Thoughts on the Article that Started it All

While I usually try and stay out of the drama that happens within the online pagan community, I feel that I really need to wrap my head around this entire issue with Halstead and his atheist wars. I suppose it’s the atheist – polytheist war that he has incited, although I hesitate to call it a war. The reason for that hesitation is that I’m a polytheist and one of my closest friends is an atheist. Granted, he’s not an atheist who follows pagan practices, so I suppose that’s the reason we don’t have any real problems.

At the same time, however, one of the coolest things to me about paganism has been that it is orthopraxic, meaning that atheists can be practicing pagans without having to believe in the Gods. That’s a controversial view, especially considering what’s going on right now, but it’s the way I look at the world. There is room enough for all of us to walk the paths meant for us. For some of us, that means being polytheists (and I hate the separation that has cropped up between “hard” and “soft” polytheism – to me, both are polytheistic, but I digress). For others, that means being atheists who practice within a pagan context.

I’m not that big of a fan of labels, as labels tend to separate rather than to unite, and the more labels we create for ourselves, the more tears we create in our own community. For that reason, I tend to stick to the dictionary definition of pagan – someone who isn’t practicing an Abrahamic faith. Whether you are a polytheist or an atheist, you fit this definition.

That being said, if you are an atheist, you have no right whatsoever to comment on polytheistic practices as if you know exactly what you’re talking about. I have known many atheists with very different sets of moral principles and beliefs, and I do not pretend to understand what it means to be an atheist.

Halstead’s article, which set everything off, demonstrates his lack of understanding of what it means to be a polytheist.

Because I want to fully explore this “war,” I’m going to start by examining the article that set everything in motion. The catalyst, if you will.

Halstead writes:

To me, it seems that a god-motivated concern for the earth — whether polytheist or monotheist — is more fragile than a concern that grows directly out of one’s relationship with the earth itself — for the same reason that stewardship models of environmentalism don’t go as deep as those that recognize our inherent interconnectedness.

Perhaps this is because Halstead fails to understand that being polytheistic is to recognize that inherent interconnectedness. The divine and the mundane. The profound and the profane. Everything is found within its opposite. For many polytheists, the Gods represent natural forces in one (or more) of their aspects – the way Thor is said to represent the force of thunder, Loki of fire (sometimes lightning – both highly debated), Freyr and Freyja of the earth, Njord of the sea, etc.

Halstead:

What happens to our ecology when the gods are silent, as they sometimes are?  Or what happens when the will of the gods do not align with the needs of our planet?  John admits that “… we aren’t the primary concern of the Gods …”  Well, if we are not, and if this planet is not, then I wonder what is their primary concern?  No doubt someone will tell me that the ways of the gods are mysterious or their ways are not our ways — but I’ve heard all that before, from my former religion.  I’m left wondering, if the gods are not concerned with us and with the other lifeforms on this earth, why we should worship them at all?  The mere fact of their existence seems to be insufficient reason to justify placing them before everything else.

None of the polytheists I have met believe that the ecology of the planet is the sole responsibility of the Gods. The earth is our home, and it is our job to take care of it. As for the primary concerns of the Gods, that can be seen in the individual nature of each God. The Gods aren’t mysterious – Their personalities are painted in full color in every story handed down through the generations. What They are concerned with is very clear to those of us who are polytheistic, and we choose the paths of those Gods whose concerns align with our own concerns.

As an example, Loki is one of the Gods that I honor by walking His path, and His main concerns include uncovering hidden truths and regulating pride. As a second example, Tyr’s main concern is creating balance. As a polytheist, I honor the Gods by emulating Them – that’s what it means to walk the path of a God. However, walking those paths doesn’t mean that my own concerns and desires get thrown to the wayside. The Gods inhabit a different realm than we do – why would They be concerned about the earth? We are the ones that must consider our own homes, the way They consider Their homes. Self-accountability is a virtue for a reason, and to ask the Gods to clean up the mess we have made of our planet is beyond disrespectful.

That’s the end of my response to Halstead’s first article, and I have to admit that I’m slightly amazed at how much scorn underlies his writing, and all of his scorn is directed towards polytheists who put their Gods first.

I think the major problem here is that Halstead doesn’t understand what it means to be a polytheist, and he has jumped to the conclusion that polytheists don’t practice a “this-world” faith. That is simply not true. I have never met a polytheist who is so eager to get to the afterlife that they refuse to take responsibility for their lives on this planet. While we discuss the afterlife, none of us polytheists are sitting around waiting on some shining white knight to come rescue us from our sins. That falls firmly in the providence of monotheistic faiths, so stop confusing polytheistic beliefs with monotheistic ones.

