A Few Thoughts on Modernity and Indigeneity,

This morning a friend and fellow theologian said to me, “It’s not fashionable to believe in God anymore but I certainly do” and I told him that I quite agree. My belief in, love of, and veneration of my Gods is the axis mundi around which my entire life revolves. I believe it is our reason for being as human beings, and a good and potent thing. My response to him was this: “I think we need to look at why it’s no longer fashionable”(1).

All of this was in response to a conference panel that I attended earlier this week, one that I found very rewarding. It was a panel dealing with sexual diversity in Orthodoxy. Several students asked me why I was there (not being Orthodox. They weren’t being mean, they were honestly surprised and/or curious). I told them that I found it interesting and above all else, there is not a single issue in early Christianity the results of which my communities aren’t wrestling with now, and in many cases the same issues are affecting all communities of faith, regardless of tradition, today. Plus, I wanted to support my colleagues for whom this continues to be a matter of grave importance within their tradition and who had put in a tremendous amount of work over the last year discussing and debating the topic.

I don’t think, theologically speaking, that sexual diversity and LGBTQ+ rights are an issue in polytheistic communities overall. There is no underlying theological position being used to condemn or bar LGBTQ+ people from becoming clergy or participating in rituals (2). Likewise, I don’t think we see men or women being barred from clergy roles on account of their gender (3). In polytheistic traditions, I think the topic of sexual diversity is a non-issue (at least when one compares how highly charged a matter it is in monotheistic circles). I was happy to see the issue being discussed and the panel raised really good and thoughtful points. It really made me reflect on what our traditions do well and where we have a bit farther to go still too. One thing, however, bothered me immensely and I think we see it in our communities quite a bit, so I’m going to mention it here.

It seemed that “modernity” (in any particular iteration) was being accepted unconditionally as an unmitigated good, and its values as progress by pretty much everyone (4). I really don’t think that it is. I’ve never viewed the values of modernity as particularly conducive to devotion, tradition, and faith; in fact, I think those values, which place humanity at the top of the ontological food chain in ways that do not help us cultivate humility, virtue, kindness, or piety, are actually quite destructive – to culture, to tradition, and most of all to developing anything resembling devotional consciousness. They encompass a way of looking at the world, of relating to each other in the world that positions us if not antagonistic to then at best outside of divine order. That same divine order fills the world with bounty, richness, and elevates us all as beloved creations of the Gods. It grants us dignity as created beings, venerative beings, homines fideles. It does not deconstruct into meaninglessness, but creates and restores and nourishes that which has been created.

I think the many iterations of modernity have, in some way, taught us to look at devotion – particularly when we are reconnecting to our respective indigenous traditions, reconnecting to our tribal realities, reconnecting across divisive lines and when we’re reaching instead into the wondrous sense of being and becoming within the hothouse of ancestral consciousness, within the seedbeds of our religious traditions, in ways that have terrifying and much-needed potential to transform the world—as primitive. We are ever and always oh so horrified that we might look primitive, to outsiders and most of all to ourselves. It’s time to get over this.

I will say again what I have said so many times in my writing. Those of us coming from European ancestries have two deep ancestral wounds that we must uncover, acknowledge, examine, and heal. The first is that Christianity came into Europe, spread across the lands that our pre-Christian ancestors and their tribes called home and eradicated our religions, co-opted our cultures, and subordinated those cultures to divisive political ends. The second, and we are much less willing to look at this one, is that our ancestors then drank that terrible poison, came across the ocean and did unto others precisely what had been done to them. We have a debt to our dead just as much as they have one to us and to our world and until we accept and acknowledge that, our traditions will continue to wither on the vine and our world will continue its descent into chaos, and we ourselves will continue to suffer and to inflict suffering on others.

We are our ancestral lines walking, for good or ill (for good and ill). Modernity may tell us this is primitive thinking. It may tell us to scoff at bowing down before our Gods, Gods Whose blessings have the potential to lift us up and plant out feet firmly on the ground of restoration, it may tell us that honoring the land, the mountains, the rivers, the trees is silly. I think, however, it’s time to take a good long look at “modernity” and ask the question: what have you given us that is better?  

