Radical, Aggressive, Hypersensitive, A-historical, Unenlightened and Illegitimate

“What kind of person is able to say this—to celebrate differences? This is the question I struggle with. Who are those who can embrace polytheism, accepting a bit of chaos in their spiritual perspective without denying rational modes of thinking? Who are those who are able to suspend belief and disbelief at will and are equally comfortable with scientific discourse and magic ritual?” Margot Adler, Drawing Down the Moon (p. 36).

Polytheists have been called a lot of things, and appear to be miserably misunderstood.

Let’s start from where we’re all at now.  By “we,” I mean everyone who’s claiming to be Pagan of one sort or another, for various reasons finding the term useful to define themselves and hoping to get along.  It’s been called a “big tent” or “umbrella”– both are useful for sheltering people against rain for a little bit until actual shelter is reached or found.

We’re all…here, claiming a label otherwise used as a perjorative, an insult.  We’re an ever-increasing group of people who’ve decided we’d like to transform Pagan into something meaningful.  We’re not the only ones who’ve done this with an insult: the Queers (that includes this faggot here) have done it, too.  Queer is a radical term, descriptive and proscriptive of all sorts of generally anti-hegemonic, anti-heterocentric and anti-capitalist sexual identities.

There’s quite a bit of intersection between Queers and Pagans, actually (Radical Faeries come to mind), not just in the shared act of transforming a nasty word into a brilliant identity.  There’s a bunch of us queers who are also Pagans.  For you non-Queers reading this, I’ll clear something up briefly–Queer does not mean gay or homosexual. Lots of gays like to think of themselves as being somehow “radical” by wanting gay marriage and equal rights, but there’s nothing radical or interesting in my mind about wanting to be bourgeois.

Actually, being just like everyone else turns out to be an insidious way of erasing individual experiences, attempts to “include everyone” by erasing difference.  In the words of one of my favorite writers,

“We? I am not like you. You would have to change who you are in order to include me.”

Radicalism

A few Pagan writers, particularly the Humanist/Naturalist sorts, have often used the word “Radical” to describe anyone who recognizes non-mortal beings outside themselves.   Calling us radical suggests we are doing something unusual, abnormal, or immoderate; that is, in order for radicals to exist, there must be a center or a moderation from which radicals rebel or aberr: by claiming that polytheists are radicals, the accusers claim a center.

Radical is a political term, typically wielded against certain peoples to show them as being “out there” or extreme.  Western media and politicians are fond of the term “Radical Islamist” against certain Muslims as much, and large environmental groups often label certain activists as”Radical” Environmentalists.  Another example– I’ve had my politics constantly described as “Radical” Leftism. In each aforementioned case, there’s the implication that certain beliefs (that is, radicalism) is abnormal and extremist.  However, there’s also an oft-unnoticed connotation: in all three instances, Radicalism also implies a way of believing which leads to action.

Let me explain.  Radical Islamist groups (often called Fundamentalists, as per the American designation) believe certain things about the world that others don’t.  Under the general accord of Capitalist/Democratic Hegemony, one can believe whatever one wants, provided one doesn’t do much about it, but Radical Islamists, who hold beliefs contrary to the current order of the world, appear to make the horrible mistake of doing things in accordance to their beliefs.  Radical Enviromentalists aren’t satisfied with changing lightbulbs and their choice of vehicles–they chain themselves to trees and torch SUV dealerships to enact their beliefs.  And Radical Leftists don’t go to the ballot box like everyone else in hopes of liberating the world from Capitalism; instead, they shut down commerce, interrupt arms shipments, organize unauthorized strikes, and break windows. All three groups have something in common–they believe the world should change, and they do very physical things to act out their beliefs.

“Radical Polytheists” suffer from the same apparent delusion.  Believing that entities have appeared to them from outside themselves,  encountering divine beings and spirits, they choose to act in accordance to those beliefs.  They worship them, build them shrines, talk to them, negotiate agreements, perform services for them, and have a really bad habit of not keeping silent about their activities.

Also, another thing those accused of Radicalism have in common is a tendency to radicalize others and challenge the “centre.”  Environmental groups both distance themselves from the radicals and publicly disavow them in order to marginalize and contain their apparent threat to mainstream (and ineffective) environmentalist political groups.  A similar thing happens with “leftists:”  anyone who was involved at the beginning of the Occupy movement can recall with horror what happened when the Democratic and Progressive folk started showing up.  Demands that the campsites be kept cleaner, that marches be more orderly, that we urge people to vote instead of protest, and even that we send “thank-you” notes to the police were perhaps deadlier to the movement than the beatings by those same police we were urged to thank.  Suddenly, all the people who had shown up at the beginning because they believed something could happen were out-voted in public meetings, discredited, and marginalized (sometimes through the press).

You see, Radicals need to be marginalized because they inspire belief.  Worse, they show people affective (not just effective) ways of accomplishing goals.  They enact change in the world, for better or for worse, and others see their example and consider it.  The do the impossible, thus changing what is thought to be possible.

Thus, by calling polytheists “radical,” certain Pagans make several political statements.  By staking their position as a center against which we rebel, and then implying that we threaten that center, we become created extremists.  We take our beliefs too seriously, do very physical things about our beliefs, and, worst of all,  others might see our example and follow suit.

Aggression and Hypersensitivity

Another claim made about polytheists is that they are aggressive.   To read many of the Humanist/Naturalist Pagan writers, one might thing polytheists just seem to show up in forums out of nowhere, making aggressive arguments for no apparent reason, and taking offense at the tiniest of slights.

There’s one profound problem with this claim. Asserting that someone is aggressive implies one is being aggressed-upon, victimized without provocation.

I could fill this essay with a litany of statements made by folks such as John Halstead that have been seen as offensive by polytheists.  I would rather not, as I’ve spent the last few days reading almost every post in Humanistic Paganism, The Allergic Pagan, and many of the forums in which these debates have occurred.  I don’t want to rehash these old arguments; rather, my intention is to explore why precisely they start in the first place.

The arguments follow an almost predictable pattern.  A polytheist says or does something, a non-theist or skeptic writes about it on their site, and then suddenly there’s controversy.  Or, an anti-polytheist rant gets printed on the Humanistic Paganism site (like one complaining about how polytheists ruin the gods for everyone), polytheists complain (mostly on their own sites first),  and then Halstead and others express surprise that the polytheists were offended.

To be fair, these conversations have often ended with public apologies by Halstead in particular, as well as statements he intends to be more aware of polytheistic concerns in the future.  But these recur constantly, and nothing seems actually to change.

Why, then, are these arguments so fierce?  As I said, there seems to be no end to the apparent surprise that polytheists become offended by statements made by the Naturalist/Humanist Pagans, and sometimes a variation of this statement (directed to my request by John Halstead) occurs whenever a polytheist requests more civility:

“It’d be kinda nice if certain devotional polytheists would stop being so hypersensitive.”

Well, then, why are we (hyper)sensitive to these statements?

The Naturalist-Humanist Pagans, many of which wield Jung’s theories, make very bold claims about the nature of the divine–that is, they weave a grand narrative to explain the nature of their own beliefs, and by doing must actively confront (in the sense of “encounter,” not necessarily “assault”) those who believe otherwise.

Some of them have admitted to very intense experiences with possible gods and spirits, just as we have.  These can be disruptive and sometimes threatening to the very order of one’s life, an experience I call Divine Trauma.  Anyone experiencing Divine Trauma also must face not just their own spirituality, but the pressure of a society which is generally opposed to things such as gods, spirits, and faeries.  More often than not, tales of such encounters become either the subject of voyeuristic television programmes or of psychological diagnosis.

