If I were a kinder person, a better theologian, a more patient priest I would probably approach this less bluntly, but today is not that day. I have a wonderful apprentice now of sterling character and deep piety and she asked me recently (now that she herself is getting close to the point where she will likely take a student or two under supervision) what to look for when deciding to take on this responsibility. While the sarcastic bitch in me wanted to respond, “Xanax,” her question is a necessary one and not a conversation that my own teachers ever had with me. This is not to their discredit. It simply wasn’t the way things were done then. We were all young and some lessons are hard, very hard learned. So, speaking to the question of apprentices and students within one’s religious community (1), here we go.
Cowardice is pandemic in our communities. When someone asks me what to look for in a group, a teacher, or when a teacher/priest asks me how to vet potential apprentices and students, this is the first thing I tell them: look first for virtue and character. Over and above anything else, that has to be there. If it’s not, do your best Usain Bolt imitation and run as fast as you can the other way. Also, if there’s not a willingness to prioritize devotion and the Gods, even when it’s uncomfortable, or arouses hostility in the community, or causes inconvenience: run. You cannot fix this in a person. It doesn’t matter how much you may personally like that person or how otherwise gifted he or she is: run.
One thing that I have learned in over thirty years of teaching, writing, leading rituals, etc. is that when taking an apprentice one must look first and foremost at innate character. If character is lacking, that is terminal spiritual damage. It cannot be fixed. I’ll give you an example. Many years ago, a young man became my apprentice. I did not particularly want to take him on. He had, with almost no training, been engaging in deity possession and using that to engage in sexual improprieties bordering on coercion with at least one woman to whom he was attracted. In conversation with my own elders we took his word that he hadn’t realized what he was doing, or how great a blasphemy it was. We assumed on good faith that he was redeemable with a little teaching, with strict mentorship, with a chance to learn and cultivate virtue and values, to build character, to devote himself to the Gods without having to worry about being called upon, far before he was ready, to step into a leadership role in his community (which had been part of the pressure and problem, or so we figured). We were all wrong and bad character remained bad character, egotism and vainglory (the need to be liked and to receive accolades, to be held up as top of the class, so to speak) only now hidden behind a façade of piety. This was compounded by the fact that the work of necessity was done long distance where it was difficult to accurately gauge progress. Just don’t. If even once this type of behavior is noted, shun that person one thousand percent (2). Also, with very rare exceptions, I do not think I would ever take a long distance apprentice again. The work is intense, demands such deep, often painful and challenging internal processing, that I just don’t think it can be effectively done (or monitored for problems) at a distance.
Here’s a second example. Many years ago, farther back than the case of the man I mentioned above, I took as a student an incredibly gifted young woman (one of the most gifted students I have ever had). She was also utterly without character, which I didn’t realize until much later. She was actually my first serious student and thanks to her, I know some of the things to look for in gauging potential students from here on out. What we took as vivid exaggeration and a gift for story telling was really an addiction to chronic lying. What we took as struggling piety, was really a desire to garner all the attention in the room by pretense of ecstatic revelation. Had we looked harder (I and the fellow priest who helped train her), we would have seen lack of responsibility in her life, constant disorder in every area, endless making of excuses, dangerous promiscuity, poor decision after poor decision, and vanity. There was extraordinary giftedness but a character dependent on those around her. When she was with us, she was fine. She mirrored what was dominant in those around her. When she was not with us, her character did not hold. Instability on every level surrounded her life. Eventually it led to a psychotic break and a descent into trouble. We mandated psychotherapy. She agreed and then lied about going. She was a parasite. So, for those of you intending to start a spiritual house, a kindred, a coven, an Iseum, a Thiasos, or other group, look deeply into those you allow into your spiritual world. If there isn’t base line character, you will fail in aiding in their spiritual formation. That’s what the work of a spiritual teacher and priest is: spiritual formation and that takes cooperation and hard work on both sides.
Also, you’re a priest or teacher, not a psychologist. We can do so much with those who come to us, but we’re not psychotherapists. Learn where that boundary is and don’t allow a disordered student to push you past it. Also, the teacher-student/teacher-apprentice relationship should be one of loyalty and respect, commitment and support mutually for life. I would go to the wall for many of my students and my current apprentice. When that relationship is violated it affects the luck and wyrd of each party on a grossly violent level. It is polluting in a way that is very difficult to cleanse. The obligations on both sides are enormous. Likewise the curse on those that take what they have learned, half-assedly usually, and set themselves up as competent spirit-workers is a stain on the soul that will taint and corrupt every bit of the work such nithlings do.
