This month’s reviews include books on Celtic Paganism, Christo-Paganism, and a very new translation of a very old Shinto text…click here to read them all!
Tag Archives: christianity
I’ve added a few things to my altar to Yule-ify it a little now. There’s some ivy above it, a little wooden Christmas tree, a Yule-themed pentacle, and finally, a Nativity set.
I imagine a lot of people will think it’s strange that I have such a Christian symbol of a nativity set on my altar this year, so I thought I’d write a little about it.
This nativity set was given to me by my parents this year – they actually have loads of nativity sets and they wanted me to take one of them. On top of this obvious sentimental value, I’ve always loved this nativity set; it’s carved out of stone and is based on Viking figures. The figurines are so beautiful, and remind me a little of Japanese dousojin figures as well. The set really reminds me that at one time, ordinary people did practise Christianity alongside the old ways, without any conflict.
The figures of Mary and Joseph are so simple and beautiful that I plan to use them after Christmas as God and Goddess figurines, replacing my smaller ones that are repainted Hina Matsuri dolls (I’ll probably start using these as Hina dolls again). I’ll only put out the ox, ass and Baby Jesus figures out at Christmas time. I personally see nothing wrong with appropriating figures from one religion (especially figures that look so generic anyway) to use for sacred purposes in another; people throughout history have always done this, such as the figures of Kannon that Japanese Christians would venerate as Mary, or the Celtic Goddess Brigid becoming St Brigid in Christianity. It reminds us that all religions are connected.
As a follower of a religion, I also believe that now, more than ever, it is vital that members of different religions come together, to share in each other’s views and to work together to fight against terrorism and radicalisation however we can. And this means that I believe members of the Pagan community have an important part to play – to not just tolerate members of other religions, but actively support them in any challenges they may be facing during this difficult times.
Here are a few reasons why I believe Pagans should support people of other religions:
- Pagans can easily empathise
Pagans are no strangers to intolerance and discrimination. Pagans represent the traditions practised by those who were systematically persecuted by the state, and even today, Pagans still face prejudice and hatred from others (only recently, a fundamentalist Christian group in Scotland attacked Pagans as one of “the biggest threats to Western civilisation.”). We therefore know and understand the frustration, hurt and fear that arises from being victims of religious discrimination, and we should help defend and stick up for members of other religions who are suffering from prejudice and misinformation.
- Paganism is an inclusive religion
Most Pagans pride themselves on the fact that their faith is a great big mish-mash of other traditions. In addition to adopting deities and traditions from the ancient Greeks, Romans, Egyptians and Vikings, modern Paganism also borrows from religions not usually considered Pagan. Much of Paganism’s rituals and philosophies come from Christianity, as well as Asian religions like Buddhism and Hinduism. Some magical practises in Paganism originate from Middle Eastern mysticism. In addition to this, many Pagans are happy to accept that all deities are manifestations of one underlying entity, meaning that all religions are “true.” Because of this, Pagans should respect and support those of other religions, especially as modern Pagans owe other religions such a debt in terms of how much they have borrowed from them!
- Protecting others is protecting ourselves
When we allow members of other faiths to be bullied, misrepresented or discriminated against without taking action, we set a dangerous precedent for ourselves. The basic rights and freedoms afforded to religions should apply to ALL religions, and so if one religion faces a breach of those rights, it is inevitable that others will also fall victim to the same oppressors. Conversely, by speaking out for other members of the faith community, we are also speaking out for our own rights and freedoms. We are all much stronger if we stand shoulder to shoulder.
- It will change other religions’ attitudes towards Paganism
Some members of other religions think that, because Pagans can be rather secretive and because they use “occult” imagery associated with all things “unholy” in horror films and other media, Pagans are inherently opposed to Christianity and other monotheistic religions. While this may be true for some Pagans, it certainly isn’t for all of us, and this perception that people become Pagans in order to rebel against other religions is damaging to the Pagan faith. By standing together with members of other faiths and showing your support form them, we can demonstrate to the world that Paganism is not some kind of anti-Christian cult or anti-religious movement, but rather is an important and valuable asset to society that plays an important role in people’s lives.
- It will expand your mind.
