[Pagan Experience] Humanity & Persons

This is part of the Pagan Experience prompts. If you are interested in a blogging project, I recommend it!

One of the core tensions in the Other People’s mythology is that of humanity. We see this mainly in our god the Laetha, who is originally a human.

Arabella, the ‘original’ Laetha, goes through a variety of changes. She enjoys life in fairyland, until she begins to waste away. She is rescued by the Clarene, who uses her magic to attempt to restore Arabella’s life. Only the magic takes a bit too well, and Arabella quickly shifts from human to faery to god. And on the cusp of godhood, she’s struck down by her lover-turned-tormentor, Mircea. Her divine-soul is shattered into a variety of pieces that each becomes their own spirit and god, and each must deal with their origins. Both as originally Arabella and their own unique histories.

Arabella does not vanish when she is ripped apart but instead becomes trapped where Mircea can keep her, away from the now tumultuous West. In my own headcanon, she is trapped in virtual reality, a world created by Mircea and the West’s magic, a half-world of occasional sensations. An imperfect virtual reality, where Arabella’s grasp on reality weakens each moment. (If you’re interested in virtual reality, uploading our minds into computers, and the complications in that, read this.) When she is eventually freed and returned to her body, she is not the same as she once was, though she attempts to regain her past self. But much of what made Arabella human, at that point, has faded away. She is divine, and her soul is aflame, and she cannot be what she once was. She can only be what she now is.

The tension between the human and inhuman also comes into play with the Aletheias. (Here are two different links regarding the Aletheias – their entry on the Laetha’s Wiki Page and their own page.) These spirits, some divine and some not, are androids, created and given life by the Clarene. The first Aletheia (000) is given one of the Laetha’s sparks as their heart. But whether due to the Clarene’s rough attempts at creating robotic life or another reason, the Aletheias are imperfect. They are imperfect machines, capable of emotion and rejecting their own coding, and they are imperfect as humans, lacking recognizable human emotions and empathy. The first five Aletheias are all self-contained; every Aletheia afterward is given life by forcing another spirit’s consciousness into the blank machine body.

The Aletheia Androids are some of my favorite spirits to contemplate when considering what humanity is, the lines between us and the spirits, and the conflicts we can find ourselves in because of our differences. The Aletheias can be both horribly alien – terrifyingly violent, strange speaking tones and cadences, cold to touch – and amazingly human – emotional, needy, deeply loving. They can be like children, throwing tantrums and fits, and yet go back to their steely appearance moments later. And they constantly yearn to touch humanity (for the post-005 Aletheias, humanity is often where they came from).

Though I suspect that personhood is far more of the issue than humanity. The majority of our gods are not human, and the spirits are only sometimes human. There exists a gap between us. But personhood is something more than humanity, beyond homo sapiens. Many conflicts in our mythology deal with who is allowed to have personhood. Are the Aletheia Androids people? Are their sister Androids the Alices people? Or are they objects, possessions, not able to have rights or equality to the other spirits?

These ideas influence how I wish the Otherfaith to approach spirit work. We are not to use these spirits or twist them to our own ends. They don’t exist for us. Even my beloved spirit partner and guide does not exist for me. He exists as his own being. I cannot snap my fingers and bring him to my side. The spirits are not servants to us. Humanity is not superior (nor necessarily lesser) than these beings. Our spirit work should be founded not on control and manipulation but on mutual goals. It follows that there will be spirits we wish to stay far from, just as there will be spirits who stay far from us.

I mention above how alien the Aletheias can be. All spirits can be. Yet we should be wary of positing all of their less desirable of frightening aspects as beyond humanity or inhuman. Humans, after all, behave inhumanely all the time. And one of the lessons of the faith is not that there are humans that are lesser because of their horrifying acts, but that those acts of violence and destruction and horror are part of humanity as well. After all, if we eagerly decry those who behave in reprehensible ways as ‘not like us’, we can view the problem as not ours. We aren’t like that, so why should we deal with it? And that, that is something we should be very critical of falling into.

