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Question of the Week: 113

Pagan Problem Children: What Can We Do About Them?

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 Author:    Posted: Sep. 8, 2002   This Page Viewed: 23,433,855  

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Question of the Week: 24 - 1/15/2001

What is Pagan History and What is Pagan Belief?

We have seen in recent times some scholarly 'attacks'-and many really excellently researched anthropological, archaeological and sociological works as well- which seem to refute the 'historical' basis for modern Pagan beliefs. Have these articles/books changed your perspective? Have you 'lost faith' or been discouraged at discovering that some Pagan 'sacred cows' may, in fact, be making very fine hamburger? Or have these findings actually caused you to become stronger in your beliefs, more likely to examine why you believe as you do or to become more resilient in some way? How are YOUR sacred cows holding up these days?

 Reponses:   There are 44 responses posted to this question. Reverse Sort 

I Wasn't Very Far Along My Path Of Spiritual Enlightenment When I... Jan 15th. at 3:58:39 pm EST

Apotheos (Lethbridge, Alberta CA) Age: 24 - Email

I wasn't very far along my path of spiritual enlightenment when I came to understand that myth and legend are simply tools for greater understanding. i.e. The details are unimportant, its the message.

I came to my spin on Neo-Paganism - that of one steeped in the spirit of Unitarian Universalism - as a means to better understand the Divine Mother, whom I had been introduced to via a hindu centric ashram. I felt very comfortable with it.

Unfortunatly is down as of this writing, but it disturbs me deeply that someone whom I respect so much, Starhawk, would be so rash as to claim an application of the scientific method to the history of Wicca is an attack on the Goddess. Indeed, I cannot express how strongly I disagree with that conclusion.

Of all the books I've ever read, a large portion of them seem to be pulling myths and legends out of the air. They pass of large portions of anectdote, myth, and story as fact. The Wiccan Mysteries immediatly leaps to mind as a book that claims so many things, but never explains itself.

The Spiral Dance doesn't really do this, so regardless of my new opinion of Starhawk, I still recommend it. Sure, there is some myth and legend in it. But much of the book is practical hands on material. And once you experience it, you can never deny it.

There is the whole radical feminist tack we could use - that empirical science and the scientific method are tools of the patriarchal system and it is simply spreading lies to undermine the significance of the greatest secret ever kept: that of a matriarchal society of peace and love and joy that was around for countless years. But I myself have looked at the studies, the methodology is sound! The researchers in some cases are even compassionate to the Goddess movement! At the very least, we can take as fact that the 'burning times' is a myth. At that some of the largest matriarchies in the anthropologic record were pretty dang nasty.

I really feel that what some of these pagans are doing is just closing their ears to contrary beliefs, even when the arguments are sound. To do that is a childish denial of what may, or may not, be the truth. We can learn nothing through this process.

The goddess is always with me. While the past of the craft may be founded in untruths, I don't have a problem with it.

In My Opinion, What Makes Us Different From Our Ancestors Is That... Jan 15th. at 6:51:26 pm EST

simona elda (duluth, Minnesota US) Age: 30

in my opinion, what makes us different from our ancestors is that most of them were poor farmers/hunters/gatherers with no education--or at least what we call education ("formal" education had not been invented yet). their beliefs stemmed from taking in the natural world around them, figuring out what it meant, and discerning it for themselves. they discovered that life sprang from the female of mammals, including humans, therefore deduced that the divine source of all things must be female. later, they added shamanic practices, trance work, and herbs to their practices. this is a brief overview, but i'll go no further, since we all know where wicca came from.
eventually, time moved on and pagans began to become scholarly, the great pagan philospher/scholar hypatia comes to mind. we moved from "superstitious" peasants to people who could prove our religions with science. it was realized, that, altho our gods/goddesses were real, they were *not* historical, as the proposed christian god, jesus, was (which cannot necessarily be proven, either). rather, our gods were personifications that we assigned to the way we, and our ancestors, observed/obsorbed nature, as well as they movements of the celestial bodies through the heavens. legends were created to explain how they got there. this has in no way dissuaded me from believing that our gods/goddesses are real--they are the personfications of the energies that have existed from our co-creators since time immemorial.
this is somewhat rambling, but it all boils down to this: in many ways, we are much like our ancestors. we are re-discovering the truths just as they originally found them thousands and possibly millions of years ago. fortunately, we have bodies of work now, both by metaphysical authors such as grimassi, cunningham and all the rest too many to mention here, as well as archeological proof of how the ancient people lived and died. so we don't have to start completely from scratch, and that is truly a gift from the divine. but we are living in modern times as well. we are facing pollutions and global problems that our ancestors did not necessarily face. we are facing overpopulation and sexually transmitted diseases that they did not face. in order to be successful in the 21st century, we must learn to combine what has been handed down to us with our new intellectual curiosity and also what is practical for today's standards. to do anything different would be a disservice not only to ourselves, but to the creators as well.

