Pagan Paths

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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On the Backs of the Gods, Part I

On the Backs of the Gods, Part I

Recently there have been some interesting discussions happening in the Pagan blog-sphere around the topic of Pagan theologies. One author addressed admirably the importance of including our gods as one of the central factors of Paganism, especially polytheistic Paganism, while another spoke to warnings of fundamentalism in our developing theologies. Another important voice in our online communities distanced themselves from the term "Pagan", and gave a thoughtful explanation as to why. The responses to all of these, and more, have been a mixed batch: many are responding with heightened encouragement and confirmation, while others have responded less positively. Some have even gone on to call one of these authors a "Nazi Fundamentalist" on another blogger's comments section.

Now, despicable and wrong-headed accusations of fascism not-with-standing -- and I don't want to make light of those accusations or the hurt that they can cause when slung so ignorantly -- there is a very significant piece in all of this that I feel needs to be pointed out, if it hasn't already been somewhere else.

These conversations are all very, very important. They are necessary for any religious movement, be it a singular faith or an umbrella of faiths -- as Paganism certainly is! -- banding together in a mishmash tapestry of sorts. Again, these are important and necessary discussions. They are what religions are made of! They are what drive movements forward! They are what catalyze thoughts, feelings, ideas, and individual understandings of faith in a lived and walked format

No matter where you fall on the various ideas expressed in these cycles of discourse -- or even if you don't know about them, or don't care about them -- I feel compelled to point out that these sorts of conversations ultimately benefit every Pagan, and everyone whose religious identities or alternative spiritual traditions could be assumed into the umbrella community of Paganism, in very real and lasting ways. The courage that these authors have had in stepping forward and speaking their pieces is tremendous and admirable, no matter whether you agree with them or not. Whether you're a monistic Gnostic, a dualist Wiccan, a polytheistic Heathen, a deviant Thracian or a panentheist moss-wizard -- or any of the other things the cool kids are doing these days -- you and those who come after you in the religious traditions and spiritual disciplines will benefit from the discussions that authors such as these are brave enough to have. (We do want people to come after us, right? 

Blogging is a curious thing. In a lot of ways, it is a thankless thing. It is at times a frightening thing -- I once had a blog ordered to be shut down by a district court with threats of prosecution if I did not comply -- and always it is an open invitation for conflict and anxiety and grief, at some point or another. As Lupa recently said, "no matter how well a writer writes something, inevitably someone will misinterpret what they were trying to say", which is as true a thing as can ever be said. The comments threads on any Pagan blog or forum will evidence this, as will our many flame-wars and episodes of explosive in-fighting. Things get rowdy enough in person when everyone is present and their tone, expressions and body language can be witnessed and experienced first-hand, but when the vastness of the internet stands between you and the author of a piece -- or you and the audience of your own piece! -- there is no limit to the levels of transmogrification that an intended meaning can be subjected to.

(So, before you respond to something on the internet, pause, consider the author and what they might be trying to say even if that isn't what you first read or want to read or wish you could read, then also make sure that you did actually bother to read the thing you're responding to, and then also remember that what you publish on the internet is frequently going to be remembered and referred back to a lot more deeply than something you said while drunk around the fire that one time. And for the love of all that is holy or damned, do not call anyone a Nazi unless they are in fact a Nazi, because that word still means something in this world to a very large number of people who were and in many cases still actively are affected by what it means. And it means nothing good.)

Blogs and the internet in general have propelled the Pagan world light-years ahead in some ways, and cast us back into the dark ages in others. We are now able to connect with each other across great distances en masse instantly, through video or audio or text or pictures or memes with cats on them and so forth. We can access literally all of the knowledge mankind has ever bothered to write down or take a picture of in an awkward bathroom mirror with a device that we keep in our pockets and sometimes push buttons on with our butts. Our technology has given us, through print-on-demand services, the ability to take publication of our own materials into our own hands, freeing up creative enterprises that otherwise wouldn't have gotten off the ground with traditional publication because there wasn't enough money in it. But it has also stripped away a lot of the personal and the intimate elements of the Pagan world. Most of my community is hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away from me. Let's try very hard, even as we all benefit from the connections these advancements give us, to not lose sight of each other as people who are real and local to somewhere, as well.

