one girl’s perspective on life, neopaganism, veganism, politics, books, films, and… stuff.

Posts tagged ‘philosophy’

Essentially Zen

This is another of my religious ‘articles’ that I wrote when I was 17 or so – it’s still very thought-provoking. Also, my main computer has died, so all my pictures and writings are in data limbo at the moment. So expect some old and random stuff!

These are some of my core (non-theological) beliefs. I think that most of these are actually derived from Zen teachings, others are appropriated from various philosophical and theological works that I have read over the years (and there have been many). I’m not saying these should be your core beliefs; everyone has their own perspective, and you should always think for yourself and work out what your own are. But maybe these will give you something to think about.

  1. There is no past and no future, there is only this moment, here and now.
  2. Do not hold onto the past – learn from it what you can, then release it to the universe.
  3. Nothing in life is fair or unfair, it simply is. Do with it what you can.
  4. The cost of free will is a conscience and sense of responsibility.
  5. People change; do not continue old and obsolete behaviours because you feel obliged to act consistently with your past. Every moment you are – and can become – a new person.
  6. Always think for yourself; question everything, including yourself.
  7. Accept emotions as they come, reflect on them, learn from them. Then release them and move on.
  8. Melodramatic lives or emotional imbalances garner attention, it’s true. But ask yourself; is (self-imposed) unhappiness is really worth that attention?
  9. Be helpful and polite where possible, but remain true to yourself first and foremost.
  10. Friendship is based in contradiction; once you realise that you don’t need friends, you’ll find true ones, based on actual respect, rather than clinging to the empty need for a friendship that isn’t there. It may not be instant, but it’s better than poisoning your life with empty relationships.
  11. Appreciate the beauty of everything that is around you.
  12. The more you realise the worth of the simple aspects of life, the less you’ll care for the convoluted or trivial ones.
  13. Find your values, then question and evaluate them. Stay true to them.
  14. Nothing is permanent, good or bad.
  15. If a problem is worth worrying about, do something to change it. If it isn’t worth worrying about, then don’t.
  16. Taking the ‘moral highground’, or walking away, may feel like losing the battle, but in the long run, you’ll be a better person for being able to sacrifice the trivial (the need to ‘be right’ or ‘win’) for the important (realising that being recognised as in the ‘right’ doesn’t matter). Never feel the need to point out that you are walking away; just do it.

Thus ends the ramble.

On the Quest for Meaning

Warning: this is a bit tangential, and roams from the need for meaning in life, to the notion of religion as an agent of social/individual control, and then spirals tangentially into a bit of pseudo-existentialism.

Everyone seems to want to know what is the ‘meaning of life’; more to the point, the vast majority of people want to believe that there is some sort of reason, meaning or purpose behind their existance. In an increasingly secular society, this myth of meaning has been subtly changed; instead of serving God, etc., the purpose is to ‘serve society’, in whatever capacity one is able. That is to say, the greater meaning of life, in modern Western society, is generally perceived as being useful, be that through career, interpersonal relationships, whatever.

“‘The worst thing that could possibly happen to anybody,’ she said, ‘would be to not be used for anything by anybody.’ The thought relaxed her.” (Sirens of Titan, Vonnegut)

In context, the premise of the novel is that all the exploits and endeavours of the human race have been nothing more than a subtly controlled manipulation by the far-off Trafalmadorians. Obviously, there is a lot of allegory related to religion/God. However, the point is that Rumfoord, who exists in all time at once, understands this, and therefore seeks to create a new religion; one in which God, though he exists, doesn’t give a shit about humanity, and has nothing to do with them.

It’s an interesting blend of the need for faith in a higher power, with the stark reality that people’s lives are influenced by the chance of nature, an impartial, uncaring force. And, of course, the control by the Trafalmadorians – of which no human is aware, other than Rumfoord – could be seen as an allusion to basic primal urges. People act as they are genetically programmed to: they may find unique means by which to achieve these biological goals, but in the end, isn’t nature the greater controlling force? Perhaps it simply seems as though we have free will because there is such extraordinary variation in nature, and thus in people and their actions.

