atheist, Heathen, john halstead, ossia sylva, Pagan, Religion
So Ossia wrote a follow up to her letter to john halstead. Where the open letter was an ass ripping like unto the gods, this article ended up being a very serious set of questions/rebuttal to Halstead. It also clocks in at over 5000 words so as much as I would like to go through it all….even I am not that crazy.
But I am going to probably doing some posts based on the stuff she wrote because there’s a few points where I would like to add my own musing. This is the first of them. And it’s going to start with this bit here. And do my best to answer Ossia’s question (for Halstead).
Now, this is where I return to your question:
“So, here’s my issue. Nothing about the way I define Paganism excludes you. But the way you define Paganism excludes me.” -Halstead
Here’s my question to you: Does the fact that I cannot meet you 100% in your beliefs invalidate them?
Here’s my answer: No, it doesn’t.
Here’s what you’re writing in your articles: Yes, it does, and I don’t like it one bit.
To answer this question, we must look at the reality that the answer lies in two parts. Evidently and Collectively.
“One is unique. A million is a statistic.”
We generally hear this phrase in terms of tragedy, but it also works in other ways. One person online talking about how Gods are individual beings? Meh, ignore him. One person talking about knowing various Gods personally, maybe even being married to one? Crazy fucker, lost in their own insanity.
Several thousand, all telling much the same facts? Bit harder to ignore.
Halstead is an atheist (by claim, I’ve heard other atheists dispute said claim). He doesn’t believe in the Gods. He thinks they are images, icons, archetypes, at best. And the nice thing about those types of things is that they are static. You put a picture down, it stays where you put it. You have an icon that means something, it’s going to mean it later. An archetype is always going to be an archetype, something that is universal where ever it goes. Nice, stable, clean, reliable.
So what happens when the “picture” moves? Well, that’s a bit unsettling. Might even make you wonder if the houses is haunted. What about when the smiling icon is suddenly frowning? Quickly, things are a bit odd. You tell yourself “Well, maybe it was always like that and I didn’t notice.”
Telling yourself that, however, gets harder when other people start saying things like “i saw that picture move!” or “clearly this ‘icon’ is angry over something.” And it’s easy to ignore it when one person does it, but the more people who say they saw the same thing, it becomes harder and harder to ignore. Suddenly, instead of them being the delusional and mistaken ones…you are.
So when you have hundreds of people running around going “Odin did this!” Mars says this about such and such issue!” “Hel likes blackberries!” it gets really, really hard to insist that such gods are but the images in your head.
Thus, when polytheists and atheist views do not match up 100% in this regard…it is the atheist who begins to question.
Think of it as if a person lived in a place where there had never been an automobile. Suddenly, someone shows up and says “hey, there’s this cart that drives itself, without the need of horse or oxen!” But they don’t have one with them. The “reasonable” man assumes said person is lying, of course. A cart without horse or oxen? such foolishness! Everyone knows that one needs a horse or ox to pull one’s cart! Certainly the idea would be nice, but it is impossible!”
But then another person comes along who says they have seen an “automobile.” And another. And another. And then twenty more. Now the car still hasn’t shown up (for whatever reason) but more and more people who have seen a car insist that it is real. and not only is it real, there are dozens of different types of cars.
Now the man who denies the car as a foolish flight of lunacy must wonder. He has not seen a car, but so many people have. They can’t all be lunatics, can they? Why, this man over here is widely respected by all kinds of people as someone not taken to flights of imagination. Maybe he is wrong about the existence of these “cars.”
So too is it, with Halstead and the Gods. He doesn’t interact with them, its debatable if he as “seen” any of them. He thinks they are just an idea in the mind. Perhaps a nice one, perhaps not. But he finds himself suddenly surrounded by people speaking of these things as if they are real.
And he must secretly ask himself…am I wrong?
And if he is wrong, then what place is there for an atheist among pagans? If the Gods are truly real, discrete individuals, then they have right and claim to all that is Paganism. After all….they created it! Any symbol, ritual, or so forth that he uses isn’t something he can claim other pagans don’t have the right to prevent him from using, but the Gods who created such things? They would have the copyright, so to speak.
And “a million is a statistic” in favor of the Gods, in this case.
This is also why Halstead’s denial of Gods is no threat to the practices of say Ossia and myself. A man can claim cars do not exist all he wants, but I have seen and ridden in them. His denial is no harm to my own witness.
There is a fundamental philosophy behind “The Gods are Individuals.” It is: Individualism.
- the habit or principle of being independent and self-reliant.
- a social theory favoring freedom of action for individuals over collective or state control.
The same cannot be said for a collectivist. To a collectivist, the “group” is the most important unit of consideration. The success or failure of their group is paramount in their concern. Regardless of what defines their group, anything that threatens the prosperity, integrity, and well being of that group is a threat, the Other.
