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Responding to The Spirits, Networks, and Emergence Part 1

April 28, 2017 3 comments

I want to thank my good friend, Nick, who inspired me through his post here on how networks and the self emerge. When I first began writing my response to his article I did not think it would unleash the torrent of writing it has.  So, there’s going to be at least three parts to my reaction.  The first will be a reaction to the article he cites, the second to thoughts on interconnection and the Soul Matrix inspired by the NPR article and his post, and the third will be a response to his post itself.

It got me thinking on how I relate to these things as a Northern Tradition and Heathen polytheist.

To go into the first part where he explores NPR’s 13.7 Cosmos and Culture Blog article, “Is Neuroscience Rediscovering the Soul?” I can tell you that, no, neuroscience is not rediscovering anything.  Further, there is nothing adverse or knee-jerk about presupposing that the soul, or as in the Northern Tradition, parts of the soul are numinous.  If anything, I find it deeply irritating that a science blog would lead with such a clickbait headline.

Neuroscience is not really here to tell us anything in regards to spiritual experience or spiritual phenomena.  The science is not equipped to.  It can test claims and show what spiritual experience and phenomena express in terms of our reaction to them, but until and unless there is a method and way to measure, say, spiritual force or a way that science may identify the soul or soul parts, there’s not much use in this article using the word soul itself.
Now, to be sure the questions the article raises are worth thinking about.

But what if we revisit the definition of soul, abandoning its canonical meaning as the “spiritual or immaterial part of a human being or animal, regarded as immortal” for something more modern? What if we consider your soul as the sum total of your neurocognitive essence, your very specific brain signature, the unique neuronal connections, synapses, and flow of neurotransmitters that makes you you?

However, I see no reason to revisit the definition of the soul.  There are plenty enough words within our language to express and understand what it is that neuroscience is digging into without muddying theological or scientific waters with the understandings we have emerging from current scientific research and thought.  To abandon the notion of a soul as something other than physical is not a threat in and of itself.  My hugr, or thought, the part of my Soul Matrix that will stop upon my death because my thoughts will stop, will cease to be.  However, my hugr is not all I am.

Certainly, if we consider the the soul “as the sum total of your neurocognitive essence, your very specific brain signature, the unique neuronal connections, synapses, and flow of neurotransmitters that makes you you?” then my hugr, my munr (memory) and possibly my lich, my body, would be all that I am.  It denies the other parts of the Northern Tradition and Heathen Soul Matrix.  

This boils down the soul itself to a purely materialist concept, dispensing entirely with the numenous.  It may make the concept of the soul more palatable to ‘modern’ people, but it is poor theology.  It is like saying “All I am is my cells.”  While strictly true in a physical, materialist sense, it belies the creativity with which I write, the life I lead.  “What of my mind and my individual will?” for example, is a concept poorly explained in such a system.  If indeed we have any notion that we are other than living in a mechanical, purely material universe, then this notion ignores our will, and the mind itself.  If the concept of the soul merely boils down to “You being you is merely the result of your genetics, and the way your brain is formed and wired”, then it not only neuters the understanding of the soul, it outright destroys it.  What use is the word soul at all if the meaning behind the word is rendered other than what it means?

The author of the piece goes on to think about aging and the prolonging of life through the uploading of the ‘soul’.  

Can all this be reduced to information, such as to be replicated or uploaded into other-than-you substrates? That is, can we obtain sufficient information about this brain-body map so as to replicate it in other devices, be they machines or cloned biological replicas of your body? 

These questions are among many that science fiction has explored and looked into for quite a while.  The anime classic The Ghost in the Shell explored the implications of these questions quite well, as did The Matrix. While we may not be able to do so now, soon or even in the far future, I think there are a set of powerful questions that we ought to ask, among them being “Should we?” and “What do we potentially lose in such a process?”

This would be, if technologically possible, the scientific equivalent of reincarnation, or of the long-sought redemption from the flesh — an idea that is at least as old as organized religions in the East and West

Again, this is the problem of science trying to take over ideas in religions.  If science fields want to take words or concepts from religion, or if science bloggers want to take religious concepts out of their element and try to apply them to science, then there needs to be a clear reason to do so.  The author’s assumptions only work if we accept the notion of the soul purely as a result of physical, material phenomena. Since I do not accept a purely material view of the soul, and the use of the word soul has no place in the field he’s talking about, then thinking about the soul in this manner, and reincarnation or redemption from the flesh simply does not make sense.  What he is describing is transference of consciousness from one mode of life/living to another.  There is no need to try to take the word soul, no need to grasp for religious words and concepts.  There’s plenty that work for the phenomena he wants to talk about without appropriating religious words.  

Further, he is not even accurate. The redemption of the flesh is a Christian concept because Christianity views the body as being full of, or potentially full of sin.  Transfering one’s spirit into another body would not stop such a theological view, nor would it resolve the sin the Christian is hoping to remove through accepting Christ as their Savior.

However, it becomes pretty clear to me why he is using this kind of language, and trying to twist religious language to suit these concepts, as soon as the next paragraph comes up.  

Well, depending on who you talk to, this final transcendence of human into information is either around the corner — a logical step in our evolution — or an impossibility — a mad dream of people who can’t accept the inevitability of death, the transhumanist crowd.

  Transhumanism is “The belief or theory that the human race can evolve beyond its current physical and mental limitations, especially by means of science and technology.”  Many of its central features sound a lot like Rapture-based Christianity: there is a coming moment or series of moments where we will Transcend this flesh, but through Science rather than Jesus.  All ills can and will be cured, but instead of through faith in God, it is faith in and access to the right technology.  

Transhumanism is essentially as close to a salvation-based religion one can get while being devoid of religion.  It is a secular, generally atheist view of the world while retaining a salvation/Rapture narrative.  It is one of many secular worldviews that have emerged from Progress-based narratives, which themselves by and large have emerged out of Protestant theologies, such as Calvinism and Prosperity Gospel movements.  Writing on transhumanism and similar outlooks from my view as a polytheist would be a whole other blog post on its own, so I’ll leave critiques and thoughts on transhumanism for another post.  

As the article goes on, it talks about two initiatives that Google is developing:

Google’s company Calico states right upfront that its mission is to tackle “aging, one of life’s greatest mysteries.” The company’s approach is more one of prolonging life than of uploading yourself somewhere else, but in the end the key word that unites the different approaches is information.

and

Another Google company, DeepMind, is bent on cracking AI: “Solve intelligence to make the world a better place.” Google is approaching the problem of death from both a genetic and a computational perspective. They clearly complement one another. Google is not alone, of course. There are many other companies working on similar projects and research. The race is on.

Approaching death and aging as problems to be solved, rather than simply being part of the human condition, is one that I find worrying on a number of fronts.  First among them is that I look at aging and dying as natural phenomena to be embraced among being a living being on this planet.  We already see great problems with humans interrupting the natural life cycles of animals, plants, and indeed, entire interconnected systems of life through our intervention.  In intervening in this fashion with our own makeup, assuming of course that we can advance our ability to age and stave off death at all, I really question what the consequences of such a thing will be.  

If we are seeing the impacts of ecological collapse on a number of fronts, especially getting faster and heavier since the dawn of the Industrial Age, what would be the point of prolonging human life?  We extend a human’s life, thus extending its ability to consume resources that are already dwindling to grasp at a few more years?  If we accept that the world is full of Gods and spirits, at what point do the concerns and rights of the Gods and spirits to exist override the desires of some to eternal life?

