More drama has surfaced within wider Pagan community within recent weeks, particularly within the blogosphere between “polytheists” and “humanists”. I put those terms in quotes to blanket a lot of people under them, and because after all I’ve read regarding either camp, I’m not sure I understand what those terms really mean anymore.
Decades ago, I sat in a college classroom, listening to my beloved mentor, Professor Shaw, lecturing about Shakespeare. We were talking about Julius Ceasar I believe, and quoting some well known line, when from the back of the room, a young woman asked "why did Shakespeare write in so many cliches?" I giggled a little: Professor Shaw, hardly missing a beat, simply said "they weren't cliches when he wrote them," and moved right along with Ceasar. Now just bear with me, and keep this little tale in mind for a while.
Last week my lovely GF Lauren wrote me an email. She had seen something on a Facebook group (Pagan News Now) and wondered if I knew anything about it. It was a document which the poster claimed was the Wiccan Rede. Here is what Lauren sent me:
I am the incomprehensible silence
and the idea often brought to mind.
I am the voice sounding throughout the world
and the word appearing everywhere.
I am the sounding of my name,
For I am knowledge and ignorance.
I am shame and bravery.
I am without shame; I am full of shame.
I am power and I am trepidation.
I am conflict and peace.
Listen to me,
For I am the scandalous and magnificent one.
Excerpted from Thunder, Perfect Mind, trans. by George W. MacRae
In the silence of the night the waters were troubled. We did not know that far to the south, in the headwaters of the great river, rains swelled the flow, sending the fertile black earth our way. What we did know was that the star of Sopdet, whom we know as Aset (Isis), had disappeared from the sky for weeks now. Each evening the priests watched for it to reappear at the horizon, the signal that Aset was weeping, mourning the loss of her husband Asar (Osiris). After dark there is no way to see if a crocodile lies in wait or a hyena quietly stalks you coming home late. Except in the cities, the silence here is vast, incomprehensible. Against that quiet, the change in the water showed itself in little lappings higher up the bank, a swath of new green advancing up the shores on both sides.
The priests told us that Aset’s tears were flowing, rousing Hapy from his sleep among the rocks of the headwaters. I do not understand these things. Like the Lady, I had suffered loss, the death of my husband at the hands of an evildoer. My grief was unabatable; like hers, my tears seemed a limitless flood. Then I found myself carrying my own Heru, pregnant with my own shining Horus boy, and hope soothed my tears. By the time of planting, I could hardly stoop to the water’s edge with my jar, and as the first harvest came in, my son saw the light of Ra.
The mother is so many things – fearful, yet brave, cunning, but also confused, wandering in search of Asar’s body. I am not pharaoh in his House of a Million Years, nor am I a priest who can explain these things. But I see that she is like me, or maybe I am like her. Maybe we are the same, though she is eternal. When I am cowed by shame or ignorance, I remember that she found her power, found a way to her heart’s desire. When the waters rise each season of Akhet, I remember that even while she wept, Aset brought new life to the world. I smile when I walk back to refill my jar, knowing it is her lovely tears, her life I’m bringing back home with me.
There has been a lot of very heated discussion lately about Paganism and Polytheism, with some people suggestion that there are certain practices or beliefs that one should hold in order to be able to call themselves a polytheist or pagan. Modern paganism being as diverse as it is, this has taken a lot of people by surprise, and accusations and name calling is happening from all corners.
I know this, and this only: I am a member of an organization that acknowledges "We are people who normally would not mix." (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 17) But here we are--representing all sections of this country, all political, economic, and social backgrounds. And-here's where I want you to pay attention--all religious backgrounds.
Twelve Step Programs are spiritual programs. It is demanded of us that we live a spiritual way of life. It is also a WE program. If you look at the Twelve Steps, you will see that "I" do not do the steps. "We" do the steps. So here we are, people of all religious backgrounds, beliefs and practices, being told we are meant to live a spiritual way of life, and that we are supposed to do it together, and that "love and tolerance of others is our code"? (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 84)...
