Spritzophrenia

humour, music, life, sociology. friendly agnostic.

Archive for the ‘pagan’ Category

Interview with a Modern Pagan

Posted by spritzophrenia on September 13, 2010

I strongly believe we need to talk to each other about our spiritual lives. Even though we may respectfully disagree, I believe that peaceful co-existence of all religions in the 21st century depends on this.

Some people believe the solution to religious conflict is to suppress or exterminate spirituality, at the very least by ridicule. I think history shows this is highly unrealistic— look at the way religious life has sometimes thrived under active persecution. Polls consistently show that even with a decline in traditional beliefs, new spiritual practices are springing up to take their place. Whatever the spiritual landscape looks like in a few hundred years time, I doubt it will be 100% atheist.

Hence, I interview various believers and non-believers here on Spritzophrenia. I’m grateful to Freeman Presson for his willingness to share about his life. Freeman strikes me as a humorous and thoughtful man. Without further ado, I present:

Symbol of Enlil, Sumerian God of the Sky, Earth, & Water

Symbol of Utu? Sumerian sun God, known as Shamash in Akkadian

Interview with a Pagan

Jonathan: Freeman, let’s start with the classic “Age, Sex, Location?”

Freeman: Birmingham, Alabama, USA will do nicely. I don’t need to hide, I don’t even remember where the closet is. I’m going to pass on that age question, don’t want to give anyone the wrong impression. Let’s just say I have been an adult for a fairly long time now.

Jonathan: Tell me a bit about your background – did you have any kind of spiritual upbringing?

Freeman: I was raised in a mainstream Protestant church. My first mystical experience happened in that church when I was four — but it was before a service, and had nothing to do with Christianity. I was a
fairly devout little guy from ages 8 – 12, until I decided to actually read the entire Bible.

I put it down after finishing Revelation, and I remembering thinking “I don’t know what I am, but it’s not that.”

I got along with closet atheism for a while, but the spiritual realm was not done with me. Along with a lot of this and that, including some early attempts at magic, and some intense experiences with entheogens in my late teens/early twenties, I settled into a phase of “dabbling in Zen.” Then there’s another blank spot before I found a teacher and spent over 10 years really practicing.

I sort of abruptly exited regular Zen practice in the late 90’s, and along with my new love (now my wife), began to explore some more down-to-earth experiences.

Jonathan: How would you describe your spiritual path now? How did you come to practice what you do?

Freeman: It started with figuring out what sort of experiences my wife was having, and developed from there. Her tutelary spirit, Lilith/Lilitu, introduced us to some other deities from the Ancient Near East. I had never heard of my Ilu, Ningishzida, before I was directed to work with him. It had the definite feel of bringing someone out of a quiet semi-retirement.

When we found some other people who wanted to participate, we formed Temple Zagduku. Our work is a mixture of shamanic, devotional, and magical practices. We have more or less regular relationships with six
Deities. We adopted the motto “Namsaga,” which is one of the Sumerian terms for pleasure: as far as we could tell, it is the closest to “bliss,” as in “Follow your bliss.” It’s our equivalent of “Do what thou Wilt shall be the whole of the Law.”

So we are loosely reconstructive, hard polytheists, although I am at root “model agnostic” about the workings of the Divine. If someone wants to insist that it’s “all in the mind,” I just grin and say, “So
you agree with me that the mind is a vast and wonderful place. Good.”

Jonathan: Can you tell me a bit more about what a “hard polytheist” is?

Freeman: That is one way to classify a point in the space of modern Pagan theologies. Some people believe the Gods are some sort of archetype or function of the mind; some believe they are all aspects of the One; but a hard polytheist accepts the simple explanation that there are individual Gods and Daimones who each have their own powers and personalities.

As I said before, when people say that the Gods are archetypes or whatever, I don’t argue with them. I might say, “So, the Gods are all in your mind? At least we agree that the mind is a large and strange place.”

[Jonathan’s note: We discussed polytheism on Spritzophrenia at White Men Need More Ganesh]

Jonathan: What does your magic involve?

Freeman: Nowadays I do more meditation and journey work: theurgy rather than thaumaturgy. It’s about developing my self and my relationships with my Deities and guides rather than producing “special effects” in the outer world.

Jonathan: What’s your day to day life like? Do you spend your whole time doing ‘spiritual’ stuff?

Freeman: Quite the opposite, it is a struggle to find time to do my practices any more, or to schedule anything with a group. We are busy folks with a little kid like anyone else.

Jonathan: Why the Sumerian connection, for you? You sound like you’ve researched that a bit.

Freeman: I don’t know why I, in particular, would have that connection. You’d expect Celtic or perhaps Germanic Deities, or something from the American Indian realm; but they called me. It would never have occurred to me. I tried to work with Hermes first. I got a sense of “something” there but no real interaction. Then I got “clobbered” by my Goddesses and introduced to some of the others.

Jonathan: (The question I ask everyone) How do you know your beliefs are true?

Freeman: I don’t call something a “belief” if I know it’s true. The phrase” scientists believe” in place of “current scientific theory suggests” gripes my butt. I have had experiences that I couldn’t have had any other way, and my experiences are undeniable. If I could ‘prove” any of it, it would be science instead of spirituality.

I do not have to justify my spiritual practices and experiences. I’m not selling them as a cure for anything but boredom… but spiritual boredom (anomie) is a serious condition in its own right.

Jonathan: Thankyou Freeman, I hope to chat again in future.

Freeman: You’re welcome.

.

.

For those interested in reading further, Freeman writes at http://freemanpresson.wordpress.com and http://ulbh.livejournal.com You can also read about one of my own Pagan experiences and more interviews. If you’d like me to interview you, leave a comment.

Respond

What questions would you ask Freeman? (He may pop in and answer if we’re lucky.) What other thoughts has this raised for you?

Please share this article:

Advertisements

Posted in god, pagan, Sociology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments »

Western-Based Mysticism: A Personal Story

Posted by spritzophrenia on March 24, 2010

I invite people to tell their spiritual or agnostic stories. Today I’d like to say thanks to my friend Tanya for sharing a little of her journey. While I’ve come across many of the ideas such as ceremonial magick and the kabbala I hadn’t realised that they can be grouped in a general worldview and practice known as the Western Esoteric Tradition. It might be compared with New Age teachings except they come from a Western mystical worldview, rather than the New Age’s Eastern focus. Tanya writes:

My belief in god has changed from being absolute and unequivocal, to atheist, to now a moderately fluid appreciation of what might be possible theistically speaking – sometimes I believe, other times I’m lost and just don’t know what to think anymore. Mostly I live in a state of not-knowing-ness and surrender.

It all started when I became a committed open brethren at age 11. This transpired through my attendance at a youth group – my primary family were secular in the extreme, so no influence there.

My unconditional commitment to God lasted about three years. At 14 I started to question the more “misogynistic” doctrines – why could I not speak in church? Why should I wear a head covering? Why was I, as a female, essentially a second class citizen? Although the men and women of the church were genuine and gracious, it was the dogma and the flimsy explanations that disappointed me. And so I rejected any concept of God and became a faithless wanderer. Very quickly, though, I realised that having some kind of faith is important to me, so I delved, somewhat predictably, into various New Age practices for the next 20 or so years.

esoteric

I became a Reiki Master, a certified EMF Balancing Technique practitioner, and an Aura Soma practitioner. I work in these areas still, although more on request than as vocation. Common themes in my apprenticeships were symbology and the concept of universal truths.

I studied astrology, tarot (Thoth and Rider Waite), numerology, occultism, herbalism, the teachings of Alice Bailey, esoteric astrology, theosophy and anthroposophy. I eventually understood that these practices are all tied together by what is termed the Western Esoteric Tradition. If I were to classify my practice today it would be syncretism.

