Sunday, March 29, 2009

Religion from A Witches perspective

Have you ever wondered why humans are so scared to face life and the spiritual lessons that are in waiting for each of us? I ask this because since the dawning of humankind we have created religions. Religion in all reality is a subterfuge and a distraction from the individual pursuit of spirituality. A state of spirituality is a journey of the individual. It does not require the presence of the many such as is found within a religion. This applies whether a religion is one of the so called organized religions, pagan, or one of the myriad other religions created by humans. A religion comes into existence by the hand of a human, generally a man or group of men. A concept of Deity and the mysteries of life are created and then transformed into a specific dogma or set of beliefs. The only problem with this approach is that it is predicated upon the narrow precepts of one or even a few select humans. This is fine, if such beliefs were confined to the originators of such beliefs. For each individual is entitled to the beliefs that define their personal existence in regards to Deity and the mysteries that comprise this existence of life. But when such personal opinions are then extended to the masses, the concept of individualism becomes mired in the tentacles of censorship which goes by the label of dogma. When this occurs, the concept of individuality is lost. Another concern with such an approach is that those opinions that form the basis for religions are based upon select human perspectives and are not the direct offering of Deity. Of course there will be those humans who will insist that their perception of Deity was the driving force that has inspired the particular religion that they themselves subscribe to. However with literally thousands of divergent concepts of deity that has been proffered since the beginning of humankind, who is actually right and just as importantly, who is wrong? Is there such delineation when it comes to spirituality and/or religion? Does one person have to be right in order for all others to be wrong? As individuals, each seeking their own definition and thus understanding of deity, this self imposed quandary goes away. For as individuals, the belief in deity and the search for a comprehensive understanding of the mysteries of life become a personal pursuit and as such, do not require the approval of any other human being on earth. Paganism was at one time a path that actually encouraged individual seeking and thus a personal sense of understanding. And in many ways it still is to this very day. However the specter of religion and the pressure of peer acceptance as defined by the few have stretched its tentacles into paganism as well. This modern attempt at conversion is commonly referred to as neo paganism. In essence, there is an attempt by some of these modern converts to turn paganism, which once defined individual spirituality, into a religion which follows the same parameters as the so called organized religions. Why is this being attempted when it is blatantly obvious that organized religions and paganism are diametrically opposed in their approach to the concepts of deity and the mysteries of life? The most obvious reason for this forced perception of dogma is the entrance of the many who formerly subscribed to an established religious pattern of acceptance in regards to their spiritual journey. However there may be a deeper reason for such an imposition of foreign values when discussing the parameters of paganism. For instance why does humankind even need the anonymity of a concept known as religion where one can comfortably become a faceless member of a pre-conceived set of beliefs (dogma)? And as already noted, said set of beliefs, which in every man-made religion on earth is defined by a select few. Could it be because there is a segment of society who is apathetic about their spiritual beliefs? Could such folks be personally insecure of what they may encounter if they were to actually seek out their own answers to spirituality? Does this observation offend you? If so, perhaps there is a gem of truth here that you may want to explore within your Inner self. When a select person or group of persons places the concept of deity and the mysteries of life into a imposition such as religious dogma, there is in effect a barricade to any real spiritual growth. The individual loses the gift of self identity because they are pressured into a specific set of beliefs (dogma) which limits any further exploration of the many possibilities that are inherent in un-fettered spirituality. Many man-made religions have mechanisms in place that are designed to ensure that their members do not stray outside of the accepted parameters of belief has dictated by the few. Where is the freedom of the individual in such a setting? And where within the tenets of paganism do such man-made impositions apply? These same man-made religions also have mechanisms in place to cast out those who dare to seek out the truths of life as they apply to their personal seeking and yet are outside of the accepted dogma of the particular religion that one is subscribing to. In my personal opinion such an approach has absolutely nothing to do with any real concept of paganism. And so the push to “convert” paganism into the parameters of organized religion is somewhat troubling and may border on hypocrisy. There is a common saying that “trying to get pagans to come together is like herding cats”. I personally hope that such an analogy retains some iota of truth as paganism wends its way into the consciousness of modern practitioners. Once those who follow the path of paganism lose the inherent right to live as individuals and once members of paganism lose the drive to seek out Inner truths which are not restrained by the masses that blindly follow the lead of the few, then it is no longer a true spiritual path. Rather it becomes nothing more than an extension of the mind numbing control of religion. And those who describe themselves as pagans, in all reality become nothing more than faceless minions of yet another man-made religion.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Paganism in a Microcosm

