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Responding to The Spirits, Networks, and Emergence Part 1

April 28, 2017 3 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Responding to The Spirits, Networks, and Emergence Part 3

April 28, 2017 Leave a comment

One of the joys of having Nick as a friend is that his writing and his thoughts push me, myself, to think on how I view things and how I relate to things.  As I am a polytheist, and being a polytheist also an animist, I think that there is a lot that we share in worldview and the consequences of our beliefs, even if we phrase them different or some of the minutae of our worldviews differ.

Still, as an animist there is definitely a spiritual component to all the work that I do. I do think I have a spirit, a life essence, a life force; if you will. But I don’t think that my spirit is at all separate from my body. In some cosmologies, the spirit is not one piece, but a whole collection of different “spirits” in one body.

What he refers to here as ‘my spirit’ I may think of as the lich, huge, munr, and ond, along with a few other soul parts depending on the context, such as hame and hamingja.    

I take a similar view; but on a much more biological scale. My body is the collective of countless numbers of individual cells, individual spiritual persons.

I find this an interesting concept, because if this is the case there is a unification of purpose and order to the internal ‘universe’ of spirits that inhabit the body.  It also has implications for my worship of Mitochondrial Eve and Chromosomal Adam as Ancestors.  If I recognize these two as Ancestors, then it is not much of a stretch to say that my cells are each spirits in and of themselves.  I take it to mean that, in this context, that Nick is not saying that each of these cell-spirits are determinative of their own form and function on their own, but exist in a rather more restricted space than I, both in terms of their field of choices for existence, and sentience.  This does not strip them of being spirits at all; rather, that they/we are collectively ‘aimed’ towards a purpose. In the case of red blood cells, circulating oxygen so the larger spirit-driven flesh-vehicle can keep on living, and fulfill its own set of needs and influences on the world at large.  In the case of white blood cells, these spirit-driven little bits of me/us fight off infection for the same reason.  

 Together, they make something much greater than the sum of the parts. (We will come back to this later in this piece.) Yet there is something in there, a sum collective of all my energies and processes that is distinctly me. My body and my spirit are so deeply integrated and networked, that it’s not always clear where one ends and the other begins.

Yet, we have differentiation from Sarenth’s cells and Sarenth the person, and I think this is something to take note of.  I don’t necessarily think that Nick loses that point here, mind, I just want to be sure we do not mistake trees for forest.  My cells are prerequisites for the functions of my body, as are the networks of relationship between various cells, organs, etc.  Yet, in the Northern Tradition and Heathenry, I am not my heart metaphysically or physically.  My heart is a part of me.  I think that, though Sarenth’s cells and Sarenth the person overlap in the Venn diagram here, there is clear demarkation that I am not my cells, but rather, that my cells are my own and distinct from Nick’s cells and Nick’s person.  

Part of the reason I spent Part 1 of these posts exploring and taking apart Gleiser’s post, ‘Is Neuroscience Rediscovering the Soul?‘, is because I disagree with science communities or scientific writing taking over theological definitions when there is little-to-no reason to.  If we are describing the soul, let us describe the soul. If we are describing the mind, let us describe the mind.  Let us differentiate our language clearly, not because these realms never overlap, but so that we can be clear when they do, without muddying the specialized language and understanding of both.

Reading that made my skin crawl in a rather wonderful way. I especially love the bit where he says “For the mind is embodied, the self not an isolated property of what’s inside your cranium, but an emergent property of your whole mind-body integration…”

Meanwhile reading it made my skin crawl in a rather uncomfortable way, for reasons I described previous.  Now, the idea of the mind being embodied and the self not being an isolated property but an emergent one of the mind-body integration is essentially taken as a given in the Northern Tradition and Heathenry.  Of course identity comes out of one’s selfhood as in the godhi/gydhja, Ancestry, one’s spiritual communities, one’s actions within one’s community.  The NT and Heathen religions assume an interconnectedness as part and parcel of existence, whether it is how our huge and munr develop.  Our sense of self develops out of our various Soul Matrix parts into who we are in this incarnation.  The lich lends itself to the mind-body connection as firmly as the more ephemeral Soul Matrix parts do.

