Tags: religion

flames of fire

post festival thoughts - reconstructionist blues

I spent a little time at PSG last week. Got to talk to a friend interested in Celtic Reconstructionism (CR). Mind you, I like both CR and this friend - it's not like I'm a hater or anything - I just question the assumptions and relevance of CR (not to mention the superiority with which CRists typically view themselves in relation to "fluffier", more obviously "made up" traditions).

Anyway, he was processing a CR get-together he had attended and was going over similarities and differences within the CR community. At first, I though he was alluding to the difference between Celtic Reconstructionism (which privileges "the" Iron Age "religion" of "the Celts") and Gaelic Traditionalism (which privileges the moribund ghetto of Gaeltacht cultural resistance - early 19th century); both have their virtues but are very distinct.

No, He was referring to two major camps within the CRists alone, based upon a matter of what part of the past they chose to reproduce and what part they "modernized" - which in itself seems inconsistent with their rhetorical stress on being "historically accurate". I told him that I thought all CR was a matter of picking and choosing which aspects are "essential" and which aspects are incidental, and wondered what broad groupings were being placed around such choices. He couldn't remember exactly what categories things fell into, but one he didn't belong to was more of a stickler on being an actual speaker of a Celtic language; as much kinship as I feel for this friend, this is one where I knew we disagreed... Collapse ), so I moved on to ask him about the commonalities. I thought that things may've changed over the past ten years, but sadly, he presented the same list of attributes, which seem to me to be created more to distance themselves from fluffy Wiccans than to reconstruct the Iron Age Celtic tradition.

I (lovingly) bitch about them here:

A) "Well, we don't call quarters or cast circles..."

"What do you do? Do you use 'the Fifths'?"
* "Fifths" were the names of Irish provinces - four quarters plus a unifying center.
Like this and this.

"Uh, no. Lore talks about the realms of Land, Sea and Sky. We use those."

"But like other continental cultures, I thought that the three realms were the vertical axis - Land with Sky above and Underworld/Sea beneath. The horizontal division of space into fifths or sevenths was used in Ireland, Scotland and Wales, enough to suggest a universal plan of dividing space (actually, in Wales, this pattern was reflected in even smaller regions, kinda like fractals)."

B) "Yeah... well, we see casting circles as exclusionary, cutting away an area away from the rest of the world and calling it "sacred" - actually, all the world is sacred."

"But what about those Belgic nemetons, (::I trace a big quadrangle::) what are they called? (viereckschanzen) The large rectangular spaces literally cut away from the world by ditches and ramparts?"

"Well, yeah. I guess those are continental shrines - we concentrated more on the Insular Celts..."

"Yeah. But in Ireland and Britain, the Insular Celts dug ditches around their nemetons also, but usually their ditches were circular... like casting a permanent circle."

C) "Uh, yeah. But we don't create sacred space - we just recognize the sacredness already there; everyplace is sacred - not just places where someone "casts a circle"."

"Meh. I may agree with that, but it doesn't seem that the ancients did. Actually, the idea that space is uniform and homogenous is an abstract modern idea, not an ancient one. They saw some features of the land as having distinct "personalities", some sacred, some ordinary.

"You've read Seán Ó Tuathail? He wrote a paper Power and Landscape in Ireland where he differentiated between the energies of different places - brí which is an intrinsic property of the land itself, and bua which in an overlay created by human actions. A well's natural brí can be accentuated through ritual devotion, layering significance and bua to a shrine. A field might hold little personality but become "tainted" by the bua of a gruesome battle. Things like that - kind of a 'Celtic feng shui' with 'mana' and 'taboo' thrown in."

"Yeah. That makes sense."

"I am sympathetic to the idea of 'all space being sacred' though - when you don't have access to Newgrange, sometimes you have to use your backyard, which may or may not have nifty numinous brí. Most spaces can be suitable after a ritual marking (calling quarters/fifths)"

At this point, he looked like he was going to go into the non-importance of Celtic language when doing Ásatrú-inspired blóts to Celtic gods in English and using Gaulish deity names (so much for "reconstruction" and "historical accuracy"), but luckily, busyiness distracted me and offered me an out. I needed time to process my thoughts.

With time, mind and resources, I'd love to get back into a good discussion. But for now, I remain the unconverted not-CR.

