimer #4:
I think many laws about mind altering substances are holdovers from Puritan attitudes and even corporate greed from pharmaceutical, alcohol ,and tobacco companies, but they are still the laws on the books right now. Many of these laws should be revisited and modified or rendered obsolete. If you don’t like a law, work to change it, and vote.  Until they are changed, we are still required to acknowledge them.  Even though I urge people to follow the laws, ultimately how a person acknowledges a law, and whether or not a person chooses to act in accordance to it is that person’s own responsibility. You are responsible for your own choices.

Disclaimer #5:
Taking mind altering substances for personal use in hopes and efforts of expanding the mind and/or improving the soul(s), is personal use. It is generally not sacred use. It may or may not be recreational use either, but it is personal use. Sacred use and personal use are different contexts.  Sacred use involves honoring the deities, the ancestors, the spirits and so on in a religious setting of some sort in order to work with these beings, honor them, and commune with them. Although working on the self is absolutely vital to honoring the deities (etc.), it is not the same thing as honoring the deities (etc.). Think of it this way: a commute to work is not usually the same as being at work, even if it is necessary in getting to work. Also note that work on the self is vital to pretty much doing anything in life ever; however using substances is not at all necessary to that process, and may not even be beneficial in that process. I do not suggest the use of mind altering substances in the development of the self. Always follow medical advice. Always follow psychiatric advice and counseling where applicable.

Disclaimer #6:
Hyoscyamus, the henbanes, are toxic.  Nutmeg can be toxic as well.  Toxic means poisonous, dangerous, causing bodily harm, and potentially fatal--these things can cause death. I do not suggest the use of these substances.




Photo Credits: Photo of an opium poppy, Papaver somniferum by Louise Joly, used under Creative Commons License. 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Bullies of Super Bowl XLIX

The ads on this year’s Super Bowl were in general awful, and I was grateful for the dancing sharks behind Katy Perry at halftime to lighten the mood.

Of the ads, most of the appeals to emotion were frequent, thick, and merciless, and as usual, inappropriate in an ad setting. It was a tougher year than in years past for the ads. There was one ad involving the Boston Tea Party and talking about how if the Rebels had been able to file their (presumably British, and not US) taxes for free, then there’d be nothing to fight over and that would be a good thing. Redcoats and Rebels making peace over free tax filing. Yay! Uh. Yeah. No. It wouldn’t surprise me if every one of my dead grandparents  who fought and aided in the American Revolution (and there are a few) are about to rise up for that complete and utter denigration of the freedom they purchased for their descendants with their lives and livelihoods, with their bodies and their blood. It’s not amusing to cheapen what those warriors did back in 1776, and it’s especially bad to do so for the sake of popularizing tax software. Furthermore to take the ad out to its “logical” conclusion, it would have suggested that there would have been no Revolution, and that would have been great because “war is bad, m’kay,” so “let’s all shake hands, ‘cause who needs freedom anyway?! British taxes rule!” That’s really not ok, on a multitude of levels. But, the booby prize really should go to “that” insurance ad, the unspeakably cruel one…

I’ve noticed through a quick glance on the internet that it’s been dubbed “the dead kid ad.” On the ad, the apple-cheeked tousled-hair darling boy with wide-spread mournful eyes talks about all the things he will never get to do because…he died. The ad ends with a message to keep your kids “safe” from childhood accidents, and presumably also through purchasing this company’s insurance.

I’m not going to say which insurance company it is. If you’ve been awake and breathing in the US, you probably know what I’m speaking of. I’m not going to link to them, and I’m not going to link to their ads. If I did, then I perpetuate and spread their nastiness and directly contribute to increasing the stats they want to increase, which will encourage them to continue this behavior and give them free advertising.

