St. Patrick’s Day

•03/17/2017 • Leave a Comment

I have a strange relationship with this day.

It was a big deal to me as a kid. I suppose it’s because it was a big deal to my father.

He grew up in NYC, in Yorkville, but as a kid his family moved to Jersey (where I was born).

As far as I can tell, his family has been here for generations with no solid link to the Auld Sod outside of the Mc in our names and our Catholicism. For Irish-Americans, the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day was a cultural identifier in the melting pot that was, and still is, NYC.

I got my love of traditional Irish music and Irish folk from my father’s old vinyl collection. Every year, he’d fly a green “Erin Go Bragh” flag outside of the house and break out the Irish albums. The Chieftains, The Clancy Brothers, The Wolfe Tones. We’d eat corned beef and cabbage. One year, he took my brother and I out of school so we could go to the big St. Patrick’s Day parade in NYC with him and his mother.

These made an indelible mark upon me. Irishness was something to be celebrated.

Later, when I first read about Wicca…one of the things that really interested me about Paganism was Wicca’s purported link to being the ancient religion of the British Isles. (Which is, of course, totally untrue. It’s younger than my father.)

For a while, I fancied myself a “Celtic Pagan”. I went to rituals with a medallion of a Celtic knot. I listened to Enya, Clannad, the Cranberries, and Sinead O’Connor, and idealized Ireland.

That was until I actually went to Ireland twenty years ago on a three-week pilgrimage. It wasn’t until then that I realized how not-Irish I was. I was American. There wasn’t anything inherently bad about that. Just that I wasn’t Irish.

Since then, it’s been difficult for me to celebrate “Irishness”. I still have a love for the old rebel songs and the occasional pint of Guinness. But these days, St. Patrick’s Day is more associated with trying to avoid dealing with drunks than with wearing green.

 

 

 

 

 

Liminality

•03/13/2017 • Leave a Comment

There is a sort of liminality to my religious identity.

 

Hindu but not Hindu.

Pagan but not Pagan.

Catholic but not Catholic.

 

When I immerse myself into Hindu practices, I find it harder to relate to a lot of the discussions in the Pagan blogosphere. Of course, I inevitably hit a point, often when it comes to Hinduism as an expression of Indian culture, where I feel a sense of total alienness about Hinduism. It overwhelms me and I pull back.

 

Then, I immerse myself into Catholicism/Christian mysticism, because of its part in my ancestry and because it’s an active tradition in this society…or Paganism/polytheism, because I’ve been a part of this community since 1993. Even if I cannot relate to Wicca or Wiccans as being of my religion, Pagans always feel like ‘my people’.

 

Practicing these religions, though, never feels as right to me, though, as my relationship with Sri Ganesha, which has been going on (off and on) for over 15 years.

 

Right now, I’m fully immersed into my daily pujas towards Ganesha. It feels so familiar to me. This part of it isn’t alien to me at all. But then I read about how Hindus are celebrating Holi today and it reminds me that there’s just so much about Hinduism that I either don’t know, are unfamiliar with, or just seems like something I’m unable to relate to.

I’m used to liminality. I’m often most comfortable in liminality.

I am male but not male. Like Ardhanarishwara, the Lord Who Is Half-Female. Being intersexed, I cannot relate fully to either maleness or femaleness.
Perhaps “most comfortable” is the wrong term to use. I guess I don’t know how NOT to be somewhere in-between. I don’t know how to be male or female. I don’t know how to be fully Hindu, or Catholic, or Pagan. 

I tried being fully Catholic. It would have made things so much easier for me. (Just like being fully male would be so much easier.) I do not have the faith to be a Christian. I love the culture of processions and celebrations of the saints, of the devotions and prayers of Catholicism. But I cannot say the creed and mean it. I also love the morality of Christianity (oddly enough). Not the judgy or holier-than-thou attitude. But the way that religion inspires people like Mr. Rogers or Dorothy Day to be the excellent people they were. I’ve also encountered similar people in my time living in a Quaker-based intentional community. That sort of morality. The morality that leads not to someone being a more pure person, but an actual holier person. (This is not limited to Christianity, of course. I think the Dalai Lama is an excellent example of it in Tibetan Buddhism.)

