Anomalous Thracian: Constructing Living Tradition

A polytheanimist Thracian perspective on creating, rebuilding, and embodying ancestral religions as living traditions in the 21st century. Religion as life, life as spirit, spirit as being.

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Gods of Consequence

Gods of Consequence

In the various debates that have been coming up of late, about the further differentiation of polytheism from other paganisms (especially humanist paganism, “self-centered” paganism, super-hero-worshiping-archetypalism, and so forth), I have noticed something. Obviously both sides of the various “lines” being “drawn” are having trouble coming together in agreement around a great many things, and both sides feel very misunderstood by the other. (That's what disagreement frequently leads to...) However, in all of my talks with polytheist colleagues, theologians, and co-religionists, none of “us” seem to be confused by *what* the archetypal-and-superhero-folks are saying about their beliefs or practices. We may be dumbstruck by some of their statements – generally when they are comparing their thought-forms to our gods in direct and offensive to us ways – but overall I don't sense a disconnect of understanding in that particular direction. (Agreement is another matter entirely...)

However, I have sensed a tremendous disconnect in understanding, and a great and wild mischaracterization, in the other direction. Polytheists are being called fundamentalists, are being called ontologically cowardly, are being called extreme to the point of instability, are being called delusional, and so on. All because we engage with our gods as beings great and powerful and worthy of holy veneration *outside of our own unconscious*; beings that are wholly and fully separate from us, who were no more born “inside” us (or “for” us) than that tree over there, or the air that I am breathing. They are not manufactured to suit our needs (like the apple-juice I am about to add whiskey to) nor are They engineered or tailored to “fit” us. There is no monism, and certainly no atheism, in polytheism.

The disconnect seems to be that the humanist side of the issue doesn't seem to realize the excessive “boxing” and “labeling” and ultimately conformist-based actions that it appears to be taking with regard to (or even against) some polytheist practices. That they are generally doing this with less openly aggressive (and occasionally blatantly passive aggressive) and far more gentle language does not change the fact that it is still being done. Whereas many polytheists, who are admittedly quite ready to be honest with their frustrations and emotions (read: more obviously aggressive in tone), are actually writing from a place that has no demand of conformity on humanists, because the polytheist paradigms ultimately have room for things like archetypes. It just also differentiates archetypes from actual gods. What I mean by this is that polytheist theology does not necessitate the exclusion of humanist or archetypal engagement, whereas humanist and archetypal engagement *do* exclude polytheistic process.

Example: If one airplane seats 100 humans and 50 tigers, and another airplane seats 100 humans and zero tigers but provides a tiger video accompaniment as a complimentary in-flight package, these airplanes are not the same. The first airplane ("Air Tiger") is inherently "more", in that it includes space for 50 tigers. 50 actual tigers. It may also include in-flight video accompaniments; nothing about the space for 50 tigers interferes with the ability to also have a video of tigers, or of giraffes, or of dirty NYC detectives, or of child models. The second airplane ("Air Human") is inherently "limiting" (not less, however, in terms of value), in that it by its own definitions and mechanical specifications does not include space for actual tigers. The presence of actual tigers would upset the seating arrangements of a full flight on “Air Human”. The video of tigers does little to change this phenomena.

So the problem is that the executives of Air Human are saying "But we DO have tigers! We just installed all of these video displays! We have a THOUSAND CHANNELS of TIGERS! On Satellite! And and and! You can even buy TIGERBALM for your sore neck from your in-flight console! And TIGER BARS for your snacks! And our pillows are made of dead tiger kittens! Our blankets are Tiger Skin! We even hand out Tiger Kidneys! WE HAVE TIGERS! Rawr!"

Meanwhile the executives of Air Tiger are sort of sitting back and saying, "But, um… those aren't tigers. Those are images of tigers, moving pictures of tigers, products unrelated to tigers but named for them, and then also the desiccated remains of murdered tigers. That is not the same as tigers. That is actually quite the opposite. You are defining your airline by the absence of tigers and then compensating with simulation and bad marketing techniques to try and imply or suggest tigers. We actually just made room on the upper deck for.. tigers."