Gods and spirits die.  In the case of Gods of rivers, when the river dries up and disappears, that God could be said to have died.  Likewise, the spirit or spirits of a river.  I hold no illusions that Gods are incapable of dying and humans are indeed able to kill some of Them by our actions.  An example from my own childhood is when the woods were bulldozed behind my neighborhood.  Countless trees and plants, animals, insects, all dead to make room for more trailers.  I have no doubt a great many landvaettir were killed.  My reaction as a child to losing this place was grief, like grieving someone I lost.  Because, in essence, I had.  I had lost not only a safe place to explore, but I lost an entire world that I and my friends and brother had spent a great deal of time in.

How much pain and grief will we, as a species, need to inflict on the world’s environments to achieve the extension of aging and staving off of death?  How much pain and grief will we, as a species, be willing to accept so that we may extend our lives on and on?  The other side of this, is how few of us will be able to enjoy this at all, on base line of fairness?  Will it only be those investors in companies like Calico and DeepMind?  Will it be only the workers and shareholders?  Or will it, as is often the case with technological advancements, only in the hands of the most wealthy or rich?  

Exactly how much suffering will the rest of humanity be willing to endure so a few can enjoy an extended life?  What of our leaders, and the implications for systems of democratic government in the face of what could threaten to unbalance the ultimate leveler: death?  How many Gods and spirits are we willing to kill for a shot at a longer life?  How much of the planet are we willing to bend till breaking so a few us can live a couple of more years?

As a Northern Tradition Pagan and Heathen polytheist, the idea of interrupting something so fundamental as death is disturbing.  Death should be something we welcome and develop a good relationship with, not something to be conquered or overcome.  We have such a horrific relationship with death in our overculture already, with treatments to prolong the life upheld at all costs, including one’s death with dignity, and our treatment of the Dead as something to be avoided or that is ‘over there’, that this looks nothing less than a continuation of stigamtizing death and dying.  Rather than approaching our end with dignity, care, and honor, this approach of elongating our lives or seeking immortality looks quite desparate and utopian.  We’re born to life dying.  Our end happens at some point.  Far better, to my mind, that we greet death and our ends with care, dignity, and respect, than to seek out every method to elongate our existence.

For Part 2 I’ll go into how this article made me think on relationships and interdependence in a Northern Tradition and Heathen view.

Affluence, Tribe, and Choice

August 12, 2016 2 comments

I was watching the end of a BookTV C-SPAN2 interview with Sebastian Junger for his book On Tribe and Homecoming.  I had been happening to be clicking through the channels looking for something to help bring me down so I could get to sleep.  However, when I clicked on the station and listened to what he said, it was like lightning in my brain:

“Affluence is a wonderful thing but the more affluent we get, the less we need to help each other.  It’s just how it works.  So the trick is, can we have it both ways?  Can we maintain the pleasures and benefits of an affluent society and also regain — somehow regain the communal connections?  I grew up in a suburb.  The physical layout of the suburb made it hard for communities –that community to coalesce.  It was a sprawling town where you really needed a car to get anywhere significant.  Short of banning the car, how do we return to living close-knit communities of 50 or 60 people?  It’s not happening.”

I disagree with Sebastian Junger’s statements here quite deeply, particularly his last sentence, but the whole of it bears dissecting from a polytheist, particularly a tribalist, perspective.

To start with, he asserts affluence is a wonderful thing.  The OxfordDictionaries.com defines affluence as “The state of having a great deal of money; wealth”.  I view it as a wonderful thing in being a useful thing, insofar as being able to secure one’s tribe, family, and/or self against privation, starvation, etc., and increase their ability to prosper, and empower future generations to do likewise.

Junger asks a pretty powerful question, but one that he fails, utterly, to answer himself:
“So the trick is, can we have it both ways?  Can we maintain the pleasures and benefits of an affluent society and also regain — somehow regain the communal connections?”

The simple answer to Junger’s question about having it both ways is yes.  How affluence in the U.S. manifests in a toxic fashion is an impediment to this, though.  He starts to get at why this is with his point on how the suburb is designed, how it makes it hard for connections, but falls short of following through on it.  The issue, to my take on this, is not the affluence or lack thereof, but how it is used, and the lens of extreme individualism in this country that makes communities very hard to form, and even harder to maintain.

The suburb is not designed in any way to be based on a system of reciprocity.  It has no connections to living systems within itself, i.e. there is no growing of food or capability to produce things of wealth otherwise.  Note when I use the word ‘wealth‘ here, I mean it in the sense of “An abundance of valuable possessions” rather than referring to money. Money is a means of carrying the value of things which produce or are, themselves, sources of wealth.  In America, we took ourselves off of the precious metals that, themselves, were recognized as wealth as a means of backing the value of our money, and took ourselves to a purely arbitrary fiat money system.  Our money system itself has the same problem as our suburbs: its connection to living systems and sources of wealth has been largely severed.

A suburb cannot mine for useful materials, nor can it grow an abundance of food to feed itself.  It has no means of trading en mass, or really of doing anything other than providing living quarters.  A homeowner may, assuming the home authority or ordinances allow, a few sources of food, but a tomato plant here or there does not an interconnected food system make.  The suburbs are wholly reliant on other sources for caring for those who live in them.  These people who live in the suburbs are often living very fractured lives from one another; the family next door could be starving, but because of the extreme individualist narratives the house right next to them would never know unless that family let them in to the situation at all.  Suburbs, and structures that operate like them, do not concern themselves with one another, only, at most, the atomized family unit.

The problem is not the affluence these places retain, in and of themselves, but the way the affluence is used to maintain the separation between people and the things they need.  It reinforces separation on a personal and communal basis.  As Junger notes, communities cannot coalesce because of how suburbs are designed.

I said Junger was asking a powerful question when he asked “Can we maintain the pleasures and benefits of an affluent society and also regain — somehow regain the communal connections?” because the answer very-well could be yes.  It would take concentrated effort and a reevaluation of how we live, and for what things we use our affluence.  Rather than simply taking affluence out of peoples’ hands and redesigning how society functions, which I have yet to see an example of where the system did not fail, I am suggesting something else.  Note, I am not saying socialist forms of government cannot work under this idea, since the Nordic Model is a good example of a society choosing the use their collective affluence in a pro-social fashion via taxes.  There’s plenty of opportunity for affluence while providing for the needs of one’s people.  I see this as going hand-in-hand.  However, I am approaching this as a tribalist.  As I have noted before, I have little hope of the U.S. ever adopting such an approach to our affluence until things start getting a lot worse for folks, or enough folks start working to change the over-culture of extreme individualism.

So let’s break this down to a tribal level.  How do we maintain the pleasures and benefits of an affluent society and also regain communal connections?

For one, we need to be pretty clear on how we define affluence as a community.
Is the tribe’s conception of affluence money-based or resource based?  It is my view that a resources based understanding of affluence does not play into the divisive nature that characterizes suburbs and the extreme individualism that can divide a tribe.  If we understand wealth as based in resources rather than money, how does this affect how we organize ourselves, and how can we maintain our relationship(s) with the larger society in which we live?  It is one thing to organize a society based on valuing resources as the form of wealth rather than money, but in the end, money is how things like taxes and debts get paid.  To what degree will a given tribe need to modulate their assumptions and desires to engage with resources-as-affluence on things in order to get along as a tribe, and with the larger society that they are within?

