Uncle Vincent

•11/15/2017 • Leave a Comment

This link, from “Italian Folk Magic”, is definitely the kind of thing I’ve been interested in lately: Southern Italian folk Catholic ancestor veneration.

https://www.laphamsquarterly.org/roundtable/reach-out-and-touch-faith

Too Christian to be Pagan, Too Pagan to be Christian

•11/15/2017 • Leave a Comment

Lately, I’ve been deep into a Catholic mode (which is one of the reasons why I haven’t been very active in posting here). This was inspired by an acquaintance mentioning the “Italian Folk Magic” blog by Mallorie Vaudoise that I referenced recently.

Since my mother’s paternal family is from Apulia in Southern Italy, I found this really interesting. From my perspective, it essentially approaches Italian folk Catholicism via the reverence of the saints and the Madonnas which..if you’ve been following this blog for a while, is something that I’ve had an interest going back a ways.

I love the devotion, the traditions, and the festas of Italian Catholicism, but I’m not a Catholic. Anyway, this has inspired me to go deep into the Saints and the Madonnas and Marianism, in general.

In delving into the Marian side of Catholicism, I can see why most Protestants think of Mary reverence as being some sort of Paganism.

It’s not, of course, and the Catholics even have specific terms delineating the difference between worship of God/Jesus (latria), reverence of Mary (hyperdulia) and reverence towards the saints (dulia).

One of the things that I’m finding very interesting about Southern Italian folk Catholicism (via the “Italian Folk Magic” blog by Mallorie Vaudoise and the book Madonnas That Maim by Michael Carroll), is how various versions of the Madonna are treated as pretty much separate entities. Almost as goddesses. You pray to one Madonna for one thing, a different Madonna for another.

When I remember that in Afro-Caribbean or Afro-Brazilian religions, various versions of Mary or the Saints are syncretized into different orishas or lwas, it becomes even more intriguing.

It really makes me wish there was a Catholic/polytheist/animist hybrid of Italian Catholicism and ancient polytheism in the way that African religions were syncretized into Catholicism (Vodou, Santeria, Candomble, etc.) The reverences towards the Madonnas and saints are sometimes not far off the mark.

In general, I find a deep beauty in traditional Catholicism (though the feminist in me is repulsed by the emphasis on “purity” for women in Catholicism and Christianity, in general).

I find the emphasis on being a better person, or a good person, in Catholicism refreshing. (Obviously, not all Catholics pay attention to this, in particular child-molesting or raping priests!)

Of course, this sometimes goes too far, in my opinion. Thinking of birth control or masturbation as sin, for example. But stigmatizing the sexual objectification of others who do not want to be objectified (i.e., treating people as people, not sex objects)? I think that’s a good idea, as long as it doesn’t come with all of the anti-sex baggage.

Of course, I’m not a Catholic and still think of myself as somewhere in the orbit of Paganism, but I found that in trying to separate itself from the sanctimoniousness and moral hypocrisy in Christianity, modern Paganism skewed towards no formalized codes of morality.

This isn’t to say or imply that there aren’t some wonderful, kind, or generous people in Paganism, because there are. But much of modern Paganism is about the self and self-gratification.

(The polytheist movement, however, is different, opting to focus on ancient polytheistic forms of morality such as the Greeks, Romans, Celts, Norse, etc. Often their focus is the gods rather than the self. I find that commendable.)

While if this works for them, that’s great, I’m finding that it doesn’t always work for me.

In my middle age, when I look for people I admire for being good people and seek to emulate in some form in order to help me to become a better person, I cannot say that any other Pagans come to mind. This troubles me.

In fact, the majority of them are Christians. This seemed especially noticeable to me when I lived in the Quaker community for 4 years.

There were some really kind, generous, loving, and wonderful people among the Friends. People who made me want to become a better person.

I also think of people like Fred Rogers (TV’s “Mr. Rogers”) who was a Christian minister, but taught all kids “love” without even saying God or using faith as a weapon.

