Category Archives: Paganism

On Being a Bad Polytheist

There’s been some discussion in polytheist circles about sin, piety, ritual purity, and the like. I haven’t been paying much attention because I’ve been spending a lot of time on tumblr and when I’m not on tumblr I’m probably outside, enjoying the last few weeks of hot weather before fall ruins everything.

Honestly, I find the whole debate to be kind of silly, because not only do different traditions have their own customs when it comes to preparing for prayer and ritual, some folks seem to really be pushing the whole “miasma” thing. Seriously, it’s a Hellenic thing, it will never fly in Vanatru circles, ever (or at least, not in my Vanatru circle, I can’t speak for other Vanatruar). You can argue about it and use whatever fancy academic terms you want, but it’s not my circus, not my monkeys, end of discussion.

I’m a Bad Polytheist. Sometimes I yell and swear at my deities. I eat most of the offerings I give, and the stuff I don’t eat gets thrown in the trash. I might take a bath before doing a ritual, maybe. Sin is something I did when I was a Catholic, but no longer, and I doesn’t have a place in my Vanatru, either. I have taken serious religious musings and turned them into sex jokes, or gallows humour. I’m a pop culture Pagan. I’m the irreverent, impious polytheist certain other polytheists have warned you about.

The worshipers of my deities horrified observers who complained about the “unmanly clattering of bells”. The Vanir weirded out the Aesir with their habit of incestuous marriages (not that I condone incest). Freyja taught the other deities the transgressive, likely sexual, tole-defying magic of seidr. If you can name it, chances are Loki’s done it, but after Loki, the Vanir have probably done it, and they do it so well that even other Heathens are uneasy when it comes to the Vanir. Nobody wants to talk about those weird deities from another land with a habit of marrying giants.

I have no use for a concept of piety that always has everyone dressing in their Sunday Best and acting in a perfectly proper and reverent manner all the time and honestly, judging from both the lore and personal experience, I don’t think my deities have much use for it either.

Politics and Polytheism

This is your occasional reminder that this isn’t just a review dumping ground (although I will have more reviews for you later).

The latest debate raging in the polytheist community is in response to a post on Gods & Radicals entitled “Confronting the New Right”. I recommend giving it a read. I also recommend giving the post “Gods of a Radical” both because of the lovely Prayer to the Goddess of the City and the content of the post proper.

I’m currently inactive in the Pagan blogosphere apart from tumblr, so what I know of the kerfluffle is restricted to what tumblrs I’ve followed have reblogged, and what I’m seeing worries me. I’m seeing a lot of “How DARE he call us fascists!” and “Keep your politics out of my polytheism!” I see folks claiming that polytheists should not be political, because it’s “putting humans before the gods” or somesuch thing.

My polytheism is political.

To claim to be apolitical, to me, is to claim a privileged position, a position that has the luxury of not thinking about how one’s views impact others. I’m also reminded of the old feminist slogan “The personal is political,” and what is more personal than religion? Politics is also not just a human endeavor, deities get involved with politics all the time, whether politicking among themselves, choosing the next monarch, or supporting their favourite country or city. I find myself agreeing with the author of “Gods of a Radical”, Christopher Scott Thompson, when he says:

“But if your god’s lore implies something to you and you choose to ignore it, you can hardly say you’re ‘putting the gods first.’ The lore of my gods implies certain values, I take those values seriously, and I guide my life by them.”

How can I claim to honour Freyja if I don’t give a shit about sex workers, or access to abortion, or such a highly politicized topic as women’s rights? How can I claim to honor the Vanir, who came to live with the Aesir, and not give a shit about immigration? How can I claim to honor deities associated with the land and not give a shit about the environment? All of these issues are political issues, of concern, I believe, to both humans and deities. Heck, my very existence is politicized, I’ll politicize whatever I want.

Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying everyone needs to go out and march for a cause. I’m not equipped for that sort of activism, but for me personally, it’s impossible to separate my politics from my polytheism, and I suspect that some of the folks who are screaming the loudest about being apolitical are the ones who are happy to support political causes they agree with.

One final note, if you are more concerned about being called a fascist than you are about combating extreme right-wing views in your movement, you’re doing something wrong.

That’s all for now. Stay tuned for “Reviews: The Deluge”.

Deck Review: The Green Witch Tarot

I have a weakness for “Pagan” decks even though I recognize, as a non-Wiccan, that most of them don’t cater to people who aren’t some flavour of Wiccan. Usually I like to wait until decks come out to get a glimpse of as much of the art as possible, but in this case, I was captivated as soon as the first preview images were available.

