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.
So my article on re-enchanting our world seems to have provoked a bit of concern among some of my readers. Normally, this would pass unremarked but I think in this case it really highlights the major ideological fault line running through our various communities today: what takes precedence, the Gods and spirits or humanity?
This is not new. In fact, I think it’s always been the primary fault line upon which we dance for at least the twenty-five plus years that I’ve been a polytheist. I wasn’t surprised to see it come up here. This is what the differences in our communities largely come down to: do you prioritize the Gods or do you prioritize the people and if the latter, then what it eventually becomes is prioritizing politics over any Holy Being. That is the inevitable outcome of that consideration. Is it any wonder then that the political pagan crowd are so doggedly determined to silence polytheists? We challenge the entire framework by which they have ordered their world. We also apparently challenge contemporary parenting styles, you know, the kind that teach you that there are consequences to one’s actions.
There are rules to dealing with Gods and spirits. They don’t have our ethics and we don’t make those rules but yes, we are expected to abide by them. This is not a difficult thing. There is, in fact, no small degree of middle class Western privilege inherent in our difficulties with what is really a very easy equation. It’s something that anyone raised in their own indigenous polytheisms easily comprehends. Hell, it’s something that anyone raised in a culture still possessing a vibrant folk tradition (like, for instance, Appalachia) might also comprehend. It’s only the privilege of the supposedly enlightened middle class that refuses to see what any five year old familiar with Grimm’s fairy tales might know: there are consequences to ignoring rules and we don’t get a pass with the spirits when we do so just because we’re happily steeped in social justice, politics, or racial self-abasement. Some spirits value our consent, but not all of them, not by a long shot and that goes for Gods too. What is the saying? Ignorance of the law does not excuse breaking it.
Now, one may argue that by laying my charms I’m setting out a honey trap. Yes, I am. It is still the choice of the passer by whether or not to steal it. Choices have consequences and if I am able to create even the barest crack whereby my Gods and spirits might gain greater purchase in our world, then I am happy to help and I shall sleep content.*
I think that at the core of this fault line is fear of the Gods warring with lack of belief and perhaps lack of desire to believe. If you believe in the Gods after all, then don’t you trust Them? Why would you not wish to return the world to Them, to restore what was destroyed? If you don’t believe in Them, why are you bothered at all? A delicious catch twenty-two, yes? No matter, paucity of piety on the part of others will never impact my own work and let me be clear about what that is.
My allegiance is to my Gods and spirits. My job is to open doors for Them, restore Their cultus, reclaim territory ripped away by monotheism. I am not in the least bothered if that makes people uncomfortable. I will always put the needs of my Gods and Their attendant spirits first and foremost, understanding that They are hunters, understanding that They have been waiting a very long time to reclaim what was Theirs, understanding that in struggles such as these there is always a rate of attrition. I will break your reality down until you see and hear and taste and smell, acknowledge and maybe even fear what is actually there.
and i’ll consider that a good day’s work.
* I might also add that it’s rather insulting that my readers might assume that I simply create blanket doorways for random passing spirits. Of course they are keyed to a very specific group of spirits and Gods. I am very careful in what I do.
Polytheism is the reverence for and belief in many Deities as independent, sentient Powers. It often goes hand in hand with veneration of one’s ancestors and reverence for the living world, a sacred locus full of its own type of spirits. I have often said in past writing that the moment one realizes that the world really is full of Gods, that everything is alive reflecting and reverencing Them, and that it is fully possible to experience the Powers directly, it changes everything. It cracks the lens through which we’ve been patterned to see the world. It disrupts the mental machinery that dictates what is ‘normal’ and ‘right.’ It rips us out of our pre-patterned mediocrity and demands that we wake up, stand up, open up and become *more*.
I had a student once, a polytheist who was taking one of my ancestor workshops and after several weeks in the course he emailed me privately saying (and I’m paraphrasing as I did not retain the email after responding), “Am I correct in thinking that to do this work well — ancestor work, polytheism, restoring traditions–I have to take a firm stand against the dominant culture in our world.” I responded with one word “absolutely” and that was enough for this student because he got it. He understood something that I think makes the mainstream very uncomfortable: to do this work well, to truly hold the space the Gods are asking us to hold, we are tasked, charged with being radical, hard edged motherfuckers.
