Category Archives: theology
I’ve been pondering this topic for a long time. It’s important, but a difficult thing about which to write, partly because to write about it well, I need to touch on personal things that frankly, I don’t very much want to share here on my blog. Situations have been coming up with clients, with some of the troubleshooting that I do, however, that have brought this to the forefront of my attention and since addressing this falls under ‘preventative measures,’ I don’t think I can avoid it any longer. I’m going to start with a brief story.
When my adopted mother died, I went through a really really bad period with Odin. I still did all my work, but in my heart whenever I would approach Him or He me, all I could think was ‘you killed my mother, you son of a bitch.’ and I wanted nothing to do with Him. I could not bring myself to go to Him for a very long time. Now, He didn’t kill my mother. Death is a natural part of living, a sacred thing every bit as much as birth, but I don’t think we’re always particularly logical in the face of grief. One would think being a spirit worker or vitki that I’d be more accepting of death, having some inkling of what comes after, but …it really doesn’t help, especially when it’s one’s mother.
There was nothing wrong in feeling as I did, and Odin gave me ample space to process and heal but I held onto those feelings. I pushed them to the side and worked around them and kept pushing Him away doing all manner of other devotional work and one day I turned around and realized that there was a huge calcified blockage where my connection to my God should have been; and I was horrified. I did divination on my own and with another diviner to see what I could do –because while grieving is natural, I had a choice about what I did with that grief and what I did to restore myself and my devotional connections and I”d made a poor one–and I did all the things suggested. I started seeing a grief therapist for a time to work through the intense pain of having lost a beloved mother. I did all the right things, a little late, but I did them and…while things got more or less back to normal, there was still a part of me, not a large part but something solidly, doggedly *there*, that wanted nothing to do with the Old Man. I suddenly found myself nurturing a deep aversion to something, Something holy.
I kept up my work, kept doing all the things that were helping me, started rather (in retrospect) ragged devotion to Him again and really didn’t think anything more about it. I figured I’d get over it or learn to live with it. The Work was more important. Then a man walked into my house for divination and brought a friend who turned out to be possessed by something very foul. Then I had a God come so strongly around me that my bones vibrated with the power of the Holy. Then I saw very clearly how allowing even a tiny little chip of aversion to the Holy could provide a foothold for something foul, for miasma, for pollution, for things and creatures that are diametrically opposed to the order that our Gods have created. I saw I had another choice and I begged Odin as fervently as I have ever begged and prayed for anything to take that last little bit of aversion away from me…and He did. It was a grace. I felt Him again as clean and whole and terrifyingly raw as when He’d first claimed me, and I am so grateful, so incredibly grateful.
I thought about that for a long time and really looked at how damaging holding onto that aversion could have been. that’s where the unraveling of one’s spiritual life, cleanliness, and goodness begins. I thought about how quickly it spiraled with me, how easy it was to turn a blind eye to it, and how fast it quickly became entrenched. I was lucky: I work with enough diviners that I had help. I have a clean, strong ancestor practice and had their help. I kept up a ton of devotional practice with other Gods, and even brokenly with Odin so I was open to accepting the gift of Their grace. But what about people who aren’t in that situation? Who don’t have those blessings? I thought about what the first and last symptoms of the pollution had been and knew I had to eventually write about it and it’s taken me a very, very long time to do so.
The first and last symptom was a subtle aversion to the Holy. Oh for me, it wasn’t everything or even most things, I just didn’t want anything to do on a personal level with Odin. It was, however, enough. I realized that when we have in any part of our being a deep aversion to the sacred, it’s a warning sign. It needs to be dealt with as soon as possible. I know that if I had recognized or acknowledged and dealt directly with my own right away, I’d have spared myself (and more importantly my Gods) so much pain. I’ve learned after all of this to see that aversion in someone as a major clarion call, a major warning sign. If we are in right relationship with our Gods, we won’t have any aversion to the Holy. That’s what it really comes down to and if we do, there’s a problem.
When I’m training apprentices and students, one of the assignments I always give them, and fairly early on, is to read C.S. Lewis’ “Till We Have Faces.” My friend Alexei Kondratiev once described it as one of the three great Pagan novels of the 20th century for all that Lewis was a Christian. It is a retelling of the story of Eros and Psyche with one addition: Psyche has a sister named Orual and Orual detests the sacred. She fights and rails against it, out of hurt and jealousy and it calcifies her until the very end when her epiphanies come. She is given in stark contrast to Psyche (named Istra in the book), who goes to her God with an open, passionate heart. One reading of the book looks at Orual and Istra as the same person, at different points in their devotional life.
My students recently were discussing the book and Orual is not popular. Several said that she is the embodiment of modern pollution and attitudes but several of them admitted that they see Orual in themselves sometimes (I think we all do, we all have those points of deep resistance, or times when we’ve been jealous of someone else’s spiritual lives, gifts, work, or times when we’ve curled up from hurt and let it become angry and bitter. We’re all works in progress). We were talking about how one deals with those times and one of my apprentices, T., owned by Freya, said potently: ” If the Orual in me pervades, if I am stuck, I go to Freyja’s altar and offer Orual to her. I give Her my service and I surrender Orual to her, and tell Her that She will guide me, Orual or no Orual. Then it passes.” Later, when I asked if I could quote her here, she said, “If I am struggling, it impedes my path that She wants me to walk. I need to know when to ask for help or I will truly be lost.” And it occurred to me that this is what it comes down to: we need to know when to ask for help and more importantly, we need to not be too proud to actually ask.
This is part of the contract we have with our Gods, and it requires a certain humility to acknowledge that we cannot always do it on our own, that we cannot right ourselves all the time, that sometimes we need to ask for Their help trusting that it will come. May we not be too proud to ask. May we have the humility to listen. Keep us clean, oh my Gods, keep us clean.
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I make my students and apprentices study the lore and this sometimes seems rather ironic given how I feel about the way ‘the lore’ is utilized in mainstream Heathenry. Here is the thing though: the lore is not in and of itself holy. It contains clues and keys to that which is holy. It’s a bit more than a map, but far, far less than revelation. I think this is an important distinction. Those texts that we consider ‘lore’ were never intended to be used in any religious capacity. They were not, for the most part, written by polytheists. They were not intended to be used as scripture and many of them, having been recorded by Christians, are in fact, somewhat problematic. However, they contain keys to the holy. We study lore to learn about our cosmology, to learn how our ancestors ordered their world, to gain a glimpse into the paths that lead to mystery. it’s a tool, nothing more.
