Wednesday, April 8, 2015

History, Myth and Genocide: Real and Imagined; Or The Pagan Problem with Patrick

Been working on this particular piece for some time, but it is finally ready to go, and here it is. The third and final installment of my "St. Patrick's Day Trilogy". If you ever need to provide or "prove" to some obstinate, black armband wearing Pagan, that the psudeo-history of the "real" meaning of St. Patrick's Day is bullshit, this is it.



Sunday, February 1, 2015

"Our" Values: Mythology, Media and Identity

A few days ago I had a very interesting conversation with a coworker of mine. A few months back we had gotten to talking about the sorts of television shows we both liked, and one of the recommendations I suggested to him was "Vikings". Now, I thoroughly enjoy the show, am particularly cognizant of how the depictions line up with historic accounts as well as the saga's upon which many of the characters are drawn from, and am particularly fond of the fact that the show hints at the reality of the gods, if heavily reliant on a few specific sources. Anyway, he had finally gotten around to watching a few of the episodes; mostly from season 2 as he had caught them during a weekend "Vikings" marathon. He said that he was really liking the show and the only things that sort of bothered him were the few instances that he dubbed "fantastic".

I inquired to what he was talking about, and he mentioned some particular things: that the Seer has no eyes and that a prophecy which had been made in an earlier episode comes to fruition. He argued that these elements pulled him out of the show as they were simply too fantastic for a series based on "history" was supposed to be. He further explained that another show he enjoyed, "Game of Thrones" establishes itself as firmly in the realm of fantasy because in the very first episode a white walker is shown. In "Vikings", these problematic, fantastical bits are interspersed and occasional, and this bothered him. Now, he was able to see past some of the historic inaccuricies (i.e. that Ragnar Lothbrok was not involved in the raid of Lindisfarne), justifying it by creative license, but he was really hung up on the overtly fantastic things.

My first response was to try and explain that the worldview presented in the show is supposed to be reflective of the pre-Christian Norse cultures, and that such things were present in the Saga's, one of the major sources of the show (as well as some particular sources, i.e. Adam of Bremen). These elements were part of the saga literature, and what is more part of the worldview of these people during the period this show is supposed to represent. Still, it was all too "Game of Thronesy", and really shouldn't have been part of something which was supposed to be historical.

So I brought up an example of a historical film to use as a comparison: Braveheart. My associate had no issues with Braveheart, even though a ridiculous degree of artistic licence was taken, particularly the depiction of Princess Isabella. In the film she is portrayed as a rather fetching adult, who among other things sleeps with William Wallace, conceiving the child who would become Edward III. What a great plot twist, and what a way to give Edward longshanks his comeuppance. Except that at the time of Wallace's death, Isabella was nine, and had yet to set foot in England. I came up with another example, this time less an issue of a historians quibble, but rather a popular depiction of a fantastic act within a none the less within the context of a historic film:  Moses parting the Red Sea, as depicted in, lets say "Prince of Egypt". My friend countered with, "well that's part of our perception; that's something which is something everyone grew up with and recognizes."

To conclude this conversation, I made the following case: So you are perfectly fine with awesome miracles being depicted, like a lone person parting a massive body of water, and still understanding the film as historic? You are also fine with egregious artistic licence being taken which significantly alters known history, and still cut the film some slack? But a prophecy being made about a child being born a monster (i.e. having a deformed pupil) and coming true, or a man having no eyes, is beyond the pale of credulity? Yes apparently, and my associate provided the reasoning in his response to my inquiry about cinematic depictions of Moses; he identified that story as "his" or "ours", in a collective sense. The story of Moses is part of "our" collective mythology and purported history. There is good reason that the producers of "The Bible" TV miniseries some years ago had the tagline "The story of all of us" accompany it, they knew it was true, and that it would resonate with their audiences, western TV viewership.

True, at least, in the sense that a considerable majority of people would agree with such an idea. For all the secularist and church-state barriers, culturally "we" are Christian. Or if this is too much of an absolute statement, then it would be more accurate to say that the religious perspective which informs western culture, and what is "normal", is a Christian one. And, you know, birds go tweet. It is a remarkably obvious realization, at least when you are coming at it from outside such a perspective. It isn't as if my associate is particularly devout or pious; he does not attend regular church or religious services, and to top it all of he does not really identify as a Christian. Yet, when confronted with something from outside of established standards of "familiar miracles", even when exceptionally banal in comparison, it has to be removed from the realm of history and relegated to the realm of fantasy, where such depictions are acceptable.

