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Culture Blogs

Popular subjects in contemporary Pagan culture and practice.

Category contains 1 blog entry contributed to teamblogs
Etiquette Lesson: Keeping Your Boundaries

In this modern first world life, maintaining your boundaries can be a constant struggle – the friend who calls at 3a on the regular crying about her messy love life, the mother in law who wants to be a little too involved in your life, your sister constantly claiming she just wants to do one thing like go to the doctor’s with the lure of hearing the baby’s heartbeat and then ropes you into going on two or three errands after.

Okay, the last one is totally my problem. But, boundaries are a big issue because it requires a lot of balance, some quid quo pro and not getting bogged down by all teh feels.

First, it is vital for you to do some hacking and slashing in your life. Are you part of any organizations that you’re only lukewarm about, but they take up a lot of your time and energy? They’ve got to go. With loved ones, it’s often not easy to just cut them out of your life for a whole mess of reasons.  Hopefully one of those reasons is "because I love them and they are part of my support structure when they are not being a complete and utter pain in my ass".  

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
The Importance of Remembrance

In Canada we call November 11th “Remembrance Day” and it’s a pretty big deal for us culturally.  It’s not just a bank holiday, like Veteran’s Day in the US.  Though it is that, we also take time as a culture, in our schools prior to it and at our daily grind otherwise, to observe a moment of silence for the dead of our many World Wars, to which we now must add the Gulf War and the War in Afghanistan.  As children in school, we make construction paper poppies and listen to the stories of soldiers.  As adults, often we stand in the rain as our veterans stand solemnly in their uniforms and their medals, and we try to give their experience meaning and find hope in a time of darkness.

I think as Pagans, it is especially important that we engage in this practice of remembrance.  Whatever your view on war (some traditions strongly respecting the warrior path, such as the Asatru; some being adamantly opposed to war, such as Reclaiming Witches,) our empathy for the experience of it is a valuable service we can contribute to our culture and the world.  The many reasons connect to the uniquely Pagan experience of our spirituality.  Now granted, these are all generalizations; and as such, not everyone will fit these moulds.  But we seem to have these commonalities that make remembrance, especially of powerful and terrible events such as war, much more immediate and intense.

Respect for Our Roots

Many of us are called to Pagan paths because we feel a strong ancestral connection.  Even the modern religion of Wicca draws its roots from the ancient Pagan practices of Europe.  All but the most dedicated Reconstructionists agree we can’t exactly practice the same religion that our ancestors did; cultural and historical context, technology and needs are completely different.  But something about those “Ancient Ways” draws us anyway.

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  • Carlee Barnes
    Carlee Barnes says #
    As a retired US military member, I take offense at the first paragraph. We have more than a bank holiday. There are parades, fla

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
First thoughts on THOR: THE DARK WORLD

At this point, you ought to know whether or not you like Marvel's particular approach to superhero movies. I do. If you also liked the rest of the Marvel Universe films, you'll like THOR: THE DARK WORLD - and likely rate it among the best of the films in the series.

Director Alan Taylor's THE DARK WORLD is an decided improvement on Kenneth Branagh's THOR, which was hampered by having to do too many things within its running time: the backstory of war with the frost giants, revelations about Loki's true nature, the romance with Jane Foster (and wacky Midgard hi-jinx that ensued), some business with the Destroyer, etc. All of that got in the way of presenting a convincing character arc for Thor himself, who had, all told, maybe ten minutes of time actually devoted to his transformation from glory-hungry barbarian to self-sacrificing guardian of mortals. If you're a fan of the comics, you know this is how it has to go, but cinematically, it was not particularly well-done. That's forgivable, since the noble, stoic Thor we ended up with is really the character we wanted all along, but still, it made the movie less enjoyable

