“The erosion of traditions everywhere harms everyone. ” –Sannion
(Said in response to a conversation I was having about the watering down of Catholic traditions. I don’t have a horse in that race but I have opinions on it and this is why. Everyone has been entrusted with their traditions and that’s a small piece of the whole and when that becomes corrupt or broken, something vital is lost. Everyone plays a part in keeping those traditions whole: clergy, laity, specialists, et al.
This in particular reminds me of the situation faced by the Stellinga, polytheists warriors who rose up in response to the felling of the Irminsul and other sacred trees. For them, the felling of those trees was the destruction of their world, values, and way of life and the worlds of the ancestors because in Germanic cosmology those trees are what hold up each of the worlds and those worlds need to be distinct and contained to be healthy. With the dissolution of boundaries and everything blurring and crashing together, the loss of tradition, the loss of meaning, everything dissolves into chaotic nothingness and that’s the Ragnarok that they faced. It’s also the Ragnarok we’re facing today. Don’t think of these as one time events but as the result of the corruption and destruction of our traditions. With every tradition lost a world collapses.
We need to fight all the harder for the restoration and preservation of our traditions or we’ll be swept into the chaos of the Void).
Apparently Emily Kamp, this month’s “Polytheistic Voices” interviewee, is getting a bit of harassment on her tumblr page because she was interviewed by me. Really pathetic, folks, but unsurprising (though I constantly marvel at the lack of nuanced reading comprehension in some of my critics. Wow. There are resources that can help you, folks, really. I’d look into that if I were you. I can hunt up a list of organizations that focus on increasing literacy if you like).
At any rate, one of the criticisms is that I apparently “devalued the Holocaust” by comparing it to “willing conversions.” Firstly, buttercups, I never said anything about the Holocaust. I said, if I recall correctly, that the destruction of our traditions, the destruction of our shrines, temples, groves, and sacred places, the forced conversion and religious genocide that occurred as a consequence of monotheism, specifically of Christianity marching through Europe and later Islam through the middle east (and for a time into Europe) was a holocaust. I stand by that statement. The destruction of these sacred covenants with the land, the ancestors and the Gods, the destruction of our traditions and the corruption of the world into monotheism was a terrible holocaust, one from which we have yet to recover. The word, my dear readers, existed long before World War II. A simple search of the term on dictionary.com yields the following:
- a great or complete devastation or destruction, especially by fire.
- a sacrifice completely consumed by fire; burnt offering.
3.(usually initial capital letter) the systematic mass slaughter of European Jews in Nazi concentration camps during World War II (usually preceded by the).
4.any mass slaughter or reckless destruction of life.
If I were to give a sacrifice to Odin, and after slaughtering the animal, commit it to full immolation that would, technically be a holocaust. The ruthless destruction of our traditions and those who practiced them is likewise a holocaust. Isn’t it interesting how context, indefinite articles, and capitalization (or lack thereof) actually matters grammatically? English is neat that way. (The emphasis in the above dictionary.com quote was in the original. It was not mine).
Secondly, if anyone actually thinks that Europe converted willingly, you all need to read your history a little more thoroughly. Moreover, if you think our polytheistic ancestors abandoned their traditions and Gods so readily then why are you even bothering to practice any type of polytheism now? Those who saw the rise of Christianity did not, in fact – despite generations of Christian propaganda to the contrary (including a deeply embedded idea of hierarchy of religions that places monotheism or atheism at the top)– go gently into that good night. I often wonder what it was like for the generation that was forced to bury their sacred items and images, or give them over to the bog in order that they might not be desecrated by Christian hands.
Let’s see, off the top of my head:
We all know about Hypatia, the philosopher tortured to death by Christians, but have you bothered to read about Olvir of Egg, a Scandinavian martyr tortured to death by Olaf Trygvasson (may he be ever damned) because he would not abandon the Norse Gods? How many of you know about Charlemagne’s continued persecutions against Saxon Heathens, culminating in the massacre of 2500 of them? Or the forced conversion of the Orkneys – let’s round up all the children while the men are out working and threaten to kill them if the village doesn’t convert? So Christian. So very, very Christian.
