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Faith & Politics in Paganism

Public domain image.

Public domain image.

Should we link our politics and our faith?  This is a question that is beginning to be asked in our community.  Some of that has to do with the stir that Gods & Radicals has created, especially the recent controversy.

I try to stay out of online bickering, and when I feel I must get involved I try to do it in the form of a column so that we can have a mature, intelligent debate rather than a bunch of back-biting, pot-stirring and name-calling, with the usual wake of vultures showing up to cannibalize whomever looks weakest for their own self-glorification through gossip.  Hard experience has taught me that wading in to the mix while the shit is still flying is never helpful.  But even I was drawn partway into this one.  I guess it’s because it’s such an emotional issue for me.  It’s a button-pusher, and my buttons were pushed.

Sometimes that’s a good thing.  It makes you consider where it is that you really stand on important issues, and why; or it forces you to confront all those shadowy sub-motivations and personal issues that you bury under the subconscious muck.  For me it did both.

One thing that made me very . . . I won’t say angry, but perhaps exasperated is the correct word . . . was the accusation leveled against the writers of G&R that we put our politics before our faith.  That couldn’t be more wrong, and I felt inspired to explain why.

Religion Informs Culture

There is a movement not to use the singular word “community” to describe us Pagans, because we don’t really have one.  That’s true.  But we do have a distinct Pagan culture.  Anthropologists who study us refer to it as a “sub-culture” (which we don’t like, because we’re too proud to be “sub-anything,”) or a “counterculture” (which isn’t exactly true; most of us aren’t directly opposed to the culture we live in, we just don’t entirely agree with it.)

The separation of church and state is something Americans hold as an unalienable right.  Weirdly, you are kind of alone in the world.  Most other countries, even we Canadians, your closest neighbours and probably closest to you culturally, don’t quite go that far.  Culture is something we talk about as being an important force.  Culture is an issue that our bilingual country, which was founded on, and continues to grow by, the juxtaposition of three distinct cultural aspects — Anglophone, Francophone, and First Nations (note the plural) — has had to be hyper-aware of since our founding.

We do believe in the principle of not enforcing a religion through the mechanism of the state.  Our Charter of Rights & Freedoms (our Constitution) protects freedom of religion.  We Canadians are strong supporters of that right and we try to accompany those rights with equal respect (which aren’t quite the same thing).

But religion is also a part of culture.  The Quebec court systems and legislature in many cases still carry crucifixes on their walls, because when they joined Canada, Quebec was a distinct French Catholic culture living under English Protestant rule.  Much of the religious element is moot now in the wake of what was called the Quiet Revolution, which happened in the mid-seventies.  The Catholic church was a significant part of everyone’s life in Quebec, running most social services and so forth — until, all of a sudden, they weren’t, and much of that became secularized.  But there are remnants.  For instance, property still passes to the eldest son, at least in part, after a man who owned it dies, rather than entirely into the hands of his widow.

This distinct Francophone culture ultimately culminated in a long series of Constitutional crises and an endless series of referendums, a strong Quebec Sovereignty movement and a federal political party whose entire goal was Sovereignty for Quebec.  There were arguments and a lot of bitterness on both sides, but I think we seemed to have settled into an uneasy peace that is becoming easier with each passing year.

However, the triumvirate of religion, culture and politics doesn’t have to be a negative thing.  That Anglophone-Francophone cultural tension is part of what makes Canada so unique.  It teaches us to have a broader appreciation for cultural differences in general and to create a truly beautiful fusion in many places.  And we’re learning how to do it better.  For instance, many First Nations incorporate their spiritual practices into their social services and decision-making processes.  They believe that this helps to create a sense of community which makes it easier to come together on divisive issues.  Furthermore, many official federal and provincial functions are beginning to include elements of First Nations’ ceremonies.  I think this is a positive trend and I’d like to see more of the cooperative decision-making elements of some of our most politically powerful First Nations included as well.

This culturally diverse history is why we can open our arms to 25,000 Syrian refugees without batting an eye, knowing they will bring their own unique colours to our mosaic.

Ethics

Much of the American and Canadian judicial system is founded in English Protestant Christianity.  Our system believes in “right” and “wrong,” and it punishes what it sees as wrongdoing.  The enforcement of concepts of good and evil is an Abrahamic concept and you probably don’t even think about this, since you grew up in this culture and despite the efforts of the more extreme of us to throw off that yoke, it still influences our behaviour and perhaps always will.  Christian ethics also led them to found the very first hospitals and pensions for widows and orphans — institutions no one but the most dedicated libertarian or fascist would argue against now.

Yet Protestant Christianity has a powerful Humanist influence, which culminates in trying to balance the needs of the state with the rights of the individual.  In a way, both Paganism and Atheism are simply following the reasoning of Protestant ideas — human rights, personal dignity, and individual relationship with the Divine — to their ultimate conclusions.  (Please note that I do not say “logical” conclusions.  Faith, by its nature, is illogical and is something we engage with emotionally and then justify through reason.  At least, that’s what I think.)