But this does not appear to be the state of the entire world, nor even historically that of the Western/European world.  Encounters with the divine in other places, societies, and times were often enough signs that the person might be a mystic, a potential shaman, a prophet, or whatever category each society had created for such folks.  Provided such a category existed within the society, the experiences were not seen as signs of madness or illness (mental illness, we should remember, is a very new idea.)

In nominally Christian, post-Enlightenment, Capitalist/Materialist European societies, there is no longer a category for such people–or really much of a use.  The Enlightenment began to tell a story about European society which re-narrated the past and the present into a sort of special exception. European thought had “progressed” from the “dark ages” so that we no longer have much use for “primitive” or “savage” categories, despite the increased interest at the very same time in such things.  In fact, one of the most useful contributions Jung might have made is not his psychological theories of the Archetypes, but rather his extensive documentation of the continuation of religious experiences during the Enlightenment, particularly in his study, Alchemy and Psychology.

This story, though, is wrong; that is, it’s a narrative which is selective of the past (like all histories) and is both informed and constrained by an unacknowledged bias.  This bias? That the apparent state of European secular culture is indeed secular and wholly different from European or other cultures.   [For more on this, I highly suggest Dipesh Chakrabarty’s  introduction to this problem–Provincializing Europe.]

And when a person whose story isn’t being told in dominant narratives recognises they are being left out of the discourse, or when their stories are being re-told in order to fit a narrative which discounts their experiences and differences, they tend to react, sometimes aggressively.  Consider the women’s Suffrage movement, the Civil Rights movement, Stonewall, the American Indian Movement (AIM), or the attacks on the mainstream gay HRC offices by trans and queer folks and you’ll get a sense of this aggression.

Along with apparent aggression, marginalized groups also get a bit hypersensitive (the word used to be “hysterical,” another psychological diagnosis, particularly applying to women who just wouldn’t stay calm in the face of oppressive circumstances).  Recognizing that white straight (mostly male) folks are wielding their privileged voices and influence to build a society or a world which excludes everyone else makes certain people rather damn grumpy.

Now, let me be clear here.  I’m not accusing John Halstead or B.T. Newberg of being white, straight, and male, nor dare I accuse folks like P. Sufenas Verius Lupus, Aine Llewellyn, Julian Betkowski, or myself of being queer or gender-variant.  But on first glance, there does seem to be a remarkable amount of white straight middle class folks who self-identify as Humanist/Naturalist Pagans, and a remarkable amount of queer, lower-class and other subaltern folks amongst the polytheists.  One really can’t extrapolate from this much more than a mere suspicion that one position may attract people with certain experiences that the other doesn’t.

There are certainly apparent parallels from other marginalizations, though.  Trans* folk are accused of hypersensitivity when they request people use their chosen pronouns, and queers actively protest attempts to conform homosexuality into the dialogue of middle-class behavior.  In both cases, the aggression and hypersensitivity function as a diagnosis of their refusal to remain calm in the face of attempts to moderate, mediate, or co-opt their experiences by people who claim a position of center or dominance.  The soundness of their psychological being and the balance of their mental faculties becomes questioned in order to weaken their positions.  They become hysterics and violent in the opinions of those they accuse.

The Plague of Peasants

Some of the folks who speak from the Humanist/Naturalist Pagan tendency are very, very nice people.  One of them is amongst my top three favorite writers, and her deep experiences of rapture and care of Nature is so evident in her writing as to be very close to sorcery.  Also, she’s much more fair-minded than most, but even she unfortunately perpetuates a rather elitist or paternalistic perception of the polytheist.

In a recent G+ thread initiated by her concerning the conceptions of polytheists regarding free will, she replied to experiences both John Beckett and I appeared to have shared this way:

I need to know that you at least considered the possibility that these were just urges coming from your own subconscious, that you went through a process of exploration, and that you don’t have any ego investment in being a special mouthpiece or pet favorite of a particular deity.

And, later in that same response, she says:

This is why I think I find “hard polytheism” so problematic when it’s paired with concepts like “god-slavery” and submission to the gods. If a person can’t even entertain the possibility that the gods might just be “all in their head,” what other possibilities are they leaving out of the discernment process?

This is very similar to a tactic that John Halstead and B.T. Newberg use, but with much less stated honesty.  Halstead has repeatedly asked multiple people variants of the same question, “Would you still believe in your gods if you knew they were projections of your unconscious?”

Honest attempts to answer the question have resulted in him re-asking the question again, and on the surface, it appears to be an honest question and concern.  But then why does it seem to always meet with rather considerable “hypersensitivity” and “aggression?”

I’m going to quote someone who has answered the question more succinctly than I think anyone else possibly could:

“And you know what? Yeah, I’m pretty sensitive about it being said or implied that I work with my deities because I’m too unenlightened to do otherwise.”  Literata

Within such statements and concerns raised by Halstead, Lily, and others is an apparent and unfortunate assumption that the polytheist hasn’t considered other possibilities.

I can only speak for myself here, but good gods did I ever consider every other potential before letting the real existence of the gods crash through my futile attempts to keep them at bey.  Mental illness was my first consideration: fortunately, years as a social worker for the mentally-ill and a long conversation with a psychiatrist who worships Hecate helped dispel that fear.  Fatigue, or stress, or trauma were all other options I considered, and then I settled on an uneasy peace of Jung’s theory of the Archetypes.  But this didn’t last long, either, not as long as I’d hoped it would.

Who, really, wants to think that there are powers outside of themselves that won’t save their soul or grant them eternal life or wealth or even necessarily comfort yet still want to communicate with you?  I mean, who wants to do that in this society, where the default state is disbelief in anything that doesn’t fit within the secularist and scientific post-christian age?  How do you tell your friends? A potential lover? Your co-workers and roommates?

My experience of Divine Trauma was honestly fucking intense.  When I finally made the choice to allow the one possibility which made the least scientific, psychological, modern sense, my entire world exploded into wonder, beauty, Otherness, and power.  Not “power” in the Crowleyian sense (I dislike that man), but power in the sense akin to what the Jungian’s call “Self-Actualization,” a sobering state of acknowledgment not only of the Self but also its relation to the world.

And then the gods started talking more, through all of my senses (the first time you physically hear a voice is damn fucking terrifying; I drank a lot of hot cocoa after some of the more “traumatic/dramatic” experiences) and through other senses I’d never known I had use for.  And to be clear, I’m a relative no-body, except that I’m a somebody who decided to listen. Still, making statements and posing questions which indicate that the speaker doubts whether or not I’ve attempted to discern what the hell is actually happening in those situations is irritating at the very least, and appallingly elitist in the estimation of many.

The “Enlightenment” that we appear to have missed is a bit unclear to me.  One of those involved in these debates, who chided someone for being uncharitable in a conversation for judging John Halstead for his words rather than his intent, also believes that workers just need an attitude adjustment. In an essay on how he’s become more ethical on account of Humanist spirituality, The Humanist Reverend D.T. Strain states:

We have all come to expect that, when we are told “have a nice day” in most stores, the person saying it probably could care less and are simply doing what their boss wants them to do.

But the real tragedy in this is not for the customer who is hardly affected, but for the worker. With a different outlook, and some genuine feelings of caring for others, they would have a much brighter experience in their job. Their heart would be lifted of the extra stress and bitterness bottled up inside. The little things that the customer did that were annoying wouldn’t be as big of a deal if we had affection for them. So, my partners and I agreed, our aim is to do more than treat our customers like family – but to really try to cultivate deep within ourselves real feelings of familial love and concern for them.

Because I’d like to be “charitable,” I’ll explain why anyone who’s ever worked a customer service job is raging right now after reading this.  Not only does D.T. Strain appear to miss something fundamental about the relationship between worker and employer within Capitalism,  he also appears to be suffering from the same malaise affecting much of Western spiritual discourse, that “inner transformation” matters more than external influences.