It is impossible for insurance to keep a child safe. Any implied, but not explicitly stated, connection and/or insinuation to the contrary is deliberately misleading. An insurance policy cannot shove the child away from a speeding car. An insurance policy cannot keep a kid from being infected with a devastating disease. Insurance cannot zap childhood predators from fifty meters away. Insurance cannot prevent earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, blizzards, forest fires, floods, or twisters. Insurance cannot prevent the childhood accidents that the commercial is keen on highlighting--accidents which the ad is not nearly as keen on explaining or offering suggestions of prevention even if they throw in a mention of a website you can visit. Indeed, the ad simply just heightens a parent or guardian’s immediate fear of their kids’ safety, activating that fear into a looming ever-pervasive monster which shrieks in the dark recesses of the subconscious mind and lurks around every street corner. They do this all for the sake of peddling insurance, even though the company insists later that that’s not why they aired the ad. (In that instance, it sounds like they’re convinced of their own deception and aren’t even aware enough to realize it is a deception on their part.) Insurance cannot keep mommy or daddy or nanny or whomever from getting hurt, either. Insurance cannot make sure a kid is safe. It can only pay out if something bad actually happens. If someone buys insurance and feels “safer,” that sense of safety is a placebo, a mere illusion.

If a guardian takes a life insurance policy on his child, he will receive money if that child dies at a tender age. If the guardian dies, then the child will receive money--money which is a poor substitute for the care of a guardian. So, basically insurance throws money at the insurance policy holder’s beneficiary. The insurance policy holder pays the insurance company to do this. The payout is an effort to make a tragic situation better if someone dies or gets hurt. Granted throwing money doesn’t make things all better, but it may help pay for funeral expenses or aid in paying for upbringing, or college, and so on.

Money is not the same thing as safety, and in insurance policy cannot guarantee anyone’s safety or a reduction in childhood accidents. No, the insurance doesn’t directly say that buying a policy with them will guarantee anyone’s safety, but there are fragile insinuated connections there that are being made. If throwing money around does keep someone safe, then I should keep handing strangers my spare change and asking them to chuck it at me so I can be invincible. Woo, feel the power! If this is the case, I wonder what exactly happens if it does rain pennies from heaven…and by that logic, maybe a hailstorm is just a god’s way of saying “Bam! Love ya, kitten, be safe!”

Insurance companies profit from your fear of danger and on the caprices of life. Let’s face it, living is not exactly the “safest” thing one can do and one must weigh, consider, and take certain acceptable risks every day. Insurance companies also gamble that they may not have to pay out for your personal tragedies by weighing the odds of whether or not certain tragedies are likely to occur to you and your family.

This ad goes from bad to wretched in that it plays on the primal fears of every guardian, and the way in which they do it is so amazingly shameless. Advertisers are controlling guardians like marionettes through the guardians’ very “heartstrings,” and that is an unspeakably cruel thing to do to a person. The advertisers do this to manipulate guardians into buying something they may not need so that the insurance companies stand to make some money. There’s nothing wrong with making money…unless it is done in this unethical way through bullying ads. The guardians may or may not have considered buying when in their calm, logical, rational minds and when not manipulated through dirty tactics: they should have had that space to make a calm, logical, rational decision.

I’m not a parent and/or guardian, and I am troubled and angry at the bullying of parents and guardians in this ad through the tender spot that is their children. Granted, that’s a common theme in many sectors including much of advertising--“do it for the children!” is a major meme, but just because it’s trite and common doesn’t make it always right or appropriate, and doesn’t make it right here in this context. Just because it’s a popular meme doesn’t mean that it is ethical or responsible to use here. And in this ad the “do it for the children!”-meme reached grandiosely grim levels. The ad flat-out lies by insinuating a connection of an insurance payout to children’s “safety,” and then it goes for a parent’s throat when it insinuates that your kid is at risk of death and you’d better buy insurance. It further tries to camouflage the matter by focusing the attention on childhood accidents. The deeper insinuation deduced from the ad is that it is a guardian’s fault if her kid dies because she didn’t do what the ad tries without directly stating to convince her is the right thing: buying their insurance policy. What a low down dirty advertising trick at the expense of guardian’s direst fears and the illusion of doing what’s best for their kids. It’s as shameless as it is heartless, and it masquerades as doing good through helping parents prevent the untimely deaths of their children.

In the backlash from airing the ad, the company in question insists that they were just trying to start a conversation about preventing childhood accidents. No, they’re not. What they’re really doing is activating primal fears to sell insurance, plain and simple. This was no public service announcement. That they try to convince people that the ad is like a PSA in order to take the heat off of themselves for such a rotten trick, makes it reach epic levels of despicability.