In THE DARK WORLD, after a little bit of naked exposition (obviously reminiscent of the prologue to Peter Jackson's Fellowship of the Ring), we are able to get right into it: the Nine Worlds exist, and we get to visit quite a few of them. (There's even a scene in Vanaheim, which is traditionally the most boringest plane of existence in Marvel Asgard.) There's very little apologizing for the fantastic elements in this film; there's no self-consciousness in the Asgard scenes. Design-wise, this film embraces the "science fantasy" aesthetic even more than previous installments have: I can see a lot of STAR WARS in this film. And this completely works! While easily lampooned as Vikings... in... spaaaaaaace!, I found the design of both Asgard and the Dark Elves' weaponry, armor, and space ships to be delightfully imaginative. They have flying longships, folks, complete with shields hanging off the sides. The settings are equally impressive: Svartalfheim (simply called "The Dark World" in the film because, well, Svartalfheim doesn't quite roll off the tongue) is a sepia-skied waste of black sand, Vanaheim is a rugged wilderness, and Asgard continues in its golden glory

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  • Archer
    Archer says #
    I am warming to the Vikings in Space design and now, like you, find Asgard convincing and original and sort of Maxfield Parish/N,C
  • Eric O. Scott
    Eric O. Scott says #
    The last of Loki's "disguises" during his dialogue with Thor.

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

The Huffington Post recently got the chance to compare Bill Maher, Richard Dawkins, and Oprah Winfrey, which already lets you know that things have gone off the rails. The short of it is that each of these people took someone and projected their own religion upon them; Dawkins and Maher projected Atheism upon President Obama and Pope Francis (I wish I was kidding) respectively, while Winfrey projected a vague sort of theism onto her guest, Diana Nyad (an Atheist). The article goes on to elaborate upon how crude such presumptions are, no matter their intention. Assurances of “no really, you're the same as me!” may be spoken with a mindset that is complimentary, but the reality is that it just ends up as a subtle insult.  It leaves their religious viewpoint up to consensus rather than the dictates of their own soul.

Respect for the religions of others is, like many things, easy to talk about but much more complicated in practice. It's easy to stumble without meaning to, and modern Paganism has a pretty unique stumbling block that seems to effect people on all sides.

An interview with Larisa Hunter over at Northern Runes Radio revealed that she has just started her own publishing company (Saga Press). Part of her reason to start this venture, she said, was that that their was a few issues in communicating concepts with her previous publisher. “Working with a Pagan publisher, I did find it difficult to convey that Heathenry was different and it had to be expressed in different ways.” she said, “”A lot of the terminology is not the same, so putting generic terms in a Heathen book doesn't work. So that was my frustration; it was butting heads [because] they didn't understand that Heathenry had specific terms for specific reasons and we like those terms.” (This part of the interview occurs between 5:10 and 5:40, though the entire video is worth watching.)

I suspect the disconnect that Larisa is referring to is quite common. It certainly finds a level of comparison when contrasted against the actions of Dawkins, Maher, and Winfrey, though it comes from a much more benign place in my opinion. The modern Pagan revival really came into it's own in the 1990s partly because it was good at finding similarities and common ground.  Many historical and modern Pagan paths had a strong tradition of syncretism. It is true that some less scrupulous authors used the zeitgeist of the time to publish poorly researched works and turn them into a paycheck, the desire to find similarities and build connections was still a noble one. They learned to take a look at the spiritual actions of many separate cultures, compare the commonalities between those actions, and than make something new from the complementary elements.

This makes it easy and sensiable for some people to look at the Heathen practices of Spae-work and go, “Oh! That's just like our techniques for ritual magic!”. If you know someone who practices Spae, have them read the previous sentence. Watch the expression that they make. I'll bet you a dollar it isn't a pleasant or pleased one.

