After Class Musings on Blessings, Authority, and Clergy

Ok, so i’ll preface this by saying that after several days of significant ritual work (this time of year is an incredibly intense series of holy days for some of us, ones that focus on honoring the dead, and particularly our ancestors), I’m so tired I could just about face plant into the keyboard. Dragging myself into class today was very, very difficult (thank the Gods for coffee) but I’m so glad I did.

 

I just got out of my morning theology class wherein we were discussing religious leadership, authority, and the positive and negative ways one can exercise authority. We’re discussing all of this through the lens of the play “Doubt” (which I highly recommend) which has several, occasionally ambiguous clerical figures who exercise different types of authority within the milieu of the play, and today was a particularly meaty discussion. Eventually the conversation percolated around to Joe Biden recently being denied communion and one of the class members noted that a decade ago it was common for LGBTQ+ partners to be denied communion at the funerals of their partners, spouses, etc. and I nearly had to leave the classroom. I can think of  nothing more vile than desecrating a ceremony for the dead, and violating someone’s grief by interjecting one’s own politicized interpretation of religion into it. It made me sick to even contemplate.

 

Yes, traditions have rules and scaffolding but there is a time and a place to enforce that; there are the hard line rules on paper and the compassion that should be shown to a person in pain when they show up on your doorstep. I have trouble conceiving of anyone who calls him or herself clergy causing such harm at the moment of a person’s greatest vulnerability: when grieving the death of a loved one. Frankly, I think it’s obscene. There are things that I think a religious leader ought to teach (namely how to engage properly with the Gods) but things like abortion, LGBTQ+, etc. are not (within my tradition at least) religious issues but rather social ones, and each devotee needs to hash his or her feelings on those matters out with their Gods. My own feeling is that the Gods created us exactly as we are and there is NOTHING in our theology that teaches that we are sinful due to our essential natures and nothing that condemns same sex attraction. In fact, quite the opposite. I think we are called as clergy to carefully tease out our own socially programmed ideas of what is licit and right with those supported by our tradition and Gods. That can be really, really difficult but before we take positions of liturgical authority it has to be done (and granted, it’s an ongoing task. I don’t think this is something that ever really ends) and if you’re not sure in a given situation, err on the side of compassion.

 

We also read an article that posited that the primary role of a priest was the act of blessing. Of course the article specified “Christian” priest but I’m opening up the field. The whole class got me thinking whether or not there are circumstances where I would ever deny a blessing to someone. I think I spent most of the class contemplating this. I’ve been a priest since 1995 and I’m a hard ass, I admit that. I believe our first obligation is to protect and nurture the tradition that the Gods have given us, so that we can pass it carefully into the hands of the next generation. Still, I’m not sure it’s my place to ever deny a blessing from the Gods to anyone, not when I’m acting in my capacity as a priest. If someone who had spent the better part of the last decade slandering me and spreading baseless rumors and lies came up to me and asked for a blessing, once I picked my jaw up off the floor, I’d give it. It is not for me or any human to determine whom the Gods might bless. Even the language of blessing reflects that humility before the Powers. The most common phraseology for a blessing is “May the Gods…” or “May the Lord…” or “I pray that…” It’s the hortatory subjunctive. We are asking that a particular God or the Gods in general do a thing, not assuming that They will, not demanding that They will. We are asking and exhorting. That to my mind is hugely important. It expresses syntactically our awareness that it is not for us to command the Gods nor to deny Them what They will have done. It puts our own place in the cosmic hierarchy in stark relief and that is good and maybe even necessary. We may always ask of our Gods, but the moment we think to command Them, we overstep and egregiously so.

 

I also think there is a certain lack of integrity in assuming that the Gods hold our position on political matters. Firstly, we should not need the Gods to tell us not to be horrible human beings, not to be cruel, not to hate someone just because of whom they might love, or whether or not they want children, or x or y or z. These things do not violate the scaffolding of our traditions in any way. They are not relevant to how we might or might not engage with the Holy Powers (the purpose of religion). Therefore, they are not licit categories on which to exercise pastoral authority. Moreover, we cannot as clergy speak in such a way for the Gods without risking hubris and without risking serious potential harm to those we are trying to guide in their devotions and in rooting themselves in our traditions. It gets a little more complicated for polytheistic clergy because we are traditions of diviners, but even with divination, it is a translation and interpretation – unless direct Deity possession happens, which is a whole other can of worms I’m not going to discuss here. We do have our oracles and those who carry the Gods, but they are special cases and for every rule there is an exception and ways to engage within those exceptions with integrity.

 

This is one of the reasons why divination is such a sacred art and why those who do it need to study, pray, cultivate piety and devotion, cultivate humility, and keep themselves brutally clean spiritually (because these things foster clear communication with the Gods and ancestors, which is the main purpose of divination). Here, more than anywhere else in our traditions, there must be self-awareness, personal responsibility, integrity, and care. We must be utterly precise in every possible way, not just the words we speak, but the tone, the language, the shading, the expression with which we speak it. At the mat, we are interlocutors for the Holy and if we err by interjecting our own personal views onto the matter, if we do not clarify, clarify, clarify, we are responsible to the Gods for our error and it’s a grievous one.

