So Krasskova wrote an article about needing to put more Theology in Heathenism. Well, okay, it was more about putting a more devotional theology into Heathenism, but I suppose that’s much the same difference. Some people took umbrage with this (John Uppsal’s Gardener felt she was insisting who could and couldn’t be a Heathen) and while I do not think Krasskova’s position is wrong…I think perhaps there was a less confrontational way to say it. But we’re Heathens, the axe was going to come out anyways.
And lo, an axe didst fly from one called Swain, who wrote his response to Krasskova’s article and posted it on facebook called Heathen Devotion: Who, What, and Why. I read it, and there are a few things I want to look at.
The controversial Galina Krasskova recently wrote an article entitled Toward a Heathen Theology (http://polytheist.com/wyrd-ways/2015/11/23/toward-a-heathen-theology/). The piece is not so much about theology as it is the idea of devotional worship of the gods and goddesses. That is Krasskova seems to think that not having a devotional practice to the gods and goddesses means that people somehow do not believe in them or are embarrassed to believe in them…
I wasn’t aware that Krasskova was all that controversial, but then I’ve mostly gotten to know her over the last few months from the battle with Halstead, and will admit I don’t know much of her work inside the Heathen community. I know Gardener has stated she’s fairly abrasive and has even gone so far as to say that non-theistis are degenerates (I’m not sure if this was in a conversation he witnessed or if it was a post, if the latter, can you send me a link?). So for all I know she could be.
On the other hand, I’ve also seen McNallen listed as “controversial” as a way to silence his voice and opinions, so I’m taking this with some salt as well. Any discussion where you start off calling your opponent “controversial” weakens your argument for me because it sounds like you’re trying to say “I’m normal, they’re a loon, don’t listen to them, listen to me, because I’m right.”
Now, Krasskova’s piece was more about devotion than theology (there is a difference) and she did mention that a lot of Heathens do tend to avoid the devotional stuff because they do not believe or such a belief would be embarrassing.
Which are not unfair statements. I’ve seen a number of Heathens who do seem embarrassed by the whole Gods thing. They wanna have the milk of their own heritage, but the cookies of public acceptability in an atheist-christo world. And running around with a whole heap of crazy gods who do things like kill giants, tie goats to their balls, have sex for jewelry, and insist on practicing magic is not something that really is going to let you fit in with the modern world. So that is a fair cop.
…If that were not ludicrous enough, she goes on to belittle the reasons folks do not practice devotion to the gods and goddesses, misinterpreting most of the reasons. Krasskova has long been a strong believer in the idea I call the “buddy god” philosophy, that is she and others like her seem to think that they and the gods can be best pals, that the gods and goddesses are involved in every aspect of their lives. They feel the gods talk to them, and intercede on their behalves for the littlest things. “I want a good seat at the theater. I’ll just pray to Woden, and he’ll get me one,”is the sort of thoughts these folks seem to have….
If reading this you get the feeling that Swain is going very much for the “respect my position while I laugh at yours” you’re not alone.
Now I didn’t go over the list Krasskova gave when I wrote about her post (and maybe I should go back and do that). Gardener also took issue with that list, so maybe there’s more to it than I picked up on first read. That being said…I don’t know if she was honestly belittling them or if that’s just how Swain took it.
After all, Swain turns right around and belittles all devotional practices as “buddy god” stuff. He completely belittles any of the common experiences that Devotional Practitioners have, any reason why the Gods might choose to be “buddies” with said mortals (despite there being a bit of lore for this), and completely mocks it with “Odin will get me a seat at the theater.”
Swain is very dismissive of devotional practice here and pretty much laughs at the idea that any God would want to be friends with any mortal, regardless of any reasons. But we’ll get to that.
…And because they feel the gods and goddesses are involved in every aspect of their lives they feel they must devote their lives to them. They perform rites, sometimes daily to the gods and goddesses, profess what their gods have done for them, and that is the whole of Heathenry for them. If it sounds familiar, it should. This is the very kind of practice you see with many Christians. There is a reason why some Christian works are called devotionals….
