I saw this post on Galina Krasskova’s blog that she linked to from her blog. Note, she did not write this and is, in fact quite appalled by it which is why she shared it to begin with.
It reads like a declaration of war. Nothing quite so put together as the WWI German declaration of war on Russia, nor of France or England’s on Germany. This is what a fatwa from a radical Islamic cleric looks like dressed up in leftist clothing. This is what a Joel’s Army or a New Apostolic Reformation missive looks like dressed up in leftist clothing.
Saying “I’m not advocating starting fights, but I am telling you to be prepared to finish them.” is bullshit. If you are advocating going to someone’s space and disrupting their rituals, their communities, and/or their lives, you are advocating for starting a fight. If you are laying down a call on people, saying “But if you like to talk the talk of the warrior path, you better start walking the walk as well.” you’re asking for a fight. You do not call on warriors for a reason other than conflict. Keep in mind, though, that if you are calling on warriors you are giving your opponents equal reason to. Adding “Are you gonna stand by and let these assholes commit atrocities and spew hate in the name of your gods?” is a religious call to war. Advocating that folks “don’t play nice” when they do this is a call to guerrilla warfare in the name of the Gods.
1. Speak up. Is there a guy in your local coven, order, lodge, temple, etc. that is openly bigoted? Call him out on it. Put him on the spot. Humiliate him in front of his superiors. Collect receipts, send screenshots and videos of his bullshit to his superiors…send it to those superiors’ superiors. If they do nothing call the whole organization out. Blast it all over the internet. The occult world is small, the backlash will be swift.
When I first read this, the first point actually seemed fairly benign until I really considered it. Let’s say that the bigot you want to target isn’t a guy, not that the gender should matter here. Let’s make this person a woman. Now, you’re advocating for humiliating her in front of her superiors. Collecting receipts, sending screenshots and videos to her superiors. Gosh. This sounds positively threatening. That is because it is. This is advocating for stalking, harassment, theft, and bullying.
2. Trap them. Catch them doing or saying something illegal and record it. Anonymously notify the correct authorities. If he’s racist he’s probably also a raging misogynist, here is a pretty high percent chance he beats women. Bust him for that.
The second point is advocating for people to do the job of the police as well as illegally record another person in violation of their rights.
3. Sabotage. Sabotage everything. Their protests, their social events, their rituals…their relationships. Sabotage them physically, sabotage them magically. Block them at protests. Blast distractingly loud noises in the vicinity of their rituals. Curse them liberally.
If the first two points were advocating for stalking, harassment, and bullying, this is certainly asking for war. It says it right there in black and white: “Sabotage them physically, sabotage them magically.” To sabotage is to “Deliberately destroy, damage, or obstruct (something), especially for political or military advantage”.
Religious warfare is being openly called for. It is being called for physically and it is being called for magically. Calling for the physical and magical sabotage of people is an act of war.
4. Vote with your dollar. When people pulled their financial support from the Atlanta LHP conference via vowing not to go and through speakers dropping out, they were eventually forced to drop Augustus Invictus. That’s the power of peer pressure…and money. Pressure conferences. Pressure publishers. Let them know that they are condoning hate groups. Tell publishers and conferences that you want to see more diversity. Openly support and promote occultists and witches of color.
Boycotting is an old tactic that does not directly threaten the rights or well-being of a person, and can effectively make change. However, rather than simply going right to pressure, I would inform. A festival may have no notion the person they signed up is a widely-known racist, or that the band whose page seemed so cool and edgy and will attract a good crowd are actually a band well-known for its racism. If they refuse to act on the information I would then take the next step and inform others that, yes, you informed the festival or people in question and they are doing nothing with it. That said, negativity is relatively easy. Being positive and openly supporting and promoting folks is not.
If you are voting with your dollar and want more diversity, putting your dollars towards that and encouraging others to do the same would be the way I go for it. Hell, look at how successful GoFundMe and similar campaigns work. Do they shit on other folks, venues, etc. for donation? No, they put forward what they are about, encourage folks to spread the word, and do whatever it is they promised when the call was put out. If you are going to call for diversity follow through on it.
5. Learn a martial art/self-defence. Neo-Nazis are violent, if you are able-bodied consider learning how to defend yourself and your friends. Offer to work security for #BlackLivesMatter and other activist events. Use your power of privilege for good.
Alone, this would be solid advice. In this context? Whether or not Neo-Nazis are violent is not the issue here. The people advocating for these actions are advocating for physical and spiritual sabotage, for war.
6. Get a weapon. Are you mentally stable enough to own a weapon? Do you live in an open-carry state? If so get a weapon. I don’t care if it’s a knife, a bat, a gun, or fucking nunchucks…as long as it’s legal in your state, carry it. Know how to use it. Your enemy does. Neo-Nazis love their guns. I hate guns, but I like not getting shot or raped. If you stand up for what is right it is likely that you will get death threats.
