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.
So my article on re-enchanting our world seems to have provoked a bit of concern among some of my readers. Normally, this would pass unremarked but I think in this case it really highlights the major ideological fault line running through our various communities today: what takes precedence, the Gods and spirits or humanity?
This is not new. In fact, I think it’s always been the primary fault line upon which we dance for at least the twenty-five plus years that I’ve been a polytheist. I wasn’t surprised to see it come up here. This is what the differences in our communities largely come down to: do you prioritize the Gods or do you prioritize the people and if the latter, then what it eventually becomes is prioritizing politics over any Holy Being. That is the inevitable outcome of that consideration. Is it any wonder then that the political pagan crowd are so doggedly determined to silence polytheists? We challenge the entire framework by which they have ordered their world. We also apparently challenge contemporary parenting styles, you know, the kind that teach you that there are consequences to one’s actions.
There are rules to dealing with Gods and spirits. They don’t have our ethics and we don’t make those rules but yes, we are expected to abide by them. This is not a difficult thing. There is, in fact, no small degree of middle class Western privilege inherent in our difficulties with what is really a very easy equation. It’s something that anyone raised in their own indigenous polytheisms easily comprehends. Hell, it’s something that anyone raised in a culture still possessing a vibrant folk tradition (like, for instance, Appalachia) might also comprehend. It’s only the privilege of the supposedly enlightened middle class that refuses to see what any five year old familiar with Grimm’s fairy tales might know: there are consequences to ignoring rules and we don’t get a pass with the spirits when we do so just because we’re happily steeped in social justice, politics, or racial self-abasement. Some spirits value our consent, but not all of them, not by a long shot and that goes for Gods too. What is the saying? Ignorance of the law does not excuse breaking it.
Now, one may argue that by laying my charms I’m setting out a honey trap. Yes, I am. It is still the choice of the passer by whether or not to steal it. Choices have consequences and if I am able to create even the barest crack whereby my Gods and spirits might gain greater purchase in our world, then I am happy to help and I shall sleep content.*
I think that at the core of this fault line is fear of the Gods warring with lack of belief and perhaps lack of desire to believe. If you believe in the Gods after all, then don’t you trust Them? Why would you not wish to return the world to Them, to restore what was destroyed? If you don’t believe in Them, why are you bothered at all? A delicious catch twenty-two, yes? No matter, paucity of piety on the part of others will never impact my own work and let me be clear about what that is.
My allegiance is to my Gods and spirits. My job is to open doors for Them, restore Their cultus, reclaim territory ripped away by monotheism. I am not in the least bothered if that makes people uncomfortable. I will always put the needs of my Gods and Their attendant spirits first and foremost, understanding that They are hunters, understanding that They have been waiting a very long time to reclaim what was Theirs, understanding that in struggles such as these there is always a rate of attrition. I will break your reality down until you see and hear and taste and smell, acknowledge and maybe even fear what is actually there.
and i’ll consider that a good day’s work.
* I might also add that it’s rather insulting that my readers might assume that I simply create blanket doorways for random passing spirits. Of course they are keyed to a very specific group of spirits and Gods. I am very careful in what I do.
My first article is now live at HinduHumanRights. Read it here. I’ll be writing regularly – an article per month–for them starting this week.
In this inaugural piece I talk about how advanced: in art, philosophy, technology, and science our polytheistic ancestors were, what happened to stop that in its tracks, and what we can learn from that.
I swear I need to avoid email and facebook first thing in the morning. One of these days it’s going to give me a heart attack. Today, I woke up and, as per my norm, grabbed my phone to check my email. I like to know right up front if there are any fires I’m going to have to put out work-wise. Today there weren’t, thankfully, but I did have someone comment on one of the discussions I’m having on facebook that ‘maybe one day we’ll evolve beyond religion.’ Yeah. Nothing like a well-meaning but utterly appalling comment like that to get my sorry, achy, non-morning-person ass out of bed. There’s a lot in that statement that I think warrants both a challenge and a bit of unpacking.
Firstly, I want to say up front that the person who made this statement is a caring, committed person deeply engaged in her community and in social justice. She made this comment in the midst of a discussion about the devastation Christianity had caused and continues to cause to indigenous and polytheistic religions. I believe the comment was made in response to the anger and pain expressed by myself and other polytheists in relation to this. My parsing out this comment should in no way be taken as an attack on the very caring individual to originally made it. It does however, point out an attitude and approach that I often encounter both in certain dark corners of academia and in the interfaith community too, this idea that social and cultural, human evolution must necessarily involve abandoning religion.
My initial response first thing in the morning, before I’d even crawled out of bed, was sharp: I’d rather see us end as a species first before we further abandoned veneration of the Gods and ancestors. We did that once, generally under force, when Christianity swept across Europe. It didn’t go so well. Moreover, as human beings I very strongly believe our purpose, one of them, our duty is to venerate the Gods according to Their wishes and doing so is a joy. It is the natural hierarchy of things. It is what ensures balance and fruitfulness in the world. It is what ultimately brings peace, what the Romans might have called a ‘pax deorum’ the peace of the Gods, the peace, sustainability, and strength brought as a result of maintaining proper reverence for the Gods and ancestors. I would go so far as to say that we are hard wired spiritually for such connectivity. Polytheism, after all, is deeply relational.
