Monthly Archives: June 2015

Tama the Cat becomes a Deity

japan-station-cat-_3357182b

The story of Tama, the stray cat turned stationmaster at Kishi Station in Wakayama, has caught the attention of UK media for the incredible reaction towards her death at the age of 16. Tama was given a full funeral service, attended by by 3,000 well-wishers, and she to be enshrined under the title of “Tama Daimyojin” – “Illustrious Deity Tama.”

This episode not only reminds us of the importance of animism and nature-worship in Shinto, but also its role in rituals surrounding death. Most do not think of Shinto as being associated with death and funerals – that role usually goes to Buddhism in Japan – but it’s not true that Shinto has nothing to say about the afterlife. The fact is, a great number of kami in the Shinto tradition were formerly great noblemen, priests and other pillars of the community who attained godhood upon their deaths. So in fact, Shinto is very much rooted in a belief in the continuation of life after death. According to Shinto, all of us have the potential to become kami in the next life.

2 Comments

Filed under Shinto / Japanese Religion

The Grim Reaper and The Second Law of Thermodynamics

deatg

By Travancore (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“The law that entropy always increases, holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell’s equations — then so much the worse for Maxwell’s equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation — well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.” – Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington

Simply put, the second law of thermodynamics states that whenever energy is transformed from one form to another form, entropy (disorder) increases and energy decreases.

Scientists place particular prominence on the second law of thermodynamics for a number of reasons. It’s a theory that’s based on empirical evidence. It gives us a definition for the direction of time, i.e. the direction in which entropy increases. It tells us that the Universe has limits, i.e. energy cannot be converted with 100% efficiency. It may also tell us the ultimate fate of the Universe. In short, it’s a very powerful law.

The second law of thermodynamics also tells us something else. It tells us that ultimately, everything decays. Everything wears out and fades. Everything dies.

I find it intriguing that the second law of thermodynamics, one of the most important concepts in science, essentially describes death. And death, like life, is held in particularly high regard among Pagans, as well as followers of other beliefs.

Wikipedia alone lists some 200 deities connected with death found throughout world religions. That’s about the same as the number of fertility deities. Most religions have some kind of festival to venerate departed spirits, in addition to having a lot to say about the afterlife and the proper way to deal with the bodies of the deceased. Clearly, death is just as fundamental concept to religion as the second law of thermodynamics is to science.

Although it may seem morbid or bleak, I think this tells us that death is one of the most important aspects of existence. It is perhaps the only certainty in this universe. It unites us all – not just people, but animals, plants, rocks, stars and even the subatomic particles that make up everything. The fact that death is so powerful yet so commonplace means that we should not fear it. We should try to see death as constant, unifying companion, the one thing we know to always be true in a Universe full of uncertainty. In this way, death is perhaps the ultimate God.

1 Comment

Filed under Musings & Miscellaneous

Being “Complicit” in “Religious” Crimes

BlackMass

1903 depiction of a Satanic Black Mass

Muslims in the UK are facing very difficult and dangerous times. Last week, Prime Minister David Cameron strongly implied that British Muslim communities are somehow complicit in the atrocious crimes committed by Islamic State, warning them against “quietly condoning” actions of these radical terrorists.

This morning, I read of this terrible act of animal cruelty in Dartmoor, in which a sheep had been slaughtered in what is suspected to be a “Satanic ritual” coinciding with the Summer Solstice.

I am pretty sure that there are those out there who will be associating this crime with the Pagan community – not only because of the timing of the crime, but also because of the confusion (and existing links) between the Pagan and Satanic communities. No doubt there will be those out there who will say that Pagans should speak out against this crime, and publicly condemn the perpetrators, and that if we do not do so, we too are “quietly condoning” such actions of animal cruelty.

So why would Pagans, and indeed some Satanists, be reluctant to “apologise and “remind” the members of our community that ritually killing animals in this way is unacceptable? Because the person, or people, who did this are nothing to do with us, no more than any other animal abuser. It should be obvious that Pagans, in addition to belonging to a different religion entirely to Satanists for the most part, are animal lovers. Life is sacred to us – killing an animal in this manner would be one of the most offensive acts a Pagan could commit. A very basic bit of research into Paganism will tell you this. And if you have not done this bit of research, you are not in a position to make dangerous, sweeping accusations on the “complicity” of the Pagan community at large regarding illegal ritual animal killings. The same applies to Satanists – you don’t have to do a lot of research to find out that the killing of animals goes against the principals of the majority of Satanists, and that true Satanists have nothing to do with the crazed minority who sacrifice animals for kicks. By compelling religious communities to “apologise” or otherwise take responsibility for the actions of extremists, we also effectively force them into a false confession that they are somehow in league with those extremists, those criminals. And that is not right.

