On the Need for Deeper Conversations

An issue I have seen come to the fore a few times around now as a polytheist, animist, Pagan, and Heathen, is the idea of 100, 200, and 300-level discourse. I touched on this with my post on being a teacher in the Heathen communities, but not as in depth as I will go into here. I have had an issue with these various communities for quite a while: so much of the material out there is 100-level material, and what material does make it to 200 or 300+ often does not get discussed or receives much in the way of support. What is worse, is that because folks are constantly reinventing the wheel, proverbially or mythologically take your pick, we never really progress far beyond 100 or 200-level in our writing or experiences.

The posts I have been writing on spiritual politics have been fairly cathartic for me because it is digging into deeper stuff than 100 or 200-level. To be frank, I find the spiritual politics discussions to be 300-level or better for the most part. While there is nothing wrong with most folks stopping after 100 or 200-level, we as collective communities need to be more engaged in deeper discussions if we hope to develop them further. For the most part this takes us away from the well-worn path of the written and archaeological sources.


Because our useful information stops. At some point there is not any more information to reconstruct from unless we are willing to look at other sources. In the case for Heathens this is tends toward looking to folklore, and Lacouteaux is one of our best English-translated resources for this. Once you hit a certain period though, the folklore either stops being relevant or the descriptions of concepts or Beings, like particular vaettir like the dvergar and álfar, tend to blend together. The information just stops being relevant to Heathenry after a certain point. This takes a lot of Heathens out of their comfort zone because from here on out everything is based in personal and communal experience, knowledge, and experimentation.

This unwillingness within large parts of the community to work beyond the bounds of the source material of the home culture(s) our Heathen worldview is based in cuts us off from considering and then exploring both the heights and depths that are possible within Heathenry. If all we ever consider is what is essentially 100 and 200 material at most then we cannot develop much as communities. We also cannot develop expertise in various fields within them, or even individually. If we limit ourselves to what has been found in the written sources we are mostly limiting ourselves to what the elites wanted written down and what has been filtered through Christian lenses in both the sources we have and most of their interpretation. Even if we include what we have through archaeological investigation we have precious little to go on outside of certain better-represented time periods and classes of people. Common people are woefully underrepresented in both written and archaeological sources. It is hard to overstate how much physical material is completely lost to time.

This overreliance on written and archaeological academia to act as an arbiter for our religious communities keeps us from the full range of Heathen religious expressions, understandings, and experiences because we have limited our options of what is possible. In so doing we cut off our ability to innovate, to develop new ways of living with our Ginnreginn, and to bring our experiences into the accepted customs and expression. In short, we cut off our ability to form living cultures. To be clear, reconstructionism is a methodology that relies on good data from academia to both keep the process honest and be useful to the projects we have. However, written and archaeological sources are the maps and not the territory of our lived religions. We cannot be bound not to see a mountain or valley because the map is out of date.

This gating off conversations to mostly 100-level subjects serves another purpose: it keeps a captive audience for books and other forms of media creation in its easiest-to-market niche. 100-level books tend to generate the most revenue in part because they are the only ones available to the everyday person, seeing both the widest distribution and marketing. The religion sections for most bookstores are vanishingly small, and most tend to be full of Christian books with a smattering of Buddhist, Hindu, and Jewish books. I have to look elsewhere for anything related to our religions, often in the New Age or similar sections, and these tend to be mostly 100-level books on witchcraft like Wicca for the Solitary Practitioner by Scott Cunningham.

This trend also exists in other forms of media, including my own. I spent 19 YouTube videos exploring The Basics of Heathenry. While it did take a bit of time and work to script, record, and edit, it is information I already knew, have taught in other contexts like workshops, and required no deep vulnerability on my part to impart to others. I am fortunate in that I am not bound to this, either for purposes of income or interest, and that both 3 Pagans on Tap and Around Grandfather Fire have a lot of leeway to dig deeper and reach higher. With the initial Basics of Heathenry project finished, I can explore other topics relevant to Heathens. This takes more work, not in terms of gathering information, but willingness to be vulnerable and talk about my experiences, views, and how the shape my Heathen exoteric and esoteric practice has been changed by these.

