GK: moving away from the topic of miasma, I read a conversation thread today wherein someone was freaking out because some polytheists practice “dual tradition.” I’ve never understood why this was so concerning. Many if not most ancient polytheists did the same thing. One practiced the religion of one’s ancestors, of the state cultus, and then whatever cultus one might wish to initiate into–it was always flexible and fluid, with the caveat that one honored each set of Gods appropriate to Their traditions and rites. In many respects, honoring the Gods of one’s neighbor was an act of hospitality, especially when so many of these populations were mobile and connected by economic and political agreements. What are some of the issues in doing this and how do you think it can be done respectfully?
KF: I think they are reacting in part to the “Initiation Shopping” common to plastic shamanism. You buy a trip to Peru to drink Ayahuasca; you travel to Nigeria to get made in Ifa by an “airport babalao”; you go to Hawa’ii to become a Big Kahuna. And in each case you’re buying an experience and a title without any real knowledge of what goes with that title or how you should incorporate that relationship into your spiritual practice. Then there are the Tumblr godspouses with their retinue of “deities” doing what comic book heroes usually do and the “Norse Wiccans” or “Celtic Pagans” who use a tradition for its trappings and props rather than engaging with it.
The secret to practicing multiple traditions is to approach each tradition with respect. Understand the responsibilities that go with the title you are seeking: if you are incapable of meeting them then don’t seek that title. (I did this early on in my Vodou career. I received elekes but decided learning Vodou was a full-time job: trying to master Lukumi alongside that would do a disservice to both paths). If you serve the Gods of any tradition with respect and mold your service to Their requirements rather than expecting the Gods and the priests to make accommodations for you, you’ll be just fine.
Another thing I’ve found is that most people who successfully practice dual traditions have a solid relationship with their Deities and spirits in both paths. I’m a Lokean who also serves the lwa: I’ve been working with Loki for almost fifteen years and with the lwa for a few years before that. I’ve been able to work within both paths with little conflict — other than the conflicts which inevitably come with Loki, of course 🙂 And I would note you have a rock-solid relationship with Odin and advanced degrees in the Classics: you take your duties to the Gods seriously no matter what Pantheon you may be honoring. Playing “mix and match” games or treating multiple traditions with equal disrespect is just going to get you into trouble.
GK: I have seen many monist and pantheist apologists point to the syncretism to justify their anti-polytheist claims of ‘all gods being one.’ Likewise, I’ve seen many (ill read) anti-theists point to examples of agnostics and atheists in the ancient world, to justify their attacks and incursions into contemporary polytheisms, which is especially offensive because just because something existed in antiquity doesn’t mean it was a good thing — they had pedophilia, slavery, etc. Not to mention these views were always the minority and often soundly criticized. What is your reasoned response to this misuse of our history?
KF: Syncretism certainly happens: I’m thinking of Zeus Amun, whom Egyptians honored as the Kemetic God Ammon and Hellenics as a praise-name for Zeus. (Given the structure of many contemporary African religions I might even compare that relationship to the various “caminos” of an Orisha or the various Ezilis, Ogous, etc. in Vodou). Polytheism doesn’t just involve many Gods, it involves many theologies and many different visions of the Universe: sometimes those visions will be conflicting and downright contradictory. That’s because the Universe is a big, messy, conflicting and sometimes downright contradictory place.
But while there were questions as to the nature of the Gods, there was very little debate as to their existence. Agnosticism was generally a theoretical exercise: atheism was a crime in most of the ancient world and considered the most dangerous sort of impiety. When we look at ancient writings from agnostics and atheists we also need to remember there was then as now a marketplace of ideas. And of course our worries about belief and the individual’s interior life are largely a product of the Reformation: the ancient world was more worried about what you did than what you thought. It was certainly possible to speculate on the existence or non-existence of Gods, so long as you continued to perform the required rites in accordance with your civic duty. When you shirked those duties, or encouraged your countrymen to turn from the Gods, that was a whole different kettle of fish.
Archetypal Monotheism looks more welcoming at first than hard Monotheistic traditions like Islam or Christianity. But it’s ultimately just as corrosive. If all Gods are one God then all faiths are really one Faith and any disagreements or differences between traditions must be chalked up to misunderstanding or human error. What results is a bunch of Gods who are all saying the same thing, a bunch of supposedly disparate “traditions” all aiming at the same goals, and a big warm bland steaming pile of culturally-blended and homogenized mush.
