To Ceres at Harvest Time

Generous Ceres, who makes the gardens flourish, your joy has sustained us through the bountiful summer.

Now it is harvest time and the tables are heaped with apples and nuts, beans and squash, carrots and potatoes, corn and wheat, and every good thing that grows from the earth and sustains us.

You have given us this, and we are grateful beyond measure.

But there is a shadow. As we revel in the harvest, we also know that the time is near for your lovely daughter, Proserpina, to leave and winter will come.

We know the grief of loss. We know how empty, cold and hard it can be.

Beautiful Ceres, know that we are here and that we understand. Although no outside voice can truly comfort the grief of a mother’s loss, know that we too grieve for the loss of Proserpina. But even with the most sympathetic voices in the ears, grief belongs to each person alone and each must bear that burden in the heart and in the mind.

But today, we will eat and enjoy the bounty, stuff ourselves full, and warm ourselves by the fire against the chill. We will admire the bright leaves as they are ready to fall from the branches and enjoy the glorious gifts made possible through the joy of Ceres.

Racial and Ethnic Openness in Pagan Traditions

After reading a recent blog post by Morpheus Ravenna, I decided to join in with an affirmation that Paganism needs to take an anti-racist stand. Since I first saw the post, this issue of racism and Euro-centric pagan traditions would turn into a bit of a firestorm, and Morpheus Ravenna’s blog post ended up being censored from one prominent site because the editors were bothered by her labeling of Asatru FolkAssembly (AFA) as a racist organization that condones racist notions in their pursuit of Germanic/Scandinavian traditional practices. Another discussion of the controversy is here.

So bravo to those who are taking a stand, and here’s my voice joining them.

Asatru, the revival movement of pre-Christian traditions of Norse/Germanic European heathenry, has adherents in the white supremacist community. Some groups state that one of the goals should be the preservation of the purity of the northern European culture. At least some of their members seem to interpret this as meaning that only those of northern European decent should be practitioners. I see a number of problems with that idea.

First, Asatru is reconstruction, not preservation. Adherents are not from an unbroken line of worshipers of the old gods. Those who are creating new communities around this reconstructed tradition are made up of people whose ancestors for many generations have been Christians of one form or another. If membership was limited to only those with an unbroken heathen lineage, there would not be Asatru.

Second, culture is not dependent on bloodline, it is learned by people. Language, religious traditions, food preparation, music, clothing – all these things are passed from person to person without regard to race or ethnic heritage. I understand that some people from Asatru and other reconstructionist traditions think that people need to adopt the entire system of practice to be proper adherents. I can understand the frustration that some have with the New-Age-y shallowness of a smorgasbord approach to religion. But any person, regardless of ethnic or racial background, must have a first introduction to a tradition. If they need then to work, learn and experience to fill out the rest to be full members of a community, so be it, but an ethnic prerequisite doesn’t make sense.

Third, I believe that the gods and goddesses don’t draw these lines around race and ethnicity. The gods call who they will. We can seek out relationships with them, but anyone who deals with them at all will know that they can be unpredictable and they will often call someone who may seem like a very unlikely person.

Racial and ethnic exclusion is certainly not the position of all followers or even a majority of followers of the path of northern reconstructionist religions. I respect those who acknowledge the senseless prejudice within their community and who wish to challenge it. Those outside Paganism will recognize this ugly side of the community and it should be clear that most Pagans in this country reject racism.

Just to be clear, I am not a follower of Asatru, and I wouldn’t claim to speak for or hold any special knowledge of that tradition. I appreciate the Norse pantheon, but I know it largely through modern reinterpretations from Wagner’s Ring Cycle to Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. I have been curious to learn more about runes, which do come from that tradition, and I may pursue more knowledge about that subject in the future.

My framework is a modern, eclectic version of Religio Romana – the religion of ancient Rome. One of the things that I love about that tradition is the fact that anyone striving for purity in that tradition is a bit laughable. Like the English language, it’s a mish-mash from the beginning and new, strange, and not-entirely-logical aspects are constantly incorporated. The Roman Empire stretched from Britain to Germany to the Near East to North Africa, and all those traditions were folded into the religious life. Race was not really conceived of or thought about in the same way as today, and it was never a test for citizenship, religion, slavery, marriage or any other social institutions. Don’t get me wrong – there was always plenty of inequality and prejudice, but just not usually based on race.

