Friday, November 27, 2009

Sacrifice not required

From the Tanakh (Hebrew scriptures):
[22] Yea, though ye offer me burnt-offerings and your meal-offerings, I will not accept them; neither will I regard the peace-offerings of your fat beasts. [23] Take thou away from Me the noise of thy songs; and let Me not hear the melody of thy psalteries. [24] But let justice well up as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream. ~ Amos 5:24
From the Wiccan tradition:
I am the Gracious Goddess, who gives the gift of joy unto the heart. Upon earth, I give the knowledge of the spirit eternal; and beyond death, I give peace, and freedom, and reunion with those who have gone before. Nor do I demand sacrifice, for behold I am the Mother of All Living, and my love is poured out upon the earth.
~ The Charge of the Goddess, Doreen Valiente
From the Hindu tradition:
Offer to Goddess Durga the animal, the Pashu, of your inner evil trait of passion, of anger, of greed. Do not kill animals of the external world in the name of Balidana to the Goddess.

She wants your animal-man within. No Himsa should be committed on the excuse that it is for the Devi. You have no right or justification to hurt any living creature for whatever reason.

Ahimsa should be free from all exemptions whether pertaining to class, place, time or circumstances. Ahimsa is a universal vow to be practiced absolutely. No worship, no prayer, no act whatsoever in life can justify injury or harm done to living beings.
~ Swami Sivananda

The Buddha was also against animal sacrifice.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Accidental death in ritual

So Houngan Hector has been cleared of criminal negligence and Lucie's death ruled accidental.

But the causes of death were identified as "the combined effects of 'physical exhaustion, ambient room temperature and an oxygen-depleted atmosphere'". So that's a failure of ritual health and safety, no less negligent than the behaviour of James Arthur Ray which caused the deaths of three sweat lodge participants.

I guess what happened to Lucie could have happened to anyone who uses a lot of incense and does rituals in a warm room with lots of dancing - but everyone needs to make sure that the members of their group do not suffer from any medical conditions which could be exacerbated by these environmental conditions. Even better, don't set up your ritual space so that it causes oxygen deprivation. Just use joss-sticks rather than pan incense, for one thing. And leave the door ajar, and make sure that anyone who has asthma knows where their inhaler is, and that other people also know where it is. And alternate dancing with other more restful activities like meditation.

More safety advice (essential reading for all ritualists):
NB none of the articles below were in response to the Houngan Hector incident

    Gadhimai Mela

    I don't usually disagree with Jason at the Wild Hunt, but on this occasion I have to disagree.

    Yes, it's true that it's hypocritical that people get worked up about animal sacrifice in general but not about factory farming, millions of turkeys being killed for Christmas or Thanksgiving, cruelty in slaughterhouses, and so on. Most sacrifices are probably carried out fairly humanely, with the minimum of suffering to the animal.

    But the animal welfare campaigners are campaigning on many issues (including factory farming), not just the mass sacrifice.

    And Gadhimai Mela is a mass sacrifice that is not carried out humanely.

    According to the Humane Society, the animals are not killed humanely - hence the reason for the protest:
    "Cruelly, the animals are chased and hacked to death with knives in a competition to kill as many as possible within two days."
    Here's an account by a Nepalese eye-witness of the event (takes a while to load, but should be read):
    The sword-bearers cannot chop off the buffaloes' heads at one go because of the thick size of its necks. To make their task easier, the hackers first cut the buffaloes’ hind legs after which the animal falls on the ground. They then start hacking the neck until the head is separated from the body. It takes 20 to 25 swing of the sword to annihilate a big buffalo. The suffering the animals go through is unimaginable.

    After witnessing the Gadhimai carnage, I started having terrible nightmares. I would see blood wherever I turned to look.
    This is not on the same scale as the sacrifice of the occasional chicken in Santeria, where the chicken gets eaten.
    Three to four days after the massacre, people start fleeing the Gadhimai venue because of the nauseating smell that starts to emit. Cars, rickshaws and cyclist start taking alternative routes. It is the people living in nearby localities who suffer the most. While the temple area turns into a breeding ground for disease, many fall sick. It takes months for the smell to go away.
    That does not imply to me that all the meat from the slaughter at Gadhimai Mela gets eaten.

    Wednesday, November 18, 2009

    Alternative history

    You know those pivotal moments in history (the ones that Doctor Who isn't allowed to change)? Well just imagine that we lived in a universe where one of those crucial moments went differently. You can play this game with any pivotal moment you like (it's an amusing way to while away a winter's evening).

    The crucial event I would like to imagine going differently is the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE. Picture the scene... Diocletian's reign of terror has only recently ceased. Suddenly the early Christians are no longer united in being persecuted - now they can turn on each other and start weeding out the heretics. Add to the mix the Emperor Constantine, who turns up three days into the Council of Nicaea and is presented with a bundle of papers representing the theological deliberations of the bishops before his arrival, which he promptly chucks on the nearest brazier. One of the most important arguments that is had at the Council of Niceaea is the controversy over the Trinity and the Arian heresy. The Arian heresy is the belief that Jesus was the Son of God from the moment of his conception, not from the beginning of time as Trinitarian orthodoxy insists. It was revived after the Reformation by Faustus Socinus (founder of the Socinian Brethren, which eventually became the Unitarian church in Transylvania).

