Wednesday, December 21, 2016

A Winter Solstice Prayer

May we ever remember that
What we have done yesterday,
What we do today,
What we do tomorrow
Lays the foundation
So that future generations can worship the many Deities freely and in peace;

May we ever remember that
What we have done yesterday,
What we do today,
What we do tomorrow
Lays the foundation
So that the great Temples can and shall be rebuilt, kept, and tended;

May we ever remember that
What we have done yesterday,
What we do today,
What we do tomorrow
Lays the foundation
So that those who follow us may make their offerings and sacrifices in peace;

May we ever remember that
What we have done yesterday,
What we do today,
What we do tomorrow
Lays the foundation
So that the traditions can have life breathed into them again, that they may live, grow vibrant, and thrive.

May we ever remember that
What we have done yesterday,
What we do today,
What we do tomorrow
Lays the foundation
So that these sacred, holy things can be brought forward to future generations, and be ever renewed.

May we remember this and keep our eyes ever-fixed on that distant point on the horizon even as we lay the foundations. We must be the bedrock of hope on which future generations build, for they have no hope if we have no hope now. We must be the heroes we need. We must be the hope.

Time to refill the lamps. Time to rekindle the fires.

Image Notes: Photo of oil lamp by Siddharth Varanasi, used under Creative Commons License. 

Friday, September 2, 2016

'Ashuru Mothbati Greetings

Today we celebrated the 'Ashuru Mothbati, the Festival of Dwellings, and the beginning of our new year.

This holiday is the first holiday of the new ritual year. It takes place at the new moon in the month of Niqalu during around mid-September to mid-October. During this holiday, in Bronze Age times in the city of Ugarit, temporary dwellings, mothbatu, are built on the roofs of temples. These temporary dwellings, made of cut branches, housed the representations of deities for the duration of the festival. It was likely that before the deities' images were brought into the temporary dwellings, that the deities' images (and thus the deities they represented, conveyed, and embodied) were brought around through the city streets in procession. I think that it is also likely that while the deities' images were on procession and in the temporary dwellings, that this was time spent to clean and care for, and repair, the temples.

At the end of the festival, the king of Ugarit was to ascend to a rooftop and “speak what is in his heart.” Note that in Canaanite thought, the heart was the center of mind and thought, not of emotion. The liver was considered the center of emotion. Thus, when the king "speaks what is in his heart" he is basically speaking his mind at that time. When the king did this in ancient times, I believe that it was likely he was representing his people before the gods.

I speak now, in this post at this time, as the leader of my religion of Natib Qadish, as tradition and as need would urge. (Please take a moment and consider whether or not you're the intended audience for this post.) I have never before made an address regarding the state of our religion, and it is time that I do so, so that matters are clarified and we can move forward. At this time and in this space, I address you, the people who are adherents of Natib Qadish or who would seek to become so. My address on behalf of you the people before the gods will occur at a different time in a different setting.

This past year has been full of many conflicts and many changes within Natib Qadish, and within the broader polytheistic community with which we associate. Within Natib Qadish, this past year has seen the closure of the sites and groups I have maintained for a long time—the oldest of which was the CanaanitePaganism Yahoo! group which had been open since 2002. This year has also seen the close of the Natib Qadish Facebook group as well as the Natib Qadish website. The website was in need of overhauls which I hope to do so at a later date when funds allow. The groups are another matter and it has been a rocky matter since 2013.

What happens in the greater polytheist community affects us, since we are a polytheistic religion nestled within that larger community. (Polytheism is a religious regard for many individual deities.) Since 2013, the polytheist community has seen major changes. The polytheistic community has been galvanized—I use that particular word “galvanize” with intent because it means to have been startled, electrified, shocked. Since 2013, the polytheistic community has been jolted into the action of coming into its own. It has been a process fraught with difficulty as polytheists struggle to understand what polytheism is (1), what it means, how to maintain and protect diversity(2) and a diversity of religions. It has been a struggle to understand how polytheism looks while being fully present in a world that is not only hostile to polytheism but which actively seeks to erase polytheism. The changes as polytheism comes into its own largely have been good, and it should also be understood with compassion that changes are traumatic and we are still going to see change, growth, trauma, and conflict in the broader context of polytheism. Growth happens and is happening… and it isn’t easy.

Even as these major changes shook, convulsed, and have begun birthing a restoration(3) of polytheism in our modern world, the birth pangs shook and tore at the Natib Qadish community. It became apparent that many folks in our Natib Qadish online spaces did not have a religious regard for many individual deities. Natib Qadish community discourse kept being disrupted and returning to a baseline assumption, whether consciously or not, that the deities were viewed as human mental constructs, or as the products of human social interaction, or as human mental constructs amidst human social contexts, instead of as viable individual real beings of their own agencies and free wills. Also, there were many people curious about the religion, but those numbers in our groups and spaces were greater than the people who actually adhered to the religion(4), and thus in displays of popular opinion adherents to the religion were getting drown out by voices of people who weren't even in this religion. Furthermore, there was a sense of “anything goes”--whatever one feels is right is right, and everybody is an expert at this religion simply for being human and showing up to the group: this is not so. Engaging with the deities is difficult business and it is not without its risks; as such it is important to listen to those who have been practicing this religion longer and who have forged long-lasting deeply-rooted relations with the deities you’re striving to honor. In Natib Qadish, that person is me.

Natib Qadish is the best known and the oldest of a newly reviving set of polytheistic religions, and thus sometimes it looks like it's almost the only one available, but it is only because our numbers overall are so small and our communities are nascent. Other religions are developing, but this takes a great deal of time. Natib Qadish is only one religion, it is not the whole of Canaanite polytheism or Middle Eastern polytheism, or Eastern Mediterranean polytheism, or Mediterranean polytheism, or Bronze Age-based revivalist polytheistic religions, and so on. Canaanite polytheism and Middle Eastern polytheism are small communities with small numbers even amidst the larger community of polytheism in general, which is still quite small itself. Our communities (Natib Qadish, Canaanite polytheism, Middle Eastern polytheism) are tiny: we don’t look like our Hellenic neighbors, our Kemetic neighbors, our Roman neighbors, or our Heathen neighbors. Our religions and communities are not as established as our other polytheistic neighbors yet. That’s ok. Slower growth in a quality manner is preferable: it's far better to have smaller numbers of people who treat our many individual deities and our ways with respect, than larger quantities who do not.

Moving forward on these understandings, this year ahead in Natib Qadish will be focused on developing strong roots, of attending to our foundations and to structural matters so that we can grow in a steady, functional way. It will be a year of exploring who we are (and who we are not) in the greater context of polytheism in general. It will be a year where we establish where we stand, in our ways and in honoring our deities. It will be a year of clarity and of depth. Over the course of the year, I will be posting more about these matters, and I will be working with the deities through divination and other means, to establish our community in keeping with the deities’ goals so that we, as a community, can deepen our relationships not just with each other, but with the deities themselves.

In my capacity as leader of this religion, I offer this blessing to those of my Natib Qadish community, and I offer this blessing for those beyond our religion who would wish to accept such a blessing:

May you have a pleasant new moon, and may this year ahead be blessed. May you have clarity of thought and clarity of emotion. May your Works nurture the restoration of polytheism on our beloved earth, may your heavy liver (and heart) be lifted, may you be blessed with strength and wholeness. May your burdens be shared and lightened and your pains reduced, and may this year bring us ever closer in restoration of good relations with the deities, with the ancestors, with the spirits, with our lands, and with our communities. May our year be fruitful with good Works. Peace, wellbeing, and wholeness to you all. Yishlam le-kumu!

1. When I say "polytheism" here it should be noted that I refer to many different religions and of many different people who treat with religious regard many individual deities. I am not referring to a steamrolling, homogenizing of this diversity, or of "one way for all." Far from it: I would see these differentiations and differences protected. The only thing we have or need to have in common is that of treating the many individual deities with religious regard.

2. I speak of diversity in a general sense here: diversity of different views as well as diversity of race; gender; sexual orientation; skills; economic situations; geographic locales; ages; political views; positions from priests to laypersons; levels of physical health, ability, access; and more.

3. I use the indefinite article here: "a restoration" as in one restoration and one kind of restoration, not as "the restoration" as in "the only restoration" or as "the only restoration of the only polytheism" as if polytheism were one homogeneous monolithic thing. Nor am I disregarding polytheistic religions, traditions, and peoples who have maintained their polytheistic ways over the ages. I refer instead here to "a restoration" of polytheism, namely the particular restoration of polytheism which is happening right now and which is largely centered in the US with ripple affects abroad.

4. I have no problems with those who are curious and with those who are seekers. Those who are curious and those who are seekers have a responsibility to realize that they are not adherents to the religion, and that their voices should not overpower or take precedence over others who are in this religion. Those who are seekers and who are curious need to remember that they are receiving hospitality, and as such they should not make excess demands or try to take over the group who is offering that hospitality: be good guests.

