Monthly Archives: March 2016
Three Word Sonnets for the Old Man
There is no armour against fate.
You are near me once more,
A corpse with streaming hair,
A graveyard shudder,
Dread, unwearable fire.
His shadow falls on mine.
Nought stands but the valiant heart to face pain.
There is no armour against fate.
Scarlet banners rush through the sadness of maples.
In the dusk of eternity meet,
Gaunt the shadow,
Disciplined in the school of hard campaigning,
Discovered new and strange.
There is no armour against fate.
A mightier pain nourishes this hot flame of the spirit.
The butcher-bird sings,
Doom is sealed in gold and blood,
Caught in the snare of the bleeding air.
There is a war between the mind and sky,
Such tasty honey oozing from the heart.
I am afraid to lose you.
There is no armour against fate.
Last night like moths burned on the moon,
The whole sky turned too hot.
Courage was mine and I had mystery.
First war resembles a beautiful mouth,
On the sacred, dolorous way.
Soldiers never do die well.
Hide that red wet –
Of ancient glory sweetly told.
All the dead kings came to me.
There is no armour against fate.
Blessed are the dead that the rain rains upon.
I hear the great drums pounding:
Death’s red sickle is reaping tonight.
I bled for You.
Conferring crimson shades
Set dead lips to talking.
Victor and vanquished are a-one.
When the burning moment breaks,
There is music in the midst of desolation.
There is no armour against fate.
A storm stopped on the place of tombs.
Somber the night is.
Good fury He may feel
Hallows a phantom ground,
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres.
The darkness crumbles away
What heart aghast
Helpless among the living and the dead.
Its silence I hear and obey.
It will be spoken of among half-forgotten,
Whished-to-be forgotten things:
There is no armour against fate.
[With respect to James Shirley, Guillaume Apollinaire/A. Hyde Greet, Edwin Muir, Georg Trakl/John Hollander, Homer/Tennyson,7th C. Arabic anonymous/Charles Lyall, Francis Miles Finch, Herman Melville, Horace, Milton, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Charles Causley, Wallace Stevens, Robert Graves, Yvor Winters, Richard Wilbur, Keith Doublas, Wilfred Owen, Shmuel Ha-Nagid/Peter Cole, May Sinclair, John Cornford, Carl Sandburg, Ernest Hemingway, Ivor Gurney, Francis Ledwidge, Edward Thomas, Walt Whitman, Mark R. Slaughter, Robert William Service, Alice Corbin, Charles Hamilton Sorley, Julian Grenfell, Robert Laurence Binyon, G.K. Chesterton, Isaac Rosenberg, Siegfried Sassoon, Henry Newbolt.]
Walking the Worlds Deadline Approaches
The deadline for submissions to Issue 4 of Walking the Worlds is only a month away. If you’re thinking about submitting an essay or article, or you have one in the works, it’s all due May 1.
The topic for this issue is “Polytheism and Philosophy” and the submission guidelines may be found at the link above. It’s already shaping up to be a great issue, folks.
Dionysos devotional is in
My special edition of “Sacramentum: A Devotional to Dionysos” has arrived. If you have a copy on order but have not yet paid, please contact me at krasskova at gmail.com to arrange payment. This edition will be signed and will include color plates of various images of Dionysos.
An edition of this book will be released in general distribution but it will lack all illustration. There are only a handful of the illustrated version available (I have to check, but I think i have six left) and I am selling them for $25 (this includes shipping and handling, a prayer card, and a little something extra). Each book will be signed and personalized.
Some Random Thoughts on Polytheism
Before class today I was having a really good discussion with several folks on fb including Andrew B. and Ian C. We were talking about a number of different issues relevant to contemporary polytheisms and I want to recap some of my own responses here.
Firstly someone was asking about all the categories that have begun to crop up on Patheos and elsewhere: devotional, mystical, relational, etc. polytheism. My book “Devotional Polytheism” was brought up as an example to clear things up and that’s when I jumped in.
