Flaws, Perfections, and the Gods

June 16, 2015 26 comments

Something has been on my mind since reading these two posts, The Bane of Casual Irreverence by Galina Krasskova, and Respecting Flawed Gods by EmberVoices.

I’m not going to be going deep into the details of the posts, because I agree with both of them that the women that Galina writes about in her post were out of line.

I want to explore the ideas of flaws and perfection in our Gods.

The idea of perfection is one I have not found in any of my research of, or journeys with the Gods I worship as a polytheist.  The very assumption of perfection is that there are flaws or defects that can be gotten rid of, and accordingly, that the ridding oneself, or a being rid of these flaws or defects, is perfection.  The Gods I worship cannot possess perfection or be perfect because They do not have flaws, per se.

Does that mean that Odin is not an opportunistic power-hungry God?  Of course not, but then, that is not an imperfection.  That is part of Who He is.  The Gods are Beings whole in and of Themselves.  Thor being disposed to anger is not a flaw, but it is something to be aware of. The same with Odin’s ruthlessness. It’s not a flaw, it’s a part of Him, and  something a worshiper should know about.  Our Gods aren’t perfect, and flaw is too judgmental. I am still trying to find a different word or set of words that gets the notion across.

The idea of perfection does not sit with the my understanding of Gods because the idea of perfection is that there is that next step ‘beyond’, where supposed flaws and blemishes disappear.  Often that idea of perfection leads right into reductionist, monotheist, and/or monist ideas.  Perfection, especially in American society, is often seen as an indivisible One.  This reductionist model of one-as-perfect introduces problems, i.e. The Problem of Evil, which must be grappled with.  If a thing or Being is perfect, then is it good?  If it is not by goodness that we may know perfection, by what measure may we call a thing or Being perfect?  If a thing or Being is perfect, is it not evil?  Why?

Polytheism and animism have no need for such a concept as perfection.  This idea of perfection separates the Gods from us. It kills our ability to relate to Them.  How can I relate to something perfect?  How can I possibly contribute to a relationship with a Being that is perfect?  With a perfect Being, not only would the idea of a relationship make no sense, it would also be meaningless.  I have to be able to relate to a Being to have a relationship with It.

The idea of perfection also separates our sense of Self from us-as-we-are.  The notion that there is some ‘perfect self’ out there potentially divorces us from having to own our shit or do the hard work.  It makes our Selves caricatures, unchanging, remote, and allows cliches to set in, rather than lived experience informing who and what we are.

With the notion of perfection, especially because, as mentioned earlier, the dominant theme of perfection is the indivisible One, the need for a differentiated cosmology would disappear as well.  That is, if a Being is perfect in and of Themselves, there is no need for a description of how They came to be. They are.  I originally wrote ‘if a God/dess is perfect in and of Themselves’, but as I stated above, I do not believe this is the case, and so, the Being in question would have to be other than a God or Goddess.  There can be no origin, nor can there be an end with a perfect Being, because if such a Being is indeed perfect, They are perfect within and without Themselves.  In such an ontology it is questionable if there is anything ‘outside’ of Them, or within Them in the bargain.  If we are within such a Being’s body then the questions surrounding the nature of suffering takes a cruel twist: the assumption of perfection on the part of the Being means, then, that suffering is an indication of being out of step with this perfection, this Being, or worse, that such suffering is in step with such a Being.

We could take such ‘large’, that is, cosmically large Gods, such as Ptah and They would not fall within this purview of Being as described above.  Ptah exists within a cosmology and so far as I have understood, nowhere is He claimed to be perfect.  A creator need not be perfect.  Ptah is looked upon as an architect and a sculptor, and while His work is powerful, beautiful, and impressive, perfection is nothing I have seen evidenced in His creation myths.

If we reject the idea of perfection and the ideas that flow from the concept, then, we must come to our Gods with the understanding that They are not perfect.  If we reject this, then the ideas of omniscience, omnipotence, and omnibenevolence also fall away as things that can be assumed.  If the Gods are indeed Gods and we are going to develop relationships with Them, it is on us to accept Them as They are.  If we cannot bring ourselves to worship a God in the manner They require it is not the God’s fault.

