I’ve known Kenaz for years so it was a pleasure doing this interview recently for this series. Like me, Kenaz straddles the line between two polytheistic traditions: Voudoun and the Northern Tradition. The Gods do send us down some interesting roads. He’s written several books including “The Power of the Poppy,” and (with Raven Kaldera) “Dealing with Deities,” and “Drawing Down the Spirits.” Thank you, Kenaz for agreeing to participate in this interview.
GK: Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you come to polytheism?
Kenaz: I was interested in magic and the occult for as long as I can remember. From my early 20s onward I was involved in Ceremonial Magic and Neopaganism. Because I have also long felt an affinity for darker Cthonic energies I became involved in Satanism and Goetia. Had I been born 30 years earlier I’d be what the kids today call an “Edgelord.” I found Chaos Magic thought-provoking at times and loved the intellectual aesthetic of Ceremonial Magic – but I never felt comfortable reducing the Gods to thought-forms, archetypes or things that only existed between my ears. I always knew there was Something Else there and that They were worthy of worship. I also never bought into the idea of a Golden Age when the Gods walked among us. I felt like They were as present now as They were 10,000 years ago and that They still had an interest in us: They did not cease to exist when we stopped worshipping them any more than a rock disappears when you turn your head.
While I have always felt compassion for the poor and disempowered I have never been particularly egalitarian. An important part of our American psyche is that all men are created equal before the law. There has been considerable debate about what that means. For me it means whatever your social class or lifestyle choices all citizens should be given a chance to achieve to the best of their abilities; that all accused of a crime deserved a fair trial before an impartial jury; that all should be treated with respect and courtesy until they prove undeserving of same. (I understand that we rarely live up to these tenets, but that reflects more poorly on us than them). But I also understood that people were not equal. Strength, intelligence, skill, passion, piety – these things were not evenly distributed among humanity. Neither did I have a problem that there were some people who were Called (had a Vocation in the language of my Roman Catholic youth) to the Priesthood while others served the Divine by living their lives honorably and doing your duty to your family, your community and your Gods.
In 1994 I had a psychotic break that left me homeless on the streets of Manhattan for several months. During that time I made contact with a spirit that called Himself “Legba” and who told me, among other things, that I would become a Vodou initiate. At the time I thought this impossible: in March 2003 I was initiated as Houngan Coquille du Mer in Societe la Belle Venus #2 of Brooklyn, New York by Mambo Azan Taye (Edeline St-Amand) and Houngan Si Gan Temps (Hugue Pierre). Since then I have continued to serve the lwa and much of what I have learned in Vodou has influenced my way of dealing with my ancestral Gods. Then, in 2004 Loki showed up and, unsurprisingly, things got very … interesting.
One of the defining moments in the modern Polytheistic revival was Kenny Klein’s arrest on child pornography charges. The Pagan community’s response to that left me – and just about everybody else in the community who identified as a Polytheist – furious and disgusted. I realized then that contemporary Neopaganism’s atheism and relativism were fatal flaws which have real world consequences. I ceased to identify in any way as part of the Neopagan community and began calling myself a Polytheist – and many other Polytheists did the same thing. Today’s Polytheism shares very little with modern Neopaganism: we certainly don’t share our Gods. I’d say we have become a different religious tradition but it’s more accurate to say that we have become a religious tradition since what they are doing owes more to psychotherapy than theology.
GK: You’ve been a staunch defender of Loki over the years (something that I particularly appreciate). Can you tell me a little bit about your devotional relationship with HIm?
Kenaz: My first experience with Loki started as a meditation on Freyja as I attempted Seidhr: instead of finding myself in the presence of Freyja I found myself in the cave. Since that time Loki has been a constant presence in my life. I followed His instructions when he told me to live for several years as a woman. I believed Him when He told me that I would have a child even though the hormones should have rendered that impossible. And in return Loki has brought nothing but blessings into my life, including the greatest gift of all – my daughter, Annamaria Sigyn Estelle Filan. I am eternally in His debt: speaking up on His behalf when he is wronged is the least I can do to acknowledge all He has done for me.