Green Witch Tarot Cover

The author of the companion book is Ann Moura, and the artist is Kiri Østergaard Leonard. The deck is billed as one that will help you “align with the natural energies of the Old Religion.” The deck and companion book are packaged in the same flimsy Llewellyn box as decks like the Tarot of Vampyres. The cards are the typical size for decks published by Llewellyn, but are borderless, the card stock is thin and flimsy. Many of the majors have been renamed to reflect (Neo-) Wiccan principles. The Hierophant is the High Priest, Death is the Lord of Shadows, the Fool is the Greenman, the Devil is Nature, Strength is the Crone and so on and so forth. The suit names are chalices, wands, athames, and pentacles, and the courts are King, Queen, Knight, and Page.

The major draw of this deck for me is the art. The deck has a very romanticized rustic feel, from the Knight of Pentacles atop her sturdy workhorse to the dramatic Wild Hunt scene in the titular Wild Hunt card (the Tower in traditional tarot), to the beautiful fairy bathing in a pool in the Star. This deck is a feast for the eyes, and each has a plant and animal associated with it that is featured on that card. The images are just detailed enough to spark your intuition but not so detailed that the cards seem busy. It really is easy to get lost in these images. Many of the images in poster form could easily fit into a ritual room if you’re into a certain “witchy” aesthetic.

The book is a full companion book that is about 240 pages. Every card gets a large black and white image and about a page of information. The majors also have a section where you can write notes. The book also includes seven spreads: Witch’s Circle (Celtic Cross), Elemental Cross, Wheel of the Year, Mystic Pyramid, Nine-Card Square, a Yes/No spread, and a Tree of Life spread.

Although all four seasons are depicted in this deck, this deck has a very autumnal feel to me, or at least a harvest theme. As someone who loves autumn and farmer’s markets, I immediately took to this deck. It’s the sort of deck you can curl up with in front of a fire with a hot drink. In some ways it reminds me of the Victorian Fairy Tarot. As for how it reads, I’d say the deck did pretty good with test readings, and a single card can tell some interesting stories.

That said, I did have a few issues with this deck. The deck is a very white deck, and there isn’t a lot of variation in the faces of the characters (the same man with the dark goatee shows up in multiple cards), except for two cards, which depict men of size, and one that depicts a pregnant woman, there’s no variation in body type either. The book also focuses on the positive, acting as if the dire events in some cards (like the Three of Athames) have already happened. While it’s not as unfailingly positive as some of my other decks, some might be put off by it. My other issue with this deck is that the interpretations in the book are overwhelmingly focused on career-specific advice. This would be fine if the deck was called “Career Advice for the Green Witch” but my impression based on promotional materials was that it could be used for more general readings. It’s not unusable by any means, it just would have been nice to have more general interpretations that didn’t have anything to do with advancing your career. A couple of the images also appeared to be a bit stretched, which didn’t really bother me until someone else pointed it out. On a more personal level, I really don’t like the Fool/Greenman card, which depicts a giant floating Green Man head above what seems to be some sort of festival scene. It just felt really jarring to have that be the first image I saw of the deck.

In sum, this deck is a vibrant, comforting deck only slightly let down by the companion book’s focus on career and and it’s positive slant. I should also note that Anne Moura’s books are full of the same sort of misinformation that plagues other Llewellyn Wiccan 101 books, so I wouldn’t see this as an exhaustive resource on the tarot. Still, despite its shortcomings (especially its lack of diversity) it’s one of my favourite decks of 2015 and one I’ll be using quite frequently.

On the Recent Vanatru Drama

If you follow me on tumblr or if you make the rounds of Pagan blogs on WordPress, you’ll know about the recent drama that’s touched the Vanatru community recently. For those of you who haven’t heard anything, tumblr user Da’at Ass has recently alleged that Sebastian Lokason (who you might know as Nornoriel, author of Visions of Vanaheim) abused him and those closest to him, and has been doing the same to others for about a decade.

As Lokason is such a prolific writer and prominent voice for Vanatru, these allegations concerned me. Full disclosure: Da’at actually contacted me about a week before the post went live. Prior to that, I’d heard mutterings, which, although they were a cause for concern, I put them in the back of my mind because I figured it was a private matter and didn’t want to bring it up until the parties involved were ready to talk about it. Shortly before Lokason left tumblr, I was beginning to distance myself from him, not just because of the allegations, but because I didn’t see my Vanatru going in the same direction that his was going.

