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Author Topic: Rituals & Offerings: what's REALLY going on?  (Read 10186 times)
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« Reply #15: July 24, 2010, 06:45:37 am »

In general, what worries me most about Bonewits' theory is that it has the potential to override most of what you have said in replies here. I think he would claim (and he practically did so in the book) that while you think your engaged in a relationship and reciprocity and giving, what you're actually doing is what he describes. What kinds of arguments are there against this kind of reductionist explanation? I think there must certainly be some...

The biggest argument, for me, is that Bonewits is not me and therefore does not get to define my religion and my religious experiences for me.  All "you think you're doing X, but you're really doing Y" claims are more or less on a level from where I'm sitting--I can give that claim no more weight than I give the claims of the fundies who would insist I really worship demons.  There's not really a lot I can say to it beyond, "No, that's definitely not what my experience with the matter is."
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« Reply #16: July 24, 2010, 07:50:15 am »

In general, what worries me most about Bonewits' theory is that it has the potential to override most of what you have said in replies here. I think he would claim (and he practically did so in the book) that while you think your engaged in a relationship and reciprocity and giving, what you're actually doing is what he describes. What kinds of arguments are there against this kind of reductionist explanation? I think there must certainly be some...

Bonewits has a bad habit of tossing out hypotheses so broad in their claims that cannot be falsified and then implying they must be true because they cannot be falsified. This never impresses -- or convinces -- me. It's the same reason I'm skeptical of "String Theory" in physics.  Both Bothewits and string theorists might be 100% correct, but they need to actually be able to demonstrate the accuracy of they claims, not just set them up so they cannot be truly tested.
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« Reply #17: July 24, 2010, 05:56:38 pm »

I think there may well be a lot of gods that humans have no knowledge of.  I sometimes get the idea that the gods who get involved with us may be regarded as the 'crazy cat ladies' of the divine world.  The rest just get on with god-stuff, while the ones who are interested in humans (as hobbies, projects, beloved children, etc.) are a small minority with a specific interest in, love for, fascination with, etc.  this planet and its denizens.

I think I agree. Along these lines, I often wonder if 'Gods' and 'Spirits' are pretty much the same thing. If there are Gods that we don't deal with, then what makes them Gods and not Spirits. I try not to accept such terminology so readily in that I don't think about what the words actually relate to, but it's hard to separate things in my own mind. I guess it doesn't really matter, since we don't deal with Them and since I believe that there are probably things we are not meant to know, or don't need to know - but it does matter in that I deal with certain Gods or Spirits in my practice. I need to think about what the words mean to me, and redefine them for myself. It's certainly a pain in the arse when your religious practice is pretty much eclectic and a mash-mash of a million ideas. Wink

Personally I like Marilyn's idea. I know a lot of modern Pagans believe the Gods "need" us, but it's such a big universe out there.  I don't believe the Gods are omnipotent, nor do I believe they are completely above having "needs".  But who am I to assume that I know every avenue through which they can get those needs met?  To me that sounds pretty arrogant.

I agree.
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« Reply #18: July 24, 2010, 11:42:08 pm »

It strikes me that there are some problems with this view, or places where I disagree or where my own experience doesn't match up with his description, but I was curious to hear what others think. Is his understanding of how rituals and offerings work fairly common?

I don't think rituals and offerings necessarily add to a deity's energy pattern or otherwise affect a deity's power. But I do think that they attract attention - a place where deity X isn't worshipped at all is probably something of a blind spot. From a practical perspective there's little difference - if you aren't doing any rituals and nothing 'godly' is happening, a deity may as well be dead rather than ignoring you. But I'd like to think my angle is, if not more accurate, at least more pious.  Smiley

More tentatively, I think rituals and offerings are something of a conduit - or help make the worshipper into more of a conduit - for more divine interference. Like, if deities inhabit sacred time and humans inhabit mundane time, a ritual opens up a window between them. That doesn't mean a deity will actively poke through every time, but the very ritual lets in sacred energy, like fresh air into a room, which helps bring the mundane world more in line with the sacred energy of that particular deity.

Quote
What do others think about the purpose of ritual and offerings and why we do them?

Hrrrm. Well you could have different purposes for a ritual or offering ('because I agree with what you stand for', 'because I want to get you off my back', 'because I feel like getting rid of some incense'...), but personally, my primary purpose is the same for any other worship: because I want to. Juni said it best, really.
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« Reply #19: July 25, 2010, 09:52:08 am »

Along these lines, I often wonder if 'Gods' and 'Spirits' are pretty much the same thing. If there are Gods that we don't deal with, then what makes them Gods and not Spirits.