The thing I refer to as my “self” is really more of a collective of individuals than a single being. All the trillions of cells in my brain and body working in conjunction across masses of networks. That is my body as well as my soul. The Norse concept of hugr, a form of the spiritual “self” is a rather nice fit here. The hugr is considered to be the sum total of the mental life of an individual, and that is exactly what I think Gleiser is talking about.

This is where Nick starts to lose me, and I acknowledge this could simply be a matter of phrasing.  I understand the lich and huge or hugr as parts of the Soul Matrix, that ‘the soul’ as a whole in the Northern Tradition and Heathenry is made up of these souls/soul parts.  In isolation, however, the huge would not be the same without a well-functioning lich to go with it.  It is not that we are fundamentally disagreeing all that much here, except in that he is using the idea that these networks are ‘my body as well as my soul’ and that the word hugr fits this idea.  It is the singular, that these networks of individuals form a single soul that is encapsulated in word hugr that I disagree with.  It reads to me like the individuals existentent within the multiplicity of the Soul Matrix are, instead, fashioned into a singularity.  It is at odds especially in regards to what I understand is a part of the Soul Matrix, itself a collection of different parts of, or different souls themselves.  To have good hugr one must also have a good lich to go with it. Certain Soul Matrix pieces are interwoven with one another, and hugr and lich are among them. Yet, hugr is still hugr and lich still lich, and it would be a mistake to say they are one in the same when they are, in actuality, connected by individual.  

An example is hamingja, what is often referred to as group luck, power, or soul. It is what we inherit from our Ancestors, by blood, adoption, and/or spirit.  We can appreciate that many, many generations worth of souls, certainly not all of them human, went into developing this when we inherit our hamingja, but it would be a mistake, I think, to look at hamingja as a singular thing given it has so many Beings that make it up.  Yet our hamingja is also our own because we are the latest iteration of the Ancestors, so there is tension of a kind between the collective and singular, places where we certainly are differentiated, but we cannot be wholly separate, as we would not be without our past.

Our stories, our environment, and our own makeup interacting and coming up with this thing we might call the spirit. That is just wonderful in so many ways.

Absolutely, this is wonderful. As with our bodies, minds, cultures, and so on are the results of a million lives before us, and is impacted by our environment, so our spirit(s) develop from those who came before us. What is more, as with our bodies and the passing on of traits, or the passing on of how we understand the world, and/or our culture(s), we impact them and those who came before us in return.  If we fail to tell the stories, they eventually fade.  If we fail to pass on the culture, eventually it dies.  If we pass these things on, they continue to live and become part of future generations.

Before I harp too much on that, I want to turn to the other article that I read recently. It is by David Haskell, and is titled Life is the Network, not the Self.  In talking about a maple leaf, Haskell says;

“By eavesdropping on chemical conversations within the leaf, biologists have learned that the life processes of a plant — growing, moving nutrients, fighting disease, and coping with drought — are all networked tasks, emerging from physical and chemical connections among diverse cells. These leaf networks are dynamic. “

In reading Grönbech’s The Culture of the Teutons and having read quite a bit of lore on ancient German and Scandinavian societies, one of the things that continuously comes up is that these are tribal societies, and that identification of and with the tribe is part of being alive.  To be outlawed is to be dead, or something worse than dead.  Within the collective society of ancient Germanic and Scandinavian tribes, it was not that the individual completely disappeared, but that all one’s decisions, all one does or is, is reflected upon because what one does affects the tribe, and likewise, the tribe affects the individuals within it. The tribe was, as in the plant example above, affected the push and pull of various decisions and needs and wants that are expressed and addressed from within the network, the network in this case being the tribe.  

