Sunday, March 27, 2016

Between the Broad and Narrow

Polytheism is the religious regard for many deities.

Polytheism is not the spiritual regard for several archetypes, although a person can do that in addition to being a polytheist if a person does religiously regard many deities.

Polytheism is not a form of politics nor is it a system of economics, although a person can support these things in addition to being a polytheist.

Polytheism means polytheism: nothing more, and nothing less.

I’ve seen two problems which have crept up. These problems come up from opposing ends of the spectrum, but they result in the same erosion of meaning of “polytheism.” There are those who would try to use the word so broadly that it loses its meaning and its integrity--it gets diluted out of existence. There are others who would narrow the definition so tight that it no longer includes that which should be included--it gets constricted down to a point where it vanishes. Both problems can lead to the same destruction albeit through different means.

An atheist cannot open up the term polytheism to include herself because her atheism is one of a few things which is mutually exclusive to the religious regard of many deities. She cannot religiously regard many deities because she doesn’t believe that deities exist: she thinks that all deities are human-created, and thus by her own admission she does not believe that deities exist. (It should also be noted that a person can indeed be an atheist without studying, interacting, or even knowing about archetypes; and a person can indeed study archetypes without being an atheist.)

However, a person can indeed religiously regard many deities, and at the same time understand, acknowledge, and interact with archetypes while realizing that archetypes and deities are not the same kind of beings as deities. A person really can interact with two different things at the same time and be able to distinguish between one thing and another. Even if and/or when there is overlap, it does not mean that there aren’t boundaries; an overlapping edge should not be confused as evidence that two different things are “the same.” Archetypes are not deities, but a person can indeed work with both and still be a polytheist while still honoring that archetypes are archetypes and deities are deities, and the two sets of beings are different.

On a related note, when we polytheists allow for the propagation of inaccurate terms to define us and what we do, we’ve ended up diluting our meaning to allow for many other things which have nothing to do with polytheism. It’s not “devotional polytheism.” It’s just polytheism. Polytheism is a religious regard for many deities; devotion is religious regard. “Devotional polytheism” is like saying “polytheism-polytheism.” Using the term “devotional polytheism” only ends up marginalizing polytheism itself within what is polytheism’s own movement.

Then, there’s the other side of the spectrum. A person who subscribes to particular political ideology or economic systems, or both, can indeed also be a polytheist. A person who subscribes to a particular political ideology or economic systems, and who combines these with polytheistic religion is still also a polytheist. Politics and polytheism are not mutually exclusive—people can and do (and should!) vote with their values and act in accordance to what they believe is right: sometimes that includes religious values, whether those religious values originate somehow through relations with deities, or originate from the judgment and good sense of people, or come from other sources, or a blend of any or all of these different things. She can indeed carry politics and polytheism at the same time without confusing these things for one another or thinking that they must be the same thing, or that everyone who is polytheist must also operate within this overlap between polytheism and politics. Even when there is overlap (think of a Venn diagram), and even when a person chooses to operate within that space where there is overlap between politics and polytheism, it does not mean that there aren’t boundaries between polytheism and politics. An overlapping edge should not be confused as evidence that two different things are “the same.”

A person can indeed have a religion which combines polytheism and politics, and a person can indeed call it a polytheistic religion if it involves some kind of religious regard for many deities (that’s all you need to be called “polytheist”); but a person cannot claim that such an intersection between politics and polytheism is, or should be, the whole of polytheism. A person also cannot claim that such an intersection between a specific political ideology (like socialism or libertarianism) and polytheism is the whole of polytheism. A person also cannot claim that an intersection amidst specific political ideologies and economic ideologies (like socialism and anti-capitalism, or like libertarianism and capitalism,or like socialism and capitalism) is the whole of polytheism.

See the difference in size and scope? A person can have an individual specific polytheistic religion which combines a political and/or an economic ideology, but a person cannot apply that ideology to polytheism as a broad movement. What we’re running into is a confusion of subcategories for a broader category: not all plants are trees, but all trees are plants. Not all polytheists are (or should be) anti-capitalists, or capitalists, or socialists, or Marxists, or conservatives, or whatever, but all polytheists do share a quality of having some sort of religious regard for many deities.

When a large-scale general polytheistic convention takes an overall tone of a particular set of politics, there’s a problem. When a polytheistic gathering has discussions on anti-capitalism (or capitalism, or any economic system) as being a part of the polytheistic movement at-large, or if that gathering starts staging political or economic debates, there’s a problem. There’s a problem because politics and economic systems are not polytheism. A person would do well to recognize that the intersection of two different streets (i.e. Polytheism Street and Politics Street) doesn’t mean that the two streets are the same street even if you can stand in the middle of the intersection—and if a person confuses the two streets as being the same street, the person has a good chance of taking a wrong turn and getting lost. However, if a general polytheist gathering were to have discussions on specific polytheistic religions which may well be based on an intersection of polytheism and anti-capitalism (or capitalism, or another political or economic ideology) that’s fine.

Notice the difference in scope? In one situation, a political ideology is being artificially and forcibly applied onto a broad religious movement, a broad religious movement of many different individual religions. Many of those separate individual polytheistic religions may or may not be anti-capitalist (or capitalist, or socialist, or libertarian, or anarchist, or whichever political or economic ideology) and indeed some of them may have nothing to do with politics or economics at all, but they can end up being pressured into adhering to the particular political (and/or economic) ideology that is being artificially and forcibly applied onto them. This situation is not helpful and it causes a silencing and a destruction of diversity, and it even edges towards the destruction of polytheism itself. Politics and polytheism are not the same thing even if they do overlap at some points. In the other situation where a political ideology is not being artificially and forcibly applied onto a broad religious movement, it preserves the space for many separate individual polytheistic religions to flourish, some of which may or may not be anti-capitalist (or capitalist, or socialist, or libertarian, or anarchist, etc.) and some of which may have nothing to do with politics or economics at all. These religions can be what they are without being artificially forced into something they’re not, especially when that "something" is a political ideology--political ideologies are not the same thing as polytheism.