Most Loki-detractors make several fundamental errors about the nature of pre-Christian practices in northern Europe. The idea of “Lore” owes more to Protestant sola scriptura than to tradition. It prioritizes the work of Snorri Sturluson, an Icelandic Christian, over the disparate practices of a region which stretched from northern Scandinavia to the banks of the Volga River. It gives the Eddas a Scriptural authority which Sturluson never intended: it also anachronistically applies the Manichean “Good/Evil” axis to traditions which (unlike Christianity) were never touched by Manicheanism or by any other Gnostic tradition. There were certainly evil wights and evil men in the myths of northern Europe. The Gods could be benevolent, hostile or some combination thereof depending on the situation. But there was no idea of an elemental Evil or of an infernal Adversary eternally warring with the Divine and with humanity: Loki was never a “Nordic Satan” any more than Odin became a “Nordic Christ” because he hung on Yggdrasil.
I identify Loki with Lóður and with the force which makes the blood flow and which animates our world. I believe there may also be some cognate between “Lok” and the low German gelücke from whence our word “luck” derives. I don’t think it is a huge stretch to identify Loki with a generally benevolent but unpredictable bringer of blessings and good fortune. And given how Loki appears in almost every story preserved in the Eddas, I think He was a major God within the traditions of northern Europe. I also think His binding is one of the major myths of our Lokean tradition. His long agony on the rock and the eternal fidelity of His wife Sigyn are powerful if painful foci for meditation and contemplation. And while it sometimes seems that for every step forward we take a dozen steps back into Lokiswives of Tumblr, I am confident that we are seeing the birth of a Loki cultus which will survive and thrive long after we are gone.
GK: Late 2016 you started the rather controversial website polytheism uncucked. What prompted that? What is it’s focus? What do you intend /hope to accomplish here?
Kenaz: Polytheism Uncucked started out with tongue firmly in cheek. After Rhyd Wildemuth declared that Paganism was under attack from the shadowy forces of the Alternative Right, I figured I might as well be the devil they claimed me to be. But as I continued studying I began to understand that I am the product of European culture and a child of the European Diaspora. I realized that to honor the Gods of Europe I needed to protect my ancestral European homeland and my European brothers and sisters. And so I began talking about impolite topics like the Islamization of Europe and the plight of poor White America. I began speaking out against AntiFa thuggery and pointing out the deleterious effects of Postmodernism and Cultural Marxism on our art, culture and interpersonal relationships. Which means, at least to some people, that I became the worst sort of racist. (Insert pearl-clutching here).
Parenthood also played a major role in my “Dark Enlightenment,” “Redpilling,” or political development as you prefer. We live in a working -class area of Newark where we are an ethnic minority. We have never experienced any problems and our Black and Latino neighbors have never been anything but kind and helpful. But when they look at us they see White people: our roots and our culture share many commonalities, but there are also many differences. And so I began wondering what it meant to be White for us and for Annamaria, and realized White was something more than an absence of Color.
Necessity and desire drove our ancestors from their homes: history transformed them into White Americans. We are the European diaspora; we are Europa’s children; we are part of a process that was ancient when the first English settlers landed on Plymouth Rock and part of a people who are committing demographic and literal suicide. Those who came before us may have done great evil but they also did great good. We have lessons to learn from their triumphs as well as from their mistakes. And in any event we have a responsibility to honor our ancestors not because they were good or because they were triumphant but because they are our ancestors.
Vodou, Lukumi and other African Diaspora traditions preserved African religious traditions through the horrors of the Middle Passage and slavery. I believe folkish Heathenry is one means by which we can honor our European Gods and work to preserve our European identity and our European culture. This has nothing to do with disparaging the ancestry of others: it is, rather, about honoring our own. “Woke” Black people and White people have a great deal in common. Both wish to preserve their culture; both place enormous importance in the family and community; both know their people face enormous challenges like poverty, unemployment, violence and despair; both believe the solution to their communities’ problems will only be found within their communities; both believe a spiritual awakening is a necessary precedent to any material improvements. The answers to our problems lie not in eternal conflict and hatred but in mutual respect. “Different” does not have to mean hostile.