This is an aspect of the deeper conversations seldom talked about: getting deeper into conversation and moving beyond the 101 requires a vulnerability that laying down the basic theology, praxis, and structures of Heathenry does not require. Even some 200-level conversations on subjects like the basics of how to do magic can be so dependent on one’s home culture, focus, and individual expression that it opens us up to scrutiny in ways merely talking about what magic is in Heathenry does not. For example, how one does útiseta might be a 200 or 300-level conversation. Depending on what comes out of the experiences you have with it, though, you might be having 400+-level conversations. In other words, the folks you hope to talk with about the subject at hand are going to need to have significant knowledge and experience with the topic, not merely a basic theoretical understanding, to have dialogue with you.

What information you get and what one does with the information can hit depths most folks are uncomfortable talking with. Perhaps the vaettir have touched on sensitive areas like trauma, or just subjects we are unfamliar with. Perhaps the vaettir are contravening written or archaeological evidence or including information simply not found in them. Even setting aside the esoteric side of things, developing theology, praxis, and structures beyond the basics requires us to be open to scrutiny, our methods to be open to examination, and our conclusions to be disagreed with unless we are determined to share nothing with one another.

Let me say this as clearly as possible: cultural appropriation should be condemned. Note, that I am not saying cultural appreciation or exchange should be condemned; appropriation should be. With this in mind I think it is worth us looking at what it is folks are looking for when they are reaching for pathways that are not open to them. In other words, are they reaching for something they ought not to because their own path(s) are lacking something essential they see within that culture, cultural practice, spiritual technology, etc? To be sure, some folks are reaching because they want what cannot be theirs out of a sense of entitlement. I find for those who are not, especially with white polytheists, Pagans, witches, and others in our communities who do this reaching, is that the majority of them are looking for authenticity and connection. While the desire for authenticity and connection are good things to pursue, this desire needs to be turned towards the pathways that are open to us.

If our conversations only stay in the 100, 200, or 300-level range then not only do our conversations never deepen, our experiments, experiences, and development as communities stay here as well. If we do not face our lack of resources and the new territory before us with bravery, then we condemn many of us to hunger for authenticity and connections that cannot be made without them. Rather than making a kind of Heathenry which only grasps at, or for, the spiritual technology, perspectives, information, and living wisdom of other paths, we Heathens need to dig deeper, carve surer, and explore even further with our Ginnreginn into our own forms of spiritwork, magic, folklore, and relationships with the Ginnreginn. We need to be brave enough to develop our spiritual technologies, perspectives, information, and lived wisdom with our Ginnreginn. Let us do the work to improve the soil of Heathenry for everyone as we settle our roots, communally and individually, even deeper into our Heathen religions, practices, and spiritwork.

It is easy to say “We need to talk more about x or y” or “we need to dig in deeper into a topic at such-and-such a level”. How, though, do we do that?  For starters we need to be really clear on what we mean by 100, 200, 300, and above. Are we talking for exoteric only? What about esoteric topics? Do we put exoteric and esoteric topics together, or try our best to keep them separate? I cannot answer this for everyone, I can only make my thoughts on the subject known, and hope to further dialogue. It might be that thinking of things in this way is completely backwards, or just the wrong way to go as a model. However, we do need to begin to have some dialogue about it and this is using models of experience and expertise that we have. Wherever we can, we should develop our own ways of understanding and reckoning our ideas, experiences, and expertise as animists, as polytheists, and as Heathens.

I am going to propose a structure so that we can get to deeper conversations. It is not the do-all end-all, but my hope is that it can be a good place to start. Exoteric is defined as “suitable for or communicated to the general public. not belonging, limited, or pertaining to the inner or select circle, as of disciples or intimates. popularsimplecommonplace. pertaining to the outside; exteriorexternal.” Exoteric practices, then, are those that are obvious, that anyone in a given religion can do. For Heathens these are things like hearth cultus, prayer, making offerings, and doing basic divination, such as a simple yes/no to see if an offering or sacrifice was accepted. Whatever these practices are requires no special knowledge, training, expertise, or study to do right or well.

Esoteric is defined as “understood by or meant for only the select few who have special knowledge or interest; recondite:poetry full of esoteric allusions. belonging to the select few. private; secret; confidential. (of a philosophical doctrine or the like) intended to be revealed only to the initiates of a group:the esoteric doctrines of Pythagoras.” Where exoteric practices are those that anyone can do, esoteric practiced are generally only regularly practiced by a handful of individuals. For Heathens, among these folks would, among many possible practices, be those who engage in Runework, seiðr, spá, and/or those who work to cultivate direct encounters with the Ginnreginn.

