If Your Paganism is Anthropocentric, I Don’t Want Your Paganism

With articles such as this, it is even more clear to me why polytheists need to speak up within and without the Pagan Umbrella.

With respect to discerning John Beckett from John Halstead, I will use their last names.

Beckett wrote a post about the future of polytheism and the importance of ‘keeping the Gods at the front’.  Halstead’s article is the response to this.

‘John Beckett has recently written a post about his vision of the future of Polytheism- the future of the “polytheist revolution” -and the importance of “keeping the Gods at the front”. To me, this sounds disturbingly like the Christianity I left behind 15 years ago – with its rejection of this world or at least its relegation of the concerns of this world to a place of secondary importance.  It sounds too much like the monotheistic condemnation of “idolatry” and the “gods of this world”.’

To start with, it is clear to me that Halstead does not understand, nor cares to understand the perspective of polytheism, or polytheists in general.  The polytheist revolution is not world-denying; if anything, it embraces the world as it is, with warts and all.  It sees this world, and all that it is, and is within it, as populated by Gods, our Ancestors, and spirits.  I find it foolish that Halstead would find it too much like the monotheist condemnation of ‘idolatry’ when so many of us do exactly that, and worship Gods that are of this world, if not the Earth Itself.

Quoting Beckett:

“I would argue that if your religion doesn’t have a strong this-world component you’re doing it wrong.

“However…

“Our this-world concerns are enormous.  They’re here, in front of us, right now.  They demand our attention, they demand our time, they demand our effort.  And they never end.  If we are not mindful, if we are not -dare I say it- devout and pious, it is all too easy to let our this-world concerns becomes our gods and take Their place in our lives…

“When we don’t keep the Gods at the forefront of our practice, we put something else there.  That something else may be helpful or it may be a distraction, but whatever it is weakens our relationships with the Gods…”

Quoting Halstead in response:

‘To me, this sounds disturbingly like the Christianity I left behind 15 years ago – with its rejection of this world or at least its relegation of concerns of this world to a place of secondary importance.’

Our polytheist religions have a this-world component.  We’re not world-denying religions.  There would not be talk of such things as regional cultus, and working with, revering, and worshiping the landvaettir were we doing so.  There would be no talk of our duty to the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir to treat the Earth well, to care for our oceans, to consume less, and a million other things that we polytheists may factor in when it comes to how we live on this Earth, whether we have children, how to raise them if we do, how we die, and how our bodies are cared for after our death.  Our Gods come first and foremost because we are polytheists.  It’s not a polite suggestion to believe in the Gods and treat Them as real accordingly.  It’s part and parcel of being a polytheist.  If that is not at the forefront of being a polytheist, then the identification as a polytheist, and associated religions that identify with this word, become drained of meaning.  Accordingly, our relationships with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir suffer when the Holy Powers are not first in our considerations.

I wrote on this idea of placing the Gods first a while back, here.

Quoting myself:

‘When someone puts the Gods first, does that mean the needs of one’s family are ignored?  Absolutely not.  What it means is that my family recognizes the Gods at the center of our lives.  It is not an either/or thing, here.  I do not love the Gods and ignore my family.  In loving and serving my Gods, I love and serve my family as well.  In separating one from the other is where error comes from.  If the Gods are in (or are) the Air, the Water, the Fire, the Ice, etc., then it is impossible to escape Them and foolish, if not hubris, to ignore Them.  Far better to partner with Them in good Gebo than to pretend we are somehow separate from Them.’

Again, from Halstead:

‘It sounds too much like the monotheistic condemnation of “idolatry” and the “gods of this world”.  It was because of its embrace of the “gods of this world” that I became Pagan.’

Considering Halstead has continuously denied the agency and Being of Gods in his writing, I find this very hard to believe.  Halstead has gone out of his way to deny that Gods possess Being, and are Beings unto Themselves.  Rather than embracing Gods, Halstead has made much of his writing about rejecting Them.  That rejection of the Gods, his embrace and normalizing of the term ‘Pagan’ in an atheist mindset is why I considered dropping Pagan as an identifier altogether.  If such a term is so open and wide to interpretation that a barebones belief in or respect of Holy Powers are no longer a requirement for identification with groups of Pagan religious communities, what, precisely, are we supposed to be huddled under this umbrella for?

‘For me, more than anything else, the word “Pagan” denotes a this-worldly view of life.  I had spent far too much of my early religious life looking for another world and missing the point of this one.  I was guilty of what Albert Camus called the sin of “hoping for another life and eluding the implacable grandeur of this life.” I found in Paganism a religion that embraced this world – with both arms.’

The problem I find with the word ‘Pagan’ primarily denoting a this-worldly life is not that it denotes a this-worldly life, per se, but that it is empty of any kind of religious meaning in doing so.  It is not about the Gods, Mysteries, our relationships with the Holy Powers, each other, or indeed the world itself.  It is solidly stuck in a this-worldly view, which implies that this is the only life that matters, that this is it.  Many polytheist religions carry afterlives with them in their cosmologies.  For some, reincarnating may be part of that, in addition to there being final destinations depending on how life was lived, what your occupation was, what if any Mysteries you were initiated into, and how you died.  The other possible implication of ‘Pagan’ meaning ‘this-worldly view of life’ is that our Ancestors and Dead do not get or have input, and Their agencies are ignored.  This is a mighty big problem in most polytheist religions, as the Ancestors and Dead have a lot of input in our individual lives, and active interest in how our religions are restored and lived.

