I’ve been sitting on this for a while. Around the autumnal equinox, I started to see gross postings in various places (tumblr, facebook, twitter, etc.) mostly about Persephone and Hades, putting in crude terms Her cyclical return to the Underworld. I don’t have cultus to either of those Deities but nonetheless, reading the trashy memes and comments really disturbed me. I think it says something about the paucity of our culture that we so blithely speak not just of sacred things, but of Holy Powers and Their mysteries with such casual disrespect (and I don’t think this is just a polytheistic problem either). Nor am I condemning all memes -– I’ve seen some that are lovely and some that are humorous without crossing the line into disrespect. I think that’s fine. I think that’s healthy and it’s really wonderful to see art and cartoons and prayers and imaginative renderings of our Gods. This is the way we develop iconography and build religious cultus and culture. It’s a good thing. It can be done without disrespect though. In fact, it can and should come from a place of love, adoration, and deep, deep devotion to the Holy Powers. That devotion is the core of every healthy tradition.
Of course, there are some (usually Hellenics but occasionally Heathens will chime in too) who will argue that Homer wrote stories that presented the Gods in less than salutatory manner. Yeah, whoever (and it may be more than one author—but we’ll stick with “Homer” for convenience here) actually put together the Iliad and the Odyssey and other Homeric works did, but A) this corpus was criticized for that very potentially impious presentation by later philosophers; and B) there are also beautiful and deeply pious prayers and hymns within the Homeric corpus. I rarely see that latter coming from the same people who post garbage about the Gods. Often, I want to shake these individuals, and just flat out ask, “if you feel so deeply disgusted with our traditions, traditions you too claim to practice, if you want to erase all mystery and actual cultus, if you hate our Gods so very much why are you here?” I’d be very interested in the answer. When your entire blog or online world is devoted to tearing down and spitting on our traditions and the Holy Powers from which we received those traditions, why are you here?
To put it bluntly, we should speak of our Gods with respect. That shouldn’t be a difficult or contentious thing. These are GODS. These are our Holy Powers. These are the Bestowers of mystery, the Givers of blessings, the Immortal Ones Whose will, and kindness crafted the worlds. These are the Powers from which our souls proceed and to which we will one day return. These are the Good and Gracious Gods from which all our blessings flow. When we speak of Them or render Them into art, we can do so with love and respect. If we have no respect for sacred things and for our Holy Powers and Their Mysteries, I ask again: WHY are we here?
(I completely agree with the comment to this video that says, “This dude should mobilize and bring his healing slaps to the general public.” LOL. Please come to contemporary polytheisms. Please. We need those healing slaps. A lot of them. Repeatedly and with alacrity. Slap the hubris out of us. A-fucking-men).
Distrust anyone who doesn’t take spiritual and ritual cleansing/purification seriously. That’s my general rule of thumb, largely because it shows that, for whatever reason, they either aren’t taking what they’re doing seriously, or they haven’t been fully or properly trained. I cannot emphasize the importance of cleansing too much. It is one of THE single most important things you can do, right up there with regularly honoring your dead.
As I said recently on twitter, the only people I’ve ever had whine and bitch about cleansing, purification, and the need to avoid miasma are those too polluted to be able to stand to be in spiritually clean space with integrity. That’s actually a thing too. I think some people are so mired in the shit of this world, so miasmic, so polluted, so disconnected from the holy that clean, ordered, holy space feels bad to them. It’s one of the saddest things I’ve seen.
There are a number of reasons to be concerned about spiritual pollution and it’s incredibly easy to wash it away.
- Firstly, it can really cloud and clutter one’s spiritual discernment.
- It can affect one’s health and well-being.
- It can exacerbate depression and anxiety.
- It can damage one’s luck.
- It can cause disharmony and arguments between friends, family, etc.
- It slowly occludes the devotional connections that we share with our Holy Powers.
- It can open one up to the influence of evil spirits and malefica.
- It makes it more difficult to connect when in sacred space and actually pollutes that sacred space.
- It is contagious and can affect others.
I probably missed a few things but at the moment, these are the primary dangers that come to mind. Why, in the name of all that’s holy would you NOT want to deal with this? Miasma and spiritual pollution isn’t difficult to remove (there are exceptions to this but since most of us aren’t behaving like Pelops or Pentheus usually it’s not that hard!).
Now, if you’re a spirit worker, priest, or other spiritual specialist, the requirements for cleansing might be a bit more intense, but still, it’s not rocket science. All it requires is a bit of mindfulness and consistency.
Here are some things we do in my house to keep ourselves clean (this is not a comprehensive list).
- We take regular cleansing baths. There are any number of things that can be added to a cleansing bath to remove miasma. I usually combine salt (I like pink Himalayan salt, but any salt will do. Black salt is particularly strong for cleansings), beer (beer baths are awesome), milk, and khernips. I make the entire bath khernips. I might also add other things like a scented oil, Epsom salts (not for removing miasma but to help my old and aching joints), bubble bath, etc. So I combine cleansing pollution with regular bathing.
- I put a cup of khernips in every load of wash (yes, I also use detergent!).
- Every morning we cleanse our head, heart, and hands with khernips.
