So in part 1 and 2 I went over Halstead’s article where he was responding to Krasskova and Dawson. Breaking from my apparent traditions, however, I am actually going to go over Krasskova and Dawsons’ articles too. Why? Well, because as much as I support their position, both seem to rest their cases on a few points that, in my opinion, actually weaken their argument. I’ll be starting with Krasskova’s R.E.S.P.E.C.T. …for the Gods, imagine that.
I’m guessing the title is referencing the song.
I was recently cued in to a pretty unfortunate post by author John Halstead and I have decided to weigh in. While it’s no secret that I dislike Halstead’s position on almost everything, this is not a personal attack against him. I want to make that clear from the beginning. It’s far too easy to turn our disagreements into a battle of personalities and doing so ignores and dismisses the real issues at hand: respect for the Gods and appropriation of polytheistic iconography by outsiders…
Frankly, I think we all consider it unfortunate when we get cued by Halstead. There are rarely winners, even if there are laughs. And I too, disagree with much of Halstead’s positions, but I am glad to see Krasskova is going to attempt to not make this personal. As a fellow Heathen, it is often too easy to give insult and start wars that way.
That being said, we’re already running into an issue here. I hate to give Halstead this point, but while I do feel that we polytheists, acting as what the Latins call “cultus deorum” or “Cultivators of the Divine” (I know, not the best translation, it actually means those who cultivate a relationship with the Gods), have a stronger connection to Pagan/Polytheistic iconography than say non-Pagans do…I don’t think we own it. I think the Gods own it, and frankly anyone of European decent really has some claim to Germanic, Roman, Celtic, etc Pagan iconography. They are the children of ancestors who worshiped these Gods and Goddesses, and frankly I don’t think I have more claim to imagery of the Norse than say Rick Riodan, wonderful author of the various demi-god books who is not, too my knowledge, a Pagan.
Which, really, is my problem with much of the appropriation argument. We support non-Pagans using our imagery and Gods when we like what they do, but the instant they do something we don’t like we’re all “you stole that from us, burn the infidel!!!” Now, I’m all happy and good for a Vikingr or a Crusade or what have you, but let us be at least honest about what we’re doing before we start burning heretics. But respect is in the eye of the beholder, and where as I am fine with Marvel’s Thor (mostly) I know many Heathens that would burn the entire place to the ground for “fucking up our mythology.”
…In fact, I think Mr. Halstead is very, very good at using well-crafted rhetoric to shift the focus away from these issues. It’s so much easier, after all, for the average reader (don’t be average, folks!) to argue personalities (polytheists are so mean!) than to engage seriously with the issue of disrespect. I think we all critique ourselves a little bit, uncomfortably so, when such issues arise and who likes to do that? Instead, I’m interested in the actual theological issue here, and that is why I am writing this article.
I’m going to disagree that Halstead is very good at using well crafted rhetoric. Frankly, I find most of it poorly crafted and badly used. But then, he follows a more post-modernist style of debate where as I fall somewhere between Enlightenment and Troll. Like the fact that he tried to dismiss Dawson because she wasn’t living in a grass hut or something. Frankly, it was time to break out the other condiments, because that weaksauce won’t cut it.
Still, I am interested to see how Krasskova deals with the theological issue here.
Polytheisms are under attack worldwide. Daesh, for instance, has been quoted as saying that “Whenever we take control of a piece of land, we remove the symbols of polytheism and spread monotheism in it.” – an ISIL terrorist (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.” Symbols are obviously important and Daesh has made good on their word too, looting and destroying (as in reducing to rubble and dust) polytheist sacred sites…
Halstead tried to mock this, but the fact of the matter is that Krasskova is right here. ISIS and other fundamentalist Islamists are doing their level best to wipe out anything Pagan. Of course, in this case Pagan means anything not Islam, but meh, we all gotta start somewhere. But I have written rather heavily on the Muslim/Islamist issue so I’m not going to side track us here with that long business. Just search it on my blog if you’d like to know more.
Within our own communities, a large majority of Pagans are not only diametrically opposed to polytheism, but I believe dedicated to its eradication (how else is one to interpret the constant breech of our traditions, the ongoing attempts to co-opt our religious terminology and to water down our traditions until they are meaningless, and the insistence from so many quarters that atheism – a religious position in and of itself—is part of Paganism?). Respect for our religious symbols is important. Is it so much to ask that we stop treating our religions as social outlets and start instead treating them as actual religions? Looking at our communities, it’s easy to assume, that yes, it may be.
