Daily Archives: October 24, 2011
Now for something completely different… Amateur Religious Ethnography Botched, Or the Pagan Interviews, Part 11
An interview with Scott Worley on solitary Heathenry.
Skepoet: What is your religious background and how did you come to it?
Scott Worley: A long time ago on the fourth day of the forth month in the nineteen hundred & seventy first year of the Common Era I was born….
And life was grand, I had no questions to be answered cause everything was new and filled me with awe, and then it happened, I started to want to know the why of things but not the things that school taught so I started to ask questions of my mother and grandmother. I really didn’t get much from them but that they held a membership at West highland Baptist Church that was little more than a stone’s throw from the house so I started to hop the fence and walk there every Sunday morning and went there until just before my teenage years and in truth had fun and made many friends and felt that many of my questions were answered, but even so I still felt like something wasn’t meshing with the place so I stopped going and quite frankly said screw religion for a few years. Sometime later in my late teen years my older sister was dating or friends with (can’t remember which it was) a youth minister at Cherokee Heights Baptist Church so I went the first time more or less to stop them from asking me each week. There I did fall in love with more than a few of the youth group and reconnected with my dearest and oldest friend and I felt like hey, this may be it , but truth be told I still felt the outsider even though I value all of the friends I made their dearly, and then I graduated high school. On a side note it was via my reading the youth ministers books that I first learned the terms Paganism, Occult, and my desire to study all religions for the common thread was spurned.
So I left for College and well got into role playing and all and learned the D&D was not of the devil and all those books were little more than fear mongering trash. Keep in mind this was a Christian college.
Well, anyways, when I left the college having gotten bored with being there and missing home I came back started visiting friends churches one was a Church of God… to be honest the place was just too weird for me. So again for a while I stopped going anywhere.
Then I met a young lady whom I now harbor a deep seated hatred for (long story and not going into it now) and started visiting her church being Saint Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church and indeed it was to say my first introduction to the concept of ” Ancestor worship” even though that’s technically not what honoring Saints is, it is a step in that direction. So for a while Christianity made sense to me, but after we were no longer a couple I stopped going there and started to look at the history of the religion kind of trying to connect all the dots so to speak. So for a few years after my divorce I had no faith to speak of, I mean I wasn’t truly an atheist nor an agnostic, I had simply given up caring one way or the other about anything spiritual.
Anyways, then an odd thing happened I got a job at the high school I went to as a security guard and met a few people whom have endeared themselves to me as loyal and trustworthy friends, some of which had these unique religious beliefs. And so I started to look into their various faiths just to see what values they espoused. So I started looking into the modern day faith of Wicca mostly via books at first ( have a somewhat extensive library of Wiccan related books) and even joined the faith via the Correllian Nativist Tradition via their Witchschool.com website even liked the place so much I became a member of the inner court meaning I became a part of their priesthood but after the tradition went through a schism between the American covens and those overseas, I left the tradition along with my mentor & all of our combined students, and all went our own ways spiritually speaking.
Roughly after I joined the Correllian Nativist Tradition I became interested in modern Druidism as such following a suggestion from a gentleman I met at a Pagan gathering I looked up Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship (ADF) and switched up my focus so to speak via their dedicant program and online discussion groups I have learnt a great deal about all the indo European traditions and for some time I felt Celtic-recon was the thing for me (under the concepts espoused by ADF that is to say)
Anyways I keep an on and off again membership with them even tried and failed to start and help start local study group. At any rate while whole heartedly being a Modern Pagan I started looking into the Eastern faiths other than Christianity and will say they all have equal beauty to me, but none have really felt right to me, on a visceral level. So I have shelved my study of them. Which is not to say that all these various faiths don’t have their own beauty and value mind you, they just don’t feel like home, and I feel a spiritual path should feel natural to a person, not like it is work to believe it and live it.
That being said I come looking into my ancestors Native Pre-Christian faiths & practices (with in the modern constructs of sacrifice, etc) These things I learned via ADF, but after looking more into my family’s history and some UPG I felt drawn to the God’s of my Saxon and Norman ancestors. So for say 4 years give or take I have been studying Germanic Neopaganism with a bend towards Saxon Reconstructionism, however I am by far more familiar with the Nordic names for the God’s and tend to use them more often than the Saxon ones.
Skepoet: What is your academic background?
Scott Worley: I have some college but have as yet receive a degree other than a few technical certificates. I wish to return to get my masters in History with a focus in European history some day but with having a limited income and more financial responsibilities than I care for it as many want to’s & need to’s will have to wait.
Skepoet: How do you see these interacting with each other?
Scott Worley: I sometimes find myself in awe of those who have been able to get the degrees I would prefer to have, but at the same time I do not feel a lesser person for not having a sheet of paper to tell the world I know what I know. However, at times being somewhat a reconstructionist where my spiritual path is concerned not having the college background makes getting s few who do to see me as an equal in discussions no matter how much non-college studying I have put into my faith systems lore.
Skepoet: How large are the heathen groups in your area?
Scott Worley: At present in my immediate area of Dothan, Alabama there are no Heathen groups. Seems I am the one and only Heathen in Dothan. I know of one Wiccan coven of the Unicorn Tradition nearby , and there is an Ecclectic “generic” Pagan Circle in the Wiregrass as well. As far as my search has indicated Járnhallafélagið (Fellowship of Iron Hall) is the largest organized Heathen group in Alabama as a whole; however it is too far for me to visit having no transportation.
Skepoet: Do find there are a lot of resources for isolated Heathens?
