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Thinking on Polytheism and Media

November 11, 2018 7 comments

I thought this would be a fun topic to explore as I’m working on finishing up the On Ritual Praxis series of posts.

So much of my thinking on media has been shaped by a key number of factors, including my own perspective as a polytheist, my consumption of and conversations around media with family and close friends throughout much of my life, the books Narrative Medicine and Coyote Medicine by Dr. Lewis Mehl-Madrona, and looking at various video bloggers such as Bob Chipman aka Moviebob or Lindsay Ellis on the role of media in modern life. I use the previous two video bloggers as jumping off points for a lot of thoughts on the very topic of this post because they give nuanced and comprehensive looks at the material they review, and both acknowledge biases they carry up front.

Media is a shared source of culture. It is the music, podcasts, and audio novels we listen to, the news, movies and shows we watch, the books, magazines, and papers we read, and so on. Rather than attach polytheism to an aesthetic, style, genre, etc, polytheist religions and their adherents embrace many Gods, and right along with this embraces many forms of media, and its attendant aesthetics and styles as well. Each kind of media we have the ability to engage with has the capacity to connect us, to enforce or renew our connections, to deepen our relationship with our polytheist religions, Holy Powers, and one another. It’s other edge is that it can do the opposite.

Right now my ears are filled with Flykt’s Forndom as I write on this phone. Much of my playlist is filled with works of similar music, including Wardruna, Heilung, Hagalaz’ Runedance, and Paleowolf. I lean to furs and leathers in my winter dress and t-shirts and shorts in the summer, usually with some kind of geek/nerd or religiously meanginful iconography on the shirts. Folk music and polytheist-oriented podcasts or Great Courses audibooks fill my ears most often. Among the shows I watch are the Marvel Netflix series, anime such as Princess Mononoke and Wolf’s Rain being among my favorites, and documentaries about history, religion, technology, and science. My wife recently turned me onto the English Heritage channel and the BBC series Tudor Monastery Farm on Youtube. I play video games as diverse as The Walking Dead, Civilization, Final Fantasy, and Battlefield. I am a long-time tabletop RPG player, DM, and storyteller.

Despite my various forms of engaging with modern media, as a polytheist I often find myself frustrated. Media’s modern incarnations are so often geared towards the marketing of lowest common denominator material that its overall contribution to the positive development of society has been, and will likely continue to be debated for a long time. Set that aside, and most of the media made is not made for polytheists and much of the media makes that quite clear up front. Modern media is part of culture, and any part of media has a hard time breaking away from the mindset in which it is based. Modern American media, as modern American culture, is so mired in a Protestant Christian mindset, arguably the most toxic elements of Calvinism and Puritanism being its largest holdovers, that it seeps into many space in which there are actual diversities of work taking place.

The last video game I remember playing in which a polytheist religion figured prominently in the plot was in Mass Effect 2, where one of the squad characters worships many Gods as a matter of course and his gods and relationship with them explored in a generally respectful manner. In many of the books that I read polytheism is simply part of the landscape, such as the Jim Butcher Dresden Files books, or American Gods. These two both come with their own caveats. In a funny twist Harry Dresden has interactions with many Gods, but in this he draws a distinction between his interactions with Them and with his friend, Michael Carpenter’s faith as a Catholic, in that Harry does not need to believe in these Gods. They just exist, and his jury is out on Carpenter’s Catholic God. Despite being surrounded by Gods, and in some cases having contractual relationships with different Gods and spirits, Dresden never commits to worshiping any. This is not a problem in and of itself, but Dresden never comments on any but a Native American medicine man/wizard character working with spirits in a relationship rather than transactional way. No one in the Dresden universe has ever to actually have been shown to worship Gods, despite how much They show up and have pull in many of the plotlines he is involved in.