Image Credits: Pomegranates, Majorica by John Singer Sargent, 1908. Public Domain.

Monday, August 15, 2016


It cannot be honestly claimed that a concept Christianity misappropriated and misused, from polytheism, has no place in polytheism. It's an awkward moment to see people claiming that an ancient polytheistic concept isn't polytheistic.

Yet this is exactly the claim I see running around on the internet lately inside and outside of our communities. The concept of sin has roots which extend into Canaanite polytheism. Judaism and Christianity, over a very long time, over several cultures and throughout a large swath of geography, ended up altering the Canaanite idea of sin from what it had been. Sin is an ancient polytheistic concept which predates the religions which co-opted it. The concept of sin is originally polytheistic. The Ugaritic word for sin and the Hebrew word for sin are identical. (The Ugaritans were a polytheistic culture considered part of a cultural continuum of Canaanites.) There is a 3200-year old primary document in Ugaritic cuneiform which details a rite intended to cleanse the city of sin, and the concepts therein find their way into ancient ideas of the Jewish Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), and from there into Christianity.

Sin is an ancient polytheistic concept.

It may not be a concept in your polytheistic religion, but sin is an ancient polytheistic concept which the polytheistic Canaanites practiced. And, the ancient concept of sin is not what the modern concept of Christian sin is, nor is it the unconscious and conscious associations we make with the idea of “sin.”

People are (legitimately!) upset and frightened from the abuses and the dysfunctions of the Big Three monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, in a general sense). However often people are so frightened, upset, and angry that they don’t settle those churning emotions for a moment to stare straight in the eyes of these things that upset  them long enough to ask “Are there ideas in these monotheistic religions which may have roots in polytheistic religions? Are there parts of the story we’re missing?” This is one of those situations. Thus Canaanite polytheism, an original polytheistic context from which the Big Three sprang, gets thrown under the bus. Again. Only this time, Canaanite polytheism isn’t just a casualty of the Big Three’s dysfunctions and the diversity-killing homogenization which drives these dysfunctions, but also a casualty of the fear, ignorance, and accidental diversity-killing homogenization of we polytheists ourselves, and some of our neighbors in other communities.

There is a complex relationship here between the Canaanite concept of sin and the Christian concept of sin because although they are not alike, there are aspects of the Canaanite concept which inform the Christian concept, and there are aspects of the Canaanite concept which become decidedly changed over time so as not to be the same concept any more. The death of Jesus Christ as an expiation sacrifice can trace themes back to Jewish observance of Yom Kippur, and then further back to the Canaanite concept of a king offering an expiation sacrifice during a mushru rite to facilitate a collective clearing of misdeed for the entire city. As awkward as it is, and as much as it pains me to say it, when some of you react poorly to the idea of sin and claim that sin isn’t polytheistic, you’re in part reacting poorly to an idea of sin which ended up getting culturally misappropriated and misused from ancient Canaanite polytheists, right along with a few Canaanite deities recast as Christian demons, texts plagiarizing descriptions of Baʽlu Haddu the storm god then used in descriptions of Yahweh, and many, many more ideas ripped off, pilfered, and riffed from the polytheistic Canaanites.

And now, I have the laborious, unenviable task of trying to separate out what this polytheistic concept of sin is...from the emotional baggage, misuse, abuses, dysfunctions, and compounded misunderstandings which have gone on, unchecked, for aeons, just so that there is even a chance at beginning to understand this concept.

Talking about sin is a difficult topic, and it’s all the more difficult for a Canaanite polytheist since these ideas got hijacked. The topic of sin is actually becoming increasingly taboo from a well-meaning socially progressive standpoint which is uneducated on the subject and seeks to obliterate anything which they may see as an infringement on free will, or anything which they fear may, by having structure and standards, be the misuse of structures and standards to create human-based oppression. The dysfunction of structures and standards should never be confused for how structures and standards really function.

“Sin” is a loaded word with a difficult past. Like how the word “cult” has been misused (“cult” just means a system of religious veneration, it does not mean some kind of brainwashing group or some kind of group which tortures animals or some other nonsense), sometimes we just need to acknowledge the baggage layered on a word and move past and through that baggage, but we also need to be as clear as we can about what we mean when we use the word “sin.” Furthermore, we need to be conscious of the often quick unconscious associations we make with the word so that we can better look at what the word means in the context it’s being used.

Before we discuss this matter further, please take a moment to consider whether or not you’re the intended audience for this discussion.

What follows here in this post is less about what the Canaanite idea of khats’a (sin, transgression, misdeed) is, but more an exploration of the associations, whether conscious or unconscious, that people often associate with the idea of sin, and the associations people may read into the Canaanite concept of sin which aren’t there. I do this because sometime the best way to know what something is, is also to know what that something is not. This unconscious association can happen to a person especially coming from a Western dominant cultural perspective and especially coming from a desire (understandably!) to run, screaming, from the misuses of power dynamics found in some Christian backgrounds. Note that I am not condemning Christianity: I am condemning a dysfunctional and inappropriate use of power and the use of concepts of sin as a tool to further that misuse of power, and I am condemning the diversity-killing homogenization which is frequently behind these dysfunctions and abuses.

Sin, in Context Here

Sin is simply a transgression, a misdeed. In Canaanite polytheism, sin is understood as a matter of social interaction (people and/or deities and/or other beings), social context, and locality, and as such it can be context-specific. (When something is context-specific, it means that the context informs the situation. It does not mean that it is relativistic in the sense that “anything goes, it’s all ok” and “nothing matters” or “it’s all the same.”) Most societies and cultures, whether an individual person likes it or not, also have ideas and preferences as to how folks should participate in the communities and with the people, beings, and Beings around them. This is normal, and when it functions well, it is not a sign of oppression, it is the sign of a healthy society.

The Canaanite polytheistic concept of sin is not a mechanism to coerce people. The Canaanite polytheistic concept of sin acknowledges that we as people sometimes do things which damage relations (with other beings and Beings) and along with this acknowledgement that we people sometimes make mistake and damage relations, there are methods which help restore those relations and restore the damage done to ourselves and those relations. The Canaanite polytheistic concept of sin has no concept whatsoever that a person is born “sinful,” nor is “sinful” the natural state of humanity.

The Canaanite polytheistic concept of sin is not necessarily a matter of shame. It can be a matter of shame, personal shame, or public shaming, if a person has done something truly shameful, such as torturing small animals or engaging in child abuse. Often, sin is simply a misdeed, a mistake, with no more guilt, shame, or bad associations than having folded an origami crane wrong. (One must remember that shame can be and often is misused, but the abuse of shame is not to be confused with the appropriate expression or experience of shame. Shame, as an internal function, is the experience of remorse in response to having done something wrong. Shame, as an external function, is an action and/or attitude used by others to elicit a person to understand the depth of that person’s wrongdoing. A person who has committed rape should be ashamed, and the chances are higher that a rapist should be or will be publicly shamed. But, this post isn’t about shame at all and I digress.)

The Canaanite polytheistic idea of sin, and the clearing of it, have nothing to do with the Catholic rite of confession. The Canaanite polytheistic concept of sin does not involve the Seven Deadly Sins. There’s no Canaanite concept of a Hell, either. There’s also no codified set of rules, no Ten Commandments. The Christian concept of being “saved” does not apply here. The clearing of misdeed in Canaanite polytheism is not about avoiding a fiery, painful afterlife; it’s about living in good relations.

The Canaanite polytheistic concept of sin is not necessarily a matter of ultimate, absolute good versus ultimate, absolute evil, even if it sometimes (often) includes some idea of good and evil, ideas which are often context-specific. I won’t even get into that debate of what good and evil are and how this fits into sin or doesn’t fit into sin here because that will take us pretty far afield.

The Canaanite polytheistic concept of sin is not necessarily about right or wrong, or the extra baggage people carry when considering matters of right and wrong. Sin can have overlap in matters of “wrong” but not always. And no, I’m not going to get into a debate about what right or wrong is, either broadly, or more contextually-specific here because again, that’s moving further afield.

The Canaanite polytheistic concept of sin is not a matter of reward versus punishment. It’s not a matter of violation of arbitrary rules, and often it’s not even necessarily a matter of written rules. An angry god is not necessarily going to render you into smoking ashes for your having committed a misdeed. Likewise, a satisfied god isn’t necessarily going to give you free ice cream and pony rides for having done the right thing. However, accruing goodwill with a deity through being observant in regards to ethics can result in blessings; and likewise a lackadaisical attitude can sometimes land you in challenging situations. Even as being a decent neighbor may earn you a good relationship with that neighbor, being a jerk will not further any goodwill between you.

The Canaanite polytheistic concept of sin is far less about good versus evil, right versus wrong, and reward versus punishment, or the misunderstandings and dysfunctions of these dichotomies. The Canaanite polytheistic concept of sin is far more a matter of personal responsibility, collective social responsibility, and living in right relations with beings and Beings.

