As promised, here is part 2 of a much longer interview that I conducted recently with Ukrainian Freyja’s woman Tove Freyjadottir. You may find Part I here if you haven’t had a chance to read it yet. Now, let’s jump right into part two. My questions are in bold and then Tove’s response unbolded. If there is bolded text in her response, it is her own emphasis.
GK: What is at stake for Ukraine here? What factors do you think contributed to the current war? How did we get here? I ask this, because many of my readers, especially in the USA, may not be aware of the history and politics that led up to this current point. It’s a long, long story.
Tove: What is at stake? Well, if Ukraine succeeds and wins this war, repelling Russia to its natural internationally established borders, it will spell the end of Russia as we know it. Putin will likely not be able to sustain power after a defeat of this kind. Of course, this is why we also know by past experience that no matter what his diplomats say during the negotiations, he will not stop.
For Ukraine, should Ukraine lose this war, its existence will be wiped off from the face of the earth. Almost every man, woman and child will be executed, tortured, or shipped off to Siberia or some place even worse.
Galina: for those who may doubt the veracity of this, this is precisely what happened when Lithuania was taken by the USSR. Native Lithuanians were shipped out, native Russians shipped in. It’s an old, old strategy of colonization and conquest. We’re already seeing this with Russian aggression in Bucha and other parts of the Ukraine that have been occupied.
Exactly. Ukraine’s land will be milked by Russia for all that it can give until no life will be left in it, because Russia will do what it has done for years to its own people – rob and blame someone else for it. Ukrainian history, language, art, and culture will be deleted off the face of the earth or appropriated as Russian. This is particularly important to understand for those who urge Ukraine to negotiate for peace with Russia or those who would like the West to put pressure on Ukraine to negotiate for peace – any area of Ukraine, over which Russia takes control, will suffer the fate of Buchi. The two regions, Donetsk and Luhansk, which Russia has controlled since 2014, are home to the most inhumane human rights abuses, and one of the most notorious prisons in the world. There has been a culling in that region, people who spoke out against the occupation have disappeared now for years, services have been reduced to almost nothing, and every cultural location and center have been deleted. The very prison I mention above was created inside of a museum of Soviet architecture, where all art was either burned or melted and a prison was built in its place. The entire area is a concentration camp which has been operating for so long, it’s a ghost town. Many more will be killed if Ukraine surrenders and all of it will become a sparsely occupied land of slavery, murder, and degradation.
This invasion has already essentially threatened every nuclear non-proliferation in existence, because it announced to the world that alliances only hold when convenient and encourages the idea that if a nation wants to guarantee its security, it must be nuclear capable. We can now, and probably should, expect every nation to attempt to grow its nuclear arsenal and only hope that MAD will keep the world safe from a nuclear war. The way that the West has dealt with the Ukraine issue virtually guarantees it.
It’s as simple as an if-then statement. Ukraine in 1994 surrenders over 3,000 nuclear warheads – to Russia no less! – in return for US, Britain and Russia guaranteeing its security. It was not spoken at the time, but completely understood by all sides, that this need for security comes from its concern that at some point, Russia will attempt to invade Ukraine. Ukraine was invaded in 2014 and a portion of its territory taken over by the Russian military, following an overthrow of then –read “Putin’s flunkey” –President Yanukovich who decided that he could disregard the wishes of a nation and instead favor his own alliances when making public policy. US and Britain did nothing to stop this or help Ukraine take their land back, instead we all watched as there is a mock referendum under Russian rifles with more people voting than actual people living in the region. So…. What does this mean for the nuclear non-proliferation treaty that Ukraine, US and Britain signed?
Russia invades again in 2022. United States vows it will not get involved in another war, which is completely understandable since we just exited Afghanistan. That is wise – except again, we default on the agreement that we will not allow Ukraine’s security to be jeopardized after it gave up 3,000 nuclear warheads in 1994. I ask, if you were another country with an aggressive neighbor and had a signed nuclear non-proliferation treaty with US, how safe would this treaty make you feel? What if the neighbor was a nuclear power, like Russia? How valuable is a treaty when it’s just been exemplified to the entire world that no one had any intention to honor it if its inconvenient? If I were an advisor to Ukraine, immediately following this war I would begin its nuclear weapons production. It seems to be the only thing that Russians understand and the one thing that will keep them from invading (maybe.)
Galina: as an historian (particularly an historian with a Native American husband), I have to point out that the US has a shit record for maintaining its treaties, alliances, and protecting its allies. Though, it does a better job than Russia.
NATO’s reaction to this conflict is particularly troubling. Although this is not officially written into their charter, NATO was specifically formed to repel the encroachment of Soviet Union. Since Russia has somehow been able to take over the seat of USSR on the UN Security Council, we can safely assume that UN – and NATO – essentially sees Russia and USSR as the same threat. NATO has repeatedly stated that they will not be involved militarily into the conflict in Ukraine. So, an organization that was specifically created with the purpose of preventing Russia’s expansion, has refused to get involved militarily into their war of expansion. The reason seems to be because Russia is a nuclear power. So, will this reason will stand when it comes to Poland, or the Baltics? NATO has expressly stated that they will not be involved. It’s important to prevent a nuclear war, but their non-involvement essentially negates the purpose of their existence. Despite their loud statements, their actions suggest that they will not get involved with Russia, or any nuclear power, no matter what they will do, including genocide and entire annihilation of a nation-state.
These are simply cold and hard geopolitical facts, and if Ukraine loses, we can expect much worse compared to this. We can now forget the goal of universal disarmament or hope that NATO will prevent annihilation of entire nations via Russian expansionism. However, there is a deeper and much more fundamental issue at stake here that can dis-balance the world in an even more fundamental way.
Ukraine, a democratic nation, is fighting with an autocratic nation 10 times its size. If Ukraine loses, it will be a case of a democratic nation falling to a dictatorial one, not due to internal conflicts or lack of cohesion, but due to an outside invasion of an aggressor we failed to stop. It will mean that a strong man nation can do as it likes with the world doing nothing to stop it, it will mean that might equals right without any boundaries. It will mean that diplomacy and international rule of law does not exist. It will be a failure of not just democracy in Ukraine, but failure of the democracies around the world to support one. We will likely see democracies fall across the world at an alarming rate, because we have just proven to dictatorships around the world that we are unwilling to stop them and so they can act with impunity.
We must acknowledge this reality, otherwise we are playing fire with suspension of disbelief. However, suspension of disbelief will not work this time, because reality is here. Not dealing with it will be pretty much like ignoring your student loans – one day, your wages will be garnished and there will be nothing you can do about it then.
I have heard many Western leaders – as well as Ukrainian political figures – in the last month say that Ukraine’s fight is a fight for democracy and for the ideals that the West espouses. I know we have heard our leaders use this rhetoric before, and frequently with some pretty bad results, so I realize how suspicious this type of language can be. That being said, in this case, it’s not only accurate, it fails, due to its frequent misuse in the past, to grasp the gravity of how true this statement is. For the very first time in a long time, we are actually asked to stand for democracy and liberty. We are asked if we truly espouse our values, in democracy, free speech and free society.
GK: Why such extreme scenarios? What are the reasons for the zero-sum game in this case?
This may seem farfetched to those not intimately familiar with Russian and Ukrainian history, but the plain truth of this situation is this: a democratic Ukraine cannot exist next to an autocratic Russia. This simply cannot be and the Moscow of today will do what it can to prevent it. There are various historical, ethical, religious, and ideological factors at play here that make this attack inevitable in my view, and I will dive into the historical portions of it, because they are central to this. History aside however, as of now, the most important fact that must be understood is this: on the territory encompassing Ukraine and Russia, there can be only one model of government – Putin’s model or the model of a democratic Ukraine. Both cannot exist at the same time. The survival of Russia’s autocracy depends on this.
GK: Historically, Russia has never really been free. They’ve never had the type of democracy that exists in the Ukraine or other Western nations. There was Tsarism, Communism, gang-rule, and Putin. There isn’t a history of freedom really …ever.
That’s why I am not exaggerating here. If in a black mirror universe Zelensky announces that he is disbanding the Rada (Ukrainian Parliament), declares himself President for Life, that all laws will come from him and are essentially him, this war will end. Putin will give Zelensky a call, commence friendly relations, and Russian troops will immediately exit the territory of Ukraine. A dictatorship is something that Russia can understand and get behind. This is as simple as a math equation – a democratic Ukraine cannot exist next to a dictatorial Russia. Either Russia will turn Ukraine into a dictatorship or destroy it. Allowing it to stand as it is now, developing a Western democratic government, would spell the disintegration of the current Russia as we know it.
See, what’s important here is to understand that Putin is afraid, he is afraid for his own skin.
He has committed many crimes, before he ever invaded Ukraine, and he is afraid. He is fighting for his own skin and the skins of his cohorts, and they are all criminals. If he loses this war, and democracy comes to Russia, he will need to answer for everything he has done.
GK: It is fascinating seeing pictures of Putin with his top military advisors. He’s totally isolated at one end of a huge table and I thought, “that’s a man afraid of his own.”
Seriously. If Russians do not take a hold of their own country, and deal with Putin right now, Russia will fall apart into small little parts
GK: Disintegration of Russia? How would this look like? And why?