All of this has made me ponder the damage that having a reified ‘scripture’ can do to a tradition. I think it turns “god” into an idea instead of a living, terrifying Presence. It makes religion an intellectual exercise, especially if one culls out the experiential, mystical, or embodied devotional practices as the Protestant Reformation did to Christianity. Religion isn’t an intellectual exercise. There are protocols and practices to be learned because it is necessary to meet the Holy on properly prepared ground, especially the ‘ground’ of our hearts and minds. At its core though, religion encompasses all those things, those structures and practices, patterns that pattern and infuse us with the experience of our Gods. It is a thing that reaches into our guts, tears open our hearts, brings us to our knees before the Powers and changes everything. It is not neat and sanitized. It is dark and bloody, terrifying, and glorious. It is not a thing of civilization, it is a thing that connects us back to our earliest ancestors and the Gods that brought them the gifts to create civilization. It is a thing the practice of which reaffirms and recreates our cosmology every single time we engage. It is that through which our world and experiences are properly filtered.
When ‘god’ is an idea and not an experienced, shattering Presence, the mystery is stripped from one’s religion and it becomes a game, an intellectual exercise, it becomes a brittle carapace. With so many of us having converted from monotheisms, from religions centered around a deeply reified sacred text or texts, it’s important to challenge and push ourselves out of our comfort zones. We prioritize the written word in a way that our ancestors never, ever did. We look to the written word to define our experiences instead of allowing our experiences to inspire our written word.
Moreover, we should be getting the interpretation of our lore not from scholars but from our shamans, spirit workers, clergy, and specialists, from those stepped in the deepest mysteries of our traditions, not from those who would analyze the holy out of those traditions. Doing the latter damages not only the community and those devoted to their Gods, but sterilizes the tradition as a whole. If one is properly stepped in one’s tradition, there are numerous illusions that the lore can lead one to. For instance the story of Thor killing his goats so a peasant family that was offering the gods hospitality might eat well, and then restoring those goats the next day provides a trail that can be followed when one is contemplating how to do proper sacrifice. The story of Odin hanging on the tree and winning the runes provides a blueprint for one of our esoteric traditions. The story of Freya winning brisingamen points to connections, deep and powerful, between the Duergar and the Vanir and the connection between creativity and abundance only otherwise hinted at in our stories. It’s not enough to read the lore or to memorize it. One must steep oneself deeply and fully in the cosmology so that one has the necessary keys to decode and interpret. General lore thumping is all the more frustrating because it’s a further corruption of the holy. To be blunt, these people don’t know what the fuck those stories are about. Yes, the stories are fundamental but *not* the text itself, rather what is important is what the text alludes to.
Story is always alive. Reifying lore is no different than Christians mistaking the Bible for the Word. It’s the Word that creates not the book. Of course, this is also a symptom of our converts having been raised in a monotheistic, modern culture that wants quick, carefully organized, boxed in, rigid answers. Mystery is never, ever easy and simple. It’s painful, often bloody, confusing, messy and bigger than we can ever imagine. Most importantly of all, it has to be experienced to be understood, otherwise it’s just useless trivia. I think there’s a difficulty in Heathenry, and in our world in general with mistaking the knowledge of the lore for experience. I also think wanting those rigid categories becomes a dangerous crutch. It further conditions the mind to keep the holy terror at bay but the holy terror is what mystery is made of. It is the essential conduit to our Gods. Keeping it at bay, sanitizing it as I wrote above, keeps Them at bay too. Essentially, the lore are accounts of the holy so they contain the holy even if in imperfect form. They’re doors into that world that underlies this one. Truly comprehending our sacred stories prepares one for being dropped into Mystery.
As an example of how important that mental lens is, a spirit-working colleague told me he has a new taboo: he can’t talk about mystery stuff in his tradition, not even with initiates unless he is in the proper headspace. This trumps even being in clean, unpolluted space for him. Now I don’t have that, but it’s an interesting example for me at least, of why understanding cosmology and headspace is so important and so, as much as I shake my head to say it, because I never thought I would, all of us need to be steeped in our cosmology, starting with he Poetic Edda. This means, not just having read them, but having meditated upon, discussed, and analyzed them. That cosmology needs to shape the fabric of our minds.
Now, to reiterate, the Eddas were written down two hundred years after conversion by a Christian. They’re not in themselves sacred writ, but they are what we have of the stories of our Gods and they invite us into the cosmology and contain within themselves even such as they are, hints at our mysteries. This all came up when I was teaching my apprentices the basics of our fire mysteries. In my tradition (and this much I can say publicly), that starts with learning how to make fire from flint and steel. Part of this connects us to our ancestors, but part of being a good fire worker isn’t just being able to pull off the technique, but rather consciously reenacting the cosmological moment of creation, when the world of fire and ice met. One reaffirms and recreates that via the headspace the one is in while doing the technique. Everything started with fire and ice.
Everything before everything came from the interplay of the world of fire and the world of ice. Then there is the breath of Odin that brought us to life, the fire given by Lodur (Loki), the spark of intelligence by Hoenir. everything resolves back to fire, ice, breath, and force. When you’re making fire with flint and steel, you’re bringing together opposing forces. It perfectly recreates that moment of creation. Flint hits steel and sparks and BOOM it’s the action not either of the tools themselves. It is what you are doing and the headspace and mindfulness in which you do it. In Anfang wer der tot…I think of the beginning of Goethe’s Faust : in the beginning was the deed.” (if I have my German right) So much repeated in our cosmology as a theme is the interplay of opposing forces. This in turn is a necessary consequence of polytheism: multiple Forces with different desires,, agendas, preferences and They’re going to be in conflict and crash into each other and that’s not a bad thing but on the contrary, a tremendously, terrifyingly creative thing. These are in many ways, mysteries. Our whole cosmology is contained in starting a fire, which is why it’s the first mystery.
Going into our spiritual work, our devotion, our practices with an awareness that unites the stories we have read, with an understanding of the sacral interplay of forces (and Forces) in our world, is the point of the lore. I always suggest to my students that they think of the “lore” as Cliff notes, bullet points, truncated thoughts but that they never, ever mistake it for experience of the Mysteries, nor for the Gods Themselves.
(I know that this is going to be a challenging topic for some of you. If you are bothered by frank discussions of religion and animal sacrifice, stop reading and go watch this cat video. Here’s some pussies for you to play with. For everyone else, let’s have an adult conversation).
Years and years ago (at least fifteen if not longer) when I was still Theodish, I remember many heated discussions over the proper way to perform sacrifice. Those among us who were trained to perform this ritual were split about the proper way to dispatch the chosen animals. Some favored shooting the animal in the head first (as a mercy) and others using a clean cut at the throat. One of the reasons given for preferring the traditional method (the cut of the knife) was the story of the Thor and His goats.
Thor’s chariot is driven by two goats: Tanngrisnir (snarler, one who bears his teeth) and Tanngnjóstr (teeth grinder). When necessary, Thor is able to kill, cook, and consume these goats who will then be restored to life with His hammer provided their bones are left intact. The prose Edda tells the story of Thor’s visit to a farmer. He and Loki stop for rest, and Thor (perhaps knowing that hosting two Gods is a bit much for a poor farmer) offers up His two goats in sacrifice to provide the evening’s meal. There’s one caveat: the bones must not be cracked for their marrow. They must remain intact. The farmer’s son Thjalfi can’t resist and cracks one leg bone to suck a bit of the marrow. When Thor restores the goats to life, one of them is lame. In reparation for this, the peasant offers his children Thjalfi and Roskva to Thor as servants. It’s an entertaining tale and Loki, Thor, and the children go off to have adventures. For our purposes, however, the important point is the emphasis on maintaining the integrity of the bones.