Thus, Rumfoord creates a new meaning; that there is no meaning, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, this most essential truth needs to be cloaked in the trappings of religion, because even the reality that belief is false needs to be conveyed through belief… in that non-belief. And even then, the notion of control still exists: Rumfoord never explicitly states that God doesn’t control things, just that he doesn’t care or play an ACTIVE role. Things could potentially still be set in motion by this greater power, eons ago. So what does this represent? An intelligent, intermediary step on the way to a non-religion of cold, harsh logic? Or just another means by which to give people that security of ‘someone/thing else controls my fate, which means there must be some bigger picture here – i.e. meaning’ that they need?

A review of Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus (which is a fantastic read, by the way) said that although Camus promoted the idea of achieving happiness through the realisation that life is ultimately meaningless, there is no way Camus himself could have been happy, living as he did with that knowledge.

I ask: why not? Isn’t there something liberating in the knowledge that there aren’t any prescribed achievements? That your life is your own, because in the end, it doesn’t represent anything? I don’t see why that’s necessarily fatalistic. You can still effect change – for good or ill – in your immediate circumstances/environment, you simply accept that there isn’t necessarily any great spiritual or larger force driving it all. It’s not ‘chaos’, at least not in the human sense, it is simply nature in its purest form. It exists because it exists, in and of itself, for its own sake.


Samsara and animism

This is another of those “old rambles from several years ago that are potentially interesting” posts.

Notes: This thought was inspired by a thread on MysticWicks NeoPagan forums. For reference, ‘samsara’ is the Sanskrit term for the idea of reincarnation found in Hinduism and Buddhism.

I was just contemplating the idea of the separation between the ‘spirit’, or soul if you will, and the physical body. It’s a core concept in all of the major world religions, and it’s prevalent in a lot of NeoPagan ones too (albeit there is less of a negative judgment passed upon the physical body).

In terms of the afterlife, that means that when your body dies, your spirit then progresses to… whatever. Personally I believe in samsara/reincarnation, so in my case, the ideology is that the body dies, and the spirit, as a separate entity, moves on to inhabit a new form.

However, what if I were to adopt a more animistic approach to it? I was thinking about this, and I believe that although animism, strictly speaking, refers only to a general transcendent dimension, without regard to Deified specifics or an afterlife, it is possible to reconcile a believe in reincarnation with that of animism.

If animism is held to be the belief that every natural object possesses a kind of “spirit”, whether that’s an individual spirit or a collective one (but in this instance, for ease of arguments’ sake, I’m saying it’s an individual spirit), then the physical body itself possesses a spirit purely because it is a natural object. That is, the spiritual component of the body is simply an integrated aspect of it.

Therefore, when the body rots in the ground (haha nice lack of euphemism there!) this spirit also “degrades”, as it is integrally a part of the physical body. However, as this is theological rather than biological, we’re not talking about molecular breakdown – instead, the spiritual component would become “absorbed” into the collective spiritual of the natural world. There, perhaps, it becomes mixed with this collective spirit, and is then manifested in the next physical carried that is created (since even humans are, generally, still a part of the cycle of biological material).

This theory also proposes that, therefore, there is no constant distinct spirit for each of us, but instead that it gets reintegrated with the collective spirit of the natural world, and therefore effectively ‘refracted’, so that in its next manifestation in a physical carrier, it is a different composition, comprised of various parts of the collective spirit. But then is that a presupposition that the individual spirits of organisms vary (and is that in turn a presupposition of a society obsessed with individuality and the need to believe in an eternal unique ‘us’?)?

Ow. My brain.

Some Thoughts on ‘Discrimination’ and ‘Tolerance’

This particular tangent was inspired by a fantastically well thought out post on Southern Pagan.

I think a lot of NeoPagans get so caught up in the community (which is, realistically, not all that big – that’s not a bad thing, either) that they seem to forget that we are a religious minority. Well, let me qualify that – they forget that we are a religious minority when it comes to their expectations of how NeoPaganism should be accommodated within broader society. They sure don’t forget we’re a minority when it comes to crying wolf persecution.

I mean, seriously, so many NeoPagans expect that society should cater to us. Not just tolerate us, or be open-minded (that would be nice, but not just in regards to NeoPaganism), but openly provide specific opportunities designed to meet specific needs. Here’s a thought – why? It’s not a direct ‘persecution’ of NeoPaganisms, nor is it a denial of rights. Generally, it’s simply a case of practicality and lack of a realistic demand.