If Russia fails to either turn Ukraine into a dictatorial state with itself as a model, or annihilate it from existence, it will spell the end of the modern current Russia. It will substantially weaken and eventually end the reign of Putin’s presidency. Russia is not simply a monolithic nation, it’s comprised of federations that have their distinct cultural and regional histories, traditions, and beliefs. With the end of a strong and powerful regime and leader, these federations, during the commencement of the power struggle that would occur as a result of the power vacuum after Putin’s departure, will each opt for their independence. This will not only be Chechnya; Siberia, Ural, and other regions, that have their own religious and historical story to tell, they will all become their own autonomous nations. One only has to look at the particular cultural identity and history of Siberia and look back at the days when Communists would kidnap Siberian shamans and with the words “you think you can journey and fly? Let’s see if you can fly now” throw them out of planes to destroy the culture of those regions to understand the deeply buried animosity that can easily develop into a need to self-actualize.
GK: Yes, readers, historically this was exactly how the Communists treated the shamans of Siberian tribes. I can confirm this from my own research.
In a word, one can argue that Russia is also fighting for its survival. Putin understands that once Ukraine becomes democratic, it will be the end of his reign. Of course, if Russia would have true democratic elections, none of this would have had to happen, but for a nation that has never had a democracy in place this is not an option that is likely to occur.
GK: What ideological ideas do you think play a role in this conflict and how?
In the history of Russia and Ukraine, there have been two unrealized but incredibly monumental projects, incredibly lofty dreams. Both of these have been unrealized as yet, and either one would change both nations as we know it if they did.
The first is the dream of Westernization. This was a dream of Peter the Great, who modernized and Westernized Russian society, economy, and military. He was one of the greatest Russian Tsars, and one who coined an expression “make a window into the West” but was unfortunately only partially successful. This was a project that he never got to finish. This project again came close to becoming a reality with the First Russian Revolution, the February Revolution of 1917. It was the Second, October Revolution, that came within the year of the first that brought communism to Russia.
GK: the people slaughtered a sacral leader. I understand why – Nicholas was an incompetent leader – but that brings a horrible curse on the land. It’s pathological.
The first revolution was the revolution of the bourgeoisie, of Western thought, of intellectualism and liberalism. Some of the greatest Russian thinkers of the 20th century, originally repressed by the tsar, came to the fore and wanted to become a part of the new Russia. This attempt at Westernization also failed however, because the bourgeoisie were a temporary government that had only partial power. The remainder of the power was in the hands of the workers and freed slaves (the serfs) that were freed less than a 100 years ago but that still were living essentially the way they did prior to the end of serfdom. During this brief window before it closed via the second communist revolution, there was an unrealized possibility: a dream not only of Westernization, but also a democracy.
The second unrealized dream was one of independent Ukraine, or, as it is called now in Ukraine, “Незалежна Україна”. This second dream was very much like the first dream in its zenith, one of democracy, but not for the whole of Russia, but specifically for Ukraine.
It is this burgeoning dream, one of independence and democracy, that Ukraine is trying to make a reality today. I say “still trying to realize” because Ukraine may have obtained its formal legal independence in 1991, but Russia has consistently tried for the past 30 years to undermine its dream of democracy and Westernization by offering Ukraine money in return for its voice and its favor, by flooding its political parties with deputies and candidates that have been vetted by Russia’s FSB secret police or in many cases actively working for them, by bribing its businessmen to favor Russia’s policies and in many other ways. Russia has tried to do anything and everything they could possibly do to keep this democracy from taking hold. But make no mistake, the 1991 independence of Ukraine, its 2004 revolution and again the Maidan Revolution of Dignity of 2014 – all of these have been Ukraine’s efforts to make this project of a democratic and Westernized Ukraine a reality. This is why the subject of “repression of Russian minority within Ukraine” is a complex one – what do you do when a good portion of the Russian population in the country is likely working for the Russian spy network with plans to subvert and curb Ukrainian democratic systems? What do you as a country when political parties are formed with the intent to undermine the sovereignty of the Ukrainian state, parties that are funded by foreign governments with plans to occupy the land and take away its independence? Ukraine has walked a tight rope between probably its most favorite of democratic ideals – free speech – and its reluctant need to deal with situations of outright treason and foreign agents working on its lands. These are not mere allegations, many political figures within these parties have currently used the invasion of Ukraine and occupation of certain towns to force them to acknowledge them as new mayors which they did not elect and then announce they are separating from Ukraine and joining the Russian Federation – in the midst of large scale protests of the people, under Russian gunfire.
At this point, Putin has able to create this system of absolute power, and they all answer to him. However, if Ukraine becomes an independent country, a democratic nation, it will give Russia an idea that they have never had. Russia has no such lofty idea, up to now they have known only one way to live- with a tsar and an empire. They have no other ideas. If this idea cannot be actualized for them, it will be all over.
GK: Russia has been repeatedly saying that Ukraine is a new idea, a new nation, and we know that it was founded in 1991. Is there a historical precedent to the Ukrainian nationality? Or was it, as Russia says, simply a Russian ethnicity simply speaking a dialect of Russian?
To say, as Putin has, that Ukraine is an invention of USSR is not only incorrect, it’s laughable. This is easy to disprove – just ask the Turks. They have been fighting and making peace treaties with Ukraine for at least 500 years.
This dream of an independent Ukraine is not a recent creation. It’s incredibly old. One can say that it started on the steppes of Ukraine approximately 500 years ago, when the Cossacks formed their own autonomous nation called Zaporozhia Sech. They were the first ones to refer to the wild uninhabited lands as Ukraine. To conceptualize how incredibly long ago this was, United States as a nation has only existed under 250 years.
Even on the linguistic level, one can trace the development of Russian language via a transition of a more ancient form of Ukrainian through an ancient language called Church Slavonic.
GK: I’ve studied both Russian and Ukrainian, and omg, it is so obvious to anyone with a linguistic background that Ukrainian is the original language, the older language. Russian is polished, and we have Cyril and Methodius and a healthy dose of Byzantine culture to thank for that. Russia is the language of imperium and orthodox Christianity.
This is why we often hear that Ukraine is the beginning of Russia. Russian culture evolved out of the roots of Ukraine. This is why so many traditions, even culinary recipes, are found in both Russia and Ukraine. Add to it a history of autonomy and nationhood, treaties created and broken, freedoms granted and acknowledged, Russification, repression, imprisonment, and ethnic cleansing, and you will end up with two nations, one placing the other in bondage and committing mass murder and torture all the while claiming love and fraternity.
The most important thing in understanding the historical dimension of this conflict is to understand that Russia and Ukraine describe history of the past 1,000 years in different and sometimes diametrically opposing ways. In a word, you can read Russia’s view on historical events involving Ukraine’s history, and find the same events described in a completely different light by Ukraine. I will try my best to point out what they agree on, and what they disagree on, and make my own opinions, based on what information we have. Should you attempt to look for historical information on both nations, your sources will tell you what they think of history.
Archeologists would echo the humor in this statement because we can actually trace the Ukrainian people currently living in that territory as far as the Stone Age and even further. There is evidence of the people migrating to the Dnieper River from Africa around 44,000 years ago, and if we go into pre-history, to our cousins the Neanderthals, we find evidence of them residing in the area about 150,000 years ago. There are even bones of Homo-Erectus found going back about a million and a half years ago at an archeological cite discovered about 10 years ago on the territory of Ukraine. Humans occupied the territory of present-day Ukraine since the height of the ice age, and there have been continuous settlements there. DNA shows this progression in the modern Ukrainians themselves, it’s undeniable on a biological level. There are over 200 cites discovered all over Ukraine that show this to be a fact. To summarize, Ukraine is one of the oldest human settlements in the world.
GK: Those interested can learn more here.
Tribes formed there ever since, the Cukuteni-Trypillians replaced by the Cimmerians, who were in turn replaced by the Scythians and then by the Sarmatians. It was even a home to Greek colonies on the Northern Black Sea and saw the formation of the Pontic Kingdom, who was then defeated by the Roman Empire. In short, this ancient land has been home to many ancient civilizations, each a zenith of their own time period. It was in the III century AD. between the Don and the Danube appeared Goths who came from the north. The Snake Island, made famous at present by the defiant response of the Ukrainian officers, was a sacred resting place of the Greek Hero Achilles. Many Greek temples are found in that area, specifically to Apollo. Even today there is a small population of ethnic Greeks living in Ukraine who speak a version of ancient Greek known as Pontic Greek.
The roots of these two nations come from the same place – Kyivan Rus’ with its capital Kyiv. Its important to note here that “Rus’” is not the modern country we know today as Russia (“Russia”). This is an 8th century ancient dynasty that no longer exists. This was the first Slavic kingdom, loosely joined together by multiple small principalities. This kingdom existed from 9th to 13th century, coming to an end when the Golden Horde attacked Kyiv and leveled it. The great Kyevan Rus’, founded by the Vladimir the Great and the Yarosav the Wise, the Rurik Dynasty, was invaded and pillaged in 1237 by the Golden Horde. When the Golden Horde invaded the ancient lands of Ukraine, Moscow was virtually non-existent, a tiny town built around a swamp. The Golden Horde concentrated its power in Moscow and strengthened it against foreign nations around it.