And….we run into some problems here. On the one hand, I will not deny that there does seem to be something of a push within the Pagan community to oust the Polytheists. Halstead has been a big part of that over the years, with the recent post on Becket and even several years ago against someone I think was named P. Vesuvius or something like that. I’d look it up, but Patheos makes my computer whine and I’m two beers into this evening. I’m going to be lazy.
Now…is this group trying to push out polytheists the majority or a large majority or anything like that? No. I think it’s a number of pretty vocal people, and I will agree that there is a large number of Pagans who say put Social Justice before the divine, and they do tend to try and push out anyone who doesn’t believe like them, but I suspect that a large number of people Krasskova is referring to are Pagans who are decent enough in their faith, but tend to take a more relaxed attitude about things than we polytheists. Does this water down the symbolism and “co-opt” some of our traditions and terminology? Yeah, sure. But that’s been happening since Wicca started. Hel, that’s been happening since Paganism restarted. I’m going to be completely honest and admit that the polytheism and reconstruction stuff we have going on now is purely because Pagans have increased in numbers enough to be able to support such endeavors.
It’s not that all these people are watering down Paganism, it’s just that we’re finally starting to add some meat to the broth. Of, maybe at least a potato.
But are these “watering down pagans” culturally appropriating Paganism? I’ve made the argument that in the case of Halstead and his “Atheist” Pagans that yes, to an extent they are. But at the same time, most of them are of “European” decent and so do have some technical right to these things. Even if they are doing something as horrible as taking single malt whiskey and watering it down with 90% koolaid.
some Polytheisms don’t really care so much. I was talking to a Hindu friend last weekend about just this issue and we touched on the question of Western appropriation and he said he was fine with it. He said any little bit of Hinduism people are able to take into their religious world, will ultimately benefit them and he’s ok with that..
I suppose, in a lot of ways, I’m like this Hindu friend. I’m just happy if the Gods get mentioned. Put the images out there, use the iconography. Mass marketing is how you get the people, and the more people see things like Thor, or Percy Jackson, or what have you, the more they will awaken to the Gods and Pagan ideals can flow through society and culture. Is it always going to be 100% accurate to the source True Pagan Religion? No, but then Paganism was the set of religions that had God Porn, so really, how “Respectful” we are is really a matter of perspective even at the height of ancient piety.
I pointed out, that while I got that, and found it laudable, he has the advantage of having an unbroken tradition, the security of thousands of years of lineage and inter-generational transmission of tradition. Those polytheists whose traditions were devastated by the spread of Christianity don’t have that luxury. We are in the ideological position of having to fight and defend every inch of ground gained. We do not have the ingrained theological mindset, nor the numbers, whereby we can sit back, relax, and say: “it’s ok. Go ahead, use that image of Ba’al in your atheist ritual.” We are still in the process of preparing the ground and sowing seeds that we are hoping to nourish into a sustainable tradition. We’re still in the process of sifting out the threads some of our ancestors broke, and doing the hard, emotionally grueling, painful work of reweaving them back into being. We don’t have the luxury of allowing our traditions to be appropriated by the thoughtless because there’s so little reservoir of the tradition as a living one upon which to draw. We are, instead, tasked with guarding carefully every metaphorical stone that we have again unearthed and set in place as we restore these sacred containers of our mysteries and mystery as any good polytheist knows, is not open to entitlement. So we get a bit testy when we see evidence of such disrespect from those in the community who would set themselves up as our peers.
Reading this, I flash back to a book I read recently, World of Warcraft: War Crimes. It’s basically the story of an Orc being put on trial, and on the one side you have the Alliance trying to convict him, but on the other you have the Horde having to defend him, even though they want him dead too. One Tauren (Minotaur) is given the task of defense, even though said Orc murdered the Tauren’s father. At the culimation and closing arguments, the Night Elf in charge of prosecution presents stones gathered from each major horrific act the Orc had done.
Metaphorical stones, to memorialize what had gone before, and what was now no more.
Krasskova presents a beautiful and painful image here, one that I can relate too. We of the West have lost much. Everyone likes to talk about how the Native Americans have had their native ways suppressed and lost, or the African Americans, or so on, but what everyone always fails to recognize was that we of Europe were the first to be colonized and crushed under the banners of YHVH and his son Christ. We lost our ancestral ways, our ancient traditions. And we want them back, and we’re trying hard. And in that pain, we want to cling tightly to what little we have and we snarl at anyone who looks like they might touch these memorial stones.
