God of the Month: Vortumnus (Vertumnus)

Little marrow type pumpkin and flower.

Little marrow type pumpkin and yellow flower.

Called The Changer, Vortumnus can be considered the God of Seasonal Change. He causes the plants to swell into vegetables. He turns the grapes purple and ripen the cherries. His influence becomes obvious in August, when the signs of autumn begin to show. At this time, the vegetables are ready to be picked. In the change from winter to spring, the focus is on Liber and Libera, who fertilize the plants. (Vortumnus does bring the warmth of spring.)

Vortunmus is the Protector of Gardens. His wife, Pomona, is the Goddess of Fruit and Fruit Trees. Together, They watch over the fruits and vegetables that we eat. During the Vortumnalia (August 13), I give thanks to Vortunmus for the produce from my grocery store, especially for the heirloom tomatoes.

Salve Vortumnus!
The Changer
The Turner
Your touch causes
The cucumber to ripen
The cherry to be sweet
You bring the changes of each season.
We feel You in the Autumn
But You are always there
The breath of warmth of Spring
The chill of Winter
Turning, turning the seasons one by one.
Salve Vortumnus!


Polytheism and Spiritual Pollution

Mention “miasma,” “pollution,” or “purity” in regards to Polytheism, and many Pagans will take umbrage with these terms. One reason is that Christianity has redefined these Polytheistic terms to match its theology. Since many Pagans are converts from Christianity, they will often think of these concepts in those terms. However, “miasma,” “pollution,” and “purity” had different meanings in Polytheism.

Paganism does have its version of “pollution” and “purity.” Pagans discuss “positive” and “negative” energies. People will cleanse themselves and their spaces routinely to clear out negative energy. For example, crystals are often cleansed before using them. Also, before rituals, many Pagans will smudge themselves to purify themselves and to clean out the ritual space.

Miasma and spiritual pollution are different from both negative energy and Christian sin. Negative energy powers destruction, sickness, and other such things. It can be removed by laughter or positive thinking. Sin is removed by baptism and confession. Miasma, which is specific to Greek Polytheism, is a “spiritual pollution that prevails over all, it is not an ‘evil thing.’” Continuing in his essay, Markos Gage says “Miasma is therefore something we incur in life, everyday life.” (Note 1)

In Roman Polytheism, castus (the adjective) means being morally pure, pious, or ritually pure. Piety (pietas) is maintaining the right relations between people, their Gods, their families, and their communities. Castitas (the noun) is the purity of the ritual and the participants. (Note 2) That means everyone must be physically and mentally cleansed before conducting a ritual. Before a ritual, people perform ablutions by washing their hands and asking that the water purify them.

An error conducted in a ritual is a spiritual pollutant. It negates the ritual and risks the anger of the Gods. It is not that a God will smite someone, but is to maintain the Pax Deorum, the Peace of the Gods. Religious negligence leads to divine disharmony and the turning away of the Gods. This leads to the loss of protection for the family, community, and the individual.

The closest thing that Roman Polytheism has to Christian sin is nefas. This can be defined as anything which is contrary to divine law. Nefas is a failure to fulfill a religious duty. Nefas is a willful act of religious violation.

Polytheists regard the world to be neutral, which differs from Christian theology. St. Augustine stated that the world is both corrupt and corrupting. Therefore, humanity lives in a Fallen World. To Polytheists, the world is both clean and dirty. Kenaz Filan explains, “The world is a clean flowing stream, and miasma the sewage dumped into the water. We clean the stream by filtering that sewage or by redirecting it…to where it can be properly contained.” (Note 3)

Why focus on purity and pollution? When a person prays, divine, or perform any other sacred act, they are engaging with the Holy Powers. There is a doctrine in U.S. law called, “Clean Hands” (also called “Dirty Hands”). (Note 4) The plaintiff cannot have the judge participate in an illegal act. One example is a drug dealer cannot sue to have his stolen drugs be returned. Another is suing the hit man you hired to kill someone for failure to do their job. As Judge Judy says on her TV show, “the courts will not help anyone with dirty hands.” I believe that in our relations with the Gods, we can think of purity and pollution in those terms.

Note 1. Markos Gage, “Answers About Miasma,” from “With Clean Minds and Clean Hands,” Galina Krasskova, ed. P. 51. Markos Gage is a devotee of Dionysius and an artist.