This Kingdom, Kyivan Rus’, is one of Putin’s major arguments why Ukraine is a part of Russia. However, this is inaccurate, as even the name suggests. The truth is, Kyivan Rus’ was, at most favorable to Russia, a nation that was the predecessor of Ukraine and Russia, an ancient kingdom that preceded both nations. In truth, however, it was formed before the existence of Moscow with Kyiv as its capital, and some arguments have been made that rather than Russia, this was actually the beginning of Ukraine, with Russia eventually forming and gaining power during the reign of the Golden Horde. If anything, however, this common root in itself, Kyivan Rus’, has also become a part of the dispute. Since the first great Slavic kingdom was the Kyivan Rus’ with its capital in Kyiv and its formal language an archaic version of Ukrainian, did Ukraine in effect exist prior to Russia and this great kingdom was Ukrainian, or was it Russian, its existence temporarily destroyed by the Golden Horde and re-established after it has been weakened and left the Slavic lands? Ukraine says it was Ukrainian, while Russia says it was Russian. What you calculate in that the population of these countries spoke an ancient version of Ukrainian, lived on the territory of present-day Ukraine, and have direct DNA connection to these people, the argument that this nation, Kyivan Rus’, was actually the first Ukrainian nation, rather than Russian, does hold some ground. Genetic records certainly back this up and show that modern Ukrainian DNA connects to the people who lived in that area since the Bronze Age, likely to the Yamnaya culture.
In the IV century, the Huns invaded the Black Sea steppes from the depths of Asia, pushing the Goths to the remote regions of the Crimea. This is why the actual indigenous population of Crimea are the descendants of the Tatar tribes.
GK: Crimea: there has been a lot of discussion on whether its historically and ethnically Russian or Ukrainian. What is your take?
My father used to say, if you want to know who are the actual indigenous populations of the land, go to the cemeteries and look at the headstones. The oldest grave sites will tell you the true story. Crimea may have been won by Russia in 1856 and given to Ukraine in the 50’s by Khrushev, but the Tatar gravesites on the peninsula go back over 2,000 years. The Crimean Tatars are a small indigenous population in Crimea. Since 1856, consistently repressed first by the tsarist Russia, deported, killed, and sent into camps by Stalin, and eventually repatriated back to Crimea once it was safe, in 1989-1994, after the Fall of the Soviet Union.
There is a reason why the Tatars came back to their indigenous home only after the fall of the USSR, and this tells us which nation treated the indigenous best, at least in their view. They came back because they knew that as part of Ukraine, their minority status will be respected. Indeed, Ukraine is probably the only country in the world (safe from the obvious example of Israel) that has purposely and consciously elected a Jewish President into office, a president that has always known he was Jewish and made no secret of it. This was simply not an issue during his election. If you have any questions about how Russia treats minorities, take a look at how it has treated the Crimean Tatars since they illegally annexed the peninsula in 2014. Their cultural centers and museums have been closed, their language has been outlawed, and anyone demanding the repeal of this has “disappeared”. In fact, the Crimean Tatars have asked the NGOs who have tried to get involved to stop speaking to Russian authorities about it, because this only causes purges and disappearances.
GK: Back to Ukrainian history – you said that it was when the Golden Horde decimated the Kyevan Rus’ that the population of Russia and Ukraine started to develop a separate history. How did this come about?
The great Kyevan Rus’, founded by the Vladimir the Great and the Yarosav the Wise, the Rurik Dynasty, was invaded and pillaged in 1237 by the Golden Horde. The Golden Horde concentrated its power in Moscow and strengthened it against the neighboring countries.
This is when the path of Ukraine splits from the path of Russia. What is also fascinating and a little bit disturbing is how Russian history, down to their history books in primary schools, tells a distinctly opposite historical account. This is a very important feature as to why this war has occurred. There are two narratives that are in play here, and the Ukrainian has been mostly silenced until after the fall of the Soviet Union.
After the power of the Golden Horde waned, the Lithuanian-Polish Commonwealth has taken over the lands we know today to be Ukraine. Poland is largely a Catholic country, and while there were some nobles who were Ukrainian and Christian Orthodox, these eventually lost their language and adopted the Catholic faith to curry favor with the controlling elite.
GK: It pisses me off so much. Lithuania held onto her traditional polytheism until one of its Grand Dukes married a Polish princess in the 14th c. It sickens me. History shows when polytheists marry outside of their own traditions, those traditions suffer up to and including eradication.
Absolutely. That is so true. Moreover, this all left the peasants alone and unprotected, subject to increasingly repressive laws. The divide between the Catholic and the Orthodox also created a lower and repressed class of citizens. Fairly quickly the Ukrainians were prohibited from owning land – leaving the land of their lord, essentially creating a slave class called serfs with little to no rights. So repressive was this regime with no representation, that many serfs escaped to the wild steppes of Ukraine, which were dangerous, and frequented by bands of Turks looking to kidnap them and sell them as slaves, rather than remain at the behest of the Polish lords.
The land of Ukraine was wild and uninhabited, a dangerous place, and those living there could fall victim to attacks from the Turkish Tatars. The Crimean Tatars were a slave dependent economy. To give you an impression of the extent of this, between the years of 1450 – 1586, there were 86 raids and 1600 – 1647 – 70. Each raid could bring as many as 30,000 kidnapped Ukrainians, but usually it was around 3,000. The serfs who moved to the steppes for freedom would have been very vulnerable to these attacks.
The Cossacks were not a specific ethnicity, they came from the surrounding regions looking for the freedom to form their own lives. In fact, the word quasaq itself is derived from Turkish, it means “freeman”. The first Cossacks started to appear in the steppes of Ukraine during the 1500’s, and eventually started to form their own structured society, complete with a powerful military. By 1600’s, they would make the raids on the Turkish villages themselves.
For centuries, Cossacks aligned themselves, and by turn, fought with, the Turks, the Rzeczpospolita (Lithuanian-Polish Commonwealth) the Tsardom of Russia, the Crimean Khanate, and the Ottoman Empire. They were no longer freemen looking for adventure, they formed their own society, with an elite class and a full functioning army. Upon joining the Cossacks, a person had to undergo 7 rigorous years of military service. There were no prisons, but this is because the punishments were strict – a Cossack who killed a fellow Cossack would either be buried alive with the dead body or beaten to death. This nicely prevented misbehavior.
One of the most fascinating things about the Cossacks is that they had one of the first types of democratic societies in the world. Their leader, called a hetman, was an elected position. During the time of war, he was followed without question, but during the time of peace, he could easily be criticized or even replaced if he should become unpopular amongst his men. The term of office was unlimited – until the people decided it needed to end.
The Cossacks were infamous for being powerful warriors on the field of battle, for mastering gun powder, and for their small and agile ships, called chaiki. They were passionately democratic and furiously against any control over them by another state. All officials were elected, and they had a speakers circle, called ocrug. When the ocrug was held, everyone had the right to speak. There was a saying amongst the Cossacks, that a man’s wife is not his servant, but the truest friend and the best of counsel. I often wonder to myself, is this why the Ukrainian word for wife is “дружина”, the root of which means friend? I am not a philologist or a linguist, but I do like to think that it may be.
GK: yeah. In Russian when a woman gets married she “goes behind her husband”. When a man gets married, “he takes a wife.” That’s quite a different model.
Yep. In fact, Cossack women enjoyed a great deal more freedom that women did in Russia during this time period. There have even been a few instances when they themselves lead armies when their husbands were dead or taken prisoner, and have been jailed by the aggravated Russians for doing so.
While Ukraine currently is a democracy and the office of the president has limits to his term,
It amuses me to compare the old Cossack system of government to modern Ukraine, and reminds me of how Zelensky refuses to grant Russia’s demands without a referendum. There is a continuity there – if the Cossack leaders remove themselves too far from the wishes of the people, they will be removed from office.
While in the beginning the Cossacks were committed to fighting the Tatars, sometimes joining the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth, they started to eventually turn away from that alliance because the Polish King would renege on the promises he made as soon as the battle was over.
So here you need to bear with me, because here enters the convoluted history of Bohdan Khmelnytsky, the Pereiaslav Articles of 1659, Pereiaslav Treaty of 1654 and the dismally different ways in which Russia and Ukraine view both these documents. To stress how important these two documents, are, written almost 400 years ago, are, they actually played a part in why it was specifically Crimea that Russia invaded and occupied since 2014, claiming it should really be a part of Russia.
Bohdan Khmelnytsky, born in 1596, came from a noble family. He joined the Cossack ranks after a Polish aristocrat killed his son and his wife and burned his house to the ground. To him, and to many, this was an example of how uneven the relationship between the Ukrainians and the Pole has been at the time. The Cossacks have continuously demanded for rights on par with the Poles for their nobility, but the Poles would not give in. This response was influenced by the fact that the Polish nobility were Catholic and the Ukrainian Cossacks were Christian Orthodox. Following the murder of his family, Bohdan Khmelytsky caused an uprising that made him legendary as a hetman. Allied with the Crimean Tatars, after several decisive battles in which he and the Cossacks were victorious, he negotiated a peace in 1649 with King John II of Poland. The agreement recognized an autonomous Cossack state within the Commonwealth called Zaporozhian Hetmanate.
