Hail Holy Vanir of Fertile Fields
Whose Cart carries blessed seed and soil
to whoever’s home it visits
Hail Holy Vanir of Fertile Fields
Whose Bounty bring virility to Vanaheim
shared selflessly with kith and kin
Hail Holy Vanir of Fertile Fields
Whose Hands have graced our gardens
through Your reach, the roots grow deep
Hail Holy Vanir of Fertile Fields
Whose Body rides upon the roads;
Your veiled visage a holy Mystery
Hail Holy Vanir of Fertile Fields
Whose Ways wend to beauty and blessings,
let all live with You in good Gebo
The loamy earth that welcomes the seed
The black soil that bursts with life
The tree who overgrows the bones
The ground who eats the bodies
The inundated ground that bears the rice
The sandy ground that bears the spears
The grove where the deer mate
The fields where their young are born
The ever-breathing forests
The ever-teeming swamps
The ever-eating earth
The ever-giving earth
All these things You are
Hail to you, O Nerthus!
They sank down into the waters
Held down by iron grips
A sacrifice for seeing Your holy Face
They sank down into the bog
Their blood reddening the waters
A sacrifice for keeping the community clean
They were offered to You
O Holy Nerthus
That the ways between us
May be kept well
Something I have been reading quite a bit is the use of the word ‘tribal’ as a derogatory term, especially in online places and discussions on Heathenry. Mostly, it is being used as it appears in the Oxford Dictionaries’ second definition “The behaviour and attitudes that stem from strong loyalty to one’s own tribe or social group” rather than its first: “The state or fact of being organized in a tribe or tribes.” The word ‘tribe’ is not without its issues; tribe was a word used by colonialists to describe the indigenous cultures they saw, as the definition for ‘tribe’ notes. That said, most people understand what you mean when you say a tribe, whether one is using it in the first or second definition. Some folks use the word tribe when describing their indigenous communities, others do not. It is still used to describe some indigenous groups, such as Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah. They define tribe as “a group of people organized through kinship or family relationships.”
As a Heathen, tribe, tribal, tribalism, and tribalist as terms carry meanings more in line with the first definition and with how the Piaute Indian Tribe of Utah uses it. I would at least like to get some dialogue started on why that is, and why I use ‘tribal’, ‘tribalist’, and ‘tribalism’ as terms to describe my understanding, and living of Heathenry.
Many of the cultures I take as inspiration and much of my understanding of my religious path were organized into what is usually referred to as tribal groups. The Suebi or Suevi, for instance, were a recognized tribal group that was itself known to be made up of smaller tribes. This was first recognized in what writings we have from Julius Caesar, and later Tacitus and Pliny. Funny enough, like a lot of indigenous groups, the name Suebi may mean something to the effect of “people” or “we, ourselves”.
What Tribal Heathenry means
Tribalist Heathenry means that you worship the Gods of Northern Europe, England, France, Iceland, etc., your Ancestors, and vaettir (spirits), and that you care for and about those in your group, your tribe, first. It means that those you count as within your walls, in your innangard/innangarðr, are within your society. Those who are utgard/útangarðr, are outside of them. This does not mean that those who are utgard are without meaning or not considered when looking at the impacts of a decision, but you do not owe loyalty to them as you do to those in your innangard, and they generally have far less impact and say in your life. Rather, they are guests when they are within your walls, and given the amount of writing that exists on how hosts and guests are to treat each other, are important, but not in the same way as those who are part of your people.
There is another side to this besides the human interaction level, though. Those one brings into their innangard, or who are brought into another’s, tie their Wyrd together far tighter than those who are utgard to one another. We tie our hamingja, our group luck, into one another’s. Me keeping my word is far more important for those who are within my innangard, particularly with important things like big promises to those within the community, or oaths to the Gods, Ancestors, or vaettir, because it directly impacts their hamingja, and through this it can affect their maegen, or personal power.
Tribalist Heathenry as it applies to my life
Friends are within my innangard, and acquaintances are utgard. Allies are within my innangard and those without alliance to me are utgard.
