Category Archives: Hindu things
By E. Butler, PhD
(To give a bit of context for this, Edward and I were discussing a couple of our upcoming articles and he mentioned some push back he’d had recently vis a vis the word ‘polytheism.’)
Edward: I posted a link to a collection of stotras (devotional hymns) attributed to Shankara, the famous Advaita (Non-dualist) Vedanta philosopher, remarking that, though there are questions about the validity of the attribution, the sheer number and diversity of the Gods addressed in the hymns made Advaita look quite polytheistic to me. This is in accord with my conviction that the issue between Advaita and Dvaita positions in Vedanta, being a dispute about the nature of brahman, have nothing to do with the number of Gods.
So, [a certain ‘scholar’] chimes in with how it’s wrong to use a modern, Western category like polytheism with regard to Hinduism.
Galina: these modern secularist fools are trying to take away even the words by which we can define our faith. The word ‘polytheism’ occurs in ancient material; it just happened to enter ENGLISH in the 17th c.
Edward: This is yet another stupid fight we have to wage. As far as I’m concerned, any language that has a plural term for “God” has polytheism, or had it, period. It doesn’t matter to me when the term itself was first used, it’s logically entailed by the use of the plural terms.
The other nonsense issue I’ve seen come up lately is the notion that we shouldn’t translate foreign terms as “Gods” because they’re all sui generis. Only when polytheist civilizations encountered one another, there’s literally not a case I know of where they didn’t use the same term they use for divinities to refer to the foreign Gods. Angirasa Srestha found a passage, for instance, that refers to “Devas of foreign lands”, and Egyptians spoke of Netjeru in foreign lands, and of course we know that for Greeks and Romans the other people’s Theoi or Dei were Theoi and Dei, and so forth.
It’s like being swarmed by ants, though, dealing with this shit. Everyone gets zealous about protecting other cultures from contamination once those cultures start appropriating Western concepts for themselves. Don’t let them get hold of the master’s tools, force them to use their native resources exclusively, after you’ve disrupted those intellectual resources for centuries.
What we need to take away from this, though, is that we need to fight for the proper sense of universal categories like “Gods” and “polytheism”, a sense that doesn’t interfere with the uniqueness of nations and pantheons and individual Gods, but that grounds a stable theoretical discourse and for solidarity across traditions.
(and he is absolutely right. – GK).
My latest article at Hindu Human Rights is now available. Readers may find it here.
I tell my students to avoid tumblr. I tell those who come to me to learn about the gods or for initiation and/or spiritual training to avoid people who don’t take their Gods seriously. I tell them to take care with whom they spend their time. I tell them to take care with what they pollute their eyes and hearts and minds. This is important. We inevitably become like that with which we associate. The choice of course, whether or not to take my advice is always left with the student, but I lay out my case early on.
Pollution is an actual thing and I don’t think that there’s enough discussion of it in our communities. As human beings, we are affected by those things with which we associate, by what we watch, by the character and conversation of our friends. If a person is serious about developing good devotional habits (and good devotional character), then early on, one learns to avoid those situations that diminish our spiritual worth.
Instead, it’s important to learn to cultivate the people, hobbies, habits, and things that encourage and nourish right relationship with the Gods. If you’re surrounding yourself by people steeped in piety, it will rub off! You’ll be influenced to likewise treat the Gods with respect. You’ll observe good habits and absorb them almost by osmosis. When everyone around you is modeling right behavior it’s a thousand times easier to cultivate that in yourself. The opposite is also true. Peer pressure, as it were, can work both ways.
Now I’m not trying to rain on anybody’s parade. If you like a particular pop culture TV show, for instance, go ahead and watch it, but be aware of the message it sends. Understand that you’re doing yourself no favors. You’ll have to take extra care to ensure that you don’t unconsciously (subliminally?) start copying the behavior and attitudes you’re seeing. That’s the problem with so much of this. It’s not that any person or thing is bad in and of itself (usually), but that we pick up unconscious messages from what we’re around. We imitate and often do so unthinkingly. We do things on auto-pilot, unmindfully and it’s mindfulness that is called for here. We cannot afford to assume that the structures of our lives automatically support devotion. Generally they don’t and very little in our immediate environments do.
I’ll admit that I find this sobering. It has, however, made me very selective about how I spend my time. We each have a great deal of power over our spiritual lives. We have the power to carefully choose that which will nourish our relationship with our Holy Powers or to choose that which does not. We can choose our companions. We can choose our associations, our hobbies, how much and what we allow in. We should choose—even if one takes away the spiritual imperative, we should always be selective about those influences that enter our personal orbits. I always encourage my students to ask: “What attitudes does this thing or person encourage? What is its/their message? Is this making me better as a human being? How does this further my spiritual goals? What does this contribute to my overall life? My character? What is it telling me about devotion? What does it cultivate in psyche and soul?”
It takes a great deal of personal integrity to do this work. It takes a great deal of personal integrity and commitment and yes, courage to resist the pressure to confirm and to water down our devotions to the silliest common denominator imaginable. We are charged, I very firmly believe, with being better.
Before our traditions were destroyed, we’d have all grown up in polytheistic households and communities. We’d have had ample opportunity to see right behavior modeled and we’d have been surrounded by numerous people and factors that would likewise reinforce it. We’d have had plenty of people to go to if we had questions and plenty of good models not just for how to do devotion well but how to become mature, engaged, mindful human beings. We don’t live in that world. Unfortunately, most of us are not surrounded by a community or family that models and reinforces right behavior. We have to learn to do it for ourselves.
