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Open to Questions Year 3

July 25, 2017 4 comments

I am once again looking for topics to write on, so if you, or someone you know, wants me to dig into a topic let me know.

Ask questions!  They can be on anything related to the Northern Tradition, Heathenry, polytheism, animism, Gods, Ancestors, vaettir (spirits), shamanic work, priest work, spirit work, definitions, lore, etc.

A Response to Jön Upsal’s Freedom of Conscience and

December 2, 2015 Leave a comment

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

ancestor worship

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.

and

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.

Where I Stand: Holding Tradition

November 10, 2015 1 comment

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.

Orthopraxy Requires Orthodoxy

November 9, 2015 8 comments

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:

Terms In and Types of Ethical Theory

Ethics: An Online Textbook, Chapter 9: Kantian Theory

The Basics of Philosophy: Ethics

The Basics of Philosophy: Deontology

Online Guide to Ethics and Moral Philosophy: Aristotle’s Conception of the Right

Holiness and Sacredness are Rooted Words: A Reply to John Halstead’s I Hold These Things to be Sacred

October 30, 2015 21 comments

For clarity and to keep things as orderly as I can, I will be responding line by line to John Halstead’s post on Patheos, I Hold These Things To Be Sacred: A Reply to Sarenth Odinsson.

Sarenth Odinsson says that, because I don’t believe in gods, nothing is sacred or holy to me. 

I intentionally avoided using names in my piece, Holiness is Rootedness, because I wasn’t talking specifically about one atheist Pagan or another. My entire point is in the first paragraph.

In order to have a sense of what is holy, one must have ideas and concepts related to holiness. In order for these ideas and concepts to be related to holiness, it must have roots in a religion, a theological framework, in which holiness as a concept is able to take root. If one’s religious framework has no Gods, there is nothing to consecrate. If there is no God or Goddess, no Holy Power to consecrate, then there is no holiness just as there is no profanity or things lacking in that consecration.

If you have no theological framework then there is no theology to explain what is or is not holy. If you have no theological framework to discern what holiness is, its qualities and characteristics, then you have no concept of holiness to draw upon. Atheism’s main characteristics are that there are no Gods, and most of the atheist lines in regards to religious thought and phenomena directly state that there is no such thing as a God, Goddess, Supreme Being, etc. Most, though certainly not all forms of atheism, reject religious cosmology. I find it odd that pointing this out is cause to offend someone who identifies as an atheist, though my article was certainly not aimed solely at Mr. Halstead.

You can say all you like that you believe that things are sacred or holy, but those words carry absolutely no theological or philosophical weight when you say them because you don’t actually believe in the Beings nor the cosmologies that imbue them with that weight to begin with.

So, you know that feeling theists get when atheists tell them their gods are imaginary? I think I’m feeling something similar. Something like, “How dare you!”

Here’s what Odinsson says:

If one’s religious framework has no Gods, there is nothing to consecrate. If there is no God or Goddess, no Holy Power to consecrate, then there is no holiness …”

An atheist framework is one in which there is no God or Goddess, and thus, no sacred. One may hold things reverently, that is, with deep respect, but without a religious framework that very concept that one may hold anything as holy has no basis. An atheist claiming to hold something as holy is a person claiming something to which one has no right …”

I was pointing out what I had thought was patently obvious. I find it odd that Halstead is having such an emotional response when he has flat-out stated he does not believe in Gods. It would follow that there is no existent concept of holiness, as there is no theology in which holiness may take any kind of root. Keep in mind when I write Holy Power or Holy Powers, I include the Ancestors and vaettir, or spirits, in this. I don’t think that animists lack a conception of the holy, as in order to be an animist there is some sort of cosmology present, and accordingly, a way to establish things like what is sacred/not sacred.

Atheism cannot be invested in this understanding as it has no basis for holiness and the sacred, as atheism denies both on their face by its very outlook. Atheism denies that Gods exist, and in so doing, denies the cosmology They are rooted within. The notion of holiness within an atheist context, therefore, cannot exist.”

Now, I’ve never really gotten along with Odinsson. (I think he was the same person who once threatened to punch me if he saw me at Pantheacon.) But I don’t think it should be only atheist Pagans or non-theistic Pagans who are upset by what he is saying here. Odinsson is saying if you don’t believe in the gods, then nothing is sacred or holy to you. Implied in this is the statement there is nothing sacred or holy in the world except the gods.

Nothing sacred in the world but the gods?!