For example, the University of Sydney has Muslim prayer rooms specially set aside, because there are a large number of Muslims at the uni. None of the high schools that I went to made accommodations for this, because there was little to no demand – maybe one or two Muslim students. Considering that’s one of the major world religions, what’s the likelihood that society is going to go out of its way to make special arrangements for a religious tradition that is exponentially smaller?

Well, one could argue that it’s all about quality, not quantity. That the rights of one person is justification enough for changes being made. And theoretically, I’d wonder what planet you’re from agree with you, to an extent. No-one should be denied the basic human rights. Hence, I believe in tolerance, sure (and I do belief in tolerance – not even necessarily acceptance, just tolerance, because I really don’t care if you’re just humouring me). I also believe that there is a marked difference between not being accommodated and actively being discriminated against.

If you consider ‘not being given special time/space for religious services’ to be persecution/discrimination, your life is apparently way too easy. If they don’t go out of their way to accommodate every other religious tradition, major or minor, other than NeoPaganism, then you’re not being persecuted, you’re just not their primary concern. Most public domains do not have the time or motivation to cater to any minority group. That’s possibly bad, definitely sad, but it’s the way of the world. You’re not special, you’re not being discriminated against.

And when it’s all said and done – to what extent is it impacting on you, anyway? Sure, I go to university on days that are of religious significance to me; that’s what evenings are for. Or the day before or after. Sure, I don’t have a dedicated space/time/group devoted to my religious practices on-campus. So I’ll go climb a tree, or sit on the lawn, and don’t give a shit if there are other NeoPagans around to hold my hand and ‘lend support’ during class hours. Given the fluidity of the ‘orthopraxy’ of virtually every NeoPagan that I’ve ever met, I’m skeptical about people’s claims that this is a really that big of a deal.

Is it really about religious rights? Or is it about wanting to feel justified in your feelings of persecution?

Devotional Drawing of Sita Tara

I ought to preface this with: this is not an original design!! I do not have the patience or imagination to come up with something like this. I just observed the traditional Buddhist representations of Sita Tara (White Tara), found some I particularly liked, and based the drawing on those (occasionally glossing-over the hard to draw parts, heh).

sitatara black and white

sitatara devotional colour

The observant among you will notice that there are some hideous flowers at the bottom of the ink-only version, which have miraculously been transformed into Sanskrit in the pencilled version. This is where I failed, drew ugly-arsed flowers, and gave in and admitted I’d have to take white-out to my lovely work. *sigh* Damn you, nature!

Some more notes (because I’m anal-retentive that way): obviously, I’m a NeoPagan, not a Buddhist, and I very much dislike people who just appropriate other cultures without any regards to research or culture. That being said, I spent most of my teenage years doing extensive research into Buddhism and Hinduism: I am certainly not a Buddhist, but there are many aspects of Mahayana/Zen practice (but not necessarily beliefs) that appeal to me.

I personally agree with the Mahayana belief that the boddhisatvas are not Gods, therefore I see no reason why I can’t admire their characteristics and what they represent, without insulting either them or the theological framework in which I work. However, as much as possible, I try and do so within the context of the culture; hence my fondness for Zen-style meditation, and creating mandalas which I then destroy. I think I’ll keep this picture though, I’m rather proud of it (and that, folks, is why I’m not a Buddhist).

Questions? Comments? Haven’t had a good religious discussion in quite some time, feel free to fill the void!

Change Your Perception, Not Your Reality

Quick note: sorry for the lack of recent updates, I’m currently drowning in a sea of books, paper and essays (i.e. uni is rather hectic at the moment). I’ll try harder, I promise!

Preface: one could easily argue that your perception IS your reality. I mean to distinguish between the two as one within the realm of your control, and one not. As in, you can view having enough money to survive as being wealthy, or you can wish for a million dollars hard cash instead of the $10 you have. The first is your perception of the financial situation, the latter is the reality (the $10, not the million :P).

At the moment there are a lot of books, films, talk shows (ugh), etc. going around that deal with the premise of creative visualization as a means by which the ordinary individual can literally “picture” their life to be happy, and it will be. (And can I just say… uh, well done secular society for finally managing to catch on to creative visualization, it’s only the basis of most witchcraft and magickal practices. At least we don’t [generally] capitalize on it.)

