The Myth of Scarcity, in religion

There have been a few things I’ve had the luck to overhear, in the last week or more, which have touched me profoundly. Those messages, those omens and signs that you get when you aren’t really looking for them, the encouragement that tells you you are on the right path. It’s happened while I’ve struggled. As I’ve written about before, something changed within my heart, in the beginning of June. It was, I think, an epiphany, and it was beautiful. I can only say that, immediately after, my being was saturated with grace that was not my own. It was humbling. It is still humbling.

I came out of the holy week of observance for Poseidon Taureos, and immediately begin to revert to old ways of thinking, feeling, being. I’ve caught myself. Contemplation and reflection really are crucial tools for me, for mindfulness, and it’s no longer enough to set time aside for such things a few times a month, when I remember to do so. I may not be journalling every day as it’s suggested by many, but certainly a habit of every other day is necessary for me. I didn’t journal on paper during the holy week, because I wanted to more immediately share my thoughts and experiences during that week with readers of this blog – because it was for Poseidon, and ultimately this blog is about His worship. Specifically my worshipping of Him, but ultimately still, His worship. I’m going to then not decide that I wasn’t journalling at all, but I failed to make the transition back to paper. There’s a 19 day gap between my last entry and my newest one. More importantly, I felt the internal clutter, and it spiraled into my daily life. Stress crept back in. A lot. Boundaries that seemed to naturally fall into place on the heels of the epiphany weakened a bit, cracked a bit. The last few days I’ve been shoring the walls back up, and it’s not as difficult as I feared it would be.

(This is a rambly introduction. Please bear with me.)

I find my inspiration in seemingly odd places for a woman devoted to Poseidon and Odin. That I’m devoted to both Poseidon and Odin should clue you in to a few things. First: I’m not exactly a stickler for traditions for traditions’ sake. There are those who would tell you that you cannot or ought not mix pantheons. I invite you to tell that to Odin and Poseidon, but the battleground for that debate will not be my soul nor my heart, thank you. In my world view, reaching back to touch upon historical cultures wherein we might find spiritual ancestors is a way to connect to our ancestors, not strictly speaking to our gods. And I find immense value in connecting with our spiritual ancestors, with touching in with the folk who have come before, with bringing them into the future with us. This being so, I find value in cultures which are not necessarily mine by biological birth-right. If we are spiritual beings, and if the gods and other spirits do touch us, then we are more than our blood and bones and sinew, more than our viscera, and our heritage is also more than these things. (This is the polite way of saying, my blood doesn’t solely define me, and anyone who wants to say that I have no business claiming ties to Poseidon because I’m not ethnically Hellenic is invited to take that up with Him. I’ll be over here, surrendering my heart to Him and singing His praise.)

Second: I’m a polytheist. I’m not a pick-and-choose sort of polytheist. If the gods are real (and they are) then the gods are real, and that includes the gods of those who in the past would have been considered the gods of the enemies of our ancestors. And that includes the god that the majority of our loved ones call the only god. I understand and support the right for anyone to decide who is and who is not welcomed in their homes; such is within the bounds of hospitality. I will admit to being uneasy about such limitations being placed upon my own home, but then I interacted for awhile with heathens who did not allow non-heathen gods to be worshipped during their ‘all the gods’ sections of their toasting. Well within their rights, and I respected that, but I also did not get to share my love for Poseidon with these people as they hailed those they honored and loved, and that left its mark. If you stand with me in blot, and we are in a round wherein all the gods are welcomed to be hailed, that means all the gods. All of them. Even desert storm gods who have been placed by some as the only god there is.

It’s strange, perhaps, that I find inspiration and a weird sort of support in the writing and words of various monotheists, both historical monotheists and modern day ones. It’s also not – they have a continuation of tradition that we lack; they have vocabulary that can fit the mystical experiences that is often found wanting in paganism. Compassion. Grace. Loving-kindness.

