Paganism’s Messiah Complex

Or, the Anthropocentrism of Western Paganism

Occasionally, within pagan circles, I happen across a troubling component of the western centric world view, and one that I find particularly antithetical to pagan values: anthropocentrism.  The belief that human-persons are the most significant species on the planet, plays out within paganism in subtle and tricky ways.  Most of us would balk at the outright notion that our species is superior, yet I often hear how humans have a divine role as mediators between worlds, or even how we are tasked with saving our planet.  I don’t disagree that we do have a responsibility to live rightly and within our means; or that our species seems determined to remove itself (to our detriment) from the circle of life; or even that it is possible for us to shift our consciousness in such a way as to glimpse into other worlds.  What I heartily disagree with, however, is the subtle notion that our species is the only one listening.

Crom Stone

This past Lughnasadh, I stayed the night in one of the Carrowkeel megalithic mounds in south county Sligo.  As I settled into the southwest recess where the Crom stone is placed, I noticed three red moths.  They were resting on the Crom stone, near to one another, with wings spread.  I went to great lengths not to disturb them, as they were there first.  As I pondered the Red Moths, I wondered why they might be visiting the monument.  They were in a dry, protected place, but so was I.   These incidental details told me nothing about their motivation for being inside the mound, anymore than my presence could be accounted for by these details.

Since all things are made of the same star stuff, I perceive all as possessing consciousness in some form. That form may be radically different from the way I perceive my own consciousness, but conceptualizing it in this way enables a starting place for relationship, and my animism is about relationality within a community of persons, both human and other-than-human.  What IF the Red Moths were there mediating between the world of the ancestors and the world of the living?   What IF the Red Moths were there praying to their own god, to intervene in the changing climate? What IF the climate doesn’t concern the Red Moths, and they were there to sing, or have a party?

Red Moths

Anthropocentrism creeps in when we, as pagans, view the presence of the Red Moths as somehow specifically and exclusively connected to us, as humans.  If I had seen the Red Moths as a ‘sign’ to me from Crom, I would have removed their agency and transformed them into a lesser species, whose sole purpose for being there was to send me a message.  What a load of colonizing BS that is!

I realize that saying paganism has a Messiah Complex is applying really strong language; after all, the state of mind characterized by the belief that one is exceptionally unique, with a predestined mission, is delusional, and can even be schizophrenic. But might the actions of The Human (our species as a whole) be seen as delusional, and more than a little pathological, by other species looking in at us?  After all, our record for ruining habitat, the very ecosystem we depend upon for survival, is less than sustainable.

Even though my argument is over simplified, and reductionist if taken too simplistically, it is a line of thought we ought to grapple with.  I hear too often in our conversations the same mindset we chafe against in dominant culture: one that perceives itself as superior to, and privileged over, another.  So the next time you encounter one of your neighbors, be that sister Bird, brother Wind, or cousin Tree, take a moment to consider what their world view is, and how they view you, as the strange alien moving within their sphere of life.

About Traci

Traci Laird is an animist living in Ireland and hails from the great state of Texas (a mythic heritage she is quite proud of!).  Her current academic pursuits are in Sociology and Psychology, and she engages a “sensuous scholarship” when seeking to understand Place.  She can also be found at Confessions of a Hedge Witch

  • Henry Buchy

    it’s not about superiority, but responsibility. it’s about form following function. Nor is it exclusionary.

    “Anthropocentrism creeps in when we, as pagans, view the presence of the Red Moths as somehow connected to us, as humans. If I had seen the Red Moths as a ‘sign’ to me from Crom, I would have removed their agency and transformed them into a lesser species, whose purpose was to send me a message. What a load of colonizing BS that is!”
    is that how you really see it? that a messenger to/from the gods/other worlds is a lesser being? As if being a message carrier is their whole point of existence?
    and so how does working as a mediator, one who works to reconcile between two or more parties, make oneself consider oneself as superior?

    • Traci

      Hey! I had some of our previous discussions in mind when I wrote this! You will see that I made an edit before seeing this comment of yours. My change doesn’t alter a difference I think we can discuss here.

      I do think it is dangerous, given our current cultural experiences and influence, to view other-persons as messengers FIRST, before considering their own agency. There is a difference between first being respectful and THEN pondering any message (as Trece illustrates above), and immediately ‘assuming’ their presence is for me. Western world view has been shaped by centuries of colonization. We can’t discount how this impacts us, and before immediately jumping into humanocentrism (this other-person is here solely to deliver a message to me), I think it’s helpful to examine our current world view and come into a better relationship with the world around us.

      As for the role of mediator, that one in particular smacks of anthropocentrism. It implies we have knowledge that other-persons *want* us to act in such a capacity. Who told us this?

      • Henry Buchy

        I never said anything about viewing anyone as a messenger first or solely in that function. that’s a premise you made. My saying form follows function has more to do in general with the place humans have in the scheme of things. That’s a whole ‘nother topic of discussion.