American Gods subordinates the existence of Gods to living through Their worshipers. The central conceit of the story is that Gods are real and live, but their ability to live and affect reality is enabled through the minds of their worshipers, the memories their descendents carry, and through the offerings that the few who believe in Them give. Where Dresden is an agnostic, Shadow is wandering into a world full of Gods, both ancient and modern, blind. As an audience surrogate to start with, he is not bad. Gaiman could have done far, far worse. Shadow struggles with doubt and disbelief in ways familiar to many of us who worship Gods, and his path in the book is similar enough to how I began working with the Old Man that the first time I picked up the book my jaw dropped at some of the parallels.

As a polytheist my view is that both works suffer from positioning the Gods as real, but their worshipers as unreal or utterly absent. As neither Butcher or Gaiman seem to engage the Gods and Their worshipers as being real in their respective works the polytheist view is utterly lost to agnostic points of view embodied in Dresden and Shadow respectively. Are the Gods real in these works of fiction? The simple answer is “Yes”, and the more complicated answer is “Real in what sense?” Butcher’s Dresden universe seems to treat the Gods as real Beings with Their own motivations, some at loggerheads with each other and others in cooperation. His view of the Fae is that They have control and power over/with the forces of nature, and His view of Odin is that the Einherjar are real, and the Wild Hunt actually features in one of his books in a really cool way. The Gods do not lack agency, power, or ability to influence the world in his books. However, Butcher’s development of monotheist characters like Murphy or the Carpenter family without any development at any time of polytheist characers or families shows the operating mindset that Christianity and agnosticism are the default worldviews even with the massive amount of Gods and spirits sprawling through his books.

Gaiman does treat the Gods as real with Their own motivations, views, and conflicts. However, his central premise (Their existence relying on worship) robs Them of being understood in Their own terms. His New Gods, such as Media and Technical Boy, are counted as Gods as well, with sharp divides between Old and New, and the dynamics of these relationships are the lattice on which the plot is built. Yet, his treatment of America is that America is hostile to Gods, that They don’t really have a place here. The one time a Pagan is featured they do not recognize Ostara standing right in front of them, nor recognizes the meaning or impact of Her Day. Granted, when I read this part I grinned like a damn fool since I have heard almost the same thing come out of Pagans’ mouths word-for-word, so Gaiman’s strawperson here clearly isn’t built up out of whole cloth. However, at no point is there a contrast to this person, at no point is a worshiper who keeps good cultus brought forward.

For all that the Gods are treated as real in these stories, we polytheists are non-people in these stories. Despite this glaring flaw I do like American Gods and The Dresden Files quite a bit. It is unfortunate that both works have these flaws, not only because I enjoy these stories, but also that these two are front-runners of urban fantasy fiction. These two have set the tone for many of the urban fantasy series in existence now, with many taking far more liberties with the abilities of their various protagonists’ powers, and more liberties with the reality and abilities of the Gods. Where both Butcher and Gaiman in their works seem to have respect for the Gods even if both are agnostic in regards to Them, more urban fantasy fiction seems to use the Gods rather than have Them as part of the reality of the world their characters are in.

My issue is not with fantasy, urban or otherwise, but with the treatment of Gods as mere characters for plot advancement. It seems many authors do not think through the impact that having many Gods takes on a people, most egregious in fantasy settings. A basic example is a story with a forest God in it. If there is a God of the forest it should make an impact on how the local village would interact with the forest and its denizens, festivals, etc. If polytheism is the default for a fantasy world it should have impact on how characters think, act, fight, fuck, marry, work, worship, raise kids (if they do) and express themselves. Many forms of media, not just genres of writing, could use some healthy polytheist mindsets and attitudes not only in terms of worldbuilding, but focus of plot, worldview of characters, and so on.

This kind of critique carries into any creative media where writing or messaging is a key factor. I do not just want more representation in media of polytheism, I want good representations of polytheisms in media. Whether a work of fiction takes place in our world or another, media does impact how we are perceived and does impact how we ourselves can see ourselves. As the saying goes, “Representation matters.”

Yet, we also need to be careful of taking too much of ourselves from media. Most media is made to sell. That which isn’t are often labors of love, thankfully more being supported through platforms like Patreon, YouCaring, GoFundMe, and similar. To my mind these platforms are powerful ways polytheists can support one another without resorting to dumbing down our ways of thought or the messages we may be asked through our work to bring into the world. Certainly, Bob Chipman and Lindsey Ellis use Patreon as their primary source of income so they can do their work on Youtube. Jim and I’s first podcast, The Jaguar and the Owl, had its costs taken care of by our Patreon supporters.