As a student of life, I often ponder about the external influences which affect each and every one of us. In essence I view life as a huge ocean of humanity that ebbs and flows with the times. But then one has to stop and question, what is it, which affects and thus defines such movement within our society. Just a few decades ago our society was one where folks took responsibility for their actions. Folks who sought to engage in activities which were unacceptable to the majority were held responsible. There were clear tenets as to what was right or wrong. Many of us gray hairs can remember when a neighbor would catch us doing wrong and would bust our butts and then take us home where our parents would reinforce the lesson by busting our butts again. At that time it truly took a village to raise a child. Our children were taught to respect others as they themselves would like to be respected. And interesting enough, Neo paganism was in its infancy as such. Fast forward to today's society and one finds a community that is completely self absorbed. Where everyone is a hero or a winner and no one is wrong (unless it happens to be the other person). Today's society has become extremely artificial in values and the way that we communicate with others of our community. And in all reality the pagan community is no beacon of truth and values. Granted we mouth the words of "understanding, and love and light" and so forth. But this is simply a façade we use to attempt to set values as related to paganism. The only problem is that we don't empower such words with any real effort. I know this sounds pretty harsh but then the truth usually is. And so my question at this point is what happened? We can't blame the Christians, for their form of arrogance and exclusiveness has been well known since their infancy as a religion. And the downturn in society has only taken place over the last 25 or so years. And one can't help but notice that what we have today as a pagan community was also formed during this time. But by the same token we can't blame Neo paganism because such a movement only affects a small proportion of society. And the questionable values which form our society today extend to all folks regardless of religious and/or political beliefs. And so I ask once again, what happened? It's pretty apparent (to some of us) that we are now embroiled in the same state of behavior that the ancient Romans engaged in just prior to their downfall as a society. And so now the purpose of this treatise, what if anything is our responsibility as a Neo pagan community, to the community at large? Do we just continue to be ad hoc members of a failing society? Or do we find the maturity and indeed the desire to look beyond our individual selves to attempt to set a different and perhaps a higher standard? To do so would mean that we would actually have to live up to the standards that we so readily vocalize and yet only pay lip service when it comes to any real manifestation or action. It would require those who claim to be pagan to actually look deep within oneself and to confront ones Shadow self. Only in this way can we find the balance that is necessary in relation to our individual egos. For bloated egos seems to be the trademark of the so called Neo pagan community. Wicca for instance has only been around for a few decades or so and yet there seems to be more masters then students in such a very short time. And I can't count the number of so called masters of multiple disciplines that seem to be sprouting up within the Neo pagan community. In short Neo paganism is a microcosm of the decadent society that we endure today. Is this the legacy that we want to leave to our children? Do we even care? I personally would like to think that the Neo pagan movement has more substance to it then just being an empty façade for the individual ego. Though, such a movement it has yet to take on any substantial form or definition of any real values. I realize of course that there are always individual examples to any situation. However the Neo pagan community is not judged by society as a whole by such individuals but rather by the collective actions or lack of in such a community. Just by declaring oneself a Neo pagan the very first impression taken is that such a person is simply being rebellious to the accepted norms of society as a whole. And unfortunately the Neo pagan society has done very little collectively to dispel this first impression by society as a whole. This in itself is an oxymoron, for paganism is the oldest religious/spiritual belief in existence. And yet due to our own insecurities as to who we are collectively lends credence to such misnomers on the part of society at large. And so the misconceptions about paganism are enforced through our own inability to develop a valid identity. This brings us back to the issues touched upon at the start of this treatise. And that is the inability as individuals to accept personal responsibility for our actions and the lack of cohesiveness and discipline in our micro society to change these faults within ourselves. Do we continue to be just one more member of the society that we have today with its total disregard to spiritual values and personal responsibility? Or do we take the Neo pagan movement which is a micro society in formation and use it as a vehicle to bring back and exemplify the personal values that lend themselves to a healthy and thriving community? Do Neo pagans have the inner strength and the desire to break the current mold of self absorption and artificial values? Are we capable of looking beyond ourselves and to begin caring about the community as a whole, again? In closing, is it the responsibility of the Neo pagan community to set a higher standard or are we just along for the ride to the edge of the waterfalls of humanity? The ancient Romans went over the edge, will we as well?

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Shinto - The Gentle Religion

