academia Tag - PaganSquare - Join the conversation! Tue, 23 May 2017 04:19:37 -0700 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb PaganNewsBeagle Airy Academic Monday July 21


In this edition of the PaganNewsBeagle (Air - Monday) edition we have three stories from Creighton University including Voodoo in New Orleans, how online social media reflects (and affects) religious behavior, and a study that concludes religious teachings create an inability to tell fact from fiction in young children.

This paper discusses the syncretism of both Catholicism and Voodoo in New Orleans and explains how the adaptable Catholicism of New Orleans provides ample support for the growth rather than repression of Voodoo.

The rise of online social networking appears to represent a new challenge to religious individuals and institutions. In this paper, the author suggests that technology can enhance religious practices through the expansion and creation of religious communities.

Does strong religious belief create gullibility in children? Furthermore, do such beliefs predict psychopathology? This study explored how religious fundamentalism related to irrational beliefs and primitive defense mechanisms.





Read more]]> (Anne Newkirk Niven) Pagan News Beagle Mon, 21 Jul 2014 09:04:59 -0700
Pagans and Print: problems arising from learning Pagan religion by monotheistic means It used to be simple. Wiccans and NeoPagans in general were polytheists in contrast to Christians and other mostly monotheistic religions.  NeoPagan polytheists usually spent little time on theology and considerably more creating and practicing rituals.  Most of us became Pagans by virtue of personal attraction enriched by our involvement with a teacher or a coven or similar group.

Today many NeoPagans first learn about our traditions from books or the internet.  The net in particular has expanded easily available information about our religion but at a cost.  That cost is to be severed from NeoPagan history and practice except as available through pixels or the printed word.  Instead of starting with learning and practice with others and then studying written sources, many NeoPagans now go from the study of texts to practice. They hope to interpret experiences they anticipate having through the texts they have read rather than judging whether the text illuminates or contradicts the experiences they have had.

Monotheistic biases

This modern text oriented approach is comfortable for most of us, and its dangers are hidden by this very comfort. It is a monotheistic way of seeking to learn a polytheistic religion. I think emphasizing the written word as a reliable guide to our practice is at odds with the logic ofPagan religion and carries a very real cost if we are not aware of the problem.

Historically Pagan religions focused on practice rather than texts, let alone theology.  Texts were relatively unimportant and theology nonexistent for more than a tiny elite, if that. Plato, from whom philosophy and theology largely derive, emphasized he never wrote down his most important teachings.  Socrates, the man he made famous, never wrote anything down. Many later philosophers participated in the popular practices of their day even while interpreting them differently from the average participant.

The Eleusinian Mysteries were held for about 2000 years.  Many of the leading figures of Classical civilization were initiates, including Plato, Aristotle, Sophocles, Cicero, and many Roman emperors. Slaves and women were also allowed to participate.  No one publicly discussed the rituals in any detail nor explored various interpretations of their meaning. No theology arose over them despite their probably being the longest practiced formal ritual in EuroPagan history. Their truth, a truth that powerfully attracted people for almost two millennia, was experiential and personal.

As with Paganism in general, the core of most NeoPagan religion is not grasped through dogma or theology. NeoPagans seek to connect with the more-than-human as it manifests in and through our world.  To pick Wicca, the tradition I know best, the cycles of life to death and rebirth; the equivalent cycles of the seasons honored during the Wheel of the Year; the same cycle as manifested in the phases of the moon; and the basic sexual duality that dominates human existence; are the frameworks by which most Wiccans seek to participate in and honor the sacred. We do this through ritual, not reading or listening to sermons and talks about the Wheel or the Goddess.

These Wiccan themes are not universal.  The Wiccan Wheel does not fit an arctic or tropic environment very well. Today the borders of what were once considered well defined sexual distinctions have become less so.  But Wiccans have never claimed to provide the only way to honor the Sacred.

The other major stream within modern NeoPaganism consists of reconstructionist efforts to revive pre-monotheistic traditions driven into extinction or nearly so. Here scholarship plays a stronger role, but I suspect the truth of these efforts is not in reading good papers but in experiencing powerful rituals. 

