Tag Archives: Polytheism

Thirteen Black

LastBattlefield

I’ve been watching these two guys fight each other for as long as I can remember.

You recognize them, right?

Let me introduce you.

On the left is Monotheism.

And on the right is Atheism.

Or….,

…is it the other way around?

It’s pretty hard to tell sometimes, because these fellows are simultaneously identical twins and complete opposites.  Both inhabit a universe which they understand to be entirely monochromatic, a space where very fabric of existence is composed of either “is” or “not without proof it’s not.”

I peek in on them from time to time.  It’s a strange little world they live in but sometimes it can be fun to watch them bicker.

Most of the time, it is simply aggravating.

And if you try to step in, if you take one aside for a moment and explain how he is using the same arguments, based upon the same faulty assumptions as his counterpart…, oh the look he will give you!

It is the perfect synthesis of confusion and contempt.

Then, after a brief mental reboot, he or she will typically ply you with one of the standard arguments from their rhetorical arsenal, the assumption being that since your words made no logical sense, you must therefore play for the other team.

I’m fairly certain that I’ve heard all of these arguments over the years.

Most recently it was an old number from the 1600’s called Pascal’s Wager.

It goes something like this…,

There is God, or there isn’t God.

If there isn’t God and you worship him anyway, you are silly but otherwise unharmed.

If there is God and you don’t worship him you will suffer eternal torments in a lake of fire.

The safe bet, therefore, is to worship God.

And if the universe is truly expressed as a simple heads versus tales coin flip, Pascal’s Wager does make a pretty compelling argument.

But there are problems, and not just the “if gambling is a sin why are Christians encouraging non-believers to “play lots” with their immortal souls?” kind of problems.

Pascal’s Wager may sound like a valid argument to a Monotheist or an Atheist, but the Polytheists in the crowd know a chump bet when we see one.

If a game is being played, does it seem likely, given the vast and wonderful complexity of the universe in which we bide our time, that everything comes down to some lousy coin toss?

Not very likely.

No, if a game is being played, isn’t it more likely to be something a bit more like Roulette?

Imagine that we each walk up to the table with but a single chip in hand.

The Atheist isn’t going to play at all, and that’s okay.  He’ll pocket that chip and maybe keep it as a souvenir.

The Christian, on the other hand, is convinced that there’s only one number on the table upon which to place his bet.

And do you see again, how each takes the most extreme position possible?

Thirteen Black

BAM!

He slaps that chip down on thirteen-black, acting on faith that when the wheel stops spinning the little ball is going to land safely upon his number.

(Yeah, I know, a good Christian would probably pick just about any other number on the table, but this is my metaphor and I’ll do as I please.)

So there we are, one God, one Truth, and just one Number to choose from.

And you’ve got to admit, that’s a pretty bold play for someone with just a single chip in his hands!

The payout is huge: 35 to 1.  Let’s call that the numerical equivalent of eternal life.

But the odds of hitting that number, or any single number on a roulette wheel is less than 3%.

There are smarter bets.  There are LOTS of them.

Roulette Table

You could split your bet between two numbers, or three, or four.  And each time you’d see your probability of a winning spin increase.  It’s a big board folks, and you don’t have to be EXACTLY right to come out a winner.

With a single chip in the game, I myself might like to play one set of twelve numbers.

Sure, the payout is only 2 to 1 (the numerical equivalent of reincarnation, maybe?) but my odds are nearly one in three, which is WAY better than a paltry 3%.

The point is, that Blaise Pascal, the 17th century mathematician and philosopher who gave us the Wager, may have been one of the fathers of modern probability theory, but I seriously doubt the guy ever spent any quality time in an actual gambling den.

If he had, he might have hedged his bets.

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Filed under Culture, Philosophy, Proselytizing, Religion

Idolatry 101

Idolatry Eagle

“Why are you all still sitting there?!”

A friend and I were sitting, with about fifty others, in the audience of the Birds of Prey exhibition at Scarborough Faire, a renaissance festival located just outside of Waxahachie, Texas.

I grew up just a few miles from the Faire and have attended at least one weekend for almost every year since it opened back in 1981.  I know the grounds like the back of my hand, and most of the better acts by heart, but mostly I just enjoy dressing up, and spending some relaxing time outside people-watching over a nice cool tankard of mead.

I’ve probably attended the Birds of Prey show a couple dozen times over the years.