Now, if this last part seems like it is a mainstay of modern Pagan religions, including Heathenry, it is. A lot of modern Pagan religions in America can trace their start to the influence of Wicca. It was not and is not unusual for a lot of American animists, polytheists, Heathens, and Pagans in general to get their start in various Wiccan or Wiccan-derived religions. At some point folks in this circumstance may bring in additional religious identities or transition out of the Wiccan/Wicca-derived religion. Since Heathenry is not doctrinally exclusivist most folks bring their practices and experiences that worked from previous religions with them into it.

There are plenty of other reasons for why folks in modern Heathenry have or are incorporating esoteric practices. Some folks come into Heathenry through direct experience of the Ginnreginn and develop an exoteric practice in response to that. Other folks in modern times are actively moving away from religions which are primarily exoteric or have few accessible/desirable esoteric practies. Whatever the reason, a significant amount of folks in modern American Heathenry have religious practices that are a blend of exoteric and esoteric.

For purposes of our conversation, and to deepen it, I will put forward that most esoteric discussion is going to be 300-level for the most part. Why?

100-level subjects are the rudiments and baselines of Heathen practice. This is how to start and engage in the absolute basics of the religion. Among 100-level subjects would be about Who the Ginnreginn are, the particular Heathen cosmology one is part of and how we fit into it, how to begin and maintain a hearth cult, how to pray, how to offer, and how to maintain right relationship with the Ginnreginn.

200-level subjects build on the rudiments and baseline. This includes many of the ‘why’ for why we do a thing at the 100-level. Some folks may find it odd that I put the most of the ‘why’ behind the 200-level and not 100. The reason for that is the practice of Heathenry is something that can be understood in its basic forms by most anyone who engages in it. My young kid does not understand all the ins and outs of the religion. At the 100-level understanding the why we do a thing is simpler or is less pressing than understanding the what or how of doing something. When we make prayers at the stalli, she knows the expectation is to look at the Ginnreginn when we do so, and to bow when we are finished. It will be some time before she has the capacity to understand all the “whys” for why we do what we do.

Examples of 200-level subjects would be: connecting with Gods in ritual through the use of particular heiti, beginning reconstruction and revival work in general, and the use of basic liturgical language in ritual. I consider developing or working with liturgical language beyond some basic phrases or words, such as those used to greet Ginnreginn, to be higher than 200. It requires specialized knowledge and experience to do well. Other examples of 200-level practices would be applying genealogical resources to Ancestor cultus, engaging in more specialized cultus than the hearth like an athletic cultus or a cultus based in a field of study,  and producing religious artwork, prayers, and rituals. Using 200-level courses in college as our basis here, 200s are often the applications of the basic subjects you learned about into specialized ways that deepen your knowledge, understanding, and expertise of the subject.

300-level subjects are about building expertise from the previous levels, generally towards an object of study. In college level courses these tend to go towards Bachelor and Master degrees, and the focus is a lot narrower than the previous courses. In my experience, specific forms of psychology were covered as part of getting through my BS in Psychology program. The higher the number the more specialized and nuanced the topic, eg the lower 300s were broader like Abnormal Psychology and the higher 300s were courses like Statistics in Psychology. 400-level courses were mostly relegated to Master degrees, 600 to PhD, and 700 to postdoc courses.

Examples of 300-level subjects would be the study of seiðr, spá, Runework, and in my view, any form of spiritwork I could think of. There is a need for foundation in and grounding in the basics and study of 100 and 200-level work in order to effectively understand what we are doing, why, how it works, and what the effects of a given action can entail. That grounding in the basics of Heathenry are necessary to troubleshoot and to determine when a given form of spiritwork would be effective, or if it would be called for at all. The grounding in 100 and 200-level work is necessary for discernment for ourselves, and especially if we hope to do any of this work for others. This grounding is also necessary for developing theonyms, toponyms, and related new infromation that we can bring to bear for our communities that may not require direct experience of the Ginnreginn, yet nonetheless it requires a firm foundation of knowledge to do well.

Suffice it to say, these metaphors for where we are, and where we hope to go, have limits. There is no certification process for a spiritworker beyond the Ginnreginn and maybe a teacher and/or a given community. If folks find the metaphor clunky to the point of being unwieldy, or even find the metaphor offensive, feel free to toss it and suggest another.

