So yesterday we got to “This world or Bust” by Halstead, who didn’t really explain there what “Bust” was. But hopefully we can get a little further into it. I cut it off there because his next part was bringing up a different tangent.
So let’s continue:
John goes on to argue that, in the absence of a belief in the gods, we will lack the motivation to care for the Earth and to build a fair and just society when the going gets hard. I simply cannot agree. How does putting the gods between us and our concern for the earth and its inhabitants strengthen that concern? In my own experience, the reverse has been true: care for this world is inversely proportionally to the belief in the importance of another one. This has been true in my own life and in the lives of many others I have seen — like those whose response to ecocide is “It’s all going to burn anyway.”
I’m going to go out on a limb here and theorize that Halstead has never heard of a Paladin. Thankfully, I have heard of a Paladin. I play one on World of Warcraft.
And the funny thing about Paladins, is we put the Gods first and use that to motivate us to accomplish the seemingly impossible. In real life, I try to act as a Paladin of Hel. To let her strength and desires guide my actions on this world and empower me to accomplish what I need to do. Just as I fight against totalitarian Ideologies that lead to mass graves of “Worthless lives” so she too empowers me to face my daily challenges. By putting Hel first, I gain the power to keep going when otherwise I would have given up. When I wanted to commit suicide and end the pain of my life, it was Hel who gave me the power to live.
Had it not been for Hel, I would not be here. Had it not been for me putting my own selfish desires second to her Divine will and love, this is a conversation we would not be having. Yet Halstead feels that such an action makes one weaker, not stronger. That behaving in such a way weakens our ability to “help the world.”
This is something that I think people miss, especially people like Halstead who are not people of “Faith.” Believing in the Gods is like believing in a friend. It’s not just some abstract idea, some set of principles that are good to live by. This is a real being, an real person, who you have a relationship with. It allows you to transcend your limitations. Imagine if you were out walking and you saw someone about to shoot your friend. If it was a stranger, you would dive out of the way, but for your friend you jump in front of the bullet, take that pain, take that risk, because you love them and do not want them harmed.
This is one of the things that has made ISIS so powerful that no one understands. To them, Allah is real, what they do they do for someone they know and love personally, they follow him as they would a king who leads them into battle. Everyone can talk about “ideologies” all they want, but when you remove that personal relationship component, you remove the most important part to understanding them.
In a way, it’s like that for polytheists. We know the Gods, we love the Gods, and we are loved in turn, and that allows us to push through any pain, any weakness, any suffering, to accomplish what our Gods Need us to Do.
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. 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 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.
You are going to fight for what you believe in. In this, Halstead may have a point. Polytheists are not going to be as concerned about the “planet” as say someone like Halstead is. The wills of the various Gods are not always going to be what is in the best interest of “The planet.” And the Gods aren’t always going to be the most concerned with us humans. So as he says, why should we worship them if humans and the earth aren’t the primary concern of the Gods?
What the Gods are concerned with, however, are their Domains. The Gods are nexuses of energy, of power, over which they both create and rule, at the same time being created and ruled by those energies. Each God and Goddess controls and directs the powers of their domains, making sure they are neither too strong, nor too weak.
And no, the Gods do not work in mysterious ways. They work in the ways that achieve their ends. You just don’t always get to see it, or understand it because you’re not part of that domain.
Let’s take Mars for example. Mars is the God of War, Masculinity, and Agriculture.
War, by it’s nature, is terrible for the planet. There’s all this fire, and death, and plague, and you’re digging up trenches and blowing holes in the ground, and there’s all those fossil fuels to consider. All in all, War is not good for the planet. But war is good for people. When all else fails, and they’re starving, they’re being oppressed, raped, murdered, they can turn to War and fight for the chance to survive. They can defend their homes, gain the resources they need to live, and often enough it keeps there from being too many people draining all the resources away.
But Agriculture, too, is terrible for the planet. Agriculture tears down forests, diverts waters, destroys natural plant life and displaces species. Yet it grows new plant life, supports new species, and allows people to survive. So agriculture is good for societies and humans, but bad for the planet.
Yet humans need war and agriculture to survive and thrive. We rely on Mars to govern these forces, to make sure that agriculture remains stable and that war is not too often, but there when needed. Why then would we not worship the God who rules such forces?
After all, if we just went with what was good for the planet, we would not have agriculture or war, but then human life would be paltry, starving, and at the mercy of anything seeking to end it.
And so it is with each domain, each God.
Of course, not all Polytheism is other-worldly. Not all polytheisms are equal. Some forms of Polytheism find the gods in the manifest phenomena of this world — its rivers, its mountains, its flora, its other-than-human animals. For them, “We move through a world rife with gods and spirits, and a multitude of gods dwell within each of us … We rub up against divine being with every turn in the sacred dance” (Alison Leigh Lily), from “Local spirits-of-place Gods, like the tiny endemic population of this-kind-of-poppy-with-the-spot-on-its-petals which has only ever been found on one mountain in one county in one land” to “Gods who are nothing but the endless omnipotent life force endlessly taking shape in all things” (Morpheus Ravenna). For some Polytheists, the suggestion that we should avoid placing this world before the gods is nonsensical, a non-sequitur, because for them there is no distinction between the gods and this world. That is a kind of Polytheism I am happy to share the Pagan umbrella with — a this-worldly polytheism. But if your gods aren’t going to help me save this world, then I don’t want your Polytheist revolution.
First off, all polytheistic religions see the Gods in this world. Actually, to put it better, all polytheists see the Gods in this Existence. Some of the Gods have domains outside of this world.
Odin, Thoth, Minerva, they are Gods of Thought, of Knowledge, but knowledge is not of this world, it is of the mind, the dreaming psyche.
Tyr, Iustitita, Ma’at, are Gods of Law, but law is not of this world.
Hel, Pluto, Anubis, are Gods of Death, but death is not of this world, death is the leaving of this world.
Mars, Freyr, Ceres, are gods of agriculture, but agriculture is not of the planet. It is a force transforming the planet
But it seems Halstead cannot grasp such concepts. Instead, there is only This World, This Planet, and the planet is the most important thing. That which acts against the planet is wrong, that which is beyond the planet is to be expunged. I especially love the whole “not all polytheism are equal,” thing here. Now who is hankering back to their Christian youth? “Believe as I say or be removed!” cries the authoritarian. “Thy heresy shall not be tolerated,” screams the Christian.
Congratulations Halstead, you wanted to scream at Beckett for bringing “christian ideology” into your Paganism, but you have brought a far worse Christian Practice into it instead.