I hear a lot of complaints in the community about lack of elders and teachers. Well, folks, they’re there. They just get sick and tired of being shat on by students, neophytes, and apprentices who don’t want to step up and prioritize devotion and do the work. We are not great cosmic tits that you can drain dry with your mommy and daddy issues, your authority issues, your unwillingness to address character flaws or develop virtue. We’re not there to hand over the mysteries of our tradition to the untested and untried. You want an elder or a teacher to guide you, show some fucking respect.
Then there’s the cowardice. It is, as I have said, pandemic in our communities. I have a number of readers and twitter followers and those on facebook who smile to my face and then turn around and support those who slander me and (more importantly) my work. You’re cowards. Pick a fucking side.
I’ll also add, that when you meet someone who wants to drag the Gods down into morass and pollution of human politics, in an effort usually to garner praise, and in ways that exclude devout men and women from worship, step back and take a hard look at why. What pat on the head is that person getting? Whom do they serve? What do they actually value and where do the Gods and devotion and piety figure in that value system?
Veneration to the Holy Power is the thing that should be lifting us up beyond all our human shit. It should be the thing that encourages and incites us to elevate our souls, to throw ourselves into devotion, to transform our internal world and sometimes our external world to through the power of that adoration. When that is twisted out of true by ungrateful apprentices who lacked the spiritual fortitude, commitment, and virtue to stay the course, it’s an ugly, ugly thing. So beware.
- This does not apply to academic teaching at all. This is a totally different animal. The work we do in training apprentices and students within our religious communities is emotionally and spiritually intimate and steeped in a shared cosmology and hierarchy that would not in any way be appropriate to transfer over to secular teaching.
- Now don’t accept gossip. Of all the evil spirits, that of gossip is THE most dangerous and destructive (see the book “Osogbo” by Ochani Lele). There should be clear proof and/or witnessed offense. Spectral evidence my friends, ain’t evidence at all.
In a different time and place, I’d make a subtle, carefully reasoned argument about why it was important to pray or make offerings. I’d go into the ins and outs of piety and help newcomers to my blog see why it was so important. I would do, what I have done, for thirty years laying out the theology of devotion, of human anthropology, and opening up our cosmology in ways that lead one more easily down the paths of piety. Yeah. Today is not that day. These things have been covered by me numerous times before and by those across a broad spectrum of traditions who are wiser than I in these things. I’m tired of repeating myself. Besides, trying to speak common sense to someone lacking character, virtue, or identity (you know, outside of their genitals or whom they choose to rub those genitals against) is like pissing in the wind these days. So let me be clear and y’all can stay or go as you wish.
I have zero interest in discussing theology with people who lack the most basic respect for the Holy, people who have no concept of devotion. We literally do not speak the same language. Do not step to me with your muddled thinking, your entitlement before the Gods, your foolishness, lack of piety, pollution, refusal to show the most basic elements of devotion, refusal to pray – to do that one very simple thing that aids in our discernment, draws us closer in devotion to our Gods, and protects us from evil. You fucking people have destroyed, polluted, and shat on your own “traditions” and now you’re coming into very polytheistic spaces to do the same to us. NO.
If you find it too damned much trouble to pray. GTFO.
If making a simple offering seems ‘wasteful,’ likewise GTFO.
If serving the Gods as a faithful and pious retainer isn’t the center of your being: GTFO.
You sensing the theme? Take it to heart.
Polytheism is about venerating the Gods, Who exist as independent Beings outside of us. WE are not the center of the universe. We were put here to serve the Gods, to live lives of mindful devotion creating in our world doorways to that which is Holy, to that which created us all.
It is not enough to just exist and pretend to practice a religion. One actually has to DO something. People who come on blogs and other social media sites and tell you that any contact with the Gods is mental illness, that sacrifice is wrong, that devotion isn’t necessary, that prayer isn’t necessary, that cleansing isn’t needed, or who project their every identity dysfunction onto the Gods, are like fire hoses full of shit. They are purposely spreading pollution. This is evil. I’m done pretending otherwise and I’m done being anything approximating hospitable or nice.
I encourage my readers to comment on my posts here but read the fucking room first. There are plenty of places where people can go to defile themselves. No one needs to do that here. There’s a whole internet at one’s disposal. GTFO.