‘While many Pagans do believe in reincarnation, most do not view the cycle of life as something to be escaped from.  And most of those who believe in a “Summerland” view it as the place where souls rest between incarnations, not as a “heaven” where one would want to stay.  Ultimate, for most Pagans, this world is all there is.  But where this would cause some to despair, the Pagan shouts with joy!’

What I have not seen featured in polytheist writings, nor in an polytheist circles I run in, is a worry about these afterlives.  There may be active cultivation of relationships with certain Gods (I think of Dionysian Mysteries and the Eleusinian Mysteries here), or certain Gods may lay a claim on a worshiper or group of worshipers, but in my experience, we generally leave the concern of where we go to our Gods of Death.  I would not eve say for ‘most Pagans, this world is all there is’, especially coming on the heels of Halstead saying ‘many Pagans do believe in reincarnation’ and talk of belief in a Summerland.  Not only is this assumptive of ‘most Pagans’, it also denies that many, if not potentially most Pagans have belief in some kind of Otherworld (i.e. the aforementioned Summerland) and afterlives.  It subtly denies polytheism in Paganism.

‘So when John Beckett talks about placing the gods before the concerns of this world, this is not just another form of Paganism – it is the antithesis of everything Paganism is to me.  For me, it’s this world or bust!’

This gets to the crux of the piece: Halstead is positing that the polytheism, and likewise the polytheists he is critiquing, what he calls ‘other-worldly polytheism’ is outside of the Circles of Paganism that Beckett, he, and others have used in their writing at Patheos.  In writing ‘it is the antithesis of everything Paganism is to me.  For me, it’s this world or bust!’ Halstead not only falsely places us polytheists who believe the Gods should come first on the opposite side of caring for this world, he is also placing us firmly on the outside of Paganism.

‘John goes on to argue that, in the absence of a belief in the gods, we will lack the motivation to care for the Earth and to build a fair and just society when the going gets hard.  I simply cannot agree.  How does putting the gods between us and our concern for the earth and its inhabitants strengthen that concern?’

Halstead would be asking an important question here, were he not completely missing the point.  In putting the Gods first, we necessarily place our concern for the Earth and Its inhabitants in a high priority.  It strengthens our resolve when it is weak, it gives us zeal when it is easier to ignore the problems we face, and it provides an undercurrent of relationships to why we care so deeply for our world, our local and global ecology, and all the Holy Powers who share in that relationship with us.  Our relationships with the Holy Powers strengthens that concern by denying our concerns merely for self-preservation, which is frequently short-sighted and self-serving, and pushing us, if not directly telling us that we need to care not only for ourselves, but future generations as well.  It’s not pushing enlightened self-service; rather, polytheism asks us to live for our Ancestors and our descendants/others’ descendants.  We are Ancestors in the making, Their latest iteration, and it is on us to be good Ancestors to those who come after us, even if we never have children.

As I said in What It Means to Place the Gods First:

‘Placing the Gods first means, though, that we accept the Gods as the center of our lives, as the forces with which we ally to bring good to our lives and the lives of those we touch.  As my family understands and lives this, it means that family is second to the Gods because without a good relationship with the Gods, we do not have good relationships within our family…It means that our Ancestors are never gone, but walk with us in this life.  That when we work with people, we understand the work to not just be work, but Gebo and the building up of maegen and hamingja between us.  It means that the religion we live carries weight in our lives, and ripples out into how we relate to one another, and to all things.’

Halstead continues:

‘In my own experience, the reverse has been true: care for this world is inversely proportionally to the belief in the importance of another one.  This has been true in my own life and in the lives of many others I have seen – like those who response to ecocide is “It’s all going to burn anyway.”‘

Again, this would be a worthy concern were I seeing any polytheist putting forth such a rash, irresponsible, wrong-headed repsonse like ‘It’s all going to burn anyway.’  This attitude is predominant in the monotheist eschatology in which the Final Battle purges the world, and God makes everything alright.  The corollary to this attitude in the atheist sphere is a nihilism that denies the usefulness of action.  I do not find either of these attitudes in polytheism.  Rather, I find that polytheist stories embrace the idea of facing steep odds, and are the kind of tests that make heroes.  I find that polytheist stories are stories of hope, such as Yggdrasil rising from the flames of Surt’s destruction after Ragnarök.

‘To me, it seems that a god-motivated concern for the earth – whether polytheist or monotheist – is more fragile than a concern that grows directly out of one’s relationship with the earth itself – for the same reason that stewardship models of environmentalism don’t go as deep as those that recognize our inherent interconnectedness.’