There are no civilians in this fight. The moment we commit, truly slide our asses off the theological fence and commit to tearing open the poison windows of our world for the Gods to enter and work Their transformation, the moment we commit to not just restoring our traditions but to resacralizing our world, to bringing the sacred back into our minds and hearts and spirits we have become radicals. We have moved inch by inch, sometimes unwillingly, sometimes unknowingly into a mindspace that will challenge everything we have been taught to believe is ‘good.’ Instead, we become — and the more consciously we can do this the better- agents of change, agents of immolation and destruction, agents of restoration. We become those that little by little will tear down the corporations, tear down the mechanization of our spirituality, tear down the values and dubious virtues of a culture infected by the worst modernity has to offer: contempt for the sacred, pathologization of devotion, homogenization of our spirits, that dehumanizes and uses without care for the welfare of our world, our children, our children’s children. We become revolutionaries.
The first, greatest, and most difficult battle, the first place immolation must occur is in our minds. We must ferret out and attack with all the avid, keen-eyed skill of a predator the hooks and battlements the Filter has built in our own minds. We must challenge everything upon which we have been taught to build our lives — especially those things designed to make us safe, comfortable, and complacent. We must burn it all , fill ourselves with purifying fire until the Gods can come through and move the axis of the world. We must refuse to compromise in any way with the integrity of our tradition, our practices, our Gods. It’s an avenue for poison to enter and there’s already enough of that within us, having been imbibed like mother’s milk from the moment we drew breath and began to wade through the propaganda that would tell us we are evolved, we are better, we have no need of the Gods and the breaking-blessings They bring. Veneration should never be an afterthought dependent on one’s convenience. The Gods should never be an afterthought either.
There’s a reason the Gods snap up the poor, the odd, the outcasts, the deviants as Their servants, Their spiritworkers. We have nothing to lose. We won’t cling to the comforts of our lives using them as shields to thrust the Gods away. We have fewer excuses, fewer luxuries behind which we can hide. We have already seen the horror this world holds, the injustice, the spiritual desolation. We’ve gazed into its maw because the Filter deemed us too powerless to justify hiding its true face. We’ve seen first hand how egregiously fucked the world truly is and often why. It’s not that hard to connect the dots. It is hard to pick yourself up and commit to fighting. But those on the outside of a society are far better placed to see the claws in which that society is held, and we’ve lost the fear of being strange, weird, of not belonging. Oh, there are very good reasons the Gods call the outcasts as Their shamans, spiritworkers, and mystics. We do not give a shit about maintaining and supporting the structures designed only for oppression. Moreover, we recognize the mental and spiritual oppression as those in its favor do not.
We need to do this work by any means necessary. I believe each of us is tasked with considering carefully how we are placed in this world, how we move through it, and the legacy we leave. I think that we are each tasked with reweaving, restoring our traditions, and most of all with bringing the sacred back to our sick and dying world. We are tasked with contaminating the world with our Gods and all that They bring. In all ways big and small we are tasked with committed action. The odds are against us. The Filter is massive, ancient, and entwined and rooted in our world more deeply than can safely be imagined for long, our resources are limited and even those who should be standing with us are more interested in attacking, homogenizing, and pursuing their own self-serving agendas than doing this work well (far less threatening I suppose) yet we must carry on. Like guerilla warfare, the smallest and most committed can with time overcome the majority.
In specifics, we do not all have the same work. But we can all find ways of resistance. We can all find ways to further the restoration. I have said before and I say again that even pouring out a committed ancestor offering can be a powerful and radical act. Find where you can make a difference, beginning in your mind, your home, your world. Find where you can make a difference and don’t let anyone sway you from it. You too can be a radical motherfucker. Have courage.
This article sums it up nicely:
“The murders of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo, Sam Shepherd, and countless thousands of others at the hands of American law enforcement are not aberrations, or betrayals, or departures. The acquittals of their killers are not mistakes. There is no virtuous innermost America, sullied or besmirched or shaded by these murders. This is America. It is not broken. It is doing what it does.
America is a serial brutalizer of black and brown people. Brutalizing them is what it does. It does other things, too, yes, but brutalizing black and brown people is what it has done the most, and with the most zeal, and for the longest.”
Now the question is, what are we going to do about it?
I really didn’t want to write about this. I”ve posted a bit here and there on my Facebook and I have been so incredibly sickened and disgusted by the response of my white colleagues. I”ve seen quite a bit of explaining, excusing, mansplaining, and privilege in all its manifold forms rearing its head, always under the guise of presumed logic, and tolerance but privilege nonetheless. Yes, we have it, by virtue of our fucking skin tone, and you know what? I think that puts a greater obligation on us to not reinforce the system that has led to Ferguson.