The adage that "my religion is someone else's mythology" is not a new concept, but it remains an apt observation. It is a realization which many who come from a religious perspective outside the mainstream understand early on, but within the mainstream it is a radical concept. It did not, even for a second, occur to my colleague that perhaps this was not a fantastic element added as an embellishment for dramatic flare, but rather an actual historic occurrence. Now, I am absolutely not advocating for either a literalistic interpretation of Saga literature (or any other mythic account) or for the historic veracity of this particular event. I bring this idea up to illustrate the insidious cultural double standard endemic in western thought about religion and myth. Where one perspective is taken at face value, even for granted, but others are weird, oh and probably made up.

I think there is great value in representing the worldview of the given group one is presenting as accurately as possible. Vikings, if nothing else, does this very well for a historical drama in 2015 (not withstanding some sanitizing elements, relating to human sacrifice), and despite my colleagues disapproval, it is something which makes it more, and not less, accurate.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Canard of "Pagan Fundamentalism" or Reconstructionists are meanies

I came across a recent blog post on a rather heavily trafficked Pagan webPortal decrying "Pagan Fundamentalists", speaking out against these fiendish ne'erdowells who seem more at home with the likes of Fred Phelps or Jerry Falwell than Cathbad or Amergin. I have had disagreements with this particular blogger in the past (won't link to her blog, but its pretty easy to find), and so such proclamations and prescriptions are not terribly surprising. Of note is the list of fundamentalist "tells", or if ___________, you may be a Pagan fundamentalist,

They are listed as follows:

  • The belief that your engagement with deity–worship, perception and gnosis, interpretation of texts, magical work, etc.–is the correct form of engagement, and other forms are not only incorrect, but offensive to the deity and harmful to the practitioner;
  • The belief that this form of engagement must be followed to the letter, with no aberrations or lapses, and must be kept pure no matter what;
  • The belief that your role in religion is one of subservience, and you have no choice in the matter–that deities are your masters, and bad things will happen to you if you don’t obey them;
  • The belief that gods do not evolve alongside human civilization; rather, they reached maturity at the time their myths were recorded, and it is your duty as a practitioner to adapt your worldview to their recorded sensibilities, no matter how archaic, irrelevant, or just plain wrong those sensibilities may seem;
  • The belief that the age of myth-making is long over, and you are bound to the texts, stories, and practices that the deities revealed to your ancestors, which are perfect and complete.
The list reads, if not as a laundry list of recon-strawmen, pretty close to it (fleshed out by the rest of the blog), but lets look at each of them individually.

"There is only one right way, and it is my way, and you are doin' it wrong!"

If this comes across as a rejection of the very basic concept of orthopraxy, then congratulations you have a foundational understanding of a great deal of ancient, polytheistic religion. Orthopraxy (orthopraxis) is the concept that correct action (specifically in a ritualized context) is key in ones correspondences and interactions with the gods, far more so than correct belief (or orthodoxy). I personally have no problem with folks being creative and doing whatever it is they feel speaks to them on a spiritual level (all forms of cultural appropriation not withstanding). 

Where I draw the line, however, is when it comes to making the leap from personal practice to broader conclusions or claims which are supposedly drawn from cultural continuums or customs. This is the essential theme which is going to run throughout this particular post, but it is important enough to bear repetition. If you are going to be worshiping deities from a specific culture, than it is wise and respectful to understand that culture, and how those deities were worshiped in that culture. Despite what an infuriatingly high number of Pagans (and far less so with folks who identify as polytheists) seem to think, the gods are not generic, universal* forms and it is disrespectful to treat them as plug and play components of ones ritual or magical practice. Likewise it is problematic to adopt elements of a given cultural perspective, while ignoring the context or functionality of that particular element. Folkways and rituals are not neutral techniques do be divested of cultural trappings so that they may be utilized as "spiritual technologies". 

For folks of my ilk, that is to say polytheists who recognize that the gods and spirits of place are real beings, what you do and where you do it are vitally important. The places we live and the spaces we occupy are all shared with those beings; being aware and respectful of this is a foundational component of GRP and a number of other traditions. To not be concerned with the possibility of offending the gods or spirits of place shows a decidedly impious approach to worship and ritual. While I can appreciate the concern of "my way or the highway" forms of religion, the proviso which is missing from such accusations is that orthopraxy matters. Orthopraxy is not (or ought not be, outliers and all that) decided upon the basis of "I think this, so this is right!" but "Consensus teaches, tradition teaches". 