I’m now pursuing post-graduate studies in Education (psychology and issues of diversity). Through this academic channel I have encountered one Michel Foucault, who is also associated with the academic
field of Western Esotericism. It seems that whatever avenue I traverse, I’m lead somehow to the esoteric…

It is through this ongoing dalliance with the Western Esoteric Tradition that I have come to understand the imperative impulses of making art and other forms of self-expression generally; music and sound; science and empiricism; physicality and sexuality; nature and the wonderous magic that is mathematics. If there is any purpose to life as a human, then I believe it is in creative acts – of any kind. Between creativity and beauty is where I experience what I now conceive of as god. I guess this is more or less a gnostic perspective. It is not a relationship, rather a state of being and understanding. There is nothing that I can do that provokes god, and I am nothing more or less than any other thing in existence in the eyes of god, assuming god even sees. I’m merely a conduit for knowledge, which I gain experience of through creative acts and beauty.

===

Here’s the introduction from Wikipedia which Tanya links to above:

Western esotericism or Hermeticism (also Western Hermetic Tradition, Western mysticism, Western Inner Tradition, Western occult tradition, and Western mystery tradition) is a broad spectrum of spiritual traditions found in Western society, or refers to the collection of the mystical, esoteric knowledge of the Western world. This includes, but is not limited to, alchemy, theosophy, herbalism, occult tarot, astrology, Rosicrucianism and Western forms of ritual magic. The tradition has no one source or unifying text, nor does it hold any specific dogma, instead placing emphasis on “inner knowledge” or Gnosis. Various groups including Hermetic organizations, neopagans and Thelema persist in practicing modern variants of traditional Western esoteric philosophies.

All I’ll add at this point is that a common factor in the Western Esoteric Tradition seems to be a belief in hidden knowledge which can be imparted by those in the know (the word “occult” means “hidden”). For me personally, I’m interested not only in what ‘works’ (does it?) but what is true. I hope to have Tanya expand on why she finds these practices attractive in future. What do you think?

Today’s Fun Unrelated Link Teddy Bears take over! Brilliant surreal video.

Posted in agnostic, pagan, Sociology, spirituality, wicca | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Avatar: The Spiritual Story Continued

Posted by spritzophrenia on February 8, 2010

I saw Avatar for the second time recently. It didn’t have nearly the same effect as the first time where I raised the possibility that the movie could be treated as a spiritual experience. Others have written about the spiritual side of Avatar and I thought I’d revisit the idea. [listen to Science Fiction while reading, it’s today’s blog backing track.]

One writer characterises Avatar as more a “spiritual fiction” than science fiction. James Cameron was interviewed on Oprah and the ideas behind the movie were raised. Oprah asked Cameron if he’s a spiritual person, after all, the Na’vi greeting “I see you” is a phrase with a deeper meaning more akin to “I understand who you are.” “I guess I must be”, replied Cameron, “because this film represents a lot of ideas and feelings I have as an artist,” going on to highlight his movie’s “environmental message and the idea that we are all connected to each other as human beings.”

Emmanuel Reagan writes:

Let’s explore “I see you”. When Jake is being trained by scientist to understand the Navi world view, he tells him, “if someone tells you ‘I see you’, they actually mean, ‘I see (into) you’”. They don’t see just the person. They see ‘into’ the person’s connectedness with the spiritual realm. In other words, the spiritual realm is a part of what they can sense. The biology of the Navis and other organisms in the Pandora is capable of connecting with the spiritual. In fact, Jake survives only because of a spiritual intervention early on. Just as a Navi arrow is about to be shot at him, the shooter senses that the Spirit Mother does not want him dead.

Dominique Teng and Brian Hines note a pantheistic slant in the movie. Hines discusses whether it’s pantheism or panENtheism before concluding the distinction doesn’t matter. However, Avatar’s is not a pantheistic deity. Eywa is LIKE a pantheistic deity. But at best, she’s a deity of the moon Pandora only. Really, this god is a god with a small “g”, a creature or demigod albeit a very powerful one. A bigger “pan” or theistic deity is still possible, and arguably necessary if one finds the classic proofs for god such as the teleological argument compelling.

Certainly watching the movie can make one yearn for the type of simplicty and perfection the Na’avi live in. It’s fiction, after all. Teng says, “[The Na’vi] are warriors and ready to protect their habitat. They understand and respect their connection with nature”, which looks rather like an ad for an “Iron John” type New Age men’s retreat. Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat list 15 spiritual lessons from the Na’vi. It’s interesting that a spiritual message is equated by many with environmentalism. I guess that’s Lovelock’s Gaia coming through. Teng has identified the non-materialistic and eco-friendly aspects of Avatar well. Towards the end she mentions in passing that Jake’s avatar is a “genetically modified hybrid”. I think many New Age people are afraid of or opposed to GE technology. An interesting point in a pro-enviromental movie?

Teng writes of “Profit seeking corporations ruthlessly destroying both environment and the indigenous cultures”, the “lack of respect for the habitats of other living creatures” and “controversial military expeditions to secure resources”. However, these are ethical issues, rather that spiritual as such and I think it’s important to distinguish this. An atheist could quite happily make the same points. Ethics and spirituality overlap, but ethics do not require a spiritual base to work from. (Actually, I think there’s a strong case that ethics do in fact require a spiritual foundation, but I’ll save that for another time.)

She writes “In the Hindu tradition, avatars are the reincarnations of deities sent to save the mankind in times of great peril.” Perhaps this is where some of the accusations of racism have come from: Whitey has come to save the savages. It’s been pointed out that the main settler characters are white (but what about the Hispanics?) and the actors playing Na’avi are Black or Native American. I wonder what would be said if Jake had been black? “Jake Sully is our avatar and here to save us, the viewers. He is here to open our eyes and save us as a race, a species, on the brink of self-destruction.” Hello Christianity? The god come to inhabit a human form and save us is also a christian idea.

Some Christians have also found resonance with other messages in Avatar, with one writer praising its vision of interdependence.

The Na’vi (per Indigenous tradition) are incredibly spiritual, sharing a connectedness hard to describe. The sehalo bonds they establish with the creatures and the environment on Pandora prove this connectedness–a connectedness that implies interdependence i.e. the rejection of the cup running over due to sinful pride.

It’s interdependence that defines our togetherness, our teamwork; our collective contributions to the whole, which is greater than the sum of its individual parts.

On the other hand, some other Christians have denounced it. Notably, the vatican has criticised the movie for its “spiritualism linked to the worship of nature.”

My friend Martin Pribble notes that Joseph Campbell’s monomyth can be seen in the story. While I enjoy Campbell’s writing, I don’t find his ideas compelling. According to one commenter

I think the problem with Campbell is also the virtue: namely that the framework of myth he proposes is so malleable it can be adapted to almost any protagonistic narrative. It is a sort of Turing Machine of narrative, in the sense that almost any narrative can be shoehorned into a Campbellian form if it has a beginning, middle and end, and a protagonist. See here for more Campbell criticism and this Christian-based critique of Campbell.

This warm fluffy vagueness perhaps explains why people from quite different perspectives have seen both spiritual truth and damnation in the same movie. This neglect of nuance and detail is the fundamental error of all-religions-are-the-same thinking. On a surface level much in common can be found. Many religions have very similar ethics. However it’s insulting to their teachings and adherents to say all religions are therefore the same or are based on the same ultimate truth. Those who say this simply don’t have a deep enough understanding of the religions (cultures) they exploit by misunderstanding.

