I’ve known Kenaz for years so it was a pleasure doing this interview recently for this series. Like me, Kenaz straddles the line between two polytheistic traditions: Voudoun and the Northern Tradition. The Gods do send us down some interesting roads. He’s written several books including “The Power of the Poppy,” and (with Raven Kaldera) “Dealing with Deities,” and “Drawing Down the Spirits.” Thank you, Kenaz for agreeing to participate in this interview.
GK: Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you come to polytheism?
Kenaz: I was interested in magic and the occult for as long as I can remember. From my early 20s onward I was involved in Ceremonial Magic and Neopaganism. Because I have also long felt an affinity for darker Cthonic energies I became involved in Satanism and Goetia. Had I been born 30 years earlier I’d be what the kids today call an “Edgelord.” I found Chaos Magic thought-provoking at times and loved the intellectual aesthetic of Ceremonial Magic – but I never felt comfortable reducing the Gods to thought-forms, archetypes or things that only existed between my ears. I always knew there was Something Else there and that They were worthy of worship. I also never bought into the idea of a Golden Age when the Gods walked among us. I felt like They were as present now as They were 10,000 years ago and that They still had an interest in us: They did not cease to exist when we stopped worshipping them any more than a rock disappears when you turn your head.
While I have always felt compassion for the poor and disempowered I have never been particularly egalitarian. An important part of our American psyche is that all men are created equal before the law. There has been considerable debate about what that means. For me it means whatever your social class or lifestyle choices all citizens should be given a chance to achieve to the best of their abilities; that all accused of a crime deserved a fair trial before an impartial jury; that all should be treated with respect and courtesy until they prove undeserving of same. (I understand that we rarely live up to these tenets, but that reflects more poorly on us than them). But I also understood that people were not equal. Strength, intelligence, skill, passion, piety – these things were not evenly distributed among humanity. Neither did I have a problem that there were some people who were Called (had a Vocation in the language of my Roman Catholic youth) to the Priesthood while others served the Divine by living their lives honorably and doing your duty to your family, your community and your Gods.
In 1994 I had a psychotic break that left me homeless on the streets of Manhattan for several months. During that time I made contact with a spirit that called Himself “Legba” and who told me, among other things, that I would become a Vodou initiate. At the time I thought this impossible: in March 2003 I was initiated as Houngan Coquille du Mer in Societe la Belle Venus #2 of Brooklyn, New York by Mambo Azan Taye (Edeline St-Amand) and Houngan Si Gan Temps (Hugue Pierre). Since then I have continued to serve the lwa and much of what I have learned in Vodou has influenced my way of dealing with my ancestral Gods. Then, in 2004 Loki showed up and, unsurprisingly, things got very … interesting.
One of the defining moments in the modern Polytheistic revival was Kenny Klein’s arrest on child pornography charges. The Pagan community’s response to that left me – and just about everybody else in the community who identified as a Polytheist – furious and disgusted. I realized then that contemporary Neopaganism’s atheism and relativism were fatal flaws which have real world consequences. I ceased to identify in any way as part of the Neopagan community and began calling myself a Polytheist – and many other Polytheists did the same thing. Today’s Polytheism shares very little with modern Neopaganism: we certainly don’t share our Gods. I’d say we have become a different religious tradition but it’s more accurate to say that we have become a religious tradition since what they are doing owes more to psychotherapy than theology.
GK: You’ve been a staunch defender of Loki over the years (something that I particularly appreciate). Can you tell me a little bit about your devotional relationship with HIm?
Kenaz: My first experience with Loki started as a meditation on Freyja as I attempted Seidhr: instead of finding myself in the presence of Freyja I found myself in the cave. Since that time Loki has been a constant presence in my life. I followed His instructions when he told me to live for several years as a woman. I believed Him when He told me that I would have a child even though the hormones should have rendered that impossible. And in return Loki has brought nothing but blessings into my life, including the greatest gift of all – my daughter, Annamaria Sigyn Estelle Filan. I am eternally in His debt: speaking up on His behalf when he is wronged is the least I can do to acknowledge all He has done for me.
