Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Truth’

Holiness and Sacredness are Rooted Words: A Reply to John Halstead’s I Hold These Things to be Sacred

October 30, 2015 21 comments

For clarity and to keep things as orderly as I can, I will be responding line by line to John Halstead’s post on Patheos, I Hold These Things To Be Sacred: A Reply to Sarenth Odinsson.

Sarenth Odinsson says that, because I don’t believe in gods, nothing is sacred or holy to me. 

I intentionally avoided using names in my piece, Holiness is Rootedness, because I wasn’t talking specifically about one atheist Pagan or another. My entire point is in the first paragraph.

In order to have a sense of what is holy, one must have ideas and concepts related to holiness. In order for these ideas and concepts to be related to holiness, it must have roots in a religion, a theological framework, in which holiness as a concept is able to take root. If one’s religious framework has no Gods, there is nothing to consecrate. If there is no God or Goddess, no Holy Power to consecrate, then there is no holiness just as there is no profanity or things lacking in that consecration.

If you have no theological framework then there is no theology to explain what is or is not holy. If you have no theological framework to discern what holiness is, its qualities and characteristics, then you have no concept of holiness to draw upon. Atheism’s main characteristics are that there are no Gods, and most of the atheist lines in regards to religious thought and phenomena directly state that there is no such thing as a God, Goddess, Supreme Being, etc. Most, though certainly not all forms of atheism, reject religious cosmology. I find it odd that pointing this out is cause to offend someone who identifies as an atheist, though my article was certainly not aimed solely at Mr. Halstead.

You can say all you like that you believe that things are sacred or holy, but those words carry absolutely no theological or philosophical weight when you say them because you don’t actually believe in the Beings nor the cosmologies that imbue them with that weight to begin with.

So, you know that feeling theists get when atheists tell them their gods are imaginary? I think I’m feeling something similar. Something like, “How dare you!”

Here’s what Odinsson says:

If one’s religious framework has no Gods, there is nothing to consecrate. If there is no God or Goddess, no Holy Power to consecrate, then there is no holiness …”

An atheist framework is one in which there is no God or Goddess, and thus, no sacred. One may hold things reverently, that is, with deep respect, but without a religious framework that very concept that one may hold anything as holy has no basis. An atheist claiming to hold something as holy is a person claiming something to which one has no right …”

I was pointing out what I had thought was patently obvious. I find it odd that Halstead is having such an emotional response when he has flat-out stated he does not believe in Gods. It would follow that there is no existent concept of holiness, as there is no theology in which holiness may take any kind of root. Keep in mind when I write Holy Power or Holy Powers, I include the Ancestors and vaettir, or spirits, in this. I don’t think that animists lack a conception of the holy, as in order to be an animist there is some sort of cosmology present, and accordingly, a way to establish things like what is sacred/not sacred.

Atheism cannot be invested in this understanding as it has no basis for holiness and the sacred, as atheism denies both on their face by its very outlook. Atheism denies that Gods exist, and in so doing, denies the cosmology They are rooted within. The notion of holiness within an atheist context, therefore, cannot exist.”

Now, I’ve never really gotten along with Odinsson. (I think he was the same person who once threatened to punch me if he saw me at Pantheacon.) But I don’t think it should be only atheist Pagans or non-theistic Pagans who are upset by what he is saying here. Odinsson is saying if you don’t believe in the gods, then nothing is sacred or holy to you. Implied in this is the statement there is nothing sacred or holy in the world except the gods.

Nothing sacred in the world but the gods?!

Wow! I would have a hard time imaging a less “pagan” statement than that.

I am not the person who threatened to punch Halstead if I saw him at Pantheacon. I’ve never been to Pantheacon, and given the extreme amount of travel I would have to do and time off I would have to take right before ConVocation here in Michigan, I have no interest in doing so.

Note here that Halstead actually does not refute my points here, or anywhere in this post. He quotes me, but misses the point entirely. There is no implication that there is nothing sacred or holy in the world except the Gods. It is not surprising to me that he misses this point, as Halstead has no conception of holiness himself, and I imagine is probably not familiar with Northern Tradition or Heathen cosmologies. To be quick, the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir are holy. The Gods and Elements Themselves are among our Ancestors. Many of the Gods directly made vaettir, i.e. Odin and His Brothers formed the Dvergar from maggots burrowing into the flesh of Ymir. Many Gods are part of the vaettir of this and other Worlds, and vice versa. For instance, landvaettir may be seen as being part of Jörð’s Body/Being, Jörð being one of several Earth Goddesses within Heathenry.  Some vaettir have ascended into being or have become seen as being Gods unto Themselves, and some Gods have descended into being or have been seen as being vaettir unto Themselves. There are methods within the Northern Tradition by which an area may be made to be sacred, or that sacredness may be inborn to a place, such as a grove, or a prepared ritual area, altar, and so on.

There is something deeply disturbing, I think, about a paganism which cannot find the holy or the sacred in the earth or in another person.

Certainly, but that is not my position here, nor was it. I view Jörð, the Earth Goddess, as a holy Being. Do I view all the Earth as sacred? No, as I do not find CAFOs sacred, nor do I find the floating garbage that chokes the oceans sacred. Those, I find profane. Wrong. Unholy.

Are all people sacred? No. All people are bound together in Wyrd, but that merely makes you part of reality, not an inherently sacred person. It doesn’t mean people are valueless either, but sacredness actually means something in the Northern Tradition and Heathenry. Namely, that a thing, Being, place, etc. is dedicated to, belongs to, is consecrated by, or is devoted to the Holy Powers. This is why an altar is a sacred thing, a grove where rituals are performed, or a single tree representing Yggdrasil itself is regarded as sacred. These things are devoted and dedicated to the Holy Powers (Gods, Ancestors and/or vaettir) of the Northern Tradition and/or Heathenry. They are sacred.

As for myself, I hold these things to be sacred and holy: all life, the earth, nature, our selves, our bodies, our relationships.

They are not just things that I hold “reverently” or with “deep respect”; they are holy and sacred.

He says he regards these things as sacred, but without any of these things being involved with, dedicated to, devoted to, or consecrated to Gods, Ancestors, or vaettir, what are these words worth? Without the necessary relationship inherent in a cosmology, in which one relates to all life, the earth, nature, our selves, our bodies, our relationships, and so on, saying something is sacred or holy are empty words. Claiming one holds something sacred or holy without any requisite theology to back these words up is intellectually sloppy or dishonest.

Holiness is rootedness,” says Odinsson. My religion is rooted. It is rooted in these things: Life, Matter, Relationship.

How can Halstead claim his religion is rooted when the soil of the Holy Powers is denied?

Indeed, how can Halstead claim to be religious whatsoever when he denies any of the requisite things for which religion itself functions: namely, to provide a framework for and means by which people may establish relationships with, interact with, revere, understand, and worship the Holy Powers? All these things Halstead claims his religion is rooted in has no meaning without an actual theology in which the sacred matters, and so long as the sacred is, in actuality, absent from his worldview and thus, any religion he would lay claim to, all these words are empty.