The ancient, sacred city of Abydos hosted an annual ritual drama about the mysteries of Osiris. Along a processional way the festival crowd re-enacted the abduction and murder of Osiris by his brother Set, and inside the temples, priests conducted uber-holy rites away from the public eye. Every good Egyptian hoped to go on pilgrimage to Abydos at least once in her life. Nearly as good was to have a tablet (called a stela, plural is stelae) set up on the processional route stating your name, titles, a statement of offering (and usually an offering picture) and a request for passers-by to stop and recite the offering prayer on behalf of the deceased. Many thousands of stelae have been found in Abydos, which was also the burial site of predynastic and First and Second Dynasty kings.
In Abydos Osiris is most often known by the name of a jackal-headed god who came from that locale and eventually took on Asar’s identity, Khenti-amentu, “first of the Westerners.” Any mention of the west was an oblique reference to having died (like the sun, which sets in the west). Stelae like the ones at Abydos came to be used at lots of pilgrimage sites, as tomb markers (just like our modern tombstones), and even inside burial chambers. The picture usually shows the deceased standing in front of an offering table piled with bread, beer, geese, the leg of a bull, alabaster and lengths of linen. A typical inscription, known as an “offering formula” among Egyptologists, might say something like:
"An offering of thousands of bread, beer, meat, fowl, alabaster and lengths of linen, and all good, pure and beautiful things, which Pashed gives to the great god (neter aa) Khenti-amentu, first among those at Abdju, for the soul of Pashed."
Last week I was worrying a little about how the whole world get to enjoy ancient Egyptian heritage because moderns have basically robbed thousands of graves. Then I thought about how the Egyptians counted on their descendants and/or priests to perform rituals, “say the prayer,” for them in perpetuity. Obviously, that system broke down in the same centuries that brought Christianity then Islam to Kemet. And yet, here we are all these centuries later, reading and admiring the stelae, contemplating the original owner, pondering what his or her life was like. If you are a student of hieroglyphs like me, you find yourself reciting the offering formulas over and over again in lessons.
To me, that is part of the power and mystery of hieroglyphs, that somehow they have emerged from a time almost before memory to continue to remember the ancestors and honor their wishes. I wish I knew more about people like Pashed, but it’s clear that what he wanted most after his death was to be remembered as constant in his devotion to Osiris. May I be at least in part as dutiful in my respect for those who came before me.
Considering the articles I've read lately about whether or not pop culture icons and fluffy bunnies are appropriate idols for worship, and whether or not to bow to them, I'd like to address the reverence I feel for Classical music and the composers of that art. At the beginning of May, I sang in a concert of music by Beethoven. This concert may have changed my life. Towards peace.
Here's the latest round of translations and commentary from my ongoing examination of the gnomic verses of Hávamál, the Sayings of the High One. While many of the verses deal with the magic of the Norse, many of the lines simply offer sage advice on best behaviour, especially when one travels.
Haldi-t maðr á keri,
drekki þó at hófi mjöð,
mæli þarft eða þegi,
vár þik engi maðr,
at þú gangir snemma at sofa.
nema geðs viti,
etr sér aldrtrega;
oft fær hlægis,
er með horskum kemr,
manni heimskum magi.
Hjarðir þat vitu,
nær þær heim skulu,
ok ganga þá af grasi;
en ósviðr maðr
síns of mál maga.
ok illa skapi
hlær at hvívetna;
hittki hann veit,
er hann vita þyrfti,
at hann er-a vamma vanr.
Many Pagans, especially those with a presence on Facebook, followed with interest the battle being fought earlier this year between well known resource site Wikipedia and the Pagan community. Pagan efforts were lead by a prominent Pagan festival organizer, who saw numerous Wikipedia entries of Pagan notables up for review and deletion (see one article here on the situation). The deletion reviews charged that these Pagan leaders were "not notable enough" and had no secondary sources linked to their pages. Indeed, my own Wikipedia entry was called out for deletion: fortunately I am cited as an expert on Mythology in several journals including that of the American Film Institute, and I have played fiddle on numerous recordings by well known musicians: so my own entry was spared. Other Pagan notables did not fare as well. In fact the entry for Starwood, one of the oldest and most respected Pagan-oriented festivals in North America, was deemed unworthy and was taken down.