In no small part, why I feel so strongly on the need for deeper conversation is that they’re happening anyhow, and developing the means for understanding where we are, where we are going, and how we wish to develop ourselves individually and communally are well within our hands. Another reason is that these more esoteric questions and subjects of study, experience, and interaction with the Ginnreginn heavily impact our communities. There is direct good and harm that comes from entertaining these ideas, let alone engaging in the study and experience of the ideas here. Far better for us to take an active interest in developing the conversations for our own sakes than to find ourselves in situations where we have to make judgment calls we are not prepared for. By moving these conversations along we can better situate our communities for the future they will be coming into. My hope is that, looking back, we will see our efforts as turning points that brought needed dialogue and work to our communities that inform and empower both exoteric and esoteric expression within and between our communities far into the future.


31 thoughts on “On the Need for Deeper Conversations

  1. I very much agree with your points here, and would like to expand on what you’ve said just a bit, I think it’s entirely possible and good to also be doing exoteric work at 300+ levels. This can include developing specific cultuses, developing holiday calendars and myth cycles to go with them, myth writing in general, etc.
    Of course the line between esoteric and exoteric is thinner and blurrier than many like to admit, but thats a bit beside my point (though still part of the larger conversation).

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh absolutely, and that was part of my point on emphasizing that developing things like theonyms, toponyms, etc are 300+ developments. They take foundation and grounding in the religions to do well, and myth writing in general is a much-needed thing since it’s been a good 1,000 fucking years since many of these were written down.

      While the line between exoteric and esoteric can be thinner and blurrier, it is still relevant to define where that is, and make it bright while acknowledging how much is shared on both sides of it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What you are discussing here does point to a larger issue, I think, in the forms of religion that we practice–and likewise most historical polytheistic and animistic traditions, both on the largest possible organized scales as well as the most domestic and particular, and across all indigenous traditions worldwide and throughout time.

    The “what” (and to various other extents, the “who” and “where” and “when”) of our religious practices are essentially the realities referred to at the 100-level. Ours are religions of practice and experience, after all, and that is where things have to start and should rightly be focused. The “what” here covers things (e.g. material components) and beings (e.g. Deities, Ancestors, Spirits, and other Divine Beings), but also actions like rituals, rightful ethical choices, and everywhere that extends, up to and including the political implications of one’s actions and viewpoints, in my understanding.

    The “how” is more a 200-level thing, in my view, because that gets into manner, means, and attitude, which is where virtues and such come in. One can make an offering and do the physical movements and say the words involved in such a practice; but doing so in a pious manner is another matter entirely. Because so much of modern paganism (and some polytheism) reacts so poorly to the word “piety” because they believe it is “a Christian thing” (and it isn’t, at least exclusively, and certainly not originally!), they don’t want to think that is is important. It gets into all of those questions that many pagans have shown an active distaste for, including any “rules” that may be involved (and the reaction against anyone in paganism suggesting there should be rules of any sort has been pretty awful in my own experience), and what ideas like “worship” and so forth truly consist of, I think.

    The “why” is where the 300-level comes in. This is the work of theology, and of actually articulating what one’s beliefs about particular matters are: what is the reason that it is important to do the 100-level things in the 200-level ways? This is essentially what “beliefs” consist of, in any case–look at the Christian Apostle’s Creed and other such statements and see what they emphasize, and then why it is necessary to have catechism classes as a Catholic, for example, not only to learn what the things that are done are, but why they are done. And because our religions are not primarily creedal in nature (though that doesn’t mean there aren’t any beliefs involved–and how one espouses or holds those beliefs is not the question involved, though that has been confused with any and all questions of “belief,” “faith,” and so forth all too often, i.e. that one thinks/says/does these things unquestioningly and “as if they are true” without any evidence…which I would argue is not the case for any experiential religion, because unlike the creedal religions in which people are not encouraged to have direct experiences of divine realities and beings for the most part, ours somewhat require it!), there is always going to be a railing against this. The number of pagans who say “we don’t have theology, that’s a Christian thing” are, obviously, ignorant of the origins of that term in Platonic discussion (not to mention in the understandings of the poets of the Greek tradition, etc.!), but are also against even asking some of these questions…and whether that is due to anti-intellectualism, a fear of what it would mean to piece together what the implications of one’s beliefs are for every aspect of one’s life, or whatever other reason, does not change that the opposition to this remains pretty dominant.