Our elders are the backbone of our traditions. Without elders, there is no tradition and certainly no clean, sustainable transmission of our traditions. There’s a trend now, largely from the Pagan left (no surprise there) to dismiss, erase, eradicate the contributions of our traditions’ elders, all the while reaping the benefits of the learning, traditions, and Mysteries those elders carry. People who spent and spend their lives pouring themselves out for their Gods are being excoriated and slowly pushed out of their traditions by those with little learning, less sense, and no humility at all. It’s really rather disgusting. It’s not surprising – I’ve seen the attitude before—but it is disgusting.
It also betrays a deeply flawed understanding of what tradition and lineage are and why they’re important. It speaks to modern discomfort with hierarchy and authority. It speaks to the quality of person modern Paganisms way too often draw, but it also speaks to a dearth of competent elders in some cases. An elder, however, can be “troublesome” without being wrong. A good elder knows better than to allow him or herself to move with the wind. Rather an elder stands strong and committed to service to the Holy Powers and Their traditions.
Should we have elders, prophets, diviners, etc.? Well that’s really up to the Gods isn’t it? And the Gods have, from time immemorial resounded with a clear and present YES. (This is particularly true in the case of prophets – the community has zero part to play in making a prophet. That is something the Gods alone do).
I am grateful to the elders in my world, living and dead. I am grateful for the doors they’ve opened, for their struggles, their hard work, their sacrifices.
One of my readers, K., sent me this interesting Yule suggestion that I want to share with y’all now. We’re not doing a Yule tree this year (makes me sad, but it’s a bit too much to juggle right now, though maybe we’ll do a small table top one), but I really, really like this idea:
"I just wanted to share an old idea for DIY (or little magic working) - it is a surviving pre-Christian custom of the Russian North. My great grandmother told my mom (a little girl at that time) to write her wish on little pieces of paper, scroll them, tie each scroll with red thread, and put those wishes on the Yuletree to be granted… and those scrolls supposed to be burned after Yule. These little magic scrolls with red bows looklovely, like ornaments. Nobody knows what's inside, and they surely are DIY projects and not for kids only :) BTW, in the Russian language, the name for a Pine tree is still Yule-tree."
So there you go, a charming idea for the Yule Tree. Thank you, K. for sharing this!
One of the many things that tridentantifa – btw, thanks, guys, for all the traffic to my site. It really helps get my work out there — complains about in my work is my support of dowries and marriage contracts. Since I’ve already written about the importance of a dowry and/or a trousseau elsewhere (1), this article is going to tackle, very much in brief, marriage contracts. It came up today in a conversation within my household after we saw an interview in which the subject of a pre-nup arose.
There is so little available beyond 101 material that discusses how to build a functioning, sustainable community (2). The key building block of a community is the household, which ideally in a traditional community begins with the married couple (3). A marriage contract is a legally binding document, signed by all parties prior to the actual marriage, that protects the interest of each party in the event of death or divorce. It goes beyond the boundaries of a pre-nup, which usually only deals with distribution of assets between spouses in the event of a break-up, and versions of the marriage contract date back at least to the early medieval (if not farther back, because really, these things varied considerably country to country, culture to culture, class to class). One thing that it emphasizes is that marriage is not just about the individuals, but is a matter of, at its best, uniting households and families. It ensures that both parties and their assets are protected, but also extends that protection to any children too.
Now, when I got married, my husband insisted adamantly on having a pre-nup – not for his benefit, but for my own. He never wanted it to be said, as a certain nithling in the community has hinted, that he married me solely for his own material gain (4). Our marriage contract almost made his lawyer cry, because Sannion was insistent that in the event we divorce, he leave with only the goods with which he had entered our marriage and nothing more. Despite the existential pain this caused his attorney, he got his way but had we intended to have children, it would have been far more complicated. A good marriage contract carefully lays out in legally binding terms the following:
* The property, wealth, and assets with which each partner enters the marriage
* who gets what in the event of a divorce
* each partner’s will and testament (I suggest updating these every five years)
* each partner’s health care proxy and instructions in the event this is needed (do you want a DNR, do you want all life saving measures, etc.)
* who gets custody of any future children in the event of the parents’ death, and how do you want those children raised (i.e. polytheist)
* in the event of death, how are one’s assets to be divided vis-à-vis the children?
