On Worshipping Humans

I think there is a significant difference between worshipping a hero from mythology such as Atalanta or Herakles versus a historical figure. Ancient Greeks considered heroes from their area to be a sort of communal ancestor. Mikalsson notes that in Ancient Greece, “Because a hero’s cult was centered on his real or imagined tomb, the hero was bound, unlike a god, to one locality. He usually would have only one sanctuary, in only one city-state, unless two or more states laid claim to his bones. Because his heroön was accessible to the offerings of only the residents of that state, the hero’s activity and influence would affect, at most, only that state and perhaps only the immediate neighborhood in which his heroön was located. (Ancient Greek Religion)”

This is where it gets tricky for us non-Greeks. I still pray to heroes sometimes but the connection is different and fainter. Herakles went to Olympos and became immortal, but other heroes died a mortal death. So I personally just admire the way they lived instead, and consider them mythological, not historical, beings. That doesn’t preclude them from possessing an attractiveness to us through their stories, nor does it necessarily preclude them from having powers (if deified).

In my time online, however, I have seen people worship much more historical figures in the name of Hellenic paganism.  I think it’s disrespectful and inappropriate to worship someone not from ancient Greece who was not also a Hellenic pagan as a hero.

I’ve also seen people applaud Alexander the Great or Julian. First and foremost, I am a firm believer that it is crypto-fascistic to worship emperors. This comes from my unique lived experience as a Japanese person where deified emperors were enforced (as they usually are — monarchs don’t tend to be accountable to the people, and state religions are handy political tools) led to imperialism, fascism and violence. Although I will repeat forever that Shinto is not pagan nor “polytheist” (or any other rigidly defining Western term!) I find State Shinto from the 20th Century era of Imperial Japan to have some disturbing trends in common with say, the pre-Christian Roman Empire. This isn’t to compare the scale of violence committed in either period, but rather to point out that kings who are turned into gods tend to be horrible people, and their godhood is a political pawn to further nationalism.

Secondly, Alexander the Great sucked ass. Emperors in general are bad, inherently, but ones that wage wars are even worse. I really don’t understand why imperialistic, colonialistic murderers are so hyped up (wait, I do: racism and imperialism!). Emperor Julian was also an imperialistic murder who oppressed Christians and arguably was anti-Semitic as well. Ask any Classicist online and surely they’d give you reasons why both were at least kind of assholes.

Back to my earlier point, though.

State religion is inherently oppressive, IMO. Shinto proves my case quite well, as does more complex cases like the modern US and its Protestant/Puritanism written into the founding texts. Without venturing too far out of my area of knowledge, State Shinto is the period of Shinto where the emperor of Japan (most infamously, the Showa emperor) was deified and seen as a descendant of Amaterasu Omikami. The US made the emperor announce his human-hood after Japan’s defeat in WWII in the so-called Humanity Declaration (though he was still emperor afterwards, Japan became more democratic). It’s worth noting that the imperial clan, through power (and probably politics) made its clan kami Amaterasu Omikami the ‘supreme’ kamisama and also made her the only sun kami (Origin and Growth of the Worship of Amaterasu, by Matsumae Takeshi).

Though I personally find no wrong with Greek reconstructionist hero cult, it does bring up this question for other acts of worship of past mortals: if you deify real people, what negative things have they done? And how does this factor in to the deification, if at all? Is the deification itself a denial of the very real complexity of human nature (good and bad)? I don’t have an answer to this, either. I feel very weird whenever I enter a shrine or temple and the kami/buddha enshrined within is an emperor or daimyo, but I find myself being notably more comfortable when it’s someone like Sugawara no Michizane, a scholar.

広告

Fake Shinto Shrines in the US

 

So I didn’t really know if I would end up posting about Shinto here at all, but for better or for worse enough bullshit has been happening for me to complain about it here (yay?).

One thing is this guy who claimed to have a Kyoha Shinto (sect Shinto) shrine in Tennessee while disrespecting the fuck out of whoever he’s enshrining. I won’t name names overtly but I will link to a video of a part of this “shrine” because well…it’ll maybe help drive my point home.

All of this? Complete horseshit. Let me explain.

  1. This is simply not what the inside of a shrine looks like.
  2. All the flags are extremely out of place, one of them appears to be promotional from a company
  3. The abundance of mirrors makes no sense either
  4. If this is supposed to be the goshintai (‘body’ of the kamisama, kinda?) then he shouldn’t be taking videos of it.
  5. Very New Agey dragon decor that is, again, very out of place. Exacerbates how this guy claimed to have used traditional architecture when nothing about this is traditional at all.
  6. That chandelier is more ostentatious than what I’ve ever seen at a shrine.
  7. Why the fuck are there runes on that thing?!