GK: Now how do you balance working in two traditions (I do as well): Norse and Voudou?
Kenaz: Vodou is the central pillar of my practice: I use so much of what I learned about approaching the Lwa in my service to Europa’s Gods. My wife (also a Mambo) and I have both had the maryaj lwa: we abstain from sex on Tuesday through Thursday in honor of our divine Spouses (Ezili Freda and Danto for me: Ogou, Damballah and Zaka for her). We have shrines for the Rada, Petwo and Ghede in our home: we have Legba standing at the door to protect us from evil and bring in blessings. I have refrained from writing publicly about Vodou for some time, but that is only because I wanted to make space for Haitians to document their own faith. Right now there are several open Haitian houses were people can be initiated and learn how to serve their lwa: Haitian and Haitian-American artists and academics like Hersza Barjon, Claudine Michel and Patrick Bellegarde-Smith are writing books on the subject. I have 15 years as a Houngan: these people were raised in the culture and have far more to teach than I do. My services in that arena are no longer required: there are better people out there for the task.
By contrast, the contemporary Polytheist movement is in its infancy. We are still building that community and defining what it means to be a Polytheist. (See the ongoing flap about “archetypal Polytheists,” otherwise known as “Neopagans who want to call themselves Polytheists”). I am focusing my attention there for now as I feel that is where it is most needed. There is an enormous hunger for the Gods in our culture, a burning desire for something more meaningful than hollow materialism and blind nihilism. We are a society riddled with impietas: our relationships with our Gods, our communities, our families and ourselves have all gone off the true. The center no longer holds and things are falling apart.
Our only chance is to establish islands of piety amidst the spiritual pollution and to work to right those imbalances – to re-establish what the Romans called pietas. I believe that when we do that we will discover there are many others who are seeking desperately for what only the Gods can give them. Make a fitting place for the Gods and fitting priests who serve Them properly and They will do the rest. That is the public task to which I have set myself: to lead Europa’s children back to Europa’s Gods.
GK: what advice would you give newcomers to polytheism?
Kenaz: The Gods are many, the Gods are real, the Gods are here. Everything else flows from that.
Many people will tell you that you are crazy, that you are delusional, that you are taking this too seriously. This includes many people who claim to be serving the Gods but who are really engaging in psychodrama or in an elaborate live-action roleplaying game. Real piety terrifies them: it implies the Gods they use for window dressing might be real, and might make real demands of them. Their input is less than useless and should be ignored.
This is not a contest. Ordeal workers, horses and Godspouses are neither better Polytheists nor better people simply by their office. The most important task facing every Polytheist is to honor the Gods and to live a life befitting Their worshippers. A sincere prayer offered in gratitude is a greater gift to Them than an agonizing Ordeal performed only to impress the crowd. Ask what the Gods want you to do, then do it. Sigyn assuages Loki’s pain with a battered bowl: your simple life and your humble tools may do greater service for the Gods than you could ever imagine. Live for the Gods and you will live a Godly life.
I have heard many variants of the question “so what does a Spirit-Worker get out of this?” The answer is simple: you get to live your life in the constant and knowing presence of the Gods. There is no greater reward.
GK: What do you consider the most important elements of praxis?
Kenaz: Repetition is very important. The ancient world set its calender by seasons of worship. When you establish a regular cycle of service for your Gods, you create an axis around which your world can revolve. Your “mundane” tasks – I put that in quotes because in Polytheism there are no mundane tasks: every word, deed and thing is infused with the Gods – become part of your ongoing encounter with the Divine. Serve the Gods even when you don’t feel like it, even when you don’t see the point, even when you doubt Their very existence. In time you will internalize this service and it will become second nature to you: you will know Their presence in your heart and in your bones.