Advertisements

White Guilt is an Indulgence

March 30, 2015 29 comments

If you are classified as white in this country you live with the privilege of (at least) 400 years of racism and genocide. It doesn’t matter how you got here.

It does not matter that my great-grandfather came over from the Netherlands during WWI; he benefited from his skin color even though he could not speak or write a word of English. He benefited from systemic racism and genocide. I never asked for this, but I benefit from these as well.

My Ancestors were not barred from entry into this country because of racist quotas enacted by Congress. They never had to endure a blood quantum law to claim or be punished for who they were. They were not interned in camps during WWII. They were not killed for speaking out for their rights in the face of Jim Crow laws. They were not barred from practicing their religion after generations of genocide. I do not feel guilt for my Ancestors because they avoided these things, but whether or not I feel guilt, such feelings are immaterial to the issue of racial justice.

Guilt is an indulgence, especially when it inspires a lack of action and empathy.

Addressing problems of inequality, racism, colonialism, and genocide is not about white folks, white guilt, or white feelings. It is not about white people at all. I don’t care how bad you feel about your Ancestors’ actions. Gods know, if your Ancestors committed atrocities I want you to feel shame for it. If those feelings, or lack of feeling, gets in the way of you (and Them) actually making some sort of commitment to doing something, then it is an indulgence and a waste of time in regards to doing anything useful about racism and white privilege.

When hurt white feelings get in the way of equality, or especially, justice, that is not something People of Color or anyone concerned with justice in regards to inequality, racism, colonialism, etc. can afford. When the specter of that guilt arises and becomes a paralyzing thing that takes the focus off of People of Color, their problems, and the things that are actively killing them, it cannot be afforded. It is, in a word, derailing.

I don’t give a damn how you feel. I really don’t. If you lack the empathy to stand up for justice because your fucking feelings are hurt: Fuck. Right. Off.

White people do need to deal with our feelings, but not at the expense of justice or equality. It should not be the directive of folks to remind white people to deal with our feelings outside of the times and places where issues of justice, equality, etc. are being addressed. Our angst should not be aired during times of grief or moral outrage at the murder of black people by police. It is no different than walking into a funeral while a family is crying over a child’s casket, and screaming at them ‘Your crying makes me feel bad! I didn’t do this to you!’ You know what? You’re getting in the way of their need to grieve at that point. You’re an asshole. The funeral is not about or for you. Anyone, from the presiding minister to the family member on down to a complete stranger visiting in respect would be well within moral rights to ask or demand for you to get out.

This is why #alllivesmatter is either a cop-out or completely fucking tone-deaf. Not all the houses are on fire, and so, they do not deserve the fire hose equally. #blacklivesmatter is on-point and the topic at hand because black people are being systemically targeted by police, policing policies, jail time, jailing and fine procedures based on the color of their skin. They are dying because of this. The reason why our feelings as white people do not matter in this is because our fucking lives are not on the line for walking on the street while being black.

Blacks, as well as Native American and Hispanic peoples, are being killed in the United States far more than whites by police. In addition to this, because of jailing and fine procedures for minor traffic violations and misdemeanors in places like Ferguson, MO, they are now the leading victims of what has become the modern day debtor’s prison. Can’t pay your traffic ticket? Can’t pay your fines? You’re going to jail. What’s insidious about this is that there is financial incentive for counties and cities to do this, and that encourages these cities to increase incarceration.

You know what white people do not have to deal with? Being charged with 4 counts of destruction of city property due to bleeding on officer’s uniforms for having the shit beat out of them in a Ferguson, MO jail in 2009. Enough mewling about being judged based on the color of your skin; when white people get judged we might feel temporarily angry, guilty, shamed, or embarrassed. When black people get judged they get the shit knocked out of them and then charged with a crime because they’re getting their blood on officers’ uniforms.

So not only are People of Color far more likely to be targets for poverty, they are also more likely to be targeted by police for arrest. They are more likely to be jailed for their charges until trial if they can’t post bail, then fined for said charges, and then re-jailed assuming they or someone else could pay for bail in the first place. If they are successfully prosecuted they will pay fines on top of it, and may face being put into longer-term incarceration for failure to pay for these charges. That is, if they’re not simply killed outright by police. People of Color are, and have been for some time, targets in their own neighborhoods.

This is why it is so deeply disappointing to me that neither The Covenant of the Goddess nor The Troth got their collective shit together and did the right thing in supporting #blacklivesmatter and associated movements. Hells bells, why have no Pagan or polytheist organizations shouted out their support as allies for #Idlenomore either? It’s not as if these organizations are actually opposed to either of these justice movements! Right?

If we are indeed our deeds, then what are white people doing to help affect change? How fucking hard is it to say “I stand with black people for racial equality and justice!”? Did you really need fucking committees to decide on whether or not justice for all was something you stood for?

White guilt is an indulgence. If we are to be effective allies, it is on us to set it aside where it impedes action, and deal with it in our own time. #blacklivesmatter. Compared to those lives, our guilt is nothing. Step up or move aside, but don’t get in the way of justice.

Deceit

March 30, 2015 4 comments

What is constant

When words are less than air

Crackling between boards?

What is truth

When ephemera’s hold strangles

and the meaning of things succumb

to such tender embrace?

What are lies

When it is the engine and the oil

by which a nation builds

and knows itself?

What is death

When its visage is buried

under plastic smiles and makeup

pressed to styrofoam and wrapping?

What is knowledge

When it is hidden

by mountains of lies and ignorance

repeated by forked, moneyed tongues?

All is deceit.

Monism and Polytheism

May 22, 2014 2 comments

I just finished reading Polytheistic Monism: A Guest Post by Christopher Scott Thompson. He argues that monism and polytheism are not at odds and compatible. After reading his article, I am not convinced. He states that:

“Monism is not the idea that “all the gods are really one God” but the idea that “all apparent phenomena are really one underlying thing” such as consciousness or energy or mind or what have you. The “one underlying thing” might or might not be seen as a divine Source, depending on what type of monism we’re talking about, but even if you do see the “one underlying thing” as being divine in some sense, that doesn’t prevent you from also believing in multiple gods in another sense. This is no more outlandish than believing that you are a single person while also realizing that every cell in your body is a separate living thing in its own right.”

The problem with the assertion that “all apparent phenomena are really one underlying thing” is that for anyone who believes in things such as multiple worlds, the Otherworld, the Creator Gods, and the like, then monism is not acceptable as an addendum. As he notes in the article, separating God from Creation makes them two separate entities and is not monism. This would make beliefs such as Norse/Germanic beliefs about multiple worlds and the Otherworld incompatible with monism.

“In other words, if you assume a creator God responsible for making the universe, you are already talking about two entities (God and the Creation), so a monotheist cannot possibly be a monist.”

What is polytheism? The belief in many Gods. On the surface the idea of monism and polytheism are compatible. If we believe that the Earth is a Goddess Herself, and the rest of Creation quite another thing or Being Itself, then to my understanding of his assertions, I am not a monist. If I believe that the Universe is a God or Goddess unto Itself containing all things within it, then I am a monist.