Wow! I would have a hard time imaging a less “pagan” statement than that.

I am not the person who threatened to punch Halstead if I saw him at Pantheacon. I’ve never been to Pantheacon, and given the extreme amount of travel I would have to do and time off I would have to take right before ConVocation here in Michigan, I have no interest in doing so.

Note here that Halstead actually does not refute my points here, or anywhere in this post. He quotes me, but misses the point entirely. There is no implication that there is nothing sacred or holy in the world except the Gods. It is not surprising to me that he misses this point, as Halstead has no conception of holiness himself, and I imagine is probably not familiar with Northern Tradition or Heathen cosmologies. To be quick, the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir are holy. The Gods and Elements Themselves are among our Ancestors. Many of the Gods directly made vaettir, i.e. Odin and His Brothers formed the Dvergar from maggots burrowing into the flesh of Ymir. Many Gods are part of the vaettir of this and other Worlds, and vice versa. For instance, landvaettir may be seen as being part of Jörð’s Body/Being, Jörð being one of several Earth Goddesses within Heathenry.  Some vaettir have ascended into being or have become seen as being Gods unto Themselves, and some Gods have descended into being or have been seen as being vaettir unto Themselves. There are methods within the Northern Tradition by which an area may be made to be sacred, or that sacredness may be inborn to a place, such as a grove, or a prepared ritual area, altar, and so on.

There is something deeply disturbing, I think, about a paganism which cannot find the holy or the sacred in the earth or in another person.

Certainly, but that is not my position here, nor was it. I view Jörð, the Earth Goddess, as a holy Being. Do I view all the Earth as sacred? No, as I do not find CAFOs sacred, nor do I find the floating garbage that chokes the oceans sacred. Those, I find profane. Wrong. Unholy.

Are all people sacred? No. All people are bound together in Wyrd, but that merely makes you part of reality, not an inherently sacred person. It doesn’t mean people are valueless either, but sacredness actually means something in the Northern Tradition and Heathenry. Namely, that a thing, Being, place, etc. is dedicated to, belongs to, is consecrated by, or is devoted to the Holy Powers. This is why an altar is a sacred thing, a grove where rituals are performed, or a single tree representing Yggdrasil itself is regarded as sacred. These things are devoted and dedicated to the Holy Powers (Gods, Ancestors and/or vaettir) of the Northern Tradition and/or Heathenry. They are sacred.

As for myself, I hold these things to be sacred and holy: all life, the earth, nature, our selves, our bodies, our relationships.

They are not just things that I hold “reverently” or with “deep respect”; they are holy and sacred.

He says he regards these things as sacred, but without any of these things being involved with, dedicated to, devoted to, or consecrated to Gods, Ancestors, or vaettir, what are these words worth? Without the necessary relationship inherent in a cosmology, in which one relates to all life, the earth, nature, our selves, our bodies, our relationships, and so on, saying something is sacred or holy are empty words. Claiming one holds something sacred or holy without any requisite theology to back these words up is intellectually sloppy or dishonest.

Holiness is rootedness,” says Odinsson. My religion is rooted. It is rooted in these things: Life, Matter, Relationship.

How can Halstead claim his religion is rooted when the soil of the Holy Powers is denied?

Indeed, how can Halstead claim to be religious whatsoever when he denies any of the requisite things for which religion itself functions: namely, to provide a framework for and means by which people may establish relationships with, interact with, revere, understand, and worship the Holy Powers? All these things Halstead claims his religion is rooted in has no meaning without an actual theology in which the sacred matters, and so long as the sacred is, in actuality, absent from his worldview and thus, any religion he would lay claim to, all these words are empty.

White Guilt is an Indulgence

March 30, 2015 29 comments

If you are classified as white in this country you live with the privilege of (at least) 400 years of racism and genocide. It doesn’t matter how you got here.

It does not matter that my great-grandfather came over from the Netherlands during WWI; he benefited from his skin color even though he could not speak or write a word of English. He benefited from systemic racism and genocide. I never asked for this, but I benefit from these as well.

My Ancestors were not barred from entry into this country because of racist quotas enacted by Congress. They never had to endure a blood quantum law to claim or be punished for who they were. They were not interned in camps during WWII. They were not killed for speaking out for their rights in the face of Jim Crow laws. They were not barred from practicing their religion after generations of genocide. I do not feel guilt for my Ancestors because they avoided these things, but whether or not I feel guilt, such feelings are immaterial to the issue of racial justice.

