So I had a discussion this evening with someone about syncretism. Apparently, there had been some push back recently over certain Gaulish Deities having been treated to the interpretatio romana. It really made me think about the process of syncretization, how it works and why it’s an important way of engaging with certain Deities.
For the most part, the Romans were very respectful of indigenous religions. The times when they oppressed or legislated against a particular tradition it was never (despite how Roman propaganda may have spun the issue) purely about the religion. It was, without exception, due to political issues. For instance, four examples spring readily to mind: there was the persecution of Bacchic Cultus in the second century B.C.E. Southern Italy was a hot bed of resistance to Roman rule and much of that resistance was fomented by leaders of that particular cultus. Likewise with the Druids and the Isle of Mona. It was central to resistance to Roman rule. The cult of Isis was briefly prescribed by Octavian but this had little to do with the cult itself and everything to do with the aftermath of the civil war with Antony, in which Cleopatra (who positioned herself as an incarnation of Isis) was central. Then of course there was Christianity. That rather, in my opinion, speaks for itself. Romans were a bit horrified when they found out what the cultus of Cybele entailed but they never prescribed it. There was a period where Roman citizens were forbidden from becoming galli, but the cultus itself was otherwise allowed to flourish uninterrupted. For the most part, the Romans attempted to respect and engage with indigenous religion. They were very pious people. Quite often this was done through the interpretatio romana.
When Rome took over a province, they would often append the names of their Gods to that of local Deities. For instance, we have Sulis-Minerva, Mars-Lenus, and Tacitus in his Germania gives us an account of Germanic Deities where suddenly Odin becomes Mercurius, Tyr becomes Mars, and Thor becomes Herakles. This was not done out of disrespect but as a means of finding a keyhole, a window, a doorway to understanding and engaging with these Deities. This was especially true for those Romans who settled permanently in a territory. Looking at Britannia or Gaul or any other province, the syncretism became a meeting point for both the indigenous people and the Romans and it gave the Gods more power.
Moreover, insofar as the Romans went, this was done as a mark of respect, an acknowledgement of the Deity’s power. Gods are powerful and the Romans ever and always acknowledged that in their religious and military practices. They had several specific religious rites performed by their military to ensure that the Gods of those people they conquered would support the Roman cause, rites like evocatio, which invited those Gods to join the Roman side. In this respect, it seems the Romans used the names of Their Gods almost as titles. If they saw a particular aspect of an indigenous Deity that in their minds connected that Deity to one of the Roman Ones, then it was easy to augment that connection with syncretization. For instance, with the Gaulish God Lenus, there is significant martial symbolism. Therefore, the Romans logically
equated connected Him with Mars. In other words, They were putting Him in a place wherein He would receive the same attention and awareness as their own Deity Mars. It is almost as if the names were titles, markers, placeholders wherein the Gods might dance. It was also on the Roman point of view, a mark of respect. Rome was the greatest power in the world during its time, and to acknowledge a Deity with a Roman title was one of the most respectful things to the Roman mind that one might do.
Now, I will admit, as I once told my [academic] students: syncretism is not a simple term. When it comes up, it means that something happened. There was movement, interaction, migration, colonization and that might happen naturally and organically or it might be a matter of conquest. It should never be taken at face value. Where there is syncretism there is a story, and sometimes a bloody history. Like it or not, however, syncretism is part of the history of polytheism. Sometimes in fact, that syncretism was spurred by the indigenous peoples themselves and not always under duress. Points of syncretism became a point of weaving culture, religion, and a meeting point for the indigenous communities (be they Celts or Gauls or Britains, etc.) and the Roman people. Ignoring syncretism takes away a place of power from the Gods in question and ignores that complex history of Their worship.
All of this, of course, raises questions for us about whether or not we should include Roman imagery in our icons of various Deities and more importantly whether or not we should venerate syncretized Gods. I think it is important that we do. The syncretic form and space in which the God or Gods (because after all, we don’t know what deals the two deities in question might have made with each Other regarding that form) are honored is part of that Deity (or Deities’) history. It’s part of Their cultus. It is a huge part of how the ancestors for generations engaged spiritually. To cut that off, to ignore it, to demand that it be erased is deeply disrespectful not only to the Gods but to the ancestors as well. It is nullifying their religious experience of their own Gods. It is also nullifying a point of peace, neutral territory if you will, between the Romans and the various peoples they conquered. In some cases, it is nullifying the horror and pain our ancestors experienced (i.e. in the Middle Passage which gave us religions like Lukumi, Candomble, and Voudoun) and the fact that their Gods followed them into exile.