I write this long introduction and somewhat disclaimer, because I want you to understand that I have respect for both traditions that are not mine and for people who follow traditions that are not mine. I have a respect for our common ground as humans, in this human experience, whatever else we may be. I want you to understand that I am not interested in pointing fingers and laying blame and saying, “This, this is YOUR doing!” I do not carry any deep resentment for how the past has played out, for the fact that our holy places were desecrated, that they were torn down, built over, made into churches, into parking lots. I think that it less about people being assholes and more about people being animals – you mark your territory and your dominance with defecation and urination on that which is important to those you defeated. It’s being selective to look at one cross section of history and pointing out that it was done to us. We did it to them, too. It’s how it works. The only way to get past that is to acknowledge that it’s a flawed way to go forward, and try doing something different. Not to, instead, dig at it to try to prove that you were wronged first and thus your wronging in return is valid.

For clarity’s sake, I am speaking specifically of the conversion periods, from polytheism to monotheism, and the inherent struggle between two such paradigms. And why, pray tell, am I speaking of this?

Because it’s on my mind. Because if there is one single thing about monotheism that creates hardships for pagans, and indeed, in this view of mine, for the world, it is the baggage of the myth of scarcity. The falsehood of there being limitations upon the divine. It is the introduction of a singular, all powerful (triple omni, as I like to call it: omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent) personal being who is guiding everything which primed us to begin our walk down this path of competition, and it touches everything.

I suppose that, to a point, it’s to be expected. We are largely physical beings, and physical resources are finite. But the gods are not physical, and while they may or may not be finite, they may as well be infinite from my perspective. They know more, see more, and have more to give, than I do, and thus have more patience. And, I know because I’ve come across it recently, there are monotheists that struggle with this same idea of scarcity from their god in their faiths. Because of this idea of scarcity, we are set up to compete with one another. From this idea that there isn’t going to be enough for all of us, we become enemies. Instead of communities and interfaith connections being established, we are isolated and secluded and struggling. Look, I’m a tribalist at heart. I’m mentioned that before. The “we are one community in the gods” idea does not appeal to me, but that doesn’t mean I can honor that we are all human. We are born, we love, we lose, we hurt, we mourn, we die. These need to be our connections to other humans. I don’t see a need for an all-inclusive large community, but I wouldn’t. I’m private, I feel safer with smaller numbers of close friends. But that doesn’t mean I don’t see value in having larger communities, even if they aren’t all-inclusive. They need only be inclusive-enough. Yes, I find more in common with folks that I see as being mystically inclined regardless of their religion, than I do with some other hard polytheists who are not mystically inclined, but that doesn’t mean I can’t find some common ground with non-mystics. And sometimes that common ground is going to be rooted in our humanity. The fact that we are human, that we are here, that there are universal experiences inherent to our species, and that those can matter.

Three times in the past week the subject was brought to my attention, from three wildly different sources. One was Christiane’s wonderful post about community . She’s not talking about religion, but it’s applicable – and it’s the idea of scarcity that I see as Christian (very likely Protestant) baggage (because I see it as such, but that’s my background, and I’m in America, and that certainly colors my experiences) that spills over into our American culture of competition and consumerism. It drives the markets, right? We are offered the same damned Hershey kisses wrapped up in different, thematically colored foil and we buy them like idiots because, hey, once harvest is over you can’t get the brown and orange and gold wrappers, you’ll have to settle for green and red. Don’t tell me we aren’t lead along by the nose-ring that is this myth of scarcity. Don’t tell me that something that so permeates our material world hasn’t made inroads into our psyches. Of course it has.

Another was a comment Nye made in a video review she did, on Youtube. The details that are relevant are: she was supporting the work of a co-religionist who was in the same field as she. I’ve linked to Nye before; she is one of those people who are not my faith, who are religious, and who inspire me. She talks in the video about people possibly wondering why she would promote this other artist, since they are in competition, and she said (and I’m paraphrasing) that they are not competition, that it is all for their god, and therefore there is no competition. They are to support one another, they are to build community. I found that incredibly touching. I find generosity of spirit and of heart moving.

