So now we’re going to start looking at Halstead’s article, and oh boy, just from the start I can tell this is going to be fun. For a bit of background, there is apparently a “polytheistic revolution” happening in Paganism. Given what I can pick up about it, it actually sounds like I’m part of it, since it’s about putting the Gods first in our religion (and seeing them as Discreet Beings) above things like political agendas and whatever ethical crisis is taking the airwaves at the moment. Which, is, apparently a problem for Halstead.
John Beckett has recently written a post about his vision of the future of the future of Polytheism — the future of the “polytheist revolution” — and the importance of “keeping the Gods at the front”. And it has become more clear to me than ever why I am opposed to the growth of a certain kind of Polytheism — other-worldly Polytheism — within the Pagan Umbrella.
Apparently it is never too early to begin your bid for Pagan Pope Elections. Gods forbid that in a religious umbrella, there be people you do not agree with. Because those are like hashtags, people own those, apparently. Which reminds me.
Anyways, enough about Hel and I being in charge of everything. Clearly, Halstead knows what is best and that is to remove “other worldly” polytheism from Paganism…despite the fact that Paganism was born from ancient “other worldly” polytheism. Yeah, if you’re head is starting to hurt I don’t think it’s gonna get any better.
John (Beckett) writes:
“I would argue that if your religion doesn’t have a strong this-world component you’re doing it wrong.
“Our this-world concerns are enormous. They’re here, in front of us, right now. They demand our attention, they demand our time, they demand our effort. And they never end. If we are not mindful, if we are not – dare I say it – devout and pious, it is all too easy to let our this-world concerns become our gods and take Their place in our lives. …
“When we don’t keep the Gods at the forefront of our practice, we put something else there. That something else may be helpful or it may be a distraction, but whatever it is weakens our relationships with the Gods …”
To me, this sounds disturbingly like the Christianity I left behind 15 years ago — with its rejection of this world or at least its relegation of the concerns of this world to a place of secondary importance. It sounds too much like the monotheistic condemnation of “idolatry” and the “gods of this world”.
I would like to point out that a) Beckett makes an excellent point and b) Halstead isn’t exactly wrong. It does sound a lot like the Christianity of my youth too. Of course it also sounds like the Judaism of my youth, the Buddhism of my youth, and the Alchemy of my youth. Because it is an idea that reaches across all sacred theologies. If you worry about the problems of this world too much, they will take over your mind and you will worship them instead of worshiping the Gods.
This is one of the main reasons I harp on Social Justice so much, especially in Paganism. When you are so obsessed with things like #blacklivesmatter that you make a religious organization police itself with a political committee for your political ideology, like what happened with Covenant of the Goddess, you have officially begun worshiping “this world’s problems” more than you worship the Gods (or Goddess, in this case). And so yes, it does kinda fall into the realm of Idolatry under that Christian sense of false gods having replace the True Gods.
But that principle is not a bad one. If you are a religious person, by which I mean that your identity and life is built on your religion, than the Gods and their practices of that religion should be foremost in your life. This doesn’t exclude anything else, but if you make a promise to someone that you’re going to show up and do something, you should really keep that promise and show up and do that thing, not whine because you’re being called out for breaking that promise because you feel whatever it is you ran off to do was “more important.”
It was because of its embrace of the “gods of this world” that I became Pagan. For me, more than anything else, the word “Pagan” denotes a this-worldly view of life. I had spent far too much of my early religious life looking for another world and missing the point of this one. I was guilty of what Albert Camus called the sin of “hoping for another life and eluding the implacable grandeur of this life.” I found in Paganism a religion that embraced this world — with both arms. While many Pagans do believe in reincarnation, most do not view the cycle of life as something to be escaped from. And most of those who believe in a “Summerland” view it as the place where souls rest between incarnations, not as a “heaven” where one would want to stay. Ultimately, for most Pagans, this world is all there is. But where this would cause some to despair, the Pagan shouts with joy!
Technically, all Gods are of this world, but is is a serious problem with Christianity and Islam that they do tend to focus on the afterlife more than this one. It’s especially a problem with Islam, and some Christian Sects deal with it better than others, but they do focus a lot more on the Kingdom of God more than they do Earth. And Paganism does tend to address that issue very well. Our Gods are more of this earth because they’re limited domains keep them focused as primal, earthly forces far better than does an omnipotent being. It is easer to relate to the fertility of the earth as Freyr, death as Hel, and knowledge as Odin than it is to relate to all these thing in one being, especially since their natures are so different from each other.
And I can’t speak for all Pagans or this Summerland thing, but most Polytheistic religions I’ve dealt with have a permanent afterlife. You don’t check out of Helheim once you’re there. The Parts of the Soul that go to the Afterlife stay in the afterlife (though there are parts of the soul that do get passed on to new living people, but that’s a different article). But in Heathenism there is a strong undercurrent of where you go when you die. But it never took away from the “this world” aspects of things.
The truth is that there is a simple factor when it comes to a theology of “otherworldliness” that Halstead is complaining about, and that is “free time.” My Heathen ancestors focused very much on this world even with all the other worldly elements (I mean, we have nine worlds, eight of which are not earth), and that is there wasn’t the free time to slack off and worry about “oh shit, am I going to get to Valhalla,” when you’ve got to plant, fish, hunt, sew, tend wounds, and all the other stuff that takes up time. Unlike modern Christians, who have a lot of free time to ponder getting to heaven. But it’s not the existence of other worlds that distracts polytheists from this world. Because polytheists tend to be very grounded in this world because of those Gods from other worlds.
So when John Beckett talks about placing the gods before the concerns of this world, this is not just another form of Paganism — it is the antithesis of everything Paganism is to me. For me, it’s this world or bust!
And here in we have the crux of Halstead’s problem. His practice got labeled as an “idolatry” and so now he’s going to go running around screaming heretic. It’s like the schism between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox church. Now everyone’s going to be excommunicated. Joy.
Still, I would like to point out again that Paganism comes from the original Polytheistic Pagans. Whom the polytheists of this revolution are seeking to re-emulate. In fact, it’s the view of Halstead that has largely necessitated this revolution. Halstead (and I haven’t read enough of his stuff to know his full political bent, but I can guess) seems to be one of those people I once termed as “putting new carvings on old stones.” By which I meant they were carving their modern political agendas on the ancient tablets of Paganism, and insisting that it was the original Paganism because here it is on the ancient tablet!
And they often screamed really loudly when you showed them the original carvings on said proverbial tablets.
But such Paganism as Beckett is talking about is not the antithesis of everything Paganism is. It certainly is that for Halstead, who seems to think that his definition of Paganism is the only one that should be, but like most Authoritarians he’s flailing his arms about in anger but failing to really prove his point.
And for him, it may very well be “This world or bust.” But that doesn’t make it true. Or even obvious what he means. “This world or bust,” this world what? This world has to be perfect, this world is the only one that matters? Maybe he’s said it elsewhere, and gods know I get accused of being too wordy, but really can’t you say what the the bust is about?
I mean, does this mean we shouldn’t try to reach the moon, Halstead? Or Mars? We should never try to reach other worlds and other life forms because this world or bust? Halstead is saying we should focus on “this world” but that kind of mentality all to often leads to stagnation, rather than exploration. Often enough, it is that “otherworldly” thing that drives us to imagine what could be, what is beyond the existence of that moment. So how does banning an attitude of looking beyond the world really harm Paganism?
Maybe we’ll get that explained in Part 2