Just as Pagans can influence those of other beliefs, so too can those of other beliefs influence Pagans. By making sure you’re not residing purely in a Pagan “bubble” by actively mixing with those of other religions, you will be exposed to many different viewpoints, attitudes and ways of life. And this is very good for intellectual, emotional, moral and spiritual development. What’s more, by understanding the religions of others, you’ll also gain a greater understanding of what it really means to be Pagan.
- We can work together to solve issues related directly to religion
There are inevitably things that you, as a Pagan, will disagree with within different religions, such as attitudes to gender, sex and sexuality, treatment of animals and so forth. But what is important to realise is that there are members of those particular religions who also disagree with those aspects of that religion and are working to change them – and they need your help. For example, there are many Catholics who believe women should be afforded better status within the Catholic church, and Catholics who believe the Catholic church should change its views on contraception. By working together with like-minded Catholics, rather than solely against the Catholic church, Pagans can have a much greater impact in bringing about changes that will benefit everyone.
So as a Pagan, how can you show your support for people of other faiths? There’s plenty you can do!
5. Watch the words and attitudes of other Pagans in your community. How do other Pagans feel about those of different religions? Is there any kind of irrational animosity felt towards particular non-Pagan religions being expressed? If so, make sure you get your views heard too, and speak up for other religions. As you friends, other Pagans are likely to listen to you and, gradually, you may find their attitudes change.
As you may have guessed from my recent article about faith schools in the UK, I am a secularist. As one who considers myself a spiritual person, I believe that all of us, both religious and non-religious alike, would be much better off in a secular UK. Why is this?
Firstly, I believe there are some misconceptions surrounding the word “secularism,” which may be why you hear so many people call themselves “atheists,” “agnostics” and “humanists” but rarely “secularists.” In fact, I think the majority of people in the UK share the founding beliefs of secularism without realising it. So what exactly is secularism?
What secularism is NOT
Firstly, secularism is not the same as atheism, agnosticism or humanism. The latter three represent people who do not follow any religion, do not believe in any gods, or at least do not live their lives according to any religious doctrines. In contrast, secularists are not necessarily non-religious – there are those, like me, who enthusiastically follow religion – but they believe deeply in the individual’s right to follow whatever religion they wish – and the right to not follow any religion at all. Secularism is attractive to atheists and humanists, but it is certainly not limited to those who do not follow a religion.
Secondly, secularists do not believe in the abolition or prohibition of religion. On the contrary, secularism promotes freedom of expression of the individual – and that includes freedom of religion. And secularists certainly don’t want to abolish our beloved British festivals and traditions that are rooted in religion, such as Easter and Christmas!
What secularism IS
As defined by the National Secular Society (NSS), secularists believe in “the strict separation of the state from religious institutions” and that “people of different religions and beliefs are equal before the law.” These are the two founding principles of secularism. The goal of secularism is therefore to promote equality between people of different religions and no religions, and to defend the freedom to believe, or disbelieve, whatever religious teachings you wish. As the NSS explains, “Secularism is simply a framework for ensuring equality throughout society – in politics, education, the law and elsewhere, for believers and non-believers alike.”
Some of the ways in which the NSS works to make the UK a secular society include campaigning against religious affiliations within state schools, religious practises engaged or promoted by the state, and censorship of expression due to religious concerns. You can read their full charter here.
Why do religious people need secularism?
Just as secularism grants freedom from religion, it also grants freedom of religion. It gives everyone the right to worship freely – and ensures that no religion is given a more privileged status in society than another.
I invite all Pagans reading this to imagine what a secular Britain would look like. Our children would no longer be indoctrinated by their school into a different religion to the one we practise at home, because Church of England schools and other state faith schools would no longer exist. And the advantages that children attending faith schools might gain in doing so, due to the inequality of funding, would also no longer exist. Pagan handfastings would have equal status to church weddings. With the Church of England no longer exerting its currently considerable power over the government, we would no longer need to fear that the political decisions might be made in the best interest of Christians but to the detriment of Pagans. And by having equal status in the eyes of the law and state to Christianity and other major religions in the UK, some of the discrimination and prejudice that Pagans face would start to disappear.