And then all of the tiger-enthusiast passengers trying to book flights are confused as the two companies go back and forth. However, one of those companies is sort of lying (sorry, guys) and limiting the accessibility of resources (tigers) to its passengers, while the other is being honest and totally not limiting anything, as it actually has space for tigers, and in addition can absolutely provide all of the other stuff too (with the exception of the inhumane murder products) for anyone who wants them.

In truth, the problem isn't so much that Air Human is trying to be dishonest to its market demographic, but rather it is more that they don't believe in real tigers, anymore. They think that they're already extinct. Or maybe they didn't really exist to begin with. (Just like jugglers. See below for the truth about jugglers.) Air Tiger, on the other hand, is trying to provide a presentation that by definition offers “more”; the plane is bigger to accommodate actual tigers, and the seating arrangements for humans doesn't run the risk of spacial overlap with giant four-legged feline apex predators, and the in-flight options can include all the tigers – or any other animal conceivable, including the honey badger! – and so forth. There is no requirement onboard Air Tiger that every passenger go up and hug a tiger, or ride a tiger, or feed a tiger, and in fact these are probably best left for those who know how to do these things. But all of them are invited to look up at the cabin ceiling above them, through the transparent viewing glass, and *see* the tigers above them. From awkward up-shot angles. (Unless the tigers are in a zero-gravity cabin, in which case, maybe they're floating upside down and the angle is less awkward.)

Ahem. And then this brings us back to the issue of “belief”, and who has it, or who doesn't, or who needs it, or whose whole identity is shaped by it, or what the word even really means, and so forth.

Polytheists do not require “belief” (although for many of us it is there as a useful tool on the side) anymore than I need to “believe” in the presence of black bears in the California mountains when deciding where to store my food on a campsite. (That I *do* believe in bears is irrelevant to their belief of entitlement to my food; you don't need to believe in a bear to find yourself uncomfortably between it and a roast pork sandwich.)

And therein lies a major difference that I have seen: the self-described “self-centered” or humanist or archetypal pagans are engaging with powers and so forth which are by their own definitions of no greater consequence than their own (collective, at times) unconsciousness, and no matter how much you glorify and believe in the great and sacred power of internal cognition and transcendent psychology, these things are not going to maul you to death in the woods.

And the thing is? Our gods will.

Guns fire bullets that can kill, ripping through flesh and bone and sinew. Power-saws can slip from timber and take off a hand. Cars, airplanes, baseball bats, whiskey bottles, and juggler's flaming bowling pins; all of these things have tangible consequence when they are not approached with the proper respect. The respect that they are due. The respect that they demand, not based on some flimsy made-for-us fabricated belief system, but because steel, brass, iron, lead, glass, hickory, and fire are elements of consequence. And humans? They are soft, meaty, fragile creatures.

Gods are greater than guns, faster than cars, bigger than airplanes, wield more concussive leverage than a bat and hold far more spirit than a tempered glass whiskey bottle. Gods are the source of fire. And bowling pins. (And jugglers.) Approaching the deities with respect and deference is not a thing of belief, but a thing of necessity.

This is an intrinsic difference between polytheists and archetypal-or-humanist “self-centered” pagans, spiritual-seekers and so forth. Unless you view the gods as having the power to rip your arms off and beat you to death with them, or take the face of your lover while turning your skin inside out and dropping you in a pit of jello and alligators, we're not talking about the same thing.

I use the above imagery to communicate dramatic (perhaps over-dramatic) points, although none of it is exaggerated. (Except the bits about jugglers. We all know that they come from unholy powers, nothing sacred about it.) This is not at all the only expression of, or way of relating to, our gods. But it is there. Always. No hunter, butcher, lumberjack, soldier, archer, wood-chipper-landscaping-specialist or nuclear physicist would ever try to suggest that there was nothing viscerally dangerous or tremendously destructively powerful about the tools of their trade, and this is not different with religion. The “tools of my trade” are dangerous. They are great. They are powerful. And They are much beloved by me, and if I am reading the signs correctly, I am of Them as well. (They are also not tools; this is a metaphor, before I get misquoted as comparing my gods literally to woodchippers or rifles, and so forth. Critical thinking, people...)

