Markos Gage, the Dionysian Artist has written a powerful call to creative and artistic arms here. He talks about the importance of art, the jadedness that comes of being saturated to overflowing with crap mainstream images, and the possibility that we can reverse this trend, offering us the rallying cry:”Maybe, just maybe, if we can work together to produce good art for our gods we can break the jadedness of mainstream culture…”
Food for thought, folks. food for thought. This is partly why I’m so committed to my prayer card project.
I’m recycling a piece I wrote last year for my polytheist.com column because I’ve been getting quite a few questions lately on lore and how I think we should be approaching it as Heathens. (carefully and with a grain of salt generally).
Now anyone who’s read my work knows that I have significant issues with the way mainstream Heathenry and Asatru utilize the lore. We’re not religions of the book. We do not have revealed scripture as part of our theological foundation in the same way that Christianity, Islam, and Judaism have, though you wouldn’t know it from looking at the average Heathen group. We want our devotional insights and damn it, we want them to conform to lore too despite the fact that positioning lore as any type of religious authority is a deeply flawed premise to begin with,and for a number of reasons (not the least of which is that much of it was written by Christians). Not to mention our ability to interpret what we do have tends to be limited by our comfort levels and imagination. One might say, for instance, that there’s no evidence for possessory work or godspousery in the lore. There actually is, but we tend to interpret it out, because those aren’t things that fit nicely into our landscape of “modern” religion. (Yet another reason to reevaluate what it means to embrace a “modern” perspective).
There is, however, a way to use lore effectively to deepen one’s devotional practice and Heathen identity. In a way, we’re reverse engineering things. As I said in my article:
“In a way, we’re having to do now, what the very early Christians had to do in order to grow their faith. It’s ironic, this role reversal, but it struck me during my reading the other day: early Christians developed their monastic traditions and powerful traditions of interiority and prayer because they had to worship in secret, or at best in small groups away from the public eye. It wasn’t until later, once they’d gained political power that they were able to effect large churches and public spheres of worship (and oppression). First, there were small groups, and individual prayer. This made the hunger for texts, I would think, all the more powerful. If i can’t be celebrating my God with a group of my co-religionists, then allow me to summon that community, and the presence of my God to my memory by reading stories and accounts that we all share in common. Let the absence be filled by memory evoked by engagement with the text. Let me engage with my community –spread out and hidden–in a unity through that very absence as it were. Now, Christians are everywhere (everywhere *sigh*) and it is the polytheist contingent that meets in small groups, often quite spread out, and perhaps — i’m speculating here–we also find ourselves deferring to written texts for prayer and meditation more than our polytheistic ancestors may have done, ancestors for whom the core beliefs of religion were contained and transmitted via intergenerational household and social practice. They could see their religion and veneration for the Gods reinforced all around them. We who don’t have that, depend much more on written media. It’s an interesting juxtaposition.”
For more of my thoughts on this, as well as specifically my suggestions on how to utilize lore in a way that furthers devotion instead of narrowly blocking it, read the full article here. (it’s free).
Polytheism.com is the only pan-polytheist forum currently in existence today. It is a meeting place for multiple polytheists from a variety of traditions, where necessary theological work is being done. Check it out here.
There’s been some predictable Heathen push back on my latest polytheist.com article: “Towards a Heathen Theology.” It’s been fascinating reading Swain’s article right after posting my own: his piece so neatly demonstrates precisely the type of blind sophistry that I was discussing in my piece that one could almost think we were working together to better make the point about devotion. I could almost thank him for providing such a clear example of everything that is so amiss with Heathenry particularly in the realm of theology (and perhaps reading comprehension).
Firstly, Swain posits that the only reason to be devoted is to gain some boon from the Gods. Right there, he and I are moving from two very different perspectives. Whereas for him, at least according to his writing, the only purpose in prayer or devotion is mercenary, for me it’s part of being a responsible adult. We engage with devotion not because we want something, but because it is the right thing to do. It’s a matter of maintaining right relationship with the Gods, with the Numinous, with the Holy Powers. This idea that the Gods are too busy to bother with us is one of the most destructive ideas currently in play in contemporary Heathenry. It negates from the start the possibility for any type of in depth relationship with the Gods. It nullifies the need for devotional work at all, which I’m sure is the reason it’s such a popular load of crap. One thing that comes through in reading ancient writings is that the Gods were real to these people. Swain and those Heathens like him reify lore without ever considering the mindset of the people who are supposedly reflected in its pages. The thing that we struggle with the most: the reality of the Gods is the thing that was a given to the ancient world. We are the ones lacking and it is specifically in the area of devotion.
Secondly, honoring the ancestors does not preclude honoring the Gods. This is a typical Heathen argument that crops up frequently in this type of discourse and it is founded in a false dichotomy. In reality, these things work hand in hand.