In the Theod, we solved the initial debate by choosing to sacrifice in the traditional way (and in retrospect I’m very, very glad we did so). At the time, I didn’t see the problem with shooting the animal first. It seemed merciful and kind but over the years I’ve completely changed my position. Partly, I’ve had so much more experience with proper sacrifice and I’ve become far more confident in making sacrifice myself, and I’ve had far more exposure to other traditions where this is likewise common. I learned several things, not the least of which was that if a cut is done cleanly and correctly, it is actually all but painless for the animal. I’ve also come to realize how crucially important this story is to the ritual scaffolding in which sacrifice must take place.
When we do these ritual actions, like sacrifice, we’re re-enacting our cosmology. We’re bringing to life the communal mysteries of our tradition. A living tradition exists in those currents and it is the obligation of those practicing it to renew them regularly.
This is also largely why I no longer believe it appropriate to shoot the animal before cutting its throat. A) it’s far more humane to cut properly and B) any other method is a violation of ritual protocol. The bones must remain intact. I went back and forth on this for years and I used to come down on the side of shooting the animal first if one felt one must but now, I think that is incorrect. As we learn better, we do better. A sacrifice is more than just a collection of mechanical techniques. It is the living expression of a tradition. It is a sacrament.
For the blotere,(1) there are three parts to any sacrifice that must be carefully learned and understood: the mechanics (how to make the cut and to do it painlessly for the animal, and effectively), how to do the divination to determine how to dispose of the sacrifice and whether or not it was accepted, and the ritual itself, in other words, how to infuse the entire procedure with the holy, how to make the conscious connections between the cosmic structures in which we’re working, the ritual being done, the living tradition, and the Gods Themselves. This is a ritual process. It’s not enough to simply cut an animal’s throat, or kill it in some other way, and give it to the Gods. There is a proper ritual scaffolding for the act, an act that is our holiest and most important of sacraments.
It’s not just that you’re giving a life to the Gods; the act of sacrifice is an imitation of primordial creation: Odin, Lodhur, and Hoenir create the world out of the slaughter of Ymir. Sacrifice is tapping into that, recreating that act, everything that it encompasses, bringing our traditions into being again and again and again and that’s potent magic.(2) It must be approached in a proper way, with purity and focus, and attention to every detail. It’s not enough just to slaughter. We must understand what we’re tapping into and why.
This all came up recently within my lineage when one of my apprentices received inspiration for a sacrificial song. We had long felt that there should be some sort of song sung when the animal is being sacrificed.(3) In fact, it’s rather odd for our traditions not to have one; after all, the ATR have a special song that is sung when an animal is given and so did many Greek and Roman traditions. It was part of the procedure in many IE traditions and it always seemed rather odd to find the Norse and Germanic ones lacking. I was delighted when L. came to me with his song and when I did divination to confirm its appropriateness, the sense of it was overwhelming. Our tradition regained one of its songs. Think about how profound that is for a moment. When our traditions were destroyed by Christianity, our songs fell silent. Our procedures were lost. The scaffolding that supported our traditions was broken. This is one step back to full restoration and that is incredible.
It brings home the necessity, the crucial necessity of re-sacralizing our ritual procedures. It’s not enough to do, rather we must understand how to invest these actions with the sacred and why – otherwise, it’s pointless. (4) We must open ourselves up once again to awareness of the Holy. Our Gods are counting on us. Our traditions demand it.
The next time I take up the sacrificial knife and prepare myself for this ritual, I will think on this: Thor had two goats given over to nourish both Gods and man. Their bones must always remain unbroken and they will be restored to life. As I take up the blotere’s blade, with each offering, I am calling our traditions back to life again, and again, and again. May they flourish.
1. sacrificial priest
2. this article is about ritual sacrifice to the Gods only. Sacrifice for magical purposes is a different matter all together, not covered here.
3. It doesn’t matter to which Deity the animal is being given, or how the animal is disposed of afterwards: the act of sacrifice itself taps into certain cosmic grooves within the tradition.
4. and a mockery of our ancestral ways.
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One of my apprentices asked me this question not too long ago. Since then the topic has come up a couple of other times and I thought I would answer it here. It’s important.
A lineage-carrier is one A) to whom the Gods have entrusted the burden and weight of a tradition and/or B) who has been initiated into the Mysteries of specific Gods within specific traditions. Initiation then carries with it certain obligations to the tradition itself and often to one’s elders as well.
Initiation moreover, brings one into the Mysteries, rewires and reworks one’s mind and soul so that one may be deeply immersed in carrying those Mysteries, and so that one may be tied into the Tradition directly, carrying both its beauty and the twin obligations of protection and transmission. Connecting to the Tradition in this way makes one a part of that Tradition’s lineage.
Before I go farther into what a lineage is, I want to first touch on what a Tradition is. I think it’s far too easy to think of a Tradition as just the particular flavor of polytheism that one might practice. Sure, it’s that but it’s much, much more. It is a living container for the Mysteries of the Gods Who Themselves shaped and created the Tradition. It is a conduit from the ancestors and from the Gods to us – to those who will take up their positions within this tapestry. It’s not inactive or static or un-alive. It is sacred, ordered space, a nexus where we and the Powers meet. It overlays our world and when thriving and strong imprints the traces of our Gods upon it. It sacralizes and shapes our perceptions in ways that continuously repattern us to receive the Gods. Even if you haven’t been initiated into any Mysteries, when you make the commitment to begin honoring specific Gods, you are entering into the outer chambers of Their specific traditions. You’re doing your part.
Lineage is what flows through and sustains a Tradition. It is the living conduits—those people who have worked and lived their lives centered within their Traditions’ borders. It is all those ancestors who venerated these Gods and carried these Mysteries, us now working to restore and properly root these things, and all those who will come after us into the Mysteries, into the Tradition, into the sphere of the Gods. (The same Gods may be part of multiple traditions, there may be regional variants…there may be multiple threads within a single tradition, as different elders initiate their students and receive different parts of the whole). None of this is metaphorical. It is a blistering, heavy, often painful reality. It consumes the entire sensorium at times. It is as palpable as the earth under our feet.
A Lineage-Carrier, particularly an elder (one who has received the push to restore a tradition, refound a tradition, who carries it, teaches it, and is authorized by the Gods and possibly other living elders to initiate) carries the tradition on his or her back, in the heart, bears the voices of the Gods and dead in memory and mind. It is not metaphorical. One in this position is directly tied into the flow of past-present-and future of the Tradition. It’s a constant companion, a mandate, and obligation. Those on whom the burden of the Tradition rests (including now the burden of restoration) are directly responsible to the Gods for planting the seeds of restoration, nurturing that seedling, for protecting the Tradition from those who are ill prepared, impious, who would twist and pervert it for personal gain, they are likewise responsible for passing it on to those who are prepared. Ultimate loyalty must always be to the Tradition itself, over and above any personal sentiments. This is something so much bigger than any individual person.