One of the leaders who was spearheading the movement to stop Wikipedia from its war on Pagans noticed one particular editor's name appearing again and again in the criticisms of Pagans, an editor calling himself Qworty. The Pagan leader suggested several times that this Qworty had a vendetta against Paganism in general. In fact, Qworty made statements in his criticisms of Pagan pages like these:
- 1) People who promote "witchcraft" are either charlatans or severely mentally ill
- 2) A good number of these Strega folks are Satan worshippers, for whatever that's worth
- 3) The rest of them are a bunch of New Agers who have gone way, way, way over the deep end, spending too much time sucking on water pipes in Santa Cruz and imagining that their deceased Italian forebears are going to drop down out of the sky (or rise up out of Hell) with advice on imagined medical problems, real financial problems, horrible self-created relationship problems, etc [bullet points are part of quote]
When challenged for these statements, Qworty responded:...
For the men of Ireland have again followed gentlidecht as it was at first before belief, before Patrick’s advent, save only that they have not worshipped idols. For the heathen had a lie and a good word, and this existeth not today. And every evil which the heathen used to do is done at this time in the land of Ériu, save only that the Irish do not worship idols. Howbeit they perpetrate wounding and theft and adultery and parricides and manslaughter, and the wrecking of churches and clerics, covetousness and perjury and lies and false judgment, and destruction of God’s church, draidecht, and gentlidecht, and dealing in charms, philters and enchantments and fidlanna.
—“Adomnán’s Second Vision” (c. 1096 CE), §15-16
The text above is from Whitley Stokes’ edition and translation of “Adomnán’s Second Vision,” which was published in 1891; few scholars, let alone everyday Pagans or polytheists, have paid much attention to it since then. Many modern Celtic Reconstructionist groups have been founded, and have created Irish and other Celtic neologisms as names for their polytheistic practices; but here is a thoroughly medieval Irish word for what the Christians understood to be the Paganism of ancient and medieval Ireland, still going strong (if their reports in this 11th-century text are to be given credence) after centuries of post-Patrician conversion: Gentlidecht. Stokes translates the word as, rather amusingly from a modern Pagan perspective, “heathenism” or “heathenry”…if only the Ásatrúars knew!...
I have written much about my feelings of the word "pagan" on my primary religious blog, Of Thespiae. I've written about how the use of the word in the pagan community has become so loose that it's meaningless for all practical purposes. I've written about how, in spite of regular protests from the pagan community, the implicit "positive definition" of "paganism" ("positive definition" meaning "defining what something is"; whereas "negative definitions" define by what a word is not) is incredibly Eurocentric . I've even mentioned how the "negative definition" of the word "pagan" isn't necessarily true, as the tradition of Christopaganism certainly makes it hard to say where the Christianity ends and the paganism begins. I've written about the incredibly secular climate of the pagan community in current culture.
The word "pagan" is not one I've been terribly fond of. Early on in my spiritual journey, earliest possible point being around either 1989 (when a nun at my old Catholic school gave me a copy of D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths and, I swear, I felt touched by Apollon in ways that Jesus and El Shaddai just never really could) or 1993 (when I first really started exploring ostensibly "pagan" paths), the word "pagan" was practically interchangeable with "Wiccan" or "witchcraft", or so it seemed when trying to find any books on the topic; there was a minority of books about Heathenry, Celtic polytheism, and neo-Druidry, but there was no uncertainty to the dominance of witchcraft-based paganism, and frankly, that only barely interested me, and not enough to really look too deeply into it. For a very brief time in high school, I practised a hodgepodge "Celtic reconstruction" of my own design, but I eschewed the word "pagan" because this didn't fit the common idea that most people had of "pagans" in the modern days, which was pretty much synonymous with "witchcraft", even if one knew that religious witchcraft wasn't as phantasmagorical as scenes from The Craft or even Practical Magic, they didn't really conceptualise it as simply "worshipping the gods of the British Isles", which is what I did, then. Toward the end of high school, I just gave up on my self-made Panceltic religion, cos most of those gods barely seemed "real" to me, and I joined the Church of Satan briefly, which is adamantly not pagan, in its self-definition, and though most members describe Satanism under the definition of Anton LaVey as "atheistic", further reading into LaVey's later essays, and not to mention certain interpretations of passages in The Satanic Bible and The Satanic Rituals, suggest that he himself was better defined as Maltheistic (a word of earliest use in print traced to Usenet in 1985, and defining one who ostensibly believes in one or more gods, but deems It/(S)He/Them as unfit for human worship; see LaVey's "God of the Assholes", which appears in Satan Speaks! ©1997, for the most clear evidence of LaVey's maltheistic, rather than atheistic beliefs). I was never a good atheist, somewhere in my head, I always believed in the gods of Hellas, and I was never maltheistic, either, because even if some deities don't want, need, or even deserve my worship, there are others that do, and by the time I was twenty-two, I basically outgrew the need for LaVey's church that I briefly had. But pagan? To see if that word fit, I put a toe in the on-line pagan community for the first time in six years when I was about twenty-four, and at that time, I'd discovered a vibrant and thriving community of Hellenic reconstructionists, most of whom had mixed feelings about the word "pagan". I pretty much only interacted with other recons for about another two or three years, and though I forget what ultimately teased me out, I had never really fully embraced "pagan" as a part of my religious identity.
