Tag Archives: Polytheist

Fan the Flames

The gods of our ancestors are everywhere around us, though we barely know them.

Their sacred places have vanished, or become ruins, overgrown and crumbling curiosities of a bygone age.  Their sacred names are misremembered and mispronounced, uttered without the reverence and caution that should attend the power which those syllables invoke.  Their sacred stories…,

The stories we have, the myths, the legends, are but fragments of a once rich tapestry, burned almost completely away now, by time and forgetfulness.

For those of us who are driven to seek out the old ways, there is but scant evidence of the gods left to be found in this world.

We pour over the bits that we can still find, while sifting through surviving folk traditions and songs, looking for anything we might have missed.  We speculate and we argue about the fragments we do uncover.  How do they go together?  What do they mean?

And still, for all that effort, we seem to know more about the lives of the Dinosaurs, who at least had the courtesy to die and leave their fossilized remains for us to dig from the Earth.

Let us speak now, of one such nearly forgotten god.

Oghma

Sometimes called Oghma the Honey-Tongued – because he is a god of eloquence, a master of poetry, and the father of writing.

Sometimes called Oghma with the Sun’s Countenance – because he is a solar deity, or because he exhibits a divinely radiant aspect, or because he likes to cause trouble in academic circles and he knew that taking on a Sun related nickname was a sure way to get people writing papers.

We know that he is the brother of the Dagda, the husband of Étan, and that he has at least two sons.  We know that he is one of the Champions of the Tuatha Dé Danann, the gods of Ireland, and that his strength is second to only one among their number.

We know that he fought in the Second Battle of Mag Tuired, and that he died there, or that he didn’t.  The stories have it both ways.

The Irish gods do have a nasty habit of dying in one story and showing up again in some later tale.  Which may have something to do with the impermanence of death when it comes to the gods.  But more than likely, it has to do with the fact that these stories were written down by Christian monks who were trying to…,

…who were trying to…,

…we really don’t know.

We haven’t a clue as to exactly what these guys were trying to accomplish.

We do not know their true motivations or what they may have changed along the way.

We don’t know how well they knew the stories themselves, or why they chose these particular stories to preserve.

Is Oghma really just a flagstone flipping superman with a sunny disposition and a way with words?  Can that possibly have been all that the mythology of the ancient Irish had to say about him?  Or were there stories upon stories, now lost and forgotten because they didn’t fit whatever criteria the monks used to determine what should be saved and what should be let go.

Or were they written down and then lost again.

We may never know.

We owe these unknown monks a vast debt of gratitude, but that doesn’t mean we should put too much trust in them.

Let us take a side trip out of Ireland and into the ancient forests of Gaul where another god, or maybe the same god, named Ogmios, once roamed.

He too, was a god of great strength, usually portrayed as a Gaulish Heracles.  But, unlike the Greek Hero, Ogmios is also said to have been a god of great eloquence, who’s power of persuasion was so strong that silver chains dangled between his wagging tongue and hooks embedded into the ears of his every listener.  As a consequence, every mortal within the range of his voice would joyfully gather close to do his bidding.

The little we know of Ogmios comes to us through a handful of Gaulish inscriptions and from a brief description by the 2nd Century Greek satirist Lucian, a fellow who lived long after the Gauls had been conquered, and one not overly sympathetic to the gods of his own people, much less those of long dead foreign barbarians.

Oghma.

Ogmios.

As I said at the start, his holy places are gone, his name misremembered, and his stories are, at best, the stuff of rumor and speculation.

His priesthood however…, his priesthood is as powerful as ever, and it has never waned.

Just don’t look for them among the folks who actually believe in him.

His priests and priestesses are those who write and who speak in a voice we can still hear long after we are parted from them.  They speak to us across the depths of time (think of Shakespeare or Clemens), and they move us with their words even today, when words seem to have so little value.

Only a few nights ago, as I sat with a few hundred others, and listened to Neil Gaiman reading from his stories and poems, and answering questions in a thoughtful, ever friendly manner, I could see in my minds eye, those thin silver chains growing link by delicate link, could feel the hooks sliding deep into my own ears, and I knew that, though he believes the Gods are things created by story, he is every bit the vessel of their power.