I also invite all Christians reading this to think of the benefits they would gain from a secular Britain. It would shift the balance of power away from the very highest elite in the Church, back into the hands of the people. It would force the Church to become more democratic, as its followers would have a much larger stake in the Church’s future. It would also force the Church to become more transparent, helping to eliminate some of the terrible scandals that have happened within the Church over the years due to the secrecy surrounding its processes. It would lead to a society filled with greater tolerance and more brotherly love between one another, a central Christian principle. And it would bring the focus of the Church back where it should be – on individuals working to live a moral life within their society according to the teachings of Jesus Christ.
I tend to view all the Pagan Sabbats as a “season,” with the official date of the Sabbat acting as the epicentre of the season with ripples into the days before and after. That’s one reason why I decided to hold my solo Samhain ritual on the Full Moon prior to Samhain, and why I didn’t actually hold any sort of ritual on October 31st itself.
However, I did make some Samhain Soul Cakes yesterday, using my favourite recipe with added matcha (Japanese green tea powder). Matcha is interesting to work with – when used as an ingredient combined with other things, it only really looks green in the presence of moisture, so the dough didn’t look green until I added milk, upon which it turned a very vivid shade of green. Unfortunately, when the moisture evaporated on baking the cookies, they reverted back to mostly brown with only a slight greenish tint. I can see that if I bake with matcha again and want to retain that green colour, I’m going to have to use a lot more. But this in itself is tricky because matcha is a bit like saffron – it’s expensive and can have a strong flavour, so you don’t want to use too much, ideally. It went really well with the cinnamon and nutmeg I also added to the mixture (hint: don’t be afraid to use quite a lot of cinnamon!)
I used a wonderful set of “Day of the Dead” skull cookie cutters. These were a gift from my sister-in-law, and it was great to have such a perfect opportunity to use them.
My husband and I took the cookies to my parent’s house, where we were taking part what’s close to a “religious observance” for my Kiwi husband and Welsh mum – the Rugby World Cup final! (To my husband’s delight, the All Blacks were victorious). But keeping with the Halloween theme, my Dad had bought the biggest pumpkin I’d ever seen, carved it and hollowed it out, and used the innards to make delicious pumpkin soup and toasted pumpkin seeds. So even though I didn’t hold a particular ritual on Samhain Eve, it was still meaningful for me to spend it with my family and enjoying some very Halloweeny food!
Traditionally Samhain continues into November 1st, and so today my husband and I went walking in the local cemetery, where I placed my offerings originally given at my altar on the previous Full Moon for the deities of death, departed friends and ancestors. It was an absolutely perfect day to do so – overnight a mist had descended over the town, and the cemetery looked beautiful and very otherworldly.
I found a moss-covered tree stump that acted as a perfect natural altar, and placed my offerings of a miniature pumpkin, garlic, soul cake and dog treats there, as well as sprinkling some incense. I also offered a fallen branch of rowan. My offering was not only to my own ancestors and loved ones, but to all those whose spirits rest in the cemetery. I hope they liked my gift.
On our way back, I noticed something I had never noticed before, even though I have been in this cemetery many times – a grave with a pentagram on it!
The pentagram is a sacred symbol in Christianity as well, so it’s not particularly shocking to see one on a 19th century gravestone, but nevertheless it seems to be quite uncommon. I wonder why Sarah’s relatives had chosen this symbol for her grave as opposed to a more traditional funerary symbol? Were there Freemasons in her family? Or did they simply like the design? In any case, I am really surprised I’d never spotted this before and I was so glad to see this reminder of the connection between Christianity and Paganism in our cemetery. Perhaps the spirits within the mist, still dwelling in this world while the veil to the Otherworld is so thin, had given me the extra clarity to see it today!
I wish everyone a very Blessed Samhain!
But there are other religions that do have clear rules laid down, and yes, some of the texts of such religions seems to suggest that other religions are false and rooted in evil. For followers of such faiths who believe in the teachings of their texts, how can they possibly participate in interfaith discussions, which must be based on the acceptance that there is no one “true” faith?