It appears the message of Avatar is broad enough to be compelling to many while the details my be quite vague. Can spirituality be vague, or does it have to have a definite content? I’m not sure definition-wise, but for me I want to follow something where the content is clear.

What are your thoughts? Comment below.
Edit: More on Avatar and Pantheism.

.

.
listening to Haujobb | The Noise Institute
tful Clever animation

Posted in Christianity, New Age, pagan | Tagged: , , | 10 Comments »

Satanic Panic

Posted by spritzophrenia on January 9, 2010

For those new to Spritzophrenia, I often include music with a blog post. Today’s soundtrack (below) is by current black metal band Gorgoroth, who have the distinction of one of the few openly gay members in a metal band – unless this is yet more publicity. I find black metal’s shouty-screamy chaos kinda exciting. A love of extreme metal is not a requirement for being a Satanist, ex-circus organist and founder of the Church of Satan Anton LaVey liked pretty cheesey stuff, along with the occasional atonal or majestic orchestral pieces he prescribed for his rituals.

As you might expect for a religion that prides itself on being adversarial, Satanism’s had plenty of controversy both internal and external.

Satanic symbol

It seems Rebecca Brown who published widely debunked Satanic panic books is still around and doing the christian talk circuit where she can, according to Bartholomew’s Notes:

Brown has all kinds of bizarre advice about how to resist demonic attacks – for instance, in Prepare for War we learn that vegetarianism is a Satanic plot, because meat protein offers protection. Her lurid tales were comprehensively debunked in an article entitled “Drugs, Demons and Delusions: The ‘Amazing’ Saga of Rebecca Brown”, by G. Richard Fisher, Paul R. Blizard and M. Kurt Goedelman, which can be read here; a further essay of interest can be seen here.

This reminds me of the excellent exposé of fake satanist Mike Warnke in the 90s done by Cornerstone Magazine. One of the things I love about this piece is that it was written by christian journalists when other christians at the time were swallowing Warnke’s story hook, line and sinker. Apparently not all christians were gullible.

Some time ago I read Michael Aquino’s history of the Church of Satan 1966-1975 (PDF, 10mb). I’m currently reading his work on the Temple of Set, a group that split from Anton La Vey’s church. They too, were not immune from schism:

Left Hand Path institutions often have a history of confrontations between individualist practitioners of different worldviews. The Temple of Set is no exception. High Priest Don Webb stepped down, and, on 9 September 2002, was succeeded by High Priestess Zeena Schreck. Six weeks after the Helsinki Conclave (September 2002), Zeena, Magister Aaron Besson, Magister Nikolas Schreck, and Magister Michael Kelly all resigned on 8 November 2002. Four Priests – Alfred Rodriguez, Kevin Rockhill, Jared Davison and Richard Gavin – also resigned. Temple of Set sources have claimed that eighteen Initiates have resigned while others have estimated the number at closer to sixty (including several Orders, Elements, and members of the Adept and Setian degrees). (Quoting Disinformation)

I also found Anton LaVey: Legend and Reality interesting. It’s hosted on yet another rival “church of satan” site, by someone who appears to be a disaffected ex-member. It claims that the church never had more than a few hundred followers, and repeats the now well-known claim that large parts of The Satanic Bible were plagiarised from other works, including Ayn Rand’s.

The infighting seems to be familiar territory, compared to the myriad splits among other religious groups and denominations, and even atheist groups. What do you think? Is it human nature to split and disagree?

Respond Here

Please consider sharing this article:

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Add to: Facebook | Digg | Del.icio.us | Stumbleupon | Reddit | Blinklist | Twitter | Technorati | Yahoo Buzz | Newsvine

Gogoroth | Incipit Satan (live). Enjoy the theatricality of their show; is it just me or does their audience seem indifferent?

Posted in atheism, pagan | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Pagan Ethics: The Goddess made me do it!

Posted by spritzophrenia on December 28, 2009

Welcome to a guest blog by Magdalena Merovingia! It’s a follow-on from my previous post as this is one of the original articles I cited; now gone, and I thought worth preserving. I used the wayback machine to find this as the original site is down. (http://www.iit.edu/~phillips/personal/grammary/ethics.html)

****

Pagan Ethics: The Goddess made me do it!

by Magdalena Merovingia




“The Goddess made me do it”; think of how absurd that statement
really sounds to a Pagan. After all we generally subscribe to a belief
system that supports both immanent and internalized Deity and, to use a
theologically technical term, is panentheistic — we and the Deity
are mutually dependent on one another. That is, what we do has a direct
effect upon the Deity. If our actions are honorable and ethical the Deity
is enhanced by us, and likewise, if our actions are dishonorable and
unethical the Deity is correspondingly impoverished.

Top

So if we can’t take the easy way out and pass the buck entirely to the
Lady and wash our hands of it then what do we do? What is it that really
guides our behavior in the world? Many would say the Wiccan Rede: An it
harm none, do as thou wilt. But is that really sufficient in and of
itself? It is my opinion that the Rede, while making a clear cut
statement, is very very broad and quite abstract in nature. While most of
us would wholeheartedly embrace the Rede as a guide for our behavior we
would also do well to supplement it with a more specific and well-
thought-out code of ethics. This code, if intelligently constructed, could
serve multiple purposes. One, it could give us more concrete ideas about
the concept of harm and suggest appropriate Pagan responses. As such it
would become a helpful tool for its user(s) in navigating this wild
experience we call life. Another good reason for having a code of ethics
(and following it) is it gives us credibility in the broader society as an
ethical people. Our ethics is one area where we can truly distinguish
ourselves from various “satanic” cults and other groups who engage in the
various “dark” arts. Having to make this distinction has been with
people for a long time. Almost two thousand years ago, Jesus is credited
with saying that “by the fruits of their labor you shall know them.” We
would do well to heed these wise words even today and let our actions
speak justly for themselves. Let us now take a closer look at this issue
of ethics, that elusive, subjective concept that supposedly makes us
“civilized”.

Top

ethics, n.;

  1. the discipline dealing with what is
    good and bad or right and wrong or with moral duty and obligation;

  2. a: a group of moral principles or set of values; b: a particular
    theory or system of moral values; c: the principles of conduct governing
    an individual or a profession; standards of behavior;

  3. character or the ideals of character manifested by a
    race or people.

When we look at this definition we see that the concept of ethics is
formed around the concepts of morality, behavior and character. So when we
talk about Pagan ethics one thing we are talking about is the moral and
behavioral aspects of the Pagan weltanschauung. On a personal level we are
examining our behavior towards each other and towards everyone else, human
and non-human, with whom we interact during the course of our lives. We
are also examining how we define and implement our moral duties and
obligations towards ourselves and towards others. This is not an easy
task. Morality and standards of behavior are very subjective by nature and
differ quite substantially from culture to culture and even from person to
person within the same culture.

Top

At the group level we can talk about our “professional” ethics, the ethics
of magick or the ethics of ritual practice for example. While still
retaining a definite individual and very personal aspect to them
(especially in solitary practice), there is often a broader sphere of
influence involved that reaches beyond the self to include others either
directly or indirectly. While still
difficult these are somewhat easier to define as we can come together as
a group and decide what principles and standards we are going to adhere to
ourselves and hold each other accountable to also.

Top

And then there is the “global” aspect of ethics — the character
or ideals of character manifested by a race or people. This is the aspect
of ethics that defines us as either “good” or “bad” as a people. And this
is where the majority of misinformation and misunderstandings exist
between our actual identity and the identity imposed upon us by
stereotypical definitions of “witch” and “witchcraft” so pervasive in our
current society. It is at this interface between actuality and
indoctrinated fantasy that the rubber really meets the road. If we are to
be successful in changing these definitions and the hatred and hostility
they breed on a global level we must each on a daily basis strive to our
highest ideals of morality and character in every
aspect of our lives. Only by presenting a continuing and consistent
presence as an ethical and responsible people collectively will those old
ideas finally fall with time, as they must when actual human experience
doesn’t support and verify expectations. All too often we are thought of
first as “a witch”, the stereotype, and then secondly, and usually only
when they come to know us, as John or Jane Doepagan, a real person.