Because there is a Canaanite polytheistic concept of sin, this does not mean that a person is expected to be perfect and without sin all of the time. That’s misguided, illogical, and impractical. Most of our deities (“our” being in reference to Canaanite polytheists) have an understanding that this is not going to happen and that that level of perfection is in some ways…imperfect and not helpful. The key here is that misdeed and transgression happen, and we can do what we can to limit our misdeeds and transgressions if we want, and/or there are methods of cleansing after these things occur. It’s not about some idea of perfection or guilt about how a person will never measure up; it’s about acknowledging that there are two different states here and that one can pass from one state to another. If a person has done wrong, then the person ideally should atone for that wrongdoing; this does not mean that the person is inherently “evil” or “bad,” it just means they’ve done something wrong and they’re taking steps to repair the damage and to be better people moving forward.

The Canaanite polytheistic concept of sin is not preoccupied with matters of sexuality. There are basic ethics in regards to sexuality: take care of babies you make, be responsible sexually, don’t rape people. Also, we need to be mindful that there is an interplay sometimes amidst sexual ethics and issues of purity / impurity and there are times, places, and states where some activities, sexual or not, are appropriate and some activities are not. Sexual acts, as well as bodily discharges, childbirth, menses, excessive sweat, vomit, blood, dirt, contact with corpses, and so on, can render a person into a state of impurity for a short time, but that state of impurity in these cases has nothing to do with sin. That state of impurity can be shifted back into purity, and there is no sense of shame, or of inherent wickedness, or guilt associated with these things. The Canaanite polytheistic concept of sin has a relationship with Canaanite concepts of purity and impurity, but it can also function somewhat on its own, apart from but in relationship to matters of purity and impurity. Accruing sin can bring a person into an impure state, but it is not the only way a person may end up being in an impure state.

Impurity, dirtiness, and profanity absolutely have their places, their importance, and their usefulness, and their value. Yes value. Yes I value the impure, the dirty, and the profane, …and the sinful…when in appropriate context. Do not insert broken value judgments on these things, or worse insert broken value judgments on these things and assume that this was what I meant or that these things are part of Canaanite polytheism. They’re not. However, just because I say that impurity, dirtiness, and profanity are useful and valuable, it doesn’t mean that anything goes and everything is ok: these things are context-specific, and there are places where impurity, sin, dirtiness, and profanity are not ok.

The Canaanite polytheistic concept of sin is not a matter of people making the rules then forcing other people to follow them. It is not a matter of people making rules and then trying to cover for that fact by saying a deity told them to do it. Sometimes deities do have rules and they will make these known. However, also in Canaanite polytheistic culture, sometimes a deity may well expect you to keep the laws of your locality and of your king (who is also required to adhere to those rules) if you have a king. This would be part of a relationship negotiated amidst people, land, king, and deity or deities. If you are a Canaanite polytheist who adheres to this structure, and adheres to these relationships, then this is a matter of concern for you; but for everyone else, this is not about you at all and you are in no way obligated in this manner. (Please keep in mind that the dysfunction of these structures and power-dynamics is not to be confused with how they can, should, or could work in a functional way). This matter is specific to a very tight context.

Adhering to a Canaanite polytheistic context sin is not the same thing as abrogating free will. You can choose how (or if) you want to (or don’t want to) participate with these matters and in relationships with deities and with beings and Beings who take these matters seriously and who support these structures and standards. And, if you are not a Canaanite polytheist, this does not pertain to you at all.

It seems absurd to go through an entire almost 3000-word essay on what, generally speaking, the Canaanite polytheistic concept of sin is not. Considering how many unconscious associations people make with the concept of sin in a general sense, it is necessary to clarify. Indeed, my post on what khats’a actually is, is a much shorter post. I do this because when we do not know what something is not, sometimes we do not know what something is. Sometimes people do not realize where their knowledge ends, and they start filling in with assumptions about what something is, and forcing that thing to fit those preconceptions. In so doing, they prevent themselves from seeing what something actually is, apart from their erroneous assumptions and projections.

Because of the layers of misunderstanding and preconception, it has taken me a full three posts (plus a post to clarify my audience) to get through the Canaanite polytheistic concept of sin, so that a decent foundation could be laid and some misunderstandings could be (hopefully) prevented.

These posts include:
Free Will, Restrictions, and Misdeed
Khats'a, Misdeed in Canaanite Polytheism
This post here on Sin
...and a word about my Intended Audience.

Image Credits: Le Péché Originel. Circa 950-955 CE. Public Domain.

Khats'a, Misdeed in Canaanite Polytheism

By request, I’ve been asked to tackle the matter of khast’a, a Canaanite polytheistic concept important in Natib Qadish. Khats’a refers to actions, misdeeds, which can accumulate and which need to be cleared from time to time Even as one can accumulate khats’a, one can also take steps to rid oneself of khats’a; a person can move between a state of having accumulated an amount of khats’a to a state where a person does not have khats’a, and a person can move freely between these states by choice, or by consequence of one’s actions or one’s circumstances.

(Before we move into deeper discussion on this matter, please consider whether or not you’re the intended audience for this discussion. Keep in mind that this discussion is about Canaanite polytheistic practices in a Canaanite polytheistic mindset. It is not intended to be a post detailing what other polytheistic religions "should" do, and this post does not detail practices that are matters of foundational polytheism.)

Khats’a accumulates as a result, generally speaking, of any one or any combination of these things, but may not be limited to:
An action committed which is inappropriate culturally
An action committed which is inappropriate according to social mores and social norms
An action committed which is inappropriate in ritual settings.
Unethical acts

For a person to commit an act which is inappropriate culturally, this would mean that, for example, he treats a fountain as a public latrine, or she curses out a nun, or they perform an act inappropriate to another culture when they are is immersed in that culture. An action which is inappropriate according to social mores and social norms would include something like incest or child abuse, and also include committing unlawful acts in accordance to the local laws. An action which is inappropriate in ritual settings would be desecrating a temple. Most of what we know about khats’a in the ancient world indicates that it was a matter of deeds in social interactions, in social context, and in regards to locality. Social interactions include, but are not limited to, interactions with other humans, with deities, with ancestors, with other Beings and beings. Social context includes but is not limited to the surrounding culture, matters of age, matters of profession, matters of seniority, matters of hierarchy and social events or situations like brunch, attending a public lecture, visiting a sick friend, family gatherings, going before a court, and so on. Locality includes but is not limited to settings of home, hospital, city, country, temple, street, market, library, school, office buildings, land, or sea. Thus what may constitute khats’a in one convergence of social interaction, social context, and place may not always constitute khats’a in another situation where there are different social interactions, social contexts, and places. It’s not “all relative” and it’s not a matter of “anything goes,” but it can be contextually specific. It can (but not always) change according to the context.

I would like to note that there are times where committing khats’a could be a means by which to diminish another, potentially greater, khats’a. This is not a thing which is done often and which should only be done through careful consideration and guidance. I mention it in passing to illustrate that being in a state of khats’a isn’t necessarily always “bad” thing, it’s simply a state with different attributes and different concerns. An example of this kind of act would be a matter of supporting polytheistic rights in a dominant culture which generally is dismissive (or worse). Or, it can constitute an act which is considered transgressive or abnormal in a culture in order to achieve a chance at greater clarity—some forms of satire might fit this description.

Performing khats’a and carrying around khats’a puts a person into an impure state. However, it must be noted that the matter of purity versus impurity is larger than just matters of khats’a—khats’a is not a synonym for impurity. Khats’a is only one thing which can bring about a state of impurity.

In order to be present for some rites and some settings (like being in a Temple) one must take steps to remediate khats’a. These steps can include, but are not limited to:
Washing hands (preferably with holy water)
Taking a bath or a shower (preferably with holy water)
Being cleansed through a handwashing administered by a sacred technician and/or priest
Being cleansed through a bath prepared by a sacred technician and/or a priest
Going through a specific anointing  rite with a priest
Going on a sacred pilgrimage to particular holy sites
Making special offerings to a deity, to a Temple, to a priest, or all three
Going through a collective group mushru-rite led by a king, a king-priest, or a priest

Doing one or more of the above actions helps remove khats’a and bring a person into a purified state.
There are some deities who prefer a person accumulate less khats’a, or take steps to remediate that khats’a more often, and then there are deities who are less concerned about it; however one must be mindful because even the deities who are less concerned with the matter still pay attention to context. For example, a deity may not be too concerned about a person who carries around extra khats’a, generally speaking, but will certainly dislike it if you enter a Temple while carrying khats’a and being in an impure state. Also, there are some roles in the social context of the religion which require that one carry less khats’a, generally speaking, than for other roles.

