So this one comes by a bit of a request. John Upsal’s Gardener posted about a new article by Krasskova and said she was being all “authoritarian” about who could and could not be a heathen. Tin Foil Hat Society responded that they’d read the article as well and no she wasn’t. I had seen the article got published, but hadn’t sat down to read it, because I tend to get pretty terrible about following other blogs and with the holiday craziness I’d been a bit too busy. But I figured I would give it a look, and I think it is worth talking about.
Now I’m not going to go through it paragraph by paragraph because there’s not much need. There’s no obvious logical fallacies, it isn’t exactly all that authoritarian, and honestly I can see where Krasskova is coming from. Which, if my mormon article set has taught me anything, means everyone is somehow going to assuming I support her position 100% even if I don’t. So I’m going to keep this to a few bits I want to expound upon, more than anything.
I’m going start though by saying this is probably one of the few blog posts I’ve seen with soo much citations. Krasskova did not skimp on her legwork. So here we go, with Toward a Heathen Theology
When I think of the various contemporary Polytheisms actively engaged in reconstruction and restoration today, religions like Hellenismos, Kemetic Orthodoxy, Canaanite Polytheism, Romuva, and the like, it always seems to me as though contemporary Heathenry is a thing aside. I rarely see Heathen voices participating in pan-polytheistic dialogue, and by and large the mainstream Heathen community seems to hold itself aloof from engaging with other types of Polytheism. At times, for all that we have a multitude of Gods, I even question whether Heathenry is actually polytheistic or … theistic at all.
One thing I liked about this post is that Krasskova gets to the point quickly. While most of the devotional polytheists I have come across seem to be Heathens (perhaps I travel in different circles) I will admit that there is a very atheistic presence to Heathenism. It is, in fact, on of the reasons I started to move towards the Cultus Deorum.
You have mainly two groups of heathens, deeply devoted spiritualists who tend to be godspouses and…atheistic lore hounds. The latter is certainly the most vocal of the two groups and certainly has no tolerance for the former. Now, there are reasons for this, which we’ll get into later. But it’s easy to see where Krasskova’s coming from.
In no other polytheism are atheistic voices quite so loud or so accepted.1 In no other polytheism do we have a religion where one may gain accolades by reciting medieval literature i.e. the lore, but condemnation for expressing active piety.2 I long ago noted within Heathenry a deeply ingrained insularity, a desire to close the tradition off from external influences, cleaving instead to some imagined golden age of Viking prosperity. I also noted a deep discomfort with the idea of theological investigation. This came up as I was talking about my thesis recently, written in 2009, in which I examine various ideological currents within American Heathenry specifically with respect to ritual praxis, and I found myself contemplating over twenty years as a Heathen in a very divisive and divided Heathen community.3 For everything I say here (and admittedly I am speaking broadly based on my own experience and observed interactions), I’m sure there are Heathens who will staunchly argue that I am wrong and yet I maintain that thorough theological investigation is largely absent within this religion.4
I’m going to start by stating I’m not sure what Krasskova means by “theological investigation.” I’m presuming that it means “talking with Gods and exploring things personally with them” but I could be wrong here. I’m doing that because based on the context of things considered “Bad” here fits the reaction I’ve seen to my supposed meaning.
Also, I am going to pause here and posit (damn I keep using big words today) that where as Paganism is polytheistic by definition, Heathenism may not be. Unfortunately, Wiktionary doesn’t really have a definition here for us. So while I will agree that the ancient heathen religions were polytheistic, and even modern heathenism is polytheistic on paper…there is a bit more to this.
The story of modern Heathenism is complex and grew basically from two separate yet equally important desire at the time. Paganism started getting really big in the 60’s as “neo-paganism” and was very much influenced by hippy thought. Free love, go with your spirit, it’s about what feels right man. While Germanic Religious Revival started at about the same time, it started growing bigger at a later date. The first part was by people who wanted to worship their ancestral gods, more than say a generic “Goddess” and such. The other part though, is where some of this issue arises.