However, the Cossacks had too many enemies and this was a vulnerability – the Swedes, the Polish-Lithuanians and the Tatars. Eventually Bohdan Khmelnytsky, the hetman of the Cossacks, decided to make a treaty with the Russian Tsar to protect the autonomy of his people. This is where Russian history rewrites Ukrainian history with a flourish of a fan fiction writer.
In reality, the original treaty, Pereiaslav Treaty of 1654, was a temporary alliance between the entire land of Ukraine, which Bohdan Khmelnytsky claimed, and the Tsar of Russia. This was a necessary alliance for the Cossacks, it would earn them an ally that would support and protect their independence and sovereignty against powerful border nations, the Lithuanian-Polish Commonwealth especially. Immediately after the agreement was made, the Cossacks, as part of their Treaty with Russia, captured the city of Lviv. The Russian troops captured Vilnius. However, while this was happening, the Swedes unexpectedly attacked the Lithuanian-Polish Commonwealth, and Russia turned around and signed a new Treaty with the Lithuanian-Polish Commonwealth, and repelled the Swedes.
GK: I think this is where one of my favorite anecdotes from Vilnius comes. When the Swedes attacked, the people prayed to Our Lady of the Gates of Dawn (Whom I believe is syncretized with Ausrine, the Goddess of dawn) and the iron gates of the city miraculously fell on the Swedish army killing a ton of them.
A fitting greeting. LOL. After that though, Khmelnytsky was enraged. Not only was he not even invited to the negotiation as one would do with an ally, the treaty between Russia and the Commonwealth was in opposition to the tsar’s Treaty with the Cossacks. To Khmelnitsky, the Russian tsar just reneged on his agreement – and this is after the Russian envoys took it to every province of Ukraine and had every person swear allegiance to it. The agreement stated that Russia was required to supply its troops in defense of the Cossack Hetmanate against the Lithuanian-Polish Commonwealth. This of course would no longer be possible if the tsar had a separate agreement with the Commonwealth.
Boghdan Khmelnitsky wrote to the Tsar comparing Russian behavior to the Swedes, “The Swedes are an honest people; when they pledge friendship and alliance, they honor their word. However, the Tsar, in establishing an armistice with the Poles and in wishing to return us into their hands, has behaved most heartlessly with us.”
By this time, it was too late. In 1659 the Pereiaslav Articles were brought forth. Khmelnytsky’s government drafted a modified version of the Pereiaslav Treaty of 1654 that was more advantageous to Ukraine (the Zherdev Articles). Taking advantage of the hetman’s difficult position (Pereiaslav was surrounded by a 40,000-man Muscovite army), the Muscovite government rejected the new version and imposed a falsified version of the 1654 treaty and 14 ‘New Articles’ that considerably restricted Ukraine’s sovereignty. This new version forbade the Ukrainian Cossack state to conduct foreign policy or sign military treaties and gave Moscow unrestrained right to station their troops anywhere in Ukraine. The right to elect or depose a hetman, one of the most central foundations of the Cossack life, was forbidden by this “treaty”. The hetman himself was forbidden to appoint or remove members of the General Officer Staff and regimental colonels, and that authority was given exclusively to the Cossacks’ General Military Council. Cossack leaders thenceforth who attempted to break Ukraine away from Muscovy were to be executed, and the Ukrainian Orthodox church was subordinated to the Moscow patriarch.
This is how the people, whose very name descended from the word “freemen” became enslaved.
Russia to this day refutes that they have reneged on the agreement, has stated in various ways that Ukraine and the Cossacks voluntarily wanted to become vassals of the Russian state, and have even at various times in history claimed that Ukrainians always wanted to join the Russians and where one people.
The Cossack Hetmanate became the land of the slaves, and Ukraine was split in two, the Western side going back to Poland and the East – occupied by Russia. The treaty, signed in 1686, lost shortly after, and rumored by the Kremlin to be located in their vaults, once again took the freedom of the Cossacks away.
GK: Tell me more about this treaty. I studied Russian history at least when I was in school the first time around and I never heard of it – which should surprise no one. How many of us educated in the US can go in depth with all the Native treaties that our government has broken?
This treaty that Bohdam Khmelnitsy made with the tsar of Russia, the Pereisaslav Agreement, is one of the most contested, argued over, and contrary pieces of political history in the Russo-Ukrainian political relations. To begin with, the document has been missing almost immediately after it was signed, and each side contests the content in the “copies” that have been made. Russia, for their part, has contended that they have the original, but that they can’t show it on Lenin’s orders. Yes, this is not a typo.
In 1954, during the elaborate celebrations of the 300th anniversary of the Ukrainian-Russian union in the USSR, it was announced – not by scholars but by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union – that the Pereiaslav Agreement was the natural culmination of the age-old desire of Ukrainians and Russians to be united and that the union of the two peoples had been the prime goal of the 1648 uprising. In the official Soviet interpretation, Khmelnytsky’s greatness lay in the fact that he understood that “The salvation of the Ukrainian people lay only in unity with the great Russian people.” In “honor” of this agreement, Nikita Khrushev gave Crimea to Ukraine. It has been argued that one of the reasons, besides the obvious strategic ones, that Russia took Crimea in 2014, was because Ukraine was unwilling to grow closer ties with Russia and this insulted the new Russian “tsar”.
In vain did the Cossacks, who provided the tsar with the needed military assistance to extract such a treaty from Poland, tried to align with other nations. Their continued attempts at re-establishing their autonomy only lead to more and more repression, when in 1775, Ukraine became enslaved, and every Ukrainian became a serf. The word Ukraine was banned, the Ukrainian language was banned, and the Eastern Territory was renamed “Malo-Rossia”, which means “little Russia”, showcasing the Russian attempt at Russification. Even the word itself was a prison sentence.
It is likely that Russia has simply destroyed the document and turned the Cossacks into slaves. To be a serf meant you had no right to leave the land of the master who owned it, that you had no right to marry or own the fruits of your own labor. While formally masters originally could not move the serf from the land, this rule eventually became defunct and serfs were often sold. In fact, the first instance of a slave being sold in Britain was a serf.
GK: YES! I learned this just last year in a class I took on colonialism, religion, and race. I was shocked.
Prior to this, the autonomy of the Cossack state was apparent, and declared by the Polish King himself. Their elected leader, Hetman, managed their own national and international policy. After Russia’s influence, the hetman became a post appointed by Moscow and the Cossacks would no longer rule themselves.
Conversely, some Ukrainian politicians such as Ivan Zaets, member of parliament, even take the view to completely ignore the Pereiaslav agreement saying, “that there was no Pereyaslav agreement, as no treaty had been signed at Pereyaslav.” He went on to say, “in the course of three hundred years [of Russian rule] they took our soul and sold it to the devil”
Thus, followed decades of repression and Russification, in turn following rebellions that have been quashed, after which even more repressing policies followed. Ukraine remembering them as fallen heroes for its independence, and Russia calling them traitors – to Russia. Its a pretty familiar pattern. This is how Mazepa was declared a hero of Ukraine, to the indignation of Russia. Mazepa was an educated Ukrainian nobleman who eventually became a Ukrainian hetman and who supported Peter the Great in his war expeditions, until he realized that Peter the Great policies repressed and abused Ukrainian people, and failing to change these, eventually decided to sign a treaty with Sweden. On the field of battle, however, both the Swedes and the Ukrainians lost, and Mazepa was declared a traitor by Peter I. Mazepa was able to sign an agreement in which Sweden recognized Ukraine’s full autonomy and promised the support of its military to ensure Ukraine’s sovereignty against foreign aggression – specifically Russia. As a hetman, his people’s well being was his prime concern, but apparently for Russia, this should have been second to the tsar’s imperialistic aspirations (sounds familiar?) In May 1709, a Russian force destroyed the Cossack Sich and the tsar issued a standing order for the immediate execution of any Zaporozhian who was captured. According to the terms, the Swedish troops would be treated humanely, however, most of the Cossack troops were executed for treason or sent to Siberia. It was a massive defeat which spelled the end of Ukraine’s hope for independence for the next two centuries.
Today, Mazepa is remembered for his rebellion and celebrated for having the courage to fight for an independent Ukraine, and, as a result paying the ultimate sacrifice. In 2009 the Cross of Ivan Mazepa was created to honor Ukrainian citizens who have distinguished themselves. In 2015 the Cross was presented by Ukrainian President Petro Pereshenko to the director of the documentary ‘Winter on Fire’, a film about the Euromaidan Revolution in 2014. Furthermore, the ten hryvnia bank note is dedicated to Ivan Mazepa. He remains one of Ukraine’s strongest symbols of resistance to foreign rule.
Thus, the tradition of associating Ukrainians with Mazepa, which began in the aftermath of the battle of Poltava, continued over the rest of the century, with the terms Mazepist and khokhol expressing the negative attitude toward Ukrainians in the Russian Empire.