Most Loki-detractors make several fundamental errors about the nature of pre-Christian practices in northern Europe. The idea of “Lore” owes more to Protestant sola scriptura than to tradition. It prioritizes the work of Snorri Sturluson, an Icelandic Christian, over the disparate practices of a region which stretched from northern Scandinavia to the banks of the Volga River. It gives the Eddas a Scriptural authority which Sturluson never intended: it also anachronistically applies the Manichean “Good/Evil” axis to traditions which (unlike Christianity) were never touched by Manicheanism or by any other Gnostic tradition. There were certainly evil wights and evil men in the myths of northern Europe. The Gods could be benevolent, hostile or some combination thereof depending on the situation. But there was no idea of an elemental Evil or of an infernal Adversary eternally warring with the Divine and with humanity: Loki was never a “Nordic Satan” any more than Odin became a “Nordic Christ” because he hung on Yggdrasil.
I identify Loki with Lóður and with the force which makes the blood flow and which animates our world. I believe there may also be some cognate between “Lok” and the low German gelücke from whence our word “luck” derives. I don’t think it is a huge stretch to identify Loki with a generally benevolent but unpredictable bringer of blessings and good fortune. And given how Loki appears in almost every story preserved in the Eddas, I think He was a major God within the traditions of northern Europe. I also think His binding is one of the major myths of our Lokean tradition. His long agony on the rock and the eternal fidelity of His wife Sigyn are powerful if painful foci for meditation and contemplation. And while it sometimes seems that for every step forward we take a dozen steps back into Lokiswives of Tumblr, I am confident that we are seeing the birth of a Loki cultus which will survive and thrive long after we are gone.
GK: Late 2016 you started the rather controversial website polytheism uncucked. What prompted that? What is it’s focus? What do you intend /hope to accomplish here?
Kenaz: Polytheism Uncucked started out with tongue firmly in cheek. After Rhyd Wildemuth declared that Paganism was under attack from the shadowy forces of the Alternative Right, I figured I might as well be the devil they claimed me to be. But as I continued studying I began to understand that I am the product of European culture and a child of the European Diaspora. I realized that to honor the Gods of Europe I needed to protect my ancestral European homeland and my European brothers and sisters. And so I began talking about impolite topics like the Islamization of Europe and the plight of poor White America. I began speaking out against AntiFa thuggery and pointing out the deleterious effects of Postmodernism and Cultural Marxism on our art, culture and interpersonal relationships. Which means, at least to some people, that I became the worst sort of racist. (Insert pearl-clutching here).
Parenthood also played a major role in my “Dark Enlightenment,” “Redpilling,” or political development as you prefer. We live in a working -class area of Newark where we are an ethnic minority. We have never experienced any problems and our Black and Latino neighbors have never been anything but kind and helpful. But when they look at us they see White people: our roots and our culture share many commonalities, but there are also many differences. And so I began wondering what it meant to be White for us and for Annamaria, and realized White was something more than an absence of Color.
Necessity and desire drove our ancestors from their homes: history transformed them into White Americans. We are the European diaspora; we are Europa’s children; we are part of a process that was ancient when the first English settlers landed on Plymouth Rock and part of a people who are committing demographic and literal suicide. Those who came before us may have done great evil but they also did great good. We have lessons to learn from their triumphs as well as from their mistakes. And in any event we have a responsibility to honor our ancestors not because they were good or because they were triumphant but because they are our ancestors.
Vodou, Lukumi and other African Diaspora traditions preserved African religious traditions through the horrors of the Middle Passage and slavery. I believe folkish Heathenry is one means by which we can honor our European Gods and work to preserve our European identity and our European culture. This has nothing to do with disparaging the ancestry of others: it is, rather, about honoring our own. “Woke” Black people and White people have a great deal in common. Both wish to preserve their culture; both place enormous importance in the family and community; both know their people face enormous challenges like poverty, unemployment, violence and despair; both believe the solution to their communities’ problems will only be found within their communities; both believe a spiritual awakening is a necessary precedent to any material improvements. The answers to our problems lie not in eternal conflict and hatred but in mutual respect. “Different” does not have to mean hostile.
