Gods Recruiting: Open and Closed Cultures

Another in my on-going series of Gods recruiting followers.

Various Westerners find themselves called by or attracted to Gods of a culture that they are not a part of. This can be dicey since they need to set aside Western ideas about that particular culture. They also have to understand how that culture’s values differ from their own. Meanwhile, Non-Western cultures are of two minds – some want to keep their religion to themselves, while others are pondering the ramifications of outsiders worshipping their Gods. Either way, Westerners have to tread carefully when venerating Gods of a different culture.

People of many Non-western cultures have stressed to Westerners that to enter their religion is to give up the notion that all religions have a core unity. Instead, outsiders need to discover how their religion is actually practiced and lived. This means setting aside Western ideas such that all religions are meant to be shared.

The idea of core unity comes from 19th Century Liberal Protestantism and Scientific Rationalism. Theosophy and its offspring, New Age Religion, adopted and expanded on this concept. (Note 1) Moreover, Theosophy posits the theory that all religions possess the same hidden truth. In addition, this truth can be retrieved and distilled to be worshiped on its own. Core shamanism as described by Michael Harner in his book, “The Way of the Shaman,” builds on these ideas. Harner believes that “shamanic” cultures have a common core which can be embody a general shamanic practice. (Note 2)

One of the things that Theosophy bequeathed to the Pagan Movement is the idea that religion can be rational, free of dogma, and individually practiced. Moreover, ideas from Theosophy informs various aspects of Paganism from receiving the secrets of ancient wisdom to the promise of divinity. The Pagan belief of the Dead going to the Summerlands is also from Theosophy.

Because of the influence of Theosophy on general Western and Pagan thought, people need to be clear as to why they want to worship Gods of another culture. There are Gods who recruit such as Inari of Shintoism and Vishnu of Hinduism, who have made inroads with Western believers. Other people are attracted to a foreign religion because of their desire for spiritual comfort, which is absent in their own religions.

Worshipping cross-cultural Gods can be daunting. One thing that people need to be aware of is their own assumptions. For example, what people think “karma” is differs generally from the Hindu use of “karma.” Also, “reincarnation” is a different concept from “past lives.”

These are things to consider when venerating a God outside of Western culture. If a person has been recruited by such a God, they first begin by studying that God within the culture. What is the relationship between the God and the people? Can the outsider develop a similar one? What can the outsider offer the God? While studying these questions, respect the culture and the people who worship the God. These things will help in cross-cultural relations.

Note 1. For more information on Theosophy: “What is Theosophy” from The Theosophical Society.

Note 2. According to The Foundation of Shamanic Studies (Harner’s website): Core shamanism consists of the universal, near-universal, and common features of shamanism, together with journeys to other worlds, a distinguishing feature of shamanism. As originated, researched, and developed by Michael Harner, the principles of core shamanism are not bound to any specific cultural group or perspective.….Core shamanism does not focus on ceremonies, such as those of Native American medicine men and women, persons who do both shamanism and ceremonial work.

Other posts in this series:

Recruiting Followers: Lesser Known Gods: Babylonian

Recruiting Followers: Lesser Known Gods: Roman

How Gods Find Followers: Intro

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4 thoughts on “Gods Recruiting: Open and Closed Cultures

  1. It’s important and interesting to note, as well, that some religious practices that are considered “closed” often come with a cultural context that one could not understand without immersing themselves in it so in order to worship deities of those groups, one must be sure to have the ability to understand the context and if it has a community aspect- to participate in that community as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Gods Recruiting: Open and Closed Cultures | War And Winter

  3. Pingback: Gods Recruiting: Closed Culture: Native American | Neptune's Dolphins

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