Ways Religious Syncretism Happens

Perhaps the most obvious form of syncretism in my own practice is Honji Suijaku, or the merging of Shinto with Buddhism. Benzaiten-sama was the Indian goddess Sarasvati, but was absorbed into the Japanese pantheon after becoming associated with the goddess Ichikishima-hima. She was eventually so thoroughly nativized that she was again syncretized with a Buddhist figure – this time Kannon, better known as Guanyin.

The Lefthander's Path

Syncretism is when you combine two things together to create a new thing, and it’s very common in many religions. It happens both historically and in modern times, for a variety of reasons. I’ll start by discussing historical examples, and will cover ways to approach syncretism yourself in another post.

Syncretism in the Roman Empire– We’ll Go to War with You and Then Add your Gods to Our Pantheon!

As Romans added territory to their Empire, they encountered people who worshiped other gods. Being polytheists, they didn’t really care so long as the Gauls, Germannii and so forth obeyed them. But the Romans liked to say “oh, that god you call Wodan is kinda like Mercurius”, just as they had done earlier with the Greek gods. This is referred to as Interpretatio Romana. Sometimes these foreign gods were adopted into Roman religion, often with Romanized names. Sometimes we…

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Magic & Religion

The Lefthander's Path

One thing that attracts many people to Paganism(s) is a curiosity about magic (sometimes spelled magick). Magic is a common practice among many religions that fall under the Pagan umbrella. But you don’t need to be Pagan to practice magic, and not all Pagans practice magic. Many Christians and Jews have practiced forms of magic throughout history and still do today. You also don’t need to practice or believe in a religion to practice magic.

I don’t practice magic (being rather skeptical of it, in fact!) so this post will be briefer than some of the others. Mainly I wanted to clear up the distinctions between magic, religion and Paganism, and discuss different types of magic. If you want to learn more about *what magic is* from someone who practices it, check out Jenett’s page.

Folk Magic– magic as practiced by regular common people, handed down orally, folk…

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Looking for a Patron?

I can speak from personal experience that a lot of pagans just starting out are eager to find their “patron deity,” and others are just as eager to discourage them. It’s certainly true that the kind of intimate relationship that some (such as myself) have with their patrons is highly unusual, yet I also feel that flatly shutting down others in their quest for such a relationship is misguided at best.

So I feel like I should give some advice, from the position of someone who went from zero to godbothered in a couple of months in her late twenties. It happens….not common at all, but it HAPPENS.

The most important advice I can give is: who do you need in your life. Not “want.” NEED. I know, Artemis is awesome…or you really wanted to work with Aphrodite. But what if you’re having a hard time getting a job, or you’re failing in school? Maybe you should see if Hermes is willing to listen, or if Athena is willing to help you. This is how I met Sarasvati. I was going toward the home stretch in undergrad, and prayed to her for help in schoolwork. She liked me. A lot. And she stuck around.

The “what do you need” should also be extended to what kind of personality you mesh well with, and whether you have values in common. Sarasvati is a goddess of wisdom and learning, but she is not Athena, and neither Sarasvati nor Athena are Ogma. Different values, different personalities. If this sounds all very cold and calculating, that’s because it is.

Most people will never be godbothered, and frankly, that’s actually a good thing. But you don’t have to be godbothered to have a patron. That is an important distinction that often slips through the cracks in these discussions. And so many people – headblind or not – seem to forget that the gods usually (almost always, in fact) operate in far more subtle ways than those of us with open heads perceive.

So…do you want a patron god? Go for it!

Tsuwano (2 of 3): Taikodani Inari Shrine

O-Inari-Sama!!!! *YAY*

San'in Monogatari

You might see these photos and think, “oh, I know this place!”

Let me remind you that this is a San’in region blog. This is not Kyoto. This is Tsuwano, the Little Kyoto of San’in!

Like the famous Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto, Taikodani Inari Shrine is also dedicated to this popular fox deity. Also like Fushimi Inari and other Inari shrines throughout Japan, it has a tunnel of torii gates leading up the shrine, and pockets of little areas filled with fox statues left as offerings. It is said that there are a thousand gates at this shrine, and you can see the bright red shrine with a brilliant trail leading up to it from a ways away on the road, though what appears above the trees makes it look like it suddenly appeared on the mountain. Although it looks like a daunting hike, it doesn’t take very long…

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Culture-Based Religions

Excellent thoughts on why “follow the religion of your ancestors” isn’t really useful advice.

The Lefthander's Path

Culture-based religions are often otherwise called ethnic, tribal or indigenous religions- all those terms have more limited connotations, hence why I came up with a more general one.  The label of “folk religion” is also sometimes thrown in with these by anthropologists, though that is a little different, so I’ll treat that separately. Individual or groups who practice culture-based religions may or may not identify with the word Pagan, especially if they belong to a (more or less) continuous living tradition. A culture-based religion can be contrasted with a universalist religion– which typically has a prophet, or series of prophets and claims to have a moral code & message for all of humanity- such as  Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and Bahai’ism. Strictly speaking, we can’t really divide all religions perfectly into either category- for one, universalist religions are of course, influenced by the cultures from which they…

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鷺娘の精 (The Spirit of the Heron Maiden)

Rekishi Nippon

鷺娘の精 (The Spirit of the Heron Maiden) woodblock print by Taniguchi Kokyo (1864-1915), dated 1925; from my collection. Oban tate-e (27.0 x 42.5 cm).

“Sagi Musume no Sei,” the “Spirit of the Heron Maiden.” A kabuki hengemono dance (one actor/many roles) wherein the spirit of a heron changes into a girl and then back again.

A summary from http://www.kabuki21.com/sagi_musume.php :
“The set is a frozen pond in the middle of Winter. The music from the geza is the classic sound effect for falling snow. The spirit of the heron appears on a platform, dressed in white, solitary and silent. This dance is a series of transformations, done through costume changes using either the bukkaeri or the hikinuki techniques to switch the roles. The first change turns the dancer into a young maiden in love, dressed in a beautiful red kimono, who dances the joy of love in a lively atmosphere…

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Guan Yin

The Tao of Kemet

Guan-Yin-Poo-Sat

I love Guan Yin.

Guan Yin is a goddess of mercy and compassion who is mainly associated with Buddhism, but her following is so widespread that many Taoists also worship her.

Maybe it’s because I have such a difficult time reigning in my own anger, but I love her.

Being a goddess she has many origin stories, and my favorite involves her as the princess Miaoshan; who ends up being executed after repeatedly disobeying the selfish wishes of her father, the king.

During her execution the executioner repeatedly fails to kill her. Because she is so good, his weapons keep shattering upon impact with her body. Eventually he attempts to strangle her, and she feels so badly about what will happen to him if he fails his duty that she allows him to kill her. A spectral tiger then appears to take her to Hell, but upon her arrival Hell…

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