Devotional polytheism is just polytheism. There are a few people who want to parse out polytheism into varieties like ‘mystical,’ ‘devotional,’ ‘relational’ but it’s just silly. Polytheism is polytheism and inherently all of those things if we allow it to be so. I used “Devotional Polytheism” as the title of my book not to parse it out, but because devotion is made up of specific practices of veneration and that’s what I talk about in the book. I didn’t realize that then outsiders were going to take the term and use it to try to marginalize polytheists even more.
Polytheism is pretty easy. One either believes in the Gods as independent beings or one doesn’t and if one doesn’t, one is not a polytheist. People raise the question of ancient religion all the time without in most cases having the faintest clue what that meant or the context in which debates about religion occurred. They prioritize the non-theist thinking as the typical view when it wasn’t. I find that much of modern scholarship on ancient religion is eager to reduce it all to monotheism or cosmotheism (the work of Jan Assman is a perfect example of this latter nonsense). Likewise, modern arguments often argue in favor of praxis over belief, when in fact the two things go hand in hand. Really, the only thing that can and should define a polytheist is belief in the Gods. Anything else is a matter of personal approach and practice. Devotional, mystical, relational…it’s all polytheism and I am deeply suspicious of anyone attempting to parse it out like that.
Ian brought up “Bhakti” devotion and this started us on a really interesting discussion about what exactly devotion is.
Devotion isn’t about “Bhakti” (though that can be *part* of it). It’s about maintaining right relationship with the Gods, about duty — what Roman polytheists would call piety. It’s not something special or out of the ordinary in modern polytheism (or ancient for that matter). It’s the norm. It’s what reasoning adults do. To make it a special category undercuts the core of polytheism, and to render it as something solely emotion-based (as many modern arguments do) diminishes it.
Of course the corollary to belief is that it leads to the actions of devotion. If we know the Gods exist then what does that mean for us and what are our obligations? That is where devotion comes in
I think by setting up “devotional” against other “types” of polytheist, one is creating a false dichotomy. A polytheist can engage in many different ways of going to the Gods. They can engage with heart and head. It’s not an either or, though I do think some people are going to gravitate by nature to certain approaches to the whole devotional scheme. I really think as a community we need to move away from thinking that devotion automatically equals emotion. It doesn’t.
I mean, emotion can certainly be part of it — I love my Gods dearly and that does fuel my devotion, BUT what do you do when you’re not feeling it? Emotion alone is a dangerous thing to base a practice on.
I also think it is erroneous to assume that our ancient forebears did not believe. That they didn’t go on obsessively about belief in their writings reflects more the emphasis on praxis and the lack of “Scripture,” I think. There was no need for established dogma in the way that you see with monotheistic religions, which look to Scripture for both ethical codes and religious inspiration. But to assume that belief was unimportant simply because praxis was more important is, I think, a misreading of the texts; or rather, it’s a reading of the texts that falls in line with modern scholarship that works from a very, very anti-polytheistic stance.
Ian brought up that sometimes belief comes after praxis. I had to admit at this point that I’ve also advised the ‘fake it till you make it’ approach. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, so long as that person then doesn’t try to start dictating a polytheism devoid of belief…which sadly I’ve also seen happening in the communities. It’s often engaging in the practices that opens one up to the experience of the Gods, the sense of Them…that leads to belief. This presupposes of course, that one enters into polytheistic spaces with integrity and a desire to approach the Gods, a desire to develop an awareness and belief.
Returning to the idea of devotion, the problem with defining devotion as “love” of the Gods only, is that sometimes we don’t love Them. There are those dark nights of the soul and what do you do then? And there are times when we’re just not in a particularly receptive head and heart space. Does devotion cease because you’re in a mood? Devotion should be the thing that consistently carries us through. It’s a commitment, a necessary discipline of consistency of practice but if we base it in emotion, then it’s something very easy to give up when that emotion isn’t there. Make sense?
I’m familiar with Bhakthi poetry and it is lovely and that has in many ways been my experience of certain of my Gods, but I would parse that out from devotion…for all the reasons I raised above. I didn’t always do that, but I’ve seen in the past year or so devotion being twisted to marginalize those who are actual polytheists and it’s made me reconsider a need for greater clarity where the nature of devotion is concerned. Devotion is all the practices one does in veneration of one’s Gods, which hopefully flow from a deep love of the Gods, but maybe not. Maybe they just flow from the awareness that this is what a healthy, responsible, adult human being does.