        As far as mediation goes, you suggested that role for the moths in your “what ifs”-
        “What IF the Red Moths were there mediating between the world of the ancestors and the world of the living? What IF the Red Moths were there praying to their own god, to intervene in the changing climate? What IF the climate doesn’t concern the Red Moths, and they were there to sing, or have a party?”
        So what’s the difference between pondering moths as mediators and pondering that ourselves may be mediators as well? who’s to say the moths didn’t regard your presence as ‘just for them’? as a sign from their god?

        • Traci

          I expounded on the “messenger first” line of thought because it underlies my reasoning for writing the article; likewise, with the example of the Moths as Messenger motif. The point for both being a propensity, as I have heard it, for a narrow view in western paganism of the function (to borrow your term) of human-persons, as one of many persons that occupy our cosmos.

          • Henry Buchy

            there’s also the view that we as humans are mucking thing up big time, so who would require messages that signify that?you wrote:
            “Since all things are made of the same star stuff, I perceive all as possessing consciousness in some form. That form may be radically different from the way I perceive my own consciousness, but conceptualizing it in this way enables a starting place for relationship, and my animism is about relationality within a community of persons, both human and other-than-human.”
            That is the starting point of animism right there, and goes back beyond western paganism, that we looked at other things as being ‘like us’. maybe you hear that in Modern Western paganisms, but I can’t say I’ve seen that relationship predicate humancentrism in the older paganisms.

          • Traci

            What do you mean by who would require messages to signify that we are mucking things up? Life will continue. Our contribution may create an extinction event for us, and others, but that does not mean Life is concerned. Can you explain what you mean more clearly?

          • Henry Buchy

            Who would require messages? Why do you write these blog posts? So you don’t think humans are mucking things up?
            if Life isn’t concerned then who cares whether we treat other living things with respect? Bulldoze Tara, tear down Carrowkeel. Who cares if we kill every last honey bee. Pollute every river. Blast mountains to get all the good stuff. Just suck the world dry and be done with it LOL. yes surely Life will go on, it always has. In a 100 million years another humanity can drill for us as hydrocarbon fuel…lol
            But yet many humans do care about these things. is it because of humancentrism? Do they only care about them because they see themselves as superior? Do they only care about these things out of selfishness?
            I’ll say they care about them because they did feel a special and exclusive connection to something like a few red moths on a rock…and it was just for them, because they were there. because Life wanted them to see it…

          • Traci

            You and I have different views, but I always appreciate hearing yours.

          • Henry Buchy

            yes, perhaps. we have a different view but I think we see the same thing. :-)

          • Henry Buchy

            ha, it gets down to the question did the gods fashion us after their image or did we fashion the gods after our own? the latter idea is humancentric…

          • Traci

            How do you envision the ‘gods’? Are they entities actively shaping Earth and its inhabitants?

          • Henry Buchy

            sorry, not gonna discuss my view of the gods in a public forum. I only brought that question up as an illustration in regards to the idea of western paganism as the origin of humancentricity. As I wrote above, maybe you hear that in Modern Western paganisms, but I can’t say I’ve seen that relationship predicate humancentrism in the older paganisms.

          • Traci

            In a conversation about this article, on another forum, the connection between anthropomorphizing and anthropocentrism was brought up, and we wondered whether one produces the other. In that conversation, I was referred to the EXCELLENT article Sara shared above: http://alisonleighlilly.com/blog/2014/gods-like-mountains-gods-like-mist/

          • Henry Buchy

            I read the article by Alison. I’d say anthropomorphism preceded any notions of anthropocentrism. Like I mentioned earlier, anthropomorphism arose from animistic thought. I’m not sure I’d agree that anthropocentrism arose directly from anthropomorphism. The anthropocentrism you describe isn’t the anthropocentrism I’m familiar with. The centrality of the human realm in the anthropocentrism I’m familiar with has little to do with superiority or is it limited to the specific humanity presently occupying this planet. i.e us

          • Traci

            That last sentence: is the anthropocentrism woven into current western culture, inherited from western Christianity, and the ‘enlightenment’, the same one you are talking about? Because if not, I would like to hear about the one you mean. I was writing of the former, which I see as a scourge (and pathological).

          • Henry Buchy

            “That last sentence: is the anthropocentrism woven into current western culture, inherited from western Christianity, and the ‘enlightenment’, the same one you are talking about?”
            nope.