I’ll stop with that question since I have a class starting in fifteen minutes. We carry our ancestors with us, yes, their mistakes, but we carry their  wisdom too and maybe, just maybe if we honor that, we can find a way out of the mess we’ve made.

 

Notes:

  1. You want to be an atheist, rock on with your bad self. I have no problem with that provided you’re not coming into our polytheistic communities and trying to take on leadership positions, or shape and change liturgical and/or theological structures. You do you: the atheist sandbox is not my circus and y’all are not my monkeys. I have my hands full with polytheists lol. Just stay in your own sandbox.
  2. An issue came up a couple of years ago with Dianic Wiccans at Pantheacon but my understanding of their theology is that they are not polytheists.
  3. There may be specific temples that are gender restricted for reasons relevant to that particular cultus, or a particular Deity may be served by only one gender – Pudicitia being served by married women for instance, but those are relatively rare exceptions within a broad and rich family of polytheistic traditions. Those exceptions likewise have to do specifically with the nature of the Deity and His or Her hypostasis being honored in a particular way or place, not the inherent rightness/wrongness or goodness/sinfulness of a particular gender.
  4. One person even flat out equated modernity with technology in a way that I found both reductionist and a-historical. The ancient people’s hand technology (Romans had heated floors, running water; Greeks had steam engines for instance). Modernity is not about technology. It’s about values, systems, and ways of being in the world.

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 November 21, 2019, in Ancestor Work, Ancestors, Lived Polytheism, theology, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 30 Comments.

  1. I absolutely hate the false equivalence between modernity and technology/science. A Christian I knew once called Polytheism modernist because we in general accept science as being valid. Mind you, this was after I just got done worshipping tree nymphs. I never wanted to punch someone in the face more than that moment. It’s so fucking stupid. Whoever thinks that you need to be a flat-earther to be considered not modernist should be blood-eagled

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I hope this is not too far from the topic, but I think there’s another important (and deeply disturbing) piece of this phenomenon:

    The champions of modernity consistently assume—and take for granted, without actually offering evidence—that all the peoples of the past were trying their best to be moderns. And this blinds them to the piety, devotion, reverence, humility which were always there.

    This came up for me in a discussion of Plato with a neighbor the other night. My interlocutor simply asserted, without any particular justification for it, that “obviously” the more thoughtful of the Greeks “must have realized that the Gods were our creations”** and that they were trying to convince others to do without Them.

    I know that this should not have surprised me (I’ve heard things like it plenty of times before), but it still left me dumbfounded. The sheer inability to see the deep, traditional piety expressed over and over again on Plato’s page, all because of the assumption that they must have been trying, as hard as they could, to become godless moderns.

    I don’t know how, if it all, we can break through this directly. At moments like this, it seems like all I can do is take it as yet more encouragement to deepen my own devotion, piety, and reverence toward the Gods.

    (** I feel sick even to quote that sentiment, but there it was, and there it is.)

    Liked by 7 people

    • Plato trying to get people to be modernist? Are we just going to forget the fact that Plato once suggested that people who did not have what he considered proper beliefs about the Gods be locked up until they fix their beliefs and then be executed if they failed to do so? Your neighbor doesn’t sound very knowledgeable on the topic

      Liked by 1 person

    • Yes…so much nonsense attached to Plato in “modern” interpretations of his work, which all assume a post-Christian, quasi-atheist viewpoint (to match that of the majority of philosophy professors–as opposed to actual philosophers), and that essentially all “belief” in Deities in ancient cultures was just a substitute for science, which they didn’t yet have (which is a remnant of Frazerian nonsense from the late nineteenth century in order to support the colonialist empire of Great Britain going in and wreaking havoc on the entire cultures of various indigenous people worldwide, etc.). It’s a horrific legacy…the way in which Plato is understood by monotheists (which via Edward Butler’s work, I’d say, is wrong!), and then other Greek philosophers like Aristotle, Pythagoras, and so forth are then seen as “proto-scientists” (i.e. “natural philosophers”) rather than as people operating within their own polytheistic cultures gets thrown into the mix, too…

      We should understand that scientism is just as much a religious viewpoint–prone to exaggerations, faulty logic, lack of evidence, and so forth–as any of the most egregious creedal religions, I think, and call it out for what it is when possible.

