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Holy Daze: Samhain (October 31st, 2012) – Wiccan/Neopagan

October 31st, 2012 No comments
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Neopagans honoring the dead as part of a Samhain ritual

For many, October 31st marks Halloween, a day for dressing up in scary (and not-so-scary) costumes and going door-to-door trick or treating.  For others though, this day is the most sacred day of the year.

Wiccans and Neopagans celebrate this day as the New Year and end of the harvest.  It is a day when the veil between the corporeal world and spirit world is believed to be the thinnest.  Many Wiccans honour or attempt to contact deceased love ones.  It is a time of remembrance, change, and positive blessings for the future.  The memorial elements of this sacred day share much with the Christian observances known as All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day.  For some Wiccans, it is customary to dress in a costume reflecting what they hope to achieve or become in the New Year.  Others may engage in a tradition known as the Silent Supper.

The Silent Supper (or Dumb Supper, less popularly used) tradition entails the preparation of special meal, whereby those who have crossed over in the last year (and indeed other loved ones long since passed) are honoured.  Either one place will be set for all loved ones, or a setting for each person that has passed will be set at the table.  The room is often purified through smudging or other ritual acts.  Guests to the silent supper will proceed with their meal in complete silence as a token of honouring their loved ones.  Following, notes to those who have crossed over may be placed under the place setting of the deceased.  Later, these notes may be burned in a cauldron as part of the closing of the ritual observance.

There are other ritual ancestral observances that some Wiccans engage in, such as setting up an altar honouring the ancestors that may include grave rubbings of the deceased’s headstone and the baking of soul cakes traditionally made as gifts for the spirits of those who have crossed over.

The first video below is an overview of this sacred holiday, while the second is a glimpse at one Wiccan’s family ancestral altar.

Blessed Be!

M. xo

Samhain / Halloween:

Wiccan Altar For Samhain:

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

 

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NRMs: Jediism

October 23rd, 2012 No comments
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Temple of the Jedi Order symbol

I’ve wanted to write about this new religion for a while now.  Mostly because it was inspired by one of the greatest movie franchises in the history of cinema, but also because I keep company with various geeks, freaks, and assorted fanboys/girls who I thought would appreciate this post.  That being said, let’s chat about Jediism.

Now before you start snickering, I’d like to point out that on January 12th, 2009 the Canadian government officially recognized Jediism as a religion.  This past March, the United States followed suit and recognized Jediism as a nonprofit religious organization.  This may have been the result of a grassroots movement in 2001 to encourage people to write down Jedi as their religious affiliation on national censuses.  The movement was so successful that 21,000 Canadians indicated their religion as Jedi.  In other countries, the numbers were much more impressive.  For instance, in 2001 New Zealand had the highest per capita population of reported Jedi followers, even eclipsing those who identified with two major world religions – Buddhism and Hinduism.

Certainly, the movement has had its critics – particularly those from the irreligious persuasion who believe that their own numbers are being under-recorded due to non-religious folks indicating Jedi as a joke or novel answer to the question.  Make no mistake – practitioners of this religion are serious about their faith.

Jediism, like many other religions, has different variations between groups.  Most groups draw inspiration from the Lucas films, such as the belief in the Force and possibility of interaction with the Force.  The manifestation of this belief appears to take on different contexts.   Perhaps most interesting about this NRM is the drawing from a wide variety of religious beliefs.

If you’re interested in learning more about Jediism, there are several sites you can visit.

The Temple of The Jedi Order purports to be the first international church of Jediism.  Quoting from their website, “We are real Jedi.  We believe in Peace, Justice, Love, Learning and using our abilities for Good. We are not fictional Jedi, nor are we role playing. We live our lives according to the principles of Jediism and work together as a community to both cultivate and celebrate.”

The Order of the Jedi, is a Canadian-based organization; however it considers itself a worldwide Order.  A description of a Jedi taken from their Web site, “[…] is someone who believes in an energy that surrounds, binds, penetrates, and encompasses all living things. A Jedi believes in the greater good, and always tries to follow the light or positive energy. Jedi do not discriminate, all are welcome.”

As I stated previously, Jediism isn’t without its critics.  Members have also been subject to some highly publicized religious discrimination.  In the video posted below, a news station provides coverage of a Jedi follower who was asked to remove his hood at a job center.  He was subsequently escorted from the premises when he refused to comply.  Self-proclaimed Jediism founder, Daniel Jones is also interviewed in this segment.

