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Posts Tagged ‘debate’

Around the Grandfather Fire

September 11, 2018 1 comment

Around the Grandfather Fire is a podcast that James Stovall and I host that explores topics ranging from shamanism to animism, polytheism to interests we hold outside of them but relevant to our spiritual interests and lives.

So far we have four shows done with more to come. Because we are no longer limited by air time or topic we can dig into the meat of different ideas, issues, and views we discuss. It also gives us more time to really get into good conversation with our guests.

Around three years ago we were co-hosts on a podcast and live internet radio show called The Jaguar and the Owl. The format was restricted more or less to shamanism and related fields in we only had an hour in which to record and did it live for most of the last two years of our broadcasting. It was a good time. Over time, between the restrictions of time to record, the demands of life increasing, and the format itself becoming hard to work shows into, we eventually had to let go of the show. Since things have come back together and the fire was lit for us to sit around, Jim and I came back together and made the new podcast.

Around the Grandfather Fire allows us to expand our content in both time and depth, something we had talked about wistfully at varying times on our older show. The app we use also allows us to interact with our listeners and guests. With the Anchor app we are hosting the content on listeners can send us voice messages that we can then integrate into the show.

So, if you have thoughts you want to share with us or you want us to explore, questions you want to ask, or guests you want us to interview, use the Anchor app, or email Jim at James at thewanderingowl.com or I at my email Sarenth at gmail.com.

Places to find Around the Grandfather Fire:

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We can also be found on iTunes, Podcast Addict, and, of course, the Anchor app.

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Narrowing Brings Discernment

March 19, 2015 8 comments

In reading this post by Helio, I found myself nodding at other times, having to reread sections to parse my feelings in others.  Overall I do not disagree with the idea of the Gods existing in a kind of Venn diagram where there is intersection between the Gods, Ancestors, landvaettir, and vaettir otherwise.  I think where I disagreed most profoundly is in the differentiation of Gods.

But how does it work in polytheism, where there’s no divine monopoly nor a cap on the number of divine beings? Can godhood be restricted to a specific group of more-than-mere-human beings? No, it can’t. A landwight, just like an ancestor, is a deity. A nymph is a goddess, an elf is god, as is the spirit of a dead person. Whereas in monotheism the question of divinity is one of absolutes – one god and everyone else is not a god – in polytheism things normally work in multiple shades of grey: greater, lesser, local, universal, family, tribal, regional and national gods and demigods. Divinity is everywhere or, as Thales of Miletus would say, everything is full of gods. And this is so precisely because there is no monopoly or cap on the divine. There’s no limit to it and it can therefore be found in countless forms everywhere.

My understanding is that a God is a kind of spirit, but not all vaettir (spirits) are Gods.  This is because vaettir lack the spheres of influence, recognition, and/or Being that a God does.  I do not use God and vaettir interchangeably for ease of language, as I do recognize that some vaettir may well be Gods in Their own right, i.e. a local God of a river, lake, stream, tree, grove, etc. and in such a case, I use the word local God to denote this.  Venn diagrams are useful because they contain a discrete category, a pole, around which the circles are drawn.  These can then overlap, and this is the bleedover we can see between ideas of Gods, Ancestors, and landvaettir where these centers intersect and cross one another. While the notion of Gods, Ancestors, landvaettir, vaettir, etc. can overlap, in order to be useful as terms, they must be discrete categories in some fashion or else we are effectively describing nothing with any usefulness.  In other words, discrete categories, circles, are needed or else we are not describing a Venn diagram, but a single circle.

If godhood is to mean anything with any substance, then godhood should, as a term, be restricted to certain more-than-mere-human-beings.  In example, not all of those who live in Asgard are Gods.  The Gods have servants who may be offered to, but are not, so far as I know, recognized as Gods.  The Einherjar, honored Dead hand-picked by Odin, reside in Valhalla in Asgard.  Hunin and Munin are not Gods, yet They serve Odin, live in Asgard, and fulfill very important functions mythologically, and in terms of human-divine communication.  It would be remiss of me to recognize Them as Gods or to ascribe godhood to these holy Ravens.  This not a monotheist idea; rather, it is a polytheist means of discerning between Gods and not-Gods.  It is not a matter of value, but of substance, inquiring into the thingness of a Being, and recognizing It for what It is or may be.

Parsing what is and is not a God is a pretty important theological question, and I expect that each tradition, group, and indeed each person, may wrestle with this idea several times over their life.  I find this to be a good thing.  I find that marking out boundaries is equally a good thing because it aids in discernment and in understanding by having clear ideas of what constitutes this idea of a Being.  In developing the idea of discrete categories we can come to understand where the Venn diagram has Beings who overlap into different categories of Being, and where and how these categories can bleed into one another, and where a discrete understanding of what those boundaries are, and where in the Venn overlaps a Being is may be found.  If a person believes in the concept of a single circle and that labeling that as ‘g/Gods’ is sufficient, so be it, but I do not agree with it.