* what financial arrangements are you both making for any children’s future education, etc.?
* wergild in the event of adultery (and the right to pursue but not the obligation to do so).
Now, looking at this, you’ll see it combines a marriage contract with end of life issues, and some of the latter will be necessarily updated in an ongoing fashion. I think that the contract should partly be worked out by the couple themselves – when they are in love and want the best for each other, not later when there may be disagreements – but each family or representatives thereof should have a strong hand in working out the boundaries too (because when we are in love we are idiots and hopefully elders from one’s family will have one’s own interests at heart more than a love struck fool), and then finally it should be evaluated and witnessed by an objective party – and in the type of community we want to see, that would be a priest, elder, diviner, or some other specialist. I can’t help thinking of ancient Rome where wills and other contracts were maintained in the temple of Vesta.
As an aside, I also think a lot can be said about a person and perhaps about the marriage’s future chance of success by the care one takes in the contract. If one partner is arguing vociferously over taking care of the other partner (or future children) in event of a break up, well, maybe think twice. Also, it can highlight potential points of fracture and discord, giving the couple a chance to discuss these things and start working them out (raising future children, for instance, or how one manages one’s finances. Priorities and values become significantly highlighted during the process of writing a contract like this). Of course, I also think clear provisions should be laid out in the event of a violation of one’s marital vows (adultery) too. Better to do it all before animosity threatens and colors one’s sense of right and wrong, then at the height of justified fury (5).
The important thing to take away here is that the purpose of a marriage contract is fair protection and care of each party, and any children. Each contract is customized to the parties involved. There is no single all-encompassing format. It’s flexible, and each household is able to choose what matters to them. In the event of adultery or other violations of one’s marriage vows, having pre-set penalties may help limit violence and unchecked vindictiveness. One could even include the option to leave in the contract in the event of XYZ. This also ensures that one places a priority on maintaining one’s tradition and clean transmission of that to one’s children.
Please feel free to post questions or comments below.
- Namely, having a trousseau, if not a dowry, helps prepare the young person for eventually setting up a functional household. See my article here.
- My husband pointed out that one notable exception to this is Amber K’s book “Covencraft.” This book is really a must read for anyone who is running a religious group, even if we do disagree with her theology.
- Personally, I think the healthiest households are multi-generational and extended, but each healthy marriage is a further link in the chain of properly transmitted religious tradition and cultural norms.
- Yes, dear, I know who you are, and I’m aware of the foul, untruthful shit that you spew. Having seen your dysfunctional relationships, and the utterly disgusting way you treat your partners, despite touting yourself as some sort of super feminist, I don’t think you have any room to talk. Kindly eat a dick.
- This is, by the way, the ONLY legal document that I think should come into play with a marriage – if one has more than one spouse, work it into the contract (I don’t think polyamory is ideal, but like anything else, it can be done well or poorly, and while there is a standard norm, there are always functional exceptions to that norm). Frankly, I don’t think the government has any right at all to determine how consenting adults structure their households, so long as everyone is consenting and of legal age. Pedophiles should be burned alive. A marriage contract and later a marriage license that, in a perfect community, would be notarized at the appropriate temple are all that should be required.
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This week for one of my Patristics classes (1) we’re reading the letters of Ignatius of Antioch (2). I had only previously read his letter to the Romans, so I wasn’t prepared for the lush and sensual language of the others (3). He urges his congregation to “by symphonic in your harmony, taking up God’s pitch in unison, that you may sing in one voice…” (4) employs complex building and architectural metaphors (5), baking metaphors (6), and urges his people to take care in what they intellectually, morally, and spiritually consume (7). Finally, he talks about his service to his God using the metaphor of military service, positioning baptism as weaponry, faith as a helmet, love as a spear, and endurance in one’s faith as a full set of armor (8).
As I’m reading this, keeping the context always in mind: these pastoral letters are being written by a man being dragged to Rome, under guard and in chains, heading to a truly horrid death, I can’t help but wonder how our communities would respond today were our religions suddenly proscribed by the Government. Would we lay down our lives for our traditions and Gods? I hope this is never put to the test because frankly, I don’t think most would, not when they can’t even stand up against name calling by an anonymous online mob. Recanting and bending the knee is so much easier after all, regardless of what one truly believes. Why be good when one can put on a passable seeming?
