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.
Affiliate Advertising Disclaimer
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.
This just makes me so sad. At this stage in the game, an attack on any Deity is an attack on all Deities. I”ll be dedicating quite a bit of time tonight to prayer.
I bind myself today to the Holy Powers:
Their hands to guide me,
Their wisdom to teach me,
Their ears to hear me,
Their words to give me speech,
my heart always to love Them.
It was with no small degree of both anticipation and trepidation that I went to see “Midsommar” this weekend. My gold standard for movies of this type is the original “Wicker Man” with Christopher Lee. I did not expect “Midsommar” to come near to this and happily I was wrong. It’s a beautiful, moving, brilliant movie about the emptiness and crass depredation of modernity coming face to face with deep, unshakeable piety.
This is the point that the Pagan reviewers having thus far written about this movie have aggressively missed. It’s a movie about tradition, values rooted in intergenerational piety, and the consequences of growing up in a culture bereft of community, and about the consequences of one’s choices good and bad. It’s not a perfect movie by any means (and I’ll be talking about the things that I particularly disliked below) but it comes close. It is not a horror movie nor, as so many reviewers on youtube have insisted, is it a break up movie. That happens yes, but it is the culmination of the main character’s spiritual and emotional journey, a natural conclusion to her transition out of polluted, disconnected existence and into tribe and family. (There is a powerful dream sequence where we see this visually depicted: Dani, the main character exhales and a huge billow of black smoke comes out of her mouth. I and my husband looked at each other and I whispered, “she’s expelling pollution” and from that point on, she begins integrating more and more fully into the community that eventually accepts her).
Spoilers ahead. You have been warned.
The movie begins with Dani and her boyfriend Christian on the verge of a break up. That is postponed when she suffers a terrible personal tragedy and Christian, out of his depth but not wanting to be a total dick, decides not to break up with her. From there, a Swedish friend Pelle invites Christian and some other doctoral students to his hometown for a special 9-day celebration that only takes place every 90 years. Dani eventually comes along with them. It is clear from the beginning of the flight that Dani is disconnected not just from Christian but from everyone and everything around her. That’s a recurrent theme: disconnection vs. connection. It’s particularly well expressed when you see her six months after her personal tragedy staring out at the bleak, isolated city scape. This is later contrasted with the healthy, bright, and vibrant Swedish landscape. On the plane, Pelle, their Swedish friend connects more to her by addressing her grief than Christian or any of her other peers do or try to do. He shows compassion and shared suffering. It is clear that, as so many people in the modern world are, she lives in emotional isolation.
That isolation begins to change when she and her friends arrive in Sweden. Pelle drives them to his village but they stop before they get there and he offers them mushrooms. This is their transport from mundane headspace to sacred, ceremonial states of being and its effect on Dani is remarkable. Immediately, we’re given a visual sign of the land accepting her (grass growing through her hand, uniting her with the earth). This also begins her journey from emotional brokenness to wholeness, healing, and strength.
Upon reaching the village, they’re immediately welcomed by the elders. On the way, they meet up with two other foreign guests, a rather obnoxious British couple. Things do not go well for the majority of the group. I’m not going to give a long breakdown of the entire film – I don’t want to ruin it for those who haven’t yet seen it; but I will offer a few highlights.
Dani tries from the beginning to understand and acclimate. Her friends do not. They behave with arrogance from the beginning. The most egregious example of this takes place after two elders have sacrificed themselves (in this community it is customary for elders to commit suicide ritually at 72, giving their life force back to the community). Not only does the British couple desecrate the ritual, possibly causing it to go somewhat awry with the elderly man, but afterwards, when the bodies have been cremated and the ashes spread about a sacred tree that serves as a communal ancestor shrine, one of the young men, after watching the spreading of the ashes, decides he has to take a piss on that tree. It would be laughable if it wasn’t so pathetic. He was incapable of recognizing it as sacred, even when they attempted to explain it to him. (He gets exactly what he deserves and I cheered out loud when that happened). There are several instances of desecration and violation of sacred spaces by the group, each one bringing the appropriate penalty.
Dani, on the other hand, tries to make herself useful and while obviously out of her element, participates in tasks and even in the ritual, winning the role of “may queen,” a ceremonial role that involves blessing the fields and land. In the end, it is Dany who chooses the final sacrifice indicating her new role as a functioning member of this Pagan community, and that she has left her old, dysfunctional life behind. It’s powerful and moved me to tears more than once. At the end, she is robed in a glorious cape of flowers, bright and indicative of growth and new life.
There were things I did not like. Firstly, until a certain age, all members of the tribe live communally. I thought this was ghastly. Of course, I also find the idea of being out in nature ghastly. Lol Thank you, no. I’ll take a hut on the edge of town, if you please. They also have a particularly bred line of deformed, mentally challenged children, ostensibly one per generation that serve as a type of oracle. My husband wasn’t bothered by this, but I was. I found it inappropriate. At least the elders made it clear he wasn’t the only oracle and he is given an important and functional role in the community, which was good. There were no “throw away” people like we have so often in our culture. I did think he was creepy-cool too. Finally, the Gods weren’t really mentioned. Their symbols were everywhere and if you knew how to read them Their presence was clear as letters on the page of a book but They weren’t actively mentioned save two times very vaguely. They should have been front and center.