Which, again, is not to say that deference is automatically given to something because it is held to be traditional, but because there is a good reason to do so. There is a reason that traditional folkways have endured, and that is because they reinforce the worldview they stem from. The best traditions are based on sound foundations of ethics and ethos. Values like reciprocity, hospitality, honour and respect are all virtues which stem from communal perspectives where the community comes before the individual. This is anathema to modern, western and particularly American proclivities when it comes to the individual and the group. So, perhaps, this is why folks who do not see the value in a community based ethos but on individual gnosis alone have such a hard time with understanding the basis of orthopraxy and confuse and conflate it with self righteous spirituality.

"We have no room for your filthy ritual contamination!"

This is really just piggybacking for the sake of being a pedant, but all too often this concept of "pure, untainted ritual" is yet another favourite recon-strawman. I've yet to encounter polytheistic folks who are under the delusion that they are practicing some pure, unbroken line of ritualized devotion where syncretism has never happened (neoWiccans or Wiccanesque folks on the other hand...).

What I understand the complaint to be is that when folks try their best to understand ritual from within a given cultural context, and to reproduce that as much as possible (because they want to honour the gods of that culture in that cultures own ways), that they are being elitist. Further, and this seems to be where things begin to get stuck in peoples craws, when it is pointed out that folks who incorporate non-cultural elements into those rituals, are doing so, then those elites turn into fundamentalists! Buh, buh buh! (dramatic groundhog).

Here's the thing, if one accepts that gods or rituals belong to specific cultures or traditions, and one also wishes to promulgate this via religious expression, and that orthopraxy is a key element of those traditions they wish to continue, than of course those same people would balk at others who simply add elements because they think it works better or they like it more. Obviously this ties into the divergence of the significance and role that tradition plays within those perspectives. Yet to label the former as fundamentalist because they are trying to remain faithful to their customs and ways is remarkably crass, if not outright stupid. Of course religions where orthopraxy is foundational will have adherents who get hung up on "doing it right". This again gets back to the idea of respect, particularly of cultural ways and values.

"Bow down before the one you serve, you're gonna get what you deserve"

Oddly enough, this is one point where I, mostly, agree with the author. Not that this particular perspective is indicative of "Pagan fundamentalism" because, as I will elaborate below, the accusation which forms the crux of this response, is nothing more than a fallacious application of the "perennial philosophy", albeit in a slightly inverted manner. 

Where I would say that I agree, is that the idea that you are a slave to the gods, and have no agency in your dealings with them, is a remarkably stupid one. Of course, I have recently belaboured this particular pointso I need not repeat it here. The only caveat being that I fully acknowledge that there may be polytheistic religions where utter subservience to the gods was (is) a thing; doesn't change my sentiments on it. So while I reject utterly the idea of humans being nothing more than the playthings of the gods, I fully acknowledge that there are certainly malefic spirits and deities, that one can fail to honour ones obligations to the gods and that consequences follow from this. Likewise, there are examples from the lore of the consequences of violating ritual or personal prohibitions (aka geasa) and so one ought to take the utmost care and diligence to be aware and take care. 

"Everyone knows the gods obtained perfection in 173 CE!"

This point, and the next one, are significant to this whole endevour as this is the context whereby I first came across this particular blogger. Insomuch as the argument is yet again a strawman, and misses the subtle nuances of how reconstructionism works. To avoid repetition, in this section I will be speaking to "the sensibilities of the gods in relation to their temporal contexts", and in the next section address the centrality of mythology.

Acknowledging that the cultures in which the gods revealed themselves were vastly different from the age we live in now is obvious to all but the most delusional member of the SCA (and even then, the fact that "anachronism" is in the label is a good tell). In general terms, one will not find GRP's advocating for the return of: slavery, bovine based economies, trial by ordeal, cattle raids, peat based primary household heating sources, prayer/poem based medicine or human sacrifice. Nor would those same people argue for social or economic policy based on those elements of Iron Age Ireland. 