Exactly the same thing applies to Islamic State and the Muslim community. The vast, vast majority of Muslims have no more to do with Islamic State than anyone else in the UK, just as the vast, vast majority of Christians have nothing to do with the recent hate crime against Pagans in Ireland involving the vandalism of a statue. In fact, what we forget is that Muslims are the biggest victims of all of the actions of Islamic State, Boko Haram and other terrorists cowardly hiding behind the guise of “religion.” Islamic State hates Muslims, just as much (or perhaps even more so) than it hates other groups that are not Islamic State. Islamic State wants the world to think that Muslims are complicit in their actions, so that Muslims become hated in their countries and therefore become much easier pickings for recruitment. So by implying that the Muslim community is “quietly condoning” terrorist actions, our government is in fact playing into the hands of Islamic State.

So let’s make things clear.

Pagans and Satanists are not “quietly condoning” the crimes of those who illegally sacrifice animals.

Christians are not “quietly condoning” the crimes of Protestant white supremacists, homophobes, or hate crimes against the Pagan community.

Shintoists are not “quietly condoning” the actions of the far-right in Japan.

And Muslims are not “quietly condoning” the actions of Islamic State or any other terrorist group.

We need to defeat all these crimes by uniting together and putting aside any perceptions of religious association. If we let these individuals and groups divide us, we will all be conquered.

5 Comments

Filed under Musings & Miscellaneous

Litha Ritual 2015 with Medway Pagans

MPLitha01

One of our members brought in a Litha-themed pentagram to decorate our meeting space

Last night was Medway Pagans’ Litha Moot. I had to walk there for the first time (about 2 miles and all uphill), which was actually quite nice because I was in a bit of a bad mood before the Moot, and the long walk helped me to think things through and calm down. And as the weather’s so nice and the evenings are so long (thank you Sun King!), it was a pretty pleasant walk. I might do it again just for the fun of it!

After the usual socialising, the ritual started. We welcomed the summer Sun as a candle was anointed, representing the sun’s light. The “cakes and ale” included ginger biscuits, one of which I had – it was a lot spicer than I expected and its heat seemed quite symbolic of the summer Sun’s energy!

After the ritual, some of us went out to make offerings to the oak trees which surround the club where we hold our moots. It was a beautiful evening, very warm and peaceful and just perfect for celebrating Litha.

Apparently an atmospheric phenomenon meant that the Aurora Borealis was supposed to be visible yesterday evening, but I don’t think any of us spotted it…but as we were leaving, I did spot a fox cross the road outside the club, which is always a very good omen for me!

Next Moot, Lammas, I will be holding the ritual for the very first time. It’s a real honour but I’m pretty nervous! Wish me luck…

MPLitha02

The very green Litha altar

2 Comments

Filed under Rituals & Festivals

The Divine Masculine and Feminine in Shinto

Izanami Izanagi2

Izanami and Izanagi, Shinto’s divine creator deities

The common Pagan/Wiccan belief in the Divine Masculine and Feminine (or Great God and Great Goddess) is shared in many other faiths, and Shinto is no exception, having quite a few masculine/feminine parings in its pantheon. Shinto probably owes much of this to Chinese folk religion, in which the concept of Yin and Yang stresses the balance between Masculine and Feminine. Whenever I invoke the Great God and Goddess, I remember that I am also invoking those Masculine/Feminine deities in Shinto, and vice versa. Here’s a few of the divine Masculine/Feminine pairings that can be found in Shinto and related Japanese folk beliefs

Izanagi-no-mikoto and Izanami-no-mikoto – Two of the most important deities in Shinto, Izanagi and Izanami are the divine creators, responsible for the birth of the other kami (gods and goddesses). Their story is very similar to that of Orpheus and Eurydice – after dying in childbirth, Izanami decends into the underworld and Izanagi tries to follow her. Izanami warns Izanagi not to look upon her, but he betrays her and lights a fire to see her, and shrinks back in horror to find her rotten and decaying. In rage, Izanami chases Izanagi from the Underworld. Another account tells us that Izanami eats from the food of the Underworld which binds her there forever – much like the myth of Hades and Persephone.

