So back on my Affirming post, a commenter by the name of Helio decided to (at least it came across this way) heatedly debate that there was no Orthodoxy in Roman Paganism i.e. Cultus Deorum/Religio Romana because there was no historical orthodoxy, religion in Rome was orthopraxic in nature (rituals held by the state which did not dictate personal beliefs, etc), and so forth, all while wanting to know what I thought was the orthodoxy of the Cultus Deorum.
The truth is I don’t know the orthodoxy of the Cultus Deorum. Religio Romana groups have been around for a couple decades now, but actual large growth still is pretty recent from what I can tell. In my exploration of the Cultus Deorum, I have not found a set, finalized Orthodoxy. And I never claimed to know what it was. The only thing I have said about an orthodoxy in the Cultus, or any Pagan religion, is that perhaps now is the time to codify said orthodoxies. To give solid foundations for everyone within each religion to know what the hell that religion is actually about.
Because as Gods & Radicals have shown, saying “it’s about these Gods” isn’t really enough of a definition.
So for the rest of this post, I am actually going to “step back” a bit. I won’t be talking as a Heathen, or a Cultus Deorum, or a Cultus Deorum Germanica. I’m going to be talking from the most basic, fundamental position I have. Helar,* follower of Hel, because before I am anything divine or demonic in nature I am sworn as Priest to Hela. So with that out of the way, claiming nothing by my own Helism** let’s have what appears to be a much needed discussion about Orthodoxy.
- What is an Orthodoxy
Orthodoxy is basically “right belief.” I know, said it a dozen times, everyone knows this bit, get a move on already. But we have to start somewhere with common ground or we never get anywhere.
Now, Orthodoxy is traditionally held to be religious in nature. Mostly because most of us in the West come from a Christian background, the language the Catholic Church was Latin, so when we here anything Latin it typically came from the Catholics. But at it’s heart orthodoxy purely means “right belief.”
This can be religious, cultural, or political. Marxists are largely anti-religion, but Marxism most certainly has an Orthodoxy. Any system which has concepts or actions that are “Good” and “Bad” has an orthodoxy.
Sometimes orthodoxies are written down. Sometimes they are just collected verbally. Sometimes they’re not anything codified, but part of the cultural attitudes.
2. “X Path Has No Orthodoxy.”
Sometimes, for various reasons, things didn’t get written down. Things that we in the present era would really have liked to have written down. Why? Lack of materials to write with, or perhaps like so many people today, people back then just assumed everything would be like it is at that current time and everyone would just still believe the same things far into the future and so no one saw the need to write down something everyone already knew.
The Norse didn’t write down their myths until they’d already been Christianized, at which point some of them went “oh shit, I better write this down or it’s gone forever.” Classic example. Sometimes, the change happens so suddenly and fully that maybe there’s no one to write it down. Or maybe like in some initiatory paths, the knowledge is so dangerous or secret that to write it down presents a very real risk, so you never do even if it means that secret is lost forever.
When dealing with almost any Pagan path out there, there’s not really much in the way of recorded orthodoxies. It’s very easy to claim that any particular path has no orthodoxy what so ever. And this is a claim often used for people to believe whatever they want while dressed in the skins and robes of whatever path they find visually or sensually stimulating.
But just because something wasn’t written down doesn’t mean it didn’t exist in some form. And (and I know I’m taking a big step here), just because something didn’t exist as a codified thing in the past doesn’t mean it can’t be synthesized in the present with a good bit of research and hard work.
3. How to create an “Orthodoxy.”
There once was a thing called the Council of Nicaea. See, before this there were “Christians” and they had “teachings” and a God. But everyone had a different idea about those teachings and in some cases even that God. If you asked someone trained under the apostle Mathew, you’d get a different perspective than someone trained under Peter. And don’t even get started by the people trained under Paul. So the Christians got together, had themselves a sit down and said: “What do we believe.”
One giant library session later, and you had a Christian Orthodoxy.
Basically, I think it’s time for some Pagan Nicaean Councils. Not Pan religion, but per each religion.
Helio pointed out their comments the disparate philosophies that were part of Rome and asked me “Which one of these is the Orthodoxy!” And really, all I can do at that is shrug. I don’t know, and it’s not up to me alone to decide. That’s really for a bunch of learned Cultus Deorum people to get together and decide, maybe for their individual paths, maybe as a whole. Or maybe those are the individual paths within the whole. That’s the beauty of it though, we bring all the things like that our individual tables, sit down them them and say: “What does this teach us about what we believe.”
Look, I’m not going to lie, some paths are going to have it easier than others. Initiatory Wiccan traditions probably have most of it ready to go already. Heathens may be someway around the midpoint, since they’ve already started developing their own traditions within Heathenism. I’m not even saying each group has to be unified (which seemed to be a big contention point for Helio in regards to the Cultus). I mean, there’s a dozen traditoins or so in Wicca, each with their own ideas for orthodoxies and they don’t influence or control the orthodoxies of the other Wiccans. Same with Heathens. No reason any path, like the Cultus, has to be any different.
Mabye the Martians have orthodoxy of their own, and the Venitians, and the Plutonians (gods this is sounding like sci-fi), and maybe they’re all seperate groups, or maybe the Cultus manages to actually unify itself with an orthodoxy of several philosophies. I honestly do not know.
But I want to know.
So sit down. Look at the cultures, look at the texts, look at the laws, look at the myths. Look at any relevant piece of information from grocery lists to fashion to how many bulls are slaughtered on which day of the week, and take every drop of information you can get and then rationally discuss them, debate them, and figure out the most basic levels of “What does our religion and its derived culture believe.”
