Archive for Heathenism

Ethnocentrism, isn’t that – like. . .racism?!

Posted in Heathenism with tags , , , , on August 31, 2009 by Harmony041297

Ethnocentrism seems to be somewhat of a hot-button word in certain scholarly Pagan circles I run in. I merely let it drop from my lips and I see people squirm as if the mention made them pucker a bit.

 

Therefore I want to discuss what ethnocentrism means within Reconstructionist Polytheism. Ethnocentrism merely means “focused on one’s ethnicity”. Many beliefs and practices are ethnocentric.

 

For instance, the African Diasporic religion of Ifa is ethnocentric. Attend one of their rituals and you will not see Catholic saints venerated, nor will you see feasts of hot-dogs and french-fries offered to their Gods (Orishas). You won’t sing a Psalm, nor will you cast a circle thrice about. Their practices, beliefs, and memes are African, and this makes sense because they are, after all, an African religion.

 

When a Reconstructionist Polytheist says they are “ethnocentric” they are merely saying that they are focused and centered in the praxis and beliefs of their faith’s ethnic origin. An Asatruar follows only Teutonic philosophies and practices, a Celtic Reconstructionist follows only Celtic beliefs. This does not mean these groups are racist or wish to exlude others from practicing with them. It only means that if you are an Asatruar, then your philosophy and beliefs must revolve around the Teutonic ethos, there is no room for grab-bag specials or magpie eclecticism. The very word “Asatru” means “Faithful to the Aesir”, so, be faithful.

 

However, those practicing such ethnocentric faiths in the “Great Melting Pot” of America have a dillemma to face sooner or later: they don’t live in Iceland, Germany, Sweden or any other such country of origin. They live in America, where the land-spirits are different, the spiritual onlays are unique and the cultures differ vastly. Some in the Reconstructionist communities have reacted with seperatist notions, suggesting building an intentional community where the “folkway” can be kept pure.

 

I think this is fantastical reactionism. We needn’t cloister ourselves away, high atop a mountain to understand our ethnic Gods. We needn’t exclude wisdom from other cultures or ethnicities. I count among my dear friends and elders a Santeria practitioner, a South American medicine woman and other voices of cultural diversity. I have found that, while discussing things with them, learning from them, I discover new facets of my own folkway heretofore hidden in the fog of genetic memory.

 

Examine the practices of Palo, Santeria, New Orleans Voodoo, Southern Hoodoo, Appalachian Granny Magic, and Braucherie, and you will see how peoples before us have met the challenge of the “Melting Pot”. Each and every folk practice mentioned has a startling amount of eclectic hodgepodge contained within, however, these folk traditions have maintained their ethnocentrism. Santeria is very Hispanic, New Orleans Voodoo is very African, Braucherie is very German. The secret these folk traditions hold is that it is possible to be American, to thrill in and love the melting pot and all it’s wonderful resources, while still remaining true to your Gods and your beliefs.

 

One can still be Asatru and drink Tequila at Sumbel, one can still be Celtic Recon and curse an enemy with chili peppers. It is how the extant cultural influences are channelled and put to use that divides the magpies from the ethnocentrics. It is about mindset and internal philosophy. One must always ask, how would my ancestors interpret and utilize this new thing into their practices?

 

The only way to truly and correctly answer this question is to first make oneself wise and well-versed in ancestral thought. Read all the myths, stories and folktales, read all the historical and anthropological data one can find. Immerse yourself in the culture of choice, only then can you navigate the cultural labyrinth of America without stumbling.

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Gender Roles and their Mysteries

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on May 11, 2009 by Harmony041297

Let me begin by saying that I deeply respect Feminism, and that I sympathize with their cause. Many atrocities have been wreaked upon the female sex in the name of “Masculinity” or a chauvinistic Religion such as Christianity and Islam. The hardships the beautiful sex have endured for centuries due to misguided and insecure males is wrong and I will gladly continue to support their social, political and philosophical attempts to even the playing field.

 

That being said, I am going to discuss something that may piss off many of my dear Feminist friends, for one because I will look at Gender Roles in a mildly “traditional” fashion, and for second because I am a male, and therefore a soft target when discussing these matters. I realize that it could be very easy to dismiss what I say out of hand as more “chauvinist codswallop”. I beg you, however, to hear me out and consider the message in these words.

