The moon is full tonight… even now after six in the morning I can still feel it pulling from over my shoulder, calling me back to wakefulness after a long nap.
That’s probably the best way to describe the state I’ve been in since the last time I posted: a long nap. I’ve for the most part abstained from reading too much of what’s going on in various Pagan/Polythesist (what are we calling ourselves again? I lose track.) circles for the past… I think month now. Been focusing more on recovering my health and learning to live with what will probably be a deal of pain and inconvenience for the rest of my life. Basically, my spine is twisted out of shape which I’m gradually working back to a tolerable position and I’ve learned that genetically I have a predisposition to spinal and possibly arthritis issues that will never really go away. So the past month has been a cycle of pain, exercises to help fix the issue, regular doctor’s visits, dealing with all the paperwork of taking care of finances until I’m able to work again this next week, swallowing pills and sleep. A lot of sleep.
Having to focus on my physical health and what I need to be doing to maintain it consequently gave me a lot of time to consider what helps me on my spiritual path and what does not. There’s a lot that does not. Again as I have all to frequently on my path I find I’m at a point that in order to move forward, I may be better served closing doors than keeping them open. Kinda sad really, after my efforts a couple of months ago to build bridges that the result I find is a need to burn them. Sometimes things need to burn in order to light the path ahead.
I started on this path by deciding for myself that YHVH and the teachings of the modern Church (not to be confused with the ideas that Jesus actually attempted to teach) were not things I would stand for, primarily due to a desire for freedom to worship as I choose which is not encouraged by the religion of my birth. I found modern Neo-Paganism and Wicca after that and found some common ground, but in time find that my way of approaching the Gods had little in common with those movements, so I moved on. I found my calling to the Norse Gods after that but at first only finding Asatru movements that were either race based in nature or otherwise less welcoming of the forming of the deep personal relationships with the Gods I had come to enjoy or else clung to an idea of Good and Evil that I had long since rejected, I found myself alone again. Most recently, I’ve come across those who call themselves Polytheists and for a time I did feel as though I may at last had found those I had most in common with. Close… I really was close this time, but again I find myself walking for the most part alone.
I wonder if this is what He felt like at times in His wanderings. The Old Man, searching for that one thread of hope for the world. This, not sadness but melancholy of accepting the reality of walking one’s path alone.
I have found some friends in the Polytheist community, many who share some of my frustrations though each with their own individual variations on what has frustrated them about this movement and why. One recently felt the need to quietly leave publicly participating in discussions within the community out of concern that those within the community might later take it upon themselves to attack the reputation of that person during later years as that person begins life as a public professional. Sadly, from some of the madness I’ve seen I’d have to say I agree with both that decision and the reasoning. Other friends feel they have no means of having a voice within the discussion, feeling that there are those who have sought to shut down dissenting opinions of how Polytheists or Devotional Polytheists should act. Again, I sadly find that I agree with that sentiment. A few others choose not to lend their voice to certain issues, feeling that their participation in the dramatics of certain discussions could both hamper their ability to perform as teachers and possibly discourage those who could benefit from their instruction and so grow closer to their Gods. I briefly considered if I should be upset at this (“if you know it’s wrong why don’t you say something!?” I believe was the unspoken thought in my head at the time.) but after thinking on it more clearly I decided that such a level of professionalism and dedication to service is to be applauded and perhaps if there were more teachers who felt this way the community as a whole would benefit.
As for myself, I have nothing to lose should my reputation be attacked being someone who always more interested in holding a simple job (I work as security officer) and having a quiet life with my wife of five years come this May. I also seem to have a bit of a stronger filter for insult and injury than others. At times that has been a detriment as it makes it difficult for me to understand why others feel insulted or otherwise maligned by a statement that would not bother me or else I don’t notice when someone is attempting to insult me (ex: In a recent discussion elsewhere, apparently I was called ‘weak’ for my beliefs, a statement I failed to notice, but rather upset a friend of mine who believed me to be strong. Lesson learned: I have good friends). Also, I am not a teacher or otherwise in a position where I feel bound to maintain a certain distance from more dramatic issues. Thus, should I choose to raise it: I can have as loud a voice as I wish.
Now before I go on, let me be clear that to a considerable extent I find myself in agreement with the theological perspective of those calling themselves Polytheists and more specifically Devotional Polytheists. At present, I understand that theological position to consist of principles including:
- The belief in the existence of Gods who are defined as individual unique beings, functioning as independently of human thought as one human being does from another.
- The belief that human beings are able to communicate with these beings through various processes (mysticism, shamanism, divination, etc.).
- The belief that Gods are worthy of human worship and devotion.
Now to get in to the issues that I have noticed as common place in these circles that particularly frustrate me.
The implication of mysticism as a universal possibility.
Mysticism in this instance being “the action of achieving personal contact with a God or other Being” and a mystic being someone with the capacity to do so. Frequently, wherever I wander among those who call themselves Polytheists I run into the assumption that the ability to hold personal congress with a Divine Being is an ability universal held among all human beings. It could be as simple as someone asking for the most basic advice, and getting a response along the lines of “Just ask the God about it”. Which is sound advice, assuming the person is a mystic and capable of doing so.
