Friday, February 27, 2009

learning the great stories

Andrew Motion is reported as saying that children should learn the Bible at school (even though he is an atheist). What he actually said was a little more nuanced - he said they should learn the stories from the Bible, the Koran, and the Greek and Roman myths. Certainly - but what about our indigenous literature - that of the Celts (the Tain Bo Cuailnge, Y Gododdin, etc), the Saxons and Norse (the Voluspä, the Hávámál, Gylfaginning, etc)? What of the great Hindu texts like the Mahabharata, Bhagavad Gita, and the Upanishads? Or great Buddhist literature, like The Journey to the West? Or great Sufi texts (The Conference of the Birds, the Rubaiyat)? And so on.

He stipulated the Greek and Roman classics and the Bible because much of English literature is based on them; but future literature will never include stories from other traditions unless they are taught in schools.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Coldharbour Plain

Guest post by Stellar Diggins: A tale of country folk in old Wiltshire....

Pomona Poste came down to breakfast a little after nine to find the farmhouse utterly deserted, save for a muttering from behind Aunt Awenna Threefold's bedroom door, which she had never so far seen opened. It sounded like: "I saw somethin' NARSTY inna Museum...".  Making her way downstairs to the kitchen, she replaced the kettle on the Aga and made a pot of her precious recaffeinated coffee she had thought to bring with her.

Not liking the look of anything in the cupboards, Pomona was idly flicking through her copy of British Archaeology and waiting for her coffee to cool, when the door banged open and Amairghin Starkadder stomped in and sat down heavily, glaring at her across the table.  Pomona affected not to notice.

A silence ensued, as of the brooding tension between the waiting, round-bellied earth and the burgeoning, ballooning thunderclouded sky in the heat of late harvesting.

"I ha' scranletted a' the way down from Cursus Acre up to Barrowight Hill," said Amairghin Starkadder eventually.  

"Did you, really?" Pomona exclaimed, wondering what on earth scranletting was.

A longer silence followed, broken only by Amairghin munching his way through a bowl of ayurvedic museli.

Pomona sipped her coffee, and perused an article on a neolithic burial of someone who had been shot full of arrows who they were calling The Boscombe Bowman. Finally Amairghin pushed the bowl away from him for Ash Mistcalf the hired man, to 'cletter', as they called it, and began to roll a spliff.

"Ar." He said, affirmatively. Then, after a pause: "Could you a' done that?"

Pomona looked up from her article. "No, Cousin Amairghin, I'm sure I couldn't - and I wouldn't want to, anyway."

'Ar". Amairghin snorted. "I 'spec' you wouldn't, neither. Rather get a site supervisor in, I reckon you would, from Wessex Archaeology, an' a whole team o' diggers. Or maybe they Time Team fellers an' camera crews, an' suchlike."

Amairghin shuddered, then lit up. Then he resumed:

"Hear me, Cousin Pomona - I ha' nursed this sacred landscape like a sick mommet, man an' boy, these thirty year or more. Many's the round barrow I ha' scranletted over, an' many's the Bronze Age burial urn I've re-cremated." He blew a long cloud of green smoke across the table, as if to illustrate.

Pomona did her best to dissemble her mounting sense of horror. These Wiltshire Starkadders were even worse, more backward and ignorant, than her other cousins the Sussex Starkadders that Great Aunt Flora had told her about, before she had reformed them all with what she called The Higher Common Sense. Here they were, scranletting - was that a metal detector by the door, next to Cousin Amairghin's
wellingtons? - prehistoric artefacts on Coldharbour Plain, and - well - destroying them!

"Haven't you heard of The Portable Antiquities Scheme?" Pomona asked. 

Amairghin's eyes narrowed. "Oh, ar. We don' 'ave nuthin' to do with he. Bronze Age bones is for re-cremation, to send 'un back to uns rest, an' their jewellery - well - 'tes ours, ain't it?"

"Yours?!" Pomona declined the spliff Amairghin held out to her, with a wave of her hand. "Don't you think they belong to everybody?"

"Nah. Course not. They'm our ancestors, up Barrowight Hill, look.  They's always been Starkadders on Coldharbour Plain. So the gold torcs and amber beads an' copper alloy bracelets, is our heirlooms. Nobody else's. Not for folk to gawk at in no museum. 'Twould be flyin' in the face o' the ancestors. 'Tes disrespectful.

Amarirghin's brow furrowed in thought as he took another toke. "See here, Cousin Pomona. You'm Robyn Poste's child. You wouldn' sift her ashes out o' the bed o' the River Awen an' put 'em in a peepshow, would you? But you wears her old pentacle. No. 'Tes disrespectful, to do anythin' diff'rent. Jewellery belongs in the family."

Pomona forced a cheery smile at her eldest cousin. "Well, Cousin Amairghin, I certainly don't want your portable antiquities, and I'm not qualified to say how you should farm your land -"

"- sacred landscape," Amairghin interrupted.