If you stalk, threaten, harass, and steal from people you are more likely to get attacked. If you physically or magically attack people you are likely to get attacked in kind. If you are advocating for people to learn martial arts and/or learn to wield a weapon, you are advocating for people to learn and be prepared to do violence. If you are telling warriors to step up, you are telling people to go to war. Your opposition would be within rights to do the same.
7. Educate the young ones. Kids raised in conservative, fundamentalist households don’t know any better. A teen raised in Asatru is like a teen raised in Christianity, they know no other way…show them. Lead by example. An 18 to 21 year old can still change their worldview. Young minds are malleable and they are the future, change that future for the better if you can.
This point is assuming a lack of education and exposure to other ideas. Assuming that people in conservative, fundamentalist households do not know any better (any better than what?) and assuming a superior stance on the part of one’s self, cause, etc. insults these peoples’ intelligence and ability to reason. If you are starting from the standpoint that your opposition is lacking in intellect or is ignorant of other ways, you have already shut down conversation. They may well know of other ways and actively reject them. This assumption is no different than a conservative fundamentalist person assuming liberals are without morals. This point dismisses all of Asatru as racist.
The assumption that the teenage Asatruar needs to be shown another way, that they need to be led out of their religion and/or their religious community, is poisonous to Asatru and potentially any religious or philosophical movement the would-be leader believes is wrong. It is convert-seeking rather than providing another viewpoint.
It is true that young minds are malleable and that they are the future. There is no guarantee that these would-be leaders from the left can do any better than those on the right. Those who lead poorly can do irreparable harm, especially at a time when young people are already having to deal with a lot of change.
If leftist Pagan and polytheists are advocating or are engaging in harassment, stalking, assaulting, and otherwise attacking the families and/or friends of these teens, how could they possibly appeal to these teens at the same time?
8. Radical organization. Do you have other occulty, witchy, pagany friends who want to help change this mess we’re in? Start a group! Practice all seven of the previously mentioned suggestions that you can, and practice them together. Be secretive, don’t use Facebook to connect. Speak in code. Write notes and burn them. Discuss your plans at secret rendezvous. Form a wolf pack and root out the fascist insects.
I noted above how other points read like guerrilla warfare. So does this.
Let’s put the other shoe on, shall we? When the right posts things like this the general reaction I read from the left is some variation of “See? They’re so afraid of being discovered that they’re going to talk in code and burn notes, meet in secret!” or sarcastic, insulting language. The “form a wolf pack” language would likely be denigrated, as would the “root out the fascist insects” language. It would be called dehumanizing because that is exactly what it is and what it does: it dehumanizes your opponents. When your opposition is no longer human, but now are insects, it is no loss to crush them. When you cast yourselves as wolves and your opponents as vermin or prey, you are just fulfilling the work of being a wolf pack. One of the things that the right gets picked on for a lot is code-switching and code-language or dog whistle tactics. It seems that, so long as you are going after people you have identified as racists, bigots, and fascists, all bets are off.
Keep in mind that you’re supposed to somehow do point 7 while being secretive. Secret means “Not known or seen or not meant to be known or seen by others” and secretive means “(Of a person or an organization) inclined to conceal feelings and intentions or not to disclose information”. They are advocating educating kids by being examples while also being secretive. To seek to change their worldview in secret. “Young minds are malleable and they are the future, change that future for the better if you can.” followed by “Speak in code. Write notes and burn them. Discuss your plans at secret rendezvous.”
Those notes I made above about guerrilla warfare? Also applicable here. Read those points again:
“2. Trap them.”
“5. Learn a martial art/self-defence.”
“6. Get a weapon.”
In point 8: “Form a wolf pack and root out the fascist insects.”
These are calls for war. Be secretive about who you harass, stalk, or assault.
The left has lost the right to bitch about people getting CPLs or taking other steps for protection for “imagined fears” for them. This list of actions being advocated is a reason for anyone who might or does come into the cross-hairs of the Pagan or polytheist left and/or anti-fascists to be prepared to defend themselves physically and magically.
9. Take back the Punk and Metal scene. White supremacists have taken over folk metal and bastardized punk. Make music. Wonderful, witchy, aggressive, anti-fascist music. Be like Doro Pesch and use your music and your heritage to speak out against those committing atrocities in the name of your ancestors. If you don’t make music, support and promote anti-fascist and anti-racist music. Also, use the “anything goes” of the moshpit to get a few punches and kicks into your local skinheads at local shows.