I love watching them fly the hawks, or the occasional falcon.

They usually open with a Turkey Vulture and close the show with an American Bald Eagle, and this year was no different, right up until the end.

For some reason, as the trainer brought the Eagle up onto the stage, the love theme from Braveheart was being piped over the sound system.  She paraded around the stage holding the eagle on one gloved hand, with her other hand pressed over her heart.

When she completed her circle across the front of the stage, the head trainer spoke up from his throne at the back of the stage and said, “Let me ask you a question, why are you all still sitting there?!”

Okay, this was new.

“Why,” he continued, “didn’t you rise to your feet and place your hands over your hearts when you saw this magnificent bird, this symbol of liberty and freedom…,”.

As the scolding lecture continued, and the chastened crowd began to rise like schoolchildren who had been caught short, my irritation grew.

The very obvious answer to the gentleman’s question is that we didn’t rise because a bird, even the national bird, is not a flag!   We don’t rise for birds, we don’t place our hands over our hearts for birds.  It’s just not something that we have ever been asked to do.  Nor should we be.

Should I likewise stop along the side of the road every time I pass a field of Bluebonnets (the state flower of Texas) to show my proper respect?

As I sat there, watching the sheep around me lurching guiltily to their feet, it occurred to me that after a couple thousand years of being told that Idolatry was a horrible thing which should be avoided at all costs, people in the western world are just really REALLY out of practice.

I mean, they all still do it, but by and large they absolutely suck at it.

Maybe, I thought, there should be a class, something like a continuing education course that people could take over the course of a few weeks.  Such a class could be taught by folks from within the pagan/polytheist community, as a kind of community outreach.  Something we could do to help out all those unfortunate folks who just haven’t got a knack for it.

And once I’ve had a thought like that.., well, I know from experience that it is just going to fester in my mind until I find a way to get it out of my system and move on to other things.

And so I present to you, my pretend lesson plan for a continuing education course that will never actually exist.

Enjoy!

Idolatry 101: General Course Description

In the classic sense, we think of the idol as a statue usually secreted deep within the bounds of some ominous temple.  Surrounded by cloaked priests and clouds of incense, it is brought forth on special days, whereupon the people may fawn and bow before it, offering up sacrifice to be burned in its presence.  This is a profoundly limited view, influenced by religious propaganda and literary cliché.  This course will seek to expand upon that narrow view, by exposing the student to the many forms and functions of the Idol throughout history and into the modern era.

Week 1: When is a Door not a Door?

Synopsis of Introductory Lecture:  In the holy writings of all three of the great monotheistic religions, there are stern warnings against the practice of Idolatry.  In modern usage the word itself is, in almost all cases, used in a pejorative manner.  But what is Idolatry, really?  While there may be many related definitions, for the purposes of this course, Idolatry will be understood to mean the process by which a tangible, real-world object, is used as a point of focus for the worship or reverence of something otherwise intangible.

History shows that Idolatry is something that is second nature to the human animal, and is present in almost every facet of human activity both ancient and modern.  Furthermore, it is the foundation upon every great religion, including those which so frequently preach against it.

Witness, for example, the sacrament of the Eucharist in which bread and wine are symbolically transformed into the body and blood of Christ, whereupon it is consumed by the faithful as a means of taking the holy spirit of their god into themselves.

Now compare this modern religious tradition with that of the far more ancient cult of Dionysus, which held that the vine of the grape was the mortal embodiment of their god, and that wine was the blood of their god, fermented by his yearly passage through the underworld.  By the drinking of this specially prepared wine the spirit of the god was believed to first enter and then manifest within the devotee, in the form of holy intoxication.

The idol, as we will see, may take many forms.  It may appear to us as an emblem, a statue, a natural feature of the landscape, and even the blood of the vine.  But in whatever form it takes, the idol is a doorway to something we understand to be bigger than ourselves.  Unable to touch what lie beyond, the door itself becomes a vessel for our reverence, invested with prayer and worship, with ritual and sacrament.

It is not the business of this brief course to render judgement for or against the practice of Idolatry.  Instead, we seek only to recognize it when we see it, to understand how the practice has shaped the human condition, and to gain insight into the beliefs and motivations of those who openly engage in this practice.

Written Activity: Write a quick (1,500 words) explanation of your personal beliefs regarding the practice of Idolatry and what you hope to get out of this course.