Yesterday, I saw someone express a yearning for new temples. I thought, will our communities be paying priests, administrative staff, cleaning staff, those tending and raising sacrificial animals, attendants, oracles, etc.? No? Well, then you can’t have a temple. They don’t run themselves. They are community and community funded endeavors and moreover fully functioning micro-economies. We don’t actually have functioning communities, so we’re already behind that curve. We have way too many people who pay lip service to faith when it doesn’t impact their day to day lives or cause them inconvenience (be that latter of thought, of public image, time, or physical wellbeing). People who purport to love the Gods, but see no value in sacred service, are unlikely to lay down their lives in loyalty to those Gods, especially when they have zero respect for those who do serve Them. And oh, I can hear you all formulating your rebuttals about all the ways you’d keep your faith alive in secret. Why only in secret? How many of you reading this lack the courage to stand proudly as polytheists in your daily world? Yes, that comes with consequences and if those are too harsh for you to bear, what happens when you’re asked for more?
Don’t you want to give more? Is there any limit to what you would give the Gods that have made you, formed you, Who have stepped up to claim you, Whom you venerate, the act of which is our raison d’etre as creatures made by Divine will, heat, hands, and breath? What precisely should be the limit to honoring Those that gave us everything?
To be fair, I know how scary it can be to consciously ‘other’ yourself, as publicly claiming your polytheism openly in your world might do. I get it and there can be consequences. Just this year I lost a very good friend who finally expressed the contempt for my religion that had apparently been bubbling under the surface of his little agnostic mind for Gods know how long. It’s probably going to be a significant issue in my academic field when the time comes for me to find a job. I’m fully aware that it may preclude me from that actually happening (and this doesn’t take into account denominational differences and arguments within our religions). There are cases where I think silence is perhaps golden: if custody of one’s children is at risk, if you live in a country where you can be dragged out killed. We do not. Of course, then the question arises of how do you work to change those settings, situations, and laws to make it better for those who come next (9)? There is a point though where one has to just trust the Gods and do the work, whatever that work may be. It’s about learning to prioritize correctly, learning to value the right things, and developing good habits of living those choices day to day. Each day is a choice, an opportunity to make a new choice, a better choice. That holds true not only devotionally, but pretty much in every aspect of our lives.
Ancient polytheists saw virtue as something that could be cultivated, and as something that should be cultivated. This was in part, the purpose of philosophy and also of one’s education and civic training. We allow ourselves none of those arenas in which to train ourselves in moral virtue today. When we come to our Gods consciously, it’s without the external scaffolding that would encourage healthy mindsets, healthy behavior, commitment, and courage and a whole host of other good moral (and spiritual!) habits. Even the idea that one can cultivate good habits of devotion (whatever those may be for a devotee within a tradition with his or her Gods) is a new and possibly revolutionary thought to many.
So what do we cultivate in ourselves? Are we even kind and encouraging to new converts, some of whom may be going through a very natural grieving process for the religions and religious cultures they have left? Do we do anything to actually build in-person communities that will thrive in a sustainable manner after we are gone? Are we doing anything to actually repair those threads broken in the first century?
It starts with good, solid personal devotion, with household worship, with raising children in one’s tradition, with overcoming fear, and in a thousand other ways. It means changing how we think and most importantly of all, how we live in the world. None of that is easy and each of us will make mistakes, from which we’ll hopefully learn. We should be proud of our traditions, of what we are doing and what polytheists before us did. We should be joyous in glorifying our Gods through lives well lived in Their service. Let it not be said that Christians have better, stronger, more committed faith than we do. Let it not be said that they do more for their God than we do for ours. As our world is falling apart around us, we can’t afford to be complacent. Now is precisely the time to throw ourselves fully into our traditions, into our devotions, into our practices and to ask how we can do more. What “more” means, will be different for everyone based on health, wealth, calling, Deity, etc. But there is always a “more.” Complacency is the death of a tradition and maybe that’s the biggest lesson we can take from the first century and its interlocutors Polytheist, Christian, and otherwise. When we stop caring and moreover stop striving we might as well pack up our shrines.
- Patristics is the study of the early church fathers, writers of the generation after the Apostles, so roughly second century C.E., whose writings laid the groundwork for the theologically orthodox positions that became the early Christian church.
- Not much is known about Ignatius. According to what can be gleaned from his letters, he lived in the second century C.E. and was caught up in one of the sporadic persecutions against Christians. He was sentenced in his own province, but then for some reason (scholarly opinions vary) transported to Rome for the sentence (death by wild beasts) to be carried out. On the way, he wrote pastoral letters to various churches and at least one bishop of his acquaintance.
