To clarify my opinion re: this Politics v. Devotion and why there shouldn’t even be a versus

Yesterday I reblogged a post by Galina that was talking about how John Halstead was now a writer at Gods&Radicals. (Per Rhyd Wildermuth’s clarifying comment, I stand corrected: Halstead has been writing for Gods&Radicals for a while, albeit intermittently). I was caught off guard, and so I reblogged with the following post, provided unedited:

For fuck’s sake. Everyone who takes their polytheism seriously MUST read this. There is yet another terrible issue in our work to establish ourselves, and it is taking a political AND anti-theist stance that I am NOT liking. My religion is not a political position. It CAN include politics, as politics houses values and power relations, but religion should never BE a political position. There’s a big difference between advancing polytheism peacefully and equally in various, diverse directions (including politics and social justice), and crafting polytheism into a political position [instead of a tradition where the gods come first and social justice arises from this tradition]. I care about developing devotion, tradition, and right-relationship with the gods… AND having Halstead in this? I have a terrible, terrible feeling about this….

And Rhyd replied:

Hi. Just as a note of clarification, John Halstead has been one of the many, many writers at Gods&Radicals since its founding. He’s not new.

We do not insist on theological purity nor ideological purity in our writing collective. We’re against hierarchy and authoritarianism–we don’t police the beliefs and practices of our writers, nor would it make any sense to come up with a Statement of Belief for our writers to conform to.

And while most of us are polytheists (including all of the board and myself), we’re honoured to feature the writing of many other iterations of Paganism, and will absolutely continue to do so with the blessings of the many gods and spirits who’ve taken an interest in our work, and for whom we offer it. And besides, my gods don’t disappear because someone doesn’t believe in them the same way I do; I doubt yours will, either! 🙂

Taking into consideration that that last line was really a jab Taking into consideration that Rhyd and Galina are having personal issues mixing in with their ideological differences as well as the differences between their goals and what they want to bring to polytheism, this is what I have to say as an outsider who does not know Galina nor Rhyd personally, who does not know their relationship personally, and who is reading only what is being posted up so far.

I think working to restore cultus, devotion, tradition, space for the gods is a wonderful thing. I also think working to fight hierarchy, authoritarianism, and the evils of capitalism backed by polytheism is a wonderful thing; I don’t see how social justice and reform isn’t an offering to the gods or working to make space for the gods. (If social justice and religion weren’t tied together, there wouldn’t be social justice cores in theology programs, nor activism sustained by/for pagan groups, and/or liberation theology in any kind of religion. I certainly see how religion and politics come together and flow parallel to each other).

I actually agree with a lot that Rhyd says in his articles on capitalism (and anti-capitalism, for that matter). I also agree with a lot that Galina brings to the table on restoring devotion and encouraging people to develop a deep connection to the gods in whatever way they do so. Who’s to say that Rhyd’s great work isn’t heavily influenced by his deep devotion to the gods he works with – and who’s to say that Galina’s great work to publicly and privately establish cultus isn’t a form of activism for both the gods and for polytheists everywhere?

I hope that what you see here is this: both Galina’s and Rhyd’s approaches are equally valid and contribute to the greater diversity of polytheism. What Galina and Rhyd write from their stances doesn’t actually go against each other (and I am talking specifically within the parameters of the cultus and anti-capitalist stands, respectively). And what Galina and Rhyd have to bring to the table is equally important. It NEEDS to be talked about!

So why is it looking like we need to start deciding (and soon!) that we need to take sides? I’m not computing, apart from me understanding that there is a personal-relationship level to this that I’m not touching simply because I’m not Galina and I’m not Rhyd.

My religion is not a political position. It CAN include politics, as politics houses values and power relations, but religion should never BE a political position. There’s a big difference between advancing polytheism peacefully and equally in various, diverse directions (including politics and social justice), and crafting polytheism into a political position [instead of a tradition where the gods come first and social justice arises from this tradition].