You also raise a very interesting point regarding slavery and pedophilia. Polytheism is a work-in-progress.
GK: well, I don’t raise it. I don’t really care. I’m educated in history. I’m not one of the ones using these things to muddy the discourse. I have however seen it coming up from the more ahistorical amongst us.
KF: Social mores change and what was acceptable in one generation may be condemned in another. Human sacrifice and cannibalism were roundly condemned by Hellenic practitioners of the Classical era despite earlier rituals. Even in the Old Testament we see HaShem telling His people not to pass their children through fire (sacrifice them) in His name — and generally you don’t issue “Thou Shalt Nots” unless people are actually doing the things you condemn. We can look to the past for inspiration without slavishly copying it: in the spirit of Reconstructionist Judaism we can give tradition a vote but not a veto. And people who say otherwise or who assume honoring the Gods must invariably lead to human sacrifice and theocracies are willfully or unknowingly stirring up trouble over nothing.
GK: Of course they are – I think that they’re willfully doing so to cripple the restoration so you actually give some of these people far more credit than I do. With some of them at least, I can see clearly the religions from which they’ve come. We’ve talked about how many people bring Christian baggage and wounds and trauma into their new religion. We can clearly see the difficulties this causes in our communities today. How would you address this? Conversion is a multi-layered, difficult process and in a community that damns its elders and refuses to accept standards of training and rules of behavior — even something so simple as miasma– how can newcomers move past these issues? What tools can we provide them with?
KF: One way to get past the Monotheism filter is to recognize it and open yourself up to alternate interpretations. Instead of falling back on the “All Gods are One God” explanation, consider addressing those “faces of God” as individual discrete Beings. You don’t have to make a decision immediately on it, but be open to the explanations Polytheism offers. If you have to tell yourself “this is just a thought exercise” do that — but exercise your thought.
You also need to distinguish between the Monotheism Filter and any personal authority issues you may have. If you grew up in an abusive Christian cult you may associate any kind of hierarchy with that abuse. And while the Gods don’t expect you to grovel before Them and abase yourself — by and large They would much prefer you live a virtuous and honorable life — They are greater than you and deserve and They demand respect. There is a difference between bending your knee and superstitious groveling in fear: if you can’t or won’t understand that Polytheism is not for you.
When you come into a functioning spiritual community you have to understand that they have a way of doing things and a way of addressing the Gods. If you are a guest in that community you are expected to acknowledge their routines and to honor them: if you wish to join that community, you will need to learn its standards and expectations and shape your behavior accordingly. And, again, if you can’t or won’t do that then you need to avoid that community for your sake as well as theirs. Nobody is asking you for unquestioning obedience, but they may be asking you to pour out libations for their Gods, to prostate yourself before Their shrine, or to refrain from participation for one reason or another.
For example, you cannot salute Damballah if you have your period. This has nothing to do with misogyny: it is simply that Damballah finds the smell of blood offensive. If you insist on saluting Him despite this because you want to reclaim menstruation or prove that Haitians are just being superstitious when they uphold this silly taboo, you are guilty of grave disrespect. And if you don’t understand that and feel instead that Vodou should reshape itself to better suit your interpretation of feminism then you have no place in a hounfor or at a fet lwa.
GK: well said. Yes, yes, and yes. Our own limitations should never, ever be the standard to which we hold our practice, our tradition, and our Gods. Might we discuss the problem that many of us see arising in the community i.e. the lack of a decent education, of historical knowledge, of critical thinking ability, and lately I’m beginning to assume basic reading skills, because I think that’s part of the reason this is so cognitively hard for some people.
KF: I think we’re actually dealing with a perfect storm. First there’s good old fashioned ignorance and lack of education. American literacy has declined precipitously and fewer and fewer people have even basic critical thinking and research skills. That makes it difficult to distinguish between solid scholarship and crap: it also makes debate difficult, as not many people care about things like logical fallacies or internal consistency anymore. You also have to worry about being called out as an intolerant bully when you call out wrongheaded ideas and bad behavior. (Unsurprisingly, the worst bullies have learned the lingo and will happily accuse their critics of “shaming,” “bullying” and “oppressing” them at the drop of a hat — and since critical thinking is in a death spiral, they all too frequently get away with it). Spiritual communities are expected to be “Safe Spaces” where everyone is made to feel valid and warm and affirmed. (Loki and Odin may be called many things, but “Safe?” Naah… ). And what results is that the unqualified, disrespectful and flat-out impious are coddled to and tolerated while those seeking to protect the tradition and the Gods get forced out.