The third was this post over at Life With Loki, and it does not address limitations of the resources of our gods directly, but as I see it, is a direct result of the belief that the gods do have limits (or limits that mean anything at all to us on a practical level when interacting with Them). Because when you have scarcity, when you have limitations and competition, you cannot have love. You cannot have kindness when you have to worry that the food is going to run out before you get some. And that’s not whats’ happening here, because physical resources are finite, and the gods are not physical, but we’re animals and we’ve got instincts to overcome. (We are not going to let me get going about the false idea of “gods of this” and “gods of that” pigeon-holing that was done. Yeah, Demeter is a goddess of the grain harvest, but you know? If you read the source material? The important part there is She’s a goddess. The ‘of the’ part? That us and our love of labeling. Tell Poseidon He can’t influence the growing things. Go ahead, tell Him. Tell Persephone that She’s the goddess of this particular sphere and not that. Do, go and tell Them what They are. This, this is the biggest, worst type of hubris. We let our gods tell us Their stories, Their pasts, Their connections. I’m not dictating to them, and I am baffled by those who would) (Er, I guess we are going to let me get going about that. Sorry).

These three are signs, are omens to me, are reminders that there are people in this world who get it. Reminders that I’m not the first to struggle with this, that I’m not the first to baffled by it, and a reminder, too, that so many of these “pagan” struggles we face are not pagan struggles, but are human struggles. Not living up to our ideals? That’s a human struggle, and it happens in all walks of life, and this is a good thing to remember.

Reading this post above, about Love, being reminded that there are people who do not feel or believe that our relationships with our gods should or could or ought to be based on feel-good things like love and compassion, who see these things as hold-overs of Christianity, I can only come back to: the myth of scarcity is a worse hold-over. It’s a worse influence, a more damaging story to tell ourselves, because it’s more damaging. It causes damage and divisiveness even within the traditions from whence it came. If we do not ascribe to One True Way of worship (and how can we, as pagans? How is any One True Way not a hold-over to monotheism?), if we believe that the gods are real and can and do interact with us as They deem best for us, how can we say, “No, this is wrong. Loki can’t be about Love or Duty. Odin does not care about people who are not kings, Poseidon does not care about Compassion.” If They are Limitless (or close enough from our perspective as to make no nevermind) why are we threatened by others who claim differing UPG, or who look only to the past for understanding, or who need to have community-supported UPG? We don’t have to love each other, we don’t have to sit around a fire nekkid and all be besties. Hell, we don’t even have to like each other. We do, however, need to consider giving up this myth of scarcity. We do need to root it out of our religions, out of our spirituality. We have enough to contend with already; we don’t need baggage that isn’t ours. It’s a heavy bag, it’s not ours. I don’t want to carry it anymore. So, this is me, setting it down.

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20 thoughts on “The Myth of Scarcity, in religion

  1. Pingback: The Myth of Scarcity, in religion | Strip Me Back To The Bone | Loki's Bruid

  2. Pingback: Reblog: The Myth of Scarcity in Religion | Tried by Fire

  3. Pingback: The myth of scarcity, in religion>>Strip Me Back to the Bone | Wytch of the North

  4. Not only do I agree that the myth of scarcity is the worse holdover than the idea that our relationships to the Gods should be based on Love and Compassion, I would even go a step further. This idea that they should NOT be based on those, as you put it, feel-good things? That they are overrated at best, but at worst that they cheapen our experience of the Gods? THAT is imposing limitations not only on ourselves, but on Them too. And what is more, it is in itself a holdover—because at its core, it’s reactionism, pure and simple. Born from an irrational need to distance oneself from that monotheistic, Christian, (protestant?) past. And that is all there is to it, in my opinion.