Within these generous limits NeoPagan practice flourishes in many directions, and each tradition is usually respected as valid by others within the broad NeoPagan umbrella.

Of course Pagan traditions have myths and myths can be written down, but mythology is not the same as theology. Myths often contradict themselves.  This does not become a major problem because what they address ultimately cannot be put into words. They are more like poetry than prose.

Theology vs. practice

Today this primordial Pagan sensibility is being unintentionally challenged.  Recently many of us have encountered Pagans claiming Wicca is “not polytheistic, it is duotheistic.”  Some even argue a “true polytheist” can not recognize the reality of any divine unity of any sort.  Some non-Wiccan Pagans have described how they were told Wicca is the authoritative Pagan voice for our time, and non-Wiccan traditions are inferior. When I encounter such views my first thought is “Where on earth did they pick this up?”

When these and other ideas are confined to personal interpretations of people’s Pagan practices they do not cause any problems. Pagans have always had personal interpretations of their religious and spiritual experiences. My first Gardnerian coven consisted of people who worked amicably together with markedly different ways of interpreting what we did.  Some considered Gardnerian Wicca as Celtic. Others saw it as ultimately Classical. Some interpreted our deities as Jungian archetypes.  Others treated them as independent entities. Some of us were interested in other religious traditions such as Santeria or Buddhism, others were not.  Some of us had long experience in ceremonial magick, others had none.  We almost never discussed theology, and when we did it was from curiosity about others’ views rather than an effort to “get it right” or correct the others’ errors. When conflicts arose among us they generally involved clashing personalities or styles, not matters of doctrine and belief.

Today among some Pagans something new is happening.  Other traditions and other Pagan practices are being criticized from the outside.  When this happens we find ourselves in the same swamp of feuding theologies that has been such an intractable problem for monotheists.  

Book learning

I think this development arises from importing transcendental monotheistic thinking into a immanent polytheistic context. Our culture encourages such styles of thinking. The problem is made worse when Pagans learn the basics of their religion through books or online because this reinforces cultural assumptions that on matters of religion, wisdom comes from the printed word.

We have grown up in a society where people usually regarded themselves as fundamentally separated from the sacred.  In the Christian West the world was fallen and often seen as dominated by malign powers.  Deception was everywhere and only certain texts could be trusted.  Occasionally, we were taught, inspired prophets would write down their teachings, or Jesus arrived and his words were preserved. Our only access to spiritual truth was in reading and understanding these words of others.

While written teachings have their strengths, they tend to teach two destructive lessons. First, we can never rely on our personal experience if they do not confirm what the texts, say. Second, only some interpretations of the texts are correct. 

The more we accept this framework the more hypnotized we became by the text and its claim to be a superior form of knowledge. We become blind to what the text does not say or what interpretations we regard as ‘authoritative’ ignore. Our expectations become blinders.  Worse still, since all texts require interpretation, when we regard the interpretation we accept as correct we raise our judgment and will to equality with what we think is divine will.  The results have been and continue to be horrible.

Fortunately we Pagans have no texts claiming to be sacred in the way the monotheists do, but we are still biased towards taking texts and the style of thinking they encourage very seriously.  They get between us and our spiritual experience.  As Joseph Campbell observed, such an approach is 'like diners going into a restaurant and eating the menu.”

They also encourage us to judge others’ religious practices and beliefs by the texts and interpretations we take as authoritative.  Everyone should go to our restaurant and eat its menu.

The problem is inherent in the medium.  The solution is not to stop reading, but to be aware of how the media fits monotheism far better than it fits Pagan religion, and so be forewarned about problems inherent in it. The best book is nothing more than a training wheel on a bicycle, and you are nowhere much until you have freed yourself from dependence on it because you have learned to ride.

“But diZerega, you write all the time.”

I am not criticizing book learning, I am criticizing relying it uncritically.  I am criticizing those who use their favorite texts to criticize others' practice as insufficiently Wiccan or polytheist or whatever the issue of the day might be.  I am criticizing treating it as more than an adjunct to other kinds of learning.