You may say “that isn’t explicitly listed as a shrine, it might not be!” well, fear not my friends. The sacred paper strips shown at the beginning are about the only accurate thing here (assuming he made them correctly).

It’s disrespectful to kamisama, it’s disrespectful to Japanese culture and it’s also extremely White to step in, steal someone’s religious practices, and manipulate it however you want. It’s also very White/Orientalist to sell this as authentic, as a legitimate Kyoha shrine when it’s anything but. The spookyness is weird, and it gets worse in a Halloween video where the shrine was…a haunted house. You don’t put spooky stuff near kamisama, Halloween is a separate and secular event in Japan. Kamisama do not like skulls and things. Don’t do that.

Another guy came up in the Twin Cities who made up some bullshit Neo Minzoku (folk) Shinto which is hilarious. Shinto doesn’t need a “neo-“, it isn’t pagan at all so I’m not sure why some white guy thought it appropriate to frame it like a neopagan reconstructionist religion. He also throws Baba Yaga into the shrine which also makes no sense, she’s Russian…?

The kami enshrined at the Twin Cities shrine are all vaguely-named kamisama of bad things like illness. There’s no parent shrine, a Wiccan guy just made up a bunch of shit and claims Japanese people are okay with it (this one isn’t!).

 

The point of this rant is that: as always, “Eastern” religions deal with the demon of Orientalism. People think we’re exotic and weird and spiritual and different. That leads to (usually) white Westerners decontextualizing the content of the beliefs instead of researching or asking an actual priest/ess, and putting out misinformation at pagan festivals with ugly decor and other Westerners accepting that as truth, because no one bothered to do any research. Slapping an “Eastern” label on something doesn’t mean it’s authentic; if anything you should be more skeptical if a White person is trying to sell you something packaged as “Eastern”, “Oriental” (yes, one of these people used that term) or “exotic”. Please for the love of kamisama do your goddamn research.

 

Respectability and gatekeeping

I have really mixed feelings about the word “gatekeeping”. I prefer to say “elitism” because of the tendency for lots of (mostly online posters) to use gatekeeping as a catch all word to shut someone down without addressing the actual arguments at hand or pointing out the harms being done (if any). It also usually is anti-intellectual in nature, and well, as an American person, I’m all too familiar with the effects of that…flat earthers and so on stem from that sort of hostile relationship between society and academia (especially lower class whites who get radicalized etc etc).

So, how is this related to paganism? Well, lots of pagans hurl accusations of gatekeeping or elitism, while others counter with “fluffy bunny” and the like. I think elitism is inherently bad — you aren’t smarter or a better person because you have a PhD. A lot of people with PhDs don’t get jobs anyway because capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy and so on. PhDs mean jack shit on their own, they don’t qualify you to be an expert. I question the monopoly on experthood anyway since white cishet people tend to be nominated the “experts” in any and every field, including Indigenous studies.

Just because a pagan author has a PhD doesn’t mean they are trustworthy, correct or even a good person. I feel like society has ingrained in us that someone with credentials is instantly trustworthy, knows what they’re talking about and a liberal/progressive person. This isn’t the case, and can be seen pretty easily when you see how sometimes people have PhDs in completely separate fields and use that to feign expertness in another, or are straight up fascists with a doctorate (i.e. Krasskova). I’ve also noticed that a lot of Twitter pagans like to over-use jargon, in such a way that it makes their social media basically inaccessible to anyone without a Philosophy degree.

On the other hand, anti-intellectualism is a real and concrete trend I’ve noticed in New Age and Pagan spaces. It’s understandable because a lot of academic writing is inaccessible to people who aren’t students and know at least some of the lingo, but on the other hand it makes it a free-for-all of information and that’s how you get people claiming to be Hekate’s son or whatever.That’s the new aim of my blog, in part, because I’ve only got one foot in that conventional academic structure (for now, I don’t know about the future!). I find a lot of academia pretty hard, but I also am fortunate enough to have the ability to access a lot of material.

I guess the ideal is a balance between using academia and not relying so heavily on it you get sucked into inaccessible jargon and elitism; you don’t want to completely make shit up and revise history either.

The Ethics of Pagan Childrearing

I just saw someone I follow named Althaea post this, and it was a culmination of qualms I have had with many of the older (usually cis women) pagans who choose to raise their children in the “pagan way”.

So let’s get into this post, keeping in mind that this is obviously my point of view and not something I’m going to actively enforce as if I were a dictator. I’m just pointing out a flaw and a danger here.

