Or “I don’t believe in Gods because polytheists are mean. Muh feelings. Muh feminism. The patriarchy.”
My husband is a bit of a provocateur. He often sends me articles of which he thinks I ought to be aware. Today was one such example, though I think he mostly does this to wind me up and get me going. Sometimes I even allow that to work. Like today. I woke up to find this piece of steaming horseshit in my inbox. Because my husband cares.
Ah what the hell. I haven’t gone on a good tear in awhile.
So the author of the aforementioned piece begins by announcing that she has “god-fatigue.” Makes me wonder what the Gods have with us sometimes but oh well, let’s look at the piece paragraph by paragraph. cracks knuckles
“After taking a couple of weeks off from blogging, and then being gently informed by my editor that those couple of weeks were actually six months, I realized that I’m burned out on gods.”
Yes, that’s called acedia, and reams of paper have been expended with advice on how to combat its degenerative effects on one’s spiritual life. It’s certainly not something to indulge, nor is it something of which to be proud.
Generations of Christian theologians have written about this particular spiritual vice with a goal of preparing people to combat it. It was once considered one of the eight deadly vices, which Gregory the Great compressed into the seven deadly sins. Acedia is spiritual negligence but it leads to a listlessness and torpor in attending to spiritual duties. John Cassian referred to it as a ‘persistent and obnoxious enemy’ and Psalm 90 calls it the ‘noonday demon.’ (1). It can afflict anyone engaged in spiritual practice and the generally accepted “cure” for this affliction is work: lack of idleness, consistent prayer, more spiritual engagement.
Evagrius of Pontus in his text Praktikos also talks about Acedia and Cassian was deeply influenced by and indebted to this earlier theologian:
The demon of acedia—also called the noonday demon —is the one that causes the most serious trouble of all. He presses his attack upon the monk about the fourth hour and besieges the soul until the eighth hour. First of all he makes it seem that the sun barely moves, if at all, and that the day is fifty hours long. Then he constrains the monk to look constantly out the windows, to walk outside the cell, to gaze carefully at the sun to determine how far it stands from the ninth hour, to look now this way and now that to see if perhaps [one of the brethren appears from his cell]. Then too he instills in the heart of the monk a hatred for the place, a hatred for his very life itself, a hatred for manual labor. He leads him to reflect that charity has departed from among the brethren, that there is no one to give encouragement. Should there be someone at this period who happens to offend him in some way or other, this too the demon uses to contribute further to his hatred. This demon drives him along to desire other sites where he can more easily procure life’s necessities, more readily find work and make a real success of himself. He goes on to suggest that, after all, it is not the place that is the basis of pleasing the Lord. God is to be adored everywhere. He joins to these reflections the memory of his dear ones and of his former way of life. He depicts life stretching out for a long period of time, and brings before the mind’s eye the toil of the ascetic struggle and, as the saying has it, leaves no leaf unturned to induce the monk to forsake his cell and drop out of the fight. No other demon follows close upon the heels of this one (when he is defeated) but only a state of deep peace and inexpressible joy arise out of this struggle.(2)
While Evagrius was writing specifically for monastics, it was understood that acedia wasn’t just something against which monks and nuns had to guard. It could afflict anyone. It’s spiritual laziness, spiritual torpor…I might even go so far as to call it a spiritual depression and it requires treatment. Monks had an advantage over the lay person in that they had a systematized access to teachers, spiritual directors, superiors, etc. Pagans and Polytheists can suffer from acedia too and unlike monks, we don’t generally have access to competent spiritual direction. Our communities just aren’t there yet (as this article so clearly shows. Commentators on the piece are more interested in spewing pseudo-feminist claptrap about “the patriarchy” than offering advice on how to overcome spiritual depression). Acedia is horrible and it can be wrenchingly difficult to haul oneself up out of the pit into which it can thrust a person.
The author of the piece goes on, declaring:
“I never came to Witchcraft for the gods,”
and that says it all right there. But you stayed, you know, so you could do your part in preventing any actual spirituality from happening.
Still further, we’re told:
“…but mythological deities–you know, the ones whose stories you can read at your local public library–hold such a fundamental place in modern Paganism that they quickly seeped into my practice. Starhawk’s writings center on nature, the immanent Goddess, and the horned God; Reclaiming Witchcraft centers on gods from world mythology and folklore to the point that–and this is a very gentle, loving critique–we hold rituals in Redwood forests and on dramatic beaches and give only the most cursory nod to the abundant spirits around us, focusing instead on gods and stories from faraway cultures. I stepped back from my local ritual planning circle in part because we invoked gods even for business meetings, and I was tired of elaborate, theatrical invocations for deities I didn’t care about. Other Reclaimers find deep meaning in the gods they work with, and I’m happy for them. But I eventually had to admit that it wasn’t for me.”
Wow. So you’re shallow and it just rubs you the wrong way that people participating in a RELIGION want to actually focus on Gods (though I agree: nature spirits should also be given their due, especially when in their domain).