Well, yes. That’s called being a good friend (or in the case of me and Hel, a good spouse). Gift for Gift, loyalty for loyalty, love for love. You do for each other what you can. And yes, we talk about what we do for our Gods and what our Gods have done for us. It’s been that way with Pagans since, well, the dawn of history. Kings raised monuments and temples to the Gods who gave them victory, other people made shrines or gave offerings in exchange for the gifts, and at least in Roman households (and I would suspect Germanic as well) there was a shrine to the gods in every house.
But no, Swain has to pull out the ultimate insult in Heathenry here to make his point. Which, really, is where his point looses all power.
“They’re acting like Christians.”
Okay, ignoring for a moment that the Catholics based a lot of their theistic practices on Roman Cultus and ignoring that the Protestants did much the same with Germanic practices, this is the best you can come up with to counter Krasskova? Saying she’s acting like a Christian? I’m pretty sure that counts as an ad hominem here.
And if Krasskova can be accused of claiming who is and isn’t a “true heathen” then Swain jumped over the fence and sprinted screaming victory. “Anyone who does devotional work is acting like a Christian, not a Heathen.”
The other problem is Swain is putting the cart before the horse. He’s assuming it’s called a devotional because Christians do devotional work. When in reality, it’s the other way around. Christians do devotional work because they adopted devotional practices like the Pagans had.
…Krasskova and her crowd, in my opinion. are simply taking Christian ideas and slapping them on Heathenry and then trying to justify doing so by pointing to other pagan religions that do have devotional practices, and misinterpreting those practices in the process. Granted, we do see in the later sagas examples of men dedicated to specific deities, and while there is no evidence of devotional worship in ancient Heathenry, there is no evidence of there not being devotional worship.
If you’re going to claim they’re misrepresenting, please provide some evidence.
Look, say what you will about Krasskova’s article, she at least did research and posted citations. Here, Swain is just making broad claims (not even specific examples) and doesn’t cite anything. This is just his point of view, but there’s no objective evidence here.
But here’s the thing, we know there were devotional practitioners in the Roman Cultus, the Greek practices, the Celtic Practices, even evidence in the “Lower” Germanic practices…so even if there was no evidence for a devotional practice in the Higher Germanic (Norse) practice, it can be inferred that reasonably there would have been at least some devotional people who picked up the idea and like it.
But Swain here is making another mistake in his argument. He’s trying to appeal to authority and basing it off some vision of “hallowed antiquity.” Even if there wasn’t devotional practice in Heathenry in the past, there is clearly devotional practice in heathenry today. He even says in that last line that “while you can’t prove there were, I can’t prove there weren’t.”
In which case, Swain, why are you fighting so hard and being so dismissive over this issue? You’re likening your fellow heathens unto christians because they have personal relationships to various Gods. The answer to this comes shortly.
It does not bother me though so much that Krasskova and others feel there should be devotion to the gods and goddesses. I truly do not disagree with that. It is just I think such devotion should take a different form…
If this is the case, I wonder why Swain has been such a demeaning ass to devotionalists by insisting they’re a “bunch of buddy god christian wannabes.” But hey, whatever. His life. He can be an asshole if he wants.
Here’s the thing though, he doesn’t end up saying what this different form of devotion should be. Maybe he wrote it somewhere else, but as we go through he doesn’t give any example of what a proper “deep devotional” practice should look like that would be different from what any devotional theist does in Heathenry.
…Very early in my Heathen life I dedicated myself to Woden. I performed numerous rites to him, took up the practice of the runes, and talked at him daily. Over time I learned such devotion was not needed. I would not get anything more from Woden than if I only honored him a few times a year instead of daily…
And here, I think, we get to the crux of Swain’s anger.
Odin didn’t want to be his buddy.
Here’s the thing, and there’s some inference here, but Swain ends up quoting the Havamal about giving too much vs giving to little, and how a gift demands a gain. Swain, early on dedicated himself to Odin, gave many gifts, but did not see any gain. So Swain concluded that thus the Gods must not have time for us and so it is okay to give rarely rather than often.
