Category Archives: Lived Polytheism
I’m not a devotee of Hades but I felt I had to write this prayer to Him after one of my classes today. We were discussing salvation and the afterlife and the teacher insisted that the less educated classes in the ancient world didn’t believe in anything but darkness and death, that they had no reverence for Hades and the ancestors. He acknowledged that more educated folks had a soteriology and sense of immortality of the soul but not the regular folk. Obviously, I disagree and while, just like today, there were people who believed in nothing after death, your average person was more pious than the average person today simply by virtue of living in a society in which acknowledgement of the Gods was the norm. It hurt to see Hades and His realm misrepresented and this is what I can do by way of remit.
I must pray to Hades,
Beloved of Persephone
Master of the land of the dead,
Master of the haven where souls go
for healing and restoration.
You are just and merciful, oh Lord.
It is not out of cruelty
that You ignore the pleas of the living
when they pray for their dead
to be returned to them.
Far from it. Rather You know
the balance of things, that death
is necessary, and that the dead need the gift
of Your healing sanctuary.
All things change and are renewed
and the worlds are ever sustained.
Your mysteries are writ into our flesh.
You call to us from the moment we are born
and You are patient.
You can bear the weight of our grief.
As Herakles died, so must we
and this tells us it is not a horror
but sweet release and reward.
Pluto, there is a wealth of treasure
in the land of the dead,
in their songs and their stories,
and these too, You secure, for eternity.
Hail to You, Lord of the Dead,
Silent Protector of our ancestors.
Hail to You, Hades.
(image of Hades and Persephone by Jodie Muir Art).
I just returned from a conference at Villanova this past weekend. The Patristics, Medieval, and Renaissance (PMR) conference is one of the leading theology conferences held every year just outside of Philadelphia. It’s really my favorite conference, the one I really, really try to do every year. It’s a lovely group of people and I always learn so much when I attend. This year the panels were so good (they pretty much always are) and I feel I have new things to gnaw upon, so much productive feedback to integrate into my work, and so many new books to track down and read. I can’t wait for next year (and for me to say that about any conference is miraculous. I might enjoy them but they generally wear me out. This one, well, I was sorry when it ended).
This year I chaired a panel and presented a paper. Usually I work in Patristics. My ongoing area of interest is developing a cultural poetics of the eunuch, looking at early Christian sources and the way ideas of the self and the holy were mediated through the figure of the eunuch. Because this conference covers more than just late antiquity, however, I was able to present a side project, one that is rapidly becoming a major secondary area of interest for me. I first gave an iteration of this paper, titled “Ravens in the Mead-hall: Rewriting Faith in the Wake of Charlemagne and the Saxon Wars” at last year’s Kalamazoo Medieval Conference and in between then and now, I’ve tweaked it considerably. This paper discusses Charlemagne’s war against the Saxons and their consequent forced conversion through the lens of post-colonial theory. It utilizes the Heliand, the 9thcentury Saxon translation of the Gospels as a lens through which to explore the re-positioning of the Saxons as a subaltern people, and the ways in which their indigenous religious traditions remained vividly relevant within the framework of Christianity. It gets a little darker than this implies, discussing things like forced child oblation, genocide, and the erasure of indigenous religious cultures too (and these darker threads are things I intend to continue exploring with this line of research). It was remarkably well received.
This is partly my way of holding space as a polytheist for our ancestors. Yes, it is useful to go to professional conferences. It’s a chance to explore these side topics, to get valuable feedback, in an atmosphere that – at least in this case – is fairly relaxed and congenial. Yes, I really want to look more closely at the ways post-colonial theory can be applied to Charlemagne’s atrocities. The more I learn about forced child oblation, forced exile, forced conversion and all the various ways the Franks impeded on and erased Saxon religious culture, the more I’m convinced that it’s here specifically that structures were first put in place that came to be used throughout the conquest of the New World, six hundred years later. Before all of that, however, I am holding space for the dead.
This is important. This is part of our history as contemporary polytheists. This is the story of our traditions, what happened to them, and why we are in the position we’re in today of having to reclaim, rebuild, and restore. If we do not understand what happened and where we came from, then we will never truly appreciate the importance of that restoration, of holding staunchly to our traditions, of cultivating piety and respect and reverence for our dead.
