Monday, August 22, 2016

Pagan Entitlement, Pagan Hypocrisy

There's an interesting case over at Pathetic Pagan involving accusations of "entitlement" among the neopagan community. Bekah Evie Bel wrote an article entitled Pagans Really Are an Entitled Bunch, which itself was a reaction to an article over at Witches & Pagans by Steven Posch entitled Can a Pagan Woman, in Good Conscience, Go to Uluru?

The original article discussed the propriety of female neopagans going to an Aṉangu (one of several types of Aboriginal Australians) holy site where females are banned. It was purely an exercise in virtue signalling, though, and seemed to only have been written to express the "This is me respecting non-European religions" and "This is me not mansplaining." The conclusion was essentially "ask an Australian woman neopagan," making the reader wonder why it was written in the first place, except to put the aforementioned virtue signalling on display, because he fails to provide an answer to his own question.

But the article reacting to it was much more interesting, and is actually what I would like to respond to here. Rather than praising Posch's piece as being respectful of Aṉangu religion, she blasts it for the assumption that Aṉangu = Pagan:
This is an example of a Pagan who seems to think that just because they follow a religion that is not Abrahamic, then they of course are entitled to the sacred spaces of all peoples, everywhere, that are also not Abrahamic.  So, Native American sacred spaces are also Pagan spaces.  Uluru, a sacred space for Australian Aboriginals is also a sacred space for Pagans.
Because don’t you know, we are all one and the same, fighting off the evils and indoctrinations of Christianity and its ilk.

That's the "Pagan Entitlement" mentioned in the title of his piece. It's the automatic assumption that other cultures, religions, and traditions are fair game for inclusion in neopagan ritual, simply by virtue of the fact that they're not Christian, Jewish, or Muslim. 

That's a sentiment that I, as a folkish Heathen, can absolutely relate to, because it's an issue that lies at the heart of folkish Heathenry. The idea that every culture, every folk, is entitled to practice its own religious and other traditions without someone else barging in and claiming it for their own. That's a terrific point, and one I wish more neopagans (and Asatruar, for that matter) would adopt.

Now, Bel is writing specifically about sacred spaces, but the principle applies equally to sacred traditions in general. Just as Bel wouldn't think of climbing the sacred mountain that is forbidden to women by Aṉangu religious taboo, I'm sure neither would she impose herself on an Aṉangu ritual elsewhere without some sort of appropriate invitation. Which is a good thing.

So when it comes to Aboriginal, Native American, and other non-European cultures, respect and forbearance are the watchwords. As they should be.

But here's where the hypocrisy comes in. Although Bel is more than willing to extend that principle to Aboriginal and other non-European religions and cultures, when it comes to the pre-Christian cultures and religions of ancient Europe, the rule seems to go out the window. Behold what she had to say a couple of months ago in another article entitled Ancestors and Heritage in Paganism:
And yet I am mostly Hellenic, with perhaps no Greek lines at all.  Because the Gods call who They will and who are we to gainsay Them?  Well, obviously we can refuse Them.  But you cannot refuse Them to me.
But this can be a contentious stance as well.  For some religions, the idea of the Gods calling to people outside of the ancestral lines is, well, blasphemous I suppose.  This is apparently true within Heathenism*, where the people are, in some way, descendants of the Gods!  So, not being of that line, you cannot be called by Them.
*Try not to quote me on that though, I don’t have enough knowledge of Heathenry to say this is true, but it is said by some Heathens.
The above has some detractors, the idea is that it is not impossible for the Aesir to call on people who are not of the right ancestral lines – I guess for spreading the religion and growing numbers?  I only have my Hellenic perspective, which says, the Gods will take everything and everyone because they are greedy.  So, to me, the idea that Aesir and Vanir would have two different types of people they call on, one for purity purposes and one for growth purposes, is not something that seems wrong to me.  But, my view is distinctly Hellenic.
Setting aside the use of the prejudicial term "blasphemous," which isn't how I would describe it, she definitely comes down on the universalist side of the equation. So it's bad to do when it's an aboriginal or Amerindian religion, but it's okay to do when it's a European religion. Putting one race in a different status than all others? I'm pretty sure that's the definition of racism.

