Here is a portion of Augustine’s argument against polytheism, one of his earliest arguments found in de vera religione (on the true religion). Click here (part i) and here (part ii) for the full treatise. The part specifically against polytheism starts about chapter 69. He’s pulling heavily on, and to some degree misusing Plotinus and associated neo-Platonic philosophers, as well as Stoicism. I’m curious how you all as contemporary polytheists would respond to this and the arguments you would raise in debate with him refuting it. Go. ^_^
“There is another worse and lower idolatry which worships phantasms. Whatever the erring soul in its swelling pride can imagine, they hold as an object of religious worship until at last some conclude that nothing at all should be worshipped, and that men err who allow themselves to get involved in superstition and miserable servitude. But these opinions are vain. They cannot make themselves free. There remain the vices, and they are drawn towards the notion of worshipping them. They are slaves of desire in three forms— desire of pleasure, desire of excelling, desire of novel entertainment. I say that there is no man who holds that there is nothing he ought to worship, who is not the slave of carnal pleasures, or seeks vain power, or is madly delighted by some showy spectacle.
So, without knowing it, they love temporal things and hope for blessedness therefrom.” (Augustine, de vera religione, 69-71)
To get the full thrust of Augustine’s rather circular argument, check out the links above starting about chapter 50. Keep in mind he’s twisting Stoicism and Platonism out of true.
Here is more: (1, 98.)
“If we cannot yet cleave to eternity, at least let us drive away our phantasms, and cast out of our mental vision trifling and deceptive games. Let us use the steps which divine providence has deigned to make for us. When we delighted over much in silly figments, and grew vain in our thoughts, and turned our whole life into vain dreams, the ineffable mercy of God did not disdain to use rational angelic creatures to teach us by means of sounds and letters, by fire and smoke and cloudy pillar, as by visible words. So with parables and similitudes in a fashion he played with us when we were children, and sought to heal our inward eyes by smearing them with clay.”
He’s not actually referring to amusements and popular culture here, but specifically to the diversity of the divine found in polytheism. For Augustine, it was vanity, a clinging to the physical world rather than to his God and Christ. This is the philosopher that later inferred essentially that Pagans were atheists (I don’t recall if he actually comes right out and says this but if all Pagan Gods are demons, and the Pagans reject his religion and Christ, then by extension they are atheists in his view).
If I’m not mistaken his whole twaddle about “phantasms” is a corruption of Plotinus and [Neo-] Platonic philosophy. You see it in later medieval theories of the senses with their ideas of how sight, memory, and the soul function.
“Let not our religion consist in phantasms of our own imagining. Any kind of truth is better than any fiction we may choose to produce. And yet we must not worship the soul, though the soul remains true even when we entertain false imaginations about it. Stubble, which is nevertheless real, is better than light fabricated at will by the vain thought of him who imagines it; and yet it would be madness to hold stubble, which we can perceive and touch, to be worthy of our worship. Let not our religion be the worship of human works. The work- men are better than their works, yet we must not worship them.”
The thing to realize here is that by ‘human works’ Augustine is in part referring to images of the Gods. I asked in my class the other day whether or not Tertullian (another church father whom we were reading) really believed that Pagans worshipped ‘idols’ without realizing that however enlivened those images may be, they were not the larger, more ineffable Gods or was he playing a rhetorical game to diminish the authority of Pagan religion in the minds of his listeners and readers? Obviously, if you know Tertullian the answer is the latter. I think Augustine is, much less coherently, doing the same thing.
In the blistering furnace of our hearts,
may You be hailed.
In the fierce rantings of mind and memory,
may You be hailed.
In the tumultuous storm of our senses,
may we gasp, and chant, and sing Your praises.
May our lips burn with whispered adorations to You.
May our bodies shake in the onslaught of Your presence.
Where You are honored, there be in all of Your glory.
Where You are reviled, there also be,
and work Your cunning wiles.
May You ever be the unquiet thought,
the unruly impulse, the unwary stirring
of holy cravings, the longing for internal revolution,
the descant-mad, dervish-driven
prophetic-spewing roar that drives us
ever and always, unceasingly, unmercifully
into the arms of our own liberation.
Hail Loki, Liberator,
cunning, wild, and wise.
May You ever be hailed.
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.”
I was talking about wine the other night, and spirits of the land, and the many different ways of rooting oneself in an awareness of all the indwelling spirits of the places in which we live and move and I remembered something I learned a very long time ago.
I’m a bit of a wine snob. I was taught by my adopted mother, for whom wine was one of life’s sweetest pleasures. She had a very discerning palate, and with her training, i developed a palate that, had I chosen to pursue it, would have enabled me to take a sommelier’s training. This was one of the grace-notes of Midgard, a pleasure we both shared.