 

All of this means owning our needs and desires, our opinions and fractures, and most of all our emotions utterly. The diviner’s mat or priestly setting are two areas where it is utterly irrelevant how we as civilians feel. Those things can be dealt with later. We must be centered, focused, and in clear communion with our Gods when we are exercising the authority of those roles and if we can’t do that, then we have no business whatsoever taking on those responsibilities. This is why it’s good to be challenged by one’s support network, to work under supervision, to have elders and senior clergy to whom to turn. This is why any personal agenda other than honoring the Gods well and acting with integrity to sustain Their traditions is so damned dangerous.

 

And…now I need to rustle up more coffee.

 

About ganglerisgrove

Free-range tribalist Heathen, Galina Krasskova, has been a priest of Odin and Loki since the early nineties. Originally ordained in the Fellowship of Isis in 1995, Ms. Krasskova also attended the oldest interfaith seminary in the U.S.- the New Seminary where she was ordained in 2000 and where she later worked as Dean of Second Year Students for the Academic year of 2011-2012. She has even given the opening prayer at the United Nations Conference “Women and Indigeny”. Beyond this, she took vows as a Heathen gythia in 1996 and again in 2004, She is the head of Comitatus pilae cruentae and a member of the Starry Bull tradition. She has been a member of numerous groups through the years including the American Academy of Religion. She has also served previously as a state government contracted expert on the Asatru faith, and been a regular contributor to various print and online publications geared towards modern pagans and polytheists, and for a time had her own radio program: Wyrd Ways Radio Live. Ms. Krasskova holds diplomas from The New Seminary (2000), a B.A. in Cultural Studies with a concentration in Religious Studies from Empire State College (2007), and an M.A. in Religious Studies from New York University (2009). She has completed extensive graduate coursework in Classics (2010-2016) and is pursuing a Masters in Medieval Studies at Fordham University (expected graduation 2019) with the intention of eventually doing a PhD in theology. She has also been teaching University classes in Greek and Latin. As part of her academic career Ms. Krasskova has written a number of academic articles, and also presented at various academic conferences including Harvard University, Claremont University, Fordham University, Ohio State University, Western Michigan University, Villanova University, and the City University of New York. An experienced diviner and ordeal master, her primary interest is in devotional work and the reconstruction of Northern Tradition shamanism. Her very first book, The Whisperings of Woden was the landmark first devotional text to be written in modern Heathenry. Ms. Krasskova has a variety of published books available running the gamut from introductory texts on the Northern Tradition, as well as books on shamanism, runes, prayer, and devotional practices. She is also the managing editor of “Walking the Worlds,” a peer-reviewed academic style journal focusing on contemporary polytheism and spirit work and the first journal of polytheology. While very busy with teaching and school, she does also occasionally lecture around the country on topics of interest to contemporary Heathenry and polytheisms. A passionate supporter of the arts Ms. Krasskova enjoys going to the opera, theater, and ballet. Her affection for the arts began early as she discovered dance, which she pursued professionally becoming a ballet dancer: first with a regional company in Maryland, then in New York City. After suffering career ending injuries, she would find new forms of expression in the visual arts. For a few years Ms. Krasskova co-owned an art gallery in the Hudson River Valley of New York, and over a course of numerous years she has studied a multitude of art mediums: glassblowing, watercolor, acrylic, photography and more! She is now an avid collage artist, acrylic painter and watercolorist and has even enjoyed placement in international artist-in-residencies programs in New York, New Mexico, and Poland. Her work has been exhibited globally from New York to Paris. She has taken her passion for the arts and polytheistic devotion, to create the Prayer Card Project. Since so much religious iconography has been destroyed, or defaced in the course of human history, she is actively making new religious prayers and iconography available to the various modern polytheistic communities to support those who are building their religious communities, building their devotional practices, and hungering for art that represents their religious faith. All while also supporting the artists within these burgeoning communities.

Posted on November 1, 2019, in theology, Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Well said. Thank you.

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  2. There’s a great deal to agree with here…

    This isn’t a disagreement, so much as a question: what about the cases in which prayers are in the imperative? Dona nobis pacem, for example? I would argue that when such a sentiment is expressed in a prayer in that fashion, it can be understood as a plea, and perhaps even a desperate one (even if expressed without a ton of emotion!), but of course the Deities are still free to say “no” or to act (or not act!) however They may wish. We don’t have to be timid in our prayers, our requests, etc.; but, just because something is expressed forcefully in those moments doesn’t mean it is automatically a command. One can make a “demand” but another party is not necessarily required to meet that demand or assent to it.

    Really, more a grammatical point than anything, but I think you understand why I would make that clarification, personally! 😉

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    • I think even here the unspoken intention is hortatory rather than imperative, a pleading rather than an order for all that the imperative may seem to indicate the former.

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  3. Thank you. Deep appreciation for your wisdom and insight.

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  1. Pingback: I care about Dionysos and his people, not your politics – The House of Vines

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