GK: Exactly. I couldn’t have said it better myself.
KF: Every Polytheist must of necessity engage with hir community: frequently that includes political action. There is nothing un-Polytheistic favoring one candidate over another, with donating to the political causes of your choice, with writing essays in support of your political position. The problem begins when you start telling me all Polytheists must favor your candidate or cause, or try to make Marxism, capitalism or any other creed the Official Political Position of Polytheism. I strongly suspect most of the people who don’t get this distinction are being willfully obtuse a la “Spiritual Purity = the Holocaust!!!” or similar rot.
GK: I don’t think they’re being willfully obtuse. I think they know exactly what they’re doing: obfuscation, poisoning the well, and other nasty rhetorical tactics because they can’t get their way and they want to take down those who are engaged in the restoration and in affirming healthy boundaries.
I think there is a real resistance toward restoring our traditions because with traditions come rules and sooner or later, someone is going to feel inadequate because they refuse to meet them (with the corollary that they then expect the tradition to accommodate their lack, instead of themselves working to be better. I mean, “I’m an idiot and can’t tell my God from a time traveling fictional character but yeah, I should be a licit voice in this revival and even though I”ve made excuse after excuse for my failure to do the least thing my Gods have requested of me ad nauseum, I’m a role model”. Um, no sweet-heart. I don’t think so. You’re fit to be something but I’m pretty sure that’s not it and the fact that we’re the only ones calling foolishness like this out points to the devastating state of our communities. People like this are bringing so much shit into the communities that it’s going to take the rest of us working together a generation to clear it all out again. I sympathize with Herakles cleaning the Aegean stables).
KF: We will never have an egalitarian relationship with the Wellsprings of Being: They are more powerful than us and more powerful than we can imagine. We will never have a safe relationship with them: They can turn our lives upside down at a moment’s notice and not infrequently do just that. Anybody looking for safe, egalitarian Gods needs to look outside Polytheism: our Gods are Gods in all Their glory and terror.
GK: I think these people are small and they want our Gods to be too, to reduce the Heavens to the size of their own limited intellect and hearts. Pity for them it doesn’t work that way.
Me? I want the Gods to render us in our smallness, stripping away everything that does not serve.
The morning has been fruitful. Part 8 of these ongoing conversations is now live on Kenaz’s blog.
You can read it here.
GK: I’m seeing an undercurrent seeping into the community (courtesy of the G&R cabal) of devotion, living a life of devotion, and focusing on devotion to the Gods as being an act of ‘privilege.’ Now obviously I disagree and in many cases this idea is being supported by individuals with a history of giving themselves excuse after excuse for why they cannot do the most basic acts of devotion to their Gods – which is ironic, considering the person who is speaking the loudest about privilege is currently on a European vacation paid for by his readers. So I understand that in some cases, there’s a self-serving motive here, a desire for an acceptable loophole. Excluding those cases, why do you think this narrative is otherwise gaining such traction? We saw the beginning of this a couple of years ago in the Pagan-Polytheist arguments about offerings. Those of us talking about making offerings (even something as simple as a shot of water) were damned as elitist and classist (despite the fact that many of us in favor of offerings — and moreover of not consuming offerings given to the Gods and ancestors–were ourselves at one time very poor). I think that was the beginning of seeing the language of oppression being used to justify abrogating devotion, and not just that, but of attacking those who were talking positively about offerings and devotion. This was the beginning of all of us being termed the Piety Posse (still cracks me up. I’ll happily bear that accusation. It’s a hell of a lot better than the opposite). What do you think is going on here, other than the obvious use of this argument as a red herring to distract attention (or perhaps even to justify it) from the G&R attacks on polytheism as a whole? Obviously it’s tapping into the insecurities of parts of the community. What do you think is going on?
KF: Haitians building enormous creches for the lwa in the poorest Port-au-Prince neighborhoods are exerting their privilege? Working-class Mexicans setting up enormous shrines for their ancestors on Dios de los Muertos are being elitist and classist? They are reaching, aren’t they?
First of all, I think “privilege” started out as a very useful concept. It explained how you might miss injustices that your class, race, etc. shielded you from. But instead of using that knowledge to fight injustice, privilege became the secular world’s original sin. It also became a great debate tool: you could disregard anything that came from the mouth of somebody “privileged.” It’s no different than their efforts to link spiritual purity to Nazism and ethnic cleansing. If you throw enough mud some of it sticks sooner or later. And when you’re working within theo-economic systems like Communism and Capitalism of course “rich and privileged” and “poor and powerless” become synonyms for “good” and “evil” — the only disagreement is on which is which.