Ethics are, perhaps, the most significant influence that religion can have upon us.   This is something we Pagans tend to be a bit fuzzy on.  We’re a new religion (yes, even the Reconstructionists) and so we are still trying to figure this stuff out as we go.  Most of us would say that the Christian ethic simply didn’t work for us and that was the impetus that drove us into this crazy patchwork quilt of a community.  Many of us, if pressed, would say that we have no dogma at all.  We are liars, but at least we are subconscious liars.  It’s our genuine belief, not an intentional falsehood, and I think it’s based in a misunderstanding of what dogma actually is.  Kind of like when people say they’re not religious because they don’t believe in Jesus.

Many of the definitions of “dogma” don’t fit, including anything that is declared, proclaimed or handed down.  But as Brendan Myers once tried to explain to people in a lecture I attended, that very thing is dogmatic!  Part of the Pagan dogma — one of our most “settled or established opinions, beliefs, or principles” — is that no one has the right to act as an authority for the whole group on anything, ever.

Where am I going with all of this?  I’m suggesting that Paganism does, indeed, have some powerful dogma that affects our ethics.  Like, for example, a strong ethic of personal rights and freedoms.  A slightly less strong ethic of personal responsibility.  I have written about my belief that the Charge of the Goddess is a series of ethical commandments that is at least as important as the Rede, if not more so.  And I’ve also written about my belief that the Rede is not nearly such a black-and-white, namby pamby ethical code as you may have been led to believe. Other Pagan faiths have their own liturgies and their own codes of ethics, such as the Nine Noble Virtues, and these will dictate ethical choices just as surely as mine do.

Deities Inform Your Politics

Polytheistic faiths have an additional factor that influences these things, and that is the individual Deities we choose to follow (or Who choose us) will also influence our ethics and our priorities, and thus, our politics.  A devotee of Coyote or Loki is probably a bit of a shit-disturber, coming from the understanding that sometimes the wisdom of the Fool and the Trickster is needed to make us question ourselves and take us down a peg.  A devotee of Apollo, on the other hand, is going to resent anything that breaks the harmonious order.  Neither side is wrong, and both are needed, but they will clash in places and as Pagans, we must simply accept this as part of our reality.

alley-fist

A Personal Perspective

Winding this discussion in from the wide perspective to the personal, I am a Wiccan, so for me there are some definite ethical guidelines–contained within the smattering of liturgy we have–that I feel I should observe.  I say “guidelines” because individual interpretation and understanding is also one of those ethical guidelines.

One of these ethics is an abhorance of slavery.  “You shall be free from slavery,” my Goddess(es) says, and so I must believe, since Her “law is love unto all beings,” that She would want me to fight for the freedom of all.

There’s more to it than that, but a lot of these things intersect.  Environmentalism comes from a love of the earth and its creatures and a desire that we might all be free to enjoy the earth’s bounty.  My sex positivity and my staunch defense of all rights to choose in reproduction, relationship and personal expression are bound up in a combination of that freedom from slavery principle, love unto all beings, and the exhortation to sing, feast, dance, make music and love, and the need for beauty and strength, power and compassion, honour and humility, mirth and reverence.

As a result of all of that, I feel I must defend the oppressed.  Oppression can be expressed socially, politically, militarily, or economically.  It is my understanding that these things are abhorrent to my Goddess, and abhorrent to me, that drives me to take a stand against them.

Culturally, as a Pagan I have allies.  Culturally, Pagans of various stripes, but perhaps none more so than the Women’s Spirituality Movement, have a long history of forming peaceful but outspoken opposition to oppression.  This has filtered over into the whole community and in particular, a lot of Polytheists seem to be on board.  It makes much more sense for me to support the work of my allies in this complex and wearying fight, driven by my religious ethics, than to do it alone.  I get more done that way.  And I get encouragement when I need it.  I don’t always agree one hundred percent with everyone who writes for Gods & Radicals.  But dammit, they’re doing something.  And I would answer their critics with, “and what are you doing?”

Spiritually, I also believe I have a calling to do this work.  I have written before about how Diana accepted my offer to pray to Her before I realized what that really meant.  At the time, I was connecting to the Maiden Warrior Goddess in the Moon Whose name I had been given.  I believed in feminism and the wild and its preservation and I had no interest in sex whatsoever, so Her Maidenhood was attractive to me.

But over time that relationship changed.  I learned, as I began to realize my bisexuality, about Diana’s preference for the company of women.  And about Her love of the occasional man who was especially worthy of Her attentions.  I discovered Women’s Spirituality then and a spiritual impetus to support my desires for equality.

And then, when I had finally reconciled my sexuality and the idea of the holiness of sex, when I had accepted a path to become a High Priestess in the way that a Catholic might have accepted a calling to become a nun, I discovered Diana, Queen of the Witches, Mistress of all Sorceries, seducer of Her brother, Lucifer.  She and Lucifer gave the world a daughter, Aradia.  She was sent to the world to teach witchcraft to the masses and liberate the oppressed.  Hence, the choice of my Craft name.

I suppose, as my awareness of politics has grown, I have realized that in many ways, it is a part of my spiritual calling and the oaths I have sworn to become involved in politics.  It is my sacred duty to defend the underdog, to raise up the powerless, and to oppose oppression wherever I see it.  And if you haven’t read Aradia, Gospel of the Witches, the “oppressors” that Aradia led Her followers against in the myth were the Church and wealthy landowners.  In other words, the 1% of their time.

I won’t disagree that there are drawbacks to this stance.  In many cases I can’t just “go along to get along.”  I can’t keep my mouth shut.  It’s like a Bard’s Tongue; silence for too long will just cause blunt, tactless statements to slip out.  Sometimes I have to point out elephants in living rooms.

Some people would rather not have to confront a lot of these issues.  I don’t blame them; it’s tiring and I don’t always have the energy for it either.  I hate fighting.  But sometimes I have to.  If I don’t, who will?

There are places where politics and faith must not mix; for example, a Pagan conference, or a Pagan Pride Day.  I once chastised someone for posting information about an environmentalist rally on the local Pagan Pride list (which I was moderating).  I was intending to go to that rally myself, but that wasn’t the point.  The point was that it was presumptuous to assume that other Pagans shared that political view.

But the blogosphere is not one of those places.  Indeed, I would argue that this is the very place to discuss and debate politics, faith, spirituality and ethics.  The blogsophere is the modern Pagan Agora.  If you don’t want to be part of that, you’re welcome not to.  But you can expect that I — that we — are not going away any time soon.

*Note – When I read back the article I realized it sounded like I had a negative opinion of the Francophone-Anglophone cultural juxtaposition in Canada.  Nothing could be further from the truth, so I expanded that paragraph.  Also, I added a link to a great article that Steve Posch wrote today about Aradia and the opposition against slavery.


Sable Aradia

Sable Aradia Author 1I have been a practicing Witch for more than 20 years, and an active organizer and facilitator in the Pagan community since 1993. I am a third degree initiate in the Star Sapphire and Pagans for Peace traditions, and an ordained Priestess and recognized Religious Representative in the Congregationalist Wiccan Association of British Columbia. I was the first Local Coordinator in the Okanagan Valley for the Pagan Pride Project. I am a practicing herbalist (Dominion Herbal College) and a Reiki Master/Teacher.


 

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19 Comments »

  1. I wrote a short piece for an upcoming blog a group of us have started and will be ‘launching’ in a few days, one part is pertinent here and the recent discussions over politics and our involvement in it;

    “We live on a land alive with spirits and gods; they are part of it. We should to some degree then care about what happens to that landscape and how it is treated, it might be cliché, but if the landscape is our cathedral, we should be concerned with those who would want to tear it down or sell it off. We cannot shy away from politics, because politics and the political will not shy away from the things we hold dear.”

    Come the weekend it will be up at dunbrython.wordpress.com (shameless plugging I know)

    Liked by 6 people

  2. Well stated, Lady Sable.

    This business of concepts being diverted over clashing personalities is nothing really new, as anyone around long enough to remember when feminism emerged to clash with traditional English Wicca.

    Most folk absorbed the arguments, eventually overcame the personal attacks and moved on, and I suspect that – over time – this new brewhaha circulating will subside.

    Like

  3. I think what was said that inspired you to write this was poorly phrased, but still may have an kernel of truth. I think that neither politics nor religion precede the other in our reactions, but instead evolve together into something coherent (at least that is the hope). We differ because our preconceived notions are different. For example, you said “a strong ethic of personal rights and freedoms. A slightly less strong ethic of personal responsibility.” In my dogma (if you will), I reverse those – personal responsibility is slightly more important and is often deciding factor in my ethical decisions and my political thinking. Personal responsibility doesn’t mean duty to state, but “owning your shit.” But it is easy to see how that shift in priority would put one right or left of political center.

    So that slight change in priorities leads us down separate political paths – paths different enough that we could easily be spiritual allies but political adversaries. And if the political issue is emotional enough, we might have a hard time remaining civil to each other. That is the problem in the United States today – and politicians are playing not to our reason, but to our emotions.

    We can also have different perspectives on the world. Where Rhyd once cried because of storm drain pollution in one of his special places and would rail against capitalism, I would celebrate and thank that same piece of earth and the microbes contained in the soil and silt for their role in helping to clean up our mess. Are either of us wrong? I don’t think so, but are both of us totally right? Is there a totally right there? But are not both our preconceived notions driving our spiritual reactions here?

    So the response to John would be “sometimes yes, sometimes no.” We are complicated beings. Our ethics determine which Deities we will follow. They also determine how we view political issues. A slight reordering of ethical priorities can cause a huge separation in how we view both politics and religion.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I think you misunderstood me there, Woods, and I wondered when I wrote it if someone would, but I liked the succinctness (is that a word?) of the way it was phrased, so I kept it. When I said, “a strong ethic of personal rights and freedoms. A slightly less strong ethic of personal responsibility,” I was not referring to my own priorities, but was making a subtle, and I hope tongue-in-cheek critique of Paganism in general. I think that many of us are so in love with the “personal rights and freedoms” portion that we neglect (or perhaps benignly ignore) some of the “personal responsibility” that comes with it. I could probably write another essay as to why, which comes down to my belief that it’s a necessary stage that we pass through because a lot of us absorbed the “responsibility” ethic of the world around us so well that we become downright codependent about it, and need to learn to express our personal freedom before we can truly embrace the personal responsibility once we become Pagans. Which is, in my opinion, exactly what you said, “Owning your shit.”

      But none of that invalidates your very excellent point, which was that giving different weights to the many different aspects of Pagan ethics is probably what causes us to be divisive; though in many ways this is also a great strength. And I’d like to thank you for putting your finger on it. Having the right to do that is perhaps the most Pagan ethic there is; if one is going to assume personal responsibility in one’s life, then one must absolutely have the right to determine for oneself what one’s ethical priorities are. Which means someone might choose a different order than I would.

      For me, and I would guess for many of us who are writers here, personal responsibility also dictates a degree of political responsibility, because “all it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing” (and in this I’ll accept the general meaning of “men” as “humankind” without quibbling, because that’s the quote.) But of course others may see it differently.

      Thanks, Woods, for a very thought-provoking comment!

      Liked by 2 people

    • I really like your well thought out honesty on this comment. There are so many ways in which to express our values , the personal is political and how we all live is part of exploring values within the restrictions that we have very little control over . I just wanted you to know that reading your story with online paganism , it sounds like it was really hard and it was really painful and it’s important to have that validated because nobody’s right and nobody’s wrong when it comes to pain, pain hurts and it doesn’t matter if you were in the right or in the wrong because that’s all point of view and one thing that’s really being forgotten more and more is that what everybody has in common is being human and having feelings . There is no safety for feelings on the Internet and that’s really sad . I completely know what you are saying about “pagan community” or any other so-called community especially online , there is very little acknowledgment of others having emotions and feelings and people can get so wrapped up in their own point of view that they don’t see how much they’re hurting other people especially when they are so convinced that they have the right answer about people they don’t know . Every group of us will decide some of the members are them , division is what the Internet is all about , labeling yourself labeling others , forgetting that people are not simple labels of things you can put in a box as “you do it right” and “you do it wrong” . Diversity is not encouraged . Open ended questions, beginners mind , listening , this is not an arena , the Internet , for kindness because other people are just a fiction . You deserve to have the pain validated regardless of what the situation was . The other people who were hurt (and I’m sure they were) also deserve to have the pain validated . But the Internet is where people spread fear , hate and a lot of judgment as opposed to support for where people are even if it’s different from you , the desire to understand people different than you , it’s very much about group mind and gang mentality , being so obsessed with the enemy that people miss out on seeing all of the possible friends because there aren’t that many strong courageous people who want to listen and learn and exchange , they just want to tell people they are wrong and manipulate with fear , it’s how exactly like you said the politicians are acting. People usually don’t care how many people they hurt online because nobody else is a person , they are a potential threat until you can put them in a category very very simple and decide if it’s us or them end human beings are so much more complicated than that , just like their politics and their spirituality and the way they live their lives are so much more complicated . I just wanted to say I’m sorry because reading how painful this was for you and having it not acknowledged as an emotion but instead as a situation where the person wasn’t there so they have no opinion , we can still care about people . Very few people are trying to do wrong , and life is really hard and one thing that makes it harder is how people are no longer human animals filled with all sorts of complexity and worth , no one is supposed to discuss how it feels . Instead it has to be all facts, dogma, judgments without any understanding of not just complex issues like interpersonal ones but that people have backgrounds which make them more sensitive to some things than others , on the Internet there are no random acts of kindness , nobody opens the door for you for smiles at you when you walk by them , instead it’s all about are you one of me or are you one of them and you had a really bad situation with that and it doesn’t matter what all the circumstances were , I just was shocked to see someone suffering online and reaching out and just wanting , this is what I read, to know if other people have this problem with online pagan community where there isn’t dialogue or wanting to understand differences or treating people like they have feelings . Well, I can tell you from personal experience and that of most emotionally sensitive to other people’s feelings people that I know the Internet is not a place for anyone who wants peace , unity , open-mindedness and just the basic recognition of human dignity . That’s the bottom line, there is no respect for difference and people half the time writes as if no one has any emotions who reads it . If you want to find people who are actually building a healthier better world you need to look for the people who are living their religion and politics , their values because online what can anyone possibly know about anyone else? Very very little but the assumptions grow and grow and grow .
      This is almost unheard of on the Internet but I can say I’m sorry that you were hurt so much and it’s not just you and that doesn’t mean I believe every single thing you believe , I don’t know you at all except that you’re human being who was hurt end hurt again by just wanting to know if people have experiences like this and not having a response to that , but there’s no taking sides, if you are hurt you are hurt and that sucks and I’m sorry. And this is something that I’ve really found in paganism for the last couple of years this gang mentality that if you are not with us you are against us so someone who was in that group with you might now decide I’m the enemy because they cannot comprehend understanding and having compassion doesn’t mean groupthink . I have a really diverse community and it successful because none of us have a sense of being in us together with a boundary of people who are not us , we are all just so diverse and different that being friends blurs the lines between so many different communities and none of those people are trying to do anything bad even though I’m sure with a couple of labels they could be condemned for elevated . So, yes. The Internet is not the best place to find people who want to learn from each other , want to help each other in the way that they act and they can lie all they want . Trust takes time and seeing how somebody overtime treats others and the only way you can bring people together is with trust . And unfortunately you can’t trust that people will acknowledge pain because they are more concerned with “right” and “wrong.” It’s really very much like John Calvin Protestant stuff talks about , Galina Krassakova wrote some great essays about how that Protestant coldness and other things like the work ethic but basically the cosmology of God and value has been transplanted into paganism , she wrote them quite a while ago but they are for sale right now in essays about Heathenry I think the title is called .