If you have accumulated a great amount of khats’a, sometimes you may see the effects in your life through a reduced interaction with the deities, through a reduced contact with ancestors, through a reduction in good luck, or through an increase in a susceptibility to illness or misfortune. This is not a matter of blaming the victim of bad luck or illness or misfortune…any more than you would blame a person for catching a cold because a person was stuck in a train station during flu season. Nor is this a matter of reward versus punishment. These are just natural things which can happen.

Khats’a does have a relationship to matters of purity and impurity, however matters of purity and impurity are larger concerns than just khats’a. A person can be in a state of ritual impurity, but without khats’a: for instance if a person is actively bleeding from a cut (depending on the context and the situation—a sacrifice performed in a sacred courtyard in a Temple complex, for instance, would not be a matter of impurity). A person who is actively bleeding from a cut is not is not state of khats’a from the bleeding cut (because that’s not how khats’a works) but the person can well be in a state of ritual impurity which will need to be seen to before entering into a Temple. A person returning from war, after having killed to defend her people, has committed no khats’a, but she is still in a state of impurity which will need attending. (By contrast a person who was called to war but who did not go to defend and aid his people has likely, depending on the surrounding context and circumstances, committed khats'a.) A person can also end up with forms of impurity from being around things, acts, or contexts which are impure, so these things can carry a little like contagion. However it should also be noted that purity can be carried around like a “contagion” of a different sort—it is rare that a person could carry purity that strongly but it can happen.

It should be noted that the term “purify” in Ugaritic encompasses an idea not just of purification, but also freedom from further cultic obligation on the matter, and also implies a movement into a non-cultic state. Purification also signifies a movement from sacred ritual shared with the gods in sacred contexts, and back into everyday mundane space. So, purification was done not just to purify, but also to signal and ease a transition between states. It is important to be aware that when we look at an idea of purity, many times we’re looking through a lens colored by our own dominant cultural background; we must be conscious that the ideas and emotional baggage we may have unconsciously associated with ideas of purity and impurity do not fit with concepts in Canaanite polytheistic religion either past or present.

So, let’s take a moment and discuss briefly why ritual impurity is something important. A person doesn’t just go out and get hot and sweaty and covered in dirt from working in a garden then walk right into a Temple. This is disrespectful. There is nothing wrong with being hot and sweaty and covered in dirt in a garden: this is the right place and the right context for it. However, a Temple setting is not the right context for that, and if you don’t stop to change your clothes and take a shower before going in a Temple, you will offend the deities and you will violate the Temple space. There are times, places, and contexts which are appropriate for different things: you don’t go around yelling in a library, you don’t go turning cartwheels in a tightly packed antique store, you don’t go show up in soaking gym sweats to a formal dance. These are matters of context and take into account social interaction, social context, and locality (just like we talked about earlier).

Quick Comparison of Khats’a and Miasma
Miasma is a Greek concept, rooted in ancient Greek social culture, Greek social context, and the locality Greece and the contexts shaped and influenced by ancient and modern Greek polytheistic religion. Miasma generally refers to a state of impurity. Miasma is sometimes thought of as a stain.

Khats’a is not “miasma.” Khats’a is misdeed, and misdeed can put a person into a state of impurity. There is no concept of “miasma” per se in Canaanite polytheistic religion because “miasma” is a Greek concept embedded in Greek polytheistic religion, however matters of purity and impurity are of importance in Canaanite polytheistic religion, and there is an idea that impurity can adversely affect whole social groups over time. In ancient Ugarit there was a large city-wide rite in which the king on behalf of the city would publically perform a mushru-rite. (Mushru means “rectitude” and this was a sacrifice intended to aid in the clearing of the city of khats’a.) Khats’a is often thought of as something which can mar one’s beauty (and when I say "beauty" here, I am not referring to an idea of "beauty" which is hinged on superficial lookism or on changing fads in standards of physical beauty).

Impurity and misdeed are not the same thing. Although you can accrue impurity from misdeed, there are types of impurity which can come about without sin.

Scroll back upwards and see where I used the word “cultic”, as in "cultic obligation"? I have a hunch that you assumed I wasn’t referring to some kind of Satanic Panic Brainwashing Baby-Eating Cult. I’ll wager you were assuming this has nothing to do with Jim Jones or Heaven’s Gate, either. The words “cult” and “cultic” in this context refer to a set of religious practices: that’s all. Nothing more, nothing less. Nothing loaded, nothing “creepy,” and nothing coercive or abusive. Just a set of religious practices. So I urge you, dear reader, to consider the context when I say the word “sin.”

Khats'a is sin. Sin here refers to a misdeed, a transgression. Nothing more, nothing less. The word khats’a translates as “sin” and denotes “acting improperly.” The Ugaritic word is for sin is the same as the Hebrew word: the word from this polytheistic culture, is the same as the word found in early Judaism. This idea of sin is over 3200 years old and is far, far  older than the Christian concept you might be more familiar with. So when I use the word “sin” I am not referring to a Christian concept, or even a Jewish concept. I am not injecting a Christian idea into an ancient Canaanite polytheistic context.

If you are worried about the matter of free will in all of this, please see my post Free Will, Restrictions, Ethics, and Misdeed.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Free Will, Restrictions, Ethics, and Misdeed

Free will only works if you can opt in, opt out of something. In our lives there are many different things over which we can exercise our free will, and some things in which our free will may be curtailed for various reasons, good or bad, of our own choosing and not of our own choosing. (And even in events that are beyond the scope of our free will, we often have some opportunity to decide how we want to respond these matters.) Free will only works if “yes” and “no” are both treated as viable possibilities, with their own sets of different responsibilities, consequences, and contexts.

Before we get started further on discussion of these matters, please take a moment an consider whether or not you are the intended audience for this discussion. 

When a person ends up with another person who claims that in order to demonstrate how sexually liberated she is, she must have sex with him. It’s not liberation when someone is using the idea of “liberation” as a means to push her into an activity she doesn’t want to do. It’s not liberation when she’s not free to say no and to have another person accept and respect that “no” as a valid and valued response. Furthermore, it’s a very dirty tactic to prevent any actual liberation that it pretends to champion at the moment. For a person to say "no" and thereby limit, restrict, something like one’s own sexual activity is an action expressive of one’s own personal free will every bit as much as saying "yes" is.

In another example, if a person wears a hijab because she’s forced to by law or social more, she’s not liberated. Also, if a woman is forced not to wear a hijab by law or social more even if that law or social more claims to be doing so in order to liberate her despite the fact that she wants to or needs to wear a hijab, she is again in a state which curtails her personal liberties. A “No, I will not wear a hijab” and a “Yes, I will wear a hijab” are both liberating answers, depending on the context, and depending on the personal choices of the person who’s head that piece of cloth is (or isn't) covering. Both answers are liberating, and both answers must be free to be expressed in order for both answers to be liberating. Both “yes” and “no” must be respected in order for free will to be expressed.

I offer a matter of my own life as an example to further illustrate these ideas, but this is by no means intended to be a post about me. I live under a long list of restrictions. (I would like to clarify that I absolutely do not expect nor suggest that any of you to live or do as I do in regards to restrictions—what I do is on me to do and is my Work. This is a result of decisions, relationships, and interactions I have made in my own life. This isn’t your Work. That’s ok. Indeed, in this advanced matter, I would strongly caution most folks against doing what I do.) I do it because I must do it--it is Work given to me by the gods to do. (In my case, it is a matter vaguely comparable to being drafted, I am required to do things, but one could in theory “dodge the draft.” I'm not a draft-dodger and I would consider the act of dodging the draft on my part to be deeply inappropriate, especially considering the needs of the matters-at-hand. Accepting a draft is a better thing for me to do with ramifications for me and beyond me. But that's me, that's a personal matter, and these are my choices and opinions, and my relationships with my deities.) And, I live under these restrictions because I want to do it. These restrictions aid me in my differentiation. Differentiation, and more specifically my differentiation, is necessary for my Work and is necessary for me to be a complete and whole individual person.

When someone looks at my restrictions, and tells me I’m not free and that in order to be free I must give up my restrictions, I have to give the person who says this the old fish-eye. For freedom to mean anything, I must be free to accept my gods-given restrictions-on-my-freedom, and I have to have my “no” to some human activities in human interactions accepted. If I cannot willingly accept the deities’ restrictions on my freedom and feel free to exercise these restrictions in my human life, then I was never really free to begin with. For another human to interfere with this is also to interfere with my differentiation, and my wholeness as a person with my own volition, my needs, my relationships with the deities, and my Work: this human interference and a misguided first impression of what “oppression” is, is where actual oppression plays out. It is here in human interactions and misjudgments, not in my restrictions, that I have the greatest risk of being actually, really oppressed.

If a person tells me that I cannot be free to have dietary restrictions, or to have my head covered, or to honor many other restrictions, then how am I free? That person just curtailed the freedom I have to accept my restrictions. That person is not a god and has no right or rank to interfere with my restrictions, or my freedom, or the freedoms I have which are achieved through restrictions. That person’s wrong conclusion on what it is for me to be free, and that person’s forcing of that erroneous conclusion on to me, is oppression. Even if he thinks it’s freedom, even if he thinks he has the best intentions in mind for telling me that I’m oppressed for adhering to restrictions, he’s the one who is acting in a manner oppressive to me and my situation and interfering with my own personhood and autonomy.

A person is not truly free if you force him to give up his restrictions (for whatever reason he has them) on his own freedoms and behaviors—restrictions like food prohibitions, restrictions on types of clothing; restrictions on activities like sex, swimming, or touching corpses, or killing spiders, or cheese making, or dancing naked on the sun-baked hood of a ’67 Chevy Impala, or working on Sundays, or almost anything else that can be expressed in a verb; or restrictions based on codes of ethics, behavioral standards, personal behavioral standards, group behavioral standards, concepts of sin (misdeed, transgression), and concepts of purity and/or impurity. Free will only works when we realize that there are different structures in which freedom can be expressed, restricted, or both.

This plays into matters of matters of codes of ethics. A person is free to express herself under a code of ethics, and thereby restrict her own behavior, and operate under her preferred mode of self-discipline. If a person is a polytheist, and adheres to a polytheistic religion that has a code of ethics and/or ideas of what constitutes misdeed (sin, transgression), and/or restrictions of some sort, she is opting into a system by which she expresses her freedom through the willful restriction of that freedom in accordance to her own personal ethics, as well as those of her religion, her religious community, her relationships and agreements between her and her deities, the relationships and agreements set up in her religious community with her deities, and her relationships with her ancestors. Her adherence to these restrictions is not a restriction on your free will, even if you may feel uncomfortable in  your personal response to her restrictions. (This is a matter I have covered before.)

These are matters of someone’s own personal autonomy, differentiation, and individuation. These are matters of someone’s own personhood*; they are not “doing” their restrictions “to you,” this is simply a matter of their own differentiation, their own free will, and how they live within the context of their relationships. It’s not about you.

[*“Personal sovereignty” is a popular buzz-phrase in many of our communities, but I avoid the phrase because “sovereignty” often implies a political system, and/or rulership, and/or rank, and/or authority, and/or power, and/or royalty, and/or the independence of a nation or a group of people. I am not making a value-judgement here on rank, or authority, or power structures, or royalty, or politics, it is simply a matter of "does the term 'sovereignty' fit well here." There are better terms which are more accurately expressive of this idea of the right of an individual person to be an individual person, the right to that person’s own personhood, that right to differentiation and individuation, and of bodily autonomy, hence I use “personhood” here to be more expressive, in a general way, of these ideas.]

When another person claims that adhering to restrictions, or behavioral codes, or concepts of purity or impurity, or concepts of sin / misdeed, is “oppression,” I think back to the example of a woman being told what she must do with her own private decisions in order to be “liberated."
This is usually done by someone who:
A) Doesn’t understand her restrictions,
B) Doesn't understand the concept of restriction,
C) Doesn't understand the concept of personal boundaries, autonomy, and differentiation
D) Doesn’t understand that one person’s restrictions are not being imposed on another,
E) Is trying to manipulate her, whether intentionally or unintentionally
F) Doesn’t understand that sometimes some forms of liberation are expressed through willing restriction,
G) Has not done the kind of personal introspection necessary to be conscious that s/he doesn't understand these things. and,
H) Is the kind of jerk who can't take "no" for an answer.
Maybe the person can't take no for an answer because s/he has some unexamined personal issues or s/he feels someone else's "no" is a personal attack or a blow to her/his ego--it's understandable, and yet it is a foul thing to manipulate someone into a yes just to save one's own discomfort. Maybe the person who can't take "no" for an answer has some deep-rooted unexamined fears in regards to restriction, freedom, and the interplay between the two--these fear are real, and they require careful, conscious attention, and healing. Regardless of one's own personal challenges, it's inappropriate not to respect someone else's boundaries, restrictions, and answers of "no". If you really support others' personhoods and autonomy, make sure you respect their restrictions, points of differentiation, boundaries, and answers of "no."

It is not a support of freedom to bully someone into giving up restrictions, ethics, codes of ethics, concepts of misdeed, and concepts of purity or impurity, through your own unexamined fears of “not being liberated" and through your own discomforts and conscious or unconscious attitudes on liberation.

Image Credit: Fuzzy pink "love cuffs" photo by "Nosferatu," used under CC-GNU License.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Sit, God. Stay, God. Good God!

People sometimes name their pets after the gods. I’ve heard of cats and dogs named for Greek deities, Norse deities, Roman deities, and more. I assume that people like to name their pets with the deities’ names in an effort to honor the deities and to ask their protection on our beloved pets.

But, then I hear this happen:

Freya, quit knocking over the houseplants! No, Hermes, that’s not for you! Get out of the trash, Hestia. Go back to bed, Aurora. What do you want, Loki? Yemaya, get your butt over here! Don’t you dare pee on my bed again, Neptune. Stop eating your own sh-t...! Sit, God. Stay, God.

Good God.

This is messed up.

What is all this about? When a person names a pet after a deity, it turns out not being as respectful as a gesture as one may have intended. Pets are pets, and as such, their behavior standards aren’t ours. And as such, they’re eventually going to do something decidedly unhuman and even more decidedly ungodly. When they do something inappropriate, we tell them about it. Loudly. And often.

When pets have names of the deity, we’re actually calling the name of the deity, then proceeding to tell the deity all about how s/he has bad behavior. This isn’t a recipe for respect. Worse is if we actually do something good by working with our pets and training them; now we’re inadvertently issuing commands to the deities.  Instead of calling a pet by a divine name, I think it’s helpful to call a pet by a divine attribute or a phrase-name:

Name: Hermes-is-swift
Nicknames: Speedy, Flash

Name: Fires-of-Pele
Nickname: Flame, Sparky, Magma

Name: Poseidon-is-Protective
Nickname: Pip, Pippin, Captain

Name: Aphrodite-Adores
Nickname: Cutie, Dora, Addy, Darling

Name: Athena’s-Wisdom
Nickname: Alec (as in “smart-aleck”), Smarty, Brain

Name: Freyr-is-King
Nickname: King, Duke, Chief, Boss, Frick

I’d bet you all could think of plenty more. This type of naming, this name-phrase, is a common technique used in ancient Canaanite culture.

Bethel = House of the god Ilu
Hannibal = Favored of the god Ba'al
Daniel = The god Ilu is my judge
Gabriel or Gabrielle = The god Ilu is strong
Jezebel = The god Ba'al is here
Miriam or Miryam = The god Yammu is lord
And these are just a few of the Canaanite names still popular today.

For a good pet name, think about the deities of your ancestors, or the deities whom you respect and admire, then think about those qualities associated with the deities. Come up with a phrase-name incorporating the divine name with the quality, then come up with a good nickname or acronym for your pet if you need to use a shorter name. Another added benefit of using this naming system is that you can use the pet’s entire name without nickname to show your extreme displeasure, rather like a mother yelling her child’s full name. It’s much better than angrily hollering out the name of a god because the cat went on 'nip raid again.

[I wrote this post originally on another blog in 2013. I bring it back by reader request.

Please note that I'm not issuing an edict that Thou Shalt Never Give Pets The Names of Gods! No One Ever Should Ever Ever Do This! Lo I Have Spoken! Nor does it mean that if you've named your pet after a deity, that I somehow must automatically think "you are a bad person." I don't. I realize that some people read posts with their "angry-eyes" on: they do not read in good faith, and do not perceive nuance. I realize that most people who name pets after deities probably do this out of the best of intentions, love of pets and love of deities. However, I am calling on ourselves to think about these matters more consciously and to have intelligent dialog on these matters. I call for making sure that we consider whether or not our actions are in alignment with our efforts towards having good relations with the deities. I call for this consideration so that we may honor the deities as real individual beings with their own volition, not as the names of fictional storybook characters with romantic pasts. We must consider, too, if naming pets after deities is in alignment with our ethics: our own personal ethics, and our ethics in broader frameworks which may include, but isn't limited to, our other co-religionists, ancestors, other spirits, and beings and/or Beings. Also when you read this, take into account that your specific religion, and your specific deities, and your specific contexts may vary. Take into account that I am speaking of very general terms; one or two specific accounts of difference does not throw negate the matter of respect and consideration for the deities that I have put forth in this post. Please also take a moment to consider whether or not you're the intended audience of this conversation.