Returning to the question of specifically Roman syncretism, if nothing else, we should remember, I think, that we owe the Romans a debt. For Heathens at least, we know the names of certain Deities (including the Matronae) largely from Roman inscriptions. This is not because Rome destroyed sanctuaries (they didn’t) but because literacy was not widespread in the northlands until the Christian invasion. Knowledge of certain of our Holy Powers exists because Roman men and women were grateful to Them, prayed to Them, petitioned Them, and then left markers and offerings of thanks. They did this in their own vernacular. They did this via interpretatio romana. If the Gods in question could accept it and allow Their cultus to flourish, can we do any less?
Shutting that out and excluding all of that in the hopes of having some illusionary purity of religion shuts out all of these complex conversations that we could be having about the subject and ignores a very uncomfortable reality: there was never any such pure practice. Nothing exists in a vacuum. Religions and cultus always developed in conversation with each other.
If I were confronted with a syncretic form of a Deity I venerate, and I were uncertain as to whether or not I should venerate this God or Goddess via such a form, I would simply divine on it. That is one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal. Polytheisms ancient and modern were always religions of diviners. In the end, this isn’t a difficult question at all. It comes down to one thing, between the individual and their holy Powers: what do the Gods want? That answer should define practice not the opinions of so-called community members you’ll never meet face to face, who will always find something to be critical of in your devotion usually reflecting the paucity in theirs.
So having a discussion today with someone who is very much in support of NOLA taking down any monuments of the Confederacy (according to this guy, that’s not ‘destruction’). I’m very much against removing any historical monuments. I don’t think visible erasure of our history is a way of dealing with that history or of healing its wounds and I’m sick of seeing people accommodating this PC agenda. I question what’s next: desecrating the dead by removing their monuments? oh wait, that’s already happened in Confederate cemeteries.
Now I am no fan of the Confederacy. the history of slavery and human trafficking in this country makes my stomach lurch when I sit and think about it. it’s one of the most shameful periods of our history BUT it’s our history and I don’t think anything good ever came of denying one’s own history. We don’t learn by white washing and pretending things never happened, and we don’t learn by desecrating monuments to the dead.
I would be all for setting up monuments commemorating emancipation, the triumph of the Union, free black communities (NOLA had a thriving free black community since at least the eighteenth century) in the same locales but to erase history well, that leaves us with a generation that doesn’t know where it came from and so can be very easily led to where someone else thinks it should go. I’m never against adding more memorials. It’s the taking away that bothers me.
Someone asked me in one of these discussions whether we shouldn’t prioritize the needs of the living over the dead and I said absolutely not. The dead should and will always take precedence with me. A culture and a people’s worth is determined by how they tend their dead and here’s the thing, if you’re tending your dead rightly and well (which includes holding them accountable for the shit that they did), it will transform how you engage with the living. But in no world should the dead, our ancestors, take second place. Being a functioning human means being in right relationship with the ancestors, the Gods, and the land spirits and that impacts every other living interaction. We don’t achieve that by pandering to a group of PC fanatics who have no long term vision and preach only to sentiment and emotion.
If these monuments are being used by white supremacists to advance their agenda (real white supremacists, not people who refuse to feel guilty for being white), then address that, but don’t think it’s addressed by pretending that history never happened. If you don’t remember your history, you’re guaranteed to repeat it. We’re seeing that in the daily news. These monuments serve as much for warning as they do commemoration.
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I cannot believe the brouhaha over VP Mike Pence’s comments that he won’t dine alone or meet alone with women in order to protect his marriage. Gods forbid a man make choices that support his personal and religious ethics and commitment to the woman he married. I wasn’t planning on writing anything on this, but having been in two discussions and recently seen the mess at Patheos Pagan portal, I felt moved to weigh in. Pence doesn’t need “consent culture” as Beckett so naively assumes, but maybe Pagans need to develop a sense of traditional values.