This issue really intrigued me, so I did a bit of research into the etymology of the words "deity," "god" and "spirit."

The word "deity" (meaning god or divine nature) comes from the Latin deus, meaning "god," related to the PIE root *dewos-, which gave rise to various words for god, spirit or demon in languages like Latin, Persian, Sanskrit, etc. The PIE form comes from the base *dyeu-, which means "to gleam, to shine" and also gave us words like "sky" and "day." It seems the term "deity," related to the name of Zeus, originally evoked the idea of a being or spirit of light, whether a solar-god or a god of lightning. (The word "divine," also from the Latin deus, when used as a verb (as in "to divine the future") originally suggested the ability to see by a supernatural light.)

The word "god" comes into English through Proto Germanic *guthan, from the PIE *ghut-, meaning "that which is invoked," from the base *gheu(e)- meaning "to call, to invoke," though some suggest it is also related to *gheu-, "to pour" as in the pouring of libations. Originally the word "god" was gender-neutral and only came to have a specifically masculine meaning (with the feminine form being "goddess") after the influence of Christianity. In this way, the word "god" in Old English might have been closer in meaning to the Latin word numen (which meant "divine will," and suggested divine approval, coming from the root nuere, meaning "to nod"). The Proto Germanic most closely related to the Latin deus might have been *ansuz, but this word was only used to refer to Germanic or Norse gods, not to the gods of foreigners. ("Ansuz" is also the name of the A-rune of the Elder Futhark, and is related to the name of the Ęsir, one of two clans of gods in the Norse/Asatru tradition.)

The word "spirit", meaning the animating or vital principle or essence, comes from the Latin spiritus, meaning "soul, courage, breath," and is related to spirare, "to breathe," from PIE *(s)peis- meaning "to blow." (Through the Latin, it also gives us words like "inspire" and "expire.") Interestingly, the Old English word gast (meaning "soul, spirit, life, breath" and giving us our word "ghost") comes through Proto Germanic *ghoizdoz from the PIE base *ghois-, "to be excited, frightened." The fact that through both the Latin and the Proto Germanic roots we have ideas of fear, excitement and courage seems significant to me, in addition to the association with breath.


So over all, it looks like the words "deity" and "god" connote beings that are largely benevolent (or "light-giving") towards humanity, and/or which interact with us in ritual through invocation and the pouring of libations (or via other gestures and offerings, I assume). Meanwhile, the word "spirit" is more related to this idea of a united vital essence or presence, which sustains the life and breath, but can also be frightening or overwhelming. This seems to confirm your intuition, Taliesin, about referring to those beings who concern themselves with humanity as "gods" and those who do not more as "spirits." But in their essence, they may very well be the same thing, considering how intertwined the terms are throughout the history of language. Both light and breath are necessary for the sustenance of life, and can be both beneficent and life-giving, or overwhelming and harmful in their own ways. In Druidry, the element "nwyfre" can be compared with both fire and air (from the classical four element system) and is associated with the realm of the sky or heavens, and its vital breath and energizing light. So there definitely seems to be a lot of overlap and ambiguity here.

Gosh I love etymology! Isn't language fascinating!? Smiley
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« Reply #20: July 25, 2010, 10:01:44 am »

More tentatively, I think rituals and offerings are something of a conduit - or help make the worshipper into more of a conduit - for more divine interference. Like, if deities inhabit sacred time and humans inhabit mundane time, a ritual opens up a window between them. That doesn't mean a deity will actively poke through every time, but the very ritual lets in sacred energy, like fresh air into a room, which helps bring the mundane world more in line with the sacred energy of that particular deity.

(Ali's note - emphasis added)

I really like this idea and I think you put it particularly well here, Treekisser. That "breath of fresh air" - the phrase has so much imagery along with it for me, it reminds me of a cool breeze coming across a sunny meadow and finally weaving its way around window frames and through screen doors to fill an interior space with presence and life. What a beautiful metaphor! And I think very much in keeping with what I just posted in reply to Taliesin about the etymological roots of our words for god and spirit, how tied up they are in ideas of breath and light.

Personally, I think there is a world of difference between thinking of ritual in this way, and the way that Bonewits describes it. Now perhaps he was just giving a very brief, bare-bones summary of how ritual functions... but part of me insists that your view here is not only more pious, but more accurate as well (maybe because it's more pious?).