GK: Now how do you balance working in two traditions (I do as well): Norse and Voudou?
Kenaz: Vodou is the central pillar of my practice: I use so much of what I learned about approaching the Lwa in my service to Europa’s Gods. My wife (also a Mambo) and I have both had the maryaj lwa: we abstain from sex on Tuesday through Thursday in honor of our divine Spouses (Ezili Freda and Danto for me: Ogou, Damballah and Zaka for her). We have shrines for the Rada, Petwo and Ghede in our home: we have Legba standing at the door to protect us from evil and bring in blessings. I have refrained from writing publicly about Vodou for some time, but that is only because I wanted to make space for Haitians to document their own faith. Right now there are several open Haitian houses were people can be initiated and learn how to serve their lwa: Haitian and Haitian-American artists and academics like Hersza Barjon, Claudine Michel and Patrick Bellegarde-Smith are writing books on the subject. I have 15 years as a Houngan: these people were raised in the culture and have far more to teach than I do. My services in that arena are no longer required: there are better people out there for the task.
By contrast, the contemporary Polytheist movement is in its infancy. We are still building that community and defining what it means to be a Polytheist. (See the ongoing flap about “archetypal Polytheists,” otherwise known as “Neopagans who want to call themselves Polytheists”). I am focusing my attention there for now as I feel that is where it is most needed. There is an enormous hunger for the Gods in our culture, a burning desire for something more meaningful than hollow materialism and blind nihilism. We are a society riddled with impietas: our relationships with our Gods, our communities, our families and ourselves have all gone off the true. The center no longer holds and things are falling apart.
Our only chance is to establish islands of piety amidst the spiritual pollution and to work to right those imbalances – to re-establish what the Romans called pietas. I believe that when we do that we will discover there are many others who are seeking desperately for what only the Gods can give them. Make a fitting place for the Gods and fitting priests who serve Them properly and They will do the rest. That is the public task to which I have set myself: to lead Europa’s children back to Europa’s Gods.
GK: what advice would you give newcomers to polytheism?
Kenaz: The Gods are many, the Gods are real, the Gods are here. Everything else flows from that.
Many people will tell you that you are crazy, that you are delusional, that you are taking this too seriously. This includes many people who claim to be serving the Gods but who are really engaging in psychodrama or in an elaborate live-action roleplaying game. Real piety terrifies them: it implies the Gods they use for window dressing might be real, and might make real demands of them. Their input is less than useless and should be ignored.
This is not a contest. Ordeal workers, horses and Godspouses are neither better Polytheists nor better people simply by their office. The most important task facing every Polytheist is to honor the Gods and to live a life befitting Their worshippers. A sincere prayer offered in gratitude is a greater gift to Them than an agonizing Ordeal performed only to impress the crowd. Ask what the Gods want you to do, then do it. Sigyn assuages Loki’s pain with a battered bowl: your simple life and your humble tools may do greater service for the Gods than you could ever imagine. Live for the Gods and you will live a Godly life.
I have heard many variants of the question “so what does a Spirit-Worker get out of this?” The answer is simple: you get to live your life in the constant and knowing presence of the Gods. There is no greater reward.
GK: What do you consider the most important elements of praxis?
Kenaz: Repetition is very important. The ancient world set its calender by seasons of worship. When you establish a regular cycle of service for your Gods, you create an axis around which your world can revolve. Your “mundane” tasks – I put that in quotes because in Polytheism there are no mundane tasks: every word, deed and thing is infused with the Gods – become part of your ongoing encounter with the Divine. Serve the Gods even when you don’t feel like it, even when you don’t see the point, even when you doubt Their very existence. In time you will internalize this service and it will become second nature to you: you will know Their presence in your heart and in your bones.
GK: There’s an old Russian saying that “repetition is the mother of learning” and I have certainly found that true, most especially in spiritual work.