You may find, however, that structural aspects of the way in which the cosmos was held to be related to human society, and the very basis of how and why one ought to worship the gods would be of some significance to people in the modern age seeking to worship those same gods. Worldview, an understanding of the cosmological basis of the world, not even of the how, but most definitely of the why. How a particular worldview developed and the perceptual filters one necessarily has to adopt, to understand what our experiences, our lives mean, is vitally important.

This is the point that so many Pagans miss or do not understand; for a reconstructionist the worship of the gods is predicated upon the culture within which the god(s) revealed themselves or were discovered. The culture ultimately comes from how a given group, in a given geographic area, with a specific language and history came to understand their world and themselves. Religion at its best and most natural is a component of ones being and a key component of the self. It is not something which can meaningfully be compartmentalized, only to be brought out every other Tuesday, between 3 and 5 pm. It is part of a whole, of ones worldview. If ones worldview is predicated upon a reconstruction of a given, pre-(or contemporaneous)Christian culture, than one will necessarily try their best to understand the nature of the gods in that context. We do so because we recognize that we are part of a cultural continuum; lost, fragmented and scattered though some of it may be. 

The values we hold the gods as often embodying are those values which, while perhaps not timeless, are none the less valuable, especially in a modern context where we feel they may be underrepresented, ignored or rejected outright. Values like those I mentioned above: honour, justice, truth, wisdom, hospitality, courage and pride may not mesh well with other, more "modern" values, but this does not mean they are not worth striving for.

To the point about the gods "being unchanging", I would certainly make the case that the perception of time an immortal being has would necessarily be different from one who has a relatively short lifespan. I do not think the concept of "the gods reaching maturity" is particularly apt. Rather this argument is a dodge by those who make claims based upon UPG who then try to make emphatic statements, as mouthpieces of the gods no less, which are supposed to be held as meaningful for anyone other than the individual... Or in another way

"Your Fanon has no place alongside Canon"

The accusation of mythic literalism is the last arrow in the quiver of this particular blogger, if not stated outright, it is heavily implied. This too is another common criticism or attack against reconstructionism, to the point where there is a clever pejorative term for it, "lore whore". "Fundamentalist Pagans" obviously share their literalistic bibliophilia with their monotheistic counterparts. Except that they don't, not really, at all.

If one were to examine the sort of recommend reads/ readings list common to the webpages of reconstructionists, one will always find collections or resources of the myths of the given culture being reconstructed. What one will not find, however, are instructions explaining how the lore is the primary basis upon which we are to reconstruct or religions. Let me repeat that, in case you missed it: the lore is NOT the primary basis upon which we develop our religions. Seems kind of counter intuitive, but this is because as dilligent recons, we've spent time learning and studying the historic, linguistic and cultural context of how the lore came to be in the first place. The lore, typically speaking from a GRP/CR and Asatruar/Heathen perspective, has many problematic elements, being Christianized along a gradient ranging from veneer to solid, chief among them. I have said it before, here and elsewhere, the mythic texts are NOT SACRED.

Rather, the gods the myths tell us about, are what is to be considered sacred. One can certainly start off with the lore, but you will soon run into a great deal of questions or have a perspective which is informed by something other than the culture the myths sprung from, and come to a lot of weak conclusions. This is why studying the culture and history is so vital, because you understand what the meaning behind the stories is, to what purpose were the stories transcribed and recorded. Understanding with what functions the gods are associated with, what role (and generally this is varied) did they play within the cosmological framework of that culture? The myths are certainly the best source we have on trying to understand the nature of the gods or at least key elements of their nature, but they are not perfect. 

What they do provide, however, accompanied with a firm understanding of the history, archaeology, cultural and social elements, is a means of fortifying ourselves against delusion. They act, in a sense, as a series of checks and balances with which to check our UPG against. They can do this, because they represent the inherited wisdom and introspection of the cultures from which they were spawned. They are the sources by which we have any knowledge of the gods at all, and so they are provided a placement of importance and honour.


We come now to the keystone of my whole piece, the turn-about question that reconstructionists ought to be asking:
If the cultural context in which these particular gods exist does not matter, if the ways with which our ancestors traditionally worshiped these gods does not matter, if the values our ancestors held to through their worship of these gods does not matter, and if the stories told of these gods do not matter, then why do you cling to a god from this culture at all?
If you are coming at this from the perspective that the gods are just universal archetypes, obscured through cultural filters, would it not be better to remove the trappings altogether and worship the gods as they really are? If you genuinely believe that your experiences of the gods are more authentic or authoritative than what is reflected in the combined and collected knowledge of the gods as depicted in the mythic texts, then upon what basis do you reason that your experience is of any such mythic god at all? Finally, if your experience of the god(s) is inverse or anathema to the depiction within a given mythic narrative, which is also contradicted by the more generalized cultural function of said deity, upon what basis are you judging that this is the same god? There are many other questions which could be asked, but it would be rather repetitive. Suffice to say that I personally find lists, like the one above, incredulous, to say the least.