I told you we would come back to emergent properties and networked integration. When we consider our own bodies, we see huge networked complexes working together in both conflict and cooperation. Bacteria in our guts are working to help us digest our food, networked neurons are working to process the information from our senses, our heart muscles are working in a constant beat to keep the blood, nutrients and oxygen moving through our bodies.

I think it is important to discern, though, that networked tasks and networked things, in this cases leaves within a plant or bacteria within the gut, does not make the leaf the plant nor the bacteria the gut.  They are pieces of a whole that helps the whole to function, is indeed necessary for the whole to function well in their contexts.  If we agree that a leaf and the cells that make it up are each souls within souls, that the soul of the leaf is made up with the cells that make that leaf up, with each leaf itself a part of the soul of the plant, at some point the collective emerges around forms and functions.  It is at this point that the ‘leaf cells’ become leaves, and that leaves become part of the plant.  Necessary to the plant being alive and propogating, but not the plant as a whole.  The leaves emerge from the plant, and the plant from the seed.  

As Haskell points out, this kind of integration expands well beyond the individual human, but to maple trees, ecosystems, and the entire biosphere of the planet. Every collective being on this planet is networked, and from that networking new and fascinating forms emerge. Over the long course of evolution, individual cells have been experimenting with different collective networks, and that has given rise to every single living thing on this planet.

‘Collective networks’ functions well as a term if we’re just talking physical realms.  There’s a word for this in the Northern Tradition and Heathenry, this tapestry of networked beings in the lattice work of all reality.  It forms the ground of how we view ourselves, so that this idea is hardly alien.  This is wyrd.  Yet, unlike the networked beings and individuals described here, wyrd also takes into account spiritual impacts and phenomena.  This is one of the places where I see the Venn diagram between science and religion crossing in terms of understanding some ways of interconnectedness.  

As Haskell says;
“Living networks are ancient, perhaps as old as life itself.

Given our understanding of how life began, whether looking at this through the scientific lens of the Big Bang or through wyrd and the Creation Story, with the unfolding of Creation through the emergence of Muspelheim, Nifelheim from the Ginnungagap, I’d say that networks of interrelationship are older than life itself. That the building blocks of our reality rely on series after series of things relating between one another, whether in opposition, tension, or in concert.  

 The fundamental unit of biology is therefore not the “self,” but the network. A maple tree is a plurality, its individuality a temporary manifestation of relationship.”

Interesting.  In my exploration of ancient German and Scandinavian cultures, the fundamental unit of how we understood ourselves as people began in the plurality of tribe, clan, and/or family.  The individual tribe/clan/family members were a temporary manifestation of relationship, carrying and passing on hamingja, for instance. This understanding of ‘network’ could easily be replaced with the word ‘community’, ‘tribe’, etc.  The tribe is a plurality, and each person part of it.  We invididually exist within it, functioning separately, yet together form a collective identity and being.

If we consider the soul to be the sum total of all these connections, in our bodies and with our environment, something rather fascinating and terrifying starts to emerge. 

As a polytheist and animist with a particular worldview, I see that what Nick has laid out is quite well along my own lines of thought.  Where I keep getting myself hung up is in disagreements with particulars, such as considering the sum total of a soul to be all of/in this world.

So I have some questions for Nick, and I’m curious to see how he answers given what he said earlier in his post:

I do think I have a spirit, a life essence, a life force; if you will. But I don’t think that my spirit is at all separate from my body. In some cosmologies, the spirit is not one piece, but a whole collection of different “spirits” in one body.

and this later:

As I have explained many times before, animism is concerned with life living in relationships with each other.

So if you think you have a spirit, a life essence, a life force, what is it? What forms does it take?  Where did it originate from? Does it have a finite existence?  If you do not believe your spirit is at all separate from your body, does it die along with your body?  In other words, how would ghosts and spirits-after-death fit, if at all, into your cosmology?  How does this fit into Ancestor worship and/or veneration (i.e. if the spirit dies with the body why rever/worship the Ancestors)?  