- Several of us have been known to joke that the letter to the Romans is torture porn, but having read them all as a set, I think it more a matter of a man going to a horrible death, writing pastoral letters to encourage his community but also pumping up his own courage so that he can go to his martyrdom (he’s already been sentenced at this point) in a way that does his faith proud.
- Letter to Ephesians, chapter 4.
- Ibid, chapter 9.
- He talks of good and bad yeast, and the preservative qualities of salt, and the aroma of healthy food in his Letter to the Magnesians, chapter 10.
- Letter to the Philadelphians, chapter 3, wherein he uses an agricultural metaphor.
- Predating the medieval ‘armor of God’ by several hundred years, this passage may be found in his Letter to Polycarp, chapter 6. I should point out that Ignatius isn’t in any respect without fault. One passage in this letter made me quite literally throw up (chapter 4). Instead of taking a stand against slavery – which in the Roman empire was a prospect anyone of any race, creed, or color might face—he uses language that goes well past accommodation. It’s sickening. I have never read a single early Christian author that challenged slavery. Many polytheistic Romans questioned the institution, philosophers positioning it as a moral stain on the slave owner. I have never – yet, there’s much I haven’t read – seen anything approximating this in Christian language. The slave owner may be told to “not be arrogant towards male and female slaves” but also is cautioned to “neither let them become haughty; rather, let them serve even more as slaves for the glory of God.” (letter to Polycarp, 4). It makes me sick. I don’t know if it was a matter of the apocalypticism that so defined early Christianity making temporal suffering seem unimportant, that Christianity spread through lower classes, especially slaves first, if they didn’t care, or if they thought suffering was bringing the people closer to Christ (This sickens me even more: If one is going to offer suffering to a God, one should have the option to fucking consent first, not have that forced upon one). None of this changed with Christianity’s ascension to imperial power in the 4thcentury, no matter what narrative you might read in Christian sources about how this improved people’s lives. Slavery wasn’t abolished in the Western Christian world until the 19thcentury. It continues today throughout much of the Islamic world.
- I don’t think it’s ever correct to disavow our Gods. That matters and, I believe, marks us spiritually in a way that is very hard to erase.
So, the topic of cancel culture came up in an early morning conversation with a reader. For those who may not know what this is, it’s a type of group think where those who support a particular ideology (usually leftist) respond to those who question said ideologies in any way, by attempting to “cancel” them, i.e. block venues for their work, get them fired from jobs, harass anyone who works with them, burn their books (oh wait, we haven’t gotten there yet? Give it time). It’s a form of politically based bullying, against anyone who doesn’t follow the new secular religion of social ‘justice’. I already have a religion thank you, and I think it offers better answers to the inequities plaguing our world than anything new.
Mind you, the people in our communities promoting this will “cancel” polytheists, even random laity who exhibit any capacity whatsoever for independent thought, but don’t give a damn about pedophiles and perverts and those they harm (I remember well the Kenny Klein fiasco and the way Pagans rushed to both defend him and demonize his victims). It’s moral authoritarianism, a means of shutting down any conversation, and it’s an attempt to transform our religious communities into hotbeds of (usually) Marxist thought. It’s disgusting. But it also just isn’t that important.
Why do I say that? Well, firstly, look at who is doing the cancelling. They lie. They are not interested in reality and truth but in promoting their own ideological agenda. That being said, when someone criticizes me, I listen to that criticism, weigh it out, consider it. If someone impugns my character, even if it comes from a nasty, biased source, I’ll consider the criticism because even a shit stain can have a moment of clarity. There have been times where I’ve thought, “well, I don’t much like so-and-so but they are correct here” and then have done the internal work to correct myself. So, definitely take stock when you’re exposed to criticism. Don’t, however base your personality, your ethics, your conscience, your decisions on what other people think. Public morality today isn’t very moral. Moreover, people who engage in cancel culture will purposely and incorrectly reframe your words and arguments. They cannot be reasoned with because they are not moving from a position of rational thought and reason. They are a raving mob in mentality if not in numbers.