GK: There’s an old Russian saying that “repetition is the mother of learning” and I have certainly found that true, most especially in spiritual work.
Kenaz: Cleansing is vital. We live in a society that is full of miasma, where piety is conflated with fanaticism and delusion, where blasphemy is lauded and reverence is scorned. If we don’t cleanse ourselves from that spiritual sewage we will inevitably choke on it. I start and end my day by washing my head, breast, solar plexus, genitals and feet and praying that the Gods may take away that which pollutes me: I would recommend that every Polytheist do something similar. When you start doing this you will become increasingly aware of miasma and be able to either avoid or deal with it as the situation warrants.
Understand that your life is an ongoing prayer. The Christians who ask”What Would Jesus Do?” are onto something. When you live in the constant presence of the Gods you find yourself asking how They might feel about a particular course of action. This is not the “super friends” relationship you see in too much Tumblr spirituality – the kind where Loki is a whacky neighbor and Odin trades off with Dr. Who in telling you about your Important Cosmic Destiny. Rather it is the knowledge that you stand before the Creators and Shapers of Being and the deep understanding of how you should carry yourself before Them. Colored by this understanding, your life and your spiritual practice cannot help but move toward greater piety and balance.
GK: What projects do you currently have in the works?
Kenaz: I continue to work on Polytheism Uncucked and am toying with the idea of writing Europa’s Children: Toward a White American Polytheism. I would like to create a framework whereby Europa’s children can honor Europa’s Gods and recognize their role and responsibility as members of the European Diaspora. I would also like to see an American cultus which would allow Americans of all faiths, ethnicities and political leanings to honor the American spirit and America’s gods in the same way citizens of the Roman Empire venerated the Gods of Rome and the Roman government. And I continue in the most important project of all – raising Annamaria to be a happy and healthy child and teaching her to serve and honor our Gods.
Be sure to check out my other sites:
Wyrd Curiosities at Etsy
My academia.edu page
My amazon author page.
Walking the Worlds Journal
My art blog at Krasskova Creations
My blog about all things strange, weird and medieval.
And if you like what you see, consider becoming a sponsor at Patreon.
The newest prayer cards, Ran and Hypnos, have been added to my etsy store and are now available.
There are four new cards that will shortly be available (they are at the printer now):
Diana Nemoriensis by Lykeia
Ellegua by M. Fraser (I had long debated on doing Orisha prayer cards. This is not the usual way the orisha are represented, but I talked to one of my elders via email and he said that it was a lovely idea so long as the images were respectful, and I think these are. :). So there will soon be a set of Orisha cards, starting with Ellegua, Oshun, and Obatala this coming week).
Oshun by M. Fraser
Obatala by M. Fraser
Stay tuned, folks. I’ll let y’all know here when they’re available.
My fellow readers, please consider signing this petition. It was started by the Lukumi elder who pioneered protecting our right to sacrifice: Oba Pichardo, whose 1993 case against the city of Hialeah won Supreme Court Recognition of religions’ right to ritual sacrifice.
This right is NOT guaranteed. Even though we have SCOTUS precedent, it can still be chipped away at, just as animal rights groups are continually trying to do. There is a recent case working its way through the VA court system now and if the state wins, it is not unlikely that other states will use this to effectively remove religious exemption to animal slaughter. We often think that we can skate by in this country, that no one will ever interfere with our religious freedoms, and many of us refer when challenged to that 1993 case but *nothing* is set in stone and those that would shatter our religions again know this.
If you care at all for one of our holiest of rights, if you care at all for the freedom to practice your religion unimpeded (even if your religion does NOT involve sacrifice), please consider signing.