Digeridoo and handpan? That's cultural
. Because no kid outside of
Australia ever turned a metal pot upside
down and banged on it.
But what if the Aṉangu gods call to me? She just said that's possible. Of course, she does have a bit of a weaseling explanation to get out of that one, that is based entirely in a double-standard:
But I also caution respect for the original adherents of a religion, especially a current culture, such as with Native Americans and Aus Aboriginals.  It’s one thing to choose a “dead” religion with oft ignored Gods or entities, it’s another to try to take from a living religion and culture that may take exception to your choice.
So it's okay to respect aboriginal religion because it's a "living" religion, but it's not necessary to do with Germanic or Hellenic religion because those are "dead." Conveniently, all of the religions that would be fair game for neopagan appropriation are European.

But of course, once a religion has been revived, as Asatru has since the 1970's, is it really dead any more? Wouldn't the fact that there are tens of thousands of Asatruar alive in the world right now make her point about it being a "dead" religion moot?

And what about non-European "dead" religions? What about Central American religions? If a white guy wanted to start wearing a loincloth and worship Quetzalcoatl, wouldn't that be okay because it's a "dead" religion? Or would that be appropriation because it's a Native American religion, even though it's no longer practiced? What about Khemetic (Egyptian) religion? A lot of African-Americans like to claim ancient Egypt as their own; does the fact that Khemetic Orthodoxy here in the U.S. explicitly denies a racial component, and its current leader is whiter than an extra in a Cecil B. DeMille movie*, amount to appropriation?

I don't make these points so much to knock on Bel as to point out the vast tangle of inconsistencies and outright hypocrisy that can occur when one tries to make different standards for different races, even with the best of intentions. In the end, the best and most consistent way to handle these sorts of issues is the folkish position. Let everyone worship the gods and goddesses of their own ancestors. The only ones left out are the ones who want to appropriate the gods of someone else's ancestors. And I'm perfectly okay with leaving them out.

* Update: I am told she is half Amerindian. Which, fine, but it still doesn't bring her any closer to Africa. Or does it...?

Monday, July 25, 2016

No local events? There's a solution for that...

The other day, a couple people on Facebook commented on an upcoming event I've got posted there, wishing there were more events in their area. This was my reply (a little bit expanded); I hope you find it useful.

If you want to see events near you, the answer is to set up an event near you and see who says they can come. Don't wait for someone else to set it up.

It could be a nature hike, or a pub moot (getting together for dinner and drinks), or a book club, or a meet-and-greet, or visiting some local museum with Viking or Scandinavian or German themed exhibits, or a full-blown blót, or coffee at the local Starbucks, or a viewing party for the premier of Vikings on History Channel, or a movie night at your house, or anything else.

But the onus is on you to make it happen. Come up with an idea you think is fun, interesting, or relevant. See who's in your area who can come. Worst thing that happens is nobody can make it.

And if nobody shows up the first time? Keep doing it. You never know when someone is going to stumble on your event who's twenty minutes away from you. Keep at it. None of our kindreds or tribes were built overnight. We all kept at it, over years. Don't be afraid to try, and don't get discouraged right out of the gate.

AHHHH! Demon cat!
Put your event up on Facebook, but don't just rely on Facebook! Ask your local AFA folkbuilder to get you in touch directly with other Afar (I love that term for AFA members). Put up notices in your local Pagan bookstore. Put up something on (it's old, but active, and people still go there). Join a local pagan or heathen group on, or start your own. If there's something more locally relevant, post something there. Hel, I put up fliers in local grocery stores and laundromats.

And don't be afraid of the personal touch. I make it a point to ask everyone I see wearing a Thor's hammer if they're Asatru or not. One of our newly regular faces was someone I happened to meet in the parking lot of the local supermarket. I gave him one of our flyers, and now he's a regular. (That's another thing; always have a card, or a flyer, or something handy. I keep a stack of them in my car at all times, for exactly this sort of case.)