I’m not sure whether such a sense of trying to be a better person is possible or even desirable to Pagans. Some, in particular some in the polytheist community, desire to return to ancient values which are often “warrior values”.

Ideals like meekness, compassion, and mercy are discarded as Christian and are therefore bad. Personally, I love that the meek, the sick, the poor, the suffering are lifted up in Christianity. These are my values as well.

While Christianity historically has done horrible things, these teachings of Jesus are a gem. I do not think that we should discard them. Hell, the majority of Christians seem to have already discarded them. Perhaps, in the true tradition of the growth of religions, we should pick them up and use them as there are many outcasts who have been left behind by Christianity.

 

I find myself feeling entirely too Pagan to be a Christian and (sometimes!) far too Christian for many Pagans. It’s a crossroads. As such, perhaps I should light a candle and a cigar, and pour a glass of rum for St. Anthony who is deeply revered by Italians but also known by Afro-Caribbeans as Elegua or Papa Legba.

 

Italian Folk Magic

•11/08/2017 • Leave a Comment

I was recently introduced to the site “Italian Folk Magic” by Mallorie Vaudoise and I have to say that I am really digging it.

Longtime readers will know that though I am no longer Catholic, I have a deep love of the devotions, the traditions, the venerations of the saints, the feasts, the processions, the prayer that I’ve found in my local Italian-American community as well as throughout Italian Catholicism.

Vaudoise’s blog explores a lot of those. Today I listened to her interview on the Bespoken Bones podcast and this is very much in my wheelhouse.

It makes me want to learn Italian so I can visit my great-grandmother’s town in Foggia, Italy, and experience the traditions of the area.

I especially enjoyed her take on “Stregheria” .

I don’t know that I would consider what I do to be “magic”, per se, but I love the idea of Italian Catholic devotion and prayer to the Madonnas and the Saints without being Catholic, necessarily. (Or, in my case, even Christian.)

 

A Day of Life and Death

•11/01/2017 • Leave a Comment

Despite occasionally getting into Gaelic polytheism (especially through Brighid worship), I don’t feel much connection with Samhain. Instead, I love Halloween.

 

It’s what I grew up with and will always love.

 

While I also believe it is a time to be close to the Beloved Dead/ancestors, I’m not sure that has anything to do with Gaelic polytheism. It feels more like an extension of the Catholic All Souls’ Day.

 

Yesterday was beautiful. Wanting to keep at least part of my focus on the dead, I spent the day at one of the most beautiful cemeteries in America, Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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It’s essentially a large park full of hills, wildlife, many different kinds of trees, and beautiful elaborate gravestones and mausoleums.

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It was the perfect weather. It was cool yet sunny. The only thing that would have made it better would be if we hadn’t had a huge windstorm Sunday that knocked all of the leaves off of the trees.

 

While walking through an area with several crypts, I began to notice a strange odor. Not an odor of death, but of….food? I couldn’t place it exactly. Nutty? Then that I looked down and saw that the storm had knocked down a branch from the nearby ginkgo biloba tree. There were ginkgo fruits and nuts all over the ground. That’s what I was smelling.

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I checked out a few notable graves: scientist Buckminster Fuller, feminist and transcendentalist, Margaret Fuller, architect of my former home (and the US Capitol), Charles Bulfinch, renowned actor Edwin Booth (brother of Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth).

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I was resting for a moment, drinking some water, when I saw movement in the distance. There was a group of four massive wild turkeys among the gravestones. I watched silently for a while. Then, as they moved, I slowly and silently moved along where I thought they’d be headed in order to get some photos.

 

I didn’t want to alarm or provoke them. I was pretty sure that if it was one wild turkey, I could scare it away by myself, but four? If they chose to, they could use their leg spurs to do serious damage.

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The cemetery felt like a magical place. Being that it was a weekday, it wasn’t very crowded. Often, I felt like I had the place to myself. I spent some quality time with the dead. After a while in the cemetery, I decided to head back to Boston.