I also question the term ‘work with Gods.’ Do we work with Them or honor Them, venerate Them, praise Them, celebrate Them? I know that this term is in common usage and I’ve used it myself in the past but more and more it rubs me the wrong way. What message are we sending when we talk about working with Gods? If it’s the sense that we are in Their employ, well ok. I can see that. Too often though it comes across more as though They are pieces in some game that we’re playing, an attitude that sets my teeth on edge. I think it’s important to be mindful of the language we use in discussing the Gods and in discussing our relationship with Them and I’m aware there’s a learning curve here for all of us. It can be sometimes difficult to find comprehensive terminology for experiences and Beings that seem so far beyond the power of language to adequately describe. It’s important to try though.
Asa continues: “This isn’t to say that I’ve never had good or powerful experiences with gods. I have, and I continue to. It’s just taken me a long time–an embarrassingly long time–to realize that the antlered god I love so fiercely is older and wilder than the embossed silver figure with the Roman name; that statements like “the Morrigan is the goddess of sovereignty” currently accomplish nothing except to carve off and lock away swaths of the Morrigan’s infinite potential; that it really is ridiculous to take stories recorded and adapted by Christians and try to pound them into Pagan orthodoxy. (All the dogma thrown down by thin-skinned BNPs, all the shrieking and squawking between hard polytheists and atheist pagans, haven’t helped, either.)”
The names don’t carve off and lock away anything because actual devotees realize that a name is just that: one way of calling on a tiny part of an enormous Force. They allow us a means of engagement, of interaction but no one with any sense thinks that a single name encompasses the fullness of any Deity.
And all those hard polytheists? They’re engaged in something called theology and tradition-building which is important to people who care about their Gods. It’s how traditions grow and become something that lasts beyond one generation. It’s how we develop praxis that actually keeps the Gods central instead of tangential to our traditions. It’s how we develop theology.
Beyond that, you really shouldn’t be giving people on the internet power over your religious practices and beliefs. If it’s that much of a problem, disengage from the internet and focus on your Gods and spirits. If you don’t think land spirits are getting enough attention, well, work on that, because that’s important. Spirits of the land, spirits of our cities, spirits of place often don’t get the attention or the offerings they deserve. It’s only been in the last seven or eight years that I’ve seen our various communities really grasp the importance of honoring the ancestors. I don’t think as groups that we’re really there yet with land vaettir.
“What is the purpose of this post, exactly? I’m not sure. Partly it’s to explain where I’ve been all these months. And partly it’s to hold myself accountable to the heart of my practice, which I found breathtakingly articulated by Peter Grey when I first discovered his writing:
‘Witchcraft is quintessentially wild, ambivalent, ambiguous, queer. It is not something that can be socialised, standing as it does in that liminal space between the seen and unseen worlds. Spatially the realm of witchcraft is the hedge, the crossroads, the dreaming point where the world of men and of spirits parlay through the penetrated body of someone who is outside of the normal rules of culture. What makes this all the more vital is the way in which the landscape of witchcraft is changing. Ours is a practice grounded in the land, in the web of spirit relationships, in plant and insect and animal and bird. This is where we must orientate our actions, this is where our loyalty lies’.”
well, accountability is good. It is the heart of any spiritual practice so maybe, just maybe, there’s hope for you yet. Certainly polytheism is deeply relational. It is all about that interconnecting web of relationships: with Gods, ancestors, land spirits, elders, one’s community, one’s family, one’s country, one’s world.
“For many Pagans, working with named and storied gods reinforces their connection to the land. That’s beautiful and vital and life-giving, and I’m glad that it’s happening.”
…those relationships should be reinforcing relationships with the Gods. Engaging with the Holy Powers shouldn’t have to be a step toward something else, something more human, more oriented to our world for it to be considered valuable. Ever and always it seems the Gods get short-changed.
“For me, though, those names and stories have proven to be a distraction.”
It shouldn’t be. Story is powerful and transformative. If it’s a distraction then perhaps it’s not being engaged with properly. The stories are only the beginning, not scripture, not end-points. This article began by neatly dismissing ‘myth,’ which shows rather a lack of knowledge about what ‘myth’ actually is. μῦθος is story, speech, that which is worthy of being recorded and retold. It has purpose, design, and power. It has the ability to transform the listener. It is a container for Mystery. We can remake ourselves through the power of Story and re-ignite and remake our relationships with our world and our Gods. To dismiss our myths as distractions shows a remarkable lack of both clarity and creativity.
But let us continue, “When I write about deities in public, I find that some readers’ comprehension stops where a god’s name begins (Oh, yes, that god, I’m already an expert in that god, no need to listen further), and accusations of “unverified gnosis” (can you think of a sillier, more pointless term?) take the place of any semblance of theological discussion.”
Well, shame on those readers and yes, I agree UPG is the most idiotic expression ever to come into being. It’s often used as a means of shutting down discourse, especially theological discourse. All religion, if we want to think about it academically, might easily be termed UPG. Lack of comprehension on the part of readers is an incitement to better clarity not a reason to stop engaging.
