Heathen History Podcast and Wicca

•09/19/2019 • Leave a Comment

I just wanted to give a shoutout to the Heathen History Podcast with Lauren and Ben.

I’ve been listening since it started and it’s good. Very detailed. It is sourced, so you can often look up the material they’re working with. They’re also not afraid to identify the problematic views of Heathens, dead or alive. (They have both spoken out about racism themselves. I believe they’re members of The Troth.)

They’ve done episodes on A. Rud Mills, a sort of early proto-Heathen/anti-Semite, Else Christensen, an ex-Nazi who was profoundly influential upon the modern Heathen movement, and two parts on Steve McNallen (who built a great deal of modern Heathenry and is essentially a racist who has said the “14 words” of White Nationalist.)

Now I’m not a Heathen. I’ve never been a Heathen. I don’t know why. I loved Manowar as a teen. They sang about Thor and Odin and such. But I think that’s why I enjoy this so much is because I didn’t know a lot of who these people are (except McNallen, who is featured prominently in Margot Adler’s Drawing Down the Moon.

This week’s subject is the first of a two-parter on Wicca. Which, of course, isn’t Heathen in the American use of the term, but Pagan.

Back in the 90s, I was pretty much obsessed with trying to figure out the little pieces that made Gardnerian Wicca what it was. Which was one of my early introductions to Crowley’s work.

On some Pagan forums, I’ve taken a lot of flack for being anti-Wiccan. My stance on it is this: Wicca was founded on shaky to false scholarship all around. Now back in the 60s and 70s, even into the 80s and 90s, people may not have had access to the oral histories, the piecing together of the founding of Gardnerian Wicca…but after the excellent and thorough research by Ronald Hutton in Triumph of the Moon, we know pretty much most of it and it’s obvious that Gardner came up with the rest.

So if you want to be a Wiccan, I think you should be aware that your religion is founded on bullshit. Now maybe that’s not the best way to put it, I agree. But if you’re calling it your religion, you should be aware of the history of it, and not just what you read in Llewellyn or other Pagan books.

If you read Triumph of the Moon and you still choose to be Wiccan because you just really connect with it or you love your coven or it’s a major part of your identity which you don’t want to give up…whatever. That’s awesome! KEEP BEING WICCAN! I fully support you (provided you’re not spreading bullshit in other Pagan communities or trying to monopolize Pagan communities by acting as if we’re all Wiccan.)

But our predecessors didn’t have this knowledge. It was hard-to-access. We have a great book on the subject (which is, admittedly, too dry and academic for many) but we also have the Internet now (which was just getting started when I was a Baby Pagan. I was on local BBSes, Prodigy, CompuServe, then later AOL).

Wiccans are, by far, the most popular members of Paganism. They are often our representation in the greater world. Granted, they’re not my religion. But more often than not, when I tell someone that I’m Pagan, the response will be “Oh, my cousin is Wiccan!” Or “my neighbors”. Or whatever. People associate us with them.

Now granted, I have to qualify and yes, but they’re a different religion. I don’t practice witchcraft or magic or celebrate all of their holidays or worship a Horned God or Moon Goddess, etc. But it’s a reference point for most people.

As such, I’d like for them to be more knowledgeable both about their own religion as well as the rest of Paganism and Heathenry.

Sorry for the slight rant but listening to the podcast talk about stuff like Margaret Murray, Leland’s Aradia: The Gospel of the Witches and Frazer’s The Golden Bough makes me rant and rave. Because they’re major parts of the problem. (The podcast hasn’t gotten to Graves’ The White Goddess yet.)

Again, if you take it as “poetic truth” like a Druid might take the work of Iolo Morganwg, that’s OK. But just know that these works are not historically accurate and, yet, Gardner (and even Doreen Valiente) relied on them heavily to construct Wicca.

Devotion Done Different

•09/10/2019 • 1 Comment

So this group came across my Facebook feed and as someone who has an interest in polytheistic devotion and mysticism (including bhakti yoga), I was intrigued.

Now let me start off by saying that I do not want to disrespect devotion in itself. I view devotional Paganism and polytheism to be something deeply sacred.

I just find this expression unintentionally hilarious.

 

Image may contain: 1 person, eyeglasses and text

Easter/Eostre debate aside, this (and all the images that follow) are clearly stock photos that have been repurposed for this project. This man is not working on a devotional film for the goddess Easter/Eostre. He’s a guy in writing in a stock photo.

This gives it a sort of alienated quality.

Image may contain: one or more people, fire and candles

Is this a thing? Is this an actual sentiment that people among Heathens have expressed?

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, people sitting and dog

Just, y’know…hanging out, drinking coffee with my dog in a huge chunky scarf on some old mattresses surrounded by wooden pallets talking about Frigg.

It’s not the devotion or the deities here that I’m criticizing. I imagine the person who created these is quite sincere in his/her devotion. But these people are just…people in stock photos. These sentiments are just bizarre.

Image may contain: 1 person, text and closeup

On the one hand, I do see value in these in that helps us to visualize what a world where our devotion is taken seriously is like. On the other, the language and sentiments expressed here are just strange.