Actually My Sacred Cows Are Quite Fine. With Ms. Allen For An... Jan 15th. at 6:59:08 pm EST

NightTiger (Liverpool, New York US) Age: 16 - Email

Actually my sacred cows are quite fine. With Ms. Allen for an example... She makes a lot of comments about our religion but what she doesn't understand is most of us have varied beliefs. Our beliefs are just as varied as the different Christianity sects. Personally I never tried to say that our religion is over so many hundreds of years old. If anyone did their research they would find it did indeed start in the mid-1900s. BUT some of our rituals, beliefs, and information have been baised on the old pagan traditions. Take Beltane for instance... That festival found it's roots in the old Irish lands and northern Europe. Also, I've never believed our religion should always focus on just the Goddess. We believe in polar existance of everything, including a God and a Goddess on equal footing. That has been found in many religions. The Greeks and the Romans had Gods and Goddess on equal footing, so did some Asian traditions and some of the Celtic religions. By no mean is this the only system of pagan beliefs, nor would everyone agree with me. However, this is what I've always beliefed, and I think if people do their research they will find I have at least some backing historically.
Bright Blessings

I Too Have Read The Much Talked About Article. It Had Absolutely... Jan 15th. at 7:39:38 pm EST

Rhiannon Daughtermoon (Seattle) Age: 34 - Email

I too have read the much talked about article. It had absolutely no effect on how I feel about my chosen path, operative word being chosen! I have respect for anyone who follows their chosen path, including Christains...but as far as somehow questioning the validity of paganism, I would respectfully say that in my opinion no one has ever proven to me the Bible is an actual History. Does that nullify the path? Not for many. I have always known that much of our history lay in Myth, I devoured Mythology as a child, it was very real to ME. Much later in life I realized why, and "came home" to my path as a Witch.
It is still "real" for me. I find it perfectly normal, and valid for me, to follow a path built around nature, that all is one, and that the Divine is in us as well as without. There is nothing published, or that will be published, that will change that for me. And I don't find it a threat if scholars continue to look in the past, I find many things intriguing in the results. And let's not forget, there are many things which support the exsistance of past elements in present day paganism, it's evolved to our present age, ever growing, changing and adapting! We write our own history. And honestly, how much history, even that which we were taught in school, do we know is the absolute truth? I don't remember it, if I was who really knows what our anscestors did or believed beyond a shadow of a doubt? I know what I do now, that feels as if it runs deep, and is perfectly valid...I find no need to prove that validity to anyone.

Love and Laughter,

Attempts To Discredit A Person's Religion Through Historical Knowledge Are, To My... Jan 15th. at 7:41:58 pm EST

Vivhianna (Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario CA) Age: 18 - Email

Attempts to discredit a person's religion through historical knowledge are, to my mind, petty and even a bit selfish. Regardless of the actual history of a faith tradition, it means something to the person who follows it. How are Buddhists or Christians to know for certain that Buddha or Jesus ever walked the Earth? Yet, these two religions have inspired thousands, or even millions, of people to lead kind and loving lives. There are some things that people just have to take on faith alone.