amaterasu Amaterasu Omikami and Tsukuyomi no Mikoto – Like many religions, Shinto recognises the Sun and Moon as a divine Masculine/Feminine pair. But unlike many religions, the Japanese see the Sun as the feminine (the goddess Amaterasu Omikami) and the Moon as the masculine (the god Tsukuyomi no Mikoto). Amaterasu and Tsukuyomi were said to be born from the eyes of Izanagi upon washing them after his journey to the Underworld. It is fairly unusual that in this pairing, Amaterasu is most definitely the dominant force. She is often considered the most important deity in the Shinto pantheon, while Tsukuyomi holds a fairly minor role – little is known about him.

joutoubaJou and Uba – A legendary old couple who have become dosojin – wayside guardian spirits. A little more positive than Izanagi and Izanami’s relationship, they represent harmony and love in marriage. The characters of the Old Man and Old Woman are very important in Japanese folklore – a large proportion of mukashi-banashi (Japanese fairy tales) begin with the words, “Once upon a time in a certain place, there lived an old man and an old woman.” [Picture: By Yanajin33 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons]

OrihimeHikoboshiOrihime and Hikoboshi – Originally from Chinese mythology, Orihime is the “Weaver Princess” identified with the star Vega, and Hikoboshi is the “Cowherd Star” identified with Altair. During the Tanabata festival in Japan, the two are said to meet across the Milky Way – you can read more about this festival here. [Picture: “Yoshitoshi – 100 Aspects of the Moon – 40-2” by 月岡芳年 – http://www.ukiyoart.com/img/YoshitoshiShogokuKengyoiFullSize.html. Licensed under パブリック・ドメイン via ウィキメディア・コモンズ]

CraneTurtleTsuru and Kame – Tsuru means “crane,” and kame means “turtle.” Again of Chinese origin, cranes and turtles paired together represent longevity. In Japan, the famous mukashi-banashi tells of the legend Urashima Taro, who turns into a crane after falling in love with the sea goddess Otohime in the form of a turtle. So again, the two can represent the divine masculine/feminine union.

ObinaMebinaObina and Mebina – At Hina Matsuri, Japanese households display dolls representing an Emperor and Empress, called Obina and Mebina. Although not regarded as deities, there is still a sacredness attached to these dolls, and again they can be seen as representing a divine masculine/feminine pair. [Photo: “HinaDolls-Emperor-Empress-topplatform2011” by Nesnad – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons]

inari3Inari Okami – Although usually regarded as a single deity, Inari Okami nevertheless represents a union between the divine masculine and feminine for me. Inari-sama is depicted equally as male and female, and his temples are always guarded by a pair of fox statues – one male, one female.

3 Comments

Filed under Shinto / Japanese Religion

Summer Solstice / Father’s Day 2015

Sunset over Windmill Hill

Sunset over Windmill Hill

Merry Midsummer!

Today Father’s Day and the Summer Solstice fell on the same day, which seemed to me to be a very auspicious time for celebrating the Great God and the Divine Masculine of nature.

The beginning of the day started with an offering of mead, candles and prayers at my altar (which is much simplified as I’ve packed away many items in preparation of our move). I honoured the Great God and asked Inari Okami to bless my father and all the other men in my life.

WP_20150621_12_25_46_Pro

We then met the rest of my family at a local Italian restaurant to celebrate Father’s Day.

After lunch, we went up to Windmill Hill (the highest point in Gravesend) to fly kites. The men in my family have recently gotten into kite-flying, and my sister gave my Dad a kite (in the shape of a Red kite bird!) as a Father’s Day gift. It wasn’t that windy so it was hard to get the kites in the air, but we managed eventually. It struck me that kite-flying can be quite a Pagan thing to do – you have to focus a lot on what the wind is doing, and move according to the wind. In this way, flying a kite can bring you closer to the natural forces. Flying the kites was a lot of fun, until my Dad’s kite made a break for freedom and got stuck in a tree!

WP_20150621_17_26_14_Pro

My Dad’s kite

In the evening, my husband and I returned to Windmill Hill to hold a little ritual at sunset.

I made an offering of herbs to one of the sycamore trees, and made a little altar of candles and incense

WP_20150621_21_14_01_Pro

Our timing was perfect – as we faced West, we saw the Sun sink rapidly below the skyline. I raised an offering of plum wine to the Sun, and we both drank from the goblet as the sun set. At the end of the ritual when the sun had disappeared, I poured the plum wine over the candles both to extinguish them and to offer the wine to the Earth.

It was a really serene and joyous ritual, and I felt so glad to see the sun set on the longest day. What I loved best about it was its symbolic symmetry – at the Winter Solstice, my husband and I came to Windmill Hill to watch the sun rise, so it felt very significant to me to watch the sun set at the same place at Summer Solstice.

It was one of the most lovely days and meaningful rituals I’ve had in a long while.