“When I call to them in private, the names veil everything around me in a vague demand for reality to conform to some myth. I mean, not all the time. When I see Venus, I smile at Inanna in the sky. I pray to Sophia and to Shekhinah. I pour milk and whiskey for Anu and the Bucca. But it’s a matter of calibration, of catching the moment when the name and the prayer stand in for actual contemplation, when we swap modern Christian hegemony for the hegemony of some other wealthy priesthood from the past.”
Ah, I forget sometimes when dealing with Marxists that anti-theism is at the core of Marxist theories so of course it all eventually comes down to hegemonic structures with them. So sad. Is it any wonder depth of engagement is difficult? It’s actually not a matter of catching the moment when it comes to devotion. It’s a matter of learning to put oneself in the appropriately receptive head and heart-space for engagement to occur. There is an element of surrender there, and the accountability of personal preparation. But I guess Marxists are only good at getting other people to submit.
To continue, “What I’m saying, I suppose, is that despite (because of) Very Serious High Priests and impassioned flame wars, concepts like “Morrigan” or “Cernunnos” have started to feel like brightly colored illustrations in a picture book to me. We can do better with our theology, opening up possibilities instead of shutting them down. (Demands to “verify” gnosis serve only to stamp out any insights that don’t serve the most powerful voices.) Meanwhile, in my own practice, I’ve gone back to my roots, finding the exact same gods I left behind–only older and wiser, with names that are unpronounceable.”
First of all, THEY’RE NOT CONCEPTS. Maybe that’s your problem. Start approaching Them like Beings and not concepts and you won’t have a spiritually empty life. This is what we can learn from our ancestors. But oh, I forgot: Marxist. Ahistorical. I guess following a belief structure (Marxism) that once encouraged throwing shamans out of planes to see if they could fly (and in reality to break the religious structures of indigenous peoples) does put a “fly in the ointment” so to speak, when it comes to serious engagement.(3)
Finally, she concludes, “As I write this, it’s raining in Los Angeles–a precious event that may actually have a chance of pulling us out of our six-year drought. The gratitude coursing through me at the sound of water, the sense of peace I feel when I look out at the winter clouds, is what brought me to Witchcraft. Witchcraft, to me, is keeping my eyes open to the countless spirits and oracles all around me.”
But not Gods apparently. Fuck them I guess.
- See Cassian’s Institutes, Book 10.
- Evagrius Ponticus, The Praktikos & Chapters on Prayer, tr. John Eudes Bamberger, OCSO (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian, 1981), pp. 18-19.
- See here. It was actually Soviet policy in the early years of the Soviet Union to attack shamans and spiritual leaders int his way.
I hate identity politics. I find them utterly inane and it appalls me to see how much they’re seeping into the fabric of our communities. I was thinking about this today as I was studying and contemplating our communities and the Gods. Identity as anything other than a servus or serva deorum (to borrow and slightly amend a term from late antiquity) is, to my mind, both short sighted and sad.
The only identity that should consume us, drive us, define us, envelop us is as a devotee of our Gods. Anything else is irrelevant, limiting, shallow. What does it matter what gender, orientation, race, size, etc. someone is? These things are variable in comparison with the soul. These things can change. These are things of man. The only identity that matters is whether or not we’re in clean service to our Gods. Be one laity or clergy or somewhere in between, we carry our Gods and Their mysteries with us. We are carriers of Their Mysteries. We carry Them and it’s incumbent upon us to do it well.
I support indigenous cultures, and the right of each of us to participate in the restoration of our indigenous polytheisms because those are specific expressions of the Mysteries of the Gods. They are containers, sacred and beautiful for those things the Gods may give. Maintaining them is part of being in right relationship with our Gods. They are important but to obsess over genitalia or with whom someone might choose to partner…not so much. Those things are fluid. What do you do then if the Gods tell you to change those things? The flesh is beautiful, pleasurable, sacred, and sometimes even holy but all things of the flesh are transient. It is the Gods that are eternal and immortal.
Our society, our world more and more is becoming narcissistic, shallow, secular, and soul-warping. Why? Perhaps because when people are like that, they’re easily manipulated. Obsession with identity politics is part and parcel of that. If you have no grounding in anything else other than your ‘identity,’ you can be sold products, you can be divided into opposing camps, you can be rendered irrelevant. Having a grounding in nothing else makes it that much easier to spit on the sacred.
I’ll give you a perfect example. A few days ago Wild Hunt posted an article about the suicide of Pagan artist and shaman Seb Barnett. A “regular commenter,” some foul piece of shit by the name Damiana decided to use this memorial piece as the venue to attack Barnett’s memory. Why? Identity politics (and apparently lack of compassion, piety, sense, and the ability to form a critical argument) to violate this memorial space. It was disgusting to read and very sad. Instead of remembering this poor kid’s death, someone desecrated and dismissed it. Their priorities were not the sacred, not remembrance, not propriety but mindlessly chanting their identity politics to the world (while challenging the opinions of those who are actually of the identity Damiana purported to be defending, at one point even questioning whether or not a commenter was actually Native…because they disagreed). THIS shows exactly what happens when you prioritize identity politics, human nonsense, anything not only above the sacred but also above common decency. One shouldn’t have to be told to respect the dead and the space in which others remember and grieve. If you do, I not only question your identity but your right to call yourself a human being.