I think it is possible to follow the teachings of a religious text, even one that seems to suggest that other religions are false, and still accept that other people’s beliefs are just as valid, with a bit of open-mindedness and flexible interpretation of the text.
Firstly, I’d like to make clear that I do not really believe in the concepts of good and evil. This is because I hold that morality is relative; it is all to do with perspective. That’s one reason why different religions seem to have differing ideas as to what good and evil actually are.
But I do believe in love and hate. I believe that love and hate are demonstrably real phenomena that all human beings can experience and elicit. Love is when we care deeply about someone or something because it makes us feel good, and so and want to protect and enrich that person or thing’s existence. Hate is when we want to harm or destroy a person or thing because we want to be free of the negative emotions it generates in us.
This difference between love and hate is, to me, more important than good and evil, especially when it comes to defining what “false” religions and “false” gods are. I can easily see how true love is a positive force that brings out the best in people. But I cannot see what positive things hate can achieve. Due to its irrational nature, hate simply causes destruction and pain. Because of this, I see love and hate as far more clearly defined concepts than good and evil.
It is therefore my belief that every religion that has love at its core can be considered a “true” religion. For me, a “real” religion is one founded upon all the positivity that arises for love, whether that be love for God or gods, love of one’s fellow humans or love of nature. Even most Satanists seem to embrace love rather hate – in many forms of Satanism, the belief is based on love of the self, and the positive things that arise from self-love including confidence, self-respect, inner strength, freedom and empathy with others. I would also extend this to other non-religious ways of life that embrace love; all humanists, agnostics and atheists who act according to love rather than hate are following a “true” path.
But those who follow a path based on hate, whether that path can be considered religious or not, are in my opinion on a “false” path. This is because I do not believe there is any value that can lie in such a path. Religious terrorist groups such as Daesh/Isil are most definitely following this path of hate. So are those who live their lifestyle according to their hatred of a particular group of people, such as people of a different race, sexuality or gender.
When religious texts talk about false religions and false gods, I interpret them to mean the false religions of hate and the false “gods” of hate, rather than religions that are merely different to the one specific to the text. They are talking about paths that are not rooted in love, and warning us not to be tempted to live a life that is ruled by hate, because hate only leaves to pain and destruction for both the hater and the hated.
As long as religions and other ways of life are rooted in love, I believe their followers can be assured that yes, all those ways of life are valid and true.
Ever since reading various internet articles about Santa Muerte, Mexico’s “Skeleton Saint,” I have been absolutely fascinated by this deity and her fast-growing cult. A personification of Death venerated by people who identify as Catholic, yet whose worship is condemned by the Catholic church? A saint who devotees routinely included the last people we would usually think of as “spiritual,” including drug barons, prostitutes and the police who incarcerate them alike? As a Goth, Pagan, ex-Catholic and someone who has a broad interest in folk religion in general, I was intrigued and wanted to know more.[Read more]
“Blessed Be” probably originates from similar biblical expressions related to “God Bless You,” but on analysis, particularly in comparison with “God Bless You,” it reveals some rather interesting things. [Read more]
There’s very often an assumption that diversity causes discord. The view that the more beliefs, cultures, opinions and ways of life exist in a society, the more likely it is that conflict and crime will arise. Several influential individuals and groups in the UK have come out saying that “multiculturalism has failed,” and have called for immigration to be drastically cut in order to retain the so-called “native” British culture. The UK’s certainly not the only country to have such views expressed; the situation is arguable worse in Japan, where the supposed homogeneity of society is very much celebrated and praised, and those of different ethnic backgrounds face daily discrimination for not being a part of this idealised homogeneity.
Naturally, I have a problem with this. [Read more]
I’ve recently been involved in Medway Inter-Faith Action (MIFA), a local group that promotes dialogue and understanding between people of different faiths. On Sunday they held a “Pilgrimage” throughout Medway, visiting different places of worship and and holding multifaith prayers on the streets.
