Theodish Thoughts

Musings on Theodism, religion, mythology, history, and contemporary Heathenry

Month: May 2009

A San Diego Bible Study and Us

Over in San Diego county, apparently the zealous authorities have decided to come down on a pastor and his wife who hold a Bible study at their home for about 15 people. Apparently, it is the considered opinion of the county that doing so constitutes an unlawful use of land, and is demanding that they apply for a major use permit, which could run north of $10,000 to obtain.

I hope the implications for the pagan and heathen communities are obvious.

Just this past weekend, we held a New Moon offering ceremony at my home, and had a dozen people. That’s something that I do every month, and my wife does her own Full Moon ceremony, plus the regular eight Sabbats of the year. (She and her coven have their sacred space on our property, and I have a separate one for purely Germanic activities.) If our own local authorities wanted to (and, of course, if the local statues applied), we could just as easily be hit with such a demand. The mere fact that government, at any level, thinks it has authority to prevent religious assemblies at private homes, is chilling. The fact that this couple seems to have been singled out specifically because theirs was a religious gathering, is even moreso. I have not been able to find any rash of demands for pool-party use permits.

Naturally, scale is important, as is context. A dozen or fifteen people once or twice a month is one thing. Fifty people a week could well be a different thing, but in a relatively spread-out area where there aren’t neighbors right on top of you to be discomfited by the additional traffic, maybe not so much.

Aside from the Constitutional arguments (most especially the First Amendment), the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIA) provides specific protection for such use, explicitly weakening the power of municipalities to zone out religious land-use.

For the pagan and heathen communities, this could be of extraordinary importance, especially given the fact that few of us have dedicated religious properties aside from our homes. If local officials feel that they have the power to use their local zoning authority to squelch a relatively popular activity such as a Christian Bible study, then one can only imagine how such a tool could be used against a relatively unpopular religious group. All it could take is one neighbor with a grudge against those crazy pagans who chant at the moon once a month, and a sympathetic bureaucrat, to bring on months of hassle at the very least.

The pagan and heathen communities should support this pastor and his wife, and their fundamental right to hold, within reason, religious gatherings, classes, and other activities in their private home. In this case, their fight is ours, and unless they have some explicitly anti-pagan ministry (their names have not yet been published, so it’s impossible to know), we should stand with them.

“Heathen” vs. “Pagan”

The issue of terminology has come up on an email list to which I subscribe.

Specifically, the use of the term “Heathen” as opposed to the term “Pagan”.

From the point of view of the dictionary, the two terms are interchangeable. That is the point of view of the majority (the vast majority, I daresay) of the Pagan community.

Within the community of those who go out of their way to call themselves “Heathens”, however, it is a different story. In that context, “Heathen” is used to specifically refer to those who practice a faith relating to the Germanic Gods (including the Norse, Anglo-Saxon, and Continental German). It is a term specifically chosen to differentiate themselves from the broader Pagan community, in an attempt to build a specific cultural identity, even in the midst of a diverse population that includes Asatru, Theodish Belief, Odinism, Vanatru, etc. All still cling to that specific cultural origin.

It is, it should go without saying, not an attempt to establish dominance or superiority, but simply a more precise definition of the label. The term was chosen specifically because it comes from a Germanic root word, as opposed to “Pagan”, which comes from the Latin. A Germanic word to describe an exclusively (or predominantly) Germanic faith seems quite appropriate.

The term “Pagan”, on the other hand, is used to paint quite a broader brush, describing Wiccans, eclectics, Khemetics, Religio Romana practitioners, Celtic Reconstructionists, and a myriad inbetween. It is, by definition, a broad term.

Heathens, by prefering to adhere to that label, seek to distinguish themselves from the broader Pagan community while at the same time still belonging to it. Since the dictionary definition is the same, the community association is present. Since the term “Heathen” has a more specific cultural reference, however, it serves to identify those within the broader community who have deliberately chosen to narrow their religious beliefs and practices to a specific (if broad) European culture.

Sometimes, when these distinctions are raised, the Pagans get prickly. Why can’t the Heathens just use the same umbrella term as the rest of us? The answer is, of course, because that umbrella is a little too wide, and covers a little too much ground. Ultimately, I think the reticence on the part of the Pagan community to accept the specific use of the Heathen terminologgy is due to the latter’s insecurity. If the Heathens limit themselves to a single culture, it must surely reflect poorly on those Pagans who are eclectic. Of course, the Heathens don’t have any such intention in mind, but it is projected on them by the Pagans.

Surely, there is enough room out there in cyberspace to allow for the two terms, the one the broader, the one the more specific, and the latter preferred to the former amongst its adherents.

It’s not an insult, it’s just being precise.