But you know what happened when the Tauren got up to speak his words in the book? The Tauren are a very shamanic people, like us Polytheists. The Tauren had even undergone a ritual to speak with his dead father. And as he spoke he touched each of the gathered stones until he reached the one from where his father had died. Then he picked it up, and crushed it to dust.
Because when you cling to pain, you never heal. When you memorialize and make sacred your suffering and you attack those who would dare do anything you don’t like with that “memorial” you do not heal. You do not reclaim the past. You do not honor the Gods or the Ancestors. You weaponize them. You take something holy, and you make a brutality instead.
If, like Krasskova says, we lack a reservoir of tradition, we will not make larger what little we have by rationing it. This goes back to my own theories on faith and metaphysics, but the more people who know of the Gods, and beleive in them, even in a watered down way, the more faith the Gods have to draw own and the more they can influence things. So yes, to me, it is okay to let an Atheist use the image of Ba’al because eventually Ba’al may well show up and that person will stop being an atheist, and start their way to being a theist.
If we deny everyone but us the use of these icons, then these icons will never spread and the paths will never grow.
A couple of weeks ago, Tess Dawson wrote this piece. It’s a measured, restrained response to a provocative act of appropriation and disrespect. I leave you to read that piece for yourself. She doesn’t mention Halstead because this isn’t about Halstead specifically. He is simply the latest incarnation of a culture of disrespect: for our Gods, our traditions, the process of restoration itself. This piece wasn’t about him. It was about something that he did, thoughtlessly, feeling – as he himself says here – entitled.
I’m going to look at Dawson’s article as well. Since Krasskova doesn’t really give much here except calling out Halstead…we’re moving on.
I was told yesterday – I’ve not been following it myself – that the issue of appropriation has become a hot-button one on Patheos Pagan Channel recently. When you take an image, sacred to a particular tradition, and twist it –however well meaning you may be—into something that is perceived as intensely disrespectful by practitioners of that tradition, well, that is an unfortunate act of appropriation. It’s the religious equivalent of prancing around in black-face and perhaps we should ask ourselves why that’s not ok, but co-opting the sacred is. Social justice warriors get all up in arms about perceived attacks and micro-aggressions on people but rarely raise their voices (at least insofar as I have seen) against perceived attacks and micro-aggressions against their Gods and traditions…
There’s a lot I can say here. I’ve recently followed a controversy in the cosplay community about “blackface” where in “light skinned” cosplayers use makeup to darken their skin to look like a character they’re representing. Let us just say, well, it has been nasty. I’m on the side that supports freedom of artistic expression, and against censorship and discrimination.
So is a non-polytheist using Pagan iconography really “Blackface?” I mean, by that standard Marvel and Riordan are some terribly racist individuals. So is Gaiman, and any author who has referenced any Pagan God or tradition. And by this logic, they should be banned from ever touching these things again.
Except…if it wasn’t for people like that…we wouldn’t even know anything about the old ways. If it hadn’t been for a bunch of cis-het white dudes in the late middle ages “appropriating” all this Pagan stuff for the Renaissance, I doubt any of us would know the first thing about Zeus or Odin. Hel, we’d probably be like all the Muslims and think there had never been anything before Christianity.
Hell, we’d all still be Catholics.
The Gods have been a part of Western Culture since, well, they started it. Claiming that people in Western Cultures are appropriating their own inheritance simply because you don’t like the way they do it…eh? I can almost see some of Halstead’s point here. I don’t think Krasskova is appropriating Pagan culture, it’s hers by right the same it is mine and everyone else in the West, but it does sound like Krasskova is trying to argue for a monopoly on the resources and icons.
In which case I will say the same thing I did in regards to Halstead. These Icons do not belong to us. They belong to the Gods, and the Gods will have done with them as they please. And frankly, I think more kids will become Pagans thanks to Riordan’s books than anything I ever write, or Krasskova for that matter.
I would simply ask that she not bring in the SJWs into this. Authoritarianism never works out for anyone, and those rabid mongrels have done more harm with their “micro-aggressions” to any sort of relationships than anything else I have ever seen. Plus, I know why they don’t do it in regards to the Gods or Theology, it’s because honest to Gods Polytheistic theology is the antithesis of Social Justice and I know not one God or Goddess (other than Loki) who has put forth any position in lore or in person that would support Social Justice and it’s cultural authoritarianism. But that is another article.