To be a lineage-carrier is to live for the Tradition: to sleep it, eat it, breathe it , to be bound to it mind, body, and soul. It is to wake in the middle of the night with the screaming of the ancestors filling your mind, shrieking in your head. It is to feel the push of the Gods constantly to do more. It is to know that your every action must be one that restores a little more, strengthens a little more, builds integrity and character – not as we think of those things today, but as our Gods and ancestors think of them. We cannot restore a tradition without also recommitting to and restoring the values and cultural awareness that shaped our ancestors who were born, lived, and died within these Traditions. It means throwing oneself willingly into a complete reordering of one’s inner life. Everything comes to serve the Tradition and more importantly to serve the Gods.
The result is that this changes everything about the way a lineage-carrier moves in the world. It changes everything about how he or she prioritizes interactions and the things of this world. We become connected to the flow of the Tradition itself and that has a tremendous impact on how one prioritizes. There is always something bigger like a cosmic sword of Damocles hanging over one’s head: how is an action taken today furthering the Tradition tomorrow, or a week from tomorrow, or a year, or ten years, or twenty? We have to see that.
It’s dizzying after an initiation to be dropped into this. Suddenly ‘lineage’ isn’t just a word. Suddenly there’s a palpable sense of thousands upon thousands of people, a whole tribe at one’s back and they may or may not be happy with you (the paucity of values and foundation and comprehension that we have as moderns is often quite vexing to them. There was a basic foundation that even the most ill prepared person coming to a Tradition in the ancient world had, by virtue of growing up in a polytheistic culture that we lack and this is a real problem). What they definitely are is there. Likewise, for those who had the Gods drop a lineage on their backs with the mandate to see it flower, there is a constant awareness of that weight. Eventually that weight might be shared as others become lineage-carriers but even then, for those who are by default elders the fire of having one’s world remade by that living ordered space into which one has been tied can be overwhelming. Those of our lineage living before our traditions were destroyed (by monotheists) lived in cultures that to some degree or another support these Traditions and all that they teach. That is not the case with us today. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
This is how it was put to me a very long time ago: We are pearls in a gleaming thread that stretches behind us as far as one can possibly imagine and before us also as far as one can possibly imagine. We hold that space and hold that space and hold that space. In aeternum.
Be sure to check out my other sites:
Wyrd Curiosities at Etsy
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A colleague posted this image on facebook and it got me thinking and I’m going to share some of those thoughts with you now. The statement in the image implies that since at some point Loki was bound, He cannot now be an active part of the pantheon. The corollary to that of course calls into question the integrity and veracity of those who claim devotion to Him. That’s what this meme is clearly stating.
Loki is a polarizing figure in contemporary Norse and Germanic traditions. Some denominations venerate Him, some don’t, some excoriate Him, and some will pour out offerings to Him when Odin is given offerings but only because of a single line from the Lokasenna.(1) They pour them out, but they don’t like it. I think it fair to say that no other commonly recognized God evokes such strong feelings (one way or another) as this one. (2)
Assuming however, that because Loki was once bound, that He is always bound, or that in being bound, He loses His capacity to act in our world is a bit problematic from a theological point of view. It makes for nice apologetics for those who detest His veneration and want an excuse to mock those who hold Him dear, but theologically it doesn’t quite hold up.
Firstly, to make the assumption described in the photo is to assume that the Gods are bound by substance, corporeality, and temporality in exactly the same way that we as human beings are bound.(3) We know that the Gods are outside of these things because They created them, existing before these substantive things ever were. This is all the more so if Loki and Loðúrr are indeed the same Being. While not all Gods may have been involved in that particular moment of fixing the materiality (and by extension temporality) of the worlds, there are Three Who were: Odin, Vili, and Vé or Odin, Hoenir, and Loðúrr, the latter of Whom I hold with the skalds to be Loki. If temporality then has no hold on Them, in the way that it does for us as human beings, if Their nature as Holy Powers is by necessity different from ours (which I’m going to assume for sake of this discussion it is. If you want a proof, I can play Anselm later), then it follows that Loki, like Schrödinger’s Cat can be at once bound and unbound. Time would not be a mitigating factor here.
That is the key to something called ‘mythic time.’ Perhaps part of Loki is always bound as part of Odin is always hanging on Yggdrasil –but here we veer into the realm of Mystery. He is bound and not bound. Loki devotee Kenaz Filan says, “For me the binding of Loki is one of the greatest sacred Mysteries of our cultus, and Sigyn’s loyalty to Her spouse one of the greatest examples of piety the Nine Worlds has ever seen. It’s not something to be joked about.” (4)
In the Eddas, Snorri, writing as a Christian two centuries after conversion carefully euhemerized the Gods. In other words, he presented the stories he was telling as though the main figure, the Gods, were at one ancient time, people. He stripped the sacred from our tales because he was not Heathen. He was writing a guide for poets who were, having been Christian for two hundred years, forgetting the meaning of the various kennings employed in Norse poetry. He was not a devout man and though we owe him a debt for preserving what he did, it would have been better had we never been exposed to Christianity in the first place. We have fragments of what was once invariably complex and nuanced body of regional practices. Snorri reduced our Gods to human. Why are we so eager to do the same? Mythic time is not our time. The Gods are not people.(5)
Nor are our stories morality plays. So much of medieval Christian literature served as morality plays for the listeners, readers, or viewers. That is not the case with our sacred stories. They were never intended to be taken as a guide to life or to inculcate values.(6) They were intended to teach us something about the Gods. They were keys to the Mysteries of the Gods.
Loki is, whether some Heathens like it or not, a key figure in our cosmology. He is a catalyst – the enemy of entropy. He is a helper to the Gods, essential in acquiring for Them Their primary attributes (Odin’s spear, Thor’s hammer, Freyr’s boat, etc.). If He is indeed, as the skalds maintain, Loðúrr, then He likewise has a powerful cosmological role in re-ifying creation within our mythos again and again and again. He carries the holy, the numinous into our world and along the rainbow bridge to all the worlds, traveling with Thor, Protector of Midgard. Given the strength with which His cultus has grown over the past decade, across denominations, even across religious boundaries, it may be that the question of whether or not He is still bound, is effectively moot. Res ipsa loquitur.
- Lokasenna, stanza 9.
- To the point that some Heathens even question whether or not He is a God. The most common refrain along this line of thinking is “He’s nowhere called a God, He’s a Jotun!” Actually, for those who need a reference from the surviving skaldic materials, Loki is actually referred as ‘Ás’ in Gylfaginning, chapter 20. (The cry then goes up from some Heathens, ‘well, Snorri didn’t mean that!” And thus interpreting out of the material all the inconvenient facts that would make your religion something other than polytheistic Protestantism begins. * sarcasm *) Ás of course, refers to a member of the dominant pantheon of the Norse, the Aesir. We could say that it means ‘god’ but that’s not exactly its primary translation (there are other words in Old Norse that one could use for that). It implies one of the holy Powers, specifically one associated in some way with the Aesir, that tribe of Gods responsible for ordering the cosmos.