My devotions are not about self-development. I do not rely on my gods to be a good person (I take responsibility for that myself) and I do not rely on my gods to be a good brother (I take responsibility for that myself) and I do not rely on my gods to be a good son (I've never been a very good son, truth be told), and I do not rely on my gods to be a good partner (mainly because I am single), and I do not rely on my gods to be a good father (as my raven will attest, I probably suck at this as well). I turn to my gods when I struggle, yes, but not so that They can “make it better” or “make it go away”; I turn to Them for support, not for co-dependence. I find comfort in the protection that They offer me – and I am very well protected, as any of my enemies could attest – and I find inspiration at Their touch, and I find myself elevated and lifted in Their presence, even (and especially) when I fall to my knees in reverent, deferent praise.

But They are not a self-help book, or an internal model for “how to not be a dick”.

Philosophies of moral theory and ethics have informed much of my exploration of “how to not be a dick”. Finding elders in my communities who are not dicks? That taught me how to not be a dick. Finding elders in my communities who *are* dicks? That taught me how to not be a dick. Being a dick? That also taught me how to not be a dick. I am not always not a dick. Sometimes I am a dick. Being a dick and being a bad person are different. Sometimes I find myself compelled to be a dick. But I am always a good dick. My gods have very little to do with whether or not I am being a dick. My religion does not exist to stop me from being a dick, or to inform me of how to be a good person; those are things that generally speaking are in my court to take responsibility for. (When I am a dick, I don't blame my gods for it. When I am a good person, I praise Them for giving me the space to find that within myself.)

They also don't care all that much, so long as I get the job done. The work that They have given me to do would be sort of impossible to do if I were a dick all the time. So I also have compassion. Not because They gave it to me, but because They demand that I do what I need to do to complete the tasks assigned. To do this, I must also have softness, tenderness, receptive qualities and embracing qualities and I have hope and I have visions of a better world. Those visions are not born of my mind, of my unconscious, of my intellectualism or blah blah blah. Those visions are the visions of my gods. Those visions are the blueprints of my job here in this world; the schematics that I am seeking to navigate.

Some people spend their lives and their religious engagements seeking the divine, seeking understanding, seeking meaning, seeking something outside (or inside) of themselves. I am not seeking those things. I already have Them. That does not mean that I have *everything*, however, for I still seek – daily – to learn the better place foot to earth with the right balance of righteousness and humility, to learn to better place bat to skull when the circumstances call for it, to learn to put the bat down when they don't. To learn to use my voice to bring not just change, but change that leads to realized vision, received from gods and blessed dead. I am seeking, always, to better calibrate my own human baggage, to embody it when needed or shift it aside when not, to better see the fulfillment of the will of my gods brought through into this world.

Because my gods have a plan. It is a good one. I've seen it. I am living inside of it.

But They can also rip my arms off and beat me to death with them, or fill me with the ability to do my work with no arms at all, across any distance, if only I have the strength to trust in Them that much more than I already do. And so I fall to my knees and I praise Them.

My religion is a religion of consequence. The day to day maintenance of human existence and so forth? That is on me. There are tools provided in the whole “polytheistic package” for assistance in those pursuits, such as divination, oracular work, healing, blessing and so forth, and my gods encourage the use of these as needed. But these are provided to compliment the human investment – the effort to be a good person, to practice and execute acts of good character inside and out, to engage with my world in a progressive and constructive and hopeful way, to encourage empowerment and compassion in those around me and lend what I have to the building (or rebuilding) of healthy and cohesive community – rather than to replace it. I am strictly forbidden from turning to my gods for aid if I have not first tried to resolve a thing myself, not because They won't help me, but because They've already given me many blessed tools. Thumbs, for example, and a brain capable of many great things, and a voice that can range in delivery between “don't you dare touch that child or I will kill you” intensity to “it is okay, dear, the scary man is gone” in gentleness.