While I disagree with almost every point of Pence’s political policy, I fully support the respect and mindfulness with which he treats his marriage. This isn’t a matter of having little respect for women, or of thinking himself incapable of control. It’s a matter of simple common sense. He is refusing to put himself in a situation where A) he might be tempted to break his vows (temptations happen, we’re biological creatures) and B) where he might be perceived as unethical or worse falsely accused. Frankly, given the insanity of the left I don’t blame him one bit. I would never want to put someone I loved through that.
But moreover, this is common policy in some fields. I teach and my supervisors have always told us not to meet privately with students of either gender. We were counseled to always crack a door open and to meet in the department when and where other professors were present. This protects not only the faculty member, but the student too. It’s also not an uncommon practice across religions. This is every day for devout Muslims, Orthodox Jews, and many denominations of Christians. I do this to some degree. Since I married I don’t meet with male clients privately. My work-around is having studio space where someone else is almost always present and I schedule those client meetings when the CPA in the next office over and his receptionist are going to be present. It’s a matter of respect and avoiding the impression of impropriety. (For the record, my husband doesn’t care whether or not I do this and finds it old fashioned and amusing).
The question that I would ask VP Pence, and that I’d drill hard for an answer is this: what are your work-arounds? How do you ensure that these practices don’t unfairly discriminate against your female co workers?
I have quite a lot of religious taboos and I can tell you that there are always work- arounds. There are always ways of accommodating one’s secular work while adhering to one’s religious principles. It takes a bit of thought and sometimes a bit of creativity but there are always ways to accommodate both (or almost always).
I don’t know why everyone is getting so worked up over this. This is their personal choice, the way they respect their commitment to marriage. The only ones who really have a say in this are Pence and his wife and yet even having or presenting a traditional marriage based on values is so shocking in this day and age that all these people need to jump in and tell them that maybe Mrs. Pence should be doing a slutwalk instead. Have any women come forward alleging discrimination by Pence because of this? Would they be happier if his career was mired in the kinds of scandals that Bill Clinton and Anthony Wiener have? Would they be happier if some poor aide was coerced into a sexual situation with him because that’s the norm in DC today? The culture has fallen so low that they can only wallow in degeneracy, promiscuity, and lack of willpower. The idea of holding to a standard is ‘triggering’ to them. It’s not surprising that many of the Pagans speaking about this were the ones who defended Kenny Klein and attacked the family that he abused. This kind of permissive, anything goes attitude, which is in stark contrast to the values of our ancestors, is going to ensure that there is no future for these communities.
Finally, if you value something you make both choices and sacrifices to preserve it. Virtue doesn’t just happen. As any of our ancestors would tell us, it takes thought and constant vigilance. It takes cultivation. Why is it always about sexual permissiveness? If one really values consent, then that includes the decision to abstain from fucking everyone and everything on the planet; it includes the decision to honor one’s commitments. But no, the person with values is always the one attacked because in the end, they don’t want us to have values because values lead to traditions and culture and the ability to see through hardship.
A friend sent me a clip from an article that had me just shaking my head. In it, a Pagan was talking about pollution and why she never “needed” to do any cleansing work. Doing so, the misguided author said, would imply that she was dirty.
Um…yes, buttercup it does but this is not a moral judgment. When you take a shower in the morning or a bath at night, is that some grave moral judgment on your inner sense of self? Or your character? Your identity? When you wipe your ass, are you saying your butt is bad? One would hope that you actually do take those showers and wipe. I mean really…and if you clean your ass, as my friend quipped, you can take the time to clean your soul.
This is going to be an ongoing theme. I’ve had a lot of questions lately about miasma. I’ve gained a few insights through my own deepening taboos around purification, been thrown for a few unexpected loops, and I’ve been seeing a lot of really screwed up pieces, like the bit I quoted above making the rounds. I’m not even sure where to begin here.