If we support polytheists in their various ways of making media then our media has more reach and better ability to actually be done and make an impact. An artist will be able to fully commit to their art because they are able to focus on it. An artist only able to do their art part-time because they have bills to pay with a full-time job will have a harder time producing consistent quality work. If we want quality work, whether that is art whether digital or physical, leatherwork, woodwork, yarnwork, video, the written or spoken word, music, workshops, audiobooks, or podcasts, we need to support that work.

A starving artist is one concentrating on trying to get their next meal rather than writing their next book, painting their next painting, or knitting their next project. People suffer more than enough just with the work needed to get to making quality media. This attitude that suffering should accompany media is actively unhealthy and halting a great many people who could be putting themselves to working on something of quality.

It is not just the media we passively consume that we need to be mindful of. We also need to be aware of the stories we tell ourselves. When I play D&D, Shadowrun, or a White Wolf game, I run each setting as a polytheist with polytheist assumptions. As much as D&D has contributed to folks thinking about God purely in terms of functionality, i.e. this is a God of Healing, even D&D has gotten better over the years for expanding on and giving the gods of their worlds mythology for characters and players to dig into. A creator god of the elves in the Faerun setting, Correllion, has an active conflict with Gruumsh, the creator god of orcs. This plays out into gameplay, potentially between player characters (PCs) and certainly between PCs and non-player characters (NPCs). At least since the beginning of 3rd edition, gods in D&D have become more fleshed out. Granted, they are still boiled down in stat blocks, being “God of this” and “Domains for clerics are this” and “alignment is this”. For instance, in alignment Corellion and Gruumsh are chaotic good and chaotic evil respectively.

Being mindful of how we consume our media and how we portray gods through it, even fictional ones, can better portray what a powerful impact a polytheist mindset has on the denizens of a given world and in turn give better representation of a polytheist mindset and its impact to one’s players. What does this matter, though? Isn’t this just something we pass the time with? Sure, as with any media some of it can be mindless consumption, but what we are engaging with we are bringing. It does us good to think on the impact that such consumption and sharing media has on us. Roleplay especially is impactful because we are not passively engaged in someone else’s story. Truth be told, if we are actively reading we are not passively engaged in that, either. Humans roleplay and make stories all the time, so the stories we tell ourselves have impact. Far better we take in and engage with stories in which our voices are heard, understood, respected, and engaged with.

There’s a lot of intersection between polytheists and various media just looking at my own interests that I’ve written about here. Rather than keeping our Gods and our views to ourselves, I would see us expand the people our works touch. To this, I don’t mean boiling down our beliefs to something easily digestible to the lowest common denominator. I mean that whatever our creative interests or engagement with media we make conscious choices so our religions are part of them. Some of our views will be deeply challenging to dominant paradigms just on their own. Being polytheist in and of itself is transgressive because our identity is wrapped up with believing in and worshiping many Gods, Ancestors, and spirits.

I blog, I podcast, and on occasion I make music and Youtube videos. I recognize that for all the good I may do there I am, by and large, talking with my own people. Some media is just going to do that. There is nothing wrong with that. When it comes to developing and exploring ideas in/of/to our religions many of these conversations are only relevant when in dialogue with our fellow polytheists. Even so, I think polytheists could do with being more forthright in our exploration, engagement, and creation of media so that our religions, norms, communities, and we ourselves have more representation, say, and impact on the societies we live in.

There’s a few reasons for why I would like to see this happen. Practically, the polytheist communities are quite small compared to the American population. Yet, if folks can blow thousands of dollars on various media there is no reason I can see that we cannot or should not tap into that as well for our own purposes. Further, so long as we are not in control of our own messages others will be. Polytheists producing and disemminating our own media is part and parcel of wielding power and influence. We can change perspectives by actively engaging in the public spheres as polytheists. Engaging in this way can deepen dialogue, develop perspectives, and open channels of communication between our wider communities and with one another. Engaging with the wider sphere of our cultures through media of all kinds allows our views to be heard and allows for change to take place, great and small, whose course we help to directly influence.