I have no problem with folks making music. Please make music. Speak up and for the things you believe in, and the changes you want to see. Speak out against atrocities, speak out against hate and genocide. Support the music you enjoy if you cannot make it.
A person being a bigot or a racist does not give you license to hit them. I should not have to write that. If you’re going to a local show these people are probably your neighbors. Violence will not show them the error of their ways. Engaging them in dialogue might. Besides, you are also giving license to these guys to beat the hell out of you too using just as underhanded tactics. It puts to lie the author’s assertion “”I’m not advocating starting fights, but I am telling you to be prepared to finish them.” The people you target no longer have a reason to hold back; you’re clearly threatening to hurt them and those in their communities.
10. Take care of yourself. Fighting the good fight is emotionally and physically exhausting, and can even put you in physical danger. Do what you need to to keep yourself healthy and safe.
If you do these things you are putting yourself and anyone who joins you in danger. If you do these things you are intentionally instigating conflict, and enacting religious war upon other people. If you really mean what you say, then you are not just a danger to the racists and the bigots. You are a danger to anyone you label an enemy.
Let me be thoroughly clear to anyone who supports these things: what you want and what you are prepared to do is advocate for and fight in a religious war. You are calling for you and yours to engage in religious warfare. You are putting an absolute line in the sand with blood and souls.
Be sure this is a war you want. Be sure this is a war you are willing to do what you must to win. Be sure this is a war you can win.
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.
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.
This is not the only place I have seen this view, but it does a good job of compartmentalizing a lot of the more extended posts in this vein that I have seen on Facebook, blogs, and essays. I am not quoting this person to pick on them, but the quote below highlights a lot of the trends I am seeing from the folks who are in the similar mindsets.
“Karina B. Heart
Theological concepts consistently fail to define, contain or express my beliefs or my embodied ecstatic expression of them. I reject orthodoxy. I reject the idea that people need priests to mediate the divine/spiritual for them as this effectively denies the spiritual sovereignty of the individual–placing them at the mercy of the priestly caste. We’ve had about enough of that, haven’t we?
Let’s break the binaries. Let’s deconstruct the habituated, limiting, egoic mindset that upholds paradigms of subject-ruler, petitioner-priest, human-divine, servant-master. Just because it’s “how it’s always been done” (in Western culture) does not mean it’s how it always will be done.
The Masters tools will never dismantle the master’s house.“
It is a mistake to name the priest the master when, especially for the priests, the masters are the Gods Themselves. Theological concepts exist as definitions, containers, and means of expressing meaning and understanding, and are not always equal to the task. Not every cup holds the same volume of water well, and not every cup is equal to the task of holding good, hot coffee. It is little wonder theological language has to change, to go into poetry. We do not dispense with cups because they cannot all hold coffee, and so too do I view the language we use, theology included.
Having priests does not deny anyone spiritual sovereignty. Priests cannot take your sovereignty. If they have sovereignty over you, you have given it to them. Having priests as mediators is a requirement from some Gods. Some people are called to doing priest work for their Gods and others are not. If it comes from the Gods, the master, then by what right does anyone have to dismantle what They have put into place?
Do you understand the function of a priest? Not all of them are mediators. You’re probably thinking of Catholic, Anglican, and other Christian priests. Yet, even this is not a very well-developed understanding of their role. Do they operate as gateways to the Holy Spirit contained within the Host (in terms of Catholicism)? Yes, because the Catholic Church has standards for how a parishioner is to believe and act in order to be an accepted member of the Catholic Church.
Priests act as gateways, as safeguards, for the Mysteries of their religion, and for the good functioning of their religious communities. Many priests are called to only this, while others are called to become clergy (which may, and in my view, generally is, a different set of skills entire), and others are called to make offerings on behalf of their community to the Gods, and little else. None of these takes away the ability of an individual to pray to their God(s), nor to offer, nor to do something for their Gods. None of these takes away the ability of an individual to be called to something utterly outside the wheelhouses of the priests of a religion.
Is it that you don’t understand what a God is? A God is part of the cosmological order in some fashion, and is in it in such a way as to be integral to it, whether we’re talking about a God of the harvest for a small community, a Goddess who IS the whole world, a God that IS or CONTAINS the Universe, to a God of the hinges on doors. The Worlds are full of Gods.
Some of these Gods have no priests, and in these cases, the worries over priests are completely unfounded. A lot of the priests that are out there will not, and may never be for you given these attitudes, because not only would you never accept them as a religious leader, you would actively denigrate the role they have within the community, and so, would likely not belong to it in the first place. If you did you would be in active, continuous conflict with that religion and the leaders of it, which also would make little sense for you to take part in.
