[Monday] Idea of the Week

Happy Monday! We had another two Otherfaith Hangouts this weekend; I wasn’t able to attend do to being at Phoenix Comic Con. I’m thankfully back and exhausted from the convention, though it was a great time.

Obviously, I can’t comment on the Hangouts, but for those present – please comment on any interesting ideas and topics that were brought up. I’d love to hear them.

June starts today. June, like May, is another ‘Marriage Month’ in the Otherfaith. I tie it especially to Othani and Aletheia 009, who marry at the end of this month. June is our wind-up month to the rough Hell Month of July. We celebrate marriage and light and joy before being shot sharply into the mythic cycle of despair surrounding the deification of the Dierne. Staying in the moment is tough but important, however. I’m easily tempted into running off into July contemplations before the month even hits.

My own practice has been swinging back and forth from the personal to the mythic, the two bleeding into each other constantly. This is simply the way I interact with these grand spirits. Attempts at striking some clear, definitive lines are always for naught. At time the mess of personal and mythic is irritating, but it is always illuminating. It is always useful in the long run.

It’s because of my relationships with these gods and spirits that everything gets muddled. My own impressions and biases muddle the pictures. Impatience and eagerness causes problems. With a religion that brings to bear a lot of modern concepts of relation and interaction, my small interactions with small spirits can shape my whole understanding of my huge gods.

The Otherfaith, and the polytheism I practice, is relational. A lot of polytheism is as well, but I wouldn’t say all of it is. Some people practice a polytheism that makes no sense to me. The way they talk about their gods confuses me and is foreign in an uncomfortable, itchy way. And because I’m human, like everyone else, it’s easy to say that other’s relationships with their gods are ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’. I’ve written briefly about this topic before.

Before we get in farther, I want to point out all of this is anecdotal. Actual scholars and researchers can gather actual data; I’m just musing about my experiences here! It’s possible and likely that what I delve into below might be off-base for your experiences.

One reason I think we can have strong negative responses when we see people doing something differently is that we fall into traps. We think that people who identify like us should do the exact same thing we do. Slowly, as we grow up in our lives, we move away from this idea and are able to accept more diversity. However, we are still attached to our labels and identities (for good reason), and when someone who identifies as we do does something outside of our understanding that can be very threatening. I’m not talking about people who act abusively or advocate spiritual abuse; I’m talking about people who have different relationships with their spirits or with their practice.

This is tough. Not everyone in the Otherfaith is a writer or interested in creating stories. And while I know that is okay, I have to go beyond mere acceptance. I have to think of how to advocate other ways of interacting with the gods beyond what I do. Beyond what works for me. And that can be tough when we’re stuck in our way of practicing. I’m lucky in that I’m challenged all the time by the people I surround myself with. The Otherfaith is tiny enough I can’t bubble myself effectively even when I really want to. (At the same time, small numbers are a drawback.)

Bubbles can form without meaning to. We might form a bubble because we practice something different than the ‘mainstream’ culture we’re part of. As we build up our community, we begin forming expectations and assumptions and biases. If we form enough connections and grow big enough, we become a new norm. Similar to in geek and nerd culture, though, we can retain our concept of being the ‘underdog’ even when it no longer applies. We hold tight to the identities we formed with those who practiced and grew alongside us, ignoring or unaware that as we grew we began to grow similar and cut off diversity. And then when someone comes along practicing differently or having different relationships with their spirits, ones that are not the new norm, we have a choice on how to react. Groups seem to react with hostility or, at best, with dismissal.

(And then those people, kicked out of a group or identity they technically belong in, tend to form their own smaller groups which grow until they repeat the same process.)

Simply: we form cliques and suck at realizing it.

The solution, in my opinion, is not to avoid groups or structure. It is instead to admit that it is there. We shouldn’t ignore that some people have more power or influence than others. We should look honestly at our groups, at our communities, and our friends and figure out how we’re interacting within and without the group. The problem is not groups. The problem is our assumptions that our groups are correct or normative or Right. Within the group, maybe those practices and beliefs function fine. But we’re often a tiny piece of a much larger community.

Of course, there’s a difference between asking for recognition and demanding adherence to your specific practices. Those lines can get blurred, especially if we start from a position of having to negotiate and demand recognition. We don’t always realize when we’ve gone from underdog to top dog. We don’t always want to realize that. Acknowledging I have power over others (due to my position in the Otherfaith) sucks because it’s scary and uncomfortable, but I have to make sure I actually deal with it. That’s better than not admitting I have any influence.

Influence is scary. Often we go from not having any or much at all to having a lot, depending on our audience and our topics. We can hold a lot of sway over people’s lives in ways we’re not comfortable with. Boundaries are important because of this. Remember our humanity is important. Forgiving ourselves and others is important. And acknowledging our power is important. I’ve done the most harm and had the most harm done to me when that has been ignored or denied.

For me, a lot of community problems I see concern harm. Someone speaks up in response to something and says, “Ow.” They might not say it directly or explicitly, but that is often what happens. Someone says, “Ow that hurts” and we respond by telling them not to be hurt, or we can’t hurt them, or that they need to stop looking outside of themselves because that’s why they were hurt. We make up excuses for why we don’t need to take responsibility for our actions or our words. After all, we still see ourselves as the underdog most of the time.

So for this idea of the week, I’m pondering how our communities hurt us and why they hurt us. And how we can build them better without recreating the same toxic behaviors.

Happy Monday everyone.

Thank you for reading. ‘Of the Other People’ is a site dedicated to the Otherfaith, a modern polytheist religion. We are supported through Patreon and want to give special thanks to our patrons Jack at ‘Drawing Stars’ and Leithin Cluan at ‘from Stone onto Sand’. If you enjoy the writing here, consider becoming a patron!

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