Syncretism: My Way to Paganism and Sources of Inspiration
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Article ID: 8285
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 3,829
Times Read: 3,480
Author: Vit [a WitchVox Sponsor]
Posted: February 7th. 2004
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1: Questions and Answers
It is not an easy task to find the religion and philosophy that would answer satisfactorily the fundamental questions like: "Who are we?", "Where do we go to?", "How does the world work and why?"
There are a lot of religious and philosophical systems, a lot of ideas which came into being to explain the world. Some of them have become influential and widespread; some of them have been (nearly) lost.
You can try to find the answers to the questions mentioned above by choosing an established religious and philosophical system. Nevertheless, it may happen that you will realize that one or more ideas contradict the reality or that you simply do not like some idea(s). Now there are two possibilities: either to suppress the doubts or dislikes and become a conformist, or to substitute the "wrong" idea(s). If you opt for the latter, you start to syncretize. Such a situation then may repeat again and again. You can even be more radical, reject all and start afresh.
I think syncretization is a natural process that occurs in everyone who likes to ponder over things.
2: Story about Doggie and Pussycat
There is a book for children called "Stories about Doggie and Pussycat" by the Czech writer and painter Josef Capek. (He was a brother of the writer Karel Capek. In the play R.U.R. they coined the word "robot" for a humanoid machine.)
In one of the stories, the doggie and the pussycat wanted to bake a cake. The doggie said: "You will get the best cake if you put everything into it what you like the best to eat." So they put together chocolate, milk, bacon, sausage, honey, cucumbers, nuts, etc., mixed and baked everything expecting to get the best cake. When they thought the cake was baked, they put it behind the door to cool it down. Then a strange bad dog found the cake and ate it up. The doggie and the pussycat then came and saw no cake but a bad dog lying there groaning terribly.
I think we can interpret the story also figuratively: when you syncretize, your "cake" must not be injurious, and that is why you cannot combine a particular idea with whatever idea, a particular religion with whatever religion. The religious/philosophical system should be harmonious, consistent and, of course, it must correspond to reality. I understand that it is easier said than done - we are endeavoring to answer the most complex, the most difficult questions we can ask by using our abilities which are limited. That is why our system can never be fully harmonious. I think it is better to let some particular problems be unresolved than to resolve them at all costs. When there are ideas which are worthwhile accepting, but which, on the other hand, contradict one another, I find it useful to emphasize this contradiction. The unresolved things and contradictions are an invaluable source of our personal development (e.g. as in physics now: the quantum theory and the theory of relativity are incompatible, but both of them work [which is crucial], and efforts to surpass their incompatibility led to new theories - the string theory and the M-theory).
If you underestimate the above danger, you may end up with something like "Thank God I am an atheist" and, if you take your religion seriously, it may lead you to erratic decisions and to the life you did not want to live.
I think I should also add that even an established religion or philosophy may remind us of the cake of the doggie and the pussycat, sometimes even with an addition of gall.
3: Decision Making
Now comes the hard part - how to decide what is right and what is wrong in the sense of the above considerations. I think that generally you should be led by both your head and heart.
You should use critical thinking. The main thing is that the result - after integration of new ideas and, if necessary, elimination of some old one(s) - must bring you closer to understanding the reality. You should also be absolutely frank to yourself and decide if you really enjoy the system of ideas thought out by your head. On the other hand, your head must approve of the ideas accepted by your heart, so that you do not diverge from the reality.
Be yourself. Keep in mind that you are a unique personality and that other people can inspire you, but must not force you to accept their ideas.
4: My Way to Paganism
4.1: Starting Point
When I was born, I was baptized a Catholic. I was not forced to go to church, but some of my relatives were churchgoers. I tried to get to know the main ideas of the main world religions. I read the Bible, the Koran, the Tao Te Ching, and books on Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism. I have always believed that none of them is chosen and superior to the others. I liked the idea of Mohandas Gandhi that all religions are true, but they are also wrong in something. If I had had to choose one, I would have voted for Taoism. I have always liked Nature and in Nature I have often felt the presence of the Divine.
4.2: Growing Pains
As time passed and experience grew, I began to realize that there are serious discrepancies between Christianity and the real world which I was unable to reconcile and I felt that they called for explanation. (I focused on Christianity because it is a dominating religion here.)
One of them was the suffering of small children. I could imagine that an experience of suffering (even unjust) by a person capable of pondering might lead to some positive result. The suffering of small children, however, cannot be the case. The explanation might be that the Christian God is either gratuitously cruel or not omnipotent. Neither was compatible with Christian belief. (The suffering of animals could be a similar problem but not so striking.)