If we look at resources as affluence, then the growing and hunting of food, crafting, and forms of industry helps form the means by how a tribe supports itself and makes bonds between its members.  If money is the source of affluence, then the attainment of money is the means by which the tribe supports itself and makes bonds between members.  A mixed approach allows for the needs of the tribe to meet the demands the larger community may put on it while allowing for pleasures that a purely agricultural-based community may be unable to enjoy.  The ideal without considering the practicality of the tribal approach can fail if these things are not considered.  While I may prefer a resource-based approach to affluence, I live in America, and property taxes and forms of payment will not be accepted in the form of animal meat, vegetables, or crafted items.

What are the pleasures we most wish to secure as a community?

As with affluence, we need to be very clear on what we mean by the word ‘pleasures’, and how we wish to pursue them.  To this, I look to the second definition of pleasure: “An event or activity from which one derives enjoyment”.  How we measure and work with the concept of affluence directly determines what and how we turn over excess affluence for the events and activities that help to give us enjoyment in the first place.  If we define pleasures by the first definition, ‘a feeling of happy satisfaction and enjoyment’, this can leave communities flitting from emotionally-fulfilling thing to thing.  That is, by pursuing the feeling of enjoyment rather than the events or activities from which we may derive enjoyment, our use of affluence beyond the basic needs will deeply affect to what end our affluence is used, and how it helps the community form cohesive relationships, and bonds of trust, friendship, love, and alliance.

How?

If we take the idea of affluence-as-money as the organizing principle of affluence, we can already see what happens: people flit from whatever media or other money-driven entertainment they can afford that gives enjoyable stimuli.  A given community is not invested in Netflix the way that content creators are, even if members of a community really enjoy a series.  Certainly, a given community is not invested in Netflix in the way that a community is with a community theater, such as the Purple Rose in Chelsea, MI.  Whereas Netflix eats away at time between members of a community, with some folks intentionally isolating themselves for multiple seasons at a time without Netflix providing a residual benefit to the community the watchers are part of, the same is not true of community theater.  While community theater may not feature A-list actors or scripts, it does feature home-grown talent, the kinds of productions that the local communities want to see, a direct stimulation to a community’s businesses, and something for the community to call ‘theirs’.  In other words, a community that values the events and activities that lead to pleasure also give rise to a whole host of benefits beyond enjoyment of the event or activity.

This is not to denigrate Netflix; such a thing would be pretty hypocritical of me, considering how much I enjoy Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and other Netflix shows.  Rather, our value of what pleasure is directly impacts my physical community in the definition of pleasures being ‘An event or activity from which one derives enjoyment’ rather than ‘a feeling of happy satisfaction and enjoyment’.  I live in a time and place where it is far more cost-effective, easier, and less risky to my family to invest my affluence, such as it is, in a community theater.

This is also not to say that I think things like plays and musicals in community theaters are the only viable means of making events and activities from which a community may derive pleasure.  Though I am not a sports fan, there is a powerful draw to sport that a lot of Americans feel.  Rather than see us continue with the current model with NHL, NBA, and other similar sports formats which are often money-driven enterprises that take a lot out of the communities where they build their stadiums while offering paltry gains in return, I would rather we engage more directly in sport and other events that occur within our direct community and between communities actually physically adjacent to one another.  Why?  For the same reason I appreciate community theater as the vehicle for the creation of events and activities that enjoyment is derived from: the communities involved directly benefit rather than the affluence being given to an external source.  That is, the playwrights, actors, and so on that are within the community directly benefit from the affluence that is spent on the play, costumes, the theater tickets, and all the outgrowth of affluence that spreads into the community from that, such as through the local restaurants, artisans, and craftspeople.  By creating an environment where the amateur and those in training can thrive, professionals are made.

For the Northern Tradition and Heathenry, this concept of feeding both the individual and the community, figuratively and literally, come from these concepts: Gebo, hamingja, and maegen.  In Gebo, gift-for-a-gift, there is an exchange that strengthens, grows, tightens the ties of hamingja, the luck and bonds of a community.  By Gebo being fulfilled through the fulfillment of obligation and doing well by one another, and through the increase of hamingja, does one’s personal luck, power, and ability to use that power, maegen, grow in turn.  This can then be used for the benefit of tribe, and the cycle of Gebo continues to feed the good growth of hamingja and maegen.

What are the benefits we most wish to secure as a community?
A benefit is ‘An advantage or profit gained from something’.  An advantage is ‘A condition or circumstance that puts one in a favourable or superior position’.  A profit is ‘A financial gain, especially the difference between the amount earned and the amount spent in buying, operating, or producing something’ and is also defined as advantage and benefit. Putting this in terms of the tribe, the benefits we wish to secure a as a community are those actions and things which bring advantage to it.

The powerful thing about building up tribe is that you are not just planning for the success of your family or your generation.  You are helping to lay the foundation of success for everyone coming after you.  Everything you put your hands helps to lift burdens off of the next family, the next generation in the tribe.  Learning how to do more things in your own home, from small repair projects or through on up to making your own furniture, gives the next generation the benefit of that experience, and the end result of that product once you have made something of quality.  Heck, some families have the last names they do because their family was renowned for a trade, i.e. Coopers, Smiths, Tailors, etc.  Education and practical experience are benefits for families provided that they are resources that are used, and that are passed on.

The question of “What are the benefits we most wish to secure as a community?” is pretty powerful.  It asks us what things of advantage and profit do we want to actively work to bring into our community?  What skills will we need to make this happen?  What education, training, experiences, and resources will we need to make this happen?  To some degree our own experiences, skills, and abilities will inform this.  To another, this requires no small amount of discipline on a personal level, as well as a community willing and able to think in the long term.  Moreover, it takes a community willing to stick to a long-term plan if the goal is fairly ambitious.

Physical infrastructure, for instance, is fairly ambitious, and requires some good planning if we hope to pass that on.  The tribe or community would need to be able to handle physical upkeep, any financial costs including taxes (if applicable), and if a building has a special use, such as a power hub, network hub, greenhouse, and/or temple, you will need folks able to work with the special training to do the work associated with it.  Building a solid home in and of itself requires no small amounts of skills to do, even more so if a tribe/community wishes to keep things like power and the Internet as open to it as possible.  If your community can’t do the work needed to maintain it, then experts will need to be brought in from outside the community.

At some point it behooves the community to ask, then, what is a want and what truly is a need?  Will this thing, activity, etc. be a long term boon to the community, or will it take from valuable resources that the community needs to survive and thrive?  Not every benefit for a community will be need to have a physical gain to it.

Some of the greatest pieces of art have, if taken purely from a utilitarian perspective, little to offer.  One cannot eat the Gundestrup Cauldron, but it must have carried deep, powerful import for those who made it and received it.  One cannot eat art, but it suffuses our lives so deeply that it is the very means by which ideas are communicated, including this post here.  Think of the countless carved stones, such as the Einang Runestone or Eggjum Runestone.  Think of the countless carvings, amulets, burial mounds, and all the countless ways in which the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir were represented, understood, and known through.  The benefits of art is that it communicates powerfully, resonantly, and can help us touch the Holy Powers, connect to deep aspects of culture, and communicate these things well beyond the generations we may know in this life.

The question of “What are the benefits we most wish to secure as a community?” thinking applies equally to individual families as to the communities they are part of.   What are the abilities we have gravitated to?  What skills do we possess?  What have I learned, and what am I willing and able to learn?  What are we actually able to do, or not do?  What skills, abilities, and things would we encourage others in our families and communities to help us make, or provide to us?