 

When I was a child, growing up in the late eighties, it was tres avant garde for mothers to ban toy weapons from their boys’ toychests. I had one neighborhood friend whose mother refused to allow him to play with my guns and swords, which I had in spades. I remember one occasion very clearly, he had come over, riding on his “big-wheel” down the hill and across the street. I was outside, dressed up as I often was in those days, as some hero (the Lone Ranger on this day I believe). I had my sweet western six-shooter set that my grandmother had purchased for me, it hung in a heavy rubber holster-belt and shot little rubber bullets (quite possibly the coolest toy I had ever recieved, with the exception perhaps, of my He-Man Sword that lit up and made clashing noises). Anyway, this friend of mine rolled up and watched in awe as I shot my gun and imaginary “bad-guys”, saving many a non-existent “damsel in distress”. He asked if he could play with me. I of course said he could and handed him my older, but also very cool, lead cap-gun. He and I had a really good time for about ten minutes, then his mother saw him. She was angry as hell, flying over and snatching the gun out of his hands, telling my mother that her son was not allowed to play with such awful toys. I was horrified, and immediately felt pity for my friend. How horrible to not be able to play with guns!

        He came over a lot that summer, and we quickly worked a way around his mother’s decrees, sure he wasn’t allowed to play with a toy gun, but he would pick up sticks and point them like rifles, throw pine-cones like grenades, and we had a great time despite his mother’s laws to the contrary.

 

I had thought this mother was an abberation, and soon we moved to the midwest where I never ran into this odd rule again amongst the matriarchy of my pals. However, as I progressed into adulthood, I saw that this rule was becoming and has become, more popular.

 

It seems that the newest sociological push by the extremist feminist philosophers is to abolish gender roles completely. They search for “gender neutral clothes” and refuse to let their girls play with dolls or their boys play with toy weapons. Which brings to my deviant mind the question – what’s wrong with gender roles?

 

Of course I know the short answer, which is: “Everything!”, however the long answer is far more complex and nuanced and, in short, is a resounding: “Nothing!”.

 

Allow me to explain.

 

To truly understand our modern gender roles, we need to understand gender roles as they developed from a evolutionary standpoint. Allow me this disclaimer, I am not a professional paleo-anthropologist, and the following is merely my opinion, take it for what it’s worth, however the opinion is supported by my vast amateur researches into these subjects.

    A wise person who holds a PHD in astrophysics and a Masters in Archaeology once explained gender roles to me in this fashion:

 

Men assumed the roles that they have traditionally held, as the hunters, warriors, the “stronger” sex, because they are biologically disposable. Males are merely the seed carriers, and each male carries with him a supply of seed that diminishes minimally with age and never truly dries up until death. One male can procreate with an entire tribe of women, however one woman could only bear so many children, and many women died during child-birth before the advent of our sciences and OB GYN procedures.

 

So, men are disposable, women invaluable. Why would women go out into the wilds where predators or enemy tribes could kill them and thus weaken the tribe’s ability to continue? This is not to say that a woman is less able to bring down an animal, it has nothing to do with her physical strength. In fact, the Israeli Defense Force has found that women make far better tank pilots and are better shots than men, cooler in the heat of battle and able to make more strategic decisions.

 

The “roles” of provider and homemaker developed out of a biological necessity. Someone must hunt to bring the food, and someone must rear the child and ensure it’s safety during the tender years of infancy. One sex is more disposable than the other, so send the disposable sex out into danger to leave the more important piece of the puzzle in the safety of the cave, village, or longhouse to raise the most important members of the tribe, the future generations.

 

That being said, I see no reason why anyone should be offended or threatened by the roles of “provider” or of “homemaker”. Of course these roles have become more complex than their simplistic distinctions, and I applaud the woman who climbs the corporate ladder or the man who stays at home to take care of his progeny. It is not so much the literal functions of these roles that I am concerned with defending here, but rather the sociological and emotional aspects.

 

And here we bring it back to the opening anecdote. Boys will be boys.

 

Most children will naturally, without coaxing or indoctrination, assume these biologically ingrained gender roles. I naturally, as a five year old boy, liked to play with swords and Star Wars battery-operated “blasters”. I liked to ride my rocking horse and pretend I was chasing down a dragon, and I absolutely loved to run through the house wearing nothing but a wash-cloth loincloth and a plastic knife pretending to be Tarzan (one of my many man-heroes). My sisters loved their dolls, their kitchen sets, and their princess costumes, but they weren’t above toting guns around to play cops and robbers with me when my friends were scarce or grounded! Our gender consciousness was not rigidly enforced by my parents, I was never told I was sissy for playing with my sisters’ dolls with them, and they weren’t chided for running about like yahoos climbing trees or acting like dinosaurs with me either. However we each had our seperate gender identities that had developed naturally and without coersion. Our biology and our evolutionary inheritance was doing it’s job.

