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Question of the Week: 113

Pagan Problem Children: What Can We Do About Them?

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 Author:    Posted: Nov. 17, 2002   This Page Viewed: 15,843,329  

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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 

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.

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

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.

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.

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,

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

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.

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.

Well Well! A Fine Example Of The Kind Of Challenge To Our... Jan 15th. at 3:54:06 pm EST

Marea (Niagara Falls, Ontario CA) Age: 30 - Email

Well Well! A fine example of the kind of challenge to our belief that I've been posting about the last few weeks! Providing this kind of challenge to our sacred cows is precisely the kind of struggle and confrontation that I believe will make us better pagans. Yes, we all loved the notion that witchcraft and Goddess worship stems from some ancient pre-Christian culture that was horribly wronged and mutilated long ago, only to be resurrected by us. Especially those of us who have particularly stong anti-patriarchy urges (feminist alert!). Truthfully, if you buy that, then you might as well buy the notion that Gardner (bless his well-intentioned soul) really did bring us some unadulterated tradition of witchcraft straight from the forest without doing some serious tweaking first.
We shouldn't be afraid to look at articles that rebut our notions and challenge what we believe. It is the process of asking ourselves Why, What, Who, When, Where, and In What Context that we come to a richer understanding of our own personal truths and beliefs and why we have them. Otherwise we're just spouting ignorant dogma. The byproduct of all of this is - as Starhawk so fantastically writes, a better view of the context in which we place our own belief systems today and the understanding that what we TRULY find meaningful is not the cultural reconstructionism of the past but the way in which we live our lives on Mother Earth today.


Mm...i Read The Article In Question, And Felt That There Were... Jan 15th. at 3:17:02 pm EST

Raindancer (Christchurch, New Zealand) Age: 52 - Email

MM...I read the article in question, and felt that there were a number of problems with their logic and facts. Earlier, at a message board on another list, I wrote a lengthy reply to the thrust of the article. I don't know if I have the strength to write another, but I will say this:

What they are attempting to do is to discredit a religion that has been growing by leaps and bounds while the mainstream Judeo-Christian, patriarchal religions have been losing their appeal and membership. They seem to feel that if they can discredit the historical background of Wicca and modern paganism, that maybe it will go away.

Their thrust in this article seems to be saying that only Christianity and the bible based religions have historical validity, and by implication, that we should all go back to Jesus and behave.

What they have done though, is to overlook certain facts. First of all, they have overlooked the fact that there is a spectrum of belief within the pagan and Wiccan community. We are not some kind of monolithic system of belief, where there is only ONE WAY.

There are certainly Dianic Wiccans who follow exclusively or nearly exclusively, the Goddess, but that is by no means universal. I personally believe in balance of male and female. We are all children of the Goddess and God, and that we are all equally loved and equally important. In my view, any belief that proclaims superiority of one half of life over the other half on the basis of whether they have a penis or a vagina, is really missing the point and is perpetuating the injustice that has been a cause of misery for thousands of years.

Speaking only for myself, the point is that we are all made of the same stuff, We are all made of the dust that was once stars. We are all, from the ant to the whale, children of our planet, of Goddess and God. We are all brothers and sisters, and as such we all have a spark of the infinite within us. We are all sacred and holy.

We were all made to be free, we were all made to stand on our own, proud and strong, not to be dominated or to dominate others, but to stand together, hand in hand, and to strive every day to live with all life in harmony. If I degrade my sister, or my sister degrade me, how can we escape dragging ourselves down as well?

If I do not respect and honor my sister, or she, me, how can we in turn be worthy of respect and honor?

If there is respect, and honor, and most important, love and appreciation for each of us, encouragement for each of us to touch the highest star, to hold our dreams, how can we not have balance?

There may, somewhere, have been a Matriarchal Society, maybe, maybe not. We may never know definitively if there was or not. But what that article conveniently overlooked was that around the world, there were many goddesses and those goddesses were major players. They were important, just as there were many gods who were also major players. The article overlooks ancient artifacts such as the Willendorf Venus who was clearly a female fertility goddess, tens of thousands of years old.

It overlooks the story of Isis who brought her husband Osiris back to life, after he was murdered, which predates the story of Jesus by thousands of years. We will never know 100% what the whole story is as far as our ancestors beliefs, but then we have to consider whether or not that is as relevant to us as the kind of people we want to be, or the kind of world we want to live in.

Wicca has been called the fastest growing religion in America. Why? People, male and female want to find some kind of spiritual base in their lives, spiritual harmony there. Clearly, if the mainstream religions were providing this, Wicca would at best, be very small. But its not.

Women who are fed up with being second class humans, with being treted as the cause of all misery, of being inferior, are finding here a strength and a power, a freedom from all the old roles into which, the fears, fantasies, and prejudices of male dominated society forced them.

Men, who wanted to be nurturing, gentle, and to feel, but couldn't because it was "unmanly", who could love and respect their sisters and allow them their place in the sun, unthreatened, found an oasis in the spiritual Sahara that is the masculine mask in the patriarchal dominated misogynistic systems of belief.

In finding our way toward this way that we want to be, we have looked back to the ancient stories, the time when women were equally important, when Goddesses as well as Gods were worshipped, revered, and emulated. There is a lot that we will never know, but there is a lot that we do know about those times. The question of the existence of a remote Matriarchal society seems in a way, irrelevant. What is relevant is what it means now.