My gods are gods of consequence, not abstractions torn from the back of my mind. Don't get me wrong. The unconscious is powerful, potent, and is the landscape of internal revelation. It provides the language through which outside influences can communicate meaningfully with us. The unconscious also provides the interface for us to communicate with ourselves, and “do our own work”. But my gods do not dwell there, are not born there, and don't generally give a flying feck what color the wallpaper is inside. They're from outside of it all, outside of me, you, and everyone else: that is what makes Them gods. (And yes, They're inside of us, too. But They're not from *from* inside.)

My job is to do my work and to live in this world, embodied and realized as a human-formed being, and to know myself inside and out well enough that I can put myself to the side and as far out of the equation as possible when the situation calls for it. My religion is here to provide me the tools and structures not for developing myself, but for using myself to see Their will realized in this world. My religion provides me the rules of engagement, the process of negotiation and the technology to do it all safely, sanely, cleanly, and efficiently. Looking back at my career as a spirit-worker, as a priest, as a teacher? I have done a good job. I have done good in this world. There are people alive today because I was there, because I submitted to the will of my gods and saw that will enacted through me. There are people who could have done harm who were rendered unable, not at my intervention but at the intervention of my gods acting through me, because I knew enough to step aside and let Them speak, and act, and be.

One of the concerns that I hear from a lot of people who are not polytheists in this sense, is that this all sounds like a scary “cop-out” of personal responsibility. That it sounds like an “abrogation of personal accountability”. To this I say, it could not be further from those things. To open myself up to the gods, those forces who I serve and praise outside of myself, who I adore with all of my being, is to likewise embrace a deeper accountability and sense of personal responsibility than I have witnessed in any other around me. We should be afraid of our gods, but we should not be afraid to lose ourselves to Them... for we are nothing without Them. My humanity exists as a tool for Them, as my religion exists as a tool to engage fruitfully with Them and see Their plans unfold through me in this world.

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A temple priest, shaman, and spirit-worker in the Thracian tradition, Anomalous Thracian lives in a van in the Northeast United States, with a crazed raven from Africa. He teaches foundational spiritual principles and results-oriented mysticism, with a focus on anchoring ancient nomadic wisdoms and values in contemporary reality. A Thracian mystic reconstructionist, he leads an initiatory tradition and facilitates rituals, traditional rites of passage, various methods of divination and temple functions appropriate to the needs of the community. In all of his doings, he attempts to honor the ancestors, the gods, and his living relations in this world and the rest of them, while focusing also on further understanding and addressing contemporary issues of race, gender, and sexuality.


  • John Halstead
    John Halstead Saturday, 08 June 2013

    So it would appear that the "you're not Pagan enough" brouhaha has transformed into a "you're not polytheist enough" brouhahah. I don't identify as a polytheist, so I don't have a stake in that particular issue, but I'm sure plenty of other people would, as you are drawing the boundaries very narrowly, and conveniently with yourself at the center.

    Incidentally, I think the dictionary is a terrible place to start when trying to describe a living and rapidly changing religious tradition like Paganism/polytheism.

  • Galina Krasskova
    Galina Krasskova Saturday, 08 June 2013

    The only thing we're putting at the center of polytheism is people who put the Gods first in their practice. Polytheism is and should remain Deity centric. The thing that we will not stop arguing, writing, and fighting against is this regrettable tendency to prioritize the human psyche in the process of devotion. It's yet another way of reducing the Gods to something other than what They are: Gods.

    Unlike Anomalous Thracian, I very much define Pagan as polytheist. The word originally mean 'rural dweller' later came to imply country bumpkin, but in this process became the term du jour for newly minted religion of Christianity to demonize those who honored their ancestral Gods. that contemporary paganism has become a morass of anything but devotion to the Gods appalls and saddens me. If this were restricted to "paganism" perhaps it's a battle I myself could drop, but since it's not restricted to paganism, this shit is bleeding into polytheism too (along with monism and other related garbage i.e. monotheism under another guise) and that is ground that none of us will cede. Ever.