This means that those I care for, am loyal to, responsible to and for those I have deep personal and/or community connections with, whether they are family by blood or choice, friends, or allies, are first priorities in my life. Note that the way I am using the word friend does not have a thing to do with Facebook definitions of ‘friends’. When I call someone Brother, Sister, or a term of endearment meaning equivalently the same thing gender-neutrally, such as friend, these mean very specific things to me. The same goes with the term ally. I have very clear lines of distinction, then, between friends and acquaintances.
If I count you as part of my tribe, family, a friend, or among my allies, generally speaking, I would take a bullet for you and, in equal measure, I would use such means to protect or save you. This means that while I count myself as part of the Heathen communities, the communities I am not a member of mean less to me both socially and spiritually speaking than the ones I am part of. This understanding of things is how I allocate my time and resources, and to whom I owe loyalty and make spiritual ties with. This is discernment in action.
Reviving tribal community and reviving tribal worldviews
I am a tribalist, a universalist, and a reconstructionist-derived Heathen. Being a tribalist means that I care for those within my innangard. Being a universalist means that I believe that anyone regardless of ancestral background can come to the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir of Heathen religion. Being reconstructionist-derived in regards to archaeology and the texts regarding Heathen Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir means that I respect that these things can teach us information on and give some understanding of our Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, practices and beliefs that have survived the conversion periods are incomplete. It means that I recognize some practices are unsuited or impractical to reviving a religion and culture for where and when we are, or that we simply lack the information necessary to do so, and I am willing to innovate with the help and guidance of the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir and community where needed or called.
In reviving tribal community and tribal worldview associated with Heathen paths, what I am seeking is to revive the concept of the tribe itself within a polytheist Heathen context, and the attendant worldview which informs it with those in my innangard. I do this by referencing and revitalizing the concepts that are essential to this, and where this is not possible to follow what old ways we do know about, we communicate with the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir and with one another to innovate and adapt what we can to work with us in this time and place.
Tribalist Heathenry as I understand and live it cannot be revived in full from where ancient Heathen cultures were prior to conversion or destruction of the cultures and folkways. There is simply too much time between us and the Ancestors from which these ideas, structure, and worldviews spring. In other words, the maps of archaeology and texts are useful to a point until we recognize it is outdated or no longer referencing the territory before us.
Given the diversity of religious/cultural paths within Heathenry, I do not expect our Michiganian Northern Tradition and Heathen tribalist religion or culture to look like another’s, even those that may be located in the same State. I would expect our religious calendar to look different, especially from, say, a Texan tribalist Heathen’s religious calendar. A given tribe’s worship of Gods might be very specific, i.e. only worshiping Anglo-Saxon Gods, whereas we worship Gods from a variety of culture backgrounds. A given Heathen tribalist or their tribe may only worship the Aesir and/or Vanir, whereas mine worships the Aesir, Vanir, and Jotnar.
It is my hope this post is a gateway to more conversation, not a stopping point. I encourage folks to post in the comments, to write their own posts exploring this, to talk with friends, family, kindred, and talk with their Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. I encourage us to deepen the dialogue around these things, so that our communities grow, and keep growing, strong, healthy, and well.
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.
Since the posting of the article Confronting the New Right on Gods & Radicals, there has been quite a lot of writing going on in response to it. When I first came across it, I was going to weigh in on it. Then, I caught the flu my son had just gotten over, and in my usual fashion when I get sick, it took me down hard for a few days. I watched from the sidelines as conversations unfolded, and I could not help but think: good. We need to talk. We need to weigh things and figure out where we stand on things.
Rather than seeing these recent developments as portents of doom for the polytheist communities, or for various folks in the Pagan communities, I see these as part of a larger unfolding within these communities.
“Paganism in general—and apparently Devotional and Reconstructionist Polytheism in particular—have been long overdue for a reckoning.”
When I read these words that invoke a reckoning, from Rhyd Wildermuth’s post on Patheos, The Uncomfortable Mirror, particularly from someone who identifies as a bard, that not only gives me pause, but I am urged to ask
“What is this bard calling for, and why this word? What kind of reckoning is he calling for?”
The use of words is a powerful thing. The word polytheism is a word that contains a worldview within it. All the religions within the various polytheist communities take their basic understanding of who they are, what they are, and where their religion starts from this word.