Of course the question of the difference between a Jotun and a God is a curious one. The Jotnar were the primal divine race. Until the moment Odin and His brothers decided to create the worlds, the beings that sprang from Ymir’s body were Jotnar. At no point in the surviving creation story is there a single moment where suddenly some of them are transformed from Jotun to Ás’…unless it be the moment that Odin and His brothers (of Whom Loki may be one – more on that in a moment) decided to slaughter Their ancient kinsman Ymir to create the worlds. That is the only defining period in the creation epic where differentiation occurs. Suddenly these three Gods Odin (frenzy), Vili (conscious will or desire) and Vé (the numinous, the holy) decide to act in a way that transforms everything that comes after. If ‘Aesir’ refers specifically to a clan of Powers focused in some way on creating and maintaining cosmic order (and there’s enough in the surviving myths that scholars like Dumezil certainly thought so), then membership into this clan might be somewhat mutable (all Aesir having begun as Jotnar perhaps?) and we likewise know that there are other clans of Gods like the Vanir, Whose cosmological focus is different. One wonders at the mutability of membership in these divine clans.
In the creation story, Vili and Vé are sometimes called Hoenir and Loðúrr. The identification of Loki with Loðúrr is not universally accepted but there is skaldic evidence. As Dagulf Loptson notes in his article here:
Þrymlur I-III 21
“The identification of Loki as Loðúrr is one that has been highly debated, though in reality becomes perfectly blatant if one reads the Icelandic rímr, which are epic ballads from the 14th century. One of these ballads, Þrymlur (which was written roughly between CE 1300-1400) follows the same basic storyline as Þrymskviða. Both stories are an account of how Þórr’s hammer Mjöllnir was stolen by the giant Þrymr, who demands Freyja as his bride in exchange for it. Þórr is then persuaded to disguise himself as Freyja in order to reclaim his hammer, and Loki accompanies him disguised as his bridesmaid. In the Þrymlur account of the story, Loki is directly referred to by Þrymr as “Lóður” when he comes to visit him.”
- It is also to assume that we possess the full canon of sacred stories. We know that we do not. We likewise know that the stories we do possess were, to one degree or another, Christianized. This has been an ongoing problem within Heathenry. Because most of us grow up in religions bound by “scripture,” I think there’s an instinctive desire to have the same type of written authority and written legitimacy in our polytheisms. It doesn’t work that way though and for our ancestors never worked that way. One may use the lore to provide something of a scaffolding for one’s practice, to keep one from going off the rails (see here or here) but to assign it the authority of the Bible or Koran is stupid, anachronistic, and ultimately deleterious to the traditions. It is a source of information, information that must be carefully picked apart and analyzed. It is not the word of the Gods.
- We don’t, I think, see the Gods interfering with and specifically undoing the work of another God. That would be a violation of Their sphere of influence, a breach of cosmic order. The question may be thus raised of how much of Loki’s power to act is bound when He undergoes this ordeal, as well as for how long. In Greek mythos we have one story of Apollo violating cosmic order to avenge His son. He is banished and has to serve a mortal for a specific period of time. The banishment and service is temporary however which raises the question of the imbalance that might be created by permanently binding a God’s power, as well as the question of whether or not such a thing is even possible for the Gods to do.
- To reify Snorri is the equivalent of treating some fanfiction on tumblr authored by someone who can’t tell the difference between a marvel character and a Norse God as scripture; or let me correct that, perhaps it’s better to say the equivalent of treating Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods” as scripture since Snorri did , unlike most on tumblr, have talent.
- Almost without exception in polytheistic cultures that role was taken by philosophy. We don’t know what type of philosophies the Northlands would have developed, had they been left unmolested by Christianity. But we do have the examples of Greece and Rome, as well as the Celts with their Druidic class, not to mention Indian traditions, that point to a differentiation between religion which is about relating to the Gods, and wisdom traditions like philosophy which are about developing oneself as decent human beings. There’s no reason to think that the Norse, amongst all the extant IE traditions, would have differed in this regard.
Polytheism is the belief in and veneration of many Gods as independent, sentient Beings. Across cultures, it most often incorporates some degree of ancestor veneration and animism as well. At some point in the flow of religious history, all of us came from polytheistic traditions. Our ancestors prior to the influx of monotheistic contamination were polytheistic. The particularities of that polytheism, to paraphrase a noted anthropologist, went without saying because they came without saying. (#Bourdieu) People were raised in an entire community inculcated with the framework of polytheistic belief. It was the way people viewed the world. It shaped their values. It didn’t require self-conscious analysis. We today don’t have that.
Because of this, it’s incredibly easy for that monotheistic contamination to taint our work. It’s incredibly easy to lose our way, to allow contemporary ideas that may not be rooted in either a polytheistic world view or any sense of piety to take the place of right behavior and relationship with the Gods; (#notashamedtobepious) and because we are not just rebuilding traditions of veneration but the religious communities and cultures as well, I believe it’s absolutely crucial for polytheists to network, work together, and speak out, to take a stand, to draw a line and hold it hard and fast. I don’t mean political activism. I mean Gods-driven activity, devotion, and work. (#Kony2012) It’s more crucial now than ever before save perhaps when our traditions were first destroyed. Why? Because there is momentum behind the restoration now. We have a chance, slim though it might be, to throw open the doors of our world to the Gods again and drive back the depredations of monotheism, modernism, and Marxism (#evilms). At least a little. At least more than we have had for thousands of years — if we can haul our heads out of Facebook long enough to make an occasional offering that is. (#noevilms)
This is sacred ground. Our traditions are sacred repositories of wisdom. They are treasures passed down from our ancestors, ours to tend and cultivate. (#honoryourancestors) This goes beyond *us*. This is about the Gods, the ancestors, and restoring balance to the world. It is about rebuilding our traditions in the wake of monotheism, modernism, and Marxism and in the wake of its retainers: colonialism, racism, devastation, and genocide – its bastard spawn. We need to move beyond the models that we’ve been given. I believe part of the knee-jerk reaction against piety and belief and devotion comes from a very understandable place. I’ve seen people so harmed, so hurt, so wounded by the monotheisms in which they were raised that the word “God” causes them physical pain. I’ve seen people so hungry for spiritual connection that it’s almost a constant pain inside of them, but when it is proffered, when the opportunity is present, these same people respond with condescension and contempt, arrogance all as a protective measure because they have been brutalized by the monotheism in which they were raised. God and piety and respect and humility have become synonymous with an erasure of human potential and creativity. I’m here to tell you it was not always so. (#notalwaysso) Right relationship with the Gods, an acknowledgement that the Gods exist enhances human potential, human creativity, human joy. At its best, when we as humans don’t muck it up, it causes every other thing in one’s life to fall into glorious place. The way these things are now, twisted and maimed by centuries of monotheism, modernism, and Marxism in which “God” or celebrities or the proletariat hold goodness over our heads like a perverse sword of Damocles from on high, is not the way they always were. We need to go back and restore the original meaning of things. (That is what modernism and post modernism does, you know: it destroys meaning and value leaving us prey to predatory philosophies like Marxism. If all truth is relative after all, and 2+2=5, you have no bulwark against mental and ideological tyranny. #nothingtolosebutyourmind).
