An unlikely source for a powerful paradigm of polytheism

I have never heard so much polytheism expressed within a lecture that never explicitly used the term. Arturo Escobar is a very wise man and his lecture may be long and dense, but it is altogether worthwhile.

Five predictions about the coming years

One of the main reasons I have been away from writing here for some time is my deep occupation with the state of the world in general as it compares with history. Sometimes it is necessary to remove yourself from the continuum of the present in order to study the course of time and all the important events of history more carefully and impartially. This can be quite a burdensome task and may lead to dejected moments, as I have experienced. The mere thought of what polytheism once was and what it now is, for example, can be enough to put me in low spirits for the rest of the day. Nevertheless, when a useful purpose in life is strongly kept in mind, these troublesome moments become vehicles for further improvement and achievement rather than despair. Each of us has a certain part and function to fulfill within the larger order of things, and we ought to do the best we can for the benefit of those people and things we hold dear. This is why I have lately channeled some of my emotions towards writing a short book containing debates between a polytheist and people of other persuasions. It is one of the several works I hope to publish one day to contribute to an already growing literary movement of polytheism and paganism. In the meantime, the following are some general predictions I will attempt to make about the coming years and decades, as far as I have learned and observed. These are more or less disturbing but ought to make us more conscious of what may be coming as well as make us value our time and exert ourselves better. We are living in transitional times indeed…

  1. There will be great social unrest and uprisings in Europe and America as decaying cultural and social institutions continued to be divided and political authority continues to be distrusted. A possible financial recession will aggravate this situation. Secessions and coups may occur, unless some sort of military dictatorship is established*.
  2. America may need to start a new war with a foreign country in order to keep itself from a civil war. It may join with the Western powers, who are also suffering from dangerous divisions at home.
  3. While China hopes to regain Taiwan and increase its influence in the Pacific, Islamic terrorism (supported by the US) will spread in China from the now disaffected Uyghurs in the Western provinces.
  4. Turkey’s power will continue to rise at the hands of Erdogan, but his imperial pride will earn him many enemies. Turkey will leave NATO and establish a new alliance with Russia, Iran, China, or the “Muslim world”.
  5. In the meantime, a gradual or sudden change of climate towards unbearable heat or perhaps an Ice Age will cause unimaginable disasters of famine and war resulting from crop failures and huge displacements of population.

 

The above is uncertain but, seeing how the world goes, there is already plenty of smoke for a fire to break out. So, what can we do as polytheists? Work towards improving ourselves and our groups for the benefit of polytheism and people in general. Let us not hesitate to look back 1800 years ago and learn a valuable lesson: while the Roman Empire was suffering from wild instability during the “Crisis of the Third Century” which lasted from about 235 CE to 284 CE, the Christians managed to build their ranks and communities steadily, spreading their influence by preaching as well as writing, and all the while gaining new followers because of their collective efforts on the ground. In 20 years time, the Christians had their own Emperor on the throne, Constantine, who was to change history ever after. Now that we are in a crisis of the 21st century, we have a similar opportunity, not indeed to conquer the world like the Christians, but to restore divine balance to a world that is decaying from monotheism (no longer accepting it as right) and wrongly choosing modernism to replace it.

 

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* The most likely thus far is at the hands of Trump.

 

How to establish a pagan community? 10 necessary things

 

I visited The Hindu Temple of St. Louis yesterday with a friend, and my experience there inspires this article. I was extremely pleased with the magnificence of the temple and the great care that was taken to maintain it. The presence of people offering prayers was very refreshing and the very first I had seen in person since my adoption of polytheism about three years ago. And it was a special experience indeed: the Hindus have the largest and strongest tradition of polytheism in continuance. Surely we revivalists and reconstructionists can learn a great deal from the example of this prosperous people who seem to be flourishing within a diaspora. To that end, through careful observation, I have reflected on the following points as necessities for the establishment of a polytheist or pagan community.  