Scott Worley: Outside of books and stuff one can find online for the sake of studying the lore & various web groups for the sake of “community” & the one national organization that allows for solitary memberships I would say no. Being somewhat isolated as a Heathen I know I often find myself skipping holiday celebrations and the like being as many of the rituals of this faith system are centered around a community dynamic, or at least that’s my take on them. There are a few good resources but one must look for them as a isolated Heathen or luck up on internet friends whom will point them to where they can find resources. After all Asatru has been called the “religion with homework” .
Skepoet: Do have a relationship with a specific deity or several deities?
Scott Worley: I would say its a little of both. I know more about Thunor (Thor) so I find him more familiar and more like family so to speak so I tend to feel a closer bond with him. However I the UPG that brought me to Asatru from the Druidic path was from Woden, and I have had one bit of unverifiable personal gnosis that that could have come from only Vidarr. So I do honor them as well more often than the rest. But Thunor tends to get the lion’s share of my thought & worship truth be told.
Skepoet: What do you use as the primary sources of your worship textually speaking?
Scott Worley: The Edda’s, the Sagas, but for the sake of ease The Havamal…. but this would be only things I could see as being useful outside of history books that are helpful to me coming from a very loose Reconstructionist ideal.
Skepoet: What do you think of the criticism that the Eddas are corrupted by Christian influence since they are a very late document?
Scott Worley: Honestly I have not given that much thought to it. While I can see some influences in say the creation myth part in the name similarity in the names Ask & Adam / Embla & Eve but such as influence could have easily been just the opposite the Germanic myth influencing the early Christian ones as far as naming goes. However one would that the translators would have left their faith at the door when doing the work of translation, but one can never know. Indeed it is the main reason I tend to draw inspiration from multiple translations as I understand many Heathens do, some seem to be more popular than others in example would be The Havamal which I prefer the Bellows or Hollander translations for the language used, other would “swear by” Chisholm and so on. Quite thankful for having ran across that very good internet resource being the online library at the Temple of Our Heathen God’s website.
Skepoet: Some other pagans have noticed that many Heathens are of a formerly Protestant Christian background, but this is largely anecdotal as good records aren’t available. What are the backgrounds of most of the heathens you correspond with?
Scott Worley: I find that among those I know personally & online its a blend of the following former Catholics, former Protestants, Atheists, and Agnostics, and pretty well everything in between. I have even met the odd few who had no previous religious or spiritual beliefs. As far as active correspondence’s go it seems to be a 50/50 split between the former Catholic & former Agnostic backgrounds. On a side note I have met two verifiable 2cd generation Wiccans and know a few 3rd gen teens as well.
Skepoet: How could you separate spiritual Volkish heaven groups and information from people using Volkish ideas for ethnic nationalist or other political ends?
Scott Worley: For some groups it is as simple as noticing the language they use. For other groups its a matter of looking at the things they draw inspiration from example being someone say having David Lane as a hero listed in many of it members list of inspirations. And others it often does boil down to just asking questions of its members and higher ups specifically. At least this is how I have done this so far.
Skepoet: Is there anything you would like to say in closing?
Scott Worley: I only have two thoughts to leave you and any who may read this interview with, both are other men’s words, but sum up the ideas of my personal faith.
My name is not my own.
It is borrowed from my ancestors
and I must return it unstained.
My honor is not my own.
It is on loan from my descendants
and I must give it to them unbroken.
Our blood is not our own.
It is a gift to generations yet unborn.
We should carry it with responsibility.
- Vincent Enlund
Now for something completely different… Amateur Religious Ethnography Botched, Or the Pagan Interviews, Part 10
Skepoet: What is your religious background and how did you come to it?
Dárroçh Dubhghlas Greagoir: I practice traditional Cornish Wytchcraeft, which is an animist faith that draws upon the folk traditions of the British ‘Cunning Folk’ of south western England. Basically, in many ways it is a region based, reconstructionalist path that seeks to revive the religious beliefs and practices of my ancestors. Because of this ethnographic and historiographical texts play major role in the understanding of my ancestors and my faith.
For those who are not familiar with the term ‘Cunning Folk’ basically a cunning person is essentially a traditional folk-magic practitioner who draws their traditions from the rural practices of the United Kingdom. As whole the cunning folk work with the genuis loci, familiar spirits, and regional divinities.
Unlike modern traditions such as Neo-Paganism, Wicca-Craft, or other earth centered Goddess paths during our spirit work we do not work with elemental spirits, watch towers, etc. but rather we focus on our shamanistic roots and work with animal totems, our ancestors, etc.
In the case of the Cornish cunning folk we focus our worship on a local deity called ‘The Bucca’. Also, the ancestors and local divinities play major role in worship.
In regards to how I came into my ‘craft’ it is simple. My mother and grandmother were both Pellars and by proxy I am a hereditary pellar and have practiced this faith all my life; However, as this is a reconstructionalist faith I am always learning and discovering new as historians bring new information to light.
Skepoet: What is your academic background?
Dárroçh Dubhghlas Greagoir: I attended Middle Tennessee State University for my Bachelors of Arts in Ethnographic History and did study abroad at Exeter University in Cornwall where I focused on researching church history and while at Exeter doing my own research on traditional Cornish wytchcraeft and pagan cults in Pre-Christian Ireland.
Currently, I am working on my PhD/Masters (dual program) in History at Vanderbilt and my thesis paper is “West Country Witchcraft: Pellars, Cunning Folk, and Charms 1400-1900“
Skepoet: How do you see these interacting with each other?
Dárroçh Dubhghlas Greagoir: I believe as a heathen and historian it is my job to practice, record, and educate the public on the way my ancestors traditionally practiced. I believe there is a large amount of misinformation propagated by the social media. Basically, being a historian and heathen has no difference for me; I see the two as linked.
Skepoet: Can you tell me more about ‘The Bucca?