Church Envy: A Response

Over at Witchvox, Terry Mancour (aka “Arion the Blue” and “The High Druid of Durham“, at left) has posted an article this week on the subject of “Church Envy“. To say that he doesn’t think Pagans need buildings is an understatement. To say that he is insulting and condescending towards those who disagree with his point of view is being charitable. To his credit he does hurl down the straw men he creates with great vigor and verve, but ultimately with little substance.

His central theme seems to be that Pagans who aspire to permanent holy sites, with buildings and other facilities, are doing so (in his eyes) for the wrong reasons:

“The arguments for institutionalizing the Pagan clergy and leadership usually revolve around a few individuals who see these big churches around them and want to feel competitive. They claim to need manicured temples in which to hold handfastings and wiccanings and requiems. They make a big deal about the inconvenience of buying a lot of camping gear and driving across the country to meet up with fellow Pagans, preferring instead to do so in the luxury of a well-appointed temple with spacious parking and expensive landscaping. The simple coven or grove is not enough for them – not big enough, not organized enough, not impressive enough.”

That most Pagan and Heathen leaders and groups who want to do more than simply meet in somebody’s living room have other, much more legitimate reasons than he presents, doesn’t seem to occur to Mr. Mancour. It’s not about luxury, or appearances, or the other superficial reasons Mr. Mancour seems obsessed with imposing on those with whom he disagrees. It’s about having a sacred space which is permanent, rather than ephemeral; doing so allows us not only to create a stronger metaphysical connection with a particular place (and the spirits of that place), but also to maintain permanent physical features such as shrines, sacred wells and springs, and God-images.

Mr. Mancour continues:

“Worse, they claim that only through Pagan churches can we find our place in the community and serve the greater community at large. Individual efforts, or the efforts of small groups, are disparaged as being pointless and selfish – only by gathering in great numbers, buying buildings, and passing the ubiquitous hat can we affect positive change in our community.”

I’m not really sure where he gets this idea, but no one I’ve ever encountered speaking on the subject has ever said that having buildings and land is the *only* way to accomplish those goals. Doing so *does*, however, make accomplishing those goals much easier. It is not “pointless” or “selfish” to serve the greater community from our collective garages. It is just not nearly as efficient or effective as doing so from a place of our collective own. Mr. Mancour is making a virtue out of poverty and allowing his obvious personal disdain for those of us who actually have achieved some level of affluence to color his perceptions of how the Pagan community as a whole should behave. News flash for Mr. Mancour; not everyone wants to live in near-poverty, nor do we think our religious institutions (be they coven, grove, kindred, or tribe) should encourage such a lifestyle.

However, Mr. Mancour seems to think that collective action in such a cause is somehow unworthy, if not downright wrong:

“If there really are throngs of eager seekers just begging to get out of our beautiful natural parks and into a majestic, air-conditioned and well-lighted temple, then they’ll be more than happy to fill your coffers full – but I’m not certain that the result would be, in fact, a Pagan one. Time, treasure and talent might be fitting offerings to the Goddess, but personal sacrifice is also demanded from time to time. If you aren’t willing to suffer, you aren’t willing to learn. If you want it so badly, you should find a way to pay for it yourself.”

Aside from his tiresome insistence that such facilities must perforce be laden with luxury (and just what is so wrong with wanting air conditioning?), this fetish of suffering is, ironically, a very Christian concept; one has to look no farther than Calvary to see its basis. He keeps saying “you” in an accusatory fashion, as if all efforts at temple-building and land-buying are some sort of scam that scheming High Priests are perpetrating on their naive coven-members. But the leader-aggrandizement theory is only one point of his attack. The notion that the coven-members (or kindred-members, or tribesmen, or whatever) might actually *want* to pool their resources is also depicted as nearly impossible to reconcile with Paganism:

“Pooling resources might make sense in specific instances, but the fact is we don’t have the same needs as other religions, the same values or the same philosophy – so paying for the privilege of “enjoying” the services of those religions seems like a hollow and cynical endeavor. It certainly doesn’t seem like a wise way to advance the Pagan cause. Since most of us provide these “services” to each other without money changing hands anyway, I can’t see this as progress towards anything but making us “Christianity Lite”.”

We don’t have the same needs? The need for shelter, for companionship, for a sense of place is universal, and not limited to Christianity. Buddhists have temples. For that matter, for all his complaining about how Pagans don’t need land or buildings, they seem to have done pretty well with them for thousands of years before Christianity came. You know; the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Norse, Celts… Were the Saxons slain by Charlemagne practicing “Christianity Lite” because they had a temple-complex centered around their sacred pillar, the Irminsul?

That his article and other writings are also filled to the brim with a virulent anti-Christian sentiment is probably close to the mark as far as the source of his attitude; his hatred of all things Christian is so all-encompassing that anything the Christians do, no matter how effective, must somehow be wrong wrong wrong.