Helio uses the example of Disir, stating:

Simply put, what was a god, a nymph and a landwight was less of a matter of fixed or clear-cut categories and more an issue of function and scope where divinity was not a privilege of a limited few, but a trait of countless many. And in case you’re thinking these examples are too Roman and bear little meaning in other traditions, consider the Dísir in Norse polytheism: they’re divine women or mothers, tribal and family goddesses if not female ancestors, yet goddesses nonetheless; but the word dís is also used for the Valkyries, themselves minor deities of war and at one time called Odin’s or Herjans dísir (Guðrúnarkviða I, stanza 19); even Freyja is referred to as Vanadís or the Dís of the Vanir. Some find this messy, may even suggest it is the result of late sources and fragmented memories of a pre-Christian worldview, yet I disagree. You find the same fluidity and overlapping terminology in Roman polytheism, for which there are genuinely pagan sources.

Here again, I disagree with him.  The Disir, such as I understand Them, are not Goddesses Themselves, but powerful female Ancestors.  They may be divine women, but They are not Goddesses, per se.  Semantics, especially when we are talking about how we parse Who is what, is important.  While the word dis may be related to the word goddess, I do not see the Disir as Goddesses in the same arena as, say Freya.  It is more than Freya being more recognized; the Disir’s spheres of influence are less than Freya’s, and Their importance to the Heathen cosmology is less in impact than Freya.  While the Disir are very important in my spheres and perhaps regionally emenating out from Their relationship with me and I with Them, in the larger spheres of the religion the Disir do not carry as much weight.  Freya is more than what She is within the myths and stories, of course, but those myths and stories point to Her importance cosmologically, to the spheres of influence She has, and the relationships and relationality between Her and other Beings.  There is also the understanding that She simply wields a good deal more power than other Beings, going along with the notion that Her spheres of influence are larger.  At the very least She wields a good deal of power in areas other Beings do not.  So, because of Their roles within the religion, and Their relative effect on the religion and the power They each wield, I look at the Disir as powerful female Ancestors.

I also believe that were I to relate to Freya to as an Ancestor, I would understand this as an intersection between Goddess and Disir.  These distinctions between how I understand Goddesses and Disir would not disappear, however.  There would be a difference in calling to Freya as a Disir comparative to, say, the Vanadis.  That understanding is why I count Odin among my powerful male Ancestors, the Väter, and yet also relate to Him as a God.  His God-ness is not set aside, but my understanding of Odin also carries the nuance of relating to and understanding Him as one of my Väter.

Again, overlap in a Venn diagram does not and cannot erase the circles or it will cease to be a Venn diagram.

I do not disagree that humans have the potential to become Gods nor do I believe the categories should be so discrete that the circles never cross.  As I have thought on this, one issue that keeps coming up is that the idea that the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir share similarities to kami.  While Helio does not go into this in the main article, he does in the comments.  I recoil at the notion that we should view our Gods this way, as there are categories of Beings.  The Aesir are not the Dvergar, the Dvergar are not the Vanir, the Vanir are not the Jotun.  While I may worship, for instance, Andvari, He does not become a God by dint of my worship, or the landvaettir would all enter into godhood as well.  While that notion would be what I assume, from his writing, Helio advocates, I find distinct categories as a useful thing.

Lumping everything into one category, i.e. ‘god’ does not strike me as respectful of the differences between different kinds of spirits, nor of the Gods.  It is one thing to worship a river God, and another to assume that all the Beings in that river, or that all big rivers, would associate themselves with such a notion.  From an animist point of view, Gods are big or more influential spirits compared to those spirits which are smaller, more localized, and/or have less spheres of influence.  So while I am not actively denying God-as-spirit, I believe that referring to all spirits as Gods misses the point of the word ‘God’ or ‘Goddess’.  Just because the Germanic and Scandinavian people saw some Gods and vaettir as being one in the same, that does not set aside that they had different divine categories.  Bleedover between categories in how they saw the Gods and vaettir does not mean they saw Them as one in the same.  Even if there were related concepts, the sources I have seen and how I understand the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir deny homogenization of identity.

Narrowing, in my view, is not missing.  Not narrowing is erasing by homogenization, in this case.  It would be a disservice to our religions if we were to strip the meaning of ‘God’ and ‘Goddess’.  If words such as ‘God’ or ‘Goddess’ are to retain any meaning in dialogue or theology, the circles need to be defined even if they sometimes bleed over into one another.  Divinity may be everywhere, and there may be a potentially unlimited number of Gods, Goddesses, but we would be unable to recognize Them as such without some clear ideas on what a God is, what makes a God a God, and what differentiates it from other spirits.  Categorizing all beings as such erases the meaning of the words.