Parents, grandparents, guardians, people who care for and about children: you were kicked in the gut that night during the Super Bowl XLIX. That insurance company wrenched your heart from your chest, shoved it in a blender, and fed it back to you through a straw. It was a dirty thing for them to do. It was an attack on your emotions and your primal fears, for the sake of the free advertising as social media lights up about this shocking ad, and all eventually for the sake lining their pockets. It hurts. I was hurting for you. You may even have been left to have some uncomfortable conversations with your dear little ones who may have been watching the big game or the halftime show, and happened to see that horror of an advertisement. I’m sorry that this company is soulless enough to do what they did to you.

Friday, July 18, 2014

A Strange Week

You know it’s a strange week when you look for comfort by sitting outside on a pristine day, and you start counting your blessings only to have a bug fly up your nostril. On the good(?) side of that, I now know what it smells like for a bug to have possibly defecated, and certainly have died in one’s own nose. It smells slightly of earth and strongly of ammonia--think of a combination of dirt and Windex in a nasal spray. The scent itself has a physical mild burning sensation, beyond the unpleasant scent, and beyond the sensation of insect legs desperately moving to attempt escape as I desperately tried to help it escape.

Now you know these things too and I have passed this knowledge on to you so that you don’t have to experience it firsthand. Unless of course you just want to or chance offers you that opportunity. Allow me to recap: counting my blessings and a bug dies in my nose—oh the timing. It is said that the difference between comedy and tragedy is timing. It was at about that time yesterday that I finally declared to myself, “Well, it’s five o’clock somewhere. Bring on the mint juleps. Plural,” even though I’m usually more of a tea-and-bikkies kind of person, but having a bug dye in one's nose kind of changes the tone for the day and for what one usually does. If that’s as bad as it gets, then maybe I can still count the dubious event as an odd sort of blessing in and of itself. Somehow. I’m still working on that… Hey, maybe it got you to laugh. That's a blessing.

The highlights of my week have involved seeing the crew from MST3K riff on a bad B-movie involving sharks, tornadoes, and impossible homemade explosives, and then later my having picked up a comb which probably carries a bean sidhe death curse on it. I ponder these things as I recall the lightly sarcastic, yet charming words of Abe Sapien as he’s about to descend into the watery bowels of the city, from the movie version of Hellboy: “We lead a charmed life.”

Alas, I missed out on the first-ever Polytheist Leadership Conference held in Fishkill, New York last weekend. I would have loved to have attended the conference and met some of y’all first hand and face to face, but my situation was not such that I could this year. I am warmed by the good news I've heard about it. I have heard it was a wonderful event—deities and ancestors were honored, connections were made, foundations were laid, vital intelligent lectures and necessary thoughtful discourse occurred, and valuable links got forged that will aid us all in moving ahead with honoring our many deities and our ancestors, and restoring their ways. I truly hope to make the conference next year and I am looking forward to it.

In addition to benostriled dead bugs, filmed faux explosive shark-tornadoes, cursed combs, and missed conferences, I am delighted to announce a new project spearheaded by a colleague, Anomalous Thracian. He, several colleagues, impressively talented and inspired people, various and assorted cheerful elves, flying green monkeys, and minions of doom are starting up a new site which will prove invaluable to polytheists and polytheist communities. Incidentally, it’s called Polytheist.com. I am further pleased to announce that I will be writing there, nestled amidst a star-studded earth-kissed cast of laypersons, shamans, priests, theologians, wyrdsmiths, wordsmiths, philosophers, poets, seekers and scholars, devotees, dreamers, and doers. Seriously. I've seen the list of people the Thracian has lined up to write for this website, and it reads like a celebrity Who’s-Who Among Polytheists. As to how I miraculously ended up rubbing virtual elbows with this marvelous A-list of polytheists, maybe I drew the short straw, or the long straw, or volunteered, or got drafted, or likely somehow a bit of all of the above, but I consider it a great honor to be of service to the gods and the ancestors, and hopefully of further aid to you, dear reader. I have absolutely no idea yet what to write—ideas, anyone?