I’ve seen quite a few articles over the last couple of days pointing to attacks on our right to sacrifice. In many cases, these articles aren’t just targeting us (or perhaps aren’t even targeting us at all) but are going after Hindu practitioners or ATR practitioners, as well as Jews and Muslims (1). This is still significant, not only because of any precedent that might be set, but because sooner or later we will be targeted, or a large scale ban on sacrifice will end up including us by default. This happened just this past year with Denmark.
Sacrifice is, to many polytheisms (including my own Heathenry and cultus deorum), the holiest of religious rites. More than anything else it is the ritual that cements and consistently renews our connection to our Gods, our relationship with Them, and the reciprocity that flows from a well-tended relationship. It is that which keeps our communities and our traditions vital, powerful, and alive. It was the first thing Christians targeted when they were coming to power, and it is the thing that is really the litmus test for the health of our communities today. I have seen groups and communities torn apart because half were attuned to the traditions and practices of their ancestral ways and half were children of modernity, sure that they were smarter and more evolved than our ancestors, and sure that they knew best what the Gods might want. This is one of those things wherein there is no compromise possible.
I’ve been a blòt priest since roughly 1996. I began doing sacrifices for my kindred very early on, having received basic training from a local farmer. I also, later, had the privilege of spending several years as part of a Theod. This was exceptionally beneficial to my understanding of the raw holiness of the sacrificial process. More than any other denomination of Heathenry, I think Theodism has done the most to restore the proper rite of blòt. This is what we call a ritual where animal sacrifice takes place. (2) I simply do not think it is possible to practice our polytheisms adequately without rites of sacrifice. This is not, of course, to say that everyone must be actively doing sacrifice. That was never the case. Like many other roles, the role of sacrificial priest is that of a specialist. There is training both in ritual work and in the art of butchery required. There are also mysteries here that both the priest and community must understand. Sacrifice is a ritual steeped in raw, primal βíoς. That has consequences. If not handled properly, that primal power can cause damage. This is why the community is such an important part of the scaffolding for such a rite. I would go so far as to say that without sacrifice, we have restored nothing. It is that which enables our traditions to grow.
So needless to say, it is quite concerning to see attacks by the ignorant and impious on this holy rite.
I won’t post the link, partly because it sickens me and partly because I don’t want to give it traffic, but there is a substantial petition being circulated demanding that the EU ban animal sacrifice in all of its constituent countries. Never mind about religious freedom. Never mind that EU provisions guarantee freedom to practice one’s religion in those self-same constituent countries.
Then there was this article, about a sacrifice at Soma Yaga that has resulted in a clear desire by local politicians to eradicate the practice…nevermind protecting their indigenous traditions, never mind respecting their Gods.
Then there are the animal rights terrorist groups. (3) They’ve already had two victories this year: Denmark and Nepal. We need to come together and work together to make sure they do not have another.
This is our holiest sacrament. There is no substitution for it.
I am worried. I think there are too many people who have bought into the myth of “progress” (i.e. abandoning our traditions for some deviation of western secularism) and are hell-bent on destroying our traditions. I understand that people don’t want animals to suffer (neither do we) but a sacrifice done well is a kind and painless death, especially compared to factory farming. I also think that there is a prolonged and insidious war on polytheistic traditions. Hinduism has long known this and cries for religious equality and tolerance never seem to include leaving indigenous Hindus alone to practice their religion – the religion native to India—unimpeded. Polytheists always seem to be expected to compromise their devotion to accommodate monotheists or secularists and I think it’s time we stopped doing either.
I don’t know what the solution is. I don’t know how to roll back this tide but I do know we need to protect our traditions. So let’s talk about this, and let’s talk across traditions, and maybe let’s see what we can do in our individual locales to raise awareness, protect our farmers (an important piece in this), and secure our rite to practice.
- ATR refers to “African Traditional Religions” like Lukumi, Ifa, Candomble, Voudoun, etc.
- It has its ritual analogs amongst other polytheists as well, but for the purposes of this article, I’m just going to focus on the rite of blòt and then only tangentially.
- And yes, this is how they’re classified, as an elder recently pointed out, by the government.