Note 2. The Romans have a Goddess – Lua – who protects all things purified by rituals and for rituals.

Note 3. Kenez Filan, “Miasma” from “With Clean Minds and Clean Hands,” Galina Krasskova, ed. P. 69. Kenez Filan is the author of several books including “Drawing Down the Spirits (with Raven Kaldera)”. He is an initiated Houngan Si Pwen.

Note 4. Clean hands: “Under the clean hands doctrine, a person who has acted wrongly, either morally or legally – that is, who has ‘unclean hands’ – will not be helped by a court when complaining about the actions of someone else.” From The ‘Lectric Law Library, http://www.lectlaw.com/def/c202.htm

Works Used:
Galina Krasskova, “With Clean Minds and Clean Hands”
L. Vitellius Triarius, “Religio Romana Handbook.”

Tree Magic: Healing Ancestors

sea nature forest trees

Photo by Gratisography on Pexels.com

For the past three months, I have been working with a group to heal our ancestral lineages. We strive to uncover the Mother and the Father wounds, and then heal them with our magic. I chose to ask the silver fir to help me with this work.

After asking, I took a branch from a small fir growing near my condo building. Then, I set up my Ancestor altar, with the silver fir acting as the Grandfather and Grandmother Tree. I burned the branch in a small bowl, and asked for assistance in healing my family wounds.

The next day, while I was swimming at the local pool, I heard a whisper to find a pine cone to burn. I repeated the Ancestral ritual with the pine cone. Staring into the flames, I saw strange whorls that were coming from the cone. In my trance, I received a message to buy a specific book.

The topic of the book was the past lives of humans, who were souls from other planets. Since the book had not been published yet, I pre-ordered it for future delivery. Surprisingly, it arrived by mail two days later. Apparently, I was to read this particular book as soon as possible.

I was perplexed as to why the silver fir directed me to read this book. I considered past lives to be far-fetched. For me, the Dead stay dead unless they have unfinished business with the living. Moreover, what did the past lives of aliens have to with my Ancestors?

My Scottish grandmother would tell us of how her family were descended from otters. In human form, the otters mated with people. I have read about beings from the Otherworlds procreating with humans. Perhaps the idea of otters or space aliens ending up my family line did not so farfetched.

I think that the silver fir was informing me that healing my father’s line was for the Gods. I should pray to the Gods, instead of using my magic. The tree was telling me that my father’s lineage was beyond my magic. With the guidance of the silver fir, I put aside my Ancestor work, and offered prayers for healing. Accepting the strangeness that is my father’s line was what I needed to do, according to the silver fir.

Polytheist Ethics: Divination Gone Bad

In overhearing a Tarot reading, I noticed that the reader violated many of the suggested principles for diviners. The most obvious was that the reading was not private, since people in the hall could hear it. The diviner did not keep his voice low or advise his client to keep hers down either. This compromised the reading because the bystanders became invested in the outcome. Moreover, the reader used the audience to manipulate the client, who could not make a scene in front of strangers.

Then the reader put on an act for public consumption and to bolster his ego. With a phony accent, he surrounded himself with the air of mystery of an esoteric occultist. He wanted to impress his clients with an “aura” of his authority, so that they would heed his advice. Dishonest in his presentation, the reader wanted to entice his clients to rely completely on his judgment.

As the reading went on, it became evident that the reader had a hidden agenda. He was either looking for women to date or wanted to take this particular woman out. He deliberately misread the cards to encourage the client to break-up with her current boyfriend. The boundary between the reader and his client was porous to allow him to manipulate the reading to his advantage.

The reading featured the Tarot cards — the Six of Swords and the Two of Cups, which have multiple shades of meanings. The Six of Swords could mean relief from recent problems. Instead, the reader informed his client that the card meant that her boyfriend broke up with her. Meanwhile the Two of Cups could mean love or reconciliation, but he told his client that her boyfriend found someone new. The reader manipulated the client in her distress to achieve his objective of dating her.

After presenting the reading with dire consequences, the reader told his client what to do. Instead of offering any choices, he instructed her how the reading should be carried out. Playing on her vulnerability, he became the final authority on her fate. By manipulating his position, the reader exploited the client for his own ends.

