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Let us Tend the World Hearth Flame

I have a candle that was lit at the Brigid Shrine in Kildare. I received it as a gift from my Grove last Imbolc. I haven’t done anything with it until now. I wasn’t sure what to do with it. I know it is sacred, something special, something I needed to hold onto. But my hearth culture is Anglo Saxon and Brigid is not one of my patrons. Today, however, as I was thinking about the post-election stress, about friends and family dividing over politics, about issues that I feel so small standing up against. I thought of that Brigid candle and felt strongly compelled to light it. A candle that holds the energy of a shrine to which both Christians and Pagans make pilgrimages. A place that unites people despite their differences; dedicated to a Goddess (or Saint) of inspiration, healing, and the hearth-flame among other things.

Brigid seemed like exactly the Goddess to call upon for matters beyond my personal needs. She is not my personal patron, but she is a one that my Grove honors and she is one I will now call on whenever I wish to light a candle for others. Her flame, to me, represents the hearth flame of the world. A hearth that unites rather than divides. We can and should still have our independent hearth cults. But it is never a good idea to segregate oneself so much that the “other” becomes the enemy.

The Earth Mother is host to the World Hearth, and Brigid is one of the deities I believe tends to it. In recognition of this, I dressed a new candle with Cypress oil to be lit with the flame from my original Brigid candle. Cypress oil is my ritual oil for Imbolc, the Holy Tide when I honor the Earth mother and, with my Grove, Brigid. I then invited Brigid to my devotional and told her my intentions.

I was nervous inviting a new deity to my private rituals. Although I honor Brigid in group ritual, I did not know how she would take to me asking so much from her privately. I lit the candle and spoke my prayers without any expectation. I prayed that she might inspire people in whatever way necessary to unite them despite their differences. I asked if she might lend her healing energy to my grandfather in-law who recently broke his hip and to my friends and family who are suffering from broken relationships in the aftermath of election day. I offered wine and I took an omen. I asked her if my request was received favorably. Her response?  The rune, Gyfu (aka Gebo), which means “gift.” I have heard it said that Brigid rewards all offerings to her. Perhaps this omen was confirmation of this. A gift calls for a gift. I offered her wine, but I also offered my love. My love for my family, friends, my country, and the world. My love that I give irregardless of others’ religions, politics, and identities. The omen I received in return yielded a sigh of relief from me.

Please, people, try to put love first. Don’t go immediately into battle while filled with rage. Try to see yourself in your would-be enemies. Try to understand their side. Ask yourselves if hate is really the answer right now. And, like I have said before in this post, do not think that condescending or smug language is going to be met with open ears. I know you are mad. I know you think you are right. But only respectful dialogue can bring another to consider your point of view.

The Problem with Monotheism and the Quest for a World Religion

I’ve been trying to start this post for sometime, but I can’t figure out where to start. Part of the problem is that I have more questions than answers.

But I’m just going to start writing and see where it goes.

I’ll start with a personal background relevant to my interest in this subject. I love medieval history. But I hate that it is entirely tangled up with Christianity. After all, what would be left of the Middle Ages as we know it if not for Christianity?

I have a confusing love-hate relationship with popular imagery from the time. My husband came across a crusader helm mug on Think Geek once and put it on his wish list. From his perspective, all he saw was a representation of his interest in geeky things and Monty Python. I look at it and I instantly feel angry inside. Why does it make me so angry? I don’t know. In general, it should make anyone angry to think of the numerous attacks on human freedom throughout history. But something about religious persecution specifically strikes a personal chord that I don’t even have a claim to. I am not persecuted. I don’t have any specific knowledge of ancestors who may have been, though I’ve heard in passing that some of my ancestors emigrated to escape persecution of their Christian practices.

Religious persecution of any kind makes me mad. I don’t want to see Christians suffer any more than pagans or anyone else. I don’t have a problem with individual Christians, but the religion as a whole comes across to me as an evil force vying for world domination. Not just Christianity, but Islam too. I feel like the history of violence, forced conversion, and proselytization of these monotheistic religions stole something from me that I never had in the first place. It’s the strangest feeling. Sometimes I wonder if I am not feeling residual emotions from a past life.

