Tag Archives: Gods

Reflections and Meditations on 2016 Part 1

We are moving into the time of year where I tend to get really reflective and meditative. It is my big writing time for the year, where I tend to spend most of my time on longer projects. There is certainly a novel or two rolling around in my head, and at least one non-fiction work.

It has yet to be seen if I will actually have the time to work on all three projects (or any that have yet to make themselves known.) I might be able to work on one, having to have a day job and all. If anyone wants to give me a bunch of money or offer me a residency in some far off place (preferably in Scandinavia), now would be the time. Anyone?

Oh, the sounds of silence.

Anywho, enough of that. This certainty has been a hell of a year. There is just so much I could talk about here, I am going to have to be a little selective. As this is primarily a blog for spiritual things (as well as other things), I guess it makes the most sense that I should start with the changes in my spiritual path over this year.

There have been a lot of changes in that regards to be sure. I have been reading on a lot of different topics, and experimenting with new ideas to see what works, and what doesn’t. Some new thoughts have taken root, and I have moved beyond some old ones. A lot of generalities, yes I know.

Well, I guess it is fair to say I have been in “questioning” mode throughout most of this year. There was a time or two I dropped into spiritual crisis over the course of this year. Sometimes the questions without answers become far too heavy to carry after a point. There has been a fair bit of doubt and uncertainty, and through the great ups and downs of this year, more than a share of depression and anxiety.

I have felt lost at times. When I asked myself what path am I on, I don’t know really how to answer that anymore. There is nothing that really feels like it “fits”. Skins I have either outgrown, or were never mine to begin with. In the most general sense, I consider myself an animist. The world is full of people, most of which are non-human. Since I have written quite a bit about that, so I don’t want to belabor that point.

It’s true that my ancestors have always been a real core of my practice. The dead are always with us, in some way or another. On my less “spiritual” days, I know they are still in my DNA, in my blood and bone. Even when I doubt everything else, I know that; on a purely physical level they are with me. That is one corner stone of certainty I can grasp onto when I wonder if all this is just in my head.

That has been a big bit of this year. I think it is normal that we all have doubts, especially in matters such as spirituality. I mean, we can no longer touch the dead, no longer feel them physically in our lives. Sometimes I think I hear them, and other beings too. Yet, some days I have to stretch just to reach… anything. It makes me wonder if it is all in my head? I have felt that a lot this year; looking over that edge and wonder if I should fall off?

I think I am partially convinced that line of thought is wrong. How can this be all in my head if I can look out the door and see the Bird People, and the Tree People; if I can run down the forest trails with the Deer People? That is real, at least as real as these things get. I have been down the road of “what is reality”, and I don’t want to go there again. If this what is “real” is all some kind of hologram, I don’t want to know. Let me think that where I find myself is real, and let me keep my feet on the ground. If this is all some kind of “brain in a jar” Matrix shit, I don’t want to know.

So there are some certainties to be sure, but there are days when the doubts get heavy. If the ancestors, spirits, gods (whatever) I hear some days; if that is all in my head I have some serious problems. That is the other reason I think I am scared to contemplate that possibility. If this is all in my head, I have some real serious problems… That idea terrifies me. I hate having to look at my sanity, and wonder if I am all there?

Other days, fuck it. We are all crazy here.

Perhaps that really gets at the marrow on my year. It has been a lot of that. I also have been reading a lot of my old posts on this blog. Some of them are still relevant, others feel like some long lost skin. I do not see myself in those posts anymore. I have outgrown them, and left them far behind.

That is part of why I love blogging so much. It is kind of like a journal of my path as an individual. If you are all keeping up, you might have notice things have been shifting. Old ideas have not been entertained in a while, and new ones are cropping up all the time. Some might call that growth. Me, I don’t know. Some days it just feels like I am running in place.

Which kind of circles back to the idea of the supposed “path I walk.” I don’t know what to call it anymore. It’s animistic sure, and there is some shamanism-ish in there too. Ancestor work still makes up the core, with a close periphery of work with other people, primarily of the “natural” variety. Trees, rocks, wolves; you know, things we can point to in the “real” world. I know, for a fact, that these things are beyond myself.

I also know for a fact that my ancestors are dead, as are the ancestors of those Trees and Wolves. Is it too much a stretch to thing that some part of what we are lives on after death? Maybe not our bodies, but something? That is where I get into the fuzziness that sometimes makes me question my sanity.

