Squirrels Are Not Rocks

Posted: December 5, 2015 in Uncategorized

Lenses of Engagement in Theistic Discourse

Julian wrote, in the comments of a recent post of mine, that he has been:

… thinking about Polytheism (big P) as being about potential, as well as actuality. Simply allowing for the possible presence of multiple divinities is sufficient, in my rendering, to qualify as Polytheism. The total number of Gods is both unknown and immaterial, and fussing over how many are required/actual/known Gods there are is unhelpful. A system that acknowledges a single “known” deity while also allowing for the possibility of other “unknown” or even “false” Gods could be understood as Polytheistic since it acknowledges the possibility of other Divine presences. Polytheism then is, necessarily, ambiguous and tense, possessing multiple centers of /truth production/, real or imaginary.


I agree with a lot of what the author is saying here, and it is part of what I’ve been trying to communicate: Polytheism, when approached in a certain way, is about a radically inclusive and exponentially expansive set of virtually unrestricted potentialities; the only requisite in this is that it is defined in the correct fashion, which is merely “the affirmed and acknowledged religious regard for many gods”, and does not necessitate worshipping any specific number of them, or naming any specific combination(s) of them.

A person could be a Polytheist without knowing ANY gods, or having ANY system of divine organization (e.g. nations of spirits, choirs of agents, pantheons of gods, etc), so long as their basic core -theistic lens is one which “affirms and acknowledges with religious regard” that there [are/may be] many gods.

In this way, “there are many gods” and “there may be many gods” are logically identical statements, as neither positions the agent-observer outside of the potentiality of the uncountable divine, nor prohibits them from relation in the future (or present) with any such combinations.

The issue is not in struggling to define Polytheism, but rather, to help people to clarify when they are in fact not discussing -theistic engagements at all. For example, when a Catholic attempts to argue that their religion is Monotheistic, they are confused about what the terms mean. (Clarifying piece: I defend VICIOUSLY the rights of Catholics to -identify individually- as Monotheists, and do not see it as any person’s place to obstruct self-applied identifying language. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re using the most accurate language available, however, and in respecting identity term selection, I can still call for a critical discussion of the meanings of words.) The Catholic faith is one with many spirits and divinities, including angels (the vast majority of which are divinities and lesser-deities themselves) and so forth. It is therefore by definition NOT Monotheistic, in a literal sense. Nor is any other tradition so aligned.

However there are some who would argue that the Monotheism of Christianity is maintained by recognizing that all of the religious and spiritual elements — god, angels, etc — are metaphors for the universe, and the “God” exists outside of such considerations. Which is of course a perfectly reasonable (and vaguely gnostic) suggestion, however, it is not actually a -theistic premise at all. It’s an “other-than-theistic” or even “non-theistic” stance. It is not Monotheism, or any other kind of -theism, in that stage of thought or regard: it’s Monistic. Which is further to say that a “God” concept which “exists outside of such considerations” is not, in fact, a god; in calling it that, one slides into fallacious assertions right quick. In this same grain, a thing being called an automobile — say, for example, a large rock on a hillside — which has no wheels, nor axles, nor means for ground transportation or movement of any kind, which also cannot be entered into, or controlled, or moved, is not an automobile; calling it a car does not in fact make it a car, and leaves it still quite established as a large rock. There is nothing wrong with rocks, unless of course they are being positioned as cars, in which case there are lots of things wrong with them; notably their lack of car-ness.

The existence of an other-than-theistic mode of consideration — such as is found in gnostic process — does not force Monotheism, nor negate Polytheism; because an other-than-theistic mode of consideration is NOT assessing theistic things. It would be like saying that a person going into the forest to study rocks is denying the existence of the trees, simply because they’re there for geological reasons not directly focused on the squirrels residing in the trees. Different lenses of consideration, examination, and engagement are necessary — and nuanced — and how we should be driving the discussion, so as to avoid all this bullshit.

If people got more comfortable accurately identifying what it is that is being talked about or engaged — theistic vs other-than-theistic considerations for example — then we’d really be able to “get somewhere” in theological discourse. But people get stuck in the familiarly circular trap of just dick-swinging on all of this.

If archetypes are being discussed, regardless of whether they’re being called by the same names as gods, it is not gods who are being discussed. It is a realm of psychological theory. Not religion. Not -theism. When a Humanist is discussing “Odin as archetype”, they are no more discussing Odin the god than a boar-bristle beard brush for sale on Amazon called “ZEUS” is, in fact, the god Zeus. A hair-brush whose product model is called Zeus is not the god Zeus. An archetypal concept called Odin is not the god Odin. Discussions of archetypes are, and should be, discussions about archetypes… if only the ones having them would learn to identify them as other-than-theistic, rather than attempting to assault the fabric of OTHER conversations or modes of agencied engagement (which ARE theistic) for self-referential purposes.

The collective conversation (from the standpoint of Polytheists’ engagement) needs, I think, to lead the charge in assessing -theistic from other-than-theistic distinctions. When some yahoo is rambling about how gods are “just archetypes”, that’s not ANY different than somebody claiming that “Zeus is JUST a beard-brush! With such luxurious boar bristles!” Which is to say, they’re having a non-sense discussion, which should not be engaged with (if one’s intention is to push Polytheistic or even just -theistic considerations and theological topics forward).