Top

So let’s take a closer look at these intertwined concepts of morality,
behavior, and character that appear to define ethics. Morality often
appears to have a divine component to it that pure legality does not. Many
people think of morality in terms of “God’s” law, as opposed to legality
which is “man’s” law. This is the position of orthodox Christianity,
Judaism, and Islam. God defines morality and humans obey. And each of
these tradition’s sacred texts, the Bible, the Torah, and the Qur’an
respectively, are where one finds the specifics. Avi Sagi and Daniel
Stateman, in an article for the Journal of Religious Ethics, write: “Since
human beings are limited in their moral understanding and in their ability
to pursue a moral activity in light of this understanding only
unconditional obedience to God can ensure right moral behavior.” And R.
Zevi Hirsch Levin, from that same journal, explicitly claims
“that without religion we have neither morality nor virtue. Morality is
determined by the Torah rather than by independent rational
considerations.” In both of these examples humanity is absolved from any
personal responsibility in determining ethical and moral behavior beyond
obedience to God or to God’s word. This is not a functional paradigm in
the Pagan world, where we find neither a sacred text to defer to, nor do
we find God “out there” somewhere in an objective position independent
from ourselves.

Top

Buddhism, a non-theistic tradition, provides us with an example
of ethical and moral behavior without tying it to a concept of God or
divinity. The basic Buddhist position can be stated in two parts: first,
do not harm others and second, help others. Others includes not only other
humans but all sentient life. Some Buddhists schools of thought place more
emphasis on the second part, helping others, than other schools do, but
all emphasize the non harming aspect. To get more specific, the Buddhist
teaching of moral discipline includes the avoidance of the ten
non-virtuous actions involving body, speech, and mind. The non-virtuous
actions involving the body are killing, stealing, and engaging in sexual
misconduct. Each of these things is very specifically defined. The
non-virtuous actions involving speech are lying, harmful speech,
divisive speech (meant to bring division between people), and gossip or
idle speech
. The non-virtuous actions involving the mind are
harmful intent, ignorance (active repudiation of the central tenets of
Buddhism), and coveting or desiring the wealth or possessions of
another
. From the Buddhist perspective it is imperative that one
follow these if one is to succeed in attaining enlightenment. The strict
mental discipline and meditation practices are not sufficient for it is
believed that any gains realized through these practices are offset by the
karma incurred from one’s engaging in non-virtuous behavior. Here we see a
swing of the pendulum entirely the other way. Humanity is now held fully
accountable for determining ethical and moral behavior. Even if one
chooses to just follow the moral codes of Buddhism, there is still a
fundamental difference. The Buddhist canon was developed utilizing
human logic and reasoning whereas the Christian, Jewish, and Islamic
canons are generally considered to be “revelations” from God.

Top

By combining these two concepts, the existence of and interaction with
Deity and a deep respect and consideration for all forms of life we can
start to form a foundation for Pagan ethics. Starhawk appeals to the
immanence of the Goddess in the world and in all forms of life as her
foundation for ethics and ethical behavior. She says: “Love for life in
all its forms is the basic ethic of Witchcraft. Witches are bound to honor
and respect all living things, and to serve the life force. While the
Craft recognizes that life feeds on life and that we must kill in order to
survive, life is never taken needlessly, never squandered or wasted.
Serving the life force means working to preserve the diversity of natural
life, to prevent the poisoning of the environment and the destruction of
species.” While not as explicit as the Buddhists’ ten non-virtuous
actions, this still gives us something concrete that we can work with. It
connects ethics and morality to behaviors that support life.

Top

If you think about it many of the things that most people, Pagan and
non-Pagan alike, find morally objectionable often involve the lessening or
taking of life. Such things as murder, rape, and incest are often
thought of as moral crimes before being considered legal crimes. Robert
Merrihew Adams, a Christian scholar, presents us with the idea of the
morally horrible. He says, “It is not a consciousness of a command or
requirement laid on us by anyone, but a feeling about the actions
themselves and their consequences. We feel there are certain things it
would be horrible to do even if there were no authoritative rule or social
pressure against them and even if they were not forbidden by God. … Our
primary feelings about such deeds are not about violation of a rule or
requirement, but about what is done to the victims.” Mr. Adams appears to
be appealing to a basic sense of goodness within humanity and a confidence
that that goodness will prevail.

Top

Unfortunately this basic goodness doesn’t appear to prevail enough or be
cohesive enough for our society to function without a legal code. So let’s
take a look at ethics and morality and their relationship to the legal
system. I find it interesting to note that we are faced with a primarily
modern and primarily Western phenomena here — the separation of “church”
and its corresponding morality from “state” with its corresponding legal
code. Historically societies have always combined these. What was
generally agreed upon as moral was also legal. The legal code reflected
the lived beliefs of the culture which it served. People didn’t live
separate “religious” lives independently from their “secular” lives, they
just lived. In fact there are cultures today who’s languages do not
contain a word equivalent to our word “religion.” In Sanskrit, Hindi, and
Tamil you find words for “law,” “duty,” “custom,” “worship,” “spiritual
discipline,” or “the way” but not “religion.” These concepts organically
incorporate all the things modern Western culture often separates out as
being specifically “religious.” However in America today, especially as
Neo-Pagans, we do not have the luxury of having the “state” automatically
define our ethics for us and have that be adequate.

Top

Most of us have heard the phrase “morals are above the law,” but what
does that really mean? If we think about it we come to the conclusion that
this is a real issue for Pagans living under legal systems that
perpetuate policies of destruction and hierarchies of domination that are
at odds with the tenets of our belief system. So the question is, how do
we respond? The Mennonites, a totally pacifist people whose tradition
originated in Holland in the 1500’s, have lived with this conflict for
centuries. One of the deeply held tenets of their faith is the immorality
of war and their response to living in lands where war became reality was
to relocate whole communities across national borders rather than allow
their young and able-bodied men to supply the ranks. While this was a
viable option in years past it is not as attractive today in a globally
diverse and increasingly populated world. Consequently there will be some
of us who will feel a moral obligation to work for political change,
either within or from without the system we are situated in. Others
will not, preferring instead to take the position that as long as they are
not personally affected in a substantial way they have more to offer the
community by focusing their energies in other areas.

Top

Now this brings us face to face with the issue of authority. So what is
authoritative to us? Most of us would say that the words of the Lady,
whether spoken by a priestess at a “drawing down” or heard by our
inner ears in meditation, carry a sense of authority. Many of us invest a
certain amount of authority in those who are proficient in the psychic
arts such as tarot readers and astrologers. We also tend to invest a lot
of authority in our clergy and our elders, which is frequently an
appropriate and wise thing to do as they often have much in the way of
hard-earned experience to offer us.

Top

While each of these has an appropriate place in our decision-making
processes, we are still ultimately individually responsible for our
choice of actions and the consequences that come of them. Therefore our
ultimate authority must come from within our own selves, from our own
internal authority. Like the song says: “My skin, my bones, my heretic
heart are my authority.”

