(warning: I am writing this with a blistering, nauseating migraine. My ‘nice’ filter is officially off).
Someone on twitter just suggested that I ‘explore other gods’ after reading the piece I wrote recently about Sweden’s proposed ban on the runes. Um…I’m not even going to pretend to be polite here. What the fuck kind of suggestion is that? If that’s what you do when your traditions are attacked, then maybe you don’t deserve to have them.
There is no reason to ever abandon our Gods, and the bullshit put forward by other misguided human trash is surely the least reason ever for which to do so. These are commitments, relationships built up over the better part of decades, cultivated, nourished, celebrated. As the commitments to the Gods reflects our commitments to our traditions so the opposite is true as well. We don’t give that up because suddenly it’s inconvenient. Or if we do, that’s pretty much the working definition of a niðling.
Every day I deal with people who are afraid to be outed as polytheists. I deal with timid people, who wonder if this is ok or that is ok, or would it be ok to do this but oh, let’s not rock the boat. Wake up. Time to develop a bit of virtue and a bit of spine. Stand up for your Gods. Stand up, speak out. Wear Their symbols proudly. Stop hiding what is THE most important part of your personhood and identity: your connection with the sacred. Quit being such fucking cowards.
Every time we soften our language, saying “God” when really we mean “Gods” to make monotheists comfortable or to conceal what we are, we contribute further to the erasure of our traditions. Every time we purposely conceal our alliances, we are committing a dishonest act. Every time we excuse the forced attrition of our sacred symbols, our practices, our sacred sites – hell, any sacred site – we are contributing to the destruction of our traditions. Which side do you want to be on? The one that venerates and nourishes the Gods and those gifts They give us or the one that would shit on all of that in the name of modernity and convenience simply because some people are spreading lies and rumors about them.
Grow the fuck up and if you fall into that latter category kindly take yourself off and away from my online world.
This is the time to hold even more closely to our Gods and traditions, to become fierce devotees and protectors of that which is holy. It’s not the time to run like a pack of whipped dogs.
My husband kept reading me excerpts from various articles yesterday, both of us shaking our heads and cussing about how amazingly stupid some people insist on remaining. Several of those pieces annoyed me so much that I decided to write about them here so be warned: bad language is probably sure to follow.
The first was this gem from the Columbia Daily Spectator. This idiot girl-child feels that a Classics degree is classist because – boo-fucking-hoo– one has to learn Greek and Latin. She opines that her more successful colleagues (which given her attitude is probably just about everyone) have the money to hire tutors and take summer programs to up their language quotient, whereas she has to worry about money. Yeah, right, sister. Grow the fuck up. I’ve taught Latin for ten years and did my time in a classics grad program. I never had money for extras either. I taught myself Greek and Latin. I didn’t take any special programs. I applied myself. No one is forcing this girl to do a Classics degree. If she can’t meet the requirements, she should pick an easier major like, oh, I don’t know, basket weaving. You see, unlike in your gender studies classes, no one is going to hand you this knowledge on a silver platter. You may actually have to work. Radical thought, I know. You’re at fucking Columbia. You are not oppressed.
Then there’s this from Sarah Michelle Geller. She had to apologize for noting that she was trying not to overeat at Thanksgiving. This is, apparently, fat-shaming. WTF? As an overweight woman, I applaud Geller for setting an example of thoughtful moderation. The last thing she should have done is apologize. Let’s face the facts the “fat positivity” movement doesn’t want us to know: fat is NOT actually healthy nor is eating so much you make yourself sick, which is specifically what she was trying to keep herself from doing. Now I don’t think anyone should be shamed for being fat – there are a lot of different issues surrounding why one may be overweight, and some people may find it more attractive. Rock on. But let’s not shame others for actually giving a damn about their health. We need examples of people setting healthy boundaries for themselves.
Finally, there’s this: a Christian missionary got shot by a tribe that wanted nothing to do with his poison. They warned him multiple times (by means of a rain of arrows) to stay the hell away from their island. He got what he deserved (missionary work is nothing more than cultural and religious genocide. Frankly, if his family and church knew about his trip to the island and did nothing to stop him, they ought to be prosecuted in international court as accessories to attempted genocide) but western media is presenting him as the victim. These tribesmen have made it clear for HUNDREDS OF YEARS that they do not want to be bothered by outsiders. Why is that so damned hard for outsiders to comprehend. LEAVE THEM ALONE. They don’t want the diseases that you might bring, diseases for which they have no natural immunity and they don’t want the disease of modernity or monotheism. I applaud their use of deadly force to keep these bastard missionaries out and hope they continue to do so. Does no one find the characterization of this tribe as primitive or sex crazed by western media a little offensive? Or the violation of the tribe’s wishes and consent by this lunatic being presented as though the missionary were the victim (only thing he was victim of was his own fucking hubris and stupidity). Colonization by religious conversion is still colonization, folks. It’s as though moderns and monotheists just cannot stand that there might exist some little corner of the world, some tiny little corner uncorrupted by their bullshit. Rock on, North Sentinal people. Keep your arrows nocked and ready.
That’s it for today. Fight on, my good readers, fight the bullshit. It’s pandemic.
EDIT: and then there’s this utter piece of blasphemous shit by Karl Siegfried, PhD in double base I might add, not anything relating to Norse mythology. It’s the most sickening and disrespectful thing ever written about a God as this fool tries to work out his own issues with Loki. He should be ashamed and so should wild hunt for publishing this unmitigated piece of garbage.