Mr. Thompson uses the idea of all cells within our bodies being distinct, yet part of the body. Yet my cells do not have consciousness as I do. If we are nothing but the cells within a body, as monism argues, then the Gods might be organs, veins, blood, muscles, brain matter, and so on. They are not distinct in this regard, but in tandem with one another. I am a distinct and separate person from my fiancee and my son, and only when seen in the abstract can we lose that individuality, whether a sociologist is compiling data on populations or an economist is looking at financial data. So too, the Gods are separate and distinct in polytheism and only lose that individuality and identity when viewed in the abstract.

This is not to say there is no underlying energy, or understanding of connection between all things in polytheism. Wyrd is the phenomena that links all things together. However, the phenomena of Wyrd does not negate the individuality, that is, Wyrd is not all things; rather, Wyrd links all things with one another. It also does not ‘flatten’ (lacking a better term) the Worlds or distinct phenomena into one way of being.

If monism is “a philosophical stance about the nature of the entire universe, not necessarily about the nature of deity” at some point it must be recognized when making a sweeping stance as monism does, it is, in fact, making a claim and taking a stance on the nature of the Gods. If “nothing exists except God” then to say something to the contrary, i.e. “the Gods are many”, is in direct conflict with this idea.

“polytheistic monism is not the same concept as Campbell’s monomyth and doesn’t need to flatten all differences into a homogenous oneness. The theological acceptance of some form of mystical unity does not have to translate into the assertion that all the gods are really just one God or that all the world’s religions are really the same.

I can believe that all apparent phenomena are really manifestations of a universal mind or consciousness on one level of understanding while simultaneously perceiving that separate phenomena are in fact separate on another level of understanding. This type of polyvalent thinking was common in the ancient world and remains common in living traditions with multiple gods.”

Yet, if I am understanding monism right, flattening differences into a homogenous oneness is precisely what monism does. The theological acceptance of some form of mystical unity also does not equal monism; it merely states that you believe all things are connected in some fashion, whether by a concept as Wyrd, or all of us being born from a Creator/Creatrix Being. Distinctiveness and individuality are not lost with such beliefs.

Monism’s stance is directly contrary to this: not only is there a unity, but there is nothing but that oneness, that unity. If one believes that all things are part of and manifested from one source it makes little sense to understand these things are anything like truly separate. If one’s perception is all that is separating one from perception and reality, then what lies between is either delusion or illusion. One can ask the question “what is ultimate reality?” in such a philosophy and if one takes this understanding far enough, circular logic as it is, there is no real answer because any answer one comes up with may well be delusion or illusion. If I cannot trust my perception, even after investigation, introspection, etc., there is little hope in trusting my perception to find any truth at all.

Looking at the idea of distinctiveness in a larger frame, for instance at the cosmology of the Northern Tradition, the monist would say that Yggdrasil contains all the Worlds within Its branches, and so, their philosophy holds. The seeming oneness contained within Yggdrasil would not hold when one understands that these Worlds are separate and distinct. It would be no different than to say the because Earth and Jupiter are part of the Sol system and are planets, then the differences between these planets are arbitrary. To go further, not only does monism need to account for all worlds, but also all possible worlds, since its claim is that there is no separation of reality. The multiverse theory breaks monism, or monism makes such little sense in accord with it that it denies comprehension.

As a polytheist I believe and perceive there is real separation between Odin and I, in the sense that we are distinct from one another while being connected by Wyrd and spiritual ties otherwise. The ties of Wyrd are often analogized as threads in a tapestry, woven by each thing. Monism takes out the colors from the tapestry altogether, in favor of a uniform tapestry. There are threads, but they are of a uniform color. Polytheism recognizes the distinctive threads, their colors, and that each contributes to the tapestry individually, as groups, and that the tapestry in incomplete without these threads woven as they are, as a whole. In the end, I cannot understand how one can take a monist and polytheist stance together, as the former philosophy denies the latter theology’s positions on the Gods and cosmologies we, together with Them, inhabit.

Redefining Words and Claiming Space

January 22, 2014 13 comments

After reading the polytheism section of this post, and more recently here, that John Halstead has written over and over again, I have to throw my hands up. Granted, I disagreed with him vehemently on a great many points before he worked on this post and wrote an addendum to it, but I still deeply disagree with him over what I view as one of the most egregious forms of twisting words.

When someone speaks up and misuses words they need to be checked. It is wrong to take words out of their historic, and current context, and to twist them so that the words mean what you believe. Polytheism does not equate or equal panentheism or pantheism, which is more or less what I see John Halstead trying to say with his supposed paradox that “The Gods are many…but one.”

Nowhere in his first piece does he quote polytheists, now living or dead. He notes in his addendum there are folks in the polytheist, reconstructionist, and other camps that directly disagree with him on this point, communities that use this word, and yet goes ahead and writes what he wishes as polytheism is supposed to relate to his Neo-Paganism. I absolutely do not recognize what he quotes as polytheism as such; I do not ‘use’ my Gods, nor are They psychological constructs.

Mr. Halstead quotes from Waldron in The Sign of the Witch “From a neo-Pagan perspective polytheism is not the belief in a world of separate and distinct Gods but is rather an acceptance of the principle that reality and the divine is multiple, fragmented and diverse.” Okay, this may be a neo-Pagan perspective, but I do not find it polytheist at all. So far as I have seen, read, and understood to be true, polytheists treat and believe our Gods as complete in and of Themselves; They are not a fragment of some whole. Nor are They facets of a jewel. To use the metaphor, each God and Goddess is a jewel unto Themselves, and a great many facets or a single facet of Them may be seen, known, and worshiped by a person.

The question of “What the hell is Mr. Halstead getting at? What does John Halstead understand about Neo-Paganism, let alone anything regarding Paganism?” are some questions that have come to mind a few times as I have read his works, but never so much as here. How in the Nine Worlds is his idea of polytheism supposed to actually square with anything resembling polytheism such as it is lived by its adherents? How is it supposed to square with historical polytheism? All I see in his examples are panentheism, and monism. These are not polytheist. The quotes he has given are not polytheist. “The radical plurality of the self”? I have no idea what his point is here. Polytheist religion recognizes a plural Self, i.e. the Soul Matrix of the Northern Tradition. Polytheism has plurality built into it.

If Mr. Halstead’s point is solely psychological, i.e. ‘psychological polytheism’ then I believe has has missed his mark by not being more clear about what he is trying to define, and using improper words to try to define it. Religion helps shape a person and society’s psychology, its understanding of states of good or ill health, in the mental, physical, and spiritual realms. However, religion is not psychology itself. Nor should psychology, in my view, seek or be sought to supplant religion. If I have misunderstood his intent, I apologize. If I have misunderstood or misconstrued his meaning, I hope to have better definitions and descriptions written by him in the future without twisting words which I use as primary personal descriptors, such as polytheism. Were Mr. Halstead writing solely from his own view with at least something recognizable behind the words he wishes to redefine, and not using a word that people already use as a primary identifier, myself included, perhaps I would have less of an issue.