Until she came into my life I’d never liked wine. I hadn’t been exposed to much and didn’t realize that a palate is something that must be cultivated, and that as it was cultivated it would expand and perception would deepen and a whole new world of taste and flavor, aroma, and insight would open up. When I asked my mom to teach me about wine, she took to the task with a vengeance. Over the years that we were together, she gleefully exposed me to some of the best wines in the world. It was, at first, an uphill battle! I have a sweet tooth and at first, that carried over to a dismaying degree into my choice of wines. I found anything not cloyingly sweet too bitter. So she solved this by starting with the best dessert wine she knew and very slowly and very, very patiently, moving my palate away from the sweet. My taste for reds and whites opened up at different times. The latter came first and took about a year to develop. I can still remember with vivid clarity that day, many years ago, when my palate burst open to white wine. I was sitting in Tour D’Argent, overlooking Paris and drinking a glorious, absolutely glorious 1999 Puligny Montrachet. All of a sudden my taste buds were flooded with multiple notes of flavor. I remember losing myself in a complex, multi-layered smokiness that seduced the tongue and nose, unlike anything i’d ever tasted before. To this day my favorite white wines are still the ones that are rich and smoky. It took another year and a half or so for my palate to open to red wines. That was less dramatic and while I know I was in Italy (probably Rome), drinking a lot of Amarone, I can’t name the exact time or place of that particular epiphany. With the opening of my palate came a growing sense of the spirit of the vine as well and I began to develop an alliance with him. My explorations of wine were grounded not only in deep and deeply sensual delight but also immense respect.
So my mom took me to Switzerland once, wanting to show me all the places that had formed the warp and weft of her world, all the places she loved. We were traveling through a small village near Montreux and stopped for lunch. The restaurant wherein we were eating offered only local wines, grown within a few miles of where we sat. these wines are, for the most part, not distributed broadly and are sold only in the immediate areas. Before I could venture an opinion, my mom cautioned me against turning up my nose up at local varietals. She told me that the spirit, wisdom, and medicine of the land upon which we stood was contained in those wines. It was a distillation of the “ashe” of the land spirit itself, and contained trace memories of everything that had ever happened in those places. It’s a connection, on a very deep level, to the power of the land itself, a very particular plot of soil. It’s a means, a very sacred and holy means of absorbing the power of that land spirit –freely given–into oneself. To taste the wine was to taste the land upon which it was grown. (She also had much to say about why a wine tastes better in its native locale than after it’s been loaded with sulfites, agitated, and shipped to the US, but that’s another tale in and of itself).
She was right of course and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this holds true for every bite of food or drop of drink we put into our mouths. For this reason if no other, homage should be given to the spirits of the land, the soil, the tilled earth, the mulch, the water table, and the entire ecosystem in which our nourishment was born. As the land is nourished so are we.
think about that: as the land is nourished, so are we. Truly grasping that one simple truism changes everything. I know for me, it transformed to a great degree the way in which I interact with the earth. I became much more conscious of what i put into my mouth, where my food comes from, how my local farmers are treated, and the megalithic horror of Monsanto and all the destruction it brings (and not in the name of science either. Hubris maybe, but not science). I found myself radicalizing on fronts that I had heretofore ignored as someone else’s fight. Well it’s not “someone else’s fight,” not unless I suddenly no longer require food to live.
It’s not enough to say “i honor the earth.” Tell me how. What exactly do you do? How does it translate into your everyday Midgard life? Because words are not enough.
My mother taught me that, a bird-boned firebrand, a small, delicate woman with an elegant Swiss accent, a streak of blue in her hair (for Loki–and, according to her, so no one would look at her and think she was without her edges) and a will that would put the mountains themselves to shame. She was a radical: in her devotion, in loving the Gods, and in the way that she adored the earth. That is my inheritance.
My husband just finished a book of poetry titled “Wine Dark” that will be available shortly. I’d direct you to his site, but he’s going to be taking it down soon (he does this periodically because he is a pain). In this poetry book, in one of his poems, he refers to the realm of the dead and its denizens as ‘the noble nations of the dead.”
I was quite struck by the phrase, that epithet: noble nations of the dead. I read that and thought, ‘yes, exactly. What a perfect descriptor.”
I think I’ll be using this phrase from now on: noble nations of the dead. May they be hailed.
All outstanding pre-ordered copies of the Mothers novena went out as of this morning. My apologies for the delay!
No, no, no, honey. You ditch that woman and find yourself a proper polytheist for some lupercalia sexy times. 🙂
If we wade in shit long enough, I think we lose the capacity to distinguish what is good and pure, worth cultivating, what has value, from what is total, utter, unmitigated garbage. We lose discernment. This guy nails it and lays the responsibility at the feet of cultural marxism.
I will be doing divination tonight (so if you’ve contacted me in the last week or so for div and I haven’t gotten back to you, it’s happening tonight).
If anyone would like to submit a question, please feel free to do so to krasskova at gmail.com. My rates are here. (via paypal email@example.com but don’t paypal me without also emailing me with your question!)
I’ll be working tonight and tomorrow on this. Cut off is noon tomorrow for questions.
EDIT: Div might take a bit longer. I was settling down with one of my new systems and ….it looks like I need to translate it into Old Norse. So i’m working on that tonight, div will happen tomorrow. Sorry for the delay, folks.