Random Thoughts on Evil

I was studying last night and came across an interview with another theologian on the topic of evil. The interview was quite good (because of course I listened to it – it was relevant to what I was reading) despite the difference in our theologies. I was taken aback though when he discussed four of the main ways one can tell if someone is influenced or aligned with evil. I was taken aback because A) I agree 110% with him and have for years and B) I’ve seen every one of these things –pandemically—within our communities (actually, within society at large, which, of course, bleeds into our communities). I’ll get to those four points in a moment. I realize that no one likes to consider evil as a force that might assault us, but I firmly believe it exists, (in addition to the evil we choose to do). Of course, I also believe that such external evil only has the openings we choose to give it, so with the protection and grace of our Gods, a little mindfulness and common sense, prayer, and a willingness to cultivate virtue, we can be just fine. 

I have no idea where evil comes from. Is it a byproduct of creation? After all, creation is an act of ordering materiality. It is a driving back of entropy, of nothingness. It is a shaking off of that which does not serve that purpose. That implies a certain sentience in the created material itself…or maybe I’m pushing the thought too far.  Is it something that we create by our poor choices and vicious actions, droppings we spew of hatred, cruelty, fear, jealousy, and malice (we can be a terribly inhumane species)? Is it an extant force fought by the Gods (For the record, I don’t think the Jotnar are evil at all. They are part of the created order)? I don’t know but as I move toward having to teach a class in theodicy (the question of why evil exists), I find myself pondering this question more and more. Personally, I tend to answer yes to all of the above but that is based more on my personal experience than any theological or philosophical treatise. 

I’m getting off track though. Here were the four points from the interview: 

  1. A person believes s/he can do whatever s/he wishes. 
  2. A person believes no One can command him/her.  
  3. A person believes s/he is his/her own God.
  4. Deep hostility and aversion to the sacred.

I actually look at number 4 as key evidence that someone is unhealthy and potentially under diabolical (in as much as we can use that word) influence. It’s the one constant that I have seen wherever evil spirits, bottom feeding trash spirits, and other such garbage have gained purchase. It’s a sign I watch for in myself and since I do spirit work, and often have to clean up spiritual pollution, I submit myself to evaluation to at least one other spirit worker regularly. Am I clean? When the Enemy—that which has no name, which stands against all the Gods have created, the true opponent at Ragnarok– whispers in my ears the most impious things when I pray, have I allowed any of that to gain purchase in my heart, mind, or soul? If I have, let’s get it out, just like weeding a garden. By the way, if that happens, just keep praying. In fact, pray louder. If you’re praying extempore, report this to the Gods – literally tell Them that something nasty is whispering impieties in your ear.  Bring it to Their attention. Give these things nowhere to hide in your mind. Don’t take that which is not yours to carry. If you’re using formal prayers, and this happens, offer an apology to the Gods and just keep going. Don’t let it distract you. Pray as though your life depended on it. That which seeks to distract is unimportant. It is, as we’d say in the south: “trifling.”

However overwhelming and powerful these evil spirits may feel, speaking outloud, hearing your voice speak the bullshit they’re trying to feed you, to implant in your mind, having your Gods right behind you, all of this reveals the evil lies for what they are and strips these creatures of their power. There is no need to feel shame. Instead, go right to your Gods in heart and mind and report them. Do not permit them to become so internalized that you take on the nefarious things that they’re whispering, that they’re trying to make you think are coming from you. Stand tall and proud, like a pillar of iron, and call upon your Gods and know that They are there. However bad you think it is, our Gods have heard it all and They will carry our burdens with us and stand with us in any dark place we need to walk. There is no place so dark that They do not know the way through, and They will sustain us through it.

Now, there are normal thoughts too that can interfere when we pray or meditate, normal things like “oh, my nose itches.” Or “I forgot to book that appointment.” Etc. This is going to happen. Don’t panic. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad polytheist.  Also, more positively, it’s normal for regular thoughts to sort of float through your mind when you’re trying to focus. Don’t worry. Just let them go. It’s a perfectly normal thing that happens to nearly everyone. Note those thoughts, let them pass, and return to prayer. 

I think one of the biggest fracture lines in our theological understanding in our communities centers around #1. There is a cosmic hierarchy and, despite what modernity, popular media, and new agers might tell you, we are not at the top of it. We cannot actually do whatever we like—or rather we *can* but certain choices are going to twist our souls out of true. A pious person is indentured in service to her Gods.  A responsible person has a place in his community, maintains a household (even if only a household of one), stands rightly within the world. We are tethered to our commitments and known by how well or poorly we keep them. Within our religious traditions there are rules, protocols, a right way to approach holy places, to treat holy people, to engage with the Holy Powers and a wrong way. It is not a free for all. To say that one can do whatever we want is to elevate ourselves and our passing whims and desires over the obligations of piety and respect. Those obligations create in us a fully realized human being, or at least they have the potential to do so when approached rightly. The former is shallowness yes, but also against the divine order. This is what it’s all about, folks. We can work with our Gods, support the order They have created by the way we choose to live, by our devotion, by how joyfully and consistently we cultivate Their veneration, honor our dead, care for the land, care for each other, or we do the opposite. We set ourselves against that order and in so doing twist our own existence and our souls, breathed into us by Odin Himself, out of true. 