And now I'm resisting the urge to go look up the word "pious".... Wink
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« Reply #21: July 25, 2010, 01:40:31 pm »

Gosh I love etymology! Isn't language fascinating!? Smiley

I know how you feel. I love writing English essays just because I get to nit-pick at every individual word! Wink

So over all, it looks like the words "deity" and "god" connote beings that are largely benevolent (or "light-giving") towards humanity, and/or which interact with us in ritual through invocation and the pouring of libations (or via other gestures and offerings, I assume). Meanwhile, the word "spirit" is more related to this idea of a united vital essence or presence, which sustains the life and breath, but can also be frightening or overwhelming. This seems to confirm your intuition, Taliesin, about referring to those beings who concern themselves with humanity as "gods" and those who do not more as "spirits." But in their essence, they may very well be the same thing, considering how intertwined the terms are throughout the history of language. Both light and breath are necessary for the sustenance of life, and can be both beneficent and life-giving, or overwhelming and harmful in their own ways. In Druidry, the element "nwyfre" can be compared with both fire and air (from the classical four element system) and is associated with the realm of the sky or heavens, and its vital breath and energizing light. So there definitely seems to be a lot of overlap and ambiguity here.

So potentially this implies that a 'spirit' would be the raw being, and 'god' or 'deity' a classification in which particular 'spirits' fit into? I like that. Gods are Gods because they involve themselves in the matters of this world. They are also spirits, but we call them Gods because of their involvement. Therefore, if one was to agree with this belief, the Gods could be seen as more important because of their relevance to us, but in actuality they're on the same playing field as any other 'spirit'. I don't know how far I would follow this belief, but to me this seems fairly logical and realistic. Going back to what others have said - part of the magnificence of the Gods is that they aren't all-supreme and perfect, and that they have their own, individual personalities, strengths, weaknesses, tolerances and intolerances. They're human in that our relationships with them are just that - relationships, yet a raw energy free from the bounds of humanity all the same. YMMV, of course.
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« Reply #22: July 25, 2010, 01:44:28 pm »

I really like this idea and I think you put it particularly well here, Treekisser. That "breath of fresh air" - the phrase has so much imagery along with it for me, it reminds me of a cool breeze coming across a sunny meadow and finally weaving its way around window frames and through screen doors to fill an interior space with presence and life. What a beautiful metaphor! And I think very much in keeping with what I just posted in reply to Taliesin about the etymological roots of our words for god and spirit, how tied up they are in ideas of breath and light.

Personally, I think there is a world of difference between thinking of ritual in this way, and the way that Bonewits describes it. Now perhaps he was just giving a very brief, bare-bones summary of how ritual functions... but part of me insists that your view here is not only more pious, but more accurate as well (maybe because it's more pious?).

*Nod* I totally agree.
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« Reply #23: August 30, 2010, 09:17:27 pm »

Which would seem to contradict Bonewits' claims that all deities seek to encourage "mana" through ritual and worship.)

For some reason, this sounds like the gods need to collect pieces of flair a la Office Space... that doesn't feel right at all.

I personally do think that each god, as an individual, may or may not wish to have a relationship with people at all, or with only certain people. I think there is a symbiosis, but not exactly as he's describing it... I wouldn't say he's outright wrong, since I don't know enough to say that, but the way he sees it is not in line with my understanding or experience. The problem is mostly with  his throwing around of the term "most pagans" -- I think it's pretty well established by all of human history that people experience the divine in different ways, and each and every one can become easily and strongly convinced that the way they see things is a reflection of the One True Way to see things. Pagans aren't exempt from that element of human nature. Smiley

The only argument I can think of for the reductionist thinking that says, what you call reciprocity and understand that way is in fact exactly what I'm describing, you just don't know it is, "That's reductionist thinking." It's akin to being told that even if you claim not to believe in the Devil, you're still worshipping him by being Pagan, even though you don't realize it. Arguments with people who are so invested in their own beliefs that they can't see that they're beliefs are almost always like trying to lick your elbow: pointless, and frustrating if you really invest in it. LOL

Just to speculate, perhaps there are some gods or other Beings who do work this way he describes, who do have that kind of relationship with humans?
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« Reply #24: August 30, 2010, 09:18:41 pm »

The biggest argument, for me, is that Bonewits is not me and therefore does not get to define my religion and my religious experiences for me.  All "you think you're doing X, but you're really doing Y" claims are more or less on a level from where I'm sitting--I can give that claim no more weight than I give the claims of the fundies who would insist I really worship demons.  There's not really a lot I can say to it beyond, "No, that's definitely not what my experience with the matter is."

