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Author Topic: How important is history?  (Read 23465 times)
Darkhawk
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« Reply #15: June 05, 2010, 05:53:01 pm »

Are "traditions" and "history" the same? If so, can Druidry be lived without its traditions? Or can traditions be observed as modern adaptations without knowing the lore that began them?

Let me frame an answer to this question within Christianity, as I expect that some basic familiarity with that will make this comprehensible:

Do you know who Pelagius is and what he believed?  The origin of the ichthus (commonly known as "the Jesus fish" and adorning many car bumpers thse days)?  When the Church started to get involved with marriage ceremonies of ordinary people in England?  What was discussed at the Council of Nicea?  What political situation made Constantine's vision politically expedient?  The effects of conversion patterns on the marriages among royal families in Europe?

That's history.

The Jesus fish itself, the Nicene creed, the liturgical calendar, the structure of the mass?

That's tradition.

Superficially speaking, they are almost unrelated fields.

However.

Practically speaking, a lot of pagan religions do not have living traditions.  They are no longer (or never were, in the case of the more modern creations) sufficiently ingrained in society that people who practice them just know stuff, like a current-day USonian "just knows" what the Jesus fish looks like.  And in a lot of cases the traditions have been, to one extent or another, just plain lost, so people have to dig around in history and try to manufacture something reasonably plausible from what we know.  (Much like a hypothetical reconstructing Christian might look at documents from the Council of Nicea and come up with the contents of the Nicene Creed, but would probably not get all the details right and would almost certainly have different wording.)

This has a couple of obvious results.

One, that a lot of modern pagan religions depend heavily on people who are rummaging about in the history to generate an understanding of tradition to built, and that this is a complicated intellectual and creative endeavour that not everyone wants to do.  (Recons can be very smug about being "religion with homework", but this can lead to a certain level of smug condescension directed at people who just want to honor and worship the gods, not do postgraduate research.)

Two, that people who do not want to do the aforementioned postgraduate research are highly dependent on finding a community that has already built effective and meaningful traditions (or prototraditions, at least) and is capable of conveying them.  Two-B, that if such a community does not do a good job at instruction or is otherwise inadequate, that those people are pretty well screwed for getting where they want to go.  (This is a problem that bothers me a great deal.)

I can't really speak to druidry, as that is completely askew from my personal path.  I do believe that a historically-based druid needs to have an extensive grasp of various lores, but whether or not those count as "history" to you I have no idea.  There are modern druidic organisations of a wide variety of types, some of which care a great deal about history and some of which do not as much; in any case, they have sufficient structure for practice.
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Ellen M.
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« Reply #16: June 05, 2010, 07:39:53 pm »

But our approach does not change the deity.  Odin is Odin is Odin.  You can't show me a figure of Barney the purple dinosaur and tell me that is Odin and how He is the God of peace, love and friendship now as featured in the children' television show.  Sorry, not gonna happen. 

Another thing I don't understand is this belief that over time the Gods have changed.  Its been 2000 years and Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the whole lot are still the same.  Yahweh and Allah are pretty much the same too, not to mention Buddha and Kuan Yin.  So if everyone else is staying the same, why the heck are the Gods of European heritage suddenly changing without notice? 

Our approach may change, but the Gods remain the same; that is the distinction.

You're claiming an awful lot about the nature of the gods. Have you been around for thousands of years? Are you privy to every instance any one particular deity was ever worshipped? Do you have a direct line to the gods? Not everyone subscribes to the idea that gods are static - I myself do not. I am not the same person I was twenty years ago, five years ago, or five minutes ago. Tomorrow, I'll be a different person. My experiences continually shape me. Furthermore, the Ellen that I present to my family is radically different from the Ellen I present to school mates, or to my Pagan friends, or to my geek friends. Ellen is Ellen is Ellen, sure, for a certain quantity and quality of Ellen, but those things are always in flux.
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« Reply #17: June 05, 2010, 10:41:14 pm »

....people who do not want to do the aforementioned postgraduate research are highly dependent on finding a community that has already built effective and meaningful traditions (or prototraditions, at least) and is capable of conveying them.  Two-B, that if such a community does not do a good job at instruction or is otherwise inadequate, that those people are pretty well screwed for getting where they want to go.  (This is a problem that bothers me a great deal.)