Shinto, The Gentle Religion

Shinto is an ancient Japanese religion. Starting circa 500 BCE. It was originally an amorphous mix of nature worship, fertility cults, divination techniques, hero worship, and shamanism.
Its name was derived from the Chinese words "shin tao" ("The Way of the Gods")
And what is unique about Shinto is that unlike many other religions, Shinto has no real founder, no written scriptures, no body of religious law, and only a very loosely-organized priesthood.
The Shinto creation stories tell of the history and lives of the "Kami" (deities). Among them was a divine couple, Izanagi-no-mikoto and Izanami-no-mikoto, who gave birth to the Japanese islands. Their children became the deities of the various Japanese clans.
Amaterasu Omikami (Sun Goddess) who was one of their daughters is regarded as the chief deity. As such she became the ancestress of the Japanese Imperial Family.
In addition to Amaterasu Omikami, there are numerous other deities who are conceptualized in many forms: They are associated with natural objects and creatures.
They are seen as generally benign, and they sustain and protect the people.
Another interesting note is that within Shinto, the Buddha was viewed as another "Kami" while in Japanese Buddhism the Kami are seen as being manifestations of various Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, though both of these are seperate belief systems. Most weddings are performed by Shinto priests; while funerals are performed by Buddhist priests.
Shinto does not have its own moral code and its members generally follow the code of Confucianism.
Their religious texts discuss the "High Plain of Heaven" and the "Dark Land" which is an unclean land of the dead, but give few details of the afterlife. Ancestors are deeply revered and worshipped.
All of humanity is regarded as "Kami's child" and thus all human life and human nature is sacred to the Shinto.
Believers revere "musuhi", the Kamis' creative and harmonizing powers. They aspire to have "makoto", sincerity or true heart. This is regarded as the way or will of Kami.
Morality is based upon that which is of benefit to the group. Shinto emphasizes right practice, sensibility, and attitude.
There are "Four Affirmations" in Shinto:
Tradition and the family: The family is seen as the main mechanism by which traditions are preserved. Their main celebrations relate to birth and marriage.
Love of nature: Nature is sacred, to be in contact with nature is to be close to the Gods. Natural objects are worshipped as sacred spirits.
Physical cleanliness: Followers of Shinto take baths, wash their hands, and rinse out their mouth often.
"Matsuri": The worship and honor given to the Kami and ancestral spirits.
When entering a shrine, one passes through a "Tori" a special gateway for the Gods. It marks the demarcation between the finite world and the infinite world of the Gods.
In the past, believers practiced "misogi,", the washing of their bodies in a river near the shrine. In modern times they only wash their hands and wash out their mouths in a wash basin provided within the shrine grounds.
Shinto believers respect animals as messengers of the Gods. A pair of statues of "Koma-inu" (guard dogs) can be found facing each other within the temple grounds.
The shrine ceremonies, which include cleansing, offerings, prayers, and dances are directed to the Kami. The ritual dance called "Kaguri" is accompanied by ancient musical instruments. The dances are performed by skilled and trained dancers. They consist of young virgin girls, a group of men, or in some instances, a single man.
Mamori are charms worn as an aid in healing and protection. They come in many different forms for various purposes.
Followers of Shinto often have a altar, the "Kami-dana" (Shelf of Gods), which is located in a central place in their homes.
Adherents of Shinto are expected to visit Shinto shrines at the times of various life passages. For example, the Shichigosan Matsuri involves a blessing by the shrine Priest of girls aged three and seven and boys aged five. This ceremony is held on November 15th.
Many followers of Shinto are involved in the "offer a meal movement," in which each individual bypasses a breakfast or another meal once per month and donates the money saved to their religious organization for international relief and similar activity.
Origami ("Paper of the spirits"), which is a paper folding art form, is also associated with Shinto. Out of respect for the tree spirit that gave its life to make the paper, origami paper is never cut.
The Shinto religion exists in four main forms or traditions:
Koshitsu Shinto (The Shinto of the Imperial House): This involves rituals performed by the emperor, who the Japanese Constitution defines to be the "symbol of the state and of the unity of the people." The most important ritual is "Niinamesai", which makes an offering to the deities of the first fruits of each year's grain harvest. Male and female clergy (Shoten and Nai-Shoten) assist the emperor in the performance of these rites.
Jinja (Shrine) Shinto: This is the largest Shinto group. It was the original form of the religion with its roots dating back into pre-historical times. Until the end of World War II, it was closely aligned with State Shinto. The Emperor of Japan was worshipped as a living God. Almost all shrines in Japan are members of Jinja Honcho, the Association of Shinto Shrines. The association urges followers of Shinto
"To be grateful for the blessings of Kami and the benefits of the ancestors, and to be diligent in the observance of the Shinto rites, applying oneself to them with sincerity. brightness, and purity of heart."
"To be helpful to others and in the world at large through deeds of service without thought of rewards, and to seek the advancement of the world as one whose life mediates the will of Kami."
"To bind oneself with others in harmonious acknowledgment of the will of the emperor, praying that the country may flourish and that other peoples too may live in peace and prosperity."
Kyoha (Sectarian) Shinto (aka Shuha Shinto): This consists of 13 sects which were founded by individuals since the start of the 19th century. Each sect has its own beliefs and doctrines. Most emphasize worship of their own central deity and as such, some some follow a near-monotheistic religion.
Minzoku (Folk) Shinto This is not a separate Shinto group; it has no formal central organization or creed. It is seen in local rural practices and rituals, where small images are often seen by the side of the road, agriculture rituals are practiced by individual families. A rural community will often select a layman annually, who will be responsible for worshiping the local deity.
These four forms are closely linked. Shinto is a tolerant religion which accepts the validity of other religions. It is common for a believer to pay respects to other religions, their practices and objects of worship. A trait not often found in many of the other religions of the world.
And yet;
On the surface this would appear to be a religion that I personally could resonate with, were I to choose to belong to a religion. However no religion is altruistic as it has the hand of man involved in its creation. In this instance it is connected to the emperor of Japan. And during both "World Wars" the type of folks who are members of this religion were also members of one of the most voracious combatants of these wars.
My question is; how does one make the transition from such a peaceful and accepting religious belief to that of a vicious and unrelenting combatant and then back again?
Is religion simply followed only when it is convenient for its followers to do so? How does the Deity associated with each of the worlds many religions view such hypocrisy?
Or does religion in all reality, give sway to human ideals and goals rather then to the desires of Deity?