I should really take the time to read all the way through threads before replying... usually someone else says what I think better. So... what she said.
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« Reply #25: April 01, 2011, 10:35:31 pm »

Hi everyone,

Recently I was reading Isaac Bonewits' Neopagan Rites, and I was wondering if I could get some feedback from folks on his brief summary of "polytheology" and the purpose of ritual. This is what he says:

It strikes me that there are some problems with this view, or places where I disagree or where my own experience doesn't match up with his description, but I was curious to hear what others think. Is his understanding of how rituals and offerings work fairly common? Is this a pretty good summary of how most people experience deity and understand the purpose of ritual? Have you had different experiences or a different understanding? What do others think about the purpose of ritual and offerings and why we do them?

I really look forward to hearing from folks. It's hard for me to know exactly how literally Bonewits' ideas are meant to be taken, or how wide-spread they are among polytheists, since honestly I don't know many other polytheists in my everyday life whom I can ask about it. Smiley That's why TC is so awesome!

--Ali

I considered that very possibility that he's discussing.  Some bible people believe that Lucifer wanted all of the angels to worship him, and a battle ensued in the story; maybe they were charging him up like a battery, and each given a place of power within his kingdom who did his will, which couldn't have been done without their assistance to the degree that the bible states it was done, since the one devil himself would need assistance in battling all of the other beings like him.  Alot like human government's, if all of the servants quit serving the orders of the king or ruler over it, then that king or ruler would not have any power beyond himself.
I believe that physical offerings given to spiritual beings are symbolic in nature, and while practiced widely, what they originally symbolized as perhaps a learning aid or proxy for the practitioner and his students, itself is merely a sign of respect or disrespect towards the being which is being focused on.  False idols I would consider to be those underlying meanings being forgotten or ignored, while the sacrifice or object is paid in homage without understanding.  (The apocrypha of Bel and the Dragon is interesting.) 
Then connecting my two thoughts on the subject, a means through possession of individual will's to focus upon a spiritual entity through material actions, whether they're good or evil.  Officials don't get paid to question their orders, and each is held accountable to their superior, as long as that superior is followed in actuality.  Self-restraint is a form of offering, resisting temptation, and in some cases against one's own will performing horrendous acts to fulfill the words in a book that they're taught is the authoritative book on God's dealing with humans on earth.
While this being is maybe not directly known, or the reasoning directly understood by the congregation that performs that writ, through these physical actions they believe themselves to be commemorating divinity and gaining acceptance into a favourable glance of their master.  While this in itself could be benevolent if practiced and taught with good intentions towards benefitting those gathered, alot of people are malevolent and misunderstandings along with ignorance collaborate into large scales of abundunt horror, and the harm is attemptedly made transparent through their faith.  (Alot like a battery, Ether) Confusion abounds then the understanding and enlightening/beneficial reasonings behind the practices, not directly understood or drawing the participant nearer to an understanding, of the deity they believe they are paying homage to, misaligns that spiritual offering and perverts it through ignorance. 
But people themselves on an individual scale are themselves the perpetrators of knowingly misleading others in these ways, larger or smaller the results - along with committing to a certain belief outlining these beliefs, out of fear, reverence and maybe sometimes guidance in the case of a Teacher.
I don't hold people's misactions against them unless they're knowingly committing them to cause unjustified horror, which some people enjoy.  But religion can definitely be used as a handicap, and through this 'channeling of energy' alot of clarity can be seen or lost.  I'm glad I found that I'm not the only one to have considered spirituality in these terms.

I hope that made sense, anyways.

As an example of an outsider's view of things, watching american indian's perform their own form of spirituality, one might get the idea that they're merely idoloters.  But in consideration, none of the animals they slain was wasted, if i recall correctly while they hunted, and in these animals they give thanks for their sustenance and survival, paying the ultimate sacrifice so that their people may survive.  Humbling themselves together with nature and showing their respect to it.  It then appears more meaningful and respectful, and not in any way a form of idolotry.
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« Reply #26: April 01, 2011, 11:54:38 pm »



livrelcote,

Could you please put some white space into your posts?  Such long blocks of text are very difficult for some of us to read.  If your post does not divide well into paragraphs you can just hit return a couple times every few lines, just to break things up.