It’s also not ok to claim that those who do not automatically share political ideology in common with those particular individual religions are somehow flirting with some form of light fascism—this is a silencing tactic. Given the current climate of anger and fear (both in the US and abroad), it’s a powerful silencing tactic. And it's wrong, devastatingly wrong. It's a wrong thing to do to associate others with different political or economic ideologies with vile things such as racism, sexism, and totalitarianism, and a destruction of diversity. There's a certain terrible irony here that those who call others fascists (who are not fascists) are actually destroying diversity themselves--they are destroying the very diversity they thought they were preserving. In letting their fear take charge, in letting their fear of a perceived threat take charge, they've become the actual threat.

Polytheism is polytheism, nothing more and nothing less than the religious regard for the many deities. Politics, economic systems, and religions are different things even if they can often overlap. An overlapping edge should not be confused as evidence that two different things are “the same.”

Polytheism is not so broad as to include atheists (because honoring or studying archetypes is not the same thing as honoring deities). Although religions in polytheism cannot include atheism, specific religions in polytheism can include “a religious regard for many deities” as well as “a spiritual regard for archetypes.” But… those specific religions cannot then narrow down the definition of polytheism to claim that all polytheists must also honor archetypes as well as deities.

Polytheism is also not so broad that it can contain political ideologies as being the same thing as polytheism. Specific polytheistic religions can include an intersection of politics and polytheism. But…these specific religions cannot then narrow down the definition of polytheism to claim that all polytheists must do the same thing and adopt particular political (or economic) ideologies as well as honoring deities.

There is a middle ground to navigate between the too-broad and the too-narrow, and we must keep this middle ground ever-fixed in the forefront of our minds as something to strive toward. That middle ground is simply that polytheism means the religious regard for many deities, no more, no less; and that there is space here for individual polytheistic religions simply to be what they are.

Image Notes: Water ripples in a sea cave. Photograph by Berit, used under Creative Commons license. 

Monday, March 21, 2016

A Prayer for the End of Equinox

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;
That the great Temples can and shall be rebuilt, kept, and tended;
That those who follow us may make their offerings and sacrifices in peace;
That the traditions can have life breathed into them again, that they may live, grow vibrant, and thrive.
May we do what we can so these sacred, holy things can be brought forward to future generations, and ever renewed.

May we remember this and keep our eyes ever-fixed on that distant point on the horizon.

Image Notes: Photo by Alexander Buschorn, used through Creative Commons-GNU License. 

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Allegory of the Cave, Cryolife 7:14

I can think of few better things to  ring in the vernal equinox than a revisit of Plato's Allegory of the Cave. May we continue to struggle, though the light hurts our eyes, to live in the enlightenment of the gods.

Here is the Allegory of the Cave, as read by the incomparable John Malkovich.

Image Notes: A bird created in shadows by the configuration of two hands, by Hedgehog83 and used through Creative Commons License

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Twisting Language Sheared of Meaning

I came across a troubling sentence today, and it's one that needs unpacking for the casual reader. The sentence I read says: "Later, Neil Gaiman’s American Gods may have played a role in the growth of deity-centered Polytheism."

Let's take a good look at it. With this one line, a line most casual readers would blow past without giving much further thought to it, seeks to erode and demolish polytheism by stating that a fictional book contributed to the growth of the movement, and by qualifying the word “polytheism” so that he can force it to mean things other than what it means.

The first part of his statement which suggests that a fictional book may have given partial rise to the growth of modern polytheism is like suggesting that the popularity of the movie Twister influenced the growth of modern meteorology. Fiction is not reality, although fiction can inspire someone to make a real difference—but if we can’t tell the difference between fiction, reality, and fiction partially inspiring reality, then we are well and truly messed-up. The blogger already sees the movement he’s talking about as based on fiction, inspired by nothing more than a creation of the human mind, and this is very basis upon which he operates. Everything else he says is built upon this erroneous premise, and there is an expectation that the reader simply accepts this premise without question.

Stating a possible connection here between a fictional tale and the growth of a movement (or field-of-study) is a way of planting a suggestion that the movement might be partially based on fiction and therefore might be itself partially fictitious, based on fiction made up by humans. This is the equation that people may not realize that these words are making, and this is the assumption that this blogger functions on and tries, subtly and not-so-subtly, to persuade others to function upon. It’s a way to denigrate and trivialize that very movement itself while appearing fair and unbiased. When this false premise is coated in palatable and palliative layers of amiable tone and intellectualism, with a coating of widespread cultural misunderstanding and rejection of that same movement, it makes it much easier for casual readers to swallow without even realizing that they did so.

To focus on one fictional tale as a key factor in the growth of a movement (or field-of-study) is so overly-simplistic that it is absurd. There have been countless tales and poems for eons praising the awesomeness of the weather well beyond the movie Twister. More importantly, all a person has to do to be inspired and have a real-life encounter with the atmosphere and weather patterns is to walk outside and experience reality. To simplify the growth of a movement like polytheism, or a field-of-study like meteorology, and to attribute it to a fictional tale causes a reader to focus on the fictional tale and debate the merits, the possible causal relationships, the associations, and so on, of that fictional tale. In that intellectual exercise, people end up ignoring the fact that a natural, real, observable thing plays a far more important role in inspiring a person to study it or connect with it in some way. Although a movie like Twister may have inspired a person to study meteorology, it is far more likely that the lion’s share of that inspiration comes from standing in awe, inspired by the very meteorological phenomena themselves.