  • Anomalous Thracian
    Anomalous Thracian Saturday, 08 June 2013

    Running out the door here, but I want to just clarify and important thing:

    I am not trying to define who is or is not Pagan, and never have. Ever. I have been very clear about that. Please don't include me in any other "brouhaha" that is happening around that.

    Dictionaries are terrible places to stay in for defining anything that is ongoing and growing and happening, but the problem is that people seem to be using language to describe these things that they never first looked up. I think a major issue is the decay of language and meaning (as I've said repeatedly) and I encourage a "reboot" on that sort of thing, which is where the dictionary piece comes in. If people bothered to look "polytheistic" up in the dictionary before getting in an argument about it from a monistic standpoint, it would solve us all the trouble of repeatedly saying "Uh.. poly- means "many". As in many gods." That isn't necessarily directed at YOU, but is a very real and daily thing we're speaking to: a huge swath of people just don't seem to have a critical understanding of what that word means. Hence, dictionary. As I said in a discussion recently, and I think in an article somewhere, "you know a discussion is bad shape when the word "semantics" is taken by most to mean "without meaning, pointless", instead of the system of understanding meaning."

  • Anomalous Thracian
    Anomalous Thracian Saturday, 08 June 2013

    John, the comments section won't let me respond to your question (which should appear below this post when I submit it) because I guess we've hit the system's cap on individual thread deviations via replies and such. But, this is in direct response to your question of what I mean by gods ripping arms of, etc:

    Yes, literally. "I mean what I say and I say what I mean" is a thing that I was taught to do. So, yes, literally ripping arms off. Gods. Tangible consequences. Like bears in the woods. This is what I am writing about.

    And before you accuse me of "bemoaning" how much I am being "misunderstood", if you didn't understand that than you haven't been listening to me. I use very plain language. There is very little flowery verbosity to it all. I go out of my way to speak in relatively digestible statements -- if in large serving sizes -- specifically for this reason. If you're misunderstanding me it is because you're not actually reading what I am writing, it is because you are reading what you assume I am going to be writing... which is not the same thing at all.

    Like I said in my article, and pretty much everything else I've written on the subject: we are talking about different things. I am talking about actual gods who have actual (at times physical) consequence. Not "ideas" or "abstractions" limited to some transcendent experience which requires contextualizing or theory or belief..

    When I say "my gods are more like bears than they are like internal models of energy or behavioral patterns" or something like that, I don't mean "my gods are ferocious, rawr!" I mean "my gods can pop claws and rip your freaking arms off", or take a damp cloth to a fever-stricken youth in Africa, and so on and so forth.

    When I say "Unless you view the gods as having the power to... [drop] you in a pit of jello and alligators, we're not talking about the same thing" I actually mean that. Like, for reals. Just like my metaphor up there about airplanes and stuff? Sure, it was metaphor, but within the narrative of that metaphor I was talking about *real tigers*. Those weren't make-believe either. Or subconscious projections. Or intangible ideas from some Platonic acid trip. Those were the kind you might visit at the zoo.

    We really are talking about wildly different things. When I say that my gods are real and are of consequence, I actually mean *that*. Having stood, knelt, fallen, bled, died, and risen in the presence of the divine in *that* way, outside of myself and entirely consequentially and causally *present*, that is what I mean by the word "deity". (As an aside, dead people also do this sort of thing, on occasion.)

    Your ending remark, "If it's hyperbole, that's fine, I get it. But if not ..." is exactly what we're all so annoyed by. You've hit it on the freakin' head. You keep saying you have gods too, you just contextualize them different... but no, that's not what we're talking about. Trust me. We mean different things. And your passive-aggressive condescension on the matter is really getting old. There is nothing constructive about it. By "constructive", I don't mean more Jung quotes, nor do I mean more barely veiled disdain for those of us whose religions actually address real tangible consequential spirits, gods, and powers.