Orthodoxy may not be of use to you, but it is required to be part of many polytheist religions. If this is unacceptable to you, fine, but don’t come gate-crashing into polytheists communities where it is, or into polytheism in general, and demand we should all accept this and work towards this end.
If you do not want a religion with priests then do not join a religion with priests. Likewise, do not come into others’ spaces and stomp and stamp and scream about oppression when these are people doing the work of their Gods and communities.
You want to break binaries? Fine, but there are some binaries that I don’t think should be broken, and will stand against it in every case. For instance, there is hierarchy in polytheism because we humans didn’t make this world. The World is a God, a Goddess, and many Gods, and a God is the World, and the World is full of Gods. The Goddess of a Well is a Goddess of that well. I am not that God, and neither are you. It’s a simple hierarchy, one which I did not choose, but is there nonetheless. A simple binary that goes with it is God and not-God. This is not a binary I think should be broken (nor do I truly believe it can) because it would render the relationship of differentiated individuals that exist between Gods and mortals nonsensical.
If you want to deconstruct the habituated, limiting, egoic mindsets that uphold paradigms of subject-ruler? I think you would be better served to simply not serve the Gods for whom these paradigms are ones They Themselves have and still uphold. You don’t want a petitioner-priest relationship with others in your religious community? Don’t join ones that have them.
Not every mindset that upholds the paradigm of subject-ruler does so through ego. Some of us have come into these mindsets because we were called to them by our Gods just as others were called to reject them by their Gods. Ascribing ego in the negative to those of us who hold these mindsets is insulting, rude, and also denies that we may come to these conclusions based on reason, thought, personal exploration, revelation, or experience of having gone other routes.
If you want to be part of a religious community where there isn’t a divide between human and divine? Well…I think you would be hard-pressed then, most religions have the central belief in and worship of a God or group of Gods. The exceptions to these rules would be religions which are non-theist. It certainly isn’t polytheism.
It is assumed the Master’s house should be dismantled, and that the Master is human. Rather, I see in this narrative the Master are the Gods. I think it is the human house that needs the work. A lot of it. I wish folks would get on with it, regardless of how they do so, and leave the house of the Gods alone.
This is a reflection on a post written by Keen, titled On Pagan Clergy, Layfolk, and the Struggle for Selfhood. Some of what I have written here will be pulled from comments going back and forth with Keen on the article, and some will be from my thoughts since then.
As I was reading this post I found myself struggling a bit. I get why Keen is writing what they are, and agree that clergy need to be part of the solution, especially because in the hierarchy of things, we’re placed higher on the queue than others are for the reasons they mention in the post.
Part of what I do in my own group is consistently remind folks they all have things to contribute, things worthy of hearing, and that the measure of what makes a prayer or offering good is whether the Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir like and accept it. I also make a point of emphasizing that I do not and cannot know everything. I actually really like it when I can hand part of a lesson or ritual over to someone else. It takes me out of the facilitation role, even if for a few minutes, and into the experiential one. It doesn’t mean hierarchy disappear, per se, but it does mean that everyone knows they’ve got stake in this group.
The problems seen as within hierarchy stems more from that our society has deeply dysfunctional relationships with hierarchy than that hierarchy itself is a source of problems. Many of the ways that hierarchy functions, such as the reciprocity between folks in a hierarchy, the complimenting of responsibilities that should help build up folks within a hierarchy, etc., are completely out of whack in our country. Would-be Congressional representatives ignore the needs and desires of their constituents to the point where it blase now to say that legalized corruption has a death grip on our political processes. The societal contract between States and workers is so shredded that it is an expectation in some cases that the pensions promised will be ‘negotiated’ or legislated out of existence so the younger folks can have a hope at a job just a bit above what would keep them out of poverty. Bosses of all kinds hold the fact that employees need to make a living (read: provide for basic needs like food and shelter) above their head, exploiting their labor for personal and company gains in some of the worst ways. Officers wield immense power over whether a person lives or dies, and the justice system actively works to shield those who, were they in a different walk of life or profession, from facing responsibility for their abuses of power. These, though, are societal problems and not issues of hierarchy itself. Hierarchy and roles are not abuses of hierarchy and roles.
Roles are important, and I think part of the issue that has emerged quite a bit is that there are a lot of roles lacking in modern polytheist religion. There are folks, like myself, who the Gods snap up and say “come do this thing!” and we go and spend time and a lot of hard knocks learning how to do it, whether it is priest work, spirit work, becoming a priest, becoming a shaman, starting a group, or what-have-you. Then there are folks who don’t get snapped up, and the communities around them have little to nothing for them to do, whether that is the communities around them form before they’ve gotten these lessons, or there are just not enough interested folks in this or that direction to form one, a million reasons.
