I thought Halstead wasn’t going to “feed the trolls” and yet, despite his protestations of “Walking away” he is, in fact, not walking away. If anything he’s going as strong as ever. And this time he’s going after Sarenth Odinson again.
Now I’ve been busy so I didn’t get to really look at or go over what led up to this latest post. In fact, it had been my attention to walk away from Halstead for a bit. But he had a post up about how his sacredness came from the soil and honestly I was hoping to actually read some theology rather than policy.
So let us look at: My Religion is Rooted in the Holy Powers of the Soil
Sarenth Odinsson, a devotional polytheist, recently wrote that, if you don’t believe in gods, then nothing is sacred or holy to you.
I responded here with a statement of the things I, a non-theistic Pagan, hold to be sacred and holy: all life, the earth, nature, our selves, our bodies, our relationships.
In reply, Odinsson doubled down, saying:
“You can say all you like that you believe that things are sacred or holy, but those words carry absolutely no theological or philosophical weight when you say them because you don’t actually believe in the Beings nor the cosmologies that imbue them with that weight to begin with. … It is not surprising to me that he misses this point, as Halstead has no conception of holiness himself … He says he regards these things [all life, the earth, etc.] as sacred, but without any of these things being involved with, dedicated to, devoted to, or consecrated to Gods, Ancestors, or vaettir, what are these words worth? … Indeed, how can Halstead claim to be religious whatsoever when he denies any of the requisite things for which religion itself functions …?”
Sarenth has a very dues-centric view of sacredness. This was a common view among ancient Pagans of all kinds. After all, the Gods created all via their holy and divine powers, so nothing could be sacred except by the creation of the Gods, roughly. It is, in a lot of ways, a highly logical position.
It’s not the only position though.
There was an ancient question “Is something good because it pleases the Gods, or does something please the Gods because it is inherently good?”
Clearly, Sarenth falls much into the first position. And there’s nothing wrong with it. In fact, it is a good position to hold. And Sarenth’s point on Halstead is a very strong point from this position. If a thing is good because it pleases the Gods (thus being sacred) how can anything be sacred if there are no Gods to be pleased?”
There is no ambiguity in these statement. Odinsson has made himself clear. He is not limiting his declaration to those in the Northern Tradition or Heathenry. He declares that I, and anyone like me who does not believe in literal gods, has “no conception” of holiness or sacrality.
I was kinda tempted to say “sacrality” wasn’t a real word, but frankly everyone has been trying to create new words to represent our ideas for which there are no known existing words. So we’ll go with it.
And Halstead is right, there is no ambiguity in Sarenth’s statement. There is no need to for it, from Sarenth’s perspective. And really, given that this debate drama has been going on for literally months…I really can’t blame people for dealing in absolutes, especially since Halstead has so much been dealing in absolutes to start with.
The presumptuousness, not to mention the myopia, of this declaration is mind-boggling. As far as I am concerned, you can be Pagan and a polytheist, or a duotheist, or a Goddess-worshipping monotheist, or a pantheist, or an animist, or a non-theist, or an atheist — if you want to call yourself one. I’m not interested in pushing anybody out of the Big Tent of Paganism.
But I will say this: A Paganism which does not recognize the inherent sacredness of the earth, of our bodies, of our relationships, is a Paganism I don’t recognize. In my opinion, the notion that the earth, and our physical bodies, and our very selves are holy — in and of themselves — is the most profound and transformative realization which Paganism has to offer. The idea that the sacred nature of … nature … does not derive from any God or gods: this is the revolutionary core of my Paganism.
Oh Gods, he’s done it again.
Apparently, this is going to be an article all about doubling down. “I will accept any kind of Pagan, but if you do not view the sacred the same way I do I do not recognize you as Pagan!!!!!!”
So he isn’t trying to push polytheists out of paganism. To him, we who do not agree are not pagan to begin with.
Is Sarenth’s view really “myopic?” That’s really going to depend on a person’s perspective. I will say it is certainly narrow focused, but not exactly narrow minded. That’s like saying that believing that things are held down by gravity rather than other means is myopic.
But if Sarenth’s view is myopic, then so is Halstead’s own view. Each has stated that if you don’t believe in the sacred from their exact point of view, then you don’t believe in the sacred.
Odinsson’s kind of theism, which locates the sole source of holiness in invisible god beings … well, that’s something I thought I left behind when I left Christianity. From where I stand, Odinsson’s polytheism appears not fundamentally different from the transcendental theism of the Abrahamic religions: instead of Yahweh, we have Yahwehs — a difference in form, but not substance.
Okay, let’s see here.
1) comparing theistic Pagans to Christianity
2) clearly making Christianity something inherently bad for being theistic (as opposed to the actual issues in that religion).
3) failing to recognize the inherent and substantive differences between YHVH and other Gods from Other Pantheons.
Halstead, would you kindly get me some lo mein when you get to China?
Seriously, I’m not sure what’s going to piss of people worst about those, or even something I missed in that statement but geez. Diggy diggy hole.