Week 2: And Everything in its Place

Lecture and Slide Presentation:  Moving forward from the previous lecture, we will further expand the perception of what may or may not be an idol, by touching briefly upon the subject of Spiritual Geography.  The accompanying slide presentation will show multiple locations where either a man-made or natural feature of the environment has been invested with spiritual significance.  Special attention will be paid to the concept of the Axis Mundi as a point of connection and focus between the physical and spiritual worlds.

Written Activity: Briefly (6,000 words) compare or contrast any two of the following locations:  The Umbilicus Urbis Romae in Italy, The Kaaba in Saudi Arabia, Mount Kailash in Tibet, The Hill of Uisneach in Ireland, Delphi in Greece, or Teotihuacan in Mexico.

Week 3: Desecration and Empowerment

AphroditeSmallLecture and Slide Presentation: We begin with an overview of the rise of Christianity in the waning days of the Roman Empire and the rising tide of attacks upon both temples and statuary dedicated to the gods of the Roman pantheon.  The slide presentation will detail the ways in which images of the various gods were damaged, including beheadings, the gouging of eyes, and the carving of crosses into these objects.  Lecture will end with a brief catalogue of similar desecrations by various groups through history and into the present day, to include the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan by Taliban forces in 2001, and the destruction of the Temple of Baalshamin in Palmyra ,Syria, by ISIL in 2015.

Written Activity: Write a brief paper (2,000 words) exploring one of the following questions:

1.  Is your faith empowered by the desecration of someone else’s holy icon?

2.  Is it possible to desecrate an object that is not already sacred?

3.  Does an act of violence against an object reflect the significance of that object in the heart of the believer, or in the mind of the one conducting the act of violence?

Week 4: Stars and Stripes Forever

IdolatryFlagsClass Discussion: The American Flag is often treated as an object of deep reverence.  Citizens salute it, they pledge to it, they treat the display, folding and storage of it with ceremony and ritual, and will retire a worn or damaged flag in cleansing flame.  Desecration of a flag is a crime in many locals, and people have been known to react with violence to public protests that included flag desecration.  Does this same reverence extend to all manifestations of the American flag, including the little disposable plastic ones that people often wave, en masse during parades and patriotic celebrations?  If not, then what makes those flags different?  What about flags printed on t-shirts, bumperstickers, and the like?  What, if anything, makes one flag sacred and another not?  The instructor is encouraged to keep the debate on-topic but to otherwise allow the discussion to guide itself.

Week 5: Ubiquity and the Profane

Lecture:  A brief explanation of the symbols used by various secret societies to identify members to one another, leading us into a discussion of the Christian Cross.  Once a secreted symbol revealed only to those who could be trusted, the Christian Cross has become an everyday fashion accessory for millions of people in the western world.  In recent years, a number of christian groups, in their defense of large crosses displayed on public lands, have suggested that the cross, through its ubiquitous nature, should not always been seen as a religious symbol, but may have any number of secular meanings.

Classroom Activity:  Break into groups and debate one of the following questions?

1.  Does wearing a cross have any significance in a culture where the general expectation is that any individual you may encounter in your day-to-day movements is almost certainly a Christian of some variety?

2.  Can a holy symbol be made profane though repetition and commercialization?

3.  A non-believer wears the symbol of your faith – empowering or sacrilege?

Week 6: Where does the power come from?

Final Lecture: In whatever form it takes, the Idol has the power to instill powerful emotions in those who encounter it.  For some, a particular idol may illicit feeling of deep reverence, joy, fear, or disgust, but the question remains, where do these feelings come from.  Is the power that the idol seems to possess over man a function of the object itself.  Is the physical object imbued with a special nature that brings out these feelings in those who come near it?  Does the particular arrangement of stripes and stars on a length of cloth change the nature of the fibers of which it is composed?  Does the wine become the blood of a god, or is it simply a tool which we use to feel closer to the divine?  If entirety of an idols power rests within the hearts and minds of the men and woman who react so strongly (one way or the other) to its presence, does not our reaction to Idolatry say more about ourselves than it does those we might feel compelled to judge?

Final Essay (6,000 words): Expand upon your original paper from the 1st week of class.  Have your feelings regarding Idolatry changed as you have considered the materials presented.  If so, how has your attitude changed and why?  If not, please explain how this course may have reaffirmed or strengthened your previous feelings.

