Wednesday, August 12, 2009

interpreting tradition

Sannion has just written a wonderful post about the issue of homophobia in Hellenismos (apparently a hot topic among the Hellenic community currently).

One of the many things that is interesting about it, is that it cuts to the very heart of what we mean by religion, by tradition, and by Pagan values.

According to Sannion (and I would agree with him) ancient Hellenic values at their best were about free enquiry, democracy, questioning assumptions and finding out what makes stuff work. In many ways their society was flawed (e.g. slavery, treating women and "effeminate" men as second-class citizens) and we wouldn't want to revive those aspects of their society.

In my view (and Sannion's) we need to be selective and reasonable about what we revive of past paganisms, and acknowledge that culture and tradition are multivalent, multivocal, developing and growing and moving on.

I have come across people in Wicca who say that because polarity was originally envisaged as being primarily a male+female dynamic, that is now part of the Tradition and cannot be changed. FFS, the tradition is only fifty years old; we can expand and deepen our understanding of what polarity means, by listening to LGBT understandings of it. See for instance the excellent article by Lynna Landstreet about it.


Pitch313 said...

Polarity--What a concept!

In order to divert our tracks of thinking about "polarity" out of male vs. female gender ruts, some of my teachers (Anderson Faery Trad) would get out some magnets--magnets have poles--and let us play with them.

Yes, magnetic attraction involves unlike poles in proximity, and magentic repulsion involves like poles. But this isn't gender polarity at all! It's a different order of polarity that's far, far closer to magical polarity.

Any gender, any orientation, might comprise an assortment of N & S magnetic poles that attracts others with complementary assortments of magnetic poles yet repulses those with less-than-complementary assortments of magnetic poles. Not male gender or female gender but how every body is magnetic!

It's partly a matter of seeing--and understanding--the magical make up as magical on its own...

Yewtree said...

Excellent! I agree strongly. Thanks for the magnets analogy, I think it's brilliant.

Bo said...

Can't say I think Sannion is right about the Greeks, myself. I think the first characteristic of their culture was a sense of thoroughgoing antagonisms, of the play of thesis and antithesis. The next was a sense of arkhai, of seeing the hidden, unmanifest General behind the explicit, physical Particular. (As true of pre-Socratic attempts to get to grips with the first principles of what makes up the world as it is of more overtly metaphysical concepts like the Platonic Forms.) Ditto the gods: to a Greek, Aphrodite wasn't an abstraction sublimated by human minds from concrete manifestations of eroticism: rather, concrete acts of eroticism were an instantiation of the mysterious force, the arkhe, ungraspable in itself, that they called Kupris or Aphrodite. For a Greek, Health exists anterior to healthy people, animals and societies; Right existed before anyone did a just or unjust act.

And only Athens was a democracy, fairly briefly, and for a limited proportion of the population. Any account of the Greeks that doesn't take in the loopiness of Sparta is very partial indeed.

Yewtree said...

Well, the thing is, the central point that he was making, that not all Greeks were the same, just as modern people are not all the same, is a valid point. Culture isn't monolithic. (Actually I thought he did mention the loopiness of the Spartans.)

And even if we can accurately describe all the complexities of ancient Greek culture (a very interesting project to be sure), that still wouldn't mean that it would be necessary or desirable, or even possible, to recreate it in full. That was what I took to be his central point, and agree with it. We can learn from ancient paganisms, of course, but we don't want to be slavish imitators of them; we need to engage our critical faculties when examining their ideas.