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Featured [Pagans/Polytheists] Whitewashing the Gods

Discussion in 'Same Faith Debates' started by Quintessence, Feb 19, 2016.

  1. Quintessence

    Quintessence Tale Weaver
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    Making offerings to the gods is a routine part of a devotional polytheist's practice. And, as pointed out in a recent article by Asa West, "what we choose to offer to a god–and our reason for choosing it–says much more about us than it does about the god." While I agree with this sentiment in part, Asa uses this perspective to buttress some rather judgmental conclusions about how other Pagans choose to practice. The author was apparently involved in a discussion about whether or not a bullet was an appropriate offering to the Morrigan. Asa went on to say in the article that:

    "... given our historical moment, if you think a bullet is a fine, healthy offering to a goddess of sovereignty–especially in the midst of our mass shooting epidemic and racist, militarized police; especially in light of the fact that violence has never been cured by more violence–then what does that say about you? What does that say about the qualities you want to nourish and feed within yourself? If a bullet is okay, why not a landmine? Or napalm? Or a nuclear warhead?

    ...

    I’m going to ask a tough question here, one that will probably raise some hackles: is it really the Morrigan you love, in all her complexity and uncomfortable truths, or is it the thrill and video-game fantasy of violence?"

    You can read the full article here, and while it is about offerings, I'm interested in putting a different spin on this topic, because I was bothered by the writer's attitude here.

    One of the things I happen to love about polytheistic theology is it doesn't whitewash reality (aka, the gods). It doesn't see the world through rose-tinted glasses and ignore the fact that the gods are not necessarily out to support human health and well-being (and at times their nature is outright opposed to human health and well-being). Gods of polytheisms are war, violence, chaos, starvation, disease, and death, not just the things humans happen to like. Death - specifically being a herald of death in battle/war - is one of the Morrigan's aspects.

    I think Asa is guilty of whitewashing the gods here. One gets the sense from this essay that because she refuses to honor the fearsome, dark, or taboo aspects of the gods, that those of us who do aren't being authentic in our devotion (aka, it isn't "really" the Morrigan we love) or are somehow wrong to do what we do (aka, we shouldn't honor those "icky" aspects of the gods).

    Seriously? Judgmental much?

    At any rate, I put this in the debates section for reasons that should be obvious, but most of you guys who will post here know I'm not really one for debates. Feel free to offer any reflections on the article, or on the issue of viewing the gods through rose-tinted glasses.
     
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  2. Erebus

    Erebus Well-Known Member

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    Hmm there's definitely a tendency to want to make various gods seem more "wholesome." There are probably a variety of reasons behind this: fear of prejudice, fear or denial of the fact that nature can be brutal, fear of accidentally contacting something dangerous ... actually, it seems that fear is probably a core reason. I was always perplexed by this insistence that nature is good, wholesome and full of cuddly forest animals.

    It's a bit of a personal bugbear when I see people reduce Loki to a playful trickster, angels to fairy godparents, fairies to little ballerinas and nature as a whole to the most nauseating Disney woodland. I get that I lean more towards the dark and that a lot of people aren't comfortable with that. I also get that it's really down to each person to decide what's right for them ... but, really? Just try giving a deer a hug.
     
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  3. Riverwolf

    Riverwolf Amateur Rambler / Proud Ergi
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    I'm absolutely not in favor of this sort of whitewashing. I understand the sentiment, but Gods who oversee war, well, love war. Honestly, offering a bullet to them isn't much different than offering a sword, or an arrow, or any other non-gunpowder weapons. To a War God, it seems a very suitable offering (albeit one I'd never make myself).

    So, fellow folks who hate violence and war, my solution is simply not to make offerings to War Gods. In the case of Gods who oversee other things, make offerings to those aspects.

    I also couldn't help but notice something:

    "I’m going to ask a tough question here...: is it really the Morrigan you love, in all her complexity and uncomfortable truths, or is it the thrill and video-game fantasy of violence?"


    I've never worked with Morrigan directly, but I know what it is to work with Gods who deal in uncomfortable truths. One of those "uncomfortable truths" presented to me by such Gods as Woden was this: violence isn't a "disease" that needs "curing".

    Another is that "video-game fantasy of violence" is not something to be so derided. It can be a perfectly safe outlet for those filled with wode. It wasn't just through video games, but one of the ways Woden presented to me the aforementioned "uncomfortable truth" was through the music of the band Manowar, who frequently invoke him in their lyrics. Hearing that music does fill me with a small bit of wode, even though I know perfectly well that it's fantasy. (Seriously, Manowar, Loki is not Sleipnir's father, he is Sleipnir's mother!)

    Point being that I find it funny to invoke a God who oversees "uncomfortable truths" while touching on a form of offering, to that same God, which clearly makes the author uncomfortable.

    Or picking up a bear cub right from underneath their mother! DX (I bloody hate Disney's Pocahontas).
     
