More on Breaking and the Gods

The conversation on this topic going on within my previous post has brought up a few more points that I’d really like to address, at least in brief. I don’t think we – any of us—go into this work prepared. This is a huge deficit. It’s this, more than any other factor that I personally believe makes the breaking process so damned difficult. There is absolutely nothing in our society and culture that prepares us for devotional work and quite a lot that makes it problematic. We’ve got the monotheistic current (largely Protestant dominated, and more and more evangelical) and the Humanist current and those of us who are struggling to find footing in devotional work are caught in between, high and dry as the saying goes. We come into this work conditioned to struggle.

Our ancestors may have had their struggles spiritually but they were living in a polytheistic world, a world informed by the accepted existence of Gods and spirits and an awareness of the dangers of the sacred. Their entire world was not at war with the idea of polytheism, piety, and devotion. It was a necessary part of their world-view. I think this made the process easier for those who did seek out mystery cultus, or those who engaged in deep devotional work, and the mystics. …not easy mind you, but easier.

Because of the disconnect in our society, I think we turn a blind or even dismissive eye to the very tools that could help us engage more fully (and less painfully) with the breaking process, the development process, and Gods. Part of the restoration of our traditions must include the restoration of these structures and overall worldview. That’s the hard part, the hardest part, more difficult even than restoring the structures of ritual and our theologies themselves. It’s an uphill battle all the way because in doing that part of this work, we’re not just fighting external belief systems, we’re fighting a battle in our very minds. It’s deprogramming and restoration of ourselves and that’s a damned hard thing. I don’t have any answers there, save that it’s an ongoing process for each of us. No matter how far we think we’ve come in this, there’s always so much farther to go. This was, by the way, a problem as early as the time of Julian the II (you know, the one Christians call the “Apostate”). In one of his writings (and I’m too lazy to go look it up now), he talks about this very thing, that no matter how devoted he is to his Gods, he knows that having been raised monotheist in a growing monotheist culture, he carried contamination in his very mind. So at least we’re in good company! It takes only a single generation to break a tradition. We saw that with the genocide and forced conversion/”education” of Native Americans in the US. It takes one generation of separation to create a ripple of untold destruction. This is our legacy and with what we have to contend.

I think that many of these currents (and the damage they do) have created in many of us a deep resistance to the very tools that might help us the most. One of those is piety. As I said in my previous post, I take a very Latin (as in Roman) approach to this. First and foremost piety is an awareness that there is a protocol, a way to maintain right relationship – not just with the Gods, but with oneself, one’s family, one’s community, one’s city. It’s a way of approaching one’s interactions in the world that is grounded in character and personal duty. Why is piety so important? We aid ourselves by cultivation of those virtues and reap the reward for our personal diligence during the breaking, searing times. It’s that simple.

I don’t think anything will make the spiritual process easy or painless but we can stop hobbling ourselves. Part of that, however, means undoing a lifetime of conditioning, inter-generational conditioning. If we don’t even respect the virtues and values that will turn our character and the very seat of our minds and souls into a place fitting for engagement with the Gods, how can we ever expect the process to be anything but agony? We are not being asked to sacrifice our autonomy so much as to apply it productively. This, I think, requires nothing more than a complete reordering of our priorities. It’s not just about restoring and reconstructing cultus, it’s about how we restore ourselves inside first, foremost, and perhaps most importantly of all.

About ganglerisgrove

Galina Krasskova has been a Heathen priest since 1995. She holds a Masters in Religious Studies (2009), a Masters in Medieval Studies (2019), has done extensive graduate work in Classics including teaching Latin, Roman History, and Greek and Roman Literature for the better part of a decade, and is currently pursuing a PhD in Theology. She is the managing editor of Walking the Worlds journal and has written over thirty books on Heathenry and Polytheism including "A Modern Guide to Heathenry" and "He is Frenzy: Collected Writings about Odin." In addition to her religious work, she is an accomplished artist who has shown all over the world and she currently runs a prayer card project available at wyrdcuriosities.etsy.com.

Posted on April 21, 2015, in devotional work, Polytheism and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I hadn’t stepped back to think about it but I needed to be broken down in order to find my devotional path. It wasn’t even intentional. More that one of the people involved highly recommended daily spiritual work to recover and it became habit.

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  2. There’s a huge level of bias in my following question here, because I honestly can’t see why anyone would turn their back or ridicule someone going through this – and, also, I am very familiar with the stories of great mystics and saints who have undergone this very painful transformation. Truthfully, I don’t know if I’ll undertake that same transformation in my lifetime or not (although I am certainly being steered by the god I work with).

    Why do you think many are so inclined to not support people who are in this “breaking process”? What would be the reason(s)? For one, it because they honestly don’t believe that the gods would do such a thing? (Which is confusing to me, because in the sacred myths the gods themselves are transformed, sometimes very painfully – like Odin, for example). Then there’s a problem between respecting the individual experience of the gods and having to reconcile with the idea that the gods don’t just hug you and give you everything you want at the snap of a finger.

    Maybe that’s a vestige of the monotheist mindset: God is there, and you have to just do whatever you are supposed to. God is not there to actively help you in the way that polytheism sees the gods. Makes a lot of sense about the legacy of monotheism… Never have seen it that way before. Thank you for this writing, and I hope that you are feeling better.

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    • ganglerisgrove

      Ossia, I don’t get it either really. I think that some of us were very, very lucky in that we had good models for this sort of things, even if they weren’t polytheistic models. I also think sometimes people stubbornly resist the reordering of priorities because they fear a complete loss of autonomy, and sometimes I really think it’s just that our communities don’t quite comprehend how to engage with Gods. It may be all of that and more, or none of it and a thousand other things. I just don’t know. I don’t get it. part of it may be that we interact mostly on line because we’re all over the country and world and it’s difficult to read the full emotional depth of a thing through the written word.

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  3. Galina,

    I’ve been following your work for more than a decade now and while there’s a few key things I don’t agree with you on, there’s many more fundamental things I do agree with. Thank you SO MUCH for your views and discourse on things like piety, miasma, discipline, and the breaking process. These things you’re saying are, from my experience, right on the mark. I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate your voice… I very often find myself thinking about things you’ve said months and years later. So thank you for having the courage of your convictions. I think the things you discuss are so timely and essential.

    Greatest blessings to you! 🙂

    PS: Here’s hoping you are still considering a book on cultivating discipline! It’s even more relevant now that you are getting into this issue of breaking, imo…

    @Ossia

    The Christian mystical tradition is full of the breaking of devotees. Jesus himself (and the old testament prophets) went through a period of breaking before his ministry began and again on the cross near his final minutes. Christians, in the main, don’t know what’s in their own sacred text. ” Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” Job 13:15. Mainstream Christianity today is a feel good social club, but many Christian traditions in the past did indeed emphasize that God would absolutely break down people to build them up again. There’s a great novel called Hind’s Feet on High Places published in 1955 that is specifically about this process from a Christian perspective. Even though I haven’t been Christian for over 20 years, I still find it a really excellent treatment of the subject.

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  4. ganglerisgrove

    I think also that when you are suddenly thrust into a position where this process has begun, you have the choice, a very powerful choice to reposition yourself in relationship to it, to consciously work hard to reorder your priorities and work with the process rather than clinging to that which needs to change. We have the power to consciously reposition ourselves.

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