Friday, September 2, 2016

'Ashuru Mothbati Greetings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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