Again, Halstead seems to not understand that a Gods-motivated concern for the Earth is as much, if not more strong than a concern that grows directly our of one’s relationship with the Earth itself -because a polytheists our relationship with the land we live on is important, whether between the Gods and spirits of the local land, or of the Earth as a whole.  A polytheist’s attitude towards the Earth grows out of our relationship with It.  Stewardship models do not go deep enough, I grant, but even philosophies that recognize our inherent interconnectedness fail to go deep enough because they often remain philosophies, primarily of the mind, and are not lived.  Our religions require us to live in relationship with the Holy Powers, the land we live on, and from that, the wider Earth included.  In other words, recognizing we are interconnected is quite a different thing from living as interconnected beings.

‘What happens to our ecology when the gods are silent, as they sometimes are?’

We have free will, and it is well within our wheelhouse as living Beings to make our own choices.  We are humans, animals, and part of this world.  For us polytheists, we need not consult just the Gods.  This is why I emphasized the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir together, as each provides us with ways to answer questions, find guidance, and move forward.  If the Gods are silent we may need to consult the Ancestors or vaettir.  If all are silent, perhaps it is time we made up our minds, and acted.

‘Or what happens when the will of the gods do not align with the needs of our planet?’

I have yet to find a situation where wills of the Gods do not align with the planet’s needs.  Regardless, just because I know countless Gods exist does not mean that all are to be followed, nor that all have the world’s needs in mind.  Treating the wills of the Gods as a singular is problematic because the Gods are many, and so too are Their wills.

Halstead continues:

‘John admits that “…we aren’t the primary concern of the Gods…” Well, if we are not, and if this planet is not, then I wonder what is their primary concern?’

We cannot be the primary concern of the Gods because not all Gods are concerned with us.  The same goes for the planet.  Again, treating the wills of the Gods as a singular is problematic because the Gods are many, and so too are Their wills.  Their concerns no less so.  Asking ‘What is Their primary concern?’ is fruitless.  They don’t have a unified concern because the Gods are not One.

Halstead continues:

‘No doubt someone will tell me that the ways of the gods are mysterious or their ways are not our ways -but I’ve heard all that before, from my former religion.  I’m left wondering, if the gods are not concerned with us, and with the other lifeforms on this earth, why we should worship them at all?  The mere fact of their existence seems to be insufficient reason to justify placing them before everything else.’

If you need justification for worshiping Gods such as the Eldest Ancestor, the First Fire of the Universe that gave and gives light and heat out of the cold Void, or for worshiping the Gods that gave us life, form, and the ability to exist, if you need justification to be in good relationship, and give respect to the Gods, Ancestors and vaettir that allow us to live, gave rise to us, and live in relationship with us, then I have no idea how to convince you of that importance.  If you utterly refuse to believe in, acknowledge the Holy Powers, and actively deny such Beings exist, and that such relationships are real and impactful, I have neither the idea nor the time to convince you otherwise.  It is not merely Their existence, but that we exist that should be more than sufficient reason to place Them before all else, with an attitude of gratitude, if nothing else.

‘Of course, not all Polytheism is other-worldly. Not all polytheisms are equal.’

No polytheism I know of is strictly other-worldly.  What Halstead is trying to say with ‘Not all polytheisms are equal’ is that there are some polytheisms that are better than others, polytheisms he is ‘happy to share the Pagan umbrella with – a this-worldly polytheism.’  Again, Halstead is placing those of us who put our Gods first, whom he calls ‘other-worldly polytheism’, on the outside of the Pagan umbrella.

‘Some forms of Polytheism find the gods in the manifest phenomena of this world – its rivers, its mountains, its flora, its other-than-human animals.  For them, “We move through a world rife with gods and spirits, and a multitude of gods dwell within each of us…We rub up against the divine being with every turn in the sacred dance” (Alison Leigh Lily), from “Local spirits-of-place Gods, like the tiny endemic population of this-kind-of-poppy-with-the-spot-on-its-petals which has only ever been found on one mountain in one county in one land” to “Gods who are nothing but the endless omnipotent life force endlessly taking shape in all things” (Morpheus Ravenna).’

I have no experience with or understanding that there are polytheists who do not find many Gods manifest in the phenomena of this world.  However, many of Them are found beyond it as well.  Again, referring to the Gods as a whole is problematic.  As the Gods are not all found in the manifest phenomena of this world, it denies Their multiplicity to exist from without the Earth.  In denying the multiplicity of the Gods’ manifestations, those Gods’ existence is also denied, the same with Ancestors and vaettir whose existence comes from other places.

Halstead concludes:

‘For some Polytheists, the suggestion that we should avoid placing this  world before the gods is nonsensical, a non-sequitur, because for them there is no distinction between the gods and this world.  That is a kind of Polytheism I am happy to share the Pagan umbrella with – a this-worldly polytheism.  But if your gods aren’t going to help me save this world, then I don’t want your Polytheist revolution.’

The problem with referring to the Gods as though They are a unified whole, is that his point here is rather more panentheist than it is polytheist.  There must be a distinction made between the Gods and the world, and the Gods who are the Gods of the Earth.  Otherwise, the many Gods are being reduced to a singular whole, rather than the plural, individuated Beings the word ought to mean.  In doing this, what was Many is reduced to a toothless, ineffectual One.  This world’s ability to provide us with the means to live will not be made, cared for, or secured in a single way.  We should not place such an expectation of sum-total unity upon the Gods, either.