Not every conversation needs to be a -theistic conversation, and so it is possible to discuss archetypes without “offending and insulting” Polytheists; the easiest way to do this is recognize that the conversation is not a -theistic one, but a psychological or conceptual mythological one, and establish that as the narrative framework, rather than trying to drag OTHER topics (such as theistic ones) into a framework where they don’t fit. That is like the geologist in the forest trying REALLY hard to pull squirrels into geological classification: it just doesn’t work. Squirrels are not rocks, no matter how “rock colored” they might be, or how “rock hard” their frozen corpses may become in February.)

But this isn’t, of course, just about — or even primarily about — outward/external discussions, but internal frameworks of understanding, relations, and regard.

It is insufficient for the geologist to merely stop talking to wildlife rescue professionals about how squirrels are actually rocks and they — the rescuers — are just confused and wrong and not trying hard enough. The geologist must strive to internalize these as divergent spheres of consideration: rocks and mammals are not the same thing, and probably are different enough to warrant distinct disciplines. Which is why there are distinct disciplines to discuss and describe them.

Similarly, the person discussing beard brushes needs to not only stop asserting that Zeus is a beard brush, but similarly, stop looking at their beard brush as though it is a god, or at gods as though they exist to boar through a gnarly beard.

This is a basic critical standard that I really think we should start offering up as a basic requisite for opening one’s mouth, proverbially or otherwise, in discussions which are to be taken as serious.




Following yesterday’s post at Polytheist.com​‘s Facebook feed, wherein I reminded folks what the platform exists for (and who it exists to serve and engage), a reader responded with a question about one statement I made regarding mythology. Many Polytheists today draw a large bulk of their religious underpinnings from mythological literature, often without clear instruction or training in how to distinguish mythic lit from theological works from religion or religious text, mish-mashing it all together in just one big vat of “these are our wordsies on the pagies!” kind of thing. I’m clearly not anti-mythology or anti-academic, although this particular reader took that message away from what I wrote. Here was my reply to him, which I feel is an important conversation we should be having:

“Hi, [reader’s name]. The complete statement you are quoting here [from my post yesterday] is: “[i]nterest in mythology of ancient cultures, or the scholarship therein, is NOT religion; that would be mythology or literature studies.” Obviously many (but not all) Polytheist religions have bodies of associated mythic literature, often descended from previous ancient oral traditions, which are expressions of the cultures, and societies, and eras that these come from. These mythic literary expressions lend themselves QUITE helpfully, and vitally, to the 21st century pursuits of Polytheist restoration and reconstitution. Mythology is wonderful, and where it exists for a given tradition, it is a HUGE boon to that religion.

However, generally speaking, mythology is a field of literature, NOT a religion. When you attend a university to study mythology, it is generally not part of the Religious Studies or even Philosophy or Theology departments; it is couched in literature or its own field of Mythography, or related. There are LOTS of secular scholars and interested parties in our world today who are fascinated by, and wanting to engage around the subject of, ancient mythology, for reasons which are NOT religious. For example, one regular commenter on our site is a mythology scholar who is a firm atheist and secularist, who is entirely disinterested in our religious communities rights, freedoms, needs, or theological developments: he comments ONLY to antagonize and criticize authors. (Often the mythological needs or inclinations of a secularist are entirely separate from those of a Polytheist religionist.) This person will argue (to death, really) any point he finds a grip on in a column, pulling the conversation COMPLETELY away from religion, and into pedantic nonsense that wouldn’t even be tolerated in true academic circles, secular or otherwise.

It is also important to note that mythologies of the ancient world are only infrequently intended as religious texts. They are records of oral traditions and expressions of culture, and are more often *based* on the religious expressions and values of that people, rather than forming it. The Norse did not rely on “the Lore” for their religion, rather “the Lore” is descended from commentaries on their religion. The Hellenes did not rely on Greek literature for their religion, rather these myths were written in descending explanation and record of the religions of a given Greek region.

Practitioners today often treat mythic literature as a holy book akin to Abrahamic religions and their books, which is in most cases not how these texts were regarded in their parent cultures. They are useful collections of myths for us today, when and how they relate to our individual religious relationships. (Many gods and pantheons simply do not appear in surviving mythic literature, however, and so they are hardly the only means of relating to our gods.)

My bookshelves, similar yours, probably, are lined with mythology books. I draw from mythic literature and recorded story as much as anyone else in my religion’s practices and considerations. My statements are NOT against mythology, or those who utilize mythology in their religious pursuits. Similarly they are NOT to be read as anti-academic, or even anti-secular. (In fact, I’ve dedicated a whole set of statements around this in the FAQ of the site, discussing how we are not “anti-” anything, simply for having a dedicated space for religious dialog.) As some of our primary contributors are professional academic scholars and professors themselves (Edward Butler, PSVL, Galina Krasskova, etc) we as a platform are clearly NOT anti-academia; however we are also not a secular academic publication house.

The needs of secular inquiry are often quite different than those of the religionist, simply put, and we at Polytheist.com ascribe value to the idea that recognizing distinctions between differentiate things — in this case, (1) secular academic pursuit and (2) religious dialog, academic or otherwise — is valuable and important, but moreso, intrinsically necessary for the restoration and reconstitution of Polytheist religion in our increasingly secular world. (This, again, should not be read as an anti-secular statement, but rather that the growing tides of secularism, especially radical secularism, often stand as directly and literally named adversaries and antagonists to religious development, thought, and freedoms of practice. This is evidenced time and again on other websites, whose “comments” sections and forums light up with atheo-pagans intruding on, or repeatedly assaulting in generalized spaces, Polytheist dialog for no purpose greater than to besmirch it, us, our traditions, and our gods. Disempowerment and trivialization are the first steps in the game of eugenic erasure.)