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Theological Concepts, Language, and Means of Relation in Polytheism

March 18, 2016 16 comments

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.

ConVocation 2016

December 21, 2015 Leave a comment

Hey folks, I have been asked to do several presentations at this year’s ConVocation.   When I know which rooms I will be presenting in, I will update this blog post.  I am really, really excited for this year’s offerings that were picked.

For those who do not know, ConVocation is:

…a convention of the many mystical spiritual paths and faiths and the people that follow them who desire to teach each other and promote fellowship among all esoteric traditions.
Since 1995, this 4-day event has brought together over 100 classes and rituals presented by local instructors, internationally renowned guest speakers and authors. Along with workshops, ConVocation offers over 35 tables of merchandise in our Merchant Room, an Art Show and the largest indoor Drum Circle in the Midwest.
This year I will be putting on three workshops:

 

Acts of Devotion –  Thursday 8:30pm – 90 minutes

Description:In this workshop and discussion we will explore ways to honor our Gods, Ancestors, and spirits. These ways can be small, such as daily prayer, offerings, everyday mindfulness, and keeping ourselves healthy and engaged in the world, to more intense ways such as learning crafts, writing books, engaging in activism, spiritual work, and making temples. Bring your own experiences to share.

Polytheism 101 –  Friday 4:00pm – 90 minutes

Description:This lecture/discussion will dig into the basics of what polytheism means, and how it is lived. We will be exploring how we can use literary and archaeological resources as springboards and foundations to polytheist traditions. We will also explore what the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits are, how we relate to Them as polytheists, and how to engage Them with respect.

Encountering the Runes –  Sunday 12:00pm – 90 minutes

Description:The Runes are often looked at as simply a divination tool. This workshop is about approaching the Runes as spirits in and of themselves. The workshop explores what the lore can tell us about Them, to how to interact with Them, to appropriate offerings and communication, and will delve into deeper aspects of Runework from a spirit-based approach.

Orthopraxy Requires Orthodoxy

November 9, 2015 8 comments

An idea that I see occurring again and again in Pagan dialogue, and increasingly in polytheist dialogue, is the idea of ‘orthopraxy not orthodoxy’.

Before I go too much further, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, orthopraxy is:

“Rightness of action (as distinct from or in addition to rightness of thought); right-doing, practical righteousness; correct practice.”

While the the Oxford English Dictionary defines orthodoxy as:

Authorized or generally accepted theory, doctrine, or practice

My main issue is that I see that orthopraxy stems from orthodoxy, not the other way around. Right action stems from right thought.  One requires the other, as right thought without right action is impotent, but right action is unattainable without right thought.  Right action and right thought are philosophical terms, and there are several interpretations from theological and philosophical schools as to their meaning.  I understand right action as being aligned with right thought, that is, correct actions flow from correct thoughts.  In the case of the Gods, respect for the Gods in ritual flows from respect from the Gods in thought.  The reverse is also true.  Making an offering to a God if you disrespect that God while doing so is itself a form of disrespect.

In theological terms, this means that within polytheism, an orthodox position is that the Gods are real and that They are due worship.  Orthopraxy that flows from this position, then, would be to treat the Gods with respect, and to do things that are worshipful, such as pray or make offerings.  In the Northern Tradition/Heathenry I would be required to make prayers and a certain offering, such as mugwort, to a Sacred Fire.  This is personal orthopraxy which flows from the orthodoxy I have just described.

This is not to say that I want to impose my beliefs on the whole of polytheism, but that polytheism as a whole does actually hold orthodox beliefs from which orthopraxy arises even if those beliefs are incredibly loosely defined. In other words, orthodoxy’s details differ polytheist religion to polytheist religion, but two polytheisms in comparison will have orthodoxies which are similar in general, i.e. the Gods are real, the Gods are holy/sacred, the Gods are due offerings, etc.