It is long nigh time that polytheists had such a resource to draw on. This website cradles hope—hope for our deities, hope for our ancestors, hope for restoring the ancient ways. It is no arcane secret that our ancient ways have suffered devastation, and our relations with our deities and ancestors have been ruptured. This is an opportunity for us to repair and nurture these ancient ways, to rebuild them, and to ensure their endurance. This website gives this hope a form and an opportunity. It is no light undertaking to midwife hope, and it takes all of our hands to make it successful. I invite you to join the community and conversations soon-to-take-place there.



Saturday, July 5, 2014

Ode by John Keats

Bards of Passion and of Mirth,
Ye have left your souls on earth!
Have ye souls in heaven, too, 
Double-lived in regions new?
Yes, and those of heaven commune
With spheres of sun and moon;
With the noise of fountains wondrous,
And the parle of voices thund’rous;
With the whisper of heaven’s trees
And one another in soft ease
Seated on Elysian lawns
Browsed by none but Dian’s fauns;
Underneath large blue-bells tented,
Where the daisies are rose-scented,
And the rose herself has got
Perfume which on the earth is not;
Where the nightingale doth sing
Not a senseless, trancéd thing,
But divine melodious truth;
Philosophic numbers smooth;
Tales and golden histories
Of heaven and its mysteries.

Thus ye live on high, and then 
On the earth ye live again;
And the souls ye left behind you
Teach us, here, the way to find you,
Where your other souls are joying,
Never slumbered, never cloying.
Here, your earth-born souls still speak
To mortals, of their little week;
Of their sorrows and delights;
Of their passions and their spites; 
Of their glory and their shame; 
What doth strengthen and what doth maim.
Thus ye teach us every day,
Wisdom, though fled far away.

Bards of Passion and of Mirth;
Ye have left your souls on earth!
Ye have souls in heaven too,
Double-lived in regions new!


I rediscovered this aged pearl written by John Keats. It brought me to reflect on the ancestors, how they continue and endure, and how they guide us through their works.  In their honor, I share it here. Enjoy.

Poem credits: Poem by John Keats, public domain due to age.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Circles: A Look at An Article about Distrusting the Deities

I spent some time and a couple cups of tea reading over a different author’s recent post about Why [He] Doesn’t Trust the Gods. The author in question refers to himself as a Jungian Neo-Pagan and defines deities as “real, independent semi-conscious archetypes.” Jung, father and progenitor of theories about archetypes says: “In the individual, the archetypes appear as involuntary manifestations of unconscious processes whose existence and meaning can only be inferred…” (p. 153, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious by C.G. Jung) Jung held that a person would inherit the forms of archetypes from humanity much like one inherits one’s genes from one’s genetic predecessors. Thus archetypes are both outside the self, as well as inside and an intrinsic part of the self. (Archetypes are not gods, but for the sake of looking at this argument further, I will refer to them as “gods” because the argument itself often focuses on “gods” being defined as archetypes.)

The whole argument in the article is about how a person cannot trust the “gods” and the “gods” may not be trustworthy. The argument spends a great deal of pixels on a matter of what the author may be going through as a part of self-exploration (which potentially could be a beneficial and useful thing!), but the article is also a persuasive piece to convince others to distrust the “gods” or to consider distrusting the “gods,” or at the very least to reconsider the “gods’ trustworthiness.” So, according to the article and the arguments therein, the “gods” are not trustworthy.

After exploring the untrustworthiness of the “gods,” the article then holds up the experts (experts, priests, shamans, and so on) and even a few “experts” who may not really be experts, as also untrustworthy. The author dismisses the experts, and he dismisses the ones who may or may not be experts altogether and wholesale, throwing out the baby with the bathwater. So now, not only are the “gods” untrustworthy, the experts are also not trustworthy. There's a  Ralph Waldo Emerson quote used as a (better?) expert’s opinion on polytheism and the gods. Ralph Waldo Emerson was a poet, philosopher, and a Transcendentalist, but he was no expert on polytheism or the gods. The article seeks to destroy the notion of experts in polytheism and then substitutes polytheistic expertise with a quote from a well-known poet who is not a polytheist. The quote sounds nice, and it has a ring of “truthiness,” but its usefulness and pertinence here is highly suspect. It would be inappropriate to consult a poet writing about electricity in place of an electricians’ advice no matter how thought-provoking the writing is or how well-known and time-tested the poet. Using an Emerson quote here, a name with history and a person esteemed for thoughtfulness only adds false credence and false significance to the argument…and distracts from the author’s original premise about trusting or distrusting gods or “gods”.