Written texts are vital to the modern world.  Modern science in particular depends on publications and interpreting and investigating the meanings of those publications.  But science differs from religion in that it requires those texts and papers to be rooted in repeatable explorations of the physical world.  The texts are ultimately subordinate to scientists’ experience.

Even then texts can blind scientists for years as to what is in front of them. My favorite example is Eastern Washington’s “scablands,”   where the largest floods ever to have happened in North America raced through a mountain valley to flow out onto the Columbia Plateau, carving strange canyons and leaving ripple lines of large boulders.  These happened multiple times when a glacial dam that created a lake as large as one of the Great Lakes repeatedly broke, reformed, and broke again. People studied this strange landscape for decades wondering how it came to be, and almost unanimously denied floods had anything to do with it. 

One maverick, Harlen Bretz, stood his ground, was ridiculed, and in his 90s  finally recognized as having solved the puzzle. Now the evidence that spoke to Bretz is obvious to anyone who looks and knows how he interpreted it.

Modern science assumes the universe is open to human understanding, and seeks to take our understanding as far as it can.  Competing interpretations are inevitable because we all bring different perspectives to studying these issues.  At least all but one will be flawed.  Being people, we often get it wrong, but insofar as we are scientists people can gradually whittle away the most visible errors. Science’s strongest point is its ability to eliminate faulty theories. Our understanding of physical phenomena will likely never be complete, but it gets progressively better. Wise scientists never claim to discover truth, but rather to have increased the reliability of our knowledge.

Religion is different.  Religion deals with what is superior to human understanding. The assumption that the world is amenable to understanding by human minds, so basic to science, cannot apply to religion and spirituality and so tools suitable to one may be insufficient for the other. Myth, so central to religious traditions, is never a part of a scientific theory.

There is another problem with relying too much on the printed word, even in science. To pick a mundane example, we can never learn to ride a bicycle by reading about it.  Instead we try to ride it, tip over, fall off, get back on, and eventually “get the hang of it.” In fact, keeping the formulas for balancing while riding in mind gets in the way. of learning. Better to try, tip over, fall off, and try again.

The same is true in doing science rather than reading about it.  One becomes a scientist by working with other scientists, gradually learning how to use the instruments of the field, and getting a sense of how the field fits together.

This same insight holds for religions emphasizing spiritual immanence and personal contact with the Sacred, only much more so.

Texts separate us from the world.  We focus on the words and what they reveal to our understanding and imagination.  They interpose themselves between us and experience.  This makes sense when the world is regarded as deceptive, fallen, or secondary to transcendental truths revealed by inspired writers. But when the world is regarded as a direct manifestation of the sacred it does not. 

And so we encounter the silliness of long discussions about supposed Wiccan “duotheism” as opposed to polytheism, carried out mostly by non-Wiccans.  Or arguments about what is "real" polytheism, carried out by people who put their experience  above everyone else’s and assume their grasp of logic is equal to the task of grasping the super human.  Or of Wiccans who treat other NeoPagan traditions as inferior or in extreme cases treat their Book of Shadows as divinely inspired instructions true for all time. All these attitudes arise from applying transcendental monotheistic approaches to religions that emphasize neither transcendence nor monotheism.  The problem is made worse by Pagans learning their Paganism from books and the net, and so I think it needs explicit addressing.

What might the spiritual world be like if we put practice and experience ahead of dogma and logic? My next post will explore this.

Read more]]> (Gus diZerega) Culture Blogs Thu, 22 May 2014 11:37:01 -0700
The Literacy of Magic Pt 1 Recently Ivo Dominguez Jr published a thought provoking article where he discussed the lack of the literacy in magic in today's Pagans. While I found myself nodding in agreement with a lot of what he had to say (I've observed in the past that there is an increasing amount of emphasis on removing magic from Paganism because it makes Paganism less acceptable to the mainstream*), I also found his use of the word literacy problematic, and by extension it caused me to re-examine his article and some of my agreement with the article in a different light. As a result, I think it worthwhile to examine the concept of the literacy of magic, both in relationship to the word literacy and its variety of meanings, and also in context to the practice of magic vs the "literacy" of magic, which I'll argue are not one and the same (in part 2 of this series). In fact, part of the issue I have with the use of the word literacy is that conjures up the armchair magician, a person has read a lot of books on magic, but has done little, if anything, with that magical knowledge. I would locate the armchair magician on the opposite end of the illiterate Pagan (at least as that illiteracy applies to magic). However, as we'll see, it's simplistic to categorize anyone as literate or illiterate, because literacy itself is a loaded term.