This is the same discourse which has defanged many religions of their Radical potentialities.  Mainstream Protestant Christianity, Western Buddhism,  and now perhaps Paganism has been made weak and impotent by the idea that it’s what’s inside that counts, that internal transformation is enlightenment and is the very point of religious experience.  Outward actions and expressions matter less than how one approaches suffering, grace, or the gods.

The assertions seem to be that polytheists are unenlightened.  Silly us, doing things on behalf of our gods, at the behest and request of our gods, speaking to spirits and courting the fae as beings outside ourselves.   We’re radicals, acting out our personal experiences in the world, acting on beliefs rather than exploring our Selves and changing our inner landscape.

Except–we also change our inner landscape.

We have to.  The moment you start listening to the voices outside yourself, you begin to recognize all the voices within, too.  Not all of our thoughts are our own, nor are they from the gods.  I may pass an advertisement and experience an odd hunger for the item depicted there–I am not the sole agent of my mental landscape, before or after acknowledging the gods.  And one of the first things I realised after acknowledging the gods as outside of myself was how much clutter and how many unexamined beliefs were inside my head.  One must do this in order to hear the gods, because the external voice and the ocular visions are rare–discernment and self-evaluation becomes relentless.

I’m speaking only for myself here, except I’ve got a really damn good sense that other polytheists experience this same inner transformation (more an inner cleaning-binge)–two of the most “hypersensitive” and “aggressive” polytheists, Gallina and Sannion, write more about the difficulties involved with re-forging oneself than I’d ever feel comfortable doing.   I find them inspiring, in line with Julian Betkowski’s gratitude post regarding the much-maligned (and often unfortunately impolitic) Gallina Krasskova: her assertions that all difficulties one encounters can be overcome by diligence rather than giving up have led me constantly to challenge my unexamined, self-defeating beliefs of my own weakness or ineptitude.

Ahistorical Illegitimacy

Historicity is gold to many polytheists, particularly the Reconstructionists.  Many have left the umbrella of Paganism specifically because of their personal requirement that everything they do and believe be as close to the historical record as is humanly possible.

I find their rigor is admirable, for history is vital; however, history is also problematic.  As I mentioned earlier, certain people’s experiences are never recorded in history and often willingly ignored or scrubbed by those who write history.  This goes beyond the two armchair-historian adages which get quoted too often as actual historical doctrines, that of history being written by the victors and history being a pendulum.

The first gets close to a truth but ignores something important: many of the “victors” are actually merely the most powerful voices within a society.  What is often forgotten when looking at conquered peoples is that they often continue to exist and practice their beliefs long after victory is declared against them (First Nations people are a great example of this, but one can go much, much further back to find this to be true). Also, sometimes the act of writing history is a declaration of war.

Without digressing too far into historiography, one example will suffice.  In the late 1500’s, there was a major contention between two scientists who’d been studying the anatomy of the female body.  Both fought vehemently and publicly with each other to prove the primacy of their discovery of a specific part of the human body that had been heretofore unknown except for their research.  That specific part?

The clitoris.

Besides the gross humor of two white, heterosexual European men arguing over which of them had first found the clitoris, something else is here.  It’s not only absurd to imagine that women were unaware that there was a part of their genitalia from which pleasure was derived, but, also, that centuries of midwives and folk-doctors would have likewise been unaware of its existence.  (For more on this, see Thomas Laquer’s Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud)

Their problem can be re-stated in a manner which makes sense not just to the arguments within Paganism, but also to much of the problem we’ve gotten ourselves into within our modern, hegemonic Capitalist order.  Our histories have an odd habit of re-inscribing themselves back into the past in a way which discounts those who may have experienced the world we in the future are speaking of, and it is often difficult to see where our sciences end and actual historical experience begins.

Claims that historical worship of deities were mere projections of the unconscious or the psyche run into a particular problem, though: Jung’s theories are new.  Though he in parts calls upon older philosophers and theorists, he is creating an altogether new theory to explain religious and spiritual experiences towards a universalizing end.  It’s a brilliant project; however, it’s also a very modern one.  New and modern does not mean something should be discounted; however, any who would use such theories ought to be aware that it is a new theory re-inscribing itself into the past, just like most histories, particularly grand narratives written by “the victors.”

The other historical fallacy a few people make is the notion that beliefs and trends swing from one extreme to another.  Halstead has mentioned this several times of late, as if this were some sort of historical tool.  It isn’t.   It, like other grand narrative devices, discounts outliers and is part of the dualistic/polar description of the world and humanity that Naturalists are generally very keen to avoid.  Furthermore, it’s become fundamental to the “radicalization” of polytheist belief, that polytheism is an extreme pole of Pagan thought, a mere swinging of a pendulum too far in one direction which must be countered by self-proclaimed moderates

The (false) Center Cannot Hold

In all of these accusations, a common theme emerges.  It seems vital to many of the arguments by the Naturalist/Humanist Pagans that they be seen as a sort of center, as the moderate and enlightened voice amidst the fray of adolescent frustrations and immoderate tendencies.

An attempt was made awhile back to create an internet badge which would help allay many of the tensions in the debates.  Its failure has been spectacular but unsurprising, given its slogan: “Pagan Enough.”  Replace the word Pagan with Queer, Leftist, Christian, Buddhist, Green, or Environmentalist and you’ll see why the campaign falls flat.  In fact, the only sorts of words which do seem to work this way are all ones of excess (Wealthy Enough, Chocolatey Enough, Deadly Enough), as if Paganism were some sort of excess which needs to be moderated.

It’s not for me to proclaim the reasons and justifications of the attitude of Humanist/Naturalist Pagans towards polytheism.  I have my suspicions, but I cannot speak to the mechanisms of actual belief experienced by Halstead and others–besides, it seems to be their preferred method of discourse, and we need to change this if we’re all going to share this tent.

I can, however, speak to the effects of their dismissal of our experiences within the collective project of Paganism. By asserting that we are somehow radical, they marginalize us.  By asserting our retorts are aggressive, they proclaim us to be given to violence, off-hinge, and uncivil.  By declaring us hypersensitive, they further marginalize our complaints to that of someone unable to understand adult conversation or inherent intent, to someone also perhaps mentally unstable.  By claiming our beliefs are ahistorical and possibly inspired and derived from a somewhat popular urban-fantasy book., they seek to de-legitimize our religious experiences as inauthenthic. And by repeating doubts and concerns about our processes of mental discernment, they suggest we are impetuous, unenlightened, illegitimate children who have not put any real thought into our beliefs.

Despite all of this, I think we should still be nice to them.

Crazier still, I suggest we continue to claim to be Pagans.  And I, for one, actually think we should begin to embrace their claims.

In fact, being aggressive is a great way to change the world–sitting around and meditating still hasn’t ended Capitalism and the destruction of the earth.

Being hypersensitive is a very good trait to have, if you are trying to listen to the voices of those thought voiceless, be they forgotten gods, abused land-spirits, the homeless, the colonized, or the dispossessed.

Being ahistorical is a great thing, as we’d be in fantastic company, the conquered peoples, the sexually “deviant,” and pleasurable parts of the human body.

And since the Enlightenment brought us Capitalism, false notions of Progress and widespread abuse of the earth, and since “enlightenment” appears to now mean merely having a positive attitude rather than resisting oppression, I think unenlightened is precisely what I’d like to be.

We, who are constantly attempting to liberate ourselves from the things which have kept humanity in the modern age from confronting the Other, the gods and spirits and fae, the very real and sometimes traumatic (but ever so fucking worth it) experiences of divine beings outside the confines of our tragically small Selves, have something very important to offer.

