“There is no such thing as speech that is free. You must pay for everything that you say.”
— Marine Corps Staff Sergeant Sykes, Jarhead
I am about to pay for my words.
This piece will likely make me very unpopular, because I am going to talk about a very large, nasty elephant in the Polytheist room. A very large, nasty elephant that a lot of people aren’t wanting to address with sincerity, much less with any intention of doing something about it.
I accept the impending consequences. I accept the coming backlash, the (intentional) misinterpretation of my words, the spitting of black toads and the toddleresque tantrum-throwing.
Indeed, I welcome it. What better way for my voice to be heard than through reactionary criticism of it? Those that hate me and what I have to say shall be my most adamant and dedicated Word-Bearers.
My only care concerning this essay is that my words are seen, and that people reconsider their behavior and attitude as a result of this much-needed confrontation. Because the words that have been flying recently — and indeed, for well over a decade, though I have not been around to see it all — are contributing to the deconstruction and stagnation of community within Polytheism as a patchwork whole.
This isn’t about assiduously nodding in agreement with everyone else for the sake of avoiding controversy and not disturbing unhealthy, stagnating quos. This is not about defending institutionalized bigotry and intolerance masquerading as religion. This is not a treatise advocating how we shouldn’t have any (civil, rational) disagreements, at all, ever, over anything, because “we’re all one.” This is not about allowing the dissemination of ignorant assumptions and downright fabrications to run rampant at the expense of proper scholarship and objective, external reality. This is not a lecture on how no one should ever intelligently, pointedly question authority, or think for themselves. This is not a tirade about “right” versus “wrong” theologies.
This is about community. How it’s failing. Why it’s failing.
The words of the jealous, the hateful, the fear-mongering, the infantile, the uninformed, and the angry are costing every Polytheist, every Pagan (for those who identify with that moniker), their community. This is a grave problem, one which threatens the existential success of all Polytheist movements, and of all individual Polytheists. Turning a blind eye to threats that we are assured “aren’t serious,” and vitriol we are assured “doesn’t exist,” will not make this putrescent disease go away. Apathy, the coddling of ignorance, and inaction will not heal or (re)establish community, online or off.
Pretending not to see this disease consume us from the inside out, ignoring it, and gaslighting those who have the eyes to see matters for what they are, will not force it, nor those aware of it, out of existence.
I am certainly not the only one who notices that there is something very rotten in the state of Denmark. Sannion has recently been writing at length about this issue, particularly in regard to the Hellenic community, and how there being too many writers and not enough doers might be part of the problem (in many respects, I agree with him, though not all). Fanny Fae has given the Kemetic community a piece of her mind over this worrisome, frustrating trend on her own blog, having become incredibly fed-up with what currently constitutes “fashionable behavior” among Kemetics, saying what most of us have not had the guts nor gonads to. Devo has for some time been attempting to call attention to what’s not working about our current communal climate, attempting to point out the bigger picture to other Kemetics, and trying to bridge divides between fractious groups in order to improve the community. I have no doubt that Galina Krasskova, Elizabeth Vongvisith, Del Tashlin, Raven Kaldera, and the bookish genius behind Grumpy Lokean Elder could regale us for many a long hour with their innumerable accounts of being threatened with violence and death (in person, over the phone, and in online vipers’ nests such as Asatru Lore — the digital Heathen capital of selective deletion of incriminating evidence and backpedalry). And they could tell us all about being viciously slandered, simply for maintaining ideas that Loki is a legitimate God and isn’t “the Norse Satan,” and acknowledging that there are a number of Etin Gods (like Skaði, Mengloth wife of Svipdag, and Aesir of Jotun descent like Heimdallr and Tyr) Who aren’t worthy of scorn, but are immensely valuable to Heathen religion. All for these and many other “horrible heresies” that ultimately cause no other human being any harm whatsoever.
Many people within the overarching Polytheist community aren’t willing to work together to achieve common goals, to support those willing, able, and attempting to lay the groundwork for the rest of us, so that we might enjoy the comfort and security that such pioneering and solidarity provides. Most Polytheists don’t seem to know how to communicate or express themselves in a way that is civil and respectful. Most Polytheists don’t know how not to be selfish and solipsist. Most Polytheists don’t know how to handle newcomers to religion. Most Polytheists don’t know how to respect or listen to Elders who have been at this a lot longer than we have, like Galina Krasskova and Tamara L. Siuda (the latter being an accredited, published Egyptologist, for crying out loud! I fail to understand how being an accredited, published Egyptologist and not harping on one’s religious affiliations regarding an academic work is “disingenuous,” “misrepresenting,” and indicative of “suspect credibility” — but why try to make sense out of logically fallacious accusations and irrational faction-entrenchment disguised as public concern? Of course, what would I know, I’m only still in the process of pursuing a degree in a sub-field of History and have experienced firsthand how suicidal to one’s career it is to be a Polytheist among scholars who resent “silly, backward people” like us). Most Polytheists don’t know how to create, how to respect others’ creations — indeed, their individual persons and rights as human beings — and cannot resist the urge to destroy every effort and beneficial contribution another makes.
