If you are classified as white in this country you live with the privilege of (at least) 400 years of racism and genocide. It doesn’t matter how you got here.
It does not matter that my great-grandfather came over from the Netherlands during WWI; he benefited from his skin color even though he could not speak or write a word of English. He benefited from systemic racism and genocide. I never asked for this, but I benefit from these as well.
My Ancestors were not barred from entry into this country because of racist quotas enacted by Congress. They never had to endure a blood quantum law to claim or be punished for who they were. They were not interned in camps during WWII. They were not killed for speaking out for their rights in the face of Jim Crow laws. They were not barred from practicing their religion after generations of genocide. I do not feel guilt for my Ancestors because they avoided these things, but whether or not I feel guilt, such feelings are immaterial to the issue of racial justice.
Guilt is an indulgence, especially when it inspires a lack of action and empathy.
Addressing problems of inequality, racism, colonialism, and genocide is not about white folks, white guilt, or white feelings. It is not about white people at all. I don’t care how bad you feel about your Ancestors’ actions. Gods know, if your Ancestors committed atrocities I want you to feel shame for it. If those feelings, or lack of feeling, gets in the way of you (and Them) actually making some sort of commitment to doing something, then it is an indulgence and a waste of time in regards to doing anything useful about racism and white privilege.
When hurt white feelings get in the way of equality, or especially, justice, that is not something People of Color or anyone concerned with justice in regards to inequality, racism, colonialism, etc. can afford. When the specter of that guilt arises and becomes a paralyzing thing that takes the focus off of People of Color, their problems, and the things that are actively killing them, it cannot be afforded. It is, in a word, derailing.
I don’t give a damn how you feel. I really don’t. If you lack the empathy to stand up for justice because your fucking feelings are hurt: Fuck. Right. Off.
White people do need to deal with our feelings, but not at the expense of justice or equality. It should not be the directive of folks to remind white people to deal with our feelings outside of the times and places where issues of justice, equality, etc. are being addressed. Our angst should not be aired during times of grief or moral outrage at the murder of black people by police. It is no different than walking into a funeral while a family is crying over a child’s casket, and screaming at them ‘Your crying makes me feel bad! I didn’t do this to you!’ You know what? You’re getting in the way of their need to grieve at that point. You’re an asshole. The funeral is not about or for you. Anyone, from the presiding minister to the family member on down to a complete stranger visiting in respect would be well within moral rights to ask or demand for you to get out.
This is why #alllivesmatter is either a cop-out or completely fucking tone-deaf. Not all the houses are on fire, and so, they do not deserve the fire hose equally. #blacklivesmatter is on-point and the topic at hand because black people are being systemically targeted by police, policing policies, jail time, jailing and fine procedures based on the color of their skin. They are dying because of this. The reason why our feelings as white people do not matter in this is because our fucking lives are not on the line for walking on the street while being black.
Blacks, as well as Native American and Hispanic peoples, are being killed in the United States far more than whites by police. In addition to this, because of jailing and fine procedures for minor traffic violations and misdemeanors in places like Ferguson, MO, they are now the leading victims of what has become the modern day debtor’s prison. Can’t pay your traffic ticket? Can’t pay your fines? You’re going to jail. What’s insidious about this is that there is financial incentive for counties and cities to do this, and that encourages these cities to increase incarceration.
You know what white people do not have to deal with? Being charged with 4 counts of destruction of city property due to bleeding on officer’s uniforms for having the shit beat out of them in a Ferguson, MO jail in 2009. Enough mewling about being judged based on the color of your skin; when white people get judged we might feel temporarily angry, guilty, shamed, or embarrassed. When black people get judged they get the shit knocked out of them and then charged with a crime because they’re getting their blood on officers’ uniforms.
So not only are People of Color far more likely to be targets for poverty, they are also more likely to be targeted by police for arrest. They are more likely to be jailed for their charges until trial if they can’t post bail, then fined for said charges, and then re-jailed assuming they or someone else could pay for bail in the first place. If they are successfully prosecuted they will pay fines on top of it, and may face being put into longer-term incarceration for failure to pay for these charges. That is, if they’re not simply killed outright by police. People of Color are, and have been for some time, targets in their own neighborhoods.
