John Beckett, writing on the mainstreaming of neopaganism, observes that:
… like the Methodists, we draw our members from the mainstream culture. And so like the Methodists (and pretty much every mainstream religion), Pagans and polytheists have “a worldview and self-understanding shaped far more by their social context than by their religious community.”
And to my mind, that’s a big part of what’s wrong with communities such as his.
Just because an idea is given popular expression in a society does not make it right or true. There was a time when everyone knew the world was flat, that black people were worth 3/5ths of white people, that a woman’s uterus was a little creature that traveled through her body and made her crazy when it tried to gnaw it’s way out. Hell, some people even believed Marxism was a viable political option.
History tested these hypotheses and found them wanting. As with so much, the old ways proved superior to the modern.
Religions must be founded on principles simultaneously higher and lower than the mere whims of a populace. Higher so that it may see beyond the ignorances and biases of an age; lower so that it will connect a people with the vital forces of life and endure the fickle winds of fashion and fancy that periodically stir people up then flit off to terra incognito, leaving no lasting change behind.
We are so infatuated with our progress – like an infant clutching and cooing over its shiny new toy – that we never stop to consider what we’re progressing towards, or using that toy for. It’s like Adolf Hitler says in Er Ist Wieder Da:
The television in my hotel … is this thin. A marvel of human ingenuity. But what is shown on that television? Just trash. When times are bad, people need light entertainment. That’s why, in 1944, we broadcast light comedies. But how bad can times get for the people to be bombarded with such idiotic nonsense! We are racing toward the abyss. But we don’t see it, because on TV … you cannot see the abyss. You see … a cooking show.
Or as Plato said in the Republic:
The introduction of novel fashions in music is a thing to beware of as endangering the whole fabric of society, whose most important conventions are unsettled by any revolutions in that quarter.
And also did not say:
Music is a moral law. It gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, a charm to sadness, and life to everything. It is the essence of order, and leads to all that is good, just and beautiful, of which it is the invisible, but nevertheless dazzling, passionate, and eternal form.
Religion, like music and all proper art, should challenge you, not just reinforce your trendy notions and social conditioning, especially since those are so clearly being manipulated by the media.
Within the Starry Bull tradition the fundamental question is, “Who are you?”
Three deceptively simple words that cut deeper than you can imagine.
Once you’ve left behind all of your worldly possessions – including your corpse – and meet the sentries on the other side, how will you answer? What kind of person will your actions reveal you to have been? Do you think they’ll care what fandoms you belonged to, how many earnest memes you retweeted, what party you voted for in the last election, if you had the latest iPhone and properly separated your bottles and cardboard in the recycle bin? That you were a “good” person?
These things matter within the social sphere – well, some of them at least – but that is just the smallest part of what makes us who we are, let alone makes up our world or the other worlds which exist beyond common perception.
And that is why we must resist incursion, as both Ian Corrigan:
Our Druidry (ADF) has mainly been politically quiet about our predominantly left-of-center ethos. No political litmus test is applied for membership, and we do have members who probably vote Republican, or whatever. We would feel like unAmerican scum if we policed such a thing, I suppose. Groves are encouraged to do ‘community service’ which may be anything from food-banks to stream-cleans to donating to causes. The volunteer top-end board has generally been busy running as fast as they can to keep up with an org with 70+ local chapters, etc. Recently there has been a call for the organization at large to begin responding to current-events causes. Our core documents make our progressive positions on environment, race and gender inclusion explicit. The call for immediate responses to this week’s news caused a bit of a dust-up.
Modern social-justice advocates took stands in favor of the org becoming a public supporter at least through statements and teaching. Those who found reason to dispute the positions of this specific effort or that organization took issue. Most notably, a seeming majority of respondents (whatever their wing) simply wanted their spiritual organization to focus on the work of spirituality, and did not see social-justice advocacy as part of that focus. It’s interesting to me that this week’s discussions have produced anger in both progressive *and* conservative members. We are, in fact, a politically diverse group.
I take some comfort, even pride, in knowing that the org values tolerance of diverse ideas more than any specific cause or socio-political position. To me there is a primary ethic of the sacrifice-ground – that tribal and personal enmities be set aside for the sake of the Blessing. Despite my own concern for social issues such as racism, sexism and environmental protection I am willing to share the sacred fire with those who feel differently than I about the nature of and solution to those problems.
And John Michael Greer point out:
Regular readers will recall a post in April about the emergence of a witch hunt in the Neopagan scene. I’m pleased to say that the post came to the attention of the wannabe witch hunter, Rhyd Wildermuth, who posted an entertaining screed insisting that it was absurd to talk about witch hunts when he hadn’t yet managed to get anyone burned at the stake.
He needs to work on his sense of timing, though. His screed appeared while one of his allies had a rant on the Neopagan web calling for a campaign of harassment, intimidation, and violence—that is to say, a witch hunt—against people in the Pagan community whose politics she didn’t like. (It’s been taken down and put back up at least once already, but you can find a screen capture here.) Connoisseurs of historical ignorance will find much to ponder in Wildermuth’s risible claim that violence is only ever committed by leadership figures against the masses, never the other way around. Admittedly, if you’re a demagogue trying to whip up mob violence against people you hate, it’s probably a good plan to go around insisting that mob violence doesn’t exist; given the abysmal state of education these days, you might even be able to get away with it.
In the meantime, as this sorry business lurches toward its destiny and we wait to see whether it will drag the entire mainstream Neopagan scene down with it, there are more interesting things to talk about. One of them, as noted above, is the role of meditation in magical training.
These people want to strip the sacred of any meaning and authority, so that their concerns are paramount and all else forgot or actively opposed. It’s not enough that they monopolize the agora and the streets; they won’t be content until they control the temples as well, until all are one and live, think, pray exactly like them.
But they will never succeed.
Better than them have tried:
Ultimately, the Bacchanalian affair is a collision of two types of religiosity, the political religiosity of the public cult and the orgiastic and apolitical religiosity of the Bacchic underground. Both types are based on particular religious experiences, the experience of gods preserving and fostering the political community and the experience of a god promoting the fulfillment of bodily desires. As the essay shows at the example of Euripides’ Bacchae, the worship of Bacchus-Dionysus had always represented the apolitical dimension of human existence; already in the ancient myths the “alien god” figures as the opponent of rulers and politicians.
Our traditions have resisted two thousand years of aggressive proselytizing, forced conversions and cultural assimilation, and continue to as this report by Samuel Awyinfa attests:
A pastor, identified as Wale Fagbere, became motionless while trying to destroy a shrine in Ketu, a community in Ayetoro, Yewa North Local Government Area of Ogun State. Our correspondent gathered that the pastor whose church could not be ascertained as of the time of filing this report reportedly became motionless and speechless after he had allegedly destroyed some shrines in the town. It was gathered that the cleric was reported to have told his congregation that he had a revelation to destroy all the shrines in Ketu community. After being found transfixed in the shrine, residents of the area raised the alarm, following which custodians of the shrines came to the place. The priests insisted that they had to perform some rites before the cleric could regain his sense. The rites were performed following the intervention of Alaye of Ayetoro, Oba Abdulaziz Adelakun, who appealed to the priests to ‘release’ him. The state acting Police Public Relations Officer, Abimbola Oyeyemi, confirmed the incident, adding that the cleric might be charged for “sacrilege and malicious damage.”
Our strength lies in our diversity. There can be no true diversity without a recognition of the inherent right of all peoples to exist, to be different and to live according to the ways and values they choose, perhaps especially when we do not agree with them, and to defend themselves as needed.