If Halstead thinks that devotional polytheism is other-worldly polytheism, then he does not understand what he is attempting to critique, and needs to actually read what we write rather than read into our words what he wants to read.  We are advocating for RADICAL acceptance of responsibility to leave this world better than we found it, to heal it where we can, and to teach the next generation better ways of living than we inherited.

We do this by following the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits’ examples, guidance, and direction.

I ask him this: What do you follow?

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  1. August 25, 2015 at 3:05 am

    I expect that we’ll see further posts from Halstead on “If your Catholicism doesn’t help me save this world, I don’t want your Catholicism,” and likewise “If your Buddhism doesn’t help me save this world, I don’t want your Buddhism,” and so on and so forth to all of the religions there are…

    Because, as he’s made clear, he isn’t a polytheist, and so why any of this matters to him–other than to preserve some “necessity” of the *Big Tent Pagan* semblance that so many of them seem to want to while simultaneously pushing people out of it (like he does in this very article several times!), which in itself gives the lie to the *Big Tent* (don’t you just love how often that happens?)–I have no frickin’ idea…But, I suspect he doesn’t either.

    • August 25, 2015 at 5:20 am

      Prepare for some rudeness from me (though not toward you!) – but I have to wonder:

      what environmental activism is Halstead involved in? I see him talking a lot about Pagans Saving the World, but I don’t hear a lot about on the ground work. This is an honest question, both because I have doubts about what he’s *actually* doing and because I’m surrounded, in my daily life, by people who are *actually going out there and doing environmental activism*. Protesting. Litigating. Losing friends in order to help protect wildlife. Receiving *death threats* for daring to protect the land. Being confronted with chainsaws. Just – the real meat, you know? Not that writing about the environment isn’t important (I mean, just look at Silent Spring!!), but all of the activists I know are too damn busy Doing Shit to complain about people who are Doing Shit For the Wrong Reasons.

      • August 25, 2015 at 5:36 am

        Yes…the big “Pagan Statement on the Environment” and then micro-studies of the people who signed it is one thing, but it’s very easy to write *The Grand Statement* and look like one is doing something when it really isn’t doing anything.

        He is going to be on the panel at the World Parliament of Religions about pagans responding to the Pope’s Encyclical (why the fuck do we care what people in another religion think about issues they’ve joined the bandwagon on way too late?), and I’ll be very curious to see how that goes, and how much they gloss over certain things in the papal statement. I’ll have some questions prepared, in any case, if these things are not acknowledged.

    • August 25, 2015 at 9:21 pm

      When the Pope wrote a stronger anti-capitalist environmental statement than the Humanist/Atheist led “Pagan Statement on the Environment…” it’s really difficult to take their arguments seriously…

  2. August 25, 2015 at 8:37 am

    I feel like “do a shot every time Halstead says something ignorant or awful about Polytheists/Polytheism” should be a drinking game…but I would fear for our collective livers. Kudos to those of you who can engage him in a meaningful dialogue, because I don’t have the stomach for it.

  3. August 25, 2015 at 10:28 am

    As of this point forward, I’m ignoring his ass. More serious shots were fired by him on Witches and Pagans this morning; he’s trying to lead a campaign against polytheism and define Pagan theology in such a way as to actively exclude us. Fuck his crusade against us, fuck his “theology” that is empty of “theos”, and fuck him.

    People who hyper-focus on how wrong other people are tend to do so because their own foundations are shaky. I’ve learned this from being raised in an evangelical household. That searing hatred in the name of something greater comes from being afraid of a world with options and opinions that don’t match your own. A world where there’s a chance that you might be wrong but are willing to do your best.

    The whole thing reminds me a lot of Orson Scott Card. Back in the nineties I used to read his column because while I did not agree with him, he was a principled, polite, intelligent opposition. Then 9/11 happened and he shifted gears to being an abusive, bullying psycho. I don’t know what Halstead’s 9/11 was – maybe when he realized that not everyone who was Pagan agreed with him and he started to feel threatened by the differences.

    Done, done, done. I appreciate the responses people make to him and have chuckled at the East Side/West Side, Grant Morrison/Alan Moore thing he and Beckett have going on, but really let’s stop wasting breath on his poison. There’s real poison in this world, and maybe someday he’ll get over his inane prejudices and realize that we want to fight against that poison as much as he does.

    • August 25, 2015 at 6:00 pm

      For the life of me, I cannot understand why Halstead cares what we do. What does it have to do with yoooouuuuu? Why do you have to sound so sandy about Polytheist theology? We don’t go over to humanists and tell them what their theology ought to entail. If I gave more fucks, I’d probably just post this in response: http://bitsocialmedia.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Internet-Troll.jpg

      But in all seriousness, it feels like an Antagonists in the Church scenario, where all we can do is keep saying that if you’re not a Polytheist, you don’t get to tell us what Polytheism is, because rational engagement isn’t going to work.