Next in line is humanity. Although the article does not discuss whether or not humanity is trustworthy, it is prudent to consider that if the experts themselves are not trustworthy, then humanity and popular opinion are also suspect. If an expert cannot be trusted, then Joe, Jane, or Jamie-on-the-street and their knowledge about the “gods” or gods cannot be trustworthy, either. (Consider that the author is also not an expert on polytheism, or the gods, and thus his opinion on these grounds is also excusable by intention of his own argument. If he cannot stick with a definition as to who his “gods” are, see below, then he is clearly not an expert.)

So. The “gods” are not trustworthy (in the article). Neither expert opinions nor popular opinions about the “gods” can be trusted either (as per the article and logical deduction). The self is all that remains which can be potentially trustworthy. But there’s a problem with this. Go back and look at the information in the first paragraph here about the “gods” as archetypes. Archetypes are both outside of oneself…and also intrinsically part of oneself. If one cannot trust the “gods” and the “gods” are part of oneself, one can also not trust one’s own self.

The author of the article does not trust his own “gods” and because of this logic, it follows that he can also not trust “himself.” Although interesting, the argument is not particularly useful since it twists and turns in on itself. I would presume that the author of the article is at least in part the gatekeeper of his own mind and its subconscious ebb and flow; and as a healthy adult of sound mind, is therefore at least partially responsible what goes on in the self, conscious mind, and subconscious mind. He would then be ultimately responsible, at least in part, for how his “gods” (remember, he defines “gods” as archetypes) act in him, with him, and through him—therefore consent, in this specific context of what goes on in and of one's own mind, is not an issue. This author may very well distrust his own subconscious mind. The subconscious mind is tricky business and we would all do well to tread carefully in that uncharted ground. However, if the author distances himself wholesale from his “gods” (remember: he defines them as archetypes) and a part of himself through which those archetypes appear, he is sabotaging his own process of self-actualization, a process for becoming whole with oneself which Jung, the father of archetypal theory, advocates as vital process.

If in this context of his argument the “gods” or gods the author refers to are not archetypes (and therefore not his “gods”), then whose gods is he distrusting, and why would he bother since they are not his “gods” anyway? For what reason is the article trying to persuade others to do likewise and distrust these gods and/or experts on these gods? What is the motivation for convincing others to distrust gods whom oneself does not personally accept as real? Or does he somehow actually believe in them and hasn’t come to terms with this yet…? Or does he not mean “distrust” at all and has confused it with and mistaken it for “approach with caution”—something I myself would support for gods, for archetypes, and for forces of nature. It appears that the author may (accidentally?) acknowledge that there are gods who are outside, independent, sentient beings of their own. If this is an (inadvertent?) acknowledgment that gods are gods, and that he distrusts these gods, then this whole article ends up looking like an attack on these gods, and their experts and priests.

An article meant for this kind of attack and persuasion does not demonstrate the respect for others and others’ religions that this author may want to portray. Maybe the arguer truly believes in his heart of hearts that he is being respectful, but his belief that this is respectful doesn’t make it respectful. Or maybe this is a veneer, the mere appearance of respect without the substance of respect. (For those who watch South Park, you may remember the episode in the seventh season where Cartman wants to go to Kyle’s birthday party at Casa Bonita. Cartman shows up at Kyle’s door wearing a nice sweater: Cartman either has convinced himself that wearing a nice sweater is actually the same as being nice, or Cartman is trying to convince Kyle that because he wears a nice sweater that he is actually nice, or a little of both. Kyle calls Cartman on his scheme, telling Cartman that wearing a nice sweater is not the same as actually being nice.)

