Polytheistic Voices: Interview with Kenaz Filan

kenaz portraitI’ve known Kenaz for years so it was a pleasure doing this interview recently for this series. Like me, Kenaz straddles the line between two polytheistic traditions: Voudoun and the Northern Tradition. The Gods do send us down some interesting roads. He’s written several books including “The Power of the Poppy,” and (with Raven Kaldera) “Dealing with Deities,” and “Drawing Down the Spirits.” Thank you, Kenaz for agreeing to participate in this interview.

GK: Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you come to polytheism?

Kenaz: I was interested in magic and the occult for as long as I can remember. From my early 20s onward I was involved in Ceremonial Magic and Neopaganism. Because I have also long felt an affinity for darker Cthonic energies I became involved in Satanism and Goetia. Had I been born 30 years earlier I’d be what the kids today call an “Edgelord.” I found Chaos Magic thought-provoking at times and loved the intellectual aesthetic of Ceremonial Magic – but I never felt comfortable reducing the Gods to thought-forms, archetypes or things that only existed between my ears. I always knew there was Something Else there and that They were worthy of worship. I also never bought into the idea of a Golden Age when the Gods walked among us. I felt like They were as present now as They were 10,000 years ago and that They still had an interest in us: They did not cease to exist when we stopped worshipping them any more than a rock disappears when you turn your head.

While I have always felt compassion for the poor and disempowered I have never been particularly egalitarian. An important part of our American psyche is that all men are created equal before the law. There has been considerable debate about what that means. For me it means whatever your social class or lifestyle choices all citizens should be given a chance to achieve to the best of their abilities; that all accused of a crime deserved a fair trial before an impartial jury; that all should be treated with respect and courtesy until they prove undeserving of same. (I understand that we rarely live up to these tenets, but that reflects more poorly on us than them). But I also understood that people were not equal. Strength, intelligence, skill, passion, piety – these things were not evenly distributed among humanity. Neither did I have a problem that there were some people who were Called (had a Vocation in the language of my Roman Catholic youth) to the Priesthood while others served the Divine by living their lives honorably and doing your duty to your family, your community and your Gods.

In 1994 I had a psychotic break that left me homeless on the streets of Manhattan for several months. During that time I made contact with a spirit that called Himself “Legba” and who told me, among other things, that I would become a Vodou initiate. At the time I thought this impossible: in March 2003 I was initiated as Houngan Coquille du Mer in Societe la Belle Venus #2 of Brooklyn, New York by Mambo Azan Taye (Edeline St-Amand) and Houngan Si Gan Temps (Hugue Pierre). Since then I have continued to serve the lwa and much of what I have learned in Vodou has influenced my way of dealing with my ancestral Gods. Then, in 2004 Loki showed up and, unsurprisingly, things got very … interesting.

One of the defining moments in the modern Polytheistic revival was Kenny Klein’s arrest on child pornography charges. The Pagan community’s response to that left me – and just about everybody else in the community who identified as a Polytheist – furious and disgusted. I realized then that contemporary Neopaganism’s atheism and relativism were fatal flaws which have real world consequences. I ceased to identify in any way as part of the Neopagan community and began calling myself a Polytheist – and many other Polytheists did the same thing. Today’s Polytheism shares very little with modern Neopaganism: we certainly don’t share our Gods. I’d say we have become a different religious tradition but it’s more accurate to say that we have become a religious tradition since what they are doing owes more to psychotherapy than theology.

GK: You’ve been a staunch defender of Loki over the years (something that I particularly appreciate). Can you tell me a little bit about your devotional relationship with HIm?

Kenaz: My first experience with Loki started as a meditation on Freyja as I attempted Seidhr: instead of finding myself in the presence of Freyja I found myself in the cave. Since that time Loki has been a constant presence in my life. I followed His instructions when he told me to live for several years as a woman. I believed Him when He told me that I would have a child even though the hormones should have rendered that impossible. And in return Loki has brought nothing but blessings into my life, including the greatest gift of all – my daughter, Annamaria Sigyn Estelle Filan. I am eternally in His debt: speaking up on His behalf when he is wronged is the least I can do to acknowledge all He has done for me.