The only thing worth one iota of our fervor is the Gods. There’s a wonderful quote by Catherine of Siena, which I’m slightly pluralizing for obvious reasons: “Be what your Gods meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” This world of products, prefabricated identities, and gross irreverence needs to burn. Putting the Gods first would be the truly revolutionary act.
It is no surprise to anyone that i’m not a fan of the current social justice movements impacting our communities. It’s not that I think inequalities shouldn’t be addressed (I very much think they should be effectively addressed) but rather than i question the tactics of harassment, bullying, and attempted intimidating of anyone who doesn’t buy into certain opinions wholesale. I’m very much a fan of free speech, discourse, and discussion.
Imagine my amusement then when I began receiving emails about my etsy shop from a “concerned community member.” My refusal to remove certain items has led to veiled threats like
“I just want to make sure that I’m correctly understanding you so that I can accurately convey your answers to the others who are concerned about this!”
You know, with the undercurrent of ‘bow to our demands or we’re going to fuck with you.’ I’ve about half a dozen, maybe more emails from the same person about this, even though I have indicated that their discomfort is their own issue, and I”m not changing my etsy site and even though I have requested that communication cease.
Let the games begin. I have had better people than these come at me. It’s almost laughable that someone would try to intimidate me like this. I did point out that perhaps if they are so concerned about social injustice they should stop harassing me and get out there and do something worthwhile to change the inequalities that really are twisting and corrupting our world, to which I was assured
“that online work has its place in the landscape in which we live today, as part of a larger strategy of coalition-building — but I understand that there are disparities along many lines of differences between us in how that tends to play out.
I’d say that my working group is primarily focused on advocacy and activism, but we sometimes entertain fantasies that our larger spiritual community might be a place where we could all care for each other and protect each other from micro- and macroaggressions and harm. (That’s why I’m the one messaging you, as a fellow white person!)”
You know what i entertain fantasies of? A community that prioritizes veneration of the Gods and actual religion. Maybe a community that doesn’t feel the need to demand group think. Definitely a community that doesn’t pull such assed up passive aggressive attempts at emotional extortion. This is the worst kind of slacktivism that I’ve seen in awhile and I’m sure these people entertain notions that they are equivalent to Martin Luther King and Malcolm X because they sent some emails and tweeted footage of actual people out there on the streets trying to make a difference. Come for me. I”ve been Heathen probably longer than y’all have been alive. Have at it.
I never, ever thought I’d be writing something supporting the AFA. I’m not a member and I’m not folkish but over the last couple of weeks as more and more people in our communities dogpile on them, I’ve been watching from the side lines growing more and more concerned. Then yesterday, I saw this article and that the not so aptly named Camp Courage had, at the last minute, caved to pressure from HUAR and others who were calling in and refused to honor their contract to host an AFA harvest gathering. The AFA was left scrambling to find a new venue, which I’m told they did. That’s when I decided I had to say something.
Why are more people not up in arms about this? Seriously. Do you not see what is going on?
A group made a statement articulating its values. They never said that they spoke for all of Asatru or Heathenry. They specifically said they don’t monitor what their own members do or how well they adhere to these values. They made a statement about their core values on their own facebook page, to their own members. Whether or not you agree with that statement is beside the point. They have both freedom to speak and freedom to assemble in this country. Moreover, groups and traditions have the right to make decisions about their values and membership. If one doesn’t like the result, well the adult thing to do is to find a group or tradition more suited to one’s own values. That of course, predictably, is not what happened here.
Now, I rather expected the Troth to take a run at them. There’s been long standing tensions between the folkish and universalist camps within Heathenry and they are after all competing for the same demographic. There was never any expectation that the Troth would take the high road. (For the record, I am most adamantly NOT a member of either the Troth or the AFA. I have theological issues with them both). As you can see from the link, they’re not even responding to what the AFA actually said; they’re responding to what they would like us all to believe they said. What I didn’t expect was for everyone else to unthinkingly jump on the outrage brigade with them.
No one seems to have given a thought that this is polytheists attacking another group of polytheists – and not just verbally but with real world consequences; or more troubling, to the long term effects of such behaviors. I am old enough and have been a polytheist long enough to remember when gatherings were kept secret, when groups didn’t post about things, when there was a veil of secrecy over who was doing what and where, and on the way this stifled the growth of our traditions. Is that what we want to go back to?