We’ve made very difficult decisions, suspending disbelief to accept something profoundly Other.  We’ve begun to learn to speak the languages of the gods and also the language of our selves.  We know what Divine Trauma is like, we know how terrifying it can be to those who haven’t already had to remake their worlds.  We know what it’s like to walk through a gate and not be able to return to a normal life any longer, not be able ever to be satisfied with Materialist explanations and disenchantments.  We can offer our experiences to those who are afraid, perhaps terrified to give up modern and empty notions of “control.”  We can show them that an Other world is possible, and we can build it with them.

About Rhyd Wildermuth

An intractable tea-swilling punk, queer hooligan, and dream-soaked leftist bard, Rhyd Wildermuth has left bits of his heart(h) everywhere—in a satyr’s den in Berlin, hanging from an elder tree over a holy well in Bretagne, scattered in back alleys of Seattle, and lost somewhere in the bottom of his rucksack. He’s devoted to Welsh gods, breathes words, makes candles, plays recorder, fumbles with tech, and refuses ever to learn to drive. His main blog is: paganarch.com. View all posts by Rhyd Wildermuth

61 responses to “Radical, Aggressive, Hypersensitive, A-historical, Unenlightened and Illegitimate

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  • thelettuceman

    A wonderful read, thank you.

  • aediculaantinoi

    Excellent thoughts, Rhyd! I’m tempted to add “Unrepentant Fenian Bastard” to the list, but that may be because I lived in Ireland for a while and know its history. ;)

    And, please feel free to accuse me of being queer, gender-variant, lower-class and subaltern all you like, because every word of it is true and you’ll get no denials on any of it from me.

    Also: I owe you an e-mail…my apologies on the delay there.

    • Rhyd Wildermuth

      Thanks!

      Speaking of Fenians, I was informed recently that the Molly MacGuires and other “radical” groups issued eviction notices to landlords and mine owners in the name of the land-spirits and goddesses of the particular land in question. Do you know much more about this? I’ve been fascinated by the (buried) linkages between radical groups and pagans in the 19th century, particularly around May Day sabotage. John O’Donahue mentions a very intriguing bit of history where the first of May was an opening during which sabotage of an enemy’s fields would occur in Ireland…

      And us lower-class subalterns really ought to stick together. :)

      • aediculaantinoi

        Unfortunately, this is the first I’ve heard of that…Damn. The modern Irish can be somewhat dismissive of things like this, which is why it probably hasn’t made its way into the histories that I’ve read. Much of this kind of thing is still out there and is done today (or up to very recently), in terms of animistic or polytheistic folk practices, but outside of folklore departments (and I wasn’t in one–I was in Celtic Studies, medieval history, and archaeology, though we did sometimes do things with Folklore and Ethnology), it’s considered a bit of an embarrassment, which is awful. My archaeology professor, a younger “Celtoskeptic” who commented when we were visiting a particular ruined 19th century stately home that he had a low opinion of the IRA because they destroyed historical landmarks like this, comes to mind as I consider the implications of your question and the erasure of this aspect of Irish history.

        While Kalan Mai in Wales, as you know, is quite different, Beltaine in Ireland has always been associated with strife, and has little if anything to do with fertility and other things that far too many modern Pagans think of when it comes to that particular festival. Several of the invasions of Ireland were said to have begun on that day, for example, which doesn’t exactly conjure images of fucking in the open air…sovereignty and its shifting favors, perhaps, but not phallic symbols and such.

        But yes, lower-class subalterns of the world unite! ;)

      • Rhyd Wildermuth

        I’m going to do my best to track down that reference–it’s a fantastically tantalizing link. One of the reasons I chose to study Druidry through OBOD was its linkages to anarcho-socialism in the person of McGregor-Reid, precisely at the same time when there was severe overlap between many radical communities in England.
        Which reminds me! Have you read Affective Communities, by Lela Ghandi? It is full of such fascinating intersections; Wilde hosting young anarchists (and his wife was part of the Golden Dawn!), Vegetarian occultists hosting Ghandi, etc.. When I obtain another copy, I’m going to write a review of it here.

      • aediculaantinoi

        That would be great! I’d love to see it!

        I have not read or seen Affective Communities…sounds interesting, though!

        Wilde was involved in something else I’ve studied quite heavily, but somewhat peripherally: the Order of Chaeronea. I hope to put something out about them in the not-too-distant future (but maybe a year or two down the road…which I’ve been saying for many years now!), because it’s an important link between the ancient world and the modern one in terms of queer spirituality. It’s what one might call “first-wave queer spirituality” (along with Carpenter, etc.); then Buczynski, Harry Hay, and co. would have been second-wave; we’re third-wave, I think. In any case, I have their “Order of Initiation” and commentary on it by the founder, and while it’s not earth-shattering and leaves many things rather vague, nonetheless it’s an important document and would be good to have out and available more widely for people. (Perhaps, as is popular these days, as a nice fine edition grimoire of sorts?)

      • Rhyd Wildermuth

        Ahhhh. You, of all people, would love this to pieces. It’s called Enchanted desires, sacred embodiments : sex and gender variant spiritualities in Weimar Germany. It’s rather brilliant, and I’m not just saying that because my ex-partner wrote it and took me to Berlin with him so he could research in the Schwules Museum for it. Also, it’d be another link in queer spirituality, more a link between carpenter and harry hay. The author (Max Fassnacht) was more versed in queer history than occult history at the time, but has plans to expand it into a book now that he’s more knowledgeable on both.

        Also, you certainly know this, that the iconic image of a book burning in Berlin by the Nazis was of Magnus Hirschfeld’s library of sexology and occult research, yeah? They never mention that in textbooks, but this is unsurprising.

        P.S., thanks for the link to my site! I am a pretty awesome individual, when I’ve had my tea, at least. : )

      • aediculaantinoi

        I will see if I can get that! Excellent suggestion!

        I think you’re likely to be a pretty awesome individual before tea, after tea, and even very possibly while “paying the tea tax,” too! ;) That ain’t easy–when I make libations to Sterculinus and Cloacina, I’m not at my personal best. Anyway…yes, I just went there. Oops. ;)

      • Ruadhán J McElroy

        Issuing eviction notices on behalf of the land spirits sounds just wonderful. :-)

      • Rhyd Wildermuth

        I see no reason it shouldn’t re-commence immediately!
        : )

  • “We can show them than an Other world is possible, and we can build it with them.” | Thracian Exodus

    […] “We’ve made very difficult decisions, suspending disbelief to accept something profoundly Ot… […]

  • anomalousthracian

    Fantastic way to wake up into my day. Thank you for your important insights, and even-toned delivery!

    • Rhyd Wildermuth

      Thanks!
      You write with the tone I’d rather be writing with, honestly. I went back through almost the entire archives of Humanistic Paganism, No Unsacred Place, and The Allergic Pagan , as well as following many other arguments scattered on other blogs in order to do research for this, and oh good gods was it difficult to try to keep an even-tone.
      I’m not utterly convinced I succeeded. We’ll see.

      • Aine

        I’m amazed, and thankful. I don’t think I would have the stomach to go through the archives.

      • Rhyd Wildermuth

        I hope never to need to do so again. It might be a bit overly-optimistic of me to think we might be able to move past those frustrations, but it’d sure help us all in the end. : )

      • anomalousthracian

        By “even” I mean “balanced portions of grit, gristle, and glammed graceful guile”. You manage to drive rusty, blunted iron railspikes into topics with the apparent effortlessness of fine polished steel through aged cheddar. (The moist kind, not the crumbly kind.) I think this is a real achievement: the professionalism and eloquence you achieve does not in any way filter out the obscene outrage that is justifiably behind the words and sentiment.

