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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 1 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. 

Thinking Locally and Acting Locally

May 5, 2016 2 comments

I love politics.  I find it fascinating on an intellectual level.  I also find it entertaining, probably on the same level as some of my friends enjoy the soap opera style of WWE or Lucha Underground.  Hell, one of the candidates was even on WWE.

I also recognize that most politics, or what passes for it, is a complete waste of time.  Most of the things I have any hope of affecting as a voter are decided at local, regional, and sometimes State level elections.  Though, with the way our legislature in Michigan works, should appropriation funding be in a bill that passes there is no way for us voters to hold a referendum.  This is how the Republican-led State Congress pushed through a lot of legislation of all kinds lately, and made them stick despite loud protest.

I still vote, especially in local elections and ballots, because that is where a lot of funding comes for things like our police, fire, libraries, and so on.  It’s also where our leadership comes from for local boards, among others.  It directly affects my family and I.

A phrase I have heard for a long time now is “Think locally and act globally”.  It bothers me, because when we get down to brass tacks, my spheres of influence start and end locally.  I’m only acting globally if I’m acting with enough people that our collective pull is felt in some way.  A lot of the things I hope to make impact on simply don’t register all that large, even with a good number of folks interested in it.  My view is that we should be thinking and acting locally, and let things develop from that.  It is hardly a new view.  However, rather than be in the vein of ‘you need to change yourself before you change the world’ in an abstract way, or even a psychological one, this thinking and acting locally is a tactical one.  It is also tends towards the whole person rather than an aspect of them.

I have no hope of changing national policy.  I may not even be able to change a region’s view of how things like environmental care, farming, local interdependence, sustainable housing, and the like could be.  What I can change is how I do things.  What I can change is how I help people in my tribe, Kindred, friends, and allies.  What I can change is things on a very local level.

Otto von Bismarck said

“Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable — the art of the next best”.

Ideals are good things to have; they give us things to aim for, to work to attain.  They help guide our decisions communally and personally.  However, practical effects are what is lacking in a lot of politics lacks now, especially those that affect us locally and nationally, such as the ways we need to address environmental damage our ecosystems are taking on, climate change, and Peak Oil.  Lining up on either side of an ideological divide may feel good, but ideology won’t keep your family fed or help you endure the Long Descent.  If all you have is ideology, after a while all people will see you offer them are platitudes rather than something that will actually help them live differently.  If you want to change the world, not only do you need to be that change, but you have to help others be able to see themselves in that change too.

Lately, my family and I have been doing a lot of simple  wild yeast mead brewing in mason jars.  We had our first batch finally finish, and it tastes great.  Not only did this teach us that this is a completely viable way to make really good mead, but for our close friends with whom we are sharing this batch, it provides us a means of sharing the results, tying hamingja and wyrd closer together through Gebo, and perhaps inspiring others to take up brewing as well.

Is it a huge change?  No, not on a global scale.  Locally, though, it is helping Michigan bees and bee farmers, we’re reusing glass mason jars and ceramic bottles, and we’re learning practical skills, the results of which go well as gifts to our Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, tribe, family, and friends.  When we grow our own food this spring and summer, will that be huge on a global scale?  No.  It will, however, save us quite a bit of money in food bills, we’ll be using mason jars and potentially ceramic for some, if not a good number of the food we’ll bring in, and we’ll be learning practical skills, the results of which go well as gifts to our Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, tribe, family, and friends.

Part of the thinking and acting locally is that I drop the need or, as I would have put it during my ceremonial magic days, the lust of result, to have the large, powerful impact on a nationwide scale.  My worship and working with Jörð reflects this idea.  I worship Her as a Goddess of the Earth, and I also relate to Her as a Goddess of the Earth where I am (without exclusion to local land/Earth Gods and Goddesses), as I am also tightly bound to my local environment as I am to the Earth.  I have developed a relationship with Her in the context of where I am, where I live, and where I grow my food.  How could I hope to change Her?  So, I take up the space in Her where I live, where She and the landvaettir share with me, and do what I can where I am.  Therefore, all of my actions take place on and within Her and alongside Her in a local context.  To try to separate my understanding of Jörð from my local understanding renders my relationship with Her far less meaningful, to the point of meaninglessness in most contexts.  This thinking and acting locally is often referred to as regional cultus.  It is religiously thinking and acting in relation to the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir on the local level.

The idea of thinking and acting locally is not separate in terms of religious cultus, growing food, addressing Climate Change, Peak Oil, or environmental damage.  Rather, I take them as a whole, with religious regard running throughout even if addressing environmental damage is not, in and of itself, a religious ritual or act.  I hold relationships with the landvaettir, and because of this relationship on a personal religious level and practical level together, I have a deeply invested interest in the environment thriving and the neighborhood we are part of together doing well.  If I care for the landvaettir, I care for the wellbeing of Their body/bodies, the physical land, plants, creatures, and other Beings which make Them up, and I care for Them on a spiritual basis as well.  It means helping to keep the environment clean and healthy while maintaining good relationships with Them through offerings, prayers, and actually visiting with Them.

Giving general ideas of how to interact with the landvaettir is only so useful.  I can go with lists of offering ideas, but inevitably I will come right out and say something along the lines of “You will need to learn what would be good as an offering for your landvaettir.”  This is part of the idea behind thinking and acting locally for the environment, Peak Oil, or Climate Change.  There’s only so much I could tell you about permaculture techniques or ideas for how to live sustainably that would apply with any accuracy.  Most of the permaculture, homestead, and other skills classes I have gone to have been held by and at places local to me.  Their lessons are bound into how our land works.  I could not tell you useful species of trees to in a Californian environment.  I could not tell you what herbs are invasive, native, useful, or good to grow in that soil.  It’s simply outside of my research and experience.

This is also why I talk a lot about getting to know our Gods locally.  That is, if you are worshiping a Goddess who was associated with wells, maybe get to know Her with your personal well if you use well water, or develop a personal relationship with the local bodies of water where your drinking water comes from.  Do research on where your water comes from, see if the Gods of waters have any association with it, or directly manifest in it.  See if the waters have their own Gods, or big vaettir.  Thinking locally and acting locally means taking steps to relate to this world when and where we are.

Since the body s part of the overarching soul matrix I also look at the bodies of water as the physical component of the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir of Water.  Likewise the other elements.  How we treat the bodies of these Beings matters, and its impacts hit us in like fashion in our bodies and souls.  If I treat the body of the watervaettir well (pardon the pun), then I am nourished in kind by the water.  If I treat it poorly, I foul the water, destroy its ability to enliven plants and animals alike, and destroy the ability of my ecosystem to live healthy.  If I live upon the Earth well then I am nourished in kind.  It is Gebo, and its effects ripple through Wyrd.  When we think and act locally we partake much more readily in these ripples, in how Wyrd weaves.  In doing our part as best we can with our local threads we can more effectively weave with the larger patterns of Wyrd.

A Response to The Uncomfortable Mirror

April 2, 2016 47 comments

Since the posting of the article Confronting the New Right on Gods & Radicals, there has been quite a lot of writing going on in response to it.  When I first came across it, I was going to weigh in on it.  Then, I caught the flu my son had just gotten over, and in my usual fashion when I get sick, it took me down hard for a few days.  I watched from the sidelines as conversations unfolded, and I could not help but think: good.  We need to talk.  We need to weigh things and figure out where we stand on things.

Rather than seeing these recent developments as portents of doom for the polytheist communities, or for various folks in the Pagan communities, I see these as part of a larger unfolding within these communities.

“Paganism in general—and apparently Devotional and Reconstructionist Polytheism in particular—have been long overdue for a reckoning.”

When I read these words that invoke a reckoning, from Rhyd Wildermuth’s post on Patheos, The Uncomfortable Mirror, particularly from someone who identifies as a bard, that not only gives me pause, but I am urged to ask
“What is this bard calling for, and why this word?  What kind of reckoning is he calling for?”

The use of words is a powerful thing.  The word polytheism is a word that contains a worldview within it.  All the religions within the various polytheist communities take their basic understanding of who they are, what they are, and where their religion starts from this word.

The use of words is a powerful thing.  The use of words like devotion, for instance, is one that comes up quite a lot in discussion in Pagan and polytheist circles.  It has in Wildermuth’s piece, but how he uses it bothers me.  He uses both ‘relational’ and ‘devotional’ as words for identification within polytheism.  The reason why this use bothers me is that polytheism is devotional in nature.  Devotional means “Of or used in religious worship”.  Since polytheism is “The belief in or worship of more than one god” this division in language makes little sense, as worship requires devotional work, offerings, etc. in order to be of or used in religious worship. A religious regard for the Gods renders us in a relationship with the Gods.  There is no point to how Rhyd Wildermuth uses ‘devotional’ and ‘relational’, especially in quotes, because without these things as being part of polytheist religion and polytheism itself, you do not have belief or worship because there is no religious regard for the Gods, and thus, no relationship with or to Them, except perhaps as a rhetorical device.  Why one would try to divorce devotion and relationality from the Gods makes no sense to me, especially since this is the very ground of polytheism itself.

The problem with Wildermuth stating that his post, Confronting the New Right, was a resource supplement to Shane Burley’s article Fascism Against Time, is that nowhere in the original draft of the piece does Rhyd identify himself, the purpose of the article, or that it is to be an information page on the New Right.  As someone more predisposed towards Wildermuth’s left views, and having read the article in question, I found myself consistently simply not seeing what he insists is there in the original article in his latest write up on it, The Uncomfortable Mirror, in which he tries to give this clarification.  Had he been clear and upfront in his presentation this incredibly long post would never have been needed.  However, I made no connection between Confronting the New Right and Fascism Against Time.  It was not until I read this latest post by Wildermuth that I realized there was supposed to have been a connection!

Part of the issue, especially not being part of anarchist, Marxist, or far-left circles myself, is that the article itself provides little understanding of what the New Right itself is.  In this, it fails as a resource.  I need to know why the right alone, or conservatism alone, is being singled out for this.  Why is the right alone being taken to task on this, and what alternatives does the left offer?  What is actually wrong with being on the right, politically?