 

Men, as a general rule, enjoy competition and fighting, the thrill of the hunt. They should not be made to feel some sort of “poltically correct” penis-guilt because of their biological lot in life. They should not be ashamed to be strong, wild and passionate. They should not be ashamed to admit their desire for a good brawl, or to admit to the simple pleasure of tossing a ball around or drinking all night with the “guys”. These are all modern manifestations of the biological traits ingrained in our sex for millions of years, the yearning for male comradery, for the adrenaline rush that zings through their body when they pursue an elk over a snow-covered mesa, or push their motorcycle to 110 MPH. They are just boys being. . .well. . .boys!

 

Now to the point. There are mysteries for a Heathen or Pagan of any stripe and creed that can be learned from our Gods by pursuing the gender roles evolution has given to us. Men are made in the image of the Gods, women in the image of the Goddesses. We live the mythology, our very lives should be mythic retellings of those ancient lays and songs. I believe that many of the gender inequalities could be solved if the “roles” were re-examined via this process, as being emanations of the divine gender polarities that are in no way static, but dynamic, shifting into themselves yet distinct and individual.

 

Thus I call for a revival of the Male Mysteries and the Feminine Mysteries. We should revel in our differences, not seek to denigrate each other because she doesn’t hunt, nor should we jump to the conclusion that simply because the female is not usually the warrior, that she is weaker than the male. The female should celebrate her roles in the home, not be defined by them. She should not be afraid to cook for her family, lest that enslave her to the patriarchy, rather she should recognize that when she cooks for her family she is working great magic for them, weaving ingredients together that sustain them just as her Holy Milk has sustained her babes. The woman should find strength, if she chooses, in the subtle and quiet art of weaving, knitting and sewing. Each stitch, each thread, each warp and weft is a spell, a prayer for the safety of her beloved kin, for the protection of her children, and the warmth of her lover. It is said that the most important item Arthur wore into battle was the sheath for Excalibur, for it had been woven by mistresses of sorcery and into it had been worked spells for the invincibility of the wearer. The sword is powerful, but it was craft of the women in his life that made him invincible.

 

Each gender has it’s mysteries, and each gender can sample the others’ secrets. Men can knit, women can fight, and there is nothing wrong with these deeds, however, by and large, men will pursue mens’ chores, women will pursue womens’ magic. My point is that ultimately we should celebrate these things, rather than demonize them and seek to eradicate them. Mothers, let your boys be warriors, and your girls too if they desire, but don’t fail to teach them the womens’ arts.  The warrior impulse is not always martial, sometimes the greatest battles are fought with intellect and magic and prayer. Please, do not stamp out our great biological heritage.

Heathen Revival: Tribal Integrity in a Cultural Swamp

Posted in Heathenism with tags , , , , , on April 17, 2009 by Harmony041297

First off, let me say I love my friend, Coloradocelt and his blog. His thoughts fire me up either in sympathy or in opposition, either way he gets me thinking and I appreciate him for that.

 

I was reading his blog today http://coloradocelt.wordpress.com and was inspired to write the following post, partially as a response to the musings found there, and partially as a systemization of my own thoughts.

 

He brings up a wonderful point in Head Knowledge, Heart Knowledge and Pagan Reconstructionism, which I will refer to as the “geographical argument”. It could be states thus: We live in a world and society so far removed from our ancestors’, why attempt to reconstruct the belief systems of the past when many are outdated or irrelevant?

 

I think this is a valid concern, and one that needs to be addressed by all the philosophers and thinkers that make up the Recon/Traditionalist community. I began to address Reconstructionism in a previous blog and I think I explained well enough there how Reconstructionism came about, so I will not reiterate it here. This blog will be devoted to exploring the question of: “Where do we go from here?”.

 

So, here we are, we have read the Havamal and Poetic Edda a thousand times, we have discussed the importance of this runestone or that brooch, we have debated how a viking helm ended up in a bog in Wales and exhausted all the new archaeological findings. . .now what do we do? Well, if debating anthropology and history has ceased to water your spirit, and you begin to look deeper into the Well of Urdh and thirst for the mysteries of the Gods how do you apply the majik? Does a fifteen-hundred year old grimoire address the problems of today? I doubt the Goetia or the Cyprianusbok really tells you what you should do ritually when your rent is late, or you are struggling with an unfaithful lover. Knowing the four Fylgja of Iceland will probably not help your tap into the unique energy of your homeland, especially if you live in Vinland (America).  Where can we turn for inspiration for building a culturally correct yet modern folk-majik tradition? Well, we needn’t look very far.