Read more]]> (Taylor Ellwood) Studies Blogs Fri, 22 Nov 2013 23:27:09 -0800
Paging Thoth & Athena


I read a lot of blogs, go to a lot of conferences and festivals, teach a lot of workshops, and have lively discussions with friends related to all things Pagan and Magickal. Although I can say that ease of access to ideas through the internet, bookstores, and Pagan and Magickal events has increased awareness of many social issues, ideologies, religious and theological perspectives, and the vast amount of minutia related Pagan culture and fads, there is an increasing percentage of the Pagan community that is magickally illiterate and innumerate.  I’m not saying that people are less serious, less devoted, or less committed to their path. Nor am I saying that the level of discourse has dropped, in fact in many ways it is much more sophisticated in exploring the development of Pagan culture. What I have noticed is that the technical end of things, magick theory, sacred sciences, and the like, are less well known. I've also noticed a trend towards focusing more exclusively on the lore and mythology of a specific people or a specific time at the expense of a generalized understanding of how magickal paths manifest in a variety of cultures and communities.


There has been an increase in the academic study of both historic and current Paganism, which I greatly appreciate, but much of that research is magickally illiterate and innumerate even when it is well done. The criteria for what is valid and what has merit in academic circles is often quite different than what would be valuable and applicable in magickal circles.  Also it seems to me that most of our pagan academics model their work on paradigms from the mainstream culture. I do understand the dilemma involved in trying to balance the need for acceptance by the broader academic community against the goal of creating our own sort of academic model. It is hard when “magical thinking” is used as a loaded term to describe irrational thinking when from a Pagan perspective it could mean thinking that includes an understanding of causality and synchronicity larger in scope than the shuttered limits of the mainstream.


 Let’s start with the basics. The capacity to read, to write, and to do arithmetic is considered essential to the foundations of learning, hence the many programs throughout the world to reduce illiteracy and innumeracy. There is no existing word that I am aware of in a Pagan/Magickal context that is analogous to the core capacities implied by literacy and numeracy so for the moment I am just adding the word magickal as a way of exploring the question. So what do I mean by what I am tentatively calling magickal literacy and numeracy? It is not as easy to define as reading, writing, and arithmetic. By extension, magickal literacy and numeracy involves an understanding of symbols (the equivalent of letters, numbers, etc.) and of grammar and rules of operation for the manipulation and measurement of subtle forces. Magickal literacy and numeracy also means that a person has a way to read, to reason, to understand, and to make comparisons between magickal concepts, practices, and experiences.  Integral to this is the capacity to analyze and to quantify what works, what doesn’t work, and why in rituals, operative magic, divination, and other similar practices.  Magickal literacy and numeracy are hard to separate from each other, but this last description leans more heavily into the idea of magickal numeracy. 


This kind of core capability would probably arise from a basic working knowledge of magick theory (laws of magick), metaphysics (philosophy of being and reality), trusted systems (Qabala, Astrology, Alchemy, etc.), and other related frameworks. This may be a good starting point from my perspective, but the next obstacle is in creating an agreeable curriculum. There are so many different approaches, schools, and systems that it becomes almost impossible for any one individual to have time to truly become conversant in more than a small sector of what is available. Moreover, the choices to be made and what is valuable to be included or excluded in such a curriculum would be determined by the sensibilities of the person’s starting point. There is also the predicament of finding adequate teachers for each of the topics that are included in such a curriculum. For many years, the rate at which new people have been entering into our communities far exceeds the rate at which adequate teachers can be trained so the challenge of finding teachers is significant.