      • August 25, 2015 at 6:29 pm

        Well he’s not trying to tell us what Polytheism is, he’s just trying to tell us what sorts of Polytheisms he thinks should fit under the Pagan umbrella. I don’t agree with him, and if he presented it differently it would be different. I’ve stood up for atheists in the Pagan umbrella before because people change their feelings but you build communities and practices that are helpful and valuable even if your understanding of their meaning changes.

      • August 25, 2015 at 6:40 pm

        Actually, Halstead has a running history of trying to tell us what polytheism is. See his latest posts on WitchesandPagans.com in which he explains that polytheism is part of the problem of disenchantment in/with the world.

    • August 25, 2015 at 7:55 pm

      Ignoring is probably the best way to go. I have to wonder if he just looking for attention? He clearly has no understanding of Polytheism.

  4. August 25, 2015 at 1:33 pm

    For a while I think he was sort of fascinated by polytheism, and wanted polytheists to validate him as a “Jungian polytheist” and kept doing “Jungian polytheist” apologetic style essays while trying to show how his view was better. When this was rejected, he went apesh*t. But, apparently *we’re the fundamentalists!

  5. August 25, 2015 at 1:40 pm

    I also wonder if Alison Leigh Lilly realizes that Halstead is (mis)using her words for his little agenda. I don’t have a problem with her theology, I think it’s interesting and I welcome diversity but it seems like he’s taking what she says and twisting it to advocate for something else.

    • August 25, 2015 at 6:38 pm

      Lilly probably doesn’t have a problem with it – she’s attacked and abused Beckett before, along with Rhyd Wildermuth and Julian Betkowski and others I know. She reacts even worse than Halstead when her opinions are challenged, she just takes it to private email.

      • August 26, 2015 at 9:33 am

        But as far as I know, most of the polytheist blog brigade didn’t have a problem with her theology, even if it wasn’t their cup of tea. I think it was all a bunch of miscommunication. Some people should just stick to face to face. I’m the opposite of most people- I just blurt things out in person, but in writing I take more time to think, many people have told me I express myself a lot better in writing.

      • August 26, 2015 at 4:54 pm

        I don’t think someone sends 1k+ virulent emails repeatedly because of a miscommunication. There’s that, plus the times she’s stuck her nose up and complained about polytheists being mentally ill or dangerous. She only really latched onto the label of ‘natural polytheist’ after she got called out by polytheists for *not* being a polytheist (or, at best, attacking polytheists for actually believing in gods). She doesn’t just blurt out stuff, she actively goes after polytheists she views as a threat.

      • August 26, 2015 at 5:08 pm

        Sorry, I’ve lost track of some of the past brouhahas. Anyone who throws “crazy” around automatically gets added to my sh*t list, so thanks for the reminder. I’m considering calling out both of them for doing a lousy job with the “free & responsible search” and other parts of UUism.

      • August 26, 2015 at 5:20 pm

        Yes…not to mention she has thrown around ideas like “druidic satire” without really understanding what those things mean or imply (and no, druids didn’t do satire anyway, the filid did), and it’s not just a clever hip-hop Weird Al treatment of one’s opponents, which is what she took it as. When I tried to inform her on what she was really appropriating with that terminology, not surprisingly she didn’t approve my comment. Not that such is a litmus test or anything, but still…I pretty much began ignoring her not long after that.

      • Julian Betkowski
        August 31, 2015 at 10:17 pm

        One of the reasons that I pulled my personal blog from the internet was to stop Halstead from quoting me out of context. There was a while when he was repeatedly quoting my writing and linking to me, as though we shared some sort of theological position.

      • August 31, 2015 at 10:17 pm

        Oh. I’m really sorry to hear that. I really enjoyed reading your writing.

  6. ganglerisgrove
    August 25, 2015 at 3:11 pm

    Reblogged this on Gangleri's Grove and commented:
    quite a good rebuttal to quite an awful piece.

  7. August 25, 2015 at 4:36 pm

    This is incredible. Excellent, and thorough, reply.

    To be honest: I bet you ten that Halstead really does have a good idea about devotional polytheism and speaks regularly with devotional polytheists. He just doesn’t have the balls to admit that he is nervous about the implications of hard polytheism and that he personally is not into that because, well, it would terrify anyone (and for damn good reason).

    He is also nervous about answering questions about his own beliefs, because it seems to me (and this is just an observation) that he himself is on shaky ground, and so he prefers to lash out instead of work on the cracks in the foundation, see why they are there, and consider that maybe something else will work for him.

    Not sure why he is attempting to police this kind of polytheism. There is a difference between interreligious dialogue/theological discussion and cultivating a blind cruelty against something out of personal idea, and the difference is clear in both Halstead’s post and Sarenth’s reply.

  8. August 25, 2015 at 5:55 pm

    “If Halstead thinks that devotional polytheism is other-worldly polytheism, then he does not understand what he is attempting to critique, and needs to actually read what we write rather than read into our words what he wants to read. We are advocating for RADICAL acceptance of responsibility to leave this world better than we found it, to heal it where we can, and to teach the next generation better ways of living than we inherited.

    “We do this by following the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits’ examples, guidance, and direction.”