Why do I do this? Let me give one small example: during the Q&A, one of the attendees, a senior scholar who herself later presented a fascinating paper on a piece of Arthurian lit., said to me very earnestly, “I think it’s important to remember that the Franks had good intentions.” When I picked my jaw up off the floor I responded, “I’m sure that makes all the difference to the five thousand plus Saxons butchered at Verden.”
I’m sure that makes all the difference in the world to the men, women, and children who fought to maintain religious and cultural independence and instead ended up exiled, impoverished, with their children forcibly interred in monastic “schools” where they were Christianized and denied a Saxon identity religious or otherwise. Are you fucking kidding me? That is like saying Hitler had good intentions too. Who the fuck says that? Yet here we are in 2019 and I’ve an intelligent, educated scholar in all earnestness urging me to remember: the Christians had good intentions. That’s why I do this, because that attitude is everywhere in academia. It isn’t genocide if it occurred before the 19thcentury and was blessed by the cross.
Of course, not everyone thinks that way and most of the scholars that I work directly with would be equally appalled by such a thoughtless comment, a comment that erases the religious and cultural genocide of a people. Still, there are enough who do not question the narrative of the goodness of conversion, of Christian expansion, who do not realize that such expansion came with a heavy price, writ in blood, who do not realize it was forcibly done against the will of numerous peoples, or who do not care, that it is important to hold the line openly and at times vociferously. The evidence is there for those scholars who care to look. It is my obligation to do so. The intentions of those who destroyed our traditions really don’t matter. The results speak for themselves.
For those interested in reading my article in full, it will be coming out in the next issue of Walking the Worlds.
There are times it’s really funny being an academic. I have noticed over the years that there is the assumption (from other academics) that we are all “secular moderns.” This is not the case, not at all, in theology but it generally is in history and I’ve encountered exactly that terminology (“secular modern”) again and again.
For instance, I was sitting in a history class a few weeks ago right next to our professor. He’s great and the class is a lot of fun but he made a comment that began innocently, “as secular moderns…” and I just growled under my breath to which this gentleman (and I use that term in the most positive sense: he was a very gracious gentleman) immediately reevaluated “well, most of us. I am at least …” and went on with his comment. I appreciated the reconsideration immensely because it’s not the first time, nor the second, nor the tenth that I’ve encountered that assumption and I think it makes a difference not just to how we approach material but also to how we comprehend the motivations and practices of religious people that we’re studying. Not to mention erasure of experience is never good and never serves academic inquiry however innocently that erasure may occur.
We should of course interrogate our automatic biases, question our approaches, and evaluate our integrity consistently and honestly but we should be working with our whole selves not cutting off the most important part of who we are as human beings just to get a job done. No, I am not a secular modern and in one of the beautiful ironies of being a polytheist haunting the halls of academe, I think most of my colleagues in theology, most of whom belong to staunchly monotheistic faiths, would say exactly the same (I know some of them would at least, because several of us have had precisely this conversation).
It is irritating the assumption that we are divorced from religious practice simply because we are educated. The academic world is space that for thousands of years was not only defined by religion but was in fact, created by it. Polytheists: philosophers, scientists, educators, and thinkers developed not only schools and methods of pedagogy, but the intellectual agora of their time and Christians and later Muslims adopted and continued this process (perhaps, I will grant, with a little less in the way of free thinking and exploration at certain points in history). Jewish communities had always had, as far as I know, strong cultures of learning. There would have been no scientific revolution without deeply devout thinkers and library shelves of great literature would be empty. Far from culling one’s intellectual acumen, being deeply rooted in one’s religious tradition, in devotion to one’s Gods, is a logical outgrowth of a proper education and it is precisely one’s devotion that inspires and challenges one every moment of every day to use those gifts, most especially the intellect, that those Gods have given. The main difference between secularists and the rest of us is that our work is rooted in humility, the knowledge that just because we have the capacity to do something doesn’t mean we perhaps ethically and morally should, and an immense gratitude. It is rooted in awe and respect. It is rooted in a sense that there is a purpose to the underlying scaffolding of creation, and most importantly of all that we are connected to something far greater than we shall ever be and perhaps even answerable to those Powers.