Say your group is “poor people.” Well then rich people are a threat to your group, because they have more power, wealth, influence, and comfort than “poor people.” It doesn’t matter how good, generous, decent, or honorable any of those individual rich people are, they are “rich” and therefore “not poor” and thus “Bad.” This, is in essence, how Communism views the world, for example.
For Halstead, his group is “Pagan.” More importantly, is how he has defined “Pagan” for himself. According to his Three Pillars, there should be an equal distribution of focus on Nature, Self, and Deity, and this is Pagan and “good.” Any shift of focus would, of course, be a threat to the well being of the collective Pagan experience. Those focused on Self or Nature would lose out on their prestige, their power, their influence, in favor of those going for Deity. So they are the Other. And sure, Halstead is only “Acknowledging” that they wish to be this Other…but they are now the Other to Halstead.
A pretty good video for explaining Individualism vs Collectivism.
So here again, we can see why failing to have a 100% lined up view is a threat to Halstead. Because when you throw Individualism out there and insist on it…suddenly it’s not so easy to go for “the greater good.” You’re not just destroying the other…you’re destroying individual people. A million is a statistic, But One is Unique.
“How dare you try to destroy this one, unique, beautiful individual simply because they don’t agree with you.”
So you have a large group of people collectively saying “The Gods are Real, the Gods are individuals!” and this presents a threat to his “own group of people.” And then, when he tries to strike at this group, instead of hitting one massive thing…it scatters like gnats, impossible to hit and silence. And for everyone he does hit, cries rise of of “Look what you did to So and So, he was people!!!!!”
Halstead swings at Beckett, I hit Halstead, Halstead swings at me, Upsal hits him. Halstead swings at Upsal, I hit Halstead. Halstead swings again, Krasskova hits him. Swing for Krasskova, Dawson hits him, on and on and on. Each of us with our own individual view and unique argument. And every time he tries to smack with the exact same argument, it gets countered in a different way by a different person. A thousand swarming voices against his one big one.
And he gets drowned in the noise.
And each voice tells him that he’s wrong. Because they don’t agree with him. They don’t agree with his collective group and their definition of what is right.
And I think this is where Ossia may be getting confused about why Halstead is so filled with bile towards polytheists. She’s like me, an individualist whose practice is not threatened by what other people believe, because no where does it rely on other people.
But Halstead isn’t an individualist. So pointing out the worth of an individual anything over his collective is going to be a threat. Because every individual is not going to fit neatly into a collective.
And Halstead is holding a negative position on the existence of the Gods. So any evidence for the existence of the Gods is evidence against his beliefs. So every voice providing that evidence a primacy in their voice is a threat to his beliefs.
Non-Aligned Politics said:
Unless Halstead resurrected from the dead, than his beliefs are nothing more than faith just like how we see the Gods, faith. There is no such thing is knowing the absolute truth because none of us came back from the dead to bring the news of whether the Gods exist or not. Collectivism is becoming rampant in the militant atheist circles and their leader is Richard Dawkins and the rest of the Four Horsemen. While I do enjoy Richard Dawkins work, both on atheism and evolutionary biology, I do consider him a zealot. There is no evidence for or against the Gods, in scientific, materialist terms, so for anyone to make such a claim and call it fact is wrong. Faith is not fact, but what an individual feels in their hearts and what stirs their soul. I can say yes I believe in the Gods as actual beings, but I can not say that it is fact. I just have simple faith that they are and nothing more. I, like the monotheist and atheist, can not provide tangible evidence for my faith, so arguing over it really becomes a futile discussion that becomes the ouroboro swallowing it’s tail endlessly.
Except when that particular snake wants to eat others who are not exactly like him. And that’s what Halstead is doing. He is, essentially, trying to create his own Council of Nicea and proper pagan doctrine. Or should I say dogma? It’ s how the gnostics ended up being essentially wiped off the face of the earth, along with Manicheans and a host of other Christian sects that didn’t happen to fit into the “tent” after the Council. I find it purely frightening that he is so very Christian in his determination to have conformity at all costs.
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Virginia Carper said:
It could be the civilised western intellectual trying to chop down the trees in the wild wood, where the wild polytheists dwell. Rationality in the form of the super ego trying to tame the irrational id.
It has accomplished one thing – a unification of diverse polytheists. We now talk to each other.
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Ossia Sylva said:
You’re definitely not that crazy. At least, not crazier than the person who wrote a lot. That person being me! 😛
All joking aside, I’ve saved this article to sit down and mull over it, and I definitely look forward to your other thoughts! I’m just taking a step back for a moment and assessing the fullest picture possible.
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