Dárroçh Dubhghlas Greagoir: From an ethnographic perspective, the term Bucca refers in Cornwall to several things. First of all it was common for the fisher folk of Newlyn, Moueshole and Penzance to set aside three fish from their catch to placate the Sea god Bucca Dhu who was said to be the herald and originator of storms, particularly violent storms. In Newlyn their were a number of sites that were associated with this spirits veneration including the Tolcarne, which was said to have where the Bucca foretold the Spanish Raid on Mount’s Bay in 1595.
Another place was the Park an Growse or field of the cross which was situated east of the now large Council estate gwavas. The Rev Lach-Szyrma of St Peters Newlyn considered the Bucca to be the remnant of ancient Cornish sea god a view shared by other antiquarians associated with the Cornish revival. The famous Cornish Folk Story “Duffy and the Bucca” or Duffy and the Devil is based on a different version of the Bucca who was seen riding the moors of Cornwall with a wild hunt of flame eyes dogs in attendance, sometimes known as the Devil and his Dandy Dog’s or East Cornwall, Dando and his dogs.
William Bottrell in 1890 described the Bucca.”The old people spoke of a Bucka Gwidden and a Bucka Dhu – by the former they meant good god, and by the latter an evil one, now known as Bucka boo. I have been told, by persons of credit, that within the last forty years it was a usual practice with Newlyn and Mousehole fishermen to leave on the sand at night a portion of their catch for Bucka.
From a heathen perspective, the Horned One is held as the chief Witch-divinitie in most old cunning traditions and is the vary Initiator of the cunning path.To the traditional witches and cunning folk of Cornwall ‘The Horned One’ is known as Bucca or Buckie in west Devon. ‘The Horned one’ is also ‘ The Horned two’ in the mystic duality of Bucca dhu and Bucca Widden.
Bucca Widden,is the fair god, and may be invoked by the cunning folk for workings of genertive magic,protection,fair weather and nourshing rains. The White Bucca is also associated with the full moon .The White Bucca rules over the ‘light’ part of the year from May’s Eve to Allentide, Bucca white is also associated with the full moon.
Bucca dhu , is the dark god, and my be referred to as Bucca Boo and as Devil. The Black Bucca is associated with all of the workings of spirit communication,blasting,inner worlds,emotions, mind control and dark defensive magic. Much of the Witchs magick involves working with spirits,controling magick,and the inner world, so thus Bucca dhu appears to be more connected to witchcraft.Bucca dhu rules the ‘dark’ part of the year form Allentide to May Eve, Bucca black is also associated with the dark side of the moon
Now not only is The Bucca ‘The Horned One’ and ‘The Horned Two’ The Bucca is also ‘The Horned Three’ for Bucca dhu and Bucca widden is just two faces of the same deity called Bucca Gam or , The Grand Bucca . Bucca gam is the sabbatic goat of the witches, the resolver of dualities between male and female ,Light and dark, life and death and so on , and a divine androgyne/hermephadite .
Skepoet: As a historian are you familiar with Ronald Hutton’s work on Druidism and Wicca? If you are, how do you feel about it?
Dárroçh Dubhghlas Greagoir: Yes, I am familiar with it but yo be honest as I am working intensely on my own research regarding the heathen practices of the Cornish I haven’t read much on it. Typically speaking I don’t read much about modern pagan traditions. If we are speaking about historians of interest when it comes to witchcraft, folk-magic, and lore or even church history when speaking about the cunning-craft Owen Davies is much better.
When reading about the cunning-craft I focus mostly on reading books from Owen Davies, Emma Wilby, Gemma Gary, and Nigel Jackson. Also, reading books on wortcunning, the ‘farms alamanc’, and herbalism plays a even larger role in my approach to the traditional craft.
Skepoet: As a reconstructionist, what do you see as a valid philosophical or religious grounding for justifying a pagan practice?
Dárroçh Dubhghlas Greagoir: In my opinion we have to have some evidence from folklore, primary documentation, or interviews that are affirmed by research that say a particular practice or belief was common amongst a group of people. Without this we are practicing what I term as ‘fake-lore’, which is a common problem found in most books on the market.
Skepoet: Why do you think reconstructing such views are important?
Dárroçh Dubhghlas Greagoir: Well, I believe a connection to our ancestors is essential and the only way to do so is to practice the way they did. This requires reconstruction, research, and documentation. If there are gaps I don’t believe in substituting as it defeats the purpose of reconstructionalist faiths.
Skepoet: How do you see people getting involved in a craft if they are not scholars?
Dárroçh Dubhghlas Greagoir: You don’t have to be a scholar but just do your own research and use common sense (i.e. comparative analysis) when coming to conclusions about historical practices. In our modern society there is a whole plethora of forums, databases, and online scans of reading material. We also have inter-library loans and many, many scholars who are just a e-mail away to answer your questions. So, no you don’t have to be a scholar but you do have to be honest. Again, without honesty it’s merely ‘fake-lore’.
Skepoet: Do you see some traditions are being nearly un-reconstructable due to lack of sources?
Dárroçh Dubhghlas Greagoir: Yes, there are many cultures that have merely died out or didn’t have a writing system to keep records. From the perspective of a historian the practices of so-called neo-lithic peoples worldwide are unreconstructable. Even within our own culture its hard to say. In the case of south west England at one time we had the people of Devon, or Devonians, and I can only assume that their heathen practices much like their language have disappeared and are able to be reconstructed. However, again without good research the issue of fake-lore.
Other examples are shamanistic practices from Metis societies, Indo-Arabic pagan practices, etc.
Skepoet: Do what do you think of using say other Indo-European religions such as Vedic hinduism as a way to fill in knowledge camps in Recon religions? (The ADF does this a good deal).