“According to the theologian, William Hamilton, the gods of Neo-Pagan polytheism are not to be believed in, but are “to be used to give shape to an increasingly complex and variegated experience of life.” (quoted by Margot Adler, Drawing Down the Moon). “

So his idea of polytheism is that They are to be used, to be a tool to help us shape, and therefore also understand the world around us. Yet we are not to believe in Them, even as They are supposed to be used to shape and understand the experiences of life? When I make a woodcarving I do not stop believing in the tools nor their effect on the wood any more than I stop believing or believe that the wood came to me as-is or was grown in the shape I bought it in. That wood had a life before it was cut and shaped. That wood was part of a tree, and that tree had roots in the ground, and that ground had an existence of its own well before I ever set foot upon the ground or happened upon that cut of wood from that tree. So too the tools and their components, which came from other places, and had to be fashioned into the shape they are now.

The Gods, then, are cast only into the form of the tool, rather than the ground. In the form of the woodcarving rather than the tree from which the wood came. I fully believe the Gods can be the ground, the tree, the tool, the toolmaker, the carver, the carved, and so on. In other words the Gods can be in and/or be each part of the process (the process itself may have God(s) and Goddesses over and/or involved in this, too), to say They are merely to be used as a tool denies Their actual involvement and reduces Them to an object to be manipulated. It takes away what is essential to a polytheist perspective of the Gods: personhood. Not that They are human or human-like, necessarily, but it denies Their Being and Self, as independent of us. It denies one of the basic understandings that polytheism, in any form I have practiced or been exposed to, teaches: the Gods are Beings Unto Themselves.

I do not use my Gods; I use a computer. I may ask a God or Goddess to lend Their power to a spell, or to intercede on my or someone else’s behalf, but intercessory prayer does not equal use. I do not use my Gods in ritual; rather, I pray to Them and ask for Their Presence. This point is perhaps the largest point of contention I have when anyone uses the word ‘use’ in regards to the Gods, or to Ancestors or spirits.

If I say “I use Bob on First Street when I have car trouble”, it does not diminish Bob’s personhood nor does it treat him as an end. I acknowledge his role in my life and that he is a person I trust. Saying “I use Brighid when I need healing” does not acknowledge the personhood of the Gods and instead makes the God’s identity and relationship one has with Them about their use.

It matters little if it is a Wiccan talking about ‘using’ Gods in ritual, or an atheist Pagan about ‘using’ Gods to understand the world, or themselves. If one is using this language, then they are talking about ‘using’ Beings, which I believe have agency, self-awareness, understanding, and sentience. They are talking about Beings I consider to be worthy of worship. They are talking about ‘using’ Beings from traditions which I believe to be holy and good. When the language of ‘use’ (as in using tools like an athame or wand, screwdriver or saw) is used in regards to the Gods it is disrespecting both the Gods and the traditions that hold Them as dear, holy, and worthy of worship.

One cannot utterly separate the Gods from the traditions or cultures which give/gave worship to Them. Understanding and knowledge of the Gods are informed by the traditions, cultures. The Gods inform the religions, cultures, and traditions in turn whether by mystic experience and/or simply by being the basis of the religion. This does not mean that you need to be a member of my particular Northern Tradition religion to worship the Norse/Germanic Gods, or to do it right. What it does mean is that one must acknowledge that to worship the Norse/Germanic Gods one needs to understand the culture and traditions out of which the Gods of this/these traditions come. It means that one must come to the religion with its background culture(s), tradition(s), etc. rather than trying to make it, and an understanding of and relationship with the Gods, come to you.

Taking the Gods out of these contexts renders the understanding of Them incomplete. When Ms. Krasskova or I, or another author say ‘take on an indigenous mindset’ part of this means is that one must meet the Gods on Their own terms rather than our preconceived notions, ideas, and beliefs of how our relationship should be. “Odin is the God of Wisdom” is an easy phrase to make, and while it may be true, is not the whole of all He is, and may or may not reflect my relationship with Him at all. I and other polytheists who worship Odin can come to independent understandings and relationships and so on with Him while believing Him as a God independent of our existence, and agree on basic clear concepts, on to deep details of theology. This does not necessarily make established tradition(s), culture(s), and so on, the do-all end-all of any relationship with a God, Goddess, Ancestor, spirit, etc. (although it may) but it will inform, shape, define, and further develop one’s understanding of these Beings, and the ways in which one relates to, worships, etc. Them. The traditions are the bones on which the meat of the relationship are built.

“It is the reality experienced by men and women when Truth with a capital ‘T’ cannot be articulated according to a single grammar, a single logic or a single symbol system.” (David Miller, The New Polytheism).

If you cannot articulate truth, or even try to articulate Truth, then your logic and symbol system have failed. We can debate the nature of reality according to different belief systems, and the extent that different polytheist traditions agree or disagree with one another on these things. Yet, without a single grammar, logic, or symbol system, our understanding of the Gods falls apart. Without coming to understand our Gods on Their terms, as best as we can, we are leaving our understanding of Them woefully inadequate.

Without a single grammar, logic, and symbol system, understanding the Northern Tradition, and most polytheism, falls apart. You cannot understand the Northern Tradition through the Kemetic, nor Roman polytheism. To say otherwise is saying that one can understand and speak German fluently after having done so with Greek. Are there some universal truths? If there are, (and to avoid speaking for all polytheists I will say if), they are broad, such as: the Gods are Beings Unto Themselves; respect is given for the Gods, Ancestors, and/or spirits; hospitality to people, Gods, Ancestors, and spirits; offerings are given in respect to the wishes, traditions, customs, etc. to the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits. The appearance of respect, for instance, will differ between traditions, customs of certain groups within a given tradition, the Gods worshiped by a group, the relationship between the people and their Gods, Ancestors and spirits as a whole and individually, and many, many other factors I could not hope to account for. Yet, on a baseline, there are similar beliefs, even if the shape and effects of those beliefs differ tradition to tradition, group to group, and person to person.

Polytheism is not just a term or a description; it is an identifier that an entire religious community uses to understand itself. It is an identifier people use as means to express who and what they are to others. It has an accepted meaning, Trying to dilute the meaning of this word is an attempt to dilute the meaning and understanding with which this word is used as an identifier. To try to redefine polytheism as something it is not is an insult at the least, and if enough people start using it in the way Mr. Halstead would care to, actively will produce problems in communication.

In the second post linked above, Mr. Halstead seeks to “’re-god’ the archetypes”. I take great pains to say that this is not polytheism. It is fine that he seeks to do it, but it is not polytheism. I believe that he, seeking to put the numinous back into archetypes, rather than Gods into archetypes, is a fine goal for him to do. However, it is not polytheism as I understand it, practice it, believe in, or acknowledge. It is perfectly fine that he believes, understands, practices, acknowledges, etc. in a religious context different than I. What is not fine, and what I will not stand for, is his appropriation of the word polytheism, polytheist, etc. to suit his own ends. What he describes and espouses is nothing I recognize as such.

He rightly points out that his beliefs are a choice. So too, is identifying as a polytheist, and embracing the beliefs therein. As he points out in the post, these are his beliefs. I am not attacking his beliefs, or him, please let me make that perfectly clear.