Yes, well that’s not quite how it works. Once again, someone has seen a really great idea (i.e. creative visualization as a tool for attaining the “dream life” that you desire) and not bothered to really think things through or do any research, and thus have produced half-arsed ideas (i.e. the money-accruing “The Secret”) that simultaneously manage to give people entirely the wrong impression, as well as potentially ruining any greater social exploration of a rich topic.

Things like “The Secret” basically promise that if you want something enough, and if you picture it enough, then it will just manifest within your life. Take happiness for example – visualize your life being happy smooth-sailing, and it will be.

Well, again, that’s not strictly true. The nasty reality of existence is that bad things do happen to good people, and good things happen to bad people. Just because you want your life to go smoothly doesn’t mean it will. See, in truth, the basis of creative visualization, like any genuine attempt at “self-improvement”, is that you aren’t really attempting to change your surroundings. It’s that you’re trying to change yourself.

After all, what would be the point in suddenly having a great life, if you’re still to arrogant, too materialistic, etc., to be able to appreciate it? No, the real aim of the task is to transform yourself, and more specifically, to transform your perspective; it’s not changing the nature of reality, it’s simply changing your perception of it. Unless you’re extremely fortunate, your life is never going to be completely easy. It’s just that it’ll be easier for you to deal with, if you attempt to change your perspective so that you don’t allow yourself to get so worked up.

That’s largely my own practice these days – it’s not the same as being blindly optimistic, it’s more a kind of laid-back existentialism: nothing in life is fair or unfair, it simply is. It exists, it is being, it is your reality, you’re here and now. So don’t whinge about it; either change it or accept it.

The funny thing is, people buy these books, and they don’t realise that the entire basis of the concept is changing yourself, not your environment/life/surroundings. People like that, well they generally want the easy option; they want their life to be smooth and easy, but they don’t want to have to abandon the attention-seeking “emo-ness”, or be the one who has to take the so-called “moral highground” and walk away from an argument or a melodrama. Most of those people enjoy being victims, yet they want their lives to be easy.

And therein lies the crux of the point of this blog: you want your life to be easier for you, you have to be the one to change it. And by “it”, I don’t mean you change jobs, houses, people, etc. I mean you have to change yourself, as necessary. Yep. That’s right. You may even have to grow as a person, leave the drama, the immaturity, the self-indulgence behind. Because all good things require sacrifice, and you can’t continue to cling onto old habits of immaturity whilst expecting your life to become something great.

Thoughts on “Otherkin”

Note: I’m going away for the long weekend, so here’s something nice and contentious to tide you over until I return. Feel free to comment, I’ll reply when I get back.

I have to admit, this is a topic I’ve never really had cause to consider. To me, shapeshifting is a shamanic practice associated with alternate states of consciousness, and more to do with aspecting than actual physical transformation. And most of the “otherkin” that I’ve ever encountered have been attention-seeking at best, histrionic and delusional at worst.

However, I’ve been giving it some thought lately, and I’ve come to a conclusion; I find the whole thing kind of irrelevant.

To me, to be able to decide that you’re different to everyone else because you’re spiritually/in part a non-human animal, you have to establish a dichotomy between the soul/spirit of non-human and human animals. That is, you believe that humans have “human” souls, and all other animals (wolf, horse, whatever) have “non-human” or “animal” souls. I find this idea preposterous, and based largely on social conditioning, which insists on separating the two.

I’m willing to acknowledge this is largely based on my “all animals – human and non-human – are created equal” vegan view. But from a spiritual perspective, it seems rather absurd to constrain the soul to one set species. So, what, if you are a “human” soul, you can never be incarnated as anything else? That seems pretty limiting. It also seems to me that it contributes to the idea that humans are the only ones with “real” souls, that is, sentient and evolving ones. Which is, as anyone who shares a close bond with any animal knows, rather absurd.

Personally, I think that a soul is a soul is a soul. I don’t think your core essence, your very spiritual being, has a defined species. I think it’s so far beyond that limited comprehension that the very idea is laughable. Placing human constraints on such an intangible, ephemeral concept is like trying to put the time/space continuum in a shoebox.