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Filed under Culture, Interfaith, Modern Life, Mythology, Religion, The Gods, Traditions

The Final Treasure

This is a time of endings and beginnings, a ‘thin’ moment in the turning of the year when death becomes life, and past becomes future.  It is a time of short campfire stories meant to raise gooseflesh, and for sombre reflection upon the grand themes which shape our existence.

Allow me a moment to set the scene:

In an age long before the first mortal man set foot upon the Emerald Isle, there were four great cities hidden across an impassable sea, far to the north and west of that land.

It was in these cities that an ancient race of gods, the Tuatha Dé Danann honed their great skills before taking to the sea, riding within a great mist, and settling finally upon the shores of Ireland.

And when they came out of that otherworldly realm, they brought with them four great treasures – objects of such power that, in their absence, each of the great cities crumbled into the sea, even as our own mortal world was forever changed with their arrival.

The Sword,

The Spear,

The Cauldron,

The Stone.

When I first began writing here, in April of 2012, I considered the Four Treasures to be of only limited consequence.  That I named this blog after the fourth of those treasures, The Stone of Destiny, had less to do with what the Stone represents, than with my belief that in visiting the Hill of Tara upon which the Stone is said to rest, I had reached a major turning point in my life – the ending of one journey and the beginning of another.

In the intervening years, I have found that the process of writing things down brings with it a clarity that I hadn’t known I was missing.  Years spent studying comparative mythology, symbolism, folk tales and spirituality was meaningless until I began to use what I’ve learned as a lens through which to view my own life, and the world around me.  The process of writing has revealed connections between fable and form that I had not previously recognized.

And as I have wrestled with my understanding of the gods, who are sometimes near enough to touch, and sometimes incredibly distant…,

And as I have cast my nets again and again, seeking that ever elusive Salmon of Knowledge who always seems to be swimming just out of reach…,

I find that my thoughts turn again and again to the four Treasures of the Tuatha Dé Danann, and I begin to see that they are more than just the magical tools of the gods that the stories make them out to be.

In fact, I have begun to believe that their power is in many ways greater than that of the gods, although, unlike either gods or men, the Treasures have no power to act on their own.

It was not until November of last year that I felt confident enough in my thinking to write down my thoughts regarding the Third Treasure – the Undry Cauldron of the Dagda.

As for the Sword and the Spear…, I had hoped to write down my thoughts concerning them both before now, but each time I try they dance just out of reach.  Their purpose seems so obvious, and much has been written already by people with greater scholarship than I on the subject of magical weapons.  But I feel as though there are connections there which run deeper, and which I have not seen clearly enough yet to speak of.

And as for the Final Treasure…,

I have only just realized that I’ve been talking about nothing but else from the very beginning!

The stories that have been passed down to us say that it is simply a stone of coronation.  In these tales, when the rightful king of Ireland comes into contact with its surface, the stone will roar with a sound that echoes across the countryside for all to hear.

Which is no small thing, but easy enough to dismiss in this modern age when monarchs are few and democracies (at least in principal – if not in practice) are the rule of the day.

But I have recently come to believe that there is much more to the Stone than its functioning as some kind of magical ‘king detector’.  Not when the other Treasures are so much more powerful.

Before the Tuatha Dé Danann brought the Stone with them out of the wreckage of fair Failias, its master was a great teacher known as Morfessa, a name which means “grand knowledge”.

When the Dé Danann arrived in Ireland, the Stone was not bequeathed to any single god, as was the case with the Sword, the Spear, and the Cauldron, but was installed at the Hill of Tara, which served for both gods and men as the political and spiritual center of the island until well into the Christian era.

The Stone of Destiny.

The Stone of Grand Knowledge.

The Stone is not an object of myth.

The Stone is Mythology.

It is that special realm of understanding that does not make the common mistake of conflating truth and fact.  For most people in this modern age, dominated as we are by the twin monotheisms of Abrahamic Dogma and Rationalist Thought, it is truly a foreign shore.

And yet, the more I watch the people around me, the more I listen to them, I am convinced that there is a great yearning in the human spirit, to find those fields again.

People have been taught, as I was, that mythology is the stuff of lies.

If an idea is not found within the covers of a certain holy book…,

If it is not reproducible within a laboratory setting…,

It must be a deception, to be avoided, or laughed at, or simply ignored.

People have an inborn yearning for mythology and they have been taught to avoid all the roads that would lead them there.  Folks have become so used to the blinders that they wear that they don’t even realize there is an entire perspective that they are not even seeing.  And when they do catch a glimpse, it’s like a whole new world opened up for them – which is exactly what has happened.