Do you believe that the spirit is one piece, or that it is a whole collection of different ‘spirits’ in one body?  I’m intensely interested in your cosmology, especially because if spirit is bound to body, then if something does not have a body, then, does it not have a spirit?

If animism is concerned with life living in relationship with each other does that preclude the numinous, or less body-bound realms of things?  How does animism unfold as a, or part of, a religious point of view for you?  What does animism of a worldview include, for you?  What does it not include?

Consider our relationships well beyond ourselves. Think about the sum total of all of our technology and the natural world around us. Take a look at our cities from space and ask yourself, what is emerging from our relationships with other beings on this planet?

I am deeply curious to see how Nick would answer these things as well.  I will below.

In considering our relationships well beyond ourselves, I think we first need to think of what things are actually within our spheres of influence.  If we think of our ability to impact the world as represented by bubbles, with the further out we go having more and more reach, my bubble would be quite limited to those in my immediate surroundings, those in my family, my religious communities, and communities otherwise.  Even in how I buy and consume things, my impact as such is quite small in scale compared to a large corporation or the collective impact of the US government.  

After a while I stop considering relationships well beyond myself and the bubbles I can affect.  My relationships with those outside of certain circles gets so tenuous and abstract that the ties I have to others are miniscule.  In others they are nonexistant.  This is one of the reasons I’m not as into Big Tent Paganism as others.  It’s much like my view of being a US citizen. As with Pagans and issues particular to the communities we/they are part of, I care about the rights of all US citizens, but I’ll likely never interact with most of the folks out in California.  I certainly won’t develop or keep up meaningful relationships with them.  While my words may carry impact out there, I have only so much capacity within myself to develop meaningful relationships with those outside of my family and friends.  I only have so much time to keep the relationships I do have.  Since my energy and my attention are things that I have less and less of, between work, religious obligation, family obligations, and local community obligations, there’s not much time left over to develop deeper connections with folks outside of a couple of my bubbles where my time and attention goes.

Think about the sum total of all of our technology and the natural world around us. Take a look at our cities from space and ask yourself, what is emerging from our relationships with other beings on this planet?

The sum total of all our technology and the natural world is deeply out of step with one another.  Our technology allows us to do amazing things, from the interconnectedness of the Internet to the generation of power so countless people have electricity, heat, and water, to beautiful pieces of art.  Yet, I see so much technology now as being obsolescense for its own sake, or to increase someone’s bottom line at the expense of great swathes of this world, Earth, animal and plant alike.  I see devices intentionally built to break. I see technology taking jobs once held by great swathes of people with nothing to replace them, leaving great stretches of this country destitute.  I see great and small bodies of earth, water, and air poisoned by oil and gas, the production of our computers and cell phones.  I see a world we will have a harder time living on and with because of the production and industries that bring up that oil and gas to burn so our electricity flows, the lights stay on, and our economies continue to be productive contributes to the very things that are rendering our planet less habitable to us. 

Looking at our cities from space I see systems that have deep need of repair, both in terms of how they function internally and how they relate to the natural world.  I see great swathes of resources going to these places; we can see the light of them in space from the photo Nick has provided.  As a whole our relationships with the Earth through cities have become fraught with taking increasing amounts of dwindling resources, whether that be water, oil, or gas.  The growth of cities has been useful in allowing us to live on less land, but we have not fixed fundamental problems with how we, especially in America, deploy ourselves in the land.  If the supply lines get cut off for 3 days LA essentially starves. Now, thankfully, there are people who are opening up places in LA and Detroit to community gardens and community agriculture.  However, we have basic problems with infrastructure that must be addressed if cities are to continue to remain viable places to live.  We operate our cities on incredibly complex, but very, very brittle systems of transport that are, increasingly, operating with less and less support for the infrastructure that makes them possible.  I have serious doubts as to how long our cities will be viable in how we have developed them.