Or “I don’t believe in Gods because polytheists are mean. Muh feelings. Muh feminism. The patriarchy.”
My husband is a bit of a provocateur. He often sends me articles of which he thinks I ought to be aware. Today was one such example, though I think he mostly does this to wind me up and get me going. Sometimes I even allow that to work. Like today. I woke up to find this piece of steaming horseshit in my inbox. Because my husband cares.
Ah what the hell. I haven’t gone on a good tear in awhile.
So the author of the aforementioned piece begins by announcing that she has “god-fatigue.” Makes me wonder what the Gods have with us sometimes but oh well, let’s look at the piece paragraph by paragraph. cracks knuckles
“After taking a couple of weeks off from blogging, and then being gently informed by my editor that those couple of weeks were actually six months, I realized that I’m burned out on gods.”
Yes, that’s called acedia, and reams of paper have been expended with advice on how to combat its degenerative effects on one’s spiritual life. It’s certainly not something to indulge, nor is it something of which to be proud.
Generations of Christian theologians have written about this particular spiritual vice with a goal of preparing people to combat it. It was once considered one of the eight deadly vices, which Gregory the Great compressed into the seven deadly sins. Acedia is spiritual negligence but it leads to a listlessness and torpor in attending to spiritual duties. John Cassian referred to it as a ‘persistent and obnoxious enemy’ and Psalm 90 calls it the ‘noonday demon.’ (1). It can afflict anyone engaged in spiritual practice and the generally accepted “cure” for this affliction is work: lack of idleness, consistent prayer, more spiritual engagement.
Evagrius of Pontus in his text Praktikos also talks about Acedia and Cassian was deeply influenced by and indebted to this earlier theologian:
The demon of acedia—also called the noonday demon —is the one that causes the most serious trouble of all. He presses his attack upon the monk about the fourth hour and besieges the soul until the eighth hour. First of all he makes it seem that the sun barely moves, if at all, and that the day is fifty hours long. Then he constrains the monk to look constantly out the windows, to walk outside the cell, to gaze carefully at the sun to determine how far it stands from the ninth hour, to look now this way and now that to see if perhaps [one of the brethren appears from his cell]. Then too he instills in the heart of the monk a hatred for the place, a hatred for his very life itself, a hatred for manual labor. He leads him to reflect that charity has departed from among the brethren, that there is no one to give encouragement. Should there be someone at this period who happens to offend him in some way or other, this too the demon uses to contribute further to his hatred. This demon drives him along to desire other sites where he can more easily procure life’s necessities, more readily find work and make a real success of himself. He goes on to suggest that, after all, it is not the place that is the basis of pleasing the Lord. God is to be adored everywhere. He joins to these reflections the memory of his dear ones and of his former way of life. He depicts life stretching out for a long period of time, and brings before the mind’s eye the toil of the ascetic struggle and, as the saying has it, leaves no leaf unturned to induce the monk to forsake his cell and drop out of the fight. No other demon follows close upon the heels of this one (when he is defeated) but only a state of deep peace and inexpressible joy arise out of this struggle.(2)
While Evagrius was writing specifically for monastics, it was understood that acedia wasn’t just something against which monks and nuns had to guard. It could afflict anyone. It’s spiritual laziness, spiritual torpor…I might even go so far as to call it a spiritual depression and it requires treatment. Monks had an advantage over the lay person in that they had a systematized access to teachers, spiritual directors, superiors, etc. Pagans and Polytheists can suffer from acedia too and unlike monks, we don’t generally have access to competent spiritual direction. Our communities just aren’t there yet (as this article so clearly shows. Commentators on the piece are more interested in spewing pseudo-feminist claptrap about “the patriarchy” than offering advice on how to overcome spiritual depression). Acedia is horrible and it can be wrenchingly difficult to haul oneself up out of the pit into which it can thrust a person.
The author of the piece goes on, declaring:
“I never came to Witchcraft for the gods,”
and that says it all right there. But you stayed, you know, so you could do your part in preventing any actual spirituality from happening.
Still further, we’re told:
“…but mythological deities–you know, the ones whose stories you can read at your local public library–hold such a fundamental place in modern Paganism that they quickly seeped into my practice. Starhawk’s writings center on nature, the immanent Goddess, and the horned God; Reclaiming Witchcraft centers on gods from world mythology and folklore to the point that–and this is a very gentle, loving critique–we hold rituals in Redwood forests and on dramatic beaches and give only the most cursory nod to the abundant spirits around us, focusing instead on gods and stories from faraway cultures. I stepped back from my local ritual planning circle in part because we invoked gods even for business meetings, and I was tired of elaborate, theatrical invocations for deities I didn’t care about. Other Reclaimers find deep meaning in the gods they work with, and I’m happy for them. But I eventually had to admit that it wasn’t for me.”
Wow. So you’re shallow and it just rubs you the wrong way that people participating in a RELIGION want to actually focus on Gods (though I agree: nature spirits should also be given their due, especially when in their domain).
I also question the term ‘work with Gods.’ Do we work with Them or honor Them, venerate Them, praise Them, celebrate Them? I know that this term is in common usage and I’ve used it myself in the past but more and more it rubs me the wrong way. What message are we sending when we talk about working with Gods? If it’s the sense that we are in Their employ, well ok. I can see that. Too often though it comes across more as though They are pieces in some game that we’re playing, an attitude that sets my teeth on edge. I think it’s important to be mindful of the language we use in discussing the Gods and in discussing our relationship with Them and I’m aware there’s a learning curve here for all of us. It can be sometimes difficult to find comprehensive terminology for experiences and Beings that seem so far beyond the power of language to adequately describe. It’s important to try though.