    Add to this that the more esoteric and non-entry-level discussions are not things that the major publishers want to touch (due to fewer potential sales), and the niche and fancier occult and esoteric publishers only will do if it is directly in their own tradition’s preferences for the most part, and the likelihood that it will happen anywhere gets pretty lost.

    Our traditions are not the sole instance of this, however…Shinto, for example, has a noteworthy lack of theologians in its long history, and they really only began to be active in the last few hundred years. Most people in Shinto know “what to do,” but the why is lost on them, and the “how” comes through experience. The tradition itself does not emphasize doing any more than that, though esoteric and various deeper and more committed forms of Shinto certainly do exist for those interested and able to engage in them. Anyway…!

    All of this to say: I think you’re correct in this construction. Unfortunately, the very basis of our religions, and the generalized attitudes of those both practicing them, teaching them, and making information about them more widely available, mitigates against having these higher-level conversations in many ways, too, and without actually confronting that, the need for these and the likelihood of these deeper conversations happening will never be met until the uncomfortable procedural and dispositional conversations and examinations are had and resolved before they can take place.

    So, in other words: yeah. 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    • I like how you have framed things in your breakdown of the levels.
      I think overall it squares well, with the oft-repeated “polytheist religions are religions of praxis”. What I find grating about that particular line, though, is that it often is paired with the following: “rather than orthodoxy”. Well, those are two sides of the same damned coin. You can’t have right practice without right thought. Without folks getting past religious trauma and knee-jerk reactions against the overculture, much of the conversations cannot even move *into* the 100-level because folks are reacting against what they know/have come from.

      My own experience of many Pagan spaces have been against rules, even when instituting them would be in the best interest of the communities involved. However, as time has gone on I think this attitude has modified, especially as discourse on healthy boundaries has come to the fore in many communities a lot of Pagans are involved in as subcultures, eg gaming, fandoms, cosplay communities, furry fandoms, etc. Mercifully, much of the conversations as a result are turning from “rules are bad” to “imposed rules without good reason for them are bad”. So it has taken a mighty long time to turn the ship, but at least in some corners, thank fuck, it is turning.

      It is part of that reason that I have really wanted to foster more conversation on “how” and “why” we do things, both for ourselves now and for those who will benefit from these conversations to come. It’s part of why it took me so damned long to write this particular post; several months pondering on what it is I wanted to say just to get a damned conversation moving somewhere besides where it has been.

      I think if there is any unifying creed amongst polytheist, animist, and various Pagan religions, it is that of hospitality. I think that if anything had to be boiled down, sieved, and sifted through all these religions, that would *the* unifying virtue above all others, and perhaps the most applicable across the board. Rather than prescriptivist creedal religions with regards to ‘right belief’ defined down to what sexualities, politics, and particular ways of applying the ethics of the religions within the religion are licit, animist, polytheist, and Pagan religions are more descriptivist in our use of words, ideas, and virtues, at least as they exist today. We are pluralist by nature, allowing for a wide array of how one’s animism, polytheism, and Pagan ideas shake out within our communities, and even from time to time with our own personal understanding of things that nonetheless will still fall within those worldviews. That pluralism inherent to animism, polytheism, and Pagan spaces in general should give anyone concerned about indoctrination and dogmaticism pause. Such range of thought is simply not allowed in many creedal, particularly fundamentalist strains of monotheist religions. The conflation of belief with unthinking, of belief with a lack of reckoning or reasoning, of belief with indoctrination and dogmaticism, speaks more to the influence and privilege these particular fundamentalist religions have in the overculture than anything to do inherent with religion, even monotheist ones, and especially animist, polytheist, and Pagan ones.

      All of that is to say that, rather than indulge those who do not want to have these conversations, I am calling on folk to basically ignore those sectors of the animist, polytheist, and Pagan communities. Let us have the conversations, and let us all be the healthier for it. If they do not wish to talk about it, leave them to that desire, and do not let them interrupt those of us actually engaging in them. If, for some reason, they are threatened by it, that reaction has more to say about their insecurities, immaturity, or lack of desire to be held accountable to standards within the communities they claim to be a part of. In short, I’ve stopped giving a damn about those who do not want to have conversations on the deeper topics and seek to engage those who do. The folks that want to stop deeper conversations are seeking to hold back the communities they claim to be a part of, for whatever reasons they hold, and I, for one, am damned sick of the overall discourse in our communities suffering as a result of intellectual withering on the various vines we are tending.