May the Force be with you…

M. xo

Jedi follower discriminated against & Jediism Founder interviewed:

Image Source: Temple of the Jedi Order

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Holy Daze: Feast of St. Francis of Assisi (October 4th, 2012) – Catholic Christian

October 3rd, 2012 No comments
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Saint Francis of Assisi Church, Coyoacan, Federal District, Mexico

St. Francis of Assisi was an Italian Catholic friar and preacher born in the 12th century.  Despite being born into wealth, he dedicated his life to living in poverty and prayer.   He was known to wander and minister to lepers.  St. Francis was also known for his love of animals.  He is often depicted surrounded by birds and other animals.  Today, he is considered the Catholic Church’s patron saint of animals and the environment.  To commemorate this holy day, many churches offer blessings to pets.  Below you’ll find a short video about this popular saint.  In the second short video, you’ll see a large gathering of people and their pets lining up to receive blessings.

M. xo

Saint Francis of Assisi

Church day for pets

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

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Holy Daze: Sukkot (September 30th, 2012 – October 7th, 2012) – Judaism

October 1st, 2012 No comments
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Etrog, silver etrog box and lulav, used on the Jewish holiday of Sukkot

Sukkot is an annual week-long harvest festival that follows the solemn holiday of Yom Kippur.  It is sometimes referred to as the Feast of Booths.  Historically, it commemorates the years that the Israelites wandered the desert following the revelation at Mount Sinai.  Sukkahs, or huts, are traditionally built during this holiday to represent the temporary shelters the Israelites used.  These huts are also believed to represent pre-biblical times when ancient farmers would construct these during harvest to protect their crops.

Typical rituals during Sukkot include the eating of meals in the sukkah, and for some, sleeping in the sukkah.  Construction of the sukkah is very specific so as to allow for certain elements, such as a view of the stars.  Another, traditional observance is called the Taking of the Four Kinds.  A blessing is recited, while holding and shaking four specific species of plants consisting of palm, myrtle, willow (lulav) and citron (etrog).

For more in-depth information, check out the videos below.  My Jewish Learning presents two fun and informative videos.  The first video, entitled Sukkah City, will inform you in a hip, urban style on the construction and nature of a sukkah.  The second video follows Heshy Fried aka Frum Satire around Hasidic Brooklyn as he tries to find out what makes for the perfect etrog (and he also reveals the astonishing price paid for these sacred fruits).  Finally, Maoz Israel presents a more serious look at the sacred meaning behind this important Jewish holiday.

M. xo

What is a Sukkah?

Buying a Lulav and Etrog for Sukkot

Sukkot in Israel

Image Source: Wikimedia

 

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NRMs: Fellowship of Isis

September 29th, 2012 No comments
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Founded in 1976 at Clonegal Castle, Ireland, the Fellowship of Isis (FOI) was formed to foster closer unity between individuals and the Goddess.  The founders include former clergy with the Anglican Church, Lawrence Durdin-Robertson (1920-1994); his wife and clairvoyant, Pamela (1923-????); and Lawrence’s older sister and surviving founder, Olivia Robertson (1917-).  Claiming a hereditary lineage to the priesthood of Ancient Egypt, these Anglo-Irish aristocrat descendants sought to form a fellowship that embraced all religions, cultures, and traditions.  This still remains an integral part of their manifesto, as members are free to maintain other religious allegiances.

FOI is organized on a democratic basis, whereby all members are equal.  Further, the FOI does not require that members take any vows or commitments to secrecy.   Both men and women can seek initiation as priests or priestesses.  Membership is free, and members can resign at any point.  The number of members throughout the fellowship’s history is murky, in part due to poorly kept records; however, some sources claim over 50,000 members.

Love, Beauty, and Truth, are engrained in the Fellowship’s manifesto.  Further, it seeks “to develop friendliness, psychic gifts, happiness, and compassion for all life.”

Over the years, the Fellowship has grown to include a network of daughter societies, many of which honour a specific Goddess and/or God.  In addition, the FOI network includes “colleges” which carry out the liturgy and training of priests and priestesses.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Fellowship, you can visit the Fellowship of Isis Web site which has numerous photos and writings.  There are also a host of affiliated sites that can provide more in-depth information.  Below is a short video that provides a great introduction to the Fellowship of Isis.