A given person may have no desire or ability to lead, so while they might have a great knowledge base, they have no personal reason to put their name out there. Another might have been badly burned and is still in recovery from the last time they put themselves out there. Another may simply not know where to start.
In some cases, there is active backlash against establishing or established hierarchy, which can be an impediment to community building. I dig established hierarchies and find it important to know where I am in a pecking order, even if there is no pecking order, so at least I know if I am among a group of peers or there is someone I should be looking up to for cohesion. Part of why I was able to get so much done alongside my fellows when I worked for a nonprofit for 3 years was because each of us knew our role and responsibility and had established protocol for working together. How things were decided on, such as program design and budgeting, was a matter of everyone knowing Robert’s Rules of Order. This allowed us to know how to propose ideas, how to deny them, how to debate the merits of a given proposal, and how to present to one another in a way that communicated clearly and effectively.
“it is no wonder that the layperson’s reaction to this anxiety, this threat against their sense of selfhood and their relationship with the Gods and spirits, is to try to become clergy themselves”
and their last point:
“keep in mind the power that you wield in this economy of social currency. And please, if you have to extol the merits of being god-deaf, head-blind, and otherwise without priestly responsibilities, try to mind how you do it; it’s easy to come across as patronizing in a world where everyone is vying for likes and authority to secure their selfhood.”
are other points where I was finding some struggle.
In the ancient polytheist cultures I have studied, there were roles for folks that made sense according to the religion, culture, and societal mores of the time. Part of the issues I think we are seeing are for the reasons I noted above, and because most modern Pagan religions and polytheist religions do not have them yet, or have actively dispensed with hierarchies. Rather than being a completely useful device for getting people engaged in a religion, I see that this flattens the field so that people feel like they need to be everything at once. However, there was a reason one consulted an oracle and not, say, the local baker. Their skills were not honed in the area of oracular work, divination, etc. even if they may have had the knack for it, especially to the degree of a full-time (or even part-time) diviner. That did not mean the baker was not necessary. Far from it. It meant the skillset of the baker was different from that of the diviner. I’m also not saying the baker could not be the diviner, like somehow laborious jobs might make a person less fit for divination, I’m just using it for example’s sake.
My issue is that it seems there’s quite a lot of pressure put on clergy, spiritual specialists, etc., to take this weight off of other people. As I am someone who doesn’t see hierarchy as an impediment, but a potential boon, part of how I view this is that the religious leaders, specialists, etc., regardless of the size of those they are leading, should be empowering folks to live full, active religious lives, just as they should be living full, active religious lives. The particulars of that life will differ according to responsibilities to the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, the same with regard to one’s duties to community, family, other obligations, etc. I think this weight need to be removed both by the leadership and by the laity.
I also recognize that there are certain places in which, as a spiritual specialist with a highly active religious life, I simply will not be able to have folks able to empathize as well with me. My wife, Sylverleaf, is one such person. She is not a spiritual specialist, is not a leader, and is very closed from a spiritual input standpoint. She’s just as polytheist as I am, just as good as I am, and is very comfortable being laity. Sometimes I have to take a good deal more time to explain why I feel I need to do this or that, i.e. I need to do something because I have gotten ‘flash traffic’ from a God or Goddess I serve, or an Ancestor or vaettir wants something, and will help me with this or that in exchange. She may not understand how I am getting the information, but she is supportive both in the sense that she helps me do what needs to get done, and that she also will ask direct questions that may help me reevaluate or think deeper on a given request. On a few occasions, her help has had me go back to the negotiating board.
Likewise, I do not empathize as well with folks who do not have very active religious lives because I have seldom had one. When Sylverleaf gets ‘flash traffic’, though, it’s rather unmistakable, so with her there’s often not a large sussing out period, certainly not as much as with me. Part of what I do for her is help to keep a regular offering schedule and help set aside time for prayers. I grew up Catholic, so regular prayers and ritual times are something I am used to, whereas she grew up in a mostly atheist household, and it is harder for her to remember to do things regularly.
So, I think that laity and spiritual specialists and leaders can be helpmeets for each other, but it takes negotiating these relationships to a better degree than has been done. I certainly don’t hope to have all the answers, but I hope I am adding something useful to the dialogue around these things.
They asked me to elaborate on these points:
“I know that there is always talk of what kinds of relationship “styles” are possible to have with a Power, but rarely does that translate into a wider discussion of community relationships, with the Gods and spirits being considered part of the community ecosystem, you might say.
Might you have thoughts about that?”
Roles, in my experience, are trickier in online space. I mean, the thing with physical groups in proximity is that yeah, you can walk a way, but there is more on the line. These are people you share physical space with, folks you might have eaten with, and you might have had guest rights with them in their home. It’s more vulnerable, or a ‘closer’ kind of vulnerable in my view, and so, it is also has the possibility of being more intimate.