        I have a few different tones that I write in. Primarily there is the “later in the day, while drinking” tone (as reflected in all or most of my articles at Pagan Square), or my “earlier in the day, over my first sips of coffee” (as reflected here on WordPress, beginning this week). Drinking gives me the warm tolerance (lol) to be a bit more balanced; my morning rants are less filtered and more rough around the edges, wherein balance is not at all a consideration, and neither is editing or refinement…

        Suffice it to say I’ll be following you here and eagerly awaiting your next insights. Thanks again for sharing, and for the obvious care and time you put into this brilliant piece. (You might consider this for publication elsewhere. Do we have enough solid writers to put out an annual polytheist anthology, collecting theological and social works such as this for digest reading?)

      • Rhyd Wildermuth

        Your praise humbles me!

        For some reason, I can’t write except on tea, but appear only able to edit on beer. That shouldn’t make any sense, but it works so far. : )

        I’d happily contribute this elsewhere, yes. There should be such anthologies, and particularly on paper. I really miss paper. I’m really hoping the internet will just turn off one day. Imagine the beautiful chaos of a world suddenly wandering the streets in search of conversation!

      • aediculaantinoi

        I’ve been thinking of doing an Antinoan dead-trees POD periodical (likely yearly) with mostly Antinous-related stuff in it, but also some general things on polytheism. Perhaps something along those lines, only with a broader focus, could come about in the future? Hmm…

  • myownashram

    This moves me. This speaks to me deeply and powerfully. I’ve been having ideas about this subject too. Especially as a queer feminist Pagan parent who sometimes finds it hard to engage on the playground. As a woman, these same claims of radical, hypersensitive, etc have been used against me when I talk about certain subjects. I am white, but I know these same dismissing labels get thrown onto people of color when they speak of their experiences, struggles, and aims. The status quo wants to keep people in line. Everything you write of challenges multiple aspects of the status quo.

    You have given me even more to think about and more inspiration to write my own post on my experience with being ‘radical.’ I’ll proudly wear that label, but it doesn’t make it any more comfortable. But comfort is not the point.

    • Rhyd Wildermuth

      I’m honored it moved you!

      Please, definitely write about your experiences. I think we all need to hear as much as possible from as many voices as we can about attempts to transform our difference and feelings of exclusion into something which changes not only our lives, but the world around us.

      It’s a radical act to do so, and precisely what I think will bring about the world we want to live in.

    • Christine Hoff Kraemer

      Rhyd, this is beautifully done. I hope that some of the folks who participated in these discussions will consider how they may have been influenced by the wider culture to infantilize or portray as irrational those with subaltern points of view — and also remember that the wider culture is likely to use the same kinds of tactics against them.

      I do have some reservations about boldly wearing the “radical” label in all situations — for myself, not for everyone (we don’t all have to have the same strategies). I wish I could verify this with a link, but haven’t located it yet… I was recently told about a study where participants were given a political article to read, along with one of three different bios of the author. Participants were least likely to agree with the author’s points if the bio described her as an activist and went into her activism-related activities. Participants were most likely to agree when the bio was the most general and vague — and, perhaps, the easiest to identify with; lending itself to the thought that “This person is much like me”?

      This is to say, perhaps, that we ought to value our (apparently) straight male white and other privileged-looking Pagans and do our best to communicate well with them, because they are a bridge between the most radical of us and a wider culture that is incapable of taking a perceived radical seriously.

      (And this may give you an idea of how I managed to publish a book advocating theologically for Pagans, transpeople, the kink community, and polytheists with a top academic press. :> )

      • myownashram

        I think you’re on to something to something here. Adam (my husband) says that’s part of why people react so strongly to me: I look normal, just like them (mostly). I’m a white, middle class, mother with no tattoos, with my normal looking kids (except for the daughter with mohawk). I’m a stay at home parent in what looks like a heteronormative marriage. People think I’m like them – and then I open my mouth. Adam likes to suggest we’re subverting from within. Except… we’re not really within. I think Adam is more subversive as a white male, especially when he talks about feminism or racism.

      • Rhyd Wildermuth

        This is to say, perhaps, that we ought to value our (apparently) straight male white and other privileged-looking Pagans and do our best to communicate well with them, because they are a bridge between the most radical of us and a wider culture that is incapable of taking a perceived radical seriously.

        I think about that question a lot. The anti-globalisation movement (I actually prefer the french term, altermondialist, because it also is close to “other-worlding”) had a similar tension. WTO in Seattle, for example, was 60,000 people, no more than perhaps 10,000 self-avowed “radicals” (though, to listen to the media and politicians, everyone there was…). Without the 50,000 people who “just showed up,” it would have been just a small riot. Without the 10,000 who radicalized the event, it would have been an easily forgotten march.

        The tension repeats itself, though–those who want to do something and those whose beliefs are still seated within modes of normality seem always to be in conflict. That being said, they need each other if anything will really change.

        The truly radical position, however, would be each element actively supporting the other, simultaneously aware of each other’s importance without marginalizing the other or discrediting the other’s belief.

        Will we ever get to that point? Gods, I hope so.

    • Ruadhán J McElroy

      Hell, I’m white but I’ve been told I’m “hypersensitive” about racism issues, as well –and, of course, because I’m white, there’s always the “why do you care so much?” thrown in, as if to highlight how “hysterical” I’m being. To which I always counter “I think the more important question is why don’t you care enough?”

  • CBrachyrhynchos

    Aggression? In the last few months my nature-worshiping ways have been dismissed as roleplay, declared beyond tolerance, declared to be emotional abuse, and ungraciously compared to white supremacy. I consider that a bit aggressive.

    I don’t know your gods. I don’t deny them; we’ve just never been introduced, and prior attempts to introduce us have led to visionary weirdness. Perhaps I’m the unenlightened one here. So I’m not going to talk about your gods. If I slip up there, you’re welcome to remind me that I’m talking out of my ass by doing so.

    But a part of this tension is that articles are being published that criticize our nature-worshiping ways that, well, are not all that recognizable to me. You talk about “materialism” in terms of Capitalism and the Enlightenment, I talk about it in terms of Marxist Environmentalism and Deep Ecology. Beckett today published a bunch of chatter about an epistemology that I see as a century obsolete, blowhards on the internet aside. It’s fairly clear that we’re not entirely speaking the same language in these discussions. I think it may be time to retire “Naturalist” and “Humanist” as not being very clear, and worse, largely dominated by the New Atheist movement these days, and simply say “I venerate living Beings as inherently sacred” or “I venerate biomes” “I venerate the Earth” or “I venerate the following ideals.”

    And something that needs to be said here is that, at least for me and a few other people I know, it’s extremely difficult to divorce “god language” (to quote Dewey) from the Christian meanings. “God” and “spirit” are big linguistic messes in our current language. I say “I venerate Juniper as a Being” rather than “I venerate the Spirit of Juniper” partly because of past experience getting trapped in bait-bait-and-switch apologetics where the later statement is interpreted as a statement of Christian panenthism. I suspect that if I ever was to be called by immortal Beings rather than mortal Beings that I’d have to search beyond English for language that couldn’t be easily appropriated.

    BTW: I’m queer, which is one of the reasons why I venerate living Beings that have a gender plurality. At the time (early 1990s), the rather strict insistence on polarity or binary from the Pagan theologies I encountered was extremely frustrating to me. That’s probably why fungi were a big part of my life for a few years.

    • Julian Betkowski

      I’m not sure that anyone is criticizing nature worship here, or how you could construe Rhyd’s remarks as such a criticism. What is being criticized is the systematic way that some Naturalist/Humanist Pagan writers are working to discredit a theistic understanding of spirituality. I don’t see a single place where Rhyd denigrates nature worship in this entire post.

      • CBrachyrhynchos

        I’m referencing the extended history of the discussion which has included the statements I discussed above.