Top

So what exactly are our responsibilities in exercising our internal
authority? For one, we have a responsibility to be always aware of our
connection to Deity and to be constantly monitoring that connection for
“static”. Carlos Castaneda refers to this phenomena as the “trickery of
the spirit” or “dusting the connecting link to intent.” We have to
struggle with developing ways of sorting out what is real from what is
imagination, fantasy, and wishful thinking. When accepting and acting on
the advice of others we have a responsibility to understand and
internalize that information lest we fall prey to finger pointing if
things develop in unexpected and unwanted ways. And we have a
responsibility to be aware of the social and legal environments
of the situation and to weigh these factors in. Only when we
are reasonably convinced that we have done all these things can we say
that we have exercised our internal authority in a morally responsible
manner.

Top

So how might we approach formulating and documenting our own code of
ethics or a code for our coven or group? First and foremost it’s
important to critically think about these things. One way to tackle this
is to take a top down approach. First consider the broadest of Wiccan
ethical concepts, the Wiccan Rede — an it harm none, do as thou wilt.
Keep this in mind as the overriding principle as you develop more of the
specifics. Also keep in mind that what you eventually come up with needs
to both address the central concerns of Paganism and be a practical and
useful tool for those who will seek to use it.

Top

With these in mind you might start by considering our societal norms and
legal laws. Examine these to see if there is anything that falls within
this general category that needs to be explicitly addressed. For
example, my coven had a line in its code that said you couldn’t do
anything illegal. This generated quite a lively discussion over whether
speeding was ethical (vs. legal) and what that meant with respect to “an
it harm none.” But in general this would be where such things as our
behavior towards the environment and the earth would be addressed. This is
also where you might address pacifistic issues, if you identify yourself
as such, and what choices you wish to make regarding pacifistic activities
when they clash with the law. Likewise with abortion and other issues
where laws may infringe upon the Pagan tenet of full sanctity and control
of one’s own body. This aspect of your code should in no way be taken
lightly and developed arbitrarily with little thought. Anytime you choose
to go against the legal system you are not only putting yourself at
risk, but you are also putting the community at risk by association. But
we each have limits as to just how far our personal mocenrality and
integrity can be pushed before we act. It behooves not only us personally
but our broader community as well to have a clue beforehand as to where
that boundary is and what we think is the best course of action when that
boundary is breached. This is where the effort put into critical thinking
and communal dialogue can pay off, because there are a variety of
responses to this situation and none of them are necessarily “right” for
everyone in the group.

Top

Next you might consider overall practices and generally held beliefs
specific to the Pagan community. What are the community’s generally
acceptable behaviour norms, especially where they aren’t addressed by the
legal code? This would be the place to address things like the appropriate
uses of magick, will, and intent and the wielding of power for example, or
the appropriate expressions of our sexuality within the context of the
community. It might also be appropriate to include a code governing hexes
and curses.

Top

And finally you might consider what coven specifics and personal agendas
might need addressing. This could include group agreements regarding
skyclad work and more specific expressions of sexuality. It could also
include the groups’ agreements regarding smoking and the use or
prohibition of drugs for non-medical reasons.

And when you have done all this, keep in mind that what you have
produced is a living document that is meant to change over time as you
and your group change. And also keep in mind that what you have produced
is a code of ethics, not a legal code. You cannot enforce them the way you
would hard rules or legal laws. You can only offer them as a gift to your
community with the hope that someone will find them helpful on their
journey to a better life.

Top

A Coven Code of Ethics

While attending ritual or other coven functions you agree
to:

  • Relate to others with general politeness, manners, and common
    courtesy as befitting any gathering of friends.

  • Abide by any formal rules, covenants, or guidelines adopted by
    the coven.

  • Enter the circle “in perfect love and perfect trust.” Settle any
    differences with other participants beforehand or don’t participate. If it
    is impossible to settle the differences all parties involved must be able
    to truly set the issue aside and relate to one another “in perfect love
    and perfect trust” while in sacred space.

  • Try to distinguish between having psychological issues come up
    and truly being in a compromising position regarding beliefs and values.
    If you feel you are compromising your integrity by further participation
    quietly ask the maiden to cut a door in the circle and quietly leave. If
    something comes up for you that has been triggered by the ritual, speak up
    so those in charge can address the situation in an appropriate manner.

  • Commit to thinking for yourself and not just blindly accepting
    everything said or done.
Top

In general you agree to:

  • Follow the Wiccan Rede: An it harm none, do as thou wilt.
  • Make a reasonable effort to consider the difference between will
    and whim and to consider that harm is not always easily pinpointed.

  • Commit to opposing patriarchal oppression and strive to
    counteract it in positive, non-violent ways. Consciously choose to wield
    “power with” and “power within” and not “power over.”

  • Observe the legal code of your cultural location except when by
    doing so you are violating your personal integrity and morality in such a
    manner that cannot be overlooked or justified and you have considered the
    effects of your decision on the coven and the broader community and you
    consciously choose to take full responsibility for those effects.

  • Commit to learning the ways of magick and the Craft that work
    for you and to apply what you have learned to the best of your ability
    with intent for the highest good of all according to the free will of
    all.

  • Never work magick or offer prayers on behalf of another without
    their knowledge and consent.

  • Commit to respecting the environment and working towards its
    recovery.

  • Promise to maintain a policy of non-discrimination based on
    race, age, gender, occupation, physical ability, or sexual
    orientation.

  • Promise to maintain a policy of non-discrimination based on
    religion as appropriate. Maintain an awareness of Wicca as a religion and
    the legal and social repercussions of religious discrimination both toward
    Wiccans and by Wiccans. Be aware of your own biases in this area and walk
    this line very carefully.

  • Commit to remaining open-minded in your contacts with organized
    religion and seek to “take what you need and leave the rest” realizing
    that opportunities for encounters with Deity are limited only by
    yourself.

  • Refrain from “Christian bashing” or arbitrarily condemning other
    religions or religious peoples.

  • Refrain from graphic or offensive sexual behavior in public or
    semi-public situations and maintain an awareness of the changing
    definitions of graphic and offensive in varied situations.

  • Commit to taking responsibility for all aspects of your life,
    physical, psychological, and spiritual.

  • Commit to taking responsibility for your own psychological
    healing and to overcome the internalized effects of social programming in
    accordance with Wiccan teachings.

  • Commit to the spiritual path and to continued growth and
    learning.

  • Encourage fun, beauty, and play in your personal life and in the
    lives of others in accordance with Wiccan teachings. ¶
Top

Also see Muddy Earth


Bibliography

Adams, Robert Merrihew, “Moral Horror and the Sacred”, Journal
of Religious Ethics
, 23.2, Fall 1995, Scholars Press, Publishers,
pages 201-224

Bell, Linda A., Rethinking Ethics in the Midst of Violence – A
Feminist Approach to Freedom
, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers,
Inc., Lanham, MD, 1993

Book of Shadows, Mary Magdalene Coven

Castaneda, Carlos, The Power of Silence, Simon & Schuster
Inc., New York, NY, 1987

Geasair, Mari, “Raven Shadow Collective Mission Statement”, 1992

Heretic Heart, author unknown

Lecture notes, Comparative Philosophies of Religion, Iliff
School of Theology, José Cabaz¢n instructor, 1996

Sagi, Avi and Daniel Stateman, “Divine Command Morality and
Jewish Tradition”, Journal of Religious Ethics, 23.1, Spring
1995, Scholars Press, Publishers, pages 39-67

Sharpe, Eric J., Understanding Religion, St. Martin’s Press,
Inc., New York, 1983

Starhawk, Dreaming the Dark, Beacon Press, Boston, 1988

Starhawk, The Spiral Dance, Harper & Row Publishers, San
Francisco, 1989

The HarperCollins Study Bible, NRSV, HarperCollins
Publishers, New York, NY, 1989

Unruh, Abe J., The Helpless Poles, Courier Printing Company,
Grabill, Indiana, 1973

Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of the English
Language Unabridged
, G. & C. Merriam Company, Publishers,
Springfield MA, 1961

****

Jonathan will be back next time with something a little lighter. Thanks for reading.
listening to Freur | Doot Doot

Posted in ethics, pagan, Sociology, wicca | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Muddy Earth : Integrity and Pagan Ethics

Posted by spritzophrenia on December 26, 2009

I attended NeoPagan festival Magick Earth as an unintended anthropological ‘participant observer’. This is part two of my thoughts, the first being my experience and emotional response. Here’s an incomplete reflection -abandoned rather than finished. Long blog warning, grab a cuppa tea and join me 🙂

Why does doing something ‘religious’ poorly rub us up the wrong way? Somehow it seems worse than doing something else badly, like lacking integrity at work.