Let me give you an example. Take the word ‘anathema.’ We use that today for something awful, blasphemous, foul. Do you know what it meant before early Christians got their hands on it? It means “an offering placed before an image of the Gods.” This, when I first learned it, was a key in a lock mentally for me. There are many more words that were obviously changed but when we talk about the restoration of polytheistic devotion, we’re dealing even more, with shifts and changes that aren’t so obvious. When did humility for instance stop being associated with making fertile the mind and soul and spirit by right behavior and come to imply debasement and mental enslavement? When did piety become something perverse? When did the reality of the Gods become something to fight against? When was tumblr made? We need first and foremost to take these things back (except tumblr. They can have that cesspool. #notmycesspool).
In the long flow of humanity, monotheism is but a blip. It is a very young mutation. Our world was polytheistic far, far, far longer than most of us realize. That is important. That tells me that the way things are now is not the way they have always been. Moreover, it’s not the way they have to be in the future. Pre-Socratic philosopher Thales put it best when he said that we live in a world full of Gods (to the perplexity of modern philosophers who go through intellectual gymnastics trying to prove he didn’t mean what he said) and he was right. (#worldfullofgods) We do and when one truly realizes that, everything changes for the better and then it’s just a matter, despite our stumbling, of getting ourselves into right relationship and it’s not so hard really when that first illusion has been cracked, the illusion that we are the highest power in the cosmos. More and more I think it has to start with addressing the fundamental damage done by monotheism, damage that strikes at the heart of our collective capacity to experience a healthy devotional life.
I have no answers here. What I do have is a renewed commitment toward developing a strong and enduring polytheistic consciousness in our world. Let us aim for a post-monotheist, post-post-post-post modernist, and a world that doesn’t even know what Marxism is. We need to know the lay of the theological land and then we need to take it back. (#decolonizeyourbrain, #takeitback, #polytheistworld, #livedeliciously).
There is one question, just one, that I find in 98% of cases, tremendously irritating. It’s a question I don’t want to receive, one I’m not particularly nice at answering, and one that I’m going to be discussing today.
“How do you know the Gods and spirits are real? How do you know They’re speaking to you and that it isn’t some trick of the mind, hormones, pain, drugs, etc. Prove it to me because I’ve tried, I’ve gone through (insert name of three to five different practices here) and have never gotten anything. So, convince me.”
It’s that last little bit, the ‘convince me’ part that sets my teeth on edge more than the actual question itself, so I hope y’all will pardon me for being a bit blunt. The question isn’t so egregious by itself. I mean, I understand how people who have not had much contact with the Holy Powers, or who are just starting out, might be moved to ask it. People, I’ve found, want to be sure they’re doing it right…whatever the ‘it’ of their spiritual lives happens to be. I get that. Hell, I want to be sure I’m doing it right! I don’t ever want to offend one of the Powers. So insofar as the question itself goes, generally it stems from not unworthy motivation, particularly when one is concerned about being in right relationship with the Gods and spirits.
My problem is inevitably with the corollaries that all too often accompany it, corollaries that have absolutely nothing to do with getting oneself in right relationship with the Powers and everything with abrogating responsibility for one’s own spiritual life.
To those people I say the following: Just because you’re incapable or unwilling of doing the necessary work to engage with the Powers, don’t suppose that’s the case for all of us. Just because you’re too mired in your post modern bullshit to open up into devotional headspace don’t assume that’s the case for all of us either. Just because you value your post modern politics more than devotion and piety, definitely don’t project that onto us.
Newsflash: Just because *you* can’t sense or know something, doesn’t mean it’s not true. I don’t understand particle physics but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say it exists. Your limited world is not the be all and end all of existence-not even for you. If you’re not experiencing anything when you do your seeking perhaps you’re too caught up in “belief”, perhaps you’re not listening, perhaps it’s not your wyrd, or perhaps YOU are the problem. The Gods after all, don’t owe you a response and I don’t either. Maybe spend less time floating through traditions and asking foolish questions with the expectation of immediate answers and more time honoring your ancestors and making offerings to the Gods and approaching whatever living elders you have within your tradition with a modicum of humility. Spend more time doing the work and honoring the Powers and less time worrying about whether or not your ego is being adequately stroked.
In case you can’t tell, this question aggravates me on a number of fronts.
Firstly, it presupposes that the Gods and spirits are there for our benefit. It presupposes that one is owed some sort of grand cosmological response. It presupposes that such knowledge can just be handed to one without effort, and it prioritizes the questioner’s identity an will over the idea of right belief, action, and devotional practice.
I usually get this from people who say that no matter how hard they have tried, they can’t find evidence of the reality of the Gods. They’ve gone through half a dozen traditions. blah blah blah.
You know what? Try committing to one. Stop assuming that you’re owed anything. Stop assuming that the Gods and spirits should prove themselves to you. Stop assuming it’s all going to be handed to you immediately. Stop. Just fucking stop.
Secondly, this type of attitude demands explanation of mysteries that can only be acquired through experience and the grace of initiation. It is demanding access into a body of knowledge to which one has no lawful right. It is demanding what does not belong to one by right or by grace.
This is an impiety. Initiation is not something to be demanded. Mysteries are revealed when the Gods and ancestors deem it time. One does not demand access without discipline and devotion. Asking this question as so many do is an attempt at a short cut and it doesn’t work that way.
We have a perfect example, upon which people may meditate of just this level of hubris in the character of Pentheus from Euripides’ ” Bakchai.” This is a powerful mystery play and it highlights, amongst other things, the inviolability of sacred rites. Initiation — and by initiation I am including knowledge and wisdom gained through experience, practice, and the grace of the Gods as much as any formal ritual that breaks open the head and heart to the sacred — is not a thing to be demanded. It may be sought through devotion and commitment, but not *demanded* and there is always a spiritual price. Moreover, even were I to answer the question, what could I possibly say that would be comprehensible to someone who ranks their comfort, their ego, and their own ingrained paradigms over the Powers? What could I possibly say? Those who have directly experienced the Powers speak a different language from those who have only experienced the metaphysical masturbation of their own egos.
Finally, by demanding “convince me,” it foists the responsibility for one’s spiritual life off on me. “Do the hard work and all the thinking for me” is what the questioner is actually saying. You know what? I’m too fucking busy doing my work and honoring my Gods. It’s not my *job* to convince you. Do the work yourself.