If they were of actual devotees expressing actual devotion, I would be more sympathetic.

But this reminds me of those evangelical Christian images that depict Jesus alongside various Christians living their lives and doing their jobs. Y’know, there’s the cashier at the store and Jesus is right there beside her. There’s the truck-driver with Jesus riding shotgun.

It’s sincere but it’s also ridiculously cheesy. Unintentionally hilarious.

Yet for all this, I find these to be brilliant. Like, I couldn’t intentionally come up with this on my own. There’s a sincerity in the devotion that I find beautiful.

•08/27/2019 • Leave a Comment

Blogging seems like something that once you start, you always seem to return to it…

And so, dear readers (those of you that are left) I seem to be back to blogging.

So where am I at these days, religiously speaking?

I’ve been worshiping Brighid regularly and steadily since the spring.

I recently re-joined ADF (Ar nDraiocht Fein) to find some sort of local Pagan camaraderie. (Though I still dislike the term “druid” in a modern context.)

I like that ADF takes their religion seriously. They have a training program (the Dedicant Path). They’re a large national organization. They are polytheists.

I still have my issues with some of how they do things. I dislike that they use the Wheel of the Year, which is fundamentally Wiccan. I dislike the emphasis on Indo-European religion. I find it creepy that some people in ADF are “reconstructing” Vedism (which is still a living religion).

But after careful consideration and prayer, I feel as if their program can help me grow in my relationship with Brighid as well as with other Gaelic deities.

What else?

This spring, I’ve moved to working overnights, which gives me a lot of time for writing (and blogging). I worked overnights for many years in the past. I enjoy the quiet. It also gives me time to pray, which I enjoy.

Granted, it’s not at my shrine at home. But it’s still time to pray, which is good.

I’ve always felt that prayer in the middle of the night is heard more clearly. Less interference. Perhaps it’s just a silly superstitious notion.

I get to see the sunrise, which is beautiful. And I get to have the hotel to myself while everyone else is sleeping. There’s a sacredness to that.

 

Goodbye

•02/25/2018 • 1 Comment

After careful consideration, I’ve decided to close “Sacred Blasphemies”.

What started off for me as an exploration of mysticism and world religions, and in finding the sacred in dark places, the wrong places, the surprising places…has led to a feeling of stagnation.

I worry, in part, that my faith is calcifying. Perhaps into a sort of polytheistic fundamentalism.

At the same time, my faith is also deepening. What was, at the beginning of this journey, a flirtation with religion has become a daily practice of polytheistic prayer and/or meditation.

I’ve become, in part, the mystic that I wanted to be. I’m still working on overcoming the ego but that’s a goal that will never be accomplished but for the briefest of moments.

As someone without a spiritual community and an obsession with writing, I will be back.

Perhaps in a different place, but for now the pilgrim in me tells me that it’s time to leave the caravanserai and be out in the desert again.

Until we meet again at an oasis, I sincerely thank you for accompanying me on this journey…

 

May your gods or God bless you with love and compassion.

R.M. McGrath

 

The Brigit phenomenon

•01/26/2018 • Leave a Comment

Interesting piece on Brighid here.

A Better Way

•01/23/2018 • 5 Comments

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” -R. Buckminster Fuller
This quote reminds me of the conversion of the Irish to Christianity.

Unlike many other places throughout Europe, the Irish did not convert to Christianity via conquest or by the sword. Their religion was not made illegal. They considered Christianity to be the better option for them.

Obviously, we cannot know why. Records of pre-Christian religion among the Irish are non-existent. We have the archaeological record and the recounting of Irish Christian monks.

But I have an idea why.

In its earliest days, before it became intertwined with Empire and the Sword, Christianity was a radical idea. The poor, the sick, the outcast, the meek, and more were uplifted. If you felt as if you were one of the have-nots surrounded by haves, Christianity was for you.

Lepers, prostitutes, adulterers, and more were welcomed into the fold.

This was a radical idea. It’s hard to even conceive what a radical idea this was back then.

Even though Christianity was fully connected with Empire by the time Patricius, a Romano-Brit, came to Ireland to spread the Gospel, he did not spread it by the sword but by his preaching and personality. Later accounts would have him quarreling with the Druids and performing miraculous acts to ‘prove’ the superiority of Christ over their polytheism but these came later to provide a narrative of Patrick’s victory over the “Pagans”.

Patricius offered them a better way than what they had…and they took it willingly.

I write this not to promote the idea that Christianity is superior to polytheism. No. I’m a Pagan. But I’m writing this because it makes me ponder how, if we want our religions to grow, we can offer people a better way.

Of course, Paganism is different. We’re not evangelists. We’re not looking for converts. Our religion is not a numbers game and as we do not believe in salvation in the Christian sense, we have no imperative to “save souls”.  

So why do this? Should we tailor our religions to meet the needs of people? No. Our religions aren’t about the needs of people but the gods. That said, there are people whose needs are not being met. The ‘lesser of the brethren’ that Jesus spoke so eloquently about 2000 years ago have once again been left behind. This time by the religion that was built around them.

