15 June 2011

Observers viewing lunar eclipse

See full story at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-13779506

12 June 2011

Why I Am Not a (Neo-)Pagan

After posting about the McCollum case we have recieved a number of emails asking about the differences between Heathenry and neo-paganism. The following is offered as a response to these queries.

Modern Heathendom and neo-paganism have borne a rather strange and strained relationship since the mid-1970s. Some on both sides see neo-paganism as a broad phenomenon and include Heathendom as one branch of the pagan family tree. Others see Heathenry as a distinct movement with our own history, values and traditions that are not related to neo-paganism or any other socio-spiritual movement. The question of which attitude is more correct is an interesting, if not complicated one.

The term in question comes from the Second World War. The Nazis coined the term Neu-Heiden1 as a derogatory term to describe the various non-christian and anti-christian religious/philisophical movements that had been cropping up in Germany beginning in the late 1800s and through the war era. These movements varied greatly: from spiritualism to Armanenschaft, from Anthroposophy to Gotteserkenntnis, and from theosophy to Ariosophy. That is, there was no one school of thought that united these movements except for the fact that neither the Church nor the Nazi Party approved of them.
It is from the German Neu-Heiden that we derive our anglicized “neo-pagan”2. Neo-Pagan was popularized in the 1970s when a number of fringe religious movements came to identify themselves under one umbrella term. While Wicca3 came to be the most widely recognized of these, the neo-pagan movement embraced a wide variety of movements ranging from neo-druidry4 to Feraferia5 and from Church of the Eternal Source6 to Discordianism7. Some have even produced rather whitewashed forms of tribal and semi-tribal traditions such as Amerindian shamanism and Cuban Santería. Like their German forebears, neo-pagan groups share little in common except for their rejection of organized religion and certain social norms.

Two religious traditions have long vexed the neo-pagan movement, however: Heathenry and Setianism8. As it is not my place to speak on Setianism, however, we will only consider Heathenry here.

Heathenry, unlike neo-paganism, bears a continuous--if fragmented--lineage that spans back to ancient times. In Western society we still see vestiges of our ancestral triuwa in our legal conventions, in public symbolism (such as at courthouses and librarys), in our bank holidays and even the names we use to identify the days of the week. Many of the traditions we now see in institutions such as the christian church and in organized sports find their origins in ancient Heathendom.

History has shown us two significant events—the First and Second Reawakenings—that demonstrate the fact that the Götter have remembered us and that we, in turn, ought to remember them. When one considers the likelihood of either Reawakening occurring without divine intervention the statistics offer an incredible wake-up call! Neo-paganism, on the other hand, has never experienced anything like this.

Aside from history, though, there are two major reasons that I do not identify my Heathenry as having anything to do with the neo-pagan movement: [1] the comparative definitions of the terms pagan and Heathen (both ancient and modern); and [2] the socio-spiritual implications of the same two terms.

"Pagan" is derived from the Latin paganus meaning something like “country dweller” but with a very negative connotation – much like our modern English word “hick”. The implication made by early christians was that the “hicks” we too backward to understand their new belief system and would, as a result, remain in a “savage” state.

"Heathen" comes down to us from OE hæðen, which in turn was derived from Goth haiþno meaning something like “gentle country person”. It bore no negative connotations until the Church began to use the terms “heathen” and “pagan” interchangeably.

The historical difference is that “pagan” was a foreign term of derision, whilst “heathen” was an indigenous descriptive. The former was a general term to describe all the “savages” and “barbarians”, whilst the latter was a specific term simply identifying a certain breed of people within the existing culture.

Bringing this to modern times “pagan” has come down to us to mean any religious belief that is not part of the Abrahamic tradition9. That is, any tradition from Buddhism to Voudon might be described as “pagan” (although most people of the various world traditions would be loath to use the term). It does not describe what one believes or practices, but only describes what one is not. “Heathen”, on the other hand, describes a very specific body of beliefs and practices. While there may be a number of variances between the orthopraxy and orthodoxy of assorted Heathenrys, one must believe and practice some certain basic things to be included under this moniker.

As for the socio-spiritual implications, when one thinks of neo-paganism one tends to think of naked dances around a bonfire, of all but non-existent ethical guides, of casting spells, and all sorts of other things that have little or nothing to do with Heathenry. Why would I want to lump myself together with folks who do not share my beliefs, my morals, or my traditions? Let alone the baggage! Many outsiders believe (although inaccurately) that neo-pagans are devil worshippers, perverts, and other wretched things. If I allow myself to be associated with them the assumption is that I too worship devils, am a sexual deviant, or what have you. Heathenry's public image is difficult enough to manage without adding the baggage of neo-paganism to our own!

I am not a neo-pagan, borrowing ideas and notions from all over the world and delving into whatever strikes my fancy. I stand true to the gods of my ancestors! I am a Heathen. It may not mean much to the outside world, but it is something of which I am proud!

1The Holy Reich: Nazi Conceptions of Christianity 1919-1945 by Richard Steigmann-Gall; 2003 Cambridge University Press

2Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America Today by Margot Adler; 1986 Penguin Books

3A would-be revival of witchcraft as a religion

4While these groups claim to practice a revived Celtic tradition the majority practice something much more akin to Wicca than to anything historically accurate. This should come as no surprise considering how little has survived regarding historical Celtic religion.

5A pantheistic approach to nature-worship

6A revival of ancient Egyptian religion – very historically accurate

7A parody of organized religion and, on occasion, going so far as to parody neo-paganism itself

8The Temple of Set began as a break-off from Anton LeVey's Church of Satan alleging that LeVey's version of Satanism was not serious enough. Its teachings have since evolved into something of a “dark side” retelling of world pagan notions.