GK: why is there such an attachment to a poverty narrative within polytheism? There’s nothing wrong with being poor. There’s nothing wrong with being well off. What any of this has to do with honoring the Gods escapes me. Do you think it a hold over from a Protestant work ethic narrative? Though that would lend itself more toward contempt for those who were poor, as it ties in with the Protestant idea that if “God” favored one, then one would be wealthy and successful (which in turn places financial gain as the pinnacle of ‘success,’ which…I would not, nor would many people that I know and which has devolved today into the ‘prosperity gospel’). I do know it’s a narrative being manipulated by our Anarcho-Marxist buddies. It brings me to something though that I’ve seen an awful lot, this idea that we honor the Gods to get things. that we pray to ask for things. that every level of engagement devotionally is mercantile and if we are talking about furthering devotion then we must be getting something out of it on a tangible, financial level, that devotion then becomes synonymous with greed. I know that the idea of ‘do ut des’ underlies the sacrificial paradigm, but that was less about acquiring gain than maintaining right relationship, an ongoing exchange of gifts that kept the contours of that relationship strong. I find it curious that many of the G&R people, but not only they, are eager to project on us this mercantile ambition when it comes to the idea of furthering devotion. It’s as though they are incapable of comprehending doing something because it is the appropriate thing to do, or doing something out of love for the Gods, or doing something out of piety and for no other reason than because we are engaging with Gods. I’m trying to parse out the influences in this incredibly mechanized, dehumanizing vision of relational engagement.
KF: The poverty narrative is one part reaction to the Protestant work ethic and several parts cultural Marxism again. To be wealthy means you are stealing from the poor; to be powerful is to be an oppressor; to be successful is to be a sell-out. And when Marxism meets millennial entitlement you get people who pride themselves on their poverty whilst thinking the world owes them a living, otherwise known as the couch-surfing antifa activist who keeps eating your vegan leftovers. As far as any inability to see Human/Deity relations in any but mercantile terms, that’s not surprising at all. Both Communism and Capitalism reduce all human experiences and interactions to economic terms: neither Marxist polytheism nor capitalist Plastic Shamanism can see the Gods without thinking of price tags.
GK: Also, I think there is a level of hubris, of contempt for the Gods in our opposition that I simply cannot fathom.
I was just reminded of something that happened to a colleague recently: who wrote an article on why we shouldn’t name pets after the Gods and was challenged to prove our Gods are real? While in that case, it was a generic atheist, I’ve seen the same type of attitude within the anarcho-marxist and humanist pagan groups and I think that bespeaks a level of hostility and growing contempt for the Gods that I find appalling. And these people wonder why we are so concerned about miasma.
KF: So true. I read that article and some of the responses made me cringe. As L. said, we’re in the Kali Yuga. Even a simple example of devotion like “don’t name your pet after your Gods” gets met with hostility and push-back. They think that they’re escaping the Monotheism filter by getting away from “Christian ideas” like devotion and piety. But all they’re doing is feeding it: they’re buying into the idea that only Christians can be devoted to their Gods and only Christians can be pious. Rome knew about pietas centuries before Christ and St. Augustine’s City of God is very clearly modeled on the Roman Empire. And some devotional practices coming out of the Indus Valley predate not only Jesus but the Pyramids.
They can’t stand the faintest hint of reverence, of piety, of suggesting the Gods might in any way be above us. Which leads us to the question they never answer: if our ideas are so silly why do they make you so uncomfortable?
So Kenaz Filan and I are continuing our series of conversations with part six, which is available here.
I’m grateful to Kenaz for starting this series and for taking it public. I know that many of us discuss the state of our communities and relevant issues and such all the time one on one, and often those discussions are thought provoking, interesting, and I think, important (even if we disagree. you’ll notice in previous conversations that Kenaz and I do not in anyway agree with each other all the time).
In addition to these discussions, i hope that people will be motivated to engage more deeply with their polytheism, and I hope that you’ll all consider sharing not just your thoughts on these topics, but what you do devotionally, how you came to the Gods, why you honor Them, and how. One or two of us can’t build a cultus or a lasting tradition. That is something for which it truly does take a community.