 This particular blog post is meant to be the start of a conversation around these issues. I’m still working on understanding what I have observed in the last few decades in our community and I’m still in the process of formulating both questions and proposed solutions. It may be that there are no good solutions, and if that is the case then the focus may shift to reducing and mitigating harm. I am still hopeful that over the next several decades we will make progress. I also understand that we are not a monolithic community, we are more like an ecology of communities. Different communities will have these issues move through them at different times and in different ways as each reaches the developmental stage where they become relevant.  How much help we can be to each other hinges upon how much we actually know about each other and how much we hold as common ground.


 If we work hard and are fortunate, then perhaps we might be able to take things a step beyond simple magickal literacy and numeracy. Perhaps we can increase the range of what is considered common knowledge in a magically educated person. Let's say that there were an imaginary college for all things magickal. In that college you might major in Druidry, or Heathenry, or Thelema, or Wicca, etc.  By the way, this college is a thought experiment and not proposal. In addition to the courses that relate to your major, you would also take courses that are part of  general education. The general education courses allow exposure to a broad range of disciplines that provide context for your major and the capacity to communicate and to interact with those things that lie outside of your major field of study. By the way, I believe that sometimes our best insights into our major come from looking at it from outside using the perspective of another field. 


Those general education courses are really a subset of what corresponds to a liberal education. The goal of a liberal education is to empower people with the capacity to think and to understand and to adapt to a changing world. Today, that often means teaching a broad range of disciplines, multiple systems for knowing and analysis, and a grounding in ideas from both art and science. The origin of today’s concept of a liberal education evolved from the historical Artes Liberales with its Trivium (grammar, logic, rhetoric) and Quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, music), also known as the seven liberal arts.  Perhaps one way to begin the discussion of what would be included in a curriculum for a general education that provides or expands upon magickal literacy and numeracy could be started by having discussions about which seven systems you think are needed for clear magickal thinking. Lest you take me literally, I don’t necessarily think that it is seven systems. It is just useful to have parameters if you’re going to be doing brainstorming and exploring.


I may write another post about this topic in the next year if I get clearer and sharper on my analysis of this concern. If you’d like to engage in a conversation with me about this, please look me up on my website or on Facebook. I gave a talk at Spring Magick 2011 in Pennsylvania called “The Touchstone: Discerning Magickal Truths” that has material germane to this blog. You may listen to it or download it at this link.


Read more]]> (Ivo Dominguez Jr) Culture Blogs Tue, 12 Nov 2013 16:03:30 -0800
Giving 'til it hurts

NPR reports on a study that confirms what many of us already felt, that poor people are more charitable, in how they think about community and as a percentage of what they have.  So what's going on here?  I have some ideas, not all of which could possibly be correct at the same time, and I'm even more curious about the ideas I haven't thought of myself.

Not surprisingly, "religion" is cited as a motivator for charitable behavior, but from what I can tell, that generic term as applied in the studies cited actually means "Christian religion" instead.  It's understandable that researchers focus their efforts on the largest groups, but the rest of us must read between the lines.

My theories about wealth and charity include:

  • Math.  Wealthy people make larger donations because they have more money.  Some of them give millions.  They recognize that they can give oodles and still be more comfortable than they would be if they were middle class, and have decided that they are giving enough.
  • Fear.  Accumulation of wealthy is driven by the scarcity mindset, the fear of being without.  This does not lend itself to giving willingly, as the tight fist of fear opens only grudgingly.
  • Connection.  The more money we have, as the study suggests, the more we can pay people to provide goods and services, leading to business, not personal, relationships.  Business does not beget compassion.
  • Gratitude.  Living closer to the poverty line makes a person more grateful for small blessings.

I'd very much like to do so field research, preferably as a participant-observer, among the fabulously wealthy.  Donations towards that project are cheerfully accepted.  While I'm working on that funding proposal, I will instead collect evidence from my willing readers.

Does your Pagan path specifically encourage charity?  What factors contribute to your decisions about giving?