Yes, it is a form of magic, but it's not the same as yours. Some of the conceits of Spae are much different from the baseline of ritualistic magic work that exists today. This is the point where I suspect those who specialize in the mystical practices involved in chaos magic, Kabbalistic techniques, Gardenerian Wicca, and other traditions are nodding their head. The things which drew some of us to these particular practices were their unique structure and beauty.  For those passionately drawn to such work, seeing those sacred and ineffable differences disregarded can be painful if not downright insulting.


a1sx2_Original1_Gaston-and-Magic-with-a-K.pngThis is not a judgment of Eclectic Paganism, but rather highlighting a diplomatic pitfall that can occur easily. Looking for a commonality to use as a bridge between the paths of two very different people is not a weakness; it's an act of unity. The problem isn't with the comparison itself, but rather in how such a comparison is made and presented. To provide another Heathen example, Galdr could be compared to many different forms of ritualistic chanting and/or singing. Galdr certainly is a form of such practices, but it follows it's own rules, it's done for specific purposes, and is performed in it's own ways. The differences have equal value to the similarities, because those differences are what have created our traditions and paths. Recognizing the similarities is wonderful, but discarding the differences in the process is throwing out whole chunks of what some of us have spent our lives trying to understand and embrace. This isn't a one way street either, as I suspect that those of more reconstructionist based methodology are equally guilty of actions that are equally crass and marginalizing.

What is at work here is no mystery, as it represents a huge part of how humans develop socially.  Both as individuals and as cultures, we are dawn to seek the ties that bind. Finding similarities and connections is not wrong, so long as we go about it in an intelligent and respectful way.  That's the good news here; the mistake is easy to make, but it's even easier to avoid.

Don't say “Oh! That thing you do sounds exactly like this thing that I do. They must be the same!” Your never going to know if it's “exactly like” your own practices, so don't presume.  Instead, use it as a doorway to a better understanding. “That sounds similar to my own practices. Are you familiar with them?” or “In my tradition, such things are called “X”...what else can you tell me about your methods?” Instead of whitewashing those meaningful differences away, you've given a chance to give them the attention and recognition they deserve. At the same time, you've built that same bridge through commonalities and reinforced it with respect. Lastly, you've opened yourself to learning about the ways of another. You've lost nothing, and gained much.

Tolerance of religion isn't as easy as it sounds. To be truly tolerant you don't need to grasp only your own concept of acceptance, but the concepts of others. There are no easy answers, and most rules of thumb will find a way to bite you in the rump more often than not. The only guideline I've found that hasn't let me down is, fittingly enough, the simplest one of all.

If you want to know more, simply ask a question. It's surprising how much further we get with questions than with statements.

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  • Francesca De Grandis
    Francesca De Grandis says #
    Yes. Yes.

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
An Open Letter to Teo Bishop

Dear Teo, 

like so many other Pagans I was moved when I read your Disruptive and Inconvenient Realization. As a recent convert from Christianity to Paganism your honest confession stirred up emotions for me. 

Many Pagans are former Christians. Those of us who converted from Christianity generally have Christian friends and family praying that we will "repent" and "come back." We're seen as prodigals on the wrong path who will realize our error and return to the Christian church. Sometimes the pressure is tremendous, especially where family is involved. We find strength in our Pagan community. We sometimes deal with the pressure by feeding our own us-vs-them mentality. We tell each other how much better our new path is and how glad we are to be done with Christianity. And then one of our own leaves our ranks and does exactly what we vowed we'd never do: "coming back" to Christianity. 

You express concern that some will see journey as a betrayal. If Teo Bishop goes back to Jesus, does that mean I will some day return as well? Will I lose my community? Will I lose the freedom I have gained? What if my struggle and all of the work of rebuilding my life after my conversion was for nothing? What if "they" were right and everything I have come to treasure is the lie they keep saying it is?

Those are scary thoughts and most of us are no strangers to doubt and worry. I couldn't help but think some of those thoughts when I first read your blog. I remembered all of the bad times, the oppression, the abuse, and I pictured myself back in the midst of it all. But then I took a step back and disentangled your story from my own. 