I don’t think we can afford to yield on the question of whether one believes in the reality of the Gods. We are not in the position our ancient forebears were in, wherein everything in their world supported polytheism. We’re in exactly the opposite setting and I very much think that the dividing line needs to be based around the question of belief. Because it’s never enough for those who are uncertain about belief to come and experience, they always seem to want to come and take over. There are enough spaces amongst Pagans where belief doesn’t matter. In polytheism, modern polytheism, it does and very much so. It’s becoming, and I very much support this, the litmus test– if not belief than a willingness to believe, to be moved to it.
At this point in the conversation, Andrew B. brought up the idea of “adaptational orthodoxy,” i.e. moving to a position of requiring belief specifically because of the social and cultural circumstances in which we find ourselves during this restoration. I thought this was brilliant and told him so.
One day, I hope that polytheisms will have the same cultural and social influence that they had in the ancient world, the same position. I work toward that goal. I would like to see us with every bit of the influence we used to have. It won’t happen in our generation but I think: things were not always like this, and it only took a couple of generations for them to change from polytheism to monotheism. That was unthinkable once. That tells me things don’t have to be this way in the future. A pipe dream? Maybe, but I would very much like to see us fully restored. Granted, it won’t happen in my lifetime and probably not in the next generation but it is a goal: to take back our world. There’s a quote from, ironically, the Talmud that I find very inspiring when I despair on this: “you are not expected to complete the work, but neither are you permitted to set it down.”
We began talking briefly about the fact that we don’t require a statement of belief before celebrating rituals with someone and I noted that I don’t hold open rituals. I will allow non-House members to attend but they are briefed as to proper protocol and behavior before hand. I also assign a House member to be their chaperon, I guess one could say for lack of a better word. I don’t query their belief (even though I have had a non-theist profane a ritual once). Visitors are welcome to participate. That is hospitality. That doesn’t, however, mean they are polytheists or part of a polytheistic community or part of my particular tradition. They are guests. There is nothing wrong with that. It is an honorable position and it is one that can, with time and trust, transition into something more.
At that point, Ian came up with something that I absolutely love, and this is why I’m sharing my part of this whole conversation. He said that he tries to create pockets of normative polytheism starting with his home. This is an absolutely brilliant idea and I so wish I’d thought to phrase it this way.
This is exactly what we need: taking back our spaces one step at a time, normalizing polytheism in all the various places we exist. Start at home and expand that outward. Little by little let it become the norm everywhere. Again.
(best thing about this discussion? While we didn’t always agree, we were all civil and it turned into a really productive conversation).
The Culture War Part Two: Electric Boogaloo
Heathen Wayland Skallagrimsson weighs in on the conflict here, bringing up quite a few salient points about traditional religion while he’s at it. Wayland, bravo. i could not agree with you more.
read the whole thing here:
A couple of years ago I published an essay to this blog titled “The Culture War: One Heathen’s Perspective.” Events in the last couple of years have pushed me to revisit the topic, and take up some…
A Thought on the Recent Radical Brouhaha
I think this blog is spot on. it parses out a particularly disgusting aspect of Rhyd’s post that I think too many of us missed. Read the whole thing here:
So, I was born and raised in the Northeast. There’s no other place in this country I’d rather call home. I’m a New Yorker by way of New England (although I’m weary of this state), and this stretch of the country is where my roots are. Perhaps the culture which I have been reared and raised in, the culture in which I make my home, is fundamentally different from that of the West Coast and the Pacific Northwest. I do not, really, see the need nor do I have the inclination to mix social radicalism and religion. My religion specifically isn’t radicalism, and I do not generally believe that religion and politics should mix.