6 Comments

Filed under Places, Rituals & Festivals

An Evening with Prof. Brian Cox and Dr Adam Rutherford

I'll admit that #LondonThinksCox is an unfortunate hashtag...

I’ll admit that #LondonThinksCox is an unfortunate hashtag…

Yesterday evening my sister and I were fortunate enough to attend a special talk with physicist Prof. Brian Cox and geneticist Dr Adam Rutherford, at the beautiful Conway Hall in London.

As readers of my blog may know, my love of science is deeply tied in with my Pagan beliefs, and I was so glad to hear these two experts explain some difficult concepts so well and in such an engaging way, as well introducing me to new ideas in science (such as the theory that electrochemical gradients are behind the origin of life). But what I wasn’t expecting was for these two scientists to comment on the place of religion in society.

One thing you should know about Conway Hall is that it is owned by the Conway Hall Ethical Society, who are a humanist (and by extension, atheist) organisation. As a result, there were a lot of atheists in the audience, and one of them posted the question, “Will we ever be fortunate enough to live in a society without religion?”

In response to this, both scientists said that while we should not be dominated by superstitious beliefs, they don’t think that society should lose religion and that religion plays an important role in creating a cultural framework. Prof. Cox also mentioned that the co-existence of different beliefs (including those of religious and atheist people) are a sign that democracy is working.

I was so impressed and so pleased to hear such attitudes that I (and other people in the audience) gave them both a round of applause.

Leave a comment

Filed under Musings & Miscellaneous, Places

HP Pride: Meet Trellia

I got interviewed by Humanistic Paganism 🙂

Humanistic Paganism

HP Pride is a new monthly column where we interview members of the Humanistic Paganism community and other like-minded friends. One or more interviews will be published every month. If you are not a “Big Name Pagan”, or if you have never written online before, all the better! We want to hear from everyone! If you’d like to be interviewed, just click this link and follow the instructionsToday we are interviewing Trellia. 

What do you call the religion you practice?

Eclectic Paganism.

If you call yourself “Pagan”, what about your religion is “Pagan”?  Why do you choose to call yourself “Pagan”?  If you don’t call yourself “Pagan”, why not?

Because I venerate multiple, nature-based deities.

What other words (i.e., humanistic, naturalistic, atheistic, pantheistic, witch, druid, shaman, etc.) do you use to describe your religion and why?

Shintoist, because Shinto is a major aspect of my religion. I find the humanistic…

View original post 1,232 more words

Leave a comment

Filed under Musings & Miscellaneous

Open Day at Three Wheels Temple & Zen Garden

Three Wheels

Today my husband and I attended an Open Day at Three Wheels Temple – a Buddhist temple in Acton, London. It’s a very interesting and unique place – while the temple itself is Shin Buddhist and run by (mainly Japanese) devotees of Shin Buddhism, it houses a Zen Buddhist garden that was commissioned by a non-Buddhist Englishman, Professor John White.

After taking part in a tea ceremony and hearing some of the temple’s history, we sat before the garden and held Professor White tell its story. Professor White takes pride in the fact that his garden does not conform exactly to Zen standards. Although he commissioned top professionals from Japan to build the garden, he made sure that he made some adjustments to fit his preferences. For one thing, the majority of the materials, from the wattle-and-daub viewing hut to the stones themselves, are all from the UK. In fact, the stones are all from a different UK country – England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. This, too, is not in line with traditional Zen garden principles, as the stones should all be the same type and colour. However, the stones in this garden are all different types, colours and textures. This reflects the principle of Three Wheels, which is “Diversity in Harmony.” I also think it is a wonderful reflection of the diversity of the UK, especially London.

Three Wheels is indeed a very meditative and welcoming place, and I do recommend those in the UK with an interest in Buddhism paying it a visit.

Leave a comment

Filed under Places, Shinto / Japanese Religion

Farewell to Sir Christopher Lee

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage Mandatory Credit: Photo by Everett Collection / Rex Features ( 604703d ) 'The Wicker Man' - Christopher Lee 'The Wicker Man' film - 1973

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage
Mandatory Credit: Photo by Everett Collection / Rex Features ( 604703d )
‘The Wicker Man’ – Christopher Lee
‘The Wicker Man’ film – 1973

Hail and Farewell to Sir Christopher Lee, who gave us such fantastic characters as Dracula, Scaramanga, Saruman and, of course, Lord Summerisle. He always demonstrated a deep understanding and respect for folklore, magic and the occult in his art, which captured the love and imagination of millions, both Pagan and non-Pagan alike.

May you Rest In Peace in the Summerlands.

2 Comments

Filed under Musings & Miscellaneous