Later, reading through his introduction to his latest volume, a retelling of selected myths of Norse Mythology, I found this bit:

“We have lost so much…I wish I could retell the tales of Eir, because she was the doctor of the gods, of Lofn, the comforter, who was the Norse goddess of marriages, or of Sjofn, a goddess of love.  Not to mention Vor, goddess of wisdom.  I can imagine stories, but I cannot tell their tales.  They are lost, or buried, or forgotten.”   —Neil Gaiman

We who believe in the gods of our fathers know that particular feeling all too well.

We were born to find the stories, to tell them, to share in their wisdom, and to bask in their glow.  These things are as much a part of worship as any ritual or prayer.

But the previous generations have not been kind to us, and all that are left to us are the last fading embers of a once great fire.

And yet even that can be light enough, if we are careful.

We must learn what we can from the old stories.

But we must be willing to play with them as well, to prod and poke them until the hint of fire within begins to glow stronger through agitation and exposure to the air.

And we must be open to invention.  It is through Imbas that we allow the gods to speak through us, to fan the flames of creativity and to tell their stories in our voices, for new generations.

It is long past time to fan the flames.

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Filed under Celtic Polytheism, Culture, Mythology, Religion, Spiritual Journey, The Gods

All Beings in Moderation

I woke up a half an hour ago, but I’m pretending to be asleep still.

My eyes are closed, my face pressed into the pillow, my breathing steady, I’m giving every possible indication that I am still unconscious.  If I fake it well enough, maybe I’ll stumble into the real thing, at least until my alarm goes off.

So I burrow deeper into the pillows, and I cast my mind back, trying to find the ragged edges of departing slumber.  And instead I realize that there is sunlight on my face, streaming through a gap between the curtains.

Áine, the goddess of the Summer sun, rules the daytime sky from dawning Imbolc to the last light of Lughnasadh.  She is said to be mistress of both love and fertility, but on mornings like this, I suspect she has a bit of a cruel streak.

“All right, I’m up already.”

—•••—

Okay, maybe I’m not all the way up.

I’m sitting in bed, trying to bring the words on my phone’s screen into focus.

I really do need to get these eyes of mine checked.

Or maybe not.  Most of what I’m reading are news stories detailing violence abroad and discrimination closer to home, most of it perpetrated by people whose motivation is their impassioned belief in one of the more popular middle-eastern gods.

At issue are differences in the specific hows and whys of religious practice, which I must admit, seem minor to this outsiders eyes.  That, and some differences in opinion on who sleeps with who, seem to be the impetus behind some very unpleasant behavior.

One would think that the belief in a single god would bring unity rather than strife.

—•••—

I shuffle the cards five times, cut the deck, and lay down a single card which will be the ‘theme’ of my day.

0 – The Fool.

There he is, about to step blithely off a cliff and into the unknown, his few possessions at his back, and his loyal companion running along at his side.

Today, it seems, will be a day of journeys, of mysteries explored and unexpected detours taken.

—•••—

There is a high whine in the air as I pass the weed-whacker over the tufty grass in my front yard.

Arc left – half step – arc right – half step…, it is a strange little dance, with it’s own beat, and I find myself humming lightly in cadence.  It is a hymn of sorts, though wordless, which I offer to the land spirits as I go about my work in the yard.

My relationship with the land is not one that the ancestors would have recognized.

I grow no crop.

There are no grazing herds.

I simply maintain what society has determined is a tidy appearance to my particular plot of land.

The ancients knew the names of their local spirits, knew their habits, their likes and dislikes.  The relationship with the land and its invisible inhabitants was a matter of life and death.  But today, for most of us, there is no relationship there to speak of.  We live on the surface of the land, with no thought of any deeper connection.

In my travels I have discovered that some places are more “talkative” than others.  The spirits which I feel around my home, when I feel them at all, are quiet and watchful.  Sometimes I think that they are suspicious of my attempts to speak with them.