9Judaism, christianism, mohammedanism and bahái

~~Steve Anthonijsz

05 June 2011

Personnel Changes

We are very happy to announce that the Irminen-Gesellschaft has a new board of directors! Cal Reimer has agreed to take on the position of secretary and Lonnie Collins is returning as vice-president. The dedication of both these gentlemen will prove to be a great asset to the IG, and their agreeing to work in this capacity is greatly appreciated. I will remain in the president's seat.
...And more news! While Zeitgeist #17 is already in production, after this issue we will see the return of Hjuka Coulter as the editor! We have all missed Hjuka's efforts in this organization and I'm sure that his return will be more than welcomed. Besides, he's much better at proofreading and layouts than I will ever be which will mean Zeitgeist will have a more “professional” look again.

The past year or two have been very trying for this organization. But it is my belief that these individuals taking these offices will prove to be a dramatic boon for us and, by extension, the Irminic movement as a whole.

Triuwa enti êra!

McCollum; et al., v. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation; et al.

On 1 June 2011 California's Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals published its decision to uphold the lower court's ruling to deny Patrick McCollum and his fellow plaintiffs standing. The case, Patrick M. McCollum; et al., v. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation; et al. Was brought to the courts by a neo-pagan chaplain (McCollum) challenging the state's “Five Faiths” policy. This policy limits the hiring of paid chaplains to protestant christian, catholic christian, Jewish, mohammedan, and “Native American” (as if this moniker isn't sufficiently vague!) adherents. The ruling is being challenged by a number of neo-pagan groups, predominantly by wiccans and neo-druids.
But what does all this mean to Irminen and other Heathens? To understand this, first we must consider the role of a prison chaplain. Chaplains, supported by the courts uphold prisoners' right to practice their religions in reasonable ways that do not endanger the safety or function of the prison. This right has been supported by the courts because it is proven that when a criminal meditates on their crimes tend  to become truly repentant and as a result, are more likely to be productive, law-abiding citizens in the future –- d.h., recidivism is dramatically reduced. Chaplains can organize regularly scheduled religious services as well as provide spiritual counselling and comfort to the inmates. These services can be secular or non-denominational as well as being religon-specific and are aimed at improving both the welfare and attitudes of the inmates.
This, of course, sounds very much desirable. But how does a chaplain accomplish these goals?
A chaplain is given quite a bit of leeway, but we must also keep in mind that (1) the chaplain is an employee of the institution which may be government-run or privately-run, and (2) the office of the chaplaincy is based on a christian model regardless of the triuwa being represented. A prison chaplain is not a harugari* stationed behind the wall and does not pretend to be. Typical “vital areas” covered by a prison chaplain include:
    • God, Supreme Being &/or Spirit
    • Existence: Being/Non-Being
    • Life Crises & Goals
    • Identity & Sexuality
    • Eternity & Annihilation
    •  Nature of Growth & Death
    • Universal Forces
    Origin: Beginning/Ending
    • Purpose of Pain & Pleasure
    • Purpose of God & Humankind
    • Derivation & Purpose of Law
    • Sources of Religous Authority
    • Destiny of Humankind
    • Coping with Life & Prison
    • Scripture Interpretation
    • Transcendence
    • Truth; Dignity; Honour; Love
    • Cycles & Stages of Life
    • Moral & Social Accountability
    • Family; Marriage; Separation
    • Wisdom & Life Skills
    • Essence of Good & Evil
    • Essence of Humankind & Principles
    • Purpose/Meaning in life
While a number of these areas could be positively addressed by a chaplain regarless of his triuwa, it does not require much to realize that a chaplain representing one of the “Five Faiths” is not going to be able to address Irminic spiritual needs in many if not most of these areas. Even if the McCollum case were won all this would offer is a couple of neo-pagan chaplains to add to the mix who will be similarly unqualified in fulfilling the needs of Heathen or would-be Heathen inmates.
Something often overlooked in discussions about matters such as these is the nature of Heathendom itself. As an  Ásatrú friend of mine has often pointed out: Heathenry is a religion of the hearth, not the church. As far as the needs of a given individual goes one can build one's own werd** and one's relationship with the gods with little or no help from a chaplain. Negotiating with the wihtir*** may prove very difficult when confined within an institution, but a chaplain cannot help much in this area anyway.
However a prison chaplain can prove useful to a Heathen inmate or to one investigating Heathenry. Again it is the chaplain who has the power to schedule (or deny) “religious services” (fagende). He may also permit and even request books and other materials for the prison library, offer counselling services, usw.
We do not necessarily need Heathen chaplains in the prisons. But we do need Heathen-friendly ones. No amount of litigation or legislation will create Heathen-friendly chaplains. But educating the wider public about what Heathenry is—and is not—may well funnel some positive thoughts about us into the institutions. Again, chaplains are generally given a lot more leeway than other prison employees to interpret policy as they see fit.
How do we educate people? Of course, lots of methods exist. But the more important is simply to present ourselves to the world in a positive fashion. Be a supportive family member, a good citizen, and a good employee or boss. Be open about your Heathenry but don't shove it in people's faces either. Let people get to know you as a quality person first and let them find out about your triuwa after that positive impression has been made. Maybe after knowing you for 3 or 5 years someone asks, “What is that symbol you always were around your neck?” or “Why do you have religious celebrations at all these odd times?” Now you have the opportunity to give an honest, reasonable answer with your reputation already established so that the questioner respects you before the answer is even given—without any feelings of prejudice or of being threatened. It's a slow way, but an effective one.

~~Steve Anthonijsz

*Irminic priest. f. Harugarin
** OHG: "worth" related to âr ("honour")
***OHG: "spirits"; "local deities". Various types of wiht are associated with home, property and nature