          • Traci

            Well ??? Are you gonna leave me in the lurch?? :)
            What are *you* talking about, AND do you agree that the one I describe is unhealthy? :)

          • Henry Buchy

            yes, as I mentioned in a previous, our view may be different but we see the same thing. I can only refer you to my first entry. It’s not about superiority but responsibility and form follows function. So what does our ‘form’ tell us about our function? and I’ll have to apologize again, because I just won’t discuss the details in public. but I’ll leave you with a quote from the person who coined the phrase “form(ever) follows function”. Louis Sullivan-

            “Yet to the steadfast eye of one standing upon the shore of things, looking chiefly and most lovingly upon that side on which the sun shines and that we feel joyously to be alive, the heart is ever gladdened by the beauty, the exquisite spontaneity, with which life seeks and takes on its forms in an accord perfectly responsive to its needs. It seems ever as though the life and the form were absolutely one and inseparable so adequate is the sense of fulfillment.

            Whether it be the sweeping eagle in his flight or the open apple blossom the toiling work horse, the blithe swan, the branching oak, the winding stream at its base, the drifting clouds, over all the coursing sun, form ever follows function, and this is the law. Where function does not change form does not change. The granite rocks, the ever brooding hills, remain for ages; the lightning lives, comes into shape, and dies in a twinkling.

            It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic, of all things physical and metaphysical, of all things human and all things superhuman, of all true manifestations of the head, of the heart, of the soul, that the life is recognizable in its expression, that form ever follows function. This is the law.”
            “the tall office building artistically considered”

  • Trece Spalten

    I’ve
    always enjoyed imagining the private magic of animals, like when all
    the grackels gather in thick clouds to sing in the sunset…and I am
    quite fond of the folklore that says foxes get married when it rains and
    the sun is shining. As for sending animal signs, I do think the spirits
    speak through sending animal or insect beings to cross our paths in
    interesting ways. Furthermore, I think we are human signs to those
    beings! “Look, moth friends! We came to make prayer in this sacred site
    and a witch just shows up out of no where!! This is totally a sign…”

    • Traci

      Hi !! Thank you for sharing! That is a beautiful example of a more inclusive, and respectful, relationality, and one that shifts that subtle line between respect of and superiority over.

  • http://saracamis.blogspot.com/ Sara Amis

    There’s something in the air….See the discussion of anthropocentrism and anthropomorphism in the comments on Alison’s post: http://alisonleighlilly.com/blog/2014/gods-like-mountains-gods-like-mist/

    • Traci

      Haha Totally!
      Just finished reading, and Excellent discussion!!

  • Jetboy

    Thank you! I take great pleasure in the idea that the Red Moths were having a party and motivated by their own meandering reasons. I always try to approach other non-human family in a purely equal way. I am going into their world I need to respect their customs and not impose my ideas onto them. I like the trees, they seem to dig me too, we tend to see eye to eye. It’s always kind of like oh “hey girl hey, how ya doin?”. Half the time I feel like I just want to share the equivalent of a pint with them and shut the hell up for a minute and just listen to their processes and conceptions, it’s really the way to have relations, One has to be open to just hearing and understanding another viewpoint that isn’t their own. I always dig it when they let me sit at their feet and rest my body against them it’s like I am having a cuddle with my woody friends.

    • Traci

      Gorgeously said!

  • http://paganarch.blogspot.com/ rhyd wildermuth

    Schizophrenics with “Messiah Complexes” are surprisingly rare, at least in my experience as a social worker for the mentally-ill for five years. And we should be cautious with the language of delusion, as it’s one of the primary attacks used against subaltern peoples, particularly those who cling to religious beliefs which are not socially acceptable (and also schizophrenics themselves face terrifyingly brutal discrimination). Dionysos talking to me, or the Mothers re-weaving my fate under a pine tree, or Brighid calling me from one hearth to find another all fit as “delusions” in general discourse. I would hope for more caution in such discussions.

    And if anything, having an animal deliver a message to me is frightfully humbling. I would not pretend to know their motives for doing so, and always thank them. It is even more so with trees, who are not very mobile. The fact that I’ve got two legs and two arms and can prevent them getting cut down doesn’t make me “special;” rather, it makes be “responsible” and capable of profound agency.

    • http://daoineile.com/ Aine

      “…it’s one of the primary attacks used against subaltern peoples, particularly those who cling to religious beliefs which are not socially acceptable (and also schizophrenics themselves face terrifyingly brutal discrimination).” This, so very much.

    • Traci

      Hello Rhyd,

      I’m very glad your experiences working with individuals with Messiah Complex, whether with accompanying schizophrenia or without, have been rare. My hope is that for those human-persons you worked with there were best outcomes.

      Within the broader context of society, and our current cultural trajectories, I do wish to discuss delusional belief and behavior. I am not afraid of wading into these waters, as long as respect and curiosity lead the way. Within the western world view, which shapes our current economic and cultural paradigms, there is an underlying assumption that we, in the west, have something intrinsically more valuable than others, i.e., democracy, free-markets, christianity. Further wrapped up in this paradigm is the notion that we, human-persons, were placed here to have dominion over. This, of course, being a component, and vestige, of certain christian sects. Even in the more liberal christian views of human-persons as caretakers over, there is still the real danger of self-aggrandizement on the part of the Human. “These sacred/beautiful creatures NEED me to protect them.”

