Owlet asks: “How do you make right after participating in a ritual or group that is disrespectful?”
This is a really good question and I’m glad you asked it here. It’s something that I’ve had to learn through a lot of trial and error, especially when I was much more open to participating in rituals outside my House, and when I was working in the interfaith world. My answer is two- fold.
Firstly, what you describe (which I quote further below) is the real danger of community involvement and I am so very sorry to learn that this happened to you. It hurts my heart to know that your own devotion was impacted by this. It can be very, very hard to come back from such a thing but I will say this: as we learn better, we do better. You’ve had a valuable experience about what is NOT proper community. That will serve as an incredibly useful lens through which to evaluate every other group with which you consider becoming involved in the future. That can be a great blessing. Hopefully, also, others can learn from your story as well.
Now, you ask what one can do. Firstly, ideally, don’t participate in those groups. It is far, far better to remain solitary than to pollute yourself. I think that the desperation to communicate and share with like-minded individuals sometimes pushes us into these situations and it’s so important, early on, to commit to not compromising where piety and respect for the Gods, ancestors, and land are concerned. In this, compromise is nota virtue. Evaluate their theology, their politics, their values, their lifestyles, the choices they make large and small. Separate your personal feelings from these things, because a person can be nice and friendly but in the end, poison ideology leads to poisoning of the tradition and our lives. Do the choices they’re making serve the Gods and the tradition or do they seek to elevate the people and ego-stroking, etc. etc. Is it all about the human condition?
It is absolutely lovely to find like-minded polytheists, and to build communities – and in truth, I don’t think our restoration can endure intergenerationally without lived community. The thing is, it’s important that those communities prioritize the Gods qua Gods and if they don’t, shun them like poison. I would add that we’re never really alone. We have our Gods, we have our ancestors and we can learn from Them and hopefully when we’re ready, They will guide us to working, solid traditions that will augment our relationships with the Gods, not shit on them.
So first and foremost, I would say, avoid these senseless or impious groups. That means making conscious devotional choices about what to prioritize, and about your religious life, and with whom you share that. It means doing some research, asking uncomfortable questions before participating. It means being willing to walk away from groups and people that do not nourish one’s piety. That means weighing everything and most of all being absolutely unwilling to compromise on the key fundamentals of polytheistic practice. I think with the influence of pseudo-progressivism in our communities, we’ve been indoctrinated to think of ‘compromise’ as a virtue across the board. It’s not. If I’m in a ship and the hull is compromised, that’s not a good thing. That is in fact, life threatening. It’s the same with the type of pollution that we can all too often find in certain places.
Owlet’s post continued: “I spent many years as a solitary pagan and polytheist, because I lived in an area where the culture was unusually hostile to such things. When I moved to a large urban center and university town, I immediately got involved in pagan events and groups. I was desperate to be a part of a community. To one group , in particular, I donated hundreds (or more) volunteer hours, a great deal of money, handcrafted ritual items…everything I could give. As I learned over the years, the people running and organizing these events and rituals often did not believe in the gods as anything more than thoughtforms or maybe archetypes, or were at the core monotheists or Christians with a thin overlay of pagan dress. Their disrespect spread from their relationship with the gods, to their relationship with the land, to the ancestors, and to other people, and I played along and became complicit. Now that I’ve left and can stand back, I feel heartsick at the compromises I made to please these groups. The service I gave to these communities distracted from and damaged my relationships with the holy powers instead of strengthening them.”
Again, it hurts to read this and my heart goes out to you, but look at it as a learning experience. It’s often difficult, especially when we’re all hungry for community and companionship, to recognize when something or someone is problematic. We learn, often from harsh experience. I would encourage you to not carry guilt over this. Go before your Gods and ask Their forgiveness if you feel the need, and do a ritual cleansing and then commit to doing better. Sometimes, it’s really, really important to have these bad experiences so we have a baseline from which to clearly and accurately evaluate practices. The most important thing in what you’ve sadly experienced is that now you can look on these things clearly and make better, informed choices. There’s no need for shame about any of that. You contributed to a community that you thought shared your piety. That’s a good thing to do. It’s not your fault that the community was not what you thought. Please don’t carry the guilt from this. Sometimes we appreciate devotion and piety and right relationship all the more when we’ve had an experience of its opposite and the effects of that.