Why? Because we latch onto juicy floods of misinformation the way flies swarm and glue themselves to honey. Because these people dared to do something the rest of us either couldn’t or wouldn’t do, and some of us become jealous and angry for it, coveting their status and clout — sometimes reviling them for it — but failing to realize how difficult leadership really is.
For whatever reason, you can’t appreciate the immense sacrifices people have made for you — for all of us — to lay the necessary foundation so that you could more openly be who, what, and where you are today; saying what you say, believing what you believe, practicing what you practice, and reading what you read.
Particularly among us “little people,” who do not get so much external media attention, lurking in the Eighth Hell of our online Polytheist fora, pointless, destructive vitriol flows in thick, torpid rivers. Snarkiness, clique politics, and fantastically stupid attempts at manipulation and subterfuge erupt from the depleted soil and overwhelm like so much invasive Purple Loosestrife. Honestly, sometimes it seems that the excessive, mindless hatred is all that’s keeping us together. It is disgustingly sad, not to mention utterly toxic. How can anyone but a sociopath bear this, much less enjoy this? How can we hope to have any strong leadership or guidance, hope to get anything worthwhile done, when we act like this?
Some months ago, Satsekhem wrote a piece called Kemeticism is Orthopraxic. In it, she described her thoughts and feelings regarding Kiya Nicoll’s Shopping Cart Theology, and how she felt it didn’t work for her. She was trying to rationalize how ma’at works in a Modern context for herself. Rather than actually listen to what she had to say, and carefully consider where she was coming from and engage in rational discussion with her, a lot of passive-aggressive, overtly aggressive, and generally unnecessary, insulting responses from a handful of reactionaries cropped up uncalled-for elsewhere on WordPress. It took little time indeed for that tuberculosis to spread to Facebook and Tumblr. It wasn’t the content of the disagreement that touched nerves. It was the fact that someone dared to disagree and offer alternative thoughts on a prominent community figure’s article and praxical theories. It was beyond being an issue of simply talking-past each other. It was a fire-fight drenched in haterade.
What the hell is wrong with us that we continually stoop to such incredible lows?
Oh yeah, we’re ungrateful, privileged assholes living in solipsist bubbles with internet access.
Meanwhile, in the real world, people are murdered for being Polytheist. Polytheists are vilified, targeted, discriminated against — not just in seemingly far-removed, war-torn countries like Syria — because they have no strong, organized representation; too few voices of reason to speak up for them; no solid community.
Is that the kind of world you want to live in? Do you want to keep fighting amongst yourselves incessantly and pettily? Do you want to remain, in the words of Peter O’Toole as T. E. Lawrence, “a little people, a silly people, greedy, barbarous, and cruel“? Do you want to make yourselves easy prey for those who would deny us our basic human rights, who would rape us, abuse us, kill us over religion?
Because by dog-piling and taking pot-shots at those doing actual work for the community, and by attacking your neighbors, that is exactly what you are steadily working toward. By incessantly going at each other’s throats, that is precisely the violent, hateful child of the future you are raping into the womb of the present. You are creating a despondent, shattered environment that nothing decent can flourish in, where everything is a mess and people are discouraged from speaking and participating, and nothing good will come from this if we persist down this barren, rocky path toward ruin. As Kiya Nicoll pointed out in her Shopping Cart Theology article, the small acts make a big difference, too, not just the Cosmic ones. The little malices we sow in life accumulate and grow into large, malignant tumors. They creep, they strangle, they kill.
I reiterate: there are plenty of people who are willing to take advantage of this situation, to destroy whatever hope we have of ever having equal footing with “the big three.” Many Polytheists are to be found along the LGBTQ spectrum, many Polytheists have non-mainstream political views, many Polytheists are Feminists, many Polytheists are of mixed ethnicity/belong to ethnic minorities. The fact that we’re a minority made up of minorities adds yet another dimension to the hatred many people have for us, and pique their appetite to see us fail and suffer miserably. It is therefore doubly important that we stick together.