And so the wordless song, to sooth their feelings, if I may, as I work at lowering the grass.

—SLAP!—

Almost lost the weed-whacker in my efforts to reach the biting insect on my arm.

I may have spoken out of turn.  The mosquito crop is coming along quite nicely.

—•••—

The Morrígan stares back at me from atop my home altar.

Agent of change, of war and challenge and conflict, she who collects the souls of the dead, prophetess and raven goddess, for some reason my gaze is drawn to her this morning.

I smile and glance up at the Tarot card, the wandering Fool, who rests near her.

So, it’s going to be one of THOSE days, huh?

Well, I’m gonna be late for work, if I don’t get a move on.

And as I lock up the house and head to my car, I hear the caw of ravens in the distance.

—•••—

I slog through the first half of the day until it’s time for lunch.  A few of my co-workers called out today and most of my customers seem to be on the grumpy side, so things have been pretty hectic up to this point.

But now I’ve got an hour to just sit in my car, under the trees and polish off that sandwich I’ve been longing for the last hour or so.

I pull out my phone again, and dip into social media, just to see if anyone has posted anything interesting.

A friend of mine wrote, “Writers romanticize everything, I know this because I am one.”

Hmmm…, I’ll have to think about that.

—•••—

I know that I won’t remember any of my other customers when this evening is over, but I’ll remember her.  Tall and tan and perfect in all the ways of a sun-touched goddess, and with a playful smile that isn’t just put on for show, I can see it reflected in her eyes when she laughs.

And I think I just caught myself flirting – if only gently.

As we speak I began to hear the sound of bark being torn from trees by restless antlers; beneath my feet I feel the thrumming of hooves pawing at the earth.  In the primeval forest that stands just beyond our limited mortal perception, the woodland god is waking from his slumber.

“Sorry, sorry, false alarm, let’s just focus on the job at hand!”

The feeling of disappointment washes over me like a wave, followed by the sound of retreating hooves and then a distant crash, the echoing fall of some unfortunate tree, splintered and broken, in a moment of irritation.

—•••—

I’m home after dark.

I feed the cat, and then myself.

I sit for a while, watching a little television as I digest and allow my mind and body to unwind after a busy day.

Before bed, I take a brief walk in the backyard.  The moon is hanging in the east, nearly full, and the cat is moving along at my feet, a shadow among shadows in the moonlight.

I’m about the head back in when I hear the owls again, making that same lost puppy sound that first caught my attention a couple weeks ago.  I spend the next several minutes watching them hurtle to and fro, over my head and across the yard, to the neighbors and back again.

As I watch them I think about the comment I’d read earlier in the day, “Writers romanticize everything…,”.  Maybe that’s true; it certainly fits with the world as we have been taught to understand it.

But what if the world is filled with a romance all its own, comprised of infinite layers of truth and perception, perfectly nested, each within the other, most of which we pass on our journey, never the wiser.  And writers, along with those artists of a more visual nature, are simply able to bring out the romance that we would otherwise miss, because our art requires us to both see and express the world in terms our audience can understand.

—•••—

The house is locked up, and I’m for bed.

I take a last glance at The Fool, resting there on my altar, and I am forced to smile.

The punchline, of course, is that every day is a journey into mystery and the most important thing we can do is to recognize that fact and take in the scenery we pass along the way.

One last glimpse at the online world and I’ll be done for the night.

Ahhh, another post on my wall, this one extolling the unlimited virtues of surrendering to that ‘one’ merciful god.

Sorry friends, but looking at that news feed, again and again, day after day, I’m just not seeing the benefit in dedicating myself wholly to just the one god, or to any single perception of truth.

I think the healthier choice is to live a modest lifestyle and to honor all beings in moderation.

Now then, until the morning comes, I wish you a good night.

Plato Quote

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Filed under Art, Modern Life, Mythology, Philosophy, Religion, Spiritual Journey, The Gods

“Maybe you shouldn’t live in Texas…,”

It is a phrase which, over the years, has been visited upon me with a dogged regularity.