Note: This is my response to the first part of this “war.” I’ll be going through all of the posts that Lucius has referenced on his blog so that I may provide all of my thoughts on this “war.”

Advertisements

26 comments on “Thoughts on the Article that Started it All

  1. I have to say, I didn’t see what all the fuss was about at first; but now I can see why people are so angry at this fellow. He’s done a great job of alienating people. Of course, I think some of his most outspoken critics are equally divisive in their own ways; but it’s hard not to react when someone appears to confuse polytheism with monotheism.

    I completely agree with you that Paganism is not about “belief” so much as it’s about practice. Theoretically at least, an atheist could be a member of my own tradition so long as they at least treated our God as being real during our rituals, and as long as they took inspiration from His symbolism in some important way. (They would also need to be someone we considered family, of course, which also has little to do with beliefs.) Aside from that, they could think whatever they like about the Gods; what you believe about Them and how you treat Them are not necessarily the same thing.

    There are many other groups that have this attitude as well, some stretching back all the way to Aleister Crowley and Gerald Gardner. Hell, my siblings in Seth and I took our inspiration from Anton LaVey in this regard. So the idea of caring less about belief and more about practice in Western esoteric traditions is nothing new. I’m a bit confused as to why so many Pagans seem to think it is.

    Liked by 3 people

    • There are still quite a few pagans out there who haven’t completely wrapped their heads around what it means to follow an orthopraxic faith and get caught up in the belief system, especially those who come from an orthodox Christian background.

      To be fair to his most outspoken critics, most of those responses come from those who Halstead has personally insulted, or from those people who are close friends with those he has insulted. In a response to one of Lucius’s posts, Halstead referred to Lucius as a “sad little person” and he also referred to the Gods as “sad little gods.” That, I believe, is where the most offense has been taken (understandably so!!!), and why this situation has escalated the way it has.

      Liked by 2 people

      • To everyone who interpreted my telling a certain person that he was a “sad little person with sad little gods” as referring to their belief in their gods, I apologize. It’s not an excuse, but the spiteful comment by me was made in response to a series of posts where the individual had (among other things) called my children trolls. The comment was not intended to refer to any one else’s belief in their gods. But unfortunately it seems this “sound bite” is now being waved like flag by certain attention-seeking and drama-mongering polytheists in the blogging world as proof of their persecution. The lesson to be learned is that when arguing with (self-described) trolls, the trolls always win.

        Like

      • I think that part of what you don’t understand about polytheists is that an insult to one person’s gods is an insult to all of our gods. While we (polytheists) don’t follow every god out there, we have respect for all gods. Thus, when you offer one of us insult, you offer us all insult. That is what it means to be part of a community. As to the insult you say was offered you, I would like to see the instance you mentioned where an insult was given directly to you.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I think this is all fair criticism, both of the post you linked to and of my snide and irresponsible comment. (It’s no excuse, but I was wound up after he called my children trolls.) I appreciate your focus on praxis over belief and I think your absolutely right that respect is what is called for, even (or maybe especially) from those who do not believe in the gods.

    I’m not sure that was the post that “started it all” though. It’s been going on a lot longer than that,– years actually.

    Also, there’s been a fair amount of “personal attacks” on both sides: Galina Krasskova has a tag on her blog titled “Humanist horseshit” which is devoted to me. Sannion has called my spirituality “adolescent rebellion.” Anomalous Thracian has (in print) threatened to punch me if he met me in person. And most recently, both Tess Dawson and Galina Krasskova have compared me Islamic terrorism. These are some of the most vocal folks in the Polytheist community.

    Like

    • Send me links to the articles you mentioned, so that I can consider them as well. It is possible to disagree with someone and still be respectful, and that line has been crossed by both sides. I’m not neutral in this, as I am a polytheist, but I do think I can offer a more objective view of the problem. It is a division within our community that needs to be addressed, and I am going over everything that has been said in an effort to understand both sides.

      Like

  3. I think this is all fair criticism, both of the post you linked to and of my snide and irresponsible comment. I appreciate your focus on praxis over belief and I think your absolutely right that respect is what is called for, even from those who do not believe in the gods.

    I’m not sure that was the post that “started it all” though. It’s been going on a lot longer than that.

    Also, there’s been a fair amount of “personal attacks” on both sides: Galina Krasskova has a tag on her blog titled “Humanist horseshit” which is devoted to me. Sannion has called my spirituality “adolescent rebellion.” Anomalous Thracian has (in print) threatened to punch me if he met me in person. And most recently, both Tess Dawson and Galina Krasskova have compared me Islamic terrorism. These are some of the most vocal folks in the Polytheist community.

    Like

  4. >”I think that part of what you don’t understand about polytheists is that an insult to one person’s gods is an insult to all of our gods.”