Most Loki-detractors make several fundamental errors about the nature of pre-Christian practices in northern Europe. The idea of “Lore” owes more to Protestant sola scriptura than to tradition. It prioritizes the work of Snorri Sturluson, an Icelandic Christian, over the disparate practices of a region which stretched from northern Scandinavia to the banks of the Volga River. It gives the Eddas a Scriptural authority which Sturluson never intended: it also anachronistically applies the Manichean “Good/Evil” axis to traditions which (unlike Christianity) were never touched by Manicheanism or by any other Gnostic tradition. There were certainly evil wights and evil men in the myths of northern Europe. The Gods could be benevolent, hostile or some combination thereof depending on the situation. But there was no idea of an elemental Evil or of an infernal Adversary eternally warring with the Divine and with humanity: Loki was never a “Nordic Satan” any more than Odin became a “Nordic Christ” because he hung on Yggdrasil.

I identify Loki with Lóður and with the force which makes the blood flow and which animates our world. I believe there may also be some cognate between “Lok” and the low German gelücke from whence our word “luck” derives. I don’t think it is a huge stretch to identify Loki with a generally benevolent but unpredictable bringer of blessings and good fortune. And given how Loki appears in almost every story preserved in the Eddas, I think He was a major God within the traditions of northern Europe. I also think His binding is one of the major myths of our Lokean tradition. His long agony on the rock and the eternal fidelity of His wife Sigyn are powerful if painful foci for meditation and contemplation. And while it sometimes seems that for every step forward we take a dozen steps back into Lokiswives of Tumblr, I am confident that we are seeing the birth of a Loki cultus which will survive and thrive long after we are gone.

GK: Late 2016 you started the rather controversial website polytheism uncucked. What prompted that? What is it’s focus? What do you intend /hope to accomplish here?

Kenaz: Polytheism Uncucked started out with tongue firmly in cheek. After Rhyd Wildemuth declared that Paganism was under attack from the shadowy forces of the Alternative Right, I figured I might as well be the devil they claimed me to be. But as I continued studying I began to understand that I am the product of European culture and a child of the European Diaspora. I realized that to honor the Gods of Europe I needed to protect my ancestral European homeland and my European brothers and sisters. And so I began talking about impolite topics like the Islamization of Europe and the plight of poor White America. I began speaking out against AntiFa thuggery and pointing out the deleterious effects of Postmodernism and Cultural Marxism on our art, culture and interpersonal relationships. Which means, at least to some people, that I became the worst sort of racist. (Insert pearl-clutching here).

Parenthood also played a major role in my “Dark Enlightenment,” “Redpilling,” or political development as you prefer. We live in a working -class area of Newark where we are an ethnic minority. We have never experienced any problems and our Black and Latino neighbors have never been anything but kind and helpful. But when they look at us they see White people: our roots and our culture share many commonalities, but there are also many differences. And so I began wondering what it meant to be White for us and for Annamaria, and realized White was something more than an absence of Color.

Necessity and desire drove our ancestors from their homes: history transformed them into White Americans. We are the European diaspora; we are Europa’s children; we are part of a process that was ancient when the first English settlers landed on Plymouth Rock and part of a people who are committing demographic and literal suicide. Those who came before us may have done great evil but they also did great good. We have lessons to learn from their triumphs as well as from their mistakes. And in any event we have a responsibility to honor our ancestors not because they were good or because they were triumphant but because they are our ancestors.

Vodou, Lukumi and other African Diaspora traditions preserved African religious traditions through the horrors of the Middle Passage and slavery. I believe folkish Heathenry is one means by which we can honor our European Gods and work to preserve our European identity and our European culture. This has nothing to do with disparaging the ancestry of others: it is, rather, about honoring our own. “Woke” Black people and White people have a great deal in common. Both wish to preserve their culture; both place enormous importance in the family and community; both know their people face enormous challenges like poverty, unemployment, violence and despair; both believe the solution to their communities’ problems will only be found within their communities; both believe a spiritual awakening is a necessary precedent to any material improvements. The answers to our problems lie not in eternal conflict and hatred but in mutual respect. “Different” does not have to mean hostile.

