MMXVI

Greeting you all a most Joyous and Prosperous New Year! May we all live to our truest to be at our happiest.

And now, for our obligatory photo collage:

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New wreath for Father Janus and our family’s first offerings for 2016

May we see through our most cherished hopes and dreams this year and may they bring us much joy to last ten thousand and one years.

Io Hermês! Io Dionysos!

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Absolute Anti-theism Is ‘Racism’

Ever experienced being told that you’re crazy because one of your relatives is? Or having your family name associated with that crazy relative’s craziness as if one relative’s actions represented the collective character of the family?

What about being profiled as a mugger, a lazy worker, or a parasitic immigrant because you’re the same colour or eye shape as that mugger, lazy worker, or parasitic immigrant from the other side of town?

That’s how it feels when anti-theists throw around the word ‘religion’ when they mean a specific religion (often, Christianity or Islam) or a specific strain of religion within that specific religion (like Evangelical Protestants or Wahhabists).

Easier to do, but not smarter. It’s truly offensive, too.

Religion is such an old, vast, and diverse thing to ever compress into one definition or characteristic. This isn’t an ideal — this is thousands of years of actual history. Which is why it seems extremely racist (to borrow the term with good reason) to group a good chunk of the world’s population into one basket, as if they were all the same.

And that’s really how a lot of anti-theists seem to see the religious in their repetitive, impassioned memes: that religious people are a monolith; a cohesive group of delusional, backward bigots holding the world back from science, reason, and progress.

But on what basis?

There’s also the matter of shrugging off the decline of ancient religions as if it were a matter of “progress”.

This Halloween, Hemant Mehta, an otherwise Friendly Atheist, yet again, praised the annual anti-theistic stunt of UW-Madison’s atheist group on his blog:

As they do every year, the Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison put together a fantastic “Graveyard of the Gods,” reminding students of all the deities who were worshiped, believed in, and eventually forgotten.

The purpose is to get students thinking about when their God will join the ranks of the dead.

“Fantastic”? But this isn’t a matter of critical enquiry, at all. It’s not that it bothers me what these kids believe about the old gods. It’s because the graveyard, essentially, is an endorsement of cultural genocide, no different from building a monument to Christopher Columbus.

Basically, how this sounds like is, “These cultures are dead and you’re next”. But since these cultures didn’t die of “natural causes” or “old age”, this isn’t a reminder of mortality — it’s a threat. We know from history that most of those religions “died” and their gods “forgotten” because of coercion, not for simply falling out of favour.

Now, I understand how they want to “help” monotheists see how ridiculous it is to question other religions but not theirs. I think that’s important. However, this graveyard stunt (and others like it) comes off as historically and culturally uninformed. There are countless accounts of pagan peoples fighting for their right to exist in an increasingly pagan-hostile society, ultimately losing because the enemy had more money for a bigger army. In some places, it still happens.

Imagine future generations, talking about how there are no more Jews because their ancestors simply saw their culture useless and assimilated happily into the Reich. Or how Native American culture is vanishing because everybody decided it was so much better to join the White Man.

This kind of thinking doesn’t question monotheism’s absolutist claims as effectively as it could and should because these anti-theist attacks are still Eurocentric–still monoculture-centric. By using the same absolutist language the Wahhabists and Evangelicals use, power remains with the powerful. Putting up this sort of graveyard only adds insult to injury and only supports the same hegemony we’ve all been trying to defeat.

Polytheist, Lily A. Connor, laments on her Facebook:

[…] blanket antitheist rhetoric – deities are “imaginary friends,” using the language of psych disability for religion (“delusions” etc) – doesn’t hurt Christian institutional power or hegemony. It doesn’t weaken abusive religious orgs.

It does, however, hurt people like me – practitioners of stigmatized minority religions. Some of that religious abuse and stalking was on the basis of my religion, and from my position, there’s not much difference when atheists and fundamentalists use the same arguments to dismiss me.

[…] I wish y’all would approach atheism like I approach vegetarianism – do your thing, but don’t be an ass, and go out of your way not to accidentally marginalize already-marginalized people. Discrimination is real and collateral damage is still damage, y’all.

Because if you’re against racism, racial profiling, and stereotyping, maybe you should be against absolute anti-theism, too. After all, there are so much better, more informed ways to critique religion.

 

The Earth Always Takes Back What Is Hers

Out of curiosity, we paid visit to our backyard — the same farmland that, as I previously lamented, was recently purchased by filthy industrialist pigs.

Turns out, a lot of it is still intact. Hardly any farmland left, but the cows are still there. (Well, for the time being, at least.)

They dug up the earth to make their ugly plastic towns, but the Mother took back what is hers. Life is unstoppable.

They dug up the earth to make their ugly plastic towns, but the Mother took back what is hers. Life is unstoppable.

Something or someone with cloven feet has been enjoying a stroll.

Something or someone with cloven feet has been enjoying a stroll.

A merienda of spinach burgers, coconut water, eggs, and almond biscuits. It's good to be among the spirits of the wild once again.

A merienda of spinach burgers, coconut water, eggs, and almond biscuits. It was good to dine with the spirits of the wild once again.

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A shot of the western sky as we made our way home just as the Sun King made his.

I will truly miss this place. I suspect the spirits are going to stay, no matter what. Maybe they can become guardians? Well, if the newcomers are going to be respectful enough, of course.

I Went to Church and I Liked It

As you may have noticed in the past, I’ve never had any qualms visiting churches or attending Christian festivities. I know, these churches haven’t been exactly welcoming to pagans (or other versions of the unsaved “Other”) in the past two millennia, but they’ve also been responsible–albeit unknowingly–for preserving some of our ancestral traditions.

Many of these Christian festivities are a lot of fun, too! I visited our local Catholic church over Easter and I truly enjoyed the experience. I didn’t stay long to hear the priest’s sermon–why would I want to, anyway–but I stayed long enough to witness flocks of people, early in the morning, singing to the Risen Christ and his joyful mother. We call this tradition, Salúbong, literally meaning “the meeting”, and it is beautiful to witness.

The people come to meet their risen lord. Χριστὸς ἀνέστη! Ἀληθῶς ἀνέστη!

The people come to meet their risen lord. Χριστὸς ἀνέστη! Ἀληθῶς ἀνέστη!

Dawn breaks and the Queen of Heaven comes to meet her son, back from the dead. Her mourning veil is lifted.

Dawn breaks and the Queen of Heaven, with her mourning veil lifted, comes to meet her son, back from Hades.

Taken from outside our 400-year old cathedral. The only time churches are full is when there are celebrations like this.

Taken from outside our 400-year old cathedral at daybreak on Easter Sunday. The only time churches are full is when there are celebrations like this.

Now, I may not be Christian (anymore), nor have I ever been a big fan of the Church’s hateful doctrines and policies, but I do care for some of their traditions. A lot of people, mostly Protestants, talk about stripping away traditional Christianity of its “pagan” rituals and ceremonies, and establishing a simple church based on radical love and compassion.

Whilst I do consider it a noble cause (especially around the love and compassion part), it isn’t very realistic. One, because most churches have never been crazy over that idea, rituals or no rituals; and two, because rituals are the reason people still come to church.

I’ve never really cared about what the bishops and pastors thought about god or morals, even as a young Christian. I don’t need a church to tell me what’s right from wrong or how to live my life. We’ve tried that for hundreds of years, and it hasn’t worked. All we’ve gotten from it are a bunch of repressed, self-righteous, holier-than-thou nutters who try to run our lives for us.

You know what we need? Rituals. Beautiful ceremonies rich in relevant symbolisms that speak to the soul of a society. That’s why I still come to church, even as a pagan. Maybe even more so as a pagan.

When a pagan meets the gods of his childhood (or his neighbour’s god, or a foreigner’s whole tribe of gods), he doesn’t shun them or turn them away. He welcomes them with open arms as one would do with an honoured guest or an old friend. And then, they have tea together. There’s a reason we call it polytheism, after all‬: it’s ‪‎inclusive.

But perhaps the Protestants are right: Orthodoxy and especially Catholicism, with all their saints, idols, and rituals, could very well be ‪‎pagan. Is that a bad thing? Of course, it isn’t.

Okay, fine, it’s bad if you’re a bible-thumping, evangelical literalist, but if you’re just a regular layperson who’s mainly concerned about your life as it is, those pagan hold-overs and heathen hand-me-downs are exactly what’s keeping your pre-Protestant Christianity from being a stale, boring old relic.

Of course, we shouldn’t stop calling out the Church’s on her outdated values, but I’m all for relishing the common people’s jubilant fiestas, gritty traditions, and awe-inspiring acts of devotion.

Fiesta

Well, that is, when Christians are in their more jovial, inclusive mood.

Fuck them when they’re being self-important, oppressive bastards.

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PS: Happy Ishtar-is-not-Easter Week!

A Song for the Spirits of October

October has proven quite eventful and we’re not even half way through. I don’t even know where to start, I’m telling you!

Am I honestly rhyming? Perhaps, I should just sing a song! Or was that just timing? Fuck it, this won’t take too long …

Salamat, Boracay!

I will sing first of the island whose name is known across our land: they call her Boracay, the jewel of Aklan!

The sun and the sea

First sight I saw were your waters blue, and immediately hailed the sunset, too …

... and wrote the names of the Gods who nurture you, whose wonders no man can ever undo.

… and wrote the names of the Gods who nurture you, whose wonders no man can ever undo.

Salamat, Sangkadiwataan ng Boracay!

Of course, I did not neglect to sing of the countless diwatà, too …

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… those spirits who keep your sands white …

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… and your waters clear blue.

3

I pray that you do not forget this cheerful and pious guest …

My feet in the sand

… who walked across your sands and in their beauty was possessed.

With arms stretched sea-wards

With arms stretched sea-wards, I sang in their praise …

My feet in the sea

… those gods and un-gods who made pleasant my days.

For the One who brings the sweetest serendipities, only the sweetest gifts are given. Hail, luck-bringing son of Maia!

Nor shall I forget to sing of the Traveller, too. From beginning to end, no moment was blue. Our trip was smooth and safe throughout; blissful were all the moments in between and about.

As soon as I came back from my trip to the sea: I went straight to the temple of Maa Bhavani, to sing and feast with the Sindhi and Punjabi who were then celebrating the Maha Navratri.

God is a mother. A fierce and mighty mother.

There I sat and sang of Durga the Great Mother: a slayer of countless devils, one after the other.

Parvati's family

Her beautiful family, I adored at once, too.

Jai Sita Ram!

… even Sita and Ram who are Lakshmi and Vishnu.

God is a little boy with an elephant head. A cute, blissful, elephant-headed boy who clears the way for good fortune and stomps his big feet to chase away fears.

The elephant-headed God I did not forget. With him, not one of our fears are ever a threat.

Whoever said God was just a bearded man in the sky could not be any more wrong.

I sang to the rest of the Gods, of course; no doubt just as loud. Whoever said God was just a bearded man on a cloud?

Here, we don't care if you're Sikh or Hindu or whatever.

In my sixth year with the temple, I could not be more proud. There, nobody cares if you’re Sikh or Hindu, or of stranger crowd.

The langar is always good.

The food was superb as it always has been …

The House, of course, had its own celebrations, albeit less luxurious.

Of course, our own shrine at home was nothing shabby for the Queen!

Soon after we sang to the Mother of Hindustan, to my own city, I then ran.

¡Viva Nuestra Señora del Pilar!

It was the feast of my hometown’s own Mother, perched on a pillar unlike none. Here, she is Mary the Mother, not unlike Isis and her son.

The Lady of a thousand names dances to mixed Hispanic and indigenous beats.

We carried her on our backs …

Pag-asa

… and danced all day, too.

Señora

She was beautiful as always in royal purple and blue.

I wish I could sing more, but alas, I’m bad with rhyme. Continuing would be a bore, but I wish it was worth your time.

Those Pesky Calendars!

After serious efforts to align the religious festivities that I celebrate into a unified calendar, I have decided to…

Actually, I haven’t decided on anything yet. I’ve been working on this for months, and yet, here I am, still confused.

I need your help, people. For the longest time, I’ve been using the old Attic calendar out of convenience, but I’ll be really honest with you: most of the month names don’t resound with me; not with the collective cultus of my household and not with our locale. [Insert very long argument about pagan religions being about the “here” and the “now”.]

image via iStockphoto

image via iStockphoto

I’ve been wanting to do something similar to what Sannion and Helio have done, so I decided to collect all the festivals that have meant something to me. They’re all neatly placed in a spreadsheet, but I honestly don’t know what to do with them.

Should I retain a lunar calendar (for tradition’s sake) and just reinvent the names? Should I go full Gregorian for practicality? Or a dual one? What about the Egyptian feast-days?

Of course, ultimately, our household will have to decide on it, but hey, maybe you have better ideas.

Under the Same Sky, Above the Same Earth

From: indianweddingsite.com

From: indianweddingsite.com

A few months ago, I had the honour to bless a good friend of mine and her husband at their wedding celebration. It was my first ever and I’m glad it turned out just fine.

The blessing sounds a wee bit Wiccan (as you can decide for yourself below), but we all decided, for the benefit of everyone involved, to make it as “universal” as possible. Metaphors involving nature can’t get any more universal, I tell you.

That said, the blessing is quite simple and probably doesn’t deserve much attention, but I am posting it, anyway:

Today, I bless you X and Y, under the same sky, above the same earth.

May you both be blessed with the stability of earth and the firmness of rock, these islands and continents we’ve risen from, the rich soil that sustains and feeds us, the land upon which we make our cities and homes. May your union become a firm and fertile ground that you can build your visions and dreams upon.

May you both be blessed with the flexibility of water, the glass of water that becomes the clouds, clouds that return to the sea or nourish the land as soft rain, turning into ice and back again. May your union become fluid and flexible as flowing water, able to change yet ultimately be constant.

May you both be blessed with the persistence and endurance of plants and crops. As with fields of grain that have grown, dropped seed, and wilted, so too, generations of your ancestors have come and gone, leading up to this moment. May your union be aware of the past and have the freedom to strike its own path to the future.

May you both be blessed with the permanence and brilliance of the heavens, as the ever present sky above and the burning stars deep in the blackness of space that have watched the first lifeform rise from the sea onto land. May your union be everlasting as the stars, and give light and warmth to those around you.

May the blessings of all these be with you always, as eternal as the sun and moon that rise and set each day. May you know more happiness from this day forward.

Of course, I did perform a more Hellenic blessing in private, away from Christian eyes. I gave the bride a pomegranate and a bottle of red wine. May Hêra bless them for as long as they will let Her.

Frederic Leighton, Pavonia, 1858–59 Reminds me a bit of Hêra.

Frederic Leighton, Pavonia, 1858–59
Reminds me a bit of Hêra.