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Chancleta Deficit Disorder Part 3/3

 

Well, folks, finally we come to the conclusion of what I’ve taken to calling ‘the Chancleta Series.’ I promised that in part three, I would discuss the theological and liturgical implications of JD’s self-imposed quandary and answer that most important of all questions: why is a frozen butterball turkey not an appropriate offering. It’s actually a good question, because not everyone reading this is coming from traditions that teach the appropriate protocol for making offerings, so not everyone reading this is going to understand why even the suggestion was a shock (and believe me, for those of us entrenched in our indigenous trads, it was a huge shocker). So I’m not going to keep you in suspense; I’m going to answer that question first and through my answer, explore the attendant theological and liturgical concerns.

The Butterball Conundrum

This question actually lies at the heart of the problems inherent in this case. As I mentioned in part II, there is a protocol to interacting with the Gods. In most indigenous traditions, this protocol has been established and maintained for thousands of years. (Discovering that protocol without having to go through unfortunate trial and error is one of the duties of your spiritworkers and shamans). With contemporary polytheisms, we’re at a bit of a disadvantage, because our ways were sundered by Christianity and we lack that ideological and practical inter-generational continuity. That’s a huge part of the problem here.

The first thing that really struck me in handling this case, is that inherent in JD’s assumption that she could decide upon an appropriate substitution is a tremendous amount of privilege. What she was actually implying was that she knew better than thousands upon thousands of years, and generations upon generations of indigenous practitioners raised and trained within their tradition about what would work best within their tradition. There is a tremendous arrogance in thinking that one can improve upon a traditional prescription, a traditional process without knowing anything else about the tradition. Moreover, nothing JD was asked for was impossible. It might have been inconvenient, but it was not impossible.

Then there was the question of JD’s diviner shopping. In cases like this, such shopping around is also a huge breach of protocol and etiquette. It’s considered rude, both to the spirits and Gods involved and to the diviner. Now, diviners see this a lot: people get a reading and don’t like what’s said so they go somewhere else. In most cases, this doesn’t matter one way or the other to the diviner in question. It’s par for the course. Is it disrespectful? Yes, but so are a lot of other things and in the grand scheme of things, to the average diviner, this isn’t generally all that big a deal. This case is a little different though. In this case, we’re not talking about whether Johnny loves you. We’re not talking about whether or not one should take that new job, or if Susan is Mrs. Right. This is a completely different level of divination.

Here, the divination was done specifically to find out what Ellegua would require in payment of a horrendous outstanding debt. Ellegua made it clear through the divination what was appropriate and required. The diviner, a santera with strong ties to Ellegua negotiated the payment (to Ellegua) down as much as she was able. The original requested payment was much more severe. Ellegua gave us His hard line. Going to multiple diviners of questionable skill afterwards, none of whom had any connection to Ellegua or the African traditions is a major breach of protocol and a further insult to Ellegua. Once the required payment is named, that is it. There is no more room for substitutions.

Essentially, it comes down to this: if you’re not going to have respect for the Gods in a tradition (and we’ve already established that respect for the Gods wasn’t high on JD’s list of personal qualities), then you’ll likely have a problem respecting the guidance of an actual person steeped in that tradition. Part of rectifying one’s errors, mistakes, and offenses is learning a modicum of humility, and learning to approach the Gods in a better way in addition to righting the wrongs that were done. Taking the lazy or self-serving way out the moment one encounters a difficulty, or something that might be a bit inconvenient or uncomfortable does not constitute learning a better way. Instead, it demonstrates a remarkable lack of moral courage.

Of course there are other considerations too within this particular tradition. You don’t give something that is already dead. It is devoid of life energy. The blood and life and act of sacrificing itself are what binds devotee to God. It’s an important way of consistently renewing that life contract. Giving something dead is like giving three day old leftovers to a guest of honor and wondering why they are less than impressed.

A butterball turkey isn’t the prescribed offering. It’s not something in any way associated with or considered appropriate for Ellegua. ( If Ellegua had wanted a butterball, He would have requested it through the divination). In fact, in some cases, the substitution that you think is just grand may actually be taboo for a particular Holy Power. No one within the culture (and religion is as much a culture as it is spirituality. It’s the way in which people interact with the Holy Powers and navigate the sacred complete with protocols, expectations, and the idea of wrongful action) would dream that making such a substitution might be acceptable. It is not what the Power asked for through the medium of divination. I think that bears repeating yet again: it is not what the Power wanted. JD did not know better than Ellegua and JD did not know better than Ellegua about what Ellegua might want. Period. End of story. We’re not bidding on a construction site. Shopping around for the “best quote” is simply not appropriate.