The use of words is a powerful thing. The use of words like devotion, for instance, is one that comes up quite a lot in discussion in Pagan and polytheist circles. It has in Wildermuth’s piece, but how he uses it bothers me. He uses both ‘relational’ and ‘devotional’ as words for identification within polytheism. The reason why this use bothers me is that polytheism is devotional in nature. Devotional means “Of or used in religious worship”. Since polytheism is “The belief in or worship of more than one god” this division in language makes little sense, as worship requires devotional work, offerings, etc. in order to be of or used in religious worship. A religious regard for the Gods renders us in a relationship with the Gods. There is no point to how Rhyd Wildermuth uses ‘devotional’ and ‘relational’, especially in quotes, because without these things as being part of polytheist religion and polytheism itself, you do not have belief or worship because there is no religious regard for the Gods, and thus, no relationship with or to Them, except perhaps as a rhetorical device. Why one would try to divorce devotion and relationality from the Gods makes no sense to me, especially since this is the very ground of polytheism itself.
The problem with Wildermuth stating that his post, Confronting the New Right, was a resource supplement to Shane Burley’s article Fascism Against Time, is that nowhere in the original draft of the piece does Rhyd identify himself, the purpose of the article, or that it is to be an information page on the New Right. As someone more predisposed towards Wildermuth’s left views, and having read the article in question, I found myself consistently simply not seeing what he insists is there in the original article in his latest write up on it, The Uncomfortable Mirror, in which he tries to give this clarification. Had he been clear and upfront in his presentation this incredibly long post would never have been needed. However, I made no connection between Confronting the New Right and Fascism Against Time. It was not until I read this latest post by Wildermuth that I realized there was supposed to have been a connection!
Part of the issue, especially not being part of anarchist, Marxist, or far-left circles myself, is that the article itself provides little understanding of what the New Right itself is. In this, it fails as a resource. I need to know why the right alone, or conservatism alone, is being singled out for this. Why is the right alone being taken to task on this, and what alternatives does the left offer? What is actually wrong with being on the right, politically?
Stating that your piece draws no equivalency while people are actively telling you that they are seeing you draw them in this way is either tone-deaf or actively not listening to the critiques you are getting on this piece. Repeating your disclaimer from the section in question is not actually helping. We have eyes. If folks are not getting it, even if you repeat it three times, the problem may not be with the reader, but with the article. Even in the most charitable reading I gave it, I still was getting quite a bit of false equivocation between the polytheist groups Wildermuth mentioned, the New Right, and fascist ideology. Not only is this unhelpful, but repeating yourself when folks are blatantly telling you that you’re not communicating effectively is not accepting criticism, nor responding effectively to it. If this is what Wildermuth views as an acceptable response to criticism, it reads as doubling down on the rhetoric he has already employed, and pushing the Pagan and polytheist communities to this ‘reckoning’.
Here is one of the keys, though, where The Uncomfortable Mirror really makes me sit back.
Wildermuth freely admits that:
“Do I put my politics first? I don’t actually know what that means. Do I favor political ideology over what the gods say to me? Do I favor political action over spiritual activities? This is not a question I can answer, because in my world, they inform each other and are inextricably linked. My gods help me understand my relations to politics, and my politics helps me understand my relationship with my gods. There is no wall between them for me.”
So…wait. If a fascist said this exact same line wouldn’t he be criticizing them for hijacking polytheism in favor of the New Right? Why is Rhyd’s view of this suddenly preferential to a New Right view? He glosses right over this point and heads into the next one, but this bears some serious looking at.
Just because I may have some sympathies with Wildermuth’s views does not mean he is above reproach here. I believe polytheism needs to be open to all political viewpoints even if its individual communities are not. Polytheism and polytheist communities are two different things. He says that both Beckett and Krasskova admit “the possibility that political views might shape beliefs and practice.” Meaning, this shapes their beliefs of polytheism and their practice of polytheism. However, it does not change polytheism for polytheists as a whole. Polytheism is, and remains, the worship or belief in many Gods whatever the ideology, politics, etc. of the individual polytheist and/or polytheist communities they are involved in.