      It is this subtle line I want to explore, as I see this as antithetical to a pagan world view. This neither negates responsibility for actions and choices, nor does it encourage a free-for-all approach to our environment. It does; however, require a serious review of what world view we live within and how those tenacious threads are woven into our pagan practice.

      I have had Raven speak to me, also Fox. Neither of these persons were sent by someone else. They spoke their own message, and I was awed. I realize that for those who hear Raven speak messages from Óðinn, my article may feel triggering. That doesn’t mean we should shy away from the philosophical conversation. Does viewing Raven as a messenger (a slave? an errand boy?) diminish Her inherent Agency as an other-than-human person with inherent rights to self-determination?

      This article spurred an interesting conversation on the Managing Editor’s personal Facebook page, and without naming names, someone posted this line of thought:

      “Humanity as a whole is suffering from this inflated feeling of importance, and is even placing itself in the role of God in deciding how the natural world should operate.

      A perfect example of this is the controversy over the decline of the Spotted Owl here in the Northwest. After years of continued decline, scientists now believe that it is actually competition from the larger and stronger Barred Owls that has been the key factor in the decline of Spotted Owl numbers.

      So humanity’s solution for this problem? Kill off the Barred Owls, and thus give the Spotted Owls a competition free zone. However, by doing this, we are actually interfering with nature itself: the very law of natural selection, which is a crucial foundation that guides the natural world. And just who are we to judge that the life of a Barred Owl is worth less than the life of a Spotted Owl??

      So as we speak, our Federal government is currently spending $3.5 million to shoot and kill 3,600 Barred Owls in Washington, Oregon, and Northern California.”

      • http://sarenth.wordpress.com/ Sarenth

        “Does viewing Raven as a messenger (a slave? an errand boy?) diminish Her inherent Agency as an other-than-human person with inherent rights to self-determination?”

        There is a inherent problem in this question: Huginn and Muninn are individual Ravens that serve Odin. If one views all Ravens as nothing more than messengers the problem is with that person’s perception. Some Ravens are just Ravens, and some are messengers for Gods, and some are Beings who work with/for no one but Themselves/Their own.

        So to me, the problem is two-fold: 1) That the personhood of the Gods, Ancestors, and/or spirits that people purport to believe in and/or interact with is either not acknowledged and/or respected, and 2) That the individuality and needs of these Beings are often set aside in favor of what is comfortable to us, familiar to us, as humans.

        • Traci

          What about the needs of Raven, hirself? In other words, how can we be in the moment of experience; challenge culturally shaped frameworks (perhaps ones like anthropocentrism); and still remain true to our own beliefs? In essence, what internal process can we craft that will help us shift away from anthropocentrism (which I do view as harmful), while remaining open to connection and relationality? I rather liked Trece’s example below.

          Can you expound on those two problems you outlined a bit more?

          • http://sarenth.wordpress.com/ Sarenth

            What of the needs of Raven hirself?
            I cannot be asked to mind every animal’s needs any more than I can ask the same of Them. We can be respectful of one another’s needs, be mindful as we can, but to expect we can be anything other than human or relate to other things as anything other than human seems to me to be self-defeating and missing the point of being a human, or at least in a human body. A cat does not (so far as I understand it) ask “Well, what if the human would rather I kiss him on the cheek than nuzzle his leg?” It uses the abilities, form, and means that it has at any given moment to communicate as it wills or wishes in a given moment.

            When I am in the moment and receiving a message from Huninn and/or Muninn I do not ask this question because I have a hard enough time concentrating as-is. Also, given my relationship with Huninn and Muninn I have come to trust Their Voices. We have an established relationship with understanding and parameters; there is no need for me to examine in that moment Raven as a whole or these two wonderful Beings.

            I relate to Them as individual Beings and spirits, as Ravens in service to Odin, who cares for Them. That is remaining true to my beliefs, and rather than be anthropocentric, it simply *is* in relation to these two particular Ravens. It is respectful of what They are, what Their jobs and roles are in the Northern Tradition, and to Whom They are.

            I think that in the moment of the experience is the wrong time to challenge. Rather, this is work done best outside of these experiences so that the framework through which one understands the experiences is girded well and understood well so the signs, omens, knowledge, and understanding with which one engages with the Gods, Ancestors, spirits, and so on is well understood, or at least understood well enough to discern and parse what is being experienced post-experience.

          • Traci

            I do hear what you are saying about relationship with deity prior to ritual, or even devotional work. Can I ask how this plays out when you are out in a natural setting, and encounter a Raven?

            In thinking about the topic of anthropocentrism, which is what prompted the short article, I start with the line of thought that says our current western culture, specifically American individualistic culture, does in fact produce pathology, as alienation and hyper-specialization lead to acute anxiety and stress: dis-ease causers. Following that same line of thought, I wonder about anthropocentrism–which I see as a vestige of western christianity’s influence over world view–and its negative impacts on ecology and environment (superior species, etc etc).