I work at a university whose motto is ad maiorem dei gloriam– for the greater glory of God. (I will admit whenever I see it, in my mind I usually change the dei to deorum lol unless I’m thinking of one specific God like Odin or Mani at the moment I walk inside). When I walk into our theology building, that motto is inscribed on a huge carpet right inside the entrance and this is good. There is comfort in that reminder of what our ultimate purpose is, of what it is –our Holy Powers—who undergird everything that we do within those walls (and without for that matter). I like the reminder. It centers me. It restores my focus. It allows me a split second to reorient myself and to remember that there is not a single place I shall ever go where my Gods are not. Every single thing that I do should in some way glorify Them, every thought, every moment every action. This is what it means to live a connected, engaged, spiritually rich and fulfilling life. We bring our Gods with us and They open up the mysteries of the world for our exploration. The whole of learning is a conversation with our most beloved Holy Powers. The whole of learning is a long, extended moment of devotion.
I’m not secular for one very important reason: because that implies that there is a space somewhere where the Gods are not. I do not believe such a thing is possible. I’m not modern because that would accept this idea of deity-privative space as good. I do not think it is. For those sputtering about how we have such amazing technology as moderns, yes, we do and so did our polytheistic ancestors. The Greeks had steam engines for Gods’ sake, and the Romans flushing toilets, to give but two exempla. Technology is not something that just existed in the unhallowed halls of modernity nor is the problem with “modernity” or “post-modernity” or whatever you want to call it (they’re all slippery and inaccurate concepts) technology and science. Rather, the problem is the way we frame ourselves in relation to the world. The corollary to secular-modern then, is a reorientation of our purpose as thinkers. Instead of building up the world so that it reflects the Gods Who made it, we deconstruct. Instead of approaching our insights and work with humility, we have hubris (especially in the area of science). We no longer see the inherent connection not just between us and a world that is wondrous and full of Gods, but between each other too.
The argument of course is that religion has no place in the public sphere and I disagree. I think intolerance for or violence over another’s religion has no place in the public sphere but that is a different thing all together. I welcome the richness and multiplicity of perspective that happens when I’m sitting in a classroom with two orthodox deacons, a pacel of Jesuit seminarians, a Coptic monk, an atheist, a Unitarian minister, some random Catholics, and me with the class being taught by a devout Anglican (to give but one example of one particular class breakdown). If we are honest about where we’re coming from and the forces that have shaped our perspective and perceptions, fruitful and fulfilling dialogue can occur. It is in fact possible to be honest and openly devout without shitting on someone else’s religion. Instead, we find common ground in the acknowledgement of our devotion. Then we get down to the intellectual work at hand.
I need to wrap this up, though there is in fact more I would say on the matter. I’m currently attending a conference at an Augustinian university where I am sure I’m the only polytheist presenting. The conference focuses on theological currents in patristics, the medieval period, and the Renaissance and yesterday I gave a paper on Charlemagne’s butchery of the Saxons where I discussed forced oblation of Saxon children by the Franks. It was well received and the questions gave me insight into the next part of this project. In about twenty minutes I’ll be attending a panel on Apocalyptic narratives in the Roman and Byzantine worlds. In each case I come away enriched and in each case I come away with a thousand questions that further my own work; and yes, for those of you who are wondering, I’m completely open here as a Heathen.
Grounded and centered, having offered to the Gods my morning prayers, and having lit incense to the ancestors I sit comfortably and consider the following meditation.
I reach up with my consciousness, through endless boughs of an enormous Tree, and its leaves whisper with secrets. I am one of those secrets being whispered and sung up the gnarled knots of that ancient Tree. It exhales me up beyond the worlds.
We exist within the breath of a God. We ride that breath into being. We exhale that breath back into the mouth of the All Father at the moment of our death. We are tied to everything through His breath and it pulses around us, the steady hand of the storm. I breathe it in down into my crown. I am alive. I am Odin sitting atop Hliðkjalf and I wear the crown of sovereignty. Nothing can separate me from this God. He has knit Himself into my soul.
It is Mani to Whom I reach as I move to my third eye. He is an ancient God and all manner of folly He has seen and dismissed. He forgets nothing and yet He is luminous. I pray that my mind and my heart may be luminous too, that I may rest in the House of the Moon, and may my Sight be always true.
My throat is filled with Loki’s fire. It burns away deceit. It cleanses and renders and because of it I speak true. His is the crucible in which I am ever refined. He hones my courage.
My heart is Sigyn’s hall. She protects and tenderly nourishes all that falls within Her care. She keeps my heart steadfast and the gentle flame of devotion burning within it. I look to Her that my soul might be constant. In such things, She does not yield.