In conclusion, my statement is plainly this: Polytheist.com is a religious site. There are LOTS of secular places for secular mythographers to go and get pedantic and antagonistic about whathaveyou. This is NOT those sites. It does not exist to serve the secular needs of the secular/atheist mythography fandom.”

By equating our religious traditions to our mythic (literary) traditions, atheist scholars are able to couch our religions forever in the field of hypothetical and pedantic debate: we are merely zoo animals for them, playing out in the sandbox that they themselves feel ownership around because of their own lineages (of academic descent). By failing to dissent from this supposition — that our traditions and these myths are wed intrinsically to one another, rather than distinct and occasionally intersecting or cross-supporting — we are failing to bucketedly bail out our still-compromised hull, which is taking on stagnant, heavy water.

“Compromise” is not a good thing, as the line-above statement illustrates clearly. A compromise is often lauded today (by secular theorists) as a mark of maturity and sophistication, a show of humility and problem-solving goodness. However, in the fields of conflict resolution and mediation facilitation, “compromise” is described as a “lose/lose” situation: all parties attached to a given problem suffer an individual or shared loss as the direct result of compromise. “Compromise”, then, needs to be understood as “taking damage and losing something as a result of it”. Sometimes compromises need to be made in the field because real life circumstances call for it — for example, flooding some chambers of a water craft and losing access to them in the process, in order to save the rest of the vessel during a legitimate real-time emergency — but these are by no means the ideal or standard circumstances. “Cooperative resolutions” are, however, described as “win/win” dynamics, wherein all parties are recognized distinctly, and subsequently, their distinct needs are identified and collaborated around to arrive at agreements which serve all at the table in some manner.

Realistically speaking, it is impractical, unhelpful, and also stupid to suggest that mythologies from a given ancient Polytheistic culture are “strictly religious” and therefore secularist scholars are intruding upon them by engaging them. This is an ahistorical stance to begin with; these myths were often recorded for relatively secular purposes, or at least tangental to religious focus; they descended from religions, rather than being the precursor to them, and hold relevance (for example, in the study of world history or literary developments) outside of religion. So, it would be illogical and wrong to attempt to “prevent secular study of mythology”. Right? Right.

However, secular scholars are often pitted against religious communities, unable to recognize the “end point” of their lens of consideration and purview, and intrusively try to deny religionists access to discussing mythologies from a religious/theological standpoint without secular oversight or involvement. In other words, there is an (often unspoken, but sometimes named) view that popularly speaking, religionists — Polytheists — are not welcome in mythographic studies or engagement. (Don’t believe me? Ask some of the many devotional Polytheists working in academia.)

And so distinctions become necessary. Our myths are not our religions, they are tools and fields of study which may lend themselves to our religion. (Similarly, alcohol is not religion, nor is the study of how alcohol is made, nor the science of alcohol’s impact on the human body. The inclusion of alcohol within religious practices does not synonymize them. Read more about how to determine if something is something or something else here.)

But along this same grain, we as religious communities must hold space for these distinctions not merely to preserve the integrity of our hull from secular collision, but also to prevent internal combustion of the sort that leads to detonation. Polytheist religion is about relationships and total world views and experiences, not merely hypotheticals and stories and myths. Our myths are instructive, certainly, but they are hardly set in stone. Regional cultus — that is, the relational recognition that the gods and spirits engage with different regions of people and groups and traditions of people in accordance with different agreements, agendas, or avenues of experiential deliverance — in both ancient and modern execution indicates that mythic structures may switch out, and swap around, or collapse in on themselves in individual cultic bodies, meaning that two closely related cults may have wildly different interpretations or even sequences of related myths. Because the purpose of myths is not to be “the one true mythic story” or a historic account or a metaphysical topography; the purpose of myth is to be myth, which is a vehicle for certain important-to-religion things (such as the vesseled delivery of moral or cosmogonic lesson, parablic illustration of culture/society dynamic, or hidden Mystery road to an understanding of destiny’s hand-hold in the universe.)

Polytheist religion is not a religion based upon mythology, nor an anachronism seeking to recreate through role-play the ways of the ancients, but rather these are religions of relationship and recognized distinctions, which are free to draw equally from myth as it is written or myth as it is re-interpreted or dreams as they are received by dedicated oracles or science or philosophy or experiences mythically unfolded in real and present time against the gods and forces of our traditions embodied physically in some mannered corner of our incarnate world. We must, as religionists, honor the scholars and academic minds (and traditions!) which have preserved so much rich history and accounted record of these ancient ways and stories, while simultaneously recognizing our pursuits as separate (and not even parallel to) those and theirs, which is itself NOT a suggestion of antagonistic regard or dismissal. We must, as religions, honor the academic heritage of our secular world, without allowing it to transform our Polytheist traditions into “Bulfinchian Religion”.

As in many things, it is an “And/Or” rather than “pick one, motherfucker!”. One can be a Polytheist religionist and also enjoy secular study of literary myth. One can be a secular mythographer and also choose not to deny rights, freedoms, and liberties to religious groups one is not affiliated with; the existence of religious groups does not negate the importance of secular scholarship, nor does the popularity and mainstream acceptability of secular scholarship mandate that Polytheist religionists must suspend religious considerations when engaging mythological literature. One can, and indeed, MUST, learn to navigate between these things, discerning between and identifying lenses of consideration, motives of inquiry, and intentions of engagement with a given field, body of material, or practice.