Nonviolence

April 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Nonviolence is a way of life that I’ve benefited from; blacks are integrated in the schools I’ve attended, I’m able to drink from the same fountain as blacks and vice versa, and we can eat in the same restaurants.  Through his example, Martin Luther King, Jr. forged a new way ahead for this country.  Child labor is no longer the norm because of the sit-in strikes and union organizing that began here in Michigan.  I’m able to marry a person other than a white woman, and my bisexuality is steadily becoming more accepted through the use of nonviolent activism.  I’ve been to protests and sit-ins supporting teachers unions and the rights of faculty to equal representation.  I’ve protested slashed funding for schools, and what I see as the illegal wiretapping and arrests of peace activists.  Yet these all seemed so inert once the rhetoric was over.  After several of these protests I would ask “Now what?  Where do we go besides voicing our anger and concern?  Does no one have a plan for moving forward?”  More often than not, people didn’t.  This is not the fault of nonviolence, but the poor planning of activists.  For those who planned to succeed, there indeed was success in their efforts.  Faculty got representation, people became informed.  Those who did not plan to succeed, to go beyond the outrage and anger, stirred no one to action.  You have to actually believe in the effort to succeed.  If you think “well, this won’t pass” or “this can’t get better” then pack up the sign and go home because you’ve already relinquished your mind to defeat.  Nonviolence does not mean “I don’t take a stand.”

In a lot of ways I am nonviolent.  I don’t advocate violence against people, and I don’t advocate violence to fix political, religious, personal, or most other problems.  Yet I have a dividing line.  Do I think that violence is the answer to most questions?  No.  Violence, in my view, is a response you reserve for someone trying to kill or irreparably harm  you or your family.  I am not nonviolent in that way; I am selectively violent.  It is a last resort for when you or yours are under threat.  This, perhaps, is where I diverge from a lot of people who are active in some political, social, or spiritual way.  I fervently believe in defending yourself when under threat.  I realize pacifism and nonviolence are two separate things.  The Princeton Wordnet Dictionary defines pacifism as “the doctrine that all violence is unjustifiable” and nonviolence as “passive resistance: peaceful resistance to a government by fasting or refusing to cooperate”.  I definitely can follow nonviolence up to physical, psychological, or spiritual harm.  I simply cannot follow pacifism.  I have lived pacifism, and it nearly got me killed, and did not solve the problems I was facing.  Loving thy neighbor does little good if that neighbor is trying to gouge out your eye with a switchblade.  When I stopped turning the other cheek and fought back I had to watch my back a lot less.  Does this mean that pacifism is without value?  No, but it is not a path I can follow.

I have been taught most of my life to fight only when necessary.  I’ve also been taught most of my life to follow the example of Dr. King and Ghandi, and in the arenas where these two men excelled I can definitely agree…but that said, I do not know if I would have the restraint to allow myself to be beaten by a mob.  Perhaps that is what made these men, and those who followed them, truly incredible.  Much of my life, I have seen pacifism do nothing but making victims of people.  I have seen the fruits of nonviolence.  To me, the two are not the same, and making the choice to peacefully resist and to take the beating is different to me than saying “no violence, ever”.  I don’t know because I’ve never been put into the positions that Dr. King and Ghandi were.  I never risked my life protesting; the protests and sit-ins I have been to were not met with resistance beyond deaf ears.  I’ve not protested a G8 conference, or the hostile takeover of a community farm like South Central Park.  Would I?  Certainly.  There are causes I believe in enough to risk my life, to put my life on the line for.  I want a better world for my son; how can I not?

I’m watching Fierce Light: When Spirit Meets Action on Netflix.  It chronicles the works of spiritual activists, those who take stands for social, political, economic, or other issues from a spiritual base.  Something the speaker for the Network of Spiritual Progressives, Van Jones, says that struck me is “I’ve got to get active.  I’ve got to do something.  I’ve got to put some feet up under these prayers.”  Signing petitions, going to rallies, strikes, protests, making those prayers said in private heard to the world…to me, is what nonviolence informed by spirituality is all about.  If I believe that a woman’s right to choose is sacred, then to me, my voice needs to raise when that right is threatened.  If I believe in unions and they are being busted, then I raise my voice in support of unions.  It is putting action to our words, our way to fulfill Ghandi’s admonishment to “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”  In terms of Pagans, Starhawk, M. Macha NightMare, and Patrick McCollum are three such people; many activists, such as those found in the Reclaiming Tradition also engage in spiritually-based activism.  I hope that as time goes on we’ll see many more people standing up for one another, for the environment, and for peace.  We do not need to agree on all our spiritual points to strive together.  As a matter of fact, I would rather we didn’t go for homogeneity.  I happen to like diversity, and learning from a wealth of viewpoints.  I like people to disagree with me, to have their own opinions, to make up their own minds.  I enjoy debate, I enjoy the times where we can find similarities, side-by-side.  We can still find peace, community, and fellowship despite our differences.  This is why I still believe in a Pagan community, one that comes together to celebrate, love, hope, worship, support, and help each other.  We don’t need to agree on everything to do that.  We can stand together in support of one another, can bring our many voices to the table speaking in defense of our rights and the rights of others, speak to power where people cannot, and rise up to defend ourselves and others from oppression.

May the Gods bless those who speak for those whose voice is silenced.  May the Gods bless those who through their words and actions work to save others.  May the Gods bless those who through their words and actions work to heal and help this, and the other Worlds.

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