The spectrum of religious belief does exist on a spectrum, but rather than a singular spectrum, I believe it extends from many, of which extreme psychologism to extreme transcendentalism is just one. Religious beliefs are also a series of continuum on which belief and disbelief are polar opposites. These are tools which can help us understand where we lie in relating to the Gods, Ancestors, spirits, ourselves, the world around us, etc. You can be a polytheist that disbelieves their own experiences in the extreme just as you can be a be an atheist Pagan and fully believe that your experiences of the Gods, such as They are, are real. The scale is only as useful as how accurate and accepted it is.
Mr. Halstead writes “The spectrum of belief regarding the nature of divinity ranges from extreme psychologism to extreme transcendentalism. I fall more toward one end of the spectrum. Others fall more toward the other end. But we are on the same spectrum. For example, whatever they believe about the ultimate nature of divinity, I would wager most people can acknowledge that the experience of divinity is to a certain extent paradoxical, in that divinity can at least seem to be both “in” us and “outside” of us, both a part of us and also other than us. ”

Well, yes, when we are placed on that spectrum of course polytheists are in a very different spectrum from him. In a great many places our various religious positions do not line up. We may be able to agree that ‘the experience of divinity is to a certain extent paradoxical’. In my case, the idea that the Gods can be cosmically as well as personally present is one place where I could say the experience of a God, such as Odin, is powerful and mind-boggling.

Recognizing that I may have attributes within me, or parts of me that resonate with Odin does not mean that Odin is in me. It means that these parts, attributes, etc. resonate with Him. Odin is Odin, Odin is within Himself. When He gave breath to Ask and Embla it was a gift, one which did not cease to be His breath or a gift, but much like my parents’ DNA, that gift of life and existence is part of me. I am, in the end, external to Him. For me, this in particular is not a paradox. It makes sense, since He is not I, and I am not Him. My parents gave me life, and their DNA is bound up in me, but I am not them, nor they I, and while there are parts of me that resonate with them and parts of my persona that match up very well with them, I am not them, and vice versa. Finding the nature of the Gods in ourselves is not a paradox. I can look to a great many things, fictional and non-fictional, in a variety of media, and ‘find myself’ or aspects of myself, things that resonate with me. So too may I see the Gods in the world around me even while recognizing that my personal experience of ‘if I see three pairs of crows it may mean Odin is present’ may either be inaccurate (i.e. it is just 3 pairs of crows, congrats) or simply a personal experience for/with me alone.

Devotional polytheists have contributions to the larger Pagan communities that we may make. Whether we can make these contributions depends largely on whether or not we are given space to speak in it from our own beliefs, experiences, and traditions. Our contributions will depend on whether or not our words and identifiers are respected. I do own the word polytheist the same way that I own the words cis-gender male. The same way that I own the word pansexual. These are identifiers. I do not make these on my own, since meaning is not made in a bubble. These words are accepted by the communities that employ them, and in larger society as meaning certain things. They are, in general, respected for what they are, even if not fully agreed upon. If Neo-Pagans like Mr. Halstead are going to try to include us, respect for us starts with respect for our identifying words, our beliefs, traditions, and experiences. We do not have to agree, that is not at issue here. At issue is basic respect.

Mr. Halstead says that using the words ‘polytheist’ and ‘polytheism’ in psychologized and naturalized senses has precedent. Yet, even he admits there is better precedent for how I use it: “there’s better precedent for using the word to mean a belief in gods as literal, independent, sentient beings”. So while he writes that he sympathizes, he will continue to misuse one of the primary words by which I identify myself. There are two definitions for sympathy, and I am not sure which one rankles me more in this context: “feelings of pity for someone else’s misfortune”, or “understanding between people; common feeling” (OED). What this tells me is that either he is unmotivated by his sympathy to change his behavior, or in the face of it, he is ignoring something that wrongs others so he can use words as he sees fit.

If someone is misusing a label or term, they are misusing a label or term. His belief that “that saying Margot Adler — or Doreen Valiente — is not a polytheist is a little like saying Paul was not a Christian.” No, actually, it is stating a truth. From what writings I have seen, and with my experience of having been on a small panel with Ms. Adler, neither one of these women are polytheists such as I use, understand, or acknowledge the term. The quotes given are monist, panentheistic and/or pantheistic. None of the quotes acknowledge the Gods as Beings Unto Themselves, nor even that They are differentiated from one another. Beliefs like “all the Gods are one God” and the like are not polytheist. There is no belief in many Gods to be had here. It is not polytheist. It does not make any of the contributions these women have made to Paganism and Neo-Paganism less, it simply means they are not polytheist. These women are Pagan (or Neo-Pagan if you will) but they are not polytheist. So no, this is nothing like saying Paul was not a Christian. It is saying Paul was not a Lutheran.

Whether or not trying to erase or silence polytheist voices was Mr. Halstead’s intent, it is no longer an issue for me; it is what he and like-minded people are actively engaged in doing that concerns me. If you wish to identify as a Neo-Pagan and the larger Pagan communities accepts this I will not stand against them; that is their decision. If the larger Pagan and Neo-Pagan communities accept atheist and humanist Pagans as Pagans and/or Neo-Pagans, that is their business and their right.  ‘Polytheist’ and ‘polytheism’ are not just ‘something I found’ or just words that ‘capture’ what I believe. ‘Polytheism’ and ‘polytheist’ are words that identify who and what I am. It is an identifier of the communities and people I find common cause with. It is a religious identification. These words should be used with respect to and for the people, communities, and religions they represent.

In sharing his beliefs Mr. Halstead does not silence my beliefs or erase my community. His attempted co-opting of my words, most especially my primary identifiers, does. His insistence in using these identifiers as he has done and continues to, does attempt erasure and silence. Setting up his standards as norms for my community are further attempts at erasure and silence. His use of the words we primarily identify ourselves with in the larger Pagan community on an inter and intrafaith website decreases our ability to effectively define ourselves. Twisting the words ‘polytheism’ and ‘polytheist’ to mean something they do not dilutes their usefulness as words, silences our effective use of those words, and erases our identity along with it.

Update: My thanks to James Stovall for being a sounding board, and for the example with Bob in the middle of this piece. He helped me think on the term ‘use’, and how it can be used in a sentence without the loss of personhood, and with respect to the person.

Honesty and Truth; Self Identification and Communal Identity

November 1, 2013 Leave a comment

I was reading a post by Aine Llewellyn on identification at Patheos.com and I thought about my own identity.

How did I come to know who and what I am?

I looked for something to identify with myself, a model or series of models to compare, contrast, follow, and reject. It necessitated looking at how others described themselves, seeing which words fit best. This is part of every person’s foundation. Self-identification and self-definition cannot happen in a bubble. While it is personal to some degree for much of our lives identity is communally developed.

Consensus reality is built with a standardized understanding of the world around us. Even with words that have their own continuum, words such as hot/cold, good/bad, etc. there must be a root knowledge of what is being described and compared for any meaning to be built. To understand hot we must understand ‘hotness’ just as we must understand cold by its ‘coldness’. We must also understand where those dividing lines are defined, even if it is relatively arbitrary. Without these foundations there is nothing for meaning, or identity to build on. These basic identifiers of reality then expand outward to more complex topics, such as religion.

If identity cannot be built in isolation how can identity take such as central role when only defined by oneself? If self-identification is all that matters what would the point of words, let alone consensus-based reality, matter?