Darkhawk, would you mind rewording and elaborating upon the badly instructed, screwed people and the problem that bothers you? I'm not sure I'm following you, and I want to understand. Everything you've said is very interesting. Thank you for your clear illustration of "history" vs. "tradition": I almost smacked myself on the forehead with a kind of "D'OH!" feeling after reading it.  Roll Eyes

Your clarity, by the way, is especially excellent being that I've actually had no Christian education and yet still understood exactly what you were saying. Thanks again for that.

With respect,
Ashwren Windintree
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« Reply #18: June 06, 2010, 12:38:22 am »

You're claiming an awful lot about the nature of the gods.

And you're not?  Your post clearly indicates that you place the behavior and development of divinity on the same level as that of mankind, which is akin to hubris in several religions.  Just because you are or are not something or are prone to change or to whatever else, does not indicate that divinity follows the same pattern.  Gods are not humans, and rightly so.

We have no reason to believe the Gods have changed unless we have inviolable proof to demonstrate such.  Did Jesus suddenly decide to stop saving people?  Did Buddha decide to hell with it and withdraw the ability to others to attain enlightenment?  Is Allah no longer promising virgins in heaven?  Did Ares put down his spear and take up the peace sign of the hippies?  If so, I didn't get those memos at all.  But if you possess any such information, please share! 

Believing the Gods have changed for the sake of change is not productive just as much as simply changing for the sake of change is not productive. 

When things change, they do so for the better or worse.  If for the better, it means they were flawed to begin with.  If for worse, it demonstrates that they are not permanent or perfect and are apt to screw up which indicates that they are not wholly of the highest will.  I certainly do not believe the Gods originated in a flawed state and have thus needed to evolve hence from.  Nor do I believe the Gods can degenerate from a once perfect state to a less than savory form. 

How many here believe when you pray that your Gods will miss the mark?  Or perhaps that they are so inept that they cannot do what you ask of them because they messed up at some point and are now paying the consequences of that like some type of karmic punishment?  Or do you believe that they possess the highest of wills for the betterment and best of you and the world in general and are completely capable of carrying that will out? 

If we have to worry about whether or not the Gods can do something or are even capable of something...is it even worth putting our faith in Them?  Is it worth the prayers and offerings?  If the Gods are flawed or can become flawed, then doesn't the very state of existence itself hang in the balance being that They govern all of life itself? 

I think a lot of people "like" the idea of Gods changing, but don't really understand what that implies in its entirety.
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« Reply #19: June 06, 2010, 12:59:15 am »

I think a lot of people "like" the idea of Gods changing, but don't really understand what that implies in its entirety.

And I think your logic is flawed.  Change doesn't have to be for the better or for the worse. 
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« Reply #20: June 06, 2010, 01:32:27 am »


When things change, they do so for the better or worse.  If for the better, it means they were flawed to begin with.  If for worse, it demonstrates that they are not permanent or perfect and are apt to screw up which indicates that they are not wholly of the highest will.  I certainly do not believe the Gods originated in a flawed state and have thus needed to evolve hence from.  Nor do I believe the Gods can degenerate from a once perfect state to a less than savory form. 

*snippage*

If we have to worry about whether or not the Gods can do something or are even capable of something...is it even worth putting our faith in Them?  Is it worth the prayers and offerings?  If the Gods are flawed or can become flawed, then doesn't the very state of existence itself hang in the balance being that They govern all of life itself? 