Then there’s Raud the strong, also tortured to death by Olaf Trygvasson, again for refusing conversion. Likewise there’s a Norwegian chieftain and priest – unnamed I believe in the sources – who was tortured to death by –guess who—Olaf Trygvasson again for attempting to protect the sacred images of Thor and the temple in Maeren when Trygvasson destroyed it.
We have the Stellinga, still practicing their polytheism under duress in the ninth century. There’s Eyvind Kinnrifi, tortured to death by…wanna hazard a guess? …Trygvasson again, for refusing to convert. No wonder the Christians canonized this fucker. He sure kept busy butchering the pious. May we be as efficient in restoring our traditions as he was in destroying them – and preferably without all the bloodshed.
Saints’ lives are always sickly entertaining reading, if one wishes to see what polytheists faced during the spread of Christianity. Take the life of Martin of Tours for instance. I can barely stand to read it (and I’ve had to multiple times in various theology classes). Just from memory, I recall he interrupted a Pagan funeral procession, desecrating the ancestral rites because he wanted to make sure the Gods weren’t being venerated. He destroyed multiple temples and shrines, and chopped down trees holy to the local Pagans. Each time, people protested up to the point of riots. This is not an isolated series of incidents. This was standard operating procedure for these missionaries and each time there is recorded resistance.
My favorite account is the wonderful resistance by the Pagans at Lyon in the second century who, frankly, were just sick of Christian bullshit. (Eusebius writes about this in his Ecclesiastical History and of course it’s framed as persecution of Christians. Yes, defending one’s ancestral traditions, refusing to abandon one’s Gods, and driving out the people who are desecrating one’s holy places is persecution, but monotheists coming into a place engaging in wholesale destruction of sacred spaces and attempting to force conversion isn’t? Obviously, these early Christians had the same literacy problems as some of my tumblr readers).
Blood was spilled to defend our Gods and our traditions. That Christian writers later presented conversion as inevitable and willing does not mean that it was in fact so. It was anything but.
Intrepid tumblristas are also protesting that I support human sacrifice. Obviously, this is ludicrous. What I’m not willing to do, however, is condemn our ancestors because it was occasionally practiced. They lived in a very, very different world and had reasons for doing what they did, reasons that we may now find abhorrent. I’m not suggesting we return to giving human sacrifice, but neither do I think we’re more advanced than our ancestors. We may have better technology but we’re so much more disconnected from the land, the dead, and the Gods that in no way do I think we’re particularly evolved. So take that for what it’s worth.
I do think it would be a good and holy thing if we were able to lay ourselves down before our Gods in offering and die in sacrifice to Them if that is what we wish, (you know, consent matters in some things) and how we wish to die but given the state of euthanasia laws in this country, that’s not going to happen in any of our lifetimes so what I think on this matter is largely irrelevant. Likewise, if I were a soldier, I would, in fact, dedicate my kills to my Gods. Why not? I belong to a God of war and I’m not wasteful. But you know, that’s all contextual, theoretical, and nuanced as opposed to blanket support for human sacrifice. No wonder my tumblr readers found it confusing to digest. (Though let’s be honest: given how our society treats its most vulnerable, the blanket callousness and cruelty with which we treat our impoverished, the pointless wars in which we’ve been engaged for what? Almost 20 years now…one wonders if we don’t’ have a culture that supports human sacrifice wholesale and for far less relevant a purpose than honoring the gods. In fact, I think we have very little room to condemn our ancestors when we have turned the world that we inherited from them to shit).
Remember, folks: reading is fundamental.
I’ve been talking to Kenaz Filan quite a bit of late, in light of the recent community brouhahahas (though we’re also old friends, going back more than a decade). We tend to have these amazing, weighty discussions off list and of late both of us have pointed out that we need to be having some of those same conversations in public, where everyone can consider, benefit, and jump in. So with his kind permission, I’m sharing here the conversation we had this morning.