    I find the whole idea that we can impose limitations like that on our Gods ludicrous. Of course, the pinnacle imposing limitations (and one I’m unfortunately familiar with) is denying some Gods Their place in a pantheon, or decreeing or should not be honoured. I call bullshit, and I call hybris. If someone claims Loki cannot be about love: “yeah, you tell Him that.” But likewise, if someone (hypothetically, of course, but a variation of this has happened to me) claims that I’m not Lokean material because I value order and structure and stuff like cleanliness, or because I’m cis-female, or because I have no severe mental or neurological conditions or heavy trauma? The exact same thing. Usually I laugh and tell them I find it interesting that they presume to know who Loki can and cannot call His own. (Or, for that matter, that they seem to think they know anything about my spirituality, but that’s a different topic.)

    • I find the whole idea that we can impose limitations like that on our Gods ludicrous.

      Yes! Of course one can decide whom to worship or not worship. I know folks who say one should honor ALL the gods in a pantheon, and I know folks who focus really on one or a few. The placement of one of our gods into a devil position — especially with Loki, but I say that because it is with Him that I see it happen a lot — drives me batty. Because why? Because of source material that we rely on so heavily that was written down post-conversion? It’s great material, I’m glad we have it, but where oh where are your salt granules?

      And, you are correct, I fear. The idea that love and compassion, grace and charity have no place within paganism because the monotheists talk about such things, is reactionary at best. I understand the pendulum swinging to the opposite end in the beginning to break out of expectations and ingrained behaviors, to get the distance to gain perspective and learn one’s self, but I have to wonder: isn’t neo-paganism in all its myriad forms old enough now that we could maybe start, I don’t know, coming away from that reactionary place? Is there not enough foundation from those who have come before that we could start building something better?

  5. I will admit to being uneasy about such limitations being placed upon my own home, but then I interacted for awhile with heathens who did not allow non-heathen gods to be worshipped during their ‘all the gods’ sections of their toasting. Well within their rights, and I respected that, but I also did not get to share my love for Poseidon with these people as they hailed those they honored and loved, and that left its mark. If you stand with me in blot, and we are in a round wherein all the gods are welcomed to be hailed, that means all the gods. All of them. Even desert storm gods who have been placed by some as the only god there is.

    I’ve become so spoiled by our group, which makes space for honoring other Gods so long as the Greeks are named first, that I tend to forget this is even an issue.

    And then I stumble across a group that sounds interesting at first but within the first few sentences of info about them makes it clear that not only is just about everything about how I worship different from how they do it (fair enough) but they take the time to denounce just about every way I do worship as false/wrong/bad because it is Doing Hellenism Wrong. Why is it not enough to say, “We do it this way and not that way. If your practice is to approach things that way, this group is probably not a good fit.”? Among other things, to take up a thread I’ve seen elsewhere in comments, if you think Apollo shouldn’t go around calling some of His followers to do enthusiasmos, I’ll go pop some popcorn and watch you tell Him so from a safe distance. Are there likely to be some who claim to be doing enthusiasmos or other forms of divination and really coming from a place of ego? Sure. That is a different issue.

    and a reminder, too, that so many of these “pagan” struggles we face are not pagan struggles, but are human struggles. Not living up to our ideals? That’s a human struggle, and it happens in all walks of life, and this is a good thing to remember.

    Yes, yes it is.

    The ‘of the’ part? That us and our love of labeling.

    Yes! While They do tend to have general spheres of influence, or perhaps areas of primary interest/involvement, that doesn’t mean They are limited to those areas. I got that drilled home this weekend, as I was looking for offerings for Therapeia. I saw a pretty silver candle, almost got it for Kwan Yin, though, “no, that would be better suited to Artemis, I think,” and was about to leave it aside, when I got a loud and clear, “Yes, it would be just fine for Me, so why are you leaving it there? What, because the only thing you’ve heard to do with Me and healing is childbirth, you think I’m not involved in healing?” Cue me gulping, picking up the candle, and very meekly acknowledging that I have a lot to learn about Her.