As with the community, this question asks us to take the long view.  I have a great many things I can do with my hands; what if, some day, I lose the use of my hands?  Can I pass the skill on to someone else?  Can I trade or encourage another to gain this skill or do that thing that I can no longer do?  What skills and abilities are essential to me?  What skills or abilities does my community rely on from me that need to be passed on?  What skills, abilities, and things that I and my family can provide are essential to my community?  These questions do not ask for self-effacement or self-abasement, but an honest appraisal of where one is, where one may be, and how one plans to work with things in the future.  It need not be a purely utilitarian view, either.  If I can no longer do work with my hands, such as leatherworking or woodworking, there are plenty of other ways I can help my community.  There are countless ways to be a member in my community and give good Gebo to the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and the tribe.

Sebastian Junger rather misses the point in asking if it is possible for us to have things both ways.  The planet’s answer, whether Peak Oil, climate change, or the deep income inequalities that must exist in order for the modern American way of life to exist in the first place (helping to drive the first two predicaments the more consumption is demanded for the latter) is no.  Further, modern American capitalism poses the notion of ‘we have all the toys or we have nothing’ as a way to make the shackles on our lives more willing to be borne.  This is thralldom by other means.  However, there is a healthy difference between thralldom as the ancient Heathen cultures knew it, and the wage slavery we experience today.

Note before I begin this section that I am not, for a moment, suggesting we should go back to thralldom.  I am using it to illustrate a point.  Thralldom as an institution was widely practiced by ancient Scandinavian and German peoples.  It was slavery.  I do not see it as something to be idealized, nor repeated.  I find the ways in which it differs from the yolks the middle class, working poor, and the destitute take on today via modern capitalism are useful points of comparison.

People were bought and sold like other commodities.  Some thralls and their families never knew freedom; sometimes thralldom, slavery, was inter-generational.  However, some thralls could and did buy their freedom.  Thralls could be freed, and some were.  If they chose, they could become full members of the tribe they had been sold into, or go elsewhere.  They could then marry, own land, and pass it on to their heirs.  The life of a thrall could end well, and one could make a name for themselves, and excel.

Modern capitalism gives no such comfort.  American incomes relative to cost of living have been stagnant or going down since the 1970’s.  We are required more than ever to work longer hours for less pay.  We have essential freedoms denied to thralls: freedom of travel, freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom to choose our representatives.  Talking about it this way, it seems there are freedoms everywhere.  What American culture is exceptionally bad at talking about is how tampered these freedoms are by whether or not you can afford to exercise them.

I used to be an employee with a home healthcare company.  We work with clients with a variety of needs.  Some require 24 hour care.  If someone does not show up to work, gets sick, etc., and I’m the only one around, I’m stuck at work.  Now, let’s say I have an election coming up and I know I want to vote.  If I am stuck at work because someone gets sick and I’m the only relief, I have a choice: potentially lose my job, face a permanent mark on my record for negligence, potential court action against myself and/or the company, or, exercise my right to vote.  This is not an uncommon scenario.

Thralls had a clear goal they could achieve: make enough money that they could then use to buy their freedom.  In the case of most Americans, we don’t even get this good of a deal.  Chris Martenson, who produced the excellent Crash Course series, calls debt a claim on future human labor. When the average American hits age 5 they’re placed into kindergarten, and for the next 12 years or so they are absolutely primed with the message that going to college will enable them to have a life, make a future for themselves.  What we are not told this entire time we’re working on reams of homework, projects, and whatever else our teachers want to throw at us, while living life in all its challenges, is that in order to make this dream of ‘making it’ come true, is that most of us will have to go into enough debt that we could probably have paid for at least half of the cost of a house, if not bought one outright.  I have worked at McDonald’s next to folks with supposedly market-ready STEM-field Master’s degrees.  The treatment teams I worked with at the home healthcare job had professionals whose loans were large enough that even if they devoted their entire yearly income to it they might only be able to pay a quarter or half of what they owed.  If they were lucky, weren’t part-time, and had some years in.

Keep in mind, these degrees are mere shots at getting a job.  One which may help pay some bills, but probably not enough to stock away for savings or a retirement.  The minimum wage jobs have not covered the cost of living in a very long time, let alone helped the working poor to provide for their families.  Americans as a whole are worse off now than the 1970’s.  We are required to work longer hours for less pay just to keep roofs over our heads, food in our mouths, clothes on our backs, and all the costs of those roofs, that food, those clothes?  They’re only getting more costly for us.

If debt is a claim on human labor, how many years of my labor are required to work to pay my debt off?  A thrall had a set amount they had to earn in order to buy their freedom.  Debt increases by a set amount of interest every year.  If I can only afford to pay some of the interest because the degree I earned through years of hard work still, years on, has not netted me a job commensurate to handle the cost of living, let alone the increasing load of debt, what hope do I have of ever getting out of debt?

What good does the freedom of travel do me if the means by which I access travel are closed to me because I cannot afford it?  What good does the freedom of speech do me if I can be fired from a job with little recourse if I demand respect from asshole customers or bosses?  What good does the freedom to vote do me if I must choose between keeping my means of income or voting?

If the means by which my future labor is claimed on is allowed to increase every year and my means of earning release from this claim are reduced each year, will I ever be able to be released from my debt?  Keep in mind that most private student loans are not discharged upon death.

From ABC News:

According to the U.S. Department of Education, if the borrower of a federal student loan dies, the loan is automatically canceled and the debt is discharged by the government. Unfortunately, private student loans do not offer the same liability protections.

In the case of federal loans my choices are to pay off the loan or die.  At least if I die the federal government will not come after my estate.  However, in the case of private loans, if I can’t pay back my debt and I die, my estate, if I can leave any, and my spouse is liable for the cost.  Oh, and family might be too if she can’t pay.  This is not something tangible like a car or a home.  This cost was on what amounts to a bet: “This might be a path to a career; good luck!”  Americans are being told from a young age this is ‘an investment in your future’ and that ‘this is the road to being able to live well’.  If the means by which my future labor is claimed increases each year while my ability to pay the cost of living and the claim on that labor decreases, the only shelter I may have from that debt is my death.

The average college student graduates with $40,000 of debt, and many of us go back and have to borrow more when that first foray into college doesn’t land us a job, or live with what job we can find.  With less people able to retire because they simply cannot afford to, the jobs many young people would be entering into cannot open up since there is less and less room to move.  I cannot tell you how many ‘entry level jobs’ I have seen that require 1-4 years of experience in the field you would be entering into.

A thrall had a better shot at taking off their chains than most Americans do at getting out of debt.

Those that choose to keep the chain of debt off their neck are probably struggling.  Over half of America is officially under the poverty line.  If we cannot afford the cost of living how can we afford anything else?  What good are freedoms if what keeps us from exercising them is privation?

Tribes offer another way.  The reliance on one another, and the ability to take care of one’s own.  The work done together that weaves strong ties to weather hardship, whereas a person alone could be doomed to privation the rest of their days, and to empower future generations.  Bonds forged between people, and from these bonds into a powerful community each person contributes to, and is supported by.

“Can we maintain the pleasures and benefits of an affluent society and also regain — somehow regain the communal connections?”

Yes.  For it to work, though, this must be a choice that all within the community make, and that all within it adhere to.  We can come together and be more together than alone.  We can come together and work with our Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and one another to build strong communities.  We can come together and face the challenges that would eat each of us alone together, and come out stronger for it.  We can empower one another to learn, to do what is within us to do, and to build up something greater than ourselves that we can pass on to future generations: tribes whose cultures are grounded in the Holy Powers, in respect and work for the good of the community, and for the good of each of its members.  Tribes whose cultures are grounded in good Gebo with the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and one another.  We can maintain the pleasures and benefits of an affluent society andwe can regain communal connections.  Moreover, we can, and I believe should, do more, and do better for our Holy Powers, ourselves, and future generations.