Kenaz: We can start with an interesting quote which Alley Valkyrie posted, approvingly, to her FB feed:
“The social revolution of the nineteenth century cannot take its poetry from the past but only from the future. It cannot begin with itself before it has stripped away all superstition about the past. The former revolutions required recollections of past world history in order to smother their own content. The revolution of the nineteenth century must let the dead bury their dead in order to arrive at its own content. There the phrase went beyond the content – here the content goes beyond the phrase.” – Karl Marx
Call me a fascist reactionary privileged white person — but that quote is absolutely fucking antithetical to ancestral veneration. It calls on the dead to bury their dead; it dismisses the past as “superstition;” it privileges the Is-Now and the Will-Be over the Was and states that the social revolution it envisions has nothing to learn from the past. And anybody who can’t see that has missed the point of Marxism, ancestral veneration or both. (Of course, I could argue that if you’re trying to mix Marxism with any other kind of religion — because that’s exactly what Marxism is, a theoeconomic religion — you’ve missed a few points already).
Galina: Kenaz, I’m so disgusted by that quote. It encapsulates every single thing that I find appallingly wrong about the Marxist left. It is postulated on a complete disconnect from the past, from our obligations to the dead, to our Gods, to our traditions. It is a mindset born of a fractured and damaged present. It also neatly abrogates any responsibilities to one’s own ancestors. It stands against the very heart not just of Polytheism specifically but of Paganism in general. No wonder there is so little common ground between us and the G&R folks if this is the paradigm from which they’re working. I think this just shows the sickness of our world. The cure of course is exactly what Marx was railing against in that quote. Go figure.
Kenaz: The more I see of cultural Marxism the more I despise it. Intellectual thuggery, groupthink and sanctimonious shaming, rote recitation of quotes and slogans in lieu of actual thought — what’s not to dislike? Marxism fulfills the function of a religion in that it gives adherents a lens to view their world and their place therein. But it privileges humanity (more precisely, human socioeconomic activity) and sees the Gods as nothing but “opiates” created to distract the benighted masses. At very best, it judges Them according to its own commandments, accepting or rejecting Their message based on whether or not it agrees with Das Kapital.
Galina: I agree with you completely. Look at where that positions the Gods. I’ve often wondered why people like Rhyd (he’s been the most recent to posit this, but there have been others) find the idea of a devotional relationship with the Gods that is NOT predicated on commerce, on ‘I’m praying so You will give me things,’ so incomprehensible. It’s as though anything other than mercantile relationships are outside the boundaries of their understanding and what a horrible way to live in the world. We honor our Gods because They are Gods and we are devoted to Them because we love Them. Why is that so difficult to comprehend, that we are restoring our traditions not just because it is correct to do so, not just because this is the curative for our world, but because we love and adore the Powers? Well, I think in quotes like the above, we have our answer. Marxism is a natural progression from industrialization and industrialization severed the last of the sacred ties between community and the land, between us and our natural world, and the natural orders of that world. No wonder this is so hard for some.
Kenaz: I hate the racism and anti-Semitism endemic to so much of the Alt.Right. There were Jews in Europe before the Slavenoi got there, for one thing: for another I resent the fact that my options as a white American are White Supremacism or White Self-Hatred thanks to the WP crew and their cultural Marxist frenemies. But at least the alt.right has some respect for words like “patriotism,” “dignity” and “honor:” Alley and Pals support the guy who spit on a woman wearing a “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN” because America stands for nothing but racism, injustice and imperialism and that slogan is an Act Of Violence against people of color. (No, I’m not joking: I fucking wish I was… ). And for all the talk about Nazi Racist violence, the Radical Left seems far more excited about taking the fight to the streets than the White Nationalists.
Galina: well that’s just it: any disagreement to these people is an act of violence. Think about that: thinking differently is an act of violence. This right here is why I am so down on the illiberal left: there’s no room left for discourse and reason. It’s all about upholding the party line, never questioning it, and a healthy dose of self abasement too. I can’t comment on someone spitting on someone because that person thinks differently than they do…there’s nothing good I can say about that and very little other than profanity that will come out of my mouth when confronted which such pathetic lack of character and reason.
(Kenaz then refers to a conversation we were having with an American-Hindu woman on fb, discussing Hindu-Muslim violence in Southeast Asia. Kenaz had asked if she actually believed in the Gods or thought of Them only as symbols or archetypes, because it makes a difference).
Kenaz: it really does come down in the end to that pesky question of belief. If Hanuman is something more than a myth or symbol, then we have to take His position into account and consider His claim on that land. I was actually saddened when she said “I’d ask if you are serious, but of course you are.” Yes, I am seriously saying that I believe in Hanuman and His claim to that land. And until she believes in the Gods of her people, she will continue trying to mollify people who hold her in contempt and people who are trying to kill her.
