Iconoclasm, Iconophile, Icono-clash?
Posted by ganglerisgrove
Dver has a thoughtful post about deity images versus an-iconic veneration. You can read that here (and I really suggest you do. She brings up a lot of things that we should be considering in our worship). I wanted to share her post here along with my own thoughts, quickly brought together on the matter, which I likewise posted in response there.
I think though that there is equal danger in conceptualizing our Deities as abstractions: God is love. Sib is hospitality, frith, etc. It erodes Their Being-ness into something that demands very little active, personal engagement.
I detest, absolutely detest the Marvel Loki influence on Lokean iconography, all the more because I think that most of the young Lokeans indulging in this are NOT conceptually clear about precisely Whom or what they’re venerating. I don’t think there are many times where I would accept icons of the Gods based on actual people (I’ve seen some gorgeous Orisha art the past year where men and women were dressed as the various Orisha and while I recognize the devotion behind it, and find the art itself beautiful qua art, I would never use these images devotionally. I’d consider it very impious because of the potential to direct that veneration toward the handsome man or beautiful woman in the image). It’s easy for that cognition to slip into what is more easily grasped or recognized (the benefit that aniconic worship has, I suspect is that this potential is far, far less).
So that being said, I still come down on the use of images, but carefully. I judge traditions by their aesthetics because Beauty leads one to the Gods. It’s important. it speaks to the senses and the spiritual senses. Abstractions about the Gods have their benefit (Because really, the Holy Powers are not limited to anything we can conceive) but look at modern Protestant traditions or even modern Catholicism with their God is love BS. Where are the mystics? You lose something when you reduce the Gods to abstractions just as you lose something when you become to invested in the image.
I learned a new term today (having just taught a Byzantine Christianity course about the iconoclasm conflict): Icono-clash. Maybe that’s what we have here and maybe it’s good. Let’s have both and argue and discuss and find more ways for the Gods to come through. But you know what we shouldn’t have: fucking images of actors with the misapprehension that this somehow represents our Gods.
So that was the end of my posted comment. Thinking further, I think it’s crucial that we not invest the image with the attention given to the Gods. It’s a placeholder. It’s a doorway. It’s a telephone. It’s a means by which for devotion. The devotion, the worship, the veneration, the adoration goes to that which the image represents (even for those images that have been enlivened into homes for the Gods and spirits). It’s a crucial distinction. These things are means by which the Gods may touch us. They are not Gods themselves. No thing wrought by man as the Christians would argue is a God. But Beauty, Truth, Goodness, Art, these things elevate our souls to the divine and in this way, through sacred images we participate more fully in that devotional economy. We are, after all, creatures of the senses. Odin, Hoenir, and Loður gave us our breath, our cognition, and our sensorium (respectively) for a reason and having that means by which to connect to the Gods is a good thing. Being able to do so without — to understand to our core that the statue imbued with divine energy because it has been blessed by the Gods, because it is a focal point of venerative worship, because it is holy as all that has come into contact with the Powers is holy, is a doorway and tool, NOT the Power itself–is also good for the soul, cleansing. So long as we don’t go into full iconoclasm.
This is the main issue I really have with Pop culture imagery seeping into iconography of certain of our Gods. Without proper respect for elders and the tradition, without good spiritual direction, often without any religious upbringing, with less sense and more emotion and attraction toward the actors in question, I’m really not sure that those using images of Marvel Loki for the real Loki are, in the depths of their souls certain about Whom they’re venerating and that, spiritually is a problem. It’s not that the Gods cannot work through such images, it’s that we’re generally as a species idiots. I feel about this the same way I feel when New Agers (and some who should know better) go on about ‘Oh Spirit…’ ok, which one? Evil spirits are spirits. What exactly are you calling? To Whom is the veneration given? It matters.
The main thing here, and I think this comes out in Dver’s beautiful piece, is that it’s important to be mindful with our Gods and in our devotions. It’s important to remember that the image is beautiful, holy but the Gods are so very much more. The image is for our convenience, not Theirs.