I also want to make something clear: I don’t care what someone’s political views are –not insofar as practicing religion goes. I think we should all be able to come together to honor the Gods first and foremost regardless of what our politics might be. I care very much, however, when any political cabal attempts to co-opt and distort polytheism for their own political gain. I care very much when the Gods begin to be made tangential to Their own traditions. I could say more on this, but I’ll let you go read instead.
Part V of conversations we need to be having is up over on Kenaz Filan’s blog. Readers may find that here.
I want to move our conversation away from politics for a moment to touch on two threads that I’ve been seeing emergent in Paganism and Polytheism lately. Firstly, we’re having an ongoing conversation about miasma. Apparently some Pagans think we should jettison the whole idea because it might lead to people equating it (inaccurately) with sin and thus feeling badly about themselves. Now ritual pollution is a thing, and keeping clean of it when approaching the Gods is important in many, many Polytheisms. I’m not sure why this is such a difficult concept in our communities today, but apparently it is. What are your thoughts on ritual purity and the community?
KENAZ: I think the idea of “sin” as “wrongdoing which lessens the wrongdoer before the community and the Gods” is entirely appropriate to Polytheism and Paganism. Of course moral and ethical codes are flexible: of course they change and develop over time and as circumstances change. But that doesn’t mean we should jettison them entirely or that the highest and best of all moral teachings is “do whatever you want so long as nobody gets hurt.”
In John Beckett’s latest Patheos article about Paganism and sin, his definition of “sin” owes more to his daddy issues and authority complexes than to the way Christians use the word. For example, the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia offers a clear and detailed definition of sin from a Roman Catholic perspective. And while I’d disagree with some of it (I obviously don’t think things which lead people away from Catholicism are prima facie sinful, for instance), I’d say there’s a fair bit there, which could be of use to Polytheists and Monotheists alike. Contrast this with Beckett’s knee-jerk rejection of “Sin” because it must be CHRISTIAN and therefore bad.
I also think that Beckett et al are missing an important point about miasma and ritual pollution: it exists whether or not you acknowledge it. In Ifa osgobo is a tangible thing, which can stick to people and places and wreak havoc until it’s addressed. I got touched by osgobo after a friend committed suicide. I didn’t get it because I was a bad person: I got it because I lit candles in his honor without making appropriate precautions. (Spirits that die violently or in an agitated state can bring osgobo with them and this has nothing to do with whether they were good or bad people in life).
GK: I like some of John Beckett’s writing, but I do think this piece misses the mark significantly, especially leading in with dismissive remarks about piety.
Moving on though, I was always taught that Osogbo are actually a family of spirits and as such deserving of respect, including the respect of taking appropriate precautions around their potential presence. I think your example really highlights how one can be doing everything right but still miasma, pollution, or osogbo can still happen. It’s a natural thing in many respects for which we have clear cut protocols.
KENAZ: I have encountered miasma in other situations, which were strongly positive. The life change, my daughter’s birth, was wonderful and transformative — but I found myself out of alignment and struggling to redefine myself. And I think that could have been avoided had we had available the historical childbirth and post-childbirth rituals that helped welcome baby and parents to their new roles in their community and incarnation. But that was something I missed because (that damn Monotheism filter again), I still equated miasma with negativity, impiety and sin. As you wisely stated on your blog, miasma doesn’t have a moral payload: it can be incurred by sin or impiety but that is not the only way it happens. So that is something we definitely need to keep in mind — and something which would help prevent the types of abuses Beckett appears worried about in his essay.
GK: It definitely doesn’t have a moral payload (i like that expression). It’s not equivalent to sin at all. I feel like I need to say that over and over again for my readers, because it’s probably the most insidious misunderstanding I’ve encountered lately.Miasma does not equal sin. If you take nothing else away from this conversation, please please take that.
On a different topic, I’ve seen comments in several places to the effect that theologians and spirit workers and mystics like myself, like certain of my colleagues have a competence that makes people feel small. One post on tumblr (of course) actually accused one of my colleague’s writings of giving readers PTSD because they felt they couldn’t live up to the standards set by this writer for herself in her own practice. Of course, instead of setting better goals for themselves and allowing such writings to inspire them, a remarkable number of people chose to complain about how it made them feel bad and so they couldn’t read anymore, even years later, even though the spirit worker in question wasn’t telling people what to do, but was talking about her own practice. I’m wondering your thoughts on this.