Being unable to differentiate whether or not you are putting your politics before your Gods, or that your politics are so intertwined with your Gods that they are inseparable is something he takes Galina to task for in the very next paragraph, and calls her out directly for. The problem with doing so, in my view, is that in the Confronting the New Right piece he blatantly says that “The New Right is difficult to define precisely, which has been one of their greatest strengths. But here are some core ideas that are common in most New Right thinkers”. He’s going to take someone to task for having ideas that align with people he does not agree with. He is critiquing a group of people for intertwining their politics with religion, while intertwining his politics with his religion. That he can actually point to Krasskova’s views and say “Look, these are New Right!” means that she and others are being open about their politics. It is also true that she is being open and forthright with where her religious views take her, including tribalism, hierarchy, eschewing to tradition, and caring for how these things unfold rather than her personal interests.
“Is there a leftist infiltration of Polytheism? And am I—and the writers of Gods&Radicals—leading it? Or did I, by gathering information about the New Right hold an uncomfortable mirror up to a tradition I am a part of? Have I violated sacred traditions, or merely revealed their political aspects?
While I and the writers of Gods&Radicals are quite open about our political views and how they relate to our practices and beliefs, it might be a good time for others to consider being more open about this, too.”
Rather than there being a leftist infiltration of polytheism, I see that this piece is a political litmus test that is being put on polytheism. So yes, in this sense, he and the writers of Gods & Radicals are leading this. He gathered information, poorly laid it out, and called a cracked surface a mirror. He did not violate sacred traditions, but spent a lot of digital ink on why those he is aligned with are superior to the communities he points out in his piece, that the New Right is a threat to polytheist communities and is, itself infiltrating polytheist groups while not actually effectively talking about why the New Right is the threat he makes them out to be.
A good chunk of the issue I had with Wildermuth’s Confronting the New Right had to do with the poor definitions I found in it. Not being inside left academia or thought, especially that of anarchism or Marxism, I found there were a lot of assumptions being made and nowhere near enough bread crumbs to find my way to where Wildermuth was making his assertions to begin with on the New Right.
The definition of fascism from OxfordDictionaries.com is: “An authoritarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government and social organization.” Authoritarian is defined as “Favouring or enforcing strict obedience to authority at the expense of personal freedom”. Nationalistic is defined as: “Having strong patriotic feelings, especially a belief in the superiority of one’s own country over others”.
One of many problems with Wildermuth’s piece is that what he is pointing out here has less to do with these definitions and more to do with the general use of the term, as pointed out in the same source: “(In general use) extreme right-wing, authoritarian, or intolerant views or practices: this is yet another example of health fascism in action”. He also does not provide context nor definition for what traditionalism is, nor tribalism, nor does he provide much else in terms of context or definition for the other terms.
The problem is not that Wildermuth is pointing out that the New Right is seeking inroads into Pagan religions, polytheist religions, and the like, but that he provides little-to-no-context within this post for it, nor does he provide any effective means of sussing out the working definitions he has here before diving into what the New Right stands for. A large part of the dismay and anger has erupted directly from this in both articles, and the section titled ‘What is the New Right’s Influence on Paganism?’ in Confronting the New Right.
If the New Right is difficult to define, how much harder will it be for those who are not in leftist, Marxist, or other political groupings to understand where he is coming from? Read from the outside looking in, much of what he has written in Confronting the New Right does not read like an effective guide, so much a document meant to damn certain ways of doing things while providing a few sentences to the notion of everyone being free to go their own way.
Wildermuth says in regards to the Red Scare and witch trials that, “In both cases, there was a political agency obscured by the hysteria and scapegoating. The Red Scare significantly reduced the influence of leftist critique in the United States at the same time that it strengthened the power of Capitalists and the State against workers.”
I wonder if he understand that by adopting a lot of these stances and putting political litmus tests like these on polytheism in the manner he has done, he is actually playing in the us vs. them politics of left vs. right, and is slowly eroding support, even from those on the left. Even if he is actively resisting putting political litmus tests on polytheism, that folks cannot see that, and in fact are seeing the opposite is a problem.
Then I read this:
“Paganism in general—and apparently Devotional and Reconstructionist Polytheism in particular—have been long overdue for a reckoning.” [Emphasis mine.]
Whoa what? Apparently to whom? What kind of reckoning?
I first came across this point in detail when I read The Lettuce Man’s A Thought on the Recent Radical Brouhaha, and it’s gnawed at me since I read it. It still does. Were the right to use this rhetoric would there not be worry -with reason? Why not so with the left?