This is why it is so deeply disappointing to me that neither The Covenant of the Goddess nor The Troth got their collective shit together and did the right thing in supporting #blacklivesmatter and associated movements. Hells bells, why have no Pagan or polytheist organizations shouted out their support as allies for #Idlenomore either? It’s not as if these organizations are actually opposed to either of these justice movements! Right?
If we are indeed our deeds, then what are white people doing to help affect change? How fucking hard is it to say “I stand with black people for racial equality and justice!”? Did you really need fucking committees to decide on whether or not justice for all was something you stood for?
White guilt is an indulgence. If we are to be effective allies, it is on us to set it aside where it impedes action, and deal with it in our own time. #blacklivesmatter. Compared to those lives, our guilt is nothing. Step up or move aside, but don’t get in the way of justice.
What is constant
When words are less than air
Crackling between boards?
What is truth
When ephemera’s hold strangles
and the meaning of things succumb
to such tender embrace?
What are lies
When it is the engine and the oil
by which a nation builds
and knows itself?
What is death
When its visage is buried
under plastic smiles and makeup
pressed to styrofoam and wrapping?
What is knowledge
When it is hidden
by mountains of lies and ignorance
repeated by forked, moneyed tongues?
All is deceit.
In reading this post by Helio, I found myself nodding at other times, having to reread sections to parse my feelings in others. Overall I do not disagree with the idea of the Gods existing in a kind of Venn diagram where there is intersection between the Gods, Ancestors, landvaettir, and vaettir otherwise. I think where I disagreed most profoundly is in the differentiation of Gods.
But how does it work in polytheism, where there’s no divine monopoly nor a cap on the number of divine beings? Can godhood be restricted to a specific group of more-than-mere-human beings? No, it can’t. A landwight, just like an ancestor, is a deity. A nymph is a goddess, an elf is god, as is the spirit of a dead person. Whereas in monotheism the question of divinity is one of absolutes – one god and everyone else is not a god – in polytheism things normally work in multiple shades of grey: greater, lesser, local, universal, family, tribal, regional and national gods and demigods. Divinity is everywhere or, as Thales of Miletus would say, everything is full of gods. And this is so precisely because there is no monopoly or cap on the divine. There’s no limit to it and it can therefore be found in countless forms everywhere.
My understanding is that a God is a kind of spirit, but not all vaettir (spirits) are Gods. This is because vaettir lack the spheres of influence, recognition, and/or Being that a God does. I do not use God and vaettir interchangeably for ease of language, as I do recognize that some vaettir may well be Gods in Their own right, i.e. a local God of a river, lake, stream, tree, grove, etc. and in such a case, I use the word local God to denote this. Venn diagrams are useful because they contain a discrete category, a pole, around which the circles are drawn. These can then overlap, and this is the bleedover we can see between ideas of Gods, Ancestors, and landvaettir where these centers intersect and cross one another. While the notion of Gods, Ancestors, landvaettir, vaettir, etc. can overlap, in order to be useful as terms, they must be discrete categories in some fashion or else we are effectively describing nothing with any usefulness. In other words, discrete categories, circles, are needed or else we are not describing a Venn diagram, but a single circle.
If godhood is to mean anything with any substance, then godhood should, as a term, be restricted to certain more-than-mere-human-beings. In example, not all of those who live in Asgard are Gods. The Gods have servants who may be offered to, but are not, so far as I know, recognized as Gods. The Einherjar, honored Dead hand-picked by Odin, reside in Valhalla in Asgard. Hunin and Munin are not Gods, yet They serve Odin, live in Asgard, and fulfill very important functions mythologically, and in terms of human-divine communication. It would be remiss of me to recognize Them as Gods or to ascribe godhood to these holy Ravens. This not a monotheist idea; rather, it is a polytheist means of discerning between Gods and not-Gods. It is not a matter of value, but of substance, inquiring into the thingness of a Being, and recognizing It for what It is or may be.