Ya know, I can't speak for your gods, because I don't know them. Mine, on the other had ARE flawed. They are not perfect and the lore backs that up. They screw shit up just like humans do, and have to pay the cost for their errors. Sometimes they screw shit up FOR humans, and we are the ones that have to fix whatever it is (most of the time it's me they break Tongue ) I also think that there are some things that they can't do by themselves, which is why they collaborate with other deities.

I also agree with Moon Ivy that change isn't just for better or worse... Change can be sideways (for brain-dead lack of a better word). *shrug* But then I really don't view it as them governing "all of life itself".

YMMV and all that crap
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« Reply #21: June 06, 2010, 01:42:35 am »

Ya know, I can't speak for your gods, because I don't know them. Mine, on the other had ARE flawed. They are not perfect and the lore backs that up. They screw shit up just like humans do, and have to pay the cost for their errors. Sometimes they screw shit up FOR humans, and we are the ones that have to fix whatever it is (most of the time it's me they break Tongue ) I also think that there are some things that they can't do by themselves, which is why they collaborate with other deities.

I also agree with Moon Ivy that change isn't just for better or worse... Change can be sideways (for brain-dead lack of a better word). *shrug* But then I really don't view it as them governing "all of life itself".

YMMV and all that crap

I agree with Dragondaughter on this one. In my experience, my gods don't have any of the omnis attached to them that the Christian God did in my Sunday School (omnipotent, omniscient, etc). My gods don't control the universe, and they definitely aren't perfect. For me, divinity and perfection aren't bedfellows, and I'm fine with that. I call my deities out all the time - Dionysus has done terrible things in his mythos, Pan likes to screw with goats, Athena can be downright frigid, and Loki is the crazed uncle who passes out whiskey and car keys to his 14-year-old nephews. Maybe the gods are, actually, perfect and unchanging. I really don't care about that, because I'll never know. I care about what I can and do feel and experience. And personally, I prefer my flawed, imperfect, human deities over the guy I dumped with Christianity any day.
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« Reply #22: June 06, 2010, 01:59:56 am »

Darkhawk, would you mind rewording and elaborating upon the badly instructed, screwed people and the problem that bothers you? I'm not sure I'm following you, and I want to understand.

If you're not well-taught in a religion, then you have no capacity for independence: everything you do is entirely dependent on what the guru has to hand down to you.  If they don't have something you need, you don't have the means to build something on your own; if your understanding is flawed, there is no way for you to find out.

For this reason, I think at least a little history is good for everyone: so they have a context to place things within, so they know where to look if something doesn't add up for them, so they have an ability to develop independent understanding even if they wind up being 100% satisfied with whatever the group that guides them has to offer.
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« Reply #23: June 06, 2010, 02:01:39 am »


I think "change" in this context is very insufficiently defined.


Consider this question:

What gods govern the internet?

And then the follow-up:

If those gods are from ancient pantheons, is that sphere of influence or interest a change?
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« Reply #24: June 06, 2010, 02:14:46 am »

I think "change" in this context is very insufficiently defined.

I also think "history" may have different definitions for different posters.

I *think* the OP is referring to the kind of "history" many of us learned in junior high and high school, the kind that is mostly rote memorization of facts about people, dates, and places -- like the date of this battle or the reign of that king.  And, if that's the basic definition, I'd agree that this kind of history isn't all that important in a spiritual context -- some of those contexts, anyway.

However, history is also about the causes and effects of events, and about how people thought and acted.  THAT history is much more important to certain spiritual paths.  F'ex, I'm not a Celtic recon, but, as I said upthread, I do value historical accuracy and find that it greatly influences my personal practice.  As a dedicant of Brighid, I do need to understand (as well as I can) how She is portrayed in the lore, how She was worshiped, how She relates (if at all) to other deities.  I don't have to have memorized which Celtic tribes lived where when, but I do need to understand, for instance, the cultural symbols involved and what they mean.  That does take some study on my part.

