Saturday, 19 March 2011

Happy St Patrick's Day?

(Let's pretend I published this on time.)

Happy St Patrick's Day! Beannachtaí na Fhéile Pádraig!

Now, before any of you accuse me of betraying my Pagan ancestors by supporting the religious coercion of pre-Christian Ireland, I happen to have had been celebrating St Patrick's even before I rediscovered Paganism. And I never celebrated the man himself, anyway. What I used to do was to celebrate traditional Irish culture. And it's still what I intend to do today.

First, let's get our facts straight:
  • Most of what we know of St Patrick comes from the 7th century, roughly two centuries after his death, but he did write two letters: Confessio and Epistola.
  • Patrick was not born on March 17th. As with most Christian saints, his feast day is on the date of his death.
  • St Patrick was not Irish. He was a Roman Briton. That's Patricius for you. His name in Old Irish is Cothraige (Pádraig in Modern Irish). I'm not sure if this was his original name, though, as I read something about some Celestine dude (fine, he was a Pope) who gave him the name Patricius. Previously, his name had been Maewyn Succat.
  • Patrick's first encounter with Ireland was when he was a teenager, as a kidnapped slave. There are sources that say his master Milchu was either a warrior-chieftain or a high-ranking druid. After a life of tending herds and herds of his master's sheep, he escaped and went back to Britain just in time to enter the priesthood in Gaul and become a bishop. He returned to Ireland with a vengeance. As an evangelist. Yikes!
  • Patrick was not the first Christian missionary to Ireland, nor its first bishop. And he did not completely convert Pagan Ireland, either. Several Irish kingdoms were still Pagan well after his death. We even have accounts of druids teaching well into the 7th century. The great bulk of Pagan influences that crept into Irish Christianity is proof of the gradual and unorganised christianisation of Ireland.
  • The preservation of much of Ireland's pre-Christian literature actually owes itself to the Christian monks who took down the old tales and mixed them with biblical stories. The druids were quite fond of oral tradition and so did not write anything down (that much).
  • The affair with the snakes is fictional. There were never any snakes in post-glacial Ireland. The poor things couldn't cross the sea when the sea levels rose.
  • The snake myth comes from St Hilaire of France and was merely added to the hagiography (saint-study) of Patrick c. 11th century. Those snakes weren't originally meant to symbolise pagans or druids, either. They were initially just, well, snakes. Nevertheless, the mythical snakes and their identification with Irish Paganism have become a part of popular folklore, especially amongst some Neopagans these days. ADF founder Isaac Bonewits (may he rest in peace) even wrote a song about it and renamed St Patrick's Day as "All Snakes Day".
  • Legend has it that Patrick used the shamrock (three-leaf clover) to educate the Irish on the concept of the Holy Trinity (three persons, one god). However, the shamrock (and the number 3) already had some special significance for the Irish before Christianity, so Patrick probably didn't have a hard time.
  • The original colour associated with St Patrick was blue. Green only came to popularity in the 17th century as a symbol of Ireland (not St Patrick).
  • St Patrick's Day is a holy day of obligation for Irish Catholics worldwide and has been a public holiday in Ireland since 1903. It has, however, gradually become more of a secular celebration of general Irish culture (yes, including the beer) in other parts of the world. 

I don't like him, but I don't hate him, either. He wasn't that bad, you know. Patrick was no Charlemagne. He didn't massacre whole tribes just so they could accept Christ. He didn't go chopping down sacred trees or desecrating holy wells, either. We still have lots of them in Ireland. Patrician Christianity actually sounds very Pagan. Have you seen his prayers? The bishop had his awesome moments.

I still won't be celebrating the man, though. Today is still about Ireland for me, but especially Pagan Ireland. Today, I'm going to listen to nothing but Irish music and will continue to support artists who incorporate (or play entirely just) traditional Gaelic music. I will continue practising my bódhran and whistle, and maybe even my fiddle. I will continue studying Gaeilge: I will not let it die. I will promote the Gaeltacht. I will honour the old Gael heroes, especially Great Cú Chulainn whose hero-feast is also on this day. I will honour the old Gael gods (even if only on this day): I will pour them milk and honey, as traditional, or recite a bardic poem. I will continue writing the old Ogham. I will never let anyone again spread lies about Gaelic culture, calling it outdated or uncultivated. And the Gaels will never have to leave their homeland again because of eviction or persecution, or for any other unjust reason.

May the land of Éire be a safer place to live for all Her people. May the culture of the Gaels flourish for more generations to come.

Happy Ireland Day!

Recommended reading:

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Hypatia Day

"All formal dogmatic religions are fallacious and must never be accepted by self-respecting persons as final."