Too many people want access to the mysteries, they want access to power without any obligations to the Powers. It doesn’t work that way. Why should the keepers of any tradition reveal its secrets, why should the Powers reveal Themselves to someone unwilling or unable to commit him or herself to devotion? There’s the old saying: you can’t always get what you want but sometimes you get what you need. I think that holds true and what most of these people seem to need is to be told NO.
So let me oblige: no, I will not answer this question. NO I will not hand you knowledge gained only through experience. NO I will not pat you on the head and tell you that jumping from tradition to tradition demanding wisdom and paying no homage to the Powers is the way to go. No I will not do your spiritual work for you. Neither I nor the Gods took out a fucking franchise in Burger King. You do not get to have it your way.
You want to try working, learning the process of devotion, learning how to love and honor the Gods and ancestors? I’ll go to the wall for you then. I’ll answer any question you throw. I’ll do my damnedest to help you get sorted and help you succeed. Don’t come to me demanding, “convince me” though, because my response will be short. My response will be a big, fat “NO.”
(Most of this is drawn from a conversation I’m having with several other spirit-workers and NT shamans. We’ve been discussing and exploring our cosmology, specifically the Norse creation story. I write a bit about that here and this delves a bit deeper into some of the ideas expressed in that piece. This is speculative, posted mostly to give myself a record of my thoughts).
|I don’t think it’s possible to over-emphasize the importance of our cosmogony. I think any understanding of the way Heathenry and the Northern Tradition works must start with an exploration and understanding of our cosmogony, because that is the lens through which we are expected to engage with the world, relationships, and everything in between. I’ve occasionally seen the primal Gap (Ginnungagap) described as a ‘womb’ but I really do not like the image of a ‘womb’ for the Gap. It’s too much a gendered term. The Gap is a crucible and for many reasons that I’ll be discussing here, precedes any idea of gender.
Likewise with the runes: one often ascribes gender to them (and they can in fact present as gendered) but I think it’s perhaps a mistake to assume that any gendered presentation represents the actual nature of the rune itself, and for many of the same reasons as with the Gap.
I’ll start with the runes because in many ways, they’re easier to touch on than our cosmogony. From my experience, some specific rune spirits might take on a gender, but as a whole, they’re not what we would term masculine and feminine in their essence. I think this is important…I don’t think that like the Odu, (with whom I have seem the runes often compared) they’re building blocks of creation. Instead, I think they in some way expand and expound from the Gap, almost like agents provocateur, instruments that carry that synergy wherever it needs to go, especially at the points where wyrd begins. This is all speculative theology but the runes are not of this world. They were never of the human world (at least not the elder. I have suspicions about the younger. I suspect that the younger were born of the elder, and born to be a more direct bridge to this world, are more inherently connected to this plane of existence). They take on gender, or can take it on, when they enter our world/state of being but within their own natural realm, the Gap, it is an alien idea.
I think we really have to be careful of co-opting gendered language for these things. That’s immediately a category and a limitation and for those things that are beyond temporality and even materiality, it’s important to resist that urge. All the more so as those terms carry so much weight in our culture. We reduce the power of these Forces (the Gap, the worlds within the Gap before creation, even the runes) when we make them feminine or masculine. We reduce their nature, blocking it off and culling it down, parceling it out when we ascribe to it those categories that limit with respect to substance and manifestation. Sometimes it’s inevitable. We need a means to discuss these things after all, but I think with the runes, we can deal with them as they are, and the Gap as well without projecting our own gendered language onto them. (I do think that within the rune families, rune spirits will choose to appear in a variety of genders but I think it’s an assumed guise for our sake. Half of learning how to work with the runes is a matter of us learning how to communicate with them, and them learning our interior symbol system, i.e. how to communicate with us. Taking on gendered forms may improve communication). When we begin exploring our cosmogony, we’re challenged to move beyond ideas of gender as these somehow inherently meta categories of universal structure.
The first actively gendered force that we have is Audhumla, the sacred cow and that is crucial. Once materiality is yoked to temporality, once it’s out of the Gap and into Being, once there is substance, it’s filtered through Audhumla, that feminine force that brings Ymir into being and starts the process of embodied creation
I remember thinking about the creation story and thinking, “where the fuck did the cow come from?” but it’s an IE motif: the active principle of embodied creation, once things have moved into materiality, is a cow: a feminine, or rather female force. Cows were wealth, abundance – we see this in the runes too with fehu, domestic cattle and wealth (versus Uruz, initiation and the challenge of the wild aurochs). It’s potentiality for abundance, the power of manifestation (I believe even Audhumla’s name means ‘wealth.’). That’s a different level from the moments preceding creation and again from creation itself, at once removed from the Otherness of the Gap. For most of us, I think that when the runes present as gendered, that’s here, in our world/state of being, not in the Gap, not their origin point and that difference is significant. It may be that there is how the runes are there, and how they can choose to be here, or how they are filtered through here.
I think we need to step back and examine how often we contextualize based on gender. The moment you ascribe that category, you’ve put a limit on something. You’ve also humanized it. Now sometimes that happens. Our Gods taken on gender for instance…note I said ‘take on.’ I don’t’ want to limit Them by assuming They are bound in any way to it. They take it on. When we start talking about cosmogony, we’re pre-human, pre substance, pre material and categories (like gender) no longer apply. They don’t exist yet. So for this, we have to move away from how humans experience the world, and our assumed position of necessity to its order, and look instead at how things are without filtering it through humanity as a necessary lens – because these things we’re discussing here existed/came into being, well before we did.
To further complicate things, Old Norse, like many IE languages is a gendered language. This means that nouns have grammatical gender (they can be masculine, feminine, or neuter. It doesn’t have anything to do with what that noun might be usually, but instead is a way of categorizing based on morphological terminations). In some respects, looking at grammatical gender can be enlightening. It’s one more level of analysis but certain concepts and ideas, certain types of being are beyond gender, beyond any human category. When we’re talking about something similar in so many ways to the Platonic Agathos, Nous, and Psykhe, we’re not dealing with something yoked by gender. Gender is a material limitation. I do with the runes, think of them as gender fluid to some degree, but largely because I ‘m not sure gender has any relevance in THEIR realm…whereas it’s part of ours, and like a costume they can put it on or take it off at will to communicate specific things in their interactions with us.
Once we start looking at cosmogonic principles, however, up until the point of material creation, the point where suddenly there is materiality and temporality, and *substance*, gender has no meaning. Once we get to substantive realms/states of being, then gender becomes a thing, because then, by virtue of being substantive, there is already limitation.
Insofar as we have substantive concepts, I think bringing gendered language into it can be interesting (both grammatically for analysis and ideologically). As noted above, it’s another level of analysis when we’re doing theological exegesis. The cosmogony, however, before the moment when materiality comes into being as a result of friction between worlds (opposing forces) doesn’t exist as we might comprehend it.