We do know that Patriarchy was not always the way of the world. We know, that women were respected and honored. There are documentable societies where women were accorded rights and status that was every bit equal to men. Celtic society comes to mind. We also know that regardless, a society where women as well as men are trampled down, degraded and persecuted, one in which any lifw is not honored and respected, is just not acceptable any more.

What attracted me to Wicca was that it honored women too. I have seen first hand some of what women have gone through, and although I am far from a saint, I want to try in whatever way I can to make it better. Regardless of the details, we are Wiccans and pagans, because we want to live another way. We want to live with love and honor for each other, for our Mother Earth, and for all life. All the details and bits and pieces won't change that.

We may or may not be following the worship of our ancestors to the letter, but to my mind, we certainly are following in the spirit. I am the child of my Goddess and my God, we are all Their children. This is not some archeological artifact, or historical re- enactment, this is, to me, a spiritual truth: We are all one. Nothing else matters.

Blessed Be, Raindancer

We know that for those of us who love the earth, we cannot accept, nor can humankind and perhaps life survive

When I Read That Lovely Article From The Atlantic, I Was Angry... Jan 15th. at 1:11:32 pm EST

Morrigan (Indianapolis, Indiana US) Age: 32 - Email

When I read that lovely article from the Atlantic, I was angry. But being the cautious person that I am, I put it aside for a few days to mull over. I then went back and read it again with new eyes. While some of points were valid, most of it was just a lame attempt of attacking the Pagan foundation with a teaspoon. It didn't wash with me. I believe what I believe not because I read it in a book or because someone told me to belief in the God/dess. I believe because it is inside of me, and has been there for more than this life cycle. I don't know how to explain it better, but I have known since I was a child that this was my path. I didn't recognize it until later in life, but it simply is supposed to be this way. I still don't know what I am supposed to do this time around, but there is a purpose to it all and I am slowly learning what it is all about. I don't take attacks to heart anymore because nothing could make me doubt what I am and what's in my heart. Just because my understanding of it isn't clear doesn't mean I am questioning it; it means that I am smart enough to let the entire play run its course instead of walking out in the first act because I read a bad review. I think for myself and don't allow others to lead me on my path. The Lord and Lady will show me what I need to know when the time is right. Until then, all I can do is sit back and say "Next!"

I Read Charlotte Allen's Article In The Atlantic, And Honestly I Liked... Jan 15th. at 1:10:06 pm EST

Cat (Asheville, North Carolina US) Age: 34

I read Charlotte Allen's article in the Atlantic, and honestly I liked it fine. One thing I particularly liked is that it DIDN'T attempt to invalidate Wicca; it DIDN'T say "because the UniGoddess Legend is coming into question historically, the faith is all bunk." With all due respect to Christina Biaggi--since I'm not personally acquainted with the work of Cynthia Eller--Allen's article, at least, did not strike me as an attack at all. If we as pagans are honest with ourselves, and if we understand the functions of metaphor, myth, and story, we have nothing to lose from serious scholarship which, in the best case, seeks historical knowledge and historical fact for their own sakes. Allen was (I hope) seeking truth, and she didn't appear to be using it to denigrate our faith; all she said was that our faith *as we practice it today* was essentially *new*. That's fine. Surely we ought to be proud of that rather than ashamed of it; even if modern Wicca came from a civil servant with a taste for S&M, it showed great imagination and an egalitarian sensibility, and it's given rise to endless (and often quite beautiful) permutations.

The only thing I didn't care for in Allen's article, in fact, was that she may have been reinventing the Hutton wheel. Since the idea of a unified matriarchal culture dominating pre-Christian Europe has already been more or less debunked, why keep at it? What I'd really like to know more about is the NON-unified goddess faiths--the here-and-there, local-deity, honest-to-goodness-polytheistic religions, and their effects on the cultures of those who practiced them. There's no need to ignore all goddesses because they didn't happen to match a widespread recent interest in *one* goddess.

Truly, I find these responses for the most part heartening; they suggest that Wiccans do (unlike a lot of Christians) know a parable when we hear one. However, I do think it behooves us not to bash the quest for factual history unless it's quite clearly expressing a bias (which sometimes, of course, it is.) The strength of our religion is in its beauty, its practicality for life right now, and its regard for the earth--we're worshippers, not historical scholars. One response below, for instance, says, "We do know that Patriarchy was not always the way of the world." In fact, I don't know that myself; without access to control of reproduction, women might well have been victims of patriarchy "since the dawn of time" for all I know to the contrary, with only the most localized and individual sites of resistance. But that response quoted above goes on to add something much more indisputable, and much more meaningful: "We also know that--regardless--a society where women...[or] men are trampled down, degraded and just not acceptable any more." Now THAT's what's really important about Wicca, and I hope and trust that no honest historian wants to deny it.

When someone says to us, "your religion's new, " try saying, "yeah, and?" When someone says, "patriarchy and domination are the way it's always been", let's try it again: "yeah, and? So you think this makes them okay?" If someone says "my religion's historical and yours isn't", mention that stuff about the virgin birth and getting up from the grave, which isn't exactly the stuff history's made of. We've nothing to be defensive about, and (honest) historians will never be the enemy. I'm going to go check out that Venus of Willendorf thing now. :-)

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