Miasma is a thing. It exists. It is not a statement about the character or worth of any given person. In fact, in most cases, it’s no more personal than spilling something on yourself and having to wash it off, or tracking mud inside, and having to clean it up. To say that one doesn’t need to cleanse is exactly as sensible as saying one never needs to bathe, that is not at all.
Miasma is a type of spiritual pollution. One can pick up miasma by exposing oneself to things that are antithetical to the Gods and Their traditions. These things can shift a person’s head and heart space out of receptivity and reverence for the Gods. They can also leave a taint. Over time, it destroys our ability not just for any discernment with the Powers and spirits, but even our ability to tell what is good and holy from that which is not. That’s one of the dangers of pollution and our world is riddled with it.
Sometimes though one falls into miasma through actions or experiences that are good: for instance there is a particular miasma associated with the dead. That’s why if one touches a dead body, cleansings are necessary before approaching one’s shrines. Well, visiting the graves of relatives is a good and pious act sanctioned by the Gods. The moment one does so, however, one is in a state of pollution and should really cleanse after returning home. Likewise, there is miasma associated with childbirth. Does that mean that everyone should stop having babies? Of course not. It means one learns the appropriate protocols within one’s tradition and uses them.
These purification rites can also be a form of psychological catharsis, helping one to make transitions back into ordinary life. Imagine how much better off our soldiers would be if they had these kinds of transitional and purifying ceremonies to guide their entrance back into civilian life? Instead, we just leave them in the gutter.
Proper piety is important. It is what enables us to maintain right relationship with our Gods. That’s a huge part of why we should want to be clean! Moreover, extended miasma can cause mental, emotional, and even physical problems, not to mention damaging one’s luck. Of course, this presupposes that one values being in right relationship with the Holy. This is where it starts. It presupposes that this is a priority, that we’re willing to examine our culture and society and interactions and influences and take action when miasma is present.
Now just because a thing causes miasma, does not mean it has to be avoided. Some things are only miasmic with certain types of worship, and with certain deities, or for roles and types of work (ancestor work vs plant work, shaman vs. seer vs. laity—there will be different taboos and requirements). Sometimes when you’re called to work with certain Powers and do certain work, that cuts off certain opportunities. That’s too bad. That’s just the nature of devotion. It’s possible to appreciate from a distance without being able to engage.
Sometimes what we read or watch may cause miasma. It affects our headspace. It puts us in headspace that’s not conducive to interaction with the Holy. This is a bit trickier. No one should tell you not to watch or read something. That’s a decision you have to make for yourself with your Gods and ancestors. Divination can help with this. We don’t want to be, after all, like the Abrahamists who fence themselves off from life and authentic experiences with all their rules and regulations, afraid to read a novel for fear it will destroy their faith. Sometimes also, depending on one’s work, one might have to read things or watch things or go places that put one in a state of miasma. Here, it’s important to sit down maybe with a diviner or priest and suss out how to cleanse oneself, what rituals and prayers to do, to restore oneself to cleanliness. (Just because a particular book or movie might put you out of alignment, doesn’t mean it’s ‘bad’. It might not affect someone else the same way, especially if they’re working with very different Powers and traditions. The key is mindfulness and being willing to consider that even things we like may be problematic and require those extra ritual steps or even forgoing gratification in service to something Higher).
Now I’ve noticed something about the people chirping the loudest about how cleansing isn’t necessary. All of the ones I’ve encountered have been anti-theist or humanist ‘Pagans.’ I think that is perhaps the key here. This is a clash of cultures and traditions. Do you serve the ancestors or political ideology? Do you want to reverence the Gods with your entire life or some human economist? Is this real or is it just something people make up in their heads? Do you value the Holy, or are you hell-bent on convincing the pious that it doesn’t exist (generally by trolling them online)? Those espousing a disdain for cleansing and purification are more often than not, those expressing a similar disdain for the Gods and everything else associated with Them. I’ll let y’all do the math. (If Stalin says that 2+2=5, the party believes that 2+2=5).
What I know is that cleansing is crucial. There is a caution here: against what Christians call scrupulosity. We should attend to all the proper rites and rituals for dealing with pollution, but not fall into obsessiveness or excessive anxiety over it—what the Greeks termed δεισιδαιμονίᾳ.