    I am polytheist. That means many. I am a spirit-worker. That means that I work with SPIRITS. If I meant "internal or intra-psychic phenomena" I would call myself a "thought-worker". I am not calling myself these things. When I say that I am dealing with dead people, I mean that I am dealing with actual dead people, as in, actual continuity of being outside of physical and neuro-electrical life. When I say that I am dealing with gods, I mean, GODS. Just like when I say I am feeding the Temple serpents, I mean the actual oracular snakes that live in my actual Temple, not some internal meditative idea of snuggly cartoon reptiles in my cushy "happy cave" where I sit in archetypal IKEA chairs and sing comfort-songs by an imaginary fire.

    When I do fire ritual, it is with real fire. When I talk about death experience, I mean that time I was actually physically dead. When I talk about my arm being eaten by a cow, I mean an actual physical middle-eastern cow who tried to eat my arm (it was awesome, but painful after the elbow or so) and when I am talking about gods? Yes. I mean that They can physically rip arms off. In any number of truly extraordinarily awesome and fearsome and divine ways.

    Which is why I keep saying that we're talking about different things. And at the same time, I'd like to point out, that nothing about my theology as defined EXCLUDES the human-oriented experiences, archetypes, etc; Air Tiger has room for you in the main cabin. But please stop trying to tell us that your archetypal tigers or your video-screen tigers are the same as the tigers that just ate the passenger ahead of you in seat 39B, who wanted up from the main galley to try and disprove their existence.

  • John Halstead
    John Halstead Saturday, 08 June 2013

    Since you brought up language and meaning again, and I know how often you write about the "decay of language" on your blog, I have to go back to your statement about gods having "the power to rip your arms off and beat you to death with them", language which you described
    as "dramatic" but not "exaggerated" -- Do you mean the gods actually do this, literally, physically? If it's hyperbole, that's fine, I get it. But if not ...

  • Galina Krasskova
    Galina Krasskova Saturday, 08 June 2013

    i would say they're not polytheists.

  • Rebecca Buchanan
    Rebecca Buchanan Saturday, 08 June 2013

    Galina: That I will have to disagree with. I know several very devout, very passionate polytheists who also acknowledge the existence of egregores. (I've never met one myself -- at least, I don't think I have -- but I trust their judgment on such matters.)

  • Galina Krasskova
    Galina Krasskova Saturday, 08 June 2013

    oh i believe in egregores...i just don't think they're Deities. I'm a magician. i know how they're created.

  • Rebecca Buchanan
    Rebecca Buchanan Saturday, 08 June 2013

    Galina: Aaaahhh. Okay. :) Thank you for clarifying.

  • Galina Krasskova
    Galina Krasskova Saturday, 08 June 2013

    and maybe you can explain, John, why you adn people like you: archetypists, monists, pop culture pagans, humanists, even atheists insist on calling ourselves Pagan? Why are you here? You don't seem to believe in, venerate, or pay homage to actual Deities. I've been perplexed through the entire argument about pop culture crap why certain groups are even playing at being specifically "Pagan"? why so invested in the term? Because we look at that and see this push to secularize paganism and polytheism as an outright attack on our Gods, our traditions, our lineage, and our ancestors. That happened once. it will NOT happen again.

  • Naya Aerodiode
    Naya Aerodiode Sunday, 09 June 2013

    Paganism is much bigger than just polytheism.

  • Stifyn Emrys
    Stifyn Emrys Saturday, 08 June 2013

    No one is attacking you or your beliefs, and no one is seeking to secularize your beliefs. This all sounds very much like the same-sex marriage argument to me. Affirming a same-sex couple's right to marry has absolutely no bearing on the sanctity or validity of an opposite-sex couple's marriage; in the same way, a pantheist, atheist or secularist's use of the term "Pagan" has absolutely no bearing on a polytheist's right to worship whatever deities he/she chooses. This sounds very much like the argument that Protestants (or Catholics) don't have any right to call themselves Christians; or the same argument applied to Sunnis and Shiites in Islam. Taken further, people could start arguing whether one pantheon is better or more valid than another. Is one group of gods "real" and another "counterfeit"? These the kind of arguments that lead to a intolerance for anyone who believes or acts differently, because differences are seen as a threat. Yet they're not.

  • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus
    P. Sufenas Virius Lupus Saturday, 08 June 2013

    Yes, you are, Stifyn.

    You are the one who came into this discussion and questioned and critiqued Anomalous Thracian's viewpoints because you didn't agree with them. You don't have to agree with his viewpoints, and he has no interest in making you agree with his viewpoints. But, you objected to his understanding of the gods.

    A line was drawn by him, and you have come in and crossed it, and then claimed not to be the one invading someone else's territory.

    This is nothing at all like the same-sex marriage debate. The difference is, the existence of same-sex marriage poses no threat to heterosexual marriage. The only way it would is if a same-sex couple tried to sue a religious denomination that wouldn't allow them to get married on their property by their ministers--which, I think (being queer myself) would be totally wrong on the same-sex couple's part, and an infringement of their ability to believe and practice as they would like religiously. I can support critiquing such a denomination, however, but I would never expect my critiques to change their policies, and thus I would likewise not expend a great amount of time and energy publicly declaring my critiques for them, taking out ads in the newspaper, or staging protests of them.

    On the whole, polytheists express our opinions on these matters in the forums we have available to us, which are mostly read by other polytheists--blogs, columns, and the like. We do not, on the whole, go to non-polytheists' blogs and critique their viewpoints, though we do on our own blogs and in our own spaces, and we express what we think the expectations within our own practices should be. Routinely, however, non-polytheists come into our spaces and essentially tell us we're wrong, we're biased, and that we don't see the world in the optimum fashion because we are not taking account of their non-polytheist views on things. We do take account of their views, and we find them wanting, thus we critique them and we reject those views and we make that choice knowing full well that not everyone might be happy with it. We likewise realize in doing so that non-polytheists have rejected our viewpoints and dismissed them. I don't think there's any problem in this mutual disagreement, until non-polytheists start either trying to marginalize and ostracize polytheists from any mainstream recognition or acceptance (which they have done on various occasions over the last six months), or if they come into polytheist forums and spaces and start disagreeing and drawing attention to their own viewpoints and insisting that their definitions of certain things that have long been understood by polytheists (like the term "polytheism" itself) aren't also including their non-polytheistic viewpoints.

    Also, as a polytheist, I have yet to see any other polytheist suggest that their pantheon is "real" and another is "counterfeit"; even in the superheroes vs. gods and heroes debates, many of the polytheists' insistence was not that superheroes are counterfeit, it's simply that they're not in the same category of gods. Skateboards and trains are both vehicles, they're just not the same type, apart from both having wheels. Same with superheroes and gods.

    Differences are only a threat when they insist on seeking to erase difference. You can go and do whatever you like differently than I do, and I really am not bothered at all by it; but, when you start to insist that I take account of your difference and sanction it and include it in my own difference, you're not respecting difference, you're demanding homogenization, and I am very much against that, as I assume Galina, Anomalous Thracian, and various others are as well.

  • Stifyn Emrys
    Stifyn Emrys Saturday, 08 June 2013

    I did not object to his understanding of the gods. I merely stated that others may have a different understanding. That's two entirely different things. At no time did I say anything like, "Your gods don't exist" or "your understanding of them is flat wrong." I just said others may have different understandings.

    Even in the course of this discussion, I've seen references stating that gods "can be very different from person to person." What I'm suggesting is that the author's experience of the gods he's describing may be very different from that of others. What I object to is any class of person saying he or she has a complete understanding that things are exactly this way, and others who have different ideas have no insight at all into the matter.

    I commend the author's assertion that his gods do their own work of "mauling (people) to death in the woods," rather than leaving their followers to defend them while they sit idly by and do nothing. His assertion, to me, is a lot more noble - and respectful of the gods he reveres - than fighting holy wars for personal gain and claiming to be doing so at some god's behest. I find that kind of activity to be disingenuous, but this author wasn't suggesting anything of the sort, which I found refreshing.

    I also seem to have reached the wrong conclusion about the author's use of the term "self-centered" paganism, which he subsequently disclaimed, saying it had originated elsewhere. Mea culpa.