Another problem was discrimination against women, apparent both in the Old and the New Testaments (also in the books by later Christian authors as well as in Christian practice). When I turned to the other religions I realized that practically all the main world religions discriminate against women. Such an apparent injustice seemed to me intolerable. I also felt that there must be some reason for it. That is why I turned from the holy texts to texts by historians studying the genesis and development of religions in historical contexts. What I have found out fundamentally changed my views on the main religions.
4.3: God or Struggle for Domination
Hammurabi, the king of ancient Babylonia decided to strengthen his power. In his time, there was a pantheon of gods and goddesses in Babylonia. Each of the big cities had its own guardian deity. Hammurabi named the only state god Marduk and declared that the other deities delegated their powers to Marduk. This political act inspired the conception of one, masculine, omnipotent God which was then adopted by the main religions. (Hammurabi was considered the first lawgiver. His laws were very cruel and were based on the principle of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Later it was found out that he had been preceded by the king of Sumer and Akkad Urnammu, whose laws had been much less cruel than those of Hammurabi.)
I collected a lot of historical facts on the Bible and the way Christianity spread. Very often they told a similar story: the religion and its principles had been many times formed with the aim to reach power and influence.
On top of that there is good reason to think that the visions of two prominent figures of the Bible, St Paul and Moses, were caused by a brain disorder called temporal lobe epilepsy. It means that their spiritual visions were probably not genuine, but were caused by seizures (see Bibliography 1). Another article dealing with the disorder says it is also connected with decreased sexuality.
To explain the origin of the inferior status of women in the main world religions, I would like to begin with a quotation (see Bibliography 2): "We have seen that males investing large amounts of resources in parental effort are likely to be concerned about paternity certainty and female chastity. On the other hand, where women can provide for themselves and their children without male support, they have less reason to take account of male attempts at control and are likely to have greater sexual freedom. Since plough agriculture is historically and ethnographically a male-dominated activity, there are clearly good grounds for believing that it would have led to a dependence of women on male-controlled resources which had not previously existed, or at least to nothing like the same extent.
...(the) analysis of the evolution of patrilineality and pastoralism led to the conclusion that, if matrilineal societies become pastoral, then they are likely to become patrilineal...
...At the same time, as we have also seen, competition might well have developed between women themselves for the best male resource holders for long-term parental investment, involving strategies conditioned by male interests such as paternity certainty."
It follows that once women became so dependent on the resources of men, men took advantage of the situation to control the behavior and lives of women. The main world religions have been reflecting the above situation since they emerged and were established in these male-dominated societies.
(In this context I can also see the beginning of prostitution: men imposed on women a demand for chastity and faithfulness. In order not to restrict themselves, they triggered off the emergence of prostitutes in some way.)
4.4: Paganism Discovered
When I had found out all the above facts, I decided to search for a new religious/philosophical system, something that had predated Christianity and the other established religions, some original system from the era when people had had more natural attitudes towards each other and Nature. I started with searching for how our ancestors had worshipped Nature and soon I came across Paganism on the internet. Now I consider myself a Pagan. A solitary Pagan, because there are no Pagan groups in the Czech Republic.
5: My Inspirations
5.1: The Past
The past that predated Christianity and patriarchy is very remote, so information is limited, but it exists. I like especially three cultures:
5.1.1: Civilization of Minoan Crete (the greatest flowering about 2200-1450 BCE): In many respects it was the most advanced civilization of its time. Very often they depicted motifs taken from Nature; there is a lack of depiction of war scenes (in comparison with ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia or Greece, to say nothing of the Roman Empire). There are grounds to believe that there was peace on the island for more than 500 years. There is also absence of frightening motifs in their religious depictions. Women must have played an important role in the society.
5.1.2: Civilization of Ancient Malta: The civilization left us megalithic temples, some of them more than 5000 years old, where a female deity was probably worshipped.
5.1.3: Some Cultures of the Upper Paleolithic (about 50,000-11,000 years ago): Some 50,000 years ago, modern humans, who neither physically nor mentally differed from the humans living today, originated in Africa. These modern humans arrived in Europe approximately 35,000 years ago. There were unearthed female figurines, called Venuses or Paleolithic Venuses there. Male figurines are rare. There is strong evidence that some of the cultures were considerably advanced - making ceramic pieces in kilns, using plant fibers to manufacture textiles, basketry and nets, shaping of wood to make implements, cooking by using boiling stones, etc., have been demonstrated. The bearers of these cultures are often called Cro-Magnons. The DNA tests have shown that the present-day (indigenous) Europeans are largely genetically Cro-Magnons on both their maternal and paternal sides (about 80 per cent; the rest belong to Neolithic Middle Eastern immigrants). Some of the most prominent archaeological sites are also in the Czech Republic. I admire these people who lived, prospered and created here in the distant past. I am now aware that I am their descendant and I adopted their Venuses.
Fascinating, beautiful, mighty, inspiring, always truthful. Need I say more?