“It is apparent that superstition would seem to be cowardice with regard to the spiritual realm. The superstitious man is one who will wash his hands and sprinkle himself at the Sacred Fountain, and put a bit of laurel leaf in his mouth, to prepare himself for each day. If a marten should cross his path, he will not continue until someone else has gone by, or he has thrown three stones across the road. And if he should see a snake in his house, he will call up a prayer to Sabazios if it is one of the red ones; if it is one of the sacred variety, he will immediately construct a shrine on the spot. Nor will he go by the smooth stones at a crossroads without anointing them with oil from his flask, and he will not leave without falling on his knees in reverence to them. If a mouse should chew through his bag of grain, he will seek advice on what should be done from the official diviner of omens; but if the answer is, ‘Give it to the shoemaker to have it sewn up,’ he will pay no attention, but rather go away and free himself of the omen through sacrifice. He is also likely to be purifying his house continually, claiming that terrible Hecate has been mysteriously brought into it. And if an owl should hoot while he is outside, he becomes terribly agitated, and will not continue before crying out, ‘O! Mighty Athena!’ Never will he step on a tomb, nor get near a dead body, nor a woman in childbirth: he says he must keep on his guard against being polluted. On the unlucky days of the month– the fourth and seventh– he will order his servants to heat wine. Then he will go out and buy myrtle-wreaths, frankincense, and holy pictures; upon returning home, he spends the entire day arranging the wreaths on statues of the Hermaphrodites. Also, when he has a dream, he will go to the dream interpreters, the fortune-tellers, and the readers of bird-omens, to ask what god or goddess he should pray to. When he is to be initiated into the Orphic mysteries, he visits the priests every month, taking his wife with him; or, if she can’t make it, the nursemaid and children will suffice. It is also apparent that he is one of those people who go to great lengths to sprinkle themselves with sea-water. And if he sees someone eating Hecate’s garlic at the crossroads, he must go home and wash his head; and then he calls upon the priestesses to carry a squill or a puppy around him for purification. If he sees a madman or epileptic, he shudders and spits into his lap.” (Theophrastos, On The Superstitious Man)
Being a polytheist isn’t about having the right hashtags or even necessarily about believing in many Gods. Believing in many Gods is the baseline, the fundamental definition, but we should aspire to so much more. Being a polytheist is also about cultivating in ourselves the type of awareness and character that the Gods would find pleasing. To do that, first and foremost, we must cultivate purity and an awareness of the nature of miasma and a willingness to attend to it. Then and only then, can we begin to cleanly and properly commune with the Holy.
A gay, Jewish journalist gives interviews while in hiding as a rioting mob calls for his blood in the streets below.
This isn’t Berlin 1939, it’s Berkeley 2017. It’s not the Nazis we need to worry about; it’s the SJW cultural Marxists.
The social justice left is the biggest threat to freedom in the US, more than anything else, including president Trump and his cabinet. Their willingness to use violence to silence anyone with whom they disagree, their hysterical fear mongering to prevent differing viewpoints from being aired, their slander and libelous attacks on anyone who doesn’t tow their party line, their lack of patriotism, their obvious contempt for America and its constitutionally protected rights, and their obvious indoctrination with cultural Marxism make them a clear and present danger to the security of this nation. We should all be concerned about this and yet, and yet, otherwise intelligent people will look at the political violence, designed to prevent free speech and consider it a good thing. Wake up, folks.
Today there are riots in Berkeley, CA. Fires have been lit, rocks thrown, buildings looted, and an immigrant speaker had to be spirited away by a security detail because of threats to his safety. Berkeley—ironically with its history of defending free speech, you know, the right enshrined in the First Amendment that underpins all our other rights and freedoms—is now the site of riots that are making world news.
Watching this is so surreal because these are the exact same problems we’ve been dealing with in our communities for the past couple of years, just on a large scale and far more dramatically. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s a quick refresher). What’s the common denominator? Marxism, always and inevitably. It goes after our fundamental freedoms (especially religious freedoms). And given that we have a generation of students subjected throughout their entire academic career to unthinking cultural Marxist indoctrination (we let all those communists and hippies go into education…bad idea that. They shouldn’t have been let anywhere near academia), they’re ill prepared to connect the historical and ideological dots.