There’s an added layer to this particular breach of protocol as well. Before you receive a prescription, a bit of leeway might be given by the Powers in question; after all, you don’t actually know what to do. Once you receive a prescription from a legitimate source, however, you can’t claim ignorance. You can no longer say you had no help, that no one told you what was necessary, or what to do. There’s a much, much stronger onus on a person who received a prescription and chose not to follow through (for whatever reason), than on someone who truly hasn’t had that option. (Having the option to go to a legitimate diviner and choosing not to because you know you wont’ like what you might hear, is also a way of getting yourself deeper in debt). Basically, by diviner shopping and ignoring the requisite prescription, JD was just adding fuel to the fire and getting herself even deeper into debt.  

The hurdle that many people face in restoring their indigenous traditions, or transitioning into an indigenous practice is that, in situations like JD’s, it’s really, really not about the comfort of the human being who f---ked up. It’s about what the Power in question asked for to restore balance. JD was frankly lucky that she was offered any hope of digging herself out of this mess, her mess. She was being asked for something that she had every capability of actually managing. It may in fact have been a test to see if she was getting past her hubris, a case of ‘prove you’re no longer the same person you were through right action, instead of doing precisely the same as you always do with no lesson learned.’ Failing to do so is as big an offense as giving a butterball turkey.

 I’m not even going to go into the inherent attitude of racism in JD deciding that because she was white, she could of course do it better than the people of color who first discovered, established, and maintained the right protocols in the first place. I doubt JD gave it that much conscious thought. The attitude was there though, redolent with privilege as much as with hubris.

Now, I’m not using this case study to be mean. We all screw up at times. We’re learning and there is a learning curve particularly as we struggle to restore our traditions and root ourselves in the indigenous mindset so necessary to proper, healthy restoration. That’s not the problem here. (In fact, we can learn as much from our mistakes and fumbles as we can from our triumphs). The problem is, in this particular case: hubris. There is a huge difference between making a mistake and acting from hubris.  JD’s story is an excellent cautionary tale.

What actually concerned me the most with Jane is that she is a walking miasma. (We don’t talk much about miasma in Heathenry but I have an article on it here: http://krasskova.weebly.com/1/post/2012/06/pagan-blog-project-m-is-for-miasma.html). Basically, she is so tainted and so spiritually corrupted that her presence alone threatens to contaminate the fairly wide open newbies with whom she shares kindred time. She could do them spiritual harm (I’ve found that hubris is appallingly contagious) not to mention reinforcing any bad behaviors and habits they might have with regard to ritual behavior and the Gods. This is something that in most indigenous Houses would never be questioned. It’s understood. There’s lineage and tradition, memories and customs that are designed to prevent just this type of fall out and, in fact, this type of outrage. 

It’s about so much more than respecting cultural mores. This is not about us and while it is about lineage and tradition, the real issue goes even deeper than that: These are real Powers, real Forces with which we’re dealing. There is a proper way to engage. If one is going to go into any tradition, really it behooves a person, before approaching the Gods as though They’re cosmic gumball machines just there to dispense favors, to learn what is and is not appropriate, acceptable, and culturally competent. It’s better to leave well enough alone than engage without the proper respect. Courtesy and humility will often fill in gaps where knowledge of what to do is lacking. Beyond that, we have elders and teachers and those already well centered within a system. These people are invaluable resources. (There is a lovely Yoruban saying that when an elder dies, an entire world dies with him –or her).

Even for those of us in the process of reclaiming and restoring our ancestral traditions, this can be a huge leap of practice and faith. The mindset of modernity is a very different thing from the mindset of our ancient polytheistic kin. None of them would have needed to have this laid out for them; they would not have needed to be told that these things were simply not something that one should do. We have to be taught. We have to relearn what our ancestors took for granted. Knowing that can be a tremendous help in starting out and weathering our inevitable fumbles in a good, respectful, and productive way.

At its heart, the essential theological issue here was that JD wanted the Gods to bend to her needs, Their only agency being that which she ascribed to Them. In the real world, it just doesn’t work that way. All of this highlights something else, for me at least. I don’t think we should be Reconstructionists. I think we should be Restorationists:  restoring our indigenous traditions and ways. There’s a huge difference in resources, approach, application, and mindset between the two, a huge difference, with the latter being ancestor, lineage, and Deity driven from its inception with all the attendant piety and respect for the Powers that entails.