4. Why is an Orthodoxy so damn important anyways.
“The man who doesn’t believe in something will fall for anything.”
If I came up to you and asked you “what is the Orthodoxy of Conan the Barbarian?” What would you say?
Well, if you’ve seen the movie it’s easy: “To crush my enemies, see them driven before me, and here the lamentations of the women.”
Nice, simple, easy. If someone wanted to follow the path of Conan, that is all they would have to know, understand, and believe.
Unfortunately, most of us are not Barbarians and require a bit more than that.
Helio kept insisting I say what the “orthodoxy of the cultus was.” And I can’t. That’s something I as a starter upon the Cultus road want to know though. That’s something I want to be able to teach to new people down the road as they come to it. It’s not as bad when it comes to me, Heathenism, and teaching people about that because the Heathens at least have a proto-orthodoxy. But at the end of the day, when newbies come up and ask: “What are the beliefs/Orthodoxy of the Cultus Deorum” all they can get met with is a helpless shrug.
“I don’t know?” “We don’t have one?” “There never should be one, just go do this ritual exactly this way and fuck off about what to believe.”
Look, orthopraxy is good. Orthopraxy can even make you feel good at having done a ritual right, or getting the result of a ritual you performed correctly. But “Feels good” doesn’t last. To get a bit explicit, it’s like Jacking off. Hey, you do it right, it feels good.
But it doesn’t give you something to believe in. It doesn’t invest you in a philosophy, a religion, that can help guide you when thing happen and you need answers. If a loved one dies, and you’re looking for answers, all the orthopraxy in the world isn’t going to help you.
But an orthodoxy might.
Because orthodoxy is the codified philosophy and answers of a religion. It’s how it sees the world, explains the world, makes sense of a world that all to often doesn’t make sense even to the most rationally and well informed.
Now, is everyone going to agree with your “orthodoxy?” No. Like I said ealier, the Heathens have proto-orthodoxies already and a lot of people don’t like them. Folkish orthodoxy right now is at about a stage of “worship the gods, keep your kin first before everyone else.” It’s not a lot, but it’s a start, and at least when someone walks up to a folkish Heathen, or even a universality Heathen, they can get something of an answer about “what do you believe.”
And Heathenism grows because they can at least provide something of an answer. If other Pagan religions want to keep growing, and even grow past a first generation of “feels good man” people, then they’re going to have to have something that says “this is what we believe, these are our standards, take them or leave them.”
Or else everyone is just gonna walk away because hey, “fapped to this” but now I need knew material.
5. An Orthodoxy isn’t for Everyone.
I got the impression talking with Helio that no matter what answer I came up with, no matter how factually grounded in historical data, Roman mythology and religious practice, or philosophically sound…they were never going to be satisfied with any answers I gave them. Ultimately, while trying to make my case for any orthodoxy (not even any specific points of orthodoxy, just that one should be created mind you), even one not of my own origination, I was left wit the feeling that Helio was more interested in being contrarian because I had said “we should discuss this” and they didn’t like that at all. Even if they were invited to the discussion.
The truth is, there are going to be people like that in every path. People who want nothing more than to live their lives the way they see fit, and fuck off to anyone who wants something more. Doesn’t matter if it’s democratically put forth, if everyone has their say, standards are being set and certain people will forever be happy with any standard existing what so ever. Why? No idea, but it’s universal truth.
It’s part of the reasons that Heathens don’t have a much more developed orthodoxy. You have people who study the lore and history not with an eye to create, but with an eye to refute any creation. Maybe they have their own agenda, maybe they just like being that asshole who tears everyone down. Ultimately though, the whys matter less than the dids.
People want to believe in something. People want the things they believe into be as firm as possible so they have something to build on, and flexible enough to adapt to new situation. But at the same time, there’s other people who just savor the anarchy that comes. Orthodoxies are for the former, they provide a place where people can build homes and lives. Orthodoxies, however, are not for the latter.
Each path is going to have to choose. Do we want to be a place where people can build homes, lives, families, and futures with our religion, our gods, and our beliefs…or do we wish to be a place where anyone can do absolutely anything in our name and say it’s justified because “Practices, not Beliefs, bro!”
Look, I’m just a simply Helian. I know my gods, I keep faith them them. I have some ideas about what I believe, but it’s not codified. And if anyone asked me to teach them, it would be harder in someways. And really, that’s a disservice to them and in someways a greater disservice to my Goddesses, because I cannot help people to grow in Their paths. It’s something I want to work on, as a Helar, as a Heathen, as a Cultus Deorum Germanica. I want to be able to say to people: “Here are the teachings of my religion and my Gods, so that if you want to, you can follow and believe in them the right way.
Because if G&R has taught me anything lately, it’s that people will use the Gods for their own ends, even if their ends are not those supported by the Gods. The only way to fight this is with information, gathered together to show the right way that the Gods wish people to believe.
But really…it’s up to everyone else, not up to me. I can’t dictate any path beyond my own. I can only make the case that if you wish to truly help people and to truly preserve your religions from those that would seek to corrupt, coop, or simply destroy them that your elders create factually researched orthodoxies so everyone can know what it is your Path, your Religion, stands for.
Because otherwise, people can use your name for whatever they want and you’ll have no way to refute them.
Choice is yours, really.
Bellona Invicta and Hela Bless
Honestly, always struggled to name this part of me. Helar, Helr, Helyar, Helist, Helian?
Helian actually sounds pretty cool…
**Helism? Helaism? Damn it, this is what happens when you try to mix German and Latin. No wonder English is considered a messed up language.