Parsing what is and is not a God is a pretty important theological question, and I expect that each tradition, group, and indeed each person, may wrestle with this idea several times over their life. I find this to be a good thing. I find that marking out boundaries is equally a good thing because it aids in discernment and in understanding by having clear ideas of what constitutes this idea of a Being. In developing the idea of discrete categories we can come to understand where the Venn diagram has Beings who overlap into different categories of Being, and where and how these categories can bleed into one another, and where a discrete understanding of what those boundaries are, and where in the Venn overlaps a Being is may be found. If a person believes in the concept of a single circle and that labeling that as ‘g/Gods’ is sufficient, so be it, but I do not agree with it.
Helio uses the example of Disir, stating:
Simply put, what was a god, a nymph and a landwight was less of a matter of fixed or clear-cut categories and more an issue of function and scope where divinity was not a privilege of a limited few, but a trait of countless many. And in case you’re thinking these examples are too Roman and bear little meaning in other traditions, consider the Dísir in Norse polytheism: they’re divine women or mothers, tribal and family goddesses if not female ancestors, yet goddesses nonetheless; but the word dís is also used for the Valkyries, themselves minor deities of war and at one time called Odin’s or Herjans dísir (Guðrúnarkviða I, stanza 19); even Freyja is referred to as Vanadís or the Dís of the Vanir. Some find this messy, may even suggest it is the result of late sources and fragmented memories of a pre-Christian worldview, yet I disagree. You find the same fluidity and overlapping terminology in Roman polytheism, for which there are genuinely pagan sources.
Here again, I disagree with him. The Disir, such as I understand Them, are not Goddesses Themselves, but powerful female Ancestors. They may be divine women, but They are not Goddesses, per se. Semantics, especially when we are talking about how we parse Who is what, is important. While the word dis may be related to the word goddess, I do not see the Disir as Goddesses in the same arena as, say Freya. It is more than Freya being more recognized; the Disir’s spheres of influence are less than Freya’s, and Their importance to the Heathen cosmology is less in impact than Freya. While the Disir are very important in my spheres and perhaps regionally emenating out from Their relationship with me and I with Them, in the larger spheres of the religion the Disir do not carry as much weight. Freya is more than what She is within the myths and stories, of course, but those myths and stories point to Her importance cosmologically, to the spheres of influence She has, and the relationships and relationality between Her and other Beings. There is also the understanding that She simply wields a good deal more power than other Beings, going along with the notion that Her spheres of influence are larger. At the very least She wields a good deal of power in areas other Beings do not. So, because of Their roles within the religion, and Their relative effect on the religion and the power They each wield, I look at the Disir as powerful female Ancestors.
I also believe that were I to relate to Freya to as an Ancestor, I would understand this as an intersection between Goddess and Disir. These distinctions between how I understand Goddesses and Disir would not disappear, however. There would be a difference in calling to Freya as a Disir comparative to, say, the Vanadis. That understanding is why I count Odin among my powerful male Ancestors, the Väter, and yet also relate to Him as a God. His God-ness is not set aside, but my understanding of Odin also carries the nuance of relating to and understanding Him as one of my Väter.
Again, overlap in a Venn diagram does not and cannot erase the circles or it will cease to be a Venn diagram.
I do not disagree that humans have the potential to become Gods nor do I believe the categories should be so discrete that the circles never cross. As I have thought on this, one issue that keeps coming up is that the idea that the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir share similarities to kami. While Helio does not go into this in the main article, he does in the comments. I recoil at the notion that we should view our Gods this way, as there are categories of Beings. The Aesir are not the Dvergar, the Dvergar are not the Vanir, the Vanir are not the Jotun. While I may worship, for instance, Andvari, He does not become a God by dint of my worship, or the landvaettir would all enter into godhood as well. While that notion would be what I assume, from his writing, Helio advocates, I find distinct categories as a useful thing.