Without the orthodoxy of the Gods being real, holy, and due offerings, the orthopraxy of offering to Them in or out of ritual makes not a lick of sense. Polytheists who have adopted the ‘orthopraxic not orthodoxic’ line in the extreme give up the understanding that there are things which polytheists need to believe in order to be polytheist. I’m not even getting into religious specifics here. There’s no need; a Kemetic orthodoxic understanding of the Gods would be different, at the least in detail if not in many overarching senses, than my own as a Northern Tradition Pagan and Heathen.

But why am I emphasizing orthodoxy here?  It would seem I am advocating a return to a cage, one I ostensibly flew out of when I left Catholicism.  Such an idea, though, leaves orthodoxy, as well as orthopraxy, and much of religious thought that flows from them, in the realm of monotheism.  I see no reason for this to be, especially when many polytheist religions have quite a lot to say about these things, and exploring these things, rather than being purely divisive, can actually bring our communities together from within.  I do not expect a Kemetic follower to hold, much less entertain my religion’s orthodoxy any more than I would hold theirs, excepting cases where I am interacting with and worshiping Gods from their religion.

This openness to orthodoxy, though, does not mean that I accept others’ orthodoxy wholesale or even in part anymore than they need to accept mine.  Disagreements over orthodoxy and orthopraxy are, to my mind, normal, and best navigated by dialogue both between people and, especially, between people and the Gods.  Heck, my disagreement over orthopraxy or orthodoxy within my religion has little to no input on a Kemetic’s, for instance.  It’s a different story if folks outside of our religions are saying to polytheists that we need to be orthopraxic, not orthodoxic, or vice versa.  It’s one thing if we adopt these stances ourselves, and it’s a whole other when this is put on us.  Granted, I’d rather not see polytheism swing the pendulum hard toward orthopraxy and away from orthodoxy, since I don’t see them as binaries.  Rather, I see them more as complementary sides of the same coin.

Adopting orthodox positions does not mean that we’ll suddenly *poof* turn into fundamentalist Christians today, tomorrow, or a thousand years from now.  It does not mean that we’ll suddenly adopt a theocracy from which there is no escape.  It does not mean that pluralism will disappear, either.  Plenty of historical examples exist as testaments to that.  Most polytheist religions have the understanding that there are, in addition to being quite large Gods, cosmologically speaking, many of these Gods may be understood in a local way, that is, through a particular orthodoxy on the local level.  I remember reading an article by Sannion quite a while ago referencing different Dionysian temples with different understandings of Him, different requirements for ritual purity (some very exacting if memory serves) and offerings which were well-received for one but not the other.

A firmer adoption of orthodoxy and orthopraxy does not mean we fall into one-true-wayism.  We are  a whole collection of religions, religious movements and the like between the Pagan, polytheist, and interconnected communities.  I find such a thing, given the diversity of beliefs within the polytheist religions themselves, to be nearly impossible.  Polytheism’s main stance precludes there being only one way of doing things.  I imagine the same of most Pagan groups.

There are places where I do accept a stance that puts more weight toward orthopraxy.  For instance, when I attend a ritual for the first time, I do things in an orthopraxic way, as I probably don’t have the information or the headspace for doing things in an orthodoxic way.  When I went to the Backeion at Many Gods West, I was there worshiping and praising Dionysus, reciting the prayers and making my own when I felt the call to.  What I did not do was fully adopt the Greek, Hellenic, or Thracian mindsets in regards to Him.  How could I?  I had not studied them much, had not been intitiated into the Dionysian Mysteries, and this had been the first ritual in a very long time where I had been in His Presence.  There are just some rituals I will attend where I will be an outsider to the tradition or the religion.  So long as doing so would not breach hospitality or taboo(s) on mine or the host’s parts, it’s really up to the Gods, the Ancestors, the spirits, the tradition(s), and the celebrants/ritualists whether or not it is taboo for me to attend the rite.