Morpheus Ravenna, author of “The Book of the Great Queen” and co-founding priest of the Coru Cathubodua Priesthood, says this on the subject:

“…polytheistic religious scholarship and study of these texts is its own pursuit and offers unique gifts and insights that are distinct from a secular study of the same material. By that, I mean study of mythic texts and cultural records for religious purposes and employing the tools and insights of polytheistic religion. In academic scholarship, currently there is no place for this sort of religious scholarship of pre-Christian mythic material. You aren’t taken seriously if you attempt it at all. So this is something that is only being done by a small minority of independent polytheist scholars. But I think it’s hugely valuable.”

Similarly, Sarenth, Polytheist author (who put together “Calling to our Ancestors“) and blogger, points out that

“the development of theology is not the same as developing mythology. Both can be sacred pursuits that add to the development of a religion, but one is not necessarily the other.”

It is important that we as communities and allied bodies of thought and practice continue to raise the bar as we navigate the nuances of these vital matters. Edward Butler, whose prolific theological and philosophical writings can be found in books (such as “Essays on the Polytheistic Philosophies of Religion“, and “Essays on the Metaphysics of Polytheism in Proclus“) and in journals and at his own blog, Henadology,  at Polytheist.com and in a number of publications available elsewhere, explains that:

“The indispensable element in mythological hermeneutics, for the polytheist, is the relationship with the Gods. This is the touchstone; when Plato criticizes the poets in the Republic, it’s because the things the poets say about the Gods, if they were taken literally, could get in the way of people developing a proper relationship with Them, and that is the prime value. So the whole interpretation of myth by Platonists in late antiquity, where myth does attain a status somewhat like scripture—we find there the term theomythia, “divine myth”—is guided by the truths about the Gods that are inherent in right relationship with Them and constitutive for that relationship. Without this, one would just be doing structuralism, where motifs are shuffled and reshuffled according to an utterly indifferent algebra of signs, or Durkheimian religious studies, where Gods and worshipers alike drop out, as the society is the only integral unit.”

Material, be it physically objective, conceptual, divine, tangible or intangible, can be considered through any number of lenses of consideration, by which I mean through any number of “disciplines“. One might engage in the study of a tree by assessing its relationship to fungal cultures or bacterium or avian tenants, or they may engage instead as an ecologically informed economist assessing the literal chemical dollar value of the annual output of oxygen produced by said tree, or they may instead observe the tree as an impressionist painter, or as a writer of apocalyptic death sonnets, or as an amateur architect designing and building their first tree-house. The tree is still a tree in each of these engagements, but the relationship that the tree holds to each of these observing and engaging agents is an entirely different dynamic. Attempting to forbid the study of avian occupation of coniferous groves on the grounds that these do not properly address the importance of a rare invasive invisible protozoan which feeds on indigenous fungal matter is non-sense, as would be attempting to synonymize the tree-house-builder with the economic chemist with the apocalyptic death sonneteer. There are different distinct disciplines because doing things is a whole lot easier when one can properly identify what it is that they are doing, and why.

Discipline is hard, and the disciplined engagement with various disciplines is harder still. One such tricksy discipline is that of discernment, which as I have written before requires certain combinations of things recognized in their relational sequence: (1) *distinctions* drawn between things identified by their context (2) *definitions*. That is to say…

the discipline of discernment draws upon delineated distinctions which in turn require explored and recognized definitions appropriate to the context.


…people get hung up in the endless circle-jerk debate of belief-vs-practice, and blah blah blah: mostly it’s a “cake and eat it, too!” scenario, where they want all the social perks of being a slick wizarding magico prince, without the burden of actual cultural and cognitive commitment. And/or claim to “worship nature” without the burden of having to actually do anything to help it in an ecologically responsible way.

To me it is far less about belief OR practice, but instead about commitment: if their commitment to these things does not go beyond wearing funny spirit-bling and having edgy shrines (sorry, they probably just have altars, because why would they ever denigrate* themselves enough to venerate?) or attending teachings (or leading teachings) at occult bookshops, no matter how much money they throw down on awesome initiations, they’re a godsdamned fraud. These are not just practices, and they are also not just ways of life: they are whole ways of being, of perceiving, of engaging, of relating, and of being engaged and of being related.

In my experience people who get hung up on the masturbatory debate of praxis vs doxa are just jerking off in the mirror and haven’t committed to anything beyond the length of their own shallow reflection. People who talk about Self, or make religion about themselves (or humanistically focused) are just trying to find a way to keep stroking it in the post-modern self-reflective mirror-gaze without needing to stagger out of their daze and engage the world they claim to hold at the center.

Protip: if you’re human centered, probably choosing a set of practices or beliefs or commitments actually focused around humans might be a good place to start, rather than trolling religious communities and websites with reprehensibly wrong-headed and callous-hearted antagonism just to try and justify continuing on, which is probably not the best approach. Psychology, counseling, social justice engagement, environmental pursuits: these are all fantastic avenues which are not religions (even if sponsored to action through a religious community or body) and they do not involve robbing people of meaning by polluting it with… vacant words.