Guilt is an indulgence, especially when it inspires a lack of action and empathy.

Addressing problems of inequality, racism, colonialism, and genocide is not about white folks, white guilt, or white feelings. It is not about white people at all. I don’t care how bad you feel about your Ancestors’ actions. Gods know, if your Ancestors committed atrocities I want you to feel shame for it. If those feelings, or lack of feeling, gets in the way of you (and Them) actually making some sort of commitment to doing something, then it is an indulgence and a waste of time in regards to doing anything useful about racism and white privilege.

When hurt white feelings get in the way of equality, or especially, justice, that is not something People of Color or anyone concerned with justice in regards to inequality, racism, colonialism, etc. can afford. When the specter of that guilt arises and becomes a paralyzing thing that takes the focus off of People of Color, their problems, and the things that are actively killing them, it cannot be afforded. It is, in a word, derailing.

I don’t give a damn how you feel. I really don’t. If you lack the empathy to stand up for justice because your fucking feelings are hurt: Fuck. Right. Off.

White people do need to deal with our feelings, but not at the expense of justice or equality. It should not be the directive of folks to remind white people to deal with our feelings outside of the times and places where issues of justice, equality, etc. are being addressed. Our angst should not be aired during times of grief or moral outrage at the murder of black people by police. It is no different than walking into a funeral while a family is crying over a child’s casket, and screaming at them ‘Your crying makes me feel bad! I didn’t do this to you!’ You know what? You’re getting in the way of their need to grieve at that point. You’re an asshole. The funeral is not about or for you. Anyone, from the presiding minister to the family member on down to a complete stranger visiting in respect would be well within moral rights to ask or demand for you to get out.

This is why #alllivesmatter is either a cop-out or completely fucking tone-deaf. Not all the houses are on fire, and so, they do not deserve the fire hose equally. #blacklivesmatter is on-point and the topic at hand because black people are being systemically targeted by police, policing policies, jail time, jailing and fine procedures based on the color of their skin. They are dying because of this. The reason why our feelings as white people do not matter in this is because our fucking lives are not on the line for walking on the street while being black.

Blacks, as well as Native American and Hispanic peoples, are being killed in the United States far more than whites by police. In addition to this, because of jailing and fine procedures for minor traffic violations and misdemeanors in places like Ferguson, MO, they are now the leading victims of what has become the modern day debtor’s prison. Can’t pay your traffic ticket? Can’t pay your fines? You’re going to jail. What’s insidious about this is that there is financial incentive for counties and cities to do this, and that encourages these cities to increase incarceration.

You know what white people do not have to deal with? Being charged with 4 counts of destruction of city property due to bleeding on officer’s uniforms for having the shit beat out of them in a Ferguson, MO jail in 2009. Enough mewling about being judged based on the color of your skin; when white people get judged we might feel temporarily angry, guilty, shamed, or embarrassed. When black people get judged they get the shit knocked out of them and then charged with a crime because they’re getting their blood on officers’ uniforms.

So not only are People of Color far more likely to be targets for poverty, they are also more likely to be targeted by police for arrest. They are more likely to be jailed for their charges until trial if they can’t post bail, then fined for said charges, and then re-jailed assuming they or someone else could pay for bail in the first place. If they are successfully prosecuted they will pay fines on top of it, and may face being put into longer-term incarceration for failure to pay for these charges. That is, if they’re not simply killed outright by police. People of Color are, and have been for some time, targets in their own neighborhoods.

This is why it is so deeply disappointing to me that neither The Covenant of the Goddess nor The Troth got their collective shit together and did the right thing in supporting #blacklivesmatter and associated movements. Hells bells, why have no Pagan or polytheist organizations shouted out their support as allies for #Idlenomore either? It’s not as if these organizations are actually opposed to either of these justice movements! Right?

If we are indeed our deeds, then what are white people doing to help affect change? How fucking hard is it to say “I stand with black people for racial equality and justice!”? Did you really need fucking committees to decide on whether or not justice for all was something you stood for?

White guilt is an indulgence. If we are to be effective allies, it is on us to set it aside where it impedes action, and deal with it in our own time. #blacklivesmatter. Compared to those lives, our guilt is nothing. Step up or move aside, but don’t get in the way of justice.

Question 12: Appealing to the Gods

July 17, 2014 5 comments

Thank you to Freki Ingela for this question:

Are the Gods great Gods whom anyone on Earth may appeal to, or are they ancestral tribal spirits who confine themselves to looking over the descendants of northern Europe, or are they both? Or are they neither in your opinion? If so, how do understand their nature.