What I would suggest is prayer – we cannot pray too much—and regular cleansings. Whenever I find that I’ve been exposed or have inadvertently exposed myself (and sometimes my spiritual Work requires this) to pollution, I will pray and cleanse myself, sometimes using divination to figure out what type of cleansing is needed. I always suggest going to the Gods, going to the ancestors, going to the land and reconnecting. Ask Them for help and cleansing, ask Them for guidance and don’t be afraid to set boundaries with would-be communities.
A professor at my university posted this piece on twitter (he’s orthodox and this is a thought-provoking piece of relevance to modern orthodoxy) and it raised for me a number of thoughts concerning our own traditions too. First, go read the original article because much of this post was prompted by it or is in response to it and it’s nice to be on the same page for any discussion.
I work in a tradition that encourages head covering (of both men and women) during religious rites. I want to emphasize that it is encouraged, not required. Working in a blended tradition as I do, I find that in cultus deorumpractices, we almost always cover, and within Heathenry, generally only for ancestor stuff but this may vary depending on the way in which one is devoted to one’s Gods. I’ve known Heathen women who covered once they married, and Heathen men who do so out of respect for particular Gods but within Heathenry it’s not a common thing. In cultus deorumit was tradition for both men and women to cover their heads during offerings and religious rites, and that is one that at least within my branch of the tradition, we maintain. There are also times in which one might cover for purification purposes in general.
This piece piqued my interest, however, because over the past ten years I’ve come across a growing number of polytheists across traditions who are choosing to cover their heads, not just during religious rituals but out of modesty and piety, all the time (and kudos to any woman who can do this with a migraine. I’ve always wondered what those who veil or cover do when they get a migraine because I sure as hell can’t stand anything on my head then!). I think we should be encouraging modesty in our people (which does not mean that one need to cover one’s head to be modest) as a general rule, whatever that might mean.
One of the things that I very much appreciated in the article, which I otherwise found rather vexing, is the comment that modesty wasn’t about how long one’s skirts are or whether or not one covers one’s head, it’s a “line in the heart.” Some time ago, I read a Christian article on modesty by a mother of a young child. She said that her child had put on a new dress and was standing in front of the mirror commenting that she could not wait until her friends saw her and how nice she looked and the mother despaired. She despaired because she realized that no matter how modest the dress might be, the child wasn’t: her heart wasn’t modest. She wanted to show off for others and receive attention that way. It was one of the more nuanced discussions of modesty that followed, one that wasn’t about clothing, that I’ve read in a long time). Our ancestors had a deep sense of morality and propriety. Unlike so much of modern Paganism, it wasn’t an ‘anything goes’ culture where every manner of sexual impropriety was encouraged. Multiple partners, promiscuity, immorality, molestation – all of which seems way too rampant in modern Paganism (Kenny Klein anyone? Or better yet, find me outspoken monogamists within the community—please. We need more of them.) were not held up as licit in the ancient world. Of course, all of these things may have occurred (we are a terrible species), but they did not represent the accepted norm. Instead, decorum, gravitas, piety, and modesty (for both men and women) were encouraged. What the hell happened to us? We have a culture in which women are proud to be called “sluts” and marriage is considered outmoded, young people are ‘hooking up’, a culture in which devotion is ridiculed, but reality TV a cultural pastime and we call this progress. I’m not going to rant too much on this – I think y’all know my feelings on these matters and I want to get to the article in question – but suffice it to say that I think in restoring our traditions we have a seriously uphill battle and not just because of monotheism, but because of the utter lack of focus on character building in our culture. We’re starting so far behind the starting line that I wouldn’t be surprised if our ancestors were appalled.