In my gut, the seat of my will, I think on Thor. Mighty Thor with His chariot and gleaming hammer, He fights off pollution. He girds the world against dissolution. He will never be overcome. With Him at my back, I know that I will always be able to align my will with the divine order. Thor will keep me clean, the Holiness He bears will keep me focused.
In my sex lies Freya’s gift, roaring, liquid heat connecting me to life and primal desire. She is Mistress of Sesrumnir and Her blessings are holy. She teaches us to find joy in living. I strive to remember this.
At my root, lie the mysteries of Frigga’s hall. She grounds me in piety and respect, reverence, and power. She is the All-Mother and Her touch makes everything sacred. She roots me deep in the purest iteration of myself and throuh Her all magic flows.
Beneath my feet breathe the bones of the dead. Thousands of generations of ancestors having passed through Hela’s hallowed halls. They walk with me and when necessary lift me up. There is no place I can go where they are not and in times of danger they are an honor guard. With each step I thank them. With each step I am grateful.
In my hands, I feel the echo worlds. In my right hand I hold fire, in my left hand I hold ice. There is the holy chasm in between. All of creation is within me and I see the moment the Gods willed the worlds into being. I stand with Them then, again and again. I am willed into being too with each and every prayer. I am sustained and my prayers fall like nourishing water from the well of memory upon the Tree. It is sustained too. It is enough.
I reach above me with my right hand drawing power up from the dead and from the living earth and down from the most secret powers of the heavens and it is right and good and I touch my brow and chant:
Til ykkar, Oðinn og Regin,
I touch my belly and intone: rikið.
I touch my right shoulder and intone: krafturinn
My left shoulder: dyrðin
I cross my arms over my heart: nú og að eilífu
I bow my head in reverence: Amen.
And it is done.
(my photo: “the World Tree”. Do not use without permission).
My friend Edward posted a link to a Hellenic threshold prayer on twitter so I figured I’d share the one I do most days before leaving the home.
Thresholds are problematic areas. They’re almost open space, transitional space and that means that they are areas prone most especially to miasma. More than that, as you cross your threshold, you’re leaving the protected space of your house and moving out into a world. All of this makes them remarkably difficult to spiritually shield. My shrine to Hermes is right inside the door, almost touching the threshold (divination showed that He was insistent it go there) and right next to that is the shrine to Loki and Sigyn (again, div showed They wanted it there). The last thing I do before leaving my home is make offerings at each of these shrines. Hermes’ shrine includes a small section to Cardea, Janus, Forculus, and Limentius.
I pray to You, Hermes, Giver of Good things,
ever the Traveler, always our Guide,
please protect me as I leave this house.
Guard my comings and my goings,
and keep me safe.
May I reach my destinations safely
without incident or accident
and return safely home as well.
Please watch over me, Hermes,
I ask Cardea, Gracious Goddess,
to guard me as I cross this threshold.
Please keep away misfortune and malice,
keep away sickness and death,
and with your brothers Forculus and LImentius,
bring me home safely again.
Hail to You, Hermes, best Beloved,
and hail to You, Cardea.
I say this after making a small offering (usually a glass of water or incense) and right before I head out for my day. I’d love to see what types of threshold prayers you, my Readers use.
Happy Saturday, folks.
I had to wake an hour earlier today than is my norm. I’m rushing around, getting ready to head into what I like to term my “hell day” at school (a day where I am in classes or meetings from 11am until 7:45pm without a break) and thanking the Gods for the fact that coffee exists but I wanted to take a moment to write this. From the time I’ve been awake I’ve been thinking about the Gods and how to carry a sense of Them with me throughout the day.
I want to feel Mani around me today, to feel connected to Him from dawn to dusk. I want to feel Him at my throat, and surrounding me, His luminescent presence flowing around and through me. I opened my day with mumbled prayers (not a morning person!) to Him and I have continued to hold Him foremost in my mind as I get ready. The adornments and scent that I choose to wear today are both things that remind me of Him, the first a brooch from His shrine, a ritual piece (though no one else would know it in my working world) imbued with His presence. I made offerings, pinned the brooch to my throat and rushed out.
As we drove to work (I’m now sitting in my department waiting for my first meeting), part of my mind was always on Mani. In my heart where He has crept, He is a palpable force. In the quiet sanctuary of my mind, which He has shaped, He is a far-reaching power. In the world without, He is there, soft misty trace of His passing in the sky above, softening the razor sharp bite of its noise because how can I see or hear any of that when He is there?