In my own case I am developing good working relationships with my local earth, the earthvaettir, and landvaettir, vaettir otherwise, as well as the Gods and Ancestors.  I am living as a good member of my society, providing for my family and developing ways to live in better concert with the Earth.  I am doing all I can to be a living example in how I live with Her.  I am pushing my local governments and cities to do more to get off of fossil fuels and generate our own energy through less environmentally destructive mean. I encourage people to explore their own local options, especially where their impact can be felt keener and firmer.

This, I think, is a lot of where polytheism and animism meets our proverbial road in life.  In how we live our lives.  In our daily interactions with our Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and one another.  The worldviews of polytheism and animism informs how we understand ourselves in the world, how we identify within our human communities, and how we live our lives accordingly with the values we live by.  The foundations of our worldviews tells us what we consider ‘alive’ and ‘ensouled’ how we live well with all that lives and souls within us, and around us.  

Responding to The Spirits, Networks, and Emergence Part 2

April 28, 2017 Leave a comment

In thinking on Spirit, Networks, and Emergence, it has made me come once more to appreciate how fully embraced an existence predicated on interconnectivity the Northern Tradition and Heathenry are.  We are beings formed not only wholly of ourselves, but between one another.  Our sense of who we are, how we are, and what we are develops by immersion in group identity, in rejection of certain group identities, and in self-identity developed through, or in the absence of, relationships.  Without a sense of ‘us’ there is no sense of ‘I’.  This is made utterly clear in exploring the Soul Matrix.  

My lich, my body, looks and functions the way it does because of my genetic inheritance and the not-insignificant amount of time my folks spent with me in physical therapy as a young child. Had they not, I would definitely be bow-legged and far different now.  My ham, my astral double or spirit form, because of the work I have done under my Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and Elders’ guidance, as well as years of my own work.  I inherited my understanding of this form first from my Catholic background and later, from my Pagan one.  My litr, my health or blooming hue, my verve for life, I inherited from my folks and it grew well under their guidance.  It continues now under my own care.  My vili, my will, both in terms of its strength and development, was inherited through my parents, and developed throughout my life.  Mod, or mood, our emotions, are interesting in this context.  In many ways I have inherited our understanding of emotions, how I interact with them, and how I relate to them through my parents, Elders, and all of our cultures.  Of the Soul Matrix parts, I find that my relationship with and to mod is deeply affected.  For instance, the overculture of America encourages extreme stoicism or emotions like anger or rage over that of expressing annoyance, grief, pain, or horror.  I have had to work through anger being a ‘safe’ emotion vs. that of, say, openly grieving or just being disappointed.  

I directly inherited my ond, first from my mother, and then from anyone and everyone who comes into my life and shares the air with me.  I mean this both literally and religiously, as ond translates to ‘breath’.  If someone poisons my ability to gather my vitality and energies, or who is so close it is hard to breathe, that is an intrusion on my ability to live with vitality.  Likewise, those who aid in my ability to breathe well can breathe well with me.  

My hyge and munr, thought and memory respectively, rely on my abilities to build them up and keep them built up so that hyge flows into munr.  Hyge, being connected with how I think, and munr, with how I retain information, are both deeply informed by how my family processed and retained information.  As the USA is not an oral culture, much of what we do have is preserved in written records.  This is a vast difference between the ancient Germanic and Scandinavian peoples my religion flows from, namely in that I, and most of my fellow NT and Heathen people, do not have the same cognitive processes and retention of information our Ancestors did.  Rather than dedicating memory as, say, a lawspeaker to remembering the law, or the myths and legends to be recited as a skald, we now look to books so we can access the information. What we retain from that reading is also far less than what was expected of these Ancestors.  In reconstructing and reviving our religions, the how and why we think and memorize will become more relevant.  After all, if I was the head of a household leading rites, what things were assumed that I knew how to do? 