I would encourage you to please read the links above as well as Lokason’s response to the post that started it all. Please also read this post where he talks about his UPG. i am not going to link to the post where he leaks chat logs of private conversations between himself and Tif and Da’at, but you can read those too if you like.

I have been asked where I stand on this issue and which side I am on. My answer is that I am on my own side, but here is a more complex answer. I am willing to admit:

  1. That I do not know all the facts
  2. That I was not there
  3. That I cannot verify any claims that were made about astral entities, or indeed, instances of mundane abuse
  4. That perhaps there were times that both sides were assholes, because everyone is an asshole at some point

However, I have tried to read as much as I can about this whole kerfluffle, and have come to the conclusion that I can’t really support someone who has threatened to dox folks in exchange for silence, hasn’t been up front with regards to claiming to be the Queen of Vanaheim (which in my view may represent a conflict of interest), and apparently, judging by the list of people who have come forward, has a history of repeating the same patterns with others. This isn’t about being queer, or being trans, or even having “weird” UPG or being a godspouse, this is about abuse and the shitty behaviour that followed the original post on the subject.

I want to stress, again, that these are allegations. The only people who really know what happened are the people involved in the incidents. I would encourage everyone to read as much as they can and make their own decisions.

I wasn’t originally going to post here because I’m sure most of you have already heard about it, and to be honest, I’m already sick of it and ready to move on. This is not what I want people to think of when they talk about Vanatru. This is not what I think Vanatru is about. This is not what my deities are about.

I’m expecting to probably get some hate for this as I know I’ve been named as an “instigator”. I would like to say, for the record, that I try not to be transphobic, and have not once (that I recall) referred to Lokason with the wrong pronouns (although I was still calling him “Nono” until recently). I am also queer and pro-godspouse. In fact, one of my first posts on this blog was a repost of a member of the Cauldron’s advice to someone who wanted to be a godpouse of Loki’s and was jealous of someone else’s experiences. I have never been against godspouses, or spirit-spouses, and I’ve regularly stood up for people who were being bashed for having “odd” beliefs. (Although I will admit that in my early days of being on tumblr and this blog that I said some unkind things about otherkin.) I’ve also read the debunkings and various “testamonials” from friends and followers of his on WordPress, and I’ve found them to be unconvincing. Once again, however, I would encourage everyone (especially my fellow Vanatruar) to read everything on the subject and decide where your support belongs.

Disconnected

There are times when I feel very disconnected from my religious communities: from the Pagan community (if it can even be called that) and certainly from the Heathen community. I’ve always been the sort of person to go off and do my own thing, but eventually, I’ve discovered, I’ll want to connect with other people and talk about religion, and I’ll do that and for a time I’ll be content with that.

But then, inevitably, I’ll start feeling like I don’t belong in some spaces. I don’t feel comfortable in heavily Wiccanate Pagan spaces because I don’t identify with that tradition, I don’t feel comfortable in Heathen spaces because so much of what I do doesn’t look like what they do, even though we honor the same deities, and I don’t feel comfortable in devotional polytheist spaces because I feel like that term has been co-opted by the sort of folks who really don’t give a shit about people but who simultaneously complain when people don’t give them the time of day, and as someone who honours “people” deities, I like to think they’d like me to give a shit about people.

In any case, what this means is that I pretty much go back to doing my own thing.

I think what needs to happen is that I need to recognize that I do my own thing, and that is okay, and that engaging with other people doesn’t mean I have to have beliefs that match up with theirs. It sounds like such a simple thing to do, and yet, in my experience, it doesn’t often go that way.

Review: The Divine Feminine in Ancient Europe: Goddesses, Sacred Women, and the Origins of Western Culture

Even though I don’t consider myself a “Goddessian” anymore, I’m always interested in books about goddesses and the role of women in religion. Last year, I reviewed Celtic Myth and Religion by Sharon Paice MacLeod and liked it despite its flaws, so when I saw she had written a book on Goddesses and women in European history, I was very interested in it.