Finally through his actions, the reader showed total disrespect for the act of divination. Instead of acting as a conduit between the Gods and the client, he abused the reading to meet his own ends. He caused undue suffering to his client and her boyfriend for his short-term gain. This will backfire once the client realizes what the reader had done. Also, the Gods may interfere in the reader’s life by convincing others that he is a manipulator and deceiver.

Polytheistic Ethics: Divination

People who do divination have a set of responsibilities to both their clients and to the act of divination itself. Since many people have a desire to know the future, they become open to suggestion when they consult a seer. Moreover because the diviner acts as an intermediary between the questioner and the Gods, divining becomes a sacred art. To address these concerns, many seers and diviners have a code of personal ethics.

The practical root for these ethics is that the questioner will remember the reading. Even if the reading was done at a party, people look to see if the good news will come true. Meanwhile, they try to dismiss any bad news, but will find ways to confirm that it is going to happen. This is known as the “confirmation bias” (looking for a confirmation of personal beliefs by the questioner). In addition, the questioner will assess any future event by the matrix that is set-up by the diviner during their reading. Therefore, people will remember the divination that confirmed their beliefs about the future.

The esoteric root is that, throughout history, divination has been practiced to discover the will of various Gods. (Divination is one way that the Gods communicate with humans.)The Runes of the Norse were obtained through a sacrifice by Odin, their All Father. Moreover, many Tarot readers regard the Tarot as a spiritual tool for connecting the Self with the Universe. To keep a clear channel to the Divine, many of these readers will safeguard their cards from “stray and negative energies.” Therefore, many seers do not approach the act of divining in a casual manner.

In his book, “Ogham: The Secret Language of the Druids,” Robert Ellison, Archdruid emeritas of Ar nDaiocht Fein (ADF), outlines ADF’s suggested principles for seers. The first principle is to regard that all readings as confidential. The only exception is if the client is going to attempt something dangerous. Even in public spaces, seers need to set up ways of to keep the reading private.

The second principle is that the seer should not exert any undue influence over the client. A person consulting the diviner is usually in a vulnerable state. He is open to suggestions from the seer, whom he unconsciously regards as the final authority of his fate. Hence, if the seer has a hidden agenda, she can easily manipulate the unsure client.

The third principle is that the seer needs to impress upon the client that he has options. An experienced seer knows that the future is never fixed but is usually in flux. The seer should act as an advisor to the client, and not as the final authority. Moreover, a seer is never the arbitrator of her client’s fate.

Adding to ADF’s suggestions, Stella Bennett, an experienced Tarot reader, claims that using the Tarot as a fortune-telling game will tempt the Spirits. Since she regards divining to be spiritual, Bennett endeavors to show respect to the Tarot cards, herself, and her client. She believes that showing any disrespect will cause a blowback from the Spirits to either the reader or the client. Bennett does not want any negativity brought into her life or her clients because of her actions.

Bennett stresses that since many clients are going through trying times, she needs to be positive in her reading, and usually ends her reading in an “uplifting tome.” Furthermore, she believes that the ethical diviner should not predict death or any other dire event for her client. Bennett counsels that the seer should caution her client about basing any life decisions on their reading.

Caitlin Matthews, Celtic shaman and Druid, regards divination as the “mirror of the Living Truth in the present.” Because of this, she sees a cause and effect to her reading, which she should not manipulatively change. If Matthews does not interpret the reading as it is laid out, the “web of the Universe” can be impaired. Since the information comes directly from the Living Truth to the client, her task as a seer is simply to relay the message. Matthews has no responsibility to see it carried out.

These particular diviners emphasize that their readings lay out likely scenarios, which are based on the past and present of their clients. Since the future is fluid, their readings are never absolute. Each diviner knows only a portion of the future, and not the whole story.

In his blog, “Weaving Wyrd,” Hrafn, Northern-Tradition spirit worker, discusses the boundaries that a seer needs to have. The boundary between the diviner, the Universe, the reading, and the client needs to be formed. First, he must establish where the information of the future comes from. The seer needs to ask himself whether it is from the Divine or from his own ego. Then the diviner acknowledges his own emotions and reactions to the reading itself. Without boundaries, each will bleed into the other and the seer will make errors based on hidden biases.

Works Used:
Bennett, Stella, “The Star That Never Walks Around.” Weiser: Boston. 2002.

Carroll, Robert, “Confirmation Bias.” The Skeptic’s Dictionary. 27 August, 2012. Web. http://www.skepdic.com/confirmbias.html.

Chametzky, Marc, “Ethics of Divination: An Exploration of the Wiccan Rede as It Applies to Divination.” Ecclasia. 10 March, 2004. Web. http://ecclasia.com/ethicsdivination.html.

Drury, Neville, “The Tarot Workbook.” Thunder Bay: San Diego. 2004.

Ellison, Robert, “Ogham: The Secret Language of the Druids.” ADF. 2007.

Hrafn, “Weaving Wyrd.” Web. http://weavingwyrd.com/.

Matthews, Caitlin, “The Celtic Wisdom Tarot.” Destiny: Rochester VT. 1999.

Wild Leon, “The Runes Workbook.” Thunder Bay: San Diego. 2004.

Polytheistic Ethics: Herbal Healing

Although they are not doctors, herbal healers do need to follow the same code of ethics in regards to their healing of people. The first rule of medicine, “First do no harm” applies to herbal healers as well. However, since some inexperienced herbalists think that herbs do not harm people but that “patent” medicine does, they may unintentionally endanger their client.

Unlike allopathic medicine, herbs do not react the same way in every person’s body. Moreover, since herbs, as a rule, are not regulated by any government authority, a batch of herbs could be contaminated without the herbalist’s knowledge. Also depending on how each herb is grown, it could interact potentially ineffectively with other herbs in a potion. Dr. Stephen Barrett (psychiatrist) of “Quackwatch,” writes that “Herbs in their natural state can vary greatly from batch to batch and often contain chemicals that cause side effects but provide no benefit.” He continues, “Many herbs contain hundreds or even thousands of chemicals that have not been completely cataloged.” Then he adds, “To make a rational decision about an herbal product, it would be necessary to know what it contains, whether it is safe, and whether it has been demonstrated to be as good, or better than pharmaceutical products available for the same purpose.” An experienced herbalist will find out the possible side effects of the various herbs he uses. Also, he will inform his client of any potential problems with taking a particular herb.

Furthermore, unlike medical doctors, herbalists are not certified by a nationally recognized board. The late Dean of Purdue University School of Pharmacy, Varro E. Tyler observed that many herbalists learned their craft through lore and tradition as well as being taught by other herbalists. Dr. Tyler believed that the safety and efficacy of herbs were not always known except through hearsay. Therefore, he urged herbalists to avail themselves of recent studies on herbs. Also, he advised them to keep careful records on how a specific herb affected each of their clients.

However, inexperienced herbalists may unconsciously apply the logical fallacy of “appeal to antiquity” to their craft. (If it worked in the past or believed to work in the past, it will work in the present.) Since few records were made or scientific trials conducted in the distant past, beginning herbalists may think that the herbs that they use are always effective. For example, the herb Echinacea is believed to eliminate colds. However, recent scientific studies have demonstrated that this herb to be ineffective with colds. According to Michael Specter, “The New Yorker” science writer, Echinacea caused a rash in children who received it for colds.

A careful and ethical herbalist will understand the caveats of using various herbs. To ensure the safety of her clients, she will keep abreast of studies about herbs by scientists. The herbalist will take detailed medical histories of her clients to determine if they have problems with any herbs. By keeping accurate records, the herbalist can constantly assess the effectiveness of her herbal potions. Through these efforts, the herbalist can empower her patient to make an informed decision about his herbal treatment.

As a patient, I have a duty to guard my health and well-being. Therefore my responsibility is to inform the health practitioner of my medical history. For example, I have mold allergies, and need to be careful of any medicines that are prescribed for me. Since I had a brain bleed, I also need to know if any medicines will cause blood thinning or bleeding. As a rule, when I am meeting with a health practitioner, I give them a card with my particular medical needs. I do not use the herbalists that I personally know, because they do not know how their herbs and the powerful brain medications that I take will interact. My responsibility to myself and to the healer is to inform her of anything that will cause any adverse problems for me.