On Purification and Cleansing

July 8, 2016 1 comment

I took a week off of social media, and I included my blog here at WordPress for that time.

It was a good time, coming right off the heels of Sacred Firetending at Michigan Paganfest.
It really made me think, though, about a lot of things.  Not the least of which is the time I waste on social media.  Now, a lot of my writing here?  That tends to be time well-spent because I am sussing things out, writing devotional poetry and other works, or otherwise devoting time to my Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir.

My time away made me realize just how fucked up social media is, when you get down to brass tacks.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I do a lot of networking on it that is not only useful, but downright necessary to interact with the folks in my Kindred as well as the larger Pagan community.  However, what I am really coming to grips with is how damned sick, lacking a better term, social media is.  When something takes off, it takes off like a virus.  After all, a post, a picture, a video gaining mass popularity is called ‘going viral’ for a reason.  If it is incorrect information, it spreads the wrong information and it infects all those who take it in as fact.

This is where inoculation or sanitation and treatment come in, or, in terms polytheists would be more familiar with, purification and cleansing.  We purify a space so that it is cleansed of vaettir (spirits), and likewise, any magic or spiritual force that would seek to do us harm or disrupt the ritual, ceremony, etc. we are about to perform.  We purify a space, such as a vé (sacred place; it might have an altar or be a natural thing, such as a boulder or tree, etc.), hörgr (a stone vé, sometimes stacked, or an altar of stone).  We cleanse ourselves and any objects we would seek to bring into this space so we are in a state that is clean for the same reason as purification.  If you are facilitating a ritual, it is likely you have cleansed yourself and any things that you are bringing into the area, then purified the space.

These procedures are recognizable to anyone who works in healthcare: your inoculation makes you resistant to diseases that can harm your patients and yourself, your hand-washing prevents you from spreading disease, and your personal hygiene prevents you from becoming sick.  If you refuse to do these things you are not doing your due diligence to those in your care.  That is not to say that sickness is completely unavoidable.  It is not, just as impurity in sacred space does happen.  It is also not to say that sickness is morally wrong; it is not.  It simply is.  However, it is our obligation, whether healthcare or in religious matters, for us to do our due diligence so that those in our care are as healthy as can be.  A ritual leader who refuses to do purification and cleansing work is analogous to a doctor who refuses to be sanitary.

Of course, there are folks out there who will say I am being dramatic about this.

If we take our religions, and our roles within them seriously, then this kind of preparation to erect or inhabit a sacred space should be normal.  There may be exceptions to this rule, i.e. polytheist religious paths I have not come across that do not carry out purification rites in general or for specific workings because it would be detrimental to the rite, working, etc.  I am not speaking to these.  The polytheist religions I have been in or had contact with carry similar enough ritual protocols for these to be general, such as cleaning yourself physically and spiritually before a ritual, or if you do not have time for a shower, at least doing some kind of cleansing work, whether a simple ritual of washing the hands, sprinkling water on one’s head, passing fire about the place and one’s body, and so on.

If I am to carry out a ritual, it is my Gebo to the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir that I am a living example to those in the ritual.  I need to be clean in body, mind, and spirit.  I need to show good protocol for engaging with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir.  As much as the ritual actions are my role in the ritual, so too is my living example.  If someone is coming to me for divination I need to be clean and the sacred space it takes place needs to be clean.  My obligation to the shamans, diviners, Rune-workers, Runemeisters, the Runevaettir, and Odin Himself is to do the work and do it well, whether that work is the preparation before the reading, the reading itself, or any work that occurs coming from the reading.  To do this, I need to have good signal, and to have good signal I and the space need to be clean for the reading.  Whatever my role, I owe this Gebo,this obligation of doing the prequisite work well to those who came before me in these roles, to my Elders, Disir, Väter, Ancestors, and so on.  I also owe this Gebo to the Gods, Ancestors and vaettir to do this work well, not just for the work present in the moment, but to provide an ongoing living example of the work in action.  

In order to do well, to be excellent, the foundation must be cared for.  The foundation of good religious work is to do the prerequisite work well.  This includes the education one needs in order to be an informed participant in the religion, and the carrying out of one’s role in the religion that arises from that knowledge.  It is not some out-of-reach perfection I am talking about here either, nor am I talking merely about the role ritual leaders hold in being ritual pure or helping to make purified religious space.  The foundations of religious work are carried by everyone in that religion.  Purification and cleansing are part of those foundations so we enter into sacred space clean and well, so that the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir are prayed to, offered to, experienced, and understood well.  Purification and cleansing help us to keep these things clean so that what we do and pass on is healthy for our religions, our communities, our tribes, our Kindreds, our families, and ourselves.

A Prayer for an Ancestor in the Making

May 27, 2016 1 comment

I die a little each day
Each step taking me just a little closer
to the Ancestors

I die a little each day
Hardly macabre; rather, hopeful
for the steps behind me

I die a little each day
In the hope that my memory lives well within
for whom I will be an Ancestor

So I ask:

Help me Ancestors
To take each step
With You behind, before, and beside me

Help me Ancestors
To be hopeful each step behind me
With You behind, before, and beside me

Help me Ancestors
To help my memory live well within my descendants
Walking with me behind, before, and beside them

For Mother’s Day

May 8, 2016 Leave a comment

Hail to the Mothers with us!
Hail to the Mothers who have blazed the path before us!
Hail to the Disir!
Hail to all the Mothers!
Hail Frigga!
Hail Sigyn!
Hail Angrboda!
Hail Freya!
Hail Sif!
Hail Jarnsaxa!
Hail Nerthus!
Hail Jörd!
Hail Brighid!
Hail Lupa!

Thinking Locally and Acting Locally

May 5, 2016 2 comments

I love politics.  I find it fascinating on an intellectual level.  I also find it entertaining, probably on the same level as some of my friends enjoy the soap opera style of WWE or Lucha Underground.  Hell, one of the candidates was even on WWE.

I also recognize that most politics, or what passes for it, is a complete waste of time.  Most of the things I have any hope of affecting as a voter are decided at local, regional, and sometimes State level elections.  Though, with the way our legislature in Michigan works, should appropriation funding be in a bill that passes there is no way for us voters to hold a referendum.  This is how the Republican-led State Congress pushed through a lot of legislation of all kinds lately, and made them stick despite loud protest.

I still vote, especially in local elections and ballots, because that is where a lot of funding comes for things like our police, fire, libraries, and so on.  It’s also where our leadership comes from for local boards, among others.  It directly affects my family and I.

A phrase I have heard for a long time now is “Think locally and act globally”.  It bothers me, because when we get down to brass tacks, my spheres of influence start and end locally.  I’m only acting globally if I’m acting with enough people that our collective pull is felt in some way.  A lot of the things I hope to make impact on simply don’t register all that large, even with a good number of folks interested in it.  My view is that we should be thinking and acting locally, and let things develop from that.  It is hardly a new view.  However, rather than be in the vein of ‘you need to change yourself before you change the world’ in an abstract way, or even a psychological one, this thinking and acting locally is a tactical one.  It is also tends towards the whole person rather than an aspect of them.

I have no hope of changing national policy.  I may not even be able to change a region’s view of how things like environmental care, farming, local interdependence, sustainable housing, and the like could be.  What I can change is how I do things.  What I can change is how I help people in my tribe, Kindred, friends, and allies.  What I can change is things on a very local level.