      Regarding the lack of interest in major publishers wanting to touch more niche material, I think that this is where Print-On-Demand books and the like really shine. If I am not in the interest of making money and merely want to put the content out there, whether my audience is one or a million potential folks, then POD allows for it. We have never had more tools in our collective toolchest to further the conversations in our communities than right now, and I intend to take full advantage of it whether a publisher does or not.

      I think the major backing that Shinto has within it is the relatively unbroken chains of descent in which the ‘why’ is a living question as much as the ‘how’, something passed on over time where even if the answers are not wholly known within the tradition, they may still be found through the passing on and enacting of that tradition. For all that their traditions may not *emphasize* that, as you say, esoteric and various deeper and more committed forms of Shint exist for those interested and able to engage in them. I think we are beginning to see this blossoming within American (and other) animist and polytheist religions. Certainly within the greater Pagan communities these are becoming bigger factors as well.

      Thank you for your in-depth comment here. While the basis of our religions and generalized attitudes push back against these deeper conversations, I am quite happy that folks, both within our circles and without them, are having the conversations, and that they *are* deepening in some cases despite our communities’ pulling against those reigns.

      Heh. Yeah. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      • It’s certainly why I haven’t written for Llewellyn (though they’ve asked me to consider it several times!), and why The Red Lotus Library exists. 😉

        But yes: whether “they” like it or not, these conversations are taking place/have been taking place, and the less that they stick their noses in and snipe when they have little or nothing to contribute other than gripes about why it can’t/shouldn’t happen (often rooted in “this excludes me,” and not for reasons of race/ethnicity, sexuality, or various other factors, but instead for choices they’ve made and commitments they’ve enacted that function as their “beliefs” but which they refuse to acknowledge as such, and instead project on everyone else that “you can’t regulate belief/make rules,” or the ever-popular “you don’t own that word,” because they believe themselves that they should make the rules of there being no rules, that they own a share of a word, and so forth). It’s one of the major reasons why I have backed away from much public pagan and polytheist discussion, and only really talk about these things with my immediate associates, on my blog (which has a far smaller circulation than my previous one), and on Patreon, etc.

        You know all of that! 😉

        In any case, again: yes. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Re publishing, that is legit.
        These conversations are absolutely necessary to deeper, further, higher development in and between our communities. They will exist because the need to.

        I cannot tell you how much I loathe those who self-select out of these conversations then trying to insert themselves back into it, as though merely by having these conversations, developing these understandings, or engaging in these experiences *we* are somehow putting them outside of the ability to have them, develop them, or engage in them.
        I think that words actually do mean things, and I mean that from a descriptivist more than prescriptivist angle. That is, if I understand myself as an erilaz, which I do, then that means certain things due to what the meaning of word has come from, how I use and identify with it, and what it may mean with regard to the larger Heathen community. In this case, an erilaz is one who is proficient in the working with, use of, carving, and writing of Runes. I may not ‘own’ the word in regards to being able to prevent another from using it, but my use and description of that term carries weight and meaning in the context of the communities in which I am a part, and provides a clear understanding of what is to be understood and expected of me, what obligations the word and its use bring, and what it means in regards to its use as an identifier. This need for revival of terms is why I find it so incredibly frustrating that folk will insist “only a community can bestow” given title, identifier, moniker, etc.

        If the community lacks the means to understanding a given term, and thus, the ability to determine if it is being used correctly, if the obligations and responsibiltiies are being carried out well, and if those who hold it are genuine experts, then for what purpose is it being denied, or by whom is it being used?

        I do know all of that…and it is why I’ve continued to write the way I do, as I do, and through the ways I do. Likewise it is why I engage through Around Grandfather Fire, 3 Pagans on Tap, and other projects as I do.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. For the vocab suggestion, I think that “practitioner” and “specialist” are the key distinctions in religious practice (and I’m saying this as a polytheist who isn’t in Heathenry), not trying to map something onto college course levels. People tend to branch out a lot, and many people don’t have an inclination to be specialists. Using the “specialist” term also opens up space for people to be as uneven as we actually are. Someone may be very good at specialized oracular work but have no background in doing systematic theological commentaries. There is also room for thinking about “deepening the practice” in terms of people who don’t want to be religious specialists, like a Zoom group for doctors who worship Eir or Asklepios or other healing deities to drop in and talk about faith and professional work. Or people to discuss how to pull forth lessons from Hermes to enrich their college-level teaching practice and whatnot.