However, most people simply are not mystics.
I can’t prove that statement, but I can empirically state that no means of determining if a person is or is not a mystic exists, much less any means of determining the validity of any mystical experience. Each individual experience takes place firstly in the deep inviolate privacy of the human soul, a principle that maintains for these experiences their sacred nature and mystery. Unless carefully approached it also makes the practice spiritually dangerous and occasionally harmful to some individuals. When there is pressure in the group to be a mystic and to have such experiences a pressured individual may do one of two unfortunate things: Force the mystical experiences to happen in a manner that amounts to self deception or feel as though there is something wrong, perhaps that the Gods do not care enough to speak.
I have witnessed both of these events happen multiple times, the first by observing the personal breakdown when an individual comes to the realization that self deception has occurred. Often the former also leads to the latter. I also witnessed a similar principle at work when I was more inclined to interact with practitioners of Wicca, where there was often a group expectation of magical ability.
Having contact with several individuals who are not mystics yet still desire a means of finding some form of connection with the same Gods I worship, or at least worship based on similar principles, it has become my ambition to find a means of providing that connection. At this point thought, I’ve despaired of finding much aid in this task within the circle of Devotional Polytheists. I have found some interest and some who in quiet ways are already actively working towards this end but for the most part I have found at best a lack of understanding and knowledge of those who are not mystics and at worst outright aggression against the notion.
The expectation of understanding and acceptance.
I’ve seen this in far too many places, the highlights probably being in the ongoing discussion with John Halstead on the definition of the word polytheism on Patheos and the recent Wiccan Privilege panel at Panthea Con. I could also say I’ve seen it every time someone decides to rant on how horrible it is that someone else doesn’t share the same understanding of polytheism, devotion, offerings, ancestor worship, or… what is the current topic of the week? I’ve been a little out of touch.
First off: Never mind that for most that fall under the wide Neo-Pagan umbrella (in this instance: All Non-Monotheistic modern religious movements of the last century that at least claim to be influenced by pre-Christian concepts) the entire concept of worshiping anything other than some form of the Abrahamic God is ‘new’, for most of those who have at least found their way to some form of Paganism, the ideas of Devotional Hard Polytheism are even more ‘new’. For better or for worse, and idea of the Divine as a singular source that manifests in multiple facets has been popular since the 1950’s and 60’s. It will take time, patience and education for this new but not new idea of the Gods as distinct individuals to become just as popular. Ideas about devotion will take even more effort to spread, as the effort they demand of the individual will always make them difficult to accept. Growing impatient with those who do not grasp the ideas as quickly as some have will not help the process.
All of this business of complaining that Pan-Pagan events don’t do enough to accommodate Devotional Hard Polytheists similarly baffles me, especially when I see the same authors complaining about how misguided (assuming the author is being polite, which frequently is not the case) Wiccans and other Neo-Pagans who’s ideas are closer to Monism or soft polytheism are, then turn around and complain about how poorly Hard Polytheists are accommodated at Pan-Pagan events
Now I’m going to do something I try very hard not to do, as I find the practice uncivilized and unhelpful in most situations, and make a statement using several expletives for emphasis. I do apologize for the profane language in advanced, and I will be again endeavoring to minimize its use in future. *takes a deep breath…*
WHEN YOU TALK SHIT ABOUT PEOPLE LIKE FUCKING HELL ARE THEY GOING TO WELCOME YOU IN THEIR HOUSE!!!
Pretty much this is what I’ve seen happening: Hard Polytheists either making statements publicly that are disparaging of other branches of Neo-Paganism, or privately in places where I have heard it, and then later complaining that the targets of these statements are not doing enough to accommodate Hard Polytheists in the circles that they have worked to build. Even to the point of “you’re just like other Pagans!” has become an insult. The entire concept baffles me… it would be as if I went around talking about how horrible and impious the local Church was, and then I was surprised when I was turned away at the door (granted, some Christian Churches would go out of their way to welcome such a person, they’re cool like that).
Or even without all the vitriol, it would be as if I walked into a Catholic Church expecting the service to be accommodating of Gnostic beliefs. That’s more the reason why I no longer try to participate in any Wiccan circles or most modern Neo-Pagan groups where Soft-Polytheism is the defining norm: I don’t find it reasonable to ask someone who’s beliefs are not mine to accommodate my beliefs, nor for anyone else to ask me to accommodate for theirs. Understanding and tolerance sure, I can ask for that, but I won’t always get it. Those things will always be an uphill battle to work for no matter who we are. As a cis-gender white male which for the most part leads me to be perceived as a person of the majority, I typically have to deal with the preconceptions that I am a homophobic bigoted racist chauvinist on a regular basis whenever I go out in public or to work and find myself needing to explain how I am otherwise. Getting angry at those who are quick to pin me as these things isn’t going to help and sure it gets frustrating explaining myself over and over again as it does for anyone who has to combat preconceived notions, but it is the only way to work towards building any form of understanding.