Dárroçh Dubhghlas Greagoir: Well, as I said before I don’t think substituting for lack of information is beneficial for reconstructionalist religions. If we fall into that pitfall we are only a step away from substituting folklore for ‘fake-lore’.
I was born on the cusp between Generation X and the Millennials, and share with both generations a distaste for the politics of the Boomers. I sometimes they that only a generation so narcissistic that it couldn’t see past the corpse of its self-righteousness indignation. Now that is inchoate generational rage from the pageant of the Boomer 1960s which every five or so years we must be reminded how beautiful and wonderful the 20-somethings of the late sixties were. Yet, I have always had to reconcile this with the fact that I, while not close to my parents, have a fairly functional relationship with some of them. My mother was a late boomer, and my rage at her generation stems–not so much from resentment–but at the failed promises and half-truths of the people who gave us both 1968 and the Reagan revolution.
So what does this have to do with the culture war and with generational issues? Actually, I suspect quite a bit. I was reading Ben over at Marmalade again and his post “Behead that Zombie Culture War”. There is much to agree with his logic and his generalization, but let’s look at a good bit of the situation:
The Silent and Boomer generations were born before and in many cases grew up before the present culture wars even began (i.e., the 60s; and not really gaining full momentum until the late 60s). Also, they didn’t know the hardships and sacrifices previous generations made. They didn’t experience the oppression that led to the rise of working class movements during the Populist and Progressive Eras. They didn’t experience having to fight for basic rights and protections during an era when industrialism arose. They didn’t experience WWI, didn’t experience Prohibition and the Great Depression, didn’t even experience WWII to any great extent (although some Silents would have memories of it from childhood).
The era of the early lives of Silents and Boomers was a time of mostly peace and prosperity. It was a time when liberalism reigned without much challenge (progressive reform, high union membership, enactment of EPA, progressive taxation, building of infrastructure, the G.I. bill, etc), and this liberalism created a booming economy and growing middle class (along with increasing social mobility, career opportunities, and civil rights). Silents and Boomers, especially the latter, grew up in privilege and entitlement. They only knew the benefits of what previous generations had fought for but not the hardships and sacrifices. For this reason, they became in many ways selfish generations who dismantled much of what they had benefited from, pulling up the ladder behind them so that later generations would struggle and suffer (if you’ve paid attention, you’d notice that Boomer-dominated unions often are more protective of the rights of older workers than of newer workers who tend to be of the younger generations entering the workforce)
There is something to this analysis that there was a generational battle in the 1950s and 1960s that came from a general feeling of prosperity, but I would contest that Generation X and the Millienials haven’t been in an experience of decline for long enough to start saying that is the major cause of the shift. Indeed, the culture wars seems irrelevant to most of us because the wins and loses have pretty much been at a stand-still or about three decades now with just finer and finer points being rehashed in the Supreme Court. So a sort of inertia is going on both sides as they are both largely decontextualized. But this brings me to another of Ben’s points:
As a GenXer, I grew up in the world made by the Boomers. Even as an adult from the mid 90s to the present, the impact of Boomers was mostly in the foreground and the impact of GenX was mostly in the background. If GenXers wanted to play in politics or the marketplace, we largely had to play according to the rules set down by the Boomers (the internet seemingly the only place where GenXers could operate on their own terms). I feel disappointed in my generation for having conceded so much to the Boomers. I know we were a small generation and couldn’t fairly compete with the Boomers, but still I wish we had been more of a thorn in the side of power. Instead, we in many ways just played along and made things even worse, embracing the Reagan era mantra of greed and self-centeredness (my generation playing no small part in helping to cause the economic problems), too many of us becoming politically cynical and apathetic in the process or else bitterly angry in our fight against such apathy. The closest most GenXers got to political involvement was to become anti-statists and anarchists fighting against the New World Order or against the the liberal elites (depending on one’s ideological persuasion), but it was a politics without vision or even much hope, just reactionary activism against Boomer’s society (Tea Party GenXers like Beck and Palin being the prime examples of this GenX style activism). I didn’t get a full doseage of Reagan rhetoric as I was on the younger end of GenX, but I’ve seen its impact on my generation.
Despite my emotional response, I’m still able to step back and look at all of this somewhat objectively. I’m fascinated by the close connection between culture war and class war. They seem to be two sides of the same coin. Generally speaking, both the left and right usually see the culture war of the other side as blatant class war, both sides agreeing that there is a culture war going on even while disagreeing about eachother’s motives, the difference being that the left is more likely to see culture war and class war as inherently linked. Most liberals probably don’t take as an insult the conservative allegation that they are pushing class war. The liberal agrees there is a class war, although they would simply add that the rich are winning. Conservatives often use rhetoric grounded in obvious class war, but for some reason they are unwilling to admit to it. I think it’s because there is no way to admit to the class issue without also admitting to the race issue, those two also being inherently linked (or so it seems to my liberal-biased mind).
The funny thing is that for all the Generation X alienation, there is a still a whiff of spurned promises that the Millennials got even more. This brings me to an interesting article by Noreen Malone which gets to a real problem on the generation gap which the Millennials, while “Generation X” went through it’s “we’re going to be the first generation that doesn’t do as well as our parents” during the entirety of the 1990s, at no point where there statistics that looked as structurally changed as this:
Nearly 14 percent of college graduates from the classes of 2006 through 2010 can’t find full-time work, and overall just 55.3 percent of people ages 16 to 29 have jobs. That’s the lowest percentage since World War II, as you might have heard an Occupy Wall Street protester point out. (Not coincidentally, one in five young adults now lives below the poverty line.) Almost a quarter more people ages 25 to 34—in other words, people who should be a few years into their independent lives—are living with their parents than at the beginning of the recession.
