Anthropocentric approaches to deity in polytheism, or, “why doesn’t my cat gift-wrap the dead chipmunks it leaves in my shoe?”

Posted: January 2, 2014 in Uncategorized

It is 2014 and it is very very cold in my van. But thanks to whiskey I can feel my fingers (well, that’s a lie, but the fiery numbness of buzzing spirits is somehow more tactilely responsive than the frozen numbness of biting cold) I can hit keythings and wordthoughts appear like magic on screen.

Today, two blog posts (here and here) went up, written by people I haven’t followed and don’t know anything about. I am spurred by the discussions that they’ve begun, but I do not see this, my present writing, as a “response” nor as a contribution to “some greater debate”. Their writing made me think (thanks for that) and now I’m gonna slam those bleary thoughts out here, in my usual sputtering fashion.

The question has come up about the nature of humans within religious (theistic and animistic) engagement, and the word anthropocentricism has been liberally strewn about (along with redacted misquoting of polytheist authors, misuse of clinical psychiatric language (which I find to be offensive), suggestions of delusion and the phrase “Messiah Complex” (which unfortunately was not in reference to a recent X-Men story-arch) getting peppered about in bold lettering). I find the basic execution of these writings to be rather offensive (and stinking of being intentionally, or at least reactively so) which is why I am not responding to them directly. I’ve included the links because I think that they bring up topics that do in fact need to be discussed, but I so would have loved it if the authors decided to, oh, I don’t know, discuss them, instead of showing up to the discussion with a box of rocks  and offensively employed wordbombs. So fuck all that. And fuck you, probably, because whiskey.

Moving on.

I am an animist as well as a (poly)theist. I am not “hard” or “soft” (I honestly don’t even really understand what those terms even mean, today), but rather, an actual theist, which is to say that my understanding of gods is not filtered through psychology (archetypes) or ecology (forces of nature) or biology (animals, plants), but through the practice of religion and the contemplation of theology, wherein I understand gods to be real beings of agency and consequence outside of myself (and other incarnate expressions of the physical world, including animals and weather patterns). These gods then of course express through those things (humans, animals, weather, elements, fucking airplanes full of tigers, and so on) and that’s the course of things. I work with spirits, and I work with gods. Some of those spirits were once human (e.g. dead people, elevated ancestors), some of them were once animals (e.g. dead animals, elevated animals), some of them are quite unlike all of these and separate altogether, and blah blah blah. However, I attribute a sense of personhood (e.g. agency!) to the spirits that I engage with, unless I am specifically instructed to not do that, for some reason. Personhood is not the same as anthropocentric projection, by the by.

One of the threads of discourse popping up in polytheist writing in the last month or so is great coverage of the concept of divine hospitality (here, here and here), or “how to treat your gods like they are real”, in ritual and engagement otherwise. And shit. Great writing done, great conversations and discourses unfolded — and yet still some motherfuckers are looking for something to pick at. And that’s fine. Because the conversation is never over, and if somebody isn’t picking, we have nobody to kick in the tee– ahem, we have nothing but circular agreement and semantics to proceed with. So I guess the latest thing is that there’s this idea that people who are pro-hospitality with the gods are somehow also anti… um.. nature? Anti-other-than-humans? Or, more to the point, anthropocentric in their discussions and deliveries, as if they (we) only honor (or care about, or acknowledge the profound reality of) gods who we can dress up in jammies and put in human context and so forth.

This got me thinking about my own gods, my own experiences of gods — my gods and gods who are not part of any tradition I engage with, but showed up anyway — and so forth, and basically pinging the question of “Oh hey, am I an anthropocentric fuck?” and it turns out, no. No I’m not.

But I am a human. (Well, kind of. We’ll go with that for this discussion.)