M. xo

Fellowship of Isis:

Image Source:  Wikimedia Commons

 

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Holy Daze: Meskel (September 27th, 2012) – Ethiopian Orthodox Christian

September 26th, 2012 No comments
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Meskel is an annual religious festival celebrated in Ethiopian Orthodox and Eritrean Orthodox Churches to commemorate Saint Helena (mother of Constantine the Great) finding the True Cross (the cross upon which Jesus was crucified).  Typical celebrations include dancing, colourful processions, feasting and the lighting of a giant bonfire known as a Demera.  The lighting of the bonfire symbolizes how Saint Helena located the True Cross, by following smoke that led her to its location (although the myth surrounding the sources of this smoke seems to vary).  Meskel is an annual public holiday in Ethiopia.  It is a colourful and lively display that culminates in the most amazing spectacle of fire.  Check out this video that strings together an entire day into night of Meskel celebrations.  The end is quite spectacular, especially if you love the site of a great bonfire and fireworks.  Although, I suspect we couldn’t get away with quite so extravagant a bonfire in Canadian cottage country.

M. xo

Meskel Festival Highlights:

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Holy Daze: Yom Kippur (September 25-26, 2012) – Judaism

September 25th, 2012 No comments
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Praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur, considered the holiest day of the year, is the Day of Atonement.  It occurs on the 10th day of Tishri (the seventh month of Jewish year).  It is a day to atone for the sins of the past year.  A ritual fast is performed for 25 hours beginning before sunset on the evening before Yom Kippur and ending the following night.  Eating, drinking and sexual relations are prohibited, as well as bathing or anointing the body with such things are perfumes or deodorants.

Another rite historically performed and alluded to in the Bible is the casting of sins by driving a goat into the wilderness.  In this rite, a high priest would confess the sins of Israel onto the goat before sending it into the wilderness.  This also may be where the term “scapegoat” originates.

As usual, I’ve found some interesting supplements to my brief introduction of this holiday.  Check out the videos and links below if you’re interested in learning a bit more about this sacred holiday.

M. xo

Yom Kippur: Overboard (Jonah’s song)

Huffington Post: Yom Kippur Explained (including video and photo gallery)

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

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NRMs: New Religious Movements

September 23rd, 2012 No comments
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If you’ve perched here before, you’ll know that I find religion a fascinating subject matter.  One of the most intriguing (at least to me) areas is New Religious Movements (NRMs).  These movements are popularly referred to as cults; however, due to the inherent negative connotations associated with the word, I’m going to refrain from using it.

Typically, these religions are considered minority in the scope of the world’s religious landscape, and they are relatively new in the sense that they usually weren’t established over a millennia or so ago.  Some NRMs do claim to originate from centuries old beliefs; however, their existence and proliferation is, generally, relatively recent.  Of course, as with many other aspects of religion, there is much debate among scholars concerning the scope, prevalence, and definition of NRMs.  Within the mainstream and popular media, there are many misconceptions and negative stereotypes regarding NRMs.  This is in large part due to the highly sensationalized portrayal of some rare and extreme cases of violent, abusive, and sometime bizarre behaviour by NRM leaders and followers.

That being said, I’ve decided that I want to write a regular series of posts that provide a brief overview of some NRMs, and some of their leaders.  I will not be engaging in debate about any group’s validity as a religion.  As I’ve previously indicated, religion is hard to define, so what you might call religion, someone else may not.  The sole purpose of these posts will be to introduce you to something new, and to try and dispel the myth that all NRMs are somehow dangerous, violent or engaged in brainwashing of their members.  Chances are you will not agree with the practices of many of these groups.  That’s fine.  The point is that simply branding all NRMs as inherently the same is narrow-minded.  In the same sense, tarnishing the image of all members of an NRM because of the actions of a few individuals is also narrow-minded.   So, I hope that you’ll try to keep an open-mind as we peck into this intriguing area of study.

For me, NRMs speak to the diversity and creativity of human beings in trying to make sense of the world and their part in it.  It also speaks to the freedoms that many of us enjoy.  So, let’s not engage in debate about the ‘rightness’ or ‘wrongness’, and instead, let’s engage in learning something new about our fellow human beings.