To get back to the article, it discusses head-covering in Orthodoxy, past and present, between converts and cradle practitioners and the politics thereof. My initial reading of the piece is that the author elides what should be a nuanced and complex topic into something more black and white. She accuses converts who choose to express their piety by actually obeying the customs of their religion, as dismissing the experiences of grandmothers and older generations of women within the faith. In doing so, I think she dismisses the religious experience and devotion of the converts to which she is referring. Covering one’s head is not just a political act. It’s not about feminism or assimilation. First and foremost, in the context in which she’s talking it is about an expression of piety and submission to one’s Church/church doctrine. By presenting it in one light alone, she’s not only attacking converts, but eliding the deep complexity of this practice, turning it into a social or political action rather than a licit expression of devotion. She is asking (or rather demanding) that converts place political considerations and submission to the experience of other women, above the dictates of their conscience and faith. I find that…misguided to say the least. And, as one commenter on twitter noted, she’s turning this practice into a fashion statement (if others around you wear the scarf, wear it, but if they don’t, then you don’t either or you’re self-aggrandizing – my paraphrase) rather than an expression of religious piety. Her own experience of wearing a headscarf (in Egypt) was one of convenience that she quickly abandoned when Egyptian women pointed out the struggles they and their mothers had endured in fighting against growing fundamentalism is not, in my mind, analogous to covering in Orthodoxy. She was covering in Egypt to avoid harassment, not as a religious mandate for herself.
To abandon a religious practice like covering one’s head in church because it is not popular, because it marks you out as religious, because it is not feminist-approved, or for any other reason, is ceding sacred space to modernity. It is saying that devotion and our Gods are not important enough that one is willing to be a bit uncomfortable. Devotion is always an embodied practice: through song, dance, ritual gestures, clothing choices, bowing our heads in prayer, prostration, and so forth. The act of putting on a head covering for some women can be a significant indicator that they’re shifting into sacred space and I wonder if some of the objection to that isn’t some of the author’s discomfort with drawing boundaries and elevating personal piety as a priority.
It always comes back to what takes precedence: the Gods or our own human bullshit. The author of this piece cannot even seem to conceive of a motive in the converts to which she is referring beyond wanting to draw attention to themselves and she focuses on them as a way to delegitimize the practice, a practice she herself apparently finds personally offensive. I do think that when we do those things that mark us out as pious we have to be careful that they are actually done for the Gods and out of devotion and not to draw attention to ourselves. She has a point there. One shouldn’t cover because it’s popular, not cover because it’s unpopular, but one should do what brings one closer to the Gods and what is mandated by one’s tradition. Next, she’ll be suggesting we engage in sacred dance by twerking in the aisles before the monstrance.
As to women who cover all the time, quite often it’s a desire to maintain some sense not just of appropriate modesty, but of connection to the sacred. It reminds them to privilege that, it brings their bodies into a space of accommodation with their devotion. Yes, we must charge ourselves to avoid immodesty, to avoid spectacle, to avoid showing off, (I’m all in favor of these things in devotion, when it’s for the Gods, but not ever when they are for the glorification of the person). but that doesn’t mean abandoning practices that have served since antiquity. Finally, if women are to have self-determination of practice and being-ness, which they should!—then we have to accept that sometimes they’re going to make choices with which other women may not agree. It’s never as easy as this author wants to make it.
I was thinking about the ‘Lay of Hyndla’ today. There’s a beautiful, haunting passage where Freya talks about the piety of Her servant Ottar, whom She has transformed into the boar, Hildsvini — apologies to Old Norse readers. I’m typing this directly into WordPress and can’t figure out how to do the accent marks. In Stanza 10, She tells Hyndla about Ottar, indicating why, perhaps, She is willing to help him on his quest. She’s arguing with Hyndla, who is basically a Goddess of genealogy,(1) so that the latter will recite Ottar’s ancestry, enabling the hero to tap into his ancestral blessings. It really shows how important it is to have proper relationships with the Gods and ancestors, and that if you have one, They’ll help with the other.