Mind you, I'm not saying that it's a bad thing for people to know something of what people can dig up (literally or figuratively) about the history of religion. I've always been told that it's a good idea to know where you've been before you can get to where you're going, and so far my (somewhat limited) experience has tended to prove that statement as fact more often than not. So, while history should not be used to discredit other people's religions, it can have its uses.

I think we're pretty much all familiar with the argument that many modern-day Pagan traditions have roots that stretch back no longer than fifty years or so. Whenever someone points that out, either to me or in a book or article, I think, "So what?" There was a point in time for every religion when it was that young, and younger still than that. It's not as if as soon as the religion was created it had always been there. I look at things like this, to tell the truth, as growing pains--not altogether pleasant, but necessary for some sort of development.
To me, what matters most is what we believe in *now*. It might be interesting to be able to note how modern beliefs were formed and it might even provide some insight. Still, what we believe now affects us more than what the popular beliefs may or may not have been a thousand years ago.
My "sacred cows" are the same ones that they've always been. Their names are Love, Peace and Respect. No amount of historical digging can change that or convince me that I believe something other than what I do. And in the end, isn't that what faith and belief are about? They don't need justification. All they require is a willingness to accept.

The Author Of The Scholars And The Goddess Appears To Have A... Jan 15th. at 8:52:00 pm EST

Mary (Cartersville, Georgia US) Age: 35

The author of the Scholars and the Goddess appears to have a very narrow view on what paganism is. It is not only what Gerald Gardner taught, nor does it focus on a single goddess or god in all cases. The goddess I revere may be entirely different from someone else's image of the divine. It makes perfect sense that there are many goddesses and many gods, just as there are many people with their own views and personalities. Not to offend, I did find some of the author's points valid. Wicca as we know it did begin in the 1950's. Some of Mead's theories have been invalidated in light of current archaeologic evidence. However, her last point, that of paganism mirroring christianity, was the tail wagging the dog. The Christos myth of a dying god predates christianity: Dyonisious, Mithras, Attis, even possibly eary iterations of Apollo and others. Many of the trappings of polytheistic religions found their way into christianity, it has not been the other way around. I suppose she would have christianity being born full fledged as Athene from Zeus's head.
Lastly, I agree with Diotima. When one communes with the divine, it matters not what the history is. The truth is found in the experience.

As Homer Simpson Would Say Mmmmmmmmmmmm Ham-bur-ger. I Also Care About As... Jan 15th. at 9:12:24 pm EST

Iko (Chicago, Illinois US) Age: 36 - Email

As Homer Simpson would say mmmmmmmmmmmm ham-bur-ger. I also care about as much as what Homer thinks about the religious structures and dogmas of our ancient Pagan sisters and brothers as anyone from the Atlantic Monthly.

Last week I was reading about gaseous masses surrounding a young star. The scientists said they estimate the clouds will form into young planets in about 200, 000 years. (Don't ask me how they know that.) Anyway, if life were to form on those planets and evolve into humanoid type beings (using our planet as a timeline example), that would take what - 4 B-I-L-L-I-O-N more years! (Give or take a few million.) At that point those humanoid type beings might have evolved to where we creatures are now. As we have managed to do, they might have half killed their beautiful planet, invented the internet and then allowed themselves to be drawn into a "my Goddess gave birth to your God" spitting contest with other beings on the same planet who are threatened by the notion of the Divine without a penis. (There is some sort of cosmic justice in that 4 billion years from now our middle aged planet - according to most scientists - will be well on its journey to the cosmic recycling center.)

My Goddess. The Divinity I worship is older than this planet. That Divinity is older than our Galaxy or our Universe. That Divinity will live on when the Earth is nothing but a cold, atmosphere void orb circling a burnt-out star. That Divinity never knew birth, and will never know death. It would take a whole lot more than an army of articles written by folks with more sour grapes than journalistic integrity to change my beliefs!

