Lessons from Aesop’s Fables (introduction and part 1):

Although stories exist within and derive from particular peoples and cultures, they contain truths that can be understood by all others. This is perhaps nowhere truer than in Aesop, a Thracian or Lydian slave living in Greece, whose old stories are simple, moralized and a little obscure, creating the perfect conditions for rich interpretations and profound lessons. They have also influenced storytellers from other cultures, such as Rome and India. These fables have been told to children for generations, but even adults have enjoyed and learned from them, and the complexity shows that they may well have been originally written for adults. An old post of mine demonstrates how a fable saved the early city of Rome from further rebellion. Since this is the case, and since Aesop wrote in ancient times, there is a special place for polytheists within his fables. In this series, I will be posting select fables and offering, as well as receiving in the comment section, didactic interpretations that are suited to polytheists in general or to our current circumstances in particular. I have long looked forward to this series and I hope it will be of some benefit. Now let’s proceed to the first fable and moral.

The Old Man and His Sons

A father had a family of sons who were perpetually quarreling among themselves. When he failed to heal their disputes by his exhortations, he determined to give them a practical illustration of the evils of disunion; and for this purpose, he one day told them to bring him a bundle of sticks. When they had done so, he placed the faggot into the hands of each of them in succession, and ordered them to break it in pieces. They tried with all their imagestrength, and were not able to do it. He next opened the bundle, took the sticks separately, one by one, and again put them into his sons’ hands, upon which they broke them easily. He then addressed them in these words: “My sons, if you are of one mind, and unite to assist each other, you will be as this bundle, uninjured by all the attempts of your enemies; but if you are divided among yourselves, you will be broken as easily as these sticks.”

 

Moral:

I can think of two interpretations here. The first is to compare the sons to the various individual polytheists today. In this case, the unbreakable bundle is a community that comes together strongly and, in spite of (natural) disagreements, compromises towards a necessary unity that would otherwise be weakened by monotheistic or modernistic influences. The second interpretation would be to liken the sticks to individual communities or groups of polytheists that are safer together than apart during a temporary period of larger instability. These sticks are separate and may be colored differently (in the sense of social and cultural distinctions), but put together they serve their purpose for the time being until the danger passes. The father represents our various ancestors and regional origins. Our ancestors are calling us to unite in order to pass on their ways and serve their Gods together as they did. Let us do so. If circumstances force us to be alone for a while, let’s always look and work for the earliest opportunity for unity and community.

 

Advertisements

My thoughts concerning a recent controversy among pagans online

An author on Patheos by the name of Cyndi Brannen posted some reflections lately on the white supremacy she perceives in American paganism and witchcraft. A response against her conclusions was later posted by Kenaz Filan, author of a website entitled “Europa’s Children”.  This sort of contention between pagan thinkers leaning to the Right or the Left has been going on in many forms, and for far too long. Being someone who usually seeks a middle and mixed way, I find myself almost always isolated and alone when I try to participate. My aim in remaining neutral is not to be a provocative individualist (far from it because I am more on the side of collectivism, albeit in smaller rather than groups), much less an indecisive shifty person who follows the crowd, nor indeed a self-appointed judge who utters the final word. If all pagans can agree, in opposition to monotheism, that there is no one single Truth, the conclusion must be that there are Truths, and these exist on several sides. This is what I seek, however difficult it may be to attain. In spite of sporadic faults, I am attracted to the idea of reconciliation and confederation in cases of unnecessary disagreement among pagans, but this is beyond my power to convey as a relative newcomer or indeed a single voice. I remember an anecdote from the English Civil War, in which Prince Rupert (on the King’s side) at the head of some troops saw a man going about his business in an isolated area. So, the Prince asked “You, fellow, are you for King or Parliament?”. The man’s reply was as reasonable as it could be in itself, but it was immediately misinterpreted in times of war: “I am for both King and Parliament, sir”. This caused the poor man’s death, because the Prince shot him immediately. What happened then is being repeated, albeit differently: The division between Left and Right is becoming quite akin to a cultural and ideological civil war, in which middle voices are put aside as traitors or fools. And when the battle has to do with identity, the heat will only increase by mutual opposition.  

Below are excerpts from the two posts abovementioned, and I have consciously put them in the form of a dialogue to illustrate (a rather mild example of) the disengagement and disagreement that pervades pagan discourses online:

Brannen: White advantage is everywhere in modern witchcraft, from pop culture to the common Wheel of the Year. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this, it is problematic when all this whiteness blinds us to the problems it causes for those who are from marginalized groups. However, there are ways those of us who want a more diverse witchcraft can be true allies. Diversity strengthens us personally and witchcraft as a whole…Look at your bookshelf and the thought leaders you follow on social media. I did just that. So much whiteness. This launched me on a quest to better understand the problems this causes and ways I can possibly help give space to those who aren’t white. I’m not putting myself on the cross here. My interest in dismantling whiteness in witchcraft is selfish.

