Aniblogger Testimonies: Familiarity of Faith – Where I Connect With Anime

When I first started this blog, a way I connected with bloggers was to ask a number to guest writer for the site.  What came out of that idea were the Aniblogger Testimonies, unique posts where bloggers wrote about the intersection of anime and their beliefs

While the active phase of this project is over, I’m also eager to add to the series.  Today, a frequent commenter on the site and a friend of mine, Sweetpea, is giving her testimony.

Sweetpea is a terrific reviewer.  I recommend you visit her anime/manga blogs, Paper Chimes and Going in Blindly.  Additionally, she recently started a blog about her beliefs, Pagan by the Book.  Sweetpea is also a reviewer for Organization Anti-Social Geniuses.

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I’m a minority in a minority – a Pagan anime fan. Paganism can mean any non-Abrahamic religion, but I’m Pagan as most Westerners imagine it: I worship gods and godesses like Athena and Brigid, I believe I can talk to spirits, and I celebrate Haloween like the day after will never come. However, I don’t wear a lot of black, I don’t own a pet (let alone a cat!), and I don’t dance around naked or cast curses on people. There are a lot of stereotypes out there that mean that even if I come across people that are open to my religion, they still have a lot of misunderstandings and Hollywood-influenced beliefs about it, which can make life both interesting and hilarious as I try to dispel some of the most hilarious and out-there myths.

Technically, my family is Christian, but I wasn’t raised it. My mother was too exhausted, and depended on my aunt to help. My aunt’s religion is a mix between Judaism and Native American beliefs, and my mom had no problem with her teaching us what she knew, since she either believed in it or felt they were compatible with her own beliefs. It was an irregular religious upbringing, but I wasn’t exactly popular to begin with. Being on the fringe socially meant that I was able to make friends who had similar interests, and introduced me to anime.

I came into anime screaming and kicking. I thought it was all kid’s shows and harems because of the shows one of my friends tried to convince me to watch. But when I accidentally downloaded Baccano!, my opinion was changed forever. It got me hooked and looking for more.

Over the last few years, I’ve found shows that really resonate with me because of the messages they have or how they tell their stories. While I don’t normally watch with a ‘Pagan filter’, sometimes it’s impossible for an anime to not speak to me. Mushishi was the first one that really resonated with how I view the world. It is so close to things that I believe about spirits and spirituality that I can’t help but feel emotionally gutted after each episode.

Then came the manga of Natsume’s Book of Friends. I empathize with Natsume on many levels, because I had a very lonely childhood (not religion-related, but lonely nonetheless) and often I feel isolated because of my faith. There was a time in my teens when I had realized what my faith was but I had no one to talk to about it – it was before I had discovered the magic of internet forums. And even after this, it’s not the same as having people in real life. Natsume spoke to me because even after he finds friends with spirits, they aren’t the same as being friends with real people. Like Natsume, though, they gave me the courage to approach others in real life and make friends. I’ve even discovered a Pagan club on campus, which really made me feel welcome – I found a bunch of friends.

Manga and anime are the big things that I’m able to find spirituality in since it’s from a country that is Pagan. It isn’t my path, but the melting-pot of influences mean that there are things that resonate, more than with the vast majority of Western literature. It helps remind me of the things that I believe, and sometimes gives me new beliefs to ruminate over. And the occasional joy I feel when I really connect spiritually with an anime makes it all the more awesome.

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About TWWK

TWWK, known to outlaws and lawmen alike as Charles, lives deep in the heart of Texas, where he drives cattle and boot scoots (not really - though he does sport a pair of rattlesnake boots). Somehow in this frontier, he also finds time for his wife, children, and church. Oh, and anime, too.

Posted on 06.21.2012, in Aniblogger Testimony, Anime and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. Shinto is the combination of diverse pagan beliefs that only formed as a separate belief system when the need arose to distinguish it from Buddhism, so I can easily see how you’d feel a connection there.

    Out of curiosity, do you, as a Pagan believer, have any written texts (like the Bible) or religious authorities (like the Church) that teach you about the faith, or did you learn everything from your aunt/discovered things on your own?