I pray for His blessing today and His protection. It is already looking like a day full of physical pain and aggravation. Still, I will try to let Him guide me, to reach out again and again throughout my day readjusting myself to the loveliness that I sense when He is near. I will touch His grace and elegance wondering at it and that moment of contemplative contact will change me, center me, realign me in some small way with His presence.
When I have a moment between meetings and classes, I will go out and pour out a simple offering to Him, probably water but maybe tea since I keep a nice black tea in my box here. I will drink Him in within the secret fastness of my heart as much as He will permit, and pray that whatever battles I may face throughout the day, the ecstatic utterance of His name and the glorious Presence it evokes will ever surround my soul with its illumination.
Hail Mani of the thirteen turnings,
Mani Who governs the cycles of the world,
Mani of the honey-golden countenance,
ManI elder to creation,
Many, beautiful and ancient,
Please hear my prayer.
I love you, oh Sweetest of Gods,
remote though You may ever be,
and for all You have given us,
I am grateful.
You know where I have the most guilt as a polytheist? It’s silly but I don’t like leaving any of my household Gods out when I’m making offerings. If I have a box of cookies and I want to give a few in offering to Sigyn, for instance, I often feel really bad if I don’t also offer to Hermes, and then I think of Mani and then…and then…and so it goes and then I have no cookies left. (I’ve learned to reign this in significantly over the years, but the tendency, the worry is still there).
If I am cleaning and tending for one shrine, making new offerings, etc., I feel bad if I don’t do ALL of the shrines (which is impossible in a single day). Now mind you, I don’t think the Gods care. They are so very much bigger than we can ever conceive of – our cognition is simply not capable of truly grasping the entirety of a God’s being. It’s not like I feel as though I shall be smote (how the hell does one conjugate this verb??!) if I miss a Deity…at best, I suspect it probably gently amuses Them. It’s not like there’s any sin or wicked act going on here either, Lol. I just don’t like leaving any Being that I love out.
This can be rather funny. My household prays nightly together and often before doing so, I’ll be moved to make an offering to a particular Deity to Whom I then plan to pray. Then it becomes complicated, because I’ll think, “well, T. is praying to Freya tonight – I don’t want Her to be without an offering, and Sannion is praying to Dionysos so I want to make that offering, but then I haven’t made an offering at THIS shrine in a bit…and oh look, that offering bowl is empty.” and it can get out of hand. I’ve been known to joke when it does that here, right here is the real pull of monotheism: having only one Deity to tend! Lol.
I’m not sure if this is all a matter of scrupulosity or not. For those who may not know, this is a term I first ran into reading Therese of Lisieux though I believe it dates back a couple of centuries before her (she lived in the very late 19thc.). She uses it to describe excessive fixation on unrealistic expressions of devotion – I’ve heard it described as spiritual OCD. Usually it goes hand in hand with fear that you are in some way offending your God constantly. That’s certainly not where I’m coming from with any of this, though I keep an eye on it because scrupulosity can be incredibly detrimental to one’s devotional and spiritual life (just as other types of OCD may be to one’s life in general). We shouldn’t need the constant reassurance from our Gods, after all, a desire that goes hand in hand with scrupulosity. I almost think scrupulosity is lack of trust in one’s Gods, a deep insecurity and fear, lack of a healthy sense of self too. Regardless, it’s damaging on many levels. So, I do consider this occasionally wondering if I’m headed in that direction but for me, it really just comes down to not wanting anyone (even when I’m referring to a Deity) to feel left out. Of course, this makes no sense with a Deity but there you go. I often feel weirdly protective of some of Them.
I just woke up a little while ago and I’m about to go and make the morning offerings at the Lararium (the ancestor shrine gets tended in the evenings, but the household Lararium in the morning) so this was on my mind as I looked at the shrine and just laughed, put some coffee on, and went to get the incense.
In one of my classes we’re reading the Dialogues of Epictetus. This has led to a lively discussion about what constitutes a human being. What does ‘care of the self’ mean in the equation that Epictetus sets up, particularly in book II of his Dialogues where he emphasizes cultivation of character, discernment, and self-control on the one hand and proper performance of one’s social roles and maintenance of natural hierarchies on the other? I really love his emphasis on fidelity to the Gods, to one’s spouse, to fulfilling one’s roles for the common good – fidelity in general, fidelity as a key aspect of a properly developed self – and on duty and self-control and that by doing these things we are helping to sustain the divine order, the order of the cosmos.