So, stay tuned in the coming days as I introduce you to the incredibly diverse milieu of New Religious Movements.

Cheers! M. xo

 

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Holy Daze: Paryushana Parva (Throughout Sept 2012) – Jainism

September 19th, 2012 No comments
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Paryushana is considered one of the most important and sacred festivals of the Indian religious tradition, Jainism. Now, if you’re not familiar with the Jains, and you happen to be interested in subjects like this, I highly recommend doing some reading on this very interesting sacred path. In all my studies, I’ve found the Jains to be one of the most fascinating of traditions. The core of their beliefs is one of a path of non-violence (ahimsa) toward all living beings (and when they say all living beings, they literally mean it).

Back to the matter at hand – Paryushana, (meaning “coming together”) is a time for heightening awareness of both the physical and spiritual aspects of the self. One of the central ritual observances is fasting, which depending on the Jain’s devotion and strength, can last anywhere from one day to one month, and can include abstaining completely from food or taking only one meal a day. Fasting is believed to help purify the soul by discovering one’s faults and seeking forgiveness for transgressions. It is also a time to take stock of how one’s actions have affected all living beings.

Other rituals can include the reading of scriptures, and observing vows of silence. Periodic meditation may also be carried out (different paths within the Jain tradition, observe different rituals at different times – it’s a bit confusing, so stay with me). It’s also important to point out that the laity and monastics will engage to different degrees in these rituals.

The culmination of this festival is to ask forgiveness for any wrongdoings that one may have intentionally or unintentionally committed upon another living being (and for some Jains this includes the microscopic organisms that are naked to the human eye – I wasn’t kidding when I mentioned all living beings). Jains express to one another, “Micchami Dukkadam” (If I have caused you offence or wrongdoing, intentional or unintentional, by thought word or deed, I ask your forgiveness).

There’s much more to this festival than what I could possibly provide in this post, so check out the short video below showcasing some upbeat celebrations during Paryushana Parva. I’ve also included a short animated informational video about Jainism. The animation leaves much to be desired, but it does an adequate job of providing you with a primer of the Jain tradition.

A final important note: The swastika, while considered a symbol of evil and persecution for many in the West, is a very sacred symbol for the Jains. So, please refrain from sending me comments about the inclusion of this symbol in my post.

I hope to post more about the fascinating sacred path of the Jains in the future!

Cheers! M. xo

Paryushan Parva 2011 – Bhavya Aarti:

Jainism:

Image Source: Wikipedia

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My thoughts on the chaos surrounding “Innocence of Muslims”

September 16th, 2012 No comments
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Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve no doubt heard or seen the violence that has erupted in the Middle East over the video entitled “The Innocence of Muslims”.  The video has been branded by some as inflammatory, while others have justified its existence using the tried and true ‘freedom of expression’ argument.  Before I could weigh in, I decided to watch the controversial film.  It was a daunting task, to say the least.

The video is of extremely poor production quality.  It’s crudely dubbed (and then overdubbed).  Ultimately, it’s an absurd piece of film that I have no idea why anyone would waste their time watching.  In fact, but for the violence that has ensued, I’m skeptical that the video would have made even the tiniest blip on Internet.

Now, having said that, I can appreciate how some Muslims would find it offensive.  At the same time, I could also see how this could easily be overdubbed (again) to offend Christians.  If one were to mute the video, the prophet depicted could easily be mistaken for Jesus.  Perhaps then, the original intention of the film was not what it ultimately became.  It’s clear that the video was re-imagined to include opinions better left unsaid.

Ultimately, I believe the film is inflammatory – but it’s important to bear in mind that this is a piece of absurd fiction that is seemingly the ignorant opinion of a small group of people.  Unfortunately, freedom of expression is a valid argument here.  Those of us who think that this expression just plain sucks have the right to counter-expression.  Our opposition to this kind of garbage should never, however, include violence.  Certainly, the producers of this film should be ashamed, but those who have responded with violence should be more ashamed.  One of the points expressed in the film is the misguided notion of the violence inherent in Islam, and as far as I can tell those who have responded with such violence are only giving relevancy to the film and doing a huge disservice to their faith.  Had there not been such violence, this film would have slipped into obscurity and the fires of bigotry directed toward Muslims and the West would not have been inflamed further.

IMO, violence is never an appropriate solution when responding to bigotry and ignorance.

Peace.

M.xo

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