            I am not a fan of our western, consumer culture. I believe it normalizes behavior that is, technically speaking, pathological for our species–not to mention all the other species. It is this culture that shapes our world view, and I have seen, too many times, pagans (you or I may not be one of them) who experience something in the natural world and immediately identify that occurrence as specifically, and intimately, related to them.

            To me, this is subtly related to the dominate cultural idea of superiority of our species. Because I’m an animist, I suppose I interact with the world differently. I don’t know. But it seems, even for a polytheist, a healthier (in terms of how human centric behavior negatively impacts ecology and environment) approach might be to first encounter the world around as having its own agency, and be curious, instead of the immediate leap to “this is about me.” Doesn’t mean it might not be about you, or me, just that when we immediately go there, it smacks to me of that unhealthy world view that dominates our culture.

            What do you think? And have you ever thought about this sort of thing?

          • http://sarenth.wordpress.com/ Sarenth

            “I do hear what you are saying about relationship with deity prior to ritual, or even devotional work. Can I ask how this plays out when you are out in a natural setting, and encounter a Raven?”

            To answer this I would need to actually physically encounter one for longer than a few moments. I have yet to outside of a glimpse here or there, not enough to say “Hey look! An omen!” and not enough to actually connect to the bird Itself outside of momentary wonder and “Oh that is so cool!”. I have crows that hang around my home quite a lot. Sometimes they just hang around. Sometimes they are there as messengers. I generally look for pairs and (generally) three sightings before I will see if there is more to it. It sometimes depends on what is going on, or if the day is auspicious. It might also depend on if I am getting other messages from Gods, Ancestors, and/or spirits as to what mindset I approach crows and Crow in.

            It is interesting, reading your passage here on anthropocentrism. You are not altogether off the mark from what (admittedly little; I need to buck up on my reading) I have read in ecopsychology. The effects Christianity’s worldwide march has left are many, much of them horrible, especially in how we relate to the world around us. I am not a fan of the consumer culture either, and I get a sense that our beliefs about the ills of Western society are very much in line with one another. I am curious what you mean when you say hyper-specialization leads to acute anxiety and stress. I could see this in an environment where the loss of a specialized position means unemployment, hardship, etc. but then, I also come from families who were farmers until my generation/my parents’ generation. In a way farming requires a jack of all trades, but is also a specialization, so I am curious if you’re coming at this from a point of view like ‘this person who makes only this widget is hyper-specialized’ versus ‘lifelong/passionate focus in one area of life/one career path’.

            In making this statement, “I believe it normalizes behavior that is, technically speaking, pathological for our species–not to mention all the other species.” are you intending to speak on behalf of these other beings? Even if you do not does asking such a question mean much if one does not have the requisite training in psychology or animal behavior? If it does mean something, either as an ethical or philosophical question, at what point is it moot?

            You wrote that “I have seen, too many times, pagans (you or I may not be one of them) who experience something in the natural world and immediately identify that occurrence as specifically, and intimately, related to them.”

            My answer to this, is that any experience we have is specifically and intimately related to us by virtue of it being our experience in that time and place. Whether or not we wrongly attribute the experience to our importance is another story, and not my point here. We experience the world, and the world is affected by us in kind specifically and intimately because we, in that moment, are interacting with it as it is interacting with us and vice versa. A tree may fall regardless of whether we are there to witness it or not, but our being there to witness that tree’s fall marks the situation as different, even if the importance of the event in our own minds may be overblown, or appropriately marked. What may be a regular occurrence for the forest may be earth-shattering (please indulge the pun) for us.

            “To me, this is subtly related to the dominate cultural idea of superiority of our species. Because I’m an animist, I suppose I interact with the world differently. I don’t know. But it seems, even for a polytheist, a healthier (in terms of how human centric behavior negatively impacts ecology and environment) approach might be to first encounter the world around as having its own agency, and be curious, instead of the immediate leap to “this is about me.” Doesn’t mean it might not be about you, or me, just that when we immediately go there, it smacks to me of that unhealthy world view that dominates our culture.”

            To my mind an animist mindset requires one to look at the world around us in terms of these: we are all related, and all affect one another. If this is so, then to relate to the world in terms of myself is a necessity, especially since I live in this meatsuit and interact with the world through it. This does not mean I have to imbue false meaning into every encounter, but there is no such thing, to my mind, as meaninglessness. To see meaning in the meeting of myself and animals around me does not raise me up, so much as I recognize that I am part and parcel of the world. I am not separate from meaning any more than the local birds are, any more than the local weather is, any more than the local oak tree. I am not instantly more important by dint of being human, but to deny the impact of my own agency or my own importance and impact on the local ecology, including fellow humans and animals, plants, bugs, and so on, also denies the importance of every other human here and the impact we have individually and collectively. So while I agree radical, extreme indivdualism is a problem, so too is believing we are less than what we are. Both are sides of the ego trip that do nothing but potentially harm ourselves and those around us.

