I was listening to the BBC coming in to work about 2 months ago, and they were in Tokyo talking about the development of an android named Erica, who is being programmed for human speech patterns and facial response. In other words, this android is being developed to mimic, if not eventually actualize human methods of communication and interaction. So, eventually, the plan for such things is that they will so well mimic speech, behavior patterns, and the like that the simulation of a human being will become real. From simulation and simulacrum into actualization. It got me thinking: at what point would an android be ensouled? Could it be?
The idea of androids being ensouled makes some sense. From an animist/polytheist perspective, the world around me is populated by spirits. The very computer I am typing all of this one was made by countless hands which are embodied ensouled spirits as surely as the rare earth metals, the electricity itself that empowers the device, and the apparatus that allows all the things, from the power to the Internet to function, have and may be spirits in their own right. Working with a spirit of the Internet, then, is not some abstract concept, but something we can actually do. It isn’t that big of a leap to look at a being which could ‘grow’ in some fashion, develop its being, and be or become ensouled. I think, though, that soul is wildly different from my own.
Just as the cells in my body have limited spheres of influence and yet within an animist perspective may be ensouled, how less so the circuitry and programming of a sophisticated machine? If landvaettir have been taken from in a way that is offensive and harmful to them, could an android potentially be a vehicle for a revenant?
If we agree that an android has the possibility of becoming ensouled, how might that look? In the Northern Tradition, depending on who you talk to, the soul matrix can have up to 17 parts. Would some parts be more emphasized than others? Would an android count the people who programmed it as its Ancestors? What about people who moved programming forward, the first programmer Ada Lovelace or Grace Hopper, the creator of COBOL, or the six women who worked on ENIAC, for instance? I have written elsewhere that Beings of lineage are also Ancestors including diverse people such as a dead relative who taught me a skill or a precursor who made my profession possible, or lineaged Ancestors as from initiations. These people all would seem to me to be part of a given android’s Ancestors. Prototype androids could be also be seen as Ancestors, much as we can count Ask and Embla among our Ancestors. Going back further we can count Mitochondrial Eve and Chromosomal Adam among our Ancestors; why not the android counting the antikythera among its Ancestors?
I don’t have firm answers to these, but I find that exploring theology down a number of routes, including these, is fun to think about.
NOVA explored current AI programming here.
The fact of the matter is, that almost no one I disagree with will ever come into contact with me. So why am I raising these issues at all? Why write about holiness, the sacred, orthodoxy, orthopraxy, etc. for a larger polytheist audience?
I am a Universalist-Tribalist Heathen, which means that I support anyone coming to the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir into the Northern Tradition and Heathenry regardless of background, and that, on-the-whole, I’m more concerned with what happens to my little group of people and my little corner of the Northern Tradition and Heathenry. My hamingja, and much of my personal concerns, are tied up with these people who are family to me. That doesn’t mean that the wider Northern Tradition, Heathen, and polytheist communities don’t mean anything to me, but they are lower on the list, and most of them are not in my innangarð.
Yet, everything I write about here has come up in some fashion, whether it has been in working with folks who come for work, divination, or questions, interacting with folks at conventions, students, etc. In some part I’m writing here so that there are polytheists out here saying “This is how I see it, and this is why this makes sense to me.” or “I disagree with this, and this is why.” I would rather there not be an illusion of conformity or acceptance of an idea when there is not, especially when it is something I have had to talk about time and again with non-Pagans and Pagans alike, i.e. not all Odin-worshipers are racist, not all Pagans believe x, y, or z, there are some concrete beliefs to being a polytheist, and so on.
When I get into more heated discussions with folks in the larger Pagan communities, I do this in no small part because I am a Northern Tradition Pagan and a Heathen, and feel that my views and that of my co-religionists need to be presented. This feeling is pronounced because I am a priest and shaman. This means as much as I am a boundary crosser and an ambassador, helping folks to connect with our Gods, their Ancestors, and the vaettir, it is also my duty to present my religions straightforward, and present defense of the religion if needed, being a boundary keeper.