Furthermore, in this article, the author constantly shifts between the definition of the “gods” as archetypes, switching off with a definition as the “gods” being natural forces or a part of natural forces. The author tackles a long section about his not trusting nature or natural forces because of nature’s capriciousness. Despite nature’s capriciousness, the sun still rises daily, the tides still flow with regularity, and gravity continues to act as it has since before humanity walked on two legs. Switching between definitions of “gods” from archetypes to natural forces for the sake of convenience and for the sake of an argument may be helpful for rhetoric, but it is not useful in a logical, clear argument. If he is switching between definitions of who and what his “gods” are, it looks as though he hasn’t yet figured out what is going on in his working relationships and/or dysfunctional relationships with them. Therefore he is no expert on relating to them, and consequently in no place to persuade others to trust or to distrust either “gods” or gods.

There are a few questionable questions asked in that article as well; I will tackle one here briefly. The question asked is “Why bow down to power, if it is not paired with virtue?” It makes for pretty rhetoric. Really, who can argue with that question? And this is the point—no one can argue with that question; it is set up to make the answering party fail. It’s the old “Have you stopped beating your spouse yet?”* question—either way it is answered, the answerer ends up committing to premises he doesn’t have but that the question forces on him. Whether or not the author intended the question to be nasty, it ends up being nasty: it is a question fit for dirty politics. “Bowing down” is a phrase that has become loaded over the years and is intended to belittle and degrade what once was known as an act of respect. (It vaguely reminds me from a quote from the movie The Princess Bride: “So bow down to her if you want, bow to her. Bow to the Queen of Slime, the Queen of Filth, the Queen of Putrescence. Boo! Boo!”) At least any Queen of Filth would be more honest and more clean than a manipulative question hiding in a veneer of "respect" and..."virtue."

Besides, power’s opposite is powerlessness. Virtue’s opposite is vice. By pairing the two against each other, power and virtue, one is making a false comparison which champions the one (here: “virtue”) against an “enemy,” (here: “power”) which is not really an enemy or an opposite. It is a false dichotomy, a forced dichotomy, on many levels. The question is built on many premises which another arguer may or may not accept all of—premises such as power is evil and corrupt, power must be paired with virtue, that one “really” genuflects to power-the-force and not a deity, that power and virtue cannot coexist in one being or Being, if a deity carries more power than virtue that deity must therefore be inherently evil, if one honors a deity that carries a lot of power one bows to power and thus bows to evil or corruption, and so on.

By forcing this false dichotomy, it actually takes the author further away from Jung, who advised that one should resolve opposites—such as vice versus virtue and power versus powerlessness within oneself for the sake of the self and wholeness. In the argument itself, this question shifts the original premise of the author’s argument from how he does not trust the ‘gods’ (with the subtext that you shouldn’t trust them either), to a “good versus evil” debate, which isn’t the same question, argument, or dialogue. Instead, a person who takes a stand other than the author’s stand would end up arguing, badly based on premises he hasn't accepted and doesn't carry, this major distraction instead of staying with the original argument about trust and the gods.

At any rate, distrusting the deities because they might do you wrong is like refusing to be in potentially loving, healthy relationships because of the tales of heartache and family-splitting you’ve heard about or have experienced. This is an argument based on negative consequences which haven’t and may not even happen in one’s own life in one’s own relationships with the deities. To base a choice in refusing a relationship with a deity, any deity, or all deities for these reasons is to base a decision on fear. And for others who have read the article and have taken its arguments to heart, they could be deciding to avoid relationships with the deities based on someone else’s fear of something that may not be imminent or imminently happening. Making a decision based on someone else’s phantom fear is not all that useful.

In the end, the author finishes with a large caveat or disclaimer meant to put the entire article and its argument into the realm of the relativistic. This takes everything that is said in the argument and gives it the appearance of a personal a belief held “by him." By using this caveat of relativism somehow the argument is made to look as though that belief is not being “forced onto” anyone. The argument may not be technically forced onto anyone, but it uses emotional manipulation, stilted rhetoric, and other problematic devices, which might blindside a casual reader. It also makes the argument unavailable for being questioned because beliefs are personal and it is supposedly rude and mean-spirited to question someone else’s personal belief in this culture right now…even if that belief is something like “It snows frequently in the Sahara. I believe this. It is my Truth!” And we’re back to this article looking like a persuasive piece meant to cause people to distrust the gods or the “gods,” which is at its core disrespectful to the gods, disrespectful to many religions, and potentially even an attack against the gods (and their experts, and their people).

