Buddhist offer a different perspective on Marvel's Dr. Strange. Hindu astrology is explained. And a writer for The Atlantic Monthly wonders if moral relativism is dead. It's Faithful Friday, our weekly segment on news about faiths and religions from around the world. All this and more for the Pagan News Beagle!
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Altars can have a very significant role in daily practice and worship, providing a focal point in establishing relationship. I try to highlight this importance with my students, explaining the benefits of have a focus within an area in which to open up communication with the spirits of place (or land, sea and sky), the ancestors, and the gods. Communication is essential to good relationship, and finding a spot to come back to again and again helps us to not only strengthen the bond between the person and the place, but also gives it a ritual context within which to commune. Often this ritual context is held within a temple, whether it is a building or creation of stone and/or timber, or a sacred circle cast with energy around the practitioner. The importance of the altar and the temple should not be taken for granted, though neither are exactly essential.
The world is a complicated place, and it’s tempting to divide it up into good guys and bad guys to simplify things, make life a little easier to digest. A good example of this kind of simplification is the Minoans of ancient Crete.
I’ll admit, when I first discovered this fascinating Bronze Age civilization, I felt like they were practically a utopia: equality for women, no military, a beautiful religion based around nature. Heck, they even had paved streets and flush toilets....
It’s terribly frustrating trying to figure out what the ancient Minoans did in terms of religion – what they believed, how they practiced – because we can’t read anything they wrote. They were a literate culture, to be sure. They had both a hieroglyphic script and a syllabary. But we can’t read either one of them. There are clues, though.
The Cretan syllabary is commonly known as Linear A. It was used to write the native language of the ancient Minoans, which probably died out with the collapse of Minoan civilization in the second millennium BCE. However, there is a possibility that Eteocretan, which is attested as late as the 3rd century BCE, is either the native Minoan language or a direct descendant of it....
For the past 2 years, I've been circulating a Dropbox link to a collection of files containing Jung's Collected Works, which someone had scanned. Unfortunately, the text recognition feature on the scanner was imperfect, which made searching and reading frustrating.
But I have good news Jung-o-philes!...
Many of us are drawn to ancient Egypt, and of those a small number linger to find and follow the spiritual path embedded there. Soon we find that for all the wealth of published material about Egypt, there is very little about modern spiritual practice. Egyptian Pagans are also a small minority in the wider Pagan world, so it can be difficult to connect, find teachers and gather for ritual.
My early years on this path were probably characterized by more bumbling and feeling alone than anything. But much of the first advice I received was to read the Egyptology literature, surely a daunting task for the non-scholar. After all, few have set out to simply write about religion; more importantly, there was no monolithic single religion in ancient Egypt, at least not as we understand religious affiliation today. Here are a few things I learned along the way....
Twelve Healing Stars is a yearlong project in cooperation with the Temple of Witchcraft that explores social justice through the lessons of the 12 Zodiac Signs. This is part six. Basic social psychology suggests that religion can be a very dangerous thing. Open any introductory textbook to the chapter on social psych, and you’ll be hit with a flurry of concepts that build upon each other to show us how tribal, exclusionary, and potentially violent religion – any religion – can become.
- The Out Group Homogeneity Effect tells of our tendency to see all people that are not part of our group as “all the same.”
- In Group Bias is our ability to tolerate differences within our own groups, even as we don’t see them in other groups.
- The Fundamental Attribution Error leads us to blame another person’s character for mistakes they make and any behavior they do while ignoring the situational variables that could have caused the mistake or behavior.
- Group Polarization is our tendency, once within a group, to gravitate toward extreme thinking. Our opinions may be moderate on a topic, but as we hang out with people with more extreme opinions, we move in that direction.
- Groupthink tells us that when we have a charismatic leader and a lack of dissenting opinions in a group, we make very poor choices.
Add these together, and any time a group gets together they risk extreme thinking and tribalism. We see that play out in everything from sports team rivalries to international politics. We tend to naturally separate ourselves from others. And one of the places we see it way too often in is religion. Ethnobiologist E.O. Wilson is working on a trilogy to explore the human condition and its intersections with spiritual practice. He says that a major problem with religion is this tribal mentality. “Religion,” he says “features supernatural elements that other tribes – other faiths - cannot accept.” The problem with that is that, “Every tribe, no matter how generous, benign, loving, and charitable, nonetheless looks down on all other tribes.” Mix that with social psychology and you are creating a pretty toxic brew for humanity’s survival. There is a way out of this. Another concept from social psychology, a deceptively simple one, can be our key. It’s called the Mere Exposure Effect. We’ve all experienced it. When a person begins with a negative attitude toward a person or group, spending time around that group – merely being exposed to it – can improve their attitude. It’s one of the reasons that coming out of our closets, be they broom closets or any other kind of closet, is so important. When we know good people who belong to a misunderstood group, our perceptions of that group improve. Instead of separation, we need to come together. We need the Piscean message of merging together, yet we can’t lose what makes us all unique. This is a large part of the mission for Alix Wright, the Pisces Lead Minister for the Temple of Witchcraft. Paganism of any brand, but especially Witchcraft, runs a great risk of being misunderstood and maligned. Wright says that, “The air of mystery surrounding the various pagan faiths could feed the fear of those who don’t truly know what we do.” She adds that, “Anytime you keep things closed off and secretive, those not in ‘the know’ have the opportunity to put their own spin on things and can demonize what the only have minimal, or no, understanding of.”...