The questions of “Can’t the Gods defend Themselves? Can’t They make Their displeasure known?” eventually do come up and need to be tackled.
Sure. Our Gods are not helpless by any stretch, but that puts the full responsibility of keeping our traditions on the Gods, and not, as it should be, on ourselves. It’s not about the Gods being able to defend this or that concept. It is about the duty being on us, as worshipers, spiritual specialists, and laypeople, to engage in our religion in a way that is respectful, and keep our religious boundaries, communities, terminology, and connected ideas healthy.
I work with the idea of a teacup frequently as a container of ideas, the tea being the meaning of things and the teacup the word itself as a container of meaning. The Gods I will liken to the kettle, water, and the leaves/herbs, the source of the tea itself. They are poured into the teapot of religion to brew and be held, a defined form that gives the ability to transfer this meaning a bit more safe from being burned, yet still keep warmth, which we pour into our cups. Some folks go right for the kettle and fill their cup right then and there. You still get tea, but eventually, if you’re going to drink tea without burning yourself, it goes into a cup or you wait for the kettle to cool so you can drink straight from it.
I don’t imagine I will ever agree with the idea, let alone the acceptance of atheist Paganism in the Pagan community, but really, that’s not my call to make. I’m not the Circle Police or the Pagan Police. As much as people deride folks like Galina Krasskova, Tess Dawson, Sannion, and myself as part of the Piety Posse, do you folks honestly think I have any pull with folks who do not believe in Gods or theistic Pagans who accept atheist Pagan theological views as just as valid as their own? I speak out because I feel the need to speak out, but I hold no illusions that my words hold any more sway than what others give them. I certainly can’t stop you, but I also do not have to accept your views. I hold the view of a polytheist, one in which the Gods are real, have agency and Being, and are not constructs/archetypes/etc. of human un/consciousness. There’s nothing in atheism for me to find in common ground, religiously speaking. We can meet at any number of other points, but I very-much doubt this is a place where we will find common ground, as the very grounding of our views is different in very powerful ways. Further, any attempt by an atheist to co-opt religious language out of its meanings will not further dialogue with me at all.
I find myself on the opposite side of folks like John Halstead and B.T. Newburg more and more in no small part because the aesthetics of the religious communities I have called home for the last 11 years are being sought out by atheist Pagans, but not the substance. The language which identifies me as a person within a set of religious communities and/or within a communal identity is being intentionally separated from the primary means by which that identifier is constructed: religious identity with concrete meaning in regards to belief in and worship of Gods.
My views are not simply matters of disagreement, but really, they are matters of course. The course of logic that constructs my religious identity flows from the creation story of the Northern Tradition and Heathenry, flows from the cosmology, and flows from the Northern Tradition Pagan and Heathen worldview, the worldview I live within. These things are essential to the construction of the identity I have as a Northern Tradition Pagan and Heathen. When the meaning of words like sacred, holiness, orthodoxy, orthopraxy, and so on are affected, the meaning of my identifiers and associated communities are affected. It’s about more than just me, though: these are part and parcel of how any religious community defines itself. So not only am I personally invested to see that sacred, holiness, orthodoxy, orthopraxy, and other words with religious meaning stay invested with that meaning, and how that plays out in my own life, I am also invested in how these words stay invested with meaning within my religious community, and how these words come to define and structure things within the Northern Tradition and Heathen communities.
Here is where I stand: as a Universalist-Tribalist Heathen, I have primary concern for the those within my innangarð, but that does not mean I ignore the things or people who are utgarð to my personal or more wider communities. While my hamingja is not tied with those outside of my innangarð, it would be a disservice to the Northern Tradition and Heathenry, and my personal communities within them, to not speak out on the things I have. It would be a disservice to fellow polytheists, too. I hold the traditions I am within, as does everyone who is within these traditions. Each person needs to decide for themselves whether it is incumbent on them to speak up, out, or to hold silence. For myself, given the roles of shaman and priest that I serve in my communities, as an ambassador, boundary-crosser, and boundary-keeper, I find myself being called to speak more often than I am to be silent.