Being young is supposed to mean you have the luxury of time. But in hard times, a few fallow years can become a lifetime drag on what you earn, sort of the opposite of compound interest. Because the average person grabs 70 percent of their total pay bumps during their first ten years in the workforce, according to a paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research, having stagnant or nonexistent wages during that period means you hit that springboard at a crawl. Economist Lisa Kahn explained to The Atlantic in 2010 that those who graduate into a recession are still earning an average of 10 percent less nearly two decades into their careers. In hard, paycheck-shrinking numbers, the salary lost over that stretch totals around $100,000. That works out to $490 or so less a month, money that could go, say, toward repaying student loans, which for the class of 2009 average $24,000. Those student loans (the responsible borrowing option!) have reportedly passed credit cards as the nation’s largest source of debt. This is not just a rotten moment to be young. It’s a putrid, stinking, several-months-old-stringy-goat-meat moment to be young.
Earlier generations have weathered recessions, of course; this stall we’re in has the look of something nastier. Social Security and Medicare are going to be diminished, at best. Hours worked are up even as hiring staggers along: Blood from a stone looks to be the normal order of things “going forward,” to borrow the business-speak. Economists are warning that even when the economy recuperates, full employment will be lower and growth will be slower—a sad little rhyme that adds up to something decidedly unpoetic. A majority of Americans say, for the first time ever, that this generation will not be better off than its parents.
So while Generation X’s retreat was partly from the same excess that generated the Boomer self-righteous, the real economic loss is among the young. That said, the old conservative yarn about how liberals–boomer and GenX–prepared their children for a world that, would chew them up and spit their entitled asses back out seems to be something that Millenials on aggregate actually recognize:
It might be hard, in fact, to create a generation more metaphysically ill-equipped to adjust to this new tough-shit world. Yet some of us, somehow, are dealing pretty well.
Now, this Gizmodo rant I linked to seems have missed that point and also missed this:
But Generation X is tired of your sense of entitlement. Generation X also graduated during a recession. It had even shittier jobs, and actually had to pay for its own music. (At least, when music mattered most to it.) Generation X is used to being fucked over. It lost its meager savings in the dot-com bust. Then came George Bush, and 9/11, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Generation X bore the brunt of all that. And then came the housing crisis.
You see that the employment statistics were not as bad for Millennials and Generation X, but this is what I think Ben might not be onto, the sense of entitlement and privilege for post-war America was taking a historical outlier as a given: true for Boomers, X, and Millennials. Furthermore, the self-righteous posturing there is indicative of privilege that has been falsely promised by Boomer and Silent parents to both generations, but honestly, I think there is an indication that the Millennials grew up after the shift. Now, this brings me back to the culture war:
If you look at the people on the left who have painted the darkest picture of what the economic downturn means, they’re a generation ahead: Matt Taibbi, for one, or Ken Layne, the publisher of Wonkette, whose ironized blog prose mixes strangely with his incredibly bleak reading of the economy and culture. (Layne told me, in an e-mail of ambiguous sincerity, that the main advice he would give a recent graduate was to own only what would fit in a backpack and keep a current passport always on hand.) They are unabashedly, feverishly upset. Their words practically sweat clammily. Our generation tends to prefer our dystopian news delivered with the impish smile of a Jon Stewart. (I turn the channel when it’s time for scowling, ranting Lewis Black.) Reared to sponge up positive reinforcement that requires only a positive attitude as a buy-in, we are just not that into anger.
If I read the barometer of these articles right, but generations are part of a narrative of decline while the boomers were battling out identity issues (without changing much fiscally for most of the identity’s involved. Black relative income has declined since the 1970s, and integration hasn’t gone so well for it. In fact, many older Southern blacks such as
Zora Neale Hurston grounds that it would undermine black control of its communities, which, sadly has been largely true.)
This is another thing that these pieces seem to miss: the culture wars have affected different communities quite differently, and much of it does seem like the rantings of the relatively privileged. Which is why the culture war seems like a proxy for class, but it is a proxy for the lower middle class whites to argue with the upper middle class whites. Furthermore, I think that most of the issues of the culture war–with the exception of abortion–have been resolved ultimately in a strange cultural compromise that honestly no boomer would be happy with given their historical ideologies. William Saletan has stated it, “But to make a real difference, he’ll have to tell two truths that the left and the right don’t want to hear: that morality has to be practical, and that practicality requires morals.”
The emerging compromise is born out of practicality from generations which seems to have new zombie bodies to decapitate over who is going to get the most denied it from those Boomers and their taking a historical outlier for normalcy. Meanwhile, what I said about median income increase, while that seems to be reversing. The Devil’s advocate makes this point:
The version of capitalism we live in today, whether it is in USA, socialist Western Europe or not-really-communist China, is built on certain assumptions that are simply not true today.
1. Capitalism, in all of its known forms, is a ponzi scheme that requires a naive, youth-heavy and disposable population to enrich the few. Ironically, communism required the same and the collapse of communism in eastern Europe occurred about a generation after people started having smaller families. Coincidence?
Now tell me- which developed countries are becoming younger and growing at rates approaching those seen say 60 years ago? Even many developing countries now have birth rates and life-expectancies that are essentially equivalent to developed countries.
2. Successful and stable capitalism requires ever-increasing amounts of money changing hands (increased aggregate consumption) but it’s very structure ends up concentrating money in a few hands (reducing aggregate consumption) thereby ultimately destroying the very condition required for its success and stability.
How can you make ever-increasing amounts of profits if you have increasingly fewer and poorer customers? Sure.. you can cook the books for a decade or so, but can you do it forever?
3. Most of the paid-out profits in capitalism are based on projections of future growth and accounting ‘techniques’. In the old days, real growth and technological advancement allowed the scam artists (capitalists) to paper over those discrepancies. Today the system does not have enough real growth or technological breakthroughs to allow the scammers to deliver on their promises.