My assistant read this entire series today, shortly after I finished writing this, and said what I consider the perfect epilogue to this whole mess. “I know what JD stands for. It stands for ‘just disgraceful.”  So it goes. 

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 Galina Krasskova is a Heathen priest, author, and Northern Tradition shaman. She holds a Masters degree in Religious Studies and is currently working toward a PhD in Classics. Galina is the author of several books including “Essays in Modern Heathenry” and “Skalded Apples: A Devotional Anthology to Idunna and Bragi.”
(Photo by Hudson Valley photographer Mary Ann Glass.)

Comments

  • Anne Newkirk Niven
    Anne Newkirk Niven Tuesday, 28 August 2012

    Well said. But you know you just opened yourself up to having to write a new post outlining the difference between Reconstructionism and Restorationism, right?

  • Galina Krasskova
    Galina Krasskova Tuesday, 28 August 2012

    LOl. Not a bad idea, Anne. I'll do it, maybe even for the next installment. :D

  • James Jones
    James Jones Wednesday, 29 August 2012

    A question.

    What if you are involved with Deities that need things that directly oppose each other?

    For example, my primary practice is Buddhist and one of the big no-nos in my particular tradition is directly causing an animal to die for your sake(in the Sutras the example of having an animal killed and cooked in your honor was given). If I was in JD's shoes if I went through with having the three roosters killed to pay off the debt with Ellegua then I would have committed a pretty significant breach of Samaya(like millions of years in a hell realm significant).

    From what I've read in the classical literature I get the impression the answer is, "If you were JD, you would be roundly screwed." but I could be wrong here.

  • Galina Krasskova
    Galina Krasskova Wednesday, 29 August 2012

    um...i hate to say it, because it sounds kind of snarky, but yeah: you'd be screwed. I think having those potentially conflicting loyalties or obligations would be impetus to avoid getting into a situation like this. However, if it happened, i'd seek out a really, really good diviner and see what could be done to clear things up. It may be that you'd have to take the hit to your wyrd, and then clean that up too...i don't know. that is something that's so situation specific it's hard to hypothesize. I do know it's the type of situation i really hope i never see!

  • Anne Newkirk Niven
    Anne Newkirk Niven Wednesday, 29 August 2012

    Not to be a hard ass, James (and I wanted Galina to get her oar in first), but this is the primary reason I try not to work with too many deities at the same time, especially across pantheons. Who would win in a "karma kicking contest" like you describe is something I wouldn't want to find out. This is an often unacknowledged drawback to radically eclectic practice -- *within* a pantheon, hopefully it's possible to figure out which deities are not on speaking terms, and Whom you might offend by inviting to the same (metaphorical) party. But *between* pantheons? Difficult, if not (almost) impossible to predict. This is the hard edge of hard polytheism -- if the Gods are Real entities, not "archetypes" -- then assuming that one can invite a goddess from one path along with a god from an entirely different one in a single ritual or practice is fraught at best, and possibly even dangerous. I'd recommend you stick with deities known to be eclectic and forgiving -- and carefully avoid working in traditions known to ask for blood offerings such as the Afro-Caribbean paths. The good news is, from what I know, you aren't likely to offend Ellegua just by walking down the street, you'd have to go out of your way (like J.D. did in Galina's example) to attract His attention -- and then, furthermore, do something particular in order to p*ss Him off. Folks as obviously thoughtful about their paths as you are can probably avoid this (hopefully hypothetical) dilemma with some good old fashioned common sense.

  • James Jones
    James Jones Wednesday, 29 August 2012

    First, it is definitely a hypothetical situation. I used to be Asatru many years ago(I was asked to leave due to a conflict between my commitment to anti-Nazism and my old kindred's commitment to a Nazi kindred in our city. Long story.) however nowadays the only non-Buddhist work I do now is with the 21 Divisions, exclusively with Ezili Freda and Filomena Lubana(the service I give is restricted to pre negotiated offerings and making sure their area is where they want it) and occasionally being neighborly if a deity needs something.

    For the most part I am working through the basic daily practice that must be done in my tradition to progress(the practice is called Ngondro, btw).

    I originally thought of my question when thinking of the whole genre of literature that could be summed up by my question. The Illiad is a great example but isn't the only one.

    Anyhow, thanks for the responses. Very interesting stuff.