And if I can offer any advice, or help, or anything else, just ask. Or better yet, ask your local AFA folkbuilders. That's what they're there for. I'm just a guy with a tribe in New Jersey.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Bölverkr's whetstone

There's a passage in Skáldskaparmál that a lot of people find a bit obscure. It deals with Odin's scheme to steal Sutting's mead:
Odin departed from home and came to a certain place where nine thralls were mowing hay. He asked if they desired him to whet their scythes, and they assented. Then he took a hone from his belt and whetted the scythes; it seemed to them that the scythes cut better by far, and they asked that the hone be sold them. But he put such a value on it that whoso desired to buy must give a considerable price: nonetheless all said that they would agree, and prayed him to sell it to them. He cast the hone up into the air; but since all wished to lay their hands on it, they became so intermingled with one another that each struck with his scythe against the other's neck.
The question is, why would the thralls be so intent on getting that whetstone? If you ever wondered about the value of a sharp scythe, wonder no more:

Monday, July 11, 2016

Priorities, Part 2

A real quick update to my earlier post on the priorities of the folks over at Gods & Radicals. I thought it might be instructive to take a look at the posts over there during the last month (Jun 11 - Jul 11) and see just how many dealt with topics relating to magic, paganism, Heathenry, etc. I did my counts just based on the tags they apply to their own posts; nothing subjective on my part.

The results are as unsurprising as one might expect. Out of thirty posts over the last thirty days, a grand total of eight were tagged with something relevant to religion; paganism, polytheism, magic, etc.

That's just a smidgen over a quarter. Only 27% of their posts in the last month, by their own tagging system, had to do with Gods. Even if you take out their Weekly Updates, which are a sort of grab-bag that don't have any specific tags relating to the content within, their rate only goes up to 32%. Still pretty pathetic for a site that puts the word "Gods" at the beginning of their name.

Perhaps they should rebrand themselves as "Radicals (and Occasionally Gods)."

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Kutztown Folk Festival

Yesterday the tribe went on a day trip to visit the Kutztown Folk Festival, a nine-day (!) celebration of all things Pennsylvania German (or Pennsylvania Dutch - even within the community, there is division on which is correct).

To get the mundane stuff out of the way; the festival was a total blast, and I highly encourage everyone to go next year. It was much larger than I expected, the food was one of the showpieces of the thing (all home made and entirely delicious) and the craftspeople selling their wares seemed on the whole to be the people who actually made what they were selling. From the extraordinary woodwork and quilts (of course quilts) to metalwork and hex signs, this wasn't just a trip where you could find the same stuff on Amazon. These were the labors of individual craftsmen, and it showed.

I myself came away with a hoard of new books on Pennsylvania German culture, particularly their folk-magical practice of Pow-Wow/Braucherei/Hexerei, hex signs, and a wonderful book on Groundhog Lodges. Yes. Groundhog Lodges.

But what I really wanted to touch on was the reason why this sort of thing would be of interest to us as Asatruar.

One of the great things about the Pennsylvania Germans is the fact that they represent a sort of time capsule of pre-Industrial Germanic culture. It goes way beyond the stereotypical Amish or Mennonites; these are, for the most part, modern folks living a modern lifestyle that happens to include strong ties back to the Palatinate in Germany. There are ties of language, custom, and religion that hearken back to a time in Germanic society that predates the coming of industrialization, and in some cases arguably before the coming of Christianity.

Since there is strong evidence that continental German culture and religion is strongly related to that of Scandinavia and England, the interest of such things to Asatru, which attempts to restore ancient pre-Christian Germanic religion, is obvious. It is possible to "de-Christianize" some elements, as the Urglawee experiment is attempting to do.

Strong evidence of the continuity of Germanic culture between Scandinavia and southern Germany can also be seen in their respective folk-magical practices; Trolldomr and Pow-Wow/ Braucherei/ Hererei. There are practices that are almost identical across both practices, and which can additionally be seen in the early conversion-era penitentials from the 5th century onwards, that speak of a commonality amongst the various Germanic tribal groups. There are similar commonalities between folk-practices which, on examination, can be traced back to possible religious sources as well.

There were local variations to be sure, but the core seems to have been consistent. And the example of the Pennsylvania Germans is a window into that core that has retained its unique character well into the 20th century. It is, alas, dying out in the face of the relentless march of the global monoculture and American commercial society to homogenize everything, but fortunately we still have examples that we can reapply to our own work in preserving and reconstructing Germanic religion.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Vanatru - is it needed?

There is a significant number of people who, when the term "Asatru" is used, chime in with "but I worship the Vanir, too." I confess I really don't understand that need to differentiate between the two, as it is incorrect as far as the literary record, not to mention deriving much of its motivation from completely outdated ideas of history.