The second part of the statement is like calling a meteorologist “a weather-and-atmosphere-centered meteorologist.” Weather and atmosphere are what a meteorologist studies; it's what meteorology is. It's redundant calling them "weather-and-atmosphere-centered meteorologists," and if a person were to do this it would force the word open so that you can insert things in there that are not part of the field of meteorology. For instance, some well-meaning but thoughtless person has heard that there’s such a thing as “pet-centered meteorology” which studies dog flatus and pet dander that people might inhale. Just because dog flatus and pet dander can be on or in the air, and just because meteorological studies involve observing air in the atmosphere, it doesn’t mean that studying dog flatus and pet dander is the same as meteorology.

If you really want to study dog flatus or pet dander, or both, great! By all means please do so. If you want to study dog flatus and pet dander, and meteorology, please feel free to do so. But don’t mistake meteorology for the study of weather phenomena and pet dander and dog flatus all together, even if there’s occasional overlap. Although dog flatus can be pretty strong, it would behoove us all to remember that dog flatus is not the same as a tornado.  Is the coming season tornado season or dog flatus season…or both…and does the domesticated canine eating of cheese have an effect on tornadoes? Tornadoes…tomatoes…well, they have some letters in common. What were we talking about? I guess it doesn’t matter because words can mean what you want them to mean and dog flatus can self-identify as pinking shears if it wants to even if dog flatus doesn’t understand what pinking shears are or what they’re used for, or even what language is. Who uses pinking shears, anyway?

I want it noted that I have intentionally left names out of it. It is less about who wrote it and more about the quote itself, and that things like this are being said and are able to flourish, usually unnoticed, in our cultural climate which is hostile to polytheism. I made a choice to leave names out of in order to shift the focus away from personalities and drama, and move the focus onto where it should be: on the critical thinking required to notice, to observe, and to unpack a statement like this and see it more clearly.

Image Notes: Pinking Shears, by Pavel Krok, used through Creative Commons License.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Baals, Astartes, Measuring Spoons, and Lots of Guys Named Rick

Full deity-names are sacred and important. When used in their entirety, full names denote a specific deity in a specific set of relationships. This is important information to keep at the forefront of our minds, so let’s start using these full names more often.  Names often reference relationships including connections with a locale, associations with animals or plants, or activities, or roles, or offices, or particular groups of people, or many other relationships and complex layered relationships.

Note that I said deity-names when used in their entirety. The problem is that we often do not use divine names in their entirety, and thus we’re missing some of the context. There’s a deep-seated omission that many of us engage in, even though we usually don’t know we’re doing it. It is a bad habit, a behavioral holdover, from living in cultures that reduce the deities out of existence—to two gods, one god, or no god. When we don’t use full names which detail these contexts and relationships, we’re missing information and we run the risk of not knowing exactly who it is we’re working with—even though we know we’re not working with two, one, or no gods, we end up still accidentally reducing to a few what are really many more.

You see, I’m going to let you in on a little secret…which isn’t exactly a secret. The only reason it seems secret is because it is not well-known, and it is not well-known because we’ve lost this information over the generations of non-polytheistic cultures. The “secret” is this: even if a deity appears to share a similar name, or even part of the same name, it doesn’t guarantee that the deity is exactly the same as another who has part of the same name. Sometimes you are dealing with the same deity, but it is a deity who is engaging in a different relationship or a different context… but sometimes you’re not dealing with the same deity. Because we’ve grown up the way we have in non-polytheistic cultures though, we more often assume that they’re the same, and thus we’re still in danger of applying reductionist thinking. When we use a deity’s full name, we allow the space for these matters to resolve, and we allow breathing room in case the deity is an entirely different one than the one that we may have accidentally conflated him/her with. Basically it would be helpful if we assume a deity is different unless we know otherwise even if we think names are the same or similar. There are rules and standards that apply to this, and it doesn’t mean that “anything goes.” Please see my post here for further information on this matter. 

We should take the approach of “assuming different and separate until otherwise known,” instead of the approach of “assume it’s the same god unless otherwise known.” This assumption of “the same,” and an instilled, unconscious habit of reductionist thinking has overridden our conscious thought processes and often we may not realize that we’re operating from this assumption. This approach, couched in this unacknowledged assumption of “few,” stems from our having been born into a context broken by countless generations of non-polytheistic mindsets. Being mindful of a full name and using it are ways that we can take the approach of “assuming different and separate—and many!--until otherwise known.”

It’s Important

What looks like same deity-name but with different epithets may be different deities entirely from one another, or the names may reflect the same deity holding a different office, and/or holding different relationships and contexts. Either way—same deity or different deity—that difference should be acknowledged and worked with instead of glossed over, reduced, or ignored. Either way, you’ve got nothing to lose when you acknowledge the different relationships by being conscious of specifics through calling deities by their full names. Prudence, and deference to the individuality and the majesty of the many, many deities, urges that we consciously assume many deities, instead of unconsciously assuming fewer deities.

Think of it this way, maybe you end up going to a social event where you don’t know anybody. To meet people and know who they are, and for them to know who you are, there are a few standard questions that get asked: what’s your name, where are you from, what do you do for a living? When you answer these questions, the stranger begins to know you as, for instance, Judith Reiner, who is an architect from Pennsylvania. Maybe Stan the stranger realizes that you are the same Judith Reiner, the architect from Pennsylvania, who he’s heard all about from Cami, a friend you share in common. Your relationship with Stan will not be the same relationship as what you have with Cami—maybe Cami  hates winter sports but watches birds, however you and Stan find a shared love of skiing. Maybe you end up becoming ski buddies with Stan, but that is something you would never do with Cami. You become Judith Reiner Ski Buddy but also Judith Reiner Bird Watching Pal, but never do these two roles or relationships overlap. You are the same person in two different relationships, and those relationships are important because they have different expectations and needs, and because you exercise a different part of who-you-are in these roles with these friends. Or…in a completely different situation, maybe you share the name Judith Reiner in common with a person Stan the stranger knows, but Stan realizes that he knows of a different Judith Reiner, from Ohio, who is a professor of mathematics—where again, the relationships matter and must be taken into consideration.