Because here I am, a pagan in the 21st century in America, land of the free, complaining that Christians from centuries ago stole something from me. Honestly, I have no logical explanation for the feeling, it is what it is.

In my combined attempts to rationalize my feelings and change my negative perspective, I came to the conclusion that the Christian “take-over” of the western world was necessary due to increased globalization. More people interacting means a need for new social dynamics and new political methods. The merging of church and state seemed like a logical way to go. For quite some time, this explanation was suitable for me. It didn’t fix everything, I still felt a yearning for a past that I was not a part of and I mourned its loss, but I accepted what I rationalized to be the only way.

Recently, however, I’ve been considering the efficacy of a world religion on peaceful global relations. Muslims, Christians, even the Buddhists all proselytize (some more peacefully than others) their religions thinking that they follow the one true path and that the world would be a better place if everyone else followed their path too.

Ironically, the desire for a word religion in the name of peace has led to copious amounts of conflict and violence. As far as I am aware, religious warfare wasn’t a thing until the rise of the monotheistic Abrahamic religions. Before this time, conflicts were more likely to arise over basic survival needs – for conquest of lands and resources. Now, in this globalized world where getting along is more important than ever, we have added religious conflict to the mix. What started out as an effort to get everyone on the same page for improved relations has only made relations worse.

What is it about monotheism that creates all this drama? First, let us consider the polytheistic peoples pre-Christian-conversion. When peoples of differing religious beliefs came in contact with each other, they didn’t feel threatened by each other’s gods. What was there to fight over when everyone had their own deities? Oftentimes, people would consider foreign gods with curiosity and sometimes adopt one or more into their own pantheons. With monotheism, however, a particular religious group is certain that their version of the one and **only** god is the correct one. Monotheistic religions, therefor, threaten the validity of each other.

This shouldn’t be a problem if everyone could just settle on one religion, one worldview, one dogma. But this is impossible, nor is it desirable if it were possible. The beauty of this world lies in its diversity. If everything was the same, that would be boring. Who would want to travel anymore? I want to visit China someday, among other places. Why? Because it is so culturally different than where I am from and that is exciting!

The very evolution of individual Abrahamic religions and their further divisions demonstrates our need for culturally relevant and, more often than not, polytheistic belief systems. The Abrahamic God started out as one of a larger pantheon. He eventually sort of absorbed the characteristics of all gods and natural forces until he became the one-and-only. If He is supposed to be the embodiment of all the cosmos, then why do the religions that follow him need angels, saints, demons, Jesus? People have a hard time relating to a cultural-less cosmic being. Culture is a significant part of religion. Jesus came about as a way for Christians to relate to their God on a more human level. It’s telling that pictorial representations of Jesus show him as a white man, despite evidence that he likely wasn’t (religion is inevitably cultural!). Many Catholics worship or pray to the Mother Mary as a deity figure, possibly indicative of desire for a male/female balance. The Saints have been given traits of pagan gods and people pray to them as if they still were gods.

There may indeed be a cosmic all-encompassing god force out there, but like the blog post I referenced last time points out, what matters to us as humans on our microscopic level of existence are the aspects of deity that we can relate to on a human level. This means that there cannot be one cultural-less god figure who will satisfy the entire world’s religious needs.

Consequentially, each religion that insists on naming only a single god as god-of-everything, no matter how culturally relevant to a region, will inevitably lead to conflict and violence each time different religious groups come into contact.

I don’t have the answers to the world’s problems (but wouldn’t I be cool if I did 🙂 ) and this post shouldn’t be taken as proof that we should eradicate all monotheistic religions (attempts at this would also lead to more violence 😮 ) It only represents food for thought and my personal observations.

One last thing: I didn’t mention atheism in the above, so I’ll add my two cents about that in here too. I think its great that some people feel secure as atheists. But the fact of the matter is, mankind as a whole needs something else to believe in. Unless science unravels the theory-of-everything, eradicating religion entirely isn’t an option – although it sounds lovely on paper (isn’t that the way of it with idealistic solutions? 😉 )

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