There are, of course, phrases which turn up more often in debate.  But while a less frequent visitor than that old standby, “The Bible says…,” I find it infinitely more offensive.  At least I know that if someone wants to use the Bible, the Constitution, or even the freaking ‘Daily Shopper’ to debate me, they are engaged in the conversation.

“Maybe you shouldn’t live in Texas…,” is neither argument nor plea.

It is a dismissal.

It’s “fuck off”, disguised as friendly advice.

Excuse me, I’ve gotten ahead of myself.

Allow me to explain…,

The Open Carry Brigade

The above photo was taken by one of my coworkers on Memorial Day and posted to his Facebook page.  You may have seen other photos like it in the news recently.  It shows members of an ‘Open Carry’ group casually strolling around Fort Worth, with assault rifles strapped to their backs.

The purported goal of these guys, and a handful of folks like them, is to demonstrate their 2nd Amendment right to stand about awkwardly, like extras in a ‘zombie attack’ movie, while making innocent passers-by incredibly nervous.

Or…,

Maybe their goal is to desensitize the public to the presence of ridiculously large weapons in the public sphere, thus reassuring us all, that if some crazy starts shooting indiscriminately into the crowd, there will be good upstanding folks there, more than willing to catch you in the crossfire.

Or…, maybe it was something else.  It’s hard to say.  If you watch the videos that these guys take of themselves, it seems as if they just crave attention, only to react belligerently when they get it.

In any case, back on Facebook, a lively debate sprang up regarding the demonstration.  Was it a brave display of constitutional goodness?  Or, was it a totally unnecessary display, in callouss disregard of recent tragedies?

The conversation was moving along as politely as one could hope for, given the topic (although, in the spirit of full disclosure, I ‘did’ suggest that there might be some disproportionality between gun and penis size among the demonstrators) when one of the participants dropped that familiar old cliché…,

“You know, Texas probably isn’t the state to live in if you are so opposed to the gun laws.”

Ah yes, that old familiar song!

If you don’t like gun fetishists walking the streets…,

…or organized Christian prayer in our schools…,

…or our laid-back attitude toward executions…,

…or the way we treat the disadvantaged…,

If you believe mixing religion and government is unconstitutional…,

…that women should have control of their bodies…,

…that same-sex couples should have the same rights we do…,

…that the place of public schools is to teach science, not scripture…,

…and that there is more to our relationship with the land than seeing how many dollars we can dredge out of it…,

Well then maybe, just maybe, you shouldn’t live in Texas.

Welcome To Texas

“Political progressives,” I have been told on more than one occasion, “have no place in this state.”

“So you’re not christian?  Why do you want to live here?”

“Wouldn’t you be happier someplace where the people think like you?”

And maybe I would.

Certainly, there seem to be enough people who think they would be happier if they didn’t have to share space with people who think and believe and act like me.

Maybe we should all just congregate ourselves into enclaves of likemindedness where we never have to encounter an opinion that differs from our own.

It’s an attractive idea on some levels, and one that I have heard bandied about more than once among my fellow reconstructionist pagans.  Imagine, having our own polytheist communities, set apart from all the dogmatic ballyhoo and funny looks we deal with on a daily basis.  Think of something along the lines of Amish country, but without the eschewing of technology and a wider array of fashion choices.  It would be our own little pastoral, techno, pagan, paradise, where no one need pretend to be something they are not.

Barring that, there ARE places that are friendlier to folks like me.

And I didn’t choose Texas, after all.  My parents did that when I was but a child.

So where then?

Over the years, dear friends have beckoned me to the mountains of Colorado.

More recently, it has been the coasts and the forests of Washington state that have called to me.

And then there is Ireland, so distant, and yet every time I have visited, the land and the people have felt more like home than any other I have ever known.

So why not?

Why not give ‘them’ what they want and just leave?

Well, I have family here, of course.  And there are my friends as well.  And lets not forget the mortgage, the half-finished remodeling project, a job, a hungry cat, remarkably little monetary savings, and an entirely reasonable fear of failure.

There is also, I must confess, a certain amount of determination to make THIS place better.  I want to contribute to a positive change, and the thought of leaving to find a better fit somewhere else just sounds like retreat.