When it comes right down to it, the idea of "Pagan fundamentalism" is nonsensical, at least the way in which such a slur is usually wielded. It is generally predicated upon an inversion of the "All gods are one God" platitude, the so called perennial philosophy of religion. In this case though, the generalization is "All religions have fundamentalists", which is as apt as the perennial approach. Which is not at all.

The sort of fundamentalism being slung here is not to be confused with the historic fundamentalist movement among Protestant Christianity, but rather a general sense of "My religion is the only right, only true religion, and all others are necessarily wrong, evil, etc." Now, to try and make the argument more cogent in a Pagan/polytheistic context, the phrasing is not as harsh, absolute or universal. Instead of "my religion is the only right one", it morphs into "my religion is the only right way to worship ________", which of course changes what fundamentalism in this context means. Which steals power from the concept to the point where it becomes meaningless.

Acknowledging orthopraxy, that things ought to be done a certain way for reasons j,k,l, in a ritualized context, within a given tradition, is no more fundamentalist that a Catholic expecting to receive the host as part of a Catholic Mass. It just so happens that some folks feel that gods belong to cultures and are not universal. Therefore it is reasonable to worship them in keeping with traditional ways and forms. Likewise, when a given component is divorced from its cultural context, and held to be universal, then it looses a great deal of the meaning and power it had because of its place within that context. 

I do not think that any of these perspectives, nor the rebuttals to the points raised above engender fundamentalism in my perspective or practice. Others, though, may disagree.



* When I say universal in this context, I am referring to the term in the sense of cutting across cultural and temporal boundaries and not in the sense of widespread worship within a specific cultural, geographic and temporal context.

Monday, January 12, 2015

"Our" Values (GRP Focused): The gods and "knowing our place"

I have in the past, distant though it may be, discussed issues relating to the concept of agency; how much freedom do we have to enact our will upon the cosmos? Today, I would like to come at the idea of agency from a different angle, and explore how our agency affects and is affected by that of the tri na naomah. How much control do we have when we interact with the gods, ancestors and spirits of place? How much control do the gods, ancestors and spirits of place have upon us? When we have this figured out, or as much as we can figure it out, what do we do with this information, and where do we go from here?

Many polytheist bloggers, tumblrs, and assorted others, have put forward the idea that humans are at the mercy of the gods, in all things. Concepts like morality are relegated solely to human affairs, for the gods have no time for puny human "feels"; so expecting or advocating for things like "consent" are right out. The gods make you dance as their divine marionettes. and maybe if you're lucky, you'll learn something from the experience. Oh, and if this isn't your experience, you're probably doing it wrong; best run back to "safe", empty religions, lest the "reality of the gods" destroy your fragile mind.

This is, by the way, bullshit. At least when it comes to all the evidence we have about how the Gaels coexisted and worshiped their gods. So if you're more interested in being a divine whipping boy, maybe you should just ignore the rest of what I have to say; Go read other folks who have deemed thralldom as their raison d'etre, who have abandoned their own wills, to be subsumed by what they (earnestly believe) is the will of the god(s) they serve. Frankly when one goes down that path, the reading becomes really creepy and moves off into self flagellating delusion more at home with groups like the Stylites than  pre-Christians, but seek at your own peril. Honestly, it goes from fan squeeing to cult vibe at breakneck speed. Tl:dr, google "god slave" and "god spouse", though you'll probably regret it. I sure did!

No, our ancestors had a rather different approach when it came to establishing how we "dealt" with the gods, we fought them. We fought them long and we fought them hard, for every inch of land we came to occupy. We entreated with other gods, powerful goddesses the gods themselves were also beholden to. We took the power of the gods and made it our own, turned it to our own devices and used it to win our place in the world. We had to fight the gods themselves to legitimize our own existence, and we won. If that isn't a crystal clear precedent for the concept of human agency when it comes to the gods, then nothing is.