Asa continues: “This isn’t to say that I’ve never had good or powerful experiences with gods. I have, and I continue to. It’s just taken me a long time–an embarrassingly long time–to realize that the antlered god I love so fiercely is older and wilder than the embossed silver figure with the Roman name; that statements like “the Morrigan is the goddess of sovereignty” currently accomplish nothing except to carve off and lock away swaths of the Morrigan’s infinite potential; that it really is ridiculous to take stories recorded and adapted by Christians and try to pound them into Pagan orthodoxy. (All the dogma thrown down by thin-skinned BNPs, all the shrieking and squawking between hard polytheists and atheist pagans, haven’t helped, either.)”
The names don’t carve off and lock away anything because actual devotees realize that a name is just that: one way of calling on a tiny part of an enormous Force. They allow us a means of engagement, of interaction but no one with any sense thinks that a single name encompasses the fullness of any Deity.
And all those hard polytheists? They’re engaged in something called theology and tradition-building which is important to people who care about their Gods. It’s how traditions grow and become something that lasts beyond one generation. It’s how we develop praxis that actually keeps the Gods central instead of tangential to our traditions. It’s how we develop theology.
Beyond that, you really shouldn’t be giving people on the internet power over your religious practices and beliefs. If it’s that much of a problem, disengage from the internet and focus on your Gods and spirits. If you don’t think land spirits are getting enough attention, well, work on that, because that’s important. Spirits of the land, spirits of our cities, spirits of place often don’t get the attention or the offerings they deserve. It’s only been in the last seven or eight years that I’ve seen our various communities really grasp the importance of honoring the ancestors. I don’t think as groups that we’re really there yet with land vaettir.
“What is the purpose of this post, exactly? I’m not sure. Partly it’s to explain where I’ve been all these months. And partly it’s to hold myself accountable to the heart of my practice, which I found breathtakingly articulated by Peter Grey when I first discovered his writing:
‘Witchcraft is quintessentially wild, ambivalent, ambiguous, queer. It is not something that can be socialised, standing as it does in that liminal space between the seen and unseen worlds. Spatially the realm of witchcraft is the hedge, the crossroads, the dreaming point where the world of men and of spirits parlay through the penetrated body of someone who is outside of the normal rules of culture. What makes this all the more vital is the way in which the landscape of witchcraft is changing. Ours is a practice grounded in the land, in the web of spirit relationships, in plant and insect and animal and bird. This is where we must orientate our actions, this is where our loyalty lies’.”
well, accountability is good. It is the heart of any spiritual practice so maybe, just maybe, there’s hope for you yet. Certainly polytheism is deeply relational. It is all about that interconnecting web of relationships: with Gods, ancestors, land spirits, elders, one’s community, one’s family, one’s country, one’s world.
“For many Pagans, working with named and storied gods reinforces their connection to the land. That’s beautiful and vital and life-giving, and I’m glad that it’s happening.”
…those relationships should be reinforcing relationships with the Gods. Engaging with the Holy Powers shouldn’t have to be a step toward something else, something more human, more oriented to our world for it to be considered valuable. Ever and always it seems the Gods get short-changed.
“For me, though, those names and stories have proven to be a distraction.”
It shouldn’t be. Story is powerful and transformative. If it’s a distraction then perhaps it’s not being engaged with properly. The stories are only the beginning, not scripture, not end-points. This article began by neatly dismissing ‘myth,’ which shows rather a lack of knowledge about what ‘myth’ actually is. μῦθος is story, speech, that which is worthy of being recorded and retold. It has purpose, design, and power. It has the ability to transform the listener. It is a container for Mystery. We can remake ourselves through the power of Story and re-ignite and remake our relationships with our world and our Gods. To dismiss our myths as distractions shows a remarkable lack of both clarity and creativity.
But let us continue, “When I write about deities in public, I find that some readers’ comprehension stops where a god’s name begins (Oh, yes, that god, I’m already an expert in that god, no need to listen further), and accusations of “unverified gnosis” (can you think of a sillier, more pointless term?) take the place of any semblance of theological discussion.”
Well, shame on those readers and yes, I agree UPG is the most idiotic expression ever to come into being. It’s often used as a means of shutting down discourse, especially theological discourse. All religion, if we want to think about it academically, might easily be termed UPG. Lack of comprehension on the part of readers is an incitement to better clarity not a reason to stop engaging.
“When I call to them in private, the names veil everything around me in a vague demand for reality to conform to some myth. I mean, not all the time. When I see Venus, I smile at Inanna in the sky. I pray to Sophia and to Shekhinah. I pour milk and whiskey for Anu and the Bucca. But it’s a matter of calibration, of catching the moment when the name and the prayer stand in for actual contemplation, when we swap modern Christian hegemony for the hegemony of some other wealthy priesthood from the past.”
Ah, I forget sometimes when dealing with Marxists that anti-theism is at the core of Marxist theories so of course it all eventually comes down to hegemonic structures with them. So sad. Is it any wonder depth of engagement is difficult? It’s actually not a matter of catching the moment when it comes to devotion. It’s a matter of learning to put oneself in the appropriately receptive head and heart-space for engagement to occur. There is an element of surrender there, and the accountability of personal preparation. But I guess Marxists are only good at getting other people to submit.