        More generally, I think there are a lot of deep oversimplifications of the concepts behind Humanistic and Naturalistic Paganism expressed over the last few months. There’s also a disturbing tendency to start talking about one or a few writers, and then jump right to the generic. And I’m more and more convinced that talking outside of my traditions can’t be ethically justified.

        The conclusion of this essay bothers me because it suggests that the agenda is leading us tree-huggers to “… confronting the Other, the gods and spirits and fae …” and then later “We’ve begun to learn to speak the languages of the gods and also the language of our selves….”

        To me, the missing element there is the languages of animals, plants, stone, wind, water, and place. My religion is to understand those languages and change my life according to those moral demands. That is my Naturalistic Paganism. I share that, not to discredit your relationships, but to explain mine.

      • Rhyd Wildermuth

        Hey there!
        A couple of brief things. You’ll notice I specifically didn’t link to many people. This is on purpose, because I wanted to talk generally about the nature of the debates without re-opening and repeating everything said on either side. The result of that would have been just to perpetuate the battles, and I think we’ll never build anything this way.

        Also. I hug trees. Often. The oak in my back yard here and the spirits associated with it got offerings of rose-water last week as gratitude, and sometimes I lay my head against it when I want to remember I’m part of nature. This is rather frequent, and I’ve done the same with elder, pine, willow, birch and particularly Alder, which is also sacred to one of my gods, Brân. It’s also a running joke amongst my sister and her family that one should never question why her brother is covered in grass and moss from laying outside–the appropriate answer, apparently, is “of course he is.”

        I think maybe sometimes people forget that many of us revere both nature and the spirits therein. Many polytheists are also animists. [As a not-unrelated digression, I just went outside to drink some tea right after writing that last word and there was Toad, or also a toad, which seems often enough hanging by the threshold of my back door. I buried a dead one a few days ago out of respect and gratitude].

        I honestly think there should be no conflict between those who listen to “the languages of animals, plants, stone, wind, water and place” and those who also listen to gods. I think where we go wrong is believing that one is exclusive to the other.

        Also, I definitely meant it when I suggested in the comments of A Sense of Place that you should write a book, because, as I said, I would read it to bits.

      • CBrachyrhynchos

        Thank you for your response.

        In my experience, the two biggest drivers of conflict are generalization and speaking of other people’s religion. Generalization about people strikes me as a problem because I’m not certain you or I can do it without elevating some people into a position of authority and erasing others. So, you and I were in conflict in part because you published an article with the generalization that warehouse stores are authoritative for philosophical materialism and erased the humanist critics of that form of capitalism. Beckett and I are in conflict because he generalized atheist epistemology from one of Four Horsemen and erased the atheist critics of that epistemology. Note that if you had been more specific to criticize free-market libertarianism and if Beckett had been specific to criticize naive positivism, there wouldn’t be a conflict. I would agree with both criticisms.

        I’ve come to the rather radical position that it’s unethical to talk about another person’s religion, spirituality, or sexuality from an outsider perspective. I’ll first admit that I’m not perfect at this injunction. And I think it’s radical because criticism/debate is the dominant mode of interfaith discourse. I thank you for demonstrating great grace in this area. I raise this as a problem I’ve experienced in other discussions, and a potential source of conflict.

  • Some Things Of Note To Some Sorts of Folks… | Aedicula Antinoi: A Small Shrine of Antinous

    […] who is a pretty awesome individual from what I know at this point! In any case, the blog post is here, and I suggest everyone read […]

  • finnchuillsmast

    I found this quite a good read while sitting here drinking my cup of slippery elm tea, nursing a cough. There is such a rhetorical wash of polytheists being a ‘people without reason’ in need of a civilizing mission in some of the humanist pagan discourse I’ve come across. And a sense of barely suppressed outrage that we have popped up like mushrooms or dandelions on what are supposed to be (in their view) the manicured lawns of their rationalist modernist subdivisions in this allegedly ‘advanced’ economy.

    • Rhyd Wildermuth

      Hey! I really like your poetry that I’ve heard (but not yet purchased). : )

      Thanks for the kind words. The suburban analogy does seem to work. We do make things messy (the gods, really, are quite messy also).
      I’m in love with sidewalk chamomile, creeping between the cracks between poured-blocks along the street. Barely noticeable, but there to remind of the nature for which paved streets are a mere temporary interruption, a reminder of what’s there waiting to take over. That it’s often enough a soothing and calming flower could be taken as the earth assuring, “it’ll be okay. Relax.” That the herald of chaos in a manicured lawn is a yellow flower with floating seedheads in which children cannot but help delight is another beautiful thing. Ooh. I might use that for a Sense of Place post…

      • finnchuillsmast

        Here it’s the dandelions that are growing in sidewalk cracks, and even in cracks in the street pavement, and on the corner they grow in the storm drain. Brigid’s blessings glowing brightly for those who will but perceive.

        Glad you liked what you heard! A discount will be soon announced on my blog for direct buys from Vindos for the remainder of the year.

  • John Halstead

    Rhyd:

    Thanks for taking the time to do this. A few comments:

    1. “Radical”: I can’t speak for others, but when I have used it to refer to polytheists, I am drawing from philosophical and theological literature which uses the term “radical otherness” to distinguish certain experiences of divinity. The gods are “radically other” from the hard polytheistic perspective. This does not necessarily make hard polytheists “radical”. Radical is not a bad word for me. When Paganism looses its radical-ness, it has lost its Pagan-ness.

    2. I think your critique of the Enlightenment paradigm is spot on, and it is something that Naturalistic/Humanistic Pagans have to struggle with: How do we keep the best parts of the Enlightenment while discarding the problematic parts. How do we critique the Enlightenment project, while not regressing to a pre-Enlightenment state. How do we make room for the experience of Divine Trauma which you wrote about above, and not pathologize it, but also not devolve into superstitious belief. The question is similar to the distinction Ken Wilbur draws when he speaks of the pre-/trans- fallacy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ken_Wilber#Pre.2Ftrans_fallacy

    3. You wrote: “But on first glance, there does seem to be a remarkable amount of white straight middle class folks who self-identify as Humanist/Naturalist Pagans, and a remarkable amount of queer, lower-class and other subaltern folks amongst the polytheists.”

    This definitely deserves more exploration.

    4. >”My experience of Divine Trauma …”

    Thank you for sharing this. Nuf said.

    5. >”The moment you start listening to the voices outside yourself, you begin to recognize all the voices within, too. Not all of our thoughts are our own, nor are they from the gods.”

    I still can’t help but wonder how much of this difference is one of semantics. Some people define “self” and “within” more capaciously than others.

    6. >”Jung’s theories are new.”

    I just need to say that not all, or even the majority, of self-identified Humanistic/Naturalistic Pagans I have spoken to embrace the Jungian paradigm or terminology, although many other Neo-Pagans do obviously. I think most HPs and NPs think Jung was more of a mystic than a scientist. (I agree.)

    7. >”By asserting our retorts are aggressive, they proclaim us to be given to violence, off-hinge, and uncivil.”

    I think you have to acknowledge that there have been “violent, off-hinge, and uncivil” responses … on both sides. I would include Galina’s “call to arms” and Sannion threatening to punch me. And some of my off the cuff responses.

    8. >”By declaring us hypersensitive, they further marginalize our complaints to that of someone unable to understand adult conversation or inherent intent, to someone also perhaps mentally unstable.”

    The statement I made about hypersensitivity was directed to you, and should not be taken out of context. I was referring to the inference you drew from my suggestion that Gaiman’s book may have had something to do with the growth of hard polytheism in the last decade. You responded, “Has it ever occurred to you that we might not be infantile and incapable of distinguishing fiction from the very real gods who speak to us?” I replied: “Has it ever occurred to you that a work of fiction may open a person up to having a very real experience. There’s nothing delusional or unintelligent about that. I don’t know if you’ve read the book. But I found it to be powerful. It’d be kinda nice if certain devotional polytheists would stop being so hypersensitive.” You may not be hypersenstive generally, but your response in that case was.