Those attacking the AFA are doing so thinking that they are perfectly justified in doing so, and may even think they are doing a good thing. After all, these people think differently. They don’t tow the leftist party line. They don’t give a rat’s ass about what HUAR, Rhyd, G&R, tumblr or any other group of people might think. They have to be brought down. Well, it’s the AFA today but I think HUAR and co. are testing the waters, just as they were doing when they tried to brand me a racist for posting a video critical of rape gangs (really people, read my blog and make up your own mind there). They’re doing this to see A) how people react and B) if they can whip the communities up into a frenzy and take down this organization. What’s next? Are they going to go after John Michael Greer because he disagrees with Rhyd? Or will it be some poor group of Dianics who just want to be left to practice their tradition in peace? (I happen to think Dianics are ludicrous but you know what my response is to that? I don’t try to attend their gatherings). Whose livelihood are they going to destroy next? They’ve already managed to get a teacher at Cherry Hill to resign. It’s no longer enough to say “I disagree with their position on X and here’s why,” now the opposition has to be demonized (regardless of what their position actually is, mind you. Let’s call them far right, fascist, racist, homophobic, transphobic insert charged term du jour here). It’s no long enough to have one’s own space, now opposition must be silenced and brought to heel until they confirm ideologically.
Think about that. While you’re patting yourself on the back for protecting diversity, think really hard about that.
Think about who might be next. Think about your own gatherings disrupted because someone doesn’t find you ideologically pure enough. Think about the phone call to your boss outing you as Pagan, Heathen, pseudo fascist (even if you’re not). Rhyd is going around (most recently on John Beckett’s patheos column) talking about how there is no witch hunt from the anarcho-Marxist left. He’ll still be saying that I’m sure, when they come for you
Rhyd’s call for an anti-fascist witch hunt hasn’t resulted in any witch hunting but his friends on tumblr haven’t seemed to have caught that memo.
EDIT apparently some people think i agree with this horse shit (the article linked below). I do not. I find these tactics repugnant. I posted to alert people as to the depths to which some will sink in order to silence free speech and to prevent our traditions from rooting and growing.
I particularly like these leaps in logic (and law):
2. Trap them. Catch them doing or saying something illegal and record it. Anonymously notify the correct authorities. If he’s racist he’s probably also a raging misogynist, here is a pretty high percent chance he beats women. Bust him for that.
3.Sabotage. Sabotage everything. Their protests, their social events, their rituals…their relationships. Sabotage them physically, sabotage them magically. Block them at protests. Blast distractingly loud noises in the vicinity of their rituals. Curse them liberally.
NO pun intended, I’m sure.
I guess freedom of speech really isn’t free. or a thing. anymore.
Is this the community you want? Are these the tactics of which you approve? Your silence makes this possible.
Over breakfast this morning I was having a lively chat with a colleague about our respective requirements for our formal students and apprentices (and by formal student, I do not mean someone who signs up to take one of my online classes, but rather someone who has formally contracted with me to be taught within one of the lineages I carry). My friend was surprised when I told her that one of the first things I do now is require my formal students and apprentices to delete any tumblr accounts they may have and to stay off tumblr completely for the duration of their training. I used to make this a strong suggestion, but over the last year it’s become pretty non-negotiable for me.(1)
Over the past year, I’ve had the opportunity to watch those ensconced in the tumblr community interact devotionally. I’ve seen the nonsense coming endlessly out of these sites (more so than on any other type of social media including Facebook and Twitter): the reification of pop culture as proper polytheism, the often complete lack of critical thinking, the shallowness, and the lack of reverence (and let’s not forget the tumblr wives of Loki…or Kai lo ren because you know, over there, they’re basically the same thing anyway. Sorry Tom Hiddleston. Sorry). I think that last – reverence or lack thereof– is what made me finally come to my decision: pretty much without exception of those I have personally experienced, I find that the tumblr pagan and polytheist communities encourage a lack of reverence.
Nor do I mean that this is something that is occasionally a side effect of participating in tumblr, I mean it is actively encouraged. The result is people who cannot maintain themselves in sacred space without feeling the need to crack jokes, to lesson the ambiance of reverence, to reduce to the lowest common denominator, the protocols of veneration.
I want to be very clear about something, and this is something that I try very hard to lay out to prospective students and apprentices before taking them on via contract, those of us working in our respective polytheisms – in my case Heathenry and cultus deorum, a little Starry Bull on the side—are not seeking to develop in ourselves the outlook, perspective, worldview, ethics, and morality of our current popular culture. We are looking to develop a polytheistic worldview in tandem with how our ancestors, born and raised in polytheistic cultures, would have approached the Gods, ancestors, and devotion. We are seeking to ensconce ourselves in a polytheistic perspective, to develop polytheistic ethics, and to grow in reverence and awareness of our proper place before the Gods. Anarco-leftists and co. , tumblr, and others can rail and rant and rave about that all they want. We will not be moved. We are not seeking to create ourselves in a post-enlightenment, post modernist image. We’re seeking to restore the values and traditions of our ancestors. It’s precisely the cultivation of those values and that worldview that I think tumblr most effectively damages. It panders to the populist voice of the lowest common denominator and to be clear: lie down with dogs, as the saying goes, one does wake up with fleas.