"- how to look after your sacred landscape, but just think - if Uncle Dagda were to - go off on a long lecture tour - a very long, international lecture tour - about Honouring The Ancestral Dead, don't you see - the Sarsen Grove round the farm would be yours to - er - scranlett - as much as you liked. In Uncle Dagda's absence, there needn't be another Hereditary Chief Archdruid of Wiltshire."

Amairghin's eyes blazed and his saturnine face split open in a wide, toothy grin. He lurched forward, and seized Pomona's hand. "By the Goddess, Cousin Pomona, I misjudged yer! Would you - could you - talk to the old man about it? He'd never listen to me, but you -" and his voice tailed off as he sat back, drew a long lungful of weed and slowly exhaled, his ruddy countenance beaming like a child's as he
reflected on the possibilities of Pomona's suggestion.

"I'll go and talk to him this minute if you like, said Pomona. "Where would he be this morning?"

"Away with the Quivering Aspen Grove over at Herne Abbot's, picketing they television fashionistas who be feminizing the Long Giant for a wimmin's underwear documentary."

"I'll take the Range Rover, then," said Pomona over her shoulder as she made for the door. "And by the way, Amairghin - a struggling British farmer on an SMR-listed site can make a lot of money out of portable antiquities. More than the Ministry of Defence pays you for scranletting up unexploded bombs. And much more than DEFRA pay you for not immunising your cows against bovine TB. You might even be able to afford to grow some food. "


Readers wishing to know about the adventures of Flora Poste among the Starkadders of Sussex might want to read the very great Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons, of which I and the author of the above are both devoted fans.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Christians: a spotter's guide

Many Pagans seem unfamiliar with the different types of Christian, so it seemed like a good idea to write a spotter's guide.  You see, they're not all mad fundagelicals who eat Pagans...


Episcopalians - American version of Anglicans.  Mostly liberal, welcoming to gay members and clergy.  Some acknowledge other religions as valid.  Their attitude to evangelism is that actions speak louder than words.  Some, such as Grace Church in San Francisco, have said that the mythology of other pre-Christian religions is just as valid as Hebrew mythology. 

Methodists - Most UK Methodists that I have met are very liberal and open-minded.  Started in the 19th century.  Not Calvinist, i.e. they don't believe in predestination.

Baptists - A bit more evangelical, but still unlikely to turn up on your doorstep or leaflet you in the street.  Tend to believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God, and that salvation is conferred by acceptance of Jesus as your personal saviour.  Started in the 17th century.

United Reformed (Result of a merger between the Congregationalists and Presbyterians in 1972).  Some very liberal & LGBT-friendly, but mostly believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God, and that salvation is conferred by acceptance of Jesus as your personal saviour.

Anglicans (Church of England) - Huge spectrum of belief among Anglicans, but mostly a formal liturgy with similar beliefs to other Protestants.  Cruising for a huge schism over the issue of LGBT Christians.  Have just decided that they should be more evangelical.  Oh dear.  Founded by Henry VIII when he decided that Anne Boleyn was more likely to produce a male heir than Katharine of Aragon.

Emerging church - May or may not be a good thing - no-one seems able to agree on what emerging church actually means.  Some of it looks liberal and some of it looks evangelical.  Anyway, it's postmodern.

Unitarians - Not exactly Christian as they mostly believe that Jesus was just a man and that God is One (not three).  Don't believe in original sin.  Many Unitarians identify as Christian; others are more inclined towards humanism, Eastern religions, and/or Paganism.  Many are pantheists, but others are deists.  (NB in America, Unitarians merged with Universalists in 1961 to form the UUA.)

Orthodox - Fabulous liturgy and music, apparently unchanged since the fourth century.  Lots of lovely incense.  Believe that God is both immanent and transcendent.  Don't believe in original sin or penal substitution theology.  They've known since the 4th century that the creation story was a metaphor.  But don't have women priests, and regard homosexuality as a sin.  Have married priests but seem rather keen on the perpetual virginity of the Virgin Mary.  When they do missionary work, it tends to be a lot more subtle than the other lot, as they don't want to destroy the other culture.

Catholics - The infallibility of the Pope has only been Catholic doctrine since 1875, and the celibate priests thing was only introduced in the 12th century.  But they still have  a huge hierarchy and loads of money and a history of persecuting heretics, free-thinkers, and scientists.  So the Church is pretty bad but some of the actual Catholics are pretty liberal, and invented liberation theology and stuff.  Tend to send missionaries overseas to annoy other faiths, rather than actually turning up on your doorstep.

Old Catholics - ceded from the Roman Catholic church in the 1870s in protest at the doctrine of papal infallibility.  Tend to be pretty liberal and open-minded, and not exclusivist.

Liberal Catholics - a Christian-flavoured form of Theosophy.  They believe that there is a body of doctrine and mystical experience common to all the great religions of the world and which cannot be claimed as the exclusive possession of any.
Moving within the orbit of Christianity and regarding itself as a distinctive Christian church it nevertheless holds that the other great religions of the world are also divinely inspired and that all proceed from a common source. (Wikipedia)
Metropolitan Community Church - church for LGBT people and their allies.  Very liberal, but still affirms the Nicene Creed.  Generally respectful of other religions.

Quakers (Religious Society of Friends) - there are two wings of Quakerism, liberal and conservative.  The liberals are very similar to Unitarians; many of them are humanists, and there are Quaker Pagans.  The conservatives are Christians, but still peace-loving honest folk.

Theological and social positions

Distributism - a rather interesting form of anarchism invented by Catholics.

Universalism - in its original sense this meant that everyone was saved regardless of whether they had accepted Christianity.  This is also known as apocatastasis.  In America, the Universalist denomination merged with Unitarians in 1961 to form Unitarian Universalism.  Nowadays, the Universalist element of the name seems to mean the idea that all religions are different perspectives on the same underlying truth.

Exclusivism - the idea that only one religion can be true, and the rest contain only partial truth.  Not all Christians believe that Christianity is the only truth.

Penal substitution theology - the idea that God was very angry with humanity, so he sent his only Son to stand in for humanity and be sacrificed to appease his wrath.  Not all Christians believe in this; it was formulated in the 11th century by Anselm of Canterbury as the 'satisfaction theory', and then taken up again by the protestants in the 16th century.  The alternative is Christus Victor theology - the idea that Christ's death and resurrection represents divine conflict and victory over the hostile powers that hold humanity in subjection.

Fundamentalism - the idea that the Bible is literally true.  The term is derived from a late nineteenth-century book called the 12 Fundamentals.

Evangelicalism - the drive to convert people of other faiths and none, in the belief that Christianity is the only truth, or a superior truth.  Tend to be charismatic and happy-clappy, but not necessarily.

Original sin - the idea that we all inherit our sinful natures from Adam and Eve, and that we are born sinful.

The Phoenix Affirmations - a call to repentance from ideas of fundamentalism and evangelising, and a series of affirmations about respecting other faiths, the environment, and other people.  Very cool.

Queer theology - amazingly cool theology explaining that God really does love LGBT people

Liberation theology - emphasizes the Christian mission to bring justice to the poor and oppressed, particularly through political activism. Its theologians consider sin the root source of poverty, recognizing sin as exploitative capitalism and class war by the rich against the poor.

Process theology - the idea that the Divine changes and evolves.  Key thinkers: A N Whitehead, Charles Hartshorne.  Has influenced some Pagan thinkers.

Omega Point - idea dreamed up by evolutionary biologist and Catholic theologian Teilhard de Chardin; basically the point at which the Godhead and the world are reunited.  Interestingly, chimes in with the reunion of Shakti and Shiva in Hindu theology, and the reunion of Yahweh and the Shekhinah in Jewish theology.  The idea of the Omega Point influenced Oberon Zell in his formulation of Gaea Theory (which predated Lovelock's Gaia Hypothesis).

Creation spirituality - a mystical philosophy that celebrates the universe, emphasizes creativity as a key component of the universe, and believes that all people have a divine creative impulse.

Gnosticism - the idea that the physical world is a trap created by the Devil or a demiurge to separate humans from the Divine Reality.  This was anathema to orthodox Christians who believe that the world was created by God.  Gnosticism is completely the opposite of Pagan views of the world, because Pagans do not believe that we are exiles from some other realm; so whilst we may sympathise with the Gnostics and Cathars for being persecuted, their ideas are utterly alien to a Pagan world-view.

You are all individuals - finally, it's important to remember that Christians have access to teh interwebs too, so they can research other forms of Christian theology and form their own opinions; just because an individual Christian is a member of a particular denomination, doesn't necessarily mean they are signed up to its doctrines.  For example, research has shown that even among evangelicals, there is a broad spectrum of views about LGBT people, from complete acceptance to outright hostility.

Related posts:

Monday, February 02, 2009

Pagan charities?

We don't need specifically Pagan charities for general causes that are already being addressed by other charities, because:
  • we're not trying to attract converts by saying "Look how compassionate we are; we're the best religion"
  • why replicate the work of large secular charities? It would only increase administration costs and decrease the amount that actually reaches the people who need help
  • we're not big enough to organise our own charities
Perhaps we do need self-administered charity audits to demonstrate that we are "doing our bit". We often get flak in interfaith contexts because there aren't any specifically Pagan charities.

We may need Pagan charities for causes that we care about that no-one else cares about; and these are the charities that Pagans have started.

Bus slogan generator

Make your own bus slogan!

There probably isn't room for my suggestion.

(Hat-tip to Steve Hayes)