Why Couldn’t Cybele Just Restore Attis’ Dick? This is an actual conversation that I’m having with a Christian relative. (#polytheistproblems). This relative asked to read the papers that I’d written over the last semester so I printed them up, per her request and sent them off. Foremost amongst them was my recent article in issue 5 of Walking the Worlds: “Ecstasy and Identity in Catullus 63. This piece talks about Attis sacrificing his manhood in devotion to Cybele and what that meant to him (her?) as a Roman.
Here is the email I received in response:
“G., I just finished reading this paper. It is a wonderful example to everybody to avoid the occult. Messing with the so-called gods (actually demons) is dangerous physically and spiritually. Attis totally destroyed himself in his
ill advised “devotion” to Cybele.
If Cybele is such a great and powerful “goddess,” why could she not have restored Attis’ manhood? A devastating and true statement: You cannot go home again. I believe that in many situations.”
(the rest of the email talked about another paper on Augustine so I didn’t quote it here. Nor did I point out to her that her comments about the Gods being demons isn’t even biblical. The bible after all, acknowledges other Gods.).
Now, this relative knows that I’m a polytheist but it’s like some mental tick. They just can’t help themselves from calling our Gods demons. Interfaith work at its finest, isn’t it? Interfaith work just has a polite veneer over this, but it’s still there.
So what did I respond?
“You took the article where I did not intend. I think it’s a powerful example of devotion. May Cybele be venerated forever.
It also tells you that it’s a terrible thing to fall into the hands of a living God.
As to why Cybele couldn’t restore his manhood: obviously She didn’t want to. That is the price of initiation into Her priesthood and Attis, despite his later existential pain, paid it willingly.
Nor was Her religion “the occult.” It was an international religion openly practiced. It’s still practiced today — there’s a Cybellan monastery not far from me (well, three + hours).
My article was not in any way meant to imply that She should not be venerated, but to point out that all transformations come with a price, that we must understand this when we plumb sacred Mysteries: that they transform, irreversibly.
Asking why Cybele didn’t restore Attis’ manhood is like asking why Jesus didn’t save all the martyrs. Did he not have the power to do so? Did he not care? Or was it more a case of not invalidating their sacrifice, devotion, and faith and the example they provided for the rest of their community. These are mysteries. It’s pretty foul to denigrate them.”
We disagree but I’m not going to suddenly punch this poor relative in the face. One can have decorum in such disputes. Still, this is the type of mental brainwashing with which we all must cope when we engage in interfaith dialogue. Here it is, in black and white. (#checkyourmonotheistprivilege). I have said before that I consider monotheism to be something of a mental illness. It eradicates a person’s ability to see reality and to function in a healthy society. You want to change all these problems we’re dealing with today? Reject the secular (which is really just monotheism taken to its natural conclusion) over-culture. (#fighttherealpatriarchy).
If you have any doubt about this, the situation going on with patheos right now is a good example of what happens when you’re around ‘tolerant’ Christians. They’ll keep you around so long as you’re making them money through your click bait titles and engineered community conflict but the second you turn on them and question their motives you’re gone.
It doesn’t come with a cool pussy hat, but this is the real revolution. (#makinghashtagswontbeenough)
I recently skimmed through a Patheos article titled “The Two Obligations of Good Religion”, which posited that good religion was there to heal the world and heal ourselves. Not bad goals I suppose, and the article (which I believe was originally a sermon?) was not bad, but I don’t think that’s at all what religion is for. (We just can’t help ourselves. We’ll make everything human centric if we can).
From the perspective of many polytheisms, religion is there to A). serve, honor, and venerate the Gods, first and foremost. It is about the Gods and about our ancestors and maintaining our ancestral traditions (1) and B) to maintain balance in the world. Good polytheism acknowledges the cosmic hierarchy of Gods – ancestors – land spirits-community (people). Maintaining right relationship within that hierarchy is what leads to health and abundance. (2)
This does not mean that working to establish and remain in right relationship with the Powers doesn’t inspire a person to do good works and to be deeply engaged within the community. It does and it should but that is a side effect from getting oneself rightly ordered. There’s a saying by one of the ancient philosophers (I forget by whom at the moment) that the Gods are not there to provide virtue. It is our job to nourish it and when we do that, They will help augment what we ourselves have carefully tended. I think that’s an important point. Caring for the world and ourselves is good but it is not religion.(3)Religion is about the Gods and the protocols of our relationship with Them. It is about learning how to engage in healthy ways with the Holy, being changed by that, inspired by that and bringing all of that back into our homes, lives, and communities.