            So I hold the idea that yes, the world is not all about us but our interactions with the world are, and must be, or else there is nothing to understand, relate to, or learn. Human perception itself is built on contrast. I can understand black and white by understanding their opposites, and gradations by the differences in shades. Sometimes a message is stark and direct, other times it is muddled, and sometimes there is no message at all, but in the end this is discernment, and that is gained from experience, understanding, cultures, traditions, knowledge, and so on. The only way I know how to develop discernment well is to be willing to be wrong.

            Being an animist means we recognize that non-human beings, from plants, animals, stones, and so on (for some, including myself, clear on to stars, the entire cosmos, etc.) has a spirit, soul, or similar animating force that makes them unique individuals. In my belief system the body, mind, thoughts, spirit body, and whole host of other parts make up the Soul Matrix of what a Being is. If ravens, crows, Gods, Ancestors, and spirits have lives separate from our own then They are not to be looked at as means to an end, but Beings unto Themselves. So even if Huginn and Muninn serve Odin as His messengers, They are not ‘merely’ His messengers. So too if a Raven is sent by another God, or a Crow comes with a message from a spirit, or from Crow Itself.

            So too, a crow is not merely a crow, but a Being unto Itself, and has importance, impact, and so on in this world, and in Wyrd. So while I may experience crows flying about me as normal, sometimes everyday for a week then nothing for another, or on and off, it is the meaning I connect with in the moment that is important. When I see two pairs of crows two and three times it often takes me out of the mindset of ‘oh, it’s just crows’ to ‘Hey, that may be an omen, keep your eyes peeled’ to later reflection and discernment. If I recognize an omen outright I follow it. My experiences are as such that to not do that actually is worse for me. Yet, I recognize that my experiences are just that, and my usual go-to when I talk to others on what they should do, if they ask, is ‘use your intuition and critical thinking’. Even as an engaged polytheist and animist I do not, nor do I advocate, leaving good judgment, discernment, critical thinking, etc. at the door even in mystical experiences. I very much believe that if you are going to develop a relationship with a God, Ancestor, or spirit you should learn as much as you can about It/Him/Her/Them well before regular engagement begins. In the moment however is not the time to take the experience apart, but to accept/experience that experience and to look at it, think about it, divine on it, etc. later.

          • Traci

            Oh, this is juicy!!! I’m pretty sick today, but wanted you to know how much I appreciate this UTTERLY delicious response (!!) and that I will respond….probably tomorrow, when I will, hopefully (!!) feel better.

          • http://sarenth.wordpress.com/ Sarenth

            Thank you for asking these questions. I hope you feel better soon. :D

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/awitchsashram/ A Witch’s Ashram

            There seems to be some assumption that every time a person claims to receive a message from a non-human entity that every encounter with that entity becomes a message. 99.9% of the time the birds are just the birds, doing their bird thing, or the wind is singing its own song for its own purposes. But very occasionally there is a message for me. I am not advanced enough along my paths or in my own theological development to be able to say exactly wherefrom or why this occurs. But sometimes it is about us. Or partially about us – or maybe a better way of thinking is that we’re included in that song. I think the problem is when we see a raven or a beetle or whatever and automatically wonder what’s in it for us.

      • http://paganarch.blogspot.com/ rhyd wildermuth

        “I’m very glad your experiences working with individuals with Messiah Complex, whether with accompanying schizophrenia or without, have been rare.”

        This isn’t something to be glad or sad about, sorry. I have no fear of them, nor find them distasteful nor unpleasant. They’re human-persons, and I love them all.

        “Within the broader context of society, and our current cultural
        trajectories, I do wish to discuss delusional belief and behavior. I am not afraid of wading into these waters, as long as respect and curiosity lead the way”

        I suggest compassion as well, and much more caution than you’ve evinced.

        “I realize that for those who hear Raven speak messages from Óðinn, my article may feel triggering.”

        Thank you for worrying about our psychological states here. Halstead thinks devotional polytheists are easily triggered too, or as he put it “hypersensitive.” I like being sensitive. It prevents me from diagnosing others as delusional.

        I think it’s wonderful that you heard Raven and Fox speak, and know what? I believe you completely, and think it would be both immoral and cruel of me to question your experience.

        What I’m attempting to get at is that there are other ways of understanding these issues without resorting to the language of clinical psychology. In fact, there are other psychological ways of approaching these larger issues (including that of the owls). I suggest Lacan for this. Or the discourses of Critical Studies, or even politics. And theology itself, as Paganism is a theology not just of gods and spirits, but of Nature.

        You yourself pointed out that you were using “really strong language” to get at what you see is a problem with our approach to agency in non-human beings. And you seemed aware of the dangers of it being “over-simplified” and “reductionist if taken too simply,” so I’m thinking that perhaps you were just not cautious enough in your choice of language.