So needless to say, it puzzles and concerns me to hear, from many quarters this idea that ‘evolution’ somehow means abandoning religion. Cicero, the great Roman orator and statesman (and probably great pain in the ass to those in power too) defined religion as “being bound to the rites and ways of our ancestors.” He based this on his etymology of the Latin word religio. It’s a good definition from a polytheistic standpoint. I think that part of this pervasive idea that evolution somehow means abandoning religion stems from what my friend Raven once termed “Urdummheit”: the misguided idea that our ancestors were stupid. I mean, we’ve been entrained to assume this. Our addiction to progress at any cost demands it and so does the monotheistic worldview with which we were both raised and educated. I even see it in academia all the time.
The study of religion as an academic discipline evolved in an academy developed and deeply influenced by British colonialism, and the idea that modern, white, Protestant culture was inherently superior not just to native peoples across the globe, but to their own non-Christian ancestors. The idea of a ‘hierarchy of religions’ was introduced, one that at first placed Protestant Christianity at the top, and later agnosticism and/or atheism. The idea that evolution somehow must equal no religion doesn’t stem from any social sense; it comes from our own inability in white Christian culture to comprehend, respect, and leave in peace those indigenous, often polytheist religions that differ from our own monotheistic norm. It comes right out of our racism and prejudice, our ingrained arrogance and sense of entitlement as a culture. It presupposes that our ancestral religions were not effective or good enough and that the hegemony of Christianity was inevitable “progress.” It erases a legacy of conquest, domination, genocide, forced conversion, and brutality. It also erases a polytheistic legacy of reverence, respect, innovation, creativity, and piety.
I see the results of this deeply ingrained attitude all the time even in contemporary polytheisms. I think one of the biggest issues in Heathenry, particularly with our approach to the Gods and our ritual structure, is that we’re ashamed of our ancestors. No one will say that, but we go to great lengths to reinterpret lore in ways that reinforce a very Protestant worldview. This is our norm and what we’re comfortable with. We’re concerned about not being seen as modern enough. I think that devotion is so challenging for so many people precisely because it demands we act in a way that violates that Christian influenced norm. Starting with the Protestant reformation that wanted to drive Pagan elements out of Catholicism, and continuing with the so-called Enlightenment and Scientific Revolution, devotion and belief have become passé. It’s ok to be religious provided one’s primary focus is social justice or bettering one’s community but to actually believe in and venerate GODS? Oh, that’s “primitive. That’s un-enlightened. That’s foolish and possibly deranged. We’ve evolved. We know better.” Think I exaggerate? Well, during the course of the various community discussions and debates I’ve seen every single one of those things argued either publicly or privately. Devotion stumps people because it prioritizes the supernatural and we have been taught a casual disrespect for anything that is not concrete and anything that does not prioritize the human ego and sense of its own achievement.
I know I harp on this a lot but it’s something that I don’t think people truly get. No one wants to connect these dots. It is impossible, however, to restore our traditions until we acknowledge and rid ourselves of this internal colonization of the image of God. There’s no moving forward until that happens and that’s a damned uncomfortable process and means leaving a lot of safe assumptions behind. It is essential though. Until we stop looking at ‘evolution’ as moving away from veneration, as abandoning traditional rites, as doing anything other than restoring polytheism in all its glory, we’re fucked. Until we stop being ashamed of how we must look when we engage in devotion, until we stop feeling silly for showing actual reverence, we’re getting nowhere. Until we stop pulling the Gods and our religions down to our level, dispensing with not only protocol but simple respect, until we stop insisting publicly that ‘we don’t really believe in the Gods, it’s a cultural thing” we’re spinning our wheels in the mud of two thousand years of Christian indoctrination.
I was having a conversation with a colleague a couple of days ago and I asked her ‘ what is so damned difficult for people to understand about “polytheism?” The meaning is right there: poly- many, theoi-gods. Her answer was insightful. She said that people don’t think much beyond the many gods part to the fact that acknowledging the Powers in such a way changes practice. It has an effect on everything else. She’s right of course, and this to me seems so obvious that it would never have occurred to me to state it so clearly. Of course the way we view the world has an immediate and powerful effect on our lives, our practice, our actions, our ethics, everything. Well, so does the opposite: having been raised monotheist does too and often in ways we don’t realize. The great anthropologist Pierre Bourdieu once said that ‘culture goes without saying because it comes without saying,’ meaning that we have an entire body of responses and unconscious assumptions and beliefs about the way the world works, including religion, created by the culture in which we were raised. There’s no escaping this. This is precisely what we’re tasked with challenging.
We’re tasked with challenging ourselves every day to root out the influences of monotheism, to root out the creeping monism that so often threatens to replace polytheism (because it’s just one step away from monotheism, folks.), to root out the disrespect, the discomfort, the lack of reverence with which we’ve all been raised to accept in the world. Part of the restoration of our polytheisms is the re-sacralization of our world. In all possible ways large and small we must bring the sacred back, and that means bringing back awareness and a cultivation of personal piety.
Maybe what we do need is a good dose of Roman religion, but I sure as hell don’t mean Christianity!