While there are a multitude of “Pagan values”, I feel as if making the world a better place (and, by extension, improving the lives of the people that live in it) is something that should be a Pagan value. Not to convert others but because it’s the right thing to do.

Modern Paganism is full of ego-driven values. People are looking to get off, to get high, to..like, experience the Divine, man. The more we orient our religion about the gratification of our egos, the less room there is for the gods. (Not to mention, this is where we run into problems with moral issues as in the recent Bonewits discussion.)

I think it’s time we focus on becoming better people and making the world a better place for others. In Hinduism, this is karma yoga.

There are a number of ways that this can go. I’d like to write more on this subject. But the first step is to remember that our ego is a false god.

It seems odd for a polytheist to consider ANY god to be a false god but what I’m trying to express is that often in our society, we put the ego in an exalted place in our minds where we could be placing one or more of our beloved gods. When we are obsessed with what we want, we become less oriented towards what the gods want.

But that will have to be another blog post…

“Why Not Excellence?”

•01/21/2018 • Leave a Comment

Many of my readers might have read this already, but recently allegations have come out against the late Isaac Bonewits, founder of ADF (Ar nDraiocht Fein) involving child sexual abuse.

Moira Greyland, daughter of famed author and child-rapist, Marion Zimmer Bradley, claimed that Bonewits raped her and other children.

This has, of course, led to a massive controversy which connects to an already controversial national discussion (the #MeToo movement, rape, sexual abuse, listening to victims, etc.).

Greyland’s critics argue that the publisher of her book (in which the allegations against Bonewits are made) is not to be trusted. The book is published by Theodore Beale’s (a.k.a. Vox Day) publishing company. Day is a notorious figure in sci-fi associated with the Alt-Right who is anti-gay, anti-minority, anti-woman, and anti-non-Christian religion.

Greyland also has problems with credibility given that she has become a leading critic of homosexuality.

That said, as someone who has been molested and raped myself, I believe her. She has nothing to gain by coming out accusing Bonewits.

I only met Isaac on one occasion. A friend of mine was in ADF, I attended his wedding which was performed, in part, by Isaac. I was a young and naive Pagan and had all sorts of questions on Druidry, but he blew me off in discussing that in order to hit on the (of age) High Priestess of the ceremony.

(It was the only wedding that I’ve been to where the performing clergy went skinny-dipping with the newly-married couple after the ceremony.)

Does my very limited personal experience necessarily correlate to the very serious accusations against Bonewits? No. Not at all. But I wanted to use this incident in order to bring up a larger point.

Several months ago, I got distracted by Catholicism. I struggled with the idea of returning to the Church despite its history (both past and recent) of abuse and bigotry.

Why? For starters, I saw it as a connection to the culture into which I was born and raised. It was a connection to the family that loved me and brought me into being. I  admire the culture of devotion and prayer that still lives within the Church despite the influence of the modern world. But also, as I get older, I’m feeling a desire to become a better person, morally. To stop living an ego-driven life and start living a more god-focused life.

Ultimately, I decided against a formal return to the Church. I tried and I just don’t have the faith. I’m a polytheist at heart. (Though I have created a Catholic-based shrine among my other shrines, mostly with images of the Virgin Mary and some beloved Saints, near my shrine to my Beloved Dead/Ancestors.)

I understand that our Paganisms and polytheisms are relatively young religions. Perhaps seventy years old at the most. But there seems to be an inordinate amount of, well, people more driven by lust and the desire to get laid, than in worship of the gods.

Gerald Gardner, creator of Wicca, almost certainly used his power and influence as a priest in order to get flogged (his kink) by young attractive naked women and also to pressure women to have sex with him.

I don’t want to demonize lust or sexuality. However, these things must be done with consent. It is morally reprehensible to rape or sexually take advantage of anyone, especially in the name of the gods or the “Old Religion”.

It might have been considered OK 50 years ago to use “ancient religion” as an excuse for someone to sleep with you but it is something which should not have been tolerated then and should not be tolerated now.

Paganism, as it is now, is full of dirty old men like Bonewits or Gardner who use our religions as an excuse to get their rocks off. This needs to end.

I understand that the idea of “morality” is repugnant to many Pagans, particularly those who grew up in families or communities where fundamentalist religion was used as a weapon. I understand that people do not want to feel judged by others.

I also understand and appreciate that much of Paganism in the last 50 years came up with the countercultural movements such as the Hippies, the “Free Love” era, and the influence of various drugs.

I appreciate this as someone who was also very much into the “sex and drugs” stuff myself in my 20s and 30s. (And as a former member of ADF, Church of All Worlds, and an initiate of OTO.)

It’s time for us to grow up as a religion and take our religious practice seriously. Morality is a part of that. Not the sanctimonious harshly-judging tones of the fundamentalist preacher (who often is having an affair behind his wife’s back) but by doing our best to become better people. Good people. Let us become better people that we may serve our gods better. Let us become better people so that we may serve other people better.

When we die and become ancestors, let us be inspirations for others to live better lives.