        • Traci

          Are you conflating my post with the debate that rages between humanists and polytheists? I’ve never questioned anyone’s experience. What I have questioned, is whether immediately interpreting an experience as directed toward the Self is anthropocentric, and whether anthropocentrism, as a component of western world view, contributes to the pathology of our culture and our environment. I think it does.

          I’m very happy to think about how CDS applies to this question, or how Lacan’s ideas may be valuable in discussing it. Have you thoughts on how they relate, or where the commonality is, or the language?

        • http://www.patheos.com/Pagan Christine Kraemer

          > I like being sensitive. It prevents me from diagnosing others as delusional.

          You have not met Traci in person, so it may be hard to tell, but when she says “we” in this article, she means it. She’s not diagnosing others, she’s diagnosing herself and her people.

          I think you may be conflating “questioning someone’s experience,” which is inappropriate, with “questioning interpretation,” which is sometimes an obligation. This issue comes up in my work as a massage therapist. If a client says to me, “I have pain there,” or “I don’t like to be touched there,” I have no right to question that. On the other hand, if they tell me, “I have pain there, I’m sure I have cancer,” and they haven’t been to a doctor, it’s my professional obligation to say, “Well, that kind of pain doesn’t necessarily mean you have cancer; you should make an appointment with your PCP as soon as you can.” This is especially the case if they want me to act on their unconfirmed interpretation of their experience, as certain techniques are contraindicated for particular health problems.

          So, in the case of someone telling me, “Raven spoke to me,” I trust that they had that experience. I would not necessarily assume that, were I to meet Raven, Raven would tell me, “I spoke to that particular Human.” I myself have had the experience of other people believing I had been the conduit of a spiritual message for them, and I certainly was never aware of it at the time! I don’t doubt the genuineness of the message, but it’s been awkward when, in the aftermath, I was expected to behave as that person’s spiritual guide. They may have received a message through me, but it didn’t have anything to do with me!

          I hear this discussion in the same vein: it’s interesting to contemplate whether all those we communicate with experience the encounters as personally as we do, and if not, whether that changes how we think of the experience. Myself, I’m inclined to continue to think that the Gods take notice of me, but I’m willing to entertain other notions. It’s a big universe. :>

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/awitchsashram/ A Witch’s Ashram

        This is interesting, that Raven, if seen as a messenger on behalf of Odin, would be a slave. But cannot Raven work *with* Odin? Or could not Odin use a free expression of Raven to draw attention to something a person might need to see? I guess I don’t see it as either/or. I’m not sure you’re making a blanket statement regarding this, merely raising a question to get people to see Raven as its Own Thing and not just as Odin’s helper. Yes?

    • http://www.patheos.com/Pagan Christine Kraemer

      I wrote more on the issue of language around mental illness over on Aine’s blog. But in response to the point you’re making here: a good friend of mine worked with a group of schizophrenics at a facility for a few of years and told me that the key symptom of the illness was the sense that all things in the universe were talking specifically to the sufferer — i.e. everything is a message. That’s what makes some schizophrenics convinced that they’re victims of a worldwide conspiracy, he said, or others think they’re chosen by God. So perhaps it’s not necessarily the same thing as a messiah complex, but I can see what Traci was getting at, if those with schizophrenia experience the universe as 100% directed at them — it’s a way of feeling chosen, though I imagine that most schizophrenics do not necessarily go on to think that they have been chosen to save the world.

      On the other hand, maybe schizophrenics are not delusional, if we are all both center and circumference! Still, it’s my impression that most diagnosed schizophrenics lead terribly unhappy lives, for reasons other than being discriminated against (although of course discrimination compounds the problem). My friend who worked at the facility felt that there was a fine line between schizophrenia and mysticism that, if a distinction could be made at all, was in its fruits; schizophrenia, then, would be an illness because it interferes with relationships, ability to have meaningful work, and sense of well-being. Mysticism, I would say, is not illness because even if it involves terrifying and painful times, its ultimate results are greater satisfaction and meaning.

      So, a question: what I heard Traci saying here is that Pagans sometimes see themselves as the special recipients’ of the universe’s attention, and that from the perspective of other beings, this sense of ourselves may actually make us out of touch with reality and destructive, in the same way that a diagnosed schizophrenic is often destructive. Does this comparison necessarily malign the schizophrenic? It’s not desirable that people with schizophrenia not be treated with human dignity, but it’s certainly the case that they suffer, and that was what I read Traci getting at here.

      • Traci

        That is absolutely what I was getting at!

        As a side note, you mention the theoretical argument that pathology is defined by the culture. I absolutely agree with that, and a recent literature review I completed on ASD made that point. It was clear in that review that the diagnostic criteria (symptoms) defined in the West, and used to diagnose the spectrum, are not seen as problems in other (more collectivist) cultures. I find this fascinating! It may or may not be relevant to the discussion of anthropocentrism within paganism, but certainly something that makes ME go, “hmmmm”.