Now, with that said, we ought to take some other things into consideration, and primarily I want to discuss the issue of enhumeraziation. Enhumerization is a literary trope where something that is great and powerful, is reduced in greatness and power. In the case of the medieval (and later) Irish literature, this is most obviously observed when we examine the Mythic, Ulster and Fenian Cycles, but is present too when we examine folktale and tradition that relates to the aes sidhe. The argument being that the gods which the pre-Christian's worshiped, were not actually gods (because those didn't actually exist, being monotheists and all) and were instead a successive series of semi-divine races who sought for the rulership of Ireland, culminating with the ascent and victory of mortal man. This is important to keep in mind, because the point can be made (and laboured) that the preceding paragraph about "our" ancestors is far more reflective of a Christianized world view, and actually has very little to do with a pre-Christian perspective.

Such is the perilous nature of trying to reverse engineer mythic texts compiled by Christian scribes to get a peek at earlier views, but I'm willing to go out on a limb and defend this particular bit. The reason it is not so far fetched to understand humans as being able to go toe to toe with the gods, mythically speaking, is because of patterns. Throughout the Mythological Cycle, Ireland is settled in a series of "waves" or "invasions", hence why one of the greatest collections of this cycle is referred to as "The Book of Invasions". Things don't really get interesting until (IMO) until the Tuatha De Dannan show up, and we see the first real example of divine inversion occur. I don't want to get too deep into the text, but one of the key elements of the TDD strategy for the overthrow of the Fomorians during the "Second Battle of Moytura" is to seek out the aid of sovereignty goddesses as well as subsuming the very power and fury of the Fomorians themselves (as Lugh is able to do). Through these means are the TDD able to secure victory and win the rulership of Ireland.

The subsequent "Invasion" of the Mileseans, while not a mirror image of the previous epoch, involves very similar concepts. The favour of the goddess of sovereignty are secured, the land itself is invoked, and there is even the utilization of a poem with likely cosmogenic overtones, all to secure a toehold and then victory over the Tuatha De Dannan. Of course, it doesn't go exactly as the Mileseans want, and they eventually have to entreat with the gods to once again secure the fecundity of the land itself with them. So does this mean that the ancestors of the Gaels saw themselves as equal to or even more powerful than the gods they worshipped? Unlikely, but I suppose a literal reading of the myths could produce such a conclusion.

Here then is where parsing out which bits are enhumerized and which are not becomes very important to our understanding and ability to draw conclusions about pre-Christian world view. I do not, for example, hold to the idea that the gods can be killed (or that the ancients believed other than their gods were remarkably powerful and immortal), at least not in any sort of meaningful way. Understanding the purpose of a given mythic narrative and the lessons contained within are crucial, but taking them as being reflective of the real nature of the gods (at least in relation to mortality) is to buy into the enhumerization of the mythic pre-Gaelic peoples as being semi-divine or simply magically gifted mortals. Likewise, to hold that not only could the gods be killed, but that humans were capable of doing so, would surely undercut the potency of any such beings being held as, well gods, in any meaningful way. We need to examine what the purpose of a given story is, and not just what the story in and of itself is narrating.

When, for example, I read about Lugh being killed by Mac Cuill, Mac Cecht and Mac Gréine, I do not take it to then mean that the worship of Lugh is pointless because he is dead. Nor do I take it to mean that the story where he dies is pointless and without purpose. Nor do I take this as an example of apotheosis, where a historic personage named Lugh was freed from his mortal body and became deified by a later historic cultus. I accept, first and foremost that this is a story told from a specific narrative tradition, serving a purpose intend by the author for their audience. I accept that this also explains why Lugh doesn't show up during the Milesian invasion to stand against the Gaelic invaders. I accept that this does not explain how Lugh later goes on to father Cuchulain. I accept that Lugh is still very much "alive" in whatever manner it is that gods exist. I accept all of this because I understand that Myth is not History and that a literal reading of the mythic texts is incredibly stupid. 

The myths teach us, they instruct us, they inspire us and intrigue us. They are the best window we have into an earlier time, and while they are not opaque they are more translucent than clear. The light comes trough, but it is muddied, distorted and befuddled by layers of filtering installed by those standing between then and now. We ourselves necessarily come with our own perceptual filters and so we need to recognize our own biases as readily as we do of the sources we glean information from. Which brings me back to the point of this rambling post, Our present conceptions of how the past, how older and more ancient worldviews worked are necessarily affected by our perception of modern world views. Something is not good or valuable simple because it is held to be ancient; conversely something is not bad or worthless simply because it is held to be modern. There are many, many things that are worth our while to restore and revive as best we can; but there are many, many things which have been relegated to the rubbish pit of history, and there it ought to stay. 

This conversation is happening, and we who find ourselves doing our best as reconstructionists, as polytheists (devotional, ritual, or otherwise) need to decide which elements belong where. Not everything is worth saving or reviving, and this is certainly something which consciously needs to be addressed. It is sometimes said (and always critically), of reconstructionists, that we are slightly more academic members of groups like the SCA, that we seek to return society and culture to a pre-Christian ideal (and this implied idealism is also held as a critique) reminiscent of the Iron Age. Which is of course nonsense. No GRP I know of is actively seeking to abandon technology or modernity; considering how central the internet has been to its growth this seems remarkably hypocritical, and so it would be. If anyone were calling for it, that is. What I am getting at is that GRP (and like minded reconstructionist methodologies and lifeways) are fully aware that we are moderns, that we do not live in the Iron Age and what is more, we do not want to live in the Iron Age. We seek the gods of our ancestral forebearers, we seek to honour and worship them in culturally appropriate ways and we see the mythological tradition we have as one of the more accessible, if deceptively so, means of coming to such an understanding. This does not mean that the misogyny, the brutality or the utter disregard for life (to name but a few highly problematic elements) present in the texts are something we ought to be embodying or transposing in our lives today, simply because they are there and so are more "raw and real" than some idyllic, sanitized and modern version.

Which, again, is not to say that we ignore or do not address these problematic aspects; studying the period tends to rip away any illusions of some bygone golden age we are so desperately trying to restore. It means that we recognize what has come before, and that it wasn't all love and light, but this too can be taken to unhealthy extremes. By advocating for the return of something because the advocate perceives it at being "anti-modern" or "an affront to modernity", does not mean that such advocacy is right. If something was practiced in the ancient world, but is "an affront to modern sensibilities", then we ought to consider its centrality in the ancient world, how relevant it was and how necessary its restoration would be to aid in modern reconstructionist efforts. Not everything needs to be rejected or accepted out of hand, such a dichotomy would be patently false, yet some things ought to be left behind because they are so at odds with "modern sensibilities" that they are justifiably treated thus.

This categorical "refuse heap" is not limited to outdated social, political or economic practices, but to theological and spiritual concepts too. What is more, and to the point of this piece, what may seem like a rejection based on "modern or sanitized" sensibilities is actually a projection of some imagined "way it was, and way it should still be" onto the past. 

The gods are beyond us in so many ways; their power, wisdom and grasp of reality exponentially greater than ours. Yet despite all of this, anecdotally speaking, they appear to seek us out as often as we seek them. The gods want our worship and devotion. The gods want our client-ship for their patronage. The gods have judged us, have and continue to challenge us. and they have found us worthy. If the myths speak to one theme, one melody of theological and philosophical import, throughout, it is that humans can stand up..

We have stared out into the harshness of our world, in all its ugliness and horror, stared into the faces of the gods themselves, full of wrath and ruin, and we have stood firm.

We have struggled bitterly and savagely fought for our place in the world, for our right to exist. We have done so without the gods, in the face of the gods, with the gods throwing everything they had at us, and we are still here. This was when things were done the hard way, when we failed to see the value of cooperation and hospitality, forsook harmony and sough out out enmity with our divine predecessors. We struggled, and earned our place, but it was tangential, ephemeral and fragile; we lived, but we did not flourish. It was through mutual understanding, cooperation and respect that we came to worship the gods, as was their due. The wise realized that while we had the resolve to stand firm, that there was as yet something greater to be had. By accepting the reality of firenne, how to properly and respectfully come to know and honour the gods, were our lives made better. At times these bonds were tried and tested, bent yet never broken (at least not until the coming of the men of the bells, but this is another story and another matter for another time).

We are not, nor were we ever, slaves to our gods and we would bring unimaginable dishonour and shame upon ourselves, to say nothing of the ancestors, to relinquish the very agency that allowed us to earn the respect and favour of the gods we worship and devote our lives to. In closing, I leave you with one of my most repeated, yet all time favourite quotes:
"If you approach the Celtic gods with the attitude of 'I'm not worthy', they're going to respond, 'Well, come back when you are."