I believe (as did Aristotle) that it is important to cultivate relationships that encourage right behavior, that help us develop habits of reverence, of piety, of excellence in our devotional work. These things are habits. They are things that lie within our control, that we may develop or not. It is very, very difficult not to be affected by those with which we associate every day, and most of us are online an awful lot. I would venture to say that for the average pagan or polytheist, the online venues that we each frequent are a vital part of our community experience – sad but true, and true for almost all of us. I hear from people every day who are spread out across the country, across the globe who have no one else in their immediate area who is also a polytheist, or if they do, it may not be their particular polytheistic religion. It’s natural to want fellowship. I think we just have to be rather discerning about where we find it and one thing that tumblr won’t cultivate is just that: discernment.
- I realize that there are artists who use tumblr solely for artistic sharing and such, and normally I would say ‘sure, that’s fine’ but more and more I think with a level of pollution such as I typically see on tumblr, it’s best to just cut that shit off cleanly, and not allow any means whereby it might infect. Any doorway is a possible hazard. So apologies to my artist friends out there!
They folks, for those interested, the piety possum buttons are available. I’m charging $3 a button, plus $2 shipping and handling. I’ll have them up on etsy soon but in the meantime, feel free to contact me at Krasskova@gmail.com if you want one. There is a limited supply.
I, for one, am glad to see neopagans standing united against white babies. They’re smelly and noisy, there are too damn many of them, and they don’t belong at concerts, movies, restaurants or on airplanes – especially on airplanes. Same thing with red babies, brown babies, black babies, yellow babies, purple babies, etc. The whole damn human race needs to go extinct so that super smart racoons can take our place. Why, just imagine the cool shit they’d invent like techno music you “listened” to with your little raccoon paws and food-washing robots! I seriously doubt they could do a worse job running this shit hole than we have. #nomorehumanbabies
GK: moving away from the topic of miasma, I read a conversation thread today wherein someone was freaking out because some polytheists practice “dual tradition.” I’ve never understood why this was so concerning. Many if not most ancient polytheists did the same thing. One practiced the religion of one’s ancestors, of the state cultus, and then whatever cultus one might wish to initiate into–it was always flexible and fluid, with the caveat that one honored each set of Gods appropriate to Their traditions and rites. In many respects, honoring the Gods of one’s neighbor was an act of hospitality, especially when so many of these populations were mobile and connected by economic and political agreements. What are some of the issues in doing this and how do you think it can be done respectfully?
KF: I think they are reacting in part to the “Initiation Shopping” common to plastic shamanism. You buy a trip to Peru to drink Ayahuasca; you travel to Nigeria to get made in Ifa by an “airport babalao”; you go to Hawa’ii to become a Big Kahuna. And in each case you’re buying an experience and a title without any real knowledge of what goes with that title or how you should incorporate that relationship into your spiritual practice. Then there are the Tumblr godspouses with their retinue of “deities” doing what comic book heroes usually do and the “Norse Wiccans” or “Celtic Pagans” who use a tradition for its trappings and props rather than engaging with it.
The secret to practicing multiple traditions is to approach each tradition with respect. Understand the responsibilities that go with the title you are seeking: if you are incapable of meeting them then don’t seek that title. (I did this early on in my Vodou career. I received elekes but decided learning Vodou was a full-time job: trying to master Lukumi alongside that would do a disservice to both paths). If you serve the Gods of any tradition with respect and mold your service to Their requirements rather than expecting the Gods and the priests to make accommodations for you, you’ll be just fine.
Another thing I’ve found is that most people who successfully practice dual traditions have a solid relationship with their Deities and spirits in both paths. I’m a Lokean who also serves the lwa: I’ve been working with Loki for almost fifteen years and with the lwa for a few years before that. I’ve been able to work within both paths with little conflict — other than the conflicts which inevitably come with Loki, of course 🙂 And I would note you have a rock-solid relationship with Odin and advanced degrees in the Classics: you take your duties to the Gods seriously no matter what Pantheon you may be honoring. Playing “mix and match” games or treating multiple traditions with equal disrespect is just going to get you into trouble.
GK: I have seen many monist and pantheist apologists point to the syncretism to justify their anti-polytheist claims of ‘all gods being one.’ Likewise, I’ve seen many (ill read) anti-theists point to examples of agnostics and atheists in the ancient world, to justify their attacks and incursions into contemporary polytheisms, which is especially offensive because just because something existed in antiquity doesn’t mean it was a good thing — they had pedophilia, slavery, etc. Not to mention these views were always the minority and often soundly criticized. What is your reasoned response to this misuse of our history?
KF: Syncretism certainly happens: I’m thinking of Zeus Amun, whom Egyptians honored as the Kemetic God Ammon and Hellenics as a praise-name for Zeus. (Given the structure of many contemporary African religions I might even compare that relationship to the various “caminos” of an Orisha or the various Ezilis, Ogous, etc. in Vodou). Polytheism doesn’t just involve many Gods, it involves many theologies and many different visions of the Universe: sometimes those visions will be conflicting and downright contradictory. That’s because the Universe is a big, messy, conflicting and sometimes downright contradictory place.