To continue, “What I’m saying, I suppose, is that despite (because of) Very Serious High Priests and impassioned flame wars, concepts like “Morrigan” or “Cernunnos” have started to feel like brightly colored illustrations in a picture book to me. We can do better with our theology, opening up possibilities instead of shutting them down. (Demands to “verify” gnosis serve only to stamp out any insights that don’t serve the most powerful voices.) Meanwhile, in my own practice, I’ve gone back to my roots, finding the exact same gods I left behind–only older and wiser, with names that are unpronounceable.”
First of all, THEY’RE NOT CONCEPTS. Maybe that’s your problem. Start approaching Them like Beings and not concepts and you won’t have a spiritually empty life. This is what we can learn from our ancestors. But oh, I forgot: Marxist. Ahistorical. I guess following a belief structure (Marxism) that once encouraged throwing shamans out of planes to see if they could fly (and in reality to break the religious structures of indigenous peoples) does put a “fly in the ointment” so to speak, when it comes to serious engagement.(3)
Finally, she concludes, “As I write this, it’s raining in Los Angeles–a precious event that may actually have a chance of pulling us out of our six-year drought. The gratitude coursing through me at the sound of water, the sense of peace I feel when I look out at the winter clouds, is what brought me to Witchcraft. Witchcraft, to me, is keeping my eyes open to the countless spirits and oracles all around me.”
But not Gods apparently. Fuck them I guess.
- See Cassian’s Institutes, Book 10.
- Evagrius Ponticus, The Praktikos & Chapters on Prayer, tr. John Eudes Bamberger, OCSO (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian, 1981), pp. 18-19.
- See here. It was actually Soviet policy in the early years of the Soviet Union to attack shamans and spiritual leaders int his way.
I never, ever thought I’d be writing something supporting the AFA. I’m not a member and I’m not folkish but over the last couple of weeks as more and more people in our communities dogpile on them, I’ve been watching from the side lines growing more and more concerned. Then yesterday, I saw this article and that the not so aptly named Camp Courage had, at the last minute, caved to pressure from HUAR and others who were calling in and refused to honor their contract to host an AFA harvest gathering. The AFA was left scrambling to find a new venue, which I’m told they did. That’s when I decided I had to say something.
Why are more people not up in arms about this? Seriously. Do you not see what is going on?
A group made a statement articulating its values. They never said that they spoke for all of Asatru or Heathenry. They specifically said they don’t monitor what their own members do or how well they adhere to these values. They made a statement about their core values on their own facebook page, to their own members. Whether or not you agree with that statement is beside the point. They have both freedom to speak and freedom to assemble in this country. Moreover, groups and traditions have the right to make decisions about their values and membership. If one doesn’t like the result, well the adult thing to do is to find a group or tradition more suited to one’s own values. That of course, predictably, is not what happened here.
Now, I rather expected the Troth to take a run at them. There’s been long standing tensions between the folkish and universalist camps within Heathenry and they are after all competing for the same demographic. There was never any expectation that the Troth would take the high road. (For the record, I am most adamantly NOT a member of either the Troth or the AFA. I have theological issues with them both). As you can see from the link, they’re not even responding to what the AFA actually said; they’re responding to what they would like us all to believe they said. What I didn’t expect was for everyone else to unthinkingly jump on the outrage brigade with them.
No one seems to have given a thought that this is polytheists attacking another group of polytheists – and not just verbally but with real world consequences; or more troubling, to the long term effects of such behaviors. I am old enough and have been a polytheist long enough to remember when gatherings were kept secret, when groups didn’t post about things, when there was a veil of secrecy over who was doing what and where, and on the way this stifled the growth of our traditions. Is that what we want to go back to?
Those attacking the AFA are doing so thinking that they are perfectly justified in doing so, and may even think they are doing a good thing. After all, these people think differently. They don’t tow the leftist party line. They don’t give a rat’s ass about what HUAR, Rhyd, G&R, tumblr or any other group of people might think. They have to be brought down. Well, it’s the AFA today but I think HUAR and co. are testing the waters, just as they were doing when they tried to brand me a racist for posting a video critical of rape gangs (really people, read my blog and make up your own mind there). They’re doing this to see A) how people react and B) if they can whip the communities up into a frenzy and take down this organization. What’s next? Are they going to go after John Michael Greer because he disagrees with Rhyd? Or will it be some poor group of Dianics who just want to be left to practice their tradition in peace? (I happen to think Dianics are ludicrous but you know what my response is to that? I don’t try to attend their gatherings). Whose livelihood are they going to destroy next? They’ve already managed to get a teacher at Cherry Hill to resign. It’s no longer enough to say “I disagree with their position on X and here’s why,” now the opposition has to be demonized (regardless of what their position actually is, mind you. Let’s call them far right, fascist, racist, homophobic, transphobic insert charged term du jour here). It’s no long enough to have one’s own space, now opposition must be silenced and brought to heel until they confirm ideologically.
Think about that. While you’re patting yourself on the back for protecting diversity, think really hard about that.
Think about who might be next. Think about your own gatherings disrupted because someone doesn’t find you ideologically pure enough. Think about the phone call to your boss outing you as Pagan, Heathen, pseudo fascist (even if you’re not). Rhyd is going around (most recently on John Beckett’s patheos column) talking about how there is no witch hunt from the anarcho-Marxist left. He’ll still be saying that I’m sure, when they come for you
Rhyd’s call for an anti-fascist witch hunt hasn’t resulted in any witch hunting but his friends on tumblr haven’t seemed to have caught that memo.