I’ve been lucky enough to see that transformation happen within a tiny handful of people, and it is, every time, a joy to behold.  And maybe I’m greedy, but I want to see it again and again.  And I want to see it on a bigger scale.

And I don’t think a handful of blogs is going to do it.  Neither will the occasional Pagan Pride Day in the park, or the yearly spat of “What do the Pagans do on Halloween” stories on the local news channel.

I think the answer is in the mythology itself, it’s in hearing the voices and seeing the faces of regular people who experience the connection between the ancient and the modern within their daily lives, and in hearing the tales told with a passion and belief that most have never experienced outside of a Sunday church service.

That is something that I don’t think I can do alone, with a once-a-week blog post.  And that is why I’ll be suspending my regular writing schedule for the time being.

But I’m still going to be around, and I’ll post here again just as soon as the spirit takes me.

In the meantime, I’m going to be looking for the means and the skills and the voices to make something happen.  I’ll be reaching out to people in the coming months, but if you’ve got any ideas that you’d like to contribute, or if you have questions, please oh please, feel free to contact me in the comments!

Finally, I could not close without a heartfelt Thank You to everyone who has supported me this little endeavor of mine, to those who come back again and again to read these musings, and to those who have, over the last forty-two months, taken the time to leave me comment.  I could not have come this far without you all.

Slán go fóill (bye for now).

Tools of the Trade

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Filed under About this Blog, Celtic Polytheism, Modern Life, Mythology, Philosophy, Religion, Spiritual Journey, The Gods

Approaching Change

Sometimes I sit down to write these posts and I know exactly what I want to say and how I want to say it.

There may be some notes I’ve jotted down, or links to some relevant website containing information I plan to reference.  There may be a few books stacked up with torn envelopes stuck in them, marking pages or passages I want to look back on while writing.  And if you ever found yourself driving alongside me, on one of those weeks, you might look over to see me talking to myself, as I run again and again over how I want a particular idea to read and sound.

Those weeks have become increasingly rare.

More often, I start out with a fairly good idea of what it is I’ll be writing about, but it is not until I get into the actual business of putting it down that the true objectives reveal themselves.

Sometimes this involves a long protracted battle, rewrite after rewrite until the thing is battered into a form which, if not entirely pleasing to me, is at least satisfactory.  Frequently, this battle is won (or lost) at some disreputable hour of the morning, just shy of the intended publication time.

And then there are those magical nights when I sit down to write and the muses come and work their will upon me.  In these rare moments I experience the same euphoric energy that I used to feel while painting or sculpting, and the words seem to flow out of me and onto the page.

Reading that last paragraph back, it sounds as if I’m saying the process is effortless.

It is nothing of the sort.

The words, the images and ideas: they flow — like blood from an open vein.

And when it happens, it is as exhausting as it is exhilarating, because I…, because WE are tapping into the power of creation.

We’ve all heard the phase, “Putting yourself into your work.”

When we write a story, when we make art, or perform, or invent…, and when we do it as an act of passion, we put a bit of ourselves into that thing we are making.

For those of you who are Harry Potter fans, think of it like a Horcrux, except that no one had to die in the making of it.  You’ve given the thing you made a life of its own, and in the bargain, you will live forever, through the things you create.

This is a power that we share with the gods.

Temple Raven

Sometimes I sit down to write these posts and I know exactly what I want to say and how I want to say it.

This is not one of those posts.

I started us off with just two words – Approaching Change.

I guess I was hoping that the muses would take it from there.  But I’m not feeling it tonight.

Perhaps my intention was to discuss changes great and small that I feel in the air.

Samhain is nearly upon us and it is at this time of the year we are most aware of the great wheel in its turning.

The Pagan and Polytheist movements appear to be gaining some small traction, even as other forces work desperately to roll the clock back to some imagined golden age.  The politics of the day seem to have become increasingly fractured and divisive.  Our next-door neighbors have become strangers, while our ability to inspire, and to be inspired, by people in far away lands has become almost second-nature.

This is indeed a time of great changes, I have no doubt.

What I do doubt is my own ability to roll with those changes, to be have a voice in them, to add my own small creative power to that of so many others in this ongoing act of creation.

The muse I spoke of comes too infrequently these days.

My work schedule is too chaotic.

