Category Archives: Reflections

What’s in a name?

This is one of those rare times I feel the urge to comment on contemporary matters in the western pagan/polytheist/etc. communities. Now hopefully I’ve been making it clear on this blog that I speak only for myself and not anyone else who calls themselves the labels that I also use (whether it’s “heathen” or “pagan” or the various cultural terms), but if I haven’t, hopefully I’ve made that clear now. I should also take this moment to say that I defined the term heathen for myself as well, and I do not expect anyone else to comply with it (though if people wish to copy that definition for themselves then by all means do so).

Religious labels are such a double-edged sword. On one hand, the labels are how like-minded people try to find each other, particularly in this internet age where nearly every publication online has keywords and specific search terms. On the other, people using the same labels don’t always agree with each other (just look at how many sects of Christians there are) and there’s really no way to regulate who gets to use and define them. The term “heathen” is no exception. Try searching for “heathen” topics you’ll get all sorts, from Neo-nazi ideals to recon/revivalist to wiccan-ish flavorings and all the possibilities in between.

This leads to a recurring issue with religious labels that I fear I’ll never be able to escape (though I’ve tried in the past), and that’s having others speak for me without my permission. Often those others that are speaking for me are those I have strong disagreements with, on a religious and personal level, but unfortunately those people have status and fame whereas I’m small and anonymous. They have a larger voice than I do and it gets frustrating to feel powerless over my own identity. I can put stuff up on a blog like I’m doing now, but let’s be honest, this isn’t exactly a high-traffic area. Which, for the most part, suits me just fine, but when it comes to social commentary it makes my voice a difficult thing to project.

The cause of today’s concerns is Galina Krasskova publishing a new book, and being reminded of certain things from the inevitable fall-out between her fans and her haters in the comments (honestly, it could be a drinking game by now). I’ve seen ridiculous commentary on both sides, but quite honestly her and her fans frustrate me a lot more than the haters do. Reason being is that they are quite prominent in the overall Pagan world, at least in America, and their writings are more mainstream, so she reaches a wider swath of people than the haters do, who appear to mainly keep to themselves. So when she claims to speak for Heathens and state her ideas of what Heathens should do as fact, there’s a lot more I have to negate when explaining myself compared to what’s associated with the haters.

One of the biggest concepts she pushes for is having strong devotion to the Gods above all else (and strong for her is extreme for me). I know a lot of people who do that and that’s just fine. But the problem starts when she wants all other heathens to do this, or when she starts criticizing other heathens (and even unrelated pagans) and paints anything less than the highest devotion as a sad state of affairs. As an aspect of Christian baggage in pagan thinking.

Funnily enough, I find her stance to be more Christian. I’m not here just to act like a Christian to a different god than Yahweh. I’m here to explore my heritage as fully as possible and bring back what I can into a living set of beliefs again. The gods are indeed a part of it, but they’re not the whole thing. I also get the feeling that there is a conflation of importance and receiving constant personal attention in her writings, which for me are two separate things. I am polytheistic, and I do think the gods are important, but that doesn’t mean they need my undivided attention, or that all the recognized gods are automatically in contact with humans. Like I said before, I am not going to make blanket assumptions about the gods, nor am I going to expect others to interact with them the same way. So when someone else DOES make assumptions and does expect me to show the same level of devotion to be  considered a true heathen, I find it presumptuous.

Now, to be fair, she is involved with specifically Norse gods, so perhaps her words were never meant to apply to me or to those others at all since I work with different cultures despite also calling myself heathen. Maybe I read her words as being unintentionally for a broader audience than intended. But even if it doesn’t actually apply to me, it still presumes that everyone under the Norse heathen umbrella should be following her ideas of devotion, and I still cannot support that.

It also leads to the problem of the term “heathen” itself. Many perspectives are guilty of claiming a single definition and using a “no true Scotsman” approach for those who don’t adhere to their standards. This same problem occurs with a great many religious labels, probably all of them. Heathen has several prominent, and contradictory, definitions and stereotypes both within the group and from the perspective of outsiders. Heathens are racists, heathens are loony, heathens are LARPers making it a religion, heathens are neo-Nazis, heathens are rigid, heathens live in the past, heathens are norse-flavord wiccans, etc. etc. etc. I’m confused because this is all very Norse-specific and the predominant assumption of a “heathen” is that one is Germanic-based (which is the origin of the term’s usage in contemporary colloquialism), yet the term “heathen” is obviously used beyond Nordic/Germanic culture now. There’s also an implication of history and culture that Pagan/Neopagan doesn’t always convey (since those usually get associated with contemporary, individualistic and eclectic religions in colloquial use).