    And I'm certainly not demanding homogenization. Actually, it's quite the opposite: I'm asking for an atmosphere of mutual respect and continued diversity - not within an individual's tradition, which is his or her own, but within the larger context in which different people interact with those who may have a different take on things.

  • Galina Krasskova
    Galina Krasskova Saturday, 08 June 2013

    dead against it and thank you for chiming in P. Sufenus. It's precisely this push toward homogenization, toward acceptance *in our practices* within *our* tradition of these viewpoints, which to us are at best impious that simply will not stand. This is not some game we're playing. This is building a tradition adn honoring the Gods. GODS. I am not about to accept, adapt, or homogenize my practices in ways that I find frankly either silly or reprehensible to make anyone feel validated. F*ck that. I'd be spitting on my Gods and ancestors if i did.

  • Stifyn Emrys
    Stifyn Emrys Saturday, 08 June 2013

    I'm certainly not asking you to change your practices one iota or accept any beliefs within your practices that you find offensive. Be true to yourself. I think this is where the whole concept of, "I may not agree with what you say, but I'll defend your right to say it" comes in. Maybe not to the death but ... no one should be telling you what to believe. At least I'm not. Your life. Your choice. (And that's not meant sarcastically, but emphatically.)

  • John Halstead
    John Halstead Saturday, 08 June 2013

    I cannot answer for all "archetypists, monists, pop culture pagans, humanists, [and] atheists" who have participated in this discussion, but for me, I *do* honor and worship "actual" deities, I just don't believe they are so much *separate* from myself as you and Anomalous. I do not see this perspective as secularizing Paganism, as you say, but as sacralizing our psychology. The gods are real to me, because, in Jung's words, the psyche is real. (CW 11, P 751). Not real in the way a bear in the woods is, but real in the way that they can have a just as real an impact on my life as a bear, and perhaps even more so.

    I note that Anomalous says above the gods are *inside* of us too, just not *from* inside of us. I wonder how much of this debate boils down to a difference of emphasis. If you understand the Self (intentionally capitalized) as larger than what we ordinarily think of as our selves (our egos), if we think of it as something that is not *in* us, but something that we are in, if we can even imagine (in James Hillman's words) "a psyche the size of the earth", then does it seem so impious to say the gods come from the psyche?

  • Galina Krasskova
    Galina Krasskova Saturday, 08 June 2013

    It sounds to me like you're deifying the 'Self" and that is something that Anomalous and I simply will not do. In fact, it would be the height of hubris to contemplate it for the average devotional polytheist. It really seems to me that you're trying very hard to make human experience and the human psyche as the center of your spiritual praxis? If so, that right there is the heart of our disagreement. (working on an article on this now, but may not get it posted tonight).

  • Galina Krasskova
    Galina Krasskova Saturday, 08 June 2013

    'ourselves" should read 'yourselves.' a couple of my keys stick on my laptop.

  • John Halstead
    John Halstead Saturday, 08 June 2013

    Speaking for myself only, as an archetypal Pagan, yes, I am deifying Self -- not my self, and not my ego, but the Self that Jung described as:

    "the mother and the maker, the subject and even the possibility of consciousness itself. It reaches so far beyond the boundaries of consciousness that the latter could easily be compared to an island in the ocean. Whereas the island is small and narrow, the ocean is immensely wide and deep and contains a life infinitely surpassing, in kind and degree, anything known on the island so that if it is a question of space, it does not matter whether the gods are ‘inside’ or ‘outside.’” (CW 11, P 144).

    And yes, as a humanist, I do make human experience one of the centers of my spiritual practice. But I also try to practice as an earth-centered Pagan, which admittedly creates a certain tension.

    I think you may be right about this being at the heart of the disagreement. That's kind of what I tried to express with my "three centers" model of Paganism: deity-centered, Self-centered, and earth-centered. ( ) I think these are reconcilable, but not in a way that you or Anomalous would be comfortable with. In any case, my interests is not ecumenical. My goal is to communicate that an archetypal perspective is not necessarily as reductive as some polytheists seem to think.

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