Iconoclasm, Iconophile, Icono-clash?

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.

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 July 31, 2021, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Beautifully put. Thank you!

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  2. “It’s not that the Gods cannot work through such images, it’s that we’re generally as a species idiots.”
    This. This EXACTLY. A competent person with a good spiritual foundation could probably use an image of Marvel Thor to connect with the Holy Power Thor with little issue. A new person struggling to get their devotional feet under them, however, may have trouble with it and apply ideas about the comic book/movie character to the Holy Power. Which can cause serious problems in their practice, and may eventually lead them toward practicing “pop culture paganism”. And while my opinion of pop culture paganism has slightly softened recently (the Holy Powers will come in through any opening They are given, and if the only window someone gives Them is pop culture imagery, They will use it) such a situation is far from ideal. We need to be clear about exactly who it is we’re worshiping and why to maintain any semblance of proper devotion.

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  3. I haven’t gotten half way through this. I keep restarting because there is a lot of great insight in this that is extremely important. I’ll have to digest some more before I really can comment. Thanks

    Bobby G

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  4. I concur.

    It’s one thing for a fictional depiction to be a gateway that makes people go discover the true inspiration behind it, but the problem is they aren’t. I’d say the overwhelming majority are getting hung up on the pop culture fictional character and not at all connecting with the divine.
    I think our Gods are opportunistic, and are capable of taking advantage of such gateways, but people are getting stuck in the doorway carrying the baggage of their own misconstrued conceptions that they’re not actually entering the temple of religious tradition and devotion.

    Like you I tend not to be a big fan of photo realistic depictions of models dressed up as deities, it’s a mental disconnect for me. But when it suddenly becomes something with closed eyes, angles where you don’t get the eyes at all, (maybe just lips, or back profiles, etc.) then it’s less the model, and more the model is suggestive of the deity.

    Mentally there’s an old hindbrain instinct we have where we are constantly trying to discover eyes in our surroundings (there’s a term for this, but it eludes me). This is why so many children are scared of shadows in their bedroom at night, or why we tend to find people or animals in shapes from Jesus in bread, to a lion in the clouds, or an angry face in the stucco on the wall. For me taking the eyes out of it in those photo or photo realistic renderings allow for the connection to the divine, and not the model.

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