Lumping everything into one category, i.e. ‘god’ does not strike me as respectful of the differences between different kinds of spirits, nor of the Gods. It is one thing to worship a river God, and another to assume that all the Beings in that river, or that all big rivers, would associate themselves with such a notion. From an animist point of view, Gods are big or more influential spirits compared to those spirits which are smaller, more localized, and/or have less spheres of influence. So while I am not actively denying God-as-spirit, I believe that referring to all spirits as Gods misses the point of the word ‘God’ or ‘Goddess’. Just because the Germanic and Scandinavian people saw some Gods and vaettir as being one in the same, that does not set aside that they had different divine categories. Bleedover between categories in how they saw the Gods and vaettir does not mean they saw Them as one in the same. Even if there were related concepts, the sources I have seen and how I understand the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir deny homogenization of identity.
Narrowing, in my view, is not missing. Not narrowing is erasing by homogenization, in this case. It would be a disservice to our religions if we were to strip the meaning of ‘God’ and ‘Goddess’. If words such as ‘God’ or ‘Goddess’ are to retain any meaning in dialogue or theology, the circles need to be defined even if they sometimes bleed over into one another. Divinity may be everywhere, and there may be a potentially unlimited number of Gods, Goddesses, but we would be unable to recognize Them as such without some clear ideas on what a God is, what makes a God a God, and what differentiates it from other spirits. Categorizing all beings as such erases the meaning of the words.
P. Sufenas Virius Lupus came through in beautiful fashion, honoring Odin at an oak tree as part of our devotional exchange. Thank you, and blessings to you!
Originally posted on Aedicula Antinoi: A Small Shrine of Antinous:
A while back, you may recall that Sannion made the wonderful suggestion of a devotional exchange, and I decided to do this with Sarenth, who offered poems for Antinous and Polydeukion on my behalf at one of my old devotional stomping-grounds (so to speak!), for which I am and will remain most grateful!
This is the first of my contributions in that regard; I’ll be doing another soon, and will post about it here as well. Per Sarenth’s request, he suggested I pour out offerings and read my hymn an oak tree on a Wednesday, so that’s what I did (as well as pouring an offering at this tree and leaving a copy of my poem for it there, just a short while ago).
I hope both Odin and Sarenth are pleased with my efforts in this regard! ;)
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Again, I want to thank P. Sufenas Virius Lupus for asking me to write this. This prayer is for Polydeukion, and it was first said before His bust in the Kelsey Museum in Ann Arbor, Michigan at the start of the Festival of the Trophimoi and Treiskouroi at PSVL’s request.
Hero of Herodes, Herodes’ Son,
Youthful One, Watcher of the Baths,
Overseer of Games
Whose eyes shine in blessings,
Whose body is strength and vigor
Whose hands and speech do honor unto the Gods’
Oh Roman Knight!
Let us never forget the Wisdom of Youth.
Let us remember the brightness of intellect is kindled and tended well in the soul, the heart, and the mind of every youth.
I want to thank P. Sufenas Virius Lupus for asking me to write this and the prayer that is forthcoming for Polydeukion. While I do not actively worship either of these Holy Powers as of yet, it has given me a new window into how we can cross between our religious communities, come to understand one another’s Gods, Heroes, Ancestors, and spirits, and give good honor to Them and one another. This, this is an aspect of interfaith/intrafaith work that any polytheist can come to. Thank you Sannion, for helping to inspire this exchange! I invite any of my readers who wish to do this as well, especially if you wish to share devotional cycles with one another, even if we are coming at this from completely different pantheons, to step through the door and share your devotion with me and I with you. If you do, please, let me know taboos, offerings, and so on that is important to living in good Gebo with your God(s), Heroes, Ancestors, and/or spirits so I do not give offense in offering.
Most-loved of Hadrian,
Whose lips sealed love in an Emperor,
Whose arms took up his care,
Whose feet walked in holiness,
Whose life is exulted in stone and verse,
Whose body sank into Sacred Waters,
Whose soul was lifted in holiness
O Antinous, hear my prayer,
Who is and lives in the House of Osiris
Whose body is clad in green and life
Whose eyes see the Dead,
Whose lips speak love and comfort to the Dead,
Whose arms soothe the Dead,
Whose feet are planted deep in the womb of the World,
May the Dead who loved, who lost, who suffered
May the Dead who were denied their love and joy and lust,
May all find comfort before You in Your Home,
O holy Antinous!