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  4. Quintessence

    Quintessence Tale Weaver
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    Challenge accepted. The next animal I will attempt to hug will be squirrels.

    (I have actually handled a squirrel before - wearing a leather jacket and leather gloves is strongly recommended if you don't want your arms to be bleeding all over the place)
     
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  5. Jainarayan

    Jainarayan ॐ नमो भगवते वासुदेवाय
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    I wouldn't have thought of the word 'whitewashing' in reading the article. I don't know what I would have thought of, but I think whitewashing it is. I especially disagree with this line: "...and truly honoring that god means honoring them in their totality." Some gods and goddesses are more complex than others. Odin and Freyja are two that immediately come to mind as being more complex than Thor, Freyr, Heimdall, or Ullr, for example.

    Odin, for example is a god of war, death, a psychopomp (maybe by proxy vis-à-vis the valkyrjur). But he is also a god of wisdom, knowledge, the craving and seeking of knowledge, and therefore of educators and serious students. Those are completely unrelated to war and death. Some followers are drawn to his warlike aspect, some to his more benign aspects. I would say the offerings would be different depending on which aspect is being honored.
     
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  6. Quintessence

    Quintessence Tale Weaver
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    Many would argue against this as being a truth, because they prefer the idealistic notion that a non-violent world is a possibility (or more accurately, a non-violent human world; I've yet to see these idealists suggest they can eradicate violence from the rest of the biosphere). There's something to be said for holding to a cherished ideal, certainly. By upholding that ideal, it becomes a virtue one aspires to cultivate and becomes part of one's character. I'd argue that a failure to see the wisdom of the other side is a folly, but doing otherwise is also very challenging and not for everyone. Seeing wisdom in all things - without exception -is a very difficult task, particularly with cultural taboos. And it can become an odd love/hate relationship.



    Sometimes, I wonder if we need to bring back arenas and coliseums. We live in a culture that shuns the warrior spirit (is that what the wode is, RW?), and the outlets offered for it deny bloodletting or any serious risk of death/dismemberment. I think that if all parties involved agree to it, why not allow things like duels? This sort of thing used to be a cultural norm. I wonder what our culture would look like if, in response to someone slandering your name, you could challenge them to a duel? Make them eat their words unless they're literally willing to die on that hill? Granted, such things could be abused too... XD
     
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  7. Nietzsche

    Nietzsche The Last Prussian
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    And poetry.

    I'm not sure I'd say unrelated, but certainly not directly related to war & battle.

    **** her(the writer, not the Morrigan). Offerings of weapons and other instruments of battle are noble gifts to Gods of War, be they Odin, the Morrigan, Ares, Hachiman or Sobek. There shoul be no shame in it, ever.
     
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  8. Riverwolf

    Riverwolf Amateur Rambler / Proud Ergi
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    Very true. When I sing along to Manowar's music, I get in this WEIRD space of verbally condoning things that in real life I'd NEVER condone.

    Thing is, I don't think we need to "bring them back", because honestly, we do still have them in the form of physical sports. I've actually heard football (not sure if it was American football or soccer being referred to, but either way) being called a "substitute for war" in the past.

    America's pan-culture is very much a warrior culture. The problem is that it also likes to pretend it isn't.

    Wode isn't necessarily "warrior spirit". It refers to "frenzy, inspiration, ecstasy, madness, drunkenness, etc." and certainly can induce the berserker state, but also drive creative inspiration. Woden oversees poetry as well as war, after all. :D
     
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  9. Quintessence

    Quintessence Tale Weaver
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    That wasn't my initial thought either, but as I read the article and bits were annoying me, I asked myself why. I came to the conclusion that it bothered me because I felt the author was being rather judgmental, in part because they were basically saying it's not okay to honor certain aspects of the gods (aka, whitewashing over the parts they don't like).



    You know, when I first read this, I actually went "but I kind of agree with that..." Perhaps this is because I read it as a "accepting the gods for who and what they are (aka, don't whitewash and pretend such and such isn't part of who they are)." On the other hand, it could be read as "because your best friend enjoys football, you have to honor football too even if you hate it in order to display proper respect." I think that's more where you were going with that, right? In which case, hear hear! (blah football!)
     
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  10. Quintessence

    Quintessence Tale Weaver
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    But it's ICKY! :D

    Personally, I think the bullet as a symbol for the Morrigain is rather brilliant. If there's a bullet sailing in your direction, that's a pretty good herald of death in battle/war for the modern era...

    The article's example of landmines, napalm, and nuclear weapons was a LOL moment. Who would be dumb enough to put something like that on their altar? I mean, it's bad enough that we accidentally set ourselves on fire with our candles...



    Funny you mention, because I had a reference to that in an earlier version of that paragraph and then removed it. I'd consider football a pale substitute, none the least because it excludes women by tradition. Sports are tamed down combat arenas. Very tamed down, as overt violence tends to be against the rules of the game.