It would be interesting to know what or who and how our ancient ancestors worshipped. It would be interesting to know what they felt, and how they interacted. But you know, if we knew the truth there is a chance it might be disappointing. Do we think that our ancient ancestors had a hotline to the Divine that we 'modern' folks no longer posses? Every religion has to start somewhere, and if your religion started in the 1950's, so what? Do you think that today's Christians think a Christian in 60 C.E. was any less of a Christian then they are now? It's a moot point really, at best we will always only have bits and pieces of the story, we will NEVER see the whole prehistory story. However, even if someone could prove that every religion on Earth worshipped ONLY Divine beings with penises, and all those religions were basically patriarchal, that would no more change my view of the Divine than if we could time travel and find out what beings on another planet living 4 billion years ago believed. (My luck would be if we could travel to another planet 4 billion years in the past, the inhabitants would have just invented the internet and would be having the same sort of arguments over the foundations of religion and the gender of the Divine).

My feeling regarding the Divine is not something that will change with whatever the current trend dictates. I can only explain my feeling about the Divine as a "core" instinct. I wish I had a better word, but I cannot find it.

I truly believe that if we all stepped back and just let ourselves look in awe and wonder at not only the beauty of our miniscule planet, but also of the beauty of universe, we all might be happier. We are the very first generation of beings on our planet that have been able to see the images that the Hubble telescope is sending back, and I would hope that with advances such as these our perspectives might all get a little bigger! (I would suggest if want to test my theory begin by checking out any of the images showing star nurseries - yes, infant stars being "born" - here is a link - Perhaps the bigger we know our universe to be the smaller we can see what it matters how "legitimate" or not ANYONE'S religious dogmas might be.

Perhaps, mostly, we should just feel compassion towards those whose minds are so centered on the here and now, and so afraid of losing their little bit of momentary power in this world that they cannot, dare not, let themselves really look - much less - see.

Blessed Be

To Me History Is Interesting But As An Historian Once Said, "every... Jan 15th. at 11:23:42 pm EST

Elena (KC, Kansas US) Age: 45

To me history is interesting but as an historian once said, "Every history is contemporary history" - up for interpretation. Pagan history is not nearly as relevant as current Pagan practice. Sacred cows die. New ones are born. Some of my sacred cows shapshift as my experience grows. Others are likely to stay with me always.

I Don't Know About The Rest Of You But These "findings" Haven't... Jan 16th. at 7:20:03 am EST

Xandor Nightwind (Malvern, Arkansas US) Age: 17 - Email

I don't know about the rest of you but these "findings" haven't bothered me a bit. All religions have things about them that don't agree with what science "know" happened. And besides that even if there weren't any groups that worshiped one Goddess alone all ancient religions worshiped her in diffirent aspects. I know the Goddess is real as I'm sure many of you do and nobody will ever convince me otherwise, because I know in my heart, mind, and soul she is. The proof is all around us and in the connections I belive all ancient Goddesses possess.

Within Academia It's Okay To Believe Something Is Accurate Until It Is... Jan 16th. at 11:22:22 am EST

blackthorne (Walnut Creek, California US) Age: 35 - Email

Within Academia it's okay to believe something is accurate until it is disproven. If you are a professor writing a book and you use out of date
materials, you would be laughed at. If you write a book where the data becomes
obsolete, you would never be judged for what you wrote before the resource
became unuseable or questionable.
Within christianity, it's okay to believe something that christian historians
say is un-accurate, because there are so many types of christians that they
don't believe everything the other says anyway. They are not expected to
hold any hard and fast rules because they are big enough to change thier minds and have differing opinions.(okay, this is overly simplistic, but bear with me.)
Paganism has changed over the past century. There has been much to help this
change, possibly the same things that have changed things for other religions.
However, we are seemingly not allowed to work outside the box, if we can't
be packaged by christianity, they don't want to deal with it.
I think we have been to busy evolving and growing to write any real history.
We don't idolise any of our pagan authors and that's good.
Many of us are educated and read alot, but we are too busy learning to nail down
a canon, and start making hard and fast rules, probably because we just don't
want to.
A history would be a conceit at this time, we are too busy making a history
to start fussing about it.
Let's not let fundies bully us into nailing everything down, let's
be ourselves instead and let them worry about rules and facts and
black and white.