To recap: If you choose not to trust the deities, that’s up to you. Just do it for good thought-out reasons, or experience, or expert advice, or any combination of these. It may be prudent to reconsider making a decision when it is based on conveniently shifting definitions, cagey questions, appeals to emotion and popular opinion, argument from negative consequence, circular logic, quotes lacking appropriate context and/or pertinence, lack of experience with gods, questionable or unexamined motives, and someone else’s fears.

I will close with a quote that is at least as pertinent and “truthy”:
“Who is the more foolish, the fool or the fool who follows him?”
This quote comes from a fictional character, Obi-Wan Kenobi from the Star Wars movies. Obi-Wan Kenobi never lived, never died, never existed beyond the imagination, Sir Alec Guinness’s memorable portrayal, and the silver screen. But since Obi-Wan Kenobi is born of and out of archetypes and allows an archetype momentarily to fill a form, that of a “wise old man”—if it is indeed possible for an archetype to manifest for a moment in a form—he is as good an expert on Archetypal Neo-Paganism as Ralph Waldo Emerson is on polytheism.



*“Have you stopped beating your spouse yet?” The question forces you into one of two answers, yes or no. The question makes you commit to the premise that you have at one time beat your spouse. If you answer “no” to the question, it means “you are still beating your spouse,” while if you answer “yes” to the question, it means “you did beat your spouse at one point in time and have since stopped.” Either way, it’s designed to make the answerer fail.



Monday, June 16, 2014

We Are Not All One. And It Is OK.

[6/16/14: It was about a year ago that relations between the Pagan movement and devotional polytheists had a large schism. I first wrote this post for the PaganSquare blog on the Witches and Pagans website. Much has changed since then. I reprint this post here in honor and in memory of these changes, as the devotional polytheist movement(s) continue to grow into their own.]


The recent arguments of archetypes or superheroes as deities is a factor of why I don’t consider myself Pagan anymore and haven’t for a couple of years.  The debate is a symptom of a wider divergence in core beliefs between historic-rooted polytheistic religions and mainstream neo-romantic Paganism.

The two core philosophies cannot be resolved and the less time we spend trying to convince each other that our side is right, the more time we can spend constructively and peacefully on interfaith efforts. I use that word “interfaith” with great intention. We’re not the same religions. We’re not even in the same category of religions. And that’s ok. Respecting our differences is important because this respect does not come from trying to make the differences into similarities. Respecting differences doesn’t mean homogenizing diversity.

And let’s face it—there are some T. Rex-sized gaping differences between mainstream neo-romantic Paganism and historic-rooted polytheistic religions.

Neo-romanticist Pagans who believe that the self is the core of spirituality and who rely on the ideas of Jung, Freud, Frazer, and Campbell are often going to feel picked on when they believe that someone has told them that they’re wrong—especially when they believe that an individual person cannot be “wrong” about spirituality. And it’s likely that they’ll think that the other person is so clinched in dogma that he/she just doesn’t understand what real spirituality is. Likewise a person who adheres to a historic-rooted polytheistic religion (not a spirituality, but a religion) is generally going to believe that worshiping archetypes or comic book superheroes is blasphemous. There’s very little middle ground for discussion in a victimization/anti-dogma versus sacrilege situation, and the situation is exacerbated by the idea that we’re somehow all part of the same category of religion called Paganism.

When we try sticking ourselves in the same category, we will continue to have arguments like this because we just see religion from two very different basic premises. From a position of separateness, it is easier to be respectful of the others’ beliefs, and folks feel less like we’re trying to define each others’ beliefs. We can say at the end of the day, “I don’t agree with you, but I appreciate you.”

If we make peace with that separateness, then there’s no argument here and no need for one. This argument looks a lot like Christians and Hindus trying to convince each other that they’re more right. Yes, mainstream Paganism such that it is right now with neo-romantic tendencies and a strong eclectic Wiccan influence is as different to the historic-rooted polytheistic religions as Christianity is to Hinduism.