An idea that I see occurring again and again in Pagan dialogue, and increasingly in polytheist dialogue, is the idea of ‘orthopraxy not orthodoxy’.
Before I go too much further, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, orthopraxy is:
“Rightness of action (as distinct from or in addition to rightness of thought); right-doing, practical righteousness; correct practice.”
While the the Oxford English Dictionary defines orthodoxy as:
Authorized or generally accepted theory, doctrine, or practice
My main issue is that I see that orthopraxy stems from orthodoxy, not the other way around. Right action stems from right thought. One requires the other, as right thought without right action is impotent, but right action is unattainable without right thought. Right action and right thought are philosophical terms, and there are several interpretations from theological and philosophical schools as to their meaning. I understand right action as being aligned with right thought, that is, correct actions flow from correct thoughts. In the case of the Gods, respect for the Gods in ritual flows from respect from the Gods in thought. The reverse is also true. Making an offering to a God if you disrespect that God while doing so is itself a form of disrespect.
In theological terms, this means that within polytheism, an orthodox position is that the Gods are real and that They are due worship. Orthopraxy that flows from this position, then, would be to treat the Gods with respect, and to do things that are worshipful, such as pray or make offerings. In the Northern Tradition/Heathenry I would be required to make prayers and a certain offering, such as mugwort, to a Sacred Fire. This is personal orthopraxy which flows from the orthodoxy I have just described.
This is not to say that I want to impose my beliefs on the whole of polytheism, but that polytheism as a whole does actually hold orthodox beliefs from which orthopraxy arises even if those beliefs are incredibly loosely defined. In other words, orthodoxy’s details differ polytheist religion to polytheist religion, but two polytheisms in comparison will have orthodoxies which are similar in general, i.e. the Gods are real, the Gods are holy/sacred, the Gods are due offerings, etc.
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. Polytheists who have adopted the ‘orthopraxic not orthodoxic’ line in the extreme give up the understanding that there are things which polytheists need to believe in order to be polytheist. I’m not even getting into religious specifics here. There’s no need; a Kemetic orthodoxic understanding of the Gods would be different, at the least in detail if not in many overarching senses, than my own as a Northern Tradition Pagan and Heathen.
But why am I emphasizing orthodoxy here? It would seem I am advocating a return to a cage, one I ostensibly flew out of when I left Catholicism. Such an idea, though, leaves orthodoxy, as well as orthopraxy, and much of religious thought that flows from them, in the realm of monotheism. I see no reason for this to be, especially when many polytheist religions have quite a lot to say about these things, and exploring these things, rather than being purely divisive, can actually bring our communities together from within. I do not expect a Kemetic follower to hold, much less entertain my religion’s orthodoxy any more than I would hold theirs, excepting cases where I am interacting with and worshiping Gods from their religion.
This openness to orthodoxy, though, does not mean that I accept others’ orthodoxy wholesale or even in part anymore than they need to accept mine. Disagreements over orthodoxy and orthopraxy are, to my mind, normal, and best navigated by dialogue both between people and, especially, between people and the Gods. Heck, my disagreement over orthopraxy or orthodoxy within my religion has little to no input on a Kemetic’s, for instance. It’s a different story if folks outside of our religions are saying to polytheists that we need to be orthopraxic, not orthodoxic, or vice versa. It’s one thing if we adopt these stances ourselves, and it’s a whole other when this is put on us. Granted, I’d rather not see polytheism swing the pendulum hard toward orthopraxy and away from orthodoxy, since I don’t see them as binaries. Rather, I see them more as complementary sides of the same coin.
Adopting orthodox positions does not mean that we’ll suddenly *poof* turn into fundamentalist Christians today, tomorrow, or a thousand years from now. It does not mean that we’ll suddenly adopt a theocracy from which there is no escape. It does not mean that pluralism will disappear, either. Plenty of historical examples exist as testaments to that. Most polytheist religions have the understanding that there are, in addition to being quite large Gods, cosmologically speaking, many of these Gods may be understood in a local way, that is, through a particular orthodoxy on the local level. I remember reading an article by Sannion quite a while ago referencing different Dionysian temples with different understandings of Him, different requirements for ritual purity (some very exacting if memory serves) and offerings which were well-received for one but not the other.