It’s time to get woke, as the left would say, but we need to educate ourselves and wake up to the absolutely nihilistic, ahistorical, anti-theistic, unpatriotic, anti-family, anti-tradition dogma behind their rioting. Social justice? Not hardly. Social justice is a perversion and a mockery in its name. It doesn’t seek actual justice but the enslavement of the masses and if our traditions have any hope of survival, we need to crush this now, inexorably, or they will crush us.
And if you think this is hyperbolic, consider the history of Iran. In the 1950s it was a progressive, modern culture with Western values, women in education, medicine, law and prosperity was high; they had a bright future. Then they started having protests just like this on college campuses, which turned into riots, just like this. Khomeini came to power and now they’re a backward, impoverished, totalitarian state. And the women, their future there isn’t looking so bright. (They sure don’t go around with pussy hats). I could draw similar parallels all the way back to ancient Rome but we don’t need to: this is happening here today. You can either allow it, or stand and resist it, stand in support of our fundamental freedoms as Americans. Drive this communist trash out (with your words, your humor, and your commitment and engagement with the political process – while they go around muttering about punching Nazis and the more delusional among them actually acting on it). I am so deeply ashamed to be an American right now. I have never been more disappointed in this country than I have been today.
Here’s a full news report along with one of those aforementioned interviews:
Why Couldn’t Cybele Just Restore Attis’ Dick? This is an actual conversation that I’m having with a Christian relative. (#polytheistproblems). This relative asked to read the papers that I’d written over the last semester so I printed them up, per her request and sent them off. Foremost amongst them was my recent article in issue 5 of Walking the Worlds: “Ecstasy and Identity in Catullus 63. This piece talks about Attis sacrificing his manhood in devotion to Cybele and what that meant to him (her?) as a Roman.
Here is the email I received in response:
“G., I just finished reading this paper. It is a wonderful example to everybody to avoid the occult. Messing with the so-called gods (actually demons) is dangerous physically and spiritually. Attis totally destroyed himself in his
ill advised “devotion” to Cybele.
If Cybele is such a great and powerful “goddess,” why could she not have restored Attis’ manhood? A devastating and true statement: You cannot go home again. I believe that in many situations.”
(the rest of the email talked about another paper on Augustine so I didn’t quote it here. Nor did I point out to her that her comments about the Gods being demons isn’t even biblical. The bible after all, acknowledges other Gods.).
Now, this relative knows that I’m a polytheist but it’s like some mental tick. They just can’t help themselves from calling our Gods demons. Interfaith work at its finest, isn’t it? Interfaith work just has a polite veneer over this, but it’s still there.
So what did I respond?
“You took the article where I did not intend. I think it’s a powerful example of devotion. May Cybele be venerated forever.
It also tells you that it’s a terrible thing to fall into the hands of a living God.
As to why Cybele couldn’t restore his manhood: obviously She didn’t want to. That is the price of initiation into Her priesthood and Attis, despite his later existential pain, paid it willingly.
Nor was Her religion “the occult.” It was an international religion openly practiced. It’s still practiced today — there’s a Cybellan monastery not far from me (well, three + hours).
My article was not in any way meant to imply that She should not be venerated, but to point out that all transformations come with a price, that we must understand this when we plumb sacred Mysteries: that they transform, irreversibly.
Asking why Cybele didn’t restore Attis’ manhood is like asking why Jesus didn’t save all the martyrs. Did he not have the power to do so? Did he not care? Or was it more a case of not invalidating their sacrifice, devotion, and faith and the example they provided for the rest of their community. These are mysteries. It’s pretty foul to denigrate them.”
We disagree but I’m not going to suddenly punch this poor relative in the face. One can have decorum in such disputes. Still, this is the type of mental brainwashing with which we all must cope when we engage in interfaith dialogue. Here it is, in black and white. (#checkyourmonotheistprivilege). I have said before that I consider monotheism to be something of a mental illness. It eradicates a person’s ability to see reality and to function in a healthy society. You want to change all these problems we’re dealing with today? Reject the secular (which is really just monotheism taken to its natural conclusion) over-culture. (#fighttherealpatriarchy).