    Bravo! That is very well said, Sarenth. Thank you. Deserves a round of applause.

  9. August 25, 2015 at 9:03 pm

    I’ve always wanted to say, hey, if you’re looking to re-enchant the world, consider quitting your job as a trial-lawyer for car insurance companies instead of attempting to shape all of Paganism to fit your lifestyle.

    It’s something that should be said to many, many people.

    Also, my friend, this was incredible. 🙂

    • August 26, 2015 at 4:11 am

      Agreed. As I said above, I’ve come *very* close to asking him what the heck he’s actually doing activism wise. But I get cranky since I’ve risked lead poisoning and seen people put in very dangerous positions while they are engaged in practical re-enchantment. He could even put his lawyer-skills to work by litigating against people and government agencies! He could go find grassroots groups to work for.

      But there’s hardly any money in that. (I am just so cranky this man is telling people that they must have These Reasons for engaging in activism and environmental work while my family and I made actual sacrifices to do that.)

      • August 31, 2015 at 10:10 pm

        Your irritation is understandable. What I hope you are not meaning is that folks like myself are not engaged in practical re-enchantment. I may not show to protests (usually because my work schedule makes this difficult, if not impossible) but I do show up to things like township meetings in regard to talking on the new NEXUS pipeline that Spectra Energy wants to shove through our town. I think that re-enchantment can take a number of forms, and direct activism is one among many.

      • August 31, 2015 at 11:07 pm

        Definitely not. I am frustrated that he’s set himself up as some sort of authority on the subject, telling others that they need certain reasons to be ‘really’ involved in re-enchantment. For me, Doing Stuff (whatever stuff they are capable of – and I stopped doing on-the-ground activism for a lot of reasons) is more important than why someone is, and I question when someone is more concerned with reasons than actions. (Mostly I’m irritated that Halstead carries a lot of privilege around and it shows through on this topic, among others. That’s why I want to ask what he’s given up, to think he has the right to tell people what they have to believe.)

      • August 31, 2015 at 11:32 pm

        I figured as much, but wanted to double-check to be sure I understood. I appreciate the nuance here and your willing to dig into things a bit. Thank you.

        I agree that doing stuff is very important. I think it is important why we do things, too. For instance, if we adopt a new technology to keep pace with the current rate of consumption, that why has a very big impact on keeping things the same. In a more personal sense, yeah, I can feel you there.

        In regards to Halstead, I can feel you on why his privilege, and throwing around of it irritates, especially since he’s pontificating on religions he is not a part of and beliefs he does not hold, yet wants the same cache as if he was within the same.

    • Julian Betkowski
      September 1, 2015 at 10:23 am

      But walking to the end of the sidewalk in his gated community is just like that Shel Silverstein poem, and isn’t that enough, really?

      • September 1, 2015 at 6:34 pm

        Totally. ^_~

    • September 13, 2015 at 11:15 am

      Trial lawyer for car insurance companies … That explains a lot

  10. thelettuceman
    August 26, 2015 at 8:49 am

    Thanks for this.

    I often run across Halstead and I end up seething in rage because I have neither the drive, nor desire, to waste my time with him.

    Halstead’s biggest failing is not that he’s not a polytheist. It’s that he’s so under-educated in various theological arguments that he constructs faulty examples and arguments in order to buttress his position. He did this while trying to position himself as a “Jungian polytheist” and attempting to entirely rewrite theological arguments for his example. I think he’s just bitter that we’ve seen through him.

    • August 31, 2015 at 10:12 pm

      You are welcome.

      I agree with you in regards to his positioning himself as a “Jungian polytheist” and his attempted rewriting of theological arguments. It makes me angry. Rather than let that stand, I felt the need to write.

  11. August 26, 2015 at 5:44 pm

    Reblogged this on EmberVoices: Listening for the Vanir and commented:

    I agree with much, but perhaps not all of what Sarenth says here. In any case it’s a helpful overview of the most recent willful-misunderstanding-based polytheist bashing from John Halstead.

    PSVL has a point in the comments that I want to emphasize. Halsted *is not a polytheist* and thus should not be expected to agree with our faith-based focus or values. He can argue ethics with us if he likes, but arguing theology when we don’t agree on the premise is useless.

    Why DO we care so damned much what a man who *doesn’t share our faith* has to say about our faith not suiting him? It’s not his faith to critique, and in my opinion, the basis for his critique is both incredibly flawed, and willfully blind. I get his underlying point, and if it weren’t so wretchedly framed, I might even engage with it, but I’m not willing to have a dialogue or debate with someone who isn’t interested in trying to understand what the other people are trying to say.

    But it doesn’t matter, because it’s obvious the reason for it is a chip on his shoulder that gets in his way in other areas too, and none of that is our problem. No matter what he thinks, he doesn’t speak for all Paganism, because *nobody* speaks for All Paganism. All Paganism *is not a thing*.