But while there were questions as to the nature of the Gods, there was very little debate as to their existence. Agnosticism was generally a theoretical exercise: atheism was a crime in most of the ancient world and considered the most dangerous sort of impiety. When we look at ancient writings from agnostics and atheists we also need to remember there was then as now a marketplace of ideas. And of course our worries about belief and the individual’s interior life are largely a product of the Reformation: the ancient world was more worried about what you did than what you thought. It was certainly possible to speculate on the existence or non-existence of Gods, so long as you continued to perform the required rites in accordance with your civic duty. When you shirked those duties, or encouraged your countrymen to turn from the Gods, that was a whole different kettle of fish.
Archetypal Monotheism looks more welcoming at first than hard Monotheistic traditions like Islam or Christianity. But it’s ultimately just as corrosive. If all Gods are one God then all faiths are really one Faith and any disagreements or differences between traditions must be chalked up to misunderstanding or human error. What results is a bunch of Gods who are all saying the same thing, a bunch of supposedly disparate “traditions” all aiming at the same goals, and a big warm bland steaming pile of culturally-blended and homogenized mush.
You also raise a very interesting point regarding slavery and pedophilia. Polytheism is a work-in-progress.
GK: well, I don’t raise it. I don’t really care. I’m educated in history. I’m not one of the ones using these things to muddy the discourse. I have however seen it coming up from the more ahistorical amongst us.
KF: Social mores change and what was acceptable in one generation may be condemned in another. Human sacrifice and cannibalism were roundly condemned by Hellenic practitioners of the Classical era despite earlier rituals. Even in the Old Testament we see HaShem telling His people not to pass their children through fire (sacrifice them) in His name — and generally you don’t issue “Thou Shalt Nots” unless people are actually doing the things you condemn. We can look to the past for inspiration without slavishly copying it: in the spirit of Reconstructionist Judaism we can give tradition a vote but not a veto. And people who say otherwise or who assume honoring the Gods must invariably lead to human sacrifice and theocracies are willfully or unknowingly stirring up trouble over nothing.
GK: Of course they are – I think that they’re willfully doing so to cripple the restoration so you actually give some of these people far more credit than I do. With some of them at least, I can see clearly the religions from which they’ve come. We’ve talked about how many people bring Christian baggage and wounds and trauma into their new religion. We can clearly see the difficulties this causes in our communities today. How would you address this? Conversion is a multi-layered, difficult process and in a community that damns its elders and refuses to accept standards of training and rules of behavior — even something so simple as miasma– how can newcomers move past these issues? What tools can we provide them with?
KF: One way to get past the Monotheism filter is to recognize it and open yourself up to alternate interpretations. Instead of falling back on the “All Gods are One God” explanation, consider addressing those “faces of God” as individual discrete Beings. You don’t have to make a decision immediately on it, but be open to the explanations Polytheism offers. If you have to tell yourself “this is just a thought exercise” do that — but exercise your thought.
You also need to distinguish between the Monotheism Filter and any personal authority issues you may have. If you grew up in an abusive Christian cult you may associate any kind of hierarchy with that abuse. And while the Gods don’t expect you to grovel before Them and abase yourself — by and large They would much prefer you live a virtuous and honorable life — They are greater than you and deserve and They demand respect. There is a difference between bending your knee and superstitious groveling in fear: if you can’t or won’t understand that Polytheism is not for you.
When you come into a functioning spiritual community you have to understand that they have a way of doing things and a way of addressing the Gods. If you are a guest in that community you are expected to acknowledge their routines and to honor them: if you wish to join that community, you will need to learn its standards and expectations and shape your behavior accordingly. And, again, if you can’t or won’t do that then you need to avoid that community for your sake as well as theirs. Nobody is asking you for unquestioning obedience, but they may be asking you to pour out libations for their Gods, to prostate yourself before Their shrine, or to refrain from participation for one reason or another.
For example, you cannot salute Damballah if you have your period. This has nothing to do with misogyny: it is simply that Damballah finds the smell of blood offensive. If you insist on saluting Him despite this because you want to reclaim menstruation or prove that Haitians are just being superstitious when they uphold this silly taboo, you are guilty of grave disrespect. And if you don’t understand that and feel instead that Vodou should reshape itself to better suit your interpretation of feminism then you have no place in a hounfor or at a fet lwa.
GK: well said. Yes, yes, and yes. Our own limitations should never, ever be the standard to which we hold our practice, our tradition, and our Gods. Might we discuss the problem that many of us see arising in the community i.e. the lack of a decent education, of historical knowledge, of critical thinking ability, and lately I’m beginning to assume basic reading skills, because I think that’s part of the reason this is so cognitively hard for some people.