If you have any doubt about this, the situation going on with patheos right now is a good example of what happens when you’re around ‘tolerant’ Christians. They’ll keep you around so long as you’re making them money through your click bait titles and engineered community conflict but the second you turn on them and question their motives you’re gone.
It doesn’t come with a cool pussy hat, but this is the real revolution. (#makinghashtagswontbeenough)
I am not an ethicist. Firstly, I belong to Odin; secondly, I find many of the accepted ethics of modernity questionable, so I find it rather amusing in an ironic sort of way that over the past few days I’ve found myself having discussions on just that: ethics, discussions in which I am in the position of defending Enlightenment values. Oh well, I’m sure the denizens of Hell are enjoying their winter sports.
This past week the internet has been cheering the antifa smackdown (literally) of white supremacist Richard Spencer. I’ve found myself in multiple debates with people about whether or not this was an appropriate action. Responses range from “He was a Nazi, we hit Nazis to keep the Holocaust from happening again.” To expressions of delight and the hope that this will become a thing “like the ALS challenge” to various musical remixes being made of the newsclip. Let’s be clear: however vile Spencer’s politics may be, he did not actually physically assault anyone. An Antifa protestor ran up and punched him [at least twice] without any provocation other than Spencer holding an ugly political opinion. Spencer was going to dinner with some reporters when he was sucker punched.
People are arguing that it is ok to do physical violence to those who hold different opinions. Think about that. Think about that for a very long time. That’s not only a violation of free speech, but it’s one hell of a slippery slope.
Let’s be fully honest here: that’s not a principle we should want to establish – just from a practical standpoint. I really don’t think some SJW with a pussy hat and skinny jeans really wants to go up against some average skinhead enforcers. But even if that were not the case, using violence to silence someone because you dislike their opinions is morally reprehensible. It shows the inherent deficiency of your own argument: you can’t persuade someone with your words and reason, instead you have to resort to your fists.
Let’s turn the trope around.
Several years ago, some Heathens publicly stated that I should be raped by a horse and have a gun barrel applied liberally to my temple because they disagreed with my theological opinions. Is that ok? I have opinions that are vile to them, like Loki is worthy of veneration and shamanism is a thing. Guess it’s ok for them to be heading to the stables. It’s open season on Galina. I better not go to the track any time soon. *sarcasm*
Or maybe I should run up and randomly sucker punch the next Muslim guy I meet. I mean after all, he himself may not have ever cut off a woman’s clit, thrown a gay person off a building, or driven a truck into a crowded Christmas market but plenty of his co-religionists have. So if we’re lumping people in and believing in group guilt (hey, who else espoused such a notion? Oh wait, that was one of the central tenets of Nazism) then the poor Muslim dude who just wants to go to dinner and have a nice night out with his family, who happens to practice a monotheistic religion that also includes people like Daesh, well, he’s gonna have a bad night. Is that ok? Guess I should go get my SAP gloves ready.
In case you are struggling with the answer: NO. NO. NONE OF THAT IS OK. Jesus fucking Christ.
What’s the difference in every one of these situations? Ethically: there isn’t one.
Let me now turn this on its end again and make it even more uncomfortable and require a bit of self reflection from some of my readers:
Let’s be perfectly honest here, all of you sitting there gloating and watching these videos of Spencer getting punched over and over again are no different than the Nazis who got off when their mobs would attack Jewish businesses and they would endlessly laugh about it and do cartoons in their newspapers, gloating that these people were finally getting what they deserved. (I’ve heard “well, Spencer and his ilk are calling for our extermination.” Nazis believed the Jewish people were doing the same thing with equally groundless basis and fuck it I can’t believe I’m defending Spencer. I find his politics disgusting but I find this collective madness even more revolting and dangerous).
You guys are the Nazis here, regardless of what political position you actually happen to espouse: you are behaving in the exact same manner as that which you revile. Read your fucking Nietzsche, people. If you can’t look yourself in the mirror now and change this, you’re going to be led down a much darker path in the future, when things really start falling apart. Let us not become the monsters we seek to hunt.
A good article on the ethics of this situation may be found here.
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