I don’t think the Otherfaith should seek to ‘advance’ humanity in some way. I try to be careful that the transhumanism that has influenced the faith rejects the eugenics that often accompany that, for the faith isn’t supposed to find some perfect humanity. (Indeed, ideas of ‘perfect’ humans involve casting others as less-than-human, as non-persons, as objects we can rid the world of without concern.) Nor do we have to accept all of the cruelties of our world as how things must always be. Instead, I think, our goal should be to acknowledge humanity as it is – its magnificence and despair, its glories and horrors – and figure out what will build a more equal world. And then work to build that, in ways we can.

Thank you for reading. ‘of the Other People’ is a site dedicated to the Otherfaith, a modern polytheist religion. You can find more about us here and here. You can contact us here if you have any questions or would like to get involved.

3 thoughts on “[Pagan Experience] Humanity & Persons

  1. Struggling with the Aletheia and their myths has been a challenge in how I understand the concept of “Personhood” and “humanity.” What does it mean that certain traits and behaviors fall easily into my category of “human” while others I find immeasurably repulsive? What does it mean to see the Aletheia as “just” robots who are inherently dangerous? What ramifications does the have on my own biases here in my world, as I’m dealing with other human siblings?

    Your discussion on the good and bad sides of transhumanism remind me of the good and bad sides of the Solarpunk movement that started a short time ago. (I’m assuming it started a short time ago, but I’ve only been introduced to it via Tumblr, so.) It’s reimagining a world of hopefulness and prosperity based on the sun and other sources of green energy, rather than the sometimes dark and gritty, sometimes even vaguely apocalyptic, Steampunk aesthetic. So on the one hand you’ve got Solarpunk imagining these beautifully open, vast cities with overflowing gardens and art styles reminiscent of Art Nouveau to show a utopian vision of humanity… and yet you still have posts within the #solarpunk tag that erase the realities of disabled individuals. Magitek glasses that make blind people see, rather than imagining a world where blindness is accounted for in the structuring of society, for example. “Curing” people who don’t want or need to be cured. And of course, as with most utopian visions, erasing any and all differences so we’re one big happy homogenous family.

    (Which isn’t to say there’s not kickback in the #solarpunk tag about this trend. I personally LOVE Solarpunk and use a lot of imagery in my Tumblr blog to represent the West.)

    I think it’s important in theory and practice to cast the net as wide as we can when talking about who or what is a human and who or what is a person. Otherwise… we can look around the world right now and see what the consequences are if we don’t. #BlackLivesMatter and Leelah Alcorn’s suicide and widespread unreported campus rape and the continual vilification of the impoverished being just a few examples.

    • I agree. And I think when we see others as not-human, or less-human, we also make it easy to ignore laws that should apply to them. There are the examples you mentioned…there’s the hostility toward abortion and the possibility of women and those with vaginas having bodily autonomy…so many examples.

      I have a lot of problems with scifi and fantasy ignoring or erasing disability. Scifi a bit more so, but fantasy can end up with nasty tropes about magic ‘fixing’ everything. It’s one thing I try to be aware of when writing and thinking of the spirits in the faith…some people think that spirits, being in the spirit world, shouldn’t have any missing limbs or blindness or disability. I think that’s bull shit. I don’t think we should fetishize it, but it also isn’t something shameful…it just is.

      That is one thing I liked when reading Starhawk’s ‘The Fifth Sacred Thing’. There was a multilingual society that included sign language, and it was clear that Starhawk was thinking about a variety of people instead of the typical fantasy protagonist.

      I also think the questions you ask are good ones…and ones we need to ask whenever we encounter such stories and spirits. That isn’t to say we must like every story or spirit, but we should always address, “Why am I feeling this?”

  2. Pingback: [Monday] Assorted Links | of the Other People

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