A religion is not just a system of belief. It's also a set of practices. The practices of Polytheistic Animism (Poly-An) help us reclaim the best of our human potential. These practices are meant to strengthen us in body and spirit and liberate us from dominator control. Unlike many religious practices, they are not designed to separate us from everyday life, but to engage us fully in an animist reality, so that we might sing, teach, work, vote, cook and love this alternative reality into existence. We are to live the reality we want to manifest, or as Gandhi famously put it, to “be the change we wish to see in the world.” The next few posts will describe some Poly-An practices and I’ll address additional practices on occasion in future posts.
One of the most important practices of Polytheistic Animism is the study of history. We believe that knowledge is power, so to liberate our potential for personal and social agency, we are to become lifelong learners. We’re not just looking for factual information, but for a deep, rich and diverse knowledge base, and ultimately, for the wisdom to guide us through life and to share with our children.
All fields of study are encouraged in Polytheistic Animism. Practical skill building is also highly valued, and there are particular practices aimed at improving skills, but let’s focus here on the study of the liberal arts and sciences, and the key to them all is history.
Our Poly-An study of history is inclusive of prehistorical times, mythologies, cultures, social and political interactions between individuals and groups, and interactions between humans and the nonhuman world. Studied in tandem with anthropology, sociology, and other related topics, history helps us understand human nature and experience. It is the collective memory of humankind, and it teaches us what it means to be human.
Through the study of history, we develop humility. We learn from our mistakes. Knowing history makes us informed citizens of our nation and the world because it clears our minds of contemporary media imagery and reveals hard truths about the power structures that control human life. It helps us make wise decisions in the present and plan for the future, and gives us new ways to interpret patterns of social interactions. We discover the way things change and stay the same. We place our sufferings and joys into a longer and more realistic perspective. Finally, history provides us with lessons in courage, morality, heroism, perseverance and other positive character traits, and lessons in cruelty and greed and the dark side of human nature. In short, it helps us to understand ourselves as individuals and as a species.
All of these benefits have been listed before. What’s unique about the Poly-An perspective is our awareness that human “finishing” * limits and contains what we know and believe. The reality into which a person is born will appear normal to that person for the rest of his life. Each generation, especially in our rapidly-changing era, believes that the world it experiences is right, true and unchangeable; what we are born into is what should be and the way it always was. We can’t help but do our human thing — we adjust, we adapt, we internalize whatever life brings our way. So, this year’s crop of middle school kids are at home in a fast, noisy, digital world, but since my brain and mind were finished in the 1950s, I find the same speed, noise and technology to be painful and intrusive. Is one of our cultural realities better than the other? Simply asking that question is the power of history, whatever conclusion we ultimately draw.
History is the only antidote to the myopia of normalcy and the unquestioning acceptance of what is. If we discover through history that this Capitalist Dominator Culture (CDC) in which we currently live is not the only possible culture, and that our current beliefs were born in an historical context, then we can begin to question, to choose, to change. The study of history has constantly come under attack in the CDC as trivial, unprofitable or impractical, but underlying that attack is this more fundamental issue — the study of history is subversive. It empowers us to see beyond our propaganda and programming, think critically about our lives, and compare what we are living now to what others have lived before us. History makes us powerful people.
Now, go and study!
How to go about this study is addressed in the next post . . . * More about human “finishing” in future posts.