We care for the world because it is sacred and alive, because it is holy –the body of one of our dearest of Gods. We heal ourselves because the process of coming into right relationship with the Powers forces us to do just that; but we practice our religions because it is right and proper to honor the Gods and ancestors in these ways. To mistake effect for purpose is to end up unable to differentiate between sophistry and prayer, or social justice work and piety.
Maybe in the long run it doesn’t matter: after all, helping the world is a good thing, as is healing ourselves but whenever the purpose of religion gets discussed, it always seems like the Gods get elided out of that equation. Religion is Their territory, Their space and I think it’s important for our own integrity of practice (not to mention cleanliness) that we understand the difference between human space and sacred – i.e. God owned—space, and what constitutes right priorities in each. Our traditions deserve that, as do our Gods.
1. Cicero posited that the word ‘religio’ from which we get our word ‘religion’ meant to be bound to the ways of one’s ancestors. He was likely wrong about the etymology but not necessarily about the ideology.
2. The Romans called this the “Pax Deorum” or ‘peace of the Gods.”
3. I very much believe that true health and happiness comes from proper veneration of the Holy Powers and from rooting oneself within our polytheistic traditions. It is, however, a side effect not a goal.
This is going to be short and sweet. Really, there’s not a lot to say when a ham-handed attempt at rhetorical manipulation comes flying across one’s computer screen. It looks nice, has lovely pieces, is relatively well-crafted, says everything so many people want to hear. It draws one in…and is rather like sitting down to dine on a beautifully plated pile of shit. Yes, dear readers, light a match. I’ve taken a look at Halstead’s latest post. I guess I can skip my daily dose of BeneFiber tonight.
In this tour de force, Halstead (obviously a product of the American school system) is attacking not polytheism directly, but the dictionary. Now, one may ask, what did the poor dictionary ever do to him? Well, apparently words having clearly defined meanings rains on his post-modernist parade; [and yes, I realize I’m probably taking his bait here – and I almost didn’t bother reading his article, it was so obvious what he was going to say–but this precise issue has arisen before and I think it’s worth addressing in and of itself. I’ve seen it even from those who call themselves allies. In fact, I think the prevalence of post modernism within our communities – whether we consciously recognize it as that or not—is one of the biggest problems we face in establishing sustainable traditions).
Now, I am not a post-modernist. I’m not even a modernist truth be told. I’m a staunch traditionalist. The only reason my ideas seem at times radical is that we’re dealing with a community influenced (I would say infected) with postmodern ideas. What does that mean? It means a Weltanschauung based on deconstruction of meaning, on relativism, and an absence of clearly defined boundaries. What does that mean for Halstead’s article?
I’ll be very explicit: he’s attacking the dictionary because for any educated or sensible person it is the first place one goes to lay out the parameters of a discussion, when terminology and language are in dispute. His “problem” with the dictionary is that it establishes clear parameters of debate, wherein both parties have a working operational understanding of the language involved. This is foundational for meaningful dialogue. Words actually do mean things and to ignore that is the worst sort of postmodernist sophistry.
The real question is why Halstead is so invested in relativizing our religious terminology.
That’s really what’s going on. He’s complaining about polytheists clearly and carefully defining our sacred vocabulary (including the word ‘polytheism’). In doing so, we are establishing a clear boundary and we keep having to do this. Perhaps that’s what we should really be looking at: why is this constant and adamant defining of terms so necessary ad nauseum?
The answer: because people like Halstead insist on repeatedly attempting to tear down the walls of our tradition, to insert their own ideas, their own secularism, their own atheism into the heart of our traditions. It’s an attempt to co-opt, to poison, and to stop any meaningful restoration in its tracks. He, as his past attacks on polytheism and polytheists have shown, wants to redefine polytheism, gods, paganism, etc. in a way that allows him access and control, so he’s attacking the very structure of our language: its common meaning, and he’s doing it by using buzz words guaranteed to get people’s panties in a twist. He’s talking the dangers of shutting down differing points of view, of oppression, and framing his narrative as one of resistance. Bullshit. Clearly defined linguistic parameters are only oppressive to people with an agenda of manipulation, desecration, and harm. The only reason to attack meaning is to insert oneself and one’s agenda into the thing or space or idea being discussed and twist it out of true.
A colleague of mine and I discussed this briefly and he offered the following, with which I completely concur and with which I shall close:
“Despite his claim about power, it is frequently people who possess some sort of power who encourage relativism, because it strips people who have only the power of their voice and their ideas from gaining any purchase, from having any access to power, because nothing means anything. And that’s what we see here. It’s the people with the power who are claiming that the essentially powerless are engaged in a power play. Words are used to *do* things, if you don’t have other means, and relativism is a way of preventing that, and consolidating entrenched power.”