Stating that your piece draws no equivalency while people are actively telling you that they are seeing you draw them in this way is either tone-deaf or actively not listening to the critiques you are getting on this piece.  Repeating your disclaimer from the section in question is not actually helping.  We have eyes.  If folks are not getting it, even if you repeat it three times, the problem may not be with the reader, but with the article.  Even in the most charitable reading I gave it, I still was getting quite a bit of false equivocation between the polytheist groups Wildermuth mentioned, the New Right, and fascist ideology.  Not only is this unhelpful, but repeating yourself when folks are blatantly telling you that you’re not communicating effectively is not accepting criticism, nor responding effectively to it.  If this is what Wildermuth views as an acceptable response to criticism, it reads as doubling down on the rhetoric he has already employed, and pushing the Pagan and polytheist communities to this ‘reckoning’.

Here is one of the keys, though, where The Uncomfortable Mirror really makes me sit back.
Wildermuth freely admits that:
“Do I put my politics first? I don’t actually know what that means. Do I favor political ideology over what the gods say to me? Do I favor political action over spiritual activities? This is not a question I can answer, because in my world, they inform each other and are inextricably linked. My gods help me understand my relations to politics, and my politics helps me understand my relationship with my gods. There is no wall between them for me.”

So…wait.  If a fascist said this exact same line wouldn’t he be criticizing them for hijacking polytheism in favor of the New Right?  Why is Rhyd’s view of this suddenly preferential to a New Right view?  He glosses right over this point and heads into the next one, but this bears some serious looking at.

Just because I may have some sympathies with Wildermuth’s views does not mean he is above reproach here.  I believe polytheism needs to be open to all political viewpoints even if its individual communities are not.  Polytheism and polytheist communities are two different things.  He says that both Beckett and Krasskova admit “the possibility that political views might shape beliefs and practice.”  Meaning, this shapes their beliefs of polytheism and their practice of polytheism.  However, it does not change polytheism for polytheists as a whole.  Polytheism is, and remains, the worship or belief in many Gods whatever the ideology, politics, etc. of the individual polytheist and/or polytheist communities they are involved in.

Being unable to differentiate whether or not you are putting your politics before your Gods, or that your politics are so intertwined with your Gods that they are inseparable is something he takes Galina to task for in the very next paragraph, and calls her out directly for.  The problem with doing so, in my view, is that in the Confronting the New Right piece he blatantly says that “The New Right is difficult to define precisely, which has been one of their greatest strengths. But here are some core ideas that are common in most New Right thinkers”.  He’s going to take someone to task for having ideas that align with people he does not agree with.   He is critiquing a group of people for intertwining their politics with religion, while intertwining his politics with his religion.   That he can actually point to Krasskova’s views and say “Look, these are New Right!” means that she and others are being open about their politics.  It is also true that she is being open and forthright with where her religious views take her, including tribalism, hierarchy, eschewing to tradition, and caring for how these things unfold rather than her personal interests.

“Is there a leftist infiltration of Polytheism? And am I—and the writers of Gods&Radicals—leading it? Or did I, by gathering information about the New Right hold an uncomfortable mirror up to a tradition I am a part of? Have I violated sacred traditions, or merely revealed their political aspects?
While I and the writers of Gods&Radicals are quite open about our political views and how they relate to our practices and beliefs, it might be a good time for others to consider being more open about this, too.”

Rather than there being a leftist infiltration of polytheism, I see that this piece is a political litmus test that is being put on polytheism.  So yes, in this sense, he and the writers of Gods & Radicals are leading this.  He gathered information, poorly laid it out, and called a cracked surface a mirror.  He did not violate sacred traditions, but spent a lot of digital ink on why those he is aligned with are superior to the communities he points out in his piece, that the New Right is a threat to polytheist communities and is, itself infiltrating polytheist groups while not actually effectively talking about why the New Right is the threat he makes them out to be.

A good chunk of the issue I had with Wildermuth’s Confronting the New Right had to do with the poor definitions I found in it.  Not being inside left academia or thought, especially that of anarchism or Marxism, I found there were a lot of assumptions being made and nowhere near enough bread crumbs to find my way to where Wildermuth was making his assertions to begin with on the New Right.

The definition of fascism from OxfordDictionaries.com is: “An authoritarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government and social organization.”  Authoritarian is defined as “Favouring or enforcing strict obedience to authority at the expense of personal freedom”.  Nationalistic is defined as: “Having strong patriotic feelings, especially a belief in the superiority of one’s own country over others”.

One of many problems with Wildermuth’s piece is that what he is pointing out here has less to do with these definitions and more to do with the general use of the term, as pointed out in the same source: “(In general use) extreme right-wing, authoritarian, or intolerant views or practices: this is yet another example of health fascism in action”.  He also does not provide context nor definition for what traditionalism is, nor tribalism, nor does he provide much else in terms of context or definition for the other terms.

