Sleep last night was lackluster, and it will be again tonight, despite my overall level of tiredness. Alas, this is always how it is the day/night before a major trip for me…
Tomorrow morning, I am headed to Seattle for the Esoteric Book Conference 2013. I’ve been every year that it has run (since 2009), and you can read about past ones on this blog here (2010), here (2011), and here (2012). It’s always a lot of fun and a veritable treasure-trove of surprises, both in presentations and in what’s on offer at the book fair, AND (perhaps most of all!) who else attends. I get to see lots of people, both local and from further afield, that I don’t get to see half as often as I’d like. So, there’s that…
But, my mind is occupied, and I’m waiting for a load of laundry to finish so I can pack the clothes that are being cleaned. So, while I do that, a few reflections on a matter that is going around at present elsewhere in the pagan blogosphere. I hope to be giving a rather different view of it than that which has been presented elsewhere–not that I in any way disagree with any of the things which I’ll be linking to below, mind you!
I won’t bother to re-hash all of the difficulties that have been encountered in the pagan blogosphere over some of the above posts, but I will try and address the underlying problem–racism–in what I discuss below.
As a member of various different minority populations due to various different things, I do know a bit about what not having privilege is like; however, one area that I definitely have privilege in is the one of being white. While I don’t have much of an identification with the term “white” personally, I never think of myself as white (other than when racism is being discussed), and I tend to think of myself as a European-American, my own preferences don’t ultimately matter in terms of how I’m treated because of this very visible privilege.
As a white person, I do realize that our society is a racist one–yes, it is, still, endemically, but not irreversibly or irretrievably…however, it’s going to take a lot more than having Barack Obama as our President for eight years to make a larger dent in this problem. (I’m disgusted daily with the ways in which the wider American public has had its racist roots exposed prominently as a result of President Obama’s tenure in office.) And, as a white person, I know that my own privilege benefits from the general racism of the systems in place, whether I like it or not.
And, as a white person, I know that I fuck up when it comes to subtle racist attitudes and actions…I try my damnedest at all times to not be a subtle racist; I’m relatively good at this point at not being an overt racist…I have not laughed at a racist joke for years, and usually respond in that humorless liberal way of saying “That isn’t funny,” I’m happy to say. When I do fail, I feel horrible about it because I have been trying very deliberately to not be a racist since the second grade, when I realized that one person who had influence over me was a racist, and its effects were hurtful, not only to my African-American friends in particular (though likely to others as well, but that was the prominent example in my own history), but to me as well. Of course, racism hurts other people far more than it does me in actuality; but, unless more people start not just being offended when others act in racist manners, but are actually hurt by it, and react as if it hurts them (which it does, and therefore they should!), then things aren’t going to change.
I can’t say that I’m not a racist, since I am a product of this racist society and I’m of the privileged “race” (with race, of course, being a pernicious myth with no physical reality…and yet, because we live in a racist society, those supposed differences have been reified rather than redefined at this point). But, I’m trying like Tartaros to be a post-racist as much as possible. I think that’s the best one can do, given the situation. No one who benefits from privilege of any sort can honestly say they’re free of the dehumanizing attitudes which give rise to that privilege, I don’t think.
But, I do know one thing very deeply: my gods aren’t racists, even when the cultures they came from have been racist. I can’t say for certain who among my ancestors were racists (though I know several of the recent ones definitely were), or if whole cultures of my ancestors were racists (and some of them certainly were, in overt as well as covert ways), but I am very certain that the gods generally don’t care, and likely never have, about who worships them, nor do they have ideas about who “is fit to” or who “should” worship them based on genetic or even cultural heritage.
For all of the faults of the various ancient cultures that I spiritually descend from, one thing we can say for certain is that they were not racist about their gods. Just a very small selection of examples:
–There are many kami in Japan who started out as other things: Buddhas, Christian saints, western individuals of various sorts…it doesn’t matter, they’re recognized as powerful and worthy of honor, and thus they’re kami.
–In Egypt, gods that had Egyptian-style cultus in Egypt that were not Egyptian in origin include (amongst many others): Reshef, Anat, Astarte, Apedemak, Mandoulis; and the syncretistic deity Chnoubis was majorly influenced by the Jewish god, Iao Sabaoth, who is pretty much indistinguishable from many other deities in later Graeco-Egyptian magic.
–Rome had a rather largely hostile and racist attitude towards the Gauls, but they worshipped Epona in Rome itself; they (like the Greeks) also weren’t so keen on the Thracians, but they worshipped Sabazios.
–The medieval Irish considered their language to be the very best language of any that ever existed (and had a myth about the Tower of Babel and their ultimate Gaelic ancestors to prove it!), and were likewise so enamored with their pre-Christian past that they considered it the “Old Testament” of Ireland, complete in every way except for the lack of Jesus and the Holy Spirit; and yet, they were happy to say that their ancient kings of renown and their druids worshipped Jupiter, Mars, Apollon, and even Osiris. People from far-off lands and of exotic extraction in Irish tales are always said to be “wondrous” and–this is important!–“beautiful.”
No, none of these cultures had a perfect record when it came to dealing with other cultures; certainly, there were ideas of superiority, there were cases of cultural appropriation, there was slavery and imperialism and lots of other horrible things involved in many of these cases. But, at least the gods and their approaches to them tended to be relatively unconcerned with matters of race, or appropriateness of different races worshipping different gods…at least in many cases.
While I find the notion of saying that people should only worship the gods and follow the spiritual paths of their genetic ancestors very problematic, likewise I find the notion that for reconstructionist-methodology-using polytheists, there should be “no contamination” from other cultural traditions or gods going on…well, laughable. It doesn’t take much looking at the actual sources and what has come down from the medieval and ancient worlds to see that such cultural exclusivism wasn’t going on at all, whether in the polytheistic periods or in the Christian periods of the cultures concerned.
And, from the experiences of myself and many others with whom I’ve associated at this point, the gods themselves don’t seem to be too neat or bothered by keeping other deities out of their own cultus. I had an oracle from Dionysos once that ended with “And don’t forget to pray to Ganesha before you start!” The historically attested syncretisms of Antinous stretch to at least four different, distinct, separate ancient Mediterranean cultures (Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and Syro-Phoenician), and had his cultus spread further afield, it would likely have continued to find links with other deities in other cultures as well. Antinous and the Tetrad++ Group certainly have connections much further afield than did his ancient cultus.
And, for those of you who like Neoplatonists, read this about Proclus:
…he observed the holy days observed among the Egyptians even more strictly than did they themselves; and especially he fasted on certain days, quite openly….He regularly observed the great festivals of all peoples, so to speak, and the religious ceremonies peculiar to each people or country….Of this we see the proof in the composition of his hymns, which contain homage and praises not only of the gods adored among the Greeks, but where you also see worship of the god Marnas of Gaza, Asklepius Leontuchus of Ascalon, Thyandrites who is much worshipped among the Arabs, the Isis who has a temple at Philae, and indeed all other divinities. It was a phrase he much used, and that was very familiar to him, that a philosopher should watch over the salvation of not only a city, nor over the national customs of a few people, but that he should be the hierophant of the whole world in common.
We could do far worse than to have Proclus as our exemplar in this regard, I think many of you would agree…
So, there you have it. The Ekklesía Antínoou will never, under my term as Magistratum, exclude anyone on the basis of “race” or ethnicity. To do so would be to spit in the faces of all of my gods, especially Antinous, and I am absolutely loathe to do that for any reason.
I think my laundry just buzzed…