I should fill this out with a caveat that I believe human liberties and social welfare are a-political initiatives and human rights transcends this. Before anyone claims I’m seeking to reinforce the system. I am trying…
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The Hammer of Thor
Yesterday was my birthday and my husband gifted me with an iron Thor’s hammer pendant. I haven’t been wearing a lot of jewelry of late, but this feels good, a solid, comforting weight at my throat and it’s got me really thinking about what the Thor’s hammer stands for and why so many Heathens choose to wear it as a symbol of our tradition.
For those of you who may not know the story, Mjölnir (the name means ‘crusher’ or ‘grinder’) is one of the key attributes of the God Thor. It is often associated both etymologically and folklorically with the thunderbolt. Thor is the son of Odin and the earth Goddess Fjörgyn. He is a God of strength and power, thunder, lightening, and is above all else, the Protector of Midgard. Midgard is our human world. Thor, with His hammer wards the world against destruction and dissolution. He protects it from the forces of entropy and unproductive chaos. Likewise He protects the realms of the Gods against attack.
Thor received His hammer thanks to the machinations of Loki. The story is told in the Skáldskaparmál, part of the “Poetic Edda,” and involves quite a bit of back and forth between Loki and the Duergar, the best craftsmen in all the nine worlds. In many respects the hammer is the repository and symbol of Thor’s protective might and is as strongly associated with Him as Brisingamen is with Freya.
So what does all of that mean?
It is grounding power. Thor’s presence is one of a vital, fierce rootedness, massive and crackling with energy. That’s how it always seems to me at any rate. When I think on what it means to call upon the power of this God, it’s that grounded strength, the ability to remain unmoved no matter what the incoming storm. He is the God Whose presence shatters the force of an attack before it even finds its target. Not only is He fierce enough to ward off and repel harm, but His very presence wards and protects oneself and one’s space from harm, by its very nature. When He is present that which would do us harm cannot be.
The strength of Thor, for that is what the hammer symbolizes, contains the Holy. It readies the space and protects the space in which the Holy may root itself and grow. It protects the viability and integrity of our tradition. It ensures its growth just like the thunder ensures the growth of the grain*; and like that, it stands for our commitment to our tradition, to our Gods, and to the next generation. It is the emblem of perseverance regardless of difficulty or struggle. It is an emblem of vitality, the smoldering warmth of the hearth fire of devotion that, well tended, can blaze into a bonfire that nourishes us even through the most difficult of times.
Finally, it is a symbol of unity, connecting us all, regardless of our denominations and whatever infighting we may have within our tradition, to the Gods with we honor.
*thunderstorms are almost indispensible for grain to ripen—I don’t understand the alchemy but it apparently fixes the nitrogen and this is important in the growth process of grain. Yada yada yada because science. ^___^ I am not a farmer but I do think this is neat.
Disappointing but Expected
Rhyd has posted his rebuttal on Patheos and it is, predictably, a reiteration of his original article with a thinly veiled attack against me and John Beckett thrown in for shits and giggles. Just as predictably, he has attempted to make my own political views the center of his argument, despite the fact they are completely irrelevant to the matter at hand.
Let me be very clear: I will stand with any and all polytheists looking to restore their traditions, maintain their traditions, and secure religious space in which our Gods may be properly venerated now and in the generations to come.
That religious space should be a place where all polytheists regardless of their political affiliations can come to honor the Gods because THAT is what polytheism is about: venerating the Gods first and foremost.
The religious is not the political. The religious is about pouring out oneself in homage to the Holy Powers, first, last, and always.
If Rhyd cannot distinguish clearly between politics and religion, then he is a threat to our communities and their religious integrity.
Our Strength Lies in Our Diversity
More rebuttals come in by the hour, such as Aed Dubh’s defense of hierarchy:
The Gods are not human. The Gods are greater than humans- in power, in knowledge, in vision, in perspective, in so many things. Of course we’re in a hierarchical relationship with them! I firmly believe that we retain our agency and sovereignty in dealings with them (and I for one believe that if we didn’t, They wouldn’t want to have relationships with us), but still… They are greater than us. Does recognition of that make us somehow more vulnerable to hijacking by the New Right? No.