Basically I’m sick to death of pseudo-intellectual imperialist “sorcerously inclined” occultists, or would-be Pagans professing purely atheistic agendas and reducing religious meaning to mere metaphor for some other end, who spend lots of digital ink space trying desperately to look a part — basically any part — with flip-flopping attitudes on things they think they are supposed to have an opinion on, with either no commitment, or a staggering OVER commitment to the idea of commitment (usually paired with the aforementioned flip-flopping, between traditions or between ideologies or between philosophies, all of which are asserted as genuine in the moment) without any actual genuine embodiment that comes from “doing one’s business” in an actually and actively “this-is-being” quality of cultural existence. In other words, a bunch of people trying to play a part because this is all theatrics for them, and too few actually embodying the roles they were actually cast into. (Which is, as an aside, also an affront to actual theater.)

So why are there people doing “magic” and “divination” and writing a lot about Paganism if they’re secular atheists or otherwise don’t believe in magic or spirits or gods?

Because “cake and eat it, too!” allows for this bullshit, in a culture of rampant unrestricted and unregulated “co-creation call-it-what-you-want” pseudo-relativity. People get to do what they want, with a Cartman voice, and everyone else scratches their balls and pats their back and attaboys them forward, because so long as everyone else is behaving fraudulently, any given person who opts not to call them on it gets to do the same. This would be the epitome of a culture of enabled entitlement.

Don’t ask, don’t tell” is a sentiment applied to authenticity in magical and alternative/minority religious communities. So long as nobody rocks the boat by pointing out that the boat isn’t even a fucking boat and is being helmed by people who don’t even believe in the sea, everyone gets free membership and goodie-bag credentials at the door, with an Etsy shop soon to follow, and funny titles from exotic traditions they totally just found out about and are “destined” to waltz into because they heard about it last week or whatever.

…because atheopathic secular Playganism is way “in” right now, didn’t you know?


*Denigrate: Obviously I’m being sarcastic here, and mocking self-righteous and self-important humanist impiety. There is nothing denigrating about venerating the Holy Powers, you dumb shits.

Special thanks to Jesse Hathaway of Wolf & Goat for providing the initial space on social media for this conversation to unfold; the above are slightly refined/cleaned up accounts of my contributions to a thread begun by him.

Bad Math

Posted: December 1, 2015 in Uncategorized

I often criticize the attempt to define something by what it is not. For example, it’s illogical to define “red” by saying “a primary color that isn’t blue or yellow”. However, when people keep consistently missing the point and abusing language and meaning, sometimes it’s necessary to do so.

“Polytheism” is the religious regard for, and acknowledgment of, many gods.

Polytheism is not reductive, even if paired with a cosmology or philosophy which holds to a belief in a singular substance/source of all things (e.g. a divine vat of Playdough or the Big Bang or a festering corpse from a giant llama that died before creation and from which sprang All), because Polytheism is a -theism, not a random #-ism. It isn’t Polyism, it is PolyTHEISM, meaning that it is a religious consideration centered around the gods; it is by and large disinterested in things which are not the gods. That doesn’t mean that those other considerations are null and void (such as examining other things which are not gods, such as grains of rice, agriculture, horticulture, sex with a blender, or a festering llama corpse hung from your child’s basketball net) but rather that they are not part of a Polytheistic lens of consideration and discourse. It turns out that being a Polytheist doesn’t prevent one from also drinking coffee (protip: Folgers is not a god) or operating machinery (also not gods) or going to the post office (definitely not gods). Similarly, there is room in some Polytheisms for a substance monism. But that is not in and of itself a Polytheism, nor is is particularly relevant in the consideration of Polytheistic theological or practical “things”.

Polytheist religion is also not atheistic academic banter, or debates about mythology, or post-Christian writing. Those would be, just like Folgers and festering llama corpses, OTHER things.

There may be intersections between considerations of many gods (Polytheism) and other-than-theistic considerations (such as Folgers) but that doesn’t make the one into the other. That makes them an intersection.

Similarly, that two gods share a syncretic relationship does not make them one god, although a single god may in fact spring from such syncretism… which, in such a case, would mean a third god, not the loss of the initial two (or more).

Polytheist religion is expansive and even exponential; it is inclusive, rather than restrictive and reductive. It is relational; that is, it is about relationships between things (plural, many), and not about the reduction of these relationships into smaller numbers of things. The models of the individuality of the gods — and their relationships to us, and ours to them — are similarly apart from relationships with other things (such as coffee, coffee companies, and spirits).

Polytheist religion has spirits, some of whom may well also be gods, others of whom descend from gods, others of whom host the gods within themselves, just as we humans and human-shaped-creatures sometimes do, in process of possession. Some are ancestors or wrathful dead, others are quirky personalities residing in objects the secular world might consider inanimate. In this way, Polytheist religion often overlaps, or runs alongside congruently, various animist understandings.

It is about many things. Not one things, not some things, not an ever reducing number of things.

If you don’t like math, that’s okay: you’re not required to count.

Polytheist religion cannot be counted; it is too big to count.