The thing is, Stan the stranger begins to know you better and can begin to form some kind of individual relationship with you, whether you’re the “same” Judith Reiner he’s heard all about, or whether you’re a different person who happened to have a similar name …and vice versa when you learn that Stan is a particular person, from a particular family, from a particular place, and who does a particular job.

Also, you never go to a party assuming every person named Rick is exactly the same as every other person named Rick who is also in the same room, or that these guys named Rick are the same as every other guy named Rick that you’ve ever known about.  Apply this sensible advice to the deities: get to know the full name, with epithet, with further context added like locale and/or job and/or relationships.

How This Relates to Canaanite Deities

I bring this up in the context of Canaanite polytheism because it keenly applies here to our deities. There are many instances where people tend to assume that two or more deities are the same deity when they’re not. Were we to use the full name of the deity-in-question, we could begin to understand these matters better and to relate to these beings as individuals. However, where they are not individuals—where different names might apply to the same deity—we  can still open up our understanding to how they interact differently in the contexts of different relationships. The matter gets complicated for Canaanite deities because sometimes what we think is a name is actually a title or only part of a name. We need to be more specific than just using a title or part of a name: we need to keep in mind the entire context, especially so that we know one deity from another with similar titles, similar names, or similar spheres-of-influence; and also so that we understand the different roles and relationships one deity may have.  The context of these relationships is a key component of who that deity is, and when we miss these things, we’re missing out in having better relationships with the deities and a better understanding of the deities, and a better understanding of how we relate to them.

In looking at texts from the city of Ugarit around 1200 BCE, we see a hint at these matters, of deities who demonstrate the same name or similar names, but who have different epithets. To see this, we must look closely and we must know what to watch for. In these 3200 year old texts we find long lists and mentions of deities with similar names who are situated in different contexts, or they are acknowledged in different ways with separate offerings, sometimes even at different times of the day or of the night, or at different times during the lunar month or the solar year.

For instance, there’s an Ugaritic text which mentions a few divine names sharing a name-title-designation of ‘Anatu. When I speak here of ‘Anatu, there are places in the ancient texts where no further designation or epithet is given, but I will call her ‘Anatu (of Ugarit) because this young warrior goddess has tales, contexts, and relationships particular to her in that city and in that time. The people of Ugarit had no need to specify “ ‘Anatu (of Ugarit)” because it went without saying that the ‘Anatu specific to Ugarit was the main ‘Anatu honored there; in other words, they do not specify context there because that context was assumed and already known. However, at times in the ancient offering and ritual texts, sometimes they will specify ‘Anatu (of Ugarit), as well as other ‘Anatus to whom they are making offering.

Some of these ‘Anatus may very well be the same Lady, but some of these may be entirely different. Three come to mind: ‘Anatu (of Ugarit), ‘Anatu the Mutilated, and ‘Anatu of Mount Tzapunu.  We know ‘Anatu (of Ugarit) from epic tales written in Ugarit. We don’t have any further information specifically on ‘Anatu the Mutilated—we don’t know her story, we don’t know who she is and how she is related to ‘Anatu (of Ugarit). We don’t know if she’s a different goddess altogether, or if she is just representing ‘Anatu (of Ugarit) in a different context and a different set of relations. As for ‘Anatu of Mount Tzapunu, I think it is likely that this is the same as ‘Anatu (of Ugarit), but participating in a different role and a different set of relationships. We know that an ‘Anatu (of Ugarit)  is Baʽlu Haddu’s comrade-in-arms and this particular epithet, ‘Anatu of Mount Tzapunu, denotes some relationship she has with Baʽlu Haddu’s holy and sacred mountain. Yet in this instance we can proceed on the notion that she is probably the same as ‘Anatu (of Ugarit) while holding open the possibility that she is a different goddess, and while acknowledging the different contexts and relationships she holds when she is called ‘Anatu of Mount Tzapunu. When ‘Anatu of Mount Tzapunu comes through, she will demonstrate a different part of her personality than ‘Anatu (of Ugarit) did….just as in our human illustration how Judith Reiner will act differently and do different things when she is Judith the Birdwatcher with her friend Cami, or Judith the Ski Buddy with her new friend Stan.

It does no harm to be more specific through using full names like ‘Anatu (of Ugarit) and ‘Anatu of Mount Tzapunu whether the ‘Anatu (of Ugarit) and ‘Anatu of Mount Tzapunu are the same goddess but in a different contextual relationships; or if ‘Anatu (of Ugarit) and ‘Anatu of Mount Tzapunu are two entirely different goddesses altogether.

In another example, we have ‘Athtartu (of Ugarit), ‘Athtartu of the Hurrians, and ‘Athtartu of the Steppe Lands. This could get quite confusing when a person considers that the name ‘Athtartu is related to the name Astarte and that scholars treat multiple Astartes as the same one goddess everywhere…and it worsens when they conflate Ishtars with Astartes. Think the matter can’t get worse? The name “Astarte” gets downgraded into a word that is used, biblically, as a generic term for any goddess. ‘Athtartu (of Ugarit) and ‘Athartu of the Hurrians are different goddesses—the Hurrians were a neighboring people to the north of Ugarit, and the name “ ‘Athtartu of the Hurrians”  could refer to a Hurrian goddess, like a Shaushka, or another Hurrian goddess. A person from Ugarit who honors ‘Athtartu of the Hurrians is invoking a specific foreign Hurrian goddess within the context of this Hurrian goddess’s relationship to the city of Ugarit, a place foreign to her. When he calls to ‘Athtartu of the Hurrians, he is calling to her in the context of Ugaritan religion and Ugaritan relationships to the deities, not as a person from the city of Mitanni in the context of Hurrian religion or Hurrian relationships to Hurrian deities. ‘Athtartu of the Hurrians is a foreign goddess and is not to be confused for the local ‘Athartu (of Ugarit). It would be sort of like if I lived in Toledo and I had a friend named Amy (of Toledo), but I met a totally different new person in New York City who reminds me a lot of Amy from Toledo…and I just start thinking of the new person as “That ‘Amy’ of NYC” until I get to know her better.