Another logical trap that an ethical herbalist avoids is “If it is natural, it is good.” This is the “appeal to nature,” which follows: “if something is natural, then it is safe and effective.” The corollary of this logical fallacy is “anything artificial is bad and hence unsafe.” However, the concept of what is “natural” can be vague since poison ivy is natural but unsafe. A diligent herbalist would know that some herbs are safe because they have no side effects, while others need to be used with care. The fact that the herbs are natural would not automatically make them safe for everyone. For example, garlic will lower cholesterol but has anticoagulant properties, according to Dr. Barrett. Therefore in my case, garlic would be problematic since there is a potential risk of my blood not being able to clot as needed. Taking any medication, whether herbal or manufactured, has a risk for any patient, which the healer would need to know about.

Another ethical breach is the “appeal to custom.” In the “Science-based Medicine Blog,” Dr. Steven Novella (neurologist) pointed out that the herb aristolochia has been used since the time of the Ancient Greeks for join pain, amongst other things. However in the 1990s, it was proven to cause kidney failure. This adverse effect became first known when several people in Belgium developed kidney problems after taking aristolochia. Because of previous faulty records, no one had made the connection between this herb and potential harm to the kidneys.

Therefore when consulting an herbalist, ask questions. Find out what his philosophy in healing is and if he has committed any of the logical fallacies about herbs. Besides knowing the limits of herbs in healing, the client also needs to know when to consult a doctor.

Works Used:
Atwood, Kimbal, “Science, Reason, Ethics and Modern Medicine” series. Science-Based Medicine Blog. Web. http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/index.php/science-reason-ethics-and-modern-medicine-part-1/.

Barrett, Stephen, “The Herbal Minefield.” Quackwatch. 19 August 2012. Web. http://www.quackwatch.com/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/herbs.html.

Curtis, Gary, “Logical Fallacies: The Fallacy Files.” Web. http://www.fallacyfiles.org/index.html

La Puma, John, “Ethics of Alternative Medicine: The Unconventional Has Its Place.” “Managed Care.” November 1998. Web. https://www.managedcaremag.com/archives/1998/11/ethics-alternative-medicine-unconventional-has-its-place.

Morningstar, Sally, “The Art of Wiccan Healing.” Hay House: Carlsbad (CA). 2005.

Novella, Steven, “Herbal Medicine and Aristolochic Acid Nephropathy.” Science-Based Medicine Blog. 11 April 2012. Web. https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/herbal-medicine-and-aristolochic-acid-nephropathy/

Singh, Amrit Pal, “Ethics in Herbal Medicine.” Southern Illinois University, Ethnobotanical Leaflets 11: 206-211. 2007. Web. http://www.ethnoleaflets.com/leaflets/ethics.htm

Specter, Michael, “Bad Medicine: Why Echinacea Won’t Fix Your Cold.” “The Independent”, 9 October 2010. Web. http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/features/bad-medicine-why-echinacea-wonrsquot-fix-your-cold-2099551.html

Polytheistic Ethics: Magical Healing

Since magical healers are not considered to be a part of the medical profession, they still need to be informed of the ethics of informed consent. When someone is in distress, it is common for their friends to send Reiki (and other forms of healing energy) without asking the person first. Simply because these friends have good intentions does not mean that the Reiki will alleviate the person’s distress. For example after my traumatic brain injury, I received unasked-for energy healing. My friends thought that they were helping me, but they did not know that the brain has its own energy fields. Their magical energy overloaded my injured brain, instead of helping to heal it.

Since then, I have urged people to ask me before doing any magical healing. For me, I view sending unasked-for healing to be a violation of my person. My doctors and I know what is better for my recovery than the “do-gooder” healer. Many casual workers of energy healing believe what they do is benign, but do not consider that they need to grant the distressed person their own agency. An important part of my recovery is to take back my own power in deciding my treatment. Wintersong Tashlin, activist and shaman, calls the practice of sending unasked-for energy to be “benevolent harm.” It takes away the person’s consent, and makes the sender the final arbitrator in the recovery process.

Moreover, several magical healers have emphasized that sending unasked healing could be a violation of the Universe’s plans (or the Fates) for the suffering individual. In her blog, Kelly Harrell, neo-shaman and author, cautions about the modern attitude of Western medicine that every broken thing must be fixed. Because of this attitude, the desire of the healer to cure the illness becomes more important than the “Highest Outcome” for the client. The Universe may decide that death is the answer for ending the person’s pain. She says that an ethical healer must be a part of “All That Is the Universe,” since the healer’s job is to connect “the Universe” with the client. The ethical healer balances “the Light” and “the Shadow” of the Universe to achieve the best outcome for her client.

In “The Art of Wiccan Healing,” Sally Morningstar, a Wiccan healer, writes that it can be morally wrong to interfere with a person’s suffering. She explains that “the Law of Karma” governs how people are supposed to experience their life. To send unasked healing could subvert a person’s Karma (Fate). The Universe decides what the Highest Good is for each person, and that may include suffering.

Raven Kaldera, a Northern-Tradition shaman, discusses this doctrine of Karma from a Northern Pagan point of view. In his book, “Wyrdwalkers,” he explains that everyone is interconnected within the “Well of the Wyrd” (Web of Life). If he interferes with someone’s Wyrd (Fate), he may weaken other Threads in the Tapestry (Web) of Life. Therefore, it is not the healer’s place to end the pain, without checking with the Gods first. The Norns (Fates) may have dictated that the person has to work through the pain.

When sending magical healing, many novice healers believe that they do not cause distress. However David Feinstein, clinical psychologist and energy-healing ethicist, points out that energy sent to alleviate pain does impacts the body. (I experienced this phenomenon with my brain injury.) Feinstein stresses that this flooding of energy overwhelms the emotions of the distressed person. This energy will often break through emotional blocks that the person may not be aware of, thereby causing a traumatic breakdown. Feinstein counsels that the most ethical approach is to do the healing in a structured setting with the recipient understanding the risks.

The other thing that novice healers may forget is that the sender and receiver are connected by an “energetic cord”, since this is how the energy is send and received. If the sender is not careful, they could end up syphoning off the receiver’s energy later on. It can also happen in reverse with the recipient depleting the sender. For these reasons, Wintersong Tashlin adds that the energy body is just as inviolate as the physical body.

The Eden Energy Medicine Institute has an ethics committee to outline their code for energy healers. One section from this ethics code states that, “EH practitioners closely monitor their needs to be liked, to be admired, to achieve status, and to exercise power.” The Ethics Committee explains that these needs interfere with the healer’s discernment and judgment. Also the Committee stresses that these desires prompt the healer to make unrealistic claims of effectiveness, which in turn raises the client’s expectations. To avoid this from happening, the healer should be mindful of their own hidden desires.

Clarifying these desires is necessary. John Coughlin, author and occult magical practitioner, suggests asking yourself the question: “Are you sure the intent of your decision is from vested interest or ulterior motive?” He continues, “Are you helping your friend for purely selfish reasons?” Therefore, Coughlin counsels before you offer any type of magical healing, you need to be crystal clear about your motives.

As for me, one friend suggested doing a healing ritual where they would ask me on the astral plane. She believed that if I consented astrally, then she could send magical healing. This ritual was problematic since I was in a coma and unable to consent. Moreover, according to John Coughlin, contacting people on the astral plane is difficult even for the experienced magical healer. He stresses that this option is the “the escape clause” for doing magical healing without the recipient’s permission. This is how I received unwanted energy which harmed my brain.

Works Used:
Coughlin, John, “Magical Ethics and Pseudo-Metaphysics.” 2004. Web. http://www.waningmoon.com/jcoughlin/writing/pseudometaph.shtml.

—-, “Ethics Code for Energy Healing Practitioners.” Eden Energy Institute. 16 September 2010. Web. http://innersource.net/em/images/downloads/EEM_Ethics_Code.pdf.

Feinstein, David, Douglas Moore, Dale Teplitz, “Addressing Emotional Blocks to Healing in an Energy Medicine Practice: Ethical and Clinical Guidelines.” Energy Psychology 4:1. May 2012. Web. http://efttappingexpert.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Feinstein12.pdf.

Harrell, Kelly, “Intentional Insights: Q&A From Within.” Web. http://www.intentionalinsights.com/.

Kaldera, Raven, “Wyrdwalkers: Techniques of Northern-Tradition Shamanism.” Asphodel Press: Hubbardston, MA. 2006.

Morningstar, Sally, “The Art of Wiccan Healing.” Hay House: Carlsbad (CA). 2005.

Polytheistic Ethics: Cultural Appropriation

Noted art historian and critic, James O. Young observed that as cultures intertwine, their cultural motifs overlap. But he warned that using another culture’s motifs in art “carries with it certain responsibilities.” For example, Paul Simon often used the motifs of African cultures in his music. Since he approached the act of composing music with respect, Simon kept the authentic voices of the Africans intact. For that reason, many people do not consider him a cultural appropriator.