    I could say a lot more about the above (and I was trying to figure out the best way to do it for a while), but I’ll shift a bit — what you call “101-level” is actually about habit formation. These core religious activities are, as you indicated, things that your child is already picking up. We are habituated into certain kinds of behavior, and one of the goals with polytheistic kids is ensuring that they have sustainable and correct habits when it comes to divine matters. For adults, this content is much harder to learn because it involves having to interrogate what was there and (often) to replace it with new modes of thinking while trying to navigate all of the weird social situations and obtuse historical-but-not-well-documented dynamics involved in our religious movements. That’s the approach I took in The Soul’s Inner Statues (which is generic polytheistic, albeit with a heavy bias towards Hellenic Gods because I worship them), at least — I formed the work around the idea that people needed to overcome barriers to getting started, with perhaps some light touches of theology so they had enough conceptual grounding for it to make sense. It’s foundational, not 101, practice formation. One of the chapters late in was about how to build a self-directed learning strategy, and that’s really what we’re getting at for someone who wants to learn and grow in a specific spiritual direction — the precursor to that deep specialist knowledge that you’re looking to foster — which could be a combo of self-study, classes, watching lectures, and so on, that will ultimately enable them to be a fluent specialist who can use their theory and knowledge to give forth wondrous, coherent things. But I do think that a lot of that fluent specialist stuff is not going to be public or broadly-shared — it’s going to rely on specialist networks and be informal, perhaps with a trade publication/zine and an online symposium or two every so often, and that will rely on dedicated people to get it started and even more dedicated people to rotate in and out of volunteering as coordinators to sustain over time.

    The most important, and the hardest, part, though, is to learn how to foster spiritual friendship and community because so much is either transactional or cultish or overshared/parasocial or a mix of two/all in the USA, and social media is not a replacement for actually getting to know and care about people. One set of qualifications that’s important is to ensure that everyone in a specialist group can hold their own in a reciprocal way for group discussions. I think having qualifications for joining an affinity group is OK as long as there’s a way for people without the benefit of already being part of a polytheistic social network to learn about and enter a group if they meet its knowledge/scope qualifications, like outreach activities/lectures and mentorship networking.

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    • Hmm, I like that distinction between practitioner and specialist. It adds nuance to what I’ve already written because the 100-level and so on may only make sense for folks who are looking at diving into a given subject. I like your point that 100-level is about study, not foundation, and what I was talking about in the 100-level stuff is foundational. Those are good points. Thank you.

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      • So, the foundational things would be, as it were, Polytheism 97, 98, and 99, if we’re going to still use the collegiate classifications? (Having taught English 99 myself, I know how very basic such things often have to get…but then again, 100-level courses were the same, in my experience, alas!)

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      • I don’t actually think the college metaphor works for the foundational stuff. It would make sense if the goal were to go to “college” and study, as it were, but a lot of people are not planning to do that. One of my big concerns is that we’re not welcoming enough to people without specialist interests, which is one reason for the attrition with second-gens, but it could also be a reason there isn’t more flow from spiritual-but-not-religious into polytheisms … it’s hard for a lot of people to see themselves in the communities when there are no models for what it looks like to be, let’s say, a car mechanic or nurse or second grade teacher who has a home shrine and goes to local rituals but has zero interest in specialist work beyond wanting to make sure that they’re seeing a competent divination specialist every now and then and getting house/apartment blessings and connecting with officiants for major life events. The esoteric/exoteric, specialist/practitioner bit makes way more sense here.

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      • I definitely get that. I mean in my own home I’m the specialist so my kids have access to divination if they want it, spiritwork if they want it, so a lot of their needs in that regard are completely taken care of. My hope is that as time goes on more Heathens will have access to that as a matter of course.
        You raise a really good point that unless you’re going to college the breakdown of college courses with regards to Heathenry doesn’t make a lot of sense. I guess that brings the question if we should pivot the collegiate metaphor here to folks who are specifically looking to specialize?
        Because my experiences have shown that people want specialists but not everybody wants to be one, which is a fine thing. It means that we need to have spiritual specialists to fill the needs that we have as communities without having the requirement everyone seeks that, a completely legitimate thing!