This led me to think (after weeks of reading Plato and Epictetus in this class) about how we as contemporary polytheists define the self (realizing that this may differ significantly between traditions).
For me, a clear development of the self is predicated on being in right relationship with the Holy Powers, and aligning one’s will with Them. It is predicated on allowing that sense of reverence and respect to inform every decision, every possible way that we chooseto move in our world. It is acknowledging that we have a choice and part of devotional living is deciding to make the proper one with respect to our Holy Powers and traditions (particularly prioritizing those things especially). Without that essential orientation, there is simply no fullness of being, self-awareness, or properly developed character. Without that, we are at best semi-beings. (This is, of course, within our control. We can choose to pursue devotion, choose to align our lives rightly, to be in right relationship with the Holy Powers, etc. We’re in no way helpless here. We may have to unlearn certain bad habits and poor priorities that our society has taught us, curb unruly or spiritually unhealthy impulses, or reprogram things we’ve learned in non-polytheistic birth religions, but we can do that. We’ve been gifted with reason, intellect, passion, and the ability to focus. We just have to want to do the work).
If we participate in maintaining divine order by the way that we choose to live our lives and by cultivating a devotional consciousness – which I very much believe we do – then a proper ‘self’ is one that rooted in an actualized awareness of one’s place within cosmological hierarchy and the rightness of one’s duties within that system. A fully developed self willingly participates in fulfilling its duties within that cosmological framework. Without that, there is no personhood.
That’s my position on the matter – quickly articulated while on break between classes. I would love to hear what you all have to say.
I work with people who are, pretty much without exception, radically anti-gun. I also work with people who, again pretty much without exception, have never owned nor even handled or shot a gun. Most of them are deeply committed to faith traditions that promote non-violence and most of them are very liberal. From their religious perspective, it is right and good and proper to hold an anti-gun stance. I cannot fault them there. As much as I like most of them, I wouldn’t want them at my back in an emergency. Mind you, I cannot fault them, but I don’t trust them when violence was required). They are doing as their conscience bids. So am I, which is why I stand firmly against any and all anti-gun measures.
While I don’t currently have a concealed carry permit, I do have several guns at home and a pacel of bladed weapons (among other things, I collect WWI and allied WWII knives). I don’t get to the range for practice enough to feel it proper to have a concealed carry permit and anyway, I work and teach in NYC where such a thing is nearly impossible to get. Still, from both a moral and a religious perspective, I believe it is the obligation of every right-minded adult to stand ready, willing, and able to defend their homes, their families, and themselves. When I carry a weapon, I do so in a nod to my ancestors who survived thanks to their skills with such tools (not guns specifically but weapons. With any weapon, the tech is a tool, nothing more) and in full awareness of being part of a religious worldview that values frith– right order—over peace.
After the last few days of learning about various depredations against polytheists (some historical, some happening today), I realize that I am likely moved by one other reason too: I am a Polytheist. Specifically, I’m Heathen. In both cases I practice a religion whose lineage includes being colonized by Christians, conquered, having our religious spaces forcibly violated, our holy relics destroyed, our children stolen away, and our adults murdered when they resisted forced conversion. That is our lineage. The day we forget that is the day we do not deserve to practice our faith anymore. It’s the day we spit in the eyes of every ancestor who fought and died for their Gods, for the space to practice their devotion unfettered and unharmed. I carry a weapon in part as a nod to those men and women, and a promise that should anyone step into my sacred areas with intent to violate them in the name of their God or for any other reason, they’ll very likely exit on a stretcher.
The space of my home is a sanctuary – literally given that I have multiple shrines on the grounds and inside the actual house. It is sacred space. It should be inviolable space for me and my family, just as our individual bodies should also be inviolable to outside attack. As a pious adult, I have an obligation to my Gods to do everything I can to protect that which has been given into my care. Being ready to defend those spaces and the people in them is part of that covenant. It is part of the agency involved in being a rational, right-thinking adult. For me, it is also a religious obligation.