Relationship styles with the Holy Powers can have community-wide impact, but then again, we’re back to what constitutes a community. My relationship with Odin is easy to ignore online, relatively speaking, since all it takes is clicking that little ‘x’ in the top right of the screen if someone doesn’t like what I have to say, thinks it is loony, etc. and doesn’t want to bother writing a rebuttal to what I have said. Beliefs, information, all of it is easier to ignore or amplify online because of the way a lot of social media works, and increasingly (especially automatic or database-created) Search Engine Optimization that can allow for more of an echo chamber. Whether your community is mostly/entirely online, or mostly/entirely based in a physical community changes the dynamics of how the relationships can unfold, where one may hold the primacy of one’s own experience, how validation can help shape one’s religious experiences and understanding, and a number of other factors I could spend several posts going into.
Religious communities help to establish boundaries around our understanding of, and relationships with the Holy Powers. The looser these ties are the easier it can be to dispense with ill advice, but the same is true with good advice that may be uncomfortable or hard to take. The ties we retain online are different than those we hold in physical spaces, and I am not one to say online relationships are wrong or fake.
I maintain a good number of my relationships, including with a good number of my fellow polytheists, online. Talking with one of these friends on Facebook is all well and good, but meeting them at Many Gods West, sitting down to dinner with them, and enjoying their physical company, and dialogue, is quite a different thing. Even meeting with some of these folks on Skype is still not the same as meeting in physical space. Having done ritual online in different programs such as Second Life, and through the medium of Skype, there are different dynamics going on, and there is a sense of ‘being there’ but also not ‘being there’ that is utterly different from worshiping with folks in physical space.
Community relationships with the Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir can be greatly affected if someone is in a powerful personal relationship with a/the Holy Powers. Close, powerful community relationships can also greatly affect our relationships with the Holy Powers as well. My entire life is engaged in the worldview of a polytheist, and my powerful personal relationship with Odin, the taboos He and various Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir have put on me, echo in ways big and small throughout my relationships. Folks who are close to me know about my food taboos, for instance, and so meals may be in part shaped by (or my bringing food) my taboos. In this regard it is not very different in terms of impact from my diabetes: folks who know I have it will try to have food I can eat even if the main course is carb intensive. They’ll let me know what’s on the menu ahead of time so I know to adjust my diet or if I need to get something else, I can.
What I just described is guest/host Gebo relations, reciprocity, gift-for-a-gift between guest and host. These factor pretty heavily into the various animist and polytheist religions and traditions, so while it may seem simple on the outside, these considerations get heavier in terms of spiritual weight and moral impact when one is an animist/polytheist than such things would be for someone who does not have such spiritual conditions around guest rights, host rights, and reciprocity between guest and host.
This has deeper impacts in terms of who I will and will not interact with. For instance, if I know that a group will be present that is actively hostile towards Loki, unless I am directly ordered to by Odin, I will not attend.
When it is brought up for serious discussion, as opposed to just being berated or sneered at, the subject of what function a godspouse would serve comes up. I would say that godspouses can, and actually do serve community functions, but how that comes about is entirely a result of how they and the Holy Power(s) negotiate the relationship, what form(s) it takes, if it has any impact on their community/communities, and so on. Basically, I am trying really hard not to gainsay the Gods here. Because I could say something general like “Godspouses are here to connect in a powerful, vulnerable, intimate way, and through this, bring to light different aspects of their God/dess and offer an understanding of their God/dess to others through that connection.”
I could also say that godspouses are a manifestation of a relationship with someone we humans can relate to here in Midgard, and through the godspouse we could come to a deeper rapport with a given Holy Power. I think that each godspouse may or may not have a mission or purpose of this kind to fulfill. It needn’t even be that kind of mission or purpose. A given Holy Power may simply desire companionship from a human for the duration of their life. It may be that a Holy Power wishes to manifest its Presence through this companionship and make Themselves known through this relationship. This person may simply be special to Them and has assented to a lifelong relationship. It may be an expectation a culture places on certain cultus-holders or it may be a way of beginning a new cultus entirely.
In my view, though, very few powerful spiritual relationships are only about a simple connection, though I do not deny they could be. After all, I’m not a godspouse, and I wouldn’t speak on behalf of them when I’ve neither the experience nor the calling to be one. I can only speculate from the outside.