When I wrote this, I was attempting to share four thoughts of mine: one, that I don’t think religion should ever be a political position and that is not what I am working towards; two, that I do understand the intimate relationship between religion and politics; three, that I fully support advancing polytheism peacefully and equally in various, diverse directions, as it damn well should (including politics and social justice); and four, that I personally think that a healthy relationship with engagement in politics and social justice comes from having established traditions and cultus (which is why I said, at the very beginning of this post, that I support fighting work backed by polytheism).

What I am nervous about is that we will come to a position where I will need to take sides – where we will all need to take sides because of this. And it doesn’t have to be that way! We don’t have to come to that! There isn’t one way to develop something, and there are many spheres that need our attention, that have the attention of the gods. Both Rhyd and Galina have really, really important Work, and I just wish they’d just talk it out, but of course that’s none of by business.

I think anyone who takes their religion seriously should always think about what they want to do for their god(s), what they want to do for their community, and what they want to do for the world. If it’s anti-capitalist social justice, awesome! If it’s restoring cultus, great! I don’t see these things as mutually exclusive – nor, in my opinion, should they be.

What I will certainly not do is support things that I see as wrong. Everyone has a right to their opinion, to develop and critique, and to grow in their differences; and everyone, I think, also has an obligation to cry out wrongs, whether it’s something institutional or something that someone else just casually says. I do not want to pick sides, because if someone asks me what my goal is for polytheism, I will answer every time, “Restoring cultus.” That is what I am working towards and that is what I have been Asked to do, on both a personal and public level. I don’t think Rhyd should be singled out because he has a different goal from Galina, but one does have to make the distinction that it is not the same goal. And that’s okay. The problem begins when that goal starts competing for attention.

Speaking of competing for attention, no, I don’t like that Halstead is on Gods&Radicals. And that’s just my damn opinion, as I have the right to complain and I have a reason for doing so. To me, Halstead is doing the equivalent of walking into a Catholic church and saying, “Okay, so I’m here. I want to be a Catholic, and I want you to call me a Catholic. But since I personally believe that Jesus Christ, God, the Holy Spirit, and the saints are archetypes, I want you to change the liturgy to reflect this ontology, and I want the theists to be totally on-board with this. Oh, and remember to call me a Catholic, because I am a Catholic.” I don’t like that at all…. and that’s just my opinion. Anyone can do as they like but, well, people are always going to say something. I don’t think Halstead’s actions are conducive to a healthy paganism or to restoring cultus – so, of course I’m not going to like his actions.

Just like Rhyd, just like Galina, I will forward what I believe is right and I will call out what I see as wrong – I believe that I have an obligation as a believer and as a human being to do so. And on that one tiny sentence, maybe we can all agree. And maybe, just maybe, we can have a fruitful conversation that leads to a healthier development of polytheism.

St. Patrick’s Day: A Day of Mourning for Pagans and Polytheist Traditions

When I awoke today, there was a heavy feeling in my home and in my heart. Cernunnos is silent today, and He is in mourning. The house is quiet and somber. He shall not be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day today, and neither shall I.

Besides the fact that it’s been a year now since my beloved abuelo passed away, today marks a day where celebration partly revolves around a story of St. Patrick “driving out the snakes from Ireland.” In truth this is a description of driving out the old, evil pagan ways and traditions from Ireland – of converting Ireland to Christianity, which meant not only killing pagans but pagan traditions as well.

Pagan gods. Our gods. My gods.

The ramifications of such actions plague us as polytheists. They weigh heavy on us as we try to return to Them, to return what was stolen from Them. Our great loss is the leash that pulls back tightly on our necks as we struggle forward to be in right relationship with the gods, to be able to leave behind a legacy for polytheism, to be able to worship rightly. Hell, to be able to understand the world from a purely polytheistic perspective is near impossible, simply from the cultural, social, moral, and religious presence of monotheism deeply engrained into our lives.