So if you like math? Fantastic, there’s lots of math here. Don’t like math? Great! Stop trying to count all the things. It is often enough to acknowledge that there are many of them, and that they exist, and that you may (or may not) know and count some of that many. (Example: I like coffee, but I do not like Folgers coffee. That does not mean that Folgers coffee does not exist, nor would it be sensible to assume that my coffee, being coffee, is the same as Folgers coffee, which is a different sort of thing entirely. Further, my taste in coffee may not be congruent with others, because our universe has many tastes in coffee. I do not need to know all the types of coffee to acknowledge that there are many of them; I gain little in attempting to count all of the types of coffee, and similarly, my failure to properly account for every specific type or expression or taste of/in coffee does not invalidate them, nor put them in contest with other facets of reality.) Attempts to negate the many (gods, coffees) by collapsing them telescopically into less many is bad math. Stop that.

Stop doing bad math in the name of religious discourse.

When I first heard activists say “it’s not my job to educate you” my initial response was “that’s not a helpful approach“. I mean, if a person of good will genuinely doesn’t understand, why wouldn’t you take the time to educate them, make an ally, and take another step toward changing the culture one person at a time? It may not be the activists’ job, but it seems like a good strategy – right?

And then I read some of the “requests for education.” <sigh>

What a pile of passive aggressive confrontation masquerading as ignorance! Deliberate obfuscation of issues, false equivalency, refusal to acknowledge privilege, and denial of lived experience. I’m sick of it, and I’m not the one getting the “requests”. No wonder activists are saying “it’s not my job“.

I get it now – my mistake was assuming good will on the part of the people requesting “education”.

John F. Beckett, Oct 20, 2015

Frequently in conversations about social justice work, activism, and change-oriented discourse pertaining to human rights, privilege, oppression and oppressed demographics, the question comes up about the responsibility of education. People outside of justice work and change-oriented movements often bemoan this by complaining that, “Activists keep telling me it is not their job to educate me! How can I learn if those people won’t educate me? Isn’t that what they’re SUPPOSED to do?” The following is my response to this, written before having a cup of coffee and while listening to Rage Against the Machine.

The ultimate goal of activism is “the vigorous actions campaigning for change“.

It is not that ACTIVISTS are not responsible for education, but rather, that marginalized and oppressed parties — e.g. POC, LGBTQ, Trans*, Women, Sexual Assault Survivors, religious minorities, etc — are NOT required to educate in order to be involved in the work to achieve, or expect to receive freely, the rights which should already be guaranteed them. Further, this topic isn’t so much about “education” as it is about justification.

Let me explain:

When the majority of people who are demanding to have “it” explained to them go about demanding that it be explained to them — “it” being the operative mode of activism or rights related change in question at a given time, such as women’s rights — they are rarely asking for actual education. They are asking for justification.

When somebody says, “explain this to me”, they are generally not saying, “please educate me so that I can be a vehicle for social change and righteous progressive movement forward as a society in the recognition of universal rights for all humans”. What they are most often actually saying is, “prove it, bitch.”

Education is NOT justification, but the words “education” and “explanation” and “proof” are synonymized in the parlance of the oppressors, who act with prejudice because they have permission from their peers in a society that does not want to change. This is more or less statistical fact, and is a model (explored below) of control utilized by the complacent privileged within the oppressive rank-and-file in order to prevent the change which would afford rights to the oppressed.

Education comes about through modeling and through helping to build allies and alliances up through genuine engagement. In other words, relationship.

Most allies to these changes had a period during which they were not allies: when they themselves were part of the problem at least insofar as a complacent component of the machine of oppression, instead of an active part of the resolution moving forward. What changed for them wasn’t “proof” or “justification”, it was an eventual experience and perception that penetrated through their socially-encouraged veil of ignorance, “made it real”, and then they actively sought their own education. The research, the data, the numbers, the fatalities, the lack of freedoms, the brutality, on any given topic? It’s freely available. Further, the process of “becoming an ally” is an ongoing and gradual one: the education never stops, it is not a mere explanation, it is by nature a constant process of learning and at times re-learning or learning from more and more different angles and approaches. The very nature of the beast of permissive prejudicial disregard for the humanity of others in a society rampantly sick with such casual degradation as a standard stock model is that allies are not magically “cured” of those tempting ignorances and impulses to retreat back into the safety of the many from the fringes of the few-who-would-be-seen — e.g. activists and vocal advocates for change — because it turns out that working as an ally for progress is exhausting, sometimes frightening, and always difficult. It pits a person against their own community’s complacent stated needs and desires, and puts all roads at a slant of uphill and in the muddy rain, because progress is not merely a slow march up the mountain side but one which is constantly thwarted by peers who don’t own dictionaries and haven’t bothered to look up the words “rights” or “progress” or “decent”.

The year is 2015 and we have the sum total of all human knowledge ever, updated every second, in our back pockets.

It is not the responsibility of a sexual assault survivor to explain — justify — consent to a rapist’s mother or a molester’s police-chief uncle. Why?

Because that’s sick.

Education doesn’t work that way.

An important nuance here is the distinction between “activist” and “marginalized person”. Not all marginalized persons are activists. Not all activists are marginalized persons, or come from demographics of subjugated or injurious experience. This is why activism encourages alliance, recognizes privilege: not in the condemning sense, because privilege also represents some of the fastest vehicles for achieving social change and upward mobility in the pursuits of activism, through allies-with-privilege working to empower, strengthen, and stand OUT the way of the marginalized voices who are needing to bring about an increased visibility and voice. Education comes through modeling, not through justifying, and when justification-type banter comes up — e.g. when the assholes demand an explanation or “proof” — that DOES NOT FALL on the oppressed parties to answer. That’s troll-bait. It falls on allies to correct that shit, and it falls on people to not fall into justification seeking troll-traps, born entirely of entitlement and complacency seated in a self-righteous throne of competitive adequacy.