    We do, however, need to consider giving up this myth of scarcity. We do need to root it out of our religions, out of our spirituality. We have enough to contend with already; we don’t need baggage that isn’t ours. It’s a heavy bag, it’s not ours.

    Yes. I need to learn to set it down as well.

    • I’ve become so spoiled by our group, which makes space for honoring other Gods so long as the Greeks are named first, that I tend to forget this is even an issue.

      And then I stumble across a group that sounds interesting at first but within the first few sentences of info about them makes it clear that not only is just about everything about how I worship different from how they do it (fair enough) but they take the time to denounce just about every way I do worship as false/wrong/bad because it is Doing Hellenism Wrong. Why is it not enough to say, “We do it this way and not that way. If your practice is to approach things that way, this group is probably not a good fit.”?

      It’s insidious, this hold-over, and it needs to be gone from polytheism, damn it all. For what it’s worth, I envy you you’re group, the fact that you are able to forget there are people who are like that (something I’m beginning to strive to do, as well) and your access to a second Corbie. 😉

      Among other things, to take up a thread I’ve seen elsewhere in comments, if you think Apollo shouldn’t go around calling some of His followers to do enthusiasmos, I’ll go pop some popcorn and watch you tell Him so from a safe distance. Are there likely to be some who claim to be doing enthusiasmos or other forms of divination and really coming from a place of ego? Sure. That is a different issue.

      I am unclear what enthusiamos is, so thank you for the opportunity to learn more. (I love you, have I mentioned?) There’s always the chance that ANY OF THIS is coming, if not from a place of ego, at least from a place within ourselves — and for one, that’s reason to be mindful of discernment, but for two, sometimes that discernment will lead us back to: the source might not matter so much as the message.

      Yes! While They do tend to have general spheres of influence, or perhaps areas of primary interest/involvement, that doesn’t mean They are limited to those areas.

      Are you kidding me? Poseidon has been, from the very beginning, about healing, and about self-healing. Where is His healing epithet from antiquity? Yeah, not so much, but not even I can ignore His constant refrain.

      I got that drilled home this weekend, as I was looking for offerings for Therapeia. I saw a pretty silver candle, almost got it for Kwan Yin, though, “no, that would be better suited to Artemis, I think,” and was about to leave it aside, when I got a loud and clear, “Yes, it would be just fine for Me, so why are you leaving it there? What, because the only thing you’ve heard to do with Me and healing is childbirth, you think I’m not involved in healing?” Cue me gulping, picking up the candle, and very meekly acknowledging that I have a lot to learn about Her.

      Aaaaawww. That’s sweet.

      And I miss you, terribly, and am thinking of you, always, andn should let that translate into actually WRITING TO YOU. Ahem.

      • It really does need to be gone.

        Alas, Corbie the cat has passed. 😦 It’s been awhile actually, at least a year. The house was animal-less for a little while but now has two kitties and a hot dog.

        Enthusiasmos is ritual possession, generally for purposes of divination. And … exactly. Discernment is the key.

        What’s funny is I remember exactly when some of those messages from Poseidon started coming through for you. (And on that note -ha!- I said hello to your friend, the Great Big Bell, today.) And while my first reaction was sort of, “Huh, surprised that’s coming from Him.” But, you know, then, shrug. He’s a God. He can do what He wants.

        That reminds me, coming back to the original “scarcity” concept, I had a neat experience today. I’m always self-conscious when people at the monastery ask whether I’m Buddhist. It’s a reasonable question, especially when I show up to participate in a major festival day wearing Kwan Yin around my neck. I’m getting slightly less awkward in how I answer that, but what really gets me is that never once has the asker, be they lay person or monk or nun, had any problem with the fact that I’m “just some random Pagan who worships Kwan Yin as a Goddess.” The lady who asked today literally replied, “That’s cool.” No scarcity except in my own head, where I try to stay out of the way of the Real Buddhists, participate without stepping on toes, etc. (Keep my poorly pronounced Chinese softish rather than belting out chants the way I would do with any hymn in English. Apparently soft enough that someone – not sitting anywhere near me during the service, obviously – was surprised to learn I don’t actually speak Chinese, because he’d seen me chanting right along with everyone. LOL) To a point that’s about being a good guest, but that conversation today, especially in light of your having brought up this topic, really drove home that I take it too far.