    I’m getting that. But it seems strange. If I told someone from Westboro Baptist Church that their god was a sad, little god, I would’t expect Mother Teresa (if she were alive) to take offense. I might expect her to say that the Westboro god is not her god. Which is what I expected from polytheists.

    (P.S. Did my list of links not come through, or is it waiting moderation?)

    Like

    • I didn’t get the list. And as to that comparison, you are mistaking a monotheistic worldview with a polytheistic worldview again. Plus, you insulted Lucius’s gods, which are the Norse gods, which a lot of polytheists honor/worship. Those of us who are upset are upset because you insulted our gods. And, if you are willing to insult one pantheon, what is to stop you from insulting another? That is why the polytheist community is upset. Understandably so.

      Like

      • Okay, I read the first one there – the Creative Marginalization – and then I read the post you wrote that she was responding to. I actually disagree with her and agree with you on this – polytheism has multiple faces. Poly means many. To say there is only one way to be a polytheist seems silly to me. At the same time, polytheists share a base truth – we all honor multiple gods.

        Some polytheists see the gods as physical beings, others as processes, others as both. There are as many types of polytheism as there are polytheists, but all polytheists do venerate multiple gods (even if those gods take different forms).

        In this case, I agree with you. I don’t think it was hospitable of her to say that you have no right to voice your opinions – everyone always has that right. Always.

        Liked by 1 person

      • As for the other article you wrote that she responded to… the “(Neo)-Pagan is Paradox” one…

        That’s the issue taken there, and that’s the main issue I stay away from in the polytheist community because I find it ridiculous that we need to separate ourselves into Hard and Soft Polytheist camps.

        You did a good job by making a note at the bottom of that article about hard polytheists, and I have no problem with either of the two articles she is condemning in those particular posts.

        Like

      • Neither of them directly link you to Daesh. Like I’ve said already, I think you are too willing to take things personally instead of looking at them for their actual content. Stop looking for a reason to be insulted, and start looking for ways to answer the slew of concerns leveled against you. Where you look for insult, you tend to find it.

        Like

  5. I am neither a hard polytheist nor an non-theistic pagan so I don’t really have a dog in the fight. But I happen to know too much about this on going drama because I came to the Canaanite pantheon two or three years ago when this conflict really took off (Tess Dawson is pretty much the only authority on Modern Canaanite religion, that’s why I was hanging around her blog). I will agree that John Halstead does have a knack for rubbing certain people the wrong way, and for sticking his foot in his month. But I disagree that many of his critics are so awful because of this. They are awful simply because they are awful. There is no justification for it.

    IMO for the most part John Halstead seems to be reacting to the Piety Posse (Galina and Tess Dawson, and some others). I think one really needs to know what they are saying and the ideas they are promoting before really being able to understand what John is reacting to. Believe me, they are saying very different things than you are. They have a habit of drawing lines in the sand and making enemies out of nearly everyone including other hard polytheists. I have seen them go after not only Non-theistic Pagans, but Pop Culture Pagans, Wiccans/Wiccanesque Pagans/soft polytheists, and low income hard polytheists for eating food offerings. The last one was particularly ugly and cruel.

    Galina, Tess and their ilk are the ones promoting the idea that (hard) polytheists aren’t Pagans, that all (hard) polytheists are the same, and that soft polytheists aren’t real polytheists. Actually, I do believe that Galina made the claim that soft polytheists are really monotheists. And I must mention that the Piety Posse greatly dislikes monotheists and Abrahamics too. They are the ones that are putting out the idea that if you’re not a hard polytheist, than you are by default disrespecting the gods. If you don’t believe me and have lots of time to waste, check out their blogs, especially the blog post from about two years ago. Or you can google the words “Piety Posse.” There are still plenty of tumblr blog post around reacting to some of the more outrageous and toxic things said by the group.

    Sorry this reply is so long. Just wanted to add a view from another angle.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve mostly stayed out of that debate because I think it’s absolutely ridiculous, but it’s nice to know where it originated. I know that within the heathen groups that I more lurk on than participate in on facebook, there is a lot of hatred directed toward Galina. I wasn’t aware that such a thing as the Piety Posse existed (what a name), so I may look into it later.

      Thanks for adding another perspective to all of this.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I do believe people on Tumblr gave them that name, because at that time they, especially Galina were claiming that pagans and polytheists who don’t believe and practice as they do weren’t being “pious” enough. They are aware that people call them that, but they don’t go around calling themselves that, though.

        Like

      • Makes sense. I tend to disapprove of anyone belittling someone else’s chosen spiritual path, and I haven’t liked much of what I’ve read on Galina’s blog. Easy solution: stay away from the negativity. 😛

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s