Read more]]> (Terence P Ward) Culture Blogs Wed, 04 Sep 2013 04:07:41 -0700
How Spiritual Institutions Become Demonized  

If you want to hide the truth from the uninitiated, keep it in plain sight. Even reveal it to them, openly and honestly! They will not believe you.


There is nothing a conspiracy theorist hates more, than the truth that there is no conspiracy - only universal patterns.


This doesn't mean that certain people don't try to conspire together, and wouldn't like to be able to rule the world - just that no human institution is powerful enough, in the end, to make Karma conform to its plans.


To a Mason, the accusation that his Lodge performs Satanic rituals is absurd. From the first moment he was led into his first initiation, he heard nothing but language taken directly from the Bible. As he proceeded through the Degrees and later became a Lodge Officer himself, his experience was consistently the same: Old Testament liturgy involving the building of Solomon's Temple, overlain with New Testament references to holy saints. The basic teaching of Freemasonry is the Brotherhood of Man under the Fatherhood of God. The Working Tools of Masonry are symbols designed to teach a man how to be an upright, law abiding citizen. The Mason's ultimate wish is that when he dies he may be admitted into Heaven and hear the words of Jesus, "Well done, good and faithful servant; enter thou into the joy of thy Lord."


But try telling that to a person who subscribes to the pseudo-Christian websites claiming that "Freemasonry is of Satan!" There is no way he is going to believe you. (I refer to those websites as pseudo-Christian because they lack the basic Christian hallmarks of brotherly love and humility. Besides, millions of true Christians are Masons.)


Ironically, those misguided website creators spend far more time thinking about Satan than anybody I know. They are obsessed with Satan; just count how many times they invoke his name! If minor deities are given life by the thought-energies of humans, then who is actually giving life to the Devil? It's certainly not us Pagans.


The reason Masonry got such a bad rap goes back to the Middle Ages and a Catholic Church that didn't want to share temporal power. Church fathers were made apoplectic by the idea of free-thinkers in their communities - Gnostics, Cathars and others - who didn't accept that Papal Bulls were direct pronouncements from God Himself. (As though every Pope since Peter had been a spotless saint! Hello, boys and girls; can you say "Borgia"?)


It would be slanderous to claim that the Roman Catholic Church never had any saints; over the centuries, they have far outnumbered the dirt bags. But, unfortunately for any organization, the villains always grab the headlines.


The Church could have taken the benign Universalist view that these groups, too, worshipped God in their own ways. But, no; the threat to its earthly power was deemed too great. So - if you didn't kowtow to the Church, you were headed for the Stake. 


And this is why I'm writing about Masonry in a blog devoted to Pagans! We all believe in the Divine, and we share a lot more things in common than you might have realized. The defamation and horror of the Burning Times didn't just happen to Wise Women, Alchemists and Jews.


Much has been written about the Knights Templar, and how the French King and the Pope finally decided to decimate the Order because its temporal power rivaled their own. One of the Masonic Degrees is the Knights Templar Degree, and Masonry's youth branch is the Order of DeMolay - a direct homage to Jacques DeMolay, the fiercely courageous head of the Templars who was tortured and burned at the stake but refused to the end to "confess" to any Satanic practices. Now that was a man.


Are you ready for the most stupidly ignorant aspect of the pseudo-Christian websites? They include the Catholic Church in the list of organizations that are controlled by Satan!


In other words:


1) They identify Masonry as a Satanic cult, trusting the word of the Medieval Catholic Church which waged a public-relations campaign against it; But  


2) They identify the Catholic Church itself as a Satanic cult!


There is a disconnect in their reasoning. Nor is it based on any real facts of history, sociology or religion.


The explanation, of course, is that these people use "Satanic Cult" as a huge trash bin in which to dump any organization which they fear and don't agree with. It has nothing to do with reason at all. 


In 1882 the Knights of Columbus fraternity was created to give Catholic men a Masonic-type organization of their own. What few understand today, is that Masonry never excluded Catholic men from becoming Masons; it was the Pope who prohibited it, on pain of excommunication. That prohibition was finally revoked by Pope John XXIII in the second half of the 20th century.