So they are now effectively sucking blood (money) out of a body (system) which cannot produce more than what is being lost. The requirement for ever-increasing profit in capitalism is a form of parasitism which is totally dependent on the availability of a healthy and growing host to be be sustainable.
4. Successful and stable capitalism is also dependent on the vast majority of people in that system playing by unwritten rules that ensure a reasonably functional society. But would they still do so in face of falling incomes, bailouts for the rich, lack of social safety nets, disintegration of conformity-inducing family units and a general “screw others” attitude?
The information age (last decade) and the rapid decline of group conformity have increasingly created a cynical, detached individual who is only looking out for himself or herself. While the possibility of large-scale and outright violent confrontation has decreased over the last 40 years, dysfunction by a billion small passive-aggressive cuts is a real possibility.
In some ways the current problems are even bigger and more systemic than what Marx foresaw. The systemic defect lies in the underlying system that gave rise to all versions of capitalism, communism, feudalism etc. You simply cannot run a technologically advanced and steady-state society by the paradigms, means, rules and institutions we are familiar with. Nor can you turn back the clock..
You see: that was only the first zombie. Time’s they are a changing and culture with it. The outlier superficial culture wars of the boomers probably haven’t seen anything compared to a battle over what the future might look like.
Now for something completely different… Amateur Religious Ethnography Botched, Or the Pagan Interviews, Part 9
Skepoet: What is your religious background and how did you come to it?
Jennifer Lawrence: I was brought up Roman Catholic by a very strict Irish Catholic father and stepmother. I knew I wasn’t comfortable from that faith from a fairly early age, and had neopagan leanings as early as second or third grade, including a deep love of mythology and a lot of time spent wandering in the woods. I left home at the age of 18 in 1985 to attend college for the first time and left Catholicism behind at the same time, starting a slow and not always deliberate search for a religion that was a better match for me. Without knowing much of anything about modern paganism at the time, I drifted to a sort of Greek mythology-influenced pantheism that laid heavy emphasis on certain gods — Hermes, Demeter, Artemis, Apollo, Athena, Dionysos, and Hestia — and the nymphs and nature spirits. In 1994 or so, a former friend introduced me to Wicca; I hadn’t realized there was anyone out there that thought in similar lines. I was living way out in the country on a farm in Wisconsin at the time, 30 miles from the nearest town, which made it hard to look for like-minded people. From there, with the help of the internet and the local Borders (and eventually, Amazon.com), I educated myself toward a more historically-accurate mostly-recon set of beliefs that honor the three pantheons that my ancestors (most of my family background comes from Ireland, Scotland, and England) would have honored: Irish Celtic (the Tuatha de Danann), Greek, and Norse (plenty of Greek and Roman pagans among the legions that conquered England, and then the Anglo-Saxon beliefs of the people from Germany and the northlands that came after them).
Skepoet: What is your academic background?
Jennifer Lawrence: I have a Bachelor of Arts in English (concentration in Literature, with a specialization on Classical and Medieval European Literature), a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice, and some post-graduate coursework in Medieval Latin. (All these come from a small Catholic liberal arts college in Indiana, Calumet College of St. Joseph, plus a few English classes from when I was 18, at Truman State University in Missouri, before I dropped out – no self-discipline at that age.)
Skepoet: How do you see these interacting with each other?
Jennifer Lawrence: The English degree introduced me to stories, plays, and poetry from a time period spanning the works of the early Greeks all the way through the time of Shakespeare. Plenty of books that form the core of several Recon faiths are encompassed by this time period: the Homeric Hymns, the Iliad and the Odyssey of ancient Greece; Beowulf and the sagas for the Norse; and the Tain, the Dindshenchas, and the Cath Maige Tuired of Ireland.
The Criminal Justice degree gave me a good footing in law (the combination of the two degrees was meant to be a Pre-Law basis, but I never went on to law school) and a better understanding of how society functions within the laws and what happens when they are ignored.
Ironically, it’s generally said that the druids in early England spent up to twenty years in training, and that the training included both ‘verses and oral literature’ and the laws of the tribes they belonged to, so without consciously realizing it, I chose an overall course of study that somewhat mimicked that.
I’d also add that college in general gave me a better understanding of research methods and critical thinking, both of which I use a lot in my day-to-day reading on pagan topics.
Skepoet: The relationship between Wicca and the reconstructionist pagan groups can be complicated. How did your introduction to Wicca affect your practice?
Jennifer Lawrence: Well, to be specific, what I was introduced to is the eclectic American Wicca that’s very popular these days, rather than any form of traditional Wicca (i.e. Gardnerian, Alexandrian, etc.) It was reassuring to realize that there *were* people out there believing in similar lines to what I believed, but at the same time, even then it was becoming apparent that Gerald Gardner had created, rather than preserved, most of the teachings he spread. I wanted something with a more historically accurate practice (I’ve always had a love for archaeology and ancient cultures, although I have no formal teaching in it, just a LOT of books). Metaphorically, learning about Wicca, and that forms of modern paganism existed, was the warm-up before a race; learning about Recon paganism — and choosing to practice it — was the marathon itself.
I don’t disdain Wicca for what it is; it obviously works for a lot of people. But it’s not for me. Nonetheless, if I hadn’t found out about it, I might never have discovered the Recon paths, so in a sense, I’m grateful for it.
Skepoet: How do you see the various Recon faiths interacting? What principles do you see guiding that interaction?