Which brings me to wonder why people try and make this definition. Honestly, I’m still fairly convinced that people who wander around saying they’re a wolf-soul in a human body are either very inarticulate (do you mean to say that you have many inherent characteristics that are associated with the wolf’s mystical stereotype?), or just looking for attention and a way to be special little flowers. Also, the whole “I’m a vampire/dragon/unicorn” thing is rather… interesting. Is it an attempt at being extra-“special”? If they took a realistic “they were real creatures that are now extinct” line, I’d perhaps be more willing to entertain the idea, but when their conception is based entirely on Eragon/Twilight, I’m just going to laugh. A lot of people also try and use it as some kind of exclusive little club, to prove their “superiority”, which is both annoying and pathetic.

As to the idea of “otherkin” as being people descended from the Fae, I’m more willing to entertain this idea; I think it’s potentially possible. It’d be interesting if they ever actually proved any of the powers they claim to hold (interestingly, I know a lot more people with freaky abilities who don’t claim to be anything more than human), or had any evidence whatsoever of this lineage. Old family stories (not “My dead grandmother told me this, but no-one else ever heard the rumour, only ME.”), interesting family genealogies, hell, anything more than “My ancestors were totally Celts, therefore I’m part Fae” would be nice. I’m yet to see it happen.

No doubt this view is contentious, but if you have any evidence to the contrary, please let me know, I’d love to hear it.

Your meat or your life, sir

“The National Cancer Institute study is one of the largest to look at the highly controversial and emotive issue of whether eating meat is indeed bad for health.”

So, once again, in a study not sponsored by the American meat and dairy industry, eating meat (particularly red meat) has been linked with increases in just about every disease, including heart disease and several types of cancer. (Read the full article here.)

They’re right, though: as much as vegetarians and vegans are criticised for being “overly emotional” when it comes to animals, in my experience, few things will get a person more riled up than daring to suggest that eating meat is bad for them, bad for the environment, and it goes without saying that it’s the worst for the animals.

Sure, I’ll get annoyed when people won’t back off, and continue to criticise me for my choices. I’ll get downright angry at people who think there’s some big joke about torturing and brutalising animals. But if I turn around and question their ideals (or, rather, total lack thereof), I’m the worst thing to happen to this country since the Labor party was elected. (If you don’t see the blatant sarcasm there, you’re in the wrong blog.)

From the perspective of meat eaters, why is it a controversial issue? And why the hell is it an emotional one? I understand that you don’t want your civil rights infringed upon, but we’re not forcing you to stop eating meat, we’re trying to educate you so that, hopefully, at some point you’ll be smart enough to see that it’s really the only good choice here. Are you that addicted to the taste of a fatty, lard-dripping cheeseburger that you’d shed tears over it’s loss? Personally I’d cry over the senseless and brutal killing of thousands of animals every day, so that western society can continue to destroy itself through its own gluttony.

As for controversial: it’s only controversial because the meat and dairy industries, who’ve done nothing but cut back jobs instead of profits, and destroy the environment in their quest to spill as much blood as possible, tell us it is. It’s a non-issue. Anyone – who can be bothered getting past their own self-indulgent “But I wanna eat a steak!” bullshit – can see that not eating meat is a logical choice.

And this isn’t even considering the spiritual/humanitarian issues in eating meat. Personally, as a NeoPagan, especially one with strong Wiccan influence, I don’t think you can believe in an ethos of “harming none” and eating meat (this is a topic I’ll write more on, one day). I don’t think you can consider yourself “enlightened” or “progressive” as a species, when you still inflict unimaginable pain and suffering on other animals, based on your own absurd belief in your superiority. And all for no real reason.

Hopefully this is something to think about.

Time Travel vs. Parallel Universes

Note: this is another older piece of writing (I’m transfering some stuff across from an old blog), but interesting thinking nonetheless. Be warned! It’s quite long.

I actually got thinking about this concept after re-watching the Stargate SG1 episode 1969, when I got rather annoyed about the obvious problem in a discussion between the team about the so-called “grandfather paradox.”

So, it’s a widely accepted theory that there is a paradoxical clause in the theory of travelling backwards in time, in order to change an event or occasion. This is because, theoretically, if the person attempting to change something was successful, then in their future the event would be changed, and thus the person would never have intended to go back in time and change it.