    The importance of the Arian heresy is that it makes Jesus either semi-divine, or divine by adoption, or divine by birth (rather than divine since the beginning of time). If this is the theological position one adopts, it means that he ceases to be seen as the sole means of access to the "Father" (the Divine Source in Neoplatonic terminology), because if he is a son of God, rather than the Son of God, then there are other sons and daughters. And this quickly leads to Unitarianism - the belief that the Divine is One and can be accessed by reason and intuition, and does not require revelation to be known. That's not to suggest we can fully know the nature of the Divine, but we can see it reflected in the world around us, in other people, and the beauty of the universe. It also means that if we are all children of God, then we all have the potential to develop our inner "Christ" / Messiah / Buddha / Enlightened One.

    So, let's imagine that the Arian heresy had won out at the Council of Nicaea. Perhaps the word heresy would still have its original meaning of a school of thought, or a choice (from the Greek haeresis).

    There would have been no need to convert most of Europe by force - because, as Jesus said in John ch. 14, other peoples have their own religions (including Paganism) by which the Divine makes itself known.

    The doctrine of penal substitution (the idea that Jesus' death was a substitute sacrifice for humanity's sins) might never have arisen (it was formalised in 1098 by Anselm).

    The story of Jesus' resurrection might have been seen as a triumph over death, or perhaps eventually as an allegory of psychological transformation.

    Islam might not have developed as a distinct religion (it is possible that it evolved out of an Arian group - it certainly holds a similar view of Christ). There would have been no Crusades, because no need to wrest the control of Israel from the Muslims, because they would have been seen as fellow believers.

    The Jews might not have been so viciously persecuted (Unitarian churches have long had good relations with Judaism).

    The Reformation might have been very different: Calvin couldn't appropriate Anselm's penal substitution theology, because it hadn't been written. Nor would he be able to have Servetus burnt at the stake for his Arianism. Indeed, Servetus might have been a major mover and shaker in the Reformation.

    Tolerance of other religions would have been much greater, which would have made the imperialist and colonialist activities of Europe very different. There would have have been no need for evangelical Christianity, because the "good news" that Jesus was killed so you didn't have to be fried for eternity would never have been invented.

    I wonder if there really are multiple universes where different choices were made at pivotal historical moments? It would be so interesting to visit them.

    If my alternative universe is too tame, try Sannion's vision of the Roman empire with zombies.

    Fundamentalist Christianity: the belief that a cosmic Jewish zombie who was his own father can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him that you accept him as your master, so that he can remove from your soul an evil force that is present in humanity because a woman made out of a rib was tricked into eating a magic apple by a talking snake.

    Same-sex marriages in churches campaign

    Pink News Exclusive: Stonewall to fight for civil partnerships to be held in churches

    Unitarians have consistently argued & campaigned for same-sex marriage to be performed in our churches. Why don't Unitarians ever get mentioned in these articles?
    New-Unity announced in March 2008 that it would refrain from conducting legal weddings until the unfair ban on religious content in civil partnership registrations is lifted. Thus, we will perform blessings of both marriages and Civil Partnerships but will not include the portion of a wedding ceremony where the marriage is legally registered. We are very happy to bless the previously established legal unions for all couples. (from New Unity website)
    I think the amendment to the equality bill would be a helpful step forward for those churches who want to perform same-sex marriages, but it shouldn't be allowed to distract from the campaign for full equality in this area (i.e. civil partnerships for heterosexuals & legal marriage for LGBTs).

    Also, the whole marriage campaign shouldn't distract us from the importance of preventing homophobic bullying in schools and teen LGBT suicides resulting from it.

    Tuesday, November 10, 2009

    White poppy, purple poppy

    White poppy The white poppy is for peace and remembrance, and challenges the war-condoning values of traditional remembrance and related ceremonies. The idea of decoupling Armistice Day, the red poppy and later Remembrance Day from their military culture dates back to 1926, just a few years after the British Legion was persuaded to try using the red poppy as a fundraising tool in Britain. The white poppy is sold by the Peace Pledge Union, which promotes peace through education.

    purple poppy The purple poppy commemorates all those animals who have suffered and died in human conflicts. Animals have been used as messengers, beasts of burden, for detection, scouting, rescue, and on the front line. They continue to be subjected to experiments in laboratories.

    Wednesday, November 04, 2009

    Christian intolerance in South Africa

    Sorry to see that South Africa is about 20 years behind the times in the matter of Christian nutters releasing ridiculous twisted slander about Pagan festivals. And it's a reminder for the rest of us not to remain complacent - extremist Christian slanders are always rumbling along in the background. But it's also important to remember that many many Christians want to live in peace with Pagans and actively promote genuine interfaith dialogue.

    Minority Review - The Dance
    In the southern hemisphere the feast of Beltain is celebrated on the last day of October and the first day of November around a celebratory 'May'-pole. The dance of the Maypole is a symbolic act of fertility magic in which male and female partners, each holding ribbons attached to a central pillar, dance in opposite directions whilst weaving toward and away from the pole, around an erect pillar of wood decorated with flowers. Maypole dancing is an ancient (pre-Christian) and wide-spread form of western European folk dance.

    This year, as every year in living memory in this country under the fascist white Christian Nationalist government, amidst the Beltain celebrations, venerations, joy and laughter in covens and Pagan gatherings across the country, the feint reek of Christian agitation against Pagans once again focussed on Halloween. The agitators? Fanatical followers of Peter Hammond's Africa Christian Action network.