But all of this is somewhat tangential to what I wanted to write about, so I'll get back to that.

Theologies do not develop in a vacuum. No religion on this planet has developed "just because". Nor was there ever agreement all around on any new theologies, or changes in theologies, or even the introduction of any theology at all: these matters have always been, and will always be, the source of great conflict. But conflict is good. "Truth is born always from sifting through the rubble following collision of opposing ideas" is a proverb I kick around a lot, though I can never remember where it came from, or if I dreamed it -- though if anyone knows the source, please make a note of it. I think it fits here. (But then, I'm Thracian, so I think it fits most places; we're all about collisions, don't you know?) So, will discussions of including gods, or Pagans-as-polytheists, what the term "Pagan" even means, or addressing concerns about tones of Fundamentalism, bring up conflicts? Absolutely. And thank the gods for that.

What those of us who want to engage on these topics have to keep in mind, however, is that not everyone out there is a theologian, wants to be a theologian, likes theologians, or even knows what a theologian is. That's fine, too. Even if the works endeavored by those who engage on the topics and delve into theological exploration, definitions, debate, collisions and so forth are never consciously recognized by everyone, the fact that these conversations happen changes how Paganism is expressed across the board. There is no stopping that. There never was.

That scares people. So, as writers, we need to keep in mind that our words can scare people, can hurt people, can anger people, so that we can choose whether or not to soften a word here or there, or instead choose not to, because we feel that sometimes people need to be scared, hurt, or angry. We also need to find the strength to not let other people's fear, hurt, or anger matter too much to us, because these conversations are very important. They're too important to not have. As readers, we have an equal share in all of this -- nobody is forcing us to read a blog, after all! -- and so we must, as always, read responsibly.

But enough of all that: let's throw caution to the wind*, duct-tape a cinderblock to the gas pedal and jump out the window while our theoautomobiles** have spectacular mid-air collisions*** and then put on safety gear to be in the front lines of the clean-up crew so we can get to truth-sifting.

Stay tuned for On the Backs of the Gods, Part II, when it is not 4:15 in the morning and I have either had a pot of coffee, or not just finished an 18 year Speyside that was supposed to last me through the week.

* assuming the wind wants our caution; somebody should ask the wind spirits whether this is something they actually appreciate or if we're just littering them with our caution. Animistically speaking, has anyone assessed the repercussions of all this caution-throwing?

 ** proverbially speaking. My theoautomobile doesn't have windows, obviously. Because it is a moose. A moose with a gas pedal. 

*** believe it or not mid-air collisions are rarely not spectacular, so don't put too much effort into trying to make it better than anybody else's. Do not, for example, fill the trunk of your theoautomobile with fifty pounds of glitter to make the sifting "better"; that stuff is like shrapnel if you breathe it in and can also cut up your corneas if you rub it into your eyes.




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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.


  • Janneke Brouwers
    Janneke Brouwers Saturday, 19 January 2013

    This is brilliant, and true and hopeful.
    I have always been surprised at how many people seem to struggle with disagreement in on-line communities. And truthfully, some people just want to be validated in their own choices, religious or no. This isn't a bad thing, but sometimes it gets overdone to the extent of: any disagreement equals disrespect. And of course there are also instances where some think that when one disagrees, than it is al-right to be disrespectful, because that person is threatening something quite deer.

    You and Theo Bishop and others are trying to point to the cure: respectful, generous and close reading, never assuming the worst. But this is the first response that I've read which emphasises that theological disagreement and debate is not bad at all. Thank you so much.

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