One of the things I notice about devotional heathens (or any really) vs non-devotional is there does seem to be a pattern.
Non-devotionals started early with a patronage, they focused on the God they thought was cool and they went for it, eager to taste the joys of devotional practice with a “buddy god.” Said god doesn’t respond, and the believer falls back, cries, and feels “well, the gods must not really care and those people are just faking it for attention!”
Those who actually practice a devotional path, however…tend to have waited. Most of us went years without a patron, either by divine or personal choice. Hel popped up early in my practice, and it still took nearly a decade before any patronage occurred by mutual agreement. Mine is not an unusual story. It typically takes years of deep practice before a particular god notices you and decides to patron. I’ve lost count of how many people started with a “cool good” like say Odin and Thor, and ended up with someone like Eir, Tyr, Frey, or one of the lesser known Gods. It’s the same across other paths too. The God you want isn’t always the God that picks you, and it can take years before they notice you or you notice them. Heck, my Cultus practice is a prefect example. I ended up working closely with Bellona, a Goddess 99% of people have never heard of. I’d been a pagan practitioner for nearly 15 years before either of us came across the other.
I think that’s where a good pit of Swains position is coming from. He tried early, tried hard, got snubbed by the God he wanted, and then threw down his offering plate and screamed “the gods want nothing to do with us, they’re too busy!”
…In time desiring some sort of devotional practice I turned to my ancestors, and over the years developed a practice of worship to them. Many others do the same, and they do not believe in the gods and goddesses any less than Krasskova does. We merely see things differently. It does not mean we are any less devoted to the gods, or that they do not take an interest in us. It all comes down to is we do not think daily devotionals are needed, and that there are good reasons not to have such a practice.
So here’s my question for Swain. How often do you give devotion to your ancestors? Is the ancestor you’re closest to in your practice the one you initially thought it would be?
Now sure, perhaps Swain and those like him do not believe in the Gods any less than say Krasskova and I do. But Swain seems to be ignoring that the Gods are our ancestors as well, and as much, as our mortal ancestors. He chooses the mortal over the divine, as opposed to say Krasskova who chooses the divine over the mortal. And Each feels they are the better person over the other for it.
But here in we see a division. Laity and Clergy, basically. This is something I’ve started to see for a while as the various Pagan religions grow. Not everyone is called to the divine paths. As much as a society needs it’s priests, it also needs its plumbers. Swain is very much in the Laity category. Acknowledging the Gods above him, but feeling they will always bee there the same way the sun is always in the sky during the day. And there is nothing wrong with this position.
The problem is when the Laity start to insist there should be no Clergy.
There is one fundamental thing in all devotional practice. “This God chose me to do their bidding on Earth. To make devotionals to them, offerings and prayers, as often as they desire, even unto multiple times a day.” Now, you can have people like Swain dismiss this as “christian practices” or “narcissistic delusion” but at the end of the day, those things sound more of jealousy than they do faith.
Swain was not picked to be clergy to Odin. No other God wanted him either. The best he could get was a few of his ancestors. None come to him for divine council, none see him as a holy-man worthy of respect. He is, at best, a politician, a tribal chieftain, a man respected for his mortal knowledge, but never looked up to as a font of divine power. And Kings have always hated the power of Priests.
I know over the years I have looked more closely at the idea from the Havamal which paraphrased goes, “Better to give too little than to give overmuch, a gift always calls for a gain.” When one devotes oneself to a god or goddess, and performs rites to them daily they are, in my opinion in danger of giving overmuch. Even weekly rites to me place one in such danger…
Here, Swain is showing a fundamental misunderstanding of daily and weekly rites by devotional practitioners. This too, is perhaps why Odin (in his wisdom) did not take Swain up on his devotion. “A gift always calls for a Gain.”
When I made my daily devotionals to the Gods, and especially to Hel, I didn’t do it looking for personal gain. There was no “I will give you prayers for X days in a row, so please give me Y result on Z.” Heck, the closest thing I came for in terms of asking for a Gain was “may I have a few moments of quiet devotion and meditation with your presence.”