As to the staggering matter of “baal”…oh my.  There are many baʽals noted in the Ugaritic offerings lists, and so many more throughout the Near East that it usually makes folks’ eyes cross. There is even a note of Ugaritic offerings made to a class of gods known collectively as “ The Baʽals” (in Ugaritic, the Baʽaluma). At least with the title baʽal (baʽlu in Ugaritic), most scholars know that sometimes you aren’t talking about the same god. Often, but not always, scholars try to be a bit more specific when referring to a baʽal. But, the casual reader and the newcomer don’t know this and often fall into a trap of assuming all Baʽals are “the storm god”—as if there were only one baʽal and only one Near Eastern storm god. The word baʽal is not a name,  it is a title, and it means “lord”—and there are many Near Eastern deities, not one deity alone, who count meteorology within their spheres of influence. Using a full name is vital.

If you see Baʽal (Baʽlu), with no further descriptor, mentioned in context of Ugaritic text, it is likely that it refers to Baʽlu Ugaritu (Baʽal Ugarit) or Baʽlu Haddu (Baʽal Hadad). Baʽlu Haddu and Baʽlu Ugaritu may well be the same god, but the different names refer to different relationships. As Baʽlu Haddu he is primarily Lord Thunderer, a well-known weather god whose adventures are detailed in Ugaritic epic poetry. As Baʽlu of Ugarit, he is primarily in charge of caring for the city of Ugarit and the locale. There are overlapping roles here, but the different names refer to different priorities and different obligations, thus it is useful to be specific when acknowledging him. In other words, if you lived in Ugarit and wanted to pray for protection over the city, it would be more advantageous to make your offering to Baʽlu Ugaritu first and foremost. You could make offering to Baʽlu Haddu, that would be helpful, too, but it might be of more help to call on Baʽlu Ugaritu first.

Remember above Judith Reiner who was the ski buddy, but who was also the birdwatcher, depending on which friend she was with? It would be silly for Judith to show up at her bird-watching friend’s house dressed in her ski gear and ready to hit the slopes, and thus it would be unlikely for Judith’s bird-watching friend to ask for her to show up with skis and helmet instead of with binoculars and notebook. As Baʽlu Ugaritu, the god is in a position better to protect the city and the specific locale; as Baʽlu Haddu, he is in a better situation to care for matters of weather and proper rainfall. One role can fit inside the other sometimes: Baʽlu Haddu as a weather god sees to proper rainfall thus making Ugarit, and many more locales, prosperous with abundant crops. However, Baʽlu Ugaritu, in role of caretaker of Ugarit, generally cannot extend further than those boundaries of Ugarit and its locale. (Terms and conditions can apply: if a foreign king living in a neighboring city wanted good relations with the city of Ugarit, he might well make offerings to Baʽlu Ugaritu.)

These relationships and knowing them, their differences, how they interact, where they overlap, where one relationship holds another within it, and where relationships cannot hold other relationships within them, are vital to know and navigate. When we use the full names of the deities—names which include context and relationships—we we begin consciously observing these matters and understanding them better.

Sometimes contexts shift—like people appointed to office, transferring offices, or retiring from office. Perhaps the Lord of Ugarit, Baʽlu Ugaritu, is no longer the same god: perhaps Baʽlu Haddu, no longer has this relationship with the city of Ugarit and thus no longer serves this function, or holds this office. When this matter is in play, if we were to call upon Baʽlu Haddu when we need Baʽlu Ugaritu, and the Baʽlu Ugaritu is no longer Baʽlu Haddu, we could wind up calling on the wrong god. Think of it this way, if something happens to where Judith can no longer be a skiing buddy—perhaps she broke her leg—Stan would find another partner on the slopes and it would be silly for him to call Judith-of-the-Broken-Leg, who is no longer Judith-who-is-Stan’s-Ski-Buddy, when he is going on a ski trip.

Baʽlu Haddu (Lord Thunderer) could in theory also be holding the office of Baʽlu Ugaritu (Lord of Ugarit) as well as the office of Baʽlu Tzapunu (Lord of Mount Tzapunu). If this is so, then Baʽlu Haddu is capable of working through the smaller office of Lord of Mount Tzapunu, and of caring for that specific locale. The office of Lord of Mount Tzapunu and the office of Lord of Ugarit are not the same office, even if the same god could hold both offices. Lord Thunderer functioning as Lord of Mount Tzapunu concerns himself specifically with that mountain, the locale, and the meteorological phenomenon around it. As Lord of the city of Ugarit, he would then be more concerned with the goings-on of that locale and that city. If a different god managed to take on the office of Baʽlu Tzapunu, he would then be a Baʽal Tzapunu, a Lord of Mount Tzapunu. Sometimes these are roles, offices, which different gods can assume and fulfill. When we are being more specific by describing the deities and using their full names, we are more likely to understand these things and to begin to understand how these different gods and different roles relate to one another, and to have clearer relationships.

Think of it this way: Martinique currently holds office as president of the PTA, but she could also be elected to the office of mayor of her town. Although the jobs may occasionally overlap, Martinque’s PTA job and mayoral job are two totally different jobs with two totally different sets of needs, concerns, relationships, and contexts. In a city council meeting, you would not call her “president” because she is not fulfilling the role as president of the PTA at that time—you would call her mayor. She cannot do the same things as mayor as she can as president of the PTA, and vice versa. Although her job as mayor may encompass looking after the school board and thus the PTA, her job as PTA president does not encompass her position as mayor and looking after the city as a whole.