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      • Yes, what you’re talking about is establishing common educational expectations and road maps for someone to onboard into being a specialist (formalization), ranging from introductory principles to advanced dives into something to (perhaps) finding a mentor or becoming an apprentice to someone who is already doing the work in order to learn norms and best practices.

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      • You’ve raised an important point here, Kaye, and one that I have particular sympathy for, given that I’ve just exited the collegiate professorial track myself and know all too well how the collegiate track and the normalization of an educational pathway is not at all beneficial in many cases…

        Unfortunately, that does raise the question: if we shouldn’t necessarily use the analogy of college-level courses for what we’re discussing here (and its hierarchical nature does not mitigate against the view of built-in evaluating judgements like “graduate-level = superior to foundational level,” etc.). Yes, there’s the need for the “higher-than-junior-college” discussions; and yet, if there’s a lot of people who want to function simply as the old standard of “high school diploma and now working in a good-paying job,” so to speak, when it comes to polytheist practice, what is there for them? There should be more of them than there are specialists–which is the “clergy/lay” thing that can be a problematic discussion for some people in our communities–and yet, if that is the real need, and there aren’t good models for them…then where are we?

        It’s not an either/or thing, by any means; but, we can’t seem to talk about one without also addressing the other.

        To use the educational system as a metaphor again (one of few ways that it can relatively unproblematically be viewed these days in a potentially effective manner, sadly!): we do need undergraduate and postgraduate educational resources for polytheists; but we also need a polytheist high school and middle school/intermediate school/junior high for those who don’t really want to go past the eighth-grade level of knowledge, but want to do that well, rather than having first-grade level matters being passed off as eighth-grade (or, even worse, first-year specialized vocational courses being passed off as eighth-grade courses, as sometimes specificity is treated as and understood by its professors within pagan/polytheist circles as rigor).

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    • Your point on habit formation is also well-put. My kids don’t have to have specialized knowledge, they just have to carry out right relationship with the Gods insofar as what their roles and responsibilities are at their age, knowledge level, understanding, and what obligations they themselves show interest/engagement with. I will definitely agree with your point that for adults this is harder. In my own case, growing up Catholic, having to interrogate, deconstruct, work with, and where necessary ‘swap out’ the software, its an entire process my kids will never know, both having grown up Heathen. Being Heathen is just a part of how they understand the world.

      Re the self-directed learning strategy is definitely what I am looking at with the 100-level and above stuff because that is where my focus lies as both a specialist and as a practitioner. Sometimes I need help parsing this language and nuance because I’ve been doing this so long that I can lose sight of it, if that makes sense! What is foundational in my mind and for me may not *actually* be foundational to polytheism. I definitely agree that your breakdown of self-study is what I am looking to foster with folks as the precursor to 100-level content, and maybe even 90-level content. The idea of collegiate level implies the necessary work prior to it from secondary school, primary school, and elementary education before it.

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    • It is interesting, too, that even though I did not use the particular language you do here, kaye, that it is part of various projects that I am working on. In one case I am working on a collaboration to write a book on what amounts to foundational Heathenry perhaps *into* Heathenry 100-level study. In another I am working on books specifically for Heathen spiritworkers in the various niches I find my interest, studies, and experiences in.

      My own in-depth work as a Heathen specialist, whether as a spiritworker in various disciplines, or an educator more broadly whether through workshops, teaching, or apprenticeship, itself relies on specialist networks, and what I am developing now on my own and with others are publications and online symposiums and other things. Some of the work of that is actually what Around Grandfather Fire does, bringing in specialists from various groups, fields, and areas of interest we ourselves as co-hosts may not have but are nonetheless good for us to bring around the Fire. Many folks have developed networks of shared interest independently and together out of that work, whether through our Discord or their own, or through more in-person networks. So that work is underway in various stages!

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      • Yes, and I think the best way forward is to lean into that and make sure it’s sustainable — i.e., rotating who leads so nobody has a high risk of burnout, starting up symposia where people can chat about special topics that aren’t newbie-friendly at all, ensuring that there are synchronous chats so people can do networking and establish seeds of trust that are important to actually become friends. Maybe even have listings somewhere for the virtual stuff so it’s (again) easy for people to learn about when they’re not already plugged into the community.

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      • So it’s funny that you mentioned that, I’m actually working on that as a kind of behind the scenes project. Like building a digital Rolodex of people who can fulfill spiritual specialist requirements for folks. I would definitely be interested in speaking across experiences on this, if not building something with you, and/or your communities!

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