When it comes to folks like myself, called to spiritual specialist positions, leadership, and the like, the religious stances I take and the spiritual relationships I have, the alliances I forge, all of them interplay with one another. Hamingja, the interconnected luck of a community, means that I not only need to be very careful in fulfilling my obligations, but also to be mindful that any alliances, relationships, and so on that I start can affect the luck of those within my innangard (those within my gard, or inner circle), for good or ill. The relationship dynamics of those who are in one’s innangard, then, take on powerful new meanings. So if I screw up on a taboo, like the guest/host dynamic above, for instance, that can have repercussions for others in my innangard, and even those not as close, like some of my blood family who don’t share space with me and I haven’t seen in a long, long time.
When folks really tease out the implications of the world being full of Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, how we treat the Holy Powers and where we are in the hierarchy in relationship with and to Them become very important pretty quick. If I am living next to a stream that feeds my crops it is in my best interests to have a good relationship with the God/vaettr (depending on how It identifies and your relationship with/to It) of that stream. In my view, I am a guest on the land I live on. Many of the landvaettir and the Gods of this land were here long before I was, and will be long after I am dead. Certainly the old landvaettir can hold more sway than the younger by dint of experience, power, spheres of influence, etc. The oak growing on our property has a permanence here should it live well that I will not, and even when it dies, it is not ‘separate’ from the land, so much as the individual tree has died and its individuality may remain or fade, much like myself in relationship to the communities around me, when I die. Perhaps, like the tree, my persona will live on, be communicable in some fashion. Maybe certain soul parts like the liche will stick around with some or all of my persona intact to receive offerings, dispense advice, or chit-chat. Maybe I will become part of the landvaettir after awhile where I am buried, or immediately on being placed in a mound. Same with a blade of grass. I think this is not something I can fully answer, because each life and death is its own unfolding in wyrd, and how those strands interweave is part of the pattern, and I can only see so much. Also, I’m not Hela, Odin, or any other God or Goddess who holds/hosts an afterlife.
It is a humbling feeling to understand the grass, the dirt, all the crawling things beneath your feet has as much if not more right to be there than you. Now, that doesn’t mean we’re automatically subservient to Them any more than They to us, but it is a recognition of where we are in the web of things, and where we stand in terms of our circles of influence, and power to affect change and wyrd. So, to me, hierarchy takes on a kind of immediacy in understanding where we are in the scheme of things, who holds what power over/to do/to act when and where, and what spheres of influence we carry or are affected by. In some ways I am quite powerful in comparison to the stream; I can divert its flow, utterly destroy it with a machine, or mold its banks so they irrigate the way I see fit. If I angered the stream God/vaettr/vaettir by changing it in a way it did not want, it could respond by not giving up the water I need to water my crops, flood my crops, or drown me if I went to swim in it. Questions of consent and partnership are part of the equation here if the world around us has moral and spiritual weight not just for them, but for us as well. Making sure we get our due is also important, but I tend to emphasize the Holy Powers getting Theirs since our society does a hell of a lot of taking without much, if any, giving back.
This worldview and the resulting understanding, idea, morals, and so on trickle out, from the concept of Gebo, hamginja, innangard, utgard (those outside one’s personal circle; outside the gard or wall), one’s place in the hierarchies of Beings and where one is in relationship to the Holy Powers.
Being an animist and/or polytheist comes with taking on a powerful worldview, or set of worldviews, and all that results from it. This worldview shapes and affects ones’ relationships with the land one lives on, the company one keeps, and the way one conducts their life. It can affect what one eats, one’s calling in life, and what paths can open up in a given person’s lifetime. Equally so, it can determine what paths close, what ways are best to avoid, and provide direction when one is confused on where to go. The worldview of animist or polytheist religion(s) hold within it an understanding of hierarchy, where one is in relationship to all Beings. An animist/polytheist worldview affects how one understand the Holy Powers, how one forms relationships with Them and maintains them, and where they may find expression in one’s life. These things unfold, helping us to weave our wyrd with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, and is woven throughout our lives, relationships, and communities when they are not only thought on and considered, but actively lived.
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.
I did not go to the Polytheist Leadership Conference because I made a promise to Mani. Between the promise and His gentle presence indicating ‘stay’ when I asked Him if I should ask to reschedule, I followed His lead. It tore at me; I really wanted to go, and meet people who I have talked online and on this blog with face-to-face, to share in workshops and ritual. I was asked by people I consider family to put on a ritual in Mani’s honor. When I accept such a thing, I treat it as a promise to my Gods that They will be hailed, offered to, and whatever the ritual(s) requires. My friends are the priests of a Wiccan church, Crossroads Tabernacle Church, and rather than keep up walls between our religions, they graciously asked me to put on a Northern Tradition ritual for this last Full Moon. I was and am honored by their request. The ritual for Mani went very well, and I am eager to do more Northern Tradition rituals with them.