The problem is not that Wildermuth is pointing out that the New Right is seeking inroads into Pagan religions, polytheist religions, and the like, but that he provides little-to-no-context within this post for it, nor does he provide any effective means of sussing out the working definitions he has here before diving into what the New Right stands for.  A large part of the dismay and anger has erupted directly from this in both articles, and the section titled ‘What is the New Right’s Influence on Paganism?’ in Confronting the New Right.

If the New Right is difficult to define, how much harder will it be for those who are not in leftist, Marxist, or other political groupings to understand where he is coming from?  Read from the outside looking in, much of what he has written in Confronting the New Right does not read like an effective guide, so much a document meant to damn certain ways of doing things while providing a few sentences to the notion of everyone being free to go their own way.

Wildermuth says in regards to the Red Scare and witch trials that, “In both cases, there was a political agency obscured by the hysteria and scapegoating. The Red Scare significantly reduced the influence of leftist critique in the United States at the same time that it strengthened the power of Capitalists and the State against workers.”

I wonder if he understand that by adopting a lot of these stances and putting political litmus tests like these on polytheism in the manner he has done, he is actually playing in the us vs. them politics of left vs. right, and is slowly eroding support, even from those on the left.  Even if he is actively resisting putting political litmus tests on polytheism, that folks cannot see that, and in fact are seeing the opposite is a problem.

Then I read this:
“Paganism in general—and apparently Devotional and Reconstructionist Polytheism in particular—have been long overdue for a reckoning.” [Emphasis mine.]

Whoa what?  Apparently to whom?  What kind of reckoning?
I first came across this point in detail when I read The Lettuce Man’s A Thought on the Recent Radical Brouhaha, and it’s gnawed at me since I read it.  It still does.  Were the right to use this rhetoric would there not be worry -with reason?  Why not so with the left?

By what right or direction does Wildermuth make this judgment call to bring polytheists to a reckoning, and who is he to make it?

This statement on dialogue is absolutely chilling, and it’s implications are of deep concern.  This is from someone who identifies as a bard, and bards, like skalds, wield words with spiritual impact and power.  A reckoning is “the action or process of calculating or estimating something” and “the avenging or punishing of past mistakes or misdeeds”.  The use of his words here most definitely point at the latter definition than the former.  So, in what way would Wildermuth avenge the ‘apparent’ lacks he sees within their communities?  Who or what he is avenging?  If not avenging, how will he, or anyone who takes him up in this regard, judge these communities, and mete out punishment?  How could he not expect resistance to this overstep?

Wildermuth goes on to say: “Tribalism, Sacred Kingship, Traditionalism, natural hierarchies (specifically, ‘warrior/priest/cultivator’), and anti-egalitarian notions are all crucial aspects of New Right ideology”.

Again, he does not define these things.  He does not give clear, useful definitions of what these mean to New Right ideology.  Rather, he asks the rhetorical question “What is really the difference between the Fascism of Augustus Sol Invictus, or New Right ideology of Stephen McNallen and Alain de Benoist, and the rest of polytheist belief?” and then launches into the aforementioned quote.  He links these ideas, and those of us who hold some or many of these ideas together, giving no context.  It’s a good rhetorical move, but it does not do anything to bring in trust from those of us sitting giving the side-eye to this whole thing.

For a long time I have identified as left in America because of my belief in and understanding of human rights, my view of the role of government, and how people should be left alone to live their lives with full rights and choice available to them regardless of ethnicity, skin color, creed, gender identity, sexuality, etc.  Increasingly, especially with works like this, I am wondering if there is a place for folks like me.  I am feeling alienated more and more by the political system, and then the activists for folks on both ends of the spectrum.  I am feeling more and more ‘cut loose’, as perhaps the best term for where I am right now, because of the things unfolding as they have been.

The left/right divide is increasingly becoming a point of contention without much of a point for me.  At this juncture, I am caring less and less where you are in the political divide, and caring more about “Are you effective at helping us overcome obstacles in our communities?”  This does not mean I’ll just open my arms up to fascists, racists, or the like, but, at least in American politics, I am only 30 and getting pretty quickly burnt out on this bullshit.  I have a limited amount of time in my life that I am not devoting to a job (now two), raising my family, or helping my tribal religious community, and other religious communities to which I am bound.  If I cannot see a political ideology actively contributing to my family, my tribe, or my larger communities I do not have a lot of time or energy left to engage it.

Going back to the quote, I want to dig into some other issues I had with it:
“Tribalism, Sacred Kingship, Traditionalism, natural hierarchies (specifically, ‘warrior/priest/cultivator’), and anti-egalitarian notions are all crucial aspects of New Right ideology”

Tribalism is “The state or fact of being organized in a tribe or tribes.”  A tribe is “A social division in a traditional society consisting of families or communities linked by social, economic, religious, or blood ties, with a common culture and dialect, typically having a recognized leader”.  Sacred kingship is an active factor in many polytheist religions, including mine, and many of our Gods are, Themselves, sovereigns in Their own rights.  Traditionalism is “The upholding or maintenance of tradition, especially so as to resist change.”  I’ve already said my piece elsewhere in my writing (such as here and here) on why I find hierarchy useful and good to uphold, and not so with egalitarianism as an organizational tool while still believing in equal rights and protections for people.