Am I blaming or faulting the polytheist, then?  No, actually.  Polytheism is the worship of many Gods, not all of Them.  Some people simply should not worship certain Gods.  For instance, I enjoy meat far too much to dedicate myself to Gods for whom such a thing is taboo.  That taboo is not a flaw on the Gods’ part.  Indeed, the flaw would be mine were I to attempt to worship Them and not honor that taboo.

In rejecting perfection I do not wish to assume that we then can judge the Gods.  That seems to me to an open invitation to hubris.  Rather, In rejecting perfection I believe it is an open invitation to come to understand our Gods more fully. It is an invitation to interact with Them, to learn from Them, and to understand Them in the capacities that we can.  It is also accepting the imperfections, that there are places where the Gods may be utterly incongruous with our lives.  Loki is often looked at as one of the exemplars of this, a bringer of chaos into one’s life.  I think that asking “Why?” and exploring why a given God, Goddess, Ancestor, or vaettir may be so is a worthwhile endeavor, one that can bring deeper meaning to our lives, and depth of understanding and relations with these Gods.  Rather than avoiding these areas, it may be fruitful to seek Them out, and why aspects of the Gods, Their stories, Their interactions with us rub us so wrong, or are so incongruous, and how we may grow to accept these parts of Them.  If we cannot, it would be equally important to explore why this is.

A God or Goddess asking or demanding for something we are unable to deliver is not a flaw.  That is part and parcel of negotiating with our Gods, if indeed such things can be negotiated.  In my own case, the Gods have asked and demanded things of me I was unable to deliver to impart a lesson, for instance, that I needed to learn to negotiate, or that I needed to learn to ask for help.  In other cases there are taboos that are part and parcel of worshiping a God that one sticks to if the worship is to be undertaken.  Far better to not worship than to do so in violation of taboos.  Far better to not offer at all than to offer a sacrifice that would be offensive to the Gods.

When we dispense with notions of perfection we can come to see our Gods far better for what They are, and Who They are.  Discarding perfection also frees us of the burden of being ‘perfect worshipers’, and frames things as relational rather than static requirements.  It also allows for the Gods to change; if They cannot be frozen in some ‘ideal’ state, neither can Their relationships with us.

Supporting Raven Kaldera’s Work

June 6, 2015 Leave a comment

Sarenth:

Boosting the signal. Raven Kaldera has directly impacted my path with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir for the better.

Originally posted on Gangleri's Grove:

My friend Raven Kaldera has created a patreon account for those who might like to help contribute to and support his work. I think this is an awesome idea — I didn’t know about patreon. Check out his account here.

Raven works his butt off for the Gods and for several communities. If his work has helped you, consider a bit of support.

People can sign up to donate a buck a month to support his work.  He’s a damned good investment. ^_^ and this is a way to be part of the Work.

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Connecting with the Gods, Ancestors, and Vaettir Outside Part 1

May 26, 2015 3 comments

My indoor and outdoor vés and worship spaces get more time from me depending on the time of year, and where I am feeling drawn.  Given that now is the planting season, I’ve been spending quite a bit of time outdoors.  My family maintains a main vé outdoors in a small grove of trees where I have placed Odin’s godpole and where our family makes our Sacred Fires.  As I have mentioned in previous posts, Hela and Niðogg’s vé is the compost heap.  When we finally spread the soil after a year of adding to it, it was dark black, and had a rich sweet smell to it.  Where animals have been buried, all in the main vé, I also feel Hela’s presence.

This entire last week or two I’ve been outside quite a bit with the family in the large garden we’ve been prepping, tilling, then planting.  Every time we go out there is a time to pray, every action out there an opportunity to come closer to the Gods, Ancestors, landvaettir, and other vaettir.  It doesn’t replace the offerings I make.  I make those too.  It might be a glass of water on a vé, it might be smoke offered from tobacoo or mugwort in a sacred pipe, those same herbs placed in/upon the Earth, or an offering from me as I do the work such as a song or praise.