KENAZ: There’s a very real danger of creating ego-driven hierarchies in a spiritual community. I’m a better spirit worker than you because I can horse Gods; my Gods love me more than you because I’m a Godspouse and you’re not; I hang on hooks and whip myself for my Gods while you just light candles for yours. And all that garbage is worse than useless. The important thing is your relationship with your Gods and your ancestors. If They are happy with your service, then you are doing things right. Even if those things don’t involve Ordeals or Sacred Kingship or Horsing or anything exciting like that. When you start seeking those things for glory or excitement or power, you take your focus away from the Gods. And that’s the first step in a long spiral downward.
GK: I’ve actually seen this quite a bit and it’s troubling. I tell people: do the work your Gods give you. If you’re an ordeal worker great. If you’re not, also great. I’m not quite sure why there’s this need to do the flashiest (and most dangerous) of practices when apparently making an offering of water and maintaining a regular prayer practice is too inconvenient. It makes me ask: are you doing these things for your Gods or for yourself? Do the work you’re given to do. If the focus isn’t on the Gods, then none of it matters. What’s the point?
KENAZ: That’s exactly it: when you start chasing titles or looking for attention (human or divine), you’re taking the focus off the Gods. That’s one of the things I learned from Fuensanta. She had this laser focus on the Gods above all else: it was about Them, not about the world recognizing her devotion or her piety. And if you have that focus, you’ll find yourself in right relationship with your Gods and with your world. That doesn’t mean things will be perfect for you, but it means you will be in a place from which you can put your trials in a proper perspective and fulfill your responsibilities to the Gods and to the community.
GK.: There it is. I aspire to her level of devotion and piety. I really do, every god damn day and every day I fall short. Still, I know what devotion can be and what it looks like to live a deeply engaged devotional life and that inspires me to keep trying.
I’ve been talking to Kenaz Filan quite a bit of late, in light of the recent community brouhahahas (though we’re also old friends, going back more than a decade). We tend to have these amazing, weighty discussions off list and of late both of us have pointed out that we need to be having some of those same conversations in public, where everyone can consider, benefit, and jump in. So with his kind permission, I’m sharing here the conversation we had this morning.
Kenaz: We can start with an interesting quote which Alley Valkyrie posted, approvingly, to her FB feed:
“The social revolution of the nineteenth century cannot take its poetry from the past but only from the future. It cannot begin with itself before it has stripped away all superstition about the past. The former revolutions required recollections of past world history in order to smother their own content. The revolution of the nineteenth century must let the dead bury their dead in order to arrive at its own content. There the phrase went beyond the content – here the content goes beyond the phrase.” – Karl Marx
Call me a fascist reactionary privileged white person — but that quote is absolutely fucking antithetical to ancestral veneration. It calls on the dead to bury their dead; it dismisses the past as “superstition;” it privileges the Is-Now and the Will-Be over the Was and states that the social revolution it envisions has nothing to learn from the past. And anybody who can’t see that has missed the point of Marxism, ancestral veneration or both. (Of course, I could argue that if you’re trying to mix Marxism with any other kind of religion — because that’s exactly what Marxism is, a theoeconomic religion — you’ve missed a few points already).
Galina: Kenaz, I’m so disgusted by that quote. It encapsulates every single thing that I find appallingly wrong about the Marxist left. It is postulated on a complete disconnect from the past, from our obligations to the dead, to our Gods, to our traditions. It is a mindset born of a fractured and damaged present. It also neatly abrogates any responsibilities to one’s own ancestors. It stands against the very heart not just of Polytheism specifically but of Paganism in general. No wonder there is so little common ground between us and the G&R folks if this is the paradigm from which they’re working. I think this just shows the sickness of our world. The cure of course is exactly what Marx was railing against in that quote. Go figure.
Kenaz: The more I see of cultural Marxism the more I despise it. Intellectual thuggery, groupthink and sanctimonious shaming, rote recitation of quotes and slogans in lieu of actual thought — what’s not to dislike? Marxism fulfills the function of a religion in that it gives adherents a lens to view their world and their place therein. But it privileges humanity (more precisely, human socioeconomic activity) and sees the Gods as nothing but “opiates” created to distract the benighted masses. At very best, it judges Them according to its own commandments, accepting or rejecting Their message based on whether or not it agrees with Das Kapital.