My sleep is haphazard.

My ‘free’ moments are too choked with worry over financial obligations, and not enough time spent making art or traveling, reading or building.

And always on the edge of my vision there is a project which is currently beyond my resources, my skill, my reach…, and always will be unless I begin to make some real changes of my own.

And what better time to begin (or is it continue?) that process than in the cool shadows of Samhain, when the dead and the living – the past and the present – mingle and become one.  The old torch sputters and dies, and a new light is born out of the darkness.

I’ve talked a great deal about sacrifice in these pages.

The time has come again for me to make a few of my own.

And that begins right here.

This is the 179th post I have published since April of 2012.

When I started, I never expected I would last so long.

Next week, on Monday, November 2nd. I will publish post number 180

And that will mark my last regular post here…, for a while.

I’m not done here, not by a long shot.  This blog has always been a means to an end, but my writing here has begun to drift away from the original intent and it is high time I made a course correction.  Without the self-imposed weekly deadline, I can turn my attention to other areas, other changes and projects that, it is my deepest hope, I will chronicle here.

If you have stuck with me this long I hope you will hold on a little bit longer.

The road gets twisty up ahead.

Time to make a decision: hit the breaks or step on the gas.

Approaching Change.

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Filed under About this Blog, Art, Holidays, Philosophy, Spiritual Journey

Without Knowledge or Lustre or Name

On Monday last I went, with a friend, to see The Martian, that new Ridley Scott / Matt Damon drama that everyone has been raving about.  Based on the book by Andy Weir, the movie follows Astronaut Mark Watney’s struggle to survive alone on the surface of our sister planet, having been marooned there during an aborted expedition in our not too distant future.

If you have read the reviews, or if you’ve seen it for yourself, you don’t need me to tell you, it’s a great piece of cinema.

It did all the things I expected of it.  It made me feel the loneliness of our hero.  It allowed me to share in his triumphs and defeats.  And it left me wondering how long I would fare, given similar training and supplies, under those circumstances.

Growing potatoes in manure?  Don’t need to be a botanist to know that trick.

Hot-wiring the communications system on a buried mars rover?  Ummm…, probably not.

I’m not even sure how he did it, unless someone left the users manual lying around.

As is my pattern after watching a movie of this kind, I have found myself drifting back to particular moments in the film, looking for themes and connections I might have missed before, trying always to see things from perspectives outside that of the storytellers narrative.

Among those moments is the one that has Watney lying in his bunk, conversing with the wooden crucifix which he has been cutting up as fuel for his vapor-farming contraption.  It is the one overtly spiritual moment in the movie, and even then, it is hard to tell if Watney’s words are intended to be genuine or ironic.

And it was while pondering that brief scene that I began to wonder, and not for the first time…,

Will we bring our gods to Mars?

Or are there gods waiting for us there, already?

The first question fires my curiosity.  The second fills me with a sort of dread.

With the exception of the killer dust-storm, ‘The Martian’ does not exaggerate about the hostility of that world.  The atmosphere is unbreathable, and the lack of pressure causes our bodies to erupt after only momentary contact.  There is no magnetic field to protect us from solar radiation and the soil there will yield no crop.

While the recent announcement by NASA, that some sort of brine-water occasionally trickles across the surface is an encouraging development, it is still clear that the fourth planet from the sun is every bit as hostile to our presence as the third is nurturing.

Many of us with a polytheistic outlook, tend to view our relationships with gods and land spirits as cooperative in nature.  Our interests are similar and often complementary.  Both we and they exist as part of the environment which surrounds us, shaped by and shaping the natural world which moves and grows around us.

It is all well and good for those who believe in one universal god to cling to the idea that every speck in the heavens was put there for our benefit.  But those of us who deal with the divine on a more personal (and personable) basis have to deal with the reality that it’s not all about us.

So if there are gods on Mars, will they welcome our attention?

Or will they feel our first steps as an unwanted intrusion upon their cold and naked sphere?

And what of our own gods.

Will they follow our descendants into the sterile void so many of us long to explore, or will we finally have ventured beyond their reach?

No one should fear to undertake any task in the name of our Savior, if it is just and if the intention is purely for His holy service.

—Christopher Columbus

On this day, October 12th, in the year 1492, Christopher Columbus landed in the ‘New World’, bringing with him the Christian God.

He also brought the slave trade and a lust for the exploitation of natural resources…,

So that worked out well.