On a positive note, the imagery is consistently beautiful. The community is assigned work as adults based on traits they show as children and there are several instances of boys and girls being shown apprenticing to adults. That was lovely. Pay attention to the illustrations on the walls and wall hangings. They tell you exactly what is going to occur. There is one tapestry hanging outside that shows the entire progress of a love spell…a very traditional spell involving pubic hair and/or menstrual blood found in more cultures than I can count and literally one can read it like an open book. (My second outcry in the theatre was to Christian when the girl working the spell makes him a little pie… LOL “Don’t eat that pie!” because I know that spell. Also, in the same scene, his drink is slightly darker than everyone else’s which indicates that the girl probably added her own special ingredient to the drink too!).
The runes were quite correct in every instance of their use. They could, as I said, also be read like an open book to tell you what was going to occur. At the beginning, for their opening communal meal, they have the tables set up in a huge othala, the symbol for home, inheritance, and a healthy community, which is then later changed to gebo as the time of sacrifice approaches. In one instance, Christian (and I don’t think his name was accidental, though the main focus of the movie is the grossness of modernity versus the beauty of tradition and community rather than explicitly Christianity vs. Polytheism) is about to have ritual sex with one of the village girls (approved by the elders because as a small community they need new breeding stock. I thought this qualified as cheating on Dani because he’d never had the courage to actually break up with her, but at the same time, they’d not visibly been behaving like a couple so it’s possible the young girl didn’t know. Then again, there’s always one in every community…). He comes in wearing a shirt with two inguz runes on his chest. In one is the rune tiewaz, which has a secondary meaning of masculine potency and in the other, a reversed algiz, which tells me he’s not living out the end of the movie. Lol. Inguz itself is indicative of fertility and Freyr – which tells you everything you need to know about how that scene is going to play out. Dani at one point wore a dress with a reversed raido and a dagaz on its side. I would have interpreted that as her journey ending in this place but how it ends and what that means as lying within her own power to determine. When Dani finds out what Christian has been up to, she breaks down but unlike her modern world where she would have been left to deal with this grief alone, the other women surround her, hold her, breath with her, mourn with her, and guide her through the pain. It was one of the most beautifully moving moments in the entire film.
The numbers mentioned in every instance add up to nine, (18, 36, 54, 72 – numerologically they add up to nine) which is very Odinic. The sacrifices made were also Odinic, particularly with the bear being such a potent image during the final ones; however, the holiday itself was the summer solstice and one would have expected it to center around Freyr far more. It was very cool that the Deity imagery was there but I kept finding myself confused because where I expected Vanic things, I got instead Odinic and vice versa. The was a nod to Nerthus in the role of the “May” Queen (ostensibly a May queen in June because it was still too cold to crown a May queen in actual May?): she’s put in a carriage and escorted around the perimeter of the village and fields and gets to bless everything. The names of the Gods were never, ever used though, as I’ve already noted, which was off-putting. I did like that offerings were buried in the earth: seeds, eggs, raw meat, etc. It reminded me of the Acerbot rite.
Finally, there are two willing sacrifices from the community and while they are given a drug to ease their way at the end before being burned, I think they should have had their throats cut to ensure they died cleanly and did not suffer. Still, the ending was beautiful and powerful and culminates with Dani ostensibly becoming a member of the community.
The biggest things that stood out for me were the examples of modern impiety in the face of what is obviously sacred. With the exception of Dani, every single one of her companions behaved in a way that was self-centered, rude, and just horrible when simple respect and hospitality of the guest would have carried them through had they thought of it (Christian also steals his friend’s dissertation idea, which shows his general lack of character. That’s a killable offense to an academic, or should be lol). They had no respect for the fact they were being welcomed into a sacred space for a very, very special series of rituals. Now that brings up a question that the movie leaves unanswered: namely, did Pelle select the group because he knew they would behave badly and thus render themselves lawful prey to be sacrificed, or could it have gone either way dependent on their behavior? (Dani was an unexpected addition so she was a wild card from the beginning). I like to think the latter.
Overall, the message of the movie was one of the value of piety and tradition against the way that modernity isolates us from all that is wholesome. It was the story of one woman’s journey into health and healing, into sacred consciousness, and joy culminating in her turning away from destructive modern attitudes and the pollution they so often bring and finding acceptance in a family rooted in caring for the land, honoring the Gods, remember the ancestors (and not pissing on their shrine >_<), and celebrating each other. It is every bit as powerful as the “Wicker Man” (though I still prefer Wicker Man for reasons of pace and some stylistic elements. Also, in the “Wicker Man,” the Gods are named, which adds to it immensely).
I highly recommend this movie and give five out of five hallucinogenic mushrooms. 🙂