And as a human, I relate to my gods as a human. If I were a wolf I would engage with my gods as a wolf does. How do I know this? Because the last time I engaged with a wolf who submitted to me he brought me offerings of a desert-wood chew-stick (not to fetch; it was a surrender) and a portion of his dinner spit out on my sleeping bag. Why did he do these things? Because he was a fucking wolf. Similarly when my cats wanted to show me how much they loved me, they left eviscerated rodentia in my shoes. Why? Because they are fucking cats. Nobody goes around accusing cats of felinopocentric engagement or of needing to convert their humans into “funny hairless cat creatures” in order to engage with them, even if that’s exactly what they might be doing, because they are fucking cats. The hospitality model I expect from a cat, or from a wolf, or from a den of northern water snakes, is not a human one, because when I receive hospitality from them, I recognize that I am dealing with a cat, a wolf, and a fucking colubrid respectively. I don’t expect my rodentia to be gift-wrapped and accompanied with a fucking card, unless I’m being given eviscerated rodentia by a fucking human. Which, by the way? Totally valid gift.

When my gods engage with me, they don’t mistake me for a cat.

That isn’t called anthropocentricism, that is called “being what you are, dipshit”.

Good fucking night.

And whiskey.

Oh and happy secular New Year and shit.


DisclaimerI am not comparing, in the above wolf-and-cat-and-snake illustrations, the interactions of animals-with-humans to the interactions of humans-with-gods, e.g. I am not elevating humans up as “godlike to the animals”. These are illustration of respective forms of engaging-as-one-is, in acts of hospitality, offering, and acknowledgement. Assholes.

  1. Aine says:

    “Personhood is not the same as anthropocentric projection, by the by.”

    This. Just….THIS. So much. Actually the entire post is great.

    I’m glad you pointed out the misuse of psychiatric language too.

  2. A Challenge says:

    […] into it. (I’ve got around 10 tabs open for just this one issue!) I also want to link to this post, which touches on a lot of what I’ll be covering when I write about this […]

  3. Erik says:

    “It’s called being what you are.”

    Yes! Thank you for that.

  4. Thank you for your clarifications of these issues here–not that they’ll help much with some of what has already gone on (and will still go on), but nonetheless, this is an important set of distinctions to bring out and critique in some of the discussions up to this point.

  5. Rose says:

    What a beautiful way to start out this year! I love this post.

  6. […] There are obvious difficulties with this (and worse with her mention of the mentally-ill in the next paragraph).  But I’m honestly a bit confused what she’s on about.  She was, of course, the only human in that particular megalithic structure.  She could choose to see those moths as she preferred.  When I slept on Menez Hom, a woman appeared to me in a vision and tried to explain to me something about fitting stones together to build fortifications around a temple.  This may have been a very difficult message for a moth to convey, so its fitting that there were no moths, just lots of corn and the full moon and rain and the nearby standing circle and crossroads and me, cold, shivering, but trying really hard to listen. Also, as Our Favorite Thracian notes, cats act like cats. […]

  7. […] this one by Rhyd Wildermuth, this one by Alison Lilly, this one by Traci Laird, this one by Anomalous Thracian, and this most recent one by Morpheus Ravenna.  There have been others I didn’t link to and more […]

  8. dunkelza says:

    Well said. I admit that I tend to hold a human perspective; but, what other perspective am I supposed to hold? The gods know who and what we are- I’m pretty sure that They know the difference between a human’s innate, innocent anthropocentrism (based on being, well, human) and affected, intentional anthropocentrism, i.e.- willful ignorance.

    Is the shaman who asks the gods and spirits for help in killing a man-eating bear anthropocentric? Yes. Is said shaman morally wrong for petitioning for help in protecting his tribe? Probably not. Anthropocentric is not an insult (sorry ivory tower types from my anthropology classes), it is a statement of perspective, nothing more. The key with any “centrism” is to acknowledge it and work to balance it with an effort to understand and respect others (and Others).

  9. […] One blogger notes that “the word anthropocentricism has been liberally strewn about,” and these are “topics that do in fact need to be discussed, but I so would have loved it if the authors decided to, oh, I don’t know, discuss them.” […]

  10. […] or deity-centered or anything like the kind of polytheist that Galina Krasskova, Sannion, Anomalous Thracian, Sarenth, et al, are. I get that they believe that if you are not their kind of polytheist, then […]

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