And then there are the gods. Oh boy, that is a big one. I have struggled with this one a lot over the last few years, because I couldn’t quite figure out how to conceive of the gods in a way I could relate to and work with. Some have claimed this is just the nature of the gods. They are unknowable and mysterious and all that.

It has been a long process (not just this year), wading through all this. My spiritual journey started with a Christian church; a Southern Baptist one. I got plenty of the “God’s will is mysterious” and that he is omnipotent, and omniscient and immortal and and and… ad nauseum.

But over the years, and especially this past year. I have stripped away much of that. To me, I think that divinity is more of a “job” or a role rather than an intrinsic state of being. The best word I have found for the gods so far is stewards, and a lot of this has come over the past year or so from my studies in Finnish folklore and belief. I have written a fair bit about that, so once again I’m not going to harp on that to much.

Still, a big part of that was the ideas of haltias in Finnish folklore. The idea of a being that was a steward over a group, a clan, a tribe, a species; what have you. A haltia can be a elder ancestor, and/or a representative; and is generally concerned with the wellbeing of “theirs”; however they may be grouped. I groked with that, I understood that.

Which lead to the other parts starting to fall away. The gods, as stewards, likely don’t know everything (some try for sure), are not all powerful, and are limited in a very real sense. They are also not likely immortal in any sense. The stories are filled with “average” people becoming gods, and gods being stripped of their power. There are also stories of dead gods, forgotten gods, and all shreds of nuance around that.

Personally, a world full of numerous “limited” gods makes more sense to me than one “Almighty” something or other.

This all leads me to think that godhood is a role, a position of responsibility. Could you imagine the responsibility on the shoulders of a being that is a steward of humanity? Such a role would almost imply you had to take the long view of things. It also implies that the life, or death, of one particular individual might not be important as the “grand scheme” of things. It would be much more about the welfare of the “whole” rather than the “parts.”

Does this all make sense? Or am I just rambling?

Still, it makes me think that maybe godhood is something that is a potential in all of us. Maybe someday, we will all be stewards of that type. Divinity might well be something that is “earned” or “granted”, and just as easily be taken away.

Or I could be way off the mark. It’s fun to think about all the same.

I want to leave this topic for a bit, and move onto another one. As I said, my “path” has been interesting so far. I have no real titles to claim, and no real “tradition” that I am an adherent to. There has really been no initiations, no big ceremonies. In many ways it has just been me stumbling my way through. Sounds a lot like life in general.

I am not trying to diminish the contributions of countless numbers of people though. I have had many mentors, guides, teachers, friends, collaborators; human and non-human both. Some of them I truly respect an count among my friends and allies, and they have helped me grow a lot as a person and on my spiritual path. Yet, at the end of the day, I am mostly self taught. One situation, one idea at a time, I have had to figure out (sometimes the hard way) what works and what doesn’t. In some wide sense, some of what I have learned has been hard earned. It has come with deep financial, mental, physical and emotional costs.

I have taken a great bit of inspiration and learning from my ancestors. There are reasons I study things like crafts, archaeology and anthropology. Not only do I get enjoyment out of doing so, in some ways I am bringing that past learning into myself. In no small way, I am taking old material and reforging it.

Because, at the end of the day we have to face the facts of the present. We no longer live in the times of our ancestors. Their teachings and traditions were created and shaped to deal with the challenge of THEIR times, not ours. The world has moved on. Yet, I find some of those old tools still work, even if a little bit differently than originally meant to.

The fact is, the past is history. Without some cataclysmic event, we have to deal with the realities of the here and now, and also for the future. That is what I feel I am doing. I am taking the threads left by my ancestors; the fragments of long decayed tapestries. I am taking those threads, and rebuilding something for the present. I am re-weaving, rebuilding, and reshaping all these ideas into tool for our own time.

As well as onward into the future.


My Polytheism

I read a fair bit, and when I stumbled across numerous posts concerning “My Polytheism”, I was inspired to write my own piece. In many ways, I have become a little disenchanted by “polytheism” as it is developing. I feel like there isn’t a place for people like me in it.

In addition, it feels like it getting really polarized. I am really turned off by a constant “us vs them” sort of rhetoric and mentality. Yeah, polytheism is diverse, and some disagreement is necessary and even healthy. But there is a huge difference between healthy boundaries, and wall building.