      Liked by 7 people

    • Part of the ongoing issue is that when these texts are translated, they are rendered in a way that erases the devotion and obvious connection to the Gods. It’s really quite stunning in an awful way. But i think you really really hit the nail on the head here.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I think most people outside of history think of “modernity” in terms of tech, human rights, and advances in things like sanitation and medicine — it’s something good that one wants. In some respects, this comes down to disciplinary jargon and how to make oneself understood by people who haven’t been acculturated into it.

    For instance, for the longest time, I had no idea what you were talking about whenever you said something about modernity or why you were ranting about it, but (within the past 6 months?) after you said something on Twitter, I decided to look up what it meant in terms of your discipline and read a few long encyclopedia entries. That taught me a bit more about the context and about the academic usage you’re drawing from, so I understand your POV a lot better. Common vocabulary norms would need to be established before one could have productive discussions with people from other backgrounds.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Kaye, many of the people most hostile to polytheism who yet insist on gadding about our traditions (anti-theist “pagans”, humanists, etc.) are also deeply hostile to the idea of common, clear vocabulary norms.

      You do raise an interesting point though. I really have been flabbergasted at how many people equate modernity with technology.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. I was actually thinking of you last night, along these very similar lines, Galina, when I heard one of the Democrats in the debate decry “tribalism.” If they mean “partisanship,” I’m entirely on-board with the fact that it is a bad thing. If they are using the term “tribalism” to therefore paint hyper-partisanship as “primitive” and therefore “inferior,” then they are barking up the wrong tree entirely, needless to say…

    I have been thinking a great deal about some of the other matters you mentioned in this post, particularly with regard to the so-called “doctrine of discovery” and its impacts, and possible things we as polytheists can do–perhaps mostly in ideal and in public statements about such rather than a great deal of tangible action, outside of our own religious practices–to at least make the connections with current indigenous peoples in their struggles not only for the most basic rights of recognition, but also specifically in relation to the effort to officially repeal the “doctrine of discovery” from (infallible!) Catholic doctrine. I’ll have more to say on this to you in private in the near future…I’ve wanted to do something along these lines for four years now, but I think now is the time…

    Liked by 2 people

  5. One of the problems with separating out modernity is that it’s a mixed bag. Some modern things (environmental awareness, LGBTQIA+ rights, etc.) are quite literally the result of wisdom gained (or rediscovered) because of generations of mistakes. Other things, like Marxism or Reductive Materialism, are the result of compounding mistakes for generations.

    The trouble, as I see it, is with the assumption that “modern” is automatically good (a la mode?) and “not modern” is automatically bad. The inverse isn’t necessarily helpful either. The Gods gave nearly every human the capacity to (at least attempt to) figure out what was healthy or unhealthy on a case-by-case basis. By that measure, it seems sacrilegious to simply accept things as praiseworthy based on their modernity or non-modernity.

    Liked by 5 people

  6. As an guilty pleasure, I read Christian historical romances. (Yes, I know…) However, I have gain an insight to atheism and why those people have to invade all religious spaces. In one novel, the two Greeks are discussing the One God vrs The Gods. The conversation of course is Christian theology. It stresses that all Gods are false and fictional. There is only The One True God. (OTG)… My response was what if that OTG failed you…… then what? Try harder next time or give up realizing that maybe it isn’t you, it’s the OTG. If you are brought to believe all Gods are false (i.e. fiction), then what do you do? Tada – become a militant atheist.