I realize, not having grown up in a culture defined by social media, that this may actually be something that many of you haven’t considered. You don’t owe these people anything. Their attempts to cancel you don’t matter. Consider the following things:
A). Who are you doing your work for? Is it for your own aggrandizement or is it for your Gods? Now as a polytheist and theologian, my answer to that is my Gods. When They cancel me, then I’ll worry. If you are being “cancelled” at your job, get a good lawyer because the likelihood is that if your employer is bowing down to this external pressure, they’re probably breaking a few HR laws. Go to town.
B). The small group of yapping fools that pull this, are just that: a small percentage of the people in the world with whom you may interact. If you have friends who are trying to bully you into any ideological position, against your conscience, and who attempt to violently shut down discourse and discussion, find better friends.
C). You will survive. I’ve often said sarcastically that one just has to outlive the bastards but it’s true. I’ve been Heathen for thirty years. This isn’t my first time at this rodeo. I’ve seen various ideological purity tests come and go and it doesn’t matter. Even if they don’t go, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you do your work with integrity for your Gods according to your own conscience. This is, tangentially, why developing virtue (in the classical sense) and character is so very important. Give it a go.
It may be deeply unpleasant when cancel culture comes for you. It may hurt. It may make you angry. It may feel like your whole world is tumbling down. There may be a cost to keeping true to your conscience but that has always been the case. What do you value more: integrity and clean service to your Gods or the opinions of the yapping few?
It takes courage to stand up against this when it defines your entire social world. That’s why C.S. Lewis defined courage as the most important moral virtue: precisely for reasons and times like this.
Finally, if this is happening to you, reach out to your real friends and know that you are not alone. Most importantly of all, you are not as you have been defined by others.
Today my household cancelled its Netflix subscription. They are promoting a French film “Cuties,” apparently, a movie about the dangers of oversexualizing children. The movie isn’t the problem. Netflix, however, chose to promote it in ways that grossly oversexualize children (and by children, I’m talking eleven year olds). When called on this by customers on twitter, email, and elsewhere, they doubled down, refusing to condemn pedophilia, refusing to condemn the hyper-sexualization of children, and saying only that they “respect all religions and cultures.” Bullshit, Netflix. Bullshit. Child abuse isn’t culture.
In addition to the over-sexualization of children, they also advertised this movie as one in which the heroic child “defies her family’s traditions” (not something I find admirable. In this case, it’s clear that Netflix meant defying religious protocols and morality). Maybe they meant the tradition of not prostituting their kids. The movie itself is condemning exactly this type of thing. It’s the story of a young Senegalese girl age eleven who finds something she likes (hip hop) and then sinks further and further into inappropriate, sexualized behavior when she starts getting online attention for this, and pimping herself out on social media. It’s intended to expose the societal dangers inherent in such over-sexualization of kids and inherent in unsupervised social media access. Thanks to Netflix’s marketing strategy the movie is now under fire, and there are calls for boycotts. Don’t boycott the movie. Boycott Netflix.
This type of thing matters. The media we expose ourselves to matters. It conditions our behavior. It slowly shifts our moral center. It influences what we consider appropriate and acceptable even when we don’t realize it. It inures us to things that should be considered, at best, inappropriate.
A friend told me today that in “Pagan” circles, he was routinely called “reactionary” for insisting that where sex was concerned, “consenting” and “adult” were non-negotiable. He recounted an incident on facebook wherein someone posted a meme, showing a disgusted kid staring at a naked guy in a cowboy hat. The overwhelming response from “Pagans?” They didn’t understand why a child shouldn’t be exposed to nudity. “It’s non-sexual after all,” was repeated again and again. What they were really saying, as my friend so eloquently articulated was this: “Why should a ten-year-old be disgusted when I give him an uninvited view of my dick?” Well, right thinking people consider this borderline sexual abuse of a child. THIS right here is precisely the type of degeneracy – there is no other word that I can find that is quite so appropriate as this—that fills so much of the “Pagan” community, and it’s precisely the reason so many Polytheists eschew them.
It’s a really, really low bar, people: don’t fuck children. Apparently, it’s a bit too high for some.
This question popped up on one of the Asatru forums on Facebook. Many of the answers there were complete nonsense, so I thought I would take a shot here at answering it. The question was, “What would you older Heathens tell newcomers?” I’d be interested in people’s answers here too if anyone wants to chime in. The following are my top five thoughts on the matter.
- Keep the Gods central to your practice. All too often we fetishize the idea of community, to the point that we make the Gods and Their veneration secondary to the social fulfillment of “community.” There is no greater or quicker way to warp a tradition. Living community will come, but if it is not founded on principles of devotion and integrity of practice, what is its point? If community is all you’re looking for, leave our faith alone and go find a LARPing group.