    Thanks for sharing your experiences :).

    Like

    • As a Pagan, no, I don’t have any written texts. Writing things down wasn’t big until the Middle Ages, and at that point Christianity was sweeping through Europe and pretty systematically destroying Pagan relics, worship sites, and if you got caught with a text you would probably be killed. People took those witch hunts pretty seriously at several points in history. It was really only in the Far East that writings could be preserved, but they aren’t often traslated for Western audiences because… there isn’t much of an audience.

      There are several religious authorities that came about in the late 19th to the 20th centuries, but saying ‘religious authority’ is rather shaky. Most have attempted to piece together bits of old religions, to different degrees of success, but most of the old religions have been gone so long that it’s shaky. I have read their works (Gerald Gardner, Starhawk, a few others), but so much of it is up to chance and individual interpretation that often it’s best to just celebrate and worship as I see fit. So most of what I learned was just through my own research – my aunt was just the ‘gateway’.

      I’m glad I was able to share with you!

      Like

  2. Murasaki Lynna

    Nice post! :) It’s interesting to hear your point of view. Out of curiosity, what is your views on the representations of pagan mythology in pop culture, like the Percy Jackson series?

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    • Depends on how they’re presented. Percy Jackson is one of the series I enjoy, because it is pretty true to the root mythology of the Greek gods. And it’s kinda cool to know how characters have lived on through modern-day language (Herculean tasks, morphine -derived from the god Morpheus, Achilles tendon).

      Now, for Pagan practices/beliefs such as witchcraft… That’s a little more touchy. Hollywood loves to expand on the bad things or the things that just aren’t true. I’ve never signed my name over to any being, let alone in blood, for instance! xD I’ve actually found the main girl from The Craft or even Sabrina the Teenage Witch to be more realistic than not. Minus the whole conjuring up storms instantaneously, going invisible, magicking up clothes! (I wish – I need a new wardrobe!)

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  3. How did you accidentally download a show? That statement just completely distracted me! :)

    Very good read and it was wonderful reading about your spirituality.

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    • It’s because she had wanted me to download Bokurano for her – but I couldn’t really remember the exact name of the anime that she had said at that point in time. Baccano! looked and sounded close enough, so… xD” It was a good thing, though.

      Glad you enjoyed reading it.

      Like

  4. sweetpea616,

    without wanting to sound disrespectful, you seem to have been caught up in hollywood history as well. Nowadays, actually, if the Church is present in a Hollywood movie, it is usually the antagonist. And naturally, with a whole more warped history than paganism.

    First of all, witch burning didn’t occur until after the Middle Ages. Witch burning belongs to the Early Modern Age [1500s-1700s], not to the Middle Ages. In the Middle Ages, if there was any burning at all – which was very seldom – it was of heretics, not of pagans (not even of Muslims).

    Secondly, by the Middle Ages, there were no more pagan relics left. More Pagan relics were probably destroyed in the wars between Pagans than in any conflict between Christendom and Paganism. Pagan worship sites were occupied by Christians – centuries after they were abandoned by Pagans. When Emperor Julian attempted to revive paganism in the Roman Empire, he found the Pagan clergy themselves to be uninterested in that movement. So, Christendom managed to convert individual Pagans, and then tribes of Pagans, but Paganism itself was already on the wane when Christ was born.

    Thirdly, it is probably more accurate to class Eastern Religions as … Eastern Religions. Shintoism and other folk religion, including Druidism, are different from classical Paganism. In the case of all the former, they are literally various forms of naturalism, with fox spirits and the like. This contrasts with Egyptian/Babylonian/Persian/Greek/Roman/Viking Paganism, where the gods and goddesses are in a definite hierarchy and have fixed relationships to each other and to humanity, and are separate from humanity and creation, although they may take on the forms of humans or animals. For example, in Greek mythology, you have Olympus and Hades. The only Eastern religion that resembles Western Paganism is possibly Hinduism, but even that is flaky, because Hinduism might be said to be closer to the monotheistic religions than it is to polytheistic Paganism.

    Modern Paganism, such as Wicca, is usually constructed out of Druidism, which while it is called Paganism, isn’t quite so similar to the Western Paganism described above. Druidism is a shamanistic religion that is closer to the Eastern/Folk millieu, which includes Japanese Shintoism.

    That having been said, yours was a good personal sharing about your spirituality. I suppose it would be closer to the Wicca version though…

    Like

    • There’s definitely a strong Wicca influence in my spirituality, since the first books I read on Paganism were Wiccan. I’ve taken a lot from it, but still attempt to explore other paths. It’s rather difficult, because Wicca is the foremost one out there. I usually have to special-order books in.

      Sorry about the confusion with the historical terminology – my forte is the Elizabethan era. I know that the burnings didn’t really start until the 1500′s, but I (incorrectly, I know) classifty it as ‘Midevil’. But heretics are people who don’t follow the Chrurch, and sometimes the difference between ‘pagan’ and ‘heretic’ was not distinguished.

      You’re right that a lot of relics were destroyed in wars with fellow Pagans, but Paganism wasn’t on the wane in most or all places in Europe. Lithuania held fast to it’s Pagan traditions well into the 14th century, for instance, and it was historically larger than its current boundaries. Christians also were very brutal when they came to the Americas and destroyed Paganism on these shores, which is doumented in first-hand accoutns by some of the monks and some of the natives. And at that point in American history they were still very much living religions.

      The reason I classify Eastern religions under the umbrella is because we have one (formerly two) Shinto practicioners in my Pagan club who identified -themselves- as Pagan. Could it be a language issue and lack of specific terminology to differentiate themselves? Maybe. But I defer to how they classified themselves.

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  5. sweetpea616,

    Thanks for the info on Lithuania. I don’t blame you for calling it “medieval”; the term is thrown around with too much reckless abandon nowadays. Witch burnings did not start in earnest until the late 1500s. Not only that, but burning at the stake itself was not popularized until a Calvinist rush in the 1500s. The last person to be burned at the stake before the 1500s was Joan of Arc, and her burning was not at the full approval of the Church (the Church politics is kind of complicated). The Church did have an in-principle distinction between Pagans who were to be converted and heretics who were lapsed Christians. But in any case my main point was about burning at the stake. For Lithuania itself, it appears that Paganism just faded away after the nobles converted to Christianity, with no antecedent persecution.

    The Conquistadors were very brutal, but their brutality was not a policy of the Church, it must be noted. In fact, a few of them were even ex-communicated. They travelled to the New World for self-aggrandisement, not to spread the Faith. In contrast, the actual missionaries – who had the Papal approval – tended to be in small groups, and tended to be martyred by the Native Americans. But more importantly, Native American culture – the whole culture – had already been on the wane for two or three centuries. What the Conquistadors and later explorers found were pockets of Native Americans scattered across the Continent, not a mighty, powerful empire. The Incas were very much a remnant of their former selves. Native American religion is a very folksy religion; it is sometimes close to Paganism, and sometimes more like Shinto or Taoism. It is not easy to differentiate between a tribal guardian (Paganism) and a local guardian (folk religion). So I would hesitate to call it Paganism at the get-go. [A tribal guardian, like Ares for the Spartans, follows the tribe around wherever it goes; A local guardian stays in the tree or mountain or lake or river or sea it originates from. Pre-1500s Christianity tends to polemicize against tribal guardians, but assimilate local guardians into the Angelic Hierarchy.]

    It might be a language issue, but more likely to be a cultural issue. I can give two scenarios: (1) If your friends were Westerners who practice shintoism, then they are probably confusing the two kinds of religion with each other, common in Western books on Japan; (2) If your two friends were actually Japanese people, then it is more likely that their terminology comes from English class, which doesn’t cover much in way of culture. [cram-schooling isn't an intelligent way to absorb cultural differences.]

    Note: Shinto is Shin-to, literally “way of the gods”. The Kanji for “shin” is “shen” in Mandarin. If you are unfamiliar with Chinese, you probably have no idea that Chinese has two words for “deity” traditionally: “shen” and “xian”. “xian” are the gods who watch over the ancestral houses of China and sometimes steward over the local spirits, “shen”. So, “xian” are the Pagan gods of China (nu wa, Pan Gu, The Jade Emperor, etc), “shen” are the local guardians (Dragon God of the North Sea, Fox Spirit, Monkey God, etc.) It seems though that only “shen” was ported over to Japanese, and “xian” was not.

    Anyhow, it is nice to have a civilized discussion like this.

    (Btw, I am a Catholic from an Eastern country.)

    And I also like the Natsume series alot. :D

    Like

    • And here I had a great response, I leave for two seconds to get dessert, and my dad turns off the computer! xD I’m too tired to re-write what I had for now, so I’ll just finish up what I was going to say:

      The Native American culture being on the wane and only finding a few pockets isn’t merely due to it declining- plague and disease had come through a few short years before the Conquistadors and had decimated the population. Disease spreads father and faster than people do, especially when we’re talking about people in the 1500-1600′s. Up until the approximate time the very first contact was being made between Europeans and Native Americans, there are records of the coasts being filled with smoke because there were so many people, and so many fires being burnt because of it.

      You’re right that their religion is somewhere in-between Paganism and Eastern religions, but there are a few parallels that make me think it’s not such a huge leap from one to the other. I suspect you’re right about the cultural/language issue with Shintoism. One was a Western practictioner, but the other was Japanese, so who knows what was being taught and misunderstood? But I find that it’s not as different from Classical Paganism as made out, because it also has things like dryads, nymphs, fairies, which are pretty naturalistic.

      That is an awesome break-down of the word for Shin-to! Thanks so much! I LOVE linguistic tidbits like that! ^.^

      And I’m glad you like Natsume as well :D

      Like

      • Ahh … technology :D

        (1) i guess there is kind of debate on whether those plagues came for a few short years, or a few short decades, or a few short centuries. Because we are talking about the decimation of an entire culture, of its cities and all. It takes a massive disaster to destroy an entire empire with citadels and trade routes and so on, and reduce it to a scattering of primitive villages, which is what the Conquistadors found.

        (2) Natsume and Gegege Kitaro give a good run-through of shinto cosmology. Inuyasha as well. Classical Paganism of the naturalist variety – hard to find texts but the deities are represented in epic fantasy like Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia. It is hard to describe exactly, but the form and depiction of the spirits in the two sets are rather different and they sort of have different forms of mythology as well.

        If you do want to have a better “read-up” of shinto, you might want to watch Gegege. Gegege story is notoriously simple, but it does provide the full description of each spirit, as compared to Natsume, in which Nyanko-sensei gives brief descriptions. (he prefers to eat sushi after all, despite being a wolf-demon, or maybe some formulary of the Nine-Tailed Fox.) In fact, it is interesting to see the many different depictions of the same spirit in different anime. For example the Kyuubi appears as I think Nyanko-sensei in Natsume, the poor cursed atavist in Boku X SS, the chakra spirit in Naruto, and possibly Kiara in Inuyasha.

        Perhaps TWK could do a post or a series of posts of how different spirits in Shintoism are portrayed differently in different anime. It’s kind of similar to how every Church depicted in an anime as a Marian statue, but the Marian statue is displayed differently, sometimes in shadow, sometimes in coarse shapes, sometimes bleeding.

        (3) You are welcome.

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        • 1)Yeah, those plagues can be tricky. But a series of plagues did the same to Europe and changed the socio-economic landscape quite permanently : The Black Plague. If better-equipped warriors had come from another land at that point, I can’t say that Europe would have fared better than the Americas had in a similar situation.

          2) Thanks for the heads-up! I’ll definitely be looking into some of this deeper. I admit, Shintoism is an area where my knowledge is lacking, and I appreciate the recommendations.

          I have to admit, that series on Shintoism sounds fantastic, and I would totally be up for reading it! ^.^ You have a very good point on how there are different interpretations on religious icons, both Christian and not.

          And… that’s the best I can do. I promise I will attempt a reply at the rest of it later – probably after my international fight and subsquent settling-down – but today has been a bad day and I can’t really comprehensively respond right now (looking back at my previous post it’s so garbled I don’t know how you made anything out!)

          Like

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