10. “For me a shrine | of stones he made,–
And now to glass | the rock has grown;–
Oft with the blood | of beasts was it red;
In the goddesses ever | did Ottar trust.
In other words, Ottar made so many sacrifices, and committed those sacrifices to immolation on Her altar, that the heat of the fires turned the stones to glass. Note that it’s his piety that wins Freya over, not some great heroic deed. May we take him as an example of good, religious behavior.(2)
- Not everyone in the Northern Tradition views Hyndla as a Goddess, but my particular tradition does.
- * sarcasm* I guess that makes Ottar one of the original members of the Piety Posse.
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In a private discussion, a colleague told me that someone argued against the need for cleansing on the basis that Gods like Hela and Ereshkigal were Gods of rot and corruption and decay. Another person brought up compost heaps, where decay fuels further growth, all apparently (unless I misunderstood what my colleague was saying) in order to object to the idea that cleansing pollution is fundamental to healthy spirituality (you know, like bathing is fundamental toward not smelling like a dung heap).
This is going to be short and sweet. I have neither the time nor the patience for a long article breaking this down so allow me to get right to the point.
The Gods of the Underworld are not Deities of corruption. They are Deities that guard and nourish the dead. They are often likewise Deities of initiation, and/or Deities that in some way govern the mysteries of the earth and its wealth. It is true that in some cases the Heavenly Powers may not be able to cross into the dwelling of the Underworld Powers (Odin, for instance, cannot cross into Helheim though His sons can. Minerva cannot cross the threshold of the Erinyes’ dwelling. Inanna must undergo purification and ordeal to cross into Ereshkigal’s realm). This is largely because the positions and the power Each holds is so different. To maintain proper boundaries and proper functioning of Their respective realms, there can be no breach of protocol. It would upset the natural order of things.
Corruption is likewise different from rot. Rot is a natural part of the cycle. It is that which allows substance to be repurposed by nature. In this way, yes, I would say that some of these Underworld Deities like Hela are Gods of rot, but not in a way that transcends the need to be mindful of miasma. They allow for the transformation of souls, for the earth to receive what it needs from the rotting bodies of the dead. In its own time and place, that is good and holy. For us, being neither Gods nor dead, contact with that process is miasmic. It is not however, bad or corrupt.
I will say again, as I have many, many times before (perhaps pretend a man is saying it and then it might make more sense to some of you, hmm?): Miasma is not necessarily bad. It is a neutral thing. Sometimes miasma happens as a natural result of coming in contact with something that in and of itself is good (cemeteries, weddings, babies for instance). That doesn’t mean that we don’t need to cleanse. Rotting for instance, is a natural process. One would not, however, (I hope) stick your hand in a rotting piece of road kill and then eat finger foods without a serious engagement with soap and water first. This is no different.
I think to honor the Gods of the dead with the rituals of the Heavenly Powers and vice versa would bring miasma, because that is twisting things out of their natural order, but those Gods Themselves are not “concentrated miasma” as one critic averred. That which is Holy is not miasmic. That does not mean that we might not be rendered miasmic by contact with certain Beings, holy or no. The Holy carries with it a contagion. It marks us and changes us and we have to be careful bringing that back into everyday space. Sometimes it is appropriate to do so, but sometimes not.
We do, in the Northern Tradition have a Holy Power that is fully focused on transmuting Rot, Nidhogg, the great dragon. She takes in rot (like the compost heap) but it doesn’t remain ‘rot’. It’s transmuted, just as purification transmutes.
To quote Kenaz Filan: “Even rot and decay are not in themselves miasmic. A compost heap is a fine thing. But when you put a compost heap in the dining room you have miasma.”