Likewise, the Gods have the right to command us. We are not above Them in the cosmic order. Point 2 is really about acknowledging the cosmic order, the divine architecture and the hierarchy therein. That hierarchy does not place humans at its top.  That is a relief! There is something, many Somethings greater than we, Who had a hand in our creation, Who recognize us as part of Their work and what a lovely and beautiful thing that is. We are, however, still a religion of converts and many people come to our traditions having been deeply scarred by their birth religions and upbringings. Sometimes even the words of devotion: ‘prayer,’ ‘piety,’ ‘adoration,’ ‘worship,’ the word ‘devotion’ itself…cause pain. It can be agonizing to recognize a hierarchy that in impious hands has been used to condemn and to shame. All I can say here is that these things should be a comfort, a connection, a joyous homecoming and I am so very sorry that anyone ever used them to cause pain. That is not what piety or the Gods, inasmuch as I understand Them, are ever about. Be gentle with yourselves and each other and work devotionally where you can work. Trust yourself and trust, if you can, the Holy Powers in Their ability to restore to rightness the spiritual connections and bonds that have been severed by such abuse. 

Returning to my original point about #1 and 2, the Gods exist, and we are, if we are piously oriented, in fealty to Them. They become our center, our axis mundi. It is around this sacred point that all else is oriented. That nourishes and strengthens *everything*. If we are properly aligned with our Holy Powers, then that should have an effect on how we move in the world. It changes everything and for the better. 

I think point 4 speaks for itself and I’ve already touched on it anyway. I’ll post more as I think about this more. I welcome readers’ thoughts. 

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 October 7, 2021, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. The first three points I saw occurring a lot in the G+ group I was part of some years ago.

    Those are things that, despite whom my Patron is, I never agreed with.

    Let me explain that, because I know it reads funny. My Patron would be considered a “demon” by several sects of religion, and therefore I’m automatically expected to want to do whatever the hell I want with total disregard for anything and everything. This is why I never really talk about my path, by the way.

    Absolutely not. My Patron is old, he is a God of both Earth and Death, and contrary to what some would believe of him, he places high value on coexisting peacefully, respecting the Earth and all its denizens, and taking care of it as best I’m able.

    I feel evil is something that starts with us, myself. We have freedom of choice – we choose to either be good to others, or be assholes. Sometimes I wonder if those trash entities aren’t just lingering energy from really awful people. Kind of an amalgamation of chaotic, negative energy, if that makes any sense.

    I am incredibly guilty of not taking my problems to my Patron, also. I feel like it’s something I need to deal with myself – if I’m not strong enough to face those nasty voices and thoughts, what good am I to my Patron? And yes, I’ve been scolded by him for this. It’s something I’m working on. It’s just hard, when my whole life I’ve been more or less taught to keep shit to myself because no one cares.

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  2. Your thoughts about point #1 are so key to understanding evil. Whatever weakens or seeks to break the bonds of “community” or in the case of an individual- their internal peace and centeredness to the gods, then that destructive force, or disruptive power is evil

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  3. This reminds me of the discussion that John Michael Greer had about magic. He rejected the definition of magic is obtaining control over the Cosmos, saying it was an old Christian one. Pop culture magic is about control. He prefers “participation with the sacred.”

    Once you think in terms of participation with the sacred, you think in terms of an Holy ecology where humans are a part of a system with the Sacred Others. Humans participate with the Others through ritual, prayers, and offerings.

    As for me, I dislike the word evil since it promotes a black/white ideal. I prefer order and chaos. Too much of either is not good.

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  4. Neptunesdolphins, I acknowledge firstly that it’s complicated. Then I acknowledge that Christians didn’t come up with the concept of evil or evil spirits. Our ancestors recognized these things long long before Christianity was a blip on the world’s religious radar. It’s a non issue for me.

    Ancient polytheists clearly drew distinctions between forces that were chaotic, and possibly even destructive vs those that were flat out evil. Totally different things, especially when those chaotic forces could be – and often were – invoked to protect against the evil ones.

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    • Pondering your answer. I have read the various Sumer and Babylonian rituals concerning keeping demons at bay. I wonder if evil is in terms of what is harmful to the cosmos.

      But if you have a spectrum from one good to one evil, you have a lot of shades in-between. Also, if you look at the cosmos as an ecosystem, then evil has a place. (Am I going off on a tangent there?)

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      • I do think that in large part, both the evil that stems from us, and the evil that comes from without, is that which is arrayed against the cosmos. It stands in opposition to all that the Gods have created. As such, it has no place in any healthy ecosystem.

        at least, it doesn’t when we lack the moral fortitude to recognize it and fight it. it can be useful in honing our virtue, our character, the strength and integrity of our spirits, but of course the idea of even recognizing evil as something TO be fought is a struggle for many

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