The first thing I’d like to get out of the way is the patently fake-seeming way the post is written. This tidbit in particular seems too convenient for me, but feel free to prove me wrong:

One of my teachers, upon hearing that we were raising our then 2 children in our ways, told me how she wished she had. She cried as she told me how it had done nothing but teach her son to always be searching, to never dare to commit, to persevere. It affected all aspects of his life. (And she was not the only of my older & elderly teachers/mentors who shared similar experiences.)

Another quote from her caption on her Instagram post:

I saw firsthand how raising your child with no spiritual/religious structure caused them serious harm.

This is unbelievably and patently privileged. Any gay or trans person could tell you that religious parentage in fact can do grave harms (see: conversion therapy). A Christian woman who forced her son into conversion therapy for his gayness now feels immense guilt at his suicide. So it’s dangerous to make that simplification – religion isn’t always benevolent!

Well, wait a minute, are kids healthier and better off with religion? There are studies being done on this, to which Slate has good responses:

“All that talk of snake-inspired subterfuge, planet-cleansing floods, and apocalyptic horsemen might hamper kids’ ability to differentiate between fantasy and reality—or even to think critically…’The problem with certain religious beliefs,’ according to Bloom, ‘isn’t that they are incredible (science is also incredible) and isn’t that they ruin children’s ability to distinguish between fantasy and reality. It’s that they are false.’ That’s the problem that undergirds pretty much every study about religion and happiness: Even if religion can make you happy, that happiness often requires us to buy into fantasies. It’s no coincidence that the most statistically significant mental health difference between religious and secular children arises between the age of 12 and 15, when nondevout kids go through the existential crises of adolescence while religious kids can dig deeper into their trench of piousness. This mental health bump disappears in adulthood, when religious people—perhaps because they’re operating in the real world—aren’t measurably happier or nicer than their secular brethren (unless they live in a country that favors believers and ostracizes atheists).”

So what exactly is she doing wrong?

Well, first off, teaching kids how to ward is forcing your definition of how the world works! Not everyone wards! I’ll get more into that in the next section. Secondly, perpetuating the non-critical acceptance that what you see is real (i.e. apparitions and spirits) is dangerous for mental health. If these kids ever hallucinate, they will think they are seeing spirits and won’t seek medical help first. Most importantly, there seems to be minimal choice for the kids who are raised under her.

The middle boy resists more strongly. But, he resists in a way that betrays his heart. He may choose to not participate in a celebration for our Lady but he will ask for help in crafting offerings for a Deity to Whom he’s been drawn since 3yo.

This is so weird, and even sounds untrue to me. This kid’s desire to worship someone else should be taken more seriously, on the one hand, but the reason why he even considered doing it in the first place is almost 100% because of the way his mom makes him and his siblings participate in rituals.

Religious indoctrination may involve free choice, but not the free choice of the kids. It is solely the free choice of the parents that determines what values the children will have as adults and how they will view the world.

What should she do instead?

What any pagan parent should do does not differ from what any parent should do. Acceptance of the child as they are is a place to start, instead of trying to mold them into images of yourself. Furthermore, it is a good rule of thumb to teach children to be accepting of different cultures’ beliefs. I again emphasize the need to let the children decide for themselves. Gender and religion are both incredibly intimate, individualized aspects of identity that parents should not be meddling with.It concerns me that I can already see how these children will be messed up after being raised like this, and as a fellow pagan I feel it imperative to call out this behavior. I have already met a few people raised by hippie-era Wiccans who are going off the rails with their practices and UPGs. Can we please avoid continuing that cycle?

Let them be independent, learn, and grow, gods damn it. Giving your kids space to be themselves helps them exist better in the world. I

 

The Inherent Problems with Wicca

This is an ongoing thought of mine. Full disclosure, I was a secular Wiccan years ago and then drifted towards eclecticism and then Hellenic paganism.

Historical inaccuracy

The Burning Times are most often held up by Wiccans. I think there is a general trend, emphasized amongst neo-Wiccans, to not do any research or reading outside of Llewelyn (which is widely known as being inaccurate). Another problem is the assertion that Wicca is an ancient religion when Gerald Gardner created it in the 1950s.

Traditional Wicca vs. Neo-Wicca

There is also the issue of Wicca being an initiatory, secretive religion which has become warped and watered down into an appropriative mess. I will get more into that later, but due to this there are a lot of differences between ‘trad’ Wiccans and neo-Wiccans in theology and attitude, in my experience. This post will mostly be about neo-Wicca since that is what I was (and therefore am most familiar with) and the discourse that dominates the online pagan/witch communities.

All-too-common Racism

The distinction between ‘white’ and ‘black’ magic is racist, or eurocentric at best. The concept of black as a color being evil, dark and scary is a very culture-specific idea. I argue that the distinction between ‘harmful’ and ‘positive’ magic is nonexistent.

The more oft-discussed, obvious example of Wiccan racism is in micro- or macro-aggressions and violence, as well as cultural appropriation. Soft polytheism (seeing all Gods as facets or manifestations of the god or goddess) is harmful to marginalized communities because it devalues and deprioritizes their beliefs. Context becomes meaningless, history is negated and the Western, white theology becomes the only acceptable way to view reality (as opposed to accepting that some theologies or views are inherently harmful).

Inherent Misogyny

This is one I think about often and wish more people would critique. Wiccans and Wiccan-authored correspondences in magic tend to have very archaic sexist notions of gender. ‘Feminine’ crystals are receptive, emotional, nurturing. ‘Masculine’ crystals are active, aggressive, passionate. The harm in perpetuating these stereotypes in any other medium is shunned for good reason, so why continue it in Wicca? Or any magic, for that matter? Another part of this is the Blessed Be/fivefold kiss, and general Wiccan focus on fertility and birth, as well as the (artificially created!) roles of the goddess. Women do not exist to make babies – as many point out, often women can’t or don’t want to have children. Being able to have children does not make anyone a woman either. The focus on emotion and fertility is something that most Wiccans should want to veer away from (given how many feminist Wiccans I’ve seen), but for most it passes over their heads. For those who argue Wicca can be conducted without this — I posit that is difficult, if not impossible. The great rite and such are mired in misogyny and womb-worship such that it is hard to imagine a Wiccan without an athame (even if they don’t conduct ritual sex, there’s simulated hetero-sex!). I don’t think it is surprising given that a cishet man made the religion. He is rather obviously a creep who is obsessed with uteruses and sex, as can be seen in the Great Rite and so forth.

Inherent Transphobia/Homophobia

This one is a little less obvious. The founder of Wicca, Gardner, was a homophobe (google it!) and the emphasis on the womb and fertility is very exclusive to trans and gay people. Obviously the community itself has issues as well (see: Dianic Wicca).

 

Conclusion: I can’t tell people to stop practicing Wicca (although sometimes I wish I could) since it is a popular religion after all. But there needs to be serious research and reflection done by those who are Wiccan or are looking into it. Perhaps this way some more theological dialogue can happen as well.

The Lie of Neutrality

Many pagan groups like to avoid the topic of politics to avoid controversy, as if politics doesn’t still leak in and as if politics were some distant, separable part of life that doesn’t at all affect how we practice.

This is ridiculous considering how politics permeates our lives – social media is an obvious example, but a more immediate one is legislation or the enlivening of white supremacists as a result. As a result, I argue we are mandated to speak on politics no matter what context.

In order to address the harmful ways our religions have been and are being used in the political arena via imperialism or white nationalism, we must confront bigotry and oppression in the context of our faiths. I admire the work the Troth does, I hope it is the start of a wider trend of confronting hate in paganism.

Magick and Hellenic Polytheism

In light of recent events showing YSEE’s homophobia, I was looking into another major group, Elaion. On their Magic and mysticism page from 2004 by ‘Carolyn’, there are some interesting points made, often quite poorly. Here are my answers to them.

Of course one is always taught that magic works in the most natural way possible, so if you are performing a spell, be sure to also work for your goal in ‘mundane’ ways too. Apply for that job, and then work your spell. When the job is yours, do you have magic to thank or your other efforts? And if the spell only provided confidence, that does not support the reality of magic.

This is how magick works, according to a good chunk of witches I’ve spoken to. I’m somewhere near this mindset as well. If you expect levitation or such, then all Carolyn does is show her gullibility and lack of solid points. This is what we call a reach, in my opinion. Not to mention that there is more than one theory of magick, so her not knowing this means she’s criticizing something she only grazed the surface of!

In Homer (and in the Homeric Hymns), men do not know when they are being affected by Gods, even when the Gods are indeed directly in front of them. Only ‘divine Odysseus’ (as he is called by Homer) has knowledge of Athena’s aid, a testament to his true heroic nature. But not all men are heroes – that is what sets the hero apart is his greatness compared to most men.

This is a very uncritical way of taking the myths. Do the good people at Elaion make it a standard to take Homer word for word, even when he contradicts Hesiod or other writers? Even if I did take the myths literally, this seems to imply that Odysseus is the only ‘real’ hero. Sketchy.

 

I hope you all enjoyed this quick post!