It is foolish to rely on the goodness of strangers and it is foolish to rely on the government for our protection. No one wants violence but to live one’s life blissfully unprepared for it to occur is equally problematic. Being facile with a weapon is, to my mind, no different than knowing how to lock one’s door at night. In my perfect world, all children would be taught hand to hand fighting and how to use a gun from elementary through high school. Upon graduation, they would have the legal right to carry a gun. (If this sounds crazy, consider that through the sixties many high schools had rifle classes and gun clubs on school property and during school time. Whatever has gone wrong in our society, the problem isn’t guns. It’s just easier to demonize guns than to deal with the social and economic problems that actually lead to gun violence). There is a self-control, a sense of deep moral responsibility that comes with carrying a tool that has the immediate potential to end a life. It changes everything about the way I choose to interact with those around me and makes me far more mindful of my words and deeds. It makes me more aware of how I move in the world. It also makes me more mindful of my responsibilities to my home, family, ancestors, Gods, and community.
Many anti-gun advocates are unwilling and perhaps incapable of looking at guns unemotionally. Many things have been misused and abused in our modern culture and guns are certainly one of those things. It’s all the more disgusting how both guns and bodily sovereignty (esp. for women) have become political talking points by parties that in reality care nothing for their citizens. There is something very, very diseased with our society when young men think it ok to pick up a weapon and murder children. That is not a sign that more gun laws are needed (I think we need less laws and regulation on just about everything) but a sign that our society is sick perhaps beyond healing. It’s easier to fault the symptom than find a cure though but when in shock and pain after yet another mass shooting, I can well understand why many, many people would call for gun bans. I don’t agree, but I understand it.
I for one do not believe it is morally good to put responsibility for my safety in the hands of another. As a pious woman, I cannot do that. As a woman, I would not do that (I saw a post recently that gun rights are women’s rights and I fully support this). The only regulation that I would back is one requiring training and perhaps regular recertification of that training. I belong to a God who is called weapons-wise. When I carry a weapon, I am honoring Him. Yes, bearing a weapon can be a holy act, but needs to be treated with that respect in turn. I have found nothing in the theology of our tradition that would encourage me to disarm and quite a bit that encourages self-sustainability and personal defense. I stand by that. I encourage other polytheists to do the same, in accordance with their conscience and beliefs.
I will add that for the first few decades of Paganism, there was a marked tendency of various denominations to downplay their religious practices and to present themselves to the secular and/or monotheistic world as innocuous, maybe a little quirky, but essentially harmless. It was a survival technique but at some point, that has to stop. We are dangerous. We will collaborate with each other. We will stand up and fight for the right to exist. We will demand parity in public spaces. We will not back down. We are not helpless. For those of you thinking I exaggerate, think on this: a couple of years ago, a priest of Jupiter was hospitalized when his temple to Jupiter was attacked by Christians. Last year, an elderly Greek woman was injured protecting a shrine to Demeter when again, Christians interrupted a religious rite. Temples are violated and desecrated almost weekly in parts of India. Earlier today I posted an article about aboriginal sacred objects being burned by Christians. Last year a practitioner of Candomble was murdered by Christians when he refused to desecrate his own shrine. There’s a Roman saying: si vis pacem, para bellum that I fully agree with. We cannot depend upon the kindness of strangers to protect our sacred places. If we want to have those things, to nourish those things and see them grow into the future we need to be ready, willing, and able to protect them ourselves. I’ve heard it said that people own guns out of fear. I would say that is not generally the case. People own guns because they know they have the wherewithal to protect themselves even when they’re afraid (and for those living rurally, it’s even more of a useful tool. I sure as hell wouldn’t go into the woods without a gun. I have no desire to become something’s lunch).
For all of these reasons and for the simple fact that I don’t see a gun as anything more than a useful tool, I don’t see it as something to fear in and of itself, I don’t see it as the agent of destruction (the gun isn’t doing anything on its own after all), I support gun ownership, responsible gun ownership by people who have taken the time to learn how to use and respect this tool.
To give you an example of how big the divide is on this issue, I’ll share a snippet of a conversation I had today. A lovely woman with whom I work truly, deeply believes that people own guns because they all are at heart white supremacists afraid of the modern equivalent of a ‘slave’ (by which she defined it as anyone the gun owners consider beneath them) uprising. I had to have her repeat it three times because I still can’t see her logic there but then this isn’t a subject upon which people apply logic, not when hyperbole and sentiment will do. This person (and I like her. She’s creative, interesting, and a pleasure to work with) truly believes that the world will be better if guns are banned. I very much do not hold that view. How the hell do you find middle ground there? For me, guns are like condoms and attorneys: better to have it and not need it than the opposite.