Those who neglect philosophy and spend their time on ordinary pursuits are like the Suitors who desired Penelope but slept with her maids.

I want to see the top ten list of Pagans furthering devotional practice and piety. social justice work while important is *not* in fact a substitute for religious devotion and/or ritual. I’ve seen three or four great lists about change agents and activist pagans…what about the devout ones?


Had a sit down with a Christian priest and his wife over the weekend and apparently this is an issue in the interfaith community and in much of Christianity: this elision of devotion, contemplation, and ritual in favor of social activism. Apples and oranges. We need both, but they’re not synonymous. It’s another case of bringing religion down to the lowest common denominator: taking the Gods out and putting in on human footing (for the record, I think social activism is what we should be doing as engaged human beings). Part of me was glad to see it’s not just polytheism and paganism that’s mixed up on this score and part of me was dismayed.

Today a colleague posted a quote by the Dalai Lama that went something along the lines of “The purpose of religion is about controlling yourself, not other people.” um, no. While I understand that this was very likely said to encourage religious respect and discourage intolerance, in point of fact the purpose of religion at least to a polytheist is NOT to control yourself. (why do you need religion to do that? have you no character? ancient polytheists when they struggled here had philosophy). The purpose of religion is to venerate the Gods, to pay Them homage, to engage in right relationship with Them. it’s a language and protocol to do that properly. I thought “even the Dalai Lama?” how sad.

I blame this partly on the myth of progress being seen as synonymous with lack of devotion and consequently with devotion being viewed as useless and/or superstition. I could write a whole book on this and again, while it’s rather comforting to know that mainstream religions are going through this fight too, it’s also very, very sad. the poison of modernity.

(By modernity, I do not mean technology. I mean a modernity defined by this victorian myth of progress, by a hierarchy of religions, by the consequences of colonization, by the scientific revolution (and the protestant reformation before that). I could draw a straight line if I had to. Part of what I study tangentially academically is the rise and fall of cult of saints, relics, ossuaries and the like and that’s led me to read quite a bit about the counter reformation and there was a huge shift in the 1800s where this idea of being “modern” came to symbolize all that was good and just in the world. Now how one defined modern…well, in part it had to do with getting rid of religious superstition and by superstition read anything that dealt with mysticism or devotion. we have been fucked from the moment we abandoned our ancestral polytheisms).

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Posted on December 29, 2015, in community, Polytheism, theology, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. I suspect there is the whole thing of “you can’t categorize/prioritize/hierarchicalize devotion,” which is why one won’t see a “Top Ten Pious Pagans List.” Because of the whole idea of “we judge people by their actions,” we thus get lists of activists and so forth as a kind of substitute for actual devotion, etc., which is unquantifiable and “no one should judge it.”

    But, even independent of all that, your points all stand very well. This is why, I think, the interfaith movements are going to fail in general, and will continue to marginalize and exclude polytheists (and the pagans who play the game of the monotheists get included and welcomed, of which there are no small number). I proposed several things to the World Parliament, including a devotional ritual–but no, they didn’t accept that. The only people who got to do devotional rituals were the “main” large religions. They chose something amongst the options I proposed which seemed within a particular section of social activism, that I might be able to share with people from other religions that could be applied easily to them and those contexts, that didn’t seem “based in” my own particular religion–and in that, they assumed very erroneously. So, when I showed up to talk about my religion and it as the basis for what social activism matters followed from it, the people who attended got sick of hearing me pray or talk about my religion and wanted me to move on to “what we’re really here for.” Well…fuck that.

    The fear therein, I think, is that if people actually start practicing their religions and doing devotion actually and authentically, there will be some things that occur in ritual which may exclude certain people, and then that will make them feel resentful of those religions, etc. Pagans and other who are willing to say “And now we call on The Divine by whatever name you might like” in their rituals, rather than the actual Deities they worship, get picked while those of us who call on specific Deities that aren’t The Creator, Jesus, or Allah will be out of luck in that context forever. So, I think it’s rather doomed to colossal failure, because all it ends up doing is saying “We can agree on these social matters…” whereupon–no matter how useful or effective or important it might be in such activities (but I debate that*!)–it makes its validity and actuality as a religious activity and a religious endeavor both irrelevant and toothless. Why not just join an environmental group, a social justice cause, etc., and dispense with religion if that’s what you’re interested in (or keep your religious affiliations private while doing so)? It ultimately looks an awful lot like grandstanding.

    [*: There were an awful lot of personal statements, commitments, and pledges signed or discussed at the World Parliament, and there was even an optional “commitments booklet” that one could pick up at registration which outlined these, as they would be presented at the different plenaries. But, even 10,000 people unanimously adopting all of those commitments, to end genocide and discrimination against indigenous peoples, to stop discriminating against women, to be environmentally conscious and stop global warming, to address income inequality, and so forth do EXACTLY NOTHING to actually change any of these situations in the wider world. None of these were adopted as theological positions by any major religion or the leadership thereof, nor of governments or corporations with representatives present–and there were few enough of those!–and thus it all felt really good for everyone to think that they support and stand by these ideas, but actually doing something useful and effective toward those ends and changing the world? Well, just look at all that’s happened since mid-October of this year, and you’ll see how effective it all has been.]

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  2. So, all of that to say: let’s not make a contest out of devotion, nor generate any late 2015 “Top Ten Polytheists of the Year” lists, eh? I mean, really…those kinds of things are puff pieces for people who aren’t creative or engaged enough to be writing things of substance at this time of year (which is not even supposed to be the “new year” celebration for many different practices…!?!).

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    • actually i don’t care about the lists one way or another but they do, in this case, make my point.

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      • Oh, I know–I wasn’t suggesting you do, but was saying the above both in terms of “this isn’t necessary and is kind of pointless” (and, as you very rightly said, is a symptom of how problematic the pagan communities are in their reasoning on so many things) as well as (hopefully!) discouraging anyone getting any ideas of polytheists doing something similar. Anyway…

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  3. Honestly, I think that a lot of people in interfaith groups do not venerate their gods, particularly the Christian clergy. The central doctrine of Xity is the Incarnation, but many clergy talk about everything else but. “Jesus sets an example for us . . .” but not “Jesus is divine [in some sense].” What is there to fill the avoid but the social activism? As you said, apples and oranges.

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