Open Air Prayers with ISKCON
The day started with visits to Rochester Cathedral, the Quaker’s Meeting House and St Peter’s Church in Rochester, but as I live just outside Medway and had had a pretty exhausting day yesterday working at this year’s Japan Matsuri, I decided to join the pilgrimage slightly later, outside the ISKCON (Hare Krishna) charity shop Closet Krishna on Rochester High Street. We started by singing John Lennon’s “Imagine” together, followed by one of my friends from Medway Pagans singing a song from Disney’s Brother Bear, and finally the Hare Krishnas invited us to join in chanting and dancing. I really enjoyed it! I’ve always loved singing and dancing as a form of religious worship, so I was in my element.
We then went to the Unitarian Church in Chatham. I’d passed that church so many times as a child and never knew it was Unitarian – I’d always assumed it was Christian. Although we didn’t observe a Unitarian service, we did have the opportunity to read a little about Unitarianism and have some tea and snacks!
Open Air Prayers in Chatham High Street
We proceeded on to Chatham High Street, and held some different multi-faith prayers there. I was really pleased that the Chair of MIFA asked me to read a prayer, and he happened to have a Shinto one, which was as follows:
“Although the people living across the ocean surrounding us, I believe, are all our brothers and sisters, why are there constant troubles in this world? Why do winds and waves rise in the ocean surrounding us? I only earnestly wish that the wind will soon puff away all the clouds which are hanging over the tops of the mountains.”
It reminds me of some of the correspondence that politicians in Japan used to send to Britain during our early days of trade and diplomatic relations with each other.
We then took a fairly long, uphill walk to Gillingham Mosque. The walk took us through a nice park that I’d never been before in Chatham and I really enjoyed the little trek!
Gillingham Mosque has been through some difficult times of late. It’s a small building that struggles to fill the needs of Medway’s Muslim community due to its limited capacity, and so they’d recently had an application approved to build a new, larger Mosque. This has sparked opposition from far-right, anti-Muslim groups, who have been subjecting the Mosque and its users to abuse and have even committed acts of vandalism against the current Mosque. It’s really sad to consider the abuse that a place of family and community has faced due to ignorance and fear.
But all these troubles were put aside for our visit, and we were welcomed with open arms. We were invited to watch the prayers taking place, which I’d never seen before. The atmosphere in the prayer room is very quiet and austere – there’s little ornamentation in the room itself, and the only sound is the Imam directing the prayers as the devotees prostrate themselves.
Following the prayers, we had a chance to mingle and eat samosas that the Mosque had kindly prepared for us, and one of the Muslim members of MIFA and an Imam gave a talk on Islam, explaining some of the basics of the Muslim faith.
Hindu Sabha Mandir
A very short distance from Gillingham Mosque is the Hindu Sabha Mandir temple, the last place of worship we entered on our pilgrimage. We’d arrived on a good day, as it was both the 21st birthday of one of the members, and also the Ganesha Chaturthi festival in honour of Lord Ganesha. As such, there was a real party atmosphere – the temple was lit with flashing lights, and at the far end was a large shrine to various Hindu deities, including two statues of Ganesha, with generous offerings of fruit before them. The large congregation was seated on the floor before the shrine, and as you might find at a Mosque, the men and women sat on different sides of the room – but what was very interesting was that the women took up most of the room and were seated more centrally, with the men sitting at the sidelines. The service involved songs and chants lead by the elder women (who all had beautiful voices), and there was even some dancing – myself and some of the other “pilgrims” were invited to get up and dance as well, which was fun! The bright lights and colours, singing and dancing, clapping and strong aroma of incense all lent themselves to a very hypnotic, almost ecstatic atmosphere. The noisy, exuberant, female-led service was quite a contrast to the sober silence of the male-led Mosque service.
We were then served a small Indian meal – food was a common theme at all the places we visited! It was touching that everywhere we went was so welcoming, and wanted to make us feel welcome by sharing their food – to “break bread” together, as a sign of friendship.
Open Air Prayers at Gillingham High Street with St Mark’s Church
The final part of the pilgrimage I attended were the prayers with members of St Mark’s Church on Gillingham High Street. This is an evangelical Anglican church, and the prayers we said were in the form of song, including one to the tune of “One Love One Heart.” It was a lovely way to end; there was a celebration planned at the Sunlight Centre but I decided to end it there.
Reflections on the Pilgrimage
- First of all, I am so glad to have participated in this pilgrimage! It was a truly wonderful day and I learnt so much. Although I’ve always been interested in other religions, I’d never been to a Mosque or Hindu temple, simply because I wasn’t sure about whether it’s OK just to drop into these places, and because I didn’t know what kind of etiquette and protocol to follow. So thanks to this day, I do know now! For example, I didn’t know what to do regarding headscarves in a Mosque. Do non-Muslims need to wear one? If so, does the Mosque provide them for visitors? I didn’t bring one and it turns out that generally you should bring one to a mosque, particularly if you’re going to be present at the prayers (fortunately someone kindly lent me theirs so I could observe the prayers). Thanks to the pilgrimage, now I know the rules and the next time I visit I’ll be better prepared. It’s all a part of building intercultural competence – in other words, “fluency” in the practises and customs of the different groups within my local community.
- I also really enjoyed the opportunity to meet other like-minded people – not simply other people who live a spiritual life, but those who are, like myself, curious about other religions. I cannot overstate how important this is. When we are curious about something, we are open to it, we want to ask questions, and we want to get to know it better – the first steps towards initiating friendship. I think everyone at today’s pilgrimage had the same mindset. I chose to wear my largest pentagram pendant for the pilgrimage – if there’s any time to proudly display one’s religious affiliation, it would be a multifaith celebration, I reasoned. And I was glad I did because it prompted lots of interesting conversations with curious people. Several people mistook it for the Star of David, which surprised me somewhat as I thought the pentagram was fairly well-known; an indicator that perhaps I’ve been living in a bit of a Pagan bubble! So this gave me the opportunity to explain the difference between the pentagram and the Star of David (also called the hexagram or Solomon’s Seal), and to mention that the hexagram is also a sacred symbol to many Pagans as well. One young man I met at the Hindu temple was really fascinated by Paganism. “I really want to go to a Pagan place of worship, because I really want to see a statue of Odin! He’s awesome!” he said. It both amused me and made me feel rather wistful; I wish Pagan “places of worship” (not that there are many such fixed places in the UK) did have the huge statues of deities, as you would see in a Hindu place of worship.
- Another aspect of the pilgrimage that I really liked was that it made me realise that it’s not simply spiritual beliefs that we have in common – Medway itself was an important thing that united us. On our journey between stops on the pilgrimage, we had plenty of time to chat and get to know each other better. And I realised that we all had many stories to share with each other simply about life in Medway. We’d all grown up going to the same places and doing similar things, and we all had fond memories of Medway’s local landmarks and goings-on. So the pilgrimage really strengthened our sense of community – not only because it gave us the opportunity to visit the various places of worship in Medway, but also because we were able to realise that despite our differences in faith, we are all united as Medway citizens.
- Seeing members of different religions in action gave me lots of food for thought about my own religion. I could see lots of things in common between the various different religions and my own practises. Hare Krishnas believe that chanting is a form of worship and self-realisation, a belief shared by many Pagans. Unitarians try to explore what common aspects unite all faiths, just as Pagans are often on a journey to find the “root belief” underpinning all religions. The austere Mosque, with its silent congregation bowing towards no visible item of worship, reminded me of the inner sanctum of Shinto shrines, which are also minimalist, quiet and devoid of much imagery. The Hindu temple reminded me most of all of Paganism, with its joyful celebration of the many gods, represented by beautiful statues and offerings of fruit, and the insistence that we eat after the celebrations, just like the “cakes and ale” at the end of a Pagan ritual. In fact, there was a lot about the Hindu temple that I wouldn’t mind seeing integrated in to Pagan ritual. I would welcome a lot more singing and dancing, as well as more shrines and offerings – like the Hindus, I think we should be bold and exuberant in our devotions. I realise that there are branches of Paganism, such as Feri, that do emphasise more ecstatic forms of worship, and I wonder how I could try an integrate this into our rituals at Medway Pagans.
- I now really want to get Medway Pagans involved in next year’s Inter Faith Pilgrimage – I think we could easily hold a group ritual outdoors that could be inclusive of all faiths while giving a taste of Paganism at the same time. I’ll see if I can try to get our group included next year!