Which leaves people such as myself feeling caught in the middle and openly wondering if I have any place in polytheism, since some of what I read just sounds a lot like “no true polytheist…” Ugh.

As I have said many times before, I consider myself an animist first, and a polytheist by proxy. The reason for this is because in my world view, there is more than enough room for the gods. The logic is pretty straightforward; to me the world is full of people, most of which are non-human, and that we live our lives in relation to one another.

And it follows from this simple statement, that some of these persons might be what we call gods. It also implies, that the gods are persons, with all the free will, individual sovereignty, and agendas that may go into that. In addition, as persons, the gods have the inherent right to be treated with dignity and respect.

To put this another way, the gods are those concerned with our well being, and who are in a role with the influence to do something about that. There is so much more I could detail here, but I exempting for brevity. The implications of these few basic statements are huge, and cannot be understated.

Relationships

One of the basic tenets of my worldview is that life is lived in relation with others, and this too applies to the gods. My relationship with my gods is kind of unique, and there is no reason that another’s relationship should look exactly like mine.

Many of my friends are mutual, but we don’t all share the same relationship to one another. Some are best friends, some are close friends, and some are Facebook “friends”. The demands and obligations to each are incredibly variable, just as is my relationship to the gods. As such, others experience may vary, and that is okay. The work my gods have set out for me, may not be the same as someone elses. The same with how I interact and engage with them.

Just as a general example, most of my gods don’t really call for a lot of pomp and circumstance. The don’t seem to mind a little “dirt on the boots” so to speak, and so my standards of cleansing and purity are not the same as someone elses.

Having a sleepover at a friend’s house does not have the same standards as a Fancy Dress Party. If you are expected to look the part, you might want to make the effort. But that is all in the nature of my relations.

Or for another example, my gods might not ask me to put them first, or might ask me to engage in things like conservation, or building a better society, or engage in the retrofitting our machines and industry in order to build a more sustainable future.

The point is that working with the gods can take a lot of forms, and really that is between me and the gods. No one else gets to dictate the “true way” to do that. It is a dynamic and adaptable thing, and there is a near infinite variability in the relations between persons.

This variability is a great bridge into my next point.

Plurality and Diversity

Let me spell something out for you. I generally conceive of the gods as guardians of their respective species. At last estimate, there are some trillion + different species on this planet. Assuming a purely one to one basis, that could imply that there over a trillion gods on this planet.

And I think the “one to one” assumption is a bit faulty. Each species could have its own pantheons and numinous gods, just like the various cultures of humanity. I really don’t have the information to speculate.

This implies a huge amount of variance among the gods. The sheer plurality alone is enough to make my head spin. Trillions of gods, with trillions of unique personalities, with variable relationships between themselves and others. Each with different wants, needs and desires.

We are talking exponential plurality and diversity here. I don’t have the mental or computing capacity to give you an estimate of the kinds and numbers of gods, much less the dynamic and ever changing relationships they may create among others.

Which can be used to state bluntly and pointedly, there is no “one true way” to do this folks.

This is why I have a real problem with polarized rhetoric, and the “us vs them” mentality. It’s monochromatic, it’s binary, and it’s really quite simplistic. The world is a lot more complex than any black/white ideology can encompass. I get real tired of “hard liners” claiming we should all fit in neat little boxes. If we keep drawing lines and building walls, we may all find ourselves in solitary confinement.

I can distill it down to a few basic implications. What the gods ask of me may not be the same that they ask of you. They can change their mind and the nature of the relationship at a future time. Your relationship now may change over time. We should be mindful of changing contexts, and that the gods are both very diverse, as well as quite dynamic.

Oh, and context matters.

Modern Times, Modern Contexts

Let’s not deny the past it’s just due. It has given us so much in the form of knowledge and wisdom, and it is our task to carry this forward. But let’s not kid ourselves for a second. We live in very different times than our ancestors. We are not ancient Viking or Druids (though some of us are Druids to be sure*) , and that the context in which we have to frame those assumptions have changed quite a bit.

Let’s face facts, the world is a lot smaller than it once was. It is multicultural, and dynamic and really mindnumbingly complex. The same is true of our gods.

At no time in the past could our ancestors hop on a plane and be around the world in a few hours. They did not have trains, cars, or nuclear power, and this says nothing about the very neat things on the horizon.

Yet, this doesn’t mean our world without challenges. Our ancestors also didn’t have to worry about things like climate change (at least man made) or global pollution either. These are obstacles that none of us can tackle alone. As much as we all have our differences, we are all in this together.

With the gods at our sides; I like the odds.

Thanks for reading!

*Stated somewhat tongue in cheek.


Thinking about the Gods

One of the guiding motivations of my personality is “does it work?” I love ideas, I love debating them, discussion them, and generally playing with them over and over. It is one of the reasons I write. There is something very satisfying to me about pulling my ideas out of my mind and giving words to them, and manipulating the ideas in order to convey them to others. That is something I had trouble doing orally. I find things get a lot more muddled when I try to talk about them, and I think part of that has to do with the fact that my mind runs a lot faster than my mouth.

All that aside, as much as I like ideas, I find such idealism balance with another part of my personality, the pragmatic and practical side. After a point, “theories and politics” start to seem hollow to me if they don’t work, or have little in the way of application. Ideas are great things, but it circles back to “does it work?” Do these ideas enhance the meaning or add something to my life, or are they just “academic” questions with little in the way of usability?

Which brings me to the point of this post. I have struggled with how to even conceive of the gods in any kind of meaningful or practical way. So far in all my explorations, all my reading and writing, I have found few things that have really helped me to really understand the gods. So I wanted to explore that idea a little deeper here.

I define my animism in this way; Animists are people who recognize that the world is full of persons, only some of whom are human, and that life is always lived in relationship with others.”

There is more to this as well, that plays into the notion of relationships, and relativism. The idea being, that the influence of a given persons varies in context. My influence over an ant hill might considered to be “bigger”. In addition, I acknowledge there are persons out there that might view of me in the same way as I do ants.

But some sense of “bigger” is not enough to be considered a god. Back in my reflections on the FFA, I stated the following;

“Yet, the gods as a kind of ancestral guardian invested in humans. The gods as a “guardian of humanity has protected its own kind, in a way safeguarding the survival of a certain species by returning dead or slaughtered humans back to life on earth” and “the eldest of the species or the first representative of humanity.”

I said at the time that there was something about this statement that resonated with me. As I have continued to sit with it, the more it has resonated. I want to dig into this a little deeper, and really get at the marrow of why I am attracted to this kind of conceptual thinking.

As an animist, and polytheist by proxy, the general logic looks like this;

  1. That the world is full of persons.
  2. That the relative influence of these persons varies.
  3. And that some of these persons might be gods.

The general characteristics of haltias gives me plenty of room to wiggle, and plenty of room to explore. But let’s take two avenues for the moment.

1) Gods as guardians/ancestral guardians

One of my conditions for “godliness” has been that there has to be some general regard for the welfare of humanity. A given person can be “bigger” (such as a mountain) and not have any concern for humanity at all. In Norse myth, there is a distinction made between “gods” and “giants”. A being of “bigger” status without a care for humanity would fit the bill, in my mind, for “giant” but not “god.”

The second part of this is the “safeguarding of the survival of the species”. Protection factors largely into this, and I cannot think of a better example than Thor, the “protector of mankind.” There is also the bit in there about the dead, in a more generalized form a kind of “caring” for the dead.

And this is just not limited to humanity, and is dependent on context. There can be Wolf Gods, that care nothing about humanity. They would be a god (protector, guardian, caretaker) to wolves, but might only be a “giant” (not really concerned with) towards humanity.

But a Wolf Person, might have an interest in humanity (their reasons are their own), and could be both a god of humans and wolves. See how the context changes?

I have often wondered about why many of our mythologies have the gods connected with a certain people, tribal in a way. Greek gods for Greeks, Norse gods for Norse, and so on. Each with unique origin/creation stories, and yet very grounded in the context from which they arose.

Could it be they are a kind of tribal “ancestors”? Concerned not with all of humanity, but with “their people?” I would think that the story of humanity being formed from driftwood might not have meant a “universal” humanity, but the creation of “the” gods people.

Even in the Bible the god Yahweh/Jehovah was more concerned with his own people, and leading them to safety and the “promised land”.

As a side note, I want to make clear that this is no way justifies Folkish beliefs. My view of ancestry is pretty wide, and has little to do with “blood and soil.” As an example, tribes were not always made up of bloodlines. Marriage, adoption, and many of things can lead to a group of people coming together who may not be blood related. In short, basically whoever the gods consider “their people” is really up to them.

2) Gods as the eldest of species, representatives

Which brings us to the next point. I have already commented on how things like wolves can be gods of their own kind, without being gods to humanity. Honestly, in case of “elder spirits” or representatives of a given species, where their interest lies is entirely up to them. They might have some concern for humanity (good, bad or otherwise), or they might not care at all.

What does probably concern them, is the welfare of their own clan. I am using clan here to mean “shares a common ancestor”, as such all gray wolves would have a common ancestor among Gray Wolf, and therefore would be all members of the Gray Wolf Clan. I would be counted among the Human Clan, as we all descend from a common ancestral hominid.

As such, is it impossible to conceive of the gods as some kind of representative or “elder ancestor” of our species, concerned specifically with our survival and well being? It has always struck me how very “human” we conceive of the gods. Of course, the argument could be made that we do this because of things like anthropomorphism, or that we might be limited to conceive of things in very human terms.

Still, I think it could also be said that perhaps the reason they look like us is because they are us, at least in a sense. They are often pictured as human, or every human like (the exception being shapeshifters), and with concerns that are very human-centric, things like agriculture and smith work. Things that really no other species share. The concerns of the gods are very human-centric concerns.

Of course, I am not saying they don’t have concerns outside humanity. That is their own business. But what I am saying, is that maybe they are human-like because they are some form of “elder” representative of our species. Now, less I be accused of euhemerism, I am not saying that gods were once living humans. It is possible of course, but I do not think that any one god can be traced to any one human.

As I said above, an argument could be made for gods being very “tribal” as in being connected to a certain people in a certain context. The flip side of that is that a given god might be a kind of communal/collective guardian spirit, that may or may not be ancestral. The entire tribe/clan would have been interacting with this “communal spirit”, adding stories and narratives and communal wisdom/beliefs; kind of like a spiritual mosaic. Ancestral stories/spirits might be added too, but the point being is that the given “god” would be “greater” than any of the individual parts; built up over time organically alongside the community.

So instead of a single ancestor forming a god, it could be that gods are a collective spirit composed of multiple ancestors, as well as the collective ideas and beliefs of a given tribe/clan . They could be the spiritual analog of their given community, tribe, or clan.

I think that this can get all very complicated very quickly, so I am going to leave this here for the time being. I feel like there is plenty more to explore, but that I am generally on to something that might work for me here. Feedback is welcome of course, as a way to help me develop these ideas further, or to find errors in my own thinking.

Thanks for reading!


“If you narrow it, you miss it.” A response.

This post is in response to a post by Helio, which can be found here.

I want to clarify some things from my point of view, because I feel some things have been lost in translation.

“So when a polytheist says he’s not god-centric because he focuses on ancestors and landwights instead of gods, he’s basically superimposing a monotheistic scheme on a polytheistic worldview”

First off, I stated very clearly that I am only a polytheist by proxy. I am first and foremost an animist, though my worldview and practice acknowledges and allows room for beings I would call gods. The “monotheism critique” will be dealt with later.

Helio has this to say;

“What is a god? The question is easily answered in monotheism: god is the all-knowing, all-powerful and all-seeing being who created and rules everything. And because there’s only one, everyone else is not a god, no matter how much they look and act like one. They’re called by other names: angels, demons, saints, prophets and so forth. But how does it work in polytheism, where there’s no divine monopoly nor a cap on the number of divine beings? Can godhood be restricted to a specific group of more-than-mere-human beings? No, it can’t. A landwight, just like an ancestor, is a deity. A nymph is a goddess, an elf is god, as is the spirit of a dead person.”

My criticism of Helio’s piece is such; that conflating all spiritual beings as “gods” misses the fundamental diversity of such beings.

Spirits are diverse beings, and some come in kinds we can recognize, and some are so alien, so beyond our experience it is difficult to even think about them, to give words to the experience of them.

Helio and I would be on the same general page, if “gods” were substituted for “spirits” in his post. So on this level, the difference is merely semantic. However, some more depth is required.

“What is a god?” I think this is a great question, and one that is not easily answered. As I conceive it, a god is any being that makes me feel insignificant. Any being, that is so beyond me in age, experience, power, influence, or what have you, that I utterly feel small. Also, I generally consider gods to have an interest in human affairs, for various reasons.

I agree with the author when he says that this is not a clear black/white issue. It is not so simple as “x is a god” and “y is not a god”. There is a wide amount of overlap between categories of spiritual beings, and because many of these categories are humans creations, we can argue that each is arbitrary as well, because it is true. We put beings into categories to help make sense of them, but often these categories do little justice to the diversity of such beings. Categories are generalities, and the specifics often go beyond or overlap with other categories.

I think Helio gave some good examples of this; “consider the Dísir in Norse polytheism: they’re divine women or mothers, tribal and family goddesses if not female ancestors, yet goddesses nonetheless; but the word dís is also used for the Valkyries, themselves minor deities of war and at one time called Odin’s or Herjans dísir (Guðrúnarkviða I, stanza 19); even Freyja is referred to as Vanadís or the Dís of the Vanir.”

However, I think it is dangerous to go from “there is some overlap between x and y” to “there is always overlap between x and y.” This logical extension just does not hold water when considered against the diversity of spiritual beings, and the relations between beings as well. Some are gods, to be sure, some are not, and some are inbetween, or neither. There is some overlap in some cases to be sure, but this is not always true.

While I cannot speak to the Roman sources, I am fairly familiar with the Nordic sources, so here I offer a couple of counter examples. Yes, I agree that there is a great deal of overlap, especially between the Aesir, Vanir and the elves, and other classes as well. Sometimes these are treated as separate classes, and sometimes spoken of as if the same thing. Also, there is no small amount of overlap between the dead and these classes. Warrior dead go to Valhalla, Freyja picks up some, and Hel picks up others, and so on. Hel is notably thought to be in the underworld. So no, there is no set “higher” strata which is exclusive for the gods. Beings of all types move around, and can be found on many levels. However, even if Christian-glossed, the old Norse sources do generally put their god-beings, in Asgard, in the branches of the world tree. Such an arrangement is not strictly a monotheistic idea, and I will say more about that in a moment.

At the same time, the Norse sources also make a clear cut distinction between gods and other beings in some cases. The Alvíssmál is notable in this case because it details several diverse class of beings, Aesir, Vanir, Jotunns, elves and dwarves. The Jotunns are the most notable example of beings that are not considered to be gods. Jotunns, speaking generally, are similar to the Aesir gods in many ways, going so far as to share a common descent in ancestry. However, they are not (again generally) considered to be gods, and in many cases enemies of the gods and what they stand for.

At the same time, there are notable exceptions to all this. Skadi is a case in point. A giant that was considered as an  Aesir and a Vanir. As I said, there are cases when spirits go to join the gods, but the reverse is also true. Perhaps not in the Norse sources, but there are sure to be forgotten gods and spirits. Beings which no longer had the status and worship they once did, whose memories and names are lost to time. Other beings can be ascended to godhood, and there are some cases as well where beings are “cast-out” and stripped of divine status. And this is not exclusive to modern monotheisms, either.

As for the “monotheism” of my thoughts, it is a fair point. It is something I will have to think about in more detail. However, at the same time, I feel such a critique does more to shut down the conversation then it does to enhance it. The reason for this is that many other systems of belief conceive of their world in similar methods, and some of which are far older than modern monotheisms. As examples, I have written about shamanic/animistic worldviews herehere and certainly in other places as well. It is important to remember that ancient as well as modern beliefs systems are not entirely divorced from the socialcultural realities that create them. It is no coincidence that the Norse cosmology resembles the society and culture it came out of. Also, even the Norse system drew from other inspirations, and people they encountered. They were also interpreted through a Christian lens when written down. The same is true of modern monotheisms. They drew inspirations from the people they conquered and converted. Christianity especially assimilated pagan ideas and holidays, and certainly some of the ideas as well. Can we say honestly where some of these ideas originated?

The point I am trying to make, and that was central to my original post on this topic, is that there is a fundamental diversity to the world of spirits and belief that we can barely grasp. We are forced, through our limited abilities, to create categories that makes sense of a whole other set of realities that do no always make sense to us humans. The complexity is too great, and eventually, our thoughts and languages categories fail.