Tribalism, sacred kingship, traditionalism, and hierarchy are all, in some way, part of the polytheist religion I am part of.
Why would I let these go at all?

Wildermuth asks this:

“There are some deeply difficult questions that we need to ask. Do the gods want us to return to ‘tribal’ societies, do the gods demand we war against Muslims and Atheists and Leftists, do the gods demand we institute strict hierarchies and authority-relationships between priests and the rest of us?”

First, these are all separate questions.  I think that for some of us returning to a tribal society is precisely what the Gods want us to do, while this is not what the Gods want for others.  Since I’m not the Gods I’m not going to guess Their minds on this, and I trust Their worshippers have the sense or ability to figure out Their views on this on their own, and make their own choice in response.

Placing this together with “do the gods demand we war against Muslims and Atheists and Leftists” is not a good rhetorical trick, since returning to a tribal society has nothing to do with warring on Muslims and Atheists and Leftists.  It does not follow that returning to a tribal society means we’ll be making war on Muslims, Atheists, Leftists, or our other neighbors.

For the last question “do the gods demand we institute strict hierarchies and authority-relationships between priests and the rest of us?” the answer, for at least some of us, is yes.

That ‘rest of us’ though, who the priests serve, is pretty key, and pretending that a priest of one religion serves everyone is foolish at best.  Catholics have strict hierarchies and authority-relationships between laity and the priests, and between the priests and those of the ecclesiastical authority.  They enter into these relationships with Catholics and sometimes other Christians.  They do not serve me specifically as a Catholic because I am not one.  They cannot institute that strict hierarchy on me.

I have no desire to institute the hierarchy of my religion on folks unwilling to take part in them.  If you do not want to have a strict hierarchy in your religion then don’t belong to one that has one.  If you do not believe there should be authority-relationships between priests and the communities they serve, well, I’m not sure what kind of priests you want, but good luck to you.  You’ll probably not be served by me, then, because if you’re coming to me as a priest of Odin asking for my help, say, in what to give Him an offering and then completely discount what I have to say, there’s not much incentive for me to keep helping you.

The very last bit Rhyd leaves us with though, bears some looking at:
“And did those gods happen to notice those are the same ideas of the New Right?”

If They did….do They give that big of a damn?  Perhaps it is about what ideas work rather than where they are politically aligned.  Maybe They prefer the New Right vs. the Left, or vice versa, and you need to consider your allegiances here.

“Perhaps some gods do want that, but that leads us to another question:
Do we want that?”

Well, that really depends on how we view things then, doesn’t it?  What matters the most, as polytheists, to us?  Our ideology and politics, or our relationships with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir?  At some point, we will have to decide which view is most important: our own, or that of our Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir.  I would say that if you do not want what the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir you are dedicated to want, then it is you that needs to adjust your thinking.

Are there people I disagree with religiously and/or politically that I still venerate?  Hell yes.  For instance, the Catholics in my family who hold onto Their religion beyond death and still keep up a relationship with me.  I have no interest in converting, but if saying the Psalms makes Them happy and is taken in the respect it is meant, as an act of offering and service to Them, then I will do so.  It is not about my personal comfort here, because my personal comfort here would probably be to offer Them water, mead, or some other form of food, and praise Them in the religious manner I am most comfortable with.  This gets into host and guest, Gebo and similar kinds of considerations, though.  Do I do what I am most aligned with personally, or what I ought to do as a good host in my religion in relation to my Ancestors?

How we answer these questions determines whether we are acting out of our own interests, or actually engaging with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir on Their terms and in respect with Them. It determines how we live our polytheist lives, how we pass on our ways to the next generation, and what place these things take in our lives individually and communally, in our lives and intergenerationally.   The answers to these questions determines the kinds of communities we will build and maintain so that future generations do not have to take on the struggles we did.  It determines what we leave to those that follow after us.

A Polytheist Reflection and Response to Convenience, Consumption, and Peak Oil Part 3

December 20, 2015 14 comments

It is easy to understand why convenience is currently winning the hearts and minds of American consumers.  This has much to do with lower upfront cost to the consumer, while the consumer is able to put it out of their minds that much of the convenience we expect and pay for comes at the cost of someone else’s life, livelihood, home, and abysmally low pay or slavery.  Follow any given ‘cheap’ product, and you will find a pipeline of suffering for the animals and plants involved.  Look at any major clothing line or electronics company.  The neodymium mining poisoning Inner Mongolia, the gold in Nigeria in which there are children going blind and infertile, countless countries whose citizens labor for Nike, Gap, and Apple at slave wages or are slaves.  Lots of people are dying just to get a bit of the stuff out of the Earth, make a piece of clothing, or make another electronic gadget that feeds into these systems that keep products cheap for the consumers while costing a lot of people their lives, land, and sovereignty.  It happens here, too, whether you look at New York City’s garment district, falling wages for what once were solidly middle-class jobs, or the paltry amount, around $39,000 or less, that a lot of chicken farmers make per year.