 

I spent a little time in Boston Common, where I met an aggressive squirrel. I offered it a nut from a bag of almonds I had. It took it right from my fingers using its tiny sharp claws to grab the almond. It left to bury the almond, then immediately came back to climb up on me for more. After a few times of this, I had to put the bag of almonds away. The squirrel seemed to understand.

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(A poster hung on the outside of Park Street Station.)

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(A collection of cards, memorials, and flowers to someone who recently passed on a lightpole in Boston Common.)

It’s a short walk from the Common to my old residence. For four years, I lived in Beacon Hill Friends House, an intentional community in a Quaker meetinghouse. Beacon Hill is one of the best places in the country for trick-or-treating on Halloween. Families come from all over Boston to trick-or-treat, so I wanted to go back to BHFH and give out candy to the kids.

 

Not only that, but as a predominately wealthy neighborhood, many of the residents of the area set up elaborate Halloween displays. If you love Halloween, it’s a very cool experience.

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I got to spend time with former and current Housies (i.e., residents of the Friends House). It was a really great experience.

 

A day of both Life and Death. A day of festivity and solemnity. A day of beauty.

 

Tonight when I get home from work, I will remember my Beloved Dead with offerings. I cannot say whether it’s “Pagan”. Just that it makes me feel more connected to those I’ve loved and lost.

 

A local Italian bakery makes cookies for All Souls’ Day called Ossi di Morti (or Bones of the Dead). They have a cinnamon flavor and a hard meringue on them to represent the hardness of bone. That, plus some water and alcohol…will be offered to my ancestors, family, and friends.

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Divine Mercy

•09/26/2017 • Leave a Comment

 

I’m laid up for the next few weeks after having surgery last week. (I’m fine, thanks!)

As such, I haven’t been able to do a whole lot other than read and watch TV.

 

As a result of my recovery, I’ve been limited in my Internet activities. E-mails and blog subscriptions that I read are piling up in my e-mail box.

 

In my hours of watching TV, I’ve been introduced to the Chaplet of Divine Mercy on EWTN: The Catholic Network. It plays at 3pm every day. (Considered by Catholics to be the time of day that Jesus was crucified on Good Friday.)

 

First off, to reassure my polytheistic readers, while this is a post about a Catholic devotional practice,I am not becoming a Catholic again.

 

However, I adore the current of devotion apparent in modern (and ancient Catholicism). As someone interested in devotion, as someone raised as Roman Catholic, and as someone living in an area with a very strong and devout Catholic community, I most often see devotion manifest in my daily interactions with the world through Catholicism.

 

I have a great deal of criticism for the institution of the Church itself but I find so much beauty in the devotion of lay and religious Catholics. (I mean “religious” in the Catholic sense, meaning monastics, friars, nuns, sisters, etc.)

 

There’s a difference between the Church (as in the institution of the Pope, Cardinals, Archbishops and Bishops)…and the Community of the Church. The community of devotees who pray. Often, devotions to saints come out of the Community rather than the leadership of the Church. It’s only after a particular individual becomes widely beloved and worshipped as a Saint by Catholic communities, that the Church will often look into naming someone a Saint.

 

So… the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.

 

Some of you who have spent time around Catholics or around Catholic communities may be familiar with the image of the Divine Mercy of Jesus.

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The image is derived from visions of a St. Faustina Kowalska (1905–1938) of Poland, known as the Apostle of Mercy. St. Pope John Paul II, being Polish, was especially fond of this devotion and promoted it during his Papacy, which has led to its prevalence among Catholics today.

 

The Chaplet itself is a series of devotional prayers to be said upon rosary beads. The EWTN version has singing which I actually find to be quite beautiful. (Here are the words if you want to follow along.)

 

EWTN’s rival, CatholicTV, also plays a version every day at 3, but it’s spoken not sung. I prefer the sung version.