There is nothing better than mornings spent with the Gods, whether in devotion to Them or fruitful discussion of Them. Today was one such morning. My friend Markos posted this awesome quote by Walter Otto on his facebook this morning:
“No single Greek god even approaches Dionysus in the horror of his epithets, which near witness to a savagery that is absolutely without mercy… He is called the “render of men”, “the eater of raw flesh”, “who delights in the sword and bloodshed”. We hear not only of human sacrifice in his cult, but also of the ghastly ritual in which a man is torn to pieces. Where does this put us? Surely there can be no further doubt that this puts us into death’s sphere. The terrors of destruction, which make all if life tremble, belong also, as horrible desire, to the kingdom of Dionysus. The monster whose supernatural duality speaks to us from the mask has one side of his nature turned toward eternal night.”
~Walter F. Otto, Dionysus: Myth and Cult
We both love Dionysos dearly (and if I’m not mistaken, Markos actually belongs to Dionysos whereas while I love this God, I pay cultus from the fringes). This quote encapsulates some core elements of His nature. He is a terrible God, in the old sense of the word, as One Who brings terror.
Another friend Paul C. mentioned that He is also “nice,” and I have to agree: He can be immensely nice and gentle (and we agreed that sometimes that is more shattering than any cruelty He could bring to bear on the transformation of our souls). Paul said:
“I’ll say that when I first started with Dionysus I didn’t expect him to be nice.
It was the niceness of him that was almost hard for me to handle at first. Due to my background of abuse and other unfortunate things I have a lot of self-confidence and self-esteem issues. His acceptance and love was unexpected and clearly not coming from myself. It was hard because of the whole host of new ideas and perspectives that I had to confront As your husband (Sannion) explained it and I think he’s right that was the God’s own way of molding and helping me.
So niceness isn’t always painless like you think it would be. Sometimes it’s more painful than cruelty when it runs counterbalance to what is in one’s head.” — Paul C. (quoted with permission)
Still, as I pointed out, it’s never the “nice” that people try to elide from their Gods. It’s the Power. I was asked to explain and the conversation that followed was meaty enough that I wanted to share highlights of it here.
People will go to any lengths to make their Gods sweet, nice, and unthreatening, to insist that their Gods aren’t savage or vicious, violent or bold. We want our Gods civilized and ‘modern.’ We want Gods we can control, or at least Gods that don’t challenge us, that don’t drag us down into the morass of our own shit and force us to look at it, and deal with it. We as a culture want Gods Who won’t interfere with our lives and the priorities we set for ourselves. We want Gods of peace so that we never have to stand naked, afraid, trembling, and possibly bleeding and snot faced before Them. We want characters in a storybook. Just look at any of our communities.
Of course positioning a Deity as any one thing alone is always problematic. A God, any God is never just savage or nice. They *are*. They are in a fullness and complexity of Being that I don’t really think we as human beings quite have the capacity to comprehend at all. We may catch glimpses, but the totality is too immense for us to do more than gnaw upon. Think about the story of Dionysos’ Mother Semele. When She was tricked into forcing Zeus to reveal Himself in the fullness of His power it burned Her to ash. A human being, as we are now, simply does not have the capacity to behold the Gods in Their fullness. The masks They wear are necessary but every so often, oh every so often we get a glimpse of some of the roaring Power that lies beneath.
So yes, Dionysos is nice. I can also attest He’s been incredibly nice and gentle with me. but …that’s not the part the average person is going to erase in their minds, I think. We know He’s nice. That’s not the part most people want to forget.
I saw this over the years with Odin. Any mention of Odin’s darker sides — and oh, He is a terribly savage God. Anyone who thinks His veneer of civilization and culture is anything more than a carefully calculated mask is deluding themselves.—His penchant for ordeal, His violence, His savagery inevitably led to claims that I was making this God into a sadist. “That’s not my Odin.” (#notallOdins) No, buttercup, but it is Odin. Maybe it’s not what He’s showing you, but it is absolutely His nature. The best of us learn to revel in it. Those who can’t? Well, there’s always British TV, fanfiction, and pop culture.
There’s a movie that several people in the conversation brought up, one that has strong Dionysian overtones: “The Witch.” In this movie, the Devil in the shape of a black goat drives a rather neurotic Puritan family to ruin. Well, they drive themselves to ruin, and the goat just does what demonic goats do. (#goatlivesmatter). In the end, the goat transforms into a man and asks the surviving daughter: “Do you wish to live deliciously?”
We agreed that this is Dionysos.
This is the Liberator. I have my suspicions that many of the medieval images of Witches’ sabbats were cultural memories of Bacchanalian frenzies with all the potential savagery that might entail. (#livedeliciously).
We should be careful what we do to our Gods. One thing I’ve learned venerating the Norse Gods is this: if we insist on allowing Them only one avenue of manifestation, only one mask, They’ll take it but it won’t be the best outcome for us. We will get the Gods we deserve. When we deny Them the fullness of Their being, we start denying ourselves too and as that movie so beautifully showed, repression never leads anywhere good. (#lokiwivesoftumblr).
So maybe let us live deliciously.
Especially where our Gods are concerned.
I have the deepest respect for my colleagues like Edward Butler who are philosophers and polytheists. Until today, I had no idea of what you guys face every day, and the fight that you’re engaged in to reclaim our philosophical traditions from monotheistic depredation – and it is outright depredation.
I’m still stunned at what I experienced today. I was in a theology class and we got around to discussing Aristotle. We were each giving a brief presentation on what we’re going to write for our final papers and I was up. One of the students could not comprehend why I would not embrace Aristotle as a monotheist, paving the way for later Christianity. (Excuse me while I throw up). Another was convinced that ὁ θεòς in Aristotle was absolutely referring to a monotheistic God. Nothing I said about how the singular was common classical usage when discussing the particular manifestation of a particular God at a particular moment made a dent in their dogged insistence that the writers they admired from the ancient world must, of course, be monotheists. (No, sweetheart. Actually we have medieval scholasticism to thank for twisting and corrupting ancient philosophy in such a manner. Many of the philosophers were deeply pious). What some of these students did to henadology would make a polytheist weep.
Everyone else in the class was absolutely convinced that A) Aristotle, Plato, Cicero (and we mentioned one other philosopher but I don’t recall at the moment which one. I think it was a Roman, and yes, I know Cicero isn’t a philosopher per se but he came up in the conversation) were atheists or monotheists only paying lip service to religion which was B) only state run, no belief, no devotion, nothing of substance. And then I had to listen to them discussing the natural victory of Christianity. I had to listen to the blanket erasure of both my religious traditions and the philosophical schools that those religions birthed. It was revolting. I’ve seen complete lack of understanding of polytheisms as religions with their own theologies in Classics, but not to this degree. I don’t think I’ve ever quite experienced the incredible blindness that I saw today.
This all started when I mentioned the “inherent plurality of polytheism” (it’s relevant to my paper topic). I think those words and concepts are pretty self-explanatory but apparently not. Not a single person in the class grasped what I meant, not even the professor. It was completely outside of their learned experience to consider ancient polytheisms as legitimate, richly textured, living faiths. They were absolutely incapable (not unwilling I think, but incapable) of seeing them as anything other than brittle state funded apparatuses and place holders for monotheism. I think I’m still in shock.