    I don't know. I'm not sure I'd characterize American culture that way, but it does depend on the basis of comparison. By contemporary Western standards, I suppose, that argument could be made. By the standards of Pagan times? LOL.... no. We're tame.
     
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  11. Jainarayan

    Jainarayan ॐ नमो भगवते वासुदेवाय
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    Tru dat.
     
  12. Jainarayan

    Jainarayan ॐ नमो भगवते वासुदेवाय
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    Well, that football analogy is a good way to put it. I was also thinking that as an example, being a rather mercurial god, it's best not to get Odin's attention if you have no intention of working with him in a certain way. I will hail him, and offer a libation, as one who gives wisdom and inspiration, but I certainly don't want to say "here I am, I am yours, I offer you representations of battle". It's said that he will take you up on it. In that respect I am well aware of his total personality. I think it's foolhardy to worship him in a whitewashed, one-dimensional way.
     
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  13. Kori

    Kori Dark Valkyrie...what's not to love?

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    I acknowledge the wrong the Gods and Goddesses have done. After all I'm not a Monotheist.
     
  14. Quintessence

    Quintessence Tale Weaver
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    Monotheism does not preclude acknowledging the "wrong" of one's god. I could see that being the case for a theology which demands viewing the god(s) as always and inherently right or righteous, however. One could have such a theological approach in either monotheism or polytheism, though I'll grant that historically this has been an approach within classical monotheism.
     
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  15. Riverwolf

    Riverwolf Amateur Rambler / Proud Ergi
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    True... but there's other alternatives. I've seen some AWESOME and BRUTAL WMMA fights. (And just because I know this stereotype exists, I wish to point out that I get no sexual arousal from the sight of women fighting.)

    LOL Very true.

    Then again, looking at the various "warrior cultures" that pop up from time to time in science fiction and fantasy, the stuff out of America tends to glorify, or at least romanticize, such cultures more than others.

    STORY TIME! (I forget the exact details of the story, such as the characters' names or the exact reason they were doing this, but I remember the most important parts).

    A man and his brothers wanted to worship Woden. He offered himself to Woden, but only afterwards realized exactly what that meant. He would have to hang himself, and his brothers would have to spear his heart. He'd have to die. So, not wanting to die, they devised a plan to perform the ritual without him dying. He'd hang by a strand of lamb intestines that would never hold his weight, and they'd poke him with a harmless twig. So, they set everything up, said the proper prayers and galdors, and the man got ready to fake-hang himself. But when the moment finally came, the lamb intestines turned to real rope, and the twig became a spear. Thus, Woden got what was offered in the end.
     
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  16. Jainarayan

    Jainarayan ॐ नमो भगवते वासुदेवाय
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    Booyah!

    If we couldn't fool our human fathers, what makes anyone think they can fool the All-Father? :p
     
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  17. GoodbyeDave

    GoodbyeDave Well-Known Member

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    Decent people do not take part in activities like dog fights. They know that dogs will fight on occasion, but the realise that exploiting that tendency for their own gratification is immoral. In my book, any spirit that encouraged human violence would belong in the same category as a human who ran dog fights: no god but a rather primitive spirit. Just because something lacks a body doesn't mean that it's wise, let alone worthy of worship.
     
  18. vaguelyhumanoid

    vaguelyhumanoid Active Member

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    The author accuses bullet-offerers(?) of buying into a "video-game fantasy of violence", but I think she's buying into one herself, just a different one. Why? Because she romanticizes the Hel out of bladed weapons:

    "As I write this, I’m thinking about my athame, which I often place on my altar when working with or venerating the Morrigan. It’s sharp; theoretically I could kill someone with it. What makes it more than just an instrument of violence, though, is that the blade has power on a metaphorical level as well as a physical one. Kali’s scimitar destroys the pernicious force of the ego; similarly, the Sikh kirpan, in addition to standing for justice and mercy, symbolizes the enlightened mind that slices through doubt and attachment. The sword, in the tarot, cuts away lies and deception to reveal knowledge and justice. "

    I doubt she's really read up much on medieval and ancient combat. Warfare in the Middle Ages was completely brutal, just as it is today. Limbs were hacked, faces were stabbed... it wasn't pretty. And the Morrigan spoke to that, just as Odin did. iirc the Iron Age Celts drank out of their enemies' skulls, because the head was the seat of spiritual power. I really doubt the negative emotional connotations of a bullet would bother the Morrigan. An argument about bullets being mass produced and therefore less spiritually charged than a hand-crafted blade would make sense to me, but that's a completely different train of thought.

    As for whether a bullet can be a symbol of sovereignty and female power:

    [​IMG]

    ^^^
    Taken from a recent protest against sexual predator/"pickup artist" Roosh V.
     
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  19. Kori

    Kori Dark Valkyrie...what's not to love?

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    Hmm.
     

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  20. Quintessence

    Quintessence Tale Weaver
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    Out of curiosity, does this mean you don't consider Ares a god, but a "primitive spirit" unworthy of worship?
     
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