- I wear protective charms and sometimes cover my head when I feel pollution is particularly bad. I also routinely cover my head when I pray. For the lay person, this can be as simple as wearing an evil eye charm or a Thor’s Hammer or other religious symbol. Cleanse it regularly and if you can, bless it.
- I vacuum and clean my house weekly (though it is cluttered), and khernips the hell out of it.
- We light candles, do fire blessings, and pray almost every night as a family.
- I pray regularly throughout the day.
- I khernips my bed whenever I make it.
- If I have been in a potentially problematic situation, I’ll change my clothes and asperse with khernips when I come home immediately.
- Then of course, before prayer and ritual, we again asperse with khernips or do some other cleansing. It’s simple and fairly easy.
- I try, but often fail, to make sure there are no dirty dishes left before I go to bed. There’s an ATR tradition about warding off a particular type of evil spirit if the sink is completely devoid of dishes.
- I bless the salt in the house and keep it in one large container in the kitchen and this is used for all our cooking and food.
- We regularly bless our food and drink.
- Before any divination or spiritwork, we do special prayers, offerings, and cleansings.
There are a few other things too that we do to protect our home.
If we take our Gods seriously and understand that every time we step into ritual space we have the opportunity to reify Their creative process, then this isn’t too much. With the exception of what we do as specialists, which admittedly is more than the average lay person need worry about, cleansing away pollution and miasma is no more problematic than brushing our teeth, washing our face, and dressing in clean underwear every morning. Anyone who makes it more than that, who goes on and on about how problematic it is, how it’s a red flag, etc. etc., well, take a step back and look at why they’re saying that. Perhaps they themselves are so polluted that such cleansing rites are painful to them. Perhaps they have no desire to be truly clean before the Powers. Perhaps they have no respect for those Powers. Perhaps they are so mired in pollution and foulness that cleanliness seems aberrant to them. Or, perhaps they’re just assholes.
Our elders are the backbone of our traditions. Without elders, there is no tradition and certainly no clean, sustainable transmission of our traditions. There’s a trend now, largely from the Pagan left (no surprise there) to dismiss, erase, eradicate the contributions of our traditions’ elders, all the while reaping the benefits of the learning, traditions, and Mysteries those elders carry. People who spent and spend their lives pouring themselves out for their Gods are being excoriated and slowly pushed out of their traditions by those with little learning, less sense, and no humility at all. It’s really rather disgusting. It’s not surprising – I’ve seen the attitude before—but it is disgusting.
It also betrays a deeply flawed understanding of what tradition and lineage are and why they’re important. It speaks to modern discomfort with hierarchy and authority. It speaks to the quality of person modern Paganisms way too often draw, but it also speaks to a dearth of competent elders in some cases. An elder, however, can be “troublesome” without being wrong. A good elder knows better than to allow him or herself to move with the wind. Rather an elder stands strong and committed to service to the Holy Powers and Their traditions.
Should we have elders, prophets, diviners, etc.? Well that’s really up to the Gods isn’t it? And the Gods have, from time immemorial resounded with a clear and present YES. (This is particularly true in the case of prophets – the community has zero part to play in making a prophet. That is something the Gods alone do).
I am grateful to the elders in my world, living and dead. I am grateful for the doors they’ve opened, for their struggles, their hard work, their sacrifices.
This is the hammer of Thor, Mjolnir. It is a sacred symbol across all denominations of Heathenry. It represents this God’s love and care for humankind, His willingness to protect us against chaos and evil, His ability to gird the world against dissolution and destruction. It means one venerates Gods Whose cultic practices predate Christianity by thousands of years.
Wearing this hammer is a sign that the wearer has aligned him or herself with the holy order of the Gods, that we live our lives in a way that cultivates reverence and piety, respect, and veneration. We honor the Gods Who made our world, we honor our ancestors – all of our ancestors regardless of ethnicity or race—because we are, quite literally, our ancestral lines walking. We are here because of them. We honor the land, because it is alive with spirits, because it nourishes us, because it is right and good to do so. We honor our families, striving to live ethically, sustainably, and in a way that pours riches and wisdom into the hands of the next generation and beyond. We work hard to build community and to contribute to the communities in which we live, cultivating civic awareness, engagement, and patriotism because that it what it means to be a pious, right-living adult.
Thor is a God Who protects the world. He is the God of everyman, everywoman. He hallows. That is His blessing: He hallows all He touches driving out that which is evil, wicked, or polluted. He is a God that nourishes and with the Goddess Sif, brings abundance to our world. How could we not praise Him? It is an honor, no, a privilege to wear His hammer. It is an honor to root oneself in reverence for this Holy Power and all His kin.
I was recently cued in to a pretty unfortunate post by author John Halstead and I have decided to weigh in. While it’s no secret that I dislike Halstead’s position on almost everything, this is not a personal attack against him. I want to make that clear from the beginning. It’s far too easy to turn our disagreements into a battle of personalities and doing so ignores and dismisses the real issues at hand: respect for the Gods and appropriation of polytheistic iconography by outsiders. In fact, I think Mr. Halstead is very, very good at using well-crafted rhetoric to shift the focus away from these issues. It’s so much easier, after all, for the average reader (don’t be average, folks!) to argue personalities (polytheists are so mean!) than to engage seriously with the issue of disrespect. I think we all critique ourselves a little bit, uncomfortably so, when such issues arise and who likes to do that? Instead, I’m interested in the actual theological issue here, and that is why I am writing this article.
Polytheisms are under attack worldwide. Daesh, for instance, has been quoted as saying that “Whenever we take control of a piece of land, we remove the symbols of polytheism and spread monotheism in it.” – an ISIL terrorist (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.” Symbols are obviously important and Daesh has made good on their word too, looting and destroying (as in reducing to rubble and dust) polytheist sacred sites. Within our own communities, a large majority of Pagans are not only diametrically opposed to polytheism, but I believe dedicated to its eradication (how else is one to interpret the constant breech of our traditions, the ongoing attempts to co-opt our religious terminology and to water down our traditions until they are meaningless, and the insistence from so many quarters that atheism – a religious position in and of itself—is part of Paganism?). Respect for our religious symbols is important. Is it so much to ask that we stop treating our religions as social outlets and start instead treating them as actual religions? Looking at our communities, it’s easy to assume, that yes, it may be.
Some Polytheisms don’t really care so much. I was talking to a Hindu friend last weekend about just this issue and we touched on the question of Western appropriation and he said he was fine with it. He said any little bit of Hinduism people are able to take into their religious world, will ultimately benefit them and he’s ok with that. I pointed out, that while I got that, and found it laudable, he has the advantage of having an unbroken tradition, the security of thousands of years of lineage and inter-generational transmission of tradition. Those polytheists whose traditions were devastated by the spread of Christianity don’t have that luxury. We are in the ideological position of having to fight and defend every inch of ground gained. We do not have the ingrained theological mindset, nor the numbers, whereby we can sit back, relax, and say: “it’s ok. Go ahead, use that image of Ba’al in your atheist ritual.” We are still in the process of preparing the ground and sowing seeds that we are hoping to nourish into a sustainable tradition. We’re still in the process of sifting out the threads some of our ancestors broke, and doing the hard, emotionally grueling, painful work of reweaving them back into being. We don’t have the luxury of allowing our traditions to be appropriated by the thoughtless because there’s so little reservoir of the tradition as a living one upon which to draw. We are, instead, tasked with guarding carefully every metaphorical stone that we have again unearthed and set in place as we restore these sacred containers of our mysteries and mystery as any good polytheist knows, is not open to entitlement. So we get a bit testy when we see evidence of such disrespect from those in the community who would set themselves up as our peers.
A couple of weeks ago, Tess Dawson wrote this piece. It’s a measured, restrained response to a provocative act of appropriation and disrespect. I leave you to read that piece for yourself. She doesn’t mention Halstead because this isn’t about Halstead specifically. He is simply the latest incarnation of a culture of disrespect: for our Gods, our traditions, the process of restoration itself. This piece wasn’t about him. It was about something that he did, thoughtlessly, feeling – as he himself says here – entitled.
I was told yesterday – I’ve not been following it myself – that the issue of appropriation has become a hot-button one on Patheos Pagan Channel recently. When you take an image, sacred to a particular tradition, and twist it –however well meaning you may be—into something that is perceived as intensely disrespectful by practitioners of that tradition, well, that is an unfortunate act of appropriation. It’s the religious equivalent of prancing around in black-face and perhaps we should ask ourselves why that’s not ok, but co-opting the sacred is. Social justice warriors get all up in arms about perceived attacks and micro-aggressions on people but rarely raise their voices (at least insofar as I have seen) against perceived attacks and micro-aggressions against their Gods and traditions. It would be nice to see the same level of concern over our traditions. After all, while I may be suspicious of Halstead’s motives (after all, anyone promulgating something like non-theistic or atheist Paganism is clearly attempting to water down the word Pagan until it means nothing at all), in general, people who appropriate our sacred images aren’t intentionally doing something bad or hurtful to us and the traditions within which we’re working. They are very likely attracted to the beauty of the holy and nine times out of ten, most of us have no problem with that. Like my Hindu friend, we’re of the attitude that it’ll be beneficial. There’s always that exception though and when one takes a holy image and turns it into a disrespectful joke, that’s a pretty glaring exception even if it’s being done with protestations of respect.
I’m objecting to the commodification of our Gods. I have another friend, who is fighting just this. My Australian friend Markos discovered recently that apparently third party sites like ebay won’t allow the use of the certain God-names. Why? Because apparently they are shared by companies like Hermes Paris. You can read about his fight here too (and I’m told Wild Hunt is currently looking into this as well, so stay tuned). Where is the public outcry about this erasure and disrespect of our Gods? In fact, Markos is getting harassed by other Pagans about his attempt to fight this, harassed by our own fucking people. We’ll come together over [insert social controversy of the day] and raise a fuss but won’t say word one about the co-opting and commercialization of our Gods, even when it harms our own people: our artists and craftsmen. So yes, the appropriation of an image sacred to Canaanite polytheism is a big deal.
(image courtesy of Wayne and Markos)