In thinking on the last post and the centers Nicholas Haney brought up in God-centric?, is that one of the centers that tends to get left by the wayside in the larger polytheist and Pagan blogs is family, and in specific how we raise our kids in our religions. It is something that has been on mind for a while. There’s a host of questions I will tackle here that I hope will generate deeper dialogue in the Pagan and polytheist blogs and communities. I believe these are really important questions, tied not just to the center of family, but to the health and well-being of all the centers. Without children, all we have are new converts to sustain the traditions and religions. In my view, that is a lot of people coming to understand a whole new way of being, whereas kids raised polytheist do not have that learning curve, or the need to decolonize, or remove as much of the dominant culture’s mindset.
Before I get to the questions, however, I think it is important to tackle some of the reasons that I have heard, in person and online, for why people do not raise their children in our religious traditions. Chief among them is some variation of “I don’t want to force my kid to follow my religion” or “I don’t want to indoctrinate my child.” I will be honest, these reasons make me want to pull out my hair. The definition of indoctrination is:
to teach (someone) to fully accept the ideas, opinions, and beliefs of a particular group and to not consider other ideas, opinions, and beliefs
Raising our children in our religion(s) is simply not indoctrination. Teaching them about our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, is not indoctrination. Unless you are actively denying your child the ability to question concepts and people in the religion, not allowing them to explore the religion, or are actively denying your child’s ability to consider other points of view, you are not indoctrinating your child. You are, rather, raising your child in the religion. There is a gulf of difference between teaching a child “This is what the sagas say about Thor and these are my experiences with Him,” or “This is how we worship together as a family,” and “This is the only way to worship Thor” or “Only our way is the true way to worship Thor.” Now, that is not to say that a given family will not have traditions, taboos specific to them, or certain ways they worship, but to entirely cut a child off from alternative views, and stunts the religious growth of a child. My taboos are just that: mine. We do not have taboos on offerings as a family. What we do have are basic expectations of respect in religious space, how offerings that have been expended are disposed of, regular times for prayer, and guidelines and rules on handling altars, statues of our Gods, and various tools that may be on the altars. For instance, on our Gods’ altar our son can dispose of the liquid (usually water, but sometimes beer or mead) offerings we make to Them. He does not touch the offerings to Gods he does not have an active relationship with. Sylverleaf makes regular offerings to Frigga on this altar that our son is not to touch, as that is between her and Frigga. He is not allowed to touch the swords or the hammer on the altar without permission and an adult present.
How do we bring children into our religions? Is it from birth? If not from birth, when do they begin to learn, and what can they learn at what age? How do we help our children understand religious phenomena? If one has a very active religious life, how does one relate to a child that simply does not? Vice versa?
The answers I have to these questions are lived by our son. We brought our son into our religion by doing a baby blessing as soon as he was born, asking the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits to watch over him. He was there as we prayed at our altar when we first brought him home, and has been raised with us praying and making offerings ever since. Had we waited we would probably have started teaching him about our religion around age 3-5. He has been raised with the prayers we make before he goes to school and before he goes to bed, and at each and every meal. He is living polytheism. He has been raised with a Dad who takes time out to explain religious concepts on his level, and who is not shy about being very blunt that “the Runes ask for blood in Gebo, and this is something you are not ready for yet, if you ever do pick Them up.” He knows that if and when he does, it will be his choice and he will be able to make it on his own.
I firmly believe in raising children in our religions. Without our children learning our religion, and co-religionists teaching their religion, there is no way for the religions to continue. Teaching kids only a little bit about the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits, and not making daily prayers, devotion, etc. is giving a little soil to the seed and expecting a tree to grow to its full height. Not teaching one’s children at all about the Gods is denying soil to a tree entirely. Without a firm grounding in religion, the soil is loose and is blown away in the wind, or swept aside in the rain. If we desire good religious communities that will last beyond us, we need to raise the children in our communities. Indeed, we must do far better by them than has been done by us.
So how do I relate to our son when I have a very active religious life? Some of the explanations we work with him on are helped along because we have taught our son how to interpret the Holy Powers’ messages, whether he has a reading done, asks Them to work with him through his intuition, or look for omens. A good chunk of this work has been to encourage him to trust his intuition, to admit when his signal clarity is not where it needs to be, and to ask for help when he needs it. He is encouraged to admit when he does not know. We regularly talk on our religion, on the religious work I do, how it feels, and how it affects me. I bring my son along when I do certain religious work, such as tending the graveyards I have been called to do, teaching him how to respectfully make offerings at the gate, to ask permission from the Dead before tending Their graves, and why we leave offerings of tobacco, or why I blow smoke on graves when I smoke a pipe as we clean.
The biggest link between all the religious work I do, and explaining it to our son, and in some cases involving our son, is the concept of Gebo: gift-for-a-gift. Reciprocity. That word opens up the larger world of animism and polytheism because it places us not at the center, but in relationships with all things, all Beings. It is why we leave or make offerings to the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, landvaettir, housevaettir, and so on. It is that recognition and/or fulfillment of reciprocity. It is sometimes asking for help, which may be a form of reciprocity in and of itself. Bringing our son to rituals, performing them with him, helping him develop as a polytheist, in and of itself is a form of reciprocity with our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, as it ensures that the religion, and the Gebo engendered between the Holy Powers and ourselves, and our communities does not die with us. It allows us to pass on the maegen and hamingja of these relationships between our communities, and the generations that follow on with, and after us.
Helping our children develop their own understanding of the Gods, their intuition, and communication with Them is, to us, part and parcel of raising a child in a polytheist home. It is the hope that when they raise their own family they will have a well-developed understanding of how to understand the Gods even if they never engage in ecstatic spiritual techniques or do trance work. Sylverleaf, for instance, does not do much in the way of ecstatic work at all. It is simply not a part of her religious life. A simple divination technique she uses when she asks Frigga questions is to hold two of Her sacred keys in her hands, and the hand which is heavier is the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. If there are more complex questions she may ask me to read the Runes. If she needs to get answers from her Ancestors, she may work with an oracle deck dedicated to Them. Having two very different parents in this regard gives our son more models of polytheist life to understand, recognize, and live himself. Raising our children as polytheists, then, is more than simply teaching and explaining. It is modeling good Gebo, and the ways we do things by actively living in relationship with our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. We are living examples to our children.
What age should we bring our children into animism or polytheism? It is my belief that it is never too early nor too late to begin a lived animist/polytheist life. Regardless of our age or the age of our children, sharing our religion is an important bond that we share between our communities, our families, and our generations. It is the lattice-work that makes a strong bridge between the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and one another.
In speaking with Sylverleaf on this, she has said it has been far harder for her to keep with regular prayers and offerings in contrast to me because she was raised in a largely non-religious household. Lacking a background in any religion made it that much harder for her when she did find the Gods and became a Pagan, as she had no models to follow except those in books, and no community to speak of for quite a long time. Living a religion does have a learning curve, and she hit this hard because until we met she did not have regular time for prayer, any rote prayers to draw upon, or regular times for making offerings. In talking this over coffee and pancakes, it hit me that she was denied a lot of things that I took for granted in my religious studies as a child. For one, pondering the nature of God was probably something very hard to tackle in a home that either did not think much on God or thought the subject of God was a non-starter where conversation was concerned. I was able to talk with priests who were more than happy to answer whatever questions I threw at them, digging into the meat of theology with me and explaining as best they could their understanding of Scripture, the nature of God, and where we fit into the Catholic cosmology. That grounding is absent when religion is not lived. The hunger of curiosity cannot be sated when the entire subject of religion is off the table. It also cannot be sated when the religious community one belongs to has a piss-poor grounding in its own theology, as she discovered her youth ministers had, during the short time she attended a church. This is why our children need not only parents grounded in good relationships with their Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, but communities, and their leaders, priests, spiritual specialists, etc. need this too. We cannot support the centers of our communities without them all doing the necessary work of living the religion.