Thirdly, devotion and prayer for their own sake, as expressions of reverence for the Gods are not Christian concepts, or rather they did not originate with Christianity. Pre-Christian polytheists had complex theologies and the earliest prayers that we have on record date from Sumer. That we do not have reams of prayers from early Heathens points more toward their having an oral culture rather than a lack devotional consciousness. Otherwise we are forced to conclude that in comparison to nearly every other polytheistic culture extant prior to Christianity, pre-Christian Heathens were backward and shallow in religion and we have Roman sources noting that this was hardly the case. Tacitus talks about the piety of the German tribes, piety that was lived every day, not just when it was convenient to have a festival.
Swain writes at the closing of his piece:
“In closing, I think Krasskova is either trying to purposefully lead folks to believe those that do not practice devotion to the gods the way she does do not believe in the gods, or perhaps for some reason she actually believes this. Either way makes no difference to me as I feel Krasskova has put little to no thought into why we should practice such devotion, just that we should. And I feel all evidence points to her the ideas of such devotion as coming from Christian ideology. There are far too many similarities. If she can come up with a well thought out, reasoned piece drawing on the lore on why we should practice such devotion, then I might be able to understand. but to simply say we must have such devotion, or we are non-believers will not do. Simply, because many do not do as she does, does not mean we believe in the gods any less.”
I would hope that those reading my work are far better and more deeply ensconced in their devotion than I. It is not a matter of creating cookie-cutter spirituality. Even if we were devoted deeply to the same group of Deities, each person is going to express that uniquely. It will be a unique relationship for each and every person engaging in devotional work. The desired commonality lies in value and prioritization, in other words valuing a devotional life which Swain’s brand of Heathenry does not.
It is common in Heathenry to dismiss uncomfortable ideas or ideas with which one might disagree as ‘Christian’ ideology. Swain should perhaps study ancient history, or even early Christianity. The Christians had as much discomfort with the idea of an informed devotional life (one not easily brought into submission with prevailing orthodoxies) as contemporary Heathens. Hence why holy people like one of my favorite mystics, Mechthild of Magdeburg were as often excommunicated and sometimes even executed as they were canonized.
Finally if one believes in the Gods then it follows that belief should affect behavior. Given what one can so obviously see in Heathenry (evidenced beautifully in Swain’s post), it’s difficult to conclude from behavior any great depth of belief or caring. Swain may attempt to obfuscate the issue by ridiculing or misrepresenting devotion in general and my devotion in particular and he may hold up a lore based defense of devotion as his golden calf (ignoring again my argument that lore is not scripture and we should not need lore to show us how to behave respectfully to the Gods if we are adults) but in the end it comes down to this: Swain and others like him devalue devotion because they simply don’t want to do it. (1) Perhaps the enormity of what the Gods are makes them feel small? I don’t now, but the only right relationship with the Gods that they acknowledge is one in which the Gods barely exist.
- I’ve noted before in other articles that the endlessly quoted verse from the Havamal “Tis better not to give than to give too much…” is inevitably always quoted out of context. Read this in context and it clearly refers to negotiating with the rune spirits, not Gods and not ancestors. It’s a perfect example of the misuse and mis-interpretation of lore to edit out anything that might point to devotion or to skew it out of context and true.
My latest article is now available at polytheist.com. Here I discuss the need for articulated discussions and explorations of theology within Heathenry, and the ongoing tension between praxis and doxa. I talk about the need to go past flat discussions of ‘lore’ and provide a few concrete examples of how to begin the process of moving from conversion mindset to something closer approximating that of pre-Christian Heathenry. Ultimately I ask the question, so aptly synthesized by the editor at polytheist.com, of “where does theology dwell?” Why do we need these discussion so desperately and precisely what is it that will allow us to build a sustainable, inter-generational tradition?
Check it out, folks and feel free to leave feedback either here or at polytheist.com. This is a continuation of the discussion of tradition and what it means to prioritize that over the individual, and what it means to keep the Gods at the heart of it all.
My latest column is now up at polytheist.com. Check it out. It wasn’t the article I intended to write, but it’s one I felt I had to write. i’m hoping next month to get back to my regular theology pieces.
I just read Edward Butler’s latest at polytheist.com — which can be found here–and as always it has given me a great deal of food for thought. I highly recommend taking time to read this carefully. He highlights another layer of restoration with which we as polytheists must, of necessity, engage. I give you a snippet here:
“Modern commentators have inevitably, in attempting to grasp the genesis of these disciplines in ancient polytheist thinkers, either separated these theological concerns from their proto-scientific activities, as though these were in some tension with each other, or have used the presence of polytheistic theologies in these thinkers as proof that their concepts had failed to cross a crucial threshold of scientificity. A perspective informed by polytheistic metaphysics can, by contrast, restore the integrity of ancient thought. Moreover, in restoring the continuity between polytheistic theologies, wisdom traditions and the beginnings of scientific speculation, the polytheist can correct an excessively Eurocentric account of the development of the sciences, because the fundamental intellectual and ontological basis of the sciences is seen to exist in every culture, though historical contingencies have led to certain aspects being developed further in some cultures than in others.”