Due in part to the fact that most “neo-paganism” were not, exactly, filling. People wanted more, more research, more facts, more honesty and more physical proof to back up their beliefs. Part of this is due to who is it that is drawn to Heathenism, which tends to be a more “conservative” personality type that likes hard facts over ephemeral data. Thankfully for them, there was just enough preserved lore in Heathenism to work with. So here was a pagan religion in which you could support your position in factual data far more easily than in any Wiccan or other “neo-pagan” tradition. In fact, much of Heathenism, ended up basing itself upon this “Rational Fact” thing to off set it from the “irrational woo based” nature of Paganism. That’s why back in I think the 90’s there was that whole split from Paganism and into Heathenism as the “umbrella”
Now, this is not to say that devotional Heathenism did not exist. While organizations were being built and filled with “rationalist” heathens you still saw some “devotional” heathens as well. McNallen, from what I’ve read of his work, is a devotional heathen, though I think he’s a mix of both camps. Karasskova, Sarenth, and many other devotional Heathens exist as well. But the “Rationalist” side tends to get the most page time and angry voices because they can easily go into “cite your sources, oh you can’t, you’re an uneducated idiot.”
It is a strong “logical” position which is why they’ve gained so much ground. Of course, often enough the “logic” tends to fall apart. I was once strongly told off that I could not be Hela’s Gothi because while personal devotion to a god was in the lore, gothis were in the lore, and there were even recorded instances of gothis for particular gods…it was no where recorded that Hel had ever had a Gothi so therefore she could not possibly have one now.
But the thing to remember is that much of modern Heathenry rose in opposition to “Woo.”
…What if we put aside our modern skepticism that finds lack of faith more rational than devotion, that in fact pathologizes devotion and instead chose to approach Heathenry with a desire for reverence?7 What would that change about our rituals? How would our community priorities change? If we acknowledged that the Gods were real and that They did in fact express Themselves to Their devotees what would that do to the construct that we now call “Heathenry?”
And if you dismiss the idea of that even being possible, why are you calling what you do religion?
These are important questions to ask. I like the fact Krasskova has put them out here, and I’m going to try and answer them in part from both perspectives, in spirit if not in totality.
Putting aside all skepticism would be bad, other wise you just go off and wholesale believes what anyone tells you. Given the near impossibility to substantiate the claims of devotional discovery (UPG) with any reliability, anyone can claim to be a “Devote” and put forth whatever they want. Some would be real, some would be fake, and the disagreements could be disastrous, regardless of who was “real” or “fake” or even if both were real or fake.
For example I was patron-ed with Skadi for a while (still sort of am) and in my experience devotionally speaking with her there are two very important things with her. 1) feminism as a movement is bullshit. Either you’re strong enough to succeed on your own or you fail it doesn’t matter how unfair life is, and whining about rude people, safespaces, male gaze, taxes on tampons,and microaggressions means you’re a…well, I can’t repeat those words in public. 2) Every Abraham faith needs to be wiped off the map with extreme prejudice for what their god has done to “Our People.”
But what happens when say another devote of Skadi shows up who is a feminist and insist that Skadi loves everything to do with feminism, and maybe even says that Skadi tells her we should not be Islamophobic. The options are that either one of us is incorrect, one of us is lying, or Skadi has told completely different things to completely different people for whatever reason Skadi has.
How do we tell the truth? Simple answer is…we can’t. Oh sure, we could cast lots, do divination, but there’s always going to be the concern that human political biases are going to win out over honest devotional divination and that one side or the other will be condemned as wrong, when in fact they were right, simply because there were enough people to cover for the other side.
This is part of why the “rationalist” Heathens refuse to give any credence to “devotional” Heathenism. It’s too much like the “neo-pagans” with their constant infighting backed up by things impossible to prove beyond the person saying them.
So what about if we did go Devotional and held the gods were real? Assuming we could solve the “counter revelation” issue satisfactorily (which would probably involve something which proved the Gods were real). Then we’re faced with potentially a much darker existence as well.