"Reserve your right to think, for even to think wrongly is better than not to think at all."

"Life is an unfoldment, and the further we travel the more truth we can comprehend. To understand the things that are at our door is the best preparation for understanding those that lie beyond."

These are words attributed to Hypatia of Alexandria, considered the first notable woman in mathematics, who also taught philosophy and astronomy. Today marks her 1,596th (?) death anniversary. Although she was widely esteemed for her wisdom and ethical virtue in life, she got caught up in political turmoil and was murdered by a mob of zealots. Her murderers were nonetheless honoured, and their leader made into a saint. Today, we strip them off of this false honour, and deliver it to the sixty-year old pagan they murdered.

Honour her today (and for the rest of your life, if you can). Uphold her virtues and the things she loved. Read on Neoplatonism, astronomy, or mathematics. Study the Hellenistic civilisation of Alexandria. Learn Greek. Do rituals in her honour: Fast for an entire day as a form of ritual reconciliation, as she was murdered during the season of Lent, or recite a poem or prayer in the fashion of the ancient Greeks.

However you do it, the important thing is that she is remembered, and that the events that led to her death (and the deterioration of Alexandria) never be allowed to rule again.

Who was Hypatia?
Some of us know her through their religion (like me), some of us through their science, and some of us through Rachel Weisz. As a Hellene and a freethinker, I feel that it is my obligation to write about her on this day. Below, I have listed several important details about her life, most of which I owe to the Mos Maiorum Foundation's well-researched article on Hypatia, written by my Heathen friend Hrafnkell Haraldsson.
  • The exact date of her death is unknown, as only the month is historically attested. Traditionally, the occasion has been placed at the mid point of the Ides of March (the 15th), during the season of Lent.
  • Hypatia was the daughter of Theon, who was head of the Museum or Library of Alexandria during the reign of Theodosius I, possibly its last.
  • She was around sixty years old when she was murdered.
  • Hypatia was a Neoplatonist philosopher. She most likely assumed the divinity of the entire cosmos.
  • Hypatia was a Pagan, though her Paganism was likely of a philosophical or intellectual variety than the popular form celebrated through public sacrifices. We know little of her private rites, however.
  • She was the author of several commentaries, including one on Diophantus, an astronomical canon, and a Commentary on Apollonius' Conics.
  • Hypatia was not a fan of religious intolerance and coercion: Pupils of all sorts of inclinations were drawn to her, not only Pagans, but also many Christians, two of which would later become bishops. She did not seem to have "converted" or even tried to convert any of her Christian pupils to Paganism, even the philosophical variety.
  • Hypatia was not a Pagan activist: She is not known to have joined any of the public riots between Pagans and Christians, as her own circle included both.
  • The burning of the Royal Library of Alexandria may or may not have occurred during her lifetime. There are four possible time periods in which the Library may have been burnt down:
  1. Julius Caesar's Fire in The Alexandrian War, in 48 BCE (an unfortunate accident).
  2. The attack of Emperor Aurelian in 270 CE to suppress revolts.
  3. The outlawing of Paganism by Emperor Theodosius I or at the decree of Patriarch Theophilus in 391 CE.
  4. The Muslim conquest in 642 CE.
  • There is also the possibility that the Great Library was not entirely destroyed at any of these time periods, but slowly deteriorated over the passing of these events. We do, however, have evidence of several Pagan temples, which may have doubled as schools, libraries, or research institutes, being converted or destroyed at that time.
  • Hypatia was a brave woman: There is basis for the rumour that she stood "like a lion" between prefect and bishop; that she shared with Orestes the conviction that the authority of the bishops should not extend to areas meant for the imperial and municipal administration.
  • Hypatia was riding through the city in her chariot, on her way home, when the Christian mob, led by the parabalanai, turned their frenzy upon her. The ringleader, acting under Patriarch Cyril's direction, was apparently a lector named Peter. Hypatia was hacked to death in the gloom of the so-called Caesar-church (Caesareum) and her body burnt. This church was the old centre of the imperial cult in Alexandria and was recently converted (as had so many temples) into a church. It was also the see of Cyril himself - his headquarters, if you will.
  • Some reports suggest she was flayed with ostraca (pot shards, not actual oyster shells) and set ablaze whilst still alive, though other accounts suggest those actions happened after her death.
  • Cyril justified the deed by proclaiming it part of the unrelenting war on Paganism. The path was now clear to turn on both Jews and Pagans and make Alexandria a Christian city (a specific kind of Christian, to be exact).
  • Two scholars have different opinions on who is to blame for her murder: J.M. Rist blames the rabble, claiming Cyril had no part to play in their conclusions about Hypatia’s influence over Orestes, and excuses Cyril of all charges save one, that of covering up the crime. But Dzielska holds Cyril responsible, even if he did not commit the murder himself (and she does not think he planned it either), though he created the atmosphere that led to her death as "the chief instigator of the campaign of defamation against Hypatia." After all, it was his city, and his watch, and the parabalanai were under his direct command, as was Peter the Lector. Another scholar, Pierre Chuvin, has a harsher verdict. He makes clear that "His hands cannot have been entirely clean, since the murder was committed in his own patriarchal church."
  • The murder of Hypatia, a sixty-year-old woman, was not only an act of hatred but also a criminal offense warranting a swift and severe response from those charged with upholding the law. That response never came; those who committed the crime were unpunished. In fact, as we already know, Patriarch Cyril was canonised a saint.