By what right or direction does Wildermuth make this judgment call to bring polytheists to a reckoning, and who is he to make it?
This statement on dialogue is absolutely chilling, and it’s implications are of deep concern. This is from someone who identifies as a bard, and bards, like skalds, wield words with spiritual impact and power. A reckoning is “the action or process of calculating or estimating something” and “the avenging or punishing of past mistakes or misdeeds”. The use of his words here most definitely point at the latter definition than the former. So, in what way would Wildermuth avenge the ‘apparent’ lacks he sees within their communities? Who or what he is avenging? If not avenging, how will he, or anyone who takes him up in this regard, judge these communities, and mete out punishment? How could he not expect resistance to this overstep?
Wildermuth goes on to say: “Tribalism, Sacred Kingship, Traditionalism, natural hierarchies (specifically, ‘warrior/priest/cultivator’), and anti-egalitarian notions are all crucial aspects of New Right ideology”.
Again, he does not define these things. He does not give clear, useful definitions of what these mean to New Right ideology. Rather, he asks the rhetorical question “What is really the difference between the Fascism of Augustus Sol Invictus, or New Right ideology of Stephen McNallen and Alain de Benoist, and the rest of polytheist belief?” and then launches into the aforementioned quote. He links these ideas, and those of us who hold some or many of these ideas together, giving no context. It’s a good rhetorical move, but it does not do anything to bring in trust from those of us sitting giving the side-eye to this whole thing.
For a long time I have identified as left in America because of my belief in and understanding of human rights, my view of the role of government, and how people should be left alone to live their lives with full rights and choice available to them regardless of ethnicity, skin color, creed, gender identity, sexuality, etc. Increasingly, especially with works like this, I am wondering if there is a place for folks like me. I am feeling alienated more and more by the political system, and then the activists for folks on both ends of the spectrum. I am feeling more and more ‘cut loose’, as perhaps the best term for where I am right now, because of the things unfolding as they have been.
The left/right divide is increasingly becoming a point of contention without much of a point for me. At this juncture, I am caring less and less where you are in the political divide, and caring more about “Are you effective at helping us overcome obstacles in our communities?” This does not mean I’ll just open my arms up to fascists, racists, or the like, but, at least in American politics, I am only 30 and getting pretty quickly burnt out on this bullshit. I have a limited amount of time in my life that I am not devoting to a job (now two), raising my family, or helping my tribal religious community, and other religious communities to which I am bound. If I cannot see a political ideology actively contributing to my family, my tribe, or my larger communities I do not have a lot of time or energy left to engage it.
Going back to the quote, I want to dig into some other issues I had with it:
“Tribalism, Sacred Kingship, Traditionalism, natural hierarchies (specifically, ‘warrior/priest/cultivator’), and anti-egalitarian notions are all crucial aspects of New Right ideology”
Tribalism is “The state or fact of being organized in a tribe or tribes.” A tribe is “A social division in a traditional society consisting of families or communities linked by social, economic, religious, or blood ties, with a common culture and dialect, typically having a recognized leader”. Sacred kingship is an active factor in many polytheist religions, including mine, and many of our Gods are, Themselves, sovereigns in Their own rights. Traditionalism is “The upholding or maintenance of tradition, especially so as to resist change.” I’ve already said my piece elsewhere in my writing (such as here and here) on why I find hierarchy useful and good to uphold, and not so with egalitarianism as an organizational tool while still believing in equal rights and protections for people.
Tribalism, sacred kingship, traditionalism, and hierarchy are all, in some way, part of the polytheist religion I am part of.
Why would I let these go at all?
Wildermuth asks this:
“There are some deeply difficult questions that we need to ask. Do the gods want us to return to ‘tribal’ societies, do the gods demand we war against Muslims and Atheists and Leftists, do the gods demand we institute strict hierarchies and authority-relationships between priests and the rest of us?”
First, these are all separate questions. I think that for some of us returning to a tribal society is precisely what the Gods want us to do, while this is not what the Gods want for others. Since I’m not the Gods I’m not going to guess Their minds on this, and I trust Their worshippers have the sense or ability to figure out Their views on this on their own, and make their own choice in response.