Science is a powerful tool whereby we may know more about Nature. Science is progressive, the main religions are conservative. That is why discrepancies between science and religion are inevitable. This is not the fate of Paganism, as I can understand it. Since Paganism is flexible and Nature-centered, it can (and should) draw from science without limits. This can make Paganism extremely strong and unique. I would like to mention here the scientific attitude to the problems often treated in religions: the origin of the world and qualities of human beings.
According to what we know now, our universe emerged 13.7 billion years ago as an extremely small (but not infinitely small), dense, hot, and expanding entity. The beginning of its expansion is called the Big Bang. Since then the universe has been expanding and nowadays its expansion is accelerating, driven by a mysterious force called dark energy. All the objects in our universe developed from this small entity. Thanks to the string theory, cosmologists found the first solutions to the problem of what the Big Bang had arisen from and what the pre-Big Bang universe had looked like. There are also scientific works showing that there is a real possibility that our universe is just a small part of a huge multiverse, one of a great many different universes. The properties of some of the universes make life possible and our universe is one of them.
A better understanding of many aspects of humans and all other living organisms is made possible by the present-day theory of evolution. Evolution shows us that all that is alive on the Earth is related to us.
From the DNA in each of our cells we can trace our relationship with all living creatures; we can find out how close a relative a particular organism is. We can also learn more about ourselves from the behavior of animals, especially those who are our close relatives. For example, we can find a sense of fair-play already in monkeys. It is also interesting to compare the behavior of humans with that of our two closest relatives: chimpanzees and bonobos.
Evolution gives a natural explanation of what I mentioned above: the suffering of small children. The evolution of species (including humans) is possible because of errors that occur when DNA is copied in the process of cell division. The errors arise from imperfections in the system. The error, i.e. a mutation, if passed to an offspring (i.e. when occurred in a reproductive cell), may cause a difference between an offspring and its parents in some respect. If the difference is beneficial, the offspring is more successful and the mutation is passed to the offspring of the offspring and then again and again. If the difference is harmful, the chances of the offspring surviving and reproducing decrease. So the evolution of species is possible only due to errors. Consequently, the very fact that we have developed means that we must be innately imperfect. It follows that at any stage of our lives we are not immune to suffering. So the suffering of small children is a consequence, not an intention.
We can see evolution at work in our everyday lives in organisms that multiply quickly: e.g. there have emerged bacteria resistant to antibiotics. Viruses are not living organisms; they multiply by using living cells, but their evolution via the above mechanism also occurs. The viruses causing AIDS or SARS that had not existed in the past but have recently evolved, are good examples.
5.4: The Spirituals
My main sources of inspiration were my experience, the Tao Te Ching and the books by Carl Gustav Jung. It seems to me that there is a spiritual world, probably unconscious, which is one of the forms of Nature (the Jungian collective unconscious is probably a part of it) and that we can catch a spark of it under some conditions. I sometimes have feelings of deviations, but they are too subtle and too personal to be discussed here now.
As for the afterlife, I was inspired by the Czech poet, Otokar Brezina. His poem "The Wine of the Strong" (published in 1896) has the following ending (in my own translation): "The punishment for the weak will be that they will forget their names when awake, and the reward for the strong will be that in the shining darkness they will remember the islands where they were held captives." I hypothesize that during my life my consciousness is able to find some "reference points" in the unconscious spiritual world and then later, in the state of unconscious afterlife these "reference points" will remind me of my consciousness and thus of my personality. Otherwise my psyche will dissolve in the unconscious spiritual world and my personality will be lost.
I worship Nature in her manifold aspects. To anthropomorphize, I prefer the Goddess (I consider the Venuses I have mentioned to be her representations). She represents all the feminine properties I like so much.
Bibliography in English: (My sources in Czech I do not mention.)
- God on the Brain, BBC News, 2003-03-20
- Genes, Memes and Human History. Darwinian Archaeology and Cultural Evolution by Stephen Shennan, London, 2002, pp.199-200
- The Dawn of Human Culture by Richard G.Klein, New York, 2002
- The Journey of Man. Agenetic Odyssey by Spencer Wells, Princeton and London 2002
- Hunters of the Golden Age: the Mid Upper Paleolithic of Eurasia 30,000-20,000 BP. Editors: W. Roebroeks, M. Mussi, J. Svoboda and K. Fennema, Leiden, 2000
- Our cosmic habitat by Martin Rees, Princeton, 2001
- Evolution by Carl Zimmer, London, 2002
- The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene, New York 1999
- Internet sites of NASA, Science daily Magazine and Nature
Location: Nova Ves, Czech Republic
Bio: I was born in 1961 in Brno and now I live near Prague. I am a chemist; I have been involved mainly in environmental chemistry and biochemistry. My hobbies are astronomy, geography, hiking, photography and finding answers to the fundamental questions about the world, universe and life.
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