One major flaw in the grandfather paradox; sure, if you only apply it specifically to the act of going back in time to kill one of your own direct ancestors, than yes, you would not be born, so you would not go back in time to change it, so that person would not be killed by you, etc. However, if you apply the concept more broadly, then there arises the issue of whether direct intended action/intervention in a particular activity (eg. World War II) would only affect that, or would affect numerous other things; history would be changed completely. Again, there arises the argument that if, for example, WWII were effectively prevented, in the future the person would not travel back in time to prevent it.

What about if you went back in time to try and change occurrence X, and didn’t manage to change that, but instead inadvertantly changed some other major aspect of history, occurrence Y. If that hadn’t been your intent, then the changed future resulting from the change to occurrence Y would not affect your desire to go back in time to change occurrence X. By the same token, changing occurrence Y could have such major ramifications that you never exist. The grandfather paradox is a rather simplistic view of the complications of time travel.

Also, does this paradox only apply to backwards? What if someone were to travel forwards in time and change something? Again, if the intention to change something was not the driving force behind this change, theoretically it is possibly to inadvertently change history. The bad thing there being that you cannot go back in time to deliberately change a particular thing that you want changed. I guess as far as forwards time travel (assuming you subscribe to the linear model of time/space relations, which I don’t), it’s all a matter of how much you believe in pre-destined fate. Or perhaps not.

Let’s say that Person A lives in England in the year 3000AD. And Person B lives in the year 3000BC. If Person B could somehow transport to the year 1066, and prevent the William the Conqueror from taking control and introducing the feudal system, how would that apply to Person A? If time travel were to be possible, then time would have to be non-linear (even with the possibility of light speed travel, that covers distance, not time, and wormholes would not likely allow for time travel), which means that that change (preventing the introduction of the feudal system) would have to occur across every instance of time, instantaneously, rather than the change gradually evolving to create a new “true” history across the linear span of time. This leaves us with a problem; if all instances of time occur at once, there arises a new paradox, whereby Person B could not change the occurrence, because at the exact instance they do, it’s already done, so there is nothing to change. Alternately, this could be seen as the formation of a parallel universe.

My theory is that all time and all space exist at once and in the exact same place, because neither really exists in the first place. So arguing what’s at the end of the universe, or what occurs outside that exact instant in which all time occurs is immaterial, because they are all encompassing and at the same time to not exist. They are everything in their nothingness. In relation to parallel universes, I believe that they are formed at each possible choice in the entire universe. So for every possibility, there are a million others, creating an infinite number of parallel universes.

So, going back to the grandfather paradox, if one went back in time and killed their own grandfather, then they would simply create more parallel universes based on that action. They aren’t really changing history, per se, more like creating multiple alternate possibilities, which would all manifest as parallel universes. Of course, this brings up this issue of whether the aspects of Person X which exist simultaneously in Parallel Universe A, Parallel Universe B, Parallel Universe C, etc, are all individually consciously aware, or are in fact all just aspects of one consciousness, which is segmented. Or perhaps there are several, and it depends on how large the divergence between the universes is. This is a possible explanation of deja vu. So, if it is only a single individual sentient consciousness per universe, then yes, that person has changed history, as far as they are aware.

However, if one is going to rely on the theory of the creation of parallel universes as a result of changes made to the human construct of linear time, then you have to take into consideration, you also have to consider the possiblity that that means it is impossible to change the past linear history within any given parallel universe. If a new universe is created for the possibility of every divergence, then that means the instant you make that change, you enter into the parallel universe of that particular divergence. The history in the universe you left remains exactly the same. In which case, do dopplegangers become an issue? Intruiging.

If the theory of the above paragraph holds true though, one would have to consider all occurrences, people and events as unmeasured entities, or abstract concepts, or else the entire thing is in defiance of quantum theory, which states that when an unmeasured entity singularises, it has only one probably outcome. Unless each parallel universe is created not as an alternative to a possibility, but as a creation resulting from the different process by which any given entity has become singularised. After all, quantum theory does state that everything exists as an infinite composition of possibilities. Which makes sense, because the measure of an entity results in singularising its number of probable states to achieve a single outcome; so there are infinite possibilities, and thus the possibility of the creation of infinite parallel universes.

And just now, having browsed some sites discussing the grandfather paradox, it seems I’m not the only one who thinks that it’s a misconception regarding the nature of causality. Except that, being something like 15 at the time I originally wrote this, I didn’t express it quite so eloquently. 😛

Whatever Happened to the Tolerant Polytheists?