I don’t know.

Maybe I shouldn’t live in Texas, but that’s for me to decide.

Let’s have this conversation again in a couple months when we’ll be suffering through our latest string of 100-degree days.  I may be thinking more clearly by then.

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Filed under Culture, Modern Life, Politics, Religion

You can’t please everyone.

Sometimes, it takes only a single, unexpected encounter, to lift one out of a funk, or even to let us know that we were in a funk to begin with.

It is easy, sometimes, to get lost in the fog of passing time.  We are creatures of both habit and monotony, shaping the world around us into one that is both comforting and often wearisome in its lack of variety.  We shuffle from work to home to bed and back again, and if, like mine, your workplace does not come with easily defined ‘weekends’, we may find that we have no clear frame of reference for ‘when’ we are, or what ‘progress’ we are making through the world.

So there I was, just zoning my way through another day, when out of the blue, a colleague of mine pulled me aside to ask what I assumed to be another work related question.

“So, I was reading your blog…,”

And suddenly I found myself in an open and friendly conversation with a devout Christian about the concept of prayer in polytheism.  It took a moment for my brain to shift into gear and for me to realize that he was approaching the topic with what I could only describe as a kind of excited curiosity.

“When I pray,” he continued, “it’s to one god, and it’s written out pretty clearly what he expects from me.  But I was thinking, that for you as a polytheist, there are so many options, and it blew my mind!  I mean, how can you possibly know who you should pray to?  And how do you keep from ticking off one god while pleasing another?”

“Well,” I laughed, “the first thing you learn as a polytheist is that you can’t please everyone!”

His momentary enthusiasm for the topic awakened my own, and I tried, in the few precious minutes we had, to faithfully answer interest with information.  I explained, in brief, how our relationships with the gods may range from simple ‘belief’ (simple acceptance in the existence of a deity, without expectations on either side beyond the basic respect afforded such a being), all the way to ‘dedication’ or ‘patronage’ (implying far more intimate and devotional interactions).  The specifics of prayer (to whom and for what) are, of course, dependent upon both which gods we actually have relationships with, and what their specific spheres of influence are believed to be.

Very Many Gods

What I did not get to say, because there just wasn’t time, is that we do not typically need to worry about pissing off some random god, any more than we do the great uncle who only shows up for the occasional family reunion.  It’s the ones we have deeper relationships with that we try to be mindful of, not out of fear, but because we value those relationships above any other.

In any case, it was a great conversation, and it totally made my day.

I got an extra charge out of that encounter, not because I’d won over a convert (I didn’t), but because my writing had touched someone in a way that opened their mind to other possibilities.  While my friend may not believe in my gods any more today than he did prior to reading my words, he has insights into my beliefs, my character, and my understanding of the world we share, that he did not have before.

I call that progress, and ‘funk’ be damned, it puts a spring in my step!

And yet, I am reminded once again, that you can’t please everyone.

I was accused, not long ago, of proselytizing.

Rather, it was suggested that the things which I have been calling for in this blog, things such as greater visibility and infrastructure for the polytheist/pagan community and individual polytheists being upfront about who they are and what they believe, amount to a form of proselytizing.  Advertising our presence and attempting to forge positions of leadership within the ever changing religious landscape, I have been told, are tantamount to the often intrusive attempts of certain monotheist sects to convert the masses.

Are they?

My goal, and the goal of this blog (although I did not quite understand this in the beginning) has always been to open minds, not to change them.

But is there a difference, or am I just splitting hairs?

Lincoln on Friends

Knowledge, I have always believed, is a gift to be welcomed and shared.  Am I wrong to hope that sharing who and what we are, will lead to better understanding and communication between disparate groups?  Is it wrong to let people know that they have options beyond those with which they may be more familiar?

Or is that goal, as some would have it, coercive in nature?

Well, you can’t please everyone.

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Filed under About this Blog, Interfaith, Modern Life, Prayer, Proselytizing, Religion, The Gods

The Astrology Post

I spend a lot of time on this blog talking about the things in which I believe, and very little time talking about the things which I don’t.  There are several good reasons for that, the primary one being, that I enjoy talking about my beliefs.  Talking about them helps me to explore them further, to poke and prod them, learning more about their depths and limitations.  It’s a big part of why I’m here.

On those occasions in which I write about the things I do not believe, it is typically because someone, somewhere, thinks my lack of belief is somehow an impediment to their own freedoms, or the American way, or something equally silly.

There are, however, those rare occasions, when I simply feel compelled to clear up certain assumptions that have been made along the way.

These assumptions do no real harm to me or mine.  They just cling there like some benign bacteria, ever present yet mostly invisible.

Yes, I said, “mostly invisible.”  If left alone for long enough, these assumptions may begin to grow and multiply.  Eventually, they start to itch.

I don’t believe in Astrology.

It’s not a big deal but it may come as a surprise to some people.

People have this strange tendency to think that if you believe in one thing that they consider “odd” you are far more likely to believe in all the other things that they consider “odd”.  Assumptions, it seems, do not come individually wrapped but rather appear in prepackaged assortments.

“Ah yes, you believe in mythological gods and magic, therefore you must also believe in Bigfoot, U.F.O’s and Pyramid Power.”

What the people making these assumptions fail to take into account is the primary commonality defining the items within the category is their own personal definition of the word “odd” (or “crazy” or “ridiculous” – exact phraseology, like milage, will vary).

The Humanists in the crowd will, at this point, start clearing their throats and muttering “scientifically provable” to each other along with ample back patting.  On the other side of the room, the particularly devout Christians will bang on that Astrology is a falsehood and a sin against god – this despite the fact that the Bible uses it as a proof for the divinity of Christ.  I’ll leave them all to it.  Which ever side you are on, it still comes down to what ‘you’ choose to believe and what ‘you’ choose to label as “other”.  Your criteria (however scientific or religious) are your own.

For me, Trickle-Down Economics, U.F.O’s, and Astrology, all fall into that “other” category along with Bigfoot.  Sure, there may be a few blurry photos and some questionable math, but nothing solid enough for me to really put my finger on.

If my goal here is to more clearly define my own beliefs, to myself and others, than I must also be clear about the things in which I do not believe.

And so, I don’t believe in Astrology.

Well, for the most part.

I mean, it’s not as if I don’t think there is ‘something’ to it.

I’ve dated and then been burned by too many Scorpios, to think there wasn’t some commonality there.  I just don’t see what it could have to do with the stars.

Yet, aside from the Sun and the Moon, our other planetary neighbors are so far away that their gravity, their magnetic fields (where such exist), and the minuscule quantity of reflected sunlight they bounce Earthward, could have no measurable effect upon us whatsoever.  Indeed, the other seven planets, Mercury thru Neptune, could wink out of existence this moment, taking poor Pluto along with them for old-times sake, and we wouldn’t even notice it had happened until the riots broke out at N.A.S.A.

I cannot think of a way in which it would matter what random grouping of unrelated stars the planet Jupiter was passing in front of at the moment of my birth.  I am a product of genetics and environment, not some imagined planetary confluence.

In Astrology Sagittarius is a Half-man, half-beast archer who is tutor to heroes. In Astronomy Sagittarius is a teapot. Conclusion: The most powerful science of all is Marketing! I mean seriously, a teapot!?

Or are we perhaps, thinking about the whole thing in entirely the wrong way?

What if we thought of the heavens in the same way we think of a clock.

We watch the hands as they move around, pointing at different combinations of numbers along their way.  We know that certain of these combinations correspond to our growing hungry or tired, but we never make the mistake of believing that these things are caused by the positions of the hands on a clocks face.

(Sit down Pavlov! I’m not talking to you.)

What if these patterns which seem to have some influence over personality type (among other things) have nothing to do with the movement of objects in the heavens except that such movements are regular enough to line up (however roughly) with whatever other patterns we may notice in our lives.

Correlation may not equal causation, but it’s still a handy tool for keeping track of things.

I just don’t know.

As a polytheist, it is in my nature to accept that not only are there multiple versions of the truth, but that sometimes multiple truths may stand in conflict.

This does not mean that I just accept any crazy idea that comes down the pike.

I would need to see a lot more evidence to make me believe that something like Astrology might actually work.  Until then, I’ll put it firmly in the ‘maybe’ column where it can keep Bigfoot company.

Pyramid Power and Trickle-Down Economics are still crazy.  That hasn’t changed.

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Filed under About this Blog, Divination, Modern Life, Science

…and the rent is due.

The Dingle Coast

I would bring him bundles of rushes from the waters edge.
Carry them by hand to the high place, stony Barrule, overlooking the sea.
For Midsummer Eve has come and Manannán awaits his payment.

Only, I am far from those shores.
Arid winds bend prairie grass like waves on an earthen sea,
I am stranded here, landlocked — and the rent is due.

Cliffs at Loop Head

Standing on the very brink of thundering wave and stone,
I have opened my arms, buoyed by winds sweeping from far Emain Ablach.
Lifted a moment, from the rocky cliff, like the Heron King taking flight.

I cling to memories of a rugged coast,
As I choke on the fumes of engines going nowhere.
I am stranded here, landlocked — and the rent is due.

The Tides of Kilkee

As the rising tide sends plumes of white foam into the air,
The sea god’s wife approaches, her soothing kiss, lingering upon my cheek.
They call her Fand, which means “teardrop”, and she tastes like the sea.

We carry the ocean, like a memory, flowing within us.
Weeping, we give it back again, carried home on the Summer breeze.
I am stranded here, landlocked — and the rent is due.

Nothing makes me yearn for the coasts and mountains of Ireland, quite so much as Summer in Texas.  Although this weeks solstice marks the longest day of the year, we know all too well that the hottest days are yet to come.

There has been a tradition on the Isle of Man (that small Celtic nation nestled almost exactly between Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales) that each year, on Midsummer Eve, the Manx would pay their rent (a token sacrifice of rushes or sweet grass) to Manannán mac Lir, the ancient Celtic god of the seas, to whom the island belongs.  I am told that this tradition survived well into the 19th century, if it is not still practiced by a few today.

I hope, one day soon, to make that pilgrimage myself.  I have languished for too long, allowing material limitations and self-imposed obligations to strand me, landlocked, in this spiritually parched domain.  I need only a strong current, a sturdy sail, and the blessings of the ocean god.

Let the tides take me where they will.

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Filed under Holidays, Ireland, Mythology, Photography, Poetry, Spiritual Journey, The Gods, Traditions

Outside Looking In

Sometimes we need to take a step back from the things that we feel are the most important, to look at them from a distance and to see them within their greater context.

A friend of mine (a young seminary student whom I know from work) recently had a brief encounter with a gentleman who happened to be a Jehovah’s Witness.  He posted briefly about this encounter on Facebook and after speaking very kindly of the fellow, he ended his status update with the words, “I hope and pray that he acknowledges the deity of Christ soon.”

I was struck by this.  I shouldn’t have been surprised, as I know well enough the tenets of his chosen religion, and yet I still found myself dismayed by the meaning behind his words.  I know this friend to be one of the kindest, funniest, most loving souls I have ever encountered.  Some days I can almost allow myself to forget that good people with good hearts believe in a God that would damn a man to an eternity in Hell, for what is, to an outsider, truly a trivial difference in the particulars of their belief.

I have a few VERY Christian friends who post on Facebook and usually I leave their more religious posts alone.  They are not talking to me, I reason, but rather to those who share their particular faith.  However, on this occasion I could not help but comment.  I pointed out to him that there was really very little difference separating him from this Jehovah’s Witness and that it was quite likely the gentleman in question had himself felt sympathy for my friend.

What I got back was a laundry list of their differences…,

“I can affirm the Athanasian Creed; he cannot. I can affirm the first four ecumenical councils; he cannot.  In short, significant, meaningful differences exist between us.”

I knew these things already.  I’ve studied the rise and evolution of Christianity and its various branches, in some detail.  I also know that for centuries, people who insist that the Christian god exists as a Holy Trinity, have been killing, imprisoning or otherwise discriminating against folks who don’t agree with them.  This despite the fact that nowhere in its first 39 books does the Bible state that the Hebrew god exists as a Trinity.

I’ve read the Gospels and Jesus never mentions a Trinity.  You would think, if it was important enough to send people to Hell over (or to have them stoned to death by their fellows), that he might have mentioned it somewhere along the way.  Maybe he could have tucked it between parables.  “Oh, and by the way…,”.

So the majority of Christians believe, like my friend, that there is one God who exists as a Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, which are all equal and without beginning or end and unified into a single whole.

I have been told, on occasion, that I simply do not understand the concept of the Trinity, but in reality I am quite familiar with it.  The Celtic pantheon includes numerous triplicate deities.  It’s actually a fairly common motif in Pagan beliefs, both modern and ancient, but was never a feature in the worship of the Hebrew God until Christianity began to make its home in pagan Rome.   I’ve occasionally wondered if the Trinity is not just one more thing the “church fathers” borrowed along the way.

So, what about the Jehovah’s Witnesses, what do they believe regarding the divinity of Christ?

In their view, the God Jehovah is the singular and eternal architect of the universe.  He created Jesus (the first act of creation) and it was Jesus who then created everything else.

And that’s it.  The fundamental difference between the two groups, when you scrape away all the Councils and Creeds (and those are really just there to explain away the inconsistencies among the various holy texts), it all comes down to the immortal question of “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?”.

These sorts of questions are not unique to Christianity.

Every so often the Pagan community blazes to life with debate over continued use of the word “Pagan.”

There are those who think the word is worthless because the meaning has been stretched to include almost anyone who is not a member of one of the big-three monotheist traditions.  Admittedly, simply calling oneself a Pagan is much less descriptive of what you believe and more so of what you don’t.

Others argue that they do not want to be associated with some of the people who are “also” considered Pagan.  Many Reconstructionists and Traditionalists are leery of outsiders conflating their beliefs with those of Eclectic Wiccans or even New Agers who may choose to call themselves (Neo-)Pagan.  We are talking about a whole range of different and often conflicting beliefs including Humanism, Monism, Pantheism and Polytheism, all wedged together under a single umbrella term.

Which brings me to the question of what constitutes, “meaningful differences?”

From the perspective of my friend, I was attacking him by dismissing the very core of his belief (the divinity of Christ) as inconsequential.  However, from the outside looking in, the differences between trinitarian and nontrinitarian doctrine seem painfully small.  Both men claim to be Christians and while each feels that he has ample evidence to prove that the other is wrong, there is far more about them that is alike than there is that makes them different.

Perhaps they are each too close to the problem to see it clearly.

So then, from the outside looking in, what must the squabbling within the Pagan community look like?  Is there any point to it – particularly when eternal damnation is NOT on the line?

Do any of us really believe that eschewing the word “Pagan” in favor of something else will still not get us lumped in with people we don’t necessarily agree with?  And why should we be so bothered by the opinions of outsiders?

I know many people within the community who prefer to use the term “Polytheist”.  To them, I offer this nugget from the same conversation with my seminarian friend…,

“Believing that all religions are equally valuable is basically a form of polytheism.”

It’s not at all true, but it proves my point, which is that we will never accomplish anything if we spend our energy debating what we should call ourselves.  Choose any word you want and even our most well-meaning Christian friends will still find a way to lump us all together with the other sinners.

DeconstructCoexist

There are better things we could be doing with our time.

I’ve always believed that our ability to look past our particular differences was one of our great advantages over the People of the Book.  So why should we strive so hard to emulate them by constantly bitching about who gets to be included under the “Pagan Umbrella?”

I use (and will continue to use) the word ‘Pagan’ to describe myself to those who ask.

If you need more detail than that, I am a Polytheist.

More still?  I am a Celtic Reconstructionist.

If the conversation moves beyond that, we are talking about the very specifics of my belief, at which point labels become unimportant.  Most people don’t make it that far, being more comfortable on the outside, looking in.

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