It would be nice to see the same level of concern over our traditions. After all, while I may be suspicious of Halstead’s motives (after all, anyone promulgating something like non-theistic or atheist Paganism is clearly attempting to water down the word Pagan until it means nothing at all), in general, people who appropriate our sacred images aren’t intentionally doing something bad or hurtful to us and the traditions within which we’re working. They are very likely attracted to the beauty of the holy and nine times out of ten, most of us have no problem with that. Like my Hindu friend, we’re of the attitude that it’ll be beneficial. There’s always that exception though and when one takes a holy image and turns it into a disrespectful joke, that’s a pretty glaring exception even if it’s being done with protestations of respect.
Do not draw the Prophet Mohammad, for it is disrespectful to Islam and blasphemy.
See, this is why I don’t want SJWs in this or even any level of censorship when it comes to Pagan iconography. As Sargon of Akkad has said, “insult is never given, it is perceived.” Respect is in the eye of the beholder.
So is this disrespectful? It’s taking a sacred image of Greek and Roman Paganism and making a meme out of it. Certainly it’s hypersexual, slightly mocking, and if we’re honest…completely correct. But hardly “respectful.”
What about this? Hardly a contrite and respectful thing to say about Jupiter, but again, completely accurate. And hilarious. But either of these two images will “offend” someone. It will be “appropriation” and “disrespect” and they will want it silenced.
And then everything stagnates, because everyone, even other polytheists, will be afraid to make anything humerous or creative because someone will be offended, and then the creator will “not be the right kind of Pagan” and so forth. I’ve seen it happen all the time in everything from Paganism, to Gaming, to Art.
I’m objecting to the commodification of our Gods. I have another friend, who is fighting just this. My Australian friend Markos discovered recently that apparently third party sites like ebay won’t allow the use of the certain God-names. Why? Because apparently they are shared by companies like Hermes Paris. You can read about his fight here too (and I’m told Wild Hunt is currently looking into this as well, so stay tuned). Where is the public outcry about this erasure and disrespect of our Gods? In fact, Markos is getting harassed by other Pagans about his attempt to fight this, harassed by our own fucking people. We’ll come together over [insert social controversy of the day] and raise a fuss but won’t say word one about the co-opting and commercialization of our Gods, even when it harms our own people: our artists and craftsmen. So yes, the appropriation of an image sacred to Canaanite polytheism is a big deal.
Look, I don’t think companies should be able to trademark or copyright the names of Gods. IF they can though, please donate to my patreon so that I can copyright Allah. I’ll end the whole terrorism business.
But the images of the Gods have always been a commodity. Hel, the Gods did that themselves, intentionally. I know this might piss people off, but when it comes to civilization, not only did the Gods kick it off by creating humanity, often enough there’s a God or Goddess pulling a Trump and slapping their name on stuff in giant ass letters. Especially in Rome. The Gods created themselves as Brands, and by Gods they commercialized the shit out of it.
And…maybe that’s my problem with some of the stuff underlying Krasskova’s article. It’s not that she’s wrong (well, except maybe for wanting the SJWs to get involved). Hel, she’s largely right, but she’s missing one key factor that surprises me as a polytheist. And really, though I can understand Halstead ignoring it, I don’t know why she is.
The Gods Individual Agency.
Krasskova holds that we polytheists are the curators and protectors of these icons and their meaning. I think we are certainly the benefactors and caretakers, but the truth is that these icons do not belong to us polytheists. These images are not ours to own. They belong to the Gods themselves, and the Gods can and do choose when and where and how their images are presented. Sometimes it is “disrespectful” in our eyes. Sometimes, it is “appropriation.”
But to me, it is the will of the Gods. If they have an issue with an image, they will deal with it themselves. They don’t need us burning blasphemers or bombing artists or harassing some dude who made a meme. The lore is filled with examples of the Gods taking care of that business themselves, and far more brutally and with much greater justice than we mortals ever could.
So Halstead’s an ass and a hypocrite who decorated his page with Pagan Gods he doesn’t actually believe exist nor does he worship. Sure, some Pagans water things down, don’t get it right, or bare their bums and fart on shit, but that’s for the Gods to handle. We gain nothing by curtailing freedom or crying over what is lost and how little we have. We gain only by sharing what it is we have, and creating things to fill the holes.
The man who always complains about how well everyone else has it, will never gain anything in his own life.