EDIT apparently some people think i agree with this horse shit (the article linked below). I do not. I find these tactics repugnant. I posted to alert people as to the depths to which some will sink in order to silence free speech and to prevent our traditions from rooting and growing.
I particularly like these leaps in logic (and law):
2. Trap them. Catch them doing or saying something illegal and record it. Anonymously notify the correct authorities. If he’s racist he’s probably also a raging misogynist, here is a pretty high percent chance he beats women. Bust him for that.
3.Sabotage. Sabotage everything. Their protests, their social events, their rituals…their relationships. Sabotage them physically, sabotage them magically. Block them at protests. Blast distractingly loud noises in the vicinity of their rituals. Curse them liberally.
NO pun intended, I’m sure.
I guess freedom of speech really isn’t free. or a thing. anymore.
Is this the community you want? Are these the tactics of which you approve? Your silence makes this possible.
GK: moving away from the topic of miasma, I read a conversation thread today wherein someone was freaking out because some polytheists practice “dual tradition.” I’ve never understood why this was so concerning. Many if not most ancient polytheists did the same thing. One practiced the religion of one’s ancestors, of the state cultus, and then whatever cultus one might wish to initiate into–it was always flexible and fluid, with the caveat that one honored each set of Gods appropriate to Their traditions and rites. In many respects, honoring the Gods of one’s neighbor was an act of hospitality, especially when so many of these populations were mobile and connected by economic and political agreements. What are some of the issues in doing this and how do you think it can be done respectfully?
KF: I think they are reacting in part to the “Initiation Shopping” common to plastic shamanism. You buy a trip to Peru to drink Ayahuasca; you travel to Nigeria to get made in Ifa by an “airport babalao”; you go to Hawa’ii to become a Big Kahuna. And in each case you’re buying an experience and a title without any real knowledge of what goes with that title or how you should incorporate that relationship into your spiritual practice. Then there are the Tumblr godspouses with their retinue of “deities” doing what comic book heroes usually do and the “Norse Wiccans” or “Celtic Pagans” who use a tradition for its trappings and props rather than engaging with it.
The secret to practicing multiple traditions is to approach each tradition with respect. Understand the responsibilities that go with the title you are seeking: if you are incapable of meeting them then don’t seek that title. (I did this early on in my Vodou career. I received elekes but decided learning Vodou was a full-time job: trying to master Lukumi alongside that would do a disservice to both paths). If you serve the Gods of any tradition with respect and mold your service to Their requirements rather than expecting the Gods and the priests to make accommodations for you, you’ll be just fine.
Another thing I’ve found is that most people who successfully practice dual traditions have a solid relationship with their Deities and spirits in both paths. I’m a Lokean who also serves the lwa: I’ve been working with Loki for almost fifteen years and with the lwa for a few years before that. I’ve been able to work within both paths with little conflict — other than the conflicts which inevitably come with Loki, of course 🙂 And I would note you have a rock-solid relationship with Odin and advanced degrees in the Classics: you take your duties to the Gods seriously no matter what Pantheon you may be honoring. Playing “mix and match” games or treating multiple traditions with equal disrespect is just going to get you into trouble.
GK: I have seen many monist and pantheist apologists point to the syncretism to justify their anti-polytheist claims of ‘all gods being one.’ Likewise, I’ve seen many (ill read) anti-theists point to examples of agnostics and atheists in the ancient world, to justify their attacks and incursions into contemporary polytheisms, which is especially offensive because just because something existed in antiquity doesn’t mean it was a good thing — they had pedophilia, slavery, etc. Not to mention these views were always the minority and often soundly criticized. What is your reasoned response to this misuse of our history?
KF: Syncretism certainly happens: I’m thinking of Zeus Amun, whom Egyptians honored as the Kemetic God Ammon and Hellenics as a praise-name for Zeus. (Given the structure of many contemporary African religions I might even compare that relationship to the various “caminos” of an Orisha or the various Ezilis, Ogous, etc. in Vodou). Polytheism doesn’t just involve many Gods, it involves many theologies and many different visions of the Universe: sometimes those visions will be conflicting and downright contradictory. That’s because the Universe is a big, messy, conflicting and sometimes downright contradictory place.
But while there were questions as to the nature of the Gods, there was very little debate as to their existence. Agnosticism was generally a theoretical exercise: atheism was a crime in most of the ancient world and considered the most dangerous sort of impiety. When we look at ancient writings from agnostics and atheists we also need to remember there was then as now a marketplace of ideas. And of course our worries about belief and the individual’s interior life are largely a product of the Reformation: the ancient world was more worried about what you did than what you thought. It was certainly possible to speculate on the existence or non-existence of Gods, so long as you continued to perform the required rites in accordance with your civic duty. When you shirked those duties, or encouraged your countrymen to turn from the Gods, that was a whole different kettle of fish.
Archetypal Monotheism looks more welcoming at first than hard Monotheistic traditions like Islam or Christianity. But it’s ultimately just as corrosive. If all Gods are one God then all faiths are really one Faith and any disagreements or differences between traditions must be chalked up to misunderstanding or human error. What results is a bunch of Gods who are all saying the same thing, a bunch of supposedly disparate “traditions” all aiming at the same goals, and a big warm bland steaming pile of culturally-blended and homogenized mush.
You also raise a very interesting point regarding slavery and pedophilia. Polytheism is a work-in-progress.
GK: well, I don’t raise it. I don’t really care. I’m educated in history. I’m not one of the ones using these things to muddy the discourse. I have however seen it coming up from the more ahistorical amongst us.
