A Response to Jön Upsal’s Freedom of Conscience and
When I wrote my posts Orthopraxy Requires Orthodoxy and Reviving Religions vs. Reviving Cultures, I was happy with the discourse that followed. I’m glad that people wrote about why they agreed and disagreed with my points. I didn’t realize at first that Jön Upsal had wrote several posts following onto my reply to him in the Reviving post.
Jön raises a good point in that I am speaking from the perspective more as a separatist polytheist and less as a mainstream Pagan. I am writing from this perspective for a few reasons:
My personal worldview, religion, etc. consists of Heathenry from an animist and polytheist point of view. At least from my interactions with Pagans lately, the most theist response I get is either duotheism or an ill defined theism that allows for the Gods but also calls them archetypes or thoughtforms, sometimes in the same breath. This doesn’t sit well with me at all, and it’s really not my view, nor how I live my life. So, while I may be related to mainstream Paganism by being both Northern Tradition Pagan and Heathen, I find myself less readily able to relate to mainstream Paganism as I’m coming into contact with it.
Now, in regards to the model that Jön links to in his rebuttal to the Reviving post, titled Freedom of Conscience, he is absolutely right that I view the model as being the one that gives rise to animist and polytheist belief, that gives rise to the actions that are the expression of those beliefs. The Oxford English Dictionary defines worship as:
The feeling or expression of reverence and adoration for a deity:the worship of God
Without believing that a God is worthy of reverence and adoration, and that the God is, in some way real, of what import is the reverence and adoration of that God? This is not merely a personal question, but also a question of group belief and practice. For some groups this will simply not matter, a subject I went over in the Reviving post. Jön responded to this as well, and it will be covered later.
As I have mentioned elsewhere, it’s not my job to screen people theologically if they have shown up to a public ceremony, which is why I was talking in regards to the sumbel being something I do with people that I know are on a similar theological level with me, both because of the regard I have for such a ceremony, and how the ceremony itself affects those who partake in it. This is a ceremony, at least in how I partake in it, that I have very firm views on. These are firm in no small regard given the oath-taking that can occur during it.
What I find interesting is that in every example I have been provided, by both Jön and in the Reddit threads I found my blog was being discussed in, I feel the main point I was making has been reinforced, that orthopraxy comes from orthodoxy, rather than the other way around. To be clear on this, I’m quoting Jön’s post:
A thought experiment
That said, I submit the following thought experiment as a way to explain why an insistence on orthodoxy, that is, “right belief” is simply impossible on a practical level.
Imagine two self-identified Heathens, Einar and Eirik. Both are members of an Asatru tribe, both attend a Yule gathering. Both have many friends in the tribe, and bow their heads respectfully during the blót to Freyr while they are sprinkled with blood, both sit at high places at the sumbel, both give gifts in hall, and both make beautiful and impassioned toasts in honor of Freyr, their ancestors, and their host.
One of them believes the Gods have a real existence outside of ourselves, and one of them believes the Gods are merely mythological archetypes.
Which is which?
Unless you can answer me that question, then I submit that the answer doesn’t matter, and you shouldn’t care. It’s impossible to police, as long as the non-believers take my advice from a week ago and simply go with the flow, as it were. That’s apparently what they’re interested in, supposedly.
Regardless of whether Einar or Eirik is the polytheist or atheist, they are both drinking from the same spring if they are from the same tribe. The right thought informs the right action, the right thought and action being decided upon by the group, and not by either Einar or Eirik. The right thought here is respect during the sumbel and giving the Gods and whomever has the cup/horn their full attention and respect. What I find interesting is that in this example, both make impassioned toasts, but neither one is said to actively make an oath before the Gods, which is one of the sticking points in my own example. This is also where I get into the part where we talk about groups oriented around culture and those oriented around religion, and Jon’s point here:
I don’t have to understand their position to understand that they might well have a reason. I’m not their judge. So when Sarenth says something like this:
Without the orthodoxy of the Gods being real, holy, and due offerings, the orthopraxy of offering to Them in or out of ritual makes not a lick of sense.