Mythologically, the Aesir and the Vanir were described as two powerful tribes of gods, who went to war with one another, probably over the question of which tribe of gods could receive worship and offerings from humans. The war was ended by a peace treaty, and hostages were exchanged between the two sides. The Vanir received Hœnir and Mimir as hostages, while the Aesir received Njordr and Ingve/Freyr. Interestingly, Snorri's account in Ynglingasaga doesn't mention Freyja being sent as a hostage per se. She simply shows up among the Aesir, and is appointed to the post of high priestess of sacrifices. Her father and brother are similarly appointed as sacrificial priests.

But the key point here is that, mythologically, the Vanir disappear as a group after the death of Mimir. Assuming they are not simply known by a different name in the written sources*, our sole representatives of the Vanir tribe, Njord, Ingve/Freyr, and Freyja. And they are invariably referred to as Aesir in the written sources, after the point in mythological time when the Aesir-Vanir war is concluded, and they are integrated into Aesir society.

Whenever we are presented with lists of Aesir, Njord, Ingve/Freyr, and Freyja are included. Many have taken this to mean that the ON word Áss (plural Æsir) is somehow a generic term for divine beings. I think a much more likely interpretation of the usage here is that those three hostages did not retain their original Vanic identity, but were quickly absorbed into the Aesir tribe and assumed that tribal identity. As a chief example, when the Prose Edda introduces Ingve/Freyr and his sister Freyja, they are explicitly said to be of the Aesir:
Freyr is the most renowned of the Æsir; he rules over the rain and the shining of the sun, and therewithal the fruit of the earth; and it is good to call on him for fruitful seasons and peace. He governs also the prosperity of men. But Freyja is the most renowned of the goddesses... (Gylfaginning 24, Brodeur tr.)
And in the original Old Norse, we can see that "goddesses" in the above is originally ásynjum, a female form of the ON word Æsir:
Freyr er inn ágætasti af ásum. Hann ræðr fyrir regni ok skini sólar ok þar með ávexti jarðar, ok á hann er gott at heita til árs ok friðar. Hann ræðr ok fésælu manna. En Freyja er ágætust af ásynjum.
So in terms of the written lore, breaking out Njord, Ingve/Freyr, and Freyja into their own little sub-cult seems unwarranted. Once the war between the two tribes of gods is over, the Aesir take the stage and the three hostages are constantly and consistently referred to as being in their group, using that label. If nothing else, "Aesir" includes them, and so does the term "Asatru".

But a lot of people who like to make the distinction between the three Vanir** and the rest of the Aesir do so based on a false idea of their nature. All too often, we see the Vanir painted as pastoral gods of sex and plenty, forced to war only by the mean and terrible Aesir. In many ways, this hearkens back to the thoroughly-debunked theories of Marija Gimbutas, depicting peace-loving matriarchal earth-goddess-worshiping societies in prehistoric Europe conquered by mean sky-god-worshiping Indo-Europeans. It's complete horseshit historically speaking, but the image is still strong in many peoples' minds, especially those who come to Asatru from neopagan religions such as Wicca.

If nothing else, the written lore again comes to our aid in debunking this particular myth. The Vanir are said to be very powerful warriors, to the point of being able to throw down the walls of Asgard itself, and bring the Aesir to their knees. Freyja is a famous warrior, and equally famous for her ferocity. Not exactly peaceful traits. Ingve/Freyr is noted for a connection with wealth and prosperity, but so too are other Aesir; Odin's ring draupnir is a source of never-ending wealth, for instance, and Thor's hammer is famously used to bless the lap of the bride at weddings, presumably to invoke fertility; his connection with the rains that bring crops is also well-attested and obvious.

So, other than a focus on a particular trio of gods, there doesn't really seem much reason to differentiate the Vanir from the Aesir. And even then, those gods have long been called by the label Aesir, which would even be consistent with ancient Germanic kinship and tribal membership patterns. It's a bit of trendiness and a subtle "wonkier-than-thou" jab that serves no real purpose, and that we really don't need.


* Personally, I believe the Vanir to be the same as the Alfar, for a variety of reasons, but there is certainly no iron-clad evidence in favor of that view, and there is some evidence to argue against it. Perhaps I'll go over that in another post some day.
** The less said about the New Age whack-jobs who want to shanghai gods they happen to like into the Vanir, the better.