Galina: I agree with you completely. Look at where that positions the Gods. I’ve often wondered why people like Rhyd (he’s been the most recent to posit this, but there have been others) find the idea of a devotional relationship with the Gods that is NOT predicated on commerce, on ‘I’m praying so You will give me things,’ so incomprehensible. It’s as though anything other than mercantile relationships are outside the boundaries of their understanding and what a horrible way to live in the world. We honor our Gods because They are Gods and we are devoted to Them because we love Them. Why is that so difficult to comprehend, that we are restoring our traditions not just because it is correct to do so, not just because this is the curative for our world, but because we love and adore the Powers? Well, I think in quotes like the above, we have our answer. Marxism is a natural progression from industrialization and industrialization severed the last of the sacred ties between community and the land, between us and our natural world, and the natural orders of that world. No wonder this is so hard for some.
Kenaz: I hate the racism and anti-Semitism endemic to so much of the Alt.Right. There were Jews in Europe before the Slavenoi got there, for one thing: for another I resent the fact that my options as a white American are White Supremacism or White Self-Hatred thanks to the WP crew and their cultural Marxist frenemies. But at least the alt.right has some respect for words like “patriotism,” “dignity” and “honor:” Alley and Pals support the guy who spit on a woman wearing a “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN” because America stands for nothing but racism, injustice and imperialism and that slogan is an Act Of Violence against people of color. (No, I’m not joking: I fucking wish I was… ). And for all the talk about Nazi Racist violence, the Radical Left seems far more excited about taking the fight to the streets than the White Nationalists.
Galina: well that’s just it: any disagreement to these people is an act of violence. Think about that: thinking differently is an act of violence. This right here is why I am so down on the illiberal left: there’s no room left for discourse and reason. It’s all about upholding the party line, never questioning it, and a healthy dose of self abasement too. I can’t comment on someone spitting on someone because that person thinks differently than they do…there’s nothing good I can say about that and very little other than profanity that will come out of my mouth when confronted which such pathetic lack of character and reason.
(Kenaz then refers to a conversation we were having with an American-Hindu woman on fb, discussing Hindu-Muslim violence in Southeast Asia. Kenaz had asked if she actually believed in the Gods or thought of Them only as symbols or archetypes, because it makes a difference).
Kenaz: it really does come down in the end to that pesky question of belief. If Hanuman is something more than a myth or symbol, then we have to take His position into account and consider His claim on that land. I was actually saddened when she said “I’d ask if you are serious, but of course you are.” Yes, I am seriously saying that I believe in Hanuman and His claim to that land. And until she believes in the Gods of her people, she will continue trying to mollify people who hold her in contempt and people who are trying to kill her.
Galina: Bingo. And this is what I see so much of in polytheism and paganism in general: trying to excuse and/or make nice with monotheism. Stop apologizing to those who conquered your ancestors and destroyed your traditions are are still trying to abolish our ways. Stop thinking they’re our friends or equals or allies. Stop. Just fucking stop. You’re suffering from some sort of intergenerational Stockholm syndrome. Wake up and see the world as it really is: permeated to its rotted core with the systemic filter of monotheism, with a structure that would utter destroy our ancestral ways and us too if we refuse to submit. Islam may be the purest expression of that monotheism, but make no mistake, the Christianity with which we have to also contend is no better. Individuals within these traditions may be (and are) but the systems themselves, are devastating and will never be anything but and the sooner we wake up and realize that, the better.
There’s a wonderful quote that I reference quite frequently by Dr. Frances Cress-Welsing: “The most disastrous aspect of colonization which you are the most reluctant to release from your mind is their colonization of the image of God.” I think that is part of what’s going on here combined with this narrative that we are somehow more advanced than our ancestors, somehow more ‘enlightened,’ and that polytheism and animism is somehow ‘primitive.’. We get that from academia and this ‘hierarchy of religions’ which places protestant Christianity (or now, maybe atheism) at the top and indigenous religions, polytheisms, etc. at the bottom. It pervades our culture and is, in reality, just a continuation of the damage of monotheistic conquest: the idea that our religions are a point from which we should evolve (preferably into agnosticism or atheism). The true opposite of monotheism is NOT atheism or any of those things, it’s polytheism and make no mistake the system of monotheism is well aware of that fact.
(Kenaz is working on a beautiful memorial to my adopted mom so we moved into discussing that.)
Kenaz: As I continue working on Fuensanta’s memorial I become more and more aware of just how deep the social rot is. Our best hope — our only hope, really — is to establish a few dozen or a few hundred homes where the Gods are honored. Our descendents will rebuild the temples. We need to create islands of piety amidst the social collapse, to make safe spaces for the Gods and provide examples of pietas in a world that has forgotten it. (I expect at this point that I will see the end of American democracy and if I don’t Annamaria certainly will).