There is some ground that we should never, ever cede. Working in both Religious Studies and Classics I have absolutely seen the academic dismissal of the polytheist perspective in approaching these philosophers and it is both unfortunate and something that I think we must endeavor to correct, if only in our own approach to these works, works which evolved out of a deeply pious and polytheistic culture. Let us take these philosophers at their own words and instead of explaining away their piety, explore what it means that these men of science were also men who could proudly exclaim that we live in a world full of Gods.
My March column is now up at Polytheist.com. I’m particularly excited about this piece and I will be writing more on our cosmogony.
Here’s an excerpt from “In the Beginning,” at polytheist.com.
Our cosmogony begins with a Big Bang. This is a very modern term, and perhaps a bit too prosaic to describe the type of collision conveyed through our mythos. (1) Well before the Gods became, there is violence, a grinding together, there is noise and sound, there is excitement, there is confusion, there is change and exchange. — a maelstrom, but a maelstrom with purpose. There is a coming together that resulted in a change of potentiality into matter, and matter into the seed of unnumbered possibilities. Does it happen slowly or all at once in a huge crash? We have no way of knowing for sure, though if we look at the Gylfaginning, and examine the fragments of cosmogonic lore left to us, it would seem to point to a slow interaction over an extensive period of “time.” (Even so, certainly there would be that one micro-second, that tipping point where interaction or collision gave birth to something new). What we do know is that something happens that forever changes the very fabric, the space, and materiality of Being. (It brings potentiality of being into temporality of being). Something happens and it is irreversible. The world of ice and the world of fire collide and from that explosion of oppositional forces the cosmos begins to unfold. This is our starting point. What existed before this? Where did Muspelheim and Niflheim originate? What prompted this collision?–it’s not important. It’s not relevant to the discussion. Our starting point is the engagement of oppositional forces. It’s that tension and what comes from it: its fruitfulness, not where it happened or what preceded it that we are meant to focus on. Our starting point instead is the blinding explosion of force: fire and ice, action and stillness, movement and stasis, heat and cold, expansion and contraction, light and shadow, projection and retraction…and everything in between.
My latest column at polytheist.com is now available here. I am very pleased with this particular article. In it, I discuss how to engage with lore in a devotional context, drawing on my recent academic study of a process called ‘lectio divina.’ It is a way not just of studying or memorizing lore, but of using it as a springboard to open oneself up to direct experience of the Gods.
I often criticize Heathens for being far too dependent on the written word. We are not, after all, religions of the book and I think there is a regrettable tendency to default to a certain reification of what we term “the lore” in place of seeking out the direct experience of our Gods. In fact, i think all too often we use study of the lore to keep the Gods at arms length. I talk about why this may be so in our community, and provide an alternative that allows for the use of lore but encourages the reader to go more deeply into the devotional experience at the same time, using study of lore as a map for the journey.
I remain deeply suspicious of any experience that is mediated by a text, but at least I’m seeing some good models — albeit it medieval ones!–for how this can be done to augment rather than block the mystical experience. Anyway, check out my article and feel free to comment, either at polytheist.com or directly here.
This is a good article, one that touches on the experience that I and I suspect many other polytheists have had, not only with those who call themselves “interfaith,” but with other non-polytheistic pagans as well. It’s worth taking the time to read.
I will admit that I don’t understand giving two shits about whether one’s friends accept one’s polytheism, or whether one is part of a group etc. From the beginning of my religious journey i’ve made it a point to cull from my life those who interfere with my work, my faith, who don’t nourish my relationship with my Gods as a matter of choice, no matter how deeply I might care for them. Gods come first. So I can’t speak to the experience of a younger generation for whom this is a concern.
What I can speak to and will is the vignette the author describes at the beginning, your interaction with the so-called interfaith lady. yes and yes. I’ve worked in various capacities in the interfaith community since 1999 (including as dean of an interfaith seminary, to my knowledge the only polytheist to hold such a position) and it has always been an uphill fight. I have found not only no comprehension for polytheism, but also no respect or tolerance. Interfaith is ok until these people are challenged to move outside of their ultimately monotheistic comfort zone.
The problem is, as I see it, that the interfaith community still looks at monotheism as the “norm,” whereas to actually do interfaith work well, there can’t be that type of automatic default. Moreover, diversity isn’t something encouraged in interfaith work despite their rhetoric to the contrary. It’s all about homogenization of the Gods as “it’s all one anyway”. No, Virginia, it bloody well isn’t. I’ve found over the years that many of the people involved in interfaith work are deluding themselves with respect to the depth of their spirituality. it’s a feel good movement when it could be so much more. I think real interfaith involves wrestling with one’s prejudices and discomforts and stepping up to find common *working* ground with those of radically diverse faiths (working, not theological ground). It can be done but it takes a hell of a lot more mental and emotional effort than the easy pabulum of “well, we’re all one”.
My newest column is up at Polytheist.com. This is a continuation of my article “Compromise is not an Option” which can be found here. Beware any person or any group that asks you to compromise on your religious practices, that encourages culling or softening one’s practices to appeal to the mainstream, to be more ‘normal,’ or for purposes of homogenization (perhaps especially for the latter). In my latest article I discuss the theological implications of precisely this.
Check out the newest here.