The Practice of Judging the Piety of Others
Now for the one I find most reprehensible. This is an issue I began to be aware of back when I attempted to bring several people together for a discussion about offerings as part of devotional work in this post. The effort proved to be quite a success in my view, bringing together a variety of perspectives and exposed me to quite of few facets of the Devotional Polytheist discussion that I was hitherto unaware of. However, one particular group I was hoping would participate did and in fact I have only noticed their language growing more divisive and disparaging since. That would be the group referred to as the Piety Posse.
Now I’m not aware of where exactly the name Piety Posse came from other than it was originally not a name for the loose group of people that later used it. As such I would not typically use such a designation, save that in an article here Galina said it was a name she’d bear proudly and Sannion used the meme in more than one post that I don’t particularly care to dredge up.
To summarize, around the time of a post Tess Dawson wrote about offerings which my post linked above attempted to address the controversy over, Galina, Sannion, Tess and several others made a number of statements claiming that those who did not have the same understanding of devotion and in this particular instance of the manner in which offerings to Gods are to be made.
To be clear: at the time, and still, I agreed with the ‘Piety Posse’ on the theological importance of the issue at hand, the granting of offerings from which the offering takes no benefit. I also tend to agree with them on most theological issues. Just not on this one point of whether or not it is ok to judge the piety of anyone else.
It is not ok. Ever.
I am not, nor is anyone else, capable of judging by any certain means what a God calls any individual to offer, much less any broad group of people. If someone says they take care of endangered parrots because Odin said to, who am I to judge? Maybe Odin really has a thing for parrots. Just because He didn’t come down to Earth and tell me “By the way James, I really like parrots so I got this kid to watch out for them for me,” doesn’t mean He didn’t. He also may not have told this hypothetical kid anything, but that’s between Him and hypothetical-kid. That’s His business. My business is what He asks of me. Not what He asked of that other guy.
Sharing what each of us does for our Gods is wonderful and should continue, as it builds a picture for ourselves and for those yet to come to the Gods of what devotion might look like. Attacking the piety of others for any reason, be it historical inaccuracy or what have you, interferes with that. It takes the position of being an exclusive voice for a God, which no one can ever hope to be, and drives more away from the Gods than it draws in.
The Fight Over the Word Polytheism
This I’ll keep a bit shorter then close, as it matters less than the other points. I keep following all this back and forth debate with John Halstead and others over the word Polytheism and… for the life of me I don’t get it. I’m not even sure when the word ‘Polytheist’ became the name of a tradition as it seems it has begun to see use as. I still recall several years ago when I first started seeing the phrases for Hard and Soft Polytheism how most of the authors who wrote from a Hard Polytheist perspective still often referred to themselves as Pagan, Heathen, etc. I don’t particularly recall anyone throwing a fuss about Wiccans, Neo-Pagans or those who practice something derived from Jungian philosophy calling themselves polytheists. Now it seems like anyone who uses the word and isn’t a Devotional Hard Polytheist is wrong for using a word that they have used for over fifty years.
Thing being, I’m not concerned with if I’m a Polytheist, Pagan, Heathen, Hard Polytheist, Devotional Polytheist, or anything else. I’m James Grimswolf. I’m devoted to the Old Man, the Flame Haired One, The Man In the Moon, and in time many other Gods as I build relationships with Them.
Having a specific tradition name would be nice… but as much talk as I’ve heard about “reclaiming the traditions of our ancestors”, that’s still an evolving process and much of it continues to involve the creation of new material appropriate to modern circumstances. Oh and… I’m pretty sure my Pagan/Heathen ancestors didn’t call themselves Pagan, Heathen, Polytheist or any other word originally used by those outside of their traditions to describe them. I’ve also yet to see anything I’d consider a complete solid tradition to call myself part of and give a certain name to that I’d be welcome in… and I’m probably welcome in far fewer circles after penning this. Which is helpful to me in its own way, as it will grant me the chance to better focus my energy in ways that will help build those traditions and hopefully a community that is based around more than a word coined by Christian scholars in the seventeenth century.
The Wolf Runs Free!
Or at least, I feel a heck of a lot freer now that I’ve written all this, argumentative as it was. As I pointed out in a post written about a month ago, Galina Krasskova was one of the authors that most inspired me about five years hence as I began walking the Old Man’s path that He’d set for me. This has made the past few months seeing most in particular her posts as they got angrier and angrier quite troublesome, as I tried to reconcile how to come to terms with the author who’s writings first showed me that I wasn’t the only one pursuing a personal relationship with Odin, seems to have become a person more concerned with dogma and the destruction of meaningful community, than with sharing the ideas my experiences and my Gods have taught me to cherish. As has been her tactic, and of those around here, anyone who speaks out gets shot down, branded impious, told their gods must not be real to them, and well… treated like heretics.
Well… I am a heretic. Always have been, always will be. High time I stopped hesitating to speak up out of fear I’ll be rejected by the group and well… start lighting bridges on fire so I can see which ones are made of wood, and which ones are made of steel.
So… I’ve probably lost quite a few friends now. But I’m free. Free to speak my piece and howl as long and loud as I dare the way the Gods have shown me They love to hear.
Oh… that’s right. I suppose I never really howl alone.
They’re always listening.