So, that's how spiritual institutions become demonized; competing interests spread lies about them in order to solidify their own political power. And the lies are believed by gullible, paranoid people who are too lazy - or who lack the resources - to investigate the facts for themselves. And the stigma persists, down through the generations.


Unfortunately, such misguided hysteria can pave the way for inquisitions, pogroms and holocausts.


Read more]]> (Ted Czukor) Studies Blogs Sat, 01 Jun 2013 11:00:50 -0700
Making Sense of the Modernist Recon (Pr 2) How to engage the reconstructionist / historical-based pagan and not get your feelings hurt:

Lesson 1: Learn to discern the differences between fact and opinion, history and UPG/experience.

You may not have realised that you were presenting a subjective statement as an objective one.  Especially in the United States, the stress on this aspect of language arts in schools is often failing, but so if pop culture, to be frank.

Facts, are ostensibly objective statements subject to verification by external sources.  Sometimes the factuality of a statement is presumed (due to either lacking or misunderstand the data), but is later proved false by external data --the statement, due to being presented that way, is still considered a statement of fact.

Opinions are ostensibly subjective statements that cannot justifiably be proved true or false with external data.  Some articles may present very clear opinions "factually" for humorous effect, like "It's a proven fact that Breyer's Ice Cream is better than Ben & Jerry's", but if the context is understood, then it's clear that this does not need to be, nor can it reasonably be verified by external data.  Now, a lot of people like to justify their opinions with facts, like "Breyer's ice cream is better because they sell their ice cream in larger quantities and don't use carageenan, so it's a better value for the price and doesn't adversely affect insulin levels", this would be an informed opinion, and still exists separately from the facts --the facts, given the ice cream brand example, are simply that you can buy Breyer's ice cream in larger quantities than Ben & Jerry's and that Breyer's typically doesn't use carageenan, but the statement that this makes it "better" as an ice cream is still subjective --maybe you don't like to have huge quantities of ice cream sitting around, or maybe carageenan doesn't affect your insulin, or maybe you have other reasons to prefer Ben & Jerry's.

Informed opinions are also a staple of many professional fields.  A doctor's diagnosis is an informed opinion based on the facts of your symptoms, both verified either visually or with testing, and symptoms reported by yourself (like localised pain, which is harder to verify).  Another doctor may have a different opinion, but it would be no less informed than that of the first doctor.  Archaeology and anthropology, both fields very important to religious reconstruction, are also filled with informed, professional opinions.  These opinions are often presumed factual, not only by laity from outside the fields, but by others within the fields who accept them as factual.  People who are professionals in one field, like Carl Jung held in psychology, cannot justifiably hold an informed opinion outside that field, like ancient religions; that background will necessarily inform one's opinions in outside fields, which simply isn't the same as a psychologist's informed opinion of psychological topics.


Lesson 2:  There are subtle differences between appropriation and acculturation.

If you've been on Tumblr any time since about 2009, you're probably familiar with the "zero tolerance" policy that many teen Tumblring pagans have adopted toward "cultural appropriation" while hardly able to articulate an adequate definition of what that even means.  This is in large part due to students of humanities going on the Internet, blogging about things, and then younger people read those blogs, but lack the background to really grasp what these things are about.  Sometimes said students barely understand, either, but cos they read Foucault and masturbate furiously, they don't care, "cos grades were just created by society to try and make you feel bad" about what you think you understand, or something like that.  (As an aside:  If a self-proclaimed "Classicist" ever favourably cites Foucault, run.) 

Basically, the definition of "cultural appropriation" that most people use in a negative light is the uninformed, superficial, wanton used of cultural trappings of a minority culture one does not belong to.  "Appropriation" often includes the practise of some white people claiming to be "Native American spiritualists" or similar, while spouting "facts" that people actually from those cultures dispute.  Basically, it's reworking a minority culture to fit one's own purposes and ideas, which may not have anything to do with what that culture's language, tools, or garments may signify in their proper cultural context.