I have to hold myself back from yelling at the screen, “it doesn’t make sense to you, but it might make sense to them!“
He’s right, it doesn’t need to make sense to me. However, there is a big difference between having empathy for another person, and accepting their view as being as valid as my own. In this regard, I do not accept atheism as being part of religious Heathenry for reasons I’ve made before. Also, my point in the quote he is making is that holiness and sacredness at terms are tied into the Gods and the cosmologies They are part of. I am speaking in terms of theology as well as etymology in this post of mine he quoted, which was a more overarching look into why atheists claiming use of words like ‘holy’, ‘sacred’, and so on do not make sense. Keeping in mind as well, that in my Reviving post, I was making a lot of “I” and “my” statements. I was speaking from and to my own experiences, beliefs, etc. If a given Heathen group fully accepts atheist members, that’s their choice, and I welcome them to it.
This is also where I get into the difference between a living culture and reviving a religion. My tack is in reviving the religion first and the culture following on from that, given that the overculture where I live is generally WASP, and that building up Heathen culture without it roots in the religious worldview and practice seems totally at odds in my mind with the revival of the culture to begin with. From his writing, it seems that Jön is rejecting that, or taking the opposite view.
That said, this point is another one where I think he is making my case for me:
Orthopraxy stems from tradition and custom.
Okay, but what informs tradition and custom? Right thought, right action. How so?
Two ways, by looking at the meanings of the words tradition and custom, and the example he provides:
OED defines tradition as:
The transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact of being passed on in this way.
A doctrine believed to have divine authority though not in the scriptures, in particular.
OED defines custom as:
A traditional and widely accepted way of behaving or doing something that is specific to a particular society, place, or time.
As to Jön’s example, here in terms of blót:
And how can we tell? One of the elements of blót is the taking of auguries and omens to see whether the offering has been accepted.
Not all of us have the benefit of Gods talking in our ears all the time, after all… Does your kindred or tribe or whatever harbor respectful unbeliever practitioners within its midst? If that really was something the Gods didn’t want, it would be reflected in the luck of the tribe. I’ve never heard of a systematic study being done, of course, but I would think if that did happen, the circumstantial evidence would quickly make the situation clear.
So following this train of thought we can:
-Have offerings accepted or rejected.
-Have trained ways and means to discern if the offering has been accepted accessible to spiritual specialists and/or the whole tribe.
-The Gods can let us know when They are displeased with an offering and we can act accordingly and respectfully to correct wrongs or errors when They make these things known.
-The Gods can and do affect the luck of the tribe, and the luck of the tribe is worth protecting.
The concern over the luck of the tribe being affected is again, first grounded in right thought. Protecting the luck of the tribe is a desired thing, and can be affected by the Gods. The right action of doing the blót well follows from the right thought that in order to do well by the Gods, increase the tribe’s good luck, and ensure the protection of the tribe’s luck before the Gods, one does what is respectful and honorable to/for the Gods. Otherwise, what would be the point in worrying about the Gods, the luck of the tribe, or making good offerings and the like?
But they should be shunned and cast out not for their beliefs, but for their actions.
Again, if your group is a Heathen culture group rather than a Heathen religious group, I would agree. If yours is a Heathen religious group that accepts atheists among its ranks, again, that is your choice to make. It’s not one that I agree with, but then, I’m not part of your tribe/group/etc. I also agree in the case of public gatherings and rituals. For much of his post, I’m not actually in active disagreement with Jön at all.
I have to admit that when I read his post on Reviving culture vs. Religion, I laughed out loud at the Syrio Forel meme. Yes, I agree, that today I’m not working on reviving the culture, at least as-a-whole. I’m working on reviving the roots of the culture, specifically religious ones.
I counter that a polytheist religious group includes culture as well by definition, and a re-creation of the ancient mindset that accompanied it, because ancient culture and religion were inseparable.
Mind you, I’m not actively disagreeing with what he is saying here. This is certainly my own case and that of the group I help to run. I also agree that ancient culture and religion were inseparable. It’s my hope that we can have that again. It is my hope that we can someday have tribes again, and I’m all for anyone who wants to come and adopt the culture to do so. Unfortunately, as it is right now, we’re still in the process of bringing back roots from religious worldviews that were largely laid down or only adopted into wholly other worldviews, worldviews that had animosity towards believing in Gods, magic, and the like. So I’m looking at this from a revival from the bottom approach, whereas, if I’m reading him right, Jön is adopting an all-of-the-tree approach.
So I thank Jön Upsal for providing some food for thought.