The Gods of the Northern Tradition are Gods I believe anyone can appeal to.  I do not hold folkish views regarding the Gods.  The peoples who worshiped these Gods (and how, what particular understanding of these Gods were prevalent and practices were done in this regard differed region to region) ranged all over the world.  They brought back people from these expeditions, merchant voyages, conquests, and raids.  They sometimes settled in the new lands, usually as colonizers.  To my understanding there is no barrier to anyone worshiping the Gods of the Northern Tradition so far as ancestry goes.  While I do believe that some of the Gods may have brought Their power into tribes of people, such as recounted in the RÍgsÞula (The Lay of Rig), as well as many of the hero stories, I do not think this is what determines if someone is holier or better than another.  I also do not believe that having bloodlines connected to people who may have worshiped the Gods of the Northern Tradition automatically makes you better suited for the Northern Tradition, especially given how many Europeans worshiped Greek and Roman Gods in many of the same places the Northern European Gods were worshiped.  Prayers for the Gods made with a good heart in the right place are good regardless of who makes them.

To understand the nature of the Gods, I usually recommend people read up as much as they can on the Gods, and then, while they are doing so, set up a shrine to the Gods and to their Disir (powerful female Dead), Väter* (powerful male Dead), and their Ancestors in general.  I’ve lived in a dorm room, so I have had to make do with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir all sharing altar space together.  When the shrine is set up, make an offering of water, if nothing else, every day.  Take at least five to fifteen minutes a day to do this, not just setting down the water, but praying at that shrine.  If you have prayers of your own, say them.  If you need inspiration, or want to use prayers from others, feel free to use prayers from my blog using the search bar, from NorthernPaganism.org’s wide variety of online shrines, Michaela’s Odin’s Gift website, Galina Krasskova’s prayers, or any others you find.   If you don’t have space or if you are in a hostile place you can leave a digital candle to one of the Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir at one the NorthernPaganism.org’s shrine pages, like this one to Odin.

This is the recommended reading list I have for the Michigan Northern Tradition Study Group, with explanation of why we use them:

  1. Neolithic Shamanism by Raven Kaldera and Galina Krasskova
    1. Neolithic Shamanism is an experience of the Northern Tradition spirits, and only works with a handful of Gods, such as Sunna and Mani. The focus of the book is toward establishing right relationship with the Elemental Powers, the landvaettir, one’s Ancestors, and so one from the ground up.
  2. The Prose Edda by Carolyne Larrington
    1. This version of the Prose Eddas is very straightforward.  Having read both Bellows and Hollander, I agree with Galina that Hollander cuts things out with poetic license so the ‘flow’ goes according to what he wants.
  3. Northern Tradition for the Solitary Practitioner by Galina Krasskova and Raven Kaldera
    1. Northern Tradition for the Solitary Practitioner gives a good overview of the Northern Tradition, and has a good deal of practices such as prayers, how to use prayer beads, and what offerings are good or contraindicated for the Gods of the Northern Tradition. This book helped me deepen my religious practice.
  4. Spiritual Protection by Sophie Reicher
    1. Spiritual Protection is one of the best books on psychic/spiritual protection I have seen or read.  In a book market where protection is often given short shrift, this book goes to the absolute basics and is great to revisit whether you’ve been doing it for a little while, a long while, or not at all. As a word of caution I advise no one to seek to ground to any world but this one, Midgard, as even I haven’t gone and received permission yet to ground to another.
  5. Exploring the Northern Tradition by Galina Krasskova
    1. Exploring the Northern Tradition gives a good overview of the demographics of Heathenry, some ideas of varying practice and culture, and is a good guide to the differences between traditions that you may find in them.
  6. Gods and Myths of Northern Europe by H.R. Ellis Davidson
    1. This book gives an overview of the myths, Gods, and Goddesses. I would probably pair it with the Prose Eddas, but I also like people to dive right into the source material and make discoveries on their own, but if that style of study works better for you I don’t see a reason not to do it, particularly if the Eddas are a bit hard to work through.

Another book I would seriously recommend is Essential Asatru by Diana Paxson. It details some typical practices from both groups and personal practice.

 

*This is not a traditional name for the powerful male Dead.  It is German for “Fathers”.  I use it in preference of Álfar, since álfar means ‘elves’.

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