So I’m torn. It took me a while to finally find a term that I thought would fit as a general descriptor, but as time goes on more and more people will contribute to the social understanding of “heathen” and change it from its original intention. I don’t know if making a post to explain how I view the term is enough, or if I should move on and find a new term (or make one up). Is “heathen” still useful, or has it become too broad and varied now?

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Day 10: Patrons

I don’t have any patrons. It’s not a concept I believe in. However, there are gods that have great personal significance for me: Csodaszarvas, Fra Berta, Volos, and Parom. If I did believe in patronage, they would be the ones I’d petition.

In the past I’ve also referred to Grandmother Spider as being a significant deity for me, but lately I’ve been questioning the idea. Spiders themselves are still highly important to me, but I really don’t know if the spider experiences actually have any link to Her. Rather, like the foxes, I’m starting to feel that the spiders are significant beings in their own right, rather than being representative of a deity.

(And I know that I keep referring to “the foxes” without any context. They’ll be day 14 of this list, as they’re a unique aspect of my beliefs and experiences that need their own space to be satisfactorily described).

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Day 9: Beliefs – Deity Gender

I briefly discussed this in my first Non-Binary Mysteries post so it might sound repetitive, but I want to make the 30 days of Paganism structure as complete as possible.

My beliefs about deity gender (or the gender of wihts in general) are not strongly held. Several of my gods have been depicted in both male and female ways (no third genders simply because the source cultures were binary, as far as we know), but the depictions are usually in favor of one gender over the other. Volos (Veles), for example, is primarily depicted as male. Yet there are giant snake/dragon beings that share everything with the “standard” Volos associations, except they’re described as female (or they’re mentioned as suckling young, which is a traditional sign of being female). Many deity depictions of my gods are like that, where there’ll be either an opposite-gender version in one of the stories, or there is an opposite-gender counterpart with a similar name (Fra Berta has many names, one of which is Lady of the Ember Days. There is also a Man of the Ember Days, with no distinction other than being the male equivalent).

I do ascribe to certain gender depictions for certain deities without switching back and forth simply because that’s either how I’ve come to know them in the stories, or it simply “feels” right. Having Csodaszarvas or Fra Berta be female feels the most comfortable to me due to their motherhood associations and due to how “female” is viewed in the culture I’ve grown up in. When I left Catholicism and started researching all this, it was empowering to me to see these powerful and important figures as a sex that I’m viewed as, as the sex that’s lower in rank compared to males. But as I got older and became more comfortable with myself, the gender of the deities became less important to me as well.

I also started to realize that the deity’s genders were more symbolic of how they worked with humans and how the sexes were viewed in the source cultures, rather than anything actually involving sex or genitalia, which allowed me to become more apathetic about their gender as well. For instance, Nagy Boldogasszony is always described as female. This isn’t because she biologically has a uterus, xx chromosomes, etc., but because she has consistently been the god to petition to for women’s protection in pregnancy and birth. That association carries over to the more symbolic realm, where the Magyars considered agriculture and earth-related endeavors to be associated with female qualities due to the appearance of the earth giving birth to new life each year (my suspicion, assuming the “original” Magyars were steppe riders, that this is an adoption from their agricultural Slavic neighbors once they became more sedentary). Her becoming conflated with the Catholic Virgin Mary solidified the female depiction.

I find that the high gods, due to having more “official” descriptions compiled over time, tend to be the ones with gender associations, while the lower gods and local wihts are usually more ambiguous. The foxes have no apparent gender, for instance, nor do the nature wihts that I’ve come in contact with thus far. The one local wiht that I met up near Door County, WI  (The “White Lady”) was female, but that’s because she appeared as a form of Virgin Mary to a future nun and her followers accepted that vision as fact (I’ll go into that in a future post, as she was a one-time visit rather than a permanent part of my pantheon, since I don’t live there anymore). That’s how she “felt” to me too, so that’s how I’ll consider her until it’s indicated otherwise.

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Day 8: Patronage and other deeper relationships

Ya know, this could have been another short post like a couple of others but I’m gonna try to delve into this with a bit more meat because there’s a lot that can be said about this, even if I don’t get personally involved. I’ve also had conversations recently that have given me a lot of food for thought regarding deities and how humans relate to them in my worldview. As a refresher here’s my previous post going over what I felt deities were in general. In addition to that, I feel that I must add here that the term “deity” is more of a title or a class of being rather than a species of being, so to speak. They’re basically big wihts, one who rules over a major function, group, and/or area as determined by the reference culture (a wiht may be a high god in one culture, but a low god in another, and be completely meaningless in yet another culture). It all depends on who you ask whether one is a deity or not, and for me there’s a gradient or hierarchy of wiht status rather than clear categories of “deity” vs. “non-deity”.

Like I said in my Being Heathen post, I don’t believe in the concept of patronage when it comes to wihts. It feels hubristic to think that they would do such a thing for us, let alone be directly involved in our lives at all. It also feels very contemporary Christian, what with the idea that we can have a personal, familial relationship with Jesus/God and the concept of a patron saint for certain sects. I have a suspicion that the idea of personal patronage is a Christian influence due to so many Neopagans coming from Christian cultures. Yes, there is evidence for individuals to have a patron-like relationship with a god, but those individuals are usually big deals like kings or chiefs, not a regular civilian (i.e. Turul appeared to Emese’ to fortell the birth of Almo’s, in a style not unlike the angel speaking to Virgin Mary about Jesus. Almo’s becomes the ancestor of the ruling family of the Magyars and by extension the leader of the Magyars. He wasn’t just any baby that Turul got involved with). I don’t consider “gods of a group” type (such as a “god of farmers” or “god of magicians”) are to be considered personal patrons because they’re for the whole class of people as defined by their work, not any one individual as a whole.

Instead, what I feel actually happens is that a person pledges their devotion to a wiht, gives them offerings, shrine space, and attention, and the wiht might take interest in them. There is a concept sometimes used in Germanic heathenry called fultrui that references this idea (essentially translated into a relationship of trust in a deity) but there is no equivalent in Magyar culture that I know of currently. However, there are totem-like concepts present that likely have a similar relationship of trust, protection, and reciprocation for the group as a whole. Turul is the obvious one, as she fortold the birth of the founding ruler and is an important representative symbol to this day, but Csodaszarvas’s role in leading the men to their wives and thus their future cultures could also be considered a totemic one.

As you can probably tell, I do not have a lot of deeply personal relationships with most wihts, god or not. There are those who are very special to me, but it’s a matter of me being in devotion to them out of awe or gratitude rather than them patronizing me. I don’t expect them to even notice me that often, let alone interact with me or my kind. Very few of my gods are close to humans or have any need for direct, individual interaction, and most of them do not have human-like features or tendencies. Those that do get heavily involved in human lives, such as the hearth/fire wiht, are an exception rather than a rule. Other cultures tend to be the opposite, such as the Hellenic gods. Why that is, I cannot say. But coming from a Roman Catholic background where there can a ritual devotion for nearly everything and everyone, I have to say I much prefer the hands-off feel of my gods. It may seem a bit harsher and more distant, but they’re still very real and very special to me.

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Non-Binary Mysteries: 1-Beginnings

This is the start of a project made by Milo of rotwork whom I’ve been following in various blog forms for a while and have learned so much from them. Normally I don’t talk about myself and my own identities outside of religion because this is a heathen blog, but from time to time I do find that my own gender/sex identities gets in conflict or is completely unknown in the religious context, so I kinda have to tweak things a bit. So I’ll be following these prompts, and if I’m able, I’ll respond to some of them too on this blog. These will be part of the “Reflections” category.

First, a little about myself in this context. As far as public image goes I look like a cis-female, since I have a straight boyfriend and my body is, uh, well-equipped for child-bearing. Having a conservative Catholic family doesn’t allow for any deviation from one’s body either, so I just say I’m female on legal documents to make things easier on myself. But if there wasn’t all this social pressure, if I had a flatter, more androgynous body, or if I had the ability to shapeshift, you can bet your ass I wouldn’t be staying in this form. I’d be all sorts of shapes as it suits my mood or the situation I’m in, and I have no particular attachment to the sex that I was assigned (I’m still me in this body, but if I woke up tomorrow and found myself in a male one I’d still be me, there wouldn’t be a body dysphoria issue either way).

My sexual orientation is similar. I’ve been attracted to all sorts of people and gender hardly becomes a part of it. Rather, it’s how I feel around them, or their personality traits, after I’ve gotten to know them. The physical traits that I find “hot” tend to be found in all sorts of people too rather than being a single gender stereotype (i.e. tall person with long hair [when it’s clean and well-taken care of at least], strong arms and hands). Often the people I have crushes on look androgynous and I have no idea what their gender is.