It strikes me that thinking that gods and goddesses should only be in relationship with people whose ancestors were also in relationship with these deities is a like saying that people whose parents grew up in the desert shouldn’t have rain. Or that since my family is from the Great Lakes region, which is seismically inactive, that I shouldn’t visit a volcano or experience an earthquake. If we really believe that when we experience the Divine that we are in touch with something outside of and/or greater than ourselves, this kind of limitation just doesn’t make sense.

So I belong to a minority religion

 

 


I enjoy Stephen Fry and I follow him on Twitter. He’s a wonderful actor and I share his love of opera. We have similar viewpoints on LGBTQ rights. I certainly don’t agree with all of his viewpoints, His posts about cricket are just as dull as any American sports fan’s blather. He is an atheist. I don’t have any problem with him holding that point of view. At certain points in my adult life, I would have called myself an atheist, too.

I do have a problem with the way he was attacking Pagans when his issue is with Christians (and, by extension, Muslims because of certain similarities in the religious outlooks). His assumptions about what “religion” means just doesn’t even apply to Pagans and yet he insists on including us in his attacks.

“So one god exists.” Who said that? Not little old polytheist me. “Is he Zeus? Ra?…Osiris? Mars? Minerva?” I don’t think anyone worshiping any of those deities would claim that anyone needs to define “the one”. I’m pretty sure the inclusion of Buddha in this list completely misses the point of that religion, too.

The 2nd tweet leaves Pagans off the list. I guess since Pagans haven’t been killing anyone recently, they don’t get a ranking in his view of religions.

Then we get to the last one. “Sky-fairies and invisible friends”? It sounds a bit like he’s referring flippantly to polytheists again, but then he uses the term “commandment”, which is a term that refers pretty specifically to the Abrahamic monotheist traditions. No Pagan that I know of uses that term with any regularity and certainly never in the “Thou shalt not” meaning usually implied. Does he mean to insult Christians and Muslims by comparing them with polytheists?

I think that what’s really at play here is that in spite of his use of the names of Pagan gods and goddesses, he doesn’t actually understand that these deities have meaning to people today. He’s a monotheistic atheist. He’s just as caught in the monotheist mindset as the most pious Christian. He doesn’t even acknowledge that there are more options than “God”/”No God”. He’s not alone in that narrow and useless dualistic thinking. I only single him out because these tweets were still gnawing at the corner of my mind, even though they happened a couple weeks ago.

 

Ricky Gervais is another smart, funny British actor who is an outspoken atheist. I came across this quote, which seems to be intended to poke fun at the Christians. Again, I have a completely different point of view on this. It’s completely true, and not in a funny way. The Romans in the first few centuries CE, in fact, called the Christians “atheists” for this exact reason – they denied the existence of the gods. I don’t and won’t deny anyone’s genuine experience of divinity as they report it. That experience is perfectly valid for that person. The problem occurs when someone tries to impose that understanding on others or follow those “commandments” that cause them to impact the lives of others in a negative way.

I am not sure if I am going to endorse the idea that each deity that has even been named by human is a distinct and active god or goddess that should been included in our current pantheon. I do know that there is a plurality of powers in the universe, though, and they have varied through time and space. Humans call them by different names and give them faces in order to interact with those powers. I go into greater depth about my understanding of cosmology here.

I agree with Stephen Fry’s rejection of religious “commandments” – social and ethical rules have to make sense in their context and should be based on facts and reasoning, not on one person’s report of a commandment from a deity. That kind of a commandment is the equivalent of a parent’s “because I said so”. It doesn’t really help us when we are thinking through these questions on our own. For Pagans, who do value science and reason, the relationship with the Divine can be a guide for ethical action, but not an excuse for disregarding reality as it exists. The value placed on natural places brings an urge to protect natural places and reduce environmentally destruction ways of living (although how to approach this varies widely).

Welcome to the world of a minority religion – we’re usually ignored, but if someone bothers to mention us, it’s usually half-baked nonsense.