Filan: Brennan offers some ways in which White Witches can fight this system.  Some of her pointers are quite good.  I am all for treating other cultures with respect: I encourage everyone to honor their Ancestors and to work toward uplifting their Folk.  It’s always good to sit back and listen. Looking for a Little Brown Holy Person to fill your spiritual emptiness rarely ends well.  Neither do we disagree on the importance of developing one’s own identity and figuring out one’s personal truth.

Brannen: Check your privilege. Basically, asking ourselves if we are coming from a place of dominance over the individual or group with whom we are interacting. Also, if we believe that we are inherently better than another group or individual. In addition, having an attitude that we are the “chosen ones” can also be a sign of privilege. In other words, be humble.

Filan: To all this chest-thumping and rending of garments there is only one proper response.  So I helpfully reassured Brennan, and her readers, that “It’s Okay to be White.”  And because I am an inveterate shitposter I appended those five problematic words with fourteen that are even more controversial.  The results, which we will explore in our next entry, are both predictable and amusing.

 

I had examined the problem of group identity, white supremacy and indigenism before on this site (see, among others, here and here). Looking through the two opposing posts, it appears there is an original problem with definitions and premises (leading to problematic conclusions) further reinforced by a lack of direct discussion. Aristotle has a wise quote that I love to bear in mind in such circumstances: “How many a dispute could have been deflated into a single paragraph if the disputants had dared to define their terms”. In pursuance of his advice, I will attempt to define the following terms:

Racism

What everyone agrees it is: the belief in the superiority of one race above another together with the resulting practice, directly or indirectly, of favoring that race above others.

What some mistakenly believe it to be: A) the belief in the priority of serving and preserving one’s ethnic people, as in Europe  B) the belief in favor of endogamy within one’s ethnic or close groups (N.B. “White” is not an ethnic group-see below)

What we should further agree on as to what it is: A) the belief in the existence of a collective heritage, ethnos or culture belonging to a whole race of people (as in the white race).  B) the belief in the priority of serving and preserving one’s ethnic people in spite of past & continuing colonialism, as in the New World

 White supremacy

What it is: A) The belief in the superiority of the white race above others B) The belief that the whites should maintain the status quo and cultural ascendancy in areas they colonized

What it is not: The belief of Europeans in Europe against immigration and multiculturalism within their own soil

Whiteness

What it is: the collective mentality of Western Civilization and Eurocentrism in relation to other cultures, especially in the New World

What it is not: every person of white complexion (unless that person subscribes to the above)

Privilege

This has an obvious definition but once again I would distinguish native privilege from colonial privilege

 

My conclusion in one paragraph, in the style of Aristotle:

Both authors don’t fully understand each other’s position, nor even the groups they are attempting to speak on behalf of. It is necessary to separate Old World European systems and cultures from those of the New World. Although Old World Europeans have yet to remove their influence from former colonies completely, New World Europeans are still using (and cannot escape from) colonizing systems. Part of the latter system is the concept of “whiteness”, and it has also crept into Europe through American socio-political influence as well as natively through the expanding project of the European Union. Paganism should be helping us in either case, since the knowledge we have of indigenous practices is sufficient, if not vast, to heal past wounds and reform identities. Colonial systems should be opposed and dismantled as much as possible, but there is an effective & persuasive way to achieve this (tone is always a good beginning); unfair institutions and bad ideas must not be mixed with the people who happened to grow up following them, otherwise this will lead the people to hold onto such institutions and ideas all the more strongly*. The New World is not European, but it is inhabited by Europeans who must be gradually brought to the realization that they have separate origins in distinct parts of Europe that they must reconnect with and allow others with different origins to do the same. Identities based on continents (European/African/Asian) make very little sense in general and certainly no sense at all in paganism; they only lead to confusion and misunderstanding. It is therefore not OK to be “White”, but it is OK to be Greek, Irish, German, etc. And yet it is OK to “Black” (in a collective sense) until whiteness is dismantled (because Whiteness created Blackness). After many centuries of domination, the dangerous idea of a collective Western/European/White culture must end and give way to native and indigenous systems.

_____________

*In colloquial terms, “don’t throw away the baby with the dirty bathwater” 

 

 

Catholic priests in Poland burn Harry Potter books because of magic

55563349_2545076778835729_4074967805399662592_nThis story came out today from Poland. Even the fantasy of magic is not tolerated, because it has the dreaded appearance of polytheism. What makes it laughable is that this is happening while the Catholic Church is being shaken by endless scandals of sexual abuse. It also reminds us of the recent news of Catholic authorities getting rid of evidence relating to said abuse. But the Catholic Church ought to know something: It is too late. Tolkien was a Catholic long ago and mixed Paganism with Christianity in his famous novels, which have since inspired much imitation. Now society is changing and your domination is waning. JK Rowling will not burn in Hell eternally nor will the children & adults who read here works. Accept that paganism is returning without envious paranoia and rejoice that it won’t reciprocate for past crusades in like kind!

Two debates between pagans and monotheists

These debates are drawn from a British program called “The Big Questions”. Although somewhat dated, they provide an interesting insight into interactions between pagans and monotheists. The pagans don’t necessarily represent polytheists, but more or less they do offer words of wisdom that sets our movement in a good light. Note how uncomfortable and intolerant the monotheists usually appear, in contrast to the pagan confidence and serenity. The first debate is entitled “Are many Gods better than one?” and the second (which consists of two parts) “Is Paganism more relevant than Christianity today?”. The total length for each debate is about 15 minutes. 

DEBATE 1

 

DEBATE 2

To maintain stability, complex societies moralized their Gods?

A recent study has found that, in the course of history, complex societies throughout the world evolved a moral interpretation of their Gods, rather than the opposite. By moral it is meant the application of dualism, the rewarding of good and the punishment of evil. This does not suggest that duality of good and bad did not exist before, but that it became solidified and mandatory in its decrees and consequences, moving towards black and white rather than grey shades. Divine moralization of this kind occurs in a regular and predictable pattern: “we systematically coded records from 414 societies that span the past 10,000 years from 30 regions around the world, using 51 measures of social complexity and 4 measures of supernatural enforcement of morality. Our analyses not only confirm the association between moralizing gods and social complexity, but also reveal that moralizing gods follow—rather than precede—large increases in social complexity. Contrary to previous predictions, powerful moralizing ‘big gods’ and prosocial supernatural punishment tend to appear only after the emergence of ‘megasocieties’ with populations of more than around one million people.” On the one hand, this seems reasonable because as social complexity increases, so do social problems; the more people there are, the more effort and management will be needed to keep them stable*. Therefore, the priesthood (whose task it was to officiate rituals and interpret signs) tended to support the moralization of the Gods in order to promote social harmony; perhaps the Gods themselves changed their behavior towards the changing society that worshipped them. But on the other hand, moralization can serve a political function for the upper classes at the expense of the lower. Moralization can only go so far before people notice a discrepancy among classes and groups. Thus, it is no wonder there is a connection between it and imperialism: “Moralizing gods are not a prerequisite for the evolution of social complexity, but they may help to sustain and expand complex multi-ethnic empires after they have become established. By contrast, rituals that facilitate the standardization of religious traditions across large populations generally precede the appearance of moralizing gods. This suggests that ritual practices were more important than the particular content of religious belief to the initial rise of social complexity.” This realization makes me reflect on the content of this website. On one hand, I have been trying to promote a rediscovery of original religious traditions/ideas, together with distinct standardizations of those within distinct communities. But on the other, I have also moralized the Gods to a certain extent (mainly as far as indigenism is concerned) in order to solve the complex problem of how to revive polytheism nowadays in the most stable, effective and fair manner. Everyone would need to return to simple animism and the earliest form of society in order to do away with these instances of occasional cognitive dissonance. But such is complexity: it is both beautiful in its bounty and cruel in its confusion.

 

____________

* A notable example of this moralization is in Hesiod, who writes in the early Archaic period (around 750 BCE), at a time when the population and social complexity of Greece had increased greatly. The difference between his views and those of Homer, who is said to have lived a mere 50 years before, is striking. In Works and Days, Hesiod invokes Zeus several times as a God of justice who can right the wrongs of the oppressed and reform what Hesiod perceived to be a declining society.

Wisdom vs Stupidity: 2 videos

Two brief lectures, one from a Hawaiian polytheist and conservationist, and the other from an American Christian and fundamentalist. Even though the Hawaiian was colonized (and he mentions this in his lecture), he never displays the domineering and scoffing attitude of the Christian. This is to say nothing of the vast difference of the theories they are promoting and the information they are using concerning sustainability…

I never want to be seen as an equal to settler society.

Embrace indigenism and reject colonialism worldwide. It’s an inherent part of polytheism.

indigenous motherhood

I never want to be seen as an equal to settler society.

Nor do I ever want to be seen as an equal in the eyes of the colonizer.

And I never want to be seen as “successful” within colonial systems.

It started when I was young.

It was lurking in the beginning stages of public speaking, of meeting with ministers, of being groomed in this space of false indigeniety to achieve colonial success.

It was intertwined in the statements of “you are going to be the next Prime Minister of Canada!” And the “you are so resilient. This is your line of work!”

I would sit there and melt into this feeling of success. These feelings of “I’m gonna do something big with my life.”

The feelings of “I am destined for greatness.”

But the greatness I thought I was destined for was only colonial greatness.

These colonial systems…

View original post 1,438 more words