I talk a lot about fighting the Filter and this is part of it: recognizing, calling out, and taking a stand against the systemic racism, classism, sexism, and a thousand other dehumanizing poisons that fester in our society. Ferguson is a perfect example of this. It’s also a prime example of the racial divide that is still tearing this country apart, whether those of us with privilege want to see it or not.
Before I go any farther, I want to make it clear that I’m not anti-police, but as a white woman, I’ve been raised to think that I can go to a cop for help if i need it. I suspect the experience of my friends of color is a bit different. Racism is sneaky. It’s systemic. It lurks in our minds even when we are sure that we’re free of it by virtue of the fact that we grew up in this culture. To have that unexamined and worse, unchallenged, and to be in a position of power — as a police officer is–is a recipe for disaster. I believe the police have an obligation to the society they are supposed to be protecting and serving to hold each other to a higher standard of behavior and to call this shit out when they see it, and most of all, to not excuse terrible events like Ferguson.
Because you know what? This isn’t an isolated incident. Just last week, there was a an shooting incident in NYC, in which a young black man, an innocent man, was shot (I believe in the stairway of his own apartment building) and over the past few months i’ve seen at least a dozen other similar incidents. Trayvon Martin, Ferguson, these are just the tip of a very vicious iceberg.
As a polytheist, I reject certain elements of our over-culture, especially racism. I know that it’s a hydra that I am tasked with fighting, most of all within myself, every day of my life. I cannot afford avoidance. Moreover, as polytheists, we’re all in unique positions: we have the wisdom of our ancestors and of our very old traditions to draw upon. This type of ingrained, virulent poison that we’re seeing with Ferguson and elsewhere is the product of the Doctrine of Discovery, of Industrialism, and of our doggedly Christianized “modern” world. Things were not always so and as I have said to my students time and time again, we have the power to change this. That change begins by confronting it, by standing up in whatever arenas to which we may have access, and of saying no, this isn’t right, of fighting, of pushing back, of tearing down — brick by brick if necessary–the structures that support such hatred. Because things were not always so, we know that they need not always be this way in the future and we owe it to each other, and to those who come after us of every race, gender, and color, to root this out now.
When I teach ancestor work to those of Northern European, mostly white, backgrounds, I point out that there are two major ancestral wounds that *must* be addressed. The first is the destruction of our traditions by monotheism, but the second is that eventually some of our ancestors drank that poison, came across the ocean, and became the destroyer of nations. As our traditions were destroyed, our people put to the sword, our children mentally enslaved, we brought those things to others: genocide, torture, and slavery. For us, most especially, there is an ancestral obligation to take a stand against racism when and where we see it — and trust me, one doesn’t have to look very hard. This is very much our fight. We don’t get a pass because we may not be directly impacted.
(image from this site)
We have to have steel to do this work. in our blood, in our bone, in our souls, there must be a core of steel. There must be that which will not be bowed, will not be turned, will not be broken before the challenges, sometimes quite painful challenges, that are part and parcel of restoration. We must have at our core the steel to persevere. If we do not, we are at best confused, tangled, and ultimately useless, and at worst impediments to all the work that needs to be done. We must be ready to be brutal in our purpose, in our commitment to our purpose even with ourselves, perhaps most especially with ourselves, to eat sacrifice daily, and to plod step by bitter step in the direction our Gods have set.
I was thinking about this today, thinking about young people with whom I work–they’re lovely, deeply progressive, and want so much to make a difference in this sick, sick world. They are enthusiastic but …there is no steel in them. They break so easily when the Filter comes calling. They break so easily when they are attacked. They break so easily when the work drives them to their knees instead of fighting like rabid wolves to move forward. Enthusiasm is not enough. I worry all the time for the young people with whom I engage (in the secular world as much as in the community) but i worry more about the work.
So I offer this prayer, for those just finding their way:
May you lay yourselves down upon the forge
your Gods have wrought,
knowing the tempering to be found there
essential and good.
May you find satisfaction and joy
in the honing.
May you not break.
May you find wholeness
in the process of restoration.
May you have the insight
to do whatever you must do
in order to take up the threads
your ancestors laid down.
May you be strengthened
in your souls and in this work.
May you endure.