Today, the treaty, Mazepa are all used in Russia’s propaganda machine. This is why we hear Russia admonish Ukrainian nationalism. Ukrainian nationalism is not new, it has been an unceasing effort for 100s of years to claim its own right to its own soil. To Russia, it has always stood as treasonous – to its own idea of imperialism. The uprising of Stephan Rezin, a Cossack pirate and a leader in 1670, the uprising of Pugachev in 1774 – these are all branded as criminals by Russian law even today. Russia still uses non-existent treaties from 17th century to claim that Ukraine should still be subservient to the Russian Patriarch, and when in 2019 they declared independence from the Russian Orthodox Church it only served as another reason to invade and attempt to subjugate. It has always been an intent of the Russian government to have a puppet government in Ukraine that was under Russian rule.
It’s a Russian tradition, to quench Ukrainian independence, install puppet governments, rename Ukrainian cities, and strip Ukrainian leadership of power and Ukrainians of free elections. All must answer to the Russian “tsar.”
The Cossacks would serve in the tsarist army, and even beat Napoleon back to Paris. Once upon a time, Napoleon said that if he only had 10,000 Cossacks, he would conquer the world. During World War 2, 90% of Ukraine was occupied by the Nazis, so when Russia likes to quote that they lost 30 million people in WW2, they are really referring to USSR, all of the 15 republics. Ukrainians lost about 12 million people during WW2. During Holodomor, a famine induced by Stalin in the year between 1932 and 1933, 7 million more Ukrainian lives were lost. This was done again, to quash the insurgent Ukrainian fight for independence.
GK: I just want to emphasize that: Stalin purposely created a famine with the conscious intent to starve millions of Ukrainians to death. Readers can learn more here.
To this war, to Putin, to all who are trying to figure out, how is it possible that Ukraine is still fighting, and why doesn’t it surrender to salvage the people that are still remaining, I can quote a famous Cossack who was the leader of the last Cossack revolt Pugachev. When he was finally arrested and interrogated, he was asked, how he, a lowly criminal could go against the monarchy. How is it that the people were still fighting when he is incarcerated? He answered: “I am not the raven, only his offspring”.
GK: I think that’s a good place to end part 2. I know this has been a long and deep dive into Ukrainian history, but it’s necessary to know where we all come from, to really understand what’s going on today. There will be a part III so stay tuned, folks. I’ll have it in a week or two, as soon as I have a chance to proof and edit (I only edit for commas, apostrophes, and spelling lol – which Tove fully approved).
It’s really interesting to me that the majority of the people crying “fascist!” at everyone in the community with whom they disagree (and they’re doing it to people on the left and the right, mind you) are…atheists. They are people who have forced their way into polytheistic traditions, who may have once believed in and venerated the Gods, but are now atheists who refuse to leave our traditions alone, who are working from the inside to destroy them. They are randomly attacking teachers, elders, clergy, devotees who have faith, piety, and devotion…perhaps because they themselves have none. Guess their progressive politics don’t elevate their souls quite as much as they thought. *sarcasm*
How much weight should we be expected to give the words of the godless? Exactly why are we letting those without belief dictate the future of our traditions? Resist.
The Supreme Court just upheld one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country. This law bans abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, at about six weeks. While the Supreme court ruling allowed the law to go into effect but kept open the possibility of abortion providers and perhaps even individuals challenging the law in court in the future, for now, this is a crushing blow to women’s liberty in the lone star state.
Here are some observations and questions based on what I’ve read so far.
An abusive spouse may report his or her wife to the police for having an abortion (even if she hasn’t) and receive a 10K (Ten thousand) dollar reward.
Even by the time a heartbeat is detected, there is no viable human being present in the clot of tissue that will later become a person.
Apparently even mentioning abortion as an option to a woman can now have legal consequences.
The prison sentence for a woman seeking an abortion will be longer than that of a rapist.
What happens to a woman who leaves the state to have an abortion? Will she be arrested on her return?
More importantly, how will the state know? Are women’s medical records now to be opened and available to scrutiny? Will this law be extended retroactively?
I am very pro-choice. I not only believe abortion should be available on demand, I think it should be legally required in some circumstances. There is never, ever a time where I would limit a woman’s right to bodily sovereignty (even though I think abortion should be mandated in certain circumstances, I’d be very, very hesitant to make any laws to that effect. This is personal business, not something in which the government should involve itself). That’s what any abortion restriction is: an assault on bodily sovereignty.
Do I believe abortion is murder? Yes. I believe the fetus is a life. Do I think that’s a relevant question? Not in the least. The only life that matters in this situation is that of the woman because until that fetus is pushed through her vagina in a flood of blood and pain, it is nothing more than a parasite, depending upon the mother for its continued existence. Carrying a fetus to term, has long term, potentially devastating physical effects on a woman’s body.
I think Roe V. Wade is a bad ruling. Abortion was legalized on privacy grounds. There are stronger grounds upon which to allow women basic civil liberties (is there a single medical procedure for men that is put before non-medical, government and political groups like abortion? No there is not).
Let’s start with the 13th Amendment, you know, the one that abolished slavery. Any time someone has no control over their bodily sovereignty, particularly where forced breeding is concerned, we have something quite akin to slavery. Forced breeding was always part of the experience of slavery in this country, particularly after the trans-Atlantic slave trade was abolished. Control of fertility (for both women and men, though the greatest burden always fell on the woman) was a significant part of the experience of the enslaved in the US. Apparently, it still is.
Then we have the 14th Amendment, the first part of which states:
“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
Or let’s talk about self-defense. I would have preferred to see Roe V. Wade legalized on grounds of self-defense and bodily sovereignty than privacy. I think those are much, much stronger grounds.
Within our religious traditions, abortion is not prohibited. In fact, at various times and places amongst our Heathen ancestors, newborns were not considered properly ensouled until nine days after birth. If we’re looking at Roman religion, it was when the father picked the newborn child up and acknowledged it. Furthermore, we have many Deities Who may be called upon to protect women who choose to have abortions. Freya, for instance, is a Goddess of sexuality, of personal choice, of bodily sovereignty (and many other things). I think one may call upon Her, or the other Vanir, for protection and blessing if one is seeking an abortion. Now, the Vanir are also Deities of fertility. We have Heathens who are pro-life, and they may choose to call upon the Vanir to protect life and bless women choosing to have children. (I also think it is important to be very, very careful about ascribing our personal desires onto the Gods. We may say, “I think Freya would bless this choice,” but to say outright, as if we can ever fully know, “Freya likes/doesn’t like X” is deeply lacking in integrity. We may assume, conjecture, but can never truly *know* because the Gods are so much more than we ever can be). Any abrogation of personal choice is an abrogation of personal power and as such, I think this would be quite problematic from a Vanic point of view. Certainly, in our lore, Freya never allowed her own power to be so infringed. One may thus extend the lesson.
There is the healing Goddess Hlif, ever a help to women. She is usually called upon for anything pertaining to OB/GYN issues. While She is a Goddess of birth, as She also tends to all things gynecological, I see no reason why She could not be called upon here as well. We are not animals, slaves to our biology. We have wyrd, and thus the capacity for conscious, individuated choice. That doesn’t suddenly disappear because one possesses a uterus.
Then there is Gerda, the wife of Freyr. This has ever been a union of opposites in so many ways and my particular branch of the Northern Tradition holds that because Freyr came to Asgard as a hostage for peace (one of the hostages exchanged to guarantee peace between the Aesir and Vanir, the other being Njord), and because this would extend to His children too, He and Gerda have no children. Not all denominations of the Northern Tradition hold to this, but ours does. Because of this Gerda maybe sought out by those who have had miscarriages, those who use birth control, and those who have abortions.
You know what this issue never was amongst our ancestors? A matter for public scrutiny. It was women’s medicine and women’s business, a private thing known to the woman and her midwife or healer. Of course, in ideal circumstances within a family, it may have been a matter of discussion between spouses but in the end, it was a choice the woman herself made.
Modern America is not so enlightened. Laws like this are not about protecting potential life. They’re about criminalizing sex and pleasure and keeping women in a place defined by a most pernicious evangelical Christianity with a healthy helping of the Victorian cult of motherhood to boot. It’s revolting. This is not about “women being unable to control themselves” (as I recently saw stated on twitter and by a woman no less). It’s about basic human rights and human dignity – not to potential life, but to living, breathing women here and now. It’s about trusting that women are actually capable of determining for themselves when to become pregnant.
I actually wonder if those who are so incredibly anti-choice realize what it’s like to have one’s body turned into an incubator. My earliest memory as a child was of doggedly, most definitely, and under no circumstances ever wanting a child. I was maybe 2 ½ and I knew I found the whole thing utterly disgusting, dehumanizing, and permanently disabling in some circumstances. My opinion on the matter hasn’t changed. I would flat out rather be executed than forced to carry a child. So, I have made sure never to get pregnant, however, if I did, I’d have had the abortion clinic on speed dial. Other women want children, but not at a given time, or they want to do the financially sensible thing and space their children in a way that allows for economic independence. Or…many other reasons. Really the only reason a woman needs to not be pregnant is “I don’t want to be.”