There is a bit of inconsistency in his views, however. He is apparently all in favor of neo-pagans taking money as part of the Federal “Faith Based Initiatives” program. For instance, he writes to the Canada Free Press on the subject, where he states quite plainly (and correctly, in my opinion):

“Why should we be denied the same access to federal funding as our Christian neighbors?”

Why indeed! But why stop there? Why should we be denied the same access to facilities as our Christian neighbors?

Mr. Mancour seems to think that such would lead down a slippery slope to a place where Pagans look too much like Christians (I’m sensing a pattern):

“When Pagans in my community are in need, word goes out and stuff gets done by those who take individual responsibility to do it. And that is what lies at the crux of this matter: Responsibility. Once we start paying for our clergy and these so-called clerical services, we cheapen the spirit of individual responsibility and sacrifice that called many of us to the groves and covens in the first place. Once we put a price-tag on such things as devotion, respect, instruction and service, we start down the dark and lonely road of abandoning our individual responsibility – and there are plenty of other churches out there that already offer that “service”.”

He does seem to make broad sweeping generalizations (“individual responsibility and sacrifice…called many of us”) that I, for one, would challenge. That may be true of Mr. Mancour, and perhaps those in his immediate orbit. But I could probably point to just as many for whom one of the chief attractions of Paganism or Heathenry is in fact the sense of community and the pull of finding security in belonging to a greater whole; such is the essence of tribalism, and although that may be anathema to an ultra-individualist such as Mr. Mancour, it is nonetheless a legitimate point of view fully consistent with either the broader Pagan or Heathen world-views. Having clergy professionally trained in such things as counseling, history, languages, etc., making them an actually legitimate source for knowledge and succor somehow leads to an erosion of personal responsibility? It might be at odds with the way that Mr. Mancour approaches his religious faith, but there are places for specialists, and not every person can (or should be expected to) be an expert in all things.

He closes his article with a cheap cop-out, claiming an implied imprimatur from the Gods supporting his point of view:

“”Lack of funding” isn’t an obstacle to getting things done; it’s merely a challenge of the moment. If the Gods so will something like a temple to be, then you can bet that the resources will magickally appear.”

That, too, is a very Christian point of view; that our material success or failure is wholly a product of the Will of the Gods. I would argue that such fatalism– placing outcomes completely in the hands of the Gods and waiting for Fate to simply plunk down a check for $100,000 before lifting a finger to do the work ourselves– is inconsistent with the Pagan and Heathen world-views. To take the example with which I am personally most familiar, in the Germanic world-view such passivity would be unthinkable. Struggling and striving to attain one’s goals, especially ones which bring glory and renown to the person who achieves them, is a central theme. We don’t wait for our Gods to drop a life of ease at our feet; we go out and seize it by the throat. Just because the resources don’t magically appear doesn’t mean the Gods *don’t* want it. Maybe it means they want *us* to go out and do it.

I happen to think that having permanent temples, and land, and even paid clergy, are Good Things. With temples and land we can, as mentioned above, have statues and shrines, sacred springs and offering wells. We can open that property to the spirits of the land, offering them a place where they will be respected by those who walk the ground, as opposed to being ignored and actively abused 357 days out of the year when they have to deal with profane softball leagues, teenagers tossing beer cans on the ground, dirt-bikers, and (horrors!) Church picnics.

Permanent buildings are not only useful for weddings and rituals. They also serve as center points for the community, and serve that function better than someone’s living room or back yard. Is it perhaps fear of success that drives this attitude? A need to be “counter-cultural”? When we limit our groups to the size than can fit in a living room, we ensure our own marginality. By having facilities that can accommodate much larger groups in a physical sense, we enable our own potential for growth. They also allow us to start proper schools for both adults and children, with places for the equipment, supplies, books, etc. necessary for modern education.

Professional clergy is a hot-button topic even more so than buildings and facilities, and my response to Mr. Mancour’s article is already long enough. Suffice to say for now that having clergy (for want of a better word; in the Heathen conception that broad category can be taken up by any number of specific roles) that is professionally trained is better than relying on well-intentioned amateurs. One does not have to be a full-time priest living in a vicarage to be able to provide professional counseling services, or be a certified non-profit financial manager, or be trained in large event planning…

Mr. Mancour seems to have issues with Christianity, and with those people and groups he sees as edging too close to what the Christians do. In so doing, he borders on the abusive and argues his case poorly, propping up straw men and making broad generalizations. But in a most ironic turn of events, he seems to take an almost Calvinist view of the world, waiting for the Gods to provide, and extolling the virtues of both poverty and suffering. There are places for small, organic groups of Pagans who meet in their living rooms and do ritual in public parks. However, there is also a place for larger and more organized pagan groups who see the virtue and utility of growing up (in a social sense) and owning property and expecting professional services from their leaders.

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