      Anyway being a human being is hard and it’s easier or harder depending on the other human beings . It just really has been like a knife in my heart watching everybody suffering so much online and the atmosphere of fear and judgment everywhere dividing everyone , especially people who actually would be amazing allies and it’s setting everything back so far , there is so much hurt being done it’s time to just care for the wounded . And I don’t care what your dogma is . As an anarchist I feel that you have the right to validation for your experience and how you feel just like anyone else involved does and only with that attitude can people start to heal . So I hope this does some bit of healing . We are all equals. Everybody story deserves to be heard because that’s how real communities are formed , people cannot be intimidated into community and if people don’t get to express their emotions they will just build up . I had hoped that someone would say something kind to you , you evidently thought this was a safe place and you had valid questions and emotions .

      Liked by 1 person

      • It’s not true, you know. The internet is not doomed to be divisive. Read YouTube comments. Yes, they’re full of jerks being jerks for the sake of being a jerk. But whenever someone reaches out in real pain, there’s always, always at least one person reaching back to heal that wound. When bullies rear their heads, eventually someone reports them and then you just have a stream of angry responses that you know must have been sparked by a comment that’s been removed. And there are people like you reaching out others in pain. Thank you for that, by the way. Keep doing it and don’t let anyone discourage you. You make the world a better place, one small piece at a time. 🙂

        Like

  4. I flatly don’t believe in apolitical religion.

    One of the basic things that religion does is posit an ideal person or an ideal society or ideal relationships and set forth what that entails, and that is the essential core of the nature of politics in several different ways. Not only does it define how people ought to act socially, on the one hand, but on the other it raises the question of who gets to define that ideal person, that ideal society, which is a political question on a whole different level.

    Judaism has commandments to do things like leave the field pickings for the poor and to be decent to foreigners. Egyptian tomb declarations included things like “You can tell I was chosen of the gods because of how I built temples and infrastructure, made sure the poor were fed, and defended the region.” The Havamal is an extended discourse on human behaviour and how to go about it. Do ut des and other principles of reciprocity that have often defined human interaction with the gods are political principles. Questions of purity and impurity – and the reasons behind them (I was reminded the other day of discourse about the menstrual taboo in Egypt, which is not what most people expect it to be) – are political questions, because they are about how people interact and how they should interact with each other and with the sacred, and even if they themselves are cast as strictly theological, there’s the political wrangle around how to implement the theology. Interpretations of animism that relate to a modern understanding of environmentalism are political, and so are interpretations of ancient moral obligations to the dispossessed. The entire existence of Brig Ambue is political.

    “Who lives, who dies, who tells the story”: also politics.

    The historical success of Christianity – specifically pitched to appeal to the revolutionary underclasses in its early days – political. (Competing theologies are always about politics.) The current-day hegemonial status of Christianity – also undeniably political.

    The debates about the functional active meaning of the word “polytheism” is such a political argument that I’m sort of disgusted that people appear to think otherwise; if it wasn’t political there wouldn’t be an argument! Who has the power to define the word, whose definitions are normative, whether other things have to attach to it and what those other things are: political questions. (And I feel the same way about PZ Meyers’s insistence that atheism necessarily gives rise to a certain set of ethical principles, though I don’t think he’s unaware that that’s a political argument.)

    At the same time, I have a near-taboo about exposing the theological underpinnings of a lot of my politics without good reason. (I don’t know if it’s a true taboo because I don’t press the issue with the Powers. I just don’t do the shit They disapprove.) The reasoning for this is very simple: if I am trying to work for the idealised person, the idealised society, an idealised model of relationships, according to the principles of my religion, then hanging the gods’ names over why I’m doing it gets in the way of doing Their work. It’s putting posturing in Their names above the tasks They have set me as a human being who is dedicated to Them. (Matthew 6:5 is my favorite gospel quotation for a reason….) The existence of people who would be turned off by my articulating Who I am doing something for means that giving out names like that necessarily excludes those people, and Bawy doesn’t like that. 😛 😉 (Okay, seriously you up there folks? This was not a time I was prepped for a deep theological revelation. Thank you for the permission to make the joke, anyways.)

    And I don’t have to say that there’s a bit in the Book Of Going Forth By Day (Egyptian Book of the Dead) that’s pretty much straight-up “I have not required excessive overtime” to have a politics that is critical of workday creep; the fact that I found that in there means something to me, but it’s not going to mean something to most of the world. Citing it as an argument in any serious political discussion is a good way to get blank looks at best.