Perhaps this the difference between a deity-centered religion and an earth-centered one. For deity-centered religionists, like Odinsson and many Christians, the earth is holy only because it was created by a holy God or gods. For earth-centered Pagans, however, the earth itself is the source of holiness. “How can Halstead claim his religion is rooted when the soil of the Holy Powers is denied?” Odinsson asks. My answer and my question is: “How can Odinsson claim his religion is rooted when the Holy Power of the soil is denied?
And now he compared a Heathen to a Christian.
I’m…at a loss for words. Just, really, at a loss for words.
This is like a Jew and a Muslim fighting over who is the true son of Abraham. Each can make a proper historical/biblical case for it, but neither will ever except an answer proving something other than themselves.
And maybe this is the flaw of Paganism. We use it as an umbrella, but when you get right down to it, what do we really have in common? It’s like saying Norse and Aztecs are the same people simply because each has a pantheon of multiple gods.
Is Haltead a Pagan? Well, he’s certainly not a Christian, even if he does seem to show a lot of the same intolerance for differences that Christians do. And any religion not of Abraham is technically Pagan.
Is Sarenth a Pagan? He’s a hardcore polytheist, so yes.
But there is nothing in common between them except bad blood.
Odinsson says “rootedness is holiness.” My religion is rooted. In fact, it is a religion of roots … and of tubers and worms and actinobacteria. I am a dirt worshipping Pagan. My gospel is the gospel of compost.
I mean, take this for example. Sarenth is using the term “roots” to describe one’s heritage. Halstead is using it to describe plants. And while at least this time Halstead isn’t misrepresenting a concept, it just goes to show…
There is no common ground.*
If you need a cosmology to understand my conception of the sacred, then I give you “The Greatest Story Ever Told”, the greatest creation myth ever conceived: “The Epic of Evolution”.
And if you need see a deity to understand my conception of the holy, then … behold the Goddess! The Mama! She who is the Universe. She who is the Earth. She is the largest supernovas exploding in the unimaginable vastness of space. And She is the earthworms in my garden. She is as real and as present as the ground beneath our feet, because She is the ground beneath our feet. In Her, “we live and move and have our being,” like the air we breathe, because She is the air we breathe. She is closer to us than we are to ourselves, because She is the blood in our veins, the electricity in our brains, the microorganisms in our gut metabolizing the food we eat, the shit we excrete which returns to the earth as fertilizer for new life.
I though Halstead say there were only “invisible god beings” and yet here he is describing a deity in the same terms that Polytheists describe our gods. Seriously, I don’t think Halstead can make up his mind about Gods.
In the words of earth-centered Pagan, Ruby Sara, “my religion rests on the belly of the Mama. … The Mama is simply All. She is not the manifestation of the Divine, She is not the creation of the Divine – She IS Divine.” And I am a part of her. And so are you. And our bodies, our flesh, our whole organic selves are holy. This is not a reductionist theology. This flesh, this landscape, this earth, this cosmos is more complex than we can comprehend in our present state. Understanding this doesn’t close the doors of perception; it opens them. It deepens our relationship with all that is.
Shall we speak of gods? Then let us speak of the forgotten gods of nature. Let us speak of the god of dirt:
The god of dirt
came up to me many times and said
so many wise and delectable things, I lay
on the grass listening
to his dog voice,
frog voice; now,
he said, and now,
and never once mentioned forever,
– Mary Oliver
Grok Earth. Praise to the Mama! Thou Art Goddess.
This is probably the closest thing I’ve read to an “honest” theology from Halstead and…it’s shit.
Not that his beliefs are shit (though shit is part of composts so maybe his beliefs are shit?) I mean the presentation. This is voice shouting on a rooftop, with all the clarity of belief as that of a cat’s yowl. He’s quoting poetry, but there’s no poetry to it. There’s not even any real “reason” in it. It’s more of the whole “EARTH IS EVERYTHING, EARTH IS ALL!” stuff but that only works if you completely ignore everything else in existence. But if you shout it loud enough you can’t hear anything.
“Earth is love, earth is life,” is the chant. But what of the Sun? Without the sun, what would earth be but a cold lump of dead rock? What about air and the changing of the seasons? What about wisdom, violence, or any of the other things in this existence without which there would be no “life.”
It is all well and good to say the earth is sacred. I can agree in this. But there is a complete failure to explain why the Earth is the Most Sacred. Halstead is more than welcome to believe that the Earth is the most sacred thing ever, but to expect everyone to agree with him about it is foolish, especially when he fails to make any real case as for why the earth deserves the privilege of most sacred.
But even more than that, reading it I realized something.
This is Theistic. He is acting, speaking, as if the Earth were a God. As if all that he holds sacred, the soil, the worms, etc, is sacred because it is the physical body of his God(dess).
So he’s ultimately getting on Sarenth’s case about saying “nothing can be sacred without the divine” by ultimately screaming about how “the earth is sacred because it is a divine thing/being.”
Halstead is ultimately pissed, it seems, because polytheistic pagans are worshiping the wrong God(dess).
