[Tuesday] Idea of the Week

Happy Tuesday! I hope everyone’s Memorial Day yesterday went well.

Over the weekend, we had two Otherfaith Hangouts. Our Saturday one occurs weekly, and our Sunday Hangout was just started this past weekend. We have them occurring at different times in the hopes of making it more accessible to people. Though I will be out of town this upcoming weekend, the Hangouts will still be up for people to participate in. You don’t have to make both, but we’d love to see people interested in the Otherfaith or in modern religion! This past weekend we discussed a wide variety of topics related to religion and religious practice.

From now on, we’ll be opening our chats (about ten to fifteen minutes past the starting time) with a prayer. This will likely be a general prayer to the Four/Four Gods. Hopefully that will set us off on the right foot. It is completely okay for discussion to flow where it will, but the chats are intended for religious talk (Otherfaith or not). Always check in that people are on board with what is being discussed, so we can keep having awesome Hangouts!

This past week, I was finishing up the cosplay my partner and I are doing for Phoenix Comic Con. In between busily putting on the finishing touches for our costumes, I rearranged the shrines for the Otherfaith gods. It was no small task, but I’m glad I did it. Having some beautiful storage boxes that fit on the shrine really helped, of course. I’m working on a variation of an ‘ancestor’ shrine as well, thanks to some ideas from friends.

One thing that popped up while rearranging was some of the intuitive rules to putting up the sacred spaces. I need to say or do certain things before properly establishing them (meaning some of them are going to have to wait til we get back home). There are some items I didn’t mind getting rid of or not putting up – others felt distinctly uncomfortable to leave or ignore. There’s so much that goes into creating these spaces. It’s difficult and creative and fun and devotional. I try not to assume superiority compared to other people’s spaces. Partially because the pictures of other’s spaces are beautiful, partially because I can’t know how they use and utilize the space for their spirits! (Or themselves, but that’s a larger discussion.)

A consistent part of my Otherfaith practice has been my offering space. It hasn’t really changed over the years, except for an improve incense holder. The candle has been replaced with an LED. But the layout and function remains the same. There are three cups for different offerings on top of a larger plate, a glass cup for water and a small pitcher which to pour from. A very simple, useful space. It sits atop my ritual and religious supplies, largely incense, cigarettes, and mini bottles of alcohol.

Less consistent has been the pop cultural and geek influences on my practice. Something from the media I consume is always influencing me (lately it’s been the excellent ‘Steven Universe’), but it’s a lot harder to pin down where. How much influence does a show have on how I interpret a symbol? Do I have to consider the creator’s intent and meaning? I’m a big fan of ‘the author is dead’ type of analysis, but is that appropriate when incorporating elements of a story into my religious life? How far can I stretch a symbol before it loses meaning?

That last question applies to more general religious life, at least in my experience. How far can I tug the compass rose symbol in the Otherfaith before it becomes meaningless? Is it useful as a catchall symbol for the Other People? It’s also tied to the Clarene, though, and the compass rose has connotations with seafaring, stars, and orientation. And when other members of this faith use that symbol, what does it mean to them – and should my interpretation of the symbol matter?

This idea of conflicting interpretations and ideas is one that pops up a lot. It usually pops up in the Pagan, polytheist, and witchcraft spheres in relation to ‘unverified personal gnosis’ (UPG). How do we handle when someone uses information radically different than we intended? How do we handle when other people tell different stories than we like? Or maybe even tell stories we hate, using the same symbols we also use?

We can decide to ignore them. If we’re in local proximity this can be awkward, of course, but the intricacies of interaction do leave wiggle room for some ignoring and avoiding. Online this is significantly easier. We can just not read what they right. We can block them if they really annoy us. We can go do something else.

We can decide to dialog with them. We might possibly find similarities or just solidify deep differences. We might find ourselves getting more irritated with the person telling a different story, who is experiencing something different than us. We can decide to live and let live or keep picking at the ideas until we find something new.

We can promote our own ideas and practices – which is great!

We can decide the person with different stories is lying. Maybe we decide they aren’t actually experiencing the gods they say they are, or maybe they aren’t as educated as we are. Positioning ourselves as Right and other people as Wrong is a pretty human trait. We like our divisions and that is an easy one. And challenging our own ideas is tough work that we’re always going to fail at. We can only improve day by day. When we see someone who is similar to us, superficially, doing something completely foreign or different we can get defensive. It’s not hard to go from that to insisting what we do is correct or superior.

Some of my spirits are really insistent about their offerings, for example. And if someone came up to me and said that they wanted an offering they’d expressed disdain for before, I’d be doubtful. And I’d be defensive of my own practice.

And I’d have to get past that if I ever wanted to function in a communal setting.

We shouldn’t pursue everyone having the same story or relationship. And the Otherfaith and our polytheism is definitely about relationship. If I aimed for us all to have the same exact relationship with all the gods and spirits, I would just keep the whole dang thing to myself. But being open and confronted with new ideas serves me better in the long run. It keeps me whole, keeps me challenged, keeps me critical.

So the symbols I may pull from pop culture might be divorced in some ways from how the creator’s used and intended them, but it’s foolish to assume my interpretation is the last word. Even when it comes to this religion-from-scratch, my ideas probably weren’t even in the first.

Thanks to my Patreon patrons! If you would like to support my writing and keep the Otherfaith going strong, consider becoming a patron.

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.

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