So if you find yourself suddenly become flippant about the Gods when you generally know better, look around and see what might be influencing you. Take stock of your company and surroundings. Likewise, if you find yourself needing to cut jokes about the sacred, when normally you would quietly go about the business of devotion, as yourself why? Take a good, long look at the people with whom you’re surrounding yourself. Take a good long estimate of the media influences in which you are willingly steeped and ask yourself if it’s doing your devotion any good. Ask yourself if it’s beneficial or worth it. Then make your choice.
That’s what all solid devotion comes down to: learning to make the right choices, the most beneficial ones day after day, and that is something within all our reach.
My second piece at Hindu Human Rights is now live. This was a hard piece to write and I want to thank my colleague E.B. for his support in allowing me to hash out the subtleties of certain points with him.
You can read this month’s article here.
My fellow readers, please consider signing this petition. It was started by the Lukumi elder who pioneered protecting our right to sacrifice: Oba Pichardo, whose 1993 case against the city of Hialeah won Supreme Court Recognition of religions’ right to ritual sacrifice.
This right is NOT guaranteed. Even though we have SCOTUS precedent, it can still be chipped away at, just as animal rights groups are continually trying to do. There is a recent case working its way through the VA court system now and if the state wins, it is not unlikely that other states will use this to effectively remove religious exemption to animal slaughter. We often think that we can skate by in this country, that no one will ever interfere with our religious freedoms, and many of us refer when challenged to that 1993 case but *nothing* is set in stone and those that would shatter our religions again know this.
If you care at all for one of our holiest of rights, if you care at all for the freedom to practice your religion unimpeded (even if your religion does NOT involve sacrifice), please consider signing.
I’ve seen quite a few articles over the last couple of days pointing to attacks on our right to sacrifice. In many cases, these articles aren’t just targeting us (or perhaps aren’t even targeting us at all) but are going after Hindu practitioners or ATR practitioners, as well as Jews and Muslims (1). This is still significant, not only because of any precedent that might be set, but because sooner or later we will be targeted, or a large scale ban on sacrifice will end up including us by default. This happened just this past year with Denmark.
Sacrifice is, to many polytheisms (including my own Heathenry and cultus deorum), the holiest of religious rites. More than anything else it is the ritual that cements and consistently renews our connection to our Gods, our relationship with Them, and the reciprocity that flows from a well-tended relationship. It is that which keeps our communities and our traditions vital, powerful, and alive. It was the first thing Christians targeted when they were coming to power, and it is the thing that is really the litmus test for the health of our communities today. I have seen groups and communities torn apart because half were attuned to the traditions and practices of their ancestral ways and half were children of modernity, sure that they were smarter and more evolved than our ancestors, and sure that they knew best what the Gods might want. This is one of those things wherein there is no compromise possible.
I’ve been a blòt priest since roughly 1996. I began doing sacrifices for my kindred very early on, having received basic training from a local farmer. I also, later, had the privilege of spending several years as part of a Theod. This was exceptionally beneficial to my understanding of the raw holiness of the sacrificial process. More than any other denomination of Heathenry, I think Theodism has done the most to restore the proper rite of blòt. This is what we call a ritual where animal sacrifice takes place. (2) I simply do not think it is possible to practice our polytheisms adequately without rites of sacrifice. This is not, of course, to say that everyone must be actively doing sacrifice. That was never the case. Like many other roles, the role of sacrificial priest is that of a specialist. There is training both in ritual work and in the art of butchery required. There are also mysteries here that both the priest and community must understand. Sacrifice is a ritual steeped in raw, primal βíoς. That has consequences. If not handled properly, that primal power can cause damage. This is why the community is such an important part of the scaffolding for such a rite. I would go so far as to say that without sacrifice, we have restored nothing. It is that which enables our traditions to grow.
So needless to say, it is quite concerning to see attacks by the ignorant and impious on this holy rite.
I won’t post the link, partly because it sickens me and partly because I don’t want to give it traffic, but there is a substantial petition being circulated demanding that the EU ban animal sacrifice in all of its constituent countries. Never mind about religious freedom. Never mind that EU provisions guarantee freedom to practice one’s religion in those self-same constituent countries.
Then there was this article, about a sacrifice at Soma Yaga that has resulted in a clear desire by local politicians to eradicate the practice…nevermind protecting their indigenous traditions, never mind respecting their Gods.
Then there are the animal rights terrorist groups. (3) They’ve already had two victories this year: Denmark and Nepal. We need to come together and work together to make sure they do not have another.
This is our holiest sacrament. There is no substitution for it.
I am worried. I think there are too many people who have bought into the myth of “progress” (i.e. abandoning our traditions for some deviation of western secularism) and are hell-bent on destroying our traditions. I understand that people don’t want animals to suffer (neither do we) but a sacrifice done well is a kind and painless death, especially compared to factory farming. I also think that there is a prolonged and insidious war on polytheistic traditions. Hinduism has long known this and cries for religious equality and tolerance never seem to include leaving indigenous Hindus alone to practice their religion – the religion native to India—unimpeded. Polytheists always seem to be expected to compromise their devotion to accommodate monotheists or secularists and I think it’s time we stopped doing either.
I don’t know what the solution is. I don’t know how to roll back this tide but I do know we need to protect our traditions. So let’s talk about this, and let’s talk across traditions, and maybe let’s see what we can do in our individual locales to raise awareness, protect our farmers (an important piece in this), and secure our rite to practice.
- ATR refers to “African Traditional Religions” like Lukumi, Ifa, Candomble, Voudoun, etc.
- It has its ritual analogs amongst other polytheists as well, but for the purposes of this article, I’m just going to focus on the rite of blòt and then only tangentially.
- And yes, this is how they’re classified, as an elder recently pointed out, by the government.