The Brigit phenomenon

•01/26/2018 • Leave a Comment

Interesting piece on Brighid here.

A Better Way

•01/23/2018 • 5 Comments

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” -R. Buckminster Fuller
This quote reminds me of the conversion of the Irish to Christianity.

Unlike many other places throughout Europe, the Irish did not convert to Christianity via conquest or by the sword. Their religion was not made illegal. They considered Christianity to be the better option for them.

Obviously, we cannot know why. Records of pre-Christian religion among the Irish are non-existent. We have the archaeological record and the recounting of Irish Christian monks.

But I have an idea why.

In its earliest days, before it became intertwined with Empire and the Sword, Christianity was a radical idea. The poor, the sick, the outcast, the meek, and more were uplifted. If you felt as if you were one of the have-nots surrounded by haves, Christianity was for you.

Lepers, prostitutes, adulterers, and more were welcomed into the fold.

This was a radical idea. It’s hard to even conceive what a radical idea this was back then.

Even though Christianity was fully connected with Empire by the time Patricius, a Romano-Brit, came to Ireland to spread the Gospel, he did not spread it by the sword but by his preaching and personality. Later accounts would have him quarreling with the Druids and performing miraculous acts to ‘prove’ the superiority of Christ over their polytheism but these came later to provide a narrative of Patrick’s victory over the “Pagans”.

Patricius offered them a better way than what they had…and they took it willingly.

I write this not to promote the idea that Christianity is superior to polytheism. No. I’m a Pagan. But I’m writing this because it makes me ponder how, if we want our religions to grow, we can offer people a better way.

Of course, Paganism is different. We’re not evangelists. We’re not looking for converts. Our religion is not a numbers game and as we do not believe in salvation in the Christian sense, we have no imperative to “save souls”.  

So why do this? Should we tailor our religions to meet the needs of people? No. Our religions aren’t about the needs of people but the gods. That said, there are people whose needs are not being met. The ‘lesser of the brethren’ that Jesus spoke so eloquently about 2000 years ago have once again been left behind. This time by the religion that was built around them.

While there are a multitude of “Pagan values”, I feel as if making the world a better place (and, by extension, improving the lives of the people that live in it) is something that should be a Pagan value. Not to convert others but because it’s the right thing to do.

Modern Paganism is full of ego-driven values. People are looking to get off, to get high, to..like, experience the Divine, man. The more we orient our religion about the gratification of our egos, the less room there is for the gods. (Not to mention, this is where we run into problems with moral issues as in the recent Bonewits discussion.)

I think it’s time we focus on becoming better people and making the world a better place for others. In Hinduism, this is karma yoga.

There are a number of ways that this can go. I’d like to write more on this subject. But the first step is to remember that our ego is a false god.

It seems odd for a polytheist to consider ANY god to be a false god but what I’m trying to express is that often in our society, we put the ego in an exalted place in our minds where we could be placing one or more of our beloved gods. When we are obsessed with what we want, we become less oriented towards what the gods want.

But that will have to be another blog post…

“Why Not Excellence?”

•01/21/2018 • Leave a Comment

Many of my readers might have read this already, but recently allegations have come out against the late Isaac Bonewits, founder of ADF (Ar nDraiocht Fein) involving child sexual abuse.

Moira Greyland, daughter of famed author and child-rapist, Marion Zimmer Bradley, claimed that Bonewits raped her and other children.

This has, of course, led to a massive controversy which connects to an already controversial national discussion (the #MeToo movement, rape, sexual abuse, listening to victims, etc.).

Greyland’s critics argue that the publisher of her book (in which the allegations against Bonewits are made) is not to be trusted. The book is published by Theodore Beale’s (a.k.a. Vox Day) publishing company. Day is a notorious figure in sci-fi associated with the Alt-Right who is anti-gay, anti-minority, anti-woman, and anti-non-Christian religion.

Greyland also has problems with credibility given that she has become a leading critic of homosexuality.

That said, as someone who has been molested and raped myself, I believe her. She has nothing to gain by coming out accusing Bonewits.

I only met Isaac on one occasion. A friend of mine was in ADF, I attended his wedding which was performed, in part, by Isaac. I was a young and naive Pagan and had all sorts of questions on Druidry, but he blew me off in discussing that in order to hit on the (of age) High Priestess of the ceremony.

(It was the only wedding that I’ve been to where the performing clergy went skinny-dipping with the newly-married couple after the ceremony.)

Does my very limited personal experience necessarily correlate to the very serious accusations against Bonewits? No. Not at all. But I wanted to use this incident in order to bring up a larger point.

Several months ago, I got distracted by Catholicism. I struggled with the idea of returning to the Church despite its history (both past and recent) of abuse and bigotry.

Why? For starters, I saw it as a connection to the culture into which I was born and raised. It was a connection to the family that loved me and brought me into being. I  admire the culture of devotion and prayer that still lives within the Church despite the influence of the modern world. But also, as I get older, I’m feeling a desire to become a better person, morally. To stop living an ego-driven life and start living a more god-focused life.