Otto von Bismarck said

“Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable — the art of the next best”.

Ideals are good things to have; they give us things to aim for, to work to attain.  They help guide our decisions communally and personally.  However, practical effects are what is lacking in a lot of politics lacks now, especially those that affect us locally and nationally, such as the ways we need to address environmental damage our ecosystems are taking on, climate change, and Peak Oil.  Lining up on either side of an ideological divide may feel good, but ideology won’t keep your family fed or help you endure the Long Descent.  If all you have is ideology, after a while all people will see you offer them are platitudes rather than something that will actually help them live differently.  If you want to change the world, not only do you need to be that change, but you have to help others be able to see themselves in that change too.

Lately, my family and I have been doing a lot of simple  wild yeast mead brewing in mason jars.  We had our first batch finally finish, and it tastes great.  Not only did this teach us that this is a completely viable way to make really good mead, but for our close friends with whom we are sharing this batch, it provides us a means of sharing the results, tying hamingja and wyrd closer together through Gebo, and perhaps inspiring others to take up brewing as well.

Is it a huge change?  No, not on a global scale.  Locally, though, it is helping Michigan bees and bee farmers, we’re reusing glass mason jars and ceramic bottles, and we’re learning practical skills, the results of which go well as gifts to our Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, tribe, family, and friends.  When we grow our own food this spring and summer, will that be huge on a global scale?  No.  It will, however, save us quite a bit of money in food bills, we’ll be using mason jars and potentially ceramic for some, if not a good number of the food we’ll bring in, and we’ll be learning practical skills, the results of which go well as gifts to our Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, tribe, family, and friends.

Part of the thinking and acting locally is that I drop the need or, as I would have put it during my ceremonial magic days, the lust of result, to have the large, powerful impact on a nationwide scale.  My worship and working with Jörð reflects this idea.  I worship Her as a Goddess of the Earth, and I also relate to Her as a Goddess of the Earth where I am (without exclusion to local land/Earth Gods and Goddesses), as I am also tightly bound to my local environment as I am to the Earth.  I have developed a relationship with Her in the context of where I am, where I live, and where I grow my food.  How could I hope to change Her?  So, I take up the space in Her where I live, where She and the landvaettir share with me, and do what I can where I am.  Therefore, all of my actions take place on and within Her and alongside Her in a local context.  To try to separate my understanding of Jörð from my local understanding renders my relationship with Her far less meaningful, to the point of meaninglessness in most contexts.  This thinking and acting locally is often referred to as regional cultus.  It is religiously thinking and acting in relation to the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir on the local level.

The idea of thinking and acting locally is not separate in terms of religious cultus, growing food, addressing Climate Change, Peak Oil, or environmental damage.  Rather, I take them as a whole, with religious regard running throughout even if addressing environmental damage is not, in and of itself, a religious ritual or act.  I hold relationships with the landvaettir, and because of this relationship on a personal religious level and practical level together, I have a deeply invested interest in the environment thriving and the neighborhood we are part of together doing well.  If I care for the landvaettir, I care for the wellbeing of Their body/bodies, the physical land, plants, creatures, and other Beings which make Them up, and I care for Them on a spiritual basis as well.  It means helping to keep the environment clean and healthy while maintaining good relationships with Them through offerings, prayers, and actually visiting with Them.

Giving general ideas of how to interact with the landvaettir is only so useful.  I can go with lists of offering ideas, but inevitably I will come right out and say something along the lines of “You will need to learn what would be good as an offering for your landvaettir.”  This is part of the idea behind thinking and acting locally for the environment, Peak Oil, or Climate Change.  There’s only so much I could tell you about permaculture techniques or ideas for how to live sustainably that would apply with any accuracy.  Most of the permaculture, homestead, and other skills classes I have gone to have been held by and at places local to me.  Their lessons are bound into how our land works.  I could not tell you useful species of trees to in a Californian environment.  I could not tell you what herbs are invasive, native, useful, or good to grow in that soil.  It’s simply outside of my research and experience.

This is also why I talk a lot about getting to know our Gods locally.  That is, if you are worshiping a Goddess who was associated with wells, maybe get to know Her with your personal well if you use well water, or develop a personal relationship with the local bodies of water where your drinking water comes from.  Do research on where your water comes from, see if the Gods of waters have any association with it, or directly manifest in it.  See if the waters have their own Gods, or big vaettir.  Thinking locally and acting locally means taking steps to relate to this world when and where we are.

Since the body s part of the overarching soul matrix I also look at the bodies of water as the physical component of the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir of Water.  Likewise the other elements.  How we treat the bodies of these Beings matters, and its impacts hit us in like fashion in our bodies and souls.  If I treat the body of the watervaettir well (pardon the pun), then I am nourished in kind by the water.  If I treat it poorly, I foul the water, destroy its ability to enliven plants and animals alike, and destroy the ability of my ecosystem to live healthy.  If I live upon the Earth well then I am nourished in kind.  It is Gebo, and its effects ripple through Wyrd.  When we think and act locally we partake much more readily in these ripples, in how Wyrd weaves.  In doing our part as best we can with our local threads we can more effectively weave with the larger patterns of Wyrd.

On Polytheism, Rhetoric, and Politics

March 17, 2016 10 comments

Politics and polytheism is not a conflation.  Rather, the one’s involvement with the other is an outgrowth of being human.  Politics is defined by the OxfordDictionaries.com as “The activities associated with the governance of a country or other area, especially the debate or conflict among individuals or parties having or hoping to achieve power”.  What we are seeing stretch out across the blogs, Facebook, and in personal interactions is not a bad thing, in my view.  It is absolutely necessary.  Polytheist communities need to figure out our politics, the rhetoric we employ, the authorities we trust and empower, and what hierarchies we are engaged in and will be choosing to build up.

Rhetoric is “The art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing, especially the exploitation of figures of speech and other compositional techniques”.  It is how we speak, how we help our ideas to become known, and to become accepted.  As with politics, to do this well takes training, whether self-study or through mentors, teachers, and the like.  Rhetoric forms the foundation of how our religions informs us through the worldview it espouses and the place in which it sets us.  Politics is part of the rhetoric, rather than being able to separated from it.  When we talk of religious communities, there is rhetoric in that phrase alone, as much as what comes out of the community and its members.

The difference between those who are members of a religion and those who help to shape the core rhetoric is not a moral idea, but one of spheres of influence.  In other words, hierarchy.  You do not need to be named as a leader to be a leading voice that drives the rhetoric of a movement, any more than being the head of a religion actually means that you will drive the rhetoric of that religion.  This comes down to authority.

Authority is defined as “The power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience“ and “The power to influence others, especially because of one’s commanding manner or one’s recognized knowledge about something”, and with regards to people, is “A person with extensive or specialized knowledge about a subject; an expert”.  Hierarchy is defined as “A system in which members of an organization or society are ranked according to relative status or authority” and “An arrangement or classification of things according to relative importance or inclusiveness”

You may actively oppose the entire notion of leaders and still be a leader.  You may actively try to cultivate leadership and never be reckoned a leader.  Authority, then, is something given to a leader whether that leader is a willing one or not.  Authority is not always gained by consent.  In some cases authority invested in certain people is a given, such as an employee’s relationship with their supervisor in being employed by a major corporation, or being a Catholic and holding the Roman Catholic Church as the spiritual authority of the religion.  Authority in academia is invested in those who have positions within the field that are respected by those who have put the time and experience into the field and treat one another as peers.  In other cases, authority is taken up by a despot and enforced through the use of power.  Sometimes authority is seized upon by a person giving or being viewed as giving voice, such as in populist politics, to the energies, emotions, and feel of a given group of people.  Sometimes authority is relegated to an ‘us’ rather than a singular person, such as in consensus-building endeavors.  However it is made, relegated, maintained, taken or given, authority plays a part in communities.