Perhaps then, Lucius’s Law proves itself once again…
The other thing I find interesting here is that where as Halstead is basically saying “polytheists are like Christians, intolerantly insisting on the worship of invisible gods.” He is in fact commuting the very judeo-christian concept of idolatry.
I’ve talked about idolatry before on my blog, explaining it in a Heathen context even though the idea is very much Abrahamic. Long ago, Abraham and his children looked at pagans worshiping idols and believe that the pagans did so because they thought the idols had power, rather than God. There’s a long and complicated history that follows, but the short of it is the concept of idolatry is worshiping the physical thing as if it were the power, rather than the thing representing that which is the power.
Halstead and Sarenth are both going for the “lowest common denominator.” It’s just that Halstead is stopping before Sarenth. Halstead stops at the physical earth, because “we couldn’t possibly exist without the earth.” It’s not an unfair choice. Humans could not live in a vacuum of space, we kinda need planets to live. Sarenth takes it a bit further because he goes to the point “planets could not live without the Gods creating and maintaining them.” Again, a very fair view.
Halstead’s stopping at the earth makes the earth his Idol, because he is thinking the physical representation is the power. He believes his idol is the power, the sacred thing. And Idols can be sacred things, my idols to Hel are sacred. But in the end, idols are not the source of sacredness. The earth can be sacred, as Halstead believes. But the Goddess Earth is not the only God, nor the only source of sacredness.
Ultimately, I think this is the first post of Halstead’s where I’ve been disappointed. I was expecting him to talk about how the earth was sacred. I was expecting theology, something that could honestly give me insight into an “earth centric” paganism. But it was just an opportunity to whinge on about how not everyone agrees with him and call them bad names.
Good job, Halstead. You had a chance to do something good, and you spent it being a zealot.
*he he, ground.
Ossia Sylva said:
–So he’s ultimately getting on Sarenth’s case about saying “nothing can be sacred without the divine” by ultimately screaming about how “the earth is sacred because it is a divine thing/being.”–
Hit the nail on the head.
I also am quite mystified that I have just been equating “sacred” with “meaning.” It’s not that Mr. Halstead doesn’t have anything of meaning, or can’t appreciate things, or can’t see that things have meaning. That is certainly not the case. But I don’t know if he can claim things as “sacred” with the theology he’s presented. He may if he makes a solid claim for it.
Still thinking about this. LOL I quite enjoy your thoughts. Helps me get my own into order sometimes, too.
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Lucius Svartwulf Helsen said:
you know, I hadn’t considered if Halstead was switching meanings again. Really should have thought of that, may try to do some research on that on my end.
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Karl Benson said:
“Halstead, would you kindly get me some lo mein when you get to China?”
Ha! I was eating lo mein while reading this. I got a good chuckle.
Meanwhile Halstead is stirring up drama and nonsense on reddit as I write this: https://www.reddit.com/r/pagan/comments/3sgqs1/do_you_think_paganism_is_inherently_theistic_why/
It’s been fun to watch /u/hrafnblod tear him apart.
Lucius Svartwulf Helsen said:
thanks for sharing that. very fun, and some good stuff there. i might have to post some of it.
Joe Bloch said:
That is pure gold.
Virginia Carper said:
I think based on what I can gleam from his writing that he is a Numinist.e. believer in the Numina. That was claimed to be the earliest form of the Religio Romana – belief in the Numen (the holy powers of nature, etc).
And Romans have a God of Compost, i.e. Shit: Sterculius.
So perhaps Mr. Halstead is a Cultor without knowing it. Anyway, I do find that his discussion of theology to be reactive (i.e. anger towards anything remotely resembling Christianity).
Lucius Svartwulf Helsen said:
It does seem that Halstead is very much a reactive theologist. At this point I don’t know if it’s anything resembling Christianity as it is anything resembling any form of Theism. He does seem pretty touchy about anything looking like Christianity though.
interesting thought about the Numinist. I may have to look into that.
Virginia Carper said:
The whole exercise of Mr. Halstead and the devout Polytheists reminds me of a Sheepman joining the local Cattlemen’s Association to convince them of the goodness of raising sheep on their cattle ranches. If you know anything about the Wyoming range wars, you know what I am referring to.
The conflict between Sheepmen and Cattlemen had to do with how close the sheep cropped the grass and hardened the ground, making it difficult to raise cattle. The Sheepmen railed about how cows required a lot of water and range, and how cows ruined the grass for the sheep. i.e. range wars that ended with everyone either dead or exhausted.
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Lucius Svartwulf Helsen said:
that’s a fair analogy. I’ve mostly been thinking of it in terms of the East–West Schism, which is when the Catholic Church and the Orthodox churches split apart, but yours certainly has a nice flavor to it, and is a pretty apt way of putting it. 😀
Anpu's Crone said:
Don’t paid bloggers on Patheos get paid every time someone clicks on their posts?
Lucius Svartwulf Helsen said:
honestly, no idea. never seen it said