A few at Magick Earth were bothered by integrity. To one friend, there appeared to be a lapse in integrity among those leading the Friday night ritual in that the leaders didn’t seem to believe in what they were saying and doing and were merely going through the form of it. Also, the ritual itself seemed meh. It appeared that way to me too. In a separate example, a husband and wife, one of whom I think was a seminar leader, got drunk and had a long, vocal and abusive fight in the wee small hours. I can’t comment as I slept through it, but I’m told they’ve done it before. Several people there seemed to regard them with some degree of ambivalence, even contempt.

My friend commented that these people should be “living what they believe”. I agree. Most people have a sense that those publicly presenting a belief should have a degree of integrity about them. Here I am speaking of ethical integrity, I also briefly consider intellectual integrity below. I think the nature of spiritual belief seems to imply that it is ‘more special’, that some kind of special effort to be reverent and integral is required. (Why we assume that is an interesting question.) I recall that hypocrisy among the then-leaders of his own Jewish religion was despised by Y’shua (Jesus), and got quite a bit of airtime from him. [1]

My first response, and perhaps that of others is: “Oh, they’re hypocrites, I want to distance myself from them.” What makes me hesitate to judge them is twofold: Firstly, I am a hypocrite myself. Secondly, on what basis should I judge them?

1. I am a hypocrite
A hypocrite is someone who doesn’t live by what they actually believe. It doesn’t matter whether that belief is publicly articulated. Every single person on earth is a hypocrite; at least, I haven’t met someone who isn’t. One thing I believe is that I should be kind and loving to everyone. I am often unkind and unloving even to people close to me. Hence I am a hypocrite. This is not fun.

Another thing I believe is “do to others what you would have them do to you.” I don’t want others to reject me for being a hypocrite. I want them to be patient with me, hope that I improve, and perhaps lovingly help me to overcome my faults when I ask for help. Hence i should do the same for other hypocrites. I cannot help someone remove a speck in their eye if I have a log in my own.

2. How should I decide whether someone is practicing integrity?
I think integrity has to be measured firstly from within someone’s own system of belief. Their behaviour as viewed by other ethical systems is also important, but comes second. Spot the nod to relativism or postmodernism here. Integrity is measured against ethics and the dictionary definition of ethics is formed around the concepts of morality, behavior and character. I guess ‘character’ is how ethical one is over a period of time; how one ‘usually’ acts. So if someone was consistently doing a poor job of rituals we could say they had bad character. But only if ‘doing a poor ritual’ is already defined in paganism as unethical. So I had to find out what paganism says about how its people should conduct themselves.

There are Neopagans who have written about their ethical beliefs, here’s a few sites I found discussing them:
http://www.paganpastoraloutreach.ca/ethics/pagan.htm
The Goddess made me do it! This one in particular i thought was good.
http://www.solitary-pagan.net/Ethics,%20Philosophy,%20&%20Politics.htm
http://www.witchvox.com/va/dt_va.html?a=usxx&c=words&id=8106
[dammit! most of these articles are gone since I did my research two years back. Can anyone track them down? Might have to use the Way Back Machine]

Some pagan or wiccan principles that might come into play concerning doing rituals could include:
1. The Wiccan Rede

The ethics espoused in a particular Pagan tradition may be different, but there is a general common basis in honouring Nature and all Life. The foundation of Wiccan ethics is the Wiccan Rede – “an ye harm none, do as ye wilt” – simple but far-reaching in its implications (both individually and collectively). … in most Pagan traditions, the individual is responsible for determining how their tradition’s ethic or principles are lived out in any given moment and situation – most traditions do not have ‘commandments’ that direct their personal decisions. from http://www.paganpastoraloutreach.ca/ethics/pagan.htm

“If it harms none, do what you will”. I can’t see how doing a ritual badly harms people. If wasting others’ time is ‘harming’ or if offending the goddess harms someone, then perhaps so. Several pagan writers say that the wiccan rede alone is not a good enough basis for all ethics.

2. What we do affects the deity

After all we generally subscribe to a belief system that supports both immanent and internalized Deity and, to use a theologically technical term, is panentheistic — we and the Deity are mutually dependent on one another. That is, what we do has a direct effect upon the Deity. If our actions are honorable and ethical the Deity is enhanced by us, and likewise, if our actions are dishonorable and unethical the Deity is correspondingly impoverished. from The Goddess made me do it! and see note [2]

Hmmm. Maybe a badly done ritual impoverishes the deity. If a ritual gives paganism a bad name, which perhaps impoverishes the deity, this could be the basis for saying they lack integrity.

3. Codes of Conduct
There are differences within paganism, for example druids can have different ethics to witches. Though different organisations have published their codes (see http://www.paganpastoraloutreach.ca/ethics/pagan.htm ), there’s no universally accepted code of ethics. A code of ethics could be held by one pagan individual or at most a relatively small local group/coven. Although there are national groupings with developed codes, my feeling is that paganism tries to steer away from highly developed organisation structures. Or maybe that’s just my bias against large organisations.

Here is Magdalena Merovingia’s local coven code (I think – she’s not clear in her otherwise fine article where this comes from).

A Coven Code of Ethics

While attending ritual or other coven functions you agree to:

* Relate to others with general politeness, manners, and common courtesy as befitting any gathering of friends.
* Abide by any formal rules, covenants, or guidelines adopted by the coven.
* Enter the circle “in perfect love and perfect trust.” Settle any differences with other participants beforehand or don’t participate. If it is impossible to settle the differences all parties involved must be able to truly set the issue aside and relate to one another “in perfect love and perfect trust” while in sacred space.
* Try to distinguish between having psychological issues come up and truly being in a compromising position regarding beliefs and values. If you feel you are compromising your integrity by further participation quietly ask the maiden to cut a door in the circle and quietly leave. If something comes up for you that has been triggered by the ritual, speak up so those in charge can address the situation in an appropriate manner.
* Commit to thinking for yourself and not just blindly accepting everything said or done.