In polytheism we have many Gods, Ancestors, and spirits.  Whether or not these Beings have authority over us as humans depends on your religion, its worldview, cosmology, these Beings and Their relationships to the religion itself, that religion’s worldview, Their placement(s)/function(s)/etc. within the cosmology, Their relationships with one another, the understanding of relationship between ourselves and the Holy Powers, and finally, potentially, your personal relationship with Them.

What is unmistakable in polytheism is that there is hierarchy and authority as part of these religions.  Hierarchy is part of polytheism because of the basis of discernment that polytheism as a word describes: “The belief in or worship of more than one god“.  If you are worshipping a God, then you are not the God being worshipped.  You are not the Gods, then.  On a baseline there must be a hierarchy within polytheism as there are Gods and not-Gods, those who are believed in or worshipped and those who are believing and worshipping.  To deny this is to deny the basic understanding, definition, and relationships that polytheism requires for a polytheist to be a polytheist.  It may not be a hard or inflexible hierarchy in every instance of it, but hierarchy is there nonetheless.

There is authority in polytheism because the cosmology is ordered in a certain fashion by and/or from many Power(s), and/or Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir.  For instance, in the Northern Tradition and Heathenry, Wyrd is the authority which governs the existence of all things so that the Gods Themselves are bound up in it.  Odin is the authority which created Midgard in the first place in the Creation Story of the Northern Tradition.  He did it by exercising authority and power, and destroying the hierarchy that came before Him, that of His Grandfather Ymir’s reign.  He replaced the hierarchy of Ymir with His own.  He was given authority over the Aesir as chief by the Aesir who followed Him with this act into the formation of Asgard.  In this, He was also bound by the rules of the Aesir as chief, and was bound to the authority of the rules of Their tribe which bound Them together as Aesir.

The basic rhetoric of the Northern Tradition is that hierarchy and authority are found in many places, and in, of, or by relationship.  The different Worlds are held in authority by certain Gods: Surt in Muspelheim, Freyr in Alfheim, and Hela in Helheim, for instance.   Hierarchy is not merely how how a society orders itself.  There is actually hierarchy in nature, but it is not the first definition that this is found in, but the second.  That is, “An arrangement or classification of things according to relative importance or inclusiveness”.  What is important to a rabbit is different than what is important to a wolf.  Who is important to that rabbit or wolf is likewise relative.  Threat vs. non-threat, food vs. not-food, pack/burrow vs. outside the pack/burrow.  Animals use discernment, and with discernment hierarchies are created.  The complexity of these classifications and their import into deeper topics aside, separating ourselves off from animals in this understanding is actually a big part of the problem I have with many of these criticisms because they are anthropocentric.

Hierarchy within polytheism does not mean that Gods, Ancestors, or individual spirits are less important than the Gods, but that each Being’s importance is relative.  Relative to what?  The cosmology, one another, the World(s) They inhabit/interact with, and with/to us.  In other words, that second definition I just pointed out above.

Hierarchy within polytheism in relation to a given God’s society, such as the Aesir, is bound up with the first definition: “A system in which members of an organization or society are ranked according to relative status or authority”.  Odin is the chieftain of the Aesir, as is Frigga.  More to the point, She keeps the keys to Asgard, and can deny Him entry, and has.  There are rules dictating the conduct of a chieftain and there are consequences to breaking those rules, and Odin paid that price.  There’s also the authority one wields and hierarchy of power considerations when one is within a God or Goddess’ place, such as Freya’s field Folkvanger or Frigga’s hall Fensalir.

This understanding in the Northern Tradition applies with regard to ourselves in our homes.  In my home visitors and I are in relation as guest and host which brings with it certain obligations as guest and as host.  Otherwise, we relate as cohabitants.  In either case, a guest and host both have rights, as do cohabitants, and there are rules of conduct we obey in these roles.  What hierarchy I enforce or is enforced as a host with what authority, when and how, is determined by if you are a new guest that does/does not understand these rules, or if you are part of the religion and understand these things well.  I might be more forgiving of someone new to my home who violates a small guest obligation whereas I may cleave deeper to tradition with people who are part of the Northern Tradition and have (or should have) this understanding.  Each Northern Tradition house may have different hierarchies and rules for their home.  When entering someone’s home for the first time I will usually ask for a rundown of any obligations that are placed upon me as a guest, rules of the house, and other things I am obligated to ask by being a member of the Northern Tradition.  If a rule of the house would violate an oath or a taboo and the host is unwilling or especially unable to accommodate me, I leave.  This is respectful of the host as the host, and myself as the guest, and it respects the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir I hold that oath or taboo with.

Several writers, both of blogs and comments, have noted that the current atmosphere in polytheist discourse is fostering hard-lining.  I am in agreement with Dver on Rhyd’s post here, that it mostly has to do with having to contrast ourselves in regards to other religious paths, and atheists.  The us vs them atmosphere is one in which clear dividing lines were laid down, and as differences between folks on different parts of the political spectrum started putting down deeper lines, these too became more hard-line as the two sides have begun defining themselves not as themselves, but in opposition to one another.  Again, I see these things as natural outgrowths rather than things to be avoided.  I would like them to be minded and acknowledged where and when we can.

How our personal politics plays into our religious expression is a highly personal thing even if we can say a few things across the board as polytheists.  It is also highly personal in relationship with our Gods.  Relating this to some of the current discussions that have gone around the polytheists and their communityies lately, I find that casting aspersion on those who offer bullets to the Morrigan is as unconscionable as casting aspersion on those who offer their bodies on the front lines of protest as an offering.

Where I see things are getting lost is when polytheists on one side say ‘But protesting is not offering water or bread and these distinctions are important’ and the other says ‘How can you say that my offering is not worthy?’ when the critique (however well or poorly it was made or received) was meant to include protests as a form of offering, but not at the exclusion of offerings of food and water.  Another aspect of this is that some of us simply do not have the time or cannot afford, at the expense of other obligations, to show up for a protest.  We cannot offer that pound of flesh because our families would suffer.  That does not make my offering of work to feed my family and buy a bottle of mead bought with that work less than one who spent those same eight hours protesting.  They are different and mean different things to our Holy Powers.  Further, they’re what we are capable of giving.

On the other side of this, especially in regards to the bullets-as-offerings, I find that folks are rather missing the point of offering bullets to Gods of war.

Let me take this from my own experience: I wanted to learn how to hunt, and appealed to Skaði for help in this.  Over the years I picked up a good traditional longbow with a hefty draw weight for relatively cheap from a friend who taught me how to use it.  A dear friend of mine (who I consider family) offered to teach me how to hunt.  I paid good money for the bow and arrows from my friend, and picked up other supplies down the road when my family-friend was getting ready to take me hunting.  I bought bales of hay to shoot at.  I prayed to the landvaettir when setting up the targets for their permission, and when I felt I received it, set them up.  I prayed to the landvaettir every time I started practice, and prayed to the spirit of the bow and the arrows, and to Skaði Herself.  Every shot I made I offered to Skaði.  Every frustrating miss, every on-target hit.  I have developed to the point where I have been able to hit the hay bale with every shot at the maximum range where I could expect to hit a deer with a traditional longbow.  These offerings are offerings of strain, anger, and skill.  Had I been able to get a deer, She and the landvaettir would have been getting offerings from the body of the deer.  The deer itself would have gotten offerings as well, and had it given permission or made its desire for this know, I would have crafted its bones and/or antlers into ritual objects, and/or given it a home in my house and made it regular offerings.