Placing this together with “do the gods demand we war against Muslims and Atheists and Leftists” is not a good rhetorical trick, since returning to a tribal society has nothing to do with warring on Muslims and Atheists and Leftists. It does not follow that returning to a tribal society means we’ll be making war on Muslims, Atheists, Leftists, or our other neighbors.
For the last question “do the gods demand we institute strict hierarchies and authority-relationships between priests and the rest of us?” the answer, for at least some of us, is yes.
That ‘rest of us’ though, who the priests serve, is pretty key, and pretending that a priest of one religion serves everyone is foolish at best. Catholics have strict hierarchies and authority-relationships between laity and the priests, and between the priests and those of the ecclesiastical authority. They enter into these relationships with Catholics and sometimes other Christians. They do not serve me specifically as a Catholic because I am not one. They cannot institute that strict hierarchy on me.
I have no desire to institute the hierarchy of my religion on folks unwilling to take part in them. If you do not want to have a strict hierarchy in your religion then don’t belong to one that has one. If you do not believe there should be authority-relationships between priests and the communities they serve, well, I’m not sure what kind of priests you want, but good luck to you. You’ll probably not be served by me, then, because if you’re coming to me as a priest of Odin asking for my help, say, in what to give Him an offering and then completely discount what I have to say, there’s not much incentive for me to keep helping you.
The very last bit Rhyd leaves us with though, bears some looking at:
“And did those gods happen to notice those are the same ideas of the New Right?”
If They did….do They give that big of a damn? Perhaps it is about what ideas work rather than where they are politically aligned. Maybe They prefer the New Right vs. the Left, or vice versa, and you need to consider your allegiances here.
“Perhaps some gods do want that, but that leads us to another question:
Do we want that?”
Well, that really depends on how we view things then, doesn’t it? What matters the most, as polytheists, to us? Our ideology and politics, or our relationships with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir? At some point, we will have to decide which view is most important: our own, or that of our Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir. I would say that if you do not want what the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir you are dedicated to want, then it is you that needs to adjust your thinking.
Are there people I disagree with religiously and/or politically that I still venerate? Hell yes. For instance, the Catholics in my family who hold onto Their religion beyond death and still keep up a relationship with me. I have no interest in converting, but if saying the Psalms makes Them happy and is taken in the respect it is meant, as an act of offering and service to Them, then I will do so. It is not about my personal comfort here, because my personal comfort here would probably be to offer Them water, mead, or some other form of food, and praise Them in the religious manner I am most comfortable with. This gets into host and guest, Gebo and similar kinds of considerations, though. Do I do what I am most aligned with personally, or what I ought to do as a good host in my religion in relation to my Ancestors?
How we answer these questions determines whether we are acting out of our own interests, or actually engaging with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir on Their terms and in respect with Them. It determines how we live our polytheist lives, how we pass on our ways to the next generation, and what place these things take in our lives individually and communally, in our lives and intergenerationally. The answers to these questions determines the kinds of communities we will build and maintain so that future generations do not have to take on the struggles we did. It determines what we leave to those that follow after us.
I owe a special thank you to Sannion for talking with me on these matters, for hosting a discussion on this via the Bacchic Chat, and for providing an excellent sounding board and helping me to dig into different aspects of David Bowie’s music and other personas besides Blackstar that I had not encountered before.
I think it is interesting that I feel more comfortable saying Blackstar than I do David Bowie in regards to my feelings on him and understanding of him. Especially since David Bowie’s recent passing. I am still putting together my thoughts and feelings on all of this, but something I decided right after hearing of his death, is that I will be extending the same courtesy to David Bowie that I would to any of my Ancestors, or Dead I would worship, venerate, or pay homage to:
Wait a full year before putting Them on the Ancestors’ altar. This gives Them time to acclimate, gives Them time to get through the journey They may need to do in the afterlife(ves) that They may be going through. Doing so for him would be respectful and give him time to settle in, get the lay of the land, and so on.
I did not, and will never know David Bowie. Given how private he was, I would be surprised if all but the closest of family members and friends actually knew him.
Broken lines run through many animist and polytheist religions. In some places, those lines are fairly stark. In others, the division between what was and where we are is sometimes bridged by practices and beliefs based in the old ways. At least for Americans, most of us are completely divorced from even the lived folk ways and folklore that remained with pir Ancestors due to successive generations assimilating, by force or choice, into monotheist and then US culture. We lost connections to where our Ancestors came from, their language, and their ways along with it.