    And what do militant atheists do? Invade religious spaces to ensure conformity to their point of view. After all, it is what was thrust upon them – conformity and universality. So when you get those pesky atheists invading Polytheist spaces, they are after command and control. That is what they have been trained in.

    If you ponder the Progressive movement that is sweeping Paganism, you will find they all assume Progress is good and neat and clean and civilized. When people want to opt out of Progress, they are either very bad people or working against everyone’s best interests. In other words, Progress and modernity is the religion, not Gods, nature, or anything else. Progress is the God to be worshiped.

    Expand that to western culture that we live in (at least most of us), and what is that you get? Conformity and enforcement of the belief in the OTG of Progress.

    Liked by 4 people

    • I actually know someone who claims that Hermes is against toll roads because “he” thinks that the government should just reform the tax system as opposed to having people pay tolls. I put the pronoun in parentheses because I am unsure that this came from Hermes and have the sneaking suspicion that this “Hermes” is a mental sock puppet. She’s said other things before that give me concern and I am beginning to contemplate not speaking with her anymore

      Liked by 1 person

      • But more to the point, I agree with you that politics is becoming religion for these people

        Like

      • I have a slew of friends who claim to be Polytheistic but they keep getting the lore wrong. And they are into the idea that Goddesses ruled the earth, and the bad Gods came with the Patriarchy. In other words, mental sock puppets mascarading as Gods that they can feel comfortable with.

        Like

      • What “bad Gods”? See, that’s the sentiment that drove me away from Wicca/Neopaganism: the constant disowning of the divine masculine. Don’t get me wrong. I love the Goddesses. I’ll worship a Goddess until I am blue in the face. But what about Their boyfriends? Their husbands? Their brothers? Their fathers? Their sons? Whatever happened to a boy’s bestfriend being his mother? Shouldn’t that be honored? Isis and Nephthys searched the desert for nineteen days to find all of Osiris’ body parts so They could revive Him. I can only imagine the disgust and frustration They must feel when Their beloved husband and brother is turned away in favor of Themselves. If we love the Goddesses, shouldn’t we love those that They love?

        Liked by 4 people

    • Tetradactyl – My friends hate men. They make exceptions for one or two but overall, men are the reason why they are suffering. My feeling is that they like being heroic victims, and passive-aggressive activists. As to why I call them friends, well for some odd reason, they love my calling them out and all that. I knew them before they became insane over Trump’s election.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Ah, yes, the “Oppression Olympics”. It’s a really tempting trap to fall into. I’ve been revising and revising an explanation in my head because the first draft had way too much of it.

        Like

  7. Neptunesdolphins, that’s just bad history and feminism. *snorts*. I find it tremendously irritating. You see it though often: people will read one or two book written 20 years ago — good books for their time– but won’t realize that the conversation has continued, that more has been added to our knowledge of that time, etc. and yes, sock puppets.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It goes with people’s religion being stagnant instead of growing and mutating. Things are set and that is that. No new info is needed. They are comfortable where they are. It is the problem I believe with a lot of Paganism (including Polytheism), people dislike being uncomfortable in anyway. Gods challenge people. That is what They do.

      Sometimes, I wonder if many of my friends are just secular humanists playing at religion.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Considering that there are literal secular humanists who jokingly try to do things in honor of the Gods to make a point against religion, I wouldn’t fault you for coming to that conclusion about your friends.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. omg “divine feminine” “divine masculine”…i detest those terms.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Because of an implication of oneness or something? I could see them being problematic

      Like

      • I would never presume to speak for Galina…but as someone who shares that particular detestation, I can say not only the implied monism, but also the entire notion of essentializing these characteristics into something “divine” or “sacred” then makes these things basically unquestionable, given, ordained-from-on-high, etc.

        I think it’s a very different thing to say that any given Deity is male or masculine, or female or feminine, and yet doing so does not solidly concretize a single view of that particular gender or gender identity. or gender performance. One can’t really image two Gods more different than Ares and Dionysos, but They’re both definitely male, and both perform maleness differently; and when Dionysos gets too feminine, even He becomes Mise, after all…!