    9. > By claiming our beliefs are ahistorical and possibly inspired and derived from a somewhat popular urban-fantasy book., they seek to de-legitimize our religious experiences as inauthenthic.”

    See above.

    10. >”And by repeating doubts and concerns about our processes of mental discernment, they suggest we are impetuous, unenlightened, illegitimate children who have not put any real thought into our beliefs.”

    So the question is off limits? I guess that’s one difference I think between devotional hard-polythesits and Naturalistic Pagans. No question is off limits to the latter. That’s why #3 above.

    11. >”We can offer our experiences to those who are afraid, perhaps terrified to give up modern and empty notions of “control.” We can show them that an Other world is possible, and we can build it with them.”

    Yes. Thank you for continuing to be willing to dialogue. This was the point of my post: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/2013/09/21/cherish-our-polytheists-the-balkanization-of-our-community-and-what-is-at-stake/#comment-1143589086

    • Rhyd Wildermuth

      Hello, John! You are welcome here–one of my devotions to Brighid is specifically to welcome anyone who comes to my door (and sometimes finds their way onto my couch in the middle of the night because I never locked my door, but always made them blueberry pancakes)–I intend for this to extend to this site, as well.

      Thank you for reading this, as my purpose was twofold; both to explore the reasons why the debates between polytheists and humanist/naturalists get so heated without resolution, why they are so apparently repetitive, and also to try to explore the radical potentiality of polytheism (and by extension, all of Paganism) while giving everyone tools to give words to understand precisely what the conflicts were about and were becoming.

      I’m of course speaking only for myself, but I fear greatly that the unexamined reactions and discourse on all sides will destroy the radical Pagan project. I can hardly speak for Gallina and Sannion any more than I can speak for you; that being said, I have great respect for them. I also would not want to be punched by Sannion, because I generally don’t like being punched. Or pinched, or slapped. I also don’t want to see you punched by Sannion, because I think that might really, really hurt. So would a punch from Gallina.

      But no one’s punching anyone yet, and us druids have kinda a sacred duty to make sure that doesn’t happen unnecessarily.

      Please, too, remember the post you wrote about the gods Sannion and Gallina primarily worship and–sometimes speak on behalf–being gods one should highly consider avoiding. When I read that and did not actually know anything more about the participants than that there was some internet war going on (yes, there was a time 5 months ago when I’d never even heard of, say, Teo Bishop!), it appeared to be an attack. And, as has been my intention with this, I won’t link to that post specifically because I don’t want the wars to flare up again if they don’t need to. And I don’t think they need to.

      I hope you don’t mind if I respond more generally to your points, as getting drawn into specifics feels like wasted time (and any mis-step one of us makes in language could start the punching).

      The first–much of the discourse starts first from a Modernist/Materialist foundation and, as such, makes demands upon the experience of Polytheists which they actually cannot ever satisfactorily fulfill. It isn’t that certain questions are off-limits; rather, it’s that certain questions allow only certain answers and we cannot answer them without being false to our experiences. The questions often delimit and function (regardless of intent) as modes of control (again, regardless of intent). This, I think, is why so many people have answered your questions about their experiences with complaints of feeling “trapped.” Changing the method of inquiry would open up a lot more dialogue between polytheists and others and would greatly ease unnecessary tension.

      Another matter is this, and I think this gets very close to the core of both experiences. There is an implicit threat in each position that cannot be resolved. If the polytheists are correct (that is, that the gods are real, are outside of ourselves) than the naturalist/humanist position is necessarily false. Naturalists would then be actively denying the gods, and thus allowing for the potential for truth within polytheism for a Naturalist seems impossible.

      On the other hand, if the Naturalists are correct, than all the experiences of the Polytheists are made up (or, if charity wins out and all the naturalists accept Jung’s compromise, are perceiving things as external which are actually part of an expansionary Self).

      This abyss can be bridged, by the way. There’s a really simple one that doesn’t involve mass conversion or internet crusades or fist-fights. It really isn’t inconceivable that there would be people who live in a world full of gods who don’t worship any of them. Consider: if a Naturalist/Humanist Pagan worships 0 gods, and I actively worship 4 gods, but there are probably countless gods, in essence, on the outside, my worship of 4 gods is numerically closer to, say, B.T. Newberg’s worship of no gods.

      If the Naturalists/Humanists (can you folks come up with a really interesting name? just for ease of typing?) could allow that we polytheists acknowledge gods while themselves remaining at the very least politely agnostic about the existence of the gods, than I think much would actually clear up. We already assume there are people who don’t worship the gods and we don’t go around punching them (in fact, the non-Pagan ones are generally more likely to punch us). I think this is what PSVL was getting at with polytheism and pluralism. The non-theist or Naturalist/Humanist/Jungian Pagan position is not currently pluralistic.

      By the way, this was going to be the subject of my next post here, a suggestion on how non-theists can be true to their beliefs through pluralism and thus not attempt to remake our beliefs to fit theirs.

      Again, thanks for coming by.

      • John Halstead

        Thank you. You’ve given me a lot to consider, especially your point above about “changing the method of inquiry”.

        P.S. I wish we could do better on the name. The consensus is “Naturalistic Pagans”, but that creates confusion like with CBrachyrhynchos’ comment above.

      • CBrachyrhynchos

        My objection here is the same as I’ve made previously and made to Beckett. Your generalizations of Materialism, Religious Naturalism, and Religious Humanism are selective and erase key influences and traditions from this discussion. So for example:

        On the other hand, if the Naturalists are correct, than all the experiences of the Polytheists are made up (or, if charity wins out and all the naturalists accept Jung’s compromise, are perceiving things as external which are actually part of an expansionary Self).

        I quite explicitly would not make that claim. If I’m correct, then tangible things in the world around me are worth listening to as Beings with moral weight. *I* might be the unenlightened one in this conversation. I don’t know. Furthermore, it’s missing the point. The point is that Mouse was sacred, and I’m beholden to Mouse. Mouse was what I experienced Mouse to be.

        It’s not my job to interpret your experience with your Gods. I can’t because I don’t have an ethnographic understanding of those experiences.

        Which on another note, agnosticism and ignosticism are, from my perspective, baked into Religious Naturalism and Religious Humanism, and have been for over a century.

        By the way, this was going to be the subject of my next post here, a suggestion on how non-theists can be true to their beliefs through pluralism and thus not attempt to remake our beliefs to fit theirs.

        I cringe, because I don’t think you or I can make useful generalizations about non-theists.

    • Ruadhán J McElroy

      So the question is off limits? I guess that’s one difference I think between devotional hard-polythesits and Naturalistic Pagans. No question is off limits to the latter. That’s why #3 above.

      Really, now? Cos I can think of several questions that I asked you, all of which you refused to answer. So either you’ve changed your mind, or you’re lying.

  • CBrachyrhynchos

    I think some clarification of terminology is important here. In my experience, Religious Naturalism is:

    1. the veneration of things that exist in the living world
    2. grounded in critiques of reductionism including The Gaia Hypothesis, complexity, systems theory, Deep Ecology, ethnography, and ecofeminism
    3. open to mystical experience
    4. open to multiple interpretations of mystical experience
    5. a moral and ethical claim about our ecological relationships, not necessarily a metaphysical one.