It seems to me much of the issue people take with the words orthodoxy and orthopraxy is in two parts:  the first is an emotional reaction to the words themselves, and the second part is in the feeling that orthodoxy and orthopraxy impose themselves rather than are a natural outgrowth of religious understanding and expression.  Words sacred and holy, those have emotional weight to them, and where sacred or holy may have positive ones, at least for those coming out of monotheist religions, orthodoxy can have some heavy negative weight to it. Even in everyday speech, orthodoxy has acquired heavy baggage of being out of touch, wrong-headed, stubborn in the face of scientific evidence, or someone whose outlook refuses to change.

With many Pagans converting from or descendants of converts from monotheist or atheist homes, it’s no wonder some have taken a heavy stance against orthodoxy.  I hear the refrain “I left (insert church, group, etc.) here to get away from dogma” and “I left (name) so I could follow my own path” often enough that I think these ideas need addressing as well.

Regardless of where one goes, if one is part of a religion there are orthodoxies, or dogmas, that are part of it.  If there are no orthodoxies or dogmas, there is no religion.  If you left a monotheist religion to avoid orthodoxy, you may as well quit religion altogether.  Non-theist religions have orthodoxy and dogma in their own measures; it is one of the defining characteristics of religion.  Religion is the bone upon which the sinew-connections of religious communities are made, and the flesh of spirituality is given form by.

Even in following one’s own path, there are often unspoken orthodoxies and orthopraxies that play into how we frame and understand our place in things, and the experiences we go through.  If one starts as a Catholic, and begins exploring outside of Catholicism, as I did, Catholicism is the initial benchmark against which all things are weighed until the benchmark outgrows its usefulness or is actively cast aside.  This helps to shape what experiences we may integrate, discount, or accept outright.  The coloring of our lenses by our worldview(s) shapes how we come to explore a new path.  Even if we, somehow, started from a totally fresh slate and began spiritual exploration, the people we might look to for guidance, physically, online, and/or in a book, and their associated orthodoxies, orthopraxies, etc. would impact our own.

This brings us to a phrase that makes me grit my teeth every time I hear it: “I’m spiritual, but not religious”.

I get the intention of this, generally speaking, but as a phrase it is wrong.  As I wrote earlier, “Religion is the bone upon which the sinew-connections of religious communities are made, and the flesh of spirituality is given form by.”  Spirituality cannot be without religion of some kind, even if one doesn’t have a name for it or doesn’t care to put it into a given identity.  Orthodoxy gives shape to orthopraxy as religion gives shape to spirituality.  Spirituality requires religion.  Orthopraxy requires orthodoxy.

This is not a one-time thing, though.  Orthodoxy and orthopraxy exist in a continuous, reciprocal relationship.  They feed one another, grow together.  Without one the other falls apart.  The orthodoxy of a given polytheist religion feeds the orthopraxy of that religion.  The practices of polytheism reinforces the thought and worldview that go into why we do what we do in the first place.  It goes on, hand in hand between ourselves and the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir.  If the reciprocity, the Gebo of this is kept well, this reciprocity goes on, hand-in-hand between ourselves, the Holy Powers, and the future generations of animists, polytheists, and Pagans.  By passing this on in a healthy way we ensure our communities and their relationships with the Holy Powers flourish.

Here are sources I consulted in exploring this:

Terms In and Types of Ethical Theory

Ethics: An Online Textbook, Chapter 9: Kantian Theory

The Basics of Philosophy: Ethics

The Basics of Philosophy: Deontology

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

Flaws, Perfections, and the Gods

June 16, 2015 27 comments

Something has been on my mind since reading these two posts, The Bane of Casual Irreverence by Galina Krasskova, and Respecting Flawed Gods by EmberVoices.

I’m not going to be going deep into the details of the posts, because I agree with both of them that the women that Galina writes about in her post were out of line.

I want to explore the ideas of flaws and perfection in our Gods.

The idea of perfection is one I have not found in any of my research of, or journeys with the Gods I worship as a polytheist.  The very assumption of perfection is that there are flaws or defects that can be gotten rid of, and accordingly, that the ridding oneself, or a being rid of these flaws or defects, is perfection.  The Gods I worship cannot possess perfection or be perfect because They do not have flaws, per se.

