Tag Archives: polytheism

Lessons from Aesop’s Fables (#4): The North Wind and the Sun

Fable: 

The North Wind and the Sun disputed as to which was the most powerful, and agreed fontaine-09that he should be declared the victor who could first strip a wayfaring man of his clothes. The North Wind first tried his power and blew with all his might, but the keener his blasts, the closer the Traveler wrapped his cloak around him, until at last, resigning all hope of victory, the Wind called upon the Sun to see what he could do. The Sun suddenly shone out with all his warmth. The Traveler no sooner felt his genial rays than he took off one garment after another, and at last, fairly overcome with heat, undressed and bathed in a stream that lay in his path.

Moral:

Laconically put: Persuasion is better than force!

 

Advertisements

Lessons from Aesop’s Fables (#3): The Man and the Satyr

Fable:

A Man and a Satyr once drank together in token of a bond of friendship being formed between them. One very cold wintry day, as they talked, the Man put his fingers to his mouth and blew on them. When the Satyr asked the reason for this, he told him that he did it to warm his hands because they were so cold. Later on in the day they sat down to eat, and the food prepared was quite scalding. The Man raised one of the dishes a little towards his mouth and blew in it. When the Satyr again inquired the reason, he said that he did it to cool the meat, which was too hot. “I can no longer consider you as a friend,” said the Satyr, “a fellow who with the same breath blows hot and cold.”

Moral:1959.4559-MF[1]

Although originally used to reproach the innate contradiction of humankind or to warn against the friendship of dishonest people, this fable is profound enough to allow of a different interpretation pertaining to polytheists. The satyr here can be seen as the one at fault, because he does not understand the complex nature of existence and culture. Indeed, the satyr here can be best compared to monotheists who insist on absolute moral dualism and condemn the grey shades (i.e. relativism) of a polytheistic worldview in favor of an extremely biased black and white one. Just like the satyr, a monotheist would not comprehend (for example) why both Achilles and Hector, even though they fought against one another, are both considered noble warriors while also not being altogether perfect.

A common misconception about ancient ancestors resolved + a personal story

The other day I saw an intriguing video entitled “Are all Europeans descended from Charlemagne?”. I had known that Charlemagne, who lived around the year 800 CE, was an ancestor of many royal and noble lineages in Europe, but the thought of him being a common forefather of many millions of people seemed impossible. Nevertheless, the video shows clearly that the farther back one goes, the more ancestors there are; the number doubles every generation. So, at generation one there is two ancestors (parents), at generation two there are four ancestors (grandparents) and at three there are eight (great-grandparents), and so on until you reach generation 40 (around 800 CE) where there are 1,099,511,627,776 ancestors. The number is vaster by far at 2000 years ago. The narrator points out that because there weren’t a trillion people living back in 800 CE, there is a very large portion repeated ancestors within that total number. The vast majority of people lived and married locally, hence the very high possibility of mild to moderate inbreeding, although within healthy levels. But it would only take one outsider intermarrying at some point to add so many more ancestors to one’s lineage, and this must have happened for most people, except (as the video shows) for those geographically isolated by mountains for example.

.
The question then arises as to which ancestors matter most to us. If everyone was related to everyone else within a continent, if not the whole world, around 2000 years ago, how can we speak specifically of Hellenic, Gaulish, Germanic, or other ancestors. The answer here lies in one’s genetic makeup, which can also be backed by facial features. I may have several trillion ancestors 2000 years ago, but only those that lived within the areas in which my parents were born are most important to me, because there is direct indigenous descent. Facial features tell a wonderful story about ancient times. It is always interesting when we find a doppelganger somewhere suddenly or point out how a cousin of ours resembles us (I have such a cousin). But now that we have forensic archaeology, the possibility of seeing our ancient ancestors face to face is now a reality to be celebrated. I remember, several years ago, when I first discovered the Fayum Portraits, I spent a whole hour or more looking through them and exclaiming every now and then: “I remember seeing that face somewhere!”. In fact, I showed a particular portrait to my dad, knowing who exactly it resembled, and I quizzed him on who it was (my dad and I have excellent visual memories and never forget faces). When he gave up, I told him it was an Egyptian workman who had carried rubble at our house once and then we shared a laugh! Another one, resembling my dad’s mother to some degree, made him tear up.

.
In the course of time, my curiosity drove me to discover more facial reconstructions from the past. Because the number of these are still very scarce, especially from ancient times, I was absolutely dumbstruck and overjoyed when I found not only one but two facial reconstructions that resembled my father, and both derived from his ancestral lands, Greece and the Near East/North Eastern Egypt. The Greek reconstruction is of a Mycenaean noble warrior from Pylos who lived 3500 years ago and the Near Eastern face is a reconstruction of an average Canaanite/Jewish man from the time of Jesus. See below for the remarkable intermediate resemblance.

4fbfcdbcda38af0f8de2fd8c03f2bf37[1]ΚουρεCanaanite

 

It’s needless to say, my dad was quite glad, but (not being too fond of history) not as much as me!

Lessons from Aesop’s Fables (#2): The Fox and the Grapes

Fable:

A famished Fox saw some clusters of ripe black grapes hanging from a trellised vine. She resorted to all her tricks to get at them, but wearied herself in vain, for she could not reach them. At last she turned away, hiding her disappointment and saying: “The Grapes are sour, and not ripe as I thought.”

800px-Chauveau_-_Fables_de_La_Fontaine_-_03-11[1]
Moral:

Taken metaphorically, this interpretation can be presented to polytheists as follows. Beware of blaming the Gods when you are unable to fulfil your presumptuous attempts of reaching their height, knowing them fully, keeping company with them, or attributing divine titles to yourself, because you can’t and you shouldn’t.

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.

 

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!