A person should think very carefully before naming a pet after a deity, and he should also consider his own personal motives for doing so. Make sure this is in keeping with the ethics and good relations that you have with that deity. Think very carefully about whether or not the deity would approve, look to divination with solid good diviners who keep good relations with their deities (and preferably the deity you have in mind), and consider very, very carefully as best you can the full meaning of the action you're doing and what that could mean to your relations with your deity, your relations with your pet, and your pet's relations with that deity, your relations with others who honor that deity, your relations with the ancestors, and your relations with other beings and Beings. There are occasions where naming an animal for a deity might be appropriate, but I would argue that these occasions are rare and may require some serious commitment of some sort to the deity-in-question, and these animals at that point may no longer be pets, and perhaps are no longer even ours.]

Image Credits: Bulldog and Cat by Arthur Heyer, Public Domain.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Copyrights and Respect

This isn’t the blogpost I wanted to pen for the new moon, but there is a need for a refresher. Most of you, my dear readers, know thoroughly that copyright, and matters of attribution, are matter to observe, so I feel as if I am “preachin’ to the choir.” But, it seems that there are a few of you who might be new to this issue or who need a quick reminder.

Attribution is vitally important. When you share a picture or a quote (or other content items) and you don’t attribute it to its creator, your carelessness or callousness causes people harm. Just so we’re on the same page here, when I say to “attribute the creator” it means that when you post something or share something on social media (or elsewhere), you also let people know who the creator was. Tell them who the artist was, who the speaker was, who the thinker was, who the author was, who prayed the prayer, who said the thing, who painted the thing, who danced the dance, who wrote the music, who sang the song, who took the photo. Tell people where you got the thing you’re sharing. Tell them who made it.

Most of us have at some time or another gotten a little lazy or nonchalant on this issue, and it's time for a reminder that this is an important thing which is easy to heal

I make this post here not just because of things I've experienced, but because I know I'm not alone in this experience. Indeed it is such a common experience to many of us that there's a creeping nonchalance about such callous behavior, and it is a matter that needs attention from time to time.

In my blog, if I do not have an attribution right there at the bottom of a post I’ve made here at my blog, assume that the writing is mine. If I do not have an attribution at the bottom of a post for a picture (usually I do), assume that the picture is mine, a photo I took, a piece of art I made. If you are in any doubt at all, have the good grace to ask. That means if you take a picture from this site which I created, and you forget to mention I created it, you are stealing. Do not share my posts or my photos without attributing me. If you cut and paste text from my work and forget to mention I wrote it, you’re stealing. (Obviously, if you haven’t done this, then this post does not apply to you. You’re one of the folks in that “choir” I mentioned earlier. Thanks for being considerate!)

Usually, I give the benefit of the doubt. I often assume ignorance, or sometimes laziness, before active maliciousness. I realize if you take things from my pages without attributing me, you’re probably a nice person who pays your taxes on time, who doesn’t shoplift, who will help little old ladies across the street, and who will be kind to puppies. I realize that maybe you don’t mean to steal, and maybe you don’t mean to steal from me, a priest. But you are. If you don’t know that this is what you’re doing, you have the opportunity to repair the damage and credit things appropriately. If, instead, you are too busy getting defensive while reading this, and you’re about ready to tell me that “No, really, I’m a nice person!” then you’ve just allowed your defense of a broken self-image get in the way of actually being a nice person.

Don’t steal. This goes whether it’s my work, or anyone else’s. Nice people don’t steal.

Let me break this down very carefully. I do not get paid very much for my work at all. Priests have to eat. We have to keep roofs over our heads, and roofs over the heads of the deities whose shrines and temples we keep. We have to feed and clothe ourselves. We make offerings to our deities at our own expense, and often we do this on behalf of our communities…again, at our own expense. In the old days, entire communities would support this work that we do, but things are not that ideal today. We, often single-handedly, are left shouldering the lion's share of that burden. Often we keep rigorous daily practices in order to assure that the deities and their rites are taken care of. We do what we do in honor of the deities often at our own expense and often at great and painful personal sacrifice, personal sacrifices which you may never know or understand the depth and pain of. We learn, we study, we pray, we work, we attend the gods, we attend our communities…this eats up our time and our resources and it is a 40-hour-a-week job (often much more than 40-hours-a-week) with no hourly wage, no salary, no insurance, no paid time off.  You often get to reap the benefits of our knowledge, our experiences, and of the good relations we strive to keep with the powers-that-be. Even if you think you do not benefit from all of our hard work, the very least you can do is credit us for our work so that those humans who do benefit from our work and who would like to support our work have the opportunity of doing so.

I am a priest. When you don’t attribute my work, you’re stealing from me and the work I do for the gods. Stealing from priests is bad. You’re not the nice person you think you are if you steal from priests. Seriously, I shouldn’t be the one to have to tell you that.

I have had this up on my blog for a long time at the bottom of this page:
“© Tess Dawson, 2007-2011 Do not copy or repost without permission.” I had similar notices on my website when my website was up. So, just in case you were in any doubt, all you had to do was scroll to the bottom of the page and say “Oh, copyright. This means I should attribute the author of this text, and the maker of this picture.” If you didn’t know that before, you know it now. To the person who posted my art without permission yesterday, thank you for reminding me, inadvertently, to update my copyright notice: “© Tess Dawson, 2007-2016 unless otherwise attributed. Don't repost text or pics without attribution.”

When you post pictures, art, quotes, music, and photos, please remember to credit the person who created them, or at least have the decency to link back to where you got them. Although I can appreciate peoples' zeal in wanting to share wonderful things, please remember to implement good sharing practices, otherwise you cheapen someone else's good hard work. Maybe you just want to make yourself look good and have something really cool to share on social networking so others will think you’re cool—hey, I get it. I do. Maybe you’re trying to impress people—some cute girl whose sighs give you bashful butterfly flutters. Maybe you’re having a rough time and your self-esteem goes up a little bit when you see those “thumbs-up” likes. Maybe you’ve been lonely all week, and this is a way to start conversations. That’s great—but it’s not ok when your coolness-factor and your self-esteem came at the expense of someone else’s hard work and you didn’t even have the respect to credit them. No matter how much you may tell yourself that you respect their work, stealing that work from them and treating them as not even worthy of being mentioned is neither respectful of the creator nor of the work. Also, many of these things are copyrighted and it is not only disrespectful to share them without crediting them; it is sometimes illegal to do so.

When I’ve brought up this issue from time to time, I hear the tired response of “Well, you put it out there in public, you put it on the internet. What did you expect?” This right here is victim-blaming; it’s not ok. It shuts down the exploration of a necessary issue; instead of an opportunity, the moment gets turned into a support for a status quo which is less troublesome, and less frightening, but more comfortable and more predictable than healing change. It’s a pathologically bad attitude which has permeated our culture often to the destruction of the very things we should be cherishing and protecting.We can do better.

For example, an artist may well consent to have the content of his artwork seen, but this does not imply or suggest that the artist was giving it to you to do as you please and it doesn’t suggest that the artist didn’t want the recognition for his blood, sweat, and tears. Just because you didn’t see the work that went into creating it, doesn’t mean that it was easy. When you share something but didn't make it, sometimes you don’t realize the sheer amount of labor, skill, knowledge, practice, time, and resources that went into it. When you steal, when you share without attributing the artist, you diminish and cheapen the person who created it. You tell him his time, his efforts, his work, his sacrifices are worthless and that he isn’t even worth mentioning by name. And you do it all to make yourself look good, at his great expense. You take his support away and you end up making the situation that much more difficult for him to continue to bring you the very things you’ve come to benefit from. Your treatment of him is mean, and it is more harmful than if you had just cursed him to his face or stole money out of his wallet. At least if you cursed him to his face or stole money out of his wallet, the meanness you'd committed is easy to see--that kind of meanness has an honesty in its openness and in the fact that you would be more likely to realize and acknowledge the harm you were committing. But, but sharing work he created without attributing him, you’re causing him harm even if you don’t realize it or acknowledge it. Look, you're better than that; take the opportunity and make things right. You can be the good person you think you are in this situation: it requires conscious acknowledgement of the harm you do and a conscious effort, actions, towards changing that behavior. I believe in you: I know you can do it!

It should also be noted that there are differences, nuances to navigate, between “public” and “public domain.” Just because a person may have a photo or writings in public, this does not make the items public domain. When something is in public, people can see it, but that thing is still that person’s property, that person’s creation: it belongs to that person and you must attribute it as belonging to that person, and even better yet, ask that person before you “borrow” it. If you do not attribute the artist, writer, or creator, or link back to where you got the content, you cause harm to the person you’re taking it from whether you realize or understand that harm, or if you are completely oblivious to that harm you’ve caused (being oblivious to the harm you caused does not mean that the harm didn’t happen). In contrast, when something is in public domain, this means you can do with it what you please—in this case the harm is minimized because either the person consents to release that item into the public domain, or the creation has been existence for so long that the harm is minimal from using the item as you please.

However, even if an artist has been deceased for a century, it is still common courtesy to attribute her work to her.If you respect the work, attribute the creator. How many times have we seen memes where something is misquoted, or attributed to the wrong person? Let's cut down on those bad practices, and take responsibility for the attributions of what we're sharing even if the quote or art is in public domain. Our heroic dead artists, poets, thinkers, priests, and creators-of-great-works: they deserve to be treated better too.

Let's also remember that not all things which are in public are also in public domain. Consent, people. It’s important. This faux-defense right here “Well, you put it out there in public, you put it on the internet. What did you expect?”ranks up there with “Well, if a person didn’t carry a purse in public, it wouldn’t get stolen.” Hey, I have a fresh idea about that: how about we teach people what stealing is and remind them why it’s not good?

Ignorance can be remedied, and if you’ve erred in ignorance, it’s can be attended to. Just take the time to make it right where you can—go back to old posts and add those attributions—and go forward from this moment on remembering to credit people for their work. So, in closing: if you quote someone or post a pic, attribute the original creator of the work. If you don’t pay the creator of the work, if you don’t even thank the creator of the work, at the very least you can have the human decency to attribute the creator of the work.

Image Credits: Madonna del Magnificat. Sandro Botticelli. Circa 1483-1485. Image is in the public domain. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Religion and Politics, Briefly...Again

I have seen the question tossed around lately about "should religions be apolitical?" Or, the sister-question: "Should religion be political?" I've seen this question asked both within our nascent polytheistic traditions, and I've seen it applied by non-polytheists onto our polytheistic traditions and religions.

It's an embarrassing question. It's not embarrassing for the reasons you might think. It's embarrassing because it's a flawed question which forces the person who responds, in either fashion, into a way that destroys the individuality and autonomy of at least three different things: 1) religion by itself, 2) politics by itself, and 3) the combination of religion and politics.

There are many far better questions to ask:
Are some religious groups political? Yes.
Is that ok? Yes.
Are all religious groups political? No.
Is that ok? Yes.
Are religion and politics the same thing? No.
Are religion and politics different things? Yes.
Can religion function separate of politics? Yes.
Can politics function separate from religion? Yes.
Can religion and politics sometimes function together as a thing in its own right? Yes.
Are there contexts where religion and politics come together? Yes.
Is that ok? Yes.
Is it ok for there to be contexts where religion is separate from politics? Yes.
Is it ok to be political and religious? Yes.
Is it ok not to be political? Yes.
Is it ok not to be religious? Yes.
Is it ok to insist that a non-political religion is by its nature also not compassionate? No.
Is it ok to insist that politics without religion is necessarily unethical? No.

Here's the problem, people are seeing these questions in one of two ways: 1) either that of a need of drawing hard and fast boundaries where things must be utterly separate and in vacuums all on their own without having relationships to other things or places where they can combine; or 2) that because boundaries aren't hard and fast, that these different things must just be the same one thing. Either way it amounts to an obscuring of the matter at hand.

I have said this before, but it bears repeating.

Take for instance a person who has a yellow colored pencil and a blue colored pencil. They color solid yellow on the left side of the page, and solid blue on the right side of the page. They then color lighter yellow as they approach the center of the page, and lighter blue as they approach the center of the page, and when the two colors meet the artist then colors a little bit of yellow and a little bit of blue on top of one another and the artist ends up with the color green. Visually, you can go so far to the left of the page and still see just the color yellow. You can still look to the right side of the page and still see just the color blue. You can also look to the center of the page and see where the color green emerges, and you can see that a little left of the middle there's a yellow-green before it resumes yellow, and you can see to the left of the middle where there's a blue-green before solid blue emerges.

The boundaries are not hard and fast, but yes, you can see that there are still at least three different colors: yellow, green, and blue. The existence of yellow does not negate the green or the blue. The existence of blue does not negate yellow or green. Just because the boundaries between these colors is not hard and fast, it doesn't mean that there are not at least three different colors. If a person ignores this simple fact that yellow and blue are different colors, and that these colors can combine to form a third color which has properties of both but which is also a third color in its own right, a person stops being able to make that third color at all because a person has forgotten what primary colors are and how they are separate, and how they can combine, or how some of those colors can form other color combinations that have nothing to do with green (yellow and red make orange, but blue and red make purple, neither of which has anything at all to do with green).

An artist doesn't need a heavy black line to contain the yellow or contain the blue, or contain the green to know that these are all different colors with different properties. An artist can also look at the page and realize which areas are blue enough to be blue, yellow enough to be yellow, and where that green color picks up and ends in the center. An artist who starts requiring heavy black lines in order to see yellow from green from blue stops being able to blend colors in an organic, flexible, creative way.

But, an artist cannot combine the colors at all if at first the artist doesn't know the properties and uniqueness of the separate colors s/he is working with. If all a person sees is one green color there, no blue, no yellow, no matter how far s/he looks to right or the left of that page, all because there was no heavy black line separating out those colors, a person has forgotten the nature of what green is, and can lose the ability to understand and see separate colors. If the artist assumes that yellow needs to be green in order to be truly yellow, this too is a problem.

Just because the boundaries aren't hard and fast with heavy black outlines, it doesn't mean that the boundaries aren't there, and it doesn't mean that you're not working with separate items.

Whether politics and religion should or shouldn't come together ("Should religion be apolitical?") is as much a failure of a question as "Should yellow be anti-green?" That question misses the point entirely and requires people to take sides as to whether or not they want a heavy black line arbitrarily down the middle of the green; or as to whether or not they choose to see that entire color spectrum, from yellow through green to blue, as only one color. The heavy black line obscures being able to see the spectrum, and can disallow access to that third color; while seeing only one color available across the spectrum allows access only to one color at the expense of the other colors' autonomy and individuality. Religions need not eschew politics completely, but religions also do not need to be political in order to be religions (nor do politics need religion in order to be truly political).

Either way, it's non-functional and artificially restrictive. Either way it stamps out the individuality and uniqueness of these things. Either way it ruins the chance of understanding the relationships amidst these things.

Religion is one thing. Politics is a different thing. Religion and politics can combine to form a third thing, or they can be individual things in their own right. Whether you have religion, or politics, or religion with politics, it's ok. But, you have to be able to distinguish one from the other from the other at some point or you fail to work well with any of these things.

And in the words of Kermit the Frog, it's not easy being green. But I guess it's not easy for Gonzo to be bluish-purple, either...

Image Credits: Public Domain.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Plastic Pink Flamingos, Peace, and the Misuse of Connections

I’ve seen over the years a great many people who stress that “It’s all connected!” as if this were a useful understanding of the world, or a call to peace, when it is neither. Yes, connections, relationships, can be drawn amidst pretty much everything in this wide world but…. Not all connections which can be drawn amidst things are actually useful connections, and often evaluating the usefulness of those connections depends on the context surrounding those connections, or the context in which those connections are discussed, as well as the knowledge and wisdom of the one making that evaluation. Now, I realize that was a pretty complicated sentence, but stick with me here.

Plastic pink flamingos and dinosaurs are connected. They are connected, actually, in a couple of different ways. Connection #1: The plastic that a pink flamingo is made of plastic and plastic is made of petroleum, and many people think that petroleum is decomposed dinosaurs (actually, petroleum is probably made more of decomposed ancient plankton, not dinosaurs, but people imagine that petroleum is made of dinosaurs and thought is a type of connection of some sort even if that thought is erroneous—an imaginary thing is still an imaginary thing. A placebo is still something; it is a placebo. Fake fur is still fake fur. A figment of the imagination is nothing more, and nothing less than exactly a figment of the imagination. I think you get the point.) This is a kind of connection even if it is utterly threadbare and based on imagination, speculation, and misinformation. Connection #2: Plastic pink flamingos are made to resemble birds, and birds are evolutionarily linked to a type of dinosaur. This connection is less threadbare than the previous one, but it still has very limited use.

At some point, we have to realize that sometimes making these connections has about as much usefulness as dropping quarters in an arcade claw game in order to play Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. That is to say it may be interesting on a hypothetical level, but it’s not helpful in getting quarters, in playing a claw game, in watching movies, or in playing Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. Some connections are barely more than arbitrarily drawn lines leading us down primrose paths to red herrings, and leading us to think that there is more usefulness by association of two things than there actually is, depending on context. The problem is compounded when we lack knowledge in an area, when we don’t realize how much knowledge we lack in an area, when we’re not willing to listen to experts in that area, when we rely too much on speculations which have little-to-no foundation, when we apply these connections out-of-context, when we when we overvalue those connections, when we start valuing the connections over the actual items in those relationships to the point where we forget there were ever separate items to come together in the first place, and when we forget that those items are separate things which can function in other different relationships.

There are connections which can be drawn between plastic pink flamingos and dinosaurs. But, those connections tend to be of limited use. Just because connections can be drawn, it doesn’t mean that I can pour gasoline into my car’s tank and think that plastic pink flamingos are in any way involved or pertinent to that process or to making my car function well. Just because I watch birds, it doesn’t mean that I’m actually having an experience similar to the Jurassic Park movie. Looking at the dull painted eyes of a plastic pink flamingo in no way prepares me for the majesty of experience as I look up into the gaping ocular cavities of Sue the T-Rex at The Field Museum. Figuring out how a plastic pink flamingo fits on the lawn will not provide any useful insight to the science of paleontology or provide useful information on how to curate dinosaur bones. Knowing that some folks think oil is made of dinosaurs, and that a plastic pink flamingo is made of plastic which comes from oil doesn’t help me understand combustion engines and how gasoline makes them work, nor does it help me understand the impact of an over-reliance on fossil fuels or how to clean up the habitats of real, living, non-plastic flamingos from oil spills. Over-stressing connections like these can lead someone to behavior equivalent to sticking a plastic pink flamingo in a gas tank and assuming that this is in some way useful, or in believing that because these things are connected, a real flamingo should have no problem at all when its habitat is tainted with oil…because plastic flamingos are made of plastic which comes from oil and real flamingos look like plastic flamingos, therefore the real flamingos should be just fine if they are stuck in oil…so they’re not in any real danger. Right? Right? Wrong.

Even though things can be connected in various relationships of varied meanings, varied contexts, varied usefulness, and of varied importance, it doesn’t mean that the two things aren’t also separate items capable of being in different relationships with different things. Sometimes people get so caught up in making connections and in focusing on those connections to the point where they cannot see the distinctions between things. As I have said many times: just because things are connected, just because boundaries can overlap, it doesn’t mean that the boundaries aren’t there. It doesn’t mean that these different things in relationships to each other are therefore the “same” thing just because they can be connected to one another.

Also, there’s a certain point where a person can overextend  the connections, or overextend the importance of those connections. When this over-extension and overemphasis happens, the connection can appear more meaningful, useful, or important than it actually is, and this overestimation of importance can be misleading. It’s as if you’ve overestimated something far above market value. No one wants to purchase a lemon of a car for $9000, but if you know the car’s a lemon and you pay $100 to cannibalize it for parts—that’s ok. When a person doesn’t know cars, and when that person doesn’t know the market, the person could end up making an unreasonable, unwise purchase. When people don’t know the topic and don’t know the context or the actual value of certain connections within that context, or they assume they know more than they actually do…they end up purchasing a lemon for far too much money. People will proceed on the basis of thinking the connections have more strength, more usefulness, or a closer relationship than they actually do in some contexts.

Case in point: wolves are related to dogs, but treating a wild wolf like a friendly domesticated neighborhood canine might land you in the hospital; in this context, proceeding on the idea that “wolves and dogs are related… therefore I can act the same with a wolf as I do with a dog” is misleading. However, knowing that dogs and wolves are related can prove useful in other contexts such as classification systems, or in knowing how to provide veterinarian care to either wolf or dog (“wolves and dogs are related, therefore understanding this can help provide insight into their biological systems”), or as a pointer towards understanding canines in pack behavior (“wolves and dogs are related…therefore observing pack behavior with wolves and observing pack behavior with dogs may shed some light on understanding pack behavior”). Connections, relationships, must be evaluated carefully for usefulness within the contexts you’d like to employ them—contexts like wolf and dog behavior regarding interactions, or comparisons of wolf and dog regarding biology, or comparisons of wolf and dog regarding pack behavior. If you don’t do this, you could end up having your arm mauled by a wild wolf, or you could end up comparing fungal biology to wolf biology, or you could try to apply an understanding of dart groupings to wolf pack behaviors.

“It’s all connected!” Well…sure…one can theoretically draw connections between anything even as random as plastic pink flamingos and dinosaurs, but the usefulness of those relationships must be evaluated in the context that they are being used in. These connections must be considered, with critical thought and reasoning skills. You  can play connect the dots to make a picture of something, or to make a scribble—either way the dots are connected, but one way might be more useful than another, depending on the situation and the context. A person must realize that not all connections which can be drawn amidst things are actually useful connections, and often evaluating the usefulness of those connections depends on the context surrounding those connections or the context in which those connections are discussed or used, or the knowledge and wisdom by which someone has at his disposal to evaluate those connections. ($9000 for a lemon you can’t drive is not good unless you’re the seller and you feel like swindling some poor fool, but $100 for the same car bought for used for parts is good. Same car, different context.)

I realize that there is often a strong motivation in stressing the connections of all things to all other things. I understand it. I really do. I used to live in that landscape-of-undifferentiation, and I lived there out of a misguided search for peace. I lived there because at heart, I just want people to get along. But “getting along” can only happen when differences are appreciated and worked through, instead of overlooked and undervalued or stamped out entirely. People want to stress these connections because they feel it fosters a sense of peace and a lack of conflict. Sometimes working through differences is uncomfortable—there’s tension and conflict both in that relationship and within oneself as you start to reexamine your own positions and identity issues. It gets messy. It gets stressful. And sometimes it gets contentious to the point of conflict, any kind of conflict from mild to severe. Many of us avoid conflict because we automatically think it is bad. Not all conflict is “bad” and conflict can provide an opportunity to work towards peace while supporting and working through those differences at the same time.

If things are “all connected” to the point where “we are all One” and “we are all the same” there can be no conflict because there aren’t different items, there aren’t any relationships nor are there different items to have relationships with one another, thus there can be no conflict because there isn’t anything separate to have a conflict with. There is a point where people prize connections at the expense of diversity and for the sake of avoiding the discomforts of conflict. So what do we often find ourselves doing? We lump everything together through a mishmash of overvalued connections so we can pretend that potentially-conflicting differences are all illusion…and then we misguidedly mistake this as a path to peace.

This kind of homogenization does not respect or preserve diversity, nor does it preserve peace…it actually destroys both diversity and peace.

Think of it this way: you have a stew recipe which involves carrots, onions, potatoes, and corn in a tomato broth. When you cook this recipe as stew, you have separate pieces of carrot, onion, and potato in a tomato broth. However, you could shove the whole thing in a blender and set the blender on a crazy-high setting, and you’ll end up with a thick soup with no identifiable pieces of carrot, onion, potato, all in a tomato broth. This is what homogenization does. It’s not always a bad thing, if this is the kind of soup you want or need, and it depends on the context. It might be a very tasty, hearty soup. Granted, if you have a friend who has a potato allergy, she can't then go picking out the potatoes and you'll have to find something else for her to eat.

However, if one were to apply this homogenization above a specific context, onto an upper-level category (like the universe) rather than a smaller, discrete, more specific category or situation (like dinner); or if it is applied to items that would not have, could not have, should not have, or don’t want to have that kind or relationship; or if it is applied without consideration for the things which it is forcibly applied onto—these are scenarios where we end up in trouble. It may be ok for something in the context of a bowl of soup at a specific time for a specific purpose (small scale, specific context), but if someone were able to shove the whole universe in such a blender (large scale, much broader context), we’d all be in trouble. All we’d be left with is an unidentifiable useless homogenized goo which can do nothing, think nothing, be nothing, and have no relationships…because there’s nothing else to have a relationship with. No differentiation means no separate items, no relationships, no peace, no conflict, no day, no night, no stars, no planet Earth, no dinosaurs, no plastic pink flamingos, no meaning, no something, and no nothing. It means we’ve wrecked the universe beyond both creation and destruction.

In that homogenized universe-in-a-blender scenario, there’s no conflict because there’s nothing left to have a conflict with; there’s nothing left to make peace with either. Differentiation and diversity, the very mechanisms existence and non-existence, creation and destruction, and of infinitely many other things, just got cancelled out. There is no more peace because peace can only survive when there are separate elements to work out that conflict and therefore create peace together, or war, or doughnuts, or whatever. You cannot have peaceful relationships in an environment where no relationships exist because there are no separate things to have relationships. If you really want to live in peace, you have to be willing to have relationships, have space for potential conflict, and to work with those relationships especially by supporting, honoring, working through, and working with the very differences and distinctions which make us all separate (and interrelating) individuals. If you really want peace, you must support and respect diversity, which means appreciating differences, not plowing over them in a misguided attempt at over-stressing connections to the point of losing differentiation and distinctions.

You cannot achieve peaceful coexistence by overvaluing connections outside of useful context and by overvaluing connections at the expense of differentiation, just because you want to avoid conflict. It doesn’t work that way. You can’t get to peace by using connections between things in order to ignore differences, and you can’t get to peace through ignoring difference in order to avoid conflict. Peace is not conflict avoidance. Peace is not the ignoring of differences. Also, peace is made of separate parties in relationships to one another—not the absence of separate parties.

Instead of “It’s all connected!” or “We are all One” which are both misguided call for peace, let’s shift instead to something more useful which actually would help peace. Something like “Cherish diversity!” After all, oil spills are damaging to flamingos even if the plastic ones don't seem to mind.

Image Credits:
Photograph of a close-up on a plastic pink flamingo by J. Vaughn. Used through CC-GNU license.