Does that mean that Odin is not an opportunistic power-hungry God?  Of course not, but then, that is not an imperfection.  That is part of Who He is.  The Gods are Beings whole in and of Themselves.  Thor being disposed to anger is not a flaw, but it is something to be aware of. The same with Odin’s ruthlessness. It’s not a flaw, it’s a part of Him, and  something a worshiper should know about.  Our Gods aren’t perfect, and flaw is too judgmental. I am still trying to find a different word or set of words that gets the notion across.

The idea of perfection does not sit with the my understanding of Gods because the idea of perfection is that there is that next step ‘beyond’, where supposed flaws and blemishes disappear.  Often that idea of perfection leads right into reductionist, monotheist, and/or monist ideas.  Perfection, especially in American society, is often seen as an indivisible One.  This reductionist model of one-as-perfect introduces problems, i.e. The Problem of Evil, which must be grappled with.  If a thing or Being is perfect, then is it good?  If it is not by goodness that we may know perfection, by what measure may we call a thing or Being perfect?  If a thing or Being is perfect, is it not evil?  Why?

Polytheism and animism have no need for such a concept as perfection.  This idea of perfection separates the Gods from us. It kills our ability to relate to Them.  How can I relate to something perfect?  How can I possibly contribute to a relationship with a Being that is perfect?  With a perfect Being, not only would the idea of a relationship make no sense, it would also be meaningless.  I have to be able to relate to a Being to have a relationship with It.

The idea of perfection also separates our sense of Self from us-as-we-are.  The notion that there is some ‘perfect self’ out there potentially divorces us from having to own our shit or do the hard work.  It makes our Selves caricatures, unchanging, remote, and allows cliches to set in, rather than lived experience informing who and what we are.

With the notion of perfection, especially because, as mentioned earlier, the dominant theme of perfection is the indivisible One, the need for a differentiated cosmology would disappear as well.  That is, if a Being is perfect in and of Themselves, there is no need for a description of how They came to be. They are.  I originally wrote ‘if a God/dess is perfect in and of Themselves’, but as I stated above, I do not believe this is the case, and so, the Being in question would have to be other than a God or Goddess.  There can be no origin, nor can there be an end with a perfect Being, because if such a Being is indeed perfect, They are perfect within and without Themselves.  In such an ontology it is questionable if there is anything ‘outside’ of Them, or within Them in the bargain.  If we are within such a Being’s body then the questions surrounding the nature of suffering takes a cruel twist: the assumption of perfection on the part of the Being means, then, that suffering is an indication of being out of step with this perfection, this Being, or worse, that such suffering is in step with such a Being.

We could take such ‘large’, that is, cosmically large Gods, such as Ptah and They would not fall within this purview of Being as described above.  Ptah exists within a cosmology and so far as I have understood, nowhere is He claimed to be perfect.  A creator need not be perfect.  Ptah is looked upon as an architect and a sculptor, and while His work is powerful, beautiful, and impressive, perfection is nothing I have seen evidenced in His creation myths.

If we reject the idea of perfection and the ideas that flow from the concept, then, we must come to our Gods with the understanding that They are not perfect.  If we reject this, then the ideas of omniscience, omnipotence, and omnibenevolence also fall away as things that can be assumed.  If the Gods are indeed Gods and we are going to develop relationships with Them, it is on us to accept Them as They are.  If we cannot bring ourselves to worship a God in the manner They require it is not the God’s fault.

Am I blaming or faulting the polytheist, then?  No, actually.  Polytheism is the worship of many Gods, not all of Them.  Some people simply should not worship certain Gods.  For instance, I enjoy meat far too much to dedicate myself to Gods for whom such a thing is taboo.  That taboo is not a flaw on the Gods’ part.  Indeed, the flaw would be mine were I to attempt to worship Them and not honor that taboo.