If it helps, visualize a set of measuring spoons: Martinique’s job as president of the PTA is like teaspoon, and her job as mayor is like a tablespoon. The teaspoon fits inside the tablespoon because the tablespoon is large enough and can encompass the smaller spoon, but it doesn’t work in reverse order. A teaspoon isn’t big enough to hold a tablespoon. These things sometimes can nest in one another, and unless you are specific about these roles, relationships, and contexts, and unless you pay attention to them and make note of them, you cannot learn how these matters interact. Baʽlu Haddu may also hold the office of Baʽlu Tzapunu, the Lord God of Mount Tzapunu, but the office of Lord of Tzapunu is not large enough to hold Baʽlu Haddu’s broader roles, relationships, and contexts. That tablespoon won’t fit into a teaspoon. Each job has specific boundaries to consider, and even if boundaries are sometimes fluid or you have trouble seeing them (like a clear plastic set of measuring spoons), that doesn’t mean that the boundaries aren’t there.

The mountain called Tzapunu is also called Kasios (in Greek) and Casius (in Latin). It is also well to note that Baʽlu Tzapunu, the Lord of Mount Tzapunu, is also later known as Zeus Kasios, in Greek to the Greeks, and Jupiter Casius in Latin to the Romans. So, Baʽlu Tzapunu, Lord of Mount Tzapunu, is also Zeus Kasios, a Zeus of Mount Kasios, and Jupiter Casius, a Jupiter of Mount Casius. It would be further wise to note that the ancient Ugaritans were not familiar with Zeus Kasios or Jupiter Casius since the names reference relationships with the Greeks and the Romans, and the names came into more widespread use after Ugarit was abandoned. Remember Amy of Toledo, and “That ‘Amy’ of NYC”—this is what happens when the Greeks refer to Baʽlu Tzapunu as Zeus Kasios. The Greeks are not confusing Baʽlu Tzapunu and Zeus Kasios with, for instance, Zeus Olympios or Zeus Meilichios of Athens. By calling him Zeus Kasios, they’re actually opening space within their own purview to see the god of Mount Tzapunu in how he wishes to reveal himself to them specifically as Greeks, in a new relationship, their relationship with this specific mountain god.

Ugaritic texts make mention to still more baʽals including Baʽal Aleppo (Baʽlu Khalbu), who is a very different god from an entirely different town, different land, different contexts, and different people. He is not Baʽlu Haddu, nor is he Baʽlu Tzapunu, nor is he Baʽlu Ugarit, and holds none of these roles, offices, or relationships, even though he is honored alongside of Baʽlu Haddu, Baʽlu Ugaritu, and Baʽlu Tzapunu. The people of Ugarit honored Baʽal Aleppo, a god from the far-neighboring town of Aleppo, even though they honored him as foreigners paying homage from a distance.

In Conclusion

So, as we’ve observed, what looks like same deity-names but with different epithets may be different deities entirely from one another, and/or the names may reflect the same deity holding a different office, holding a different relationships, or holding different contexts. Either way—same deity or different deity—that difference should be acknowledged and worked with instead of glossed over, reduced, or ignored. Either way, we should hold space for those differences. Either way, you’ve got nothing to lose when you acknowledge these differences. Either way it helps to be conscious of specifics and to increase others’ awareness of these differences through the action of calling deities by full names which reference these relationships. 

It’s not just a “baal,” it’s Baʽlu Haddu, or Baʽlu Ugaritu, or Baʽlu Tzapunu, or Baʽal Aleppo, or another one entirely—remember to which baʽal you’re referring. It’s not just an ‘Athtartu—or an“Astarte”—it’s ‘Athartu (of Ugarit), or ‘Athtartu of the Steppe Lands, or ‘Athtartu of the Hurrians, or another one entirely. It’s not just an ‘Anatu, it’s ‘Anatu (of Ugarit), or ‘Anatu the Mutilated, or ‘Anatu Tzapunu, or another one entirely. Furthermore, it’s not just a Shapshu: it could be Shapshu (of Ugarit) or Shapshu of the Corpse. It’s not just a Yarikhu, it could be the Yarikhu of Ugarit, or it could be the Kassite Yarikhu, who is the moon god of Kassi, a moon god foreign to Ugarit but still honored in Ugarit. It’s not just an ilu or an “El”—the word ilu means “god”—it’s Ilu (of Ugarit), Ilu-ibi (who may be the father of Ilu of Ugarit), or Ilu-Beti the god who oversees the Ugaritic ruling house. If you don’t know much about the further context, just put an indefinite article before the name, like an ‘Anatu, or an Ilu, or a Shapshu. You can always follow it up with citing a specific locale if you know it, and/or a specific time period (ancient or modern), and/or a specific relationship or context like a relationship to another deity, to people, to an activity, and so on--ancient or modern--if you know it.

This is not something I have done in the past, but it is something I intend to do moving forward so that these matters are clearer. I hope that you all will consider doing something similar in referencing not just a shortened name of a deity but instead taking the time and effort to use the full names of deities, names which include context. We’ve nothing to lose by using deities’ full names, and we have a chance at greater understanding, and better relations with the deities, if we do. It’s like learning to read—you have to invest some time and effort to do so, but once you do, you end up with a skill that will give you knowledge and wisdom for life.

...And, if you haven't already, please take the time and read through the sister-post to this one, over at 

Image Notes: Photograph of Measuring Spoons by Tor Svensson, used through CC-GNU.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

CanaanitePaganism Group Closing

For nearly thirteen and a half years, the CanaanitePaganism group on Yahoo! has done its best to serve the nascent Canaanite polytheist religious community.

I started the CanaanitePaganism Yahoo group on August 30, 2002 because the only group online where a person could talk about Canaanite deities and religion was the JAP-1 Listserv on, but the conversations that needed having in regards to Canaanite deities and Canaanite religions were beyond the scope and separate from the conversations at the "Jewish American Pagan" group, since these conversations were not Jewish, not American, and became increasingly not Pagan. A handful of years after I started the CanaanitePaganism Yahoo group, the JAP-1 Listserv dried up and there wasn't even an alternate group where some of these conversations might take place, even as awkward as it was bound to be. The CanaanitePaganism list was it; for a long time it was the place to go, it was the only place to go, even on the internet, which devoted entirely to conversations about the ancient Canaanite deities. And the landscape offline was even more desolate especially in those days; it's a rare thing to honor the Canaanite deities. Thankfully it is getting a little less rare these days, and there are new opportunities for interaction on Facebook, which I hope will continue to grow our community online and off.

Over the years at CanaanitePaganism we’ve had good times, spirited discussion, and we shared a great deal of information, but it is time to close the group. Everything in life has a life cycle, and we’ve reached the end of the viable life for this group. It is time to let go and allow for some new conversations, new formats, new spaces, and new foundations. I am thankful to all who joined in the conversations and the memories there, and I wish you all well.

For both the Canaanite polytheist community and the greater polytheist communities, I offer this:
We should give things like this that half-second of appreciation instead of just writing them off completely as "Well, yeah, but all of Yahoo and Yahoo groups [or XYZ format on] are crap these days. It's going the way of dinosaurs, and LiveJournal and MySpace, and Zumba pants."

This, and things like this, are big deals in our emerging polytheist traditions. We shouldn't treat them as though they aren't, even though they seem small and even if they may or may not directly affect us. It's not a matter of my having emotions here (although I do have emotions on the matter) it's more a matter of "let's not trivialize the beginnings and the endings of those beginnings, of the very polytheist movements we're trying to establish."

22 Khiyyaru, Shanatu 88

Image Credits: Hans Watzek Stilleben, 1898, Public Domain

Friday, December 11, 2015

Choice Versus Requirement and Public Reactions to Polytheists

There’s this weird difficulty for some people to resolve matters in their own minds regarding someone else who willingly chooses a different kind of life versus someone who has a requirement to live within particular restrictions, or both.

When the other person is required to live within certain requirements or restrictions, there is sometimes a sense that the "poor dear" is oppressed, troubled, misguided, or suffers from some health condition, and needs saving or protecting. Often people actually do want to be supportive and respectful in these matters, whether they understand the matters or not, and often without assuming that the other person needs “saving.” Thus either way most people have some kind of compassion, allowance, or space for people who have restrictions. At the very least, it is generally considered socially regressive not at least to appear to have compassion, allowance, or space. Think on Muslim women who cover their heads, think on Amish folk who live the way they do and wear what they wear, or a Buddhist monk with a shaved head and wearing particular robes. Or, barring religious issues and matters of clothing, think on a doctor who is always on call during holidays. Or think of someone who has a mild to moderate food intolerance. (Yes, there are still problems in dominant culture and social matters, in regards to being supportive and respectful of differences and restrictions, but even though we have a long way to go, we still have come a long way, and we must continue the struggle.) This compassion, or at least space, for people who live under certain kinds of restrictions often applies unevenly and is given more generously to peoples whose restrictions are better known in dominant culture.

However, when someone says that he chooses to live in a particular way, all of a sudden the gloves come off and others see it as an opportunity to criticize and even mistreat. Even if another person is assumed to make a personal choice which may or may not be based on a requirement, some folks see this as an opportunity for criticism and mistreatment. Newsflash, often someone else’s personal choices usually have nothing to do with intentionally wanting to cause the discomfort, inconvenience, scrutiny, or ire of others. And yet, choosing to live a different way is sometimes seen as doing just that. It’s sometimes assumed that the person willfully provokes criticism and puts oneself on display as some kind of Human Zoo creature. There’s the pseudo-defense of “But you choose this, so you must have chosen to be singled out, stared at, and treated like this! You knew what would happen. You knew how people would react. You’re still choosing to do it; you’re choosing to be different! My reactions are your fault! If you don’t like it, change back and ‘be normal.’” The criticizer in this instance assumes that someone else is responsible for his own self-discipline. Its rapey. (It’s not far from the "Hey, it's not my fault she dresses like this. She's asking for it!" pseudo-defense.)

People sometimes don’t seem to care or take into consideration that there may be a requirement that they don’t know about in what they had assumed was personal choice only. Sometimes they don't take into consideration that there may even be a core identity issue to someone who chooses to live this way because living another way feels insincere to them: in which case they choose to live they way they do, but there’s also an element of requirement there, not just choice. They must live this way in order for them to be truly the people that they are. And so long as those people are following laws, not hurting anyone, and are adults (and as long as they aren’t harming their children), it is nobody’s business. It shouldn’t matter if they “choose” or if they “are required”—or both at the same time! Asking that question is just nosy  especially when it is often asked in order to assess whether or not the asker has more leeway and social allowance for leveling criticisms, trivializing, devaluing, or committing malicious mischief, or worse—i.e. basically they want to know if they have dominant culture’s support for being jerks.

Consider the situation of a medical doctor who ends up on call often on the holidays. That’s not her fault: that’s something she must do and it is required by her work. But, she chose to be a doctor, so there is also an element of choice there. Being a healer is her life’s calling—a life calling is both an intrinsic matter required by one’s very nature, but it is also a matter of choice sometimes in how that calling is answered. Maybe she could have become an Ayurvedic practitioner, an acupuncturist, a sports therapist, a nutritionist, an orthodontist, a Reiki master, or something else. She chose to become a medical doctor, and it is likely that this choice relied on her opportunities, her likes and dislikes, her social groups, her predispositions, her culture, and myriads of other seen or unseen, known or unknown, conscious or unconscious factors, some of which she had control over, and some of which she does not.