How different can different be? Skim over this list for an overview of differences between Natib Qadish (a historic-rooted polytheistic religion) and mainstream neo-romantic Paganism:

Natib Qadish is not “earth-centered.” We are deity-centered first, community centered next, and nature respecting thirdly. We’re urban, civilization, and technology-friendly. We don’t worship the earth or the “earth mother.”
Deities are separate, individual, living beings worthy of my deepest respect. I bow to honor my deities.
Our religion is not one of monism or dualtheism, it is one of polytheism. The deities are not facets of one divine force, nor are they representations of a cosmic male/female duality. And they really are not archetypes. We also don’t believe that the deities are just constructs of the human mind.
The Shanatu Qadishtu, our sacred calendar has different holidays and a Mediterranean seasonal cycle. This means that we do not celebrate Samhain, Yule, Imbolc, Ostara, Beltane, Litha, Lughnasadh, or Mabon. The Canaanite seasonal cycle has a hot, dry season and a wet season with a little transition between the two, and two growing cycles for grain and fruit.
My religion is not Indo-European but Afro-Asiatic. We’re not a Western European-based religion, even if the ancient form of our religion influenced Judaism and Christianity, which in turn strongly influenced Western Europe.
We don’t practice witchcraft and we eschew the word “witch.”
We don’t work with “energy.” We work with the napshu, a concept of the soul.
We generally don’t cast circles, use sage, or see the body in the Indian chakra system.  We will use myrrh for cleansing. We do have sacred spaces. As for body wisdom, the heart represents the mind, the liver represents emotions, the knees represent blessing, the hands represent protection or blessing, the eyes can send blessings or curses, and the head represents honor.
We don’t practice the Law of Three or the Harm None adages. But we have a concept of “sin.”
We make offerings to our deities. Often those offerings include meat, but not pork.
We can rely on divination devices more in keeping with Canaanite symbolism: dream interpretation (without Jungian concepts), casting lots, using the Phoenician letters, and scrying. You wouldn’t go to a babalawo for a tarot reading, so please don’t expect one from me.
Our religious language, our religious symbolism is different because it is built on a different culture
I cover my head in respect of the deities all of the time. Most of us cover at least during sacred events.
My altar is in a temple and I use it only for offerings to the deities, not as a place of personal reflection and shiny tchotchkes. I have a less formal shrine that does not have the same restrictions--and *yes* I have tchotchkes on my shrine. That bird in the upper left? That's my own tchotchke. A shrine is not the same as an altar and an altar is not a shrine. Most of us have shrines.
The ancient Canaanites were selectively eclectic, sometimes honoring deities from neighboring cultures in a Canaanite way. Even as that is, we’re careful of what we do in a religious setting.
Other historic-rooted polytheistic religions will have their own sets of differences from mine, and from mainstream neo-romantic Paganism.

Wicca is fine. Neo-romanticism is fine. Paganism is fine. Having a spirituality instead of religion is fine. For the folks who want to believe in archetypes as deities, if that’s what y'all believe, that’s fine even if I think it is atheism. I will usually respect different beliefs even when I strongly disagree; even if I think you’re wrong, and even if you think I’m wrong. But I have my limits. Whether another person believes my limits are frailties while another believes they are strengths, it matters not; I have them anyway. I once heard an adage “don’t let your mind be so open your brains fall out,” and I take that seriously.

For the folks who want to worship comic book characters, go ahead if you really believe that, but please don’t expect me to take your spirituality seriously, and please don’t expect me to want to belong to the same religious “umbrella” category that accepts this.  For the record, I also have serious doubts about “otherkin.” I don’t believe in a matriarchal past. Cthulhu doesn’t exist. Aliens didn’t build the pyramids or Stonehenge. Everyone has boundaries, even in matters of belief and religion. It doesn’t mean I hate you.

We are not all One, and it’s ok.



Today is

18 Ugaru, Shanatu 85  [May 27, 2013]

The month name [Ugaru] here is a reconstruction; "Ugaru" means "field." It is the 85th year since the rediscovery of the Canaanite city-state of Ugarit, the place from which was found a large portion of our primary texts which detail ritual, ritual structure, and epics about the deities. It has been 18 days since the last new moon. The past full moon the day before yesterday was a holiday, the 'Ashuru Liyati, the Festival of Garlands in the Shanatu Qadishtu (Festival Year/yearly holiday cycle).

Image Credits

Photo is by Crayonsman and is used under GNU Free Documentation License.