What about being a priest or shaman?  This plays right into the ideas of worldview.  How we think of ourselves, how we relate to one another, and how we live in this world, all affect how we think and why we retain the information we do.  It adjusts our internal filters for what information is relevant, what stories we remember, and how we understand our place in things.

The godhi/gydhja portion of the Soul Matrix is perhaps the one thing of the whole Matrix that is uniquely our own.  Translating to priest or priestess, and historically relating to both priests and chieftains, the godhi/gydhja in the Soul Matrix is our full spiritual potential, the Higher Self. Our own chieftain, if you will.  However, how we come to that chieftain is entirely dependant on those in our life, and those who help us connect well with that Higher Self.  So even this portion is one that I see as very hard, if not impossible to understand, without the requisite help every other Soul Matrix part has had in coming about to us.

Fylgja are spirit guides and/or allies that may or may not be Ancestors, and can be Gods, and vaettir of various kinds, such as dvergar, trolls, jotun, etc.  Kinfylgja are spirit guides or allies as well as the collective spiritual power and wisdom of the Ancestors, respectively, requires a spiritual community.  The way I understand both terms of the Soul Matrix is that these are inherited, especially with kinfylgja, from one’s blood and spiritual forebears.  These terms really do not exist without community.  One’s spiritual outlook either bars or includes certain kinds of fylgja, and kinfylgja is utterly reliant on one’s Ancestors as to who is part of this portion of the Soul Matrix.

My maegan, my personal luck and power was gifted to me by birth, and helped to grow through the teaching and guidance I received first from my parents, and later, spiritual elders and my own self.  My hamgingja, group luck or power, likewise, was gifted to me by my folks, was helped to grow and develop through my spiritual elders, and the applications of all these things to my life in relationship with all those who are within those bonds of hamingja.    

The ve in the Soul Matrix is what Raven Kaldera refers to as “your Spooky” or innate psychic ability.  Ve relates to places that are sacred; the word is found in placenames that were held as such, and its etymology connects it right to the words for sacred and consecration.  We develop an understanding of what is sacred together as a community.  As for its meaning within the Soul Matrix, one’s innate psychic ability is inherited, and from there, it may be developed.  Wod, one’s ability to enter into altered states of consciosness or, as Kaldera puts it, “merge with Divine Consciousness”, is similar to ve, in that the innate ability is inherited and can be worked with from here.   

The final two parts of the Soul Matrix are orlog, meaning old law and relating in the Soul Matrix to our individual threads within wyrd, and wyrd itself, where we are in the overall tapestry of creation and our destiny within it.  We cannot weave our orlog or our wyrd alone.  It is an impossibility.  We inherit both of these parts of the Soul Matrix from our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, and weave it within those of our community, and also weave it with those outside of them.  Every decision we make, every thing we do is woven into orlog and wyrd’s unfolding.  

With all this in mind, I’ll be heading into Part 3 and reacting to Nick’s own article. 

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.

A Response to Jön Upsal’s Freedom of Conscience and

December 2, 2015 Leave a comment

When I wrote my posts Orthopraxy Requires Orthodoxy and Reviving Religions vs. Reviving Cultures, I was happy with the discourse that followed.  I’m glad that people wrote about why they agreed and disagreed with my points.  I didn’t realize at first that Jön Upsal had wrote several posts following onto my reply to him in the Reviving post.

Jön raises a good point in that I am speaking from the perspective more as a separatist polytheist and less as a mainstream Pagan.  I am writing from this perspective for a few reasons:

My personal worldview, religion, etc. consists of Heathenry from an animist and polytheist point of view.  At least from my interactions with Pagans lately, the most theist response I get is either duotheism or an ill defined theism that allows for the Gods but also calls them archetypes or thoughtforms, sometimes in the same breath.  This doesn’t sit well with me at all, and it’s really not my view, nor how I live my life.  So, while I may be related to mainstream Paganism by being both Northern Tradition Pagan and Heathen, I find myself less readily able to relate to mainstream Paganism as I’m coming into contact with it.