    • Rhyd Wildermuth

      CBrachyrhynchos- do you have a blog yet? I really think there are quite a few people who would read your thoughts. Actually, I know of one person already who would besides me, and she specifically asked me if you had a blog because she wanted to know more. Additionally, explaining your understanding of the world in essay form would really help me understand it. : )

      I of course can’t make “useful” generalizations about the actual beliefs of anyone. However–and here’s why I’m even trying any of this in the first place–I can make observations about relationality amongst people who are trying to get along but keep fighting in often ridiculous ways. Some of these observations might even be useful. It would appear already that at least some polytheists who have read this maybe found a useful way of understanding the conflict (and you’ll notice there’s been no bloodshed, so that’s a start) and maybe some of the Naturalists did as well. I try to make clear that I can’t speak for polytheists in general, and I certainly won’t try to speak for people who believe something utterly different from myself. But I can make suggestions on what might help everyone who wants to share the term Pagan get along without offending each other all the time.

  • juliaergane

    Khaire Rhyd, I thank you for your cogent explanation of why Polytheists like myself do not care to even talk with pagans (I don’t like that term for a religion). (I do not even know what ethnic religious tradition they are attempting — oh, I forgot, Wicca was created in the 20th Century), so I will call them Wiccans, Wiccanesques or neo-Wiccans. Ceremonial Magic, I believe, was created by Crowley in the 19th Century. And I believe there is a dollop of Free-Masonry in it as well. I think he (AC) tried to take some of the strange stuff from late, late antiquity religion (when the Gnostics and other Christian cults were around). Again, this is a mess of dramatics (fill-in-the-blank). Yes, I try to ignore much of it. Even in antiquity it was the plaything of philosophers. (I was an honors graduate in History.) This is more stuff for you, Rhyd. This type of intellectual masturbation is also shown in the New Atheist movement as well, so we are not alone in this as well among the so-called Mythicists (this is a controversy in Bib Lit that I like to follow). The lack of historical knowledge, debate skills and logic is one of the most frightening things ever since there is little to no reason any more to have some of the big hoorahs anymore.
    Now, back to religion. The main purpose of religion is the development of the relationship of the person/community to the Gods. It is that simple. It is through the pious giving of prayer and sacrifice. Schools of philosophy developed in order to discuss ethics and morals, metaphysics, etc. Tradition came into effect in how to maintain purity in the sanctuaries/temenoi of the Gods. It was early Judaism which combined the two (circa 500BCE). A while ago I was speaking with a friend of mine who, besides currently being a lawyer, has a graduate degree in divinity from Yale University. We discussed this and he agreed that putting ethics as a legalism was probably a very bad thing and that it would have been better to have kept it as Midrash. But, now we are completely off topic. Anyway, I know the Gods exist apart from my physical being. They may not be in our dimensions; but, the exist.

    • Rhyd Wildermuth

      Hello! Thanks for the response!

      I lean heavily towards identifying as Pagan (while still being a “hard” polytheist). There are reasons for this, both personally and more generally. Though the Wiccan/Neo-Wiccan discourse is quite different from polytheism, it’s also got a lot more in common with polytheism than many other tendencies. Granted, the identification of all-goddesses-are-the-Goddess doesn’t fit (at all) with my experiences of the goddesses I worship, though they certainly work in concert. And generally Wiccans seem rather sympathetic with the arguments of polytheism and naturalism. I know many people find their first entry point to the gods through Wicca as a system/religion and then suddenly find that the Goddess they worshipped actually has a name different from others.

      I intend to write more on maintaining the Pagan label; to be honest, though, it sometimes gets awfully frustrating to sort out the differences. I’m rather optimistic, though.

      • David Dashifen Kees

        I, for one, am also optimistic regarding such efforts and look forward to your explorations. Thank you. Really, I struggle a lot with my self-identification of Pagan because so much of what I want in my life often seems out side that label and it’s very fortifying to find someone like your self writing about the topics you do.

      • Rhyd Wildermuth

        I’m honored you find my writing helpful! Thanks and you’re welcome. :)

  • A non-polytheist pagan black woman

    What? I’m a pagan woman of color and I find this whole polytheists vs humanist pagan debate incredibly silly. I don’t know where the author lives, but in the US pagans, newagers, polytheists, all of us added together we only make up 0.4% of the population. And I don’t know about anyone else but when I look around at the pagan community I notice most under the tent are either Wiccans or Wiccanish pagan duotheists. This would make both humanist pagans and polytheist the minorities in a minority religious movement. Social justice 101, a group must have power and control to be able to oppress another group. In the US the assumed religious default is Christianity. I am sorry but I don’t believe either group has the real power to oppress the other. This is just two religious minorities having an ugly online disagreement with each other.

    When humanist pagans start firing their polytheist employees, kicking polytheists out of their homes, or taking polytheist children away from their parents, just for being polytheists, then feel free to call humanistic pagans the oppressor.

    PS white people quit assuming we POC are going to side with you just because you feel like you’re being oppressed. Thank you.

    • Rhyd Wildermuth

      Hello, and thanks for your comment!

      You are correct–from my observations, the majority of self-identifying Pagans are from the Wiccan traditions.

      The point of my post was not to declare that one side was oppressing the other; rather, that the discourse unfortunately copied quite a bit of the language of marginalization. The only subaltern group I claim identity with, besides “lower-class,” is queer, and I’m quite aware that the struggles of queers are not precisely parallel to those of other subaltern groups (and I wouldn’t dare claim otherwise).

      Also, my attempt was to show that the adoption of the same strategy that queers use (adoption and transformation of the belittling speech into something else) could work for polytheists and, more importantly, all Pagans. Specifically, the fact that we are all an insanely small minority in America (as you say) should radicalize us in our relationships with dominance and also give us impetus to ally ourselves with other subaltern groups. (Please note–I’m using “subaltern” specifically as it’s the preferred term in post-colonial discourse).

      My personal politics are extremely left-wing (that is, “radical,”)–I really wouldn’t mind seeing Paganism becoming another voice for the destruction of Capitalism, Imperialism and Racism (and thus my statements at the end). One of those steps would be addressing internalized hierarchical modes borrowed from society at large, including the language we use.

      Towards that end, do you have any other ideas how we might do that? I think we would all greatly benefit from more voices. In fact we need them. Thanks again.

      • Rhyd Wildermuth

        Also, I would briefly mention one more thing: The polarity or dualistic thinking within Paganism runs the risk of being a false-dichotomy. I attempted to address this in my most recent Sense of Place post:

  • thisica

    I believe in change, not progress. I remember that the people of the Enlightenment were flawed human animals, just as we are today. Kant used the term “Enlightenment” in his article “What is Enlightenment?” One of the most important parts of that article says thus:

    “Sapere aude! Have courage to use your own understanding!”

    Though he meant something along the lines of utilising one’s capacity to reason…for me, it means that we should have courage in affirming our understanding of our experiences, even when other people think that they know better than we do. People had struggled to get out of the old ways of thinking about the world–hence the rejection of scholastic philosophy in the 17th century, as it ignored the wider world and was obsessive to a fault with old philosophical authorities. This struggle was only half-won, though, since people were unable to make sense of what obligations they had towards each other and the world. Hence the obsession with freedom.

    Unfortunately, I feel that the discussion around what happened during the Enlightenment has turned into a kind of resentfulness for the ambiguous legacies of the Enlightenment. I prefer to work with it–and out of personal history, I have no choice. Both the Parliament of Mind–including Alexandria–and Hecate has forced this on me. It’s painful, but better being present and honest than to run away from one’s history. And to me, that means all of natural history that we are only starting to get a glimpse of due to modern research. I see past the filter of superficial understanding of what science is…and see glimmers of a wonderful story of both humans and nonhumans, worked at by many people in the world. We must not forget that dedication that seems at times to look absurd, even crazy, that researchers have. In my opinion, some of them speak for nonhumans we barely notice in everyday life.

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