Monday, August 15, 2016

Sin

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

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

Sin is an ancient polytheistic concept.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sin, in Context Here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

Khats'a, Misdeed in Canaanite Polytheism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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






Saturday, August 13, 2016

Free Will, Restrictions, Ethics, and Misdeed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Sit, God. Stay, God. Good God!

People sometimes name their pets after the gods. I’ve heard of cats and dogs named for Greek deities, Norse deities, Roman deities, and more. I assume that people like to name their pets with the deities’ names in an effort to honor the deities and to ask their protection on our beloved pets.

But, then I hear this happen:

Freya, quit knocking over the houseplants! No, Hermes, that’s not for you! Get out of the trash, Hestia. Go back to bed, Aurora. What do you want, Loki? Yemaya, get your butt over here! Don’t you dare pee on my bed again, Neptune. Stop eating your own sh-t...! Sit, God. Stay, God.

Good God.

This is messed up.

What is all this about? When a person names a pet after a deity, it turns out not being as respectful as a gesture as one may have intended. Pets are pets, and as such, their behavior standards aren’t ours. And as such, they’re eventually going to do something decidedly unhuman and even more decidedly ungodly. When they do something inappropriate, we tell them about it. Loudly. And often.

When pets have names of the deity, we’re actually calling the name of the deity, then proceeding to tell the deity all about how s/he has bad behavior. This isn’t a recipe for respect. Worse is if we actually do something good by working with our pets and training them; now we’re inadvertently issuing commands to the deities.  Instead of calling a pet by a divine name, I think it’s helpful to call a pet by a divine attribute or a phrase-name:

Name: Hermes-is-swift
Nicknames: Speedy, Flash

Name: Fires-of-Pele
Nickname: Flame, Sparky, Magma

Name: Poseidon-is-Protective
Nickname: Pip, Pippin, Captain

Name: Aphrodite-Adores
Nickname: Cutie, Dora, Addy, Darling

Name: Athena’s-Wisdom
Nickname: Alec (as in “smart-aleck”), Smarty, Brain

Name: Freyr-is-King
Nickname: King, Duke, Chief, Boss, Frick

I’d bet you all could think of plenty more. This type of naming, this name-phrase, is a common technique used in ancient Canaanite culture.

Bethel = House of the god Ilu
Hannibal = Favored of the god Ba'al
Daniel = The god Ilu is my judge
Gabriel or Gabrielle = The god Ilu is strong
Jezebel = The god Ba'al is here
Miriam or Miryam = The god Yammu is lord
And these are just a few of the Canaanite names still popular today.

For a good pet name, think about the deities of your ancestors, or the deities whom you respect and admire, then think about those qualities associated with the deities. Come up with a phrase-name incorporating the divine name with the quality, then come up with a good nickname or acronym for your pet if you need to use a shorter name. Another added benefit of using this naming system is that you can use the pet’s entire name without nickname to show your extreme displeasure, rather like a mother yelling her child’s full name. It’s much better than angrily hollering out the name of a god because the cat went on 'nip raid again.


[I wrote this post originally on another blog in 2013. I bring it back by reader request.

Please note that I'm not issuing an edict that Thou Shalt Never Give Pets The Names of Gods! No One Ever Should Ever Ever Do This! Lo I Have Spoken! Nor does it mean that if you've named your pet after a deity, that I somehow must automatically think "you are a bad person." I don't. I realize that some people read posts with their "angry-eyes" on: they do not read in good faith, and do not perceive nuance. I realize that most people who name pets after deities probably do this out of the best of intentions, love of pets and love of deities. However, I am calling on ourselves to think about these matters more consciously and to have intelligent dialog on these matters. I call for making sure that we consider whether or not our actions are in alignment with our efforts towards having good relations with the deities. I call for this consideration so that we may honor the deities as real individual beings with their own volition, not as the names of fictional storybook characters with romantic pasts. We must consider, too, if naming pets after deities is in alignment with our ethics: our own personal ethics, and our ethics in broader frameworks which may include, but isn't limited to, our other co-religionists, ancestors, other spirits, and beings and/or Beings. Also when you read this, take into account that your specific religion, and your specific deities, and your specific contexts may vary. Take into account that I am speaking of very general terms; one or two specific accounts of difference does not throw negate the matter of respect and consideration for the deities that I have put forth in this post. Please also take a moment to consider whether or not you're the intended audience of this conversation.

A person should think very carefully before naming a pet after a deity, and he should also consider his own personal motives for doing so. Make sure this is in keeping with the ethics and good relations that you have with that deity. Think very carefully about whether or not the deity would approve, look to divination with solid good diviners who keep good relations with their deities (and preferably the deity you have in mind), and consider very, very carefully as best you can the full meaning of the action you're doing and what that could mean to your relations with your deity, your relations with your pet, and your pet's relations with that deity, your relations with others who honor that deity, your relations with the ancestors, and your relations with other beings and Beings. There are occasions where naming an animal for a deity might be appropriate, but I would argue that these occasions are rare and may require some serious commitment of some sort to the deity-in-question, and these animals at that point may no longer be pets, and perhaps are no longer even ours.]


Image Credits: Bulldog and Cat by Arthur Heyer, Public Domain.