The costs are hidden from the American consumer in terms of jobs, too.  Think about it. When was the last time you heard of a cobbler?  When was the last time you knew the person or the people who made your shoes?  Your clothes?

Resilience does not just mean that the system is preserved in a healthy way, but that people, and the environment are too.  Resilience in our own relationships, economically and personally, mean that we need to reweave our interdependent lives with one another here.  Recognizing that the child labor of a gold mine is wrong; it is another thing to divest ourselves from it as consumers.  Recognizing that there is blood on the diamond trade is one thing, but refusing to buy diamonds at all is a whole other story.  Recognizing that we do not want to support sweatshops or we want to buy American is easy to say, but it is in supporting better ways wherever we can that real change is made.  Resilience requires actions to preserve not only our relationships, but our own integrity as well.  Resilience is an active choice, an activity, and a way of living.  So too, is convenience.

This issue comes up quite a bit when the conversation is about something like the consumption of meat.  Most of these conversation are, themselves, red herrings.  What all of these various issues boil down to, is that so much of human labor and what used to be a lot of animal labor, are now done by increasingly convenient, complex machines which are able to be made because of cheap, abundant fossil fuels.

Think about it.

Whether the fumes choking cities, the heating of our planet via CO2, the plastic choking the oceans, the mounds of human, animal, and plant grief in places all over the world, the only thing that allows these cogs to move at all is cheap, abundant fossil fuels.

The only reason the meat industries are any kind of threat to the environment are because of the fossil fuel powered trade, transport, and machines that allow for the CAFOs and other industrial food/feedstock/animal raising/slaughtering operations to remain economically viable. The entire life cycle of the meat industry, the agricultural industry, and countless others, including the aforementioned on-demand delivery services, depend on tenuous, fragile systems.  From the truckloads of meat, plants, etc. that crisscross the country, wrapped in petroleum-derived plastics, shipped using incredible amounts of diesel delivered on petroleum-derived/made asphalt, kept cold using natural gas, coal, or oil-powered refrigeration technology in the holding areas, distribution centers, supermarkets, and consumers’ freezers/refrigerators, then cooked by means usually powered by coal, natural gas, or oil.  Keep in mind as well that the gas, coal, and oil that keeps the economy and trade moving, that lubricates the countless machines of capitalism, consumerism, trade, and industry, are all looked for, found, extracted, mined, processed, and refined, then transported and burnt, largely by diesel-powered machines.

Meat production itself is not the problem.  Rather, it is the means by which this incredibly wasteful cycle of goods, services, and means of production are kept afloat. That doesn’t mean that our meat consumption isn’t a problem, but it pales in comparison to the things that make such consumption economically viable and reduce the ability of smaller farmers, ranchers, and growers to support themselves and their communities. It’s the same cycle that enables the wholesale destruction of the environment in places that mine for rare earth minerals, like Nigeria and Inner Mongolia for things like gold and neodynium in order to continue cycles of consumption of things like the very laptop I’m typing on. None of the components that make this thing up, nor the power it uses to remain on, or the Internet itself, is without deep costs to the environment.

If we want a healthier relationship with meat, some peoples’ options are to simply stop eating it. That’s fine. Some simply cannot do that. A healthier relationship with meat doesn’t mean that all meat eaters just wholesale stop eating meat, it means developing better relationships with it, supporting local farmers/ranchers, and businesses that employ folks close to home and close down more of that big cycle of consumption I mentioned above.  If I want be healthier, my option is not to stop taking my medication right now.  It means I need to develop healthier relationships with my body and food, and work to get off the medication I can.  If we want healthier relationships between farmers, ranchers, markets, crafts, industries and the people they are made for and use them, we must make the effort as people regardless on which part of the relationship we are, to make things better so we all are more resilient, and our communities more stable.

Convenience today is predicated on cheap, abundant fossil fuels.  Peak oil won’t just bring challenges to our economy, it will stop its ability to move and expand.  Given how brittle our international economic and trade systems are, back in 2008 what nearly took down the house of cards was a housing and financial bubble combined with the soaring price of crude oil. That was a warning that should have shook all of us out of the mindset that we could avoid dealing with the problem of capitalism’s need for exponential growth to sustain itself, and the resultant use of energy to make that happen.

Peak oil is the bar that sets the hard limits to growth.  You cannot grow an economy at the scale we are used to if the economy cannot be empowered to function with cheap fossil fuels.  Peak oil is especially problematic for the United States, since we’ve given over almost all our transportation needs to diesel and gas powered vehicles, vehicles which deliver all of our goods, from food to medicine, from surgery supplies to toilet paper.  Our train system is deeply underfunded and barely adequate to deal with what is already on its rails.  Our bridges are falling apart, as are dams like this one, which is holding back water from 431,000 people in Texas.  We have basic infrastructure problems that need to be addressed.  My point here is not that we cannot address peak oil, but that top-down approaches from the federal government will not be adequate, and any response would be slow, at best.