Galina: I think that’s true. I know with the work that we do, that we are working for a tradition and a community that we will never ourselves see realized. We’re laying the groundwork, the scaffolding upon which future generations will build. I do think that it’s only when we have multiple generations of practicing polytheists that we’re going to get anywhere. This is why passing these traditions and the piety onto our children is so very important.
Kenaz: As for Annamaria, here’s a little anecdote: Kathy and I noticed we were short on the peanut butter cups we give Legba for an offering. Annamaria heard us talking and said we could give Mr. Legba her candy if He was hungry. Loki has told me Annamaria will be greater than either of her parents and will go farther: I don’t doubt Him for a minute. And if we can get a few more children like her, children who love the Gods from the cradle onward and who are never taught that the sneer is the highest of all human expressions, then I really think we can re-establish veneration and piety in our world.
Galina: Kenaz, your daughter is already more pious and sensible than many adults I know. This does me good to read.
Kenaz (referring another young person with whom we were speaking earlier): K.’s story was interesting: he was apparently an atheist and “modern Indian” until he had an up close and personal meeting with the Gods of his people. Now he’s a Hindu activist who wants to see Monotheism overthrown, or at the very least called on the carpet for its many crimes. The Gods of India are angry, and rightly so: I am heartened to see They are reclaiming Their land. I may try my hand at a piece for the Hindu Post or some similar publication or for an alternative right publication that actually *honors* the Gods rather than using them as props for their political agenda. (I already have a Gnostic Christian friend who is interested in creating a moderate/centrist forum for discussion of topics like Islam, open borders, etc. — we may see some movement in that arena soon).
Galina: I think you absolutely should. I need to get on my next column too. We need those spaces for discussion and disagreement. We need to be having conversations, networking, and raising each other up. That is the only way forward, with the Gods ever and always at the centered heart of our work.
Kenaz: I am also beginning to understand just how right Andvari was when He said you could look to Fuensanta and find all you need to live a virtuous polytheistic life. Even my earliest concerns concerning her potential deification vanished when I was able to get past that damn Monotheism Filter. There is a history in many, many traditions of individuals who led noteworthy lives becoming deified or beatified: Rama & Sita, various Roman emperors — the idea is challenging only if you doubt that Gods might sometimes choose to walk among us for Their own reasons.
Kenaz: One of the Monotheism Filter’s most deadly forms is the “Golden Age” trope. When you start talking about legendary eras when the Gods walked among us, you imply They no longer do so. If you see the sagas not as Lore which sets our beliefs in stone but as earlier chapters in an ongoing Story, your vision of the world changes radically. (It also helps you dispense with yet another odious modern idea, the belief that the Gods need our worship and that they vanished once we quit praying to them. Contemplation and prayer are primarily of benefit to us, not the Gods. That is not to say that humans don’t play a major role in Their plans or that They don’t appreciate veneration: it’s to note that the Gods aren’t scavengers feeding on sanctimonious words and incense fumes like so many flies buzzing around a steaming pile of dung. We need Them far more than They need us. (We’re not the crown of creation; we’re not the sole sentient species on this planet; we’re not even the apex predator. Anybody who doubts this can ask Andvari. If they’re unclear on the third they can spend a few minutes above ground in Svartalfheim.
Galina: yep and this is one of the things that I see in Heathenry way too much: the idea that the Gods only talked to heroes of the saga age and before, that They cannot and don’t do so to us now. It’s bullshit. The Gods absolutely have a vested interest in engagement and they DO. Clearly.
I think the prevalence of this narrative though is partly the discomfort that I mention above with the idea that perhaps there is something ignorant or superstitious, primitive about polytheism and we as moderns should know better. That is so deeply ingrained in our society and in academia for sure. I think polytheism makes some polytheists uncomfortable (I know that actual engagement with the Gods, who may not hold the same ideas and ethics that we do certainly does) and that leads to this reification of “lore” over experience and more to the point, downplaying Their potential for interaction, downplaying the Gods in favor of raising the community to the center. Problem is, it doesn’t work. A healthy polytheistic community is one that is centered on the Gods, not one where the Gods are tangential to the community.
Kenaz: Anyway, apologies for the wall of text. I would like to get this in a blog or some other forum as I think we’re touching upon a lot of good ideas.
Galina: Good thoughts as always, Kenaz. I agree: these conversations need to happen. Thanks for letting me share this.