So sometimes (often, even!) there is both an element of choice and an element of requirement going on at the same time. That’s really when peoples’ brains start to explode. No joke. It’s often a difficult conundrum for people to resolve in their own minds; it doesn’t have to be. But in the case of the doctor, this matter is more frequently seen and accepted in dominant culture, and is viewed as "normal" and "not different.” If she wears a lab coat outside of work, if she’s constantly pulling all-nighters, if she keeps missing family and social events, if she suddenly gets inexplicably called away often, if she accidentally gets a little bit graphic when talking about her work during dinner, no one really sees this as “weird,” and people aren’t likely to have a fear-of-the-unknown response around her. People are familiar with medical doctors in dominant culture and understand that sometimes they have requirements, needs, and behaviors which are different from people who are not doctors. Few people bother to ask nitpicking questions about matters of choice or requirement because they’re not seeking to discredit or devalue what she does, and few people give her a difficult time about her work—the role of doctor in dominant culture is already accepted and valued, or at the very least acknowledged as legitimate in some way. Thus the doctor gets a pass where a spirit-worker, an artist, a polytheistic priest, or whomever, might not get that pass.

Sometimes a person who is different and who chooses and/or is required to live in a way that is unfamiliar to dominant culture ends up being, through no fault of her own, a catalyst which brings forth the others’ own fears, their own fear of the unknown, their own threat-responses in regards to others’ differences, their own unresolved difficulties, assumptions, and their own identity issues. She is a dark mirror upon which others project their own broken pieces, and because they’ve not dealt with their own broken pieces, they assume that she is at fault for their unresolved turmoil and their resulting actions—an unresolved turmoil which is their own responsibility to work through and heal. If they had never seen her, they could bury these broken pieces of themselves down deep and ignore them, instead of taking a moment to reassess themselves and maybe heal those pieces through introspection and self-examination. Thus sometimes they blame her for their discomfort, fear, and anger, and sometimes they react in foul ways. This matter can apply somewhat broadly: in the moment I am considering how poorly treated Sarah Chrisman, a woman who lives as a modern Victorian, is when people take her presence as license to threaten her or grope her, touching her bum or lifting her skirt to have a look, and then they blame her for their actions or any resulting trouble. It is not ok for people to treat her like that, and it is not ok for them to have such little self-control. They have just as much a chance, and a responsibility, as anyone to heal themselves or to ask for help in healing themselves, but they choose not to. Instead blame her for their reactions….and thus they remain broken, committing similar acts again when someone else who is different crosses their paths.

Moving more specifically into the topic of polytheism--in an age and a dominant culture where people religion-shop, most people don't seem to understand the matter of being a polytheist. When a person realizes there are many gods, the matter of whether or not one “chooses” to be a polytheist is purely academic, and even dismissive; and it misses the point entirely.

We don’t “choose to believe” that there are many gods. There are many gods, and we acknowledge this. We don’t “choose” this life; it is our life. What some of us can choose is which deities we interact with—but some polytheists don’t have that option. What some of us can choose is how we interact with those deities, which formats we use, which lenses we look through, which groups, which rites, which customs, which traditions, which expressions, which religions, which relationships and agreements we take part in—but again, some polytheists don’t have those options. There are some things we have choices about and some things we do not. And some of us have requirements that we must fulfill in our agreements and relationships to the gods, or to our ancestors, or to our groups, or any combination thereof. (Those personal requirements can include anything from food prohibitions, abstaining from political matters, avoiding foul language, wearing or not wearing a covering on the head, wearing particular colors, shaving the head, never cutting the hair, avoiding contact with certain substances, waking at dawn for rites, and so on.)

These matters, and the nuances, the options, the requirements, and the places where options and requirements overlap, are not necessarily the business of others—they are the business of ourselves, our gods, our ancestors, and our kin, and our groups. Our requirements and choices have nothing to do with our intentionally wanting to cause the discomfort, inconvenience, scrutiny, fear, or ire of others. Most of us would wish these matters didn’t arouse others’ discomfort, inconvenience, scrutiny, fear, or ire. We don't do these things just to upset others; it's not even about them. We just want to get on with our Work and honoring our deities and ancestors. Again, asking questions to ferret out if a matter is requirement, or if it can be “dismissed” as personal choice,  is inexcusably nosy when the only reason for asking it is to assess whether or not one has a greater social license within dominant culture to be a jerk.

A polytheist shouldn’t feel as if she is put on trial to justify what are often private matters of requirements, choices, or the territory between the two, in order to make her differences look more legitimate and valid in the eyes of an already dismissive dominant culture bent on erasure in these matters. It is not her duty to make the other more comfortable, or to control or soothe the observer’s reactions; she is not responsible for someone else’s lack of self-discipline, self-assessment, and self-awareness, and self-control. And yet, many of us find ourselves in exactly these stressful situations, sometimes even unsafe situations, which require that we try, often at expense of ourselves, to help these people work through these matters for which they themselves should take personal responsibility. It’s not our job, but we get saddled with it because people haven’t done the work they need to heal these matters in their own lives. We end up being catalysts by which they have that opportunity for growth—unfortunately, they sometimes blame us for their own reactions. Any way it stands, our choices and requirements and the spaces between, are not a matters for others’ concern; but we find ourselves having to deal with others’ reactions anyway.

There is a tendency to treat choice with a certain disdain because if a person chooses something, it is thought that he can often be pressured to change his mind back into conforming to dominant culture’s norm. There is a tendency to treat requirement with less disdain because requirements are not as easily changed, a requirement recognizes that there is a hierarchy at work that the person with the requirement is under, and requirements are often seen as being automatically a little more legitimate (or at least more recognized) than personal choice. When a requirement is not well-known to the general public, that requirement is seen as having less legitimacy and there is the suspicion that it is a personal choice masquerading as a requirement that someone doesn’t want to take personal responsibility for, and thus some people have a tendency to treat those requirements, and the people who have them, with disdain. And when all else fails, many people will assume personal choice far more often than requirement, and will see this as a license to treat someone poorly in an attempt to get that person to conform to the familiar and seemingly-less-threatening standards of dominant culture.

These are problems and nuances that many of us must navigate daily.

Image Credits:
Photograph of Wholesale Brothers by Tomasz Moczek; photograph taken by Julo and photograph released into public domain by Julo.

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.