In the end, polytheism is large and flexible enough to contain exceptions such as sin-eating and working with spirits of decay, but these exceptional things don’t invalidate the general need for purification. It is unfair to apply the standards of a rare form of devotion (like sin-eating) to every single polytheist out there. Because that transgressive work, and the necessary flouting of conventions and precautions which doing so requires takes a tremendous and sometimes devastating toll on the devotee. Why should Jane Heathen, who just wants to make offerings to her household Gods, have to endure those problems, which is what you’re advocating when you suggest casting aside ancestral tradition and things like purification rites? Way to shoot yourselves in the feet, folks.
(Piety Possum, walking away from all your bullshit)
I hate identity politics. I find them utterly inane and it appalls me to see how much they’re seeping into the fabric of our communities. I was thinking about this today as I was studying and contemplating our communities and the Gods. Identity as anything other than a servus or serva deorum (to borrow and slightly amend a term from late antiquity) is, to my mind, both short sighted and sad.
The only identity that should consume us, drive us, define us, envelop us is as a devotee of our Gods. Anything else is irrelevant, limiting, shallow. What does it matter what gender, orientation, race, size, etc. someone is? These things are variable in comparison with the soul. These things can change. These are things of man. The only identity that matters is whether or not we’re in clean service to our Gods. Be one laity or clergy or somewhere in between, we carry our Gods and Their mysteries with us. We are carriers of Their Mysteries. We carry Them and it’s incumbent upon us to do it well.
I support indigenous cultures, and the right of each of us to participate in the restoration of our indigenous polytheisms because those are specific expressions of the Mysteries of the Gods. They are containers, sacred and beautiful for those things the Gods may give. Maintaining them is part of being in right relationship with our Gods. They are important but to obsess over genitalia or with whom someone might choose to partner…not so much. Those things are fluid. What do you do then if the Gods tell you to change those things? The flesh is beautiful, pleasurable, sacred, and sometimes even holy but all things of the flesh are transient. It is the Gods that are eternal and immortal.
Our society, our world more and more is becoming narcissistic, shallow, secular, and soul-warping. Why? Perhaps because when people are like that, they’re easily manipulated. Obsession with identity politics is part and parcel of that. If you have no grounding in anything else other than your ‘identity,’ you can be sold products, you can be divided into opposing camps, you can be rendered irrelevant. Having a grounding in nothing else makes it that much easier to spit on the sacred.
I’ll give you a perfect example. A few days ago Wild Hunt posted an article about the suicide of Pagan artist and shaman Seb Barnett. A “regular commenter,” some foul piece of shit by the name Damiana decided to use this memorial piece as the venue to attack Barnett’s memory. Why? Identity politics (and apparently lack of compassion, piety, sense, and the ability to form a critical argument) to violate this memorial space. It was disgusting to read and very sad. Instead of remembering this poor kid’s death, someone desecrated and dismissed it. Their priorities were not the sacred, not remembrance, not propriety but mindlessly chanting their identity politics to the world (while challenging the opinions of those who are actually of the identity Damiana purported to be defending, at one point even questioning whether or not a commenter was actually Native…because they disagreed). THIS shows exactly what happens when you prioritize identity politics, human nonsense, anything not only above the sacred but also above common decency. One shouldn’t have to be told to respect the dead and the space in which others remember and grieve. If you do, I not only question your identity but your right to call yourself a human being.
The only thing worth one iota of our fervor is the Gods. There’s a wonderful quote by Catherine of Siena, which I’m slightly pluralizing for obvious reasons: “Be what your Gods meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” This world of products, prefabricated identities, and gross irreverence needs to burn. Putting the Gods first would be the truly revolutionary act.
I rather like the term that our detractors so gleefully use for those of us who value piety, so I’ve commissioned buttons that I’ll be selling on my etsy site (I’ll post here when they’re available at etsy). For those of you who are interested, you can pre order here by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. The buttons are 1.75 inches, one/$3 or two/$5. Wear them with pride, folks. Wear them with pride. Piety is not ever a bad thing.
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?
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.