Today, as I dug each small hole for the green beans, I prayed to Jörð, Freyr, Gerda, Freya, the landvaettir, the Disir, the Väter, and the Ancestors.  I sang songs I was taught in Ojibwe, and I sang songs for my Catholic Ancestors, who were coming on strong today, with my Dad as we planted.  The days when I dug the Earth I sang songs for Jörð and the landvaettir.  Increasingly, making songs for the Holy Powers is becoming a part of my offerings alongside the others.  I like it.  It’s an offering of breath and creativity, since a lot of the songs I’m making up the verses as I go along.

The Ancestors have been there every time, and fairly thick.  I’m not surprised; up until my generation, most of my family on both my parents’ sides have come from farmers.  It makes sense that I would feel a lot more of Them during similar activities, and that They are pushing for me to get land, animals, and the like.  I felt some different Ancestors around me, though, when my Dad hit a mole with the rototiller Friday.  Rather than simply bury it, my Mom actually suggested I skin it.

I asked the mole if it would give me permission to skin it.  When she agreed, I set up a space for it in the main vé.  I asked Ansuz to help me cleanse, Gebo to help me ground, and did my usual grounding, centering, cleansing, and shielding work.  This would be my first time skinning an animal; I wanted to do it right.  Given Dad’s done it before, he showed me how to sharpen the knives I might use, and briefly explained the cuts I would need to make.  I returned to the vé, and made prayers to the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and landvaettir, asking for Their help.  At first I was surprised by Skaði’s Presence.  Then, I remembered: A long time back when I was first introduced to Skaði by Odin during my ordeal on the Tree and work in the Nine Worlds, She had tasked me with, among other things, learning how to make a kill, skin, and dress it.  While I do still need to do this in full, She let me know this was a good first step.

It turns out skin is damned tough.  I knew the knives were sharp, but this being my first time out, I wasn’t expecting how tough, especially on a little thing like a mole.  I was frustrated.  So, I returned and asked Dad if there was something I was doing wrong.  He came out, looked at it, and then mentioned to me that he usually started from a cut along the throat in bigger animals.  In this case, he felt I should behead the animal.  I asked the mole for permission to do so, and when the mole gave it, I did.  I took a breath, made some prayers, and focused.  I looked at the knives in front of me, and finally went with the smallest: a slim, curved steel knife with a deer antler hilt, a wolf burned into the pommel.  Again, I took a breath, made prayers, and focused.  I felt an Ancestor help guide me.  “This way,” Their hand on mine, showing me.  I cut, felt the blade slide through skin, flesh, flesh the crunch of bone, cartilege as I severed the mole’s head.  I thanked it for allowing me to do this, to take its body and make something from it.  To learn from it.  I set the head gently aside, bowed my head to it, and proceed to skin the rest of it.  An occasional ‘Good’ or ‘Careful’ from one of the Ancestors.  It went a good deal faster than I thought it would, and in about half an hour or so, I had it skinned and fleshed without damage to the fur or the skin.  I heard a ‘Good’ from Skaði and heard no more from Her, though Her Presence lingered until the mole was buried.  I pinned the skin to a good-sized chunk of wood, stretched it, and placed pickling salt on it.  I will be getting some alum as well, and following instructions to make this a pliable, tanned skin.

When its skin was safe in a dark corner of the garage, I returned to the sacred grove with a shovel, and offerings.  I asked the landvaettir for permission to dig, and once They gave it, and I ‘felt’I had found the spot, I dug a small hole.  I prayed to Hela and Niðogg, asking Them to accept the mole.  I placed the body inside, put down some tobacco and mugwort in offering to the mole and covered the hole.  I then gave some in offering to the Gods, Ancestors, and landvaettir.  I washed the ceramic tile I had used, and went inside.  I made prayers as I physically cleaned the knives and my hands, thanking the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir for Their patience, willingness to teach, and the sacrifice of the mole.

It’s interesting in reflecting on it.  The life-generating cycle of prepping, tilling, and planting was started just a few days after this animal was killed and skinned.  I approach both in a sacred way because both are sacred.  I was not inspired to give songs for the mole; I was inspired to give reverent silence and my full care to the process of skinning, of not damaging the gift that she had given me.  I was inspired to sing loudly during the prepping, the tilling, and the planting.  Different sacred encounters with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir ask us to take different attitudes, actions, and offerings.  Perhaps the next time I skin an animal it will ask for a song, or for many songs.  Perhaps it will ask that I dance.  Perhaps Skaði or Freyr will ask that I dance, or sing, or to be silent.  Perhaps the next time I prepare a field, or till a field, or plant, the landvaettir, or the Gods will ask for my silence, a Sacred Fire, a ritual from my family, or perhaps They will ask for the same offerings year after year.

In connecting with my Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir outside, it has made me realize just how much I rely on Them.  It made me realize in very grounded terms that I am vitally connected with the Holy Powers in very down-to-Earth ways: that Freyr is in the asparagus as well as His statue, that He helps to give life to the land, and that Gerda is both present on the Gods’ altar and in the garden giving life to the land and growth to the plants.  I understand the landvaettir are  the asparagus, tomatoes, beans and squash as much as They are the trees of the sacred grove, the grass of the lawn, the animals that dart about them, and the rich earth of the garden itself.  In understanding this, I understand the landvaettir are part of the house and the land, and that this land (and a good deal more I may never see, i.e. farms, mines, production areas, etc.) will help to sustain my family and I.  In understanding this connection I know that the Ancestors are right here with me, supporting me in the work at hand, and that if I listen They will help guide me in what to do.  All of these things reinforce the understanding that the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir are as vital a part of our communities as its living human members are.

Connecting and understanding my relationship with the Holy Powers is knowing, and especially acknowledging, that I need these connections spiritually as well as physically.  In putting my hands in the Earth and asking the Holy Powers to help me grow the food, I asking Them to help me be a shaman that, paraphrasing the words of my dear friend Two Snakes, “can make the beans grow”.  I am asking Them not only to help me feed my family and I physically, but feed us spiritually as well, living in good Gebo with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, and furthering my path as a shaman.

This post is getting a little lengthy and starting to flow away from the topic at the start, so I think I’ll split this up into two posts.  If I get the inspiration maybe this will become a series of posts.

Many Lands, Many Ancestors, Many Gods, Many People/s: The Opening Ritual for Many Gods West!

May 8, 2015 Leave a comment

Sarenth:

For anyone going to the Many Gods West, here is what the Opening Ritual will be like, and the things the organizers would like you to bring.

Originally posted on Aedicula Antinoi: A Small Shrine of Antinous:

As a great number of regular readers here know, Many Gods West is no longer many months away–it’s at the end of the month after next (i.e. late July)!!! That’s not a lot of time, in several respects, but it is enough time to prepare for it beyond the usual preparations that presenters and attendees often do before such events. Niki Whiting is doing an awesome job with logistics and administration on this; Rhyd Wildermuth is our “bard-on-the-card” (!?!) as far as maintaining the website and doing many other tasks. My role is to do some of the specifically ritual activities and to foster and maintain the “spiritual awareness” of the event in a variety of ways, which I am honored and pleased to be doing.

In that light, I’d like to let people know what to expect for the opening ritual, and how they can prepare for it and…

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I pray

April 29, 2015 7 comments

I cannot be in Nepal, today, helping to find the trapped, the dying, or the Dead, so I offer prayers.

I cannot be in Maryland, today, marching in solidarity, tending the wounded, or listening to others’ anger, so I offer prayers.

I cannot be in so many places where injustice reigns, where anger boils, where lamentation fills the air.

So I offer prayers.

I pray for the living, who have seen tragedy heaped upon tragedy.  I pray that justice is done whether they take it or it is given.

I pray for the cities, whose spirits are full of pain at the weight of their misery.  I pray for the necessary changes that will bring justice to them, and comfort to the city spirits.

I pray for the Dead, taken in violence, whose impact shakes their communities.  I pray that They are remembered, and that They are honored.

May the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir be with them all.  Ves heil.

White Guilt is an Indulgence

March 30, 2015 28 comments

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.

Deceit

March 30, 2015 4 comments

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.

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