I recognize that writing this post is, in and of itself, setting a healthy powder keg with ample matches nearby. To even address identity in so straightforward a manner can be viewed as threatening, confrontational, fundamentalist, or simply being a jerk. Or all of the above. It is not my intent, either in writing this or pointing out Aine Llewellyn’s post, to be antagonizing. It my intent to make some points on things I feel very strongly and develop constructive, needed dialogue.

If I cannot point to x, y, or z and discern x from y, y from z, and so on, what is the use of words? Words can, by their nature, restrict meaning, but it also gives us the means to sharing and understanding meaning with ourselves and with one another. In so doing it gives us the means to understanding, appreciating, and developing meaning itself.

Words like hot and cold exist on a spectrum, yet we can say that hot is not cold and cold is not hot; to say otherwise is to destroy the meaning of both words, and the concept for each completely falls apart. We can say where freezing is, where lukewarm (aka room temperature) is, and where the boiling point is for water, both in terms of scientific measurement, and in terms of common parlance. That is why I sincerely believe that exclusionary definitions must come into use, and be respected, in order that our words mean anything. If ‘Pagan’ is to mean anything substantive, at some point we must confess that hot does not equal cold, and thereby, cold does not equal hot. While pinpointing where that dividing line is may take some work on our part, it is a necessary thing.

I cannot, as a polytheist, animist, a priest of two Gods and a Northern Tradition shaman, walk into a Catholic Church and declare myself Catholic with any honesty or in truth. I do not believe, think, or have the worldview of a Catholic. As importantly, I do not attend Mass, believe in the Nicene Creed, or perform the sacraments, hold the Roman Catholic Church as my authority figure, or Jesus Christ as my Savior and YHVH as my God. For me to say “I am Catholic” would not be honest or true. I am not only ill-suited to being Catholic but it would be dishonest and untrue of me to identify as one.

I use the words ‘honest’ and ‘true’ because of their definition:
Honest: “free of deceit and untruthfulness; sincere”
True: “in accordance with fact or reality”

So one may be totally honest in the presentation of their feelings but untrue in what reality is. One may sincerely believe believe that a hot cup of tea is in fact cold, even while steam rises from it.

Would honoring St. Francis de Assisi, to the point of setting aside a shrine for him where I could commune with him and leave him offerings, make me a Catholic? Absolutely not. I would be a polytheist animist honoring the spirit of a man who deeply touched my life, whose namesake I took when I was Confirmed, and whose prayers I still enjoy.

To even try to breach this boundary would be an insult, if not a direct affront to myself, my Gods, many if not all of my Ancestors (polytheist and monotheist), many, if not all of the spirits I call friends and allies, and my Elders. It would equally be an insult to YHVH, the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ, devout Catholics, Catholic priests, bishops, cardinals, and the Pope. In short, I would be honoring nothing and insulting everyone.

What of those Catholics (few, I imagine, given my experiences in the Church) who are in between the points of boundaries, such as those who think you can be Catholic and worship Gods? What of those Pagans who believe that the words ‘Pagan’ and ‘Paganism’ should mean whatever their user wishes them to mean? At some point there needs to be a consideration on whose voice matters, why, and for what reason their words should be recognized as honest or dishonest, true or untrue, valid or invalid.

A layperson in the Roman Catholic religion may make all the pronouncements on Church doctrine that they wish, and for all they may articulate their position well, with full citations from accepted Church sources, they will not be an authority within the Catholic Church. A layperson has no power to set theology, doctrine, or ways of conducting oneself within that religion. Few forms of Christianity exist which allows their laypeople to have this authority.

If one is truthfully and honestly identifying themselves as a Catholic then, according to the doctrine of the Church, you are placing yourself under its authority. If one is to truthfully and honestly self-identify as a Catholic you cannot be anything other than a Catholic who adheres to the beliefs of the Church. These are part of the rules laid out by the communal body of the Church through its doctrines and theology. These are the rules that one accepts, even if one disagrees with them and is seeking change within the Church, as part of being identified as a member of the Church. You can personally identify as a Catholic, going to Church, and believing as you will, even being fully polytheist, and your feelings may be completely honest and true in and of yourself, that you feel that way and identify as a Catholic. However, it will not be honest or truthful in regards tobeing Catholic.

A Pagan operating purely from personal gnosis alone will likely not be accepted as any kind of authority within reconstructionist circles no matter how fervent their beliefs or powerful their experiences. A reconstructionist Heathen will probably not be an authority figure within British Traditional Wicca. Pagan communities already practice discernment as to whose identification is accepted, who is an authority figure, and who is part of the community’s in-crowd. However, it is seen as rude and/or outwardly hostile when one tries to apply any rubric of discernment in determining who belongs to the larger Pagan community.

At this moment, one can truthfully and honestly identify themselves as Pagan regardless of personal theology. Among a great many, one of the differences between the Christian and Pagan communities is that Pagan communities each have their own standards as to who belongs. Some of these standards may be so lax as to be nonexistent. Some Pagan communities have no standards of belief and/or practice whatsoever, accepting all comers to the identification. Others, by contrast, are quite strict in their definition of who belongs to their particular community, while others’ boundaries are quite porous while still having a core of adherence required. In the case of Paganism, as it exists right now, the only way to identify a Pagan is to have one identify themselves.

In order for Pagan to gain more substantive meaning it needs to be become more exclusive. Why should Pagans embrace exclusionary statements? If there are 30,000 or so (and growing) denominations of Christianity, why not follow suit and embrace as many variations of ‘Pagan’ as come to the term?

Christianity as a whole discerns between itself and other religions in its namesake and its theological position. To be Christian is to follow Christ. That marks it as different from other monotheist religions as well. It is exclusionary in its very name, demarking itself from all other religions in that Christ, regardless of what denomination one follows, is the head of the religion and that one is a follower of Christ. There is no such thing in Paganism. There is no positive differentiation between Pagans and other faiths. We are defined by negative differentiation, by not being Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Shinto, etc. In other words, we are not even self-identified.

The Pagan identity is all but completely constructed outside of our communities. There is no absolute baseline for belief as the term is used today. There is not even a requirement for belief in a God or a Goddess, let alone Gods or Goddesses. Nor are there requirements for even a belief in a spirit, let alone spirits. If the word ‘Pagan’ and ‘Paganism’ communicates essentially nothing in terms of belief within our own communities, and communicates little to nothing of our beliefs when used by other religions as an identifier, what good is it as a description for any belief, let alone an umbrella of them?

By contrast, there is a profession of belief in declaring oneself a polytheist. It is simple and direct: the belief in many Gods. Individual groups within the polytheist communities may have different standards of belonging, belief, right action, right practice, ethics, etc. but the uniting factor is that belief is actually involved and it is in many Gods. This definition excludes atheists, monotheists, monists, and others, but that is what makes it an effective word: it does not say ‘the belief in Gods if you can believe in Them’, or ‘the absolute belief that the Gods are x, y, z, etc”, merely that one believes that many Gods exist.

If ‘Pagan’, ‘Paganism’, and related terms are to be of use they must be more than negatively outwardly-defined. They must be internally defined, and, more importantly, positively defined with a clear meaning.  