Do Not Let Yesterday Use Up To Much Of Today! One Of... Jan 16th. at 11:28:19 am EST

Gina Baker (Star City, Indiana US) Age: 38 - Email

Do not let yesterday use up to much of today!

One of my favorite sayings, yet I can't remember its history, who said it, or who wrote it, yet is has a profound effect on me daily simply because, to me, it has a profound meaning! History has its place in the lives of all beings that walk the back of the mother, but it is not the be all, end all, of the world.

Within our family the scared cow is safe within our hearts, spirits, and breath, and is adaptable to the new while remembering the old. We have made our own history inside of world history for our family, it is twenty some years new, and on the scientific scale is it still an embryo. We blended the past with new ideas and even lost family and friends of old over our new way of blending faiths. We have taught our children the history as it is written in the books, told in the family, and we have added our own coloring to that history like any good artist, parent, any human being.

We tend to overlook that part of history. Each part of history is colored by the writer, researcher, bard, story teller, or she who remembers. Human nature is built that way, we naturally create our past from elements of our present and future. Childhood, our parents, relatives, and friends all fuel the way we view history. As we grow life experience begins to color the world in more shaded hues, bringing more depth to how we look at history. So when a historian researches and writes about history, it becomes colored with their beliefs, their way of looking at the world, and how they relate to that world. Visions of what the past should be, in their mindŐs eyes, gets into the whole, whether we are conscious of the process or not.

For our family, the history of the belief is not the same as having faith in a certain set of beliefs, and moral standards. The part about belief that attracts me, personally, the most is the mystery. The mystery keeps me strong on my path, it hones my senses in on the seemingly impossible, and keeps me aware of all life around me, turning in the spiral of the cycles. I have passed these thoughts and way of looking at belief onto my two teens since they were born, making our own bit of family history in the process, a small part of a huge whole of planet history. Our tradition has been built from the ground up, a mixture of cultures, back grounds, and ancestral traditions. To us it does not matter that no others might follow our road, for it is our road, the one we have chose to walk. We had added the colors of our thoughts, hopes, and dreams to our beliefs, our own history is still being born even as I write this. Maybe our little bit of history wonŐt have the impact on the world that the Monicas, Bills, or Georges, SR and JR have had or will have, but it impacts our own family line, our future childrenŐs children. The most lasting legacy we can really leave to future ancestors is the core of our faith and its incredible adaptability within our lives.

Thousands of years from now they might dig up our family Altar and be befuddled by the objects it held.

A womanly full figured Goddess statue, next to a smudge bowl, an Egyptian vase holding dried flowers native to America, set along side the skull of a buck deer. The little items will have them gasping with disbelief, a tiny scrying stone nestled in a box from India, a pendulum resting along side traditionally Plains wrapped feathers on an Altar cloth appliqued with Goddess Figures, and Triple Moons, on which a huge white buffalo resides, next to an axe head already over 1500 years old today, then it will be even more ancient. I grin in delight imagining their faces as they try to puzzle out what they see resting in the depths of their find, as they wonder how these objects could relate to one another....Hey it could happen!!!...Magick Happens!

Mystery and faith are alive outside of history, inside of it, and beside it, but belief does not depend on history to live, thrive, and grow.

Go Gentle!

What A Sensitive Issue This Is! With Any Religion It Is Often... Jan 16th. at 12:11:31 pm EST

Dan (Jackson, Michigan US) Age: 16

What a sensitive issue this is!
With any religion it is often hard to listen to the cold hard facts of history that basicaly say that what you believe in, what you think to be true, and what you yourself know is true, is not "accurate" or proven. When I first started reading up on Paganism I made sure that I what I read was un-biased, and very well researched, instead of something that was going to --like so many other religions-- try to sway me to believe something that was not true. After I had read what scholars, historians and what not said about Paganism, then I read the biased information. When I had finished reading a great deal of that, I read the exact opposite, the biased information of those opposing Paganism. I think that from all I have read, I've gotten a good view on the history of Paganism and Wicca. One thing extremely important that I have found out, it does not matter how long something has been around, how many people have been apart of it or how credited it is, what matters is what *I* as a witch feel is true, and what I make true.

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