Some five-hundred years later, there is some debate still within the Pagan and Polytheist communities as to whether those other gods, the gods of our ancestors, of Europe and Asia and Africa, ever made the big jump across the Atlantic.

Most of us, I think, believe the answer to that question is “Yes”.

But from time to time I encounter someone who feels that we in the States have usurped their gods, dragging them from the hills and barrows they call home and transplanting them here within our own wishful thinking.

Why would the gods, many of whom were historically understood as creatures of ‘place’, choose to uproot themselves and wander into foreign lands already populated by gods and spirits and followers of their own?

Are the gods truly beings rooted to the natural features that we have named for them?  Or are they beings with a will of their own, who will go where they choose if and when the mood takes them?

Did they follow us into the new world?

Did we follow them?

And will they journey with us again, when we eventually fling ourselves into that ultimate void which surrounds our small blue and green sphere?

I hope so.

Because, however foreign the gods of the new world may have seemed to the European explorers of centuries past, they were still beings with an interest in the cycles of planting and growth, of death and renewal.  They were and are beings which make their home in and on a living breathing world.

I am not so certain about any spirits which may lurk in the dark spaces between the stars.

And sometimes, when I gaze into the heavens, I wonder what they will make of us.

I have seen the dark universe yawning,
Where the black planets roll without aim;
Where they roll in their horror unheeded,
Without knowledge or lustre or name.

— H.P. Lovecraft, Nemesis

Deaths Head Nebula

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Filed under Holidays, Movies, Nature, Philosophy, Religion, The Gods

Truth and Clouds

Lunar Eclipse 2015

There’s a red smudge in the sky to the east.

The Earth’s shadow is falling across the surface of the Moon.

Giant bodies are rolling around each other at stunning distances and speeds.

Together, as they dance, they do this occasional trick with the light, where the one becomes lost almost completely in the shadow of the other.

Almost lost, but not quite.

Because the thin sheen of atmosphere which clings to our globe bends the light, curving it around the edges of the globe and refracting it toward our distant dance partner.

We bend the light around us and the red tinge of a million sunsets and a million sunrises paint our normally pale sister with a ruby hue.

It is a beautiful thing to behold.  I’ve seen it before.

But not tonight, not yet.

The clouds have been rolling across the sky all evening, and the rising moon is little more than a red smudge, nearly lost in the haze.  The atmosphere is the thing that makes the miracle, and often enough, obscures it from our vision.

 

I have many friends and acquaintances who are devout followers of this or that monotheist denomination.  When, on occasion, I have wondered aloud about why, in the face of scientific fact, they cling to literalist interpretations of biblical canon, I have been told that their strength lies in their faith.  If any one part of the Bible is found to be false, they explain, then the whole of it is forfeit, and their faith is for nothing.

This, it seems to me, demonstrates a profound misunderstanding of the meaning behind the word.  Any faith that cannot survive in the light of truth is a hollow imitation of belief.

 

The clouds have cleared a bit and the Moon is hanging higher in the sky, a dusky red lantern in the darkness.

I’ve brought my telescope out for the occasion, and it’s finally clear enough that I can put it to use.  The blood-moon of the naked eye is, upon closer inspection, a gradient of hues from orange to deepest maroon.

My cat, weaving her way around the legs of the tripod, sees none of these colors.  For her, the bright white ball has become a dim grey ball.

Do my eyes see the truth of it?  Do hers?

Or does the scientific instrument see things more clearly?

And why would we assume that it must be one or the other?

Especially when there are still so many clouds!

 

For most of the people alive on this globe right now, the gods which I believe in are mere fables, or metaphors, or at best they are Jungian Archetypes which exist as manifestations of the human psyche.

When you spend years of your life, as I have, studying the gods and the mythologies that surround them, you quickly come to accept the fact that most of the scholarship on the topic was written with these biases as their foundation.

It is an unavoidable and perfectly reasonable attitude.

It doesn’t bother me.  It inspires me!

And why shouldn’t it?

These, simple metaphors (if you will), have shaped human art and literature and science for the entire known history of our species.  For almost two-thousand years, they have continued to guide and influence our culture, despite militant, often violent, suppression by the various monotheist orthodoxies that have held power.

If the gods are fictional then that’s pretty damned impressive for a bunch of stories!