KF: I think we’re actually dealing with a perfect storm. First there’s good old fashioned ignorance and lack of education. American literacy has declined precipitously and fewer and fewer people have even basic critical thinking and research skills. That makes it difficult to distinguish between solid scholarship and crap: it also makes debate difficult, as not many people care about things like logical fallacies or internal consistency anymore. You also have to worry about being called out as an intolerant bully when you call out wrongheaded ideas and bad behavior. (Unsurprisingly, the worst bullies have learned the lingo and will happily accuse their critics of “shaming,” “bullying” and “oppressing” them at the drop of a hat — and since critical thinking is in a death spiral, they all too frequently get away with it). Spiritual communities are expected to be “Safe Spaces” where everyone is made to feel valid and warm and affirmed. (Loki and Odin may be called many things, but “Safe?” Naah… ). And what results is that the unqualified, disrespectful and flat-out impious are coddled to and tolerated while those seeking to protect the tradition and the Gods get forced out.
GK: Exactly. I couldn’t have said it better myself.
KF: Every Polytheist must of necessity engage with hir community: frequently that includes political action. There is nothing un-Polytheistic favoring one candidate over another, with donating to the political causes of your choice, with writing essays in support of your political position. The problem begins when you start telling me all Polytheists must favor your candidate or cause, or try to make Marxism, capitalism or any other creed the Official Political Position of Polytheism. I strongly suspect most of the people who don’t get this distinction are being willfully obtuse a la “Spiritual Purity = the Holocaust!!!” or similar rot.
GK: I don’t think they’re being willfully obtuse. I think they know exactly what they’re doing: obfuscation, poisoning the well, and other nasty rhetorical tactics because they can’t get their way and they want to take down those who are engaged in the restoration and in affirming healthy boundaries.
I think there is a real resistance toward restoring our traditions because with traditions come rules and sooner or later, someone is going to feel inadequate because they refuse to meet them (with the corollary that they then expect the tradition to accommodate their lack, instead of themselves working to be better. I mean, “I’m an idiot and can’t tell my God from a time traveling fictional character but yeah, I should be a licit voice in this revival and even though I”ve made excuse after excuse for my failure to do the least thing my Gods have requested of me ad nauseum, I’m a role model”. Um, no sweet-heart. I don’t think so. You’re fit to be something but I’m pretty sure that’s not it and the fact that we’re the only ones calling foolishness like this out points to the devastating state of our communities. People like this are bringing so much shit into the communities that it’s going to take the rest of us working together a generation to clear it all out again. I sympathize with Herakles cleaning the Aegean stables).
KF: We will never have an egalitarian relationship with the Wellsprings of Being: They are more powerful than us and more powerful than we can imagine. We will never have a safe relationship with them: They can turn our lives upside down at a moment’s notice and not infrequently do just that. Anybody looking for safe, egalitarian Gods needs to look outside Polytheism: our Gods are Gods in all Their glory and terror.
GK: I think these people are small and they want our Gods to be too, to reduce the Heavens to the size of their own limited intellect and hearts. Pity for them it doesn’t work that way.
Me? I want the Gods to render us in our smallness, stripping away everything that does not serve.
The morning has been fruitful. Part 8 of these ongoing conversations is now live on Kenaz’s blog.
You can read it here.
I’m pulling this out from my post here. I see this all the time.
Reader December commented:
“This is something I’ve been contemplating and railing against for a lil while now since having this discussion in a local heathen group with a man who compared devoted polytheists to “crazy shithouse rats.” May people I come across in this and other online pagan communities are “Pagan/Heathen Atheists” or similar titles. When I bothered to ask a few why they were part of a religious community when they didn’t believe in the gods venerated therein, they said they liked the idea of the culture and bringing back a lot of the community beliefs of the “vikings” and other similar groups. I then asked if it would not be better for them to join a living history or reenactment group than to profess a religion that they did not believe in. The conversation spiraled downward from there into a complete mess but in the end I had to ask myself – why is it that so many people want to LARP or cosplay as a religion they don’t believe in really? I cannot fathom anyone dressing up as Jesus or Mohammed and going to church but claiming atheism or even going so far as to call everyone else there crazy for actually believing.
This is an issue I still have problems not getting emotional over and am not sure how to grapple with it other than to just avoid the conversation with role-players and keep to my devotions by myself. Glad to see this being discussed elsewhere.”
My response, and I say this to each and every one of you:
This. I see this all the time. First of all, don’t let them silence you. That is what they want. Do not yield an inch. THEY are the ones who have zero place in our traditions. Why the fuck these people think they ought to come into our religion, corrupt and destroy it I do not understand. But don’t fall silent. Speak about your devotion. write about it. do not hide it. that’s what people like this want. Live it and share it and let it grow. That is the only answer to this, because we are faced with a sad influx of people who cannot see what is good: our traditions and faith without seeking to bring it down to their level and corrupt it. Thank you for what you are doing. Keep it up and keep asking those questions.
Also note that these people cannot just come into our traditions and enjoy them and participate as guests. They have to insinuate that devoted people are crazy and try to change the tradition, demand that the tradition changes to accommodate them, rather than the other way around which is at the very least, a complete violation of frith.