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Terms of Engagement

"You know when wolves run free and alone? when they're mentally or physically diseased."

--Sannion

 

 

 

I have long noticed that we, especially in America, tend to idolize the image of the "lone wolf," forging his own way, eschewing the pack to seek freedom in solitude. This to us seems the epitome of proud maturity and this archetype has wound its way into contemporary Paganism and Polytheism too. There is that in our culture that looks at those working to make change, to forge ahead within their communities askance, but those who focus solely on themselves separating from any sense of community or tribe as something worthy of emulation. There's something very wrong with that paradigm. Now there's nothing wrong with being solitary. One can be working within a tradition but work alone. That is something different from abandoning the tradition to serve one's own purposes. One need not work within a lineage to support a tradition. Fighting the good fight within a tradition, battling to restore and move the tradition forward, to root it again in the bosom of one's ancestral ways serves an equal but different purpose from the oh so necessary solitary devotional practice. To get down to the nitty gritty of devotion, everyone should have a solitary practice. That's where the real work happens that sustains the communal matrix. 

 

In our communities I understand it though. We talk about restoration of our traditions but I don't think the majority of people have any idea what that means. How can you comprehend what a living tradition and lineage entail if you've never experienced the weight of one? Let's face it, we haven't. Our traditions were shattered two thousand years ago and we're now tasked with sorting through and picking up the remaining shards, filling in the missing pieces, and feeling our way forward as we breath new life into our traditions.  

 

Tradition is more than a word. It's more than a set of practices to which one may adhere. It's more than a common core of belief or ritual structure. A tradition in its largest sense is something deeply rooted in Wyrd. It is a reservoir of sacral mysteries. It is a container of every step along the road of devotion that a people have taken under the eyes of their ancestors and their Gods. It is a living record of every interaction between the Gods and a people. A Tradition defines a people. It is a living, breathing, vibrant connection with our earliest kin and with the unfolding of the path of piety so integral to communal wholeness and health. 

 

I'll take this a step farther. Many of us have direct experience with what it means to ensconce oneself in a living tradition, to be intimately bound up with the restoration of this container, the arteries carrying the lifeblood of reciprocity and devotion that sustain a spiritual community. Some of us have been dumped right into the experience of their sundering by our dead. For those of us upon whose shoulders the weight of a tradition rests, we carry a powerful obligation from our Gods, from our ancestors, and from those in our spiritual lineage however far back they may have lived, to heal, restore, and above all protect the integrity of that tradition. It's not a word that we are defending; it is a living sanctuary into which our Gods are repeatedly made welcome. 

 

For those of us who have had this connection forged for us, by the grace of our Gods and our dead, by the grace of the lineage whose hands and heart we collectively are called to manifest in our work, no compromise is possible. We will guard and protect that sacred space, the flow and push of that tradition as it continues to unfold and rework itself against anything that may threaten the integrity of its  re-weaving. This takes precedence over anything, everything, and anyone save venerating the Gods and ancestors Themselves. 

 

One of the things that seems to have caused endless upset in the ongoing debates between pagans and polytheists is that many in both camps do not comprehend the push that many of us feel to defend the tradition over and above the comfort of those people immediately involved now. This is, I believe an invisible fault line that has been causing round after round of trouble. Until you have been rooted in the immediacy of a tradition and lineage, it is impossible - for anyone--to truly comprehend what this means. But it is at the core of polytheistic resistance: the weight of lineage and the tradition which it sustains rests on our shoulders.

 

There is nothing wrong with individual wolves having their voice. We're not trying to silence their howl. But we're talking about the symphonic beauty of the collective howl of every pack that has ever howled since the moon first rose and the children of Odin's ravens first screamed themselves into being at the side of neolithic dyre wolves seeking food and common survival for their pack. We are fighting against a cold and desolate landscape: a modern world that may no longer systematically destroy our traditions with violence and bloodshed, but that seeks their erasure no less surely and drains the passion and life out of every attempt at restoration. Even on the cusp of spring's awakening, the song of this brutal winter lingers. 

 

This isn't about the individual. We're not working for the individual. This is a different agenda, one that will restore and sustain our traditions regardless of the opposition faced. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.)

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