A firmer adoption of orthodoxy and orthopraxy does not mean we fall into one-true-wayism. We are a whole collection of religions, religious movements and the like between the Pagan, polytheist, and interconnected communities. I find such a thing, given the diversity of beliefs within the polytheist religions themselves, to be nearly impossible. Polytheism’s main stance precludes there being only one way of doing things. I imagine the same of most Pagan groups.
There are places where I do accept a stance that puts more weight toward orthopraxy. For instance, when I attend a ritual for the first time, I do things in an orthopraxic way, as I probably don’t have the information or the headspace for doing things in an orthodoxic way. When I went to the Backeion at Many Gods West, I was there worshiping and praising Dionysus, reciting the prayers and making my own when I felt the call to. What I did not do was fully adopt the Greek, Hellenic, or Thracian mindsets in regards to Him. How could I? I had not studied them much, had not been intitiated into the Dionysian Mysteries, and this had been the first ritual in a very long time where I had been in His Presence. There are just some rituals I will attend where I will be an outsider to the tradition or the religion. So long as doing so would not breach hospitality or taboo(s) on mine or the host’s parts, it’s really up to the Gods, the Ancestors, the spirits, the tradition(s), and the celebrants/ritualists whether or not it is taboo for me to attend the rite.
It seems to me much of the issue people take with the words orthodoxy and orthopraxy is in two parts: the first is an emotional reaction to the words themselves, and the second part is in the feeling that orthodoxy and orthopraxy impose themselves rather than are a natural outgrowth of religious understanding and expression. Words sacred and holy, those have emotional weight to them, and where sacred or holy may have positive ones, at least for those coming out of monotheist religions, orthodoxy can have some heavy negative weight to it. Even in everyday speech, orthodoxy has acquired heavy baggage of being out of touch, wrong-headed, stubborn in the face of scientific evidence, or someone whose outlook refuses to change.
With many Pagans converting from or descendants of converts from monotheist or atheist homes, it’s no wonder some have taken a heavy stance against orthodoxy. I hear the refrain “I left (insert church, group, etc.) here to get away from dogma” and “I left (name) so I could follow my own path” often enough that I think these ideas need addressing as well.
Regardless of where one goes, if one is part of a religion there are orthodoxies, or dogmas, that are part of it. If there are no orthodoxies or dogmas, there is no religion. If you left a monotheist religion to avoid orthodoxy, you may as well quit religion altogether. Non-theist religions have orthodoxy and dogma in their own measures; it is one of the defining characteristics of religion. Religion is the bone upon which the sinew-connections of religious communities are made, and the flesh of spirituality is given form by.
Even in following one’s own path, there are often unspoken orthodoxies and orthopraxies that play into how we frame and understand our place in things, and the experiences we go through. If one starts as a Catholic, and begins exploring outside of Catholicism, as I did, Catholicism is the initial benchmark against which all things are weighed until the benchmark outgrows its usefulness or is actively cast aside. This helps to shape what experiences we may integrate, discount, or accept outright. The coloring of our lenses by our worldview(s) shapes how we come to explore a new path. Even if we, somehow, started from a totally fresh slate and began spiritual exploration, the people we might look to for guidance, physically, online, and/or in a book, and their associated orthodoxies, orthopraxies, etc. would impact our own.
This brings us to a phrase that makes me grit my teeth every time I hear it: “I’m spiritual, but not religious”.
I get the intention of this, generally speaking, but as a phrase it is wrong. As I wrote earlier, “Religion is the bone upon which the sinew-connections of religious communities are made, and the flesh of spirituality is given form by.” Spirituality cannot be without religion of some kind, even if one doesn’t have a name for it or doesn’t care to put it into a given identity. Orthodoxy gives shape to orthopraxy as religion gives shape to spirituality. Spirituality requires religion. Orthopraxy requires orthodoxy.