Young concluded, “I urge everyone to avoid making blanket pronouncements about cultural appropriation. As we have seen, cultural appropriation has many forms. Some examples of certain forms are certainly immoral. At the same time, many examples of all forms of cultural appropriation are morally unobjectionable. … Cultural appropriation is sometimes to be condemned but equally to be avoided is a restriction of artists to their cultural homelands.”

Since many Neo-Pagans integrate the beliefs of various cultures into their practices, Patti Wigington, in “About.Com Paganism/Wicca,” addresses the issue of cultural appropriation. She states, “If you are incorporating a practice into your belief system, ask yourself whether you’re doing it because you’re truly called to do so, or whether you simply saw it in a book and thought it looked appealing. Carefully evaluate the practices you borrow, and make sure if you choose to use them, that you do so with respect and reverence towards their original owners.”

In regards to Native American cultures, Laura Donaldson (Cherokee) believes that cultural appropriation “strips [them] of any historical specificity of contextual depth and interprets them with a colonial logic of cultural commensurability.” Vine Deloria Jr. (Lakota) adds, “It’s about what white people think Indians should be.” Others include in their commentaries that careless people perpetuate the “noble savage” stereotype, lump diverse cultures together, or imply that Native Americans existed only in the 19th Century.

In her review of “Oracle of Shadows and Light” (Lucy Cavendish & Jasmine Becket-Griffith, 2010), Cat discusses the misuse of cultures in this deck. Kali, the Hindu Goddess of Destruction is displayed as a soulful-eyed being who takes bad things away. Meanwhile Amara, the Menehune is a stereotype of a Native Hawai’ian – soulful-eyed long haired girl, who wears flowers. Since this deck does not provide any cultural context, Cat wonders how Hawai’ians or Indians would react to these skewed depictions of their respective cultures. Moreover, she asserts that the authentic voices of these cultures (and others) are distorted and overwhelmed by “cuteness.”

Living in North America, I am mindful that other Gods reside here. In my devotions, I follow the practices of the Religio Romana. For example, I ask the local land spirits (by divinations), if they want my devotion.

Works Used:
Aldred, Lisa, “Plastic Shamans and Astroturf Sun Dances: New Age Commercialization of Native American Spirituality.” The American Indian Quarterly, 24:3. 2000. Web. http://muse.jhu.edu/article/193

Cat, “OMG Your Ethnicity is So Cute.” Cat’s Journal. 19 March 2012. Web. https://tarotreading.wordpress.com/2012/03/19/omg-your-ethnicity-is-so-cute/

Cole, Joan, “Pseudo Native American Tarot Decks: A Picture is Worth 1000 Words.” 2004. Web. http://www.lelandra.com/comptarot/tarotindian.htm.

Cormack, Bridget, “The ethics of cultural borrowing.” The Australian, 18 December 2012. Web. http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/visual-arts/the-ethics-of-cultural-borrowing/story-fn9d3avm-1226538593187.

Green, Heather, “The Hula Dance: From Sacred to Commodity.” The Wild Hunt Blog, 23 June 2013. Web. http://wildhunt.org/2013/06/the-hula-dance-from-sacred-to-commodity.html.

Young, James and Conrad Bunk, “The Ethics of Cultural Appropriation,” John Wiley: New York, 2011.
Young James, “Profound Offense and Cultural Appropriation.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 63: 2, 2005. Web. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.0021-8529.2005.00190.x/full.

Polytheistic Ethics: Dealing with Groupthink

Often a test of ethics will come from membership in a group, whether at the workplace, home, or school. Each group has its own personality, derived from the combination of people in it. By sharing their goals and identities, people, in return, receive a feeling of security and comfort from the group. However, there will be times when what a person thinks is right runs counter to what the group wants.

Some groups can work to the detriment of the individual. Psychologist and researcher Beatrice Schultz wrote, “A group can hold power over us if we find it attractive enough to want to be a member.” When this develops, “groupthink” among the members will often occur, unless the members encourage nonconformity. Without any debate, group members will often coalesce to a tight unit. As it becomes incapable of making moral judgments, the decision making ability of the group deteriorates.