In doing these rituals together we are drawing the circle bigger, while also drawing it closer to our hearts. There is no need to compromise our religions for one another if there is true respect for them. I have been working with this church for several years. At first I was just attending, and then, for the last four years, I have served as their youth minister. Never have I been asked to compromise my beliefs, nor break taboos. My friends have been greatly accommodating, and quite careful regarding them. They ask what I can or cannot eat, they are mindful of what taboos I am under if I have told them, and their sensitivity to my tradition and to the work I do has been one of many blessings they have given me over the years.
I am a person with his feet in many traditions. I am a Northern Tradition and Heathen polytheist. I am a shaman, priest, and godatheow of Odin. I am a priest of Anpu. I am a member of House Sankofa. I am a member of Urðarbrunnr Kindred. I am a member of the Thunderbird People. I am the facilitator of a Michigan Northern Tradition Study Group. I am a member of Crossroads Tabernacle Church as well as its Youth Minister. None of these groups contradicts or derides my beliefs. None of them provides harm to my hamingja. All of these affiliations, alliances, friendships, and group ties, together, enhance our hamingja and help it to grow.
Rather than building an impenetrable wall, the traditions and ways of the Northern Tradition ground my family, coreligionists, and I in a living religion that gives us a solid foundation to build from. The definitions and ways by which our tradition are defined bring clarity and understanding not only to ourselves in living this religion, but to others in being able to explain and share it. Rather than being terribly excluding, the beliefs and practices we keep are inviting while also keeping to that solid ground in respect and reverence for the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. Unless the Gods, Ancestors, or spirits are being disrespected there is no reason to not share in ritual.
How can we be in ritual together and respect one another’s traditions?
Respect and communication. After the priests of CTC asked me to put together a ritual, I asked permission from Mani if I could do a ritual on His behalf with the church. When He let me know His approval, I began writing the ritual. Well before the ritual the priests received a copy of the ritual outline. They, in turn, asked me if there was anything I needed for the ritual and what offerings to bring. They also asked me to help write up the announcement. It turns out this helped some of the youth, because in addition to food and herb offerings, Mani received two math problems as offerings. One was part of a sequence, whose name escapes me, and the other was a math problem the young person made up on the fly. There was also a choice: some of the offerings were going to be buried, and others burned. Both chose to burn their math offerings during the ritual. Knowing we were able to burn these on-site rather than off-site was a big plus.
These things are not different from when I enter into a Wiccan ritual. I did not ask each person “Are you polytheist?” before the Mani ritual any more than the priests ask “Are you Wiccan?” before a Wiccan ritual. I did not say “If you do not understand/know Mani as I do, you are wrong”. We were there to celebrate Mani together. That was made plain from the beginning of the ritual. From the beginning the expectation and the presence of respect for the God is there, and the understanding of what kind of ritual we are engaging in is there. It is understood if we are engaging in Wiccan ritual we use a Wiccan format for it, such as a circle casting, a calling to the Elements, and the Gods. Are there common elements to the rituals we engage in? Yes, although the way of cleansing and setting up of sacred space, and to Whom we call differ.
We came together as we usually did by taking three deep breaths and asking if there was peace in our circle. Instead of cleansing the space with a broom and lighting incense, we burned mugwort, cleansing the altar. I made a point of involving my son in this ritual, because, as I explained to those assembled, ours is a tribal religion in which our children are involved as much as the adults. I knelt to him so he could cleanse me first with Grandmother Una’s smoke, and then I cleansed him in kind. I then each person. Instead of a circle casting and calling in the Elements, we performed the Hammer Rite. I felt it was a good way to invite those who had never been in a Northern Tradition ritual into the rite in a way that felt familiar. So, we hailed the four Directions, Asgard, Helheim, and Midgard.
One major difference in this rite as opposed to many of the ones the church comes together in, is that there was no Drawing Down of Mani. Where the God and Goddess would have been called Down, there were offerings made to Him as we all sang, standing in His presence. There was time while we sang after the offerings were made for anyone who wanted to step forward to speak with Him or ask Him for a blessing. When all were finished we came back together, thanked Mani for His presence, thanked the Directions with the ending Hammer Rite, and ended everything with Sigdrifa’s Prayer.
Mani was received and treated with the respect and reverence as He is due. Some who had come to join in the ritual had never known Mani before, and left wanting to know more. Some had known of Mani but had never been in His Presence. The ritual left its mark on all who attended, including me. He was gentle, and patient, yet playful in His Full Moon face. He was patient as two youths, whom I am very proud of, placed math problems before Him to be burned as offerings. I could feel His brightness as we gathered in honor to Him, and His happiness at its end.
We do not have to leave one another at the crossroads of our communities. Rather, we can gather around them, celebrating with one another. We can sing, dance, offer, and hold rituals for our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir together, drawing the circle bigger, while respecting one another’s traditions.