Now, in regards to the model that Jön links to in his rebuttal to the Reviving post, titled Freedom of Conscience, he is absolutely right that I view the model as being the one that gives rise to animist and polytheist belief, that gives rise to the actions that are the expression of those beliefs.  The Oxford English Dictionary defines worship as:

The feeling or expression of reverence and adoration for a deity:the worship of God

ancestor worship

Without believing that a God is worthy of reverence and adoration, and that the God is, in some way real, of what import is the reverence and adoration of that God?  This is not merely a personal question, but also a question of group belief and practice.  For some groups this will simply not matter, a subject I went over in the Reviving post. Jön responded to this as well, and it will be covered later.

As I have mentioned elsewhere, it’s not my job to screen people theologically if they have shown up to a public ceremony, which is why I was talking in regards to the sumbel being something I do with people that I know are on a similar theological level with me, both because of the regard I have for such a ceremony, and how the ceremony itself affects those who partake in it.  This is a ceremony, at least in how I partake in it, that I have very firm views on.  These are firm in no small regard given the oath-taking that can occur during it.

What I find interesting is that in every example I have been provided, by both Jön and in the Reddit threads I found my blog was being discussed in, I feel the main point I was making has been reinforced, that orthopraxy comes from orthodoxy, rather than the other way around.  To be clear on this, I’m quoting Jön’s post:

A thought experiment

That said, I submit the following thought experiment as a way to explain why an insistence on orthodoxy, that is, “right belief” is simply impossible on a practical level.

Imagine two self-identified Heathens, Einar and Eirik. Both are members of an Asatru tribe, both attend a Yule gathering. Both have many friends in the tribe, and bow their heads respectfully during the blót to Freyr while they are sprinkled with blood, both sit at high places at the sumbel, both give gifts in hall, and both make beautiful and impassioned toasts in honor of Freyr, their ancestors, and their host.

One of them believes the Gods have a real existence outside of ourselves, and one of them believes the Gods are merely mythological archetypes.

Which is which?

Unless you can answer me that question, then I submit that the answer doesn’t matter, and you shouldn’t care. It’s impossible to police, as long as the non-believers take my advice from a week ago and simply go with the flow, as it were. That’s apparently what they’re interested in, supposedly.

Regardless of whether Einar or Eirik is the polytheist or atheist, they are both drinking from the same spring if they are from the same tribe.  The right thought informs the right action, the right thought and action being decided upon by the group, and not by either Einar or Eirik.  The right thought here is respect during the sumbel and giving the Gods and whomever has the cup/horn their full attention and respect.  What I find interesting is that in this example, both make impassioned toasts, but neither one is said to actively make an oath before the Gods, which is one of the sticking points in my own example.  This is also where I get into the part where we talk about groups oriented around culture and those oriented around religion, and Jon’s point here:

I don’t have to understand their position to understand that they might well have a reason. I’m not their judge. So when Sarenth says something like this:

Without the orthodoxy of the Gods being real, holy, and due offerings, the orthopraxy of offering to Them in or out of ritual makes not a lick of sense.

I have to hold myself back from yelling at the screen, “it doesn’t make sense to you, but it might make sense to them!

He’s right, it doesn’t need to make sense to me.  However, there is a big difference between having empathy for another person, and accepting their view as being as valid as my own.  In this regard, I do not accept atheism as being part of religious Heathenry for reasons I’ve made before.  Also, my point in the quote he is making is that holiness and sacredness at terms are tied into the Gods and the cosmologies They are part of.  I am speaking in terms of theology as well as etymology in this post of mine he quoted, which was a more overarching look into why atheists claiming use of words like ‘holy’, ‘sacred’, and so on do not make sense.   Keeping in mind as well, that in my Reviving post, I was making a lot of “I” and “my” statements.  I was speaking from and to my own experiences, beliefs, etc.  If a given Heathen group fully accepts atheist members, that’s their choice, and I welcome them to it.