      • http://paganarch.blogspot.com/ rhyd wildermuth

        I’m a bit informed by Foucault here, that the medicalization and placement of behavior into the body is greatly problematic.

        “Madness” is mitigated and defined by cultural and political norms, and such is also a moving target. You’ll forgive me if my years of social work and my entire life of having a schizophrenic mother gives me less confidence that people are defining the experiences of such sufferers correctly. Traci would know this, I suspect, that the DSM is constantly redefined to include/exclude/re-interpret what is popularly (that is, according to those working on any particular edition) thought to be “crazy.”

        Religious belief sometimes mitigates these definitions, but usually in the language of “cultural specificity,” so that some things are delusions if they are not normative to dominant religious beliefs in the milieu of the sufferer. If they are, however, then they’re fine and acceptable.

        “Madness” is a moving target, proposed against “rational” and “reasonable” thinking. I’d remind everyone reading Patheos that each of us believing things which make us Pagan are thought “delusional” by others. If we’re going to talk about “colonizing BS,” I suggest we look at what language we’re adopting when we speak of our co-religionists’ beliefs. I strongly support Aine’s proposals.

        • Traci

          Aren’t you cherry-picking? You are referring to ‘madness’ and ‘delusion’ while talking about ‘colonizing BS’. I’m fairly certain you view modernity through the same lens I do: as an unhealthy structure. You would also be fully aware that not a few sociologists discuss the pathology of that structure. It is equally valid to ponder whether anthropocentrism (definitions would vary) was also pathological, i.e., unhealthy. It’s the shifting nature of cultural specificity that requires these conversations, particularly since we are (hopefully) emerging from a particularly dogmatic paradigm.

        • http://www.patheos.com/Pagan Christine Kraemer

          > The DSM is constantly redefined to include/exclude/re-interpret what is popularly (that is, according to those working on any particular edition) thought to be “crazy.”

          Absolutely. I tend to pay attention only to updates to specific definitions in the DSM, but I know in the last two editions, many conditions formerly thought pathological have been removed or rewritten so that the distress of the sufferer is an essential criterion. Those revised definitions seem legitimate to me.

          > “Madness” is a moving target, proposed against “rational” and “reasonable” thinking.

          I think that’s true in some areas, but in others I think it’s actually opposed to “functionality” or “health.” I have a number of people in my life who respect the hell out of me and also think certain beliefs I hold are crazy and wrong. But they don’t think I’M crazy; I’m too happy and successful to be “crazy.” I suspect it depends on how pragmatic the individual or group in question is. Of course, I might eventually fall into the “crazy” camp in some of those folks’ eyes if my lifestyle becomes even more fringe… but then again, maybe not, since many people on both the political left and right seem to agree that traditional ways of doing things are no longer working. Trying something totally new becomes more “rational” as trust in the “normal” wanes.

          > If we’re going to talk about “colonizing BS,” I suggest we look at what language we’re adopting when we speak of our co-religionists’ beliefs.

          Well, she was including herself. ;>

          To me, the question is: are we suffering, as a group? And if so, does it help us to frame our mindset as an illness that needs healing?

  • http://www.patheos.com/Pagan Christine Kraemer

    I think it all happens just for me, and that is also true for every conscious being in existence. :> I am here just for them, without being aware of it!

    • Traci

      Of course it all happens just for you! That’s cuz you are Amazing!! Xxx

  • nedlyman

    Every species has its special relationship with nature. Discovering ours is perhaps the most pressing issue humanity faces.

  • Traci

    “Before civilization, a globally prevalent value system existed, called animism (and continues to exist today, where its cultures remain intact). Though the details vary according to region, all animists share the perspective that they belong to a community of life, and everything in the world has intrinsic value, has life.

    The farming gods seem to have emerged to justify a new way of relating to the world. Denial.

    …The world period of the hero in human form begins only when villages and cities have expanded over the land. Many monsters remaining from primeval times still lurk in the outlying regions…They have to be cleared away… -Joseph Campbell

    I am a lover of knowledge, and the men who dwell in the city are my teachers, and not the trees or the country. -Plato

    And this denial unleashed a great expansive power, for to deny the intrinsic value of the world, heavy with metaphors and lessons to teach us, means you can do whatever you want to it. Look out there, at those vast forests, open plains, what do you see now: untilled land, of course.”

    http://www.mythic-cartography.org/2006/07/05/lovesick-gods-of-heaven-and-earth-2/

  • http://paganarch.blogspot.com/ rhyd wildermuth

    Hi Traci! I wrote something that better defines why I’m not sure criticism of Anthropocentric thinking is the most effective understanding of the mess of modernity. Perhaps it will help clarify my concerns better?
    http://paganarch.com/2014/01/05/interdependence-nature-and-the-gods/
    Be well!


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