On the other hand, acculturation is when people from one culture become one with another culture, to varying degrees; to absorb oneself completely into the other culture is assimilation.  Acculturation is necessarily informed.  As an example:  Lord Byron was so in love with Hellenic culture that some argue he was fully assimilated Greek when he joined in the Greek War of Independence, others argue that he was simply highly acculturated into Greekness.  Acculturation is also arguably syncretic, especially when practising ancient religions and reconstructing that continuum between ancient and modern practise, because it is necessary to blend one's native culture into a religion when that religion comes from an ancient culture where it was clearly interwoven into one's way of life.  "Recons", traditionalists, or historic-based pagans (or whatever other terms one may use), tend to aim for some degree of acculturation, even if they still largely keep to their native culture, being clearly informed of the acclimated culture should be apparent, especially to those of that culture or similarly acculturated.

That said, there's also a difference between informed eclecticism and acculturation.


Lesson 3: Eclecticism is NOT a dirty word.

While certainly come historic-based pagans need to remember this, as well, it'd be really nice if everybody could remember it.  Eclecticism is simply what happens when one places less importance on history and acculturation than on "what works for [oneself]".  Eclectism is necessarily a very personal take on religious paganism that pulls from all sorts of sources, ancient, modern, Medaeival, folkloric, philosophical, and so on.  Carl Jung, or at least quasi-Jungian interpretations of religious concepts tend to be popular with eclectics, but not with traditionalists.  Joseph Campbell's ideas also tend to be incredibly popular with eclectics but again, traditionalists give him less credit.  Jung and Campbell's ideas are based largely on their own, wholly modern notions and are clearly held as outsiders to the religions that they've analysed to fit these hypotheses, and tend to be at clear odds with a logical continuum from the traditions as maintained by practitioners of said religions.  On the other hand, if you believe that Jung and Campbell were on to something, and that their ideas are more relevant to the religion you want to practise, that's totally fine.  Most traditionalists won't even be bothered by spirited debate, but my still take pause if you claim to be of the same religion --it'd be like saying Mormons (a very new Christian movement) are Gnostics (which is, for all intents and purposes, a collective of reconstructed Ante-Nicean Christianity), just because some of their ideas overlap on a Venn diagram.

It's perfectly OK to be Eclectic.  Any presumed derision of Eclectism from historic-based pagans is largely blown out of proportion, and has only been seriously applied by a relative handful.  While some may justify derisive statements made toward eclectics, like citing that the average non-pagan can't tell the difference and this "makes us all look bad", I have no personal quarrel with stating that those people need to take their head out of their bums.


Lesson 4:  Don't take it personally.

This is easier said than done, I know.  I'm not innocent of taking things more personally than necessary, and my advice may not work for you, but some of it may, or may at least work for others.

There are differences between personal insults and asking questions when perceptions clash.  Suggesting your practises might be eclectic may be more likely a recommendation to reflect on the words you may be using, and how that differs with the historically established practises of that tradition, regardless of whether or not you consider yourself "recon".

When I find myself about the have a completely emotional response to what I just read, I step away from it.  I find a distraction for a few minutes to an hour or two, then consider what I just read, does it need an emotional response, or is it best approached with reason, logic, facts, and maybe a bit of humour?  It's usually the latter.  Emotions can be a powerful thing, they're a gift from the gods, in my opinion, but like all gifts, they're best used wisely --your mother may have given you a lovely dress and gorgeous double cuffed shirt with cufflinks, but you wouldn't wear either to run track, would you?  I certainly wouldn't.  If the Internet has taught us nothing else, it's that emotional responses to blog posts seldom go over very well.  Even the pseudo-sociology crowd has rarely made good from being as emotional as they can get on Tumblr.

If I approach what I read more rationally, it's usually a lot easier to tell if the statements made were clearly made to insult me or my tribe.  It's not always an exact science, and it takes some trial and error.


Part three is going to address some of the more common accusations I see lobbbed at recons.

Read more]]> (Ruadhán J McElroy) Culture Blogs Sat, 25 May 2013 19:05:01 -0700