As matters currently stand, we are barely eking out an existence. Rights, privileges, community . . . they do not maintain themselves. Each generation must fight to protect them, to ensure their continued existence so that others may benefit from them. We are horrible stewards of our own rights, of our own community. We are an ungrateful, slovenly lot who treats the blood, sweat, and tears of our hardest workers with total disrespect. We’re a broken minority, the brightly-colored plastic product of the Age of Convenience, and we’re all acting like complete idiots toward one-another.
Stop it. Stop it right now.
Enough with the pitiful attempts at subterfuge. Enough fighting with each other for no justifiable reason. Enough with the pointless cruelty. Enough.
When you stand before your Gods, what will you say to Them when They ask you what you have done with your life, what you have done for Their sake and for the sake of your fellow man?
If, when you look inside yourself, all you can really come up with (if you’re not so profoundly engrossed in self-denial) is “I won arguments on the internet to make myself look good and utterly humiliated others, and made a sport out of shaming and driving away newbies,” then you undeniably have a mountain of self-improvement and life-reassessment to do.
Instead of taking cheap shots at people’s careers and characters (unless they’re like this guy, then it’s arguably justified, though still doesn’t accomplish all that much), why don’t you write a reasoned, researched article about, say, a deity you want others to know more about; addressing common misconceptions and correcting misinformation? Instead wasting hours on the internet going full-“keyboard warrior” in a pointless pissing contest, why don’t you direct your combative spirit toward helping someone in the Polytheist community fight cancer? Or network with military Heathens to find out what you can do for them both tangibly and spiritually, so these servicemen who already endure incredible stress don’t have to feel so isolated in an institution that still does not treat them as equals?
If you’re going to speak or write, make sure it’s productive. If you’re going to perform any action, make sure it’s productive. Think before you speak, write, and act. If you’re too hot under the collar over something, step away from it, do something else to clear your head of emotional knee-jerk responses, and come back to it later if necessary. And if you’re not satisfied by the work someone else is doing? Do your own work, work you can be genuinely satisfied with, that others can benefit from. Anything short of that is just frivolous, obnoxious whining, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” (Macbeth, Act V, Scene V)
You know what I want? Not just for me, not just for the people I love and agree with, but for everyone? I want all of us to be able to say with complete honesty, “I legitimately tried to make the world a better place. I didn’t just tear people down for fifteen minutes of internet fame and contrived status on eCauldron / Asatru Lore / whogivesafuck.com.”
I want us to stop giving each other reasons to hate and fight with one-another (and by “fight,” I don’t mean “reasoned debate,” I mean “intestine conflict”). I don’t hate you, and I don’t want to hate you — I simply do not approve of the deleterious manner in which many of you have decided to behave. Your behavior is cack, and it needs to change. Some of you who are reading this now I know have some pretty abysmal attitudes, to say the least. But there are times when you say very poignant, insightful things, and I want you to listen to that side of yourselves and not the baser parts of yourselves. A lot of you are so brilliant, but you’re not applying that brilliance. I want you to improve. I know you can improve. I know you can be a better person than you’re allowing yourself to be. You’re limiting yourselves. I want you to be happy. I don’t want us to be miserable anymore.
We are so much better than this. We all have so much more to contribute than this . . . this shit. You don’t have to compromise your identity, you don’t have to give up your way of life, and you don’t have to like me or any other Polytheist very much, in order for us to “gird our loins manfully,” get along, and work together with integrity and civility toward common goals: religious equality and freedom for both military and civilian Polytheists, the establishment of physical temples, organizing public Polytheist events, charity fundraisers, Kickstarter campaigns to help not-so-“Big Name” Polytheists get their dreams off the ground . . . the whole nine yards.
I have not always spoken as I speak to you now. My history is not without its blemishes, my behavior not without its hypocrisies. I am not without my wrathful outbursts. I take accountability for this, and am committed to changing and improving myself. I have changed and improved, and I still have a lot of changing and improving to do. I expect my community to hold me to this. I do this for the health of my community, and for myself. And I am holding my community to the same standard that I am held to, and hold myself to.
If I can improve myself, if I can extend my hand to those with whom I do not necessarily agree and do not particularly like, if I can be more mindful, then so can all of you. There is absolutely no excuse as to why you cannot do this.
Changing your attitude, changing the way you interact with people, holding yourself accountable for your behavior, will not instantaneously solve every single problem we face as a community. Such change, however, can make things better. Lack of panaceas and instant gratification is not an excuse to allow these trends to continue. There is no excuse for making a bad situation worse by creating a hostile environment dominated by destructive personality conflicts, vile attitudes, and pointless competition.
This isn’t a race. This isn’t a contest. This is hard work, and we’re all in this together whether we like it or not. I have said it before, and I will say it again: we either sink together, or we swim together.