Perhaps if I were in India, surrounded with the religion and having it be a part of my everyday life (outside of my daily puja). I might be able to be fully Hindu.  Outside of my daily pujas, Hinduism in my everyday life almost feels like an affectation to me. (Not in others. But in myself.) It’s difficult to be involved in Hindu communities because here in America, they serve a double function as Indian cultural centers for immigrants. So it becomes really weird to have a white person show up. Especially when I wasn’t raised with the culture and am not really familiar with it. I have a daily puja routine but that doesn’t mean I know how to handle myself in a temple situation and most temples are not inclined to walking you through the process or making you feel welcome.

Paganism (and Western polytheism), on the other hand, I’ve been involved with since 1993. Outside of the polytheist blogosphere, /r/Pagan on reddit, and visits to PantheaCon every couple of years, it doesn’t really feel like my community or my religion. Most of it is based in Wicca, witchcraft, some form of magick, or New Age. Especially in person, with local groups. That’s hard for me to relate to. Even when I’m focusing more on worshipping European deities than Hindu deities.

PantheaCon, though, in a sense…feels like ‘my people’ due to the variety of polytheisms being expressed. Kali puja, Pomba Gira ritual, Feri trad, Temple of the Morrigan, Hellenic deities, etc. That’s my sort of “Paganism”, not multiple varieties of Wicca.

Additionally, though it’s not the same as having a group to practice with, I find a sense of camaraderie with my fellow polytheist bloggers and those on /r/Pagan. I felt closer to these people when I was worshipping Brigid (and it also scratched my itch for Catholic devotion, given that She is also a Catholic Saint) but I felt a call in my heart to go back to Sri Ganesha.

I sometimes wonder whether this is just how I am or whether it is something I should overcome with discipline. Just focusing on one deity (or pantheon).

I will do as the Gods will me to do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

•03/08/2017 • Leave a Comment

Yesterday, my partner and I went to go see “The Shack”, the Christian movie that was recently released in theatres.

Neither of us are Christian, though we’re both religious.

(It was my idea to watch this as I’ve been a fan of the book for a long time.)

The movie is not going to win any sort of film awards. It is not a great film. It is an emotionally manipulative journey into the heart of religion. But that’s why I enjoyed it.

The non-religious will hate it. Many Christians will hate it because it is not based in Scripture.

Instead, it is what we call in modern Paganism/polytheism “UPG”: unverified personal gnosis.

It is a personal revelation that may or may not be limited to the lore (the ancient writings in historical polytheist cultures).

In this case, it is the story of a man who suffers a great tragedy and ends up confronting God (in the form of Papa, a black woman, Jesus, a Middle-Eastern carpenter, and an Asian woman named Sarayu that stood for the Holy Spirit).

It already sounds heretical, doesn’t it? Boy, the fundamentalists don’t like this book and won’t like this movie.

However, it’s a great way to use religion as a lens to deal with the horrors of life we all must face. The loss, the tragedy, the illness, the broken-heartedness. We will all lose and we will all suffer.

“The Shack” tells us that God is especially fond of you and far from being the one full of wrath to banish sinners to Hell for Eternity, God is there with you in your suffering. Suffering because you, their beloved child, is suffering.

The depiction of God reminds me very much of Fred Rogers’ idea that we have within us the voice of the Advocate (God) and the Accuser (Satan). The Accuser tells us how awful we are, reminds us of all we’ve done wrong. The Advocate reminds us of how loved we are and how wonderful it is to be there to help or support others.

If you are a Christian who doesn’t mind a hell of a lot of emotional manipulation and a loosey-goosey interpretation of the Holy Trinity, I would recommend this movie. As a Pagan, though I don’t agree with the theology, I can respect the attempt to make religion about seeing, encountering, and even challenging the Divine in one’s darkest moments and worst struggles.

Given that caveat, I think it can be a moving experience for anyone of deep religion that believes in a personal God or Goddess.

 

Ash Wednesday

•03/01/2017 • Leave a Comment

Today is Ash Wednesday when millions of Catholics begin Lent.

As I have mentioned previously, I work in the Italian-American section of Boston. What a joy it was to see the old Italian Catholics with ash on their heads.

Before work, I went into the Italian Catholic chapel with all of the statues of Jesus, Mary, and the Saints near my workplace to and prayed with the people, ash marks all on their heads.

Sometimes, I’m tempted to return to Catholicism just for the traditions like these.

 

In Catholicism, the quote from Genesis is recited when you receive your ashes. “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

It reminds us that death is natural. Change is natural. It is part of the birth/death/rebirth cycle.

In some Hindu religions, ash is associated with the auspicious destroyer god, Shiva. He is said to be covered in the ashes of corpses from the cremation grounds. Shiva destroys so that there can be creation.

What will you destroy in yourself? What do you want to take its place?

All we are is dust in the wind…

 

 

On Islam

•02/28/2017 • Leave a Comment

John Beckett wrote a great impassioned piece about how he feels anti-Muslim attitudes are not the way to go and are not welcomed on his feed.

Here’s the thing: The problem isn’t Islam itself, it’s fundamentalism. Violent fundamentalism can manifest in practitioners of any religion. Even Buddhism and, yes, even Paganism.

Daesh wants us to demonize all Muslims because it plays right into their narrative. Both Daesh and anti-Muslims like Bannon want another “crusade” with Islam vs. Christianity.

Daesh wants to convince all of Islam that the West is the enemy and they must be fought. Bannon and other anti-Muslims want to convince the West that Islam is the enemy and they must be fought.

We can disarm Daesh’s narrative by welcoming Muslims and treating them with love and respect. Yes, there might be some wannabe terrorists that try to sneak in. Perhaps we’ll cause them to rethink their actions if they’re treated with love and respect. (OK, that’s a long shot.)

If we treat Muslims like the enemy, they will become the enemy (or sympathetic to them).

Muslims that move here are likely not to be extremists already (as they’re escaping from Daesh). Some will even become more moderate when living in a secular and diverse society exposed to different ideas and morals. (Or their kids will become moderate.)

We have nothing to gain by treating Muslims as the enemy. No more than we have by treating Christians as such. The real enemy is fundamentalism and that thrives in isolation, in homogeneous societies, and in intolerance.

I have some issues with the way liberal secularism destroys traditional culture, but at the same time what it does best is to soften the hard edges on rough intolerant extremist religions. (Other than, say, the Amish or Orthodox Jews, who form their own communities  outside of our own culture.)

Capitalism and materialism dangle pretty things close at hand and creates desire. Which can often lead people away from extremist religion.

Let’s use this tool for good and let our diverse liberal secular capitalist materialist culture grind down the sharp edges of Islam. Let’s encourage LGBT Islam! Feminist Islam! It’s what Daesh fears most. Much more than any threat of war.

I don’t wish to destroy Islam. Traditional Islam will continue in other places. But welcoming Muslims here and treating them with respect (as we should all people, regardless of religions, especially guests and refugees) is not only in our best interest but it’s the right thing to do morally (in my opinion).

 

Even More Not About You!

•02/27/2017 • Leave a Comment

Recently, I was rereading sections of “The Master Course Trilogy” by the Himalayan Academy, which is linked to a Hindu monastery. (They also publish Hinduism Today, a decent magazine.)

 

They put out a trilogy of books about Shiva (Dancing With Siva, Living With Siva, and Merging With Siva). The three of them are big thick books that are available for free to read online. (There’s also an excellent book on Sri Ganapati called “Loving Ganesa” which is also available for free.)