In rejecting perfection I do not wish to assume that we then can judge the Gods.  That seems to me to an open invitation to hubris.  Rather, In rejecting perfection I believe it is an open invitation to come to understand our Gods more fully. It is an invitation to interact with Them, to learn from Them, and to understand Them in the capacities that we can.  It is also accepting the imperfections, that there are places where the Gods may be utterly incongruous with our lives.  Loki is often looked at as one of the exemplars of this, a bringer of chaos into one’s life.  I think that asking “Why?” and exploring why a given God, Goddess, Ancestor, or vaettir may be so is a worthwhile endeavor, one that can bring deeper meaning to our lives, and depth of understanding and relations with these Gods.  Rather than avoiding these areas, it may be fruitful to seek Them out, and why aspects of the Gods, Their stories, Their interactions with us rub us so wrong, or are so incongruous, and how we may grow to accept these parts of Them.  If we cannot, it would be equally important to explore why this is.

A God or Goddess asking or demanding for something we are unable to deliver is not a flaw.  That is part and parcel of negotiating with our Gods, if indeed such things can be negotiated.  In my own case, the Gods have asked and demanded things of me I was unable to deliver to impart a lesson, for instance, that I needed to learn to negotiate, or that I needed to learn to ask for help.  In other cases there are taboos that are part and parcel of worshiping a God that one sticks to if the worship is to be undertaken.  Far better to not worship than to do so in violation of taboos.  Far better to not offer at all than to offer a sacrifice that would be offensive to the Gods.

When we dispense with notions of perfection we can come to see our Gods far better for what They are, and Who They are.  Discarding perfection also frees us of the burden of being ‘perfect worshipers’, and frames things as relational rather than static requirements.  It also allows for the Gods to change; if They cannot be frozen in some ‘ideal’ state, neither can Their relationships with us.

ConVocation 2015

January 27, 2015 Leave a comment

I am happy to be presenting at ConVocation again.

For those who do not know, ConVocation is:

…a convention of the many mystical spiritual paths and faiths and the people that follow them who desire to teach each other and promote fellowship among all esoteric traditions.
Since 1995, this 4-day event has brought together over 100 classes and rituals presented by local instructors, internationally renowned guest speakers and authors. Along with workshops, ConVocation offers over 35 tables of merchandise in our Merchant Room, an Art Show and the largest indoor Drum Circle in the Midwest.
I will be part of two different workshops this year.  The first will be Thursday at 8:30pm in the Greenfield Room.
The Runes are often looked at as simply a divination tool. This workshop is about approaching the Runes as spirits in and of themselves. The workshop explores what the lore can tell us about Them, to how to interact with Them, to appropriate offerings and communication, and will delve into deeper aspects of Runework from a spirit-based approach.
The second will be Sunday at noon in the Greenfield Room as well:
This panel will explore what each member’s path is, and how each member carries their traditions forward.
My fellow panelists are:
Eli Sheva
Eli Sheva is from the Upper Galilee, served in her country’s Security Forces, retired, ran an international business, retired; and now is a psychotherapist and organizational consultant in private practice. She is elected leader of Am Ha Aretz (Primitive Hebrew Assembly) an Israeli Earth/Nature Tradition of Peaceful Warriors. Her academic background includes archeology studies in Tel Aviv. PrimitiveHebrews.org
Kenn Day
Kenn Day is a professional Shaman, Author and Teacher, with over 30 years of experience. He offers healing sessions in person at his Cincinnati practice and remotely, and in-depth training in the Post-Tribal Shamanic teachings. He is the founder of the Sheya tradition and Post-Tribal Shamanism and was the managing editor of Mezlim Journal.
Joy Wedmedyk
Joy Wedmedyk (Iyalocha Omi Lasa) has studied Shamanism, Mediumship, Divination, and Symbolism for over 40 years. Initiated in Regla de Ocha (a Diaspora tradition called Santeria), Native American and African Shamanic traditions, she is an accomplished Medium and Shamanic practitioner, offering healing and guidance to others through these Ancient Healing Traditions. Contributing Author for “Walking the Path of the Ancient Ways” by Nocturnium
So there you go, folks.  Come on out and see me, and my fellow presenters at Con.  It’s a great way to get to know folks outside of our online profiles, blogs, and posts.
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