    And yeah, I could say I’m not an employer and I don’t overwork myself so I could speak up at the tribunal at the gates of twilight and say “I have not required excessive overtime”, as if simply refraining from bad behaviour were the be-all and end-all of religious adherence. But if I believe that excessive overtime is distasteful to the gods – which I do – then I have a religious obligation to act accordingly, to support things that will make excessive overtime less likely to happen to more than just me. But citing the BoGFbD will not be productive to attaining that end except in certain very limited circumstances; it is not an effective action, it will not make me effective or reveal me to be an effective spirit. And maybe that means “consider this as a factor when I vote” and maybe that means “actually make this a focus of active action” and maybe it means something else, but it doesn’t go away.

    What I can’t do is say “This was important enough to the ancients that they noted it down as a thing to say before the gods” and “This is a thing that has obvious current-day relevance to the world” and pretend that doesn’t have political implications.

    And anything – anything – that has to do with people, especially idealised people or idealised interactions – has political ramifications. The only religion that can be “apolitical” is the religion of the hermit in isolation, and when that exists the rest of us don’t hear about it, because it’s being done by someone who has deliberately removed themselves from interactivity with other humans.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I think even a hermit has made a political choice and a political statement – the hermit has made it clear they don’t like people all that much. That’s a political statement.

      And the choice to live alone is a choice to not participate in community to work on making things better.

      I’m interested in your thing about gods commanding ethical choices.

      For me, it’s that I make the ethical choices and then become allied with the gods who care about the sort of thing that I care about.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Heh, I nearly said something like that about the hermits but decided I had gone on quite long enough without adding even more nuances to it. (That’s not the only political statement that a hermit can be making, I don’t think, but there’s a lot of complexity to be had.)

        As to gods and ethical choices I… …don’t feel that the ethical choices stop after making an alliance? Which means that the gods start making statements about preferred outcomes when there’s an extant relationship, and so on….

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      • I like where this conversation is going. I wrote about this recently in a piece for my Patheos blog I called “Reciprocity: A Witch’s Relationship with Her Deities”. I think I see it similarly. The deities are drawn to people who naturally share much of Their dispositions and agendas. When an alliance is made, like any relationship, one can call upon the other for assistance; and vice versa.

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  5. i once thought that pagan groups should be a place for free discussion and open acceptance of diversity, but that’s not myb experience. i find that you can stir up an amazing amount of hate with fairly innocous opinions and that censorship of again fairly innocous wording. i was censored by my local pagans for referring to the english in ireland as invaders, and never contacted or talked to again by any of them. several were angry that i was telling them to learn gaelic as well. which i did not ever say. what i said is that if you are wanting to be a leader and writer on gaelic reconstruction then you should make at least a decent attempt to read the ancient sources, in the original language. just an example. i could give many. i got about three dozen flame mails about being a bigot from a web prominent druid for suggesting his political action group should reach beyond the anglo community if they really want to get much concrete results.

    try discussing cultural appropriation on line with groups that include americans and british. good luck with that–i have seen the worst bigotry and abuse ever.

    my point is, and i do have one, is pagans appear as intolerant and unwilling to learn as the protestant christians they were parented by. this is important for two reasons. first, most people who come from protestant culture bring a lot of intolerance, and second that many are just fantasy gamers looking for a religion, and neither want any reminders of reality, especially the realities of ethnic or class inequality. prominent writers in celtic routinely have no celtic language. that would be unacceptable in an acedemic field, it should be unacceptable in anyone claiming leadership, but these roots of bigotry go deep. remember gardner was a brtish empire civil servant during some of the most abusive eras. during the begal famine that cost 3 to 4 million lives, not a word from this former imperial enforcer about one ofthe cultures he was freely borrowing from. crowley brought back a sort of kalachakra at a little later date, but no interest in imperial genodical policies. some of the founders were freely borrowing from gaelic lore while their nation was engaing in the human rights abuses of the black and tans. there is a long tradition in paganism , of a strict separation of church and state, and that is one of banning any discussion that might question the powerfull. that tradition is now well ensconced.

    Liked by 1 person

    • John, thank you for a thought-provoking comment. It’s so good, in fact, that in typing out my reply I found that I had so much to say that I really needed to write an article instead. So I’m going to do that and when I do I will either publish it here (if I think its tone suits our theme and style, when I’m done) or on my Patheos blog, and if that’s what I end up doing I’ll post the link.

      Just briefly, then, the things that I think are outside the scope of the article I’m writing:

      I am delighted that someone else recognizes the Protestant influence on modern Paganism. This is an idea I only recently articulated and I think I’m going to write a paper on it because it’s something that often denied (by both sides, I might add).

      If I might speak frankly, I’m guessing that the hostility that you’ve received is, in part, more about tone than subject. If you’re going to accuse the entirety of modern Paganism of Imperialism, cultural appropriation, and supporting the ruling class, I think it’s not unreasonable to expect hostility, since most of us see ourselves as rebels who are directly opposed to all of those things. 😉 Not that I think you’re entirely wrong in that yes, modern Paganism is at least in part founded on cultural appropriation, and we are indeed still influenced largely by the culture we come from; including maintaining a sense of right and wrong, rather than embracing the fuzzy areas or accepting that two contrary opinions can both be true.