In general you agree to:

* Follow the Wiccan Rede: An it harm none, do as thou wilt.
* Make a reasonable effort to consider the difference between will and whim and to consider that harm is not always easily pinpointed.
* Commit to opposing patriarchal oppression and strive to counteract it in positive, non-violent ways. Consciously choose to wield “power with” and “power within” and not “power over.”
* Observe the legal code of your cultural location except when by doing so you are violating your personal integrity and morality in such a manner that cannot be overlooked or justified and you have considered the effects of your decision on the coven and the broader community and you consciously choose to take full responsibility for those effects.
* Commit to learning the ways of magick and the Craft that work for you and to apply what you have learned to the best of your ability with intent for the highest good of all according to the free will of all.
* Never work magick or offer prayers on behalf of another without their knowledge and consent.
* Commit to respecting the environment and working towards its recovery.
* Promise to maintain a policy of non-discrimination based on race, age, gender, occupation, physical ability, or sexual orientation.
* Promise to maintain a policy of non-discrimination based on religion as appropriate. Maintain an awareness of Wicca as a religion and the legal and social repercussions of religious discrimination both toward Wiccans and by Wiccans. Be aware of your own biases in this area and walk this line very carefully.
* Commit to remaining open-minded in your contacts with organized religion and seek to “take what you need and leave the rest” realizing that opportunities for encounters with Deity are limited only by yourself.
* Refrain from “Christian bashing” or arbitrarily condemning other religions or religious peoples.
* Refrain from graphic or offensive sexual behavior in public or semi-public situations and maintain an awareness of the changing definitions of graphic and offensive in varied situations.
* Commit to taking responsibility for all aspects of your life, physical, psychological, and spiritual.
* Commit to taking responsibility for your own psychological healing and to overcome the internalized effects of social programming in accordance with Wiccan teachings.
* Commit to the spiritual path and to continued growth and learning.
* Encourage fun, beauty, and play in your personal life and in the lives of others in accordance with Wiccan teachings.

Again, I stress that this is just the code for one group, and that wiccans don’t represent all pagans. Note [4] has the story of a nice druid, for example.

However, if it applies to the group in NZ, “Commit to learning the ways of magick and the Craft that work for you and to apply what you have learned to the best of your ability with intent for the highest good of all according to the free will of all.” would certainly apply to doing a ritual at less than the best of your ability. For example, the male leader in the Friday night ritual acknowledged he made mistakes because he hadn’t read his part before the ritual.

As an aside, I also noticed that “Refrain from ‘Christian bashing’ or arbitrarily condemning other religions or religious peoples.” wasn’t followed by everyone at the fest.

Some other ideas:

* I think it’s crucially important to realise that modern paganism has as it’s background the modern Western world, much of which is arguably based on christian theism, Greek philosophy and classical law. So a lot of ethics are assumed from there, eg those about patriarchy and discrimination against minorities. These assumptions should perhaps be more explicitly acknowledged.

* If paganism comes to hold a set of beliefs that excludes – as the article on the impossibility of Christian Wicca by a fellow Wiccan suggests – then it will become as intolerant as the christianity it despises. I suspect there is much intolerance under the surface already, purely based on my observations of people both pagan and non-pagan. Intolerance seems to be in our human blood.

* However, this should be carefully nuanced. I think it’s perfectly sensible, even essential that a belief be able to set boundaries around what is and is not orthodox. Christians should be able to define their religion so that Cosmic Chicken Worshippers cannot be considered christian. Satanists should be able to exclude nice people who are not selfish enough. Buddhists who believe in no g0d and many reincarnations should not be required to consider g0d-bothering one-stop-and-then-you’re-off Muslims as part of their fold. Of course, those who believe that all is “one” can try to define how all these mutually exclusive concepts can logically be the same. Good luck.

* Based on my workplace experiences and some theory, I currently believe the inherent nature of organisations – including religious organisations – is to become inhumane. By which I mean they come to serve the rules of the organisation itself, rather than the people within the organisation – who, in a young organisation, may even have created the rules in the first place.

Finally, even if I decide they are hypocrites, what does this mean about their beliefs? What does “living what they believe” mean in practice? Someone who is living a religious belief will probably do something like having a ritual. It would possibly be lacking integrity for them NOT to have a ritual. See note [3]

But what happens if they make a crap ritual? And what happens if we know there are other parts of their life where they are unethical? Does that mean their beliefs themselves are invalid?

By analogy, let’s imagine an atheist tries to live their beliefs and does something others don’t like (lying, stealing, abusing their spouse or similar). Does that invalidate the belief system itself? Does an atheist’s hypocrisy mean atheism itself as a religious choice is invalid?

Or perhaps we just say they are a poor example of an atheist.

***

Here is where I’ll abandon this section. Comment welcome.

Notes

[1] Would you like me to write a post about Christian hypocrisy?
[2] “What we do has a direct effect upon the Deity” is not an exhaustive definition of panentheism and I’m not sure how many wiccans would agree with it. I think some definitions of panentheism are compatible with traditional theistic thinking. If g0d is there, a transcendant AND immanent god as per Eastern Orthodox christian theology makes more sense to me than a strict separation of god and nature. This is not saying nature IS god, only that god indwells all nature. I may be muddling things a bit here.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panentheism
http://www.frimmin.com/faith/godinall.html
http://www.pantheist.net/society/panentheism.html
http://www.websyte.com/alan/pan.htm
[3] If I understand one friend, she prefers people who don’t talk about their beliefs but just get on and “do it”.

I wonder, What does “do-ing” a spiritual belief involve? There is always a thought-part or theoretical part to doing. Having a ritual is a way of expressing that thought-part. Perhaps it’s possible for a religion to develop which involves no public expression, merely private in-one’s-head stuff.

[4] An example of a warm, inviting pagan story:

***

Another question: Intellectual Integrity

I have a separate question to that of strictly behavioural ethics around intellectual ethics. Or maybe congruency is a better word.

I want my religion to be reasonable. Note this does not necessarily mean prove-able, but it does mean that if someone asks me for a rational explanation of what it is, how it works and most importantly WHY i believe something, i want to be able to explain that. Among other things it should not have any insurmountable internal logical conflicts.

At present I conceive of intellectual integrity as a subset of ethical integrity. It may be the other way around.

[pretty Venn diagram picture coming]

The main question I want to ask NeoPagans around this is: “If you know that your spirituality was ‘invented’, how does this impact your intellectual integrity?”

I cannot (at present) “believe” or gain satisfaction from something I know to be untrue. I can play it as a game and enjoy it as a fantasy or intellectual exercise. But that is quite different from experiencing something real. If “true for me” is not congruent with “true out there”, then it is not true at all.

Whew. After all that I think next post will be light and humorous. I still want you to tell me what i should write about next. Please comment!

listening to Maslow (Helix) | Fingerpaint, Haujobb | Renegades of Noise, Majai | Phoria, Save The Robot | I Am A Robot
tful [5] Funny, poignant song about love and hope

[5] Today’s Fun Unrelated Link

Posted in agnostic, atheism, ethics, pagan, Sociology, wicca | Tagged: , , , , | 18 Comments »

Tell Me What To Do!

Posted by spritzophrenia on December 23, 2009

Later today I’ll follow up the post on my pagan experience with something a little more chunky. Specifically, a look at integrity, hypocrisy and pagan ethics. But first, Please Tell Me What To Do.

Thanks for all the comments and interest. This blog, and the 21st Century Schizoid Project is here to help you. However, Spritzophrenia is new, and to do that effectively I need your help. Tell me what you’d like to read about. You already know a little of my story. What would help you? What would get the brain cells ticking over?

We’re about to start a new year – unless you’re Chinese or Muslim, but let’s not be pedantic. Here’s a list of topics which are exercising my heartbrain and I hope to cover in reasonable depth over the year.

Obviously there’s a big crossover between “feeling” and “thinking” topics. We are holistic beings, and I can’t do one very well without considering the other. As always I’ll keep throwing in humour and lighter stuff. My posts often include music and more general personal development tips.

Jonathan’s List for 2010

Feely Topics
(Personal experiences, and spiritual practice.)

* Would I go back to fundamentalist Christianity?

Thinky Topics
(Discussions, critical analysis, learning.)

* Islam – Peaceful or hateful religion?
* Psychoactive Drugs and the Spirit – Harmful or helpful?
* Celtic spirituality – What I can learn from my ancestors.
* Evil and our dark side – Anger, fear, hate and Barry Manilow
* Satanism – Just for heavy metal bands?