Swain sees it in mercinarial terms. I pay you for product. But In my experience with honest devotional practitioners, none of us are looking for a product to buy with our faith. At best, we tend to view ourselves mostly as some sort of divine civil servant. The God’s the boss and we do what is asked. Sometimes all that is asked is daily devotions. Sometimes it’s more. And if in turn we gain something “like Odin making sure I get a seat at the theater” then that is the God repaying good work, not something bought with regular incense and candle burning.
…Therefore, one that thinks Freya is her pal and does prayers daily may not reap any more rewards than someone that performs major rites to her only a couple times a year. Indeed, going by the Havamal the person doing daily prayers may be in danger of Freya completely turning her back on her…
If you only do it for the reward…yes. But I think we could replace “her” with “Swain” and “Freya” with “Odin” and have a pretty good idea of Swain’s experience with devotional practice. Give too much thinking of what you will gain, and the God will turn their back on you.
It’s like having a mortal friend. Say you’re working in a cubical farm and every day you buy a pack of six cookies and you give a couple of them to the person in the cubical next to you every day. If you give for the sake of kindness and friendship, that person who receives them will think kindly of you. But if in the giving it become apparent that you want them to repay your gift with something of theirs and your gifts were given only with the desire to gain…then they will not be your friend and they will not give to you what it was you desired of them.
That is the true warning of the Havamal, I think.
…Too, I think the gods and goddesses are very much about quality over quantity. A couple of big gifts a year I think means more to them than daily burning incense…
I am, financially, a poor person. It is not in my ability to give “big gifts” even a few times a year. But I can offer sincerer devotion via small things very often. A cup of coffee. A stick of incense. A burning flame.
Swain here is right about it being quality over quantity, but he’s right for all the wrong reasons. He thinks it is the quality of the gift you give over the quantity, but in reality it is the quality of your faith over the quantity of a gift’s value. Honest devotion, given over small rites, is better than dishonest devotion given over massive rights.
There’s a quote I have saved somewhere (sorry, couldn’t find it) from a Roman who put forth that without honest piety, the massive rites and sacrifices performed at the Olympic Games was nothing more than a massive expenditure by the state.
If you give Odin a $500 dollar of brandy and you expect a similar gain in return, your faith is not, well, in good faith. But the gruel of a faithful man is of more worth to the Gods than any mighty gift given in show of piety.
Again, think of it as a friendship. Who would you be closer to as a friend, the kid shared his desserts with you every day at school, or the kid who just gave you an Xbox once a year? If you say the person who gave you the XBox then what does that say about you as a friend?
…Our gods and goddesses are not like the Christian god. They do not demand professions of faith. They do not demand our love. They do not even demand rites be done to them. We can, if we so wish live on without ever performing another rite to any of the Germanic deities and not suffer for it. Thor is not going to throw a bolt from the blue because we failed to give him a horn of mead last Thursday. At the same time, it is not likely that we will be better rewarded for daily worship of the gods and goddesses than we would be for only worshiping them at the holy tides.
Swain is right, the Gods do not demand these things from us. Because faith by force is not true faith. Or at least, it is not a faith that has the same kind of power as freely given faith. And no, they Gods will not smite you for being, since Swain loves putting this in Christian terms, a “Yule and Easter” Heathen.
But don’t go acting like you’re just as devout, just as devoted, and just as faithful as the person who goes every “Sunday.”
Sure, the Gods might not punish you, they might not hate you, but if you think they’re going to love you as much as a person who honestly comes to them, even up to every day, and says “I don’t have much, but let me share it with you,” then you’re delusional.
Swain is obsessed with the reward. To him, it is all wrapped up in the Heathen concept of “gift for gift.” And while GfG is a wonderful concept, it is not the only one. There’s also Hospitality.
The devotional practitioner, especially one with a “buddy god” is not driven by the desire for reward, but the desire for hospitality and kinship. They open their door every day to the Gods and say “please, sit at my table, for I know you have not many places to eat. Let my altar be your temple, my home your resting place, my food your food, my mead your mead.”
We’ll finish up in Part 2.