 

I was surprised that I didn’t already know this prayer (as you can see by the dates, it’s comparatively a recent tradition). However, my Catholic parents were not that religious and I only really got Catholicism 101 training via CCD (Catholic Sunday School).

I don’t actually pray this chaplet but it’s on my mind lately.

I’m often envious of the way devotion is interwoven throughout so many Catholics’ lives. There are people raised with this in our society still as their tradition. Here..in Modern America, people raised in a devotional atmosphere! Praying the rosary daily, saying this Chaplet. It seems so remarkable to me and so beautiful.

I love how some beautiful traditions can be new. Prior to Pope John Paul II, this wasn’t widely known among non-Polish Catholics. But after him, it’s gone worldwide among Catholics. I also find it intriguing how traditions spring up in different Catholic communities throughout the world.

What would a Pagan version of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy look like? Which god or goddess would you pick to be a deity of Mercy?

 

Despite not being Christian, I find the uplifting of Mercy in Catholicism to be a beautiful thing. I love the emphasis on the weak, the outcast, the suffering, the poor. Emphasis on peace and compassion.

While there are many hypocritical Catholics out there, I am touched by the way so many devout Catholics walk their walk and talk their talk and actually focus on the social justice inherent in the teachings of Jesus.

Dorothy Day, especially, is a favorite of mine. A Catholic anarchist who created Houses of Hospitality throughout the US. She helped many homeless and yet is not a household name among American Catholics the way Mother Teresa is.

I adore the marriage of making the world a better place combined with the prayer and devotions that one sees in Catholicism. It’s beautiful. If only I had the faith in that broken god or that damned Bible, I could be a Catholic. If only the institution of the Church wasn’t corrupt and virulently and inherently sexist.

As much as I value the devotional aspect we see within modern polytheistic religion, Catholicism shows us that we can have that devotion to the Divine as well as a focus on making the world a better place for those who are suffering, who are outcast, who are poor.

Given that Pagan and polytheist types are often outcasts, in some way, I have a feeling we could do a much better job as well. Many of us are LGBTIQ. We can serve a community that even most Catholics will not. (Though, to be fair, I do know some Catholic communities here in Boston that are open and accepting of LGBTIQ folks, despite the consternation of the Archbishop.)

I would love to see a polytheistic devotional ministry towards LGBTIQ youth. Not with the aim to convert others to our religion but just to be the hands of our gods in this world.

Women who are about to have or whom have had abortions could be another ministry. Be there to escort them to their appointments or to pray with them or just be there for them.

A ministry for sex-workers in the name of Aphrodite, the Beloved!

Anyone whom the Catholics or other Christian religions would judge harshly instead of treating with love and compassion. But also the poor and the homeless. The suffering.

 

 

 

 

Nina Paley’s “God-Mother”

•08/28/2017 • Leave a Comment

I really enjoyed this short animated film.

 

An Injury To One Is An Injury To All

•08/14/2017 • Leave a Comment

I understand that this is not a political blog but a religion-based blog. Not all of you agree with my politics. But a woman is dead because of a Nazi rally in America in 2017 and my heart is broken. I have not confirmed this but I’ve read rumors that she was a Wobbly (IWW). As a former Wobbly, this hits home even more.

 

I hope this is something that people on both the Left and the Right can agree is wrong.

 

As a queer socialist feminist, I’m the kind of person the Nazis would want to kill.

 

I do not believe in violence. I am and have always been a pacifist.

 

But if there are Nazis and white supremacists going around threatening people of color, LGBTIQ people, Jewish people, women, or anyone else, I’m glad that there are people like the Antifa who are out there to protect the disenfranchised.

 

I do not support unprovoked violence on any side, left or right.

 

I believe that people have the right to express themselves but not if it is an ideology that comes at the cost of others’ right to exist. We must not let this ideology take root again.

 

Millions of people (Jewish people, leftists, Roma people, LGBTIQ people and more were murdered) by the Nazis.

 

Let us not ever have to go through that again.