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.