        Sweet? I suppose. Freaked me out a tad, actually, as even on Thargelia, She has tended to be all, “What? Oh, yeah, you’re that friend of My twin Brother’s. Thanks for the ‘happy birthday.’ See ya.” So for Her to actually have anything more than that to say to me was a bit of a shock.

        I miss you too! I think of you lots and am even worse about actually writing. {{huge hugs}} Love you too!

        • Oh! Corbie! How did I miss that? ;o( Poor Corbie, Poor Tim. and then I remember what I was doing this time last year, and heh, yeah, I can see why I missed that. But still. Poor baby girl. But then also: kitties and a dachshund! Sweet!

          I’m still very grateful for that bell. And I wonder if that bell is why the Liberty Bell never really impressed me?

          I love your story. I think that’s great, and I’m really trying to gather to me “people don’t suck” stories. Not everyone is stuck up on the minute details; some are happy with the broader ones.

          I love you. Hospitality has come upon me, lately, as a topic, and so the whole being at the monastery part of the story touches things for me. thanks!

          • I wonder if that bell is why the Liberty Bell never really impressed me?

            LOL, could be!

            I’m really trying to gather to me “people don’t suck” stories. Not everyone is stuck up on the minute details; some are happy with the broader ones.

            Absolutely.

            Hospitality has come upon me, lately, as a topic, and so the whole being at the monastery part of the story touches things for me. thanks!

            Cool! You’re very welcome. Love you too.

  6. This is amazing. As a polyamorus person, I have spent a long time thinking about the concept of false scarcity as it applies to relationships (‘If my husband loves his girlfriend, he will love me LESS!’.) It took a while to get through it – that love begets more love begets more love, and why shouldn’t I share as much love as I can with the world? Love is what makes a family, however you define that.

    When I came into polytheism, it was really interesting to see people struggling with this concept when it came to Gods! I mean, yes, with people I get it. While there is enough love for everyone, time is a thing because we’re mortal. But Gods are so much bigger and so much MORE and how on earth could I think that one of my Gods loving someone else would make them love me less? Why wouldn’t i want to support my co-religionists in their work and devotion? THEY have more than enough to give us. And if they express that differently with different people, well, of course.

    We show different faces to other humans all the time for a million different reasons. Some folks you can let your guard down, others you can’t, other people you share this one specific thing in common with them and that’s it. (When I was a funeral director, I made offerings to Anubis, wrote prayers, hummed chants while I embalmed. I have a very large tattoo of Him as well, to mark that part of my life. Since I’ve left the business? We haven’t really ‘talked’. I always joked that my interactions with Him were strictly professional, and they were. I’m no)

    I’m really glad to see people talking about scarcity, particularly as a spiritual concept and not just a poly one, because it really is a hold over (or perhaps a ‘new’ addition) of survival/marketing/whatever programing.

    • Thank you for your comment. I’ve been trying to find something to respond with beyond that, but I really have nothing to add. I know the scarcity myth goes beyond religion and beyond our relationships with one another, and I want to say, I’m glad to see other people see that, and I’m glad to hear about other people challenging that, except I’m not _glad_ because I’d rather in not even be an issue, and it is.

      I’m in a place of musing a lot about Love and love, and kindness, and compassion and I’m not quite up to talking about it much, ad that’s part of the not commenting back, too. Which is just a whole nonsensy way to say, thank you for commenting, and sharing a bit of yourself. I appreciate it. 🙂

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