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« Reply #27: April 02, 2011, 03:21:35 am »

livrelcote,

Could you please put some white space into your posts?  Such long blocks of text are very difficult for some of us to read.  If your post does not divide well into paragraphs you can just hit return a couple times every few lines, just to break things up.

Thanks,
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Ok, I will do so if I post again.  Sometimes I get self-absorbed while I try to detail my opinion and forget about things like human readability. 

I'd like to clarify on one point I tried to make in my previous post though - in that I do consider both the person who perpetrates a crime and the one who taught them to perpetrate that crime both responsible; but the one who taught them to do such, is in my opinion, the more guilty party - if through deception or exploitation of their trust and ignorance he led them to perform evil actions.  The rest was expressed as how I perceived things to be.

I'd tried to edit the post to make it more readable along with this (post)edit, but was informed a timer expired.

Bye.
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« Reply #28: April 02, 2011, 08:09:09 am »

I'd like to clarify on one point I tried to make in my previous post though - in that I do consider both the person who perpetrates a crime and the one who taught them to perpetrate that crime both responsible; but the one who taught them to do such, is in my opinion, the more guilty party - if through deception or exploitation of their trust and ignorance he led them to perform evil actions.  The rest was expressed as how I perceived things to be.

Say I teach you to program and to access the Internet. If you then later decision to write a worm that crawls through the net sending you bank account passwords from other machines, am I somehow more guilty than you because when it was you choice to turn what I taught you to crime?  If so, then remember that the opposite must also be true if you take what I taught you and write a program that changes the world for the better and earns you a bundle of cash, I must be more deserving of the praise and cash than you are. Smiley
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« Reply #29: April 02, 2011, 08:52:01 pm »

Say I teach you to program and to access the Internet. If you then later decision to write a worm that crawls through the net sending you bank account passwords from other machines, am I somehow more guilty than you because when it was you choice to turn what I taught you to crime?  If so, then remember that the opposite must also be true if you take what I taught you and write a program that changes the world for the better and earns you a bundle of cash, I must be more deserving of the praise and cash than you are. Smiley

Yeah, but in the case that you're able to get your pupiles to understand machine language, all the tools involved, the programming languages and structures for system calls and things like that they'd be digging through, you're not teaching half the story of how to program, or how to program according to how you want them to program, you're just teaching them how to program in general.  And typically you have to have some deal of intellectual independence and self-discipline in order to be patient enough to grasp the concepts involved in mathematics or programming, so their own understanding shouldn't be darkened by your teachings, your teachings are used as an aid for them to reach enlightenment.  

If on the other hand you teach a class how to download exploit code from a website where you have worms attatched to the exploit code that busts into their computers and uses them to launch exploits on other computers, sending passwords indirectly back to you - then they're not really aware of how worms operate or how computers function on the levels the worms insert themselves, or how they insert themselves - so there is a difference.  

From a deep understanding of coputers they can understand how to perform either task, whether or not you teach them directly.  At least, that's some of my own experience.  Then the mentor goes their own way and what they do with the knowledge is up to them.  Talking about religion and taking somebody's trust in your position as a teacher, and exploiting that trust into performing tasks that are not neccessary for reaching enlightenment, but that they do because they trust you, is different on the other hand.  If God was very simple, or spirituality, or taboo, or the concepts of any - people would be their own teachers on proper conduct along with society (in this world), with no intermediary human in between them and their aspirations/search for eternal knowledge and how to perform proper actions for their (now known, in this scenario) Concept of God(s).  But that doesn't seem to be the case, and I think that knowingly teaching people otherwise than your best understanding of proper and harmonious conduct with the world and with the being you profess, is an important disambiguity.

Not meaning to be incoherent or rude or anything, just saying.  I hope I understood your response correctly, and my response made a division of the difference of which I speak.  Some people might consider a computer to be God, which is fine - yet imo ignorant - with me, as long as I don't have those views pushed on me.  Since there's so many philosophies, teachings, religions and stereotypes in the world, it's hard to generally address them all at once.  Good and Evil, Right and Wrong, as long as your teachers are teaching correctly as you expect them to be, then you're on the correct path, understanding is up to you.  LOL

 Huh
« Last Edit: April 02, 2011, 08:56:01 pm by livrelcote, Reason: i forgot » Logged

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