Galina: Bingo. And this is what I see so much of in polytheism and paganism in general: trying to excuse and/or make nice with monotheism. Stop apologizing to those who conquered your ancestors and destroyed your traditions are are still trying to abolish our ways. Stop thinking they’re our friends or equals or allies. Stop. Just fucking stop. You’re suffering from some sort of intergenerational Stockholm syndrome. Wake up and see the world as it really is: permeated to its rotted core with the systemic filter of monotheism, with a structure that would utter destroy our ancestral ways and us too if we refuse to submit. Islam may be the purest expression of that monotheism, but make no mistake, the Christianity with which we have to also contend is no better. Individuals within these traditions may be (and are) but the systems themselves, are devastating and will never be anything but and the sooner we wake up and realize that, the better.
There’s a wonderful quote that I reference quite frequently by Dr. Frances Cress-Welsing: “The most disastrous aspect of colonization which you are the most reluctant to release from your mind is their colonization of the image of God.” I think that is part of what’s going on here combined with this narrative that we are somehow more advanced than our ancestors, somehow more ‘enlightened,’ and that polytheism and animism is somehow ‘primitive.’. We get that from academia and this ‘hierarchy of religions’ which places protestant Christianity (or now, maybe atheism) at the top and indigenous religions, polytheisms, etc. at the bottom. It pervades our culture and is, in reality, just a continuation of the damage of monotheistic conquest: the idea that our religions are a point from which we should evolve (preferably into agnosticism or atheism). The true opposite of monotheism is NOT atheism or any of those things, it’s polytheism and make no mistake the system of monotheism is well aware of that fact.
(Kenaz is working on a beautiful memorial to my adopted mom so we moved into discussing that.)
Kenaz: As I continue working on Fuensanta’s memorial I become more and more aware of just how deep the social rot is. Our best hope — our only hope, really — is to establish a few dozen or a few hundred homes where the Gods are honored. Our descendents will rebuild the temples. We need to create islands of piety amidst the social collapse, to make safe spaces for the Gods and provide examples of pietas in a world that has forgotten it. (I expect at this point that I will see the end of American democracy and if I don’t Annamaria certainly will).
Galina: I think that’s true. I know with the work that we do, that we are working for a tradition and a community that we will never ourselves see realized. We’re laying the groundwork, the scaffolding upon which future generations will build. I do think that it’s only when we have multiple generations of practicing polytheists that we’re going to get anywhere. This is why passing these traditions and the piety onto our children is so very important.
Kenaz: As for Annamaria, here’s a little anecdote: Kathy and I noticed we were short on the peanut butter cups we give Legba for an offering. Annamaria heard us talking and said we could give Mr. Legba her candy if He was hungry. Loki has told me Annamaria will be greater than either of her parents and will go farther: I don’t doubt Him for a minute. And if we can get a few more children like her, children who love the Gods from the cradle onward and who are never taught that the sneer is the highest of all human expressions, then I really think we can re-establish veneration and piety in our world.
Galina: Kenaz, your daughter is already more pious and sensible than many adults I know. This does me good to read.
Kenaz (referring another young person with whom we were speaking earlier): K.’s story was interesting: he was apparently an atheist and “modern Indian” until he had an up close and personal meeting with the Gods of his people. Now he’s a Hindu activist who wants to see Monotheism overthrown, or at the very least called on the carpet for its many crimes. The Gods of India are angry, and rightly so: I am heartened to see They are reclaiming Their land. I may try my hand at a piece for the Hindu Post or some similar publication or for an alternative right publication that actually *honors* the Gods rather than using them as props for their political agenda. (I already have a Gnostic Christian friend who is interested in creating a moderate/centrist forum for discussion of topics like Islam, open borders, etc. — we may see some movement in that arena soon).
Galina: I think you absolutely should. I need to get on my next column too. We need those spaces for discussion and disagreement. We need to be having conversations, networking, and raising each other up. That is the only way forward, with the Gods ever and always at the centered heart of our work.