I was never taught any folklore or folkways from Germany, England, Ireland from our family. No songs, no stories, no practices, and only a few recipes collected from family members. I was taught a smattering of German words. There was nothing left by the time I was being raised. I was raised a Catholic, which at least taught me virtues of regular prayer, piety, an appreciation of the Ancestors that came before me, and an appreciation of ritual. Still, by the time I was being raised every vestige of any animist or polytheist inkling had been wiped out of my family.
So, when I felt the call from my Gods, I did what anyone would do in this situation: I read about Them. As I read about Them and learned how to make offerings, and what kind of offerings specific Gods might like, I started to do prayers, to make offerings, and learned how to divine so I could better understand Them. I had to reforge links with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir through trial and error. Only after a few years of being a Northern Tradition and Heathen did I finally have an Elder to look up to, ask questions, and seek guidance from, and it dramatically changed my life. She had done the same in her own turn before me, and I benefited from that. There was so much I was able to grasp and explore because I had help in filtering things through a sift of experience, someone with the ability to separate ice cream from bullshit. It helped me to grow in the religion, and it helped me to better understand myself, the Holy Powers, and my place in things. While we are having to work with a broken lineage to our ancient, polytheist past, having Elders and co-religionists to rely on now helps to ease the burden of the journey.
I do not believe we would struggle as much in terms of basic dialogue, understanding, walking these paths, or learning about and from our Holy Powers if our lineages were still intact. What is facing many animist and polytheist religions now is how to navigate these lines of separation.
I see these as issues that directly relate to most polytheisms having broken lineages, and being actively addressed now:
- A basic lack of familiarity with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir of a given tradition. Not everyone needs to know every God or Goddess, but there are more than a few Gods who often get short shrift when, because of cosmological function, community function, or relationship with everyday life, They ought to be better known. For instance, Gerda.
- A basic lack of familiarity, understanding of, and engagement with religious protocol. Things like the implications of the guest/host relationship factor really big into polytheist religion, and it ought to have more of an impact on how we frame our relationships given how these ideas influenced and continue to influence, when they are known, the lives of those who engage in reciprocity and guest/host relations in a way that is respectful to both and upholding of reciprocity between them.
- A basic lack of familiarity with ritual purity. These don’t have to be elaborate. These can be simple things, like washing the hands and face before offerings, or taking a shower before holy day celebrations.
- A basic lack of piety. The very bedrock of how we engage with our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir need not be all bowed heads and uttering long prayers, though for some that may be the expectation and it is on the worshiper to fulfill it. A basic lack of piety means that even reverence at a shrine is not tended to. Things like the offering cups are cleaned on a regular basis, or you don’t just offer when you want something; you maintain a good relationship with a God, Ancestors, or vaettir. It would be like inviting Grandma over, not having cleaned or even prepared a meal for her after not seeing for a year to hit her up for cash.
- A basic lack of understanding core principles of a polytheist path, such as the aforementioned reciprocity, guest rights/host rights, where one’s place is cosmologically and in relationship with the Holy Powers.
There’s so much more, but on a baseline we would have these things taught to us and modeled for us as a matter of course as part of being in polytheist societies.
Since our Ancestors did not stay the course, whether by sword, torture, starvation, and/or their choice of conversion, we can only speculate so far as to what they would have done.
Reconstructing and reviving the animist/polytheist religions requires us to do what we can as we can to revive, reconstruct, and/or revitalize the religions and cultures we are engaged in with the help and/or direction of the Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir. Where there are unbridgeable gaps in knowledge, we ask Them to help us fill in the holes, to create a whole, healthy religion and spiritual understanding in which They are tightly wound. There are several factors worth thinking on in how we reconstruct, revitalize, and/or renew these religions. A good overview of this, written by Caer, and exploring the ideas of antiquity and modernity in the context of these conversations can be found here. One of the major factors being considered by a lot of folks is on modernity, and whether it is a help or hindrance to this. I am firmly of the view that modernity is a deep hindrance to understanding and embracing a polytheist worldview.