As the title of the book suggests, this is a book about goddesses, priestesses, and other important women in European religious history. Each chapter covers a specific time period from prehistory (starting from the Paleolithic) to the early Medieval period. Each chapter begins with a short narrative based on sources about daily life in that period to set the stage for the chapter before delving into archaeological finds of interest and speculating as to what these artifacts may have meant to the people who created them by looking at practices and beliefs of present day indigenous cultures, as well as textual evidence where available. The topics she covers range from how humans impacted the environment in the Mesolithic area to our genetic ancestry to ritual art and music. The author argues that European cultures are influenced not solely–or even chiefly–by Greek and Roman culture, but by a rich tapestry of many different traditions.

For the most part, I feel the author tried to remain objective when discussing prehistoric artifacts. She dismisses the popular “Golden Age Matriarchy” theory that we’ve all heard before right off the bat, citing evidence of interpersonal violence in Neolithic settlements. She also attacks the notion that are prehistoric Images depict mother goddesses (assuming they depict goddesses in the first place) or fertility deities, also noting that this tendency erases other roles that women in these communities may have held that aren’t necessarily related to motherhood, such as priestesses or leaders of their communities.

Since I’m not familiar with current research on life in prehistoric times, I found those chapters interesting. A lot of Pagan 101 texts seem to treat prehistory as if it was one continuous line of “goddess worship” until The Patriarchy came. The picture that this book paints, however, is a fascinating one where changes in the environment during the Mesolithic brought significant changes to the way people lived and the artwork they created (the author notes that there is a lack of female figurines from this period when compared to Paleolithic or Neolithic artifacts, for instance).

I’m a bit more familiar with Celtic traditions and Norse things, which are also covered in the book, although I found the chapters on Celtic traditions to basically be a rehashing of the material in Celtic Myth and Religion (which she cites constantly). The section on Norse traditions wasn’t anything I already knew. I did notice that she spent a lot of time talking about how Roman writers viewed these cultures instead of looking at their material culture.

As for things I didn’t like about this book, I found the narratives at the beginning of each chapter more cheesy than mood-setting. A consistent annoyance for me was how the author would frequently segue into discussing the evils of technology and the need for people of European descent to reclaim their spiritual roots. Unfortunately, the message comes across as very “noble savage”=y, as she constantly talks about indigenous traditions and their connection to nature and knowledge that Westerners of European descent have lost. She also begins each chapter with a quote from an indigenous speaker or activist in order to set the “theme” for the chapter. I would understand if this was a book about indigenous traditions around the world, but since it is a book specifically about European traditions it struck me as inappropriate. I found it particularly jarring because her previous book wasn’t feel preachy at all (probably because it was written explicitly for students). I also found it kind of funny that she scoffs at modern druid orders while claiming to be a “Western neoshamanic practitioner” (paraphrased).

Honestly, i think this book could have benefited from a more academic tone and less preaching about how Westerners have “lost their way”. I can’t even really say who I would recommend this to, perhaps someone who is interested in the divine feminine (I hate this term, btw) whose only exposure to writings on prehistory is a Llewellyn Pagan 101 book, but for the price of this book you could buy one by someone who really knows their stuff. Celtic Myth and Religion is, in my opinion, a far better book if you’re looking for info on those traditions specifically. But honestly, between the noble savage schtick, the preaching, and the price (cheap for an academic book, expensive for a non-academic book), I can’t see a lot of people clamoring to pick this one up. It’s not a terrible book, but it definitely could have been much better.

Where We Find Acceptance

If it seems like this blog has been a dumping ground for reviews this year, that’s because I’ve been spending a lot of time on Tumblr, and don’t feel the need to repeat what I say on Tumblr over here because, let’s face it, I’ve probably said the same thing five times already. Also I’m trying to play catch-up with my reviews. I have only a couple comics left and some games and then there will be less reviews as I finish the books I’m currently reading.

Anyways, back to Tumblr. Tumblr’s “pagan” tag is a very strange beast. It’s about 80% unsourced vaguely Pagan-ish art, 19% Pagan holiday memes that are grossly inaccurate (the whole Ishtar = Easter thing was either born on Tumblr or spread from Facebook to Tumblr) and 1% useful information. There’s at least one outbreak of “drama” per week. One week it’s because someone got on the wrong person’s bad side. Another week it’ll be because Pop Culture Pagans are wrecking polytheism. The week after that, Christian Witches are the target. It goes in cycles. Something different will probably crop up next week.

The thing is though, as much as Tumblr gets made fun of by “serious” practitioners for being fluffy central and Headquarters for the Social Justice Warriors (which is often true) Tumblr has been, in my experience, a place that is much less tolerant of bigotry and assholetry as some of the other social networks I’ve been to.

It’s no secret that Heathenry has issues with racism, but it’s also true that a sizable portion of Heathens have issues with other “isms”: ableism, homophobia, transphobia. These people are not card-carrying neonazis. They’re running respectable Heathen websites. For some examples, check out my posts “Stay Classy, Asatru Lore” and “Moderates” among others. I have seen too many people on Tumblr say that they are interested in Heathenry, but are absolutely not okay with the kind of dickishness that gets passed off as “being blunt” like it does in some Heathen circles. If you’ve read the posts above and you don’t think this is an issue, it might be a sign that you’re a part of the problem.

These people find acceptance on Tumblr when they wouldn’t find it anywhere else.

Tumblr may not be perfect. Tumblr may earn its reputation on occasion. Tumblr may be a source of drama, but Tumblr will not tolerate your hate. (In fact, there’s a rule about tagging your hate.) It’s not perfect, there’s the odd person who thinks the Wiccan Rede applies to everyone, and some portions of the community are more vitriolic than others, but overall, compared to some of the Facebook groups I’ve been in, Tumblr is not interested in your shit.

Pagan Prosperity Gospel

There’s this rhetoric in certain corners of the Pagan/polytheist web that really bothers me. Originally I wasn’t going to say anything about it, but now I’m angry enough that I’m saying “Fuck that!” and I’m speaking out, because bullshit should be used to fertilize fields, not flung around willy nilly.

The subject I wish to discuss is what I and others on the net call the “Pagan Prosperity Gospel”.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the prosperity gospel, it’s a stance in certain Christian churches that says that if you have faith in God and give to Christian ministries, he will reward you with material wealth. The obvious issue with this brand of theology is that it implies that the poor obviously don’t have enough faith or, well, they’d be rich, of course!

Of course, it’s just this weird Christian thing and many other Christian leaders have denounced it as the bullshit it is, right? Surely there aren’t Pagans and polytheists advocating the exact same thing, right?

Well, you see, that’s the problem.

It seems like there’s a certain vocal group of people within our wonderful communities who think that if you were just devoted to your deities enough, if you just gave them 100% of your time and attention, if you just worked that much harder for them, you would be showered with all kinds of blessings and things would be wonderful.

In a word: NO.

In so many words:

Seriously, the fuck is this bullshit? How is this not spitting on every single polytheist from antiquity to today who sweat and bleed for their deities but are poor as dirt? How is that not ignoring the many, many other factors that contribute to poverty? How is that not classist as fuck?

No no no no no!

We do not need this in our traditions. If the majority of Christians denounce this as bullshit, we seriously don’t need it. We don’t need to take their bullshit, we have enough of our own.

Burnout

I know that I haven’t been posting a lot of things that aren’t reviews for a long time. I’ve been more active on tumblr as of late. (My main tumblog is answersfromvanaheim.)

One thing that I’ve been struggling with lately is burnout. There are days where I check tumblr or facebook and I see Heathens posting some really gross things and I just don’t know why I even bother doing anything to try and make things a bit more welcoming for newcomers. It helps that Vanatruar are generally more easygoing, but there really aren’t that many of us, and it’s much easier to poke at someone who is being gross when there aren’t that many of you.

To be honest, sometimes I wonder why I bother pointing out all the racism, the sexism, the queerphobia, the toxic behaviour, and any number of gross things that pop up in communities who claim to honour my deities. On some level, I realize that these problems have been in Heathenry a long time, have been in society a long time, and they’re not just going to be fixed overnight (if, indeed, it is possible to fix them).

It’s especially disheartening because I was once one of those newcomers that was scared away from Heathenry because of the crappy attitudes, and when I hear stories about others who are going through the exact same thing or who automatically equate Heathenry with racism and other gross shit I can’t help but think that something’s broken when it comes to Heathenry.

Seriously, when your religious community has a culture that actively scares away newbies, it’s broken, it’s broken and you need to fix it.

And no, you don’t get to say “grow a thicker skin” or “but I’m just being blunt because that’s what my ANCESTORS would do” because plenty of other traditions are just as committed to doing things the way they did in antiquity WITHOUT being assholes about it. Being an asshole should not be a requirement for practicing a religion.

And then people wonder where all the newcomers are, or why there aren’t more women in Heathenry, or why everyone seems to equate Heathenry with grossness.

Here’s a tip: look in the mirror. Take a good long look.