GK: Now how do you balance working in two traditions (I do as well): Norse and Voudou?

Kenaz: Vodou is the central pillar of my practice: I use so much of what I learned about approaching the Lwa in my service to Europa’s Gods. My wife (also a Mambo) and I have both had the maryaj lwa: we abstain from sex on Tuesday through Thursday in honor of our divine Spouses (Ezili Freda and Danto for me: Ogou, Damballah and Zaka for her). We have shrines for the Rada, Petwo and Ghede in our home: we have Legba standing at the door to protect us from evil and bring in blessings. I have refrained from writing publicly about Vodou for some time, but that is only because I wanted to make space for Haitians to document their own faith. Right now there are several open Haitian houses were people can be initiated and learn how to serve their lwa: Haitian and Haitian-American artists and academics like Hersza Barjon, Claudine Michel and Patrick Bellegarde-Smith are writing books on the subject. I have 15 years as a Houngan: these people were raised in the culture and have far more to teach than I do. My services in that arena are no longer required: there are better people out there for the task.

By contrast, the contemporary Polytheist movement is in its infancy. We are still building that community and defining what it means to be a Polytheist. (See the ongoing flap about “archetypal Polytheists,” otherwise known as “Neopagans who want to call themselves Polytheists”). I am focusing my attention there for now as I feel that is where it is most needed. There is an enormous hunger for the Gods in our culture, a burning desire for something more meaningful than hollow materialism and blind nihilism. We are a society riddled with impietas: our relationships with our Gods, our communities, our families and ourselves have all gone off the true. The center no longer holds and things are falling apart.

Our only chance is to establish islands of piety amidst the spiritual pollution and to work to right those imbalances – to re-establish what the Romans called pietas. I believe that when we do that we will discover there are many others who are seeking desperately for what only the Gods can give them. Make a fitting place for the Gods and fitting priests who serve Them properly and They will do the rest. That is the public task to which I have set myself: to lead Europa’s children back to Europa’s Gods.

GK: what advice would you give newcomers to polytheism?

Kenaz: The Gods are many, the Gods are real, the Gods are here. Everything else flows from that.

Many people will tell you that you are crazy, that you are delusional, that you are taking this too seriously. This includes many people who claim to be serving the Gods but who are really engaging in psychodrama or in an elaborate live-action roleplaying game. Real piety terrifies them: it implies the Gods they use for window dressing might be real, and might make real demands of them. Their input is less than useless and should be ignored.

This is not a contest. Ordeal workers, horses and Godspouses are neither better Polytheists nor better people simply by their office. The most important task facing every Polytheist is to honor the Gods and to live a life befitting Their worshippers. A sincere prayer offered in gratitude is a greater gift to Them than an agonizing Ordeal performed only to impress the crowd. Ask what the Gods want you to do, then do it. Sigyn assuages Loki’s pain with a battered bowl: your simple life and your humble tools may do greater service for the Gods than you could ever imagine. Live for the Gods and you will live a Godly life.

I have heard many variants of the question “so what does a Spirit-Worker get out of this?” The answer is simple: you get to live your life in the constant and knowing presence of the Gods. There is no greater reward.

GK: What do you consider the most important elements of praxis?

Kenaz: Repetition is very important. The ancient world set its calender by seasons of worship. When you establish a regular cycle of service for your Gods, you create an axis around which your world can revolve. Your “mundane” tasks – I put that in quotes because in Polytheism there are no mundane tasks: every word, deed and thing is infused with the Gods – become part of your ongoing encounter with the Divine. Serve the Gods even when you don’t feel like it, even when you don’t see the point, even when you doubt Their very existence. In time you will internalize this service and it will become second nature to you: you will know Their presence in your heart and in your bones.

GK: There’s an old Russian saying that “repetition is the mother of learning” and I have certainly found that true, most especially in spiritual work.

Kenaz: Cleansing is vital. We live in a society that is full of miasma, where piety is conflated with fanaticism and delusion, where blasphemy is lauded and reverence is scorned. If we don’t cleanse ourselves from that spiritual sewage we will inevitably choke on it. I start and end my day by washing my head, breast, solar plexus, genitals and feet and praying that the Gods may take away that which pollutes me: I would recommend that every Polytheist do something similar. When you start doing this you will become increasingly aware of miasma and be able to either avoid or deal with it as the situation warrants.

Understand that your life is an ongoing prayer. The Christians who ask”What Would Jesus Do?” are onto something. When you live in the constant presence of the Gods you find yourself asking how They might feel about a particular course of action. This is not the “super friends” relationship you see in too much Tumblr spirituality – the kind where Loki is a whacky neighbor and Odin trades off with Dr. Who in telling you about your Important Cosmic Destiny. Rather it is the knowledge that you stand before the Creators and Shapers of Being and the deep understanding of how you should carry yourself before Them. Colored by this understanding, your life and your spiritual practice cannot help but move toward greater piety and balance.

GK: What projects do you currently have in the works?

Kenaz: I continue to work on Polytheism Uncucked and am toying with the idea of writing Europa’s Children: Toward a White American Polytheism. I would like to create a framework whereby Europa’s children can honor Europa’s Gods and recognize their role and responsibility as members of the European Diaspora. I would also like to see an American cultus which would allow Americans of all faiths, ethnicities and political leanings to honor the American spirit and America’s gods in the same way citizens of the Roman Empire venerated the Gods of Rome and the Roman government. And I continue in the most important project of all – raising Annamaria to be a happy and healthy child and teaching her to serve and honor our Gods.

GK: thank you, Kenaz. Folks interested in reading more of Kenaz’s work can check out his two blogs here and here.

*************

Be sure to check out my other sites:

Wyrd Curiosities at Etsy

My academia.edu page

My amazon author page.

Walking the Worlds Journal

My art blog at Krasskova Creations

My blog about all things strange, weird and medieval.

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Posted on May 3, 2017, in African Traditional Religions, Heathenry, Lived Polytheism, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. Perhaps you can put ‘Europa’s Children’ on the future prayer card list.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I’m really enjoying this series. This interview is quite fascinating! I see a lot criticism given to Polytheism Uncucked, it’s nice to have an understanding from the creators perspective.

    Funny fact: until recently I didn’t understand what “Uncucked” meant, nor the cultural implication it represented. (Being Non-US) I think that fact truly represents the localised implications of the political discourse that is invading polytheist ‘communities’. This can be viewed as a positive, as polytheism was/is localised, but also it puts things in perspective in terms of the values we express an international ‘community’.

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  3. So Kenaz is responsible for this false dichotomy that “Neopagans” see the gods only as archetypes, whereas true-blue polytheists see them only as independent entities?

    Please allow me to play the codger card: I have been around this scene since 1972 and no one ever taught me that. I learned tht (neo) Pagan = polytheist from the get-go.

    There is a similar “straw man” advanced about Wicca, that Wiccans are not polytheists because they deal with only one god and one goddess. Again, false. Those two are merely the chief (but not only) deities of Wicca. No one ever told me that they were the sum total of deity. (People who think so may have been reading Dion Fortune, but she was Christian Qaballist.)

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    • ganglerisgrove

      Kenaz wasn’t responsible for that, people like Halstead were, who came into our communities trying to disrupt them with his atheism.

      Liked by 1 person

    • My experience starts about 10-15 years after yours, so I’m a late middle-aged codger. 🙂

      When I first became involved in the Neopagan scene most Pagans believed in a literal God and Goddess: many were Duotheists who believed all Gods and Goddesses were masks of the One God and One Goddess, but they believed they were literal Beings, not “archetypes” or “thoughtforms” or whatever else you use to mean “things that don’t exist outside my skull.” By the dawn of the 21st century most Neopagans I encountered believed the Gods were archetypes. There were certainly exceptions, but they were just that: the general consensus was that They were at most part of the Collective Unconscious and that ritual was psychodrama rather than religious ceremony.

      The Polytheist Revival is Theocentric: it holds that the Gods exist outside our consciousness. The archetypal view is Humanocentric: the Gods are images which humans can use for self-improvement. Under a Humanocentric view there is little reason for sacrifice or devotion: you’re not there for the Gods, the Gods are there for you. When you believe the Gods precede man and man exists to serve and honor Them, suddenly devotion and sacrifice take on a new meaning. There is plenty of debate on metaphysical questions, as there should be. But the Polytheists I know — and I know quite a few — reject the Archetypalist worldview and believe in the literal existence of Gods.

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  4. Richard Norris

    I personally can’t be any more involved with an “Alt-Right” polytheism any more than I could be involved with an “Anarchist polytheism”. Both versions seem to be idiosyncratic identities cobbled together in an effort to oppose and bring down their enemies, an opposition which is largely the forward impetus relied upon to keep their disorganized constituencies from devouring one another from the inside out. Watching the anarcho-syndicalists eat the Maoists will likely be just as ruefully entertaining as watching the libertarians, Dominionists, and white preservationists commit mass cannibalism when their movements fail.

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  5. I am actually trying hard to move beyond the idea of “bringing down our enemies” insofar as our enemies are members of other groups. Poverty is our enemy; substance abuse is our enemy; our declining birth rate is our enemy; an ideology which prioritizes the individual over the family and the community is our enemy. Blacks, Hispanics, etc. are members of different cultures — not better, not worse, but different. Time we spend squabbling amongst ourselves is time we are not spending reclaiming our connection to our heritage and our Gods. Pride in our European heritage does not have to involve, and should not involve, the denigration of other cultures and their heritage. Europeans played a major role in the creation of America: so did other equally valid and equally beautiful cultures. If you love your Ancestors, you love your people. And I want everybody to love their Ancestors, to understand they have a Purpose which goes beyond consumption and gratification of our personal desires, and to work toward uplifting their people and their community.

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    • The only thing I find problematic here is the identification of whiteness as culture. The white inclusion is fickle and subject to change in who is allowed into the group. For instance not too long ago my Italian ancestors would not have been allowed into the club. Cultural is when you see Irish Americans and Italian Americans etc. Those without the Euro tie often feel without culture…If you define skin pigment asa culture it leaves little room for mixed heritage children. I love my German, Italian, Welsh, Scottish ancestors (not my *white* anxestors) and this does not diminish my love for my NA Blackfoot ancestors. And I expect my children to love these as well as their African American ancestors. African Americans unlike “white” or latinx people have the disadvantage of complete obliteration of their ancestral heritage as the slave system does not preserve what part of Africa they came from…therefore lack the advantage of knowing from directly where their ancestors hail. I agree though loving your ancestors…all of them from all the various cultures of Europe and elsewhere…is certainly important

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      • Whiteness is certainly problematic: its definition has changed with time and it has certainly been used as a tool of oppression against non-Whites. But for better or worse Whiteness exists. When people see me walking down the street with my daughter they don’t see an Irish/Eastern European/?(*) man walking an Irish/Eastern European/?/Irish/Hungarian/Dutch/German child: they see a White man and a little White girl. Many, perhaps most, White Americans have only the vaguest connection to their ethnicities save that their ancestors came from Europe. Their heritage wasn’t obliterated by slavery but it was blurred beyond recognition thanks to the “melting pot” that transformed them into Americans. White Americans aren’t going anywhere: we play the hand we’re dealt and so it’s up to us to determine what Whiteness is and what we are to do with it.

        Multiracial Americans are becoming more prevalent and I see no problem with them honoring all their Ancestors. (I’ve often questioned why so many Folkish Heathens implement a “one drop” rule in their membership requirements: most African-Americans have at least some European ancestry and I see no reason why they could not serve European as well as African Gods). Afrikaners are about as White as you get, yet almost all Afrikaners have some Hottentot or Maori ancestry: while Dutch sailors were on the Cape from the early 17th century, European women didn’t start arriving until the 19th century and even today most Coloured South Africans speak Afrikaans as a first language. The architects of Apartheid honored it as much in the breach as in the observance. As you rightly pointed out, Whiteness is a slippery term: I’m more interested in using it to bring people together than to exclude them.

        (*) I was adopted at birth and believe my birth mother was Irish and my birth father possibly Eastern European: when I get my 23andMe results I will know more.

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  6. Kenaz writes, ” By the dawn of the 21st century most Neopagans I encountered believed the Gods were archetypes.”

    All I can say is that that was not my reality.

    On the other hand, Robert Anton Wilson (author of the Illuminatus triology, etc.) once wrote a piece in Carl Weschke’s old GNOSTICA magazine about how if you treat the gods as only gods, they can manifest as archetypes — and vice-versa.

    And I have learned about the gods by reading some archetypal psychologists, particularly Ginette Paris’ PAGAN GRACE and PAGAN MEDICATIONS (she uses “Pagan” in a slightly different way than I do, but never mind that.)

    Getting upset about some blogger — it’s all sort of middle school-cafeteria-ish, isn’t it. “We won’t let Johnny sit with us because he dresses funny and he smells bad. And besides,
    we are hard, rigid, throbbing polytheists, and he is not.”

    Me, I’ve had my Big Dreams, my UPG’s, etc., and I value them. I know who I relate to, speaking of divinity. But I also realize that the Big Mysteries are larger than our categories!

    What you say about treating the Lore as Protestants treat scripture, etc., is dead on. There are many rants that could spin off that one.

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    • I’m not saying that Archetypalist Pagans can’t do good work or write good blogs. I’m not saying that they can’t sit with us, become friends or lovers with us, or have worthwhile discussions with us. I’m saying that they are working outside our religion. I learned a great deal from St. Ignatius Loyola, Thomas Merton, and St. John of the Cross, among other Catholic thinkers. None of them were Polytheists. Rumi was a brilliant poet whose works have enormous value for any mystic, but he’s not a Polytheist. And Archetypalist Pagans are not Polytheists as most Polytheists (myself included) define Polytheism.

      Belief in literal Gods is one of our core tenets: there are enormous differences between a Theocentric and Humanocentric philosophy. Saying we are just the same as Archetypalists would do a disservice to both worldviews and philosophies. In the name of opening up a big tent we would blur the very real distinctions between us and end up with a mush that satisfies nobody. I agree with you that the Big Mysteries are larger than our categories: I also think they are larger than our heads.

      I can’t blame Asatruar for placing so much emphasis on Sturluson. He’s the best of the few surviving sources and most of what we know about the Norse Gods comes from him. I’ve seen a lot of “UPG” in my time, and a lot of it looked more like a 4-letter word than a 3-letter acronym. Looking back to primary sources gives us some way to ground our practice in tradition — and given how few sources we have, it’s not surprising many Asatruar have come to think of those as Holy Writ. But pre-Christian European traditions were not Religions of the Book with sacred scriptures, they were folk practices which varied from region to region and tribe to tribe. There were commonalities but there were many differences. We know very little about Forsetti, for example, but we know he was one of the major Gods of the Frisian tribes and probably a Sacred Ancestor. We know that in some regions Tyr was seen as leader of the Gods, while others gave that honor to Wotan, or to Nerthus, or to Frey and Freyja, the Lord and the Lady. But we don’t know exactly how they were worshipped: we have lost many of their sacred myths and just about all their holy rituals.

      In my ideal world tradition would get a vote, not a veto. UPG and variations in practice would be checked against the prevailing sources and against archaeological evidence, with the understanding that this information was fragmentary at best. We’d also understand that various groups might have different ways of dealing with the Gods and recognize it was this way in pre-Christian Europe as well. The drive to standardize practices into one “correct” way is a product of Monotheism and does not reflect the variety of traditions found in northern Europe.

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