      I don’t know enough about the situation to know whether or not I would have agreed with your banishment. Maybe this group was exactly as oppressive as you suggest they were. But I can also see where they might have become upset and I can see how things might have degenerated if they were put too bluntly. Text is especially bad for this because lots of emotional nuance is lost.

      Please note that I’m not saying that you’ve done so or anything, but I have seen situations in the past where someone has taken advantage of the Pagan willingness to debate to be quite rude and then, when the group has refused to deal with said person anymore, has complained that they have a right to freedom of speech and it’s “just their opinion.” Especially online, I have seen this a lot. I do not believe that “freedom of speech” means “freedom to say whatever you like without consequence.” There is no excuse for rudeness and people should not have to put up with it. I personally won’t. Because I have been on the receiving end of such rudeness, I have also occasionally been hypersensitive when no rudeness was meant. I suggest that maybe, based on the bluntness of what you have said here, that perhaps you were perceived as being angrier, or more rude, than you intended, but were unaware of the way it came across in a text medium? Perhaps the emotional nuance you intended did not come through? Again, I don’t know the situation; just throwing this out there for consideration.

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  6. gardner was a pure colonialist. how would his followers not be? gardner was totally indifferent to the oppression around him and from which he benefited. how could his followers not be the same? the tree is poisoned at the root. this is true of may groups.

    and i always wonder at the tone argument. i get that all the time. my impression is anglo protestants really do think that they get to set the standards and parameters of any discussion or they will attack and attack viciously. if you are not a bigot then you leave other people their own words of expression, especially if you want people from other backgrounds to participate. i can’t tell you how often i have heard the tone argument. that argument is usually the beginning of the end. well he used the wrong tone with us so we persecuted him and rightly so. does that make any sense to any person with a critical thinking capacity. and i might add that i didn’t suggest all druidry and paganism is guilty of the things i am criticizing, i said that that was my experience, and that’s what is aid. that was my experience. the result is i do thing the lack of political awareness means many pagans and druids are reinventing bigotry against the colonized people, both in person and in the terms of cultural appropriation. the tone argument is always an exageration and always a straw man argument

    furthermore, i keep meeting these “experts” in druidry or paganism who ave never done the work i would expect, but i don’t tell them or their followers what to do, i just express my opinion on what i am doing, and that alone is enough to be persecuted. the colonized minorities are not allowed to criticize. persdonally i wanted to participate, and sometimes i can IF THE GROUP HAS NO CELTC PRETENSIONS. the pseudo celts are vigilant to stop any actual ethnic celtc messing up their game. that’s just my experience, mostly in eastern canada and ontario. a little in england but i didn’t hang around long in england.

    i knew a prominent celtic guy who wants to be a leader, who spent five years in ireland and didn’t learn a word of gaelic? and plays folk music of a pop variety. well i play traditional celtic music on harp, mandolin bouzouki cittern and guitar, and a few others, and i got to sit on the side lines at bardics, and not play. i’m not ethnclly correct enough. might sing a rebel song or a revolutionary song i guess.

    i write this as someone who reads stll but i have almost given up all other participation as it means direct discrimination and bigotry. my local group, to which i refered before, had several members tell me the eltic holicaust was or karma man!! just getting what you deserve in the big picture. i wouldn’t want the karma of saying anything so smug and ignorant.

    most paganism is political, and it’s the politics of colonialism

    Liked by 1 person

    • John, whatever it was, I didn’t do it, dude!

      Like I said, I’m dealing entirely with the hypothetical here and I don’t know the situation. I can’t make a judgment about whatever you did or didn’t do and how deserved or undeserved your censure was. I’ve been on the receiving end of what I see as injustice in this department too. I don’t have a dog in the race about Celtic groups because I’m not involved in one and have no intention of being involved in one in the foreseeable future. So as much as I might sympathize, I think you’re barking up the wrong tree.

      I do agree that sometimes people use the “I don’t like your tone” thing to shut down arguments they don’t like; but that’s not what I’m doing here. I am telling you that in text, you might have come across in a way you didn’t intend. For instance, the way in which you have written this suggests that you are calling me a bigot colonialist who is discriminating against you for not letting you say whatever you want without holding you accountable for it. And being ethnically Celtic, I guess? Now, I assume that’s not what you’re doing, because first of all, I also have Celtic heritage so that would be weird; secondly, because it would be a completely unprovoked attack out of left field and I can’t see why you would do that.

      I believe that what you’re trying to do is convince me of the righteousness of your case. To be honest with you, since I’m not involved in the group and I don’t otherwise know you at all, I’m not sure why you’re expending such energy on it. I haven’t spoken to the person you had a disagreement with so I have heard nothing negative about you or this situation; and even if I had, I take such things under advisement but I don’t give any weight to rumours and I prefer to make my own decisions about what I think of the people I meet or associate with.