In my experience, people who genuinely want to learn through being taught — rather than demanding justifications — are not going to ask in an online forum, website or social media comments section, or similar.

When something comes up in my work or approach that I’m uncertain about, I tend to reach out privately and respectfully to the appropriate parties whose knowledge, experience, and expertise I respect and have discerned as valid for reasons beyond assumptions. In other words, I don’t assume that all women magically have critically informed training in the nuances and systematic process of women’s rights, nor do I assume that all LGBTQ people are rampant activists marching in the streets and studying social justice at the doctoral level, or employed as social workers for trans* youth. That would be an objectifying set of assumptions. Instead I respect marginalized voices and in the process of activism and in my role as an ally I stand the fuck back so as to not by my presence or ignorance inadvertently silence or speak over or obscure the voice and visibility of a demographic that the work is all about providing equal platform to. That’s justice work. Part of it is recognizing who the experts are, and knowing who to turn to for advice or counsel when a question arises.

For example, if I have a question about a news story or a topic relating to a current social unrest or activist engagement in the nation or world, I do not assume that I can utilize “tokenism” to turn to a random member of the relevant social group or demographic in order to shake them like a tree of justification knowledge that will rain down on my entitled ass. Instead, I work to build relationships more generally with communities, and I work to recognize the skills and specialized knowledges (or biases) in the people who I know so that, when questions arise, I can do better than ask dumb fucking questions on a forum.

Distinctions between people attached to a movement or demographic is part of the process of engaging respectfully: not all people who are part of “Group A” or “Demographic B” or “Activism Oriented Movement C” are themselves teachers; some people are wrecking-balls for inspiring discourse, opening ways of visibility and passionate voices or visible displays, and are NOT specialists in teaching. Others have the bed-side manner of a timid cat or a confused retired race-horse and are similarly not prepared for that, but have other areas of excellence to bring to the front. Activism for social change is made up of all sorts. There are educators within every movement. Not every movement is made up solely of educators, as that would imply that their sole purpose was to cater to the needs of the oppressors, rather than the oppressed.

The focus on education — or on writing, or on “wording things in calm and comfortable manners” or on wording things “in accessible non-erudite manners” or “not using all that super-educated language because it is condescending” or “not using all that colloquial non-specific passionate language because it is intimidating” — is about controlling the message of change pertaining to the rights of the oppressed by forcing them to comply with the needs or whims of the oppressors, who can parlay these demands as a means of further oppression via passive-aggression and feign at “wanting to learn” when really they just wanna watch people “dance the puppet dance” by shooting demands at their feet like .45s with casings cast up to delightful display to showcase their own marksmanship. Whether they realize it or not. Because social dynamics and their intersection with power dynamism.

Part of the control mechanism is to demand that activists comply with a certain tone or look or format in order to “warrant” change or “deserve” rights, and these metrics are constantly changed because they’re fabricated whims, not real needs. This limits “who can be an activist” or by reverse tries to undermine activism by calling everyone who wants change or is part of a marginalized group “an activist”, which makes people without the training or focus of activism grouped similarly with them, which… further hurts the progress of real activists working with real focus.

Different people bring different skills, specializations, focuses and flavors to the work. And some people are merely allies to the work, and are not themselves activists, and that’s totally okay.

Again, not all people in a marginalized group are activists, for a whole slew of reasons, including the fact that not everyone is good at being an activist.

Being involved in social justice work is hard. Not everyone involved is an activist. Not every activist is an educator. Being involved in social justice work and/or activism does not magically make somebody a member of an oppressed group, just as being a member of an oppressed or marginalized group does not magically make somebody a social activist. Sometimes a person from a group is just a person trying to live their life. Their involvement or lack of involvement in the rights-oriented work for that group is intrinsically separate from the pursuits of their own individual life goals, interests, and choices, although the focus of social justice work is to afford rights and liberties to all persons whether they are engaged in that work themselves or not. Social justice work is NOT merely about education, nor is it limited in scope to affording rights to those who have fought for them: that isn’t how rights work. There are ways to support activism without claiming to be an activist, and not everyone who claims to be an activist (or is described that way by those who are dragging society’s heels on social justice change oriented work) is indeed an actual activist. (This is where the term “armchair activist” comes into play, derogatory though it often is.)

Late author of the New Wave Science-Fiction movement, Roger Zelazny, once wrote in a novel that “the universe did not invent justice. Man did. Unfortunately, man must reside in the universe”. While I find the atheist quality of this disagreeable in essence, it is nevertheless an important statement about the nature of social justice work in a society. It is the responsibility of societies to find within themselves the means to navigate these issues of justice and rights and move ever forward.

Society — in the most intrinsic and primal sense — is humankind’s answer to the question of survivability through the dark of night, when monsters loom and freezing cold snaps toothy maw at exposed and soft skin. Society began around the fire-pits, where our ancestors harnessed progress — perhaps stolen for them by one divine agent from other divine agencies — for the first time, and in this way, answered the call of survival… together. And so the first steps forward begin, for fire burns as equally as it warms and illuminates, and so those who would benefit from its life-saving properties needed to abide certain normative guidelines in order to ensure the continued safety of all the others in their band, wrapped as they were around those stone-circled embers.