The Religious Implications of Peak Oil

April 22, 2013 7 comments

For those who do not know what Peak Oil is, a quick summary:

Peak Oil is a term that means that we have hit the peak of oil production which can meet global demand for it.  Simply put, a peak occurs when demand outstrips production.  There are plenty of online resources, some of which are here: The Oil Drum and Peak Oil, among a great many others.  For a great, ongoing discussion of the implication of Peak Oil and his own exploration of the religious implications of Peak Oil, among a great many other topics, Archdruid John Michael Greer’s The Archdruid Report is one of the best I have seen.

Rather than discuss the science and charts and such, since I have, compared to others, a limited layman’s understanding of Peak Oil, I wanted to dive right into what Peak Oil can mean for us as Pagans.

What are the religious implications of Peak Oil?

Gebo is Foremost

Gebo means gift for a gift, and for a long time the West has been able to, by and large, ignore its share of Gebo to nature and the poor.

If Western society has a chief ill it is that it seeks something for nothing.  Capitalism’s strength is predicated upon infinite exponential growth when, realistically speaking, this is not possible.  There are hard limits to growth, whether it is the forest providing timber, the mine providing gold, or the computer number-crunching.  All things have their limit, and without respect to that, disaster is inevitable because all future hopes and plans hinge on a single method of interacting with the world.  So, my understanding is that the first implication of Peak Oil is that Gebo must come before all else.

Naudhiz is the Measure of All Things

Naudhiz translates to need or distress.  In this, I am primarily thinking of need, and the maxim “What does it do?  How well does it do it?” becoming the measure by which all things will be measured.  Do I need this electronic device?  Can I break it down or build it up into something more useful?  Will this get in the way of me being productive?  If it breaks down, what can I do with it?  Can I repair it?  Do I need it or a replacement if I cannot repair it?

Naudhiz is the rubbing together of two sticks to make fire.  It is the necessary work needing to be done to survive, if not begin to thrive.  It is the laundry getting done, the garden planted, the animals fed, etc.  Whatever work is needing to be done so things progress.  Getting busted down this hard to basics is not something a lot of people in America are used to, though with half of America officially in poverty that is quickly changing.  What can I truly live without?  What am I willing to do to make it?  Hard questions that more are asking, and many more yet need to ask.  Once we know Gebo it is easier to measure what must be done.  It is far better to voluntarily start the process of asking these questions when you may have abundance than to wait until you must get answers on the fly.  Naudhiz is a good measure to budget by once Gebo is known.  In knowing the limits of what is asked, and what you can deliver via Gebo, you can best know what you need, and from there, determine how to meet that need in exploring Naudhiz.

Right Relationship

While this is part of Gebo it also deserves direct mention.  Right relationship is the idea that there is a way we should interact with and within the world.  It means not dumping chemicals on your lawn just so it looks green.  It means not ripping up every bit of habitat around us for more parking structures or development space for single-story, large, wasteful, polluting businesses.  Right relationship implies that we not only understand the aforementioned limits of our society, its reach, or the environmental impact we have, but respecting that limits and staying well within them.  It means remediation of wild places and a radically different way of life.  In respecting that we have stretched much of our environment to its breaking point, local, as well as State and national ways of doing things will need to change.  Each person’s situation will be different, but one way we can reduce rampant consumption and its many branching effects is conservation.  Conserve electricity, water, food, everything your life depends on that you need can, past a certain point, be conserved.  Even if you yourself do not garden, conserving food where possible and composting it where it is not, or handing it to a neighbor or friend, will make much better use of food and landfill space.

More than anything else we need to reduce our rampant consumption here in the West, especially America.  We consume 25% of the world’s resources with only 5% of its overall population.  This equation needs to change if we are to live in right relationship with the world around us.

Looking to Our Ancestors

Modern society provides very little actual grounding for living.  Unless you are taking classes in school with practical application, such as a Home Economics course, or if you are in a homeschooling situation where people are preparing you for the real world, modern society has more or less thrown up its collective hands in teaching or instilling much in terms of practical lessons.  Most Americans do not know how to grow food, much less how to make fire.  Repairing things is almost entirely a lost art; rather, we are encouraged to buy the new thing.  Repair shops used to be a nationwide phenomena.  If something broke, you fixed it.  Without throwing on rosy-colored glasses or romanticizing the past, either recent Americana or further back, there were a good number of practical skills a person, or someone close to you, might know that make sense for us to retain into a world beyond Peak Oil.

What does this have to do with Ancestors?  Everything.  Our Ancestors at some point or another had to live off the land.  The occupation for 90% of Americans, at one point, was farming.  In a post Peak Oil time, while we may not get back to that 90%, we are going to need to devote more of our energy to it.  This will mean regaining skills we have not used, or wholesale reskilling ourselves to the task at hand.  My grandfather collects old farm tools.  Seeing these I can see the Ancestors’ hands on them, and how these tools are ancestors themselves to the electrical and gas-powered machines we have today.  Far better we learn to use these older machines, and start demand for them now, than having to completely reinvent the wheel and/or play catch-up.

This can be a form of working with, if not worshiping our Ancestors in a very direct way.  Everyone has Ancestors who were farmers.  They tilled the soil, they knew how hard it can be to grow things.  Does everything they did work for us?  No, certainly not.  My German Ancestors worked different soil, but many of the lessons translate well.  The point is, is that by and large farming itself has not grown by leaps and bounds in terms of its basic ingredients or complexity.  It is merely the scale that has become so huge, so complex.  Our Ancestors hold many of the keys to future prosperity, whether we find that in how we raise our crops, our houses, or our communities.  Will everything our Ancestors did be right for our age?  No, but the collective wisdom They hold is worth at the least considering, if not employing in our lives.

Industriousness

Using a hand-cranked masher, I made pear sauce last year and sealed them in mason jars.  No sugar added, just three large, sealed mason jars full of pears that will keep for a good long while.  This is something my parents and grandparents have done most of their lives, something that was not passed down to me until I demanded to be taught it.  Will it keep me alive through a harsh winter?  Well, no, not just on canned pears, but it, and similar skills will, even if the post Peak Oil future is a generation or so down the road, save me a lot of money.  Think of how much we spend on canned goods, frozen goods.  Growing it yourself is a savings of a large chunk of money, especially if you can do it well.  Money does grow on trees because food is real wealth you can put in your mouth.

What does this have to do with religion?  Religion is a framework through which we understand our place in the Worlds.  Industriousness, what we do with ourselves on a regular basis, is an important part of that.  We have, in our Pagan traditions, Gods of the hearth, the home, and certain crafts.  When I clean I dedicate that work to Frigga and Frau Holle.  When I till the Earth or plant, I dedicate that Work to Jörð, Freyr, and Gerda, depending on where I am planting and what I am planting.  I speak with the landvaettir as well as  Jörð, Freyr, and Gerda prior to planting, when setting up the space, when working within the space, and when harvesting.  I hail Nidhogg and Hel when I take out the compost.