What these laws really are is about criminalizing sexual pleasure and criminalizing women’s independence. I’m all for modesty and continence but come on. Birth control fails all the time. Accidents happen. Moreover, rape and incest happen (cases where I think abortion should be required as a matter of common sense personally). Women don’t need big daddy government telling them what to do with their bodies. There’s no consistency in these laws either. If pro-lifers were really worried about loss of fetal life, then male masturbation would likewise be a source of legal concern. But we’re not seeing that. We’re seeing, as always, the onus of these laws placed on the woman. Nor can women easily get a tubal ligation which would solve the problem completely for some – paternalistic doctors will say she doesn’t really know her own mind, or might marry someone who wants children. Even now. (In 2019 a young woman in UK sued the NHS for just this reason and won the right to be sterilized. But note, she had to go to court. Men seeking vasectomies don’t have this issue). All of this is a violation of bodily sovereignty in every respect. So when someone is coming out prolife, what they’re really saying whether they realize it or not is this: I not only don’t trust women to make the right decisions for themselves, but I don’t think they should legally have the right to do so. We are rendering women as less than full civic partners in American social and political life. What’s next? Is birth control going to be made illegal? Will a woman’s testimony only be worth half that of a man’s in court? Maybe we’ll go back to the days when women couldn’t own a credit card or put a down payment on a house without a male relative’s consent (as late as the 1970s in the States).
So, here is my solution. TX has fairly decent gun rights. I think women ought to avail themselves of those rights because this is an attack on women’s freedom, bodily sovereignty, and personal integrity. It’s disgusting. When someone tries to enslave you, the only appropriate response is armed resistance. Hoist the black flag and get on with it, ladies (and the men who love them). Or watch your freedoms get chipped away ever more.
To those anti-choicers out there, you are welcome to hold whatever opinion on the matter you want and to apply that to your own person. The moment you step to me or anyone else with demands about what we can and cannot do with our own bodies, the moment you attempt to force fertility, weeeelll, see the paragraph above.
EDIT: not actually advocating violence. But I am advocating that both men and women get off their asses in TX and forcibly fight this law. It’s a bad law –even if one is pro-life. It has long term, far reaching consequences that could easily be expanded and applied to many other aspects of private life, for everyone.
Over the last week, I’ve had quite a few questions hit my inbox. Normally, I answer these things privately but some of the questions are things that I get asked frequently, so I figured it was time to write something here (and I welcome the questions so don’t ever worry about emailing me. I might be slow – I am in grad school and perennially running behind in email – but I’ll answer as soon as I can). So settle back, because this is going to be a rather long post as I try to cover the questions I’ve been receiving. I’ve tried to group them by topic, so most of them deal with ancestor veneration. I put those first.
Question 1: Most of my ancestors were Protestants not Polytheists. Can I still venerate them? Will it make them angry?
Death is a great equalizer. I have very, very rarely found religion to be a problem with non-polytheistic ancestors. Nine times out of ten, being reunited with one’s ancestral house, freed of the difficulties and pain of corporeality, is very healing and liberating for our dead. Quite often, many of the prejudices and narrowness that define our living experience simply fade away (I suspect that it is partly due to actually encountering the Powers directly). There are exceptions to this, mind you, but for the most part I have found that what you’re most likely to encounter is happiness that you’re reaching out, a little confusion about how the whole thing works (as we learn to work with our dead, I think they learn to work with us too), and a willingness to communicate.
Sometimes, depending on the religion that your ancestors might be coming from, they may not have a working knowledge of how to DO ancestor work, how to engage with the living so there may be some negotiation there but for the most part, barring the occasional bitter or damaged ancestor, you’re rarely likely to encounter hostility because of your religion. There might be curiosity, and in that case, just explain what you do and why.
Sometimes really damaged or wounded ancestors will require healing and if one is willing, elevations can help enormously with that. I advise people to just start honoring their dead – start where you’re comfortable starting—and then deal with any issues that come up as they arise. It’s a learning experience (on both sides) and there will be a little fumbling along the way just like in any other relationship. That’s ok. Consistency is the key.
If you have ancestors who were especially devout in their tradition, one thing you can do is find out what ways that tradition has of honoring the dead. For instance, my grandmothers were both Catholic. I often have masses said for them or will go and light candles at Marian shrines in various Churches for them. They seem to like it.
Question 2: I know you honor dead that aren’t related to you biologically. How does that work? Is there ever any conflict between your blood ancestors and these spiritual ones?
Oooh yes and yes. I struggled for many, many years to develop a working relationship with my ancestors and I sometimes think they get a little jealous of how much more easily my relationship with non-blood related groups (especially the castrati and/or the military dead) developed. There’s more ease there with those that aren’t related to me even now. I feel often as though I have more in common with them. But, like anything, it’s a work in progress and if I didn’t honor my own dead properly then I wouldn’t be in any position to take up honoring specific groups of unrelated dead. One aspect of veneration feeds into and strengthens the other for me.
I have certain dead in each group, including my blood ancestors, who kind of help keep things organized and will step up to solve any problems that arise between the various groups and that helps immensely. Beyond that, divination is always a go-to when larger problems arise, though I can’t think of the last time that happened. For the most part, we all manage to work together well 99% of the time.
For those who wonder which non-blood related ancestors I honor, I specifically venerate the military dead, the castrati and also as a work-lineage, ballet dancers (I was a dancer for the first working third of my life so that was a lineage of which I was part. It shaped me and contributed to the way in which I approach my spiritual work. I honor them as a spiritual lineage). I also honor my spiritual lineage ancestors (spirit workers, vitkar, priests, etc.). This latter is one of the areas where I find my spiritual ancestors and blood ancestors overlapping since I have several theologians in my line (most notably Jakob Boehme, who is my 11th great grandfather on my maternal side).
Question 3: If you pay ancestor or hero cultus to a celebrity, say a famous dead musician for instance, how is that different from fandom?
I think the purpose in venerating them is different. You are basically asking that this particular dead person become an honorary part of your ancestral house. Why would you do to that for someone not related to you? Well, maybe they are part of your work-lineage. Say you are a musician. Honoring a famous musician who inspired you fits into “lineage.” Or, you are asking that person to become a patron, as in ancient Roman patron/client relationships. This is analogous in many respects to hero cultus. In ancient Roman polytheism, or instance (and one sees this in other polytheisms too, but Roman comes to mind as I write this) one might pay cultus to a local hero because he or she was extraordinary in some way. Herakles for instance, received extensive hero cultus. Why does one do this? I equate it to Catholic saint cultus (which I think evolved partly from a combination of ancestor veneration and hero cultus that was pandemic in the pre-Christian world): one petitions these holy people to intercede with God in Catholicism, or to lend their holy might, their power to prayers for us. Well, we can do that with our heroes too. They can be models of excellence (much like saints are models of holiness), they can be petitioned for help or intercession, or for protection in our work, or a dozen other things as well. The important thing is, we’re not just going ‘rah rah rah’ and swooning over their work. We are recognizing their importance in their field and their impact on us personally, honoring them for that, in the hopes that they will inspire us, open doors for us, and that we may tap into their fire on a spiritual level and be made better through that (along with our own hard work). The purpose is different from fandom.
Question 4: What if you have an ancestor who did something particularly egregious (serial killer, Nazi murder, communist, or just plain asshole in the family). What the hell do you do with them?
This is a good, really good question. The answer: It depends. This is the answer for a lot of complicated questions in ancestor veneration: it depends. It depends on your relationship with that person, whether their actions directly impacted you (if you’re a generation or two removed, you can be a bit more objective in many cases). It depends on whether that person showed any shame or regret or desire to make amends in life. It depends on whether one senses that after death. It depends on what they did and how deep the poison runs.
Often it’s healthier to at least perform the occasional elevation for a wicked ancestor, even if you decide not to honor them in any other way, than to allow their poison to go untreated in the line. An elevation is a ritual to heal a damaged ancestor. It can be very hard to do and I always recommend asking one’s entire ancestral line to pray with you as you do what is a nine-day rite. Why would you do this for an evil ancestor? Well, nothing goes away. If an ancestor is hurt or damaged, wounded or wicked, or any other thing good or bad, it bleeds into the entire ancestor line and that has long term, inter-generational consequences. Sometimes it’s better to face that and find a way to deal with it via ancestor work. This can actually help heal multiple generations. I would do this in consultation with a diviner steeped in your own religious tradition. I like to say that it’s statistically impossible that every one of your ancestors was an asshole. It’s also statistically impossible that every single one was an angel. We all have that one ancestor though, so the deeper one goes into ancestor veneration, the more likely it is that we’ll encounter something that requires careful consideration.
I was telling my housemate the story of Beate Klarsfeld (b. 1939) last night. Klarsfeld was German and was very small when WWII ended. She was part of the generation that wasn’t really taught anything about the war or the Holocaust in school. She went to France as a young woman and when she found out what really happened during the war, she was filled with a deep shame and a deeper rage. That rage filled her with a fury that remained unabated her entire life. She became a ferocious Nazi hunter. Among other Nazi war criminals, she and her husband were instrumental in bringing Klaus Barbie, the Butcher of Lyon, to justice. She wasn’t perfect. She cooperated with East German Stasi to gain information on West German officials’ past activities, but her life was largely dedicated to bringing Nazi war criminals to justice. THIS is one way of beginning to repair an ancestral line tainted by such a terrible thing as a Nazi ancestor.
One doesn’t have to work publicly like Klarsfeld but if you have an ancestor like this, finding a way to give his or her victims a voice and to help them can in turn help repair your own ancestral line. This is not self-serving. An ancestral line that is poisoned and out of balance brings nothing but pain, hatred, and violence into the world. Healing your own ancestral line shuts a door that evil can otherwise use to further damage Midgard.
So, what do you do if you have an ancestor who was a Nazi, a serial killer, a Stalinist, etc.? Or what about just an abusive, violent bastard? Or what if you have a murderer or a rapist? On a small scale, it depends, and saying that can be like bitter ash in the mouth. Still, it’s the truth: it depends. Consult a competent diviner within your tradition. Your other ancestors who were directly harmed by this person may have serious pain and trauma. I usually suggest doing elevations for THEM first before anything else. Then sit down and see what they want? What you are comfortable with? Take your time and consult your elders and diviners. The damaged ancestor may be coming forward in order to try to make amends, to try to fix the damage he or she wrought. (This is not always the case. Sometimes they’re every bit the bastards in death that they were in life, but just as often, they are filled with shame and want to do what they can to repair things. That’s one of the things to figure out. Then, you have to make a decision weighing the pros and cons. I usually suggest an elevation or maybe a series of elevations either way, and then after that, you can decide if you want to work with that person further. If you don’t, there are other rites one can do to cut them out or separate them from the rest of your dead and shun them. If you do, that can be negotiated. It really depends and this is determined on an individual basis. It’s a family thing too: do this in consultation with your other ancestors. Honoring the bad ancestor doesn’t mean you forgive him or her, or that you approve of that person’s choices and behavior. It doesn’t mean that you like that person. It doesn’t mean that you aren’t angry or hurt or [insert emotion here]. It means that you’re making the best choice possible for your spiritual health and that of your ancestral line. Sometimes that choice is to slowly begin elevating, healing, and honoring a particular ancestor. Sometimes it’s to block that person out of your life and line.
There’s no pat answer here. It’s complicated and difficult and often quite challenging.
Question 5: Can pets be included in ancestor veneration?
Absolutely. They are little lives that intersect ours and often make us better people. I have seen animals pray. I absolutely include my deceased pets on my shrine.
Question 6: Can I be heathen even if I don’t have Scandinavian or Germanic ancestors?
Absolutely. The Gods call whom They call. End of story.
Some people are drawn to Heathenry because they have Germanic or Scandinavian ancestry and that becomes a powerful point of connection. That’s ok. Most people find it easier to honor their ancestors first than to approach the Gods (ancestors are concrete. We knew grandma. Gods are harder to conceptualize at first, unless we are blessed with the capacity to sense Them in some way. Not everyone is and that’s ok too). This doesn’t mean that you *have* to have any particular ancestry to honor the Norse Gods (and, as far as ancestor veneration goes: everyone has ancestors. The point is to honor them. It’s not about where those ancestors are from. It’s all good).
Now, the traditions that make up Heathenry are connected to specific lands and cultures. But in the world of our ancestors, that wasn’t as restrictive as we today would make it. What mattered was being respectful and honoring the Gods in ways appropriate to the tradition or cultus. Being part of a community was a matter of sharing that veneration, sharing the same language, customs and laws. It was about acquiring those things, not blood.
It’s cool if one has Germanic or Scandinavian ancestry. That’s great. It’s going to allow one to connect in a particular way to our Gods. But if one doesn’t have that ancestry, that’s ok too. That’s also going to allow for a unique connection and both are equally good. Our sacred stories tell us that our Gods travelled everywhere, engaged with all manner of people, intermarried, had children. They returned home and shared what They had learned. There’s a lesson there that maybe we should take to heart.
I’ve never been a folkish Heathen. There are generally two points on which we disagree theologically: one is veneration of Loki (most folkish Heathens I have met are against His veneration. I fought for 20+ years to normalize His veneration within Heathenry. Those youngsters on tumblr who bitch about how terrible I am would do well to realize that for a very long time I was a lone voice in the wilderness advocating for this God we all love, and without my work, they might find their own veneration of Him a much more difficult thing publicly. But that would be respecting one’s elders and we can’t have that now can we? *sarcasm*). The other is ancestry. I don’t think it matters at all what one’s ancestry is. We’re always going to discover things we find really cool about our ancestry and also things that we don’t like. None of this has any bearing on whether or not one can honor the Norse Gods.
Folkish Heathens think ancestry matters here, and that only those with Norse or Germanic ancestry can honor the Gods (or those adopted or married into the “tribe” so to speak). While I don’t think that Folkish Heathenry equals racism (it doesn’t and eliding the complexities here serves no one), I just don’t agree with them here.
So, if you are not of Germanic or Scandinavian ancestry and feel a pull toward the Norse Gods, go for it. Set up your shrines ,pour out your offerings, pray, develop those devotional relationships and know that you are in perfectly good company. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. You belong just as much as anyone else. Honor your ancestors too. That is our strongest foundation of all.
Finally, I don’t usually receive political questions, but two people emailed me questions the week before last (they were polite, at least the first was, so I took the time to answer):
Question 7: “Why do you hate Marxism so much?”
History. (I could have stopped there, to be honest).
I think it seduces people by pretending to offer a solution to all their woes and then cannibalizes the very people who placed their hopes in it. I think it leads inevitably to socialism and, if left unchecked long enough, communism. I think it is dehumanizing and degrading. It inevitably attacks the family structure, destroys the economy, and leaves little room for individuality or human excellence. I also think it is completely incompatible with any religious or devotional life. Like Nazism (two sides of the same bloody coin in my opinion), I think it is evil.
Our country has many problems to be solved, among them, failing infrastructure, contempt for the aged, lack of medical care, stifling educational debt, racism and misogyny that continue to bubble up to the surface, a poor and broken educational system, to name but a few. The solution isn’t to go to the other extreme to fix the problem. Extremes never work but only cause more damage. Rather than focus on Marxism, we should consider that we have a worthless Congress that has something like an 8% approval rate by its citizens. They control the purse strings and they really don’t care about the human lives that put them in office and allow them the privilege of staying there. Marxism is a misdirection that will never fix the actual problem. It will make everything worse and the very people so ra-ra-ra for it, will – if history is any predictor—be the first against the wall should their Marxist “utopia” ever become reality.
This, btw, is why I am not a supporter of BLM or Antifa. It’s just Marxism under another name. Of course, when one points out that Marxism/Socialism/Communism have never successfully worked (and always have a horrific body count) modern interlocutors will go on about how that wasn’t *real* Marxism. That wasn’t *real* socialism. That wasn’t *real* communism. Theirs, of course will be different. Right. I’m not willing to bet my life on it.
Question 8: Are you a Nazi? (yes, someone actually emailed me and this one sentence was the entire email. Such eloquence. I am astounded *sarcasm*).
No. Read my work. I despise Nazism every bit as much as I despise communism. It was and is evil and destructive. People who resort to calling me a Nazi are doing so because they are too small minded to actually engage with my work, and they want to make sure that no one else takes the time to read what I’m actually saying as well. People that throw this term around don’t like that I’m not pro-left (I’m not actually pro-right either) and they use shock-language to scare people away. Never mind that in doing so, they’re showing tremendous disrespect to those who died under Nazism, and are making light of one of the worst and most horrific expressions of hatred in the 20th century.
Read my work and decide for yourself. You are all capable of doing that. From the beginning of my public writing I have always maintained, without exception, a strong stance against this bullshit when it creeps into our communities. This is precisely why I am pro-free speech.
Finally, someone asked me a question I’d actually never been asked before. That alone prompted me to answer it:
Question 9: Who are your personal heroes?
I had to really think about this. I’ve been lucky to have had extremely good devotional models in my life and the one that stands out the most is my adopted mom Fuensanta. Without her, I don’t think I’d even be alive right now. She taught me more about devotion and honoring the Gods and behaving with integrity than anyone else in my world so if we’re talking personal heroes, she tops the list.
After that, it depends on which area of my life we’re discussing. There are people who have inspired me, but very few that I would honor as heroes or saints. That’s such a special category. I need to think about this question more because it really depends on which “hat” I’m wearing. Are we speaking artistically, academically, spiritually, personally? There are many who inspired me (in ballet for instance when I still danced, I looked to women like Anna Pavlova, Olga Spessivtseva, Marie Taglioni, etc. to teach me the grace and value of sacrifice, pain, and discipline) and often they are honored as part of my work-lineage on my ancestor shrine (as the women I just mentioned are), but I don’t pay them the type of cultus that I would give a “hero” or “saint.” It gets complicated – what, with ancestor veneration doesn’t? I have a lot of historical figures I deeply admire, but hero cultus is something else.
I think that’s it for today. I have a couple more questions but they can wait for a later post. I’ll try to do get that post out in a couple of days. If you’re interested in learning more about ancestor veneration, check out my book here. Or, check out the tags ‘ancestors’ and ‘ancestor work’ here on my blog.