Jennifer Lawrence: Well, I can’t speak to anything officially, of course; but I do see the occasional bit of interfaith work between recon faiths. The Celts and the Norse have a lot of similarities in certain customs and practices; likewise there are points where the Celts and the Romans interacted, historically, that provides a basis for interaction. Most of my interaction with other recons comes solely online, unfortunately; I would love to see, and be able to attend, a large, Recon-oriented pagan festival some day. I think Pantheacon is the closest to something of that sort currently, although it’s not specifically recon-oriented.
Some of the principles you see guiding this sort of interaction are a recognition of common custom similarities (hospitality, historical accuracy, honor, etc.); there is not just temporal overlap between faiths, but also areas in the world where the original historical faiths were practiced at the same time, or almost the same time. That provides a sort of common stomping ground to consider during such interactions.
Skepoet: What problem do you think recon faiths deal with with trying to balance traditional practices with the modern world?
Jennifer Lawrence: here are a number of problems that recons must deal with in balancing traditional practices in the modern world.
First and foremost is the situation that colors and affects all the rest: the amount of information on traditional practices is definitely limited in varying degrees, depending on which pagan culture is being practiced, because so much information on those practices — writings, statues, temples, etc. – was destroyed by the adherents of the conquering monotheistic culture (the Christian Church) – as they came to a pagan culture and became the dominant faith there. It happened first in Rome, thanks to Paul of Tarsus; Christians were persecuted for their failure to take part in government-supported activities (which is what the sacrifices to the ancient Roman gods were, a means for all citizen to support the Roman empire and do their bare minimum to bring about its continued success by pleasing the gods) until the Edict of Milan in C.E. 313 granted religious tolerance toward the Christians. Christianity slowly moved from a tolerated minority faith in the Roman Empire to the official state religion, and after Christianity became the official state religion of the Roman Empire, it spread outward to all the reaches of the Empire — Britain, the northern lands (what is today Norway and Denmark and Sweden), the lands of the Germanic tribes, and so on. Evan after Rome fell, Christianity continued to spread. In some cultures, almost all traces of the previous pagan faiths were utterly eradicated; in others, traces were preserved but Christianized by the invaders. In places where the previous culture had been a literate one, like Greece and Rome itself, a relatively large amount of information was preserved, enough to give a reasonably complete look at the beliefs and practices of the pagan culture; in other places, where everything was passed on orally (such as the Druidic practices of the British Isles), very little was preserved, and what is available is mostly reconstructed from fragments, and thus, subject to uncertainty about the interpretations provided.
Because the information on these older cultures that we have is incomplete and possibly (in some cases, definitely) tainted by the influence of monotheistic religious cultures, there will always be the question of whether the practices we are following are correct. The eternal question of whether we are reconstructing a practice, restoring it, or making it up in part or entirely is something that each pagan traditionalist has to consider and solve for him- or herself. Most of the recons I know are avid archaeology buffs because of this; every new find we locate from the past helps to clarify the cultures we are interested in, and may add significant new pieces formerly missing from that puzzle.
Most of the other problems regarding traditional practices in the modern world deal with moral issues. For example, it cannot be denied that pagans from older cultures kept slaves, treated women and children in a way that is generally considered wrong today, and practiced (in some, but not all cases) human sacrifices.
The evolution of our beliefs on these things today reflects a general evolution of human consciousness on moral matters in general, although there are still a number of very conservative non-pagan faiths that tend to treat women and children (and GLBT persons) as second-class citizens at best. However, regarding human — and animal — sacrifice, which were practiced by many different pagan faiths (more of which sacrificed animals than people), all modern recons agree that human sacrifice is taboo, and most modern recons believe that the gods are just as satisfied with non-living sacrifices (incense, candles, grain, fruit, libations of wine, honey, etc.) as they were with animal sacrifices. There is a very small minority of recon faiths that still practice animal sacrifice, although not often; there is also a small number of recon practitioners who will offer up sacrifices of commercially-acquired meat (steak, etc.) without sacrificing the animal themselves. (This is most common, at least to my knowledge, with Hellenic Recons, although I know of a couple of Heathens who do it, also.)
In all the cases I can think of, recon pagans have adapted traditional practices that conflict with modern moral values to blend with the standards of our current time and culture, taking into account facts and principles that earlier pagan cultures would not have known or did not see in that light, given the practices of their times.
Skepoet: Do you think one must separate between spiritual practices of paleo-cultures with say superstitious ones? For example, deciding if a practice was part of necessary cultus or was sort of pragmatically inclined but entirely pre-scientific. Many ancient medical practices around say Asclepius come to mind.
Jennifer Lawrence: I suppose that depends on whether you’re giving the term “pre-scientific” negative or neutral connotations.
Skepoet: I wouldn’t say negative; however, I also wouldn’t say that going that, for example, we should adopt Galen’s medical practices because priests used them either. The line seems hard to parse in some areas. You, however, may disagree.
Jennifer Lawrence: My impression is that there is a certain amount of separation going on, especially in dealing with things of a scientific or medical background. In some cases, recon pagans such as myself with augment scientific practices with spiritual ones, as folk of most religions do; for example, making an offering to Apollo or Asclepius when dealing with medical troubles, but this would be done in *addition* to visiting a doctor, taking medicine, or having surgery, rather than *instead* of those things. I think, in the end, there are very few “fundamentalist” pagans of any stripe who believe the myths of their faiths as literal truth. I am a “hard” polytheist, in that I believe in the gods on a literal basis, not as metaphor meant to explain scientific truths that earlier cultures didn’t understand; however, I believe that the gods work within the boundaries of the universe.
I hope that answered the question; I’m not sure if I accurately understood your difference between spiritual practices and superstitious ones. As I understand it, all spiritual practices are considered superstitious by some people; the rituals of pagans are considered superstitious by Jews and Christians, but the prayers of Jews and Christians are considered superstitious by atheists, so it’s all a matter of perspective.