I’ve written before about why the Gods perhaps do not reveal themselves. The same would end up holding true for a devotional heathenism fully invested. Imagine if there was a Temple of Skadi, filled with basically what we would consider priests and paladins. Now, let’s say that my divine revelation about Skadi’s views on Abrahamic faith is correct and held as Divine Truth and Mandate for the devotees of Skadi.
Skadi says “I demand the destruction of Christianity and Islam” and the properly devoted follower would follower her lawful command to go out and destroy. Which would put them at odds with the other devotees of some of the other Asgardians who take a more tolerant view of such things. And then we would be fighting each other for the sake of our patron deities and the lay heathens, sworn not to any particular god but worshiping all of them equally, would end up getting drawn into the argument and having to pic sides, and then we would be fighting the rest of the world over “are heathens in fact racists” and “skadiar are nothing but violent supremacist terrorists who hate brown people” and on and on and on and on.
And that’s with one “minor” goddess. We’re talking about the most human friendly but still incredibly violent pantheons out there. The only ones who match the Aesir in terms of warfare are the Olympians and the only ones who surpass them in innate violence is the Aztecs.
Let’s face it, after the recent Paris attacks, if you don’t think 90% of the Aesir wanted to wage Total War on the Islamic State and its allies, you don’t know Norse.
There’s been a lot of talk about how the “Gods are Dangerous” and while this is true, most of what I’ve read isn’t the half of it. There’s a lot of talk about how it can be tough, the gods will break you down, you can even get destroyed by what they put you through, but no one ever talks about what the gods would have you do to others if they deemed it needed. I’ve talked about my own devotion with Hel who has told me quite clearly that if I ever find out a Muslim grooming gang is in my local area like there are in the UK…I am to go an slaughter them all. Damn the law, damn society, damn my sickly corpse, evil must be repaid with blood until they are dead or I am.
And Hel’s a bloody pacifist compared to Thor, Odin, or Freya.
And I think, on some level, the “rationalist” Heathens sense this. They’ve seen the destruction that comes from devotional religions both internally and externally. So they figure if they can shut down all “devotional revelation” then they can still practice like good little heathens while safely ignoring any calls to actions by the Gods they really don’t want to have to do.
The rest of the article is a pretty good argument for Krasskova’s position and how to do it. Given what I’ve just gone over, there’s not much counter I have to her argument or position. I do think that heathenism does need to begin developing a functioning Theology, like Krasskova says. I do think Heathenism, if it wants to continue to grow, is going to have to tone down the “lore hound” insistence.
That being said, as I talked about yesterday…we’re developing into different religions. Perhaps the solution isn’t to develop a Heathen Theology, but rather to develop a theologically religious heathen religion outside or separate from the heathen religion of the “lore hounds.” Then everyone is still a “heathen” but you don’t have to force each group to some level where they combine. Let lore hounds be lore hounds, with their books and their sophistry. Let devotionalist be devotionalists and eventually the more attractive religion will win out. My bet, just looking at Heathenism and other Recon religions is that the Theistic one will eventually eclipse the atheistic one.
Just as is happening in Paganism as a whole. Theistic paths are growing to outnumber atheistic paths in both population and number.
Now, Gardener felt that the article was insisting that unless you were a devotionalist heathen, you weren’t really a heathen. I didn’t really get that impression from the article. The article seemed to be more “we need to develop this as heathens” more than “you’re not a heathen if you don’t have this.” Now, I could be wrong, like I said near the start there’s at least one term here where I’m not sure what Krasskova means, and I do think she perhaps over simplifies the polytheistic vs atheistic dichotomy in Heathenism. The Germanic heathens were some of the most pious recorded in Europe but there is also a long history of atheists in the Norse records that were preserved. It’s a debate that will never be settled. I’m also not entirely sure how much “world building” Krasskova has done herself to imagine what a fully devotional heathenism would look like. Because it would really take all the good and bad bits of heathenism and put them on steroids.
I encourage everyone to read it, and leave your thoughts on her article and mine below.