What about regional responses?  With basic road funding here in Michigan taking the better part of a year just to approve funding (about half of this based on tax cuts, mind you, not raising revenues) on basic maintenance, there is little hope that there would be a top-down response commensurate with need, let alone enough to handle an emergency.  It is not that top-down approaches are not desirable, but that in all likelihood they will be too little too late, piecemeal, or simply lacking in their ability to deal with the situation.

So many of us who have chosen to deal with the problems of peak oil and climate change do so on the local level because that is where we can affect change the best on a practical scale.  It’s the permaculuralist that sets up shop down the road, growing food on their 2 acre plot.  It’s the charities, like Growing Hope and the Fair Food Network in Detroit, that increase peoples’ access to good, healthy food while teaching them how to grow it.  It’s the Transition Town Network, Reskilling Festivals, and Strawbale Studio that works on teaching folks how to do things, from arts and crafts, to making our own homes and growing our own food on a more local level.  These provide folks opportunities to make contacts who will sell to others who do not have the skills or space to do so.  It is not that peak oil is insurmountable, but that the ways our economy, industry, markets, crafts, and food production functions are inadequate to addressing the issues peak oil presents to us.

Peak oil represents a very stark choice.  We can keep trying to make this unsustainable way of life work for a little while longer, or we can learn to live with LESS (a term coined by JMG meaning Less Energy, Stimulation, and Stuff) and work towards a future in which our generation and those after have the abilities, skills, and resources to meet the challenges peak oil and climate change are going to bring.

This choice is why I am looking to engage in another way of living.  I am inspired by my animist and polytheist worldview to live in good Gebo with the world, with Jörð, Freyr, Gerda, Freya, our Ancestors, and the landvaettir.  I am inspired by my Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir to live better with this world, and to live with Them, and alongside Them, and help to bring forward a better future.  I am inspired by my animist and polytheist worldview and religion as a Northern Tradition Pagan and Heathen to align myself within this world and to this world in a way that benefits us both.  I am inspired by my work and role a Northern Tradition and Heathen shaman and priest to do these things as part of my duty to the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, communities I serve, and the generations to come.  To not only be different in how I consume, but to be different in what I do, and how I give back to this world.

I view it as my duty to my best in this regard.  Duty to my Gods, to live well in the world, and within a community of folks dedicated to doing well by our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir.  Duty to my Ancestors, to live well and help raise the new generations with care, and with the skills necessary to face peak oil, climate change, and the challenges they present us.  Duty to my vaettir, including the landvaettir with whom we will live upon, align and work, live with and build good relationships.  Duty to the Warrior Dead who gave Their lives so we could live, the Military Dead to honor Their sacrifices and to teach the future generations their stories so They are not forgotten, and the other vaettir with whom we share this world, that we may come into better alignment, and relation.

I have no illusion that I alone, or even a small community can stop climate change or peak oil, but we can address it within our spheres of influence.  My hope is that it inspires action in others, and ripples through the communities we touch and weave with.  At the least, the next generation we raise, inspire, and welcome will be better prepared to deal with the impacts of climate change, peak oil, and the challenges we have yet to see that will come from them.  At the most we can inspire and promote local resiliency and ties, a refocus of national action on these things, and perhaps worldwide change in how we address peak oil and climate change.  If nothing else, we will improve our small community’s lot while honoring and working in better concert with our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir in this work.  I can think of no better reason to pursue these goals than that.

 

Part 1 of this series is here.

Part 2 of this series is here.

For other explorations of this topic, look here:

The Religious Implications of Peak Oil

Where is the Ground?

A Polytheist Reflection and Response to Convenience, Consumption, and Peak Oil Part 1

December 16, 2015 10 comments

“This world rips at you” I have heard it said.  But it is not the world.  It is our American culture.  It is the culture of stuff, of things, of valuing these things over our human experience.  It is the appreciation of the photograph over memory.  It is the rise of things over connection.  It is the map becoming the territory.

Animism and polytheism as I understand and live it as a Northern Tradition Pagan and Heathen, requires us to live engaged lives.  Stuff is not just stuff; it is enlivened.  The computer flows with firevaettir and the earthvaettir that make up its body.  It was built by countless hands and shipped by the death of countless plants and animals.  Whether we’re talking about the human and environmental cost of making the laptop I am typing on, or the infrastructure and energy that keeps the power flowing through it and connects it to the Internet, it required a vast amount of resources just to bring this product into my hands and keep it functioning.  Consumerism and capitalism kills not just the bodies of the countless billions who suffer under its yolk, it kills their connection to the land, to their Ancestors, and the Gods of the places they live.  It kills the culture of those it touches by valuing all at the extent that money can be made off of it.  It kills the soul of the consumer by denying relationship to that which is consumed.  It denies, at its root, a living reciprocal relationship with one’s world, and one’s communities.