Skepoet: Yes, I wanted to get your logic on the dividing line. What do you think of soft polytheism within the Reconstructionist community?
Jennifer Lawrence: Well, I think it may happen, but not very often. The whole point of being Reconstructionist is historical accuracy, and conflating deities with other deities isn’t much on historical accuracy. Now, I see *syncretism* happening all the time, and that IS historically accurate — the Romans in particular “adopted” the gods of the lands they conquered, seeing them as their own gods under different names. Greek, Celtic, Egyptian deities all were subsumed or brought into the Roman imperial religion, one way or another. There are a lot of statuary fragments and inscriptions all over Britain with inscriptions to “Lugus-Mercury” or “Lugus-Mars”, “Sulis-Minerva”, etc.
I know a lot of recons (mostly online, not IRL, but…), and AFAIK, all of them are hard polytheist, not soft. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, I just tend to think that folks who are drawn to the recon form of polytheism aren’t likely to be soft polytheists in the first place.
Skepoet : Interestingly, actually, most Kemetic and a good deal of Hellenic are semi-soft polytheists pulling from Neo-Platonic and Hermetic thinking historically legitimately, but I also use the term semi-soft for reasons that are obvious as I don’t know anyone who would say Dionysus is also Tyr or something akin to it. But I may understand “soft” polytheist differently than you. How do you understand the terms?
Jennifer Lawrence: y understanding of “soft” polytheism is that there are folks who are polytheist, but believe there are only one set of gods, and each culture had different names for them. For example, Zeus, Thor, Taranis are all storm gods; a soft polytheist would see them all as the *same* god, just under different names. The same for Aphrodite, Aife, and Freya (beauty/love), or Poseidon, Manannan, and Njörðr (ocean gods), to give a couple of examples. I have generally seen this mostly among pagans who follow gods from European cultures, but I’ve heard of at least one person who extended it to cover all the gods in the world — Egyptian, Hindu, Aztec, Shinto, the orisha/loa, etc.
As a hard (really hard) polytheist, technically I even believe in the existences of Yahweh, Satan, and Jesus Christ. They’re just not MY gods.
Skepoet : We are close to the same page. I think that would be varying in commonality from culture to culture. Semi-Soft Polytheism would definitely be a descriptor. Are there any pantheons that you think are un-reconstruct-able?
Jennifer Lawrence: Honestly? The ones that have left no (or next to no) historical traces behind whatsoever. That doesn’t happen very often, and by definition, if cultures have vanished from history, we’re not going to know about them to reconstruct them.
I think that cultures with very little historical traces are definitely *harder* to reconstruct, and the people who wish to do so should probably take a hard look at how much effort will be involved and whether it’s worth the work…but it’s hard to tell the gods NO, and we have no real control over the ones who call us, do we?
I think there are aspects to certain religious rites that shouldn’t be reconstructed no matter how much historical evidence of; we were talking about human sacrifice awhile back, and that’s the primary example I can think of. But that’s more or less a whole different ball of wax, I suppose.
Skepoet : What organizations do you think are doing a good job helping getting things established for Reconstructionists that you have worked either directly or indirectly?
Jennifer Lawrence: Well, I’m affiliated with the Troth (Asatru); my husband, in fact, is their steward for Northern Illinois. I’m also affiliated with Hellenion, and sit on the Boule for that org as of last September (the Boule is the advisory group to their Council). There is also Neos Alexandria, a group devoted to Hellenic/Egyptian syncretism, whose aim is to be as historically accurate as possible; they’ve started publishing a line of devotional anthologies to the gods with their publishing line, Bibliotheca Alexandrina. (Disclosure: I have poetry and/or stories published in a number of those works.)
Other orgs I’m part of are Ord Brigideach, a flametending group for Brigid, and Ár nDraíocht Féin, the Druid organization, but neither are specifically recon, although ADF does encourage rigorous academic pursuit by its members.
I also highly recommend the Celtic Recon group Imbas; they do excellent work and have a number of very stringent scholars amongst their ranks. Unfortunately, last I checked, I think they were going through a period of reorganization, and may be closed to new members until such time as they finish. I am hoping to join them when they re-open, but I haven’t checked if they’d re-opened in some time (at least a couple of months).
I hear good things about Ord na Darach Gile, the Druid Order of White Oak, but I haven’t had a chance to look into it much. However, I know a couple recons I respect very highly are a part of it.
I’m less aware of other recon organizations, especially for those faiths that have smaller numbers: Babylonian/Sumerian/Assyrian faiths, Egyptian, Aztec/Mayan/Incan, etc. There may be groups for those religions, but if there are, I’ve never heard of them.
Skepoet : Do you think the is need for larger local chapters to do festivals and rituals, or do you think that much of the communities involved are too geographically spread out?
Jennifer Lawrence: Well, I’m largely unaware that this is an issue; then again, I live 15 minutes from downtown Chicago and about 3 hours from Indianapolis; there are plenty of festivals and the like in this area (Pagan Spirit Gathering and Pan-Pagan Gathering both recently, and then local Pagan Pride Days every year by plenty of local communities, even the small one for our Indiana county). I can imagine that it’s a problem in very rural areas; then again, I don’t know if there is a large number of pagans in very rural areas. When I was living in VERY rural southwestern Wisconsin, during my vaguely-Greek-themed animist/pantheist phase, before I discovered organized Wicca and then the Recon faiths, I didn’t know of any other pagans at all (granted, this was in the early 90s, before Hollywood started using Wiccans and pagans as characters or concepts).
Skepoet: Anything you’d like to say in closing?
Jennifer Lawrence: .I really can’t think of anything. I’m not much of one for grand, sweeping statements; I just hope what I said made sense and may turn out to be helpful, even for one person. Thank you for letting me take part in this!