Now, I say "religious identity". This is important. Though there are certainly a handful of people who describe their religion as simply "pagan" or "paganism", there is no single, positively-defined religion called "paganism". The word "pagan" is generally assumed to be a collection of religions, generally of European or Mediterranean (including the Near and Middle east and Northern Africa, specifically countried along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea) origin, that either a) pre-date Christianity, b) attempt to reconstruct or revive said, or c) are newer religions that are at least somewhat influenced or inspired by said (like Wicca or Feri). Prior Christianity, none of the local religions of Europe and the Mediterranean called themselves "pagan"; indeed, one's religion was usually just a part of the local lifestyle and was, at most, simply the way of worshipping the local gods --the ancient Greek dialects don't even have a word for "religion", the closest being "ta hiera", which is often translated as "the sacred" or "sacred things". "Pagan" is a thoroughly modern religious identity; similarly, "gay" is a thoroughly modern sexual identity, as in ancient times, most cultures didn't compartmentalise human sexuality with terms like "heterosexual, bisexual, and homosexual" and sexuality certainly had less to do with the gender ofthe person one was attracted to than it had to do with the activities one engaged their sexual partners with. These identities certainly exist, but they lose all meaning outside a modern context, and even within that context, are subject to change in their subtlety of meaning due to many factors, including time, location, implications by the speaker, and inference of the listener....
Walther knew. But he could not resist,what ten-year-old could? Every year was the same. Grandmother Dunkelhaus would shake her finger at him and warn, “Walpurgisnacht, the devil’s night—you stay indoors. Devils,witches, ghosts—they come, they get little boys, eat you.” Then she would snap together her shiny wooden teeth—clack!—as if she knew the flights of witches first hand.
But this year—tonight!—he would know, he and Elsa. “We must see,” they had promised one another. Walther slipped out this afternoon, to sleep a while in the orchard as Elsa had suggested. The nap should help him stay awake tonight. He had put apples in his rucksack and a handful of matches—also Elsa’s idea. She swore she would sneak away with a lamp. He looked around the room; never know what you might need. His woolen cap and sweater would keep him warm—spring was on the calendar, but not in the night air.
"I once was found
but now I'm lost
but now I'm blind"
That is how many Christians think of me these days. I was a Jesus Freak with a passion to convert Pagans, but it backfired. The Pagans won. And Christians and Pagans alike ask the same question: Why? What happened?
I look forward to exploring many aspects of my journey from Christianity to paganism. The role of gender, eschatology, ecclesiology, postmodernism, my German heritage, sexuality, music, and history. And while those are all complex and worthwhile topics, sometimes I think the root of the answer lies in the simplicity and depth of personal experience....
Oestara, the spring equinox, is fast approaching, and for those who practice the old traditions, it's time to paint eggs!
Painted eggs? you ask. Isn't that what our Christian neighbors do for Easter? Well sure. Where do you think they got it?
The custom of painting eggs is an ancient Pagan tradition that occurrs throughout Europe. Russia and Ukraine are famous for their traditions of painted eggs. Eastern Europe most likely had a tradition like that of England (which we'll speak of in a moment, have some patience). Here are some typically elaborate Ukrainian eggs:...
Here in New Orleans, yesterday was Mardi Gras, the final day of a four week celebration of Pagan Gods and Catholic partying. I spend most of the day in the Marigny and the French Quarter, photographing the people and happenings there. I thought I'd post a few photos of Pagan/spiritual interest from my Mardi Gras wanderings. For full blog coverage of this year's Mardi Gras, please see my other blog, Kenny Klein Explains It All.
Celebrating the sun......
Romance as a literary genre is only slightly easier to define than science fiction or fantasy. To paraphrase Wikipedia, the genre focuses on the relationship and romantic love between characters, with an "emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending." Though most popular in English-speaking countries, romance is gaining in popularity around the world as more and more titles are translated into other languages. The genre has also splintered into a dozen or more subgenres (depending on where you draw the lines). Someone looking for happily-ever-after can find it in an urban fantasy setting, or the far future, or the recent past, or via time travel, or with witches and angels thrown into the mix. Romance has also evolved from its original heterosexual, monogamous (usually Caucasian) character set to feature same-sex protagonists, menage a trois, aliens with unusual body parts, shapeshifters, cyborgs -- well, you name it.
Unfortunately, a solid Pagan subgenre has yet to develop. Sure, there are lots and lots and lots of romance novels and novellas and short stories out there which feature magical protagonists. Just type "paranormal romance" into Amazon or B&N and you'll see what I mean. Just because a book features a witch or a lightning bolt-wielding God, however, does not make it Pagan- or polytheist-friendly. I have read far, far too many romance novels in which the Wiccan main character could not recite the Wheel of the Year, the magic was ridiculously flashy and over the top, the Gods were gigantic jokes, and the theoilogy nonexistent. Too often, references to "The Goddess" or "The Gods" are just throw away lines with no real spirituality or faith behind them.
Fortunately, while an official Pagan subgenre may not have developed yet, there are a few romance novels out there which will please a polytheist audience.* Or, at least, they pleased this polytheist audience. So, in alphabetical order:...
Why are we not enlightened? In this case I mean why do we not experience ourselves, from the moment we are conscious, as an inalienable part of the Divine, with all Its resources and presence? Our fears and worries tell us that we are not immortal, omnipotent, omniscient, etc, etc. . .even when we know we are part of the Divine. We don’t feel it, at least at first. I think there is an explanation, and it’s a good one, if a bit weird. But, it requires a suspension of our assumptions to understand it. So, please give me a chance to lay it out. You see, God was bored. . .
This is a quick post to announce the release of a book I wrote for Spero Press, A Teen's Eye View Of Mens Spirituality. Spero is currently publishing an entire series of books on spirituality for teens and for children; mine is the first book in the series aimed at teen boys.
Anyone who reads my general blog, Kenny Klein Explains It All, knows that at this time of year I blog manically about Mardi Gras here in New Orleans. But on a day when there are no parades, parties or street orgies, like today, I thought I'd take a moment to talk about Mardi Gras and its Pagan history.
The Paganism behind Mardi Gras is evident in the names of the krewes, which are the societies that put on our parades: The Krewe Of Oshun; The Krewe Of Cleopatra; The Krewe Of Sparta; The Mystic Knights Of Adonis; The Krewe Of Thor; The Krewe Of Atlas; The Mystic Krewe Of Druids; The Mystic Krewe Of Nix; The Krewe Of Muses; The Knights Of Hermes; The Krewe Of Isis; The Krewe Of Zeus; The Krewe Of Hera; and of course The Krewe Of Bacchus. It is no coincidence that most of the nearly seventy parades of Mardi Gras are named for Pagan deities and cultures.
Today in my Facebook feed I came across many people who expressed the following sentiment, which I am summing up with Devin Hunter’s (of The Modern Witch Podcast) post about our recent outbreak of people questioning Pagan identity.
“This pagan identity crisis thing is ridiculous. This is what people spend their [time] on? Not helping to educate? Not helping to take care of our elderly and families in need? Not participating in the betterment of the community? This community is wonderful at keeping its self distracted while everyone else passes it by. I'm my own definition of Pagan, and I for one would hate it if you tried to define it for me. I won't define it for you.”
We are a young community. I feel that many people are content to remain hidden under a rock, communicating anonymously, which modern technology allows them to do. But if we want to build community, we can’t remain this way. And I also think that people are missing the point: we aren’t trying to define “you”. We are working to define “us,” and what makes up “our” community. Unfortunately this takes time, disagreement and most importantly, communication between people of vastly differing views.