One of the dangers of Rhyd’s polarizing “Us vs Them” rhetoric is that it actually aids the racists and radical right-wing nutjobs who are attempting to co-opt our traditions, because any criticism of the article is taken by his followers as tacit approval of those elements, as you can see in this exchange on Reddit. (Their tactics are so disgusting and underhanded that I have no intention of quoting anything, but do have a read for yourself.)
Which is why it’s all the more important that people like Markos are speaking up:
I identify as an Apolitical Devotional Polytheist, I have ‘traditionalist’ inclinations but am not a reconstructionist. The only time I am ever involved in politics is when my practices are under threat and I see this as a threat, I’m highly critical of the intention of this statement and have publically pointed out the hypocrisy of the statement.
I therefore fit within the categories of Rhyd’s “New Right”.
The “New Right” Statement enables groups of people to label me, to define me as something I’m not. It gives people the power and justification to bully, to harass, to intimidate, to censor, to ban ANYONE that fits within the broad definitions of “New Right”. These tactics have been already utilised to attack polytheists, not just online. It has serious real world consequences, as proven by the Bakcheion debacle that not only cost the members but also local business real financial consequences.
If folks can’t see what this is, then the Polytheist community is totally broken and lost.
These attacks aren’t just dangerous, they’re flat out wrong, as G. B. Marian eloquently demonstrates:
It seems like the term “devotional polytheist” is becoming a “dirty word” among some of the more outspoken Pagan figureheads, and I can’t seem to figure out why for the life of me. When I refer to myself by this term, I am using it in the simplest way possible. I am a “polytheist” because I believe there are many Gods (though I leave it for others to debate what the Gods actually are), and I am “devotional” because my spirituality revolves around praying and making offerings and keeping shrines to Them (i.e., I don’t really care about magic or spellwork, except when it comes to execration rituals). That’s all there is to it, man. Yes, I worship a Force of Nature that I consider to be infinitely greater than myself, and I believe I’ve been appointed to serve as a priest of this awesome Being; but guess what? Everyone else in my tradition is clergy as well. There is no laity in LV-426 for us to stratify. We make all of our group decisions democratically, and even when we do interact with laity – which for us means anyone who isn’t a devout Seth worshiper – we never treat them like we have all the answers or that they should just do whatever we say. Furthermore, our chief God is not the sort of God who gives commandments or who threatens to punish anyone for disobedience. I can’t speak for other devotional polytheists who are devoted to different Gods, but the idea of mixing Seth and hierarchy has never made any sense to me personally.
And they’re incredibly hypocritical and setting up a double standard, as Jehana Silverwing points out:
It is interesting that the author of the above article considers European or European-descent people fascist if they talk about the loss of their despoiled lands in Europe — but give American Indians a free pass if they do the same (here). Frankly — BOTH groups have a strong case, and the author is just being hypocritical. (Meanwhile, I agree, we of European descent should not appropriate Native American culture for our own ends.)
There are ways to be critical of politicizing threats to our communities – whether from the Left or the Right – without going way off into Cloudcuckoo Land, as Cold Albion does here:
I can totally see newbies and those with axes to grind against various paganisms and polytheisms reading it in a less than critical/charitable manner and being put off/gaining ammunition
On the other side however, when said author is saying, on their publicly accessible Facebook Page “It’s amazing to see members of otherwise well-respected polytheist groups be in full agreement with people who are not only known New Right ideologues, but all out racists.” then I begin to wonder if such generalisations are actually held differently, and the author actually believes the aforementioned groups are somehow inherently racist, or grounded in New Right Thought – after all, doesn’t the article point out that these points of agreement are precisely what supposedly make them vulnerable to the New Right in the first place?
Hitler was a vegetarian. Other vegetarians agree with him on the issue of vegetarianism. Does this mean that all vegetarians agree Hitler fully, on all issues? That all vegetarians concur with Nazi doctrine? I rather doubt it.
Over all I am very proud of how our communities are handling this debate. Keep speaking up folks – but remember, it’s ideas we’re debating, not people however tempting it might be to go there. We don’t have to sink to Rhyd’s level to defend ourselves. We can – and will – do better than that.