Interviews

* Ismael – a Muslim friend
* Sally – an ex-Catholic atheist

Who else would you like me to talk to? (Does anyone have the Pope’s phone number?) Is anyone here offering? You may have some spiritual experiences and teachings you’d like to share with me.

What would you add to this list? What would you take away? What, out of topics I’ve already covered would you like me to re-visit from another angle? What should I talk about in the book? What would help you in your journey?

3…2….1… comment!

listening to Altered Images | I Could Be Happy, Spiderbait | Fucken Awesome, Lenny Kravitz | Believe
tful [1] Hilarious critique of the Star Wars movies

[1] Today’s Fun Unrelated Link

Posted in agnostic, Christianity, Islam, meta, pagan | Tagged: , , , , | 13 Comments »

The Earth is Magick. And Bloody Cold.

Posted by spritzophrenia on December 22, 2009

For those who have an interest in paganism/wicca. I originally wrote this in 2007.

It’s been a few years since I did a little reading around modern paganism (also called neo-paganism), notably Margot Adlers’ sympathetic overview Drawing Down the Moon.

For those who are unfamiliar, the wikipedia article is a useful place to start, bearing in mind the dangers of relying on Wikipedia too much. (There are Wikipedia articles on other topics I’ve read which have, if not error, a misleading use of language.)
I’m not a pagan but I went to a pagan camp/festival near Levin over the Easter weekend to hang out with some friends. I’ve been thinking about the experience, partly in relation to other participants’ responses. I will divide my response in two, namely 1. my experience and 2. my reflection on the long weekend.

My experience and feelings while there
Disclaimer: I’m well aware that a non-adherent of a religion usually makes mistakes in emphasis, nuance and understanding when writing about it. My apologies for any factual errors.

There were about 70 people or so there for the whole weekend, and i imagine with visitors the numbers would have been over 100. The whole thing reminded me of a slightly tacky christian church camp of the kind I used to go to. Note, i do not identify as a christian any more, although even that simplifies things too much.

Most people camped; it was nice to be out under the stars drinking wine or cider and chatting. There was lots of free time to socialise, communal breakfast and evening meals, seminars and workshops and a sort of market where people were selling items like herbs, candles, jewelery and old-style “witchy” brooms (seriously). This was derided as Pagan ‘bling’ or ‘tack’ by one or two I was at the festival with. Pentacles abounded. (Star-like symbols, they can be six sided but the 5 sided pentagram type was more common. Not upside down tho’ – only naughty people wear those.) I went to 3 seminars that were focused on the academic or theoretical end of things which I really enjoyed. It was clearly stated several times by one seminar leader: “Modern Paganism/Witchcraft was invented by Gerald Gardner in 1954”.

Each night there was a ritual, followed by drumming and dancing around a fire. The rituals were not well received by a minority. Some had issues with the ritual elements themselves (eg, “I didn’t like it ‘cos they used four watchtowers which is from Freemasonry and they had a priest and a priestess leading it”). To be fair, the organisers were trying to do their best to make the rituals inclusive of the diversity that is neopaganism (see below.) Some people simply found the rituals tacky, contrived, unconvincing, fake or couldn’t respect those leading them. I was in this second group. Whatever its failings, one thing Episcopalian christianity has learned is how to do robed-up liturgical rituals well. The second night’s ritual was very late, and long. Fortunately I missed that as the second two nights a small number including myself chose not to go to the rituals because of our dissatisfaction.

The second and third nights were used to celebrate Samhein (pronounced “Sow-win”) two weeks early, the organisers acknowledged. The third night, the ritual was led by someone else and appeared to be much more satisfying. I liked the sitting around the fire talking, drumming and dancing and joined in that afterwards, tho’ it was much more restrained than i would have liked. For Samhein in remembrance of my Irish Celtic ancestors I painted my face and arms with woad. OK, it was acrylic paint and mud. Needs must. I thought it was cool, but no-one else did it. I must be a freak. No-one was nude (“skyclad”) at the fest by the way.

At Magick Earth I was trying to understand paganism, participate where I felt comfortable and simply experience, not to criticise. Sometimes that was hard as some of it seemed rather silly to me. But then much human behaviour is silly, and certainly other religions do silly stuff. What matters, is whether it is true. “True” is a loaded word, for some. More on that another time.

Robes were the fashion du jour, although mainly at night. At first I thought the robes were a bit laughable, but they’re very practical when your religion involves standing outside in the Autumnal cold for hours. Some robes were in crushed velvet. I saw one woman in a native South American traditional costume. I should also add the couple of women who were into belly dancing and dressed er… pseudo Persian at night. (There was a seminar on belly dancing too.)

It’s fascinating, i am at a unique point in history where i can watch a religion birthed and develop. Neo-paganism is a young spirituality, with the concomitant challenges baby religions face. Or rather, it’s a family of religions as Paganism is not a single unified entity.

Paganism is fairly diverse, although the Wikipedia article above does mention common threads. There are wiccans, who are pagan, but not all pagans are wiccans, and druids who can be pagan, but also can be christian or buddhist or other. Most people seemed to believe in a goddess. The goddess is often paired with a god. The exact cosmology, and how the world got here I can’t comment on. I got the impression some believe the goddess/god are like Jungian archetypes “made real” somehow. Some seem content to acknowledge their beliefs are “made up”, but it’s obviously still valid to them. I’d like to hear more of their opinion on that.

Some happily derive their beliefs and practices from a mixture of sources. Others are “reconstructionists” following mainly one type of spirituality, eg Celtic reconstructionists who are trying to reconstruct what we know of ancient Celtic religion. A small number were Christopagans and/or Christian Wiccans, trying to syncretise Christianity and Pagan beliefs. I learned New Age beliefs are not necessarily pagan, but many practices of New Age followers are also used by some Pagans, eg the tarot, astrology and the belief in the beneficial powers of crystals. No pagans are practicing satanists as such; nor do most believe in satan as they don’t believe in the christian worldview. These were generally what might be called ‘humanitarian’ pagans, although I’m interested in how a “dark” or “shadow” side might fit with this, and why it is not also practiced. There was the occasional belittling and discussion of christianity, with varying degrees of accuracy. Which might be expected if christianity is considered the dominant religious influence in New Zealand – a thesis which is arguable in my opinion.

And then there’s the sociocultural blends which are not explicitly pagan – or are they? Many festivalgoers seemed to be into tie dye or medieval clothing – 1 or 2 there were part of medieval reenactment groups. A few were in jeans and heavy metalish clothing. Plenty of tattoos and piercings, so i fit right in 😉 A few dressed pretty plainly. I couldn’t help thinking Paganism’s dress sense is remarkably similar to Boganism. Or hippiedom. Oh, and many of the pagans there at least had a sense of humour about all this.

I did think, if Magick Earth is representative of modern paganism, the people who write scaremongering books have nothing to fear.

Another thing I came away with was a renewed conviction that religion, spirituality and belief is something that should be discussed in the public domain. There is something in Kiwi culture that says it should be private in the same way most people don’t discuss their sex lives. I think open, respectful and frank discussion is vitally important both for society and to enrich/critique those who hold spiritual beliefs. Which, let’s face it, is the vast majority of people, much to many atheists’ disgust.

So much for this limited account of my experience. Overall I enjoyed myself, especially the chance to socialise and relax, and learn something new. Something I want to explore further is the concept of integrity and how it relates to pagan ethics. And perhaps a few other things.

I will save that for next time. Come back for Part Two. What’s your experience of modern paganism? Did I get it wrong?

today’s fun unrelated link Adam Sandler’s funny Channukah song (Judaism)
listening to After The Fire | Der Kommissar, DNA | Stereo Flip

Posted in agnostic, New Age, pagan, personal development, wicca | Tagged: , , , | 15 Comments »