Kenaz: Cleansing is vital. We live in a society that is full of miasma, where piety is conflated with fanaticism and delusion, where blasphemy is lauded and reverence is scorned. If we don’t cleanse ourselves from that spiritual sewage we will inevitably choke on it. I start and end my day by washing my head, breast, solar plexus, genitals and feet and praying that the Gods may take away that which pollutes me: I would recommend that every Polytheist do something similar. When you start doing this you will become increasingly aware of miasma and be able to either avoid or deal with it as the situation warrants.
Understand that your life is an ongoing prayer. The Christians who ask”What Would Jesus Do?” are onto something. When you live in the constant presence of the Gods you find yourself asking how They might feel about a particular course of action. This is not the “super friends” relationship you see in too much Tumblr spirituality – the kind where Loki is a whacky neighbor and Odin trades off with Dr. Who in telling you about your Important Cosmic Destiny. Rather it is the knowledge that you stand before the Creators and Shapers of Being and the deep understanding of how you should carry yourself before Them. Colored by this understanding, your life and your spiritual practice cannot help but move toward greater piety and balance.
GK: What projects do you currently have in the works?
Kenaz: I continue to work on Polytheism Uncucked and am toying with the idea of writing Europa’s Children: Toward a White American Polytheism. I would like to create a framework whereby Europa’s children can honor Europa’s Gods and recognize their role and responsibility as members of the European Diaspora. I would also like to see an American cultus which would allow Americans of all faiths, ethnicities and political leanings to honor the American spirit and America’s gods in the same way citizens of the Roman Empire venerated the Gods of Rome and the Roman government. And I continue in the most important project of all – raising Annamaria to be a happy and healthy child and teaching her to serve and honor our Gods.
Be sure to check out my other sites:
Wyrd Curiosities at Etsy
My academia.edu page
My amazon author page.
Walking the Worlds Journal
My art blog at Krasskova Creations
My blog about all things strange, weird and medieval.
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This is a brilliant article by Kenaz Filan over at PolytheismUncucked. It’s the culmination of several days worth of conversation on the predation of cultural marxism, modernity, and monotheism (#evilms) on our communities and their religious awareness.
I think this is a really important piece. go and read.
Disgust is an instinct which saves us from eating contaminated foods and poisons. We feel a sense of revulsion upon seeing vomit, rotten meat, excrement — all things which would sicken and kill us should we consume them. As Daniel Kelly, author of Yuck! The Nature and Moral Significance of Disgust says:
You have this quick, reflex-like tendency to move away from whatever you find disgusting. You might not actually move, but you’ll have this flash of motivation to jerk away from it. Some of the really interesting things about disgust are the more psychological components of it. When you’re disgusted by something, it captures your attention. It seems offensive and tainted in some way, and we think about disgusting things as though they have the ability to contaminate other things. So, if something we find disgusting touches another object, that object becomes disgusting as well. We track where the…
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My friend and colleague Kenaz Filan has just posted a beautiful memorial to my adopted mom, Fuensanta Arismendi Plaza. She is venerated by many of us as a sancta and the intensity of her devotion to her Gods, especially Sigyn and Loki knew no bounds. I wish that I had that level of devotion. Her example continues to inspire me and many others.
Love you Mutti!
Read Kenaz’s piece here.
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.
Kenaz has a new post up here. He points out that John Beckett’s posts on purity, sin, and miasma have spurred many interested discussions in the blogosphere.
It’s certainly sparked amazing examples of poor reasoning and illogic from rhyd wildermuth. i wonder what it is like in his head? i’d love to know how he equates maintaining proper ritual purity before the Gods to genocide against Jews and Romany. I mean, does he look down on Jews and Romany to the point that this is where HE would go, and thus cannot conceive of motivations that focus specifically on the Gods? Or is he rather tryign to bring up a straw argument, to damn those who do care about the Gods, traditions, and keeping themselves clean and in a state of proper receptivity to the Powers?
Apparently basic religious standards are now “oppression.”
To quote Kenaz:
Piety sees the state as an integral part of things. Rhyd and his cabal see the state as a tool of oppression that will ultimately wither away. Piety treasures the things which set you and your people apart. Rhyd and his see those differences as war waiting to happen and want to sand them down.
It’s perhaps time, we considered the full implications of their agenda.
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.