I do think at least some of the gods change over time -- at the very least, they change in the sense that they are fully aware of current events and issues,  And obviously I live in the here and now.  So, for my practice, I need to take what I've learned about the history of Brighid's worship and apply and adapt it my context.

This is not necessarily the right path for everyone, of course.  Strict recons would obviously disagree with me.  That's OK.
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« Reply #25: June 06, 2010, 08:39:38 am »

I also think "history" may have different definitions for different posters.

I *think* the OP is referring to the kind of "history" many of us learned in junior high and high school, the kind that is mostly rote memorization of facts about people, dates, and places -- like the date of this battle or the reign of that king.  And, if that's the basic definition, I'd agree that this kind of history isn't all that important in a spiritual context -- some of those contexts, anyway.

However, history is also about the causes and effects of events, and about how people thought and acted.  THAT history is much more important to certain spiritual paths.  (snip)

Dates, names, places. That's what books are for. I still have my "Handbook of US History" textbook that we had to buy in high school. When was the Lincoln-Douglas debate? Look it up. It's importance, yeah, sort of remember it 30 years later.

In college there were only 6 dates we were expected to remember, and I've forgotten 4 of them (or rather what 4 of the events were. Probably still know the dates of the event if you ask me of the event).

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« Reply #26: June 06, 2010, 08:44:48 am »

If you're not well-taught in a religion, then you have no capacity for independence: everything you do is entirely dependent on what the guru has to hand down to you.  If they don't have something you need, you don't have the means to build something on your own; if your understanding is flawed, there is no way for you to find out.

For this reason, I think at least a little history is good for everyone: so they have a context to place things within, so they know where to look if something doesn't add up for them, so they have an ability to develop independent understanding even if they wind up being 100% satisfied with whatever the group that guides them has to offer.

And for Pagan religions it's more of an issue than Christianity or Judaism. Other major world religions you might have language problems instead.  If your local major religion clergy aren't familiar with something you can find a decent book for laymen.

For pagans, your books choices tend to be really light (ie have little moons on the spine) or really heavy academic work. Not a lot in between. For the academic works, you are almost assumed to have had 3 or 4 undergrad courses in general hisotry, myth, etc before tackling the stuff you want.
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« Reply #27: June 06, 2010, 10:23:11 am »

Dates, names, places. That's what books are for.

And the interwebs!  Cheesy

*snip*
In college there were only 6 dates we were expected to remember, and I've forgotten 4 of them (or rather what 4 of the events were. Probably still know the dates of the event if you ask me of the event).

I'm the same way.  I had to learn a lot of names and dates especially when I took Constitutional Law classes.  I don't remember any of them.  For the more important cases, like Brown v. Board of Education, I remember the general time frame, but not the exact date.

Just for clarity's sake, are you saying that this kind of rote memorization history is or is not crucial to the practice of a religion?
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« Reply #28: June 06, 2010, 11:14:10 am »

And the interwebs!  Cheesy

I'm the same way.  I had to learn a lot of names and dates especially when I took Constitutional Law classes.  I don't remember any of them.  For the more important cases, like Brown v. Board of Education, I remember the general time frame, but not the exact date.

Just for clarity's sake, are you saying that this kind of rote memorization history is or is not crucial to the practice of a religion?

Correct. Rote memorization of history is not crucial to the practice of history.

Knowing general time frame and related events is useful, depending upon the culture chosen. For example, knowing that Rome invaded the British Isles around the birth of Christ is useful (but not critical); then knowing that it occured before the Vikings is also.
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« Reply #29: June 06, 2010, 11:56:32 am »

Correct. Rote memorization of history is not crucial to the practice of history.

Knowing general time frame and related events is useful, depending upon the culture chosen. For example, knowing that Rome invaded the British Isles around the birth of Christ is useful (but not critical); then knowing that it occured before the Vikings is also.

That's what I thought you meant; I just wanted to make sure I wasn't misreading you.   Smiley

FWIW, that's pretty much what I think, too.
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