The University of Pittsburg’s student site on the dynamics of small groups lists several symptoms of groupthink. “The group overestimates its power. Often times a group can believe that their cause is right and that nothing can go wrong with their plan.” Moreover, groupthink leads to an extraordinary degree of over-optimism and risk taking by the group. Groupthink pressures the individuals to conform, and discourages them from having doubts. Silence then becomes consent.

Contributing to groupthink is the “Phenomenon of Group Polarization,” which is “people in groups become more extreme in their point of view.” The “Risky Shift Phenomenon” states that “In the group, they are likely to make riskier decisions as the shared risk makes the individual risk less.” Because of this, “decisional stress” may occur. When a group is forced to make an important decision, the individuals within the group will feel insecure. Therefore the group members will reduce their stress by making decisions quickly with as little dissension as possible.

I have had experiences with groupthink. At one time, a gang took up residence in my garden condo complex. Because they believed that the police were ineffective, my neighbors were reluctant to call them. Moreover, they also did not want to be a target for the gang. My neighbors thought that I was insane for wanting to go to the police to stop the gang. I became caught between keeping the social order and having relations with my neighbors.

When facing an ethical dilemma, Loyola Marymount University (LMU) advises their students to do a three step process. First ask, “What are the consequences of each act? What are the benefits and harms for each? How will they play out over the long and short-term?” Second, analyze each action. “How do they measure up against various moral principles?” (Polytheists have ethics that are derived from their religious traditions such as the Roman virtues.) Finally, make a decision that you can live with.

The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) tells their members to map out the dilemma to decide what action to take. CIMA advises that they should resolve the dilemma as quickly as possible since longer the delay, the greater the repercussions will be. The CIMA suggests asking yourself: “How would I feel if I saw this in a newspaper?”

There are two Polytheistic ethics which I considered, at the time, for my own dilemma. The first is “Natural Law: Actions have consequences. What we choose will expand beyond ourselves.” The second is the Norse concept of Wyrd (soul and fate). Our choices will add to or subtract from the Well of Wyrd. What we do with others will weave our Wyrd into theirs. Therefore together, our fates are intertwined unless we deliberately unravel the threads.

In my case, I had woven my wyrd with that of my neighbors’. With that in mind, I had to choose what to do next. Instead of berating my neighbors for their passivity, I called the police when I felt in danger. My neighbors thought that I was “asking for it,” but the gang ignored me. I felt resistance from my neighbors for “endangering everyone by calling the police.” For me, Natural Law meant doing something to keep my home safe. My wyrd would suffer if I did nothing. Also, I did divination to see what if anything else my Gods wanted me to do.

Life in my neighborhood became intolerable, after one of the gang members committed murder. Although his mother maintained her son’s innocence, he was convicted and sent to prison. At that point, the neighbors decided to evict her since she allowed the gang to stay in her home. The situation became difficult for me since everyone knew I had called the police, but still spoke to the mother. I was neutral about the mother since I was neither her judge nor jury. The mother knew that I worked with the civil authorities, but still greeted me. Eventually, the gang was broken up and the mother moved to be closer to her son in prison.

For several years, my neighbors did not speak with me. I made my choices knowing that my neighbors would shun me. It hurt but at least I could live with myself since I did what I thought was ethically correct. For me, there were no absolutes in ethics, only what I could live with. I had to consider the consequences of my actions beyond myself. Divination was a way to understand those consequences and to prepare for them.

Works Used:
Center for Ethics and Business, “Resolving an Ethical Dilemma.” Loyola Marymount University. 2009. Web. http://www.lmu.edu/Page27945.aspx.

Charterted Institute of Management Accountants, “Ethical Dilemmas: What would you do?” CIMA Global. Web. http://www.cimaglobal.com/Documents/Professional%20ethics%20docs/dilemmas%20FINAL.pdf .

Kaldera, Raven, “Wyrdwalkers: Techniques of Northern-Tradition Shamanism.” Asphodel Press: Hubbardston, MA, 2006.

Mcleod, S. A., “Simply Psychology – Articles for Students: Lawrence Kohlberg.” 2007. Web. http://www.simplypsychology.org/.

—, “Working in Groups.” University of Pittsburgh. 2007. Web. http://www.speaking.pitt.edu/student/groups .