This is not a one-time thing, though. Orthodoxy and orthopraxy exist in a continuous, reciprocal relationship. They feed one another, grow together. Without one the other falls apart. The orthodoxy of a given polytheist religion feeds the orthopraxy of that religion. The practices of polytheism reinforces the thought and worldview that go into why we do what we do in the first place. It goes on, hand in hand between ourselves and the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. If the reciprocity, the Gebo of this is kept well, this reciprocity goes on, hand-in-hand between ourselves, the Holy Powers, and the future generations of animists, polytheists, and Pagans. By passing this on in a healthy way we ensure our communities and their relationships with the Holy Powers flourish.
Here are sources I consulted in exploring this:
So I gave this post, Atheism and Asatru, by Jön Upsal a read. Then, I sat back and thought.
He raises some interesting points, but I don’t think any polytheist is about shunning or ushering out the non-theists. Hell, I’m not even all about ushering out the atheists at this point from the Pagan community. That boat sailed a long time ago; they’re given equal, if not more standing than polytheists, and it is easy to see where many have cast their lot. I don’t and won’t agree with it, and I’ll speak against it, but there’s been a din of silence from everyone except those on the atheist or polytheist side, and those few voices from in between have been unhelpful “Let’s get together and sing kumbaya” without actually addressing issues, grievances, etc.
I will need to reread some of his points here, especially in regards to the lore. Non-belief may have been accepted, but it was not the norm to be so. I get the feeling that Hrafknell’s story has context missing or something.
I think he is right, in that our religions are orthopraxic, but I think we dismiss orthodoxy at the peril of the former losing meaning and weight without the latter.
Here’s the crux: what I think is missing from the analysis here is that these were intact cultures with room for non-believers, whereas, for our purposes, we are strictly reviving our religions, and the culture will follow after. We simply have a different demographic makeup. Americans don’t have the investment in anything like an Althing culture, Gebo is practically nonexistant as a feature of regular life here, and that is with contracts and contractual reinforcement. I think there’s room for non-believers in our culture, but there’s also a reason I don’t invite them to my Northern Tradition Working Group or Study Group. These are polytheist religious groups. It’s a whole other story if I and my family start a permaculture-oriented community. I have dear, dear friends I would be inviting, at least one of which is agnostic/atheist. Depends on the day; sometimes he sounds like he believes in something, others not.
That’s a whole other ballgame though. The difference between a polytheist religious group, and a group like a permaculture-oriented community, is the former is strictly a religious group, and the latter is a pluralist community. Belief need not be required to be a permaculturalist, but in order to be part of the Northern Tradition Pagan community, you do need to be a polytheist of some stripe. I think that much of the talking past one another takes place right here, and this is something worth thought and exploration.
Dear White People/Queridos Gringos: You Want Our Culture But You Don’t Want Us – Stop Colonizing The Day Of The Dead
Originally posted on Aya de Leon:
Dear White People (or should I say Queridos Gringos/Gabachos),
Let me begin by saying it is completely natural that you would find yourself attracted to The Day of The Dead. This indigenous holiday from Mexico celebrates the loving connection between the living and our departed loved ones that is so deeply missing in Western culture. Who wouldn’t feel moved by intricately and lovingly built altars, beautifully painted skull faces, waterfalls of marigold flowers, fragrant sweet breads and delicious meals for those whom we miss sharing our earthly lives. I understand. Many cultures from around the world celebrate these things, and many of them at this time of year. As a woman whose Latin@ heritage is Puerto Rican, I have grown up in California, seeing this ritual all my life and feeling the ancestral kinship to this reverent, prayerful honoring of the departed.
Let me continue by saying that it is…
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I sit with the Dead as They weep and wail
I sit with the Dead in silence
I sit with the Dead who died solemn and serene
I sit with the Dead by violence
I sit with the Dead before grave and ground
I sit with the Dead by monuments
I sit with the Dead alone and aloof
I sit with the Dead in alliance