And so we stand today, wrapped as we are around the stone-circled cities and road-circled countrysides and a digital data circled globe forever changed by the instant connection which acknowledges no distance as too great: we must abide the basic tenets of hospitality and human rights, or else we wield the fires of survivability not for the betterment of our band but as weapon and brand to mark harm and cast out, a violation which will only ever be met with one staggering response: burning revolution, which sends those circled stones to the air against the walls of ignorance that kept some in power over others.

P.S. Some of you may wonder how any of this relates to Polytheist religious considerations. As I’ve stated, and written, I like to be clear that the work to restore polytheistic religious practices, theologies, communities, and pious praises for the gods — in one’s own tradition and in/for others! — is social justice work. Religious minorities are a marginalized group, and the rights, freedoms, liberties and progressions of religious developments are absolutely social justice oriented, and are even included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as authored by the United Nations. Often today “social progress” is considered a secular pursuit only, and so religious considerations are cast out from it, as “religion” is synonymized erroneously with abusive power structures of the mainstream “big” religions. Discussions rarely consider marginalized or minority religious demographics, and further, religious beliefs and practices are far-too-quickly turned on as being agents of conservative anti-progress, backward superstition, or literally described as devolved dalliances detrimental to social change… as that social justice only has room for clean-cut well-groomed secularly acceptable ultra-modern facets and groups and identities and modes of living. It is not progressive or an expression of social justice to “write out” a group’s freedoms or rights based on popular prejudice against them, and so, religious minorities — as with all oppressed and suppressed demographics and expressions of being — must have amongst them visible voices of social justice, and allies (within and without) to support their continued survival in a society that would pretty clearly see them erased.

Demands for “education” justification are a form of erasure and silencing, whether this is done to a group for its religious identity, racial identity, sexual identity, gender identity, etc. Do not erase people, groups, or rights, and then try to call that progressive. Do not attempt to offer your demands for education as proof of your willingness to consider social justice; social justice and the distribution of universal rights are not a thing you should have t consider, without at least acknowledging that this very statement is proof of prejudice. At least have the decency to admit that you’re a cultural supremacist and that you clearly believe yourself to have the superior way of being and believe yourself the appropriate choice for making decisions on behalf of “those people”, whosoever they may be in any given topic. You fuck.

In other words? Part of my work is the social justice of religious rights and freedoms for polytheistic pursuits — because as Markos Gage has pointed out to us, it’s hard to even use the names of our gods freely today — and so I am a social justice worker in addition to a devoted Polytheist, working as an ally to various important issues and furthering the work of my own focus and specialized area. Understanding what social justice is, and what marginalization, privilege, oppression, entitlement, alliance, and true education are… is essential to the task of pushing our societies forward toward progressive change that allows for the rights of our religious traditions, lineages, and practices, alongside the rights and liberties of all those who are oppressed and marginalized and erased and actively harmed or even killed by the complacent powers-that-be — the masses — based on their skin color, ethnicity, social class, income level, sexual preferences, gender identities, mental health status, cognitive processing styles, culture backgrounds, national affiliations or religious identities and practices.

However, as I have pointed out above: just because a person is involved with or identified as a member of a marginalized or oppressed group — for example, based on race, religious identity, or sexual preferences — does not automatically mean that they are a social justice activist. Being a Polytheist does not mean that you are also an activist or a social justice worker or an anti-capitalist, as has been directly stated or suggested elsewhere: this is an IMPORTANT distinction. Social justice never removes or bypasses the legitimacy of agency and consent, which such automatic and unilateral identifications — almost entirely applied from the outside — would entail. In short? I am not saying that polytheism is social justice work, or that all Polytheists are involved or must be involved in activism, only that the cause of social justice work specific to the needs and rights of polytheistic religions are benefitted by the involvement of those who are, and similarly, that there is a natural alliance and solidarity to be found between different demographics of oppressed or marginalized groups, within social justice consideration and true progress.


Pagan Church Lady

(Contributing to the tag that Anomalous Thracian started.  Please read his many excellent posts with this tag.)

All of my life I’ve heard voices and had seemingly random and frightening spiritual encounters.  I’ve suffered from horrendous nightmares and night terrors.  Medication has never helped – and I never understood how pills could help anyway.  In the religions that I was raised in, the only option when creepy things happened was to reach out to their Highest Power and beg for intervention – which sometimes helped, but only rarely and often provoked more conflict and visitation.  In the Ceremonial Magic tradition I moved to later, it was possible to interact with the spirits that I knew lurked around me – but only if I knew their names, only if I could create the right charts for them, only if they fit into the worldview of the practice, and only if I threatened…

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From Polytheist.com writer Amorella Moon:

“…I realized that the way I was encountering the Gods, and the ways the Gods were interacting with me was not only abnormal to most peoples experience, but was also quite frowned upon. I was accused of hubris, lying, being insane, of being an “Attention Whore” and of just flat out being wrong. The Gods don’t do those things, and I was not welcome among the many if I said they did.

In my 15 or so years of courting various Pagan Religions and various modern pagan constructs, I never once found ears that were not hostile to my way of vivid experience of my Gods, and of my inner will to pursue the things my God put before me… Until a couple of years ago when I discovered the small, serous, and rather quiet practice of Modern Polytheism alive and well.

Think about that quietly for a moment… I fought for 15 years alone, harvesting the kind of lonely that would break most people, because my Gods kept saying “No. Not yet. That’s not your path.” And because I listened… It took 15 years to find those who saw my paths worth.”