When we work with the gods, we do so with the sorrow and emptiness of having had traditions and beliefs erased – robbed from us and from the world – for the sake of a “better” religion. We do this knowing little of the traditions of our gods, and the little that has been saved is rife with Christianization (prose and poetic eddas included as well as Beowulf). We do this knowing that, today, Daesh vows to destroy all remnants of polytheism from the East (sound familiar with St. Patrick?) – do we celebrate this, too? We do this knowing that all of that culture, history, tradition has been lost. And we do this knowing that our traditions and our framework of polytheism has for centuries been dragged in the mud as an inferior philosophy, something that no educated person could truly espouse. A lesser mind, a lesser capacity for intellect, is the only logical reason why anyone would return to paganism. “Only stupid people can be polytheists. Only inferior people can really believe in the gods. Forget the Fae, too.”

Paganism is just story. Paganism is anything goes. And the gods are just stories, archetypes, forces. Never allow us to be reminded that these gods are real, and that They were worshipped as People. As gods. I see and hear this all the time, and all of this enrages me.

In the face of all of the troubles that we as polytheists have right now in developing our traditions; in the face of a cultural climate hostile to polytheism; in the face of our religions and spiritualities being demonized; in the face of a theology and belief never taken seriously; in the face of the reality of witch-burning and paganism considered to be actual crimes that merit death in many counties, and St. Patrick’s day celebrating the deaths of pagans and druids that refused to convert; in the face of people who read the myths of the gods and see them only as stories and archetypes to simply explain natural experiences alone (as if our ancestors were so primitive); and in the face of a true impossibility to bring back the fullness of history from the dead, I cannot celebrate this day.

I see it in the way that the Fae are treated as some sort of tinker-bell spirits, and people are so quick to call the Unseelie as “evil, malicious” Fae (where, truly, there is barely any information on the Unseelie Court). I see it in the way that people try to approach the gods as pagan converts from monotheism – not pagans. I see it in the way that our gods are reduced, simplified, posited as “here for our service” and unable to do no wrong – to never have complexity or sentience of agency. I see it in the way that people stare at us, in that way that tells us that we’re either devil-worshippers or deluded.

I don’t think people understand how much hurt this brings – to us, to our gods, and to what we are struggling to make for paganism and polytheism as movements and established traditions. We have no traditions to fall back on. People don’t take us seriously because, well, anything goes in paganism, right? Our community is rife with drama, back-stabbing, and ridiculous nonsense that truly holds us back. Our community has the idea that piety is for losers and that our gods don’t really give a shit about having had their cultures beaten down by others. Our community has the idea that tradition is equivalent to dogma, and immediately becomes defensive the moment someone tries to say something worthwhile and constructive. “You don’t own me! You don’t tell me what to do! I don’t do that!”

And what of our gods?

Cernunnos is a title in Latin – “cornu” from “horned or antlered” forming the word “the horned one.” All we have are depictions that were not erased. All we have of a great and flourishing worship to this integral god is gone. We know that He was worshipped (and widely so!) and yet there are no temples, no remains, no legacy. The face and person of my god was demonized by Christians into the devil as a way to invalidate the beliefs of the Celts and to force them into Christianization. And for all of the information on the internet and in books, we have NOTHING on Cernunnos.

NOTHING. Not even His name. We do not even have His name. All we have is a title from the language of the Romans – not even His name in His language. I do not even know the name of my most beloved god, my Husband.

The fact that I cannot even know His name, that I cannot ever speak His name, that I can never murmur it, or sing it in a hymn, or scream it, or love it, or write it down… that, to me, is heartbreaking.

The fact that we only know of Cernunnos from the side of a cauldron devastates me.

This has happened to countless other gods, spirits, entities. (And many Others have not been so lucky). This, to me, stands amongst the greatest crimes of all time.

And our gods live, and I rejoice in Them daily. The snakes are not gone, and They are coming back stronger than ever, and I know that They are here to stay.

But massacred people, murdered traditions, and forgotten gods have never been cured with joy. And they never will be; reality hurts, doesn’t it. All I can do is offer Cernunnos a drink, hang my head in mourning, and continue my Work.