        Liked by 2 people

      • I can see that as a problem too.

        Though surely we all can see merit in what I was trying to say rather than the flaws of it. A large portion of the Gods should not be passed up just because of what They present as Their gender.

        I once met a person who refused to worship any deity because they said the Gods aren’t queer enough. That’s just a repulsive thing to say on top of it being wrong

        Liked by 1 person

      • No, of course not–I’m not for dismissing any Deities on those sorts of bases, whether they be gender or sexuality or anything else.

        It’s also why I emphasize that the Tetrad++, Antinous, and a large variety of other Deities are not just Deities “for” trans and gender-diverse folks, gay men, etc. (Though some groups out there are certainly pushing the latter ideas about Antinous and have been for over a decade now…)

        This idea of “not queer enough” (for some.people) or “too queer” (for others) is also absolute bullshit, both with Deities and with humans. In a community that “dresses modestly” and has people covered from wrist to toes and only one’s upper neck and face is exposed, sometimes it is extremely queer–and sufficiently so!–to just expose the first few inches of one’s forearm. Anyone who sets up those standards around queerness is, well…I think entirely missing the point of what “queer” means. One hardback book on a shelf of paperbacks is queer, and it doesn’t matter that they’re all books. Even one eel in a group of octopuses is going to have various things in common with those octopuses besides their species difference. If something is required to be “so queer” that it cannot then communicate with or in any other way have meaningful interactions with other things, then there’s really no point any longer, at least in my view…and I’m not by any means an assimilationist or a conformist on these matters, as I’m sure you know!

        Like

      • I think terms like “divine masculine/feminine” are new age reductionist garbage. They strip the personality/personhood from the Gods.

        Liked by 2 people

      • I can see that depending on how it is used. I don’t use them often

        Like

      • Beyond that, the “divine feminine” / “divine masculine” structure is built on a limited subset of human cultural gender norms. Not only does it try to cram the Gods into personalities that may not be Their own and erase certain mysteries and fluidities, it also tries to cram humans into those, too.

        Liked by 2 people

  9. tetra, there is literally never a time when i will use those terms. They’re insipid. I understand WHAT you were trying to say, however and I agree. I’ve little patience with people who won’t honor the Gods because They aren’t X enough. it’s unthinking impiety (and also a remarkable close-mindedness to devotional experience AND kind of sad in that it posits a reading of the lore and myths that is literal alone, which is not something ever helpful toward developing a full, coherent personal theology).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Plus it’s disrespectful. I mean, come on, the Gods went to all the trouble to create this nice universe and to give us life and give us the tools to make socities and civilizations and stuff and these people feel absolutely nothing about it. Imagine walking up to a cosmic being with more power in Their little toe than a whole army of you could ever have in a billion years and just going “Nope! You don’t remind me enough of Laverne Cox”. Holy Zeus’ midwife, Batman! What? Do the Gods not have preferred pronouns too? What if They don’t want to manifest like that? What if a more “binary” form would be more fitting for the mysteries They want to convey? They didn’t just pick these forms randomly! If beings without bodies end up manifesting Themselves in certain form in certain contexts, there’s bound to be a reason for it. Especially if They are Gods who have actions laden with meaning and significance. The Gods aren’t just characters you can pick and choose depending on whether or not they represent the demographics you want to represent in your fan-fiction story. They’re a bit bigger and more important than that!

      This reminds me of another conversation I had with someone where we were talking about the possibility of the deity Baldur being connected to war based on kennings linking Him to weapons and warcraft. This person deadass said, “I don’t think that makes Him a God associated with war. I think it just means He thinks weapons are interesting!” I pray I never have to ask people for help with anything dendrological because these people can find a forest but they sure as Hercules’ club can’t find any fucking trees

      Liked by 1 person

%d bloggers like this: