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Soft Polytheism versus Hard Polytheism in Heathenry

Soft Polytheism versus Hard Polytheism in Heathenry

Apparently, I  struck a chord with some of my readers when talking about soft polytheism versus hard polytheism.  I assumed many of my readers were soft polytheistic, that is, looking at the gods as archetypes and forces of nature, and not necessarily physical beings. Apparently, I was wrong. Many of my readers do indeed look at the gods as physical beings.

Some Caveats About Beliefs

Before I get into the whole soft polytheism versus hard polytheism arguments, I need to reiterate my beliefs here.  As I’ve said previously, I tend toward a soft polytheistic belief of archetypes. However, given that I have dealt with the gods directly, I believe that the gods can take human-like forms.  (They are, after all, gods.) I also believe that our gods go by many names and manifestations, but they are the same gods. At least, in this Universe.

How Far Down the Rabbit Hole Do You Want to Go?

Having said that, I don’t necessarily have an issue with your beliefs if you want to go the hard pagan route. It’s just I know that proving the stories we tell in the face of science gets to be difficult at best. Unless you really believe that our world hangs off of a physical tree and humans were carved from wood, I don’t think you and I will have much to argue about. If you want to go down that rabbit hole and believe everything in our stories is 100 percent true, despite science proving it isn’t, I suggest you go in your corner and maybe find some Christian fundamentalist friends to argue with.  What you believe isn’t logical and I won’t be able to convince you to the contrary.

Hard Polytheism

If you’re a hard polytheist in the strictest sense, you tend to accept our stories at face value.  That the Moon and the Sun move across our sky, rather than the Earth revolving around the Sun and the Moon revolving around the Earth. That there really was a cow that licked the brine from Ymir and the gods, thus creating the first pantheons. That Odin along with his brothers slew Ymir and fashioned our Earth from Ymir’s bones. This is more fundamentalist than anything, and again, since you really believe that, nothing I’m going to tell you is going to make a difference.

I would bet, however, that most hard polytheistic Heathens are a mix of this hard polytheism and soft polytheism. You like the creation tales, but you at least accept the current explanation of how the Universe came into being. Maybe you’ve resolved that in your minds, and maybe you haven’t.  Maybe you just don’t know what to believe.

Blending Myth and Fact

Now, if you believe our gods manifest themselves in physical forms, that’s fine. I’m good with that. I believe that they can and do, but I also don’t believe that Asgard exists in our dimension.  I tend to accept string theory as well, which if our gods exist in physical forms, they possibly occupy more than the three dimensions we live in.  In this case, we may have a tough time seeing them.  It could just be that our wights may also inhabit those dimensions, affecting our existence without necessarily seeing them in their full forms.

With the exception of some clueless wankers, most people believe the Earth is round, that it revolves around the Sun, and that stars are simply other suns, some very much like our own sun.  Our sun is a relatively ordinary star, too, with the exception that it is the only solar system we know of that has life.   That may change because not only are there are trillions of stars, but there are galaxies with trillions of stars in them.  The Earth formed some 4.54 billion years ago and not 6000 years like the new Earth creationists would have you believe. I’m pretty sure that the formation of Earth wasn’t from a frost giant named Ymir, unless you’re willing to believe that Ymir’s bones were some primordial matter that came from the death of another star. Given that our star is a second or even third generation star, we can look at the stories and deduce that maybe our creation stories are one big metaphor.  Or maybe they’re just a way for people to explain how things came into being.

Whence Our Religion Came

Heathenry is a product of our ancestors combined with communication with our gods and curiosity about our world. It came from a more ancient religion that our Proto-Indo-European ancestors worshiped. Those ancestors’ predecessors practiced a form of animism. The interesting question is when our gods revealed themselves to our ancestors.

I would argue that given the overall similarities of certain religions, we have to assume a Jungian collective unconscious was passed down throughout history.  No matter how different other ethnicities seem, they have similar stories that run throughout their folklore.  To a certain degree, one could argue that it is because our brains are wired the same, and I’m not going to dispute that.  But I do suspect that all our ancestors had a shared experience at one time.  Think about it.  We know that humans nearly went extinct at least twice. Could this be the time when our gods stepped in to help us?

That, of course, is purely speculation on my part.  I have no clue if that really did happen, but it does make for some interesting ideas.

But I digress…

Getting Back on Track

Soft polytheism tends to look more at the concepts of the gods as archetypes.  In it’s extreme form, it’s  closer to atheism than a religion. I would not consider most soft polytheists in that group.  Many are pantheists, which allows the worship of other gods, and it equates the universe with the gods. I sit more comfortably in the pantheistic version of Heathenry, because I believe that the universe and the gods are the same. My belief is our gods go by other names in other religions. I chose our gods not only because I am most comfortable with them, but because I have had interactions with them by those names.

I hope I’ve given you something to think about.  Let me know your beliefs in the comments.

Where Other Pagans Have it Wrong

Where Other Pagans Have it Wrong

Today I’m throwing mud at another pagan religion, which probably will put me on their curse list.  So be it.  I don’t believe in that shit anyway, so cursing me won’t work.

I’m a full-on Heathen, regardless of the names the recons love to sling at me.  Although I do think that most pagan gods are simply other manifestations of our gods, there are some gods that Wiccans and other pagans flirt with that I think are just not a good idea.  I look at their veneration and maybe even worship of these gods and wonder how they could put a positive spin on what is considered demons and devils in Christianity.

Are You Really Pagan, or Are You Just Taking Crap from Judaeo-Christian Lore?

I’ve been reading about different pagan beliefs, especially Wiccan, and if I’m reading things right, a lot of current foundation of Wicca is from Gardner, who was heavily influenced by the book, Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches.   The tl;dr version of Aradia is about the female messiah who is the daughter of Diana and Lucifer. All of which are supposedly wonderful and nice.

Does anyone see a problem with this?  One writer on Patheos talks about who exactly the daughter of Cain is in this book.  There are a number of issues with Aradia, the least of which is the racism and antisemitism in the book, itself.  I’m willing to pass on it only because the book was written in 1899 and antisemitism and racism was strong then.  I’m not, however, giving those modern day witches a pass on using this book, but that isn’t my point at the moment.  My point is that Aradia is taking Judaeo-Christian beliefs and fitting them into its own narrative. It is treating the Bible and Christian lore as being factual or real.

Why this is a Big Deal

Okay, so why do I have my panties in a wad over this?  Well, it’s derivative, for one thing.  And it’s derivative not from pagan belief, but from a monotheistic belief.  The exact monotheistic belief pagans are purportedly not believing in.  It’s like saying, “I don’t believe in your god, but hey, we’re going to take the trappings and lore from your religion and use it however the hell it suits us.”

And you wonder why the Christians burned these people at the stake?  Seriously?

Now again, burning people at the stake not something I’m even advocating, but when you start taking villains of a religion and make them your heroes, you’re bound to get some push back by the dominant religion.  Yeah, you might say that your version came first, but really?  Really?  From where I’m sitting, I’m not seeing it.  It looks like an offshoot of Christianity and even smacks of satanism.  (Not the atheist satanism, but the image satanism conjures up for most Christians.)  Aradia was published some 1899 years after the supposed birth of Christ.  Claim all you want to that it comes from older texts, but there’s no proof in that.  You just have one author/translator who is spouting some ugly antisemitic words that was pretty much the attitude at that time.

You Either Believe in it, or You Don’t

I don’t believe in the Jewish and Christian god.  I think it is a construct that came from one sect of the Canaanites that eventually became Jewish.  They put their patron god Yahweh above all the other gods and came up with monotheism.

Given that other religions have come up with monotheism seems to indicate that the idea isn’t that new.  It’s just a way to say that your tribe and your god is better than anyone else’s to the point where you discount other people’s gods.

If you’re taking pieces from the Judaeo-Christian religions and putting them together in ways that are insulting to those who actually believe the stuff, you’re really just perpetuating the myth that all pagans are Satan worshipers and evil.  Come to think about it, you’re perpetuating the belief that witches worship Satan.

Try Something Different

I get that the Wiccans may take some of their beliefs from other Middle Eastern religions like Zoroastrian, but honestly, aren’t you being a little narrow in your world views?  I’ve heard that there were somewhere around 5000 different religions.  Instead, you’re mixing Christianity, Zoroastrian, and Roman religions to come up with something you like?

Yeah, I’m a Heathen and I follow the Northern pantheon. But I don’t say Lucifer and Diana bore Odin, or some such nonsense.  No, I have a celestial cow who licks the rime off a god who has children that slay a frost giant and build the world from his body. Totally logical.

Okay, maybe not.

But many Heathens, myself included, get that the stories we read are just stories.  They may be metaphors for the actual universe coming into being, or they just might be good stories people told.  Those who follow the tenets in Aradia may believe that as well, I don’t know.

My point is that of all the religions it could take from, it took from Christianity. And not even the good parts.  Cain and Lucifer and Lilith?  Seriously?  Certainly there are other religions with better beliefs and magic systems.  While I, myself, don’t believe in magic, I can appreciate wanting to learn something like magic.  Heathen magic is pretty minimal in comparison to Wicca and other systems, so I don’t recommend it for those who want to learn magic.  But there are somewhere close to 5000 other belief systems to explore for that.

Just some thoughts.

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Has Heathenism Beaten Christianity?

Has Heathenism Beaten Christianity?

I got in a conversation with another pagan on Huginn’s Heathen Hof, and he had a different outlook on the whole Christianity versus Paganism argument.  It hit me as having some merit, so I’d thought I’d explore it more in depth.

The Argument

The person who put forth this argument to me was a Heathen and a Gnostic. (Let that sink in a bit before dismissing it outright.)  His basic argument was that Christianity at its beginning had nothing — no holidays, no formal sacraments, etc, — so it took from other religions.  In fact, it took so much from pagan religions that the pagan religions actually triumphed.  I’ve been mulling it over for some days and while I don’t think it’s entirely correct, I think it has some merit to at least think about.

Christianity at its Core

Christianity is, at its core, a death cult. It focuses not on rewards in the here and now, but after one dies. It even focuses on the gruesome torture and death of their god. While I think that knowing where you’re going when you die is important, I think that this life is just as important on how we live.  Yes, Christians do focus on how well behaved they should be because they will receive a reward in “heaven,” but honestly, it takes a fear of eternal punishment to behave correctly?  Think about that for a bit.

The major holiday that Christians have recognized since its inception would be Easter, that is the day when Christ allegedly rose from the dead.  We know that Easter arose from the Passover festival, around which Christ was allegedly crucified.  Easter follows Passover.   But we know that it took the name Eostre, and it may have borrowed the pagan trappings of festivals during that time, presumably to make it more palatable to the audience.

Yule and Christmas

We do know that Christmas was pretty much taken from pagan midwinter festivals, celebrating the celebrating the god of agriculture for a full month starting a week before the solstice.  We know that Christmas wasn’t instituted until the fourth century CE when the Church thought to take those midwinter festivals and sanction them.

return of the sun.  While us Heathens can lay claim to Yule, we aren’t the only ones that had midwinter celebrations.  The Romans had Saturnalia, which was spent

The Puritans actually banned Christmas (and the saints) because they recognized the pagan origins. For about 25 years England under Oliver Cromwell made Christmas illegal.  That joy was brought over with the Puritans who made Christmas illegal.  Such was the control of the Puritans that anyone found in Boston exhibiting the Christmas spirit during the years 1659 to 1681 could be fined. What a great bunch.

Incidentally, the Christmas tree came into vogue with Queen Victoria, taking the customs of her husband’s homeland.  The Christmas tree popped up around the 17th century in Germany have its, …ahem, roots in paganism.

Plenty of pagans have pointed to Odin’s ride, Slepnir’s eight legs changing into eight reindeer, and other similarities, that suggest Odin is Santa Claus, so I don’t need to go through that argument.

Harvest and Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving, itself, is more of an American holiday that was celebrated in New England for some time before Abraham Lincoln made it a national holiday in 1863.  George Washington issued the first national Thanksgiving proclamation in 1789, thus putting it on the table, so to speak, when it came to having a national day of thanks.  A quote from History.com:

Autumn Comments & Graphics
Image by Magickal Graphics

“As an annual celebration of the harvest and its bounty, moreover, Thanksgiving falls under a category of festivals that spans cultures, continents and millennia. In ancient times, the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans feasted and paid tribute to their gods after the fall harvest. Thanksgiving also bears a resemblance to the ancient Jewish harvest festival of Sukkot. Finally, historians have noted that Native Americans had a rich tradition of commemorating the fall harvest with feasting and merrymaking long before Europeans set foot on their shores.”

We have our own celebration of Harvest Home, so saying that Americans “invented” a harvest festival like Thanksgiving isn’t truthful.  Now, we did put our own spin on it, but in the end, it is the celebration of family and home, as well as harvest.

The Days of the Week

The months are named after Roman months (gods, Caesars, and numbers), but the days of the week were Roman names changed to our gods, with the exception of Saturday because people probably thought Ymirday might not catch on.  (Yeah, I know the story is that there’s no German equivalent to Saturn who was an agricultural god slain by Jupiter, but that’s another story for another time.) So, when we say we’re meeting someone on Thursday, we’re meeting them on Thor’s-day.

Saints versus Polytheism

Becoming Polytheistic was easy after being Catholic for me. Any religion that allows veneration of saints actually lost to the polytheism.  Even the Episcopalians have the saints and the time I went to an Episcopalian mass proved to me that they’re Catholics without a pope who allow divorces. We know that some saints were actually gods that got incorporated into the ranks of saints to make the religion more popular (such as Saint Bridget).  So, yeah, in some Christian religions, we got some of the gods and goddesses in.

Catholics will tell you that they do not worship saints. That is true at the highest level, but the line gets mighty blurred with the veneration of Mary and other saints.

So Did Heathenism Win?

That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? I would argue yes and no.  In the long run, we still have the Christian god, complete with all the stupidity that has subjugated women, condoned slavery, and given us plenty of hangups due to the “do this or you go to hell” mentality.  I’m not saying that heathens were morally superior as we had slavery and human sacrifice, but most of us are willing to make the change in the right direction.

By the same token, we got our holidays and other pieces infiltrated into Christianity. People who celebrate the holidays are often celebrating the secular holidays rather than what their church would like them to celebrate.  Sure, they keep Jesus in Christmas, but seeing as the whole nativity scene is pretty much made up, and seeing we really don’t know much about the historical Jesus, or even if there was one, we can call it a myth and be done with it.

What it does say to me is that Heathens can celebrate those so-called Christian holidays and feel good about putting their own spin on things. At least, that’s how I look at it.

Added for Clarity:

The point the person made was that arguing whether or not to worship Christ was irrelevant because basically Christianity took all the trappings from pagans anyway. We can argue semantics, but that was his point. I was willing to consider his belief and came up with a yes and no observation. I rushed the conclusion, which perhaps I shouldn’t have done, but I wanted to get the piece out, late as it was.

That being said, I think he does have a point. Is it Heathenism under another flavor? No. Our gods are not revered, although one might be able to point out some obscure saints the Church may have created to appease Heathens. Is Christianity the same as it was when it was conceived? No. It is mostly pagan with the foundation of the Abrahamic faith. Depending on your beliefs in Asatru and Heathenism, you can argue that what parts of paganism was added is superficial. Maybe so, maybe not. I just found it an interesting opinion, and one I couldn’t completely dismiss.

Can a Heathen follow Christ?

Can a Heathen follow Christ?

Oy!  — did I step in this, or what?  Today I had some Christian missionaries show up (I suspect Mormons) who wanted to talk with me about their god.  When I said “no,” they wanted to leave materials with me. I told them “no” again.  Basically I was annoyed as Hel because I was looking for deer to hunt and their presence did nothing other than scare critters away.

Deep Thoughts

But I had already started this post before they showed up, and I’ve been thinking about my Christian roots and also how some pagans and heathens are willing to keep the Christ in their lives. I believe strongly that while the intentions are good, this idea is at best misguided. Here is why I think you can’t be heathen and Christian.  Come to think of it, I really don’t think you can be Christian and anything else.

Yes, yes, there are signs that in Iceland, for example, people mingled the two religions with the wolf cross, but I think it was more of a heathen hold out and not actual dual worship. As Iceland became more Christianized, having a Mjolnir that could be mistaken as a Christian cross was probably more for blending in than worshiping both the gods and the Christian god.

Basis of the Abrahamic Religions

It’s not that the Aesir and Vanir forbid worship of the Christ or the Abrahamic god. I suspect that if I had a discussion with my patron god about it, he would probably tell me that I could do whatever I wanted on that score, but the whole idea is kind of folly. The reason is simple: the god of the Abrahamic religions doesn’t want people to worship anything else. While I do not “worship” my Aesir and Vanir gods, per se, I do have a close relationship with them that I did not have with the Christian god. I will not abandon them because they do not abandon me. That is the definition of my relationship with my gods. Yours may be different.

I have plenty of proof to back up that the Abrahamic god does not suffer any other gods, and it is all in their bible. Old Testament or New Testament, it doesn’t matter. You worship other gods and you’re out. Just the statement in Deuteronomy 6:14 should give any pagan or heathen pause for thought:

“You shall fear only the LORD your God; and you shall worship Him and swear by His name. 14“You shall not follow other gods, any of the gods of the peoples who surround you, 15for the LORD your God in the midst of you is a jealous God; otherwise the anger of the LORD your God will be kindled against you, and He will wipe you off the face of the earth.…”

Well, okay then. The New Testament says similar things such as:

1 John 5:21
“Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.”

We know that Christians consider any other gods to be idols and not real gods, as though heathens worship the images they create and not the god whose image is supposed to suggest a likeness.

So if you’re a heathen, you’re worshiping demons in the eyes of their god. Another heathen wrote about the very same thing in this blog. So, if you’re really set on worshiping a god who hates your guts, despite your good intentions, that’s your business.

St. Boniface and Thor’s Oak

Perhaps the most telling of what Christians think of the heathen gods is demonstrated in the story about St. Boniface and Thor’s Oak. Boniface showed up in a town in Hesse and took an ax to the sacred tree. How much of the story is propaganda and how much is reality leaves much to conjecture. (For example, the Catholics claim that children were sacrificed to Thor.) Regardless, we do know that Boniface did take an ax to a sacred tree of Thor and built a church to St. Peter from the wood. Many sacred groves were destroyed because of Christians.

While I am in no way for something as heinous as human sacrifice, I do have to point out that history is often written by the victors. How much went on is probably exaggerated. Talk about sacrificing children and most rational people would say that the religion was evil that did it. But that is another topic for another time. My point with Thor’s Oak is that it shows what lengths Christians will go to  to eliminate other gods. So, when you worship their god, you align yourself with those who would destroy your gods. Does that even make sense?

Did Christ Even Exist?

This is a sticky subject but one I’m willing to go out on a limb about. I suspect that Christ is a made up construct for the budding church. There were no written accounts of Jesus during the time he purportedly lived. The Gospels, even the earliest one, Mark, were written a hundred years or more after Christ’s purported birth. They contradict each other in terms of facts. What’s more, no pagan or writer contemporaries of Jesus Christ wrote about him. We can see that Tacitus was writing in the second century and not during the time of Jesus. Josephus wrote about Christ somewhere around 75 CE, but his work may actually be later work of Christians. This is all assuming that Josephus was even around during Christ’s life.

I can go on and on about this, but I think this is going to wait for another day when I feel like tackling it. All I can say is that if you do follow Christ and the Aesir and Vanir, perhaps I’ve given you something to think about.