KF: Social mores change and what was acceptable in one generation may be condemned in another. Human sacrifice and cannibalism were roundly condemned by Hellenic practitioners of the Classical era despite earlier rituals. Even in the Old Testament we see HaShem telling His people not to pass their children through fire (sacrifice them) in His name — and generally you don’t issue “Thou Shalt Nots” unless people are actually doing the things you condemn. We can look to the past for inspiration without slavishly copying it: in the spirit of Reconstructionist Judaism we can give tradition a vote but not a veto. And people who say otherwise or who assume honoring the Gods must invariably lead to human sacrifice and theocracies are willfully or unknowingly stirring up trouble over nothing.
GK: Of course they are – I think that they’re willfully doing so to cripple the restoration so you actually give some of these people far more credit than I do. With some of them at least, I can see clearly the religions from which they’ve come. We’ve talked about how many people bring Christian baggage and wounds and trauma into their new religion. We can clearly see the difficulties this causes in our communities today. How would you address this? Conversion is a multi-layered, difficult process and in a community that damns its elders and refuses to accept standards of training and rules of behavior — even something so simple as miasma– how can newcomers move past these issues? What tools can we provide them with?
KF: One way to get past the Monotheism filter is to recognize it and open yourself up to alternate interpretations. Instead of falling back on the “All Gods are One God” explanation, consider addressing those “faces of God” as individual discrete Beings. You don’t have to make a decision immediately on it, but be open to the explanations Polytheism offers. If you have to tell yourself “this is just a thought exercise” do that — but exercise your thought.
You also need to distinguish between the Monotheism Filter and any personal authority issues you may have. If you grew up in an abusive Christian cult you may associate any kind of hierarchy with that abuse. And while the Gods don’t expect you to grovel before Them and abase yourself — by and large They would much prefer you live a virtuous and honorable life — They are greater than you and deserve and They demand respect. There is a difference between bending your knee and superstitious groveling in fear: if you can’t or won’t understand that Polytheism is not for you.
When you come into a functioning spiritual community you have to understand that they have a way of doing things and a way of addressing the Gods. If you are a guest in that community you are expected to acknowledge their routines and to honor them: if you wish to join that community, you will need to learn its standards and expectations and shape your behavior accordingly. And, again, if you can’t or won’t do that then you need to avoid that community for your sake as well as theirs. Nobody is asking you for unquestioning obedience, but they may be asking you to pour out libations for their Gods, to prostate yourself before Their shrine, or to refrain from participation for one reason or another.
For example, you cannot salute Damballah if you have your period. This has nothing to do with misogyny: it is simply that Damballah finds the smell of blood offensive. If you insist on saluting Him despite this because you want to reclaim menstruation or prove that Haitians are just being superstitious when they uphold this silly taboo, you are guilty of grave disrespect. And if you don’t understand that and feel instead that Vodou should reshape itself to better suit your interpretation of feminism then you have no place in a hounfor or at a fet lwa.
GK: well said. Yes, yes, and yes. Our own limitations should never, ever be the standard to which we hold our practice, our tradition, and our Gods. Might we discuss the problem that many of us see arising in the community i.e. the lack of a decent education, of historical knowledge, of critical thinking ability, and lately I’m beginning to assume basic reading skills, because I think that’s part of the reason this is so cognitively hard for some people.
KF: I think we’re actually dealing with a perfect storm. First there’s good old fashioned ignorance and lack of education. American literacy has declined precipitously and fewer and fewer people have even basic critical thinking and research skills. That makes it difficult to distinguish between solid scholarship and crap: it also makes debate difficult, as not many people care about things like logical fallacies or internal consistency anymore. You also have to worry about being called out as an intolerant bully when you call out wrongheaded ideas and bad behavior. (Unsurprisingly, the worst bullies have learned the lingo and will happily accuse their critics of “shaming,” “bullying” and “oppressing” them at the drop of a hat — and since critical thinking is in a death spiral, they all too frequently get away with it). Spiritual communities are expected to be “Safe Spaces” where everyone is made to feel valid and warm and affirmed. (Loki and Odin may be called many things, but “Safe?” Naah… ). And what results is that the unqualified, disrespectful and flat-out impious are coddled to and tolerated while those seeking to protect the tradition and the Gods get forced out.
GK: Exactly. I couldn’t have said it better myself.
KF: Every Polytheist must of necessity engage with hir community: frequently that includes political action. There is nothing un-Polytheistic favoring one candidate over another, with donating to the political causes of your choice, with writing essays in support of your political position. The problem begins when you start telling me all Polytheists must favor your candidate or cause, or try to make Marxism, capitalism or any other creed the Official Political Position of Polytheism. I strongly suspect most of the people who don’t get this distinction are being willfully obtuse a la “Spiritual Purity = the Holocaust!!!” or similar rot.
GK: I don’t think they’re being willfully obtuse. I think they know exactly what they’re doing: obfuscation, poisoning the well, and other nasty rhetorical tactics because they can’t get their way and they want to take down those who are engaged in the restoration and in affirming healthy boundaries.