So I was making my semi-regular reading exploration on WitchVox, when I came across this article. Me being the critic that I am, I wanted to make a couple of comments on some of it’s content; less because I have a problem with the article itself (on the contrary, it’s fine), but because – to me – some of the points made in this article exemplify some of my problems within the NeoPagan community.

“Not too long ago, a close friend asked me, “So what do you want for…. What do you call Christmas?”… It’s not as though we have a hard and fast, universally pagan-accepted divinity to attach it to… Many of us, though, still say “Christmas”. Is it cultural bias, momentum, commonality for the sake of communication, or simple political-correctness?”

Or, it’s an acknowledgement that the Christian holiday of Christmas (hey, look, I said it in it’s entirety and didn’t spontaneously combust! See, it can be done!) occurs on December 25th. In her initial anecdote, by all means, tell the friend the name of the holiday relevant to whatever tradition you practice; Saturnalia, Yule, whatever. But in her expanded idea of using the term Christmas, the point is completely moot: I refer to my holiday (i.e. the NeoPagan one) as Yule/the Winter Solstice/Alban Eiler. To me, these holidays, each ascribed to a different religion, happen to occur at the same time (usually).

But perhaps the bigger problem here is the fact that a lot of NeoPagans apparently feel this overwhelming urge to continually point out that ‘Christmas is just a stolen/appropriated use of old pagan celebrations’. I’ll admit, I’m not above pulling the old ‘Jesus-is-a-cheap-imitation-of-Mithras’ argument out if I’m being severely irritated by a fundamentalist Christian. But on the whole? It’s the simple fact that virtually all religious mythos are re-tellings and re-interpretations of other religions. Sure, it’s annoying that Christianity took pagan mythology, used it indiscriminately, and then turned around and denigrated paganism as an entirely ‘incorrect’. However, again, this is the nature of the beast (humanity); each ‘successive’ mythos/ideology/culture basically steals the ideas of it’s predecessor, and then identifies it’s re-telling as the superior/’right’ one.

So. I don’t say “Christmas” because I’m being politically correct, I say it when I am referring to the Christian ‘holy’ day occurring on the 25th of December. And, at the same time, I don’t unnecessarily enter into arguments about ‘whose’ holiday it really is, because I don’t see the point. It comes back to the same old point; those people who will listen would prefer to have the topic approached in a mature, discoursive manner (not “your religion is a rip-off of my religion!!!”), and those who won’t listen… well, there’s no point arguing with people like that.

Onto the second point; why do I perpetually feel that hard-polytheists are a significant minority in the NeoPagan community? Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against soft-polytheism (though I do if you identify yourself as a Celtic Reconstructionist/Kemetic Reconstructionist/etc, and still refuse to acknowledge that the archaic pagan view was not one of ‘archetypes’). I just think it’s kind of weird that people self-identify as polytheists, but, when it comes down to it, a lot of these people don’t actualy believe in any Gods.

“…how does one choose and isolate a single path? Do I choose Wicca or Romany? Should I choose Egyptian Deities, Assyrian Entities, or East-Asian Archetypes?”

(Let’s not even go into the fact that the author just identified a racial/cultural group [the Romany] as a religion).

This is the other part of this weird non-belief that seems to increasingly characterise non-mainstream religion; that so many people CHOOSE what they ‘believe’. Last time I checked, belief is generally inherent. It may be latent, it’s manifestation may be altered through knowledge, new experience, etc., but the belief has always existed, in some form. This is a pretty contentious stance, but one I maintain. I freely admit that I’m suspicious of people who suddenly ‘convert’ from absolute ‘belief’ in monotheism (or atheism, or anything, really) to an equally adamant ‘belief’ in something else.

Maybe it’s just my perspective, having always possessed an inherent belief (or, rather, knowledge) in polytheistic deities, but it always seems a bit strange that people use the term ‘belief’ for something that they can change at a whim. I’m not saying it’s not possible to have some kind of epiphany and realise that you weren’t really sure, but this sudden decision to ‘believe’ something else? I’m just skeptical. Well, I’m skeptical in general, but I’m particularly skeptical about this.

Thoughts? Hope this wasn’t a ranty diatribe, I’m tired and at work. Nothing like the retail industry to bring out the negativity and irritation. 😛

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