 

In New England, specifically Pennsylvania, there is a thriving folk-majik tradition called Powow, Braucherie, or Hexcraft. It is the indigenous witchcraft traditions of the German immigrants, consisting of old Heathen lore, Lutheran Christianity and Cherokee medicine practices. While many of it’s spells are far too Christianized to be of any use to a Heathen, they can serve as a guide and inspiration, showing us the way to creating a syncretic system that doesn’t try to ignore the manifold cultural elements of Americana, but absorbs them and re-translates them into a Heathen worldview.

 

Let’s face it, as much as we would like to say that we are pure descendants of the Scandi, Jutes, Angles, or Saxons. . .we aren’t. Most of us in America are a wonderful mix of peoples and ethnicities. Many of Irish descent also share First Nations blood, I know that my family is a European Heinz 57 with bloodlines hailing from Switzerland, Sweden, England, Scotland, Ireland and Germany. . .and these are only the ones I know about. There is a family story of one of our ancestors, a trapper and fur-trader in the late 1800’s who went missing and was found years later living with a First Nations tribe! They had offically adopted him into their tribe and when he was offered a ride back to “civilization” he demurred. What I am getting at is simply this: we cannot ignore the fact that we do not live in Germany, Sweden or Norway. We live in America, for better or for worse, so let’s stop pandering to escapism and seek to unite in sacred marriage our Blood and the Land.

 

The Landspirits are very important in Heathenism, and when the Land we live on is peopled by the spirit-races of the Native Americans’ Gods, we must take this into account. Instead of ordering majikal supplies from half-way across the world, let’s begin taking inventory of what our Americana offers us and mold it into an American Heathen syncretism.

 

For another example, I would like to take a look at Louisiana Voodoo and Southern Hoodoo. These folk traditions have had to adjust and reform according to cultural climate and society the African slaves found themselves in. Despite the outward appearances (Saints, Mass, Holy Water, etc.) Voodoo is still a very powerful way to work with the Haitian Loa. This tradition absorbed the extant cultural elements and put them to use to serve their Gods. . .something we as Heathens can do if we aren’t afraid of being called a fluff-bunny.

 

An example of this is my Runic Rosary. I personally love the aesthetics of the Rosary, and am absolutely in love with the use of beads as prayer and mediation aids, so I went to the craft store, bought some pony beads, chain and spacers and created a rosary. For a medallion I placed a Metal  Spiral and on each bead I burned a rune. I now have the entire futhark to utiseta with and do my chants. The imagery is thus: The spiral represents the unformed Chaos of the Guningagap, then Fehu – the Cosmic Mother Cow, Audhumla, then Uruz the Wild Male principle that culminates in Thurisaz – Ymir. And it continues on, teaching the entire cycle of the world in all it’s Ages even unto Ragnarok symbolized by Dagaz – the Dissolution. The beads then return to the Spiral and the world is remade with Fehu again.

 

We can build a strong and thriving folk tradition here in America, utilizing and re-orienting all the aspects of our culture into a Heathen perspective. Perhaps Red Chili Powder could be a good and useful herb to combine with Kaun, which we know from the Norwegian Rune Poem is a sore and a sickness in children. Perhaps Woden enjoys the scent of Orange Oil (I believe he does). How do we know that Idhunna wouldn’t like an Apple Martini?

 

My point is, that all the historical research in the world will not give you a hands-on up-close-and-personal experience with the Holy Powers. You cannot expect to live an empowered life if the Past is dictating what to do. The Past is very important, and history is our guide, but it should not be our slave-master. Let’s apply our vast knowledge of the Gods and the Lore and begin to build a religion that speaks to our cultural realities as American Heathens.

Why is this Relevant?

Posted in Heathenism, Uncategorized with tags , , , on February 16, 2009 by Harmony041297

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Many within the Pagan community at large continually wrestle with a deep philosophical and spiritual question. This question wears on their minds and the conundrum is further exacerbated by the greater society of America and it’s obvious bias. The question is simply this: What is the relevance of Christianity and it’s teachings for a Pagan?

This can be very confusing for many of us who are desperately seeking to return to the Old Ways. While our society becomes more and more secular on the surface, a powerful and outspoken group of fundamentalists bully America with revisionist history and social momentum and ennui. Many who have been raised in America are oblivious to the fact of Christian chauvinism because in many ways it is subtle in it’s manifestation. This illiberality is an outdated part of the old guard in America which is, thankfully, becoming more pluralistic every day. However where we may say Happy Holidays in honor of the diverse nature of celebrants in December there are still much residue from the cultural tyranny of Christianity.