 1. People with a common interest and vision

Any new community of faith begins with a certain number of people that, in being distinct from the majority around them, hope to maintain and also nourish their particular beliefs and customs. What number is the least to set out with is subject to opinion, but I can’t help but think that even as few as three or four people can take it upon themselves to form something and aim at future growth, because a common interest for or devotion to what is being preserved can only be sustained by growth and can only be begun by a bold initiative. The Hindu Temple of St. Louis was first conceived as an *idea* in 1983, a time when not too many Hindus lived around, but because the growth in the numbers of Hindus was inevitable (because of families), the idea was solidified as a non-profit organization five years later.

2. Monetary contribution

How can a piece of land and a particular structure be allotted to the religious activities of a community? It must first be purchased, unless it is offered for free, which is almost never the case. Just as parents look forward by saving for their children’s college education, they must also do the same towards their spiritual and cultural education. The same happened with the Hindus of St. Louis as with any other community of faith; donations were gathered after the situation was explained to parents and then a piece of land was purchased. The ground-breaking ceremony for the Temple and first rituals before construction were performed in 1990, two years after the non-profit organization was formed. Construction was obviously gradual, and patience needed to be plentiful, but when there is a will, there is a way; no vision can be stronger than that of a home and the grander it can be, the greater the community will prosper. The first phase of construction was completed within a year and a half. At first, there were only pictures of the Gods, but in the course of five years, the temple received the splendor it deserved.

3. A connection to a native culture with deep roots

The Hindu parents were not to allow their children to lose the native traditions and precious beliefs they had come with from abroad, because they were sure what they brought was valuable. Especially in such a different country as America, where either Christianity or materialism determined the general way of life (in the absence of sufficient native voices), traditions could decay or decline easily within one generation, unless care was taken. The depth and strength of the cultural roots that the migrants brought, they could never bear to see gone because it would mean the severing of many centuries, indeed millennia, of continuity. It was only natural that an architect from India, and a renowned one too, would symbolically plant a native seed in a foreign soil by designing the temple, just as if it were magically transported from India. And the native languages needed to be maintained also, as also the native food and clothing, because the ritual experience could not have otherwise been authentically “Indian”, just as it was at home, where the kin and ancestors were. As for those of us who are less fortunate with regards to historical continuity, a heavy burden is on us, which history will judge us by: we must still look back and somehow seek our deeper roots, both cultural and ancestral, a task that is by no means easy, but is necessary. There can be no such thing as “American” polytheism, because it never existed, except for the lucky natives themselves whose ways and lineages have survived. Any attempt to Americanize polytheism, will only cause division and subversion, usually in socio-political factions that parallel those already in existence, and this is something we can already witness. For those in a diaspora, including White Americans, some serious connection to a distant past must be made; the absence of deep roots signifies a weak or stunted growth, if not one that dies off in time. True polytheism requires much more than the worship of many Gods, and the Hindus teach us this.

4. Priesthood

If rituals are not performed correctly, the temple cannot remain in function, and thus the whole purpose of a temple that can help people by serving the Gods will be weakened or lost. But who determines how the rituals should be performed? Those with a continuous tradition have an easy answer: those who study and know the ancient ways of the ancestors. There are four priests that serve the Hindu Temple of St. Louis, because the languages and ways of India are diverse. For revivalists, the task of attaining and maintaining a priesthood is very difficult, but can become easier, if those with learning consult with the Gods and with one another about the best general courses to take in ritual practices. Once this foundation is laid, each community can further develop its rituals organically. Communities understand the value of leadership, including priesthoods, precisely because communities cannot be formed except with the initiative and vision of leaders.

 5. Cooperation

After a community grows in number and flocks together, certain differences are bound to arise, even among those who strongly share the same vision and hope. There is a natural tendency for minds to battle through conflicting opinions, especially in the beginning when there is much at stake. But if the common vision is continuously emphasized, and people are always reminded of it, diatribes can turn into discussions and disputes into discourses. It is an inherent part of every community to endure early struggles, but the way to reduce the difficulty is always to maintain the bonds that were originally put in place. By this means, general structure becomes more important than particular details, or to express it better, structures guide details, and details are not permitted to be emphasized so much as to lead to the formation of distinct structures. Perhaps if polytheists think of polytheism as a structure and traditions as details, at least until such time as each group can form distinct communities, we will be far happier than we are now.

6. Organizational bodies

Cooperation must always require management within a collective effort. If priests serve as those who organize and lead rituals, committees and boards serve as those who lead and organize the larger system. The Hindu Temple of St. Louis is no exception to other successful community centers: They have a Board of Trustees and an Executive Committee, the latter with distinct functions for overseeing and deciding how the temple is cared for. The executive committee is moderately hierarchical and consists of a president, vice-president, secretary, treasurer, joint secretary, joint treasurer and general members. These positions are elected with three-year terms. The proceedings of committee meetings are shared with the community, because there is no need to hide anything from those you are eager to serve; positions come with a privilege, but also a duty. This resembles a small nation, but as we all know, small nation is far happier and easier to manage than a large one.

7. Donors

The initial money discussed earlier is never enough for the preservation of a great project that continues and indeed grows with time. A community of faith is a serious investment that demands considerable management and funds before satisfactory returns can be made. The Hindu Temple’s Board of Trustees ensures that sufficient funds are collected as well as spent efficiently. The construction of a grand temple and all its very magnificent components could not have been accomplished without plenty of dedication and generosity. After 30 years, they continue to grow: I saw the community center, a project worth $6 million, still in construction. It is needed for the current and future generations of the 16,000 Hindus that live within the larger region.

8. Community events

Rituals are necessary in a community of faith, but social events are necessary in any community. There must be activity, including entertainment, to keep a community alive and proud of itself. In addition to the Hindu Temple and the new cultural center, there has been a cultural center (within the same large plot of land), where musical performances, weddings and other events take place. There is a library also where books may be borrowed. As I was leaving at the end of my visit, I noticed lights outside after what must have been a very festive Diwali. Such events always help the younger generations stay within the community rather than leave it, which is essential for continuity.

9. Youth groups

A further step must always be taken with youngsters, because they have additional energy and soon become ambitious to make their mark. Channeling their energy towards the right direction is a serious matter that requires a clever mind, but the benefits are huge when it is done correctly. A well-trained youth can become the life-blood and fuel that drives a community forwards. The Hindu Temple has a youth group with its separate page, publications, events and achievements. The youth are divided into four groups, ranging from kindergarten to high school.  This allows the older youth to lead the younger, which lessens the burden they sometimes feel when they are led by adults. In fact, there is hardly any burden at all, once the youth understand their purpose and their value, through the guidance and care of adults.

10. Community service

This is what connects the community to others in the region and gives it a good reputation. One becomes more confident in and proud of his community when he knows that it helps others who are in need, even if they are not of the same faith. How else can the world become more harmonious and less hostile, but by such means? It is obvious that the Hindus are a minority, but they must make themselves heard and known, much like the other faiths in the area and region. Accordingly, the Hindu Temple generously offers the needy donations of food by various efforts, as well as a free legal and health clinic at certain times of the month.

Two excellent videos you should see

I saw these a few weeks ago, but I forgot to share them. They are about 30 minutes total in length, but are very worthwhile. The author has not published parts 3 and 4 yet, but these two are probably the most important to consider in the case of polytheism. Although the videos were produced by a rational humanist following a philosophical group called “Hyperianism”, there is plenty of useful information, accurate explanations, and deep ideas that polytheists can and should reflect upon, in regards to the theory and practice of their traditions. In this site, I think the theories and conceptual framework has been more or less between Participation Mystique and the Axial Age, which happens also to be the position of the Homeric tradition I seek to follow. A question to think about: is your polytheistic theory & tradition more to the side of Participation Mystique or the Axial Age or even beyond in the Modern Age, and why?

Polytheism in media (part 2): Gautama Buddha 2007 and Confucius 2010

Spoilers below. If you haven’t seen the films yet, I recommend them greatly. They might well be the first Indian and Chinese films respectively you have ever seen. Links are provided. Another warning: although I enjoyed these films greatly, I have something to say against Buddha and Confucius themselves. Pardon the intensity, but do correct me and engage if you have cause!

Gautama Buddha, 2007—set in North India around 550-450 BCE

Visual: Immediately I loved the attractive sets and colorful costumes. An older camera must have been deliberately used to make the film seem older and I think this had pretty good effect in the storytelling.

Verbal: The script was serious and literary, with much to analyze. Buddha is obviously given the largest share of speech, and he is always teaching and reflecting with success. There are also beautiful folk songs that are meant to adorn the story.  

Portrayal: The character of Buddha seemed too withdrawn and self-centered to invite a sympathetic 220px-Tathagatha_Buddha_film_DVD_coverconnection, at least from my position. He leaves his wife on a whim and treats everyone with a sense of superiority and grandeur, and then when he returns to see her and his son after many years, he is without any emotion at all—a mere piece of wood. Indeed, if one looks closely enough, some of Buddha’s behavior and speech resembles that of a psychopath! Since the film was quite successful, the depiction and performance offered must have been very acceptable to the viewer and even admired as such.This implies that the film was not only meant to celebrate Buddha, but also in effect to deify him. He is often called “bhagwan” (god-man) by his followers and others who meet him, including former enemies. The question that the film (and indeed the story itself) raised but did not answer for me was, what did Buddha preach that was really new and why is he so admired for his erratic individualism?

Thematic/Moral: The main moral and theme was the promotion of peace and happiness by the limitation of desire. I admire the film for this purpose, but not so much the story itself. One thing I disliked is that women (in the form of the wife and later the courtesan) are placed on the side of desire and serve as obstacles to tempt the Buddha from transcendent salvation, but certainly he overcomes them because he is transcendent. Women are included in Buddha’s school at the very end, but we still don’t see any of the feminine power and agency of the traditional Hindu religion, where women serve as priestesses and oracles, for example. Moreover, regarding desire, even though Buddha merely organized a few ideas already known, Buddha must have desired excessively to be known, otherwise he would have conformed a little to what others were doing (including other sages-note the melodrama with the Hindu priest who hates Buddha). Moderation is a noble idea and Buddha should be admired for promoting it, but (this in reference to the film) he must not allow others to call him a “god-man” while declaring himself an agnostic, nor should he be so immoderately spiritual. But perhaps that is an inherent problem with individualism and the Axial Age “philosophy” that go along with it. It is said that the followers of Epicurus (who also invented nothing, but unlike Buddha preached absolute nonsense), who did not care for traditional worship or believe the Gods influenced life, erected a shrine for him.

 

Confucius, 2010—set in Eastern China around 500 BCE

Visual: Quite satisfactory and noble

Verbal: The script was somewhat Western in its brevity, but still there is some complexity and room for analysis between the lines.

Portrayal: Confucius reminds me very much of Buddha in his individualism and egotism, but at least he seems to care for tradition and other people. He weeps for one of his scholars who died trying to save texts, but at the end of the film he is shown surrounded by thousands of copies of his texts, directing one of his students to send copies to such and such a prince. I am not sure whether his humanization rather than deification is something the Chinese state would prefer, but in any case there isn’t much to deify about him, when all is studied historically. I know that he is a folk Hero in China, which I respect as far 220px-Confucius_film_postas local tradition and ancestral worship is concerned, but I question that one should go beyond. In the Analects, he alleges that Tian (Heaven) spoke to him, but not in words, and I don’t see how this is different from what any traditional Chinese shaman would experience. But Confucius’ concentration on Tian, the transcendent supreme Deity or Spirit, parallels his high-flown spirituality and ambition in the film. He is in the company of kings and nobles, and there are hints of Chinese unification and imperialism in his thought, or at least this is what the film depicts. The character of Confucius does not seem to fit his time at all, but fits the modern age quite well, which annoys me, although it isn’t his fault alone. The nobles had their share of wrongdoing in an unstable period and Confucius reminded people of some old traditions such as filial piety. His exhortation against the human sacrifice of retainers was also noble, but there was no need for the violent depiction to prove the point.    

Thematic/Moral: Transcendence, avoidance of temptation (we see another courtesan, but at least Confucius doesn’t disrespect his wife), asceticism, self-righteousness, and other Axial Age pomp as before. I can’t help the criticism! I wish Buddha and Confucius weren’t such individualists who constantly subverted their own humility and thus weakened their lessons!