Kenaz: I am also beginning to understand just how right Andvari was when He said you could look to Fuensanta and find all you need to live a virtuous polytheistic life. Even my earliest concerns concerning her potential deification vanished when I was able to get past that damn Monotheism Filter. There is a history in many, many traditions of individuals who led noteworthy lives becoming deified or beatified: Rama & Sita, various Roman emperors — the idea is challenging only if you doubt that Gods might sometimes choose to walk among us for Their own reasons.
Kenaz: One of the Monotheism Filter’s most deadly forms is the “Golden Age” trope. When you start talking about legendary eras when the Gods walked among us, you imply They no longer do so. If you see the sagas not as Lore which sets our beliefs in stone but as earlier chapters in an ongoing Story, your vision of the world changes radically. (It also helps you dispense with yet another odious modern idea, the belief that the Gods need our worship and that they vanished once we quit praying to them. Contemplation and prayer are primarily of benefit to us, not the Gods. That is not to say that humans don’t play a major role in Their plans or that They don’t appreciate veneration: it’s to note that the Gods aren’t scavengers feeding on sanctimonious words and incense fumes like so many flies buzzing around a steaming pile of dung. We need Them far more than They need us. (We’re not the crown of creation; we’re not the sole sentient species on this planet; we’re not even the apex predator. Anybody who doubts this can ask Andvari. If they’re unclear on the third they can spend a few minutes above ground in Svartalfheim.
Galina: yep and this is one of the things that I see in Heathenry way too much: the idea that the Gods only talked to heroes of the saga age and before, that They cannot and don’t do so to us now. It’s bullshit. The Gods absolutely have a vested interest in engagement and they DO. Clearly.
I think the prevalence of this narrative though is partly the discomfort that I mention above with the idea that perhaps there is something ignorant or superstitious, primitive about polytheism and we as moderns should know better. That is so deeply ingrained in our society and in academia for sure. I think polytheism makes some polytheists uncomfortable (I know that actual engagement with the Gods, who may not hold the same ideas and ethics that we do certainly does) and that leads to this reification of “lore” over experience and more to the point, downplaying Their potential for interaction, downplaying the Gods in favor of raising the community to the center. Problem is, it doesn’t work. A healthy polytheistic community is one that is centered on the Gods, not one where the Gods are tangential to the community.
Kenaz: Anyway, apologies for the wall of text. I would like to get this in a blog or some other forum as I think we’re touching upon a lot of good ideas.
Galina: Good thoughts as always, Kenaz. I agree: these conversations need to happen. Thanks for letting me share this.
We had the privilege of meeting a delegation from Ysee at the Polytheist Leadership Conference in 2014. Below, are some wise words from allies in the fight to restore our traditions.
In 1994 there was a landmark ruling: the City of Hialeah vs. Ernesto Pichardo and the Church of Lukumi Babaluaye. As a result of this ruling, religious groups in the US had on the books a precedent guaranteeing the right to animal sacrifice. In 2009 (in Texas!) there was another, similar case: Jose Merced, President Templo Yoruba Omo Orisha Texas, Inc., v. City of Euless. Again, the religious right to sacrifice was upheld. Many of us owe a debt to those men and religious groups who fought this fight all the way up to the Supreme Court so they could honor their Holy Powers properly. Those of us in various polytheistic religions like Heathenry, Hellenic Polytheism, etc. look to these rulings to protect our right to offer properly to our Gods as well and so far, so good.
Today, however, a friend posted something about animals being given personhood status in Canada, and I’ve been seeing more and more anti-cruelty laws being discussed. (I didn’t read the article and it’s since been taken down so i don’t have any details about whether our neighbors to the north have actually done this). This worries me greatly. I am against cruelty to animals. This goes without saying. Sacrifice and cruelty to animals, however, are two very different things. Sacrifices are performed cleanly, quickly, and only by experienced, trained professionals. Cruelty would negate the offering, an offering grounded in deep respect. That being said, i can’t help but wonder how long until the government, or some well meaning group of do-gooders crawls up our collective ass about this aspect of our restoration. There are those of us working very hard to restore our traditions who flat out believe that sacrifice is essential. I personally would go so far as to say that without sacrifice there is no piety. It is foundational. This is not an area of negotiation. More than almost any other ritual practice, I would say this is crucial.
This is also apparently controversial. Today when I mentioned just this question in response to my friend’s post : are exceptions to these laws being made for religious sacrifice? I received a response from a woman I assume was Pagan: “If i can’t sacrifice babies why should you be allowed to sacrifice animals.?”. Because, bitch, it’s my religious right. It is what the rites of my Gods and ancestors occasionally require. and because your white-bred comfort with my religion means less than nothing to me. fuck off. I have very little patience when someone outside of my religious community attempts to compel me or any other polytheist to denude our religious practices for their personal sensitivities. We fought this battle so many times that we’re bloody well sick and tired of having to repeat ourselves. (And if i seem perhaps overly peppery, consider that this was the response received to my question of whether my right to practice my religion freely might be impinged).
I could talk about how the knee-jerk reaction from some Pagans about the question of sacrifice stems from the same type of ingrained self-contempt for the ways of our ancestors that I mentioned here. I could talk about contemporary sensibilities being rooted in disconnection, impiety, and a deep hostility toward devotion. I could talk about the very classist, very Western, post-modern bias that riddles contemporary Paganism. I’m not going to do that though. I’m not going to dwell on any of those things. I’ve written about the importance of sacrifice here and here and many other places as well. Go and read at your leisure.
What I am going to do is to ask you to consider the slippery slope of religious erasure. This is about more than just sacrifice. When I received the above response (babies vs. animals) to my question, I realized that what we’re really dealing with is something that many of us have seen dozens and dozens of times before in the greater Pagan community: the push to cull from our traditions anything that might make the mainstream uncomfortable. So where exactly is that supposed to end? When our traditions are watered down to Pagan standard? After we get rid of sacrifice to make the animal rights people happy, what’s next? ecstasy? ordeal? intense religious ritual? shrines? body art for our Gods? veiling for our Gods? what? Exactly when will people unrooted in any ancestral tradition, unbound by loyalty to any set of Gods, taken up in affection and affectation for the Self be satisfied? When our traditions are nothing more than empty simulacra of their own?
If we’re going to restore our traditions then we need to do so with integrity. We need to stand up and stop being so afraid of making people uncomfortable or, (and this is what i think is really at the crux of it) of being seen as backward or primitive, or savage. There’s a world of racism, cultural appropriation, and religious oppression behind those ingrained feelings that needs to be called into the light — no matter how messy it is—and challenged. When we invoke this restoration, we are remaking the modern world, our part of it anyway. We are dragging, inch by painful, bloody inch, ancestral power into the 21st century. We will be challenged. We will be misunderstood. We will be attacked. But you know what that means? It means we’re making progress. It means that we are a threat to the established order of things and that is good, even if that which we threaten is only the conditioning of a dozen generations of Christian oppression and indoctrination within our own psyches.
I get dozens of emails every month from people telling me that they are nervous and afraid of setting out on the path of devotion: to the Gods, to the ancestors, to restoration. They want desperately to do it, but they have swallowed fear with their mother’s milk. What will it mean to do this thing? What will it mean to poke at the mental filter with which we’ve been raised? What will it mean to root oneself instead in the wisdom of two millennia past? How will one deal with the cognitive disconnect and most of all how will one cope with being ‘othered’ from family, community, and the world. In the end, I think these are questions that each person doing this polytheistic restoration has to answer for him or herself but I know for me, keeping my eye on the goal and staying devotionally connected to my Gods and as free of miasma as possible helps tremendously.
I know that I will never see the end result that we all seek with our work. I know that. This work of restoration will devour my life and I will never experience what it is like to be a polytheist in my own tradition with an unbroken, restored lineage, with our sacred sites and established cultus, restored Mysteries, and unquestioned place of devotion and praxis. I will never know what it is to not have to fight this fight. BUT for each step I take, someone behind me doesn’t have to fight for that piece of ground. For each step another polytheist takes, that’s ground I don’t have to contest. We are growing in numbers. We are growing in commitment and for all those out there reading this, it’s ok to be afraid and confused but don’t for one minute think you are alone. The greatest gift you can give yourself is learning how to hold the line against compromise of our inherent practices. …because as any bitch in a prison cell will tell you, the moment you yield once, it’s all downhill from there.