A gruesome tragedy, no doubt. But well remembered. In the words of Newell Fisher, the atheist Druid who spearheaded Hypatia Day on Facebook: [This] is a sobering reminder to always be prepared to look again at history before assuming that things could not have gone another way.

Khaire Hypatía.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

What's with the accent?

Remember this? I finally got to write the second part (after 3 years). Some important points were directly taken from the first part for those too lazy to backtrack.

I live in a country where accents are a big deal. I'm not sure how true that is, statistically speaking, but my day-to-day experiences are convincing. It annoys me, for the most part, but it can sometimes be amusing.

That local twang.
Your everyday tindera might not care, but if you intend to work for a high-paying job, they expect you to lose your native accent. Apparently, the accent that identifies you with your ethnic heritage is not good enough (unless you're a politician). You have to "correct" it, twist it to sound more "international", regardless of the fact that "beri mats" would still be perfectly understood by most people. I own a small store and I still get what they mean when they say "fuji bar".

Status affects the accent and accent affects the status.
It really does. Your accent may either invoke prestige or invite ridicule, according to the biases of your audience. Comedian Jeff Foxworthy says: "I used to say that whenever people heard my Southern accent, they always wanted to deduct 100 IQ points." And isn't that still true for many of us? Home County Brits looking down on Northerners? Manilans on Visayans? It has got to go.

That non-US accent.
In Manila, speaking with a General American accent will earn you extra points in a job interview, but speak with a British accent and you will capture hearts. Trust me, I know. It's what pays the rent. You have to be British, though, or at least have had lived in Britain for several years. People will never understand how you got the accent without actually living there. It's such an enigma, and it doesn't always help to explain in detail because most people have such short attention spans. But it's absolutely normal, of course, to have an American accent without actually living in America. Fucking fair, in'nit?

People seem to forget that this so-called "British" accent (the Hugh Grant accent), more accurately called Received Pronunciation, is an international standard just like General American. As a matter of fact, RP was already the international standard way before any American accent was heard outside the Atlantic. Singapore? Hong Kong? India? Australia? New Zealand? New ENGLAND? All British. Why can't a Filipino take up this accent instead of the usual American? Don't let the trend stop you.

You can't prescribe accents.
Not anymore, at least. You can't assume that every Filipino will speak in a certain way. It's a small world, after all, and telly does quite change a lot. School teachers are no longer the only source of edumacation. It's sad, because it shouldn't have been that way, but I avoided my English school teachers at all costs.

What fake accent?
Anybody know that Filipino-British model-turned-actor(?) Jonathan Mullaly? Jon Avila it is now, I reckon. Well, he was once rumoured to fake his "British" accent. I'm not sure who spread the rumour, but I bet it was a tabloid writer. Imagine the horror of having a peabrain who has probably never been to England, or if he has, never gone anywhere outside his flat, tell you you're faking your own accent. The poor bastard probably didn't know there are countless accents in Britain (a ridiculous number), and that it just so happens that Jon, who may after all have a mixed accent, speaks with an accent he has never heard of.

"If yowm saft enuff ter cum dahn 'ere agooin wum. Yowr tay ull be spile't!" That's English traditionally spoken in Black Country, just beside Birmingham. 

What about Geordie? "Gan man an hide thysel! Gan an' get thy picks agyen. Thou may de for the city, but never for the west end o' wor toon."


Besides, what makes an accent fake, anyway? Accents change all the time. You're not even born with an accent. You learn it. Some parts of it you inherit at an early age from your elders, some parts from your neighbourhood, some parts from school, and so on. Would you say that the accent you had when you were seven is more authentic than the one you have now? Or the other way around, perhaps? Some celebrities are even questioned for their "fluctuating" accents such as Madonna who lived for a while in the UK. What did everyone expect, that she'd remain steadily New Yorker even after being surrounded by Brits for several years? People change and so do their accents, and it's not always because they want to sound cool. Most of the time, they can't help it. And when they can help it, it's still not necessarily done to impress you, but to accommodate you. I tend to be a very accommodating speaker myself. There are times when I deliberately modify my pronunciation so others might shift their focus away from my phonemes and more on what I'm actually saying. Who hasn't traded their Western pronunciations for local ones in places like Quiapo?

I do, however, find it pretentious when Filipinos forget their native accent after A YEAR OR LESS living in the US. Learning the accents around you is expected, but forgetting the one you grew up with isn't that easy.

But you can have more than one "natural" accent.
Just as you can have more than one parent language, you can also have more than one parent dialect or accent. This is especially true for people who grew up with more than one English dialect. Some people will learn just one from such a setting (my brother did, he stuck with GA). Some will learn several (as I did). 

I grew up with a wide variety of speech patterns: Mother spoke a very standard local variant of English (she frowned when I spoke anything else, telling me not to sound too foreign) whilst Father frequently switched from RP to GA and back. Television wasn't any better as a "neutraliser" as Brother and I were raised on a mix of Sesame Street, John Hurt, The Simpsons, The Godfather, Charlton Heston, Michael Caine, Maggie Smith, and a bunch of other "oldschool" thespians. Irish and Scottish characters were always a favourite, though, and we haven't really got(ten) rid of the tendency to pronounce "rain" and "row" as monophthongs. We quite fancy it, actually.

RP was the strongest influence for me, however. Obviously. As far as I can remember, the voice in my head had always been RP-ish (special thanks to Pa and Sir John). I assumed it was the correct accent and the Eurocentricity of some family members only enforced the idea even more. But I never really got to openly use it full-time because I felt it made other people uncomfortable. And it did. They would twitch and I would stop speaking. It made me very conscious of the way I talked and my timidity fed on it for several years.
It was only when I left school and started working that I was forced to conform to a single standard (or at least, one standard at a time). My coach was convinced to have me choose sides. It wasn't really a hard decision to make. I chose to follow that accent in my head and it was the most liberating thing that had ever happened to me. I had finally "outed" myself as an RP speaker.

Nonetheless, I still switch between accents according to the occasion, mood, or person I'm speaking with. When I'm all formal or when I need to explain something in detail, I use my default British Received (or occasionally, Transatlantic). In slightly more informal situations, I slip into a more Estuary-type accent. And when I'm with family or close friends, I toss several different accents all at once. It's always an accent party with familiars!

You can't "lose" an accent if you've only got one.
An issue of semantics, but it's basically true. Because we all have accents. As long as you can speak a language, you will have an accent. It's part of the package. "Switch" is a more accurate term than "lose", I suppose. You can switch from one accent to another and back, or mix several accents together, or have one fade in the background whilst using the other more frequently.

Use a more neutral accent!
Which one? Accent neutrality is always relative. If I were a Scot from Edinburgh, the neutral accent to me would definitely be Edinburgh Scottish (and even there you are bound to hear variations). This is probably why many Manilans think they are "accent-less" ... because they live in the capital and their dialect (Manila Tagalog) is the basis of the standard (Filipino). Now, imagine if the capital had been somewhere in Batangas.

English is no exception in this matter, however internationally acclaimed some of its accents are. Even more so, actually. Such a widely-spoken language is bound to be pluricentric. David Crystal writes "[a] totally uniform, regionally neutral, and unarguably prestigious variety does not yet exist worldwide. [And whilst] the notion of a 'standard pronunciation' is useful in the international setting of English as a second or foreign language, but here too there is more than one teaching model - chiefly, British Received Pronunciation and US General American."

Our sense of identity affects the things we learn and choose not to learn, as well. 
Remember how partial I was to RP growing up? That plays a huge factor, too. You can't learn something if you don't want to. There was a point in my life when I deliberately avoided the American dialect because, not only was I partial to anything European, I had a distaste for anything American. Some Filipinos tend to avoid their own local dialect of English, too, and we see this everyday in countless numbers of wealthy ex-peasants who roam the metropolis shedding their indigenous identity for Starbucks. The changes are deliberate because there is a conscious motive. I can only hope for these absurd biases to die off someday. 

All accents, dialects, and languages are made equal. Use as much as you can to your liking, or as few, but another person's speech is no better or worse than yours.

And because I'm still bad with endings, I will stop here. There will probably be a third part. Maybe. Or I could write about grammar. Bad SVA is a disease. Ye cannae spak the leid without the propar grammers.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Revisiting 'To Each His Own Accent'

I made some changes to the original.

Read it again here because the second part (after 3 years) is on its way in a few minutes.