The point of a religious life is that the Work of that life does not stop at the temple, church, or shrine.  It is enlivened by the Work done in the temple, church, or shrine, and extends into every area in which one lives and breathes and works.  The world is full of holiness if we would recognize it.  So when you put yourself to work, whether at a computer, a field, someone’s home, or the living room, it is a time that the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits can be honored, praised, and involved in your life.  In this way, I see Pagan religion not so much practiced as it is lived, and industriousness is one key way in which we can connect to the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits.

Wealth

I mentioned something in the last section that I want to dig into a bit more: Money does grow on trees because food is real wealth you can put in your mouth.  Most ancient societies judged the wealth of a person by how much stuff they had.  In the Germanic and Norse case, it was cattle and grains.  They, rather than currency, were markers of wealth because if you had lots of cows and/or grain you had lots of land, people to work that land, raise those animals, etc.  Food and land equaled wealth.  What is often remarked upon as wealth, calculated in numbers that most human minds reel at fathoming, is basically numbers in a computer.  I cannot eat the ones and zeroes any more than I can the paper they are now represented by.  It is not what I would call ‘real’ wealth.

Peak Oil destroys the concept of fiat currency, which is the economic regime we currently live under in most of the world, because the US dollar is predicated on growth and is not backed by anything.  It is essentially a thoughtform which we have agreed upon, saying that ‘the full faith and credit of the US Federal Reserve is so good it can be used to pay debts’.  It is, in essence, a massive act of faith that keeps the economy chugging along, and all it would take is something like Peak Oil, or people switching en masse over to the Euro to destroy a good deal of its so-called wealth.

Cows, meanwhile, do not lose inherent value because the dollar tanks, the Euro rises, or the whole global economic system comes crashing around our heads.  The cow will still eat grass, chew cud, produce milk, and be a viable meat source.  The grain in the field will still grow, be able to be produced into bread and countless other things, regardless of how commodities pricing is.  Both still have inherent value not propped up by a largely fabricated economic system.  When a fiat currency’s users no longer have faith in it the currency has no value period, and it never had inherent value, beyond perhaps being able to be smelted in the case of coins, or burned in the case of fiber-based paper currency.  The ones and zeroes in a machine have no lasting impact upon us or use for us when the system collapses; it does not produce more money, does not regenerate, and has no connection to real wealth once the glamour is broken.  It is telling that the Germanic/Norse God Freyr is a God of agriculture and of wealth.

There are several warnings about wealth and greed in ancient Pagan religion, but using the Hávamál as an example, it is more concerned with wealth in terms of coins and gold, in other words currency wealth, in these warnings, and often reminds the reader/listener that this wealth is transitory at best, and fickle.  Meanwhile true wealth stays with one long-term and is found in friendship and good company.  It is that understanding of wealth that is key.  To not only understanding what is more important in terms of material wealth, but what is true wealth, and what will truly help in the long term.  One may stock food for some eventuality, but once that store is gone, what use is it if there is no one to lean on, no food to grow?  You starve.  As Freyr is the God of both agriculture and wealth, I see one of His lessons is that if one establishes a good relationship with the land they live on, one may truly be said to be wealthy.

 

So where is wealth to be found?  In good friends, in hard work, and in doing well by others.  In working with the land and living beings, and doing right by both.  In other words, by living in Gebo and right relationship with others and the world around you, meeting you and your family’s/community’s/etc. needs, and in being industrious.

Crafting

The religious implication of crafting could be an entire post on its own.  The first Goddess that comes to my mind is Frigga, the spinner, the weaver, the homemaker, Who spins Wyrd.  Wow.  Just think about that for a moment: one of the Asynjur is the one who spins the primal stuff of potential into what was, what is, and what will will be.  It is said She knows all Wyrd but will not speak of it.  That is power.  In a legend Her favored army beat Her husband’s army, Who is a renowned God of battle, cunning, and skill.  Our Goddesses of crafting, of homemaking, and the hearth are neither to be underestimated, nor belittled.  They are powerful, holy, and glorious in Their own rights.

We underestimate craftswomen and craftsmen to our own detriment.  We buy inferior, polluting products from countries who allow their workers to burn when the factory is on fire.  Our food comes to us out of season on the backs of millions of underpaid and exploited farmers from other countries while our own crops rot in the field because large-scale agriculture relies on illegal workers.  Many of the arts that would produce these goods closer to home are becoming more and more scarce despite our wealth of able-bodied workers.  If Peak Oil is to be navigated effectively crafting will need to come back into its own, and the way to make this transition easier and far less haphazard is to support it now, both in terms of the current generation and those coming up in it.  This support needs to be as much from the ground up as possible, including spinners as well as clothing makers, those who harvest clay to those who shape with it.

In short, in supporting crafting the supply chain needs, as much as is possible, to be returned back to the local level and scaled to the local level’s needs to start with.  Sure, we can grow bigger, perhaps this town has an excessive amount of sheep and supplies wool to its neighbors, and they have cows and supply butter, yogurt and milk to theirs.  Still, Peak Oil’s biggest challenge is to stop consuming like there’s no tomorrow and rework our methods of producing back down to local, but scale-able design.

The religious implication here is that in supporting this from the ground up, and reworking our supply chain in such a way, even if our neighbors do not worship the Gods we do we can still bring our religious values in line, particularly in the belief that this world is holy, as is the work we do, and so can the things we support.  In this case we instill that in our everyday life by supporting change, by building up our neighbors so we may all thrive.  We make this change part of an unfolding of our religious values, especially suited to an age where acting in Gebo and right relationship are not just niceties but keys to survival.

Peak Oil as a Whole

Peak Oil is a direct challenge to many of the ideas that we as Americans have gotten used to: that we can spend our way to a better future, that conservation is no longer a needed thing, that consumption is growing the economy, that we can spend what we have like we will have it tomorrow, and that there can be growth without limits.  It directly attacks American exceptionalism, hegemony, empire, and our place in the world.  Peak Oil is our society hitting the limits on our ability to tap the resources we need for our modern lifestyle.  Peak Oil’s coming does not mean we have to all go into a neo-primitive lifestyle, although that is, to my mind, a viable option for some.  What it does mean is that Gebo, right relationship, meeting our needs on a consistent basis, looking to our Ancestors, supporting our crafters, and engaging in industriousness at all levels will be necessary.

To religion Peak Oil is a direct challenge: do your instructions, traditions, orthodoxy, orthopraxy, etc. aid the survival or hasten the destruction of human life and well-being, now and in the future?  Do your religious views, institutions, etc. provide comfort, direction, purpose, and empowerment to living in a way that is geared towards LESS (Less Energy, Stuff, and Stimulation) while providing hope for the future?  Do your religious leaders provide focal points for community building, or are they needlessly divisive and disruptive to cohabitation and cooperation in age where both are key to survival?  Does religious instruction raise children equipped to handle the world as it is, or is it looking forever backward or forward at some mythic Golden Age, trapped in worlds to come that will not arrive?

There are many more questions, and they will be answered by each person as much as each priest, by each religious institution as by each religious community.  Yet they are worth pondering, as surely as it is how we, as Pagans, as fellow citizens in this country, will navigate the near future.

I invite anyone who wants to engage in this dialogue to comment here, to reblog, and start more conversations on this topic.

%d bloggers like this: