atheistic paganism, cultus deorum, faith, halstead, Heathen, Pagan, Religion, theism, theistic paganism
In Part 1 and 2 (covered in post 1), Halstead attempted to answer a question by committing logical fallacies, appealing to selective history, and seeing what he wanted to in the writings of others. In Part 3 (covered in post 2), Halstead attempted to justify his fall from rationality and lack of pure atheism by claiming he had emotional needs that paganism satisfied in what has to be some of the most blatant cultural appropriation I’ve ever seen.*
Because when the man who tries to expunge theistic Pagans from the Pagan umbrella for heresy turns out to be guilty of theft from ancient and modern Paganism because he wants to “feel pretty” well…
4. Nature and ritual are two of my spiritual touchstones.
The experience nature as sacred is at the heart of why I call myself Pagan. Emma Restall Orr’s definition of a “Pagan” as “one for whom that ancient wordless book of lore, nature, is utterly sacred and as such, s/he listens more carefully, treads more softly, and celebrates with more exuberance” fits me well. And this is consistent with how the word has been used by many others, include the Romantics and Transcendentalsists. Jön asks:
“Is it to mark their belief in the importance of nature? That doesn’t work, because there are plenty of environmentalist atheists. I’d be willing to bet the intersection between those two groups was pretty significant, actually.”
Jön is right that there are many environmentalists who are atheists. I see Paganism as a form of what Bron Taylor calls “Dark Green Religion” which brings to secular environmentalism a sense of the nature’s sacredness. A purely secular environmentalism would be unsatisfying to me in the same way that a purely secular humanism would be.
Secular humanism and secular environmentalism are emotionally unsatisfying. Thus, because he needs to be “emotionally satisfied” Halstead has turned to Paganism. He takes imagery and philosophy from Paganism, but then turns around and denies that the Gods should be worshiped and insists that those who put a preferential focus on worshiping the Gods are the “wrong kind of Pagan” and should be weeded out from the Pagan umbrella.
Halstead once accused me of “ego-paganism” but really, this has to be a perfect example of that Idea. Halstead is the arbiter of what is acceptable Pagan practice, of what “good” things we should take from Pagan heritage and what “Bad” things should be left in the past (even as he tries to deny those bad things ever existed).
If you want to save the world, save the world. If you want to be rational, be rational. But don’t expect to be accepted and forgiven any actions you take simply because you wanted to be “emotionally satisfied.” Especually when you’re committing gross hypocrisy. If you bring theology or spirituality into something, it is no longer secular. I suspect half the reason Halstead refuses to simply be an atheist or a secularist is because people in both groups laughed him out. Frankly, I want to hand some of his material to somebody like the Amazing Atheist on youtube and see what happens. I’m pretty sure Halstead would get ripped apart worse than I’m doing.
But the world doesn’t owe you an “emotionally satisfying experience, especially when you “espouse” ideals that put logic above emotion.
Jön goes on:
“Is it about the rituals? Well, here he might have something, if he’s just looking at rituals as psychodrama (although I’m sure he won’t enjoy being reminded that Anton LaVey got there first in his Satanic Bible and Satanic Rituals). But if it’s about the plain efficacy of ritual, it still doesn’t explain why he doesn’t take the final step and just start his own religion, with its own rituals that hit the psychological buttons he feels are their purpose, but which doesn’t rely on any supernatural agency for its undergirding premise, and thus distance himself from those Gods-believers he seems to despise so much.
Upsal, I’m 95% sure you read my blog and have commented here, so I’m just going to address this to you.
For the same reason SJWs don’t go out and create new characters in books, comics, and movies. They’re lazy. Creating a character or group of characters takes time, often years. Then there’s more years to make them famous, if they even get there. Take Marvel’s Thor, for example. Stan Lee first wrote him in the 60’s, where he got popular with the comic crowd but that’s about it. Then through the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s Thor enjoyed growing and waning popularity. It wasn’t until the 2010’s that Thor gained world wide recognition as a character. That’s nearly 60+ years of work by hundreds and hundreds of people.
So let’s say there’s a ideology based character you “think” should be popular. Why work hard to put it out there, when you can get famous by changing an existing character to match your views and be your mouthpiece. No hard work, no years spent convincing people to take them or you seriously. Just grab someone already there, and when anyone protests you can call them a racist/sexist/bigot/etc.
That’s the same reason Halstead doesn’t go and start his own religion or path. He’d have to convince everyone he wasn’t a loony prophet or some cult leader. He wouldn’t have to compete with pre-existing religions. So Halstead basically grabs Paganism because it’s popular, well know, moderately respected, and yet flexible enough that he can come in, claim it is whatever he wants, and expunge those who disagree with him as “lesser peoples.” After all, if Halstead started his own path without all these “god believers” he’d probably be dead before it started really growing and would then be out of his power. Better then, to co-opt something now and get that power while he’s alive for long enough to enjoy it.
I don’t think its any coincidence that the publication of LaVey’s Satanic Bible in 1969 coincided more or less with the Neo-Pagan revival. (I don’t think he “got there first”, though.) Both groups were on to the same idea of ritual as “psychodrama”.
For me, one of the the goals of Neo-Pagan ritual is to evoke powerful emotional responses for the purpose of incarnating, exploring, and consecrating the archetypal patterns of my unconscious, so as to resolve those intrapsychical conflicts which were created by the dissociation of the shadow components of my psyche (sex and death) caused by Western guilt culture generally and my monotheistic upbringing specifically, and to effect a healing reintegration of those elements.
You know, I don’t think it was a coincidence either. The 60’s saw a definite change in the spiritual energies of the West, and all the old Gods, spirits, etc started coming back in the public consciousness as well as the world. So little wonder that Lucifer would get his Satanists going around the same time all the Pagan Gods got their stuff going as well.
But once again, we see Halstead pushing the idea of an “emotional high.” It’s mixed in there with a lot of fancy psychology talk which, frankly, looks like a fancy way of bullshitting. And before he says anything, yes, Halstead, I do understand that psychobabble.
And it is in understanding that psychobabble that I’ve come to another realization. I got pissed in my second post about this article because Halstead was basically stealing Pagan culture and then trying to kick people out because they showed him a fraud. But now I also realize that why Halstead has done that.
He’s basically a dude-bro who told the state he practiced Native American religion so he could get away with smoking peyote all the time. He is literally using sacred Pagan rituals as a way to go on a drug trip to deal with his emotional problems and feelings of guilt, which he claims were from his “Western upbringing.” And he claims these “trips” are healing him because he feels better afterwards.
But ask any practioner of any spiritual path if the point of spiritual rituals is “emtional highs” and I bet you from California to Siberia, from the Native Shaman to the Heathen Gothi to the Roman Priest to the Vodun Witch-Doctor that they will say that while an emotional high happens, that is the side effect, not the goal. The Goal is to connect with the Spiritual, not the Emotional.
So in the end, Halstead can’t handle being logical, or spiritual, he’s emotional in his nature. His emotions are what drive him, and most importantly, that drive for an emotional high.
I also use ritual to connect with nature and try to alter my consciousness to experience an expanded or deeper sense of “Self” which includes all living beings — an experience which is sometimes called the “re-enchantment of the world.”
Me thinks I was not the only one who ended up calling Halstead out for misrepresenting what he meant by Enchantment. Or if I was, I managed to get so much attention to it that he’s had to go back and try to “redefine” what he meant publicly. Either way, I’m laughing my ass off at this part. But again, that emphasis on his emotional feelings, how his “self is including all living things.” Must be quite the high.
This perspective is consistent with what some early leaders in the Neo-Pagan movement described as the purpose of ritual:
“We are talking about the rituals that people create to get in touch with those powerful parts of themselves that cannot be experienced on a verbal level. These are parts of our being that have often been scorned and suppressed. Rituals are also created to acknowledge on this deeper level the movements of the seasons and the natural world, and to celebrate life and its processes.” — Margot Adler
“The purpose of ritual is to wake up the old mind in us, to put it to work. The old ones inside us, the collective consciousness, the many lives, the divine eternal parts, the senses and parts of the brain that have been ignored. Those parts do not speak English. They do not care about television. But they do understand candlelight and colors. They do understand nature.” — Z. Budapest
Holee shit. He actually quoted Z. Budapest.
He actually quoted the one person who is practically persona non grata in the entire Pagan community. Fuck. I almost should stop right here, because I cannot imagine the shit storm Halstead is about to bring down on himself if people realize what he just did. He quoted the “Transphobic” leader of the disgraced “transphobic” Dianic Path in an attempt to justify his position.
Now, frankly, I don’t care, but for a guy who has been so keen on removing “wrongthink” he just published wrongthink. And the worst part of it is, she isn’t even saying anything that’s agreeing with him. Neither is Adler, come to think of it. See, all those commas indicate individual things, not adjectives.
“The olds ones.” (Gods and spirits) “the collective consciousness.” (what it says on the tin). “the many lives” (that individual people have had going through the past). “The divine eternal parts” (again gods, also souls). “The senses and parts of the brain that have been ignored.” Halstead might think that quote works for him because he thinks everything is one big lump of stuff, but anyone else can see Z is talking about separate things. Hel, during the Dianic Scandals I read enough of her stuff to know what she’s talking about here.
And sure, Adler is closer to Halstead’s position, but she’s talking about specific rituals, not all rituals. And even the one’s she’s talking about are about connecting to the Spiritual so that it can help with the Emotional. Not stop at the emotional as Halstead describes doing.
Still, holy shit. Taking your life and reputation into your own hands there, Halstead.
5. We’re all just making it up anyway.
To answer Jön’s question why we don’t just create our own religion with our own rituals — I think that’s exactly what a lot of Neo-Pagans are doing! Many Neo-Pagans recognize that all religions are, on some level, invented. But rather than causing us to reject all religion, we embrace it! As Paul Chase was written in his thesis, “Neo-Paganism: A Twenty-First Century Synthesis of Spirituality and Nature”, “Neo-Pagans invent significance to fit their own interpretations and theological needs, claiming that the value of a symbol is not so much its historical reality as its usefulness as a spiritual tool in the present.”
Nice try, but I don’t think anyone is going to accept this, Halstead.
Yes, many “neo-pagans” recognize that what they’re doing is basically making up religion. That’s why there was that big “neo-pagan vs Pagan” split. Because a lot of us, whom Halstead dismissively terms “retro-pagans” were tired of made up shit and wanted something real. And so we turned back, to the old ways. Some of us became reconstructionsists. Some, like me, simply became polytheists, who practice the old ways and recgonize the Gods as individuals, but don’t always hold to the past with an iron grip. But none of us are “making this shit up.” We go back, we study history, philosophy, religion, and we try to bring back what we do as accurately as possible. Because we’re not “making this up.”
We use the symbols as they were historically meant to be used. We use the rituals as they were spiritually meant to be used. We don’t just make shit up on the fly, we research and listen to the Gods. And I think that’s why Halstead is so pissed about Polytheists. It’s because he’s running around in the cape playing superman, and doesn’t like it when we grab the cape and turn it back into the altar cloth it was meant to be.
Finally, Jön asks whether it wouldn’t be simpler to drop the “Pagan” label, so I wouldn’t have to keep explaining all this. I admit, there are days it is tempting to do so. But I think it is a mistake to believe that any label I might give myself would eliminate the need for explanation. Christianity is the majority religion in the United States, for example, but given the wide variety of definitions of “Christian”, people still have to explain what being Christian means to them. So I will go on calling myself “Pagan” and explaining why to those willing to listen.
This goes back to where I responded to Upsal about Halstead being lazy. This also goes back to Halstead’s apparent habit of misusing words.
Yes, there is a wide variety of Christians out there. And yes, sometimes different Christians have to explain what their version of Christianity is. But they all tend to follow a basic pattern. They all worship Christ. The how, the why, these can change, but they are Christian for who they worship.
What Halstead, is doing, however, is basically saying:
And if that sounds as stupid to you as it does to me, realize that’s why he’s a Pagan. He likes the rituals cause they get him emotionally satisfied, and everyone can just stop worrying about worshiping the focus points of the religion, because earth first, bro.”
So there we are. Another three posts about Halstead. I’m sure Upsal’s gonna get some responses, and I may hit his blog up to see how that goes. I wish him well in the fight. I’m sure I’m gonna get some responses, and maybe I’ll have some fun with those too. And maybe, if we’re lucky, more Polytheists, Recons, “Retro-Pagans,” and others who believe in our Gods and Pagan Cultures as sacred, individual, and worthy of respect, will do their own responses to Halstead and his “Atheist Pagans.” Because that would be good too. And if you see any responses out there for the Atheistic Paganism side that are like Halstead’s, send me a link. I might go over them to.
And to any Atheist Pagans out there who want to come argue that the Gods shouldn’t be worshiped in Paganism, that your ways are the right ways and we need to get out like Halstead says, and that we Theists are a bunch of backwards, idiotic, or whatever-you-wanna-call-us people, well, I have a message to all of you from all of us in the Theistic community.
Cause we didn’t start the war, but if you want one, we’ll finish it. By the Gods.
*Indeed, I generally do not even agree with the idea of cultural appropriation, I generally think it’s cultural imitation or cultural trade, because usually something has been given to those whom the taking is coming from. Unfortunately, Halstead takes but doesn’t give back.
John Halstead said:
In response to your statement that I am using ritual to get an “emotional high”, here’s something I wrote about the different levels on which ritual can operate: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/2011/08/13/exoteric-and-esoteric-ritual/
John Halstead said:
There’s a certain irony in your complaining that about me trying “expunge theistic Pagans from the Pagan umbrella” and then writing three posts telling me that I’m not Pagan.
In any case, for the record, I’m not trying to kick anyone out from under the umbrella. I am trying to reclaim a space for non-theistic Pagans from those who are trying to kick *us* out. And I am offering a critique of *some* forms of polytheism which I see as distractions from this world and this life and the here and now.
Lucius Svartwulf Helsen said:
I never said you weren’t a Pagan. I, along with many others, asked why an Atheist would call himself a Pagan. If you look through my posts, I not only do not insist you are not a Pagan, I actually agreed with you that you could be a Pagan under the “Three Pillars” model you came up with. What I did say was that you were culturally appropriating in your Pagan worship because you were ignoring the theistic roots of your rituals and insisting said roots had no importance in modern Pagan practices. I also said you were committing “heresy” because you have (as much as you may try to deny it) been going around insisting polytheists were the wrong kind of Pagan because we put the Gods before the Earth. If you will note, I am part of Pagan Enough, which insists there can be all kinds of Pagans and no one has the right to insist that someone be driven from Paganism because of disagreements over practice. You will also note that I have not insisted you stop calling yourself a Pagan or leave Paganism.
And you can “for the record” all you like, but there is a truth to your deeds which is not matched by your words. Let us be honest, you pulled a Kanye on Beckett and insisted that his call for putting focus on the Gods was a mistake and that he was wrong, that the supreme focus should be on the earth, and that any who disagreed with him needed to correct their priorities or get out because you didn’t want them in Paganism. Those are your own words, Halstead.
I’ve gone through a fair bit of stuff in dealing with your articles, and I have not seen any Polytheists, Soft-theists, or any of the “theists” trying to kick out “non-theists” from Paganism. I have seen some Pagans putting forth that we need to Focus on the Gods, and you may perceive that as an attack against your atheistic practices, but you were the one who decided to hang out with a bunch of religious people. Ya really should have expected Gods were going to come up fairly often. And you can argue that focusing on Gods is a distraction from this world, and you know what, you’re right. But that’s what happens in religions, they focus on the Divine. Getting upset and insisting that “theists” are attacking and invading “non-theist” spaces when the entire “space” is a Religious Umbrella, is like a vegetarian complaining that meat eaters are invading their space at Burger King. Yes, vegetarian dishes are available, but it’s a bloody burger joint. Meat eaters were gonna show up.
I will agree that there as always been space for “non-theists” in “Neo” Paganism and regular Paganism. But that’s all it is “A Space,” Not “The Space,” certainly not the entirety of the space. Heck, under the three pillars model you sited, 2/3 are Theistic in nature. Baring a few exceptions, nearly every Pagan Path has been and is Theistic in nature, recognizing at a minimum the sovereignty of the elements, the sovereignty of a God and Goddess figure, or expanding from there all the way to us Hard Polytheists. And most of these same paths have acknowledge the “otherworldly” nature of things as much as “this world.” You, on the other hand, have spent several posts insisting that unless we various “Theists” get into theological “Earth first” line with you, we are theologically incorrect and pushing the bounds of morally abhorrent. That is kicking people out of “Spaces,” Halstead. That’s not “defending” spaces.
John Halstead said:
So what is the difference between you and Beckett saying we need to put the gods first and me saying we need to put the earth first?
Lucius Svartwulf Helsen said:
functionally…nothing. Each Path has its priorities. Gods, Ancestors, Land Spirits, Elements, Planet, whatever. And that was never the problem. The problem arose when you decided to start declaring that Polythiests like Beckett, myself, and many others were wrong to put the Gods first, that we needed to change our priorities to match your priorities of Earth First, and that those Pagans and Paths that didn’t put the Earth First needed to get out of Paganism.
John Halstead said:
And where exactly did I tell anyone they “needed to get out of Paganism”?
Lucius Svartwulf Helsen said:
“To me, this sounds disturbingly like the Christianity I left behind 15 years ago…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…Not all polytheisms are equal…But if your gods aren’t going to help me save this world, then I don’t want your Polytheist revolution.”
And that’s just a quick perusal through one article. But it is a constant theme through out many of your posts, Halstead. Polytheists have it wrong, you don’t want their “revolution” or their “veiws” in Paganism, etc.
So I don’t relate to it and don’t want to be a part of it. That’s not trying to kick anyone out of Paganism.