      Anyway, I am sorry if I upset you. I intended to compliment your intelligent comment and maybe to suggest ways to help you out in future online conflicts because I’ve been there and it sucks, and more often than not it’s been the result of communication issues rather than ideological differences. I did not mean to criticize you, if that’s how it came across. Mea culpa.

      Like

      • i am not upset at you or your article, i am beyond disapointed by the inherent colonialism of druidry and paganism, and the resulting sublimated bigotry. and it’s not one incident its many dozens, to the point i now think ethnic(you would be shocked but it isn’t my plan to list them all) celts are a red flag to those who must be eliminated to the mainstream of druidry and paganism. they are obsessed with being the true tradition and must eliminate any vestige of others who might be.(when by the way most ethnic celts i know would just like to participate) it’s the soul of cultural appropriation, and it’s following the copy of christians and muslims towards jews.

        the colonialist creates class staus and elites, but isolate themselves from greater society and traditions.

        but yeah the tone argument has gotten me thinking. anglos feel so prveledged and entitled that they really think is is sinfull to not couch arguments from the outside in exactly the right words and right way otherwise they are not of value. i have heard it a lot. you have to use a tone that pleases the entitled and priveldged, possible the most entitled and priveldged people in human history, otherwise everything you say is without value. and anglos will go ballistic and into rages over very little. and there is no point in trying to negotiate this. they aren’ going to change.

        i was interested in the lack of meaningfull progressive politics in druidry and paganism and i now think that’s why. they have swallowed a colonialist imperial tradition, and have no self awareness about that. that creates the worst of “allies” allies who think they are progressive but will destroy all and everyhting possitive that is created.

        as you may have guessed i have almost given up on pagans except the west coast enviornmentalists i knew–they do things productice-and they were attacked by gardnarians for the starhawk tradition back in the ninties.

        Liked by 1 person

      • just to beat the horse to death beyond recovery, do pagans and druids just ignore history? the protestant ascendency were our nazis. they were the colonial immigrtant class who took our land starved out people and shipped most of us outto north america or where ever they needed soldiers(a lot of highlanders served on the indian north west frontier). well my experience in ontario, lower mainland british columbia and halifax is most of the celtic pagans or druids were protestant aqscendency. with not just no awareness that they are not ethnic irish, but ready to charge racism if you point out history. but it’s really cool to be celtic–unless you have to switch university departments because you senior professor in your major tells you some one schooled in north nova scotia couldn’t possibly pass a course at u vic, or you get threatened with arrest for sitting in the public gallery of the nova scotia legislature, as a cape breton barbarian, or get chased by axe handle weildig thugs for distributing fliers for the nova scotia fishermans union, or told by medievalists groups that theres no celitc pre 1600 go join the irish society,(and then i had to sue them for libel to stop their lies–and won big) or been turned down for a government job at workers compenstion with scrawled across the top”eastern bastard”,or of course forced to leave home to work all across the country because of poverty, other than that being celitic is really cool man.not to mention that when doing working class jobs beyond the ottawa river you had to fist fight to get to work. then the anglo thugs would get pissed that the french and gaels walked together and ate together. and some day et me tell you about tilsonbrg.

        so the protstant ascendency have discovered it’s cool to be celtic but they are still culturally protestant ascendency o they wand to be the leaders of course, what good is an empire if you can’t be the boss? but they want to get rid of the terrorists and racists of the gaelic people. they are all mad men anyway.

        and i say all this as someone self edcated with three university degrees. learned a dozen musical instruments and a poor version of several language(in university i needed the scholashiprs to go–that’s what i mean by self taught). but these often uneducated cool middle class or upper class anglos run the show as god intended. and in ontario all the macho anglo guys prancing around the divine feminine? and squabble like demons.

        so if your english playing celt, fine, you’re welcome. gaelic have never been exclusionary–to our detriment. join. but maybe learn some language or mucis or art or something celitc other than cool made up ceremonies. and by the way i had friends among non celtic grndarians. they didn’t feel the need to go to war with the competition.

        especially halifax and ontario are dominated by protestant ascendency celts. several with either military ties or axes to grind over having been conned by cults when younger. they are welcome. but maybe allow free speech. ethnic franco gaels really think different thoughts than the english. i know it looks like we are being trolls and trouble makers not to go along with the militaty industrial capitalist machine and all it class structure–which class structure is designed to get people to stay permanently at war. class is the militarization of society. go live in western ireland or cape breton, almost no class bigotry. so yeah we are very likely not going show deference to your high status and go right up and talk to you and disagree. similarily we are likely to post dissent on line. wow. people who are neither militarized nor genuflecting to their betters. there’s is a reason most of canada’s satyrists come from newfoundland or cape breton(or both like rick mercer), we don’t have this class structure , it’s much more egalitarian. staus oriented druidry and paganism is not celtic it’s anglo class and militarism being expressed in a new form.

        everyone is welcome to come and explore celtic culture, and the people are mostly very friendly to outsiders(unlike the english) but we don’t actually need leaders, or rehabilitation.

        well that ought to keep me exhausted for a while–probably no one is listening anyway.

        Liked by 1 person

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