- Read everything. Don’t let anyone tell you what not to read. You are a thinking, reasoning human being. You’re capable of curating your own intellectual world. Read everything you can on Heathenry, both the lore and modern sources. Some of those sources will be utter crap, so consider carefully before you incorporate what you read into your practice, but words won’t actually hurt you and useful information can be found in the most unexpected of places.
- Ignore the assholes. There are many within Heathenry. Usually they are busy attacking the work of people who are actually honoring the Gods and contributing to the sustainable future of our traditions. These people do nothing, are often deluded to the point of obsession, spiteful, hateful little trolls who suck the life out of any space they’re in. They couch their bullying with cries of “oh that person is a nazi” or “we should be concerned about their ethics” (when they have none themselves), or “that’s not Heathen” when in reality they are cowards who have done absolutely nothing of merit for their Gods or their communities. They’re garbage. Treat them as such and move on.
- Don’t forget your ancestors. It doesn’t matter where your ancestors were from. The important thing is that you have ancestors and should be honoring them. Veneration of one’s honored dead, while it can take time to really develop, is the thing that will benefit your devotional and spiritual lives the most. It provides a healthy foundation, a source of protection and strength, and will powerfully augment the venerative work you do with the Gods. It’s fundamental and crucial. It is NOT an excuse for racism and if you think it is, you’re doing it wrong.
- Don’t be afraid to get started. Perfection is the enemy of getting anything done. Don’t let naysayers stop you from throwing yourselves into loving and honoring the Gods. No one has the right to interfere in that relationship. Start where you start, be consistent, and it will work out in the end.
Getting started in a tradition can be exciting but also anxiety-producing and difficult. There are people in the community to whom you can reach out but they can be hard to find. If you are lucky enough to find someone, treat them like gold. Don’t assume that you are entitled to their time or energy. Don’t send long emails before introducing yourself and asking if they’re willing to chat with you. Be respectful. But at the same time, don’t let what someone says put you off honoring the Gods. We’re all coming from our own experience in the community and sometimes that experience can be pretty harrowing. Most of all, work on cultivating virtue and developing yourself as a man or woman of character rooted in devotion to the Gods, ancestors, and good helping spirits. That is what is truly important, not all the drama you may encounter in the so-called community.
I recently discovered the following videos on youtube. I’ve only watched these two but I think they are worth watching, and if you do, we can then have a conversation about them here, what we agree on and what we disagree on. I think on first listening, even when the language might make me a tad uncomfortable (I am an academic after all), that I agree with most of what this man suggests, despite the fact he is coming from a Christian perspective.
Here is the first video. In this, I agree with what he says but dislike his attribution to those things of the word ‘cozy.’ The word, to me, is low brow and emotional. I would instead try lineaged, cultured, connected (though he does use the term ‘quality’ at one point). He’s speaking about tradition, civilization, heritage for all people and the way that certain things like art and culture ennoble us and elevate our souls.
(The above video is part of a three part series that you can find on his youtube site). Now, below is the second video. I would offer a caveat that when he mentions ‘ancestor worship,’ given the context, I do not believe he is talking about actual ancestor worship and veneration, but rather about idolizing one’s ancestors to the point of excusing and justifying their every bad action. The man has definitely read his Aristotle too. Some of this is triggering, even to me, but what triggers me is the language, not necessarily the ideas that he is expressing. Even where I disagree or find his approach too facile, I think he is raising questions that we need to consider. I really like his focus on dignity of all persons and peoples, embedded in an awareness that we are one link in a chain stretching back into our ancestral prehistory and forward farther than we can ever see, and that we have the moral and social responsibilities that come with that.
I very much think that the problems in our society that we are seeing will not go away on the basis of any political or riotous action. The only curative as I see it is restoring and nurturing the ancient contracts: honoring our ancestors, respecting the land, and rooting ourselves deeply and purely in our polytheisms and sacred traditions, in our relationship with our Gods, and all the ways that demands we approach the world and each other. I also think we need to be cultivating the dignity of every person and acknowledging their importance and connection to the multiple heritages that make up our world as a fundamental aspect of building a morally just civilization. We should build each other up and assist each other in restoring and redeveloping these sacred bonds, and the only time we should bend the knee is to our Holy Powers.