Now stop and imagine, for just a moment, that you felt the touch of something that huge and powerful, in your life.  If you count yourself as a believer, would you really need to cling to this idea that every scrap of mythology associated with your deity was true, despite all evidence to the contrary?

 

The clouds are gone.  And so is the eclipse.

I just watched through the big lens as the last of the Earths’ hazy shadow slipped off the rim of the lunar sphere.

Earlier tonight I was using the 20mm lens on my scope, which puts the entire globe on display, but for these final moments I switched over to the 10mm which draws the moon down with stunning detail – craters, mountains, valleys, and the shadows they cast.

The red color is all leeched away by now, of course, and dear Luna is clothed once again in her standard pearlescent garb.

Watching through the scope, I see the last sliver of our shadow…,

…going…

…going…

…and gone.

It is a strange thing to sit there and see the final moments of something that huge, watching it not on television or on some live feed from the internet, but through your own eyes aided only by a couple pieces of glass.  The stark truth of the thing does nothing to diminish the feeling of awe which is inspired by the immensity of the event.

 

I have been challenged, on more than one occasion, to produce some proof that my gods exist.

I can’t even prove that there was an eclipse tonight.

I saw bits and pieces of it.

I’ll wager you did too.

But there were an awful lot of clouds rolling through and most of it I couldn’t see that clearly.

The atmosphere, as I may have mentioned earlier, is the thing that makes the miracle, and often enough, obscures it from our vision.

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Filed under Culture, Mythology, Nature, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Spiritual Journey

The Disillusioned Pantheist

Our story begins only a few weeks ago, as a desperate soul posts on a Pagan forum looking for guidance from her fellows.

“I am a Pantheist,” she explains, “and I believe that the Earth is our goddess.  But lately, I’ve noticed so many bad things happening, like storms and droughts and earthquakes that hurt people, and I’m starting to wonder how she can really love and care for us when all these bad things keep happening.”

The answers that followed, for the most part, struck upon a singular theme: Nature lives in perfect harmony, but people have disrupted that delicate balance, and so ‘bad things’ happen.

Some of those answering even went so far as to suggest that monsoons and earthquakes and the like were Gaia’s punishment upon mankind for our collective transgressions against the natural world.

However surprising it may be to see so many self professed Pantheists borrowing lines from Pat Robertson (Hurricanes as God’s wrath against the sinners, really folks?) it’s the whole “nature loves us” thing that I always find so astonishing.

Have any of these people ever been outside?

I mean, have they really, REALLY been outside, to where the wild things are, and not just some quick jog around their perfectly groomed little neighborhood?!

Because, whatever one’s beliefs about the divinity of the natural world, the one thing that should be abundantly clear after even a casual observation of the natural order of things, is that Nature is NOT nice and it does not love you.  Most of that ‘perfect harmony’ stuff that folks keep talking about, involves this critter working overtime to kill and eat some other critter, and on, and on, right down the line from whales to the most microscopic of organisms.  If the Earth is a goddess, she is a hungry one who consumes her own children with a relish that would make even old Kronos blush.

Now, as a Celtic Polytheist, I see a world where the Land, Sea and Sky are inhabited by many spirits of one kind or another.  Our ancestors worked hard to placate the less friendly of these, and to venerate the more cooperative ones.  It should come naturally, to one of a polytheistic mind, to understand the natural world as a multiplicity of sometimes opposed and competing forces.

But leaving aside the mythology for a moment, if you want to really understand our relationship with the natural world, I suggest reading Michael Pollan’s ‘The Botany of Desire’.

Early on in the book, Mr. Pollan urges us to observe history from a plants’ point of view, suggesting that instead of viewing the rise of agriculture as one of the great achievements of Humankind, “It makes just as much sense to think of agriculture as something the grasses did to people as a way to conquer the trees.”

And THAT is the nature I see when I look outside my window, and that’s what I find when I go hiking through the wilderness.  A nature that is so conniving in its manipulation of the human animal, that the vast majority of us live our entire lives under the illusion that WE are the ones in control.

And for all that, I still love it.  And it is an honest love, without all the pretense of a peaceful and harmonious world that loves me back.  Sometimes, it is the unrequited loves that are the best.

Now get out there and breathe some fresh air.

Take a hike through the woods.

Swim in the ocean.

Climb mountains.

There are spirits in the Earth.

And you can be one of them!

Mountain Dawn

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Filed under Celtic Polytheism, Death, Mythology, Nature, Philosophy, Religion