EDIT: I'm copying this post to my AODA/ADF journal.
bad cat

Another interesting snippet from Sojourners email

Sojourners featured the ever-popular Unitarian Jihad in a recent issue. I really didn't believe that anyone would find it offensive, but here's one reader's reaction:
Peter Ruark writes from Lansing, Michigan:

I am part of an organization that works to influence state policy on behalf of low-income people, and the Sojourners e-mails often provide a breath of fresh air during my workday as we fight what often seem to be losing battles. Though I appreciate your analyses and viewpoints immensely, I was disappointed to see that you reprinted the satire "Unitarian Jihad" [SojoMail 5/4/2005]. As a person of faith currently making my spiritual home in a Unitarian church, I would like to say that the author of the satire seems to have no idea what the Unitarians stand for or how they conduct their witness in the world. While it is true that many Unitarians seem to be unaware of the climate of dialogue and the appeal to "faith informed by reason" that takes place in the best of evangelical churches, it is equally true that many evangelicals wrongly see Unitarians as morally relativistic, solipsistic or even anti-Christian (I urge evangelicals who are under this impression to read the Unitarian Universalist Statement of Principles and Purposes.) In fact, Unitarians and evangelicals can and have made common cause in appealing to the moral obligations of people of faith to contribute to a more just society. Divisive pieces like this do nothing to bridge what is often a lack of understanding between the two approaches to faith.



What is he talking about? Who said anything about "solipsistic" or "anti-Christian"? And this was reprinted from a mainstream newspaper, not something primarily addressed to evangelicals, but to either Unitarians or people familiar with Unitarians - otherwise the joke wouldn't be funny.

Okay, maybe it isn't so hard to believe that someone might be offended by it...

...if they were a Unitarian - the dissenting vote on the "We have a sense of humor" committee.
flames of fire


I guess I missed the miniseries Revelations - now I'll never know the truth and perhaps be "left behind". I got this commentary in an email today - it makes me almost wish I had seen the series.

A doctoral candidate in theology gives a few pointers to NBC.
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flames of fire

A note on religion

UPDATED from old private post

Kith and kin

Every now and then, I get a question on how I can identify with Buddhism, Catholicism, and Neopaganism, without falling into a muddle in the middle. The walls between these (and any "religions" in the modern age) seem thick and unyielding, and cannot flex without damaging the integrity of the whole. I've met syncretists (such as Zen Druids and Christo-Pagans) who seem to flex walls in this way, some with more success than others.

I wonder though how much twisting and flexing is actually necessary? On the surface, none at all - the walls between "religions" in my opinion, are simply manifestations of the original wall, the compartmentalization of religion at the beginning of the modern age (demonstrated by Kant and his "starry heavens above me and the moral law within me"). If the moral law within (identified in Christian terms) in no way reflects the universal "starry heavens above", but is something essentially private, then how much greater is the chasm between private moral laws of a European and private moral laws of an Arab. Religion having been whittled down to a list of "beliefs", western philosophy of religion further reified religions by trying to compare and contrast lists of "beliefs" as logical statements.

This logical approach was/is flawed in many ways, most of which stem from the language-like nature of religion:

First, languages cannot be compared and contrasted so easily - is French a deficient language since there is no equivalent to the English word "mind"? Or are both French and English deficient because they lack the gradations of "white" that exist in Inuit languages? Or do they simply approach the same reality from a different perspective?

Second, languages do not rise in opposition to each other but in relation to a historical context. Again, French didn't create a concept "sympathique" simply to taunt the English lack of such a word, nor as a critique of the German nuances to the word - they developed the concept out of their own experience. Likewise, Gautama didn't formulate the Four Noble Truths as a reaction to Moses or Jesus, but as an insight into his lived experience. Jesus wasn't founding a religion in opposition to druids on the other side of the world, but was sharing a vision among his own people.

So, my first answer to confusion over my Buddheo-Catholic-Druid self is answered in terms of language - I'm a religious polyglot. I work comfortably within a number of religious milieus.

My second answer has to do with culture and religion Collapse )
flames of fire

No insincere fawning and no insincere knee-jerk bigotry

I've given the last few weeks of religious "changing of the guards" some space to process.

I may be completely deluded (very possible) but I feel relatively peaceful about the recent events... "peaceful" , not "pleased". I was no fan of JPII and still haven't been moved by his "televisional beatification" - but neither do I hate him. He was not/is not a saint, nor was he simply a sincere old man naive in the ways of the world - he stood firmly for some good, but then again he stood firmly for some bad stuff. He was a human being, just like any other.

I honestly didn't think that Ratzinger would be elected, but I was never secure in that doubt. I have no doubt that he has the potential to do some pretty crappy things, but I'm not afraid of him. In a way I can't explain very well, I am optimistic about the world-process - theologians would call it 'faith' (trust) in Wisdom, Gandhi would call it 'satyagraha' (clinging to Truth). I have some history with Ratzinger, "Benedict XVI", and ironically, he had some part to play in the development of my optimism (though negatively), so I'm not afraid. There have been worse popes than both JPII and BXVI and yet the earth still revolves on its axis.

I was waiting for this reflection. It captures some nice points:

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