Looking at life and the world now, there is little room for my Gods. Where would I look for my Gods in modernity when so much of it is built on the bones of sacred places and their worshipers? Where would I look for my Ancestors ways’ in this world when the holy sites of the old countries these cultures hailed from (now often tourist attractions/traps) have to be fought for just so they aren’t paved over or removed? Where would I look in modernity for the vaettir when companies gleefully bulldoze 10,000 acres of old growth forest just for 100 years of unfettered limestone mining?
Modernity demands my silence in one hand and pretty looking shackles in the other. It promises to spare me from direct shackles that others bear on my behalf so that my computer can be built, the electricity runs, the Internet and all the various apparatus that keeps it afloat keep on running. It’s colonialism by other means, with all the ‘externalities’ bought and paid for with the blood, sweat, tears, misery, and lives of other people. Part of my work in service to the Gods is to sever that cycle when and wherever I can. Modernity is a poor substitute for a religious teacher.
Polytheist religion informed by ancient cultures which were based in Europe is not synonymous with modernity’s Eurocentrism. Rather than encourage such a mindset, if we were to pay close attention to our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, and live in better concert with Them, it would be quite a revolutionary act. It would discard the largely Eurocentric-based and upheld myth of evolution which placed Christianity, then later atheism or agnosticism at the top of the proverbial heap. It would discard the notion that animist, polytheist, and similar religions were backward, misguided, or that what was found within these religions was something better relegated to a bygone period.
Animist and polytheist religions generally embrace living with and within a world we inhabit with our Holy Powers, where their considerations are taken into account. To my mind this is part of piety and reciprocity. It is a powerful, subversive, and revolutionary thing to regard a stream, lake, piece of land, one’s home, or wherever one goes to be full of spirits, and potentially a home to the Gods and/or Ancestors in addition to the vaettir who call that place home, or ARE that place. It is no small thing to consider that the rights of such a place to be free from damage is part of the rights of the land itself as the land itself is a vaettr (spirit) and/or collection of vaettir (spirits), or it may Itself be a God or many Gods. It also demands that our religions live in the now, and not be ossified in the past, bound only to what the lore, or what archaeology can tell us. Most reconstructionists will tell you this is generally what happens in reconstruction anyhow. It’s a methodology for how to take in and work with information, rather than a religious model itself.
I had to tackle this head-on when I became a priest of Anubis. There was no temple structure. I was learning from someone outside Kemetic orders, traditions, etc., and all I had to go on was what they taught, and my ongoing spiritual work and communication with Anpu when they left my life. There’s a lot of reinventing the wheel that goes on in modern Pagan, animist and polytheist religions, at least in America, because infrastructure is so lacking, very often all we have are books to look to. If you are lucky enough to have a local community, you may have one or two folks somewhere in your wheelhouse who want to do ritual with you. If not, it’s a loner’s game.
What I do not mean to say is that infrastructure, hierarchy, etc. is the only way for polytheists to do things moving forward. Some folks simply don’t work well within such things, and that is fine. For others, belonging to a hierarchy is actually at odds with their path for religious reasons, such as a taboo, what role(s) they may serve within a community, etc.
For a lot of folks, though, there’s a deep desire to have functioning communities. Some people would like these with temples, structures, community events, festivals and celebrations, and so on. This requires some kind of hierarchy to organize and to keep going. At the very least if one is part of a polytheist religion where the heart of the culture stops and starts in the home, a hearth culture, someone needs to teach the other family members the religion, and/or help keep devotional work, offerings, and so on, on a regular basis. At the other end of the spectrum, a full-on temple could require things like dedicated temple staff who are the only ones to care for the icons of the Gods within an inner sanctum, with some staff dedicated either on a full-time, part time and/or volunteer basis to do maintenance and care for the temple. While more hearth culture forms of animism and polytheism may not require much in the way of financial support, more complex and elaborate forms like the temple complex example above, absolutely do.
Each animist and polytheist in each animist and polytheist religion will be affected by these choices, and it will affect how future generations receive and understand their religion and culture. In repairing our broken lines, we have to ask ourselves which lines we are able to repair now, which ways we accept may not be reparable, and what new lines we will make with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. How these broken lines are worked with, repaired, or made new will determine what religions future generations inherit, contribute to, and pass on, or whether future generations receive a grounding in the religions to begin with.
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.