As an example, I was watching a History Channel special of “History’s Mysteries” on Witches. The program was horrifyingly biased towards the Christian world-view, as the narrator constantly referred to the old, religious method of chronology (B.C. and A.D.). The narrator did not refer to this understanding of time with the standard initials, but went as far as to say literally “Before the Birth of Christ” and “After the Death of Christ”. Another irking element of this program was that the amount of time devoted to pre-Christian, Pagan religious practices was extremely punctuated. Ten minutes approximately was devoted to these thousands of years of Pagan thought and practice, while the rest of the one hour episode was devoted to the Church and it’s attempts to destroy Pagan belief.

    Now this would have been marginally more acceptable had they devoted the end of the program to interviews with modern Neopagans and Witches. However this was not the case, while they mentioned them in passing, the program was mostly about how the Church saved people from superstition and heathenism (in not as many words).

 

Tell me, how can a program that proclaims itself to be devoted to History be so biased? Because we in the West and especially in America are still culturally bigotted against anything “other”. The writers of History determine the heroes and the villains. There is no reason that outside of a Christian dissertation on historical events that we should ever read the annotation: B.C. or A.D. which refer to “before the birth of Christ” and “Anno Domini – The Year of the Lord”. We have a perfectly acceptable secular chronology and is becoming widespread in the collegiate and academic circles: C.E. and B.C.E (Common Era and Before Common Era).

 

This admittedly long-winded example was presented as only one representation of the widespread manifestations of Christian predilliction and bias. Everything up until now has been examined through a Christian filter, according to Christian morals and ideaologies. Many in America, whether they attend Church or not are culturally Christian in their understanding of the world. Lacksidasically perhaps, but these cultural Christians-by-association still hold Paganism in distrust and superstition, they still believe however loosely in the Judeo-Christian concept of God. Many in the New Age and Pagan community still believe in and seek out Angels, which are Abrahamic constructs.

 

Another example is a letter to the Independant (a local newspaper in Colorado Springs), in which the author is responding to the HBO special on Ted Haggard and a subsequent article written by the Editor of the Independant. In this letter she proclaims herself to be a Pagan and admits to being hurt by New Life’s congregation. She then justifies Christianity by saying that she believes that she walks a Path similar to Christ, and that New Life has fallen away from the true path.

 

This seperation of the mythological figure of Christ from the practices of his devotees is silly at best. A God is defined by the actions of His or Her followers. According to Druid thought, “The Gods made us, and they need us to survive.” It is through their temples that the Gods find life and sustenance, for without these believers the God would either cease to exist or lose it’s relevance, which is essentially the same thing. Therefore, the Church is the physical manifestation of Christ in this world. If you wish to assess what this God has evolved into, simply examine the practices of the many sects of Christianity. You will undoubtedly find a schizophrenic amalgam of differing opinions and warring theologians all agreeing on their mutual disdain for those who have rejected Christian thought.

 

We as Pagans must cease to validate a theology that preaches spiritual and moral superiority at best –  and outright violence and hatred at worse – towards our most ancient beliefs and practices. We do not owe Christianity any respect as Pagans, for it was this belief-system which systematically destroyed and stamped out our ancestors’ beliefs and honored traditions.

 

If you seek justification from the text of the Bible as to why Christianity should have no relevance outside of it’s culture of origin, Judaism, then simply look to the book of Matthew 15:24 – 26

“He answered: ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.’ The woman (a Canaanite) knelt before him. ‘Lord help me!’ she said. He answered, ‘It is not right to take the Children’s bread and toss it to the Dogs.’.”

 

This clearly shows, among other such verses in subsequent books about the life of Jesus that he was focused on giving Judaism a new way to look at the Torah. He was a Jewish Rabbi who was teaching Jews how to be better Jews and have a greater relationship with their tribal God. He did not come to save all of humanity from some supposed original sin. He did not intend for his teachings to become a world-wide religion. This was all done after his alleged death, “revealed” through visions to fanatical disciples who desired a way to conquer their Roman oppressors. What better way than through spiritual power? Which we know, thanks to Constantine and Justinian eventually did happen when Christianity was given favor as a preferred religion in Rome.

 

To wrap up a broad and complicated topic that will surely need far more dialogue amongst the Pagan community, I will say one more thing in closing.

The Christian tradition has been one of bloodshed and imperialism. Utilizing terrorist tactics in it’s domination of Pagan and Heathen peoples. It has been the impetus for enslaving peoples all over the world, stealing natural resources, and destroying traditional ancestral cultures globally. No amount of historical revision or Pagan “turning the other cheek” will change this bloody and disturbing fact. We, as followers of the Old Gods, must cease to validate or in any way respect this tradition.

 

Frith,

Bjorn Odinsson Thompson