I think there is a real resistance toward restoring our traditions because with traditions come rules and sooner or later, someone is going to feel inadequate because they refuse to meet them (with the corollary that they then expect the tradition to accommodate their lack, instead of themselves working to be better. I mean, “I’m an idiot and can’t tell my God from a time traveling fictional character but yeah, I should be a licit voice in this revival and even though I”ve made excuse after excuse for my failure to do the least thing my Gods have requested of me ad nauseum, I’m a role model”. Um, no sweet-heart. I don’t think so. You’re fit to be something but I’m pretty sure that’s not it and the fact that we’re the only ones calling foolishness like this out points to the devastating state of our communities. People like this are bringing so much shit into the communities that it’s going to take the rest of us working together a generation to clear it all out again. I sympathize with Herakles cleaning the Aegean stables).
KF: We will never have an egalitarian relationship with the Wellsprings of Being: They are more powerful than us and more powerful than we can imagine. We will never have a safe relationship with them: They can turn our lives upside down at a moment’s notice and not infrequently do just that. Anybody looking for safe, egalitarian Gods needs to look outside Polytheism: our Gods are Gods in all Their glory and terror.
GK: I think these people are small and they want our Gods to be too, to reduce the Heavens to the size of their own limited intellect and hearts. Pity for them it doesn’t work that way.
Me? I want the Gods to render us in our smallness, stripping away everything that does not serve.
Kenaz has a new post up here. He points out that John Beckett’s posts on purity, sin, and miasma have spurred many interested discussions in the blogosphere.
It’s certainly sparked amazing examples of poor reasoning and illogic from rhyd wildermuth. i wonder what it is like in his head? i’d love to know how he equates maintaining proper ritual purity before the Gods to genocide against Jews and Romany. I mean, does he look down on Jews and Romany to the point that this is where HE would go, and thus cannot conceive of motivations that focus specifically on the Gods? Or is he rather tryign to bring up a straw argument, to damn those who do care about the Gods, traditions, and keeping themselves clean and in a state of proper receptivity to the Powers?
Apparently basic religious standards are now “oppression.”
To quote Kenaz:
Piety sees the state as an integral part of things. Rhyd and his cabal see the state as a tool of oppression that will ultimately wither away. Piety treasures the things which set you and your people apart. Rhyd and his see those differences as war waiting to happen and want to sand them down.
It’s perhaps time, we considered the full implications of their agenda.
So the humanist and Marxist “pagans” over at G&R apparently seem to think that our Gods are dead. In a recent post one of their authors completely reduces Dionysos to an accessory, using the name as a prop for mis-managed, poorly researched entheogen work. It makes a difference how we talk about our Gods and doing so doggedly in the past tense likewise makes a powerful statement. “Dionysos was….” well, no, children. Dionysos IS but if you actually were to put it in the present as it ought to be you’d have to deal with the fact that you’re co-opting and appropriating the Gods, images, and symbols of a living cultus to which you do not belong. Tsk. Tsk. What would the social justice warriors think?
Of course it’s clear by Rhyd’s response to being called out on this by a priest of Dionysos that he clearly doesn’t care. The Gods simply aren’t important to these people and neither are our traditions or our communities. How can they be when G&R is so clearly pandering to the humanists and atheists (ally with them and you’ll outnumber actual polytheists won’t you? Fortunately for us, we court quality over quantity every time). Can’t have the reality of pesky Gods messing things up. Apparently can’t have consistency or respect for living traditions either.
I posit that G&R in general and Rhyd in particular have a vested interest in making sure that our traditions cease to be LIVING traditions and become merely fronts for his Marxist garbage. This article is just one more vivid example at their game of erasure: of our Gods, our traditions, and our polytheisms. Piss on them.
Someone recently pointed out an article wherein the author, ostensibly a Hellenic polytheist, goes on and on about her home not being a polytheistic one, and insisting that she is not raising her children in her faith. (1) This comes up every so often. Usually I see it from neo-Pagan quarters, not so much in general from polytheistic ones but whenever it comes up my response is the same: Shame on you. What a disgrace to yourself and the Gods.
If we are not going to pass our traditions on to the next generation than what are we doing this for? The strength of any tradition is its intergenerational transmission of praxis and belief. Without that transmission, our traditions will wither again on the vine. There will be no restoration.
There are obligations inherent with taking up this restoration and this is one of the really fundamental and base-line things: raise your children polytheistic. Inoculate them against the depredations of secularism, consumerism, and monotheism. If one is living one’s faith, this should occur naturally. We learn by osmosis and imitation at first after all. To doggedly refuse to expose your children to your faith is pathetic. It’s a cop-out. It speaks volumes for how little one truly values one’s Gods and traditions. I find it contemptible. Why this is even an issue, I truly don’t understand.
Now I realize some people come from deeply troubled and perhaps even traumatic backgrounds where their birth religions were concerned and may associate raising up a child in a faith as forcing one’s faith upon that child. Firstly, I would counsel that person to get therapy to work through those issues; first and foremost because they will impact one’s new faith deeply and often in deeply deleterious ways. Also, if you can do something that helps heal pain, that’s a good thing. One’s religion should not be a thing that brings one existential anguish, especially not because of other people misusing religious teachings. Monotheism is a terrible thing, soul destroying and cruel. If there is healing to be done, work on that. That is a separate issue from denying your children contact with your Gods.
Secondly, I hear many in this situation fretting about denying their children freedom of choice. Well, I guess you just let them do anything then? I guess they can stay home from school, not learn to read, never brush their teeth, and run out in public naked. We deny children freedom of choice in a thousand ways every day and we do it so that they will grow up kind, intelligent, healthy, and whole. It is the job of a parent to educate a child and that includes teaching them how to approach the Gods rightly and well. This need not be abusively imposing one’s religion on a child. Our theologies after all are not generally rooted in self-hatred, shame, and abuse. What it means is teaching them to see the world as a polytheist.