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Well, all hail the racism of low expectations. This is a travesty. Classics is one of the key disciplines in a proper education in the humanities and if one doesn’t have Latin and Greek, then one should not major in Classics. Better yet, instead of gutting this discipline, maybe Princeton should do the sensible thing and offer classes in Latin and Greek for ALL incoming students: four years of learning these key languages won’t hurt anyone. Better yet, maybe stop catering to woke-ness and start doing what the students pay you to do: focus on education.
What you will have now, in your “Classics” students, are ill-educated kids who are dependent on other people’s opinions i.e. translations for access to the key texts that helped to shape the Western world. Instead of educating, Princeton is crippling them. It makes me sick. I taught myself Latin and Greek. My Greek isn’t great but it’s passable. Was this difficult? Yes. Was it doable? Also yes. Cutting Classics programs doesn’t do a damned thing to combat racism. What it does is tear apart those disciplines that offer students a window into the building blocks of Western Civilization, into literature and cultures that valued the cultivation of virtue, character, courage, and heroism. Of course the new religion of woke-ism wants to do away with those things. It offends their sense of degeneracy. If you have students who can only approach key texts via translation, then they are at the mercy of whoever is doing the translations.
Princeton is not the only university to destroy its Classics program in the name of saving the student body from imagined racism. Howard University, one of the oldest historically black colleges in the US, and the only with a Classics program, recently announced its decision to close its Classics program too – something the student body is thankfully protesting because they at least, know the value of this field. Last year, there was a similar decision to remove certain key texts in Classics at Oxford too.
Classics is for everyone and everyone can benefit from its study. In the perfect world, we’d be studying Latin from first grade and Greek from middle school and regardless of major, both would be required (at the very least) throughout undergraduate study. I’m still too stunned on learning of Princeton’s decision to comment further. Farewell to the Ivy league.
The Wild Hunt recently posted this article. It is a very important ruling by the ECHR re. the status of Romuva (Lithuanian indigenous polytheism) in Lithuania. The Lithuanian parliament, under pressure from Catholic Bishops, denied legal recognition to Romuva (and the rights and protections that entails), despite the fact that Romuva meets all requisite legal requirements. The Church was afraid of the competition — seriously, that was one of the concerns. Adherents of Romuva are growing significantly (a thing that fills me with joy). The head of modern Romuva, high priestess Inija Trinkūnienė, took their case to the EU, which issued an unanimous decision condemning the actions of Lithuania’s parliament. It’s a complicated case and you can read the link on your own, and there are also links in that article, which I encourage folks to follow.
Of course now it remains to be seen what the parliament is going to do, but if they refuse legal recognition it opens up the way for significant sanctions. Had the Church not interfered, it looks like the initial parliamentary vote would have come down on the side of granting recognition to Romuva.
above symbol is the Romuva flag. Don’t worry. It’s not a Nazi symbol. The other common symbol is a very stylized World Tree.
(This is rather personal to me. I am half Lithuanian. My original last name was Dabravalskas (for any Lithuanians reading this, in America, we don’t have the option for taking the proper gendered/married/unmarried forms of Lithuanian last names. We all use the male version. For Americans who may not know, traditional Lithuanian surnames differ depending on whether one is a guy, married to that guy, or a daughter. Had we been living in Lithuania, my bio mom’s last name would have been Dabravalskane, and mine Dabravalskuite). I don’t practice Romuva, but I do honor certain Lithuanian Gods as part of my personal practice — I felt many years ago a certain press from my paternal ancestors to do this. It’s not a huge part of my practice but it is a very personal one. I am overjoyed to know that the religion of my ancestors is growing in Lithuania. This country was the last in Europe to bend the knee to the yoke of Christianity (converting only in the fifteenth century — later even than Iceland) and people began returning to their traditional polytheism as soon as they gained their independence from communist Russia. It’s been growing ever since. May it continue to do so. I’ll post updates here as I find them).
A friend sent me a video today by a woman who claims devotion to Odin. I’ve known this person for years, and actually had her in a clergy training program decades ago — she was the only person I ever had to expel (she never quite warmed up to the idea that devotion would occasionally be inconvenient). Well, in this video, this woman – and I’m not sharing the video. It’s such polluted garbage I can’t—has announced that she is no longer wearing any Heathen sacred symbol (Mjolnir, valknot, runes, etc.) because she doesn’t want anyone to think she’s a white supremacist. She’s also strongly encouraging other people to throw away our sacred symbols.
What utter cowardice. And if you read that as contemptuous, you would be reading it rightly. Now is precisely the time we should be wearing our symbols proudly and having those difficult conversations with people who would misunderstand their meaning. To put aside our holiest of symbols is to say that we care more for what strangers may think of us than for our Gods. There’s no integrity in it. Fucking Christians became martyrs for their faith and we have people like this woman who won’t even wear a necklace or be bothered to clear up misunderstandings about our Gods, spirits, and symbols.
What kind of person claims to love the Gods and yet acts as though everything associated with those Gods shameful? What kind of person claims to love the Gods and is unwilling to attempt to clear up blatant lies about those Gods, or to have uncomfortable conversations that cost nothing but our willingness to be present? Runes for instance are mysteries. Odin suffered on the Tree to bring them forth and this worthless creature won’t even stand up and challenge the lies that have been spread about the runes, particularly othala? It’s one thing to be a coward oneself, but to actively encourage other people to also throw away their religious symbols just to make your own choice seem as though it has merit, is so much worse.
People like this bury their heads in the sand which only guarantees the white supremacists win, because white supremacists don’t have a problem speaking up and taking what isn’t theirs to take.
If that’s too much, then you really have to ask yourself why you’re doing this? Why are you here? Why are you wasting the time and resources of devout people who love their Gods and are willing to stand by that love publicly and no matter how much it causes inconvenience? Why are you actively seeking to damage the tradition? After all, when you are actively encouraging others to put aside their sacred symbols, the corollary is that you’re encouraging them to turn away from their Gods. You’re participating in gutting a tradition. Good job. Here’s some advice that I oh, so sincerely hope you’ll take: maybe stick to Dr. Who fandom but leave religion alone.
I rarely find myself in agreement with Christian clergy on many points, but today has proven an unexpected exception. I woke up to several articles and videos of pastors/priests in Canada, Ireland, and England having had their Easter weekend services broken up by police, in at least one case, mid-service. This, despite the fact that interfering with a religious service is against the law in Canada, and in many of the cases (though not all) congregations were properly masked and distancing. The police thought nothing of attempting to break up services, or actually doing so, on what for Western Christians is their holiest time of the year (1).
I may be all for most Covid restrictions, but let’s apply them consistently. When government is breaking up BLM and Antifa riots with as much alacrity as they’re interfering in people’s religious obligations, I’ll step back from my position here, namely that I don’t think the government should EVER interfere with religious services (2).
I worry about the long-term precedent being set. If a government, be it federal or local, is willing to disrupt Christian religious services (and so far, I’ve only seen this happening to Christians, with one exception here in NY of an Orthodox Jewish funeral), without a doubt, those self-same government bodies would be more than willing to disrupt ours. I really don’t want to be in the position of holding a blót and having the police show up to profane it – of course, I suppose we could all dress in black, set something on fire, and claim to be protesting “oppression” and maybe then we’d get a pass but who wants to bring that type of pollution into the space of one’s Gods?
- Many Orthodox Christians, adhere to the Julian calendar and thus celebrate Easter later than Catholics and Protestants. See here for more info.
- Now, I think clergy have an obligation to their parishioners to be flexible and to comply with guidelines as much as possible and for the most part, clergy have been quite creative in dealing with restrictions. I think my favorite that I’ve heard about so far is a Catholic priest who used a water gun filled with holy water to bless and/or baptize via drive by. Lol
The woke brigade strikes again. To preserve their precious feelings and further indoctrinate children with their utter lack of values and virtue, a group #distrupttexts has successfully gotten one of the cornerstones of Western literature banned from a school in MA. Read the full story here.
I read an article earlier about this and “teachers” were proud of this ban. Personally, it would be better if they closed the school, and any teacher that advocates for banning books isn’t fit to teach. They’re so eager to virtue signal their “wokeness” *gags* that they are denying this generation’s children a proper education. Homer’s “Iliad” and “Odyssey” are core texts for understanding pretty much all of the literature that came after it. I suppose these woke “teachers” don’t want to have to be bothered to explain different values and customs or, you know, do their jobs and teach.
I suppose stories about heroism, cleverness, virtue, and fidelity (especially in women) are difficult to teach when the people teaching it have none of those qualities. Those pushing this ban referred to the “Odyssey” as “trash.” I have yet to see their accomplishments, other than denying the children placed in their care a proper education.
Personally, if you haven’t read the “Odyssey” and the “Iliad” by the time you graduate high school, you’re not ready for college. I only lament that high schoolers aren’t reading them in the original Greek these days.
The only way these days to guarantee that your children are getting a decent education, one that will render them thinking, literate, historically aware adults is to homeschool. This trend toward banning the best books of world literature, of classic literature is a perfect example of where public education is going. Object to this, parents. Object strongly and never, ever apologize for challenging this censorship. Your children deserve at least that.