 

So TL;DR, I’m an agendered pansexual (demisexual-pansexual?) who favors monogamy. But like I said, most people assume I’m a straight woman and I don’t really have the energy at the moment to educate everyone on gender/sex diversity let alone try and convince them on what I actually am. The internet is pretty much my sole refuge for exploring those topics.

~~~

Now for the prompts!

How did you first realize you were nonbinary?

Reading anime fanfics in high school (yea. I was one of those kids). This was back when angelfire and geocities were hosting the best sites. I got introduced to a lot of “interesting” things in the stories and they became my sexual awakening so to speak. Later in early college years I started to realize that maybe what I liked about certain characters and ideas were because they were like me, so I started to explore the various lgbt+ facets online. However, I didn’t really grasp the concepts and figured out how they applied to me until the last couple of years, when I was living on my own for the first time and had room to breathe and explore.

There’s still a lot for me to learn though, as this is the first time in my life that I’ve interacted with others over this topic. Previously I was just reading about this on my own.

How did you come to be a practicing pagan, polytheist, or witch?

This was answered in a previous post.

Who was the first deity you ever approached, and why?

Inari. I have loved and strongly identified with foxes for as long as I can remember, and the most accessible tales about foxes for me (again, due to anime and due to my library’s resources at the time) were the stores of kitsune and their counterparts throughout East Asia. Naturally Inari pops up quite a bit in reference to kitsune and when I first started being a pagan (in a wiccanized sense) I thought Inari would be a perfect patron deity. I had done a lot of research on kitsune and Inari, I had some basic Shinto shrine materials from ebay and I was ready. But my petitioning received no response.

Now that I’m no longer 15 I’m grateful that I didn’t get a response, cause otherwise that could have lead to some seriously weeaboo-ish and disrespectful behavior on my part. But looking back on it, it seems like the attraction to Inari was partly due to their fluid nature (of gender, but also of their fluid relationship to human society and nature) on top of the equally-fluid fox spirits, as marginalized and boundary-crossing beings tend to be the ones I can most relate to. That period was an important step in learning about myself.

When was the first time you realized that the system of belief or non-belief you were raised with wasn’t working for you?

Middle school, around 13-14 years. There were a lot of things that I had issue with, but the outdated gender concepts of the Catholic Church just pissed me off so much and became the last straw. I left in a militant huff.

How, if at all, do the above experiences relate to your understanding of gender at the time?

My understanding of gender and gender equality was limited to the binary system at the time. You were either man or woman, and women deserved the same rights as men. Paganism and mythology was similar, where there was an emphasis on humanoid deities that were either man or woman, and were either for men or for women. With the exception of Baphomet the idea of being agendered, trans, or intersex just wasn’t visible, and homosexuality was barely visible.

Over the years I’ve come to find myself more comfortable with animalistic or “force of nature” deity depictions instead of humanoid ones, and their traditional gender, if there is one, is a minor attribute. A few of my gods are indeed humanoid and gendered (i.e. Nagy Boldogasszony is depicted as a humanoid female due to traditionally presiding over women birthing babies), but even then I don’t have a NEED for them to be only that way.

~~~

To end off, given that this is my “coming out” post on this blog so to speak, I am open to questions about this identity of mine and how it works within my form of heathenry. I’m sure I’ll be going over those details in future prompts too.

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*Facepalm*

Ok, this is not going to be the most formal of my posts here but gosh darn it I just need to get it out of my system cause it feels like such a cool piece of UPG right now.

So for the past several years there’s been a snake/winged snake figure that I have been researching and thinking about on-and-off for the past several years, and I’ve been interested in the snake cults of Central Europe. Naturally Veles is the most prominent figure of the snake cult due to him being one of the well-known Slavic gods, but while he’s well-known all around my target area he (or something like him) never really seems to be IN the target area. Yet at the same time I kept feeling like there was something to him that I needed to figure out.

A bit of digging and memory refreshing later I realized there was quite a bit of folklore dealing with snakes that is similar to the Veles associations (including the cattle/milk, magic, protection, and swamp ones) and also a possible corresponding figure by the name of Zomok (although they’re winged snakes, but still cthonic beings). I knew of Zomok before when reading about the Sárkány (Hungarian “dragons” though they’re usually in human form rather than being like the usual lizard-like animal) but never really made the connection between them and Veles, or of the snakes in general, until now. More on this later when I get into the “Snake God” post that’ll go into the specific associations between all these Veles figures.

Going into the UPG aspect, I live near a state natural area called Volo Bog that is a gorgeous quaking bog which shows plant succession all the way back to the last