Note, that I am not saying that markets, trades, industry, etc. are doing this.  We’ve always, in some way, shape, or form, had these things, whether the flint-knapper trading for skins, or the gatherer trading for meat, the farmer trading for cloth, and the weaver trading for grain.  What we have not had is such a strident divorce between ourselves and the things of daily life, for the things which make our lives possible.  Even my parents grew up farming and gardening.  I am the first generation in my family where my hands were not directly involved for the start of my young life in the production of food, industry, or crafts, and I am poorer for it.  I am having to relearn these skills now, and am seeking to learn more, because of how deep the divide is between my grandfather, my father, and my own generation is.

What bothers me most about this, in looking at all of this in the face of peak oil, climate change, and the rising costs of living, food production, and health care, is the sense of loss of inter-generational knowledge and skills.  While knowing how to treat basic illness with herbs, tinctures and the like may not have been common, it was well-known enough that you could get a few basic remedies from the simple growing of a few herbs.  Knowing how to kill, clean, and prepare one’s meat, how to grow and produce one’s food was not simply a greener practice, it was tied up in how we lived our lives. Knowledge and skill in how to make the things we ate, wore, and used was a daily part of life.  Not everyone did every trade or skill, but there were enough people doing varieties of these things that communities could get by interdependently. There are skills and knowledge that I and future generations will need to relearn, not out of a sense of ‘getting back to the land’ or some other sentimental notion, however well-placed, but because of basic survival needs.

It bothers me, deeply, how utterly dependent I am as a diabetic on the convenient, disposable system of food and healthcare.  I use needles that I use once and throw away.  My insulin is only able to be produced because of massive farming operations and/or labs requiring a hell of a lot of energy and resources.  The pills I take come in plastic bottles that, if I or someone else weren’t reusing them or recycling them, would likely go into a landfill.  The sheer amount of stuff that it takes to keep me alive is egregious.  Not because I am not worthy of life, but because of the mountain of stuff that is required in order to keep me alive, on a baseline.

This really gets to the heart of the challenge of peak oil, though: if so much stuff is required to keep me alive, at what point does it become too expensive for me to live?  Take this to mean me personally, or the capitalist/consumer culture at large, and the question of ‘at what point can we actually maintain this?’ becomes a question that is about life or death.  If the apparatus by which I retain my ability to live starts to dry up, what do I do?  My response to peak oil is not just a sentimental notion, then.  It is about answering this question on a practical basis.  If I can no longer get insulin or metformin, can I live?  Well, in the short term the answer is no.  However, as Archdruid John Michael Greer notes in his interviews on Legalize Freedom, overnight collapse of a civilization happens in Hollywood movies, while it takes 100-300 years for it to fully run its course historically.  I and future generations have time to put things in place so that, while I may not have as long a life as a non-diabetic, the disease doesn’t kill me outright or over time through kidney failure or diabetic ketoacidosis.  I can’t count on the cure for diabetes to be found, affordable, or resilient enough to survive the Long Descent.  So, I won’t.

My response, then, isn’t to expect some cure or treatment to come forward and solve the problem of diabetes.  It also isn’t to expect the consumer culture to change; there is too much money wrapped up in keeping people in perpetual debt and consumerism.  The monetary system itself is sustained by exponential growth, and as we should have learned from the 1970’s oil shocks, the Savings and Loan scandal of the 1980’s, the dotcom bust of the 1990’s, 2008’s housing/financial crisis, there are hard limits to that.  Booms and busts are a feature of our economic landscape, rather than a flaw in it.  The system goes on because it keeps getting inflated.  The exponential ballooning of the cost of living vs. actual earned income of the average American worker should show us that this way of life is unsustainable.  The increasing cost of heating at a time when natural gas in the midst of a glut should show us that.  The consumer culture, and those who profit from it, have no vested interest in doing things another way.  Those who suffer under such a system do.

Part of the response I am engaging in is to go through the hard lessons of relearning a lot of the skills my parents and grandparents took for granted.  It is to learn how to live with the land, how to live with a lot less, and learn how to live a powered-down life as much as I can now, and do more towards this wherever I can.  As JMG says, “Crash now and avoid the rush.”  That is what I am working towards.  I won’t stop taking my diabetes medication , but I will be looking for ways to reduce their use in a healthy way, with the long-term goal to get off of them entirely.

Another part of my response is partnering with folks who will or already live in a way that supports this, whether it is forming communities, alliances, business relationships, or personal relationships, or tapping into ones I have already established.  It is weaving community ties together in a way that supports my family, my community, and myself while encouraging others to do the same. It doesn’t mean a loss of autonomy, either, and it also doesn’t mean a loss of hierarchy.  It just means that, like a lot of things that need to, things get brought back down to a human level.

This is not without its challenges, and for me, the number one challenge right now is patience.  I’ve had my Gods, Ancestors, and a lot of vaettir pushing me hard to get land for several years, and I have been feeling ‘get started already’ quite a bit this year.  Couple this with my own impatience with how long that’s taking, and there are times where it’s hard for me not to get down.  The other challenge alongside this is resources.  Coming together with others, though, is helping for me to work through things.

Coming up is Part 2, which will explore the challenges we face as a country in addressing peak oil and climate change, and why a return to resilience over convenience is the way to address these directly.

For other explorations of this topic, look here:

The Religious Implications of Peak Oil

Where is the Ground?

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