    Mind, I actually DO think there’s room under that “Big Tent” for all this, because Paganism isn’t a *religion* it’s a *category*, a socio-political movement with spiritual inspiration driving it. I think the main purpose of the Tent in question is to get shit done in contexts where any given trad is too small – i.e. shared resources. That comes in handy when dealing with outside systems like government and academic bureaucracies, keeps us from individually disappearing in the eyes of the mainstream, and gives otherwise isolated solitaries *someone* to talk to when there’s nobody of an actually matching practice anywhere nearby. Good for it. I’m up for that much.

    But that’s because I’m actually up for *Interfaith* work, and *it’s quite clear Halsted isn’t.*

    That Big Tent called “Paganism” is just an interfaith effort for minority religions that have any one of several different elements to them – faith in many gods is only one of those elements. Feminist spirituality is another. Use of magic is another. Animism is yet another. Regardless of how intuitively these elements go together, they don’t actually require each other. And all of them occur in traditions that *don’t* identify as Pagan. So clearly, the real requirement is simply *Self identification as Pagan*.

    Expecting any two Pagan traditions, much less eclectic individuals, to actually have *specific* stuff in common is ignorant at best – often willfully so.

    I get why people react so badly to realizing that everyone under the Big Tent isn’t actually the same as them: They believed they had found where they belong, and assumed that “belonging” meant “everyone here agrees with me” and it *hurts* to find out that’s not actually true. But that’s because their sense of belonging was based on false assumptions and/or illusions. Their actual belonging was grounded in shared *needs* not shared *beliefs*.

    –Ember–

  12. August 27, 2015 at 10:07 am

    Reblogged this on Son of Hel and commented:
    So I pretty much agree with everything in this article. There’s several points I want to expound on, so I might write a few posts based off of this later, or at least go to the Halstead article and reference off of that because that’s really where the points I want to discuss arise.

    Truth is, the Gods do not have a singular will. What Hel desires is not what Loki desires, who in turn desires something different from Thor. Each has a domain, and their domain is their primary concern. To dismiss Gods because you don’t find them “helping you save the world” is foolish. Especially since the world will continue to exist and have life on it regardless of what we humans do. To disparage at Gods like Ares, Hel, Kali, or other gods who aren’t “World savers” but instead focus on other things is the height of hubris, and shows a very shallow understanding not just of the Gods, but of the world itself.

  13. August 27, 2015 at 10:49 am

    If you re-visit Halstead’s blog, you will see that he has tried to “walk back” some of the statements that riled you up.

    ” I should have reached out to John to clarify before blasting off a blog post about what I *thought* he meant and creating another tempest in a teapot. Some of his language tripped my Xtian-baggage alarms — but that’s on me, not on him.”

    Ah, the blogosphere, where everyone can be instantly offended.

    • August 31, 2015 at 10:34 pm

      He has a history of making terrible, unfounded, and/or ignorant statements and remarks about my religion. Sometimes he’s walked these back, other times he doubles down. I’ll be honest, he’s shot most of his credibility with me because of posts like this, his Gods and fads post, why he doesn’t trust the Gods, etc.

  14. August 27, 2015 at 11:02 pm

    An excellent addressing of these issues. You have a lot of patience to wade through his misleading verbiage, I think!

    • August 27, 2015 at 11:04 pm

      Thank you very much. ^_^

  15. August 28, 2015 at 5:50 pm

    I don’t have a whole lot of time to keep up with a lot of the drama of Internet Paganism, but whenever something like this comes up, I keep wondering why people like Halstead keep wanting to call themselves “Pagans.” Why can’t he just be an atheist? There’s nothing wrong with being an atheist. Some really cool people are atheists.

    I know that the definition of “Pagan” is a contentious issue on the Internet, but in the offline world, if you ask an ordinary person on the street what they think a “Pagan” is, what they automatically think of are the Ancient Greeks, or maybe the “idolaters” that the Old Testament talked about, or maybe even the indigenous peoples of the Americas before they were converted to Christianity. It seems to me that we polytheists are much closer to what most people think of as being “Pagan” than someone like Halstead.

    I know I’m committing a bit of an internet faux pas here by saying I’m “Paganer than thou” but I just really don’t understand why Halstead keeps wanting to identify as “Pagan” when he doesn’t like most Pagan stuff. The last Halstead post I read was the one about how he’s “boycotting” Lughnasad, and it got into this whole discussion about how meaningless pagan holidays are, or something.

    I don’t know if it’s because he was raised Christian and now that he’s rejected Christianity he can’t decide what he wants to be, or what. I was raised atheist, and I don’t identify as atheist anymore because the gods are important to me. I’ve always loved nature, but if I didn’t think there were any gods in Nature, I would be an atheist who really loves nature, not a Pagan.

    I guess I just feel like if Halstead wants to redefine “Pagan” to mean “an atheist who really likes nature,” he’s going to have a lot of work cut out for him since that’s not what “Pagan” means to most people. Then I see polytheists rejecting the “Pagan” term and letting the Atheists Who Really Like Nature have it. I’m just saying, outside the pagan blogosphere, that’s really kind of backwards.

    I’m perfectly happy with having people who aren’t sure if the gods exist or aren’t sure exactly what is the nature of the gods under the Pagan Umbrella. I host a general pagan Meetup where we have several members who aren’t “hard polytheists” and believe in some kind of oneness of the gods, and others who aren’t sure about the nature of the gods but are curious and respectful of those of us who do worship the gods.