Ultimately, I decided against a formal return to the Church. I tried and I just don’t have the faith. I’m a polytheist at heart. (Though I have created a Catholic-based shrine among my other shrines, mostly with images of the Virgin Mary and some beloved Saints, near my shrine to my Beloved Dead/Ancestors.)

I understand that our Paganisms and polytheisms are relatively young religions. Perhaps seventy years old at the most. But there seems to be an inordinate amount of, well, people more driven by lust and the desire to get laid, than in worship of the gods.

Gerald Gardner, creator of Wicca, almost certainly used his power and influence as a priest in order to get flogged (his kink) by young attractive naked women and also to pressure women to have sex with him.

I don’t want to demonize lust or sexuality. However, these things must be done with consent. It is morally reprehensible to rape or sexually take advantage of anyone, especially in the name of the gods or the “Old Religion”.

It might have been considered OK 50 years ago to use “ancient religion” as an excuse for someone to sleep with you but it is something which should not have been tolerated then and should not be tolerated now.

Paganism, as it is now, is full of dirty old men like Bonewits or Gardner who use our religions as an excuse to get their rocks off. This needs to end.

I understand that the idea of “morality” is repugnant to many Pagans, particularly those who grew up in families or communities where fundamentalist religion was used as a weapon. I understand that people do not want to feel judged by others.

I also understand and appreciate that much of Paganism in the last 50 years came up with the countercultural movements such as the Hippies, the “Free Love” era, and the influence of various drugs.

I appreciate this as someone who was also very much into the “sex and drugs” stuff myself in my 20s and 30s. (And as a former member of ADF, Church of All Worlds, and an initiate of OTO.)

It’s time for us to grow up as a religion and take our religious practice seriously. Morality is a part of that. Not the sanctimonious harshly-judging tones of the fundamentalist preacher (who often is having an affair behind his wife’s back) but by doing our best to become better people. Good people. Let us become better people that we may serve our gods better. Let us become better people so that we may serve other people better.

When we die and become ancestors, let us be inspirations for others to live better lives.

Bridging the Worlds

•01/01/2018 • Leave a Comment

For the past couple of months, I’ve had a deep interest in Catholicism. This involved me going to Mass several times a week and even having a deep heart-to-heart talk with a priest acquaintance (who had no idea that I was a Pagan or even what a modern Pagan was). 

I’ve been doing a great deal of soul-searching on the subject and a lot of prayer.

Ultimately, I’ve reached the same conclusion that I have previously. I am not Catholic. I love some aspects of Catholicism. I am envious of Catholicism. I love that they are a religion that brings devotion and prayer into our modern world. Here in the very Catholic Northeast, I can find several Catholic chapels to pray in. I have several options for Mass ranging from Traditional Latin Masses to LGBTIQ-friendly/social justice oriented Catholicism.

Where I’m at lately has been trying to find something that felt like Catholicism in its emphasis on social works, a sense of morality and a push to become a better, more caring person. Something that inspires me to make the world a better place for everyone, but especially the “lesser of the brethren” but yet wasn’t at odds with my belief in gender equality (i.e., feminism) or my queerness and LGBTIQ rights.

While deep in prayer, it occurred to me that I have been yearning for Brighid, who goes between the two worlds of ancient polytheism as well as Catholicism/Christianity.  I’ve worshiped Her before. Something about this just feels right for me for right now. 

Last time (around last year), when I felt called to worship Brighid, I tried to focus on ancient Gaelic polytheism. I took a course in the Irish language. I focused on what Gaelic polytheistic reconstructionists wrote. But I’ve been finding that reconstructionism isn’t for me.

Instead, I find myself more interested in Paganizing elements of Catholicism or studying modern polytheistic expressions of religion such as Hinduism as they are already part of our modern world.

 

I don’t want to slight reconstructionists. I have a deep respect for them, their relationships to the gods, and to the research and work they do. However, it’s not my way.

And so I seek to worship Brighid in a modern context, connecting the worlds of Catholicism and Paganism…yet with a foot in the modern world.

I’m enjoying the work of Clann Bhride, a Brigidine group that publishes a Book of Hours, as well as the flame-tending practices of Ord Brighideach. But also, I am using Catholicism as a resource.

Some polytheists and Pagans will no doubt find offense in this. I understand their concerns but I do not have them myself.

If Brighid is real (which I believe She is), She has found Herself revered as a Saint for the past 1500 years or so. She has been given offerings, love, and prayers by devout Christians/Catholics for 1500 years. For 1500 years, she has been known as the Foster-Mother of Christ or Mary of the Gaels. Now Her religion is continuing in the form of modern Pagans. Would She have a problem with either of these? I don’t believe so.

She accepts either and acts as a bridge between them.

Still, I pray that I walk the path that She wants me to. I pray that my offerings, love, and prayers pleases Her.

Why You Hate Contemporary Architecture

•11/20/2017 • 2 Comments

This is a really great (and funny!) piece from “Current Affairs” that hits home.

 

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.