This is also where I get into the difference between a living culture and reviving a religion.  My tack is in reviving the religion first and the culture following on from that, given that the overculture where I live is generally WASP, and that building up Heathen culture without it roots in the religious worldview and practice seems totally at odds in my mind with the revival of the culture to begin with.  From his writing, it seems that Jön is rejecting that, or taking the opposite view.

That said, this point is another one where I think he is making my case for me:

Orthopraxy stems from tradition and custom.

Okay, but what informs tradition and custom?  Right thought, right action.  How so?

Two ways, by looking at the meanings of the words tradition and custom, and the example he provides:

OED defines tradition as:

The transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact of being passed on in this way.

and

A doctrine believed to have divine authority though not in the scriptures, in particular.

OED defines custom as:

A traditional and widely accepted way of behaving or doing something that is specific to a particular society, place, or time.

As to Jön’s example, here in terms of blót:

And how can we tell? One of the elements of blót is the taking of auguries and omens to see whether the offering has been accepted.

Not all of us have the benefit of Gods talking in our ears all the time, after all… Does your kindred or tribe or whatever harbor respectful unbeliever practitioners within its midst? If that really was something the Gods didn’t want, it would be reflected in the luck of the tribe. I’ve never heard of a systematic study being done, of course, but I would think if that did happen, the circumstantial evidence would quickly make the situation clear.

So following this train of thought we can:

-Have offerings accepted or rejected.

-Have trained ways and means to discern if the offering has been accepted accessible to spiritual specialists and/or the whole tribe.

-The Gods can let us know when They are displeased with an offering and we can act accordingly and respectfully to correct wrongs or errors when They make these things known.

-The Gods can and do affect the luck of the tribe, and the luck of the tribe is worth protecting.

The concern over the luck of the tribe being affected is again, first grounded in right thought.  Protecting the luck of the tribe is a desired thing, and can be affected by the Gods.  The right action of doing the blót well follows from the right thought that in order to do well by the Gods, increase the tribe’s good luck, and ensure the protection of the tribe’s luck before the Gods, one does what is respectful and honorable to/for the Gods.  Otherwise, what would be the point in worrying about the Gods, the luck of the tribe, or making good offerings and the like?

But they should be shunned and cast out not for their beliefs, but for their actions.

Again, if your group is a Heathen culture group rather than a Heathen religious group, I would agree.  If yours is a Heathen religious group that accepts atheists among its ranks, again, that is your choice to make.  It’s not one that I agree with, but then, I’m not part of your tribe/group/etc.  I also agree in the case of public gatherings and rituals.  For much of his post, I’m not actually in active disagreement with Jön at all.

I have to admit that when I read his post on Reviving culture vs. Religion, I laughed out loud at the Syrio Forel meme.  Yes, I agree, that today I’m not working on reviving the culture, at least as-a-whole.  I’m working on reviving the roots of the culture, specifically religious ones.

I counter that a polytheist religious group includes culture as well by definition, and a re-creation of the ancient mindset that accompanied it, because ancient culture and religion were inseparable.

Mind you, I’m not actively disagreeing with what he is saying here.  This is certainly my own case and that of the group I help to run.  I also agree that ancient culture and religion were inseparable.  It’s my hope that we can have that again.  It is my hope that we can someday have tribes again, and I’m all for anyone who wants to come and adopt the culture to do so.  Unfortunately, as it is right now, we’re still in the process of bringing back roots from religious worldviews that were largely laid down or only adopted into wholly other worldviews, worldviews that had animosity towards believing in Gods, magic, and the like.  So I’m looking at this from a revival from the bottom approach, whereas, if I’m reading him right, Jön  is adopting an all-of-the-tree approach.

So I thank Jön Upsal for providing some food for thought.

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

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