 

It impressed me that they focus on living life morally and gave various restrictions for morality (such as not swearing, eating vegetarian, being honest, moderate eating, etc.)  In the past, when I first read these books, this sort of morality made me lose interest in the series. I did not want to be told what to do. I thought I was above such moralizing.

 

As I travel through middle-age and my spiritual practice deepens in maturity and wisdom, I find these taking on more significance for me personally. It’s odd for someone who used to be in the OTO and party all night on shrooms and MDMA to now be concerned about morality and temperance. However, I’ve lived my life in frivolity. I find that I actually crave moral restriction because I want to live a better life and a life that brings me closer to Them.

 

I find myself relating to the Polytheist movement because they take their religion seriously and I love seeing polytheistic religion finally being taken seriously by its adherents.

 

As Pagans, I think we have an opportunity here to re-invent morality. But not into the lax hippie-dippie ‘do what feels good, man’ mentality that characterized early Neo-Paganism but out of sincere belief, devotion, and desire to be closer to the gods.  


(That said, I am not completely in agreement with some of the teachings in the Master Course Trilogy regarding morality which tend to sometimes echo Christian family values. But I like that they are morals that are polytheistic in origin and are ancient.)

It’s Still Not About You!

•02/27/2017 • Leave a Comment

This month, I have been observing a practice of eating vegan.

 

My partner is vegan and we keep a vegan kitchen, so I’m no stranger to eating vegan. I ate meat infrequently, but always did so when I was away from the house. (Generally, while eating pho or ramen with friends.)

 

Also, since I work in the Italian-American neighborhood of Boston, I frequently would have some great cheap pizza before going into work. It was filling and inexpensive and delicious.

 

In going vegan for a month, I’ve had to give that up. To be honest, though I crave pho, ramen, or pizza (or a great burger) from time-to-time, being temporarily vegan has been an excellent practice.

 

Our society is built upon the idea of choice and desire. It wants us to want. Want things to buy. A better house. A better car. A better body. It wants us to want food and drink, for taste or convenience. It wants us to drink alcohol to excess (because often it’s the only societally acceptable way of dealing with the frustrating demands of work, life, home).

 

I’m not going to say that I’m going to become an ascetic or anything, but it felt good and liberating to be able to say “No” to something that is both my life and (most likely) my death: my relationship with food.

 

In general, I’ve eaten healthier and I think some aspects of my health have improved because of that (and other reasons). Sure, you can even get unhealthy with vegan food and I have done that this past month. (I made my own seitan and then breaded and fried it like chicken. It was amazing!)  But overall, I’ve gained a bit of self-control.

 

I feel as if fasting or the traditional Christian practice of giving something up for Lent ties into this self-control attitude.

 

It reminds you that this life is not all about you and what you want.

Taking away a significant amount of options (which being vegan can do), leads one to make more intentional choices.

 

In my case, I can gear that attitude towards what my God wants me to eat. Yes. I want cheese. I want a burger. I want ramen. Of course, I want all of these things. These options are all available to me, if I want them. They are figuratively being dangled in front of me. But it’s not about what *I* want.

 

I give my body in service to the Gods. What do They want me to eat? They want me to eat healthy so that my body will be healthy. I will have energy and strength to do the Work that they want me to do.

I flirted with the idea of continuing being vegan after this month ends on Wednesday. But I don’t think I will. I think I will, however, be more intentional about eating vegan more often.

 

I want to be more intentional about what I eat and why I eat it. Whether it’s due to ethics (as with meat/dairy) or health (avoiding fried foods), or other reasons.

 

This isn’t something that one reads about a lot in Paganism but I think it very much relates to the practice of my religion and the way that I live my life.
I have given my life to the gods. It’s time to think about what that means and re-orient myself towards what is good rather than “what I want”.