The dedication to learning how to shoot my bow, and the skill that I gained by training with the bow is not unlike those who train with the gun.  If my bow was the best way of defending myself or my family I would use it to kill a human being.  One person may be practicing with a gun to go to war, another to hunt, and another for self-defense.  I see these as in keeping with Skaði.  From what little I know of The Morrigan, this is in keeping with Her nature as a Goddess of sovereignty and war.  So too, I understand my offerings of arrows to Skaði are similar if not the same as another person offering The Morrigan bullets.

The difference is the geopolitical backdrop right now.  Arrows have been used for war, and are drenched in the blood of untold billions of lives.  The only reason they are not under the same microscope right now as bullets in regards to offerings is they’re not used by the US and other militaries.  Machetes are a a symbol of the Orisha Ogún, are tools for construction, navigation, harvesting, and are weapons of war and massacre in their own measure, and yet they receive none of the ire from the left reserved for bullets despite this.  This is why folks on the opposite side of this issue will levy charges of racism at those (predominantly) on the left in regards to this issue, among other ones in regards to slaughter and sacrifice.  It seems as though the religions of the African Diaspora, African Traditional Religions, Hinduism, and others with weapons like these as symbols and/or as part of offerings are currently being used in massacres and genocide are given a ‘pass’ for ‘being primitive’ or ‘less evolved’.

What else are we to understand when those on the left say that ritual sacrifice is primitive, brutish, less evolved and the like, only levying this charge at polytheists but not, generally, at Santeros, Hindus, or at Jews or Muslims for their own ritual slaughters?  Even when consistently charged across the board, the charges of ‘being primitive’ or ‘less evolved’ are still steeped in colonialism and capitalist ideology of what is a ‘right’ relationship with the animals we eat: that of consumers rather than in relationship with them, even, or especially, when they are part of our meals.  This insertion of the consumer as the ‘right’ or ‘most right’ relationship with our food is a denial of a reciprocal relationship with our food.  This assertion is unacceptable to all the polytheist religions that I know of, whether one is vegetarian or not, because this actively denies our lives are utterly dependent on other lives, and also denies much, if not all of the dignity of the lives that are taken so we may live.  It denies that our interdependence on their lives relegating the Beings we eat as ‘the consumed’ alone, and in so doing, denies recognition of their full Being, and reciprocity with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir which have given Their lives so we are able to live.

These ideas of relationships, reciprocity, and obligations are a fairly central in polytheism and animism, whether or not one’s thoughts on the matter are in regard to priests, priesthood, shamans, and other spiritual specialists from polytheist religions.  A friend of Rhyd Wildermuth said “if your relationship to a god is one where you ‘must’ do something for them or else, or you must do so because a priest told you that is what you must do, you are confusing a god with the government, Capitalism, or your parents”.

This understanding of ‘must’, of obligation and duty, is rather central to how polytheism operates.  Gebo, *ghosti, and other understandings of reciprocity fall under this understanding of ‘must’ in terms of how oneself, guests, strangers, and others are treated, what the obligations between kin are within the religion(s), and so on.  Obligation and duty are part of the basic skeleton of religious language, and it is through this understanding of the meaning of obligation and duty within our lives that we come to understand how to relate to the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir in the first place, which ones we would be best suited or called to in forging relationships, and which we should or must avoid.  Does that mean that we can refuse to participate in these obligations and duties, ignore taboos, and so on?  Certainly, but there are consequences for failing to live up to our part of a given relationship.

Priests serve a duty to the communities they serve, even if initially the only communities they serve are those of the Holy Powers.  In terms of human/Holy Power interactions, priests often serve a hierarchical role in polytheist religions because they are people who have dedicated time, energy, skill, and other aspects of their life, if not the whole of it, in service to the Gods.  Not everyone has the inclination, desire, aptitude, or ability to do so.  It is not that priests are inherently better than non-priests or that they are to be the sole source of authority on the Gods, but that they, ideally, have proven themselves trustworthy to their community, and are reckoned by other means, such as training, initiation, public recognition, and so on.  So yes, they are spiritual authorities, but they are one among many.

Those of us who cross over between spiritual specialist categories, as I do, having been called to service in the Northern Tradition and Heathenry as both a priest and a shaman, try to make it fairly clear where one role begins and the other ends.  Is there bleedover?  Sure, but I need to be able to point to something and say ‘this is priest work’ and ‘this is shaman work’, and ‘this is where they can mix’.  This means that discernment and determining what situation I should be wearing which hat, or if I am a good fit at all for the situation at hand, is quite important.  Again, this relates back to the person/people trusting me as an authority in the religion, that I carry that authority with integrity, and acting within the hierarchy I am part of in how things should be carried out as a priest, a shaman, and when it is/is not appropriate to mix the two, when it is not appropriate for me to be involved, and/or pass it on to someone else.

Understanding the roles of authority, hierarchy, rhetoric, and the clear understanding of our relationships with one another are, in my view, only part of spiritually mature religious groups.  Outwardly recognizing and affirming how we interact with one another and in what ways is part of how we respect each other and the spaces we are in.  This is a key piece to developing better, consistently constructive dialogue and bridge-building.  Respecting one another means I do not come into another’s space, say their ways are wrong and insist they should reform their religion to formalize or eliminate their lineages, hierarchy, and sacrifice.  It’s not my place because it isn’t my community.  Disagreement on powerful things such as authority, hierarchy, beliefs, and so on are one thing, but insistence on everyone towing the same line is quite another.  Likewise, it is rude for folks who disagree with formal sources of authority, hierarchy and/or sacrifice (including not only sacrifice of animals, but also food, liquids, of the self, service, and so on) to come into polytheist spaces where these are expectations, obligations, and ways of relating to the Holy Powers that are part of respect and worship in the religions that observe them. If you are not called to gather in community or to honor the Holy Powers in this way, far be it from me or anyone else to gainsay Them, but at least do me the respect that the selfsame Gods we may worship may call me to things you may not wish to do.

As I have said several times here on this show, the problem with painting with too broad a brush is it misses the nuances, colors, and textures of other brushes.  I may say things about polytheism on a broad basis, and folks are fully within their rights to disagree with me, even vehemently.  Gods know there are things I have in my own right, sacrifice and offerings being among the topics I have butted heads with others on.  There are a lot of polytheist religions, formal and informal, organized and individual.  Even within the Northern Tradition and Heathenry, we certainly don’t agree on everything.  As a tribalist Northern Tradition polytheist and Heathen, what my concern comes down to at the end of the day is those who share my personal community, my Kindred or tribe, and the places where we intersect with others.  It isn’t that the larger polytheist communities aren’t of concern to me, (otherwise why write or comment on this at all?) but that by putting my words out there would, I hope, be part of constructive dialogue around these things.  I would also hope that all these words would be taken in the context that I cannot, and will not speak for all polytheists.  I do want my voice listened to, and to be part of the Polytheist Movement and general polytheist dialogue, but I recognize my voice is one among a great many.

We do not need to agree on much, save being hospitable in one another’s spaces, acting with respect as both guest and host, and when disagreements arise, and Gods’ know they will, doing our best not to assume the worst of one another.

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