    But when you start acting like worshiping pagan gods is a *bad thing*, that’s when I start wondering why you’re under this umbrella at all. I’ve haven’t yet had any atheists show up to my Meetup and try to convince us to stop worshiping our gods while at the same time claiming to be the real Pagan here. There are plenty of atheist Meetups for atheists to go to, and most people around here seem to understand that pagans and atheists aren’t the same thing.

  16. August 28, 2015 at 6:05 pm

    As for the gods coming between us and the world, I’m probably what you’d call an “environmentalist”. I got my degree in ecology and now teach biology and environmental science at a college. At my job I try hard to teach my students about the dire state our planet is in and how important and urgent it is for us to do something about it. Since most of my students are Hispanics, I assume most of them are also Catholics, so I am glad that the Pope is on my side on this issue, even if we disagree on some of the reasons behind it. I don’t understand why John Halstead thinks we need to have a Pagan Response to the Pope. He’s giving an argument on why Catholics should care about the environment. I think that’s a good thing, but of course it’s based in Catholicism, and I’m not a Catholic.

    But I digress. Often when I think about how badly the Earth is suffering and how little people are doing about it, I get pulled into a deep despair. I wonder why I even bother, because we’re going to suck every last little drop of oil out of the ground and burn it, cause countless other species go extinct, and alter the planet in a way that it will take millions of years to recover from. Our descendants will curse us for what we have done.

    So I think I should just give up. I’ll be dead in 40 or 50 years anyway and nothing I do matters.

    And that’s when Odin shows up and reminds me that just because we can’t stop Ragnarok doesn’t mean we get to give up. Sometimes he’ll remind me of how he knows he’s going to be eaten by the wolf, but that doesn’t stop him. He tells me that if I want to serve him, then I can’t give up even when I see how badly the future is going to go. Odin doesn’t give up so I can’t give up either.

    If I were still an atheist, I wouldn’t have that. I probably would just give up.

  17. August 31, 2015 at 1:47 pm

    What a horrid article- I’m shocked Patheos published it all (although admittedly I don’t read much there and this has put me right off). Many thanks for your detailed refutation.

    I just posted my reply:

    ‘As somebody devoted to a god of the otherworld and to the spirits of my local landscape in equal measure I find this deeply insulting.

    Without the wisdom and inspiration of the otherworld and of the ancestors how do we learn to understand the past and re-imagine the future? How do we learn to think outside the one dimensional worldview brought about by a combination of monotheism, Cartesian rationalism and Newtonian science that has led to our abuse of the earth and shutting down contact from the otherworld? The view you are propagating here is not only anti-polytheist but anti-spiritual. A large cause of the destruction of this-world is the elimination of native world views that saw the earth and all the persons who inhabit her (physical and spirit persons human and non-human) as intrinsically sacred.

    This attack on polytheist pagans which aims to drive a rift between earth and deity-centred pagans is damaging and utterly unnecessary.’

    • August 31, 2015 at 9:03 pm

      No shock whatsoever–I totally agree with you.

      Unfortunately, in subsequent posts, and just in general, Halstead’s response is likely to be something along the lines of the well thought-out and intellectually viable “Nuh-uh!” 😦

      This is one of many reasons why I don’t think American Paganism and actual polytheism (and yes, I did just implicitly question the polytheism of some people by phrasing it like that) will even be strange bedfellows for long…Polytheists are starting to open their own guest houses, so to speak, so there’s little need for continuing to beg for a place and to be constantly berated for stealing the covers.

      • Julian Betkowski
        August 31, 2015 at 9:47 pm

        Before my hiatus and the the removal of my blog from the internet, I spoke about how I felt that Polytheism (big P, to differentiate it from individual, discrete polytheisms, little p) was actually more inclusive than Paganism, because the central feature of Polytheism is its acceptance of the presence (real, virtual, or potential) of multiple Gods and multiple manifestations of religious and spiritual experience.

        Whereas Paganism actually presents us with a fairly narrow range of possibilities when it comes to religious and spiritual experience. At least, the forms of American Paganism that are strongly biased against mainstream religious values, beliefs, and practices. If Paganism is understood as opposed to Christianity, then it must also reject the forms of devotion, worship, and experience that Christianity espouses.

        I think we see some of this in the push back against Polytheism, which occasionally produces first person accounts that resemble the sorts of things that devout Christians have said about, for example, personal relationships with Christ.

  18. August 31, 2015 at 10:04 pm

    Julian! It has been a long, long time since I have heard from you, and I am glad I have!

    *nods* I definitely agree with your points here, and that has been at least a good portion of my experience with Paganism, rather more online than in-person, but that is there. I think that the limitation here is because enough of Paganism is still in reactionary mode against Christianity in this case rather than being about Paganism itself.

    I think you are right in regards to the pushback against Polytheism as well. When I read this last paragraph, one of first things that came to mind was the Ecstasy of St. Theresa.

  1. August 25, 2015 at 9:36 pm
  2. September 4, 2015 at 2:27 pm

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