Isn't it funny how easily we confuse someone else's journey with the stories woven by our own fears? You are returning to your roots and moving forward on your own path. Sometimes we need to focus on our roots so we can continue to grow. Returning to your roots for the purpose of growth is not going backwards. 

But you say you were never fully committed to your path with ADF. It makes me wonder, should we measure commitment by how we follow one particular path? Most Pagans are converts, clearly we were not overly committed to our previous religions. Instead we were committed to our values. Wanting to grow brought us to a different path. Wasn't it our commitment to integrity that gave us the strength to leave our former religion and explore Paganism?

Jason Mankey writes "There’s no betrayal when someone leaves the Pagan fold. We don’t renounce any gods before stepping onto the path and don’t pledge eternal loyalty to any gods when we step on it." Paganism is a pluralistic path. We don't bat an eye when  someone decides to follow a Greek pantheon instead of the Celtic Gods. So why would following Jesus and the Christian God be so different?

Maybe our problem is our narrow understanding of Christianity. The claim to exclusivity, absolute truth, and the condemnation of all other Gods certainly sets Evangelical Christianity at odds with Paganism. But you never signed up for the Christian Right. "I’ve come to recognize, even more so than I already believed, that there are many, many ways for people to live out a meaningful spiritual life." If more people like you join Christian churches, it's a win for us all. 

As a Pagan I value pluralism. I value diversity. I believe that divinity is expressed in many forms and that we all understand Spirit differently. We have hard polytheists, monists, pantheists, syncretists, and atheists in our midst. We have endless debates on who is a "real" Pagan and who isn't, and in the end we still find ourselves under the same umbrella. The Christo-Pagan debate has been getting old for a while now and yet the movement continues to grow. Are we really afraid of Christianity or are we worried about exclusivity? Are we so worried about exclusivity that we exclude Christians from the interfaith table because we fear they might be exclusive? Do we recognize irony when it slaps us in the face? 

Pluralism is one of the values that drew me to Paganism. I love my new path and I cannot see myself ever returning to Christianity. Then again, not too long ago I couldn't see myself ever becoming a Pagan. My commitment first and foremost is to live a life of honesty, integrity, love, compassion, and devotion to Deity. That commitment has taken me from one religion into another and as unlikely as it seems now, it could do that again.

Some have accused you for taking the easy route by returning to a majority religion. In my opinion you have chosen the hard road. Being a progressive Christian in the US is hard. Sure, there's a certain privilege that comes with Christianity, period. But being progressive and Christian means you are at odds with the loudest expression of Christianity and you'll be certain to have your path decried and profaned by others who call themselves Christians. And when non-Christian progressives hear you identify as Christian, you'll get written off as "one of those."

I tried to be a progressive Christian but being shot at from both sides while walking a tightrope was too difficult for me. Being a Pagan is easier; I feel like I fit and am no longer straddling the gap between two chairs. Honestly, I admire those who can walk the path of a progressive Christian. I admire those who have left and return to be met with suspicion by Christians and Pagans alike. And even more so, I admire those who do so publicly. 

I refuse to close with "I wish you well" sentiments because this is not a farewell. Your path might lead you into new communities and you might write on different platforms. But if I were forced to create circles of "us" and "them" I would not base them on religious labels. I would base them on values. And as much as you value integrity, honesty, compassion, and love for Deity, I can't help but think we'll be in the same tribe no matter what religious paths we travel. 
 

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  • Christopher Blackwell
    Christopher Blackwell says #
    I as a Wiccan and a Pagan see no way that I can follow my path and then condemn anyone for changing their path. After all I certai
  • Terence P Ward
    Terence P Ward says #
    I've seen a lot of reactions to the negative reactions to Mr Bishop's post . . . but I haven't actually read any negative reaction
  • Annika Mongan
    Annika Mongan says #
    I have also been encouraged by how many positive reaction there have been.

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