  • Galina Krasskova
    Galina Krasskova Thursday, 30 August 2012

    I was talking about your question, James, with a colleague last night and he, ironically, brought up the Odyssey, noting that when Odysseus makes it home, he builds a temple in honor of the God Who had been angry at him (Poseidon, I believe). I was struck by how different such a response would have been from the average Heathen (or Pagan ) response today. today, we're more likely to see people like JD cursing the Gods when they don't get what they want.....but Odysseus, he honors the Gods even, perhaps most especially, when he has offended Them. jsut a thought...since you mentioned Iliad...

  • James Jones
    James Jones Wednesday, 05 September 2012

    First, this is off the top of my head. I haven't done any research and therefore can't site sources. If you would really like me to do research to give a more nuanced opinion I'll be happy to. With that said.

    I'll see you Odysseus and raise you Serapis.

    I think that Odysseus was, like most Pagans of the time, subject to what Thatcher would have called a "TINA" religious outlook,an acronym that stands for "There Is No Alternative". She was talking about capitalism but it works just as well for Pagans and religion. Even though ancient Pagans were aware of other religions it wasn't necessarily realistic for them to adopt those ways.

    The reason for this is that, even more so than today, religion and culture were fused into one pretty solid lump. If you wanted to follow the Greek gods you had to become Greek either through moving or the Greeks came through with their army and made a land "Greek". It was very rare for someone to live in a tiny village in Sweden, for example, and worship anyone other than the Norse deities until relatively late in the Pagan period. The whole idea of "religious conversion separate to one's culture" is a new(and I think monotheistic) development historically.

    There were, of course, exceptions to this rule. And those exceptions, even in the ancient world, look a lot more like how JD approached religion and a lot less how people that we would be more apt to admire approached it. In Alexandria, for example, people seemed to worship deities that either helped them preserve their culture or that actively helped them. If the deity didn't perform they didn't seem to be worshiped all that much.

    Of course, also the Alexandrians were more than happy to mix systems. In at least once case within the same deity. Hence we have Serapis who was a mix of Greek and Egyptian traits. I'll admit I've never worked with him but I would imagine he would be fascinating. If not confusing.

  • Beth Lynch
    Beth Lynch Saturday, 01 September 2012

    Oh, wow. I made the mistake of disregarding your suggestion to read with drink in hand...BIG mistake. I almost choked on my breakfast cereal a few times.

    Also, yes, what Anne said about not working with too many deities at the same time. This is one reason why, other than supporting Jolene, I stick with the Northern trad for myself.

  • Galina Krasskova
    Galina Krasskova Saturday, 01 September 2012

    Well, you can't say i didn't warn you. lol.

    I don't know that the problem is so much honoring a variety of Gods---i think that if one encounters a Holy Power, the proper thing to do is show respect (though this does not necessarily mean entering into an ongoing relationship after the encounter...). I think the bigger problem is the hubris and complete lack of forethought or awareness of consequences. there's also a tremendous impiety and arrogance...which i suppose is the definition of hubris, involved here.

    I'll just add that spirit workers and shamans who support a variety of clients (I have clients from many polytheistic traditions) may not have the luxury of only interacting with their own Gods....sometimes for the client, one has to seek out the Gods of others. there's no way to do that job and stick with one group of Deities, though again, this does not mean ongoing devotional work. it means respect, piety, politeness, and courtesy...all of which were also lacking with JD.

    but yeah...i did warn y'all about the drink. You should have seen the response of my ATR friends when they read this!

  • Beth Lynch
    Beth Lynch Sunday, 02 September 2012

    Yes, hubris seems to be an unfortunate bi-product of people having access to so much information that they are able to dabble in whatever they please without (they think) fear of consequences. Religion becomes just another form of entertainment. To think that as an average devotee (and not even a very pious one) you might know better than someone who lives and breathes their service to a particular god--especially in a tradition that has enjoyed continuous survival and as a result has very definite rules and ways of doing things, such as the ATRs...Well, this pretty much leaves me wishing for that drink, LOL. But then of course, if the Gods aren't real (since it's all just an entertainment) what is there to worry about? *heavy dose of sarcasm* You're right that the Norse deities tend to be more lenient in these areas, of necessity, but that situation is temporary and when it ends there will be a lot of people with sore butts after having been knocked off their feet for clinging to that "I stand on my feet before my gods" attitude I'm sure we're both familiar with.

    And yeah, I hear you about needing to interact with deities from a number of different pantheons. It makes me glad I don't really work with clients, outside of seidhr. (I have had to do this in a limited way for seidhr, and of course have relayed messages from deities with Whom I'm not terribly familiar. I would still not want to be on the devotee end of this equation, having to balance devotional work for a number of different pantheons with their very different requirements.)

    I like your use of the term "restorationist," by the way.

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