Furthermore, for those who may not be familiar with how polytheisms worked in the ancient world (when the entire world was, for the most part, polytheistic), adults were free to initiate into whatever cultus they wished, but there was almost always the veneration of one’s family, ancestral, and community Gods as well. One did not negate the other but because people were raised with a polytheistic understanding of the world, raised steeped in family and community cultus, they understood far better than we how to approach the sacred. It’s not that easy to learn when one is older.
There’s been a lot of study done on the acquisition of grammar and apparently there is a very brief and finite window wherein a child can learn to use grammar.(2) If a child is not exposed to language at that time (and it is very young, if I recall my reading correctly, before the age of three), then he or she will be incapable of learning it later. That part of the brain shuts down. The connections are not made and the capability for them to be so later disappears. I would maintain that the same paradigm can be carried over to teaching about spiritual and devotional connections. If a child isn’t exposed to it young, maybe they’ll never learn to do it well. Maybe it will always be a struggle. Maybe those spiritual connections, the ability to form them, will atrophy. Hell, half the issues we are dealing with in the polytheistic communities today are a direct result of the fact that almost none of us were raised polytheistic.
Thirdly, there are those in mixed marriages, where a spouse is not polytheistic. Well, this is one of the main reasons I don’t favor mixed marriages and as a priest refuse to do them. (3). Now, I should be clear about what I consider a mixed marriage: a monotheist (or atheist) and anything else. It’s one thing to have two polytheists from differing traditions forming a household. That can be negotiated fairly easily: the worldview is the same, for the most part. It’s quite a different thing to have a polytheist and monotheist (or polytheist and secular humanist) raising children together. Unless the non-polytheistic partner really doesn’t care (and it’s amazing how otherwise reasonable people suddenly care very much when children are involved), the child usually does not end up being raised in our traditions. Compromises are made and one should never, ever compromise on the integrity of one’s faith.
I suppose some people may also feel that they just don’t know enough. I would encourage those people to share in the exploration of their tradition with their children. None of us know enough, but we can still honor the Gods and celebrate the holy tides, and live as polytheists learning and letting your children see you engaging in that process of learning (and maybe getting things wrong and having to make reparation or unlearn/relearn, stumbling but persevering) is a really good thing. It will teach them that devotion and faith is a process and that just because mistakes are made, it doesn’t mean that one has to give up. Ours are not traditions that fetishize damnation after all. By sharing that process parents will be teaching their children how to live a faith in a healthy, human way, and that’s a powerfully valuable lesson.(4)
I’ve also heard parents say that they’re afraid that their children will be marginalized for having a ‘different’ religion when they go to school. Not to sound dismissive, but so what? Hindus, Muslims (in America), Sikhs, Wiccans, Shinto practitioners and any other non Christian or non-Jew in the US, depending where they’re located, may face discrimination and ignorance from fellow students and even teachers (and sometimes even Jewish students are harassed for their religion. Christian privilege really is a thing). That does not mean that we should deny our children our polytheisms, which are their birthright I would add, because people are assholes. People are always going to be assholes. That’s why I encourage parents to stay involved with their school, school board, PTA, etc. I encourage them to know their options, and to take proactive measures in educating the teachers. When problems do arise, there are legal steps that can be taken and while it may be an awful thing to have to go to those lengths, sometimes shit happens and this could just as readily be happening because your child were gay or trans or overweight, or not popular, or because the kid was very smart, or because some asshole bully took a dislike to them. I very much understand wanting to protect children from every possible harm, but the way to do that is not by causing more harm in the long run. Ready yourself with all the educational information you need, and be ready to fight like a pitbull if your child is discriminated against or bullied.
Monotheists aren’t shy about raising their children in their faith, sometimes rabidly so. It was the cutting off of avenues of intergenerational transmission in the community at large that contributed to its spread and eventual victory over Paganism and Polytheism, a victory from which we are only now beginning to recover. It is what gave their traditions, (just as it imbued ours once) longevity, growth, and strength. There is absolutely no point in doing this if it stops with us.
Hiding one’s faith, refusing to share it with the child, makes it seem like a shameful thing. If you don’t think your Gods are good enough for your children, if you don’t think that the traditions are wholesome and ennobling, why are you venerating Them and why are you practicing those traditions? In all things we should strive to be consistent.
- She also whines about everything she doesn’t know (despite apparently doing something she calls Hellenic polytheism for twenty years) and shares her belief that people who practice the more mystical or esoteric aspects of our traditions should be institutionalized. I’m purposely not sharing the link. It doesn’t need more traffic.
- This has come up with the subject of ‘feral’ children, or children raised without any language or without human contact. Apparently if they’re denied language very early, their ability to learn grammar and syntax disappears and they are incapable of learning it later. It’s really rather heart-breaking and horrifying.
- I didn’t always feel this way. When I first started working in the interfaith community, a great deal of attention was paid on training clergy up specifically in order to provide marriage resources for those of differing faiths who wanted to wed. It was only when I really looked at the consequences to the next generation that I came to hold a position adamantly against such a thing.
- It’s more complicated when one converts after having children. Then I suppose the best one can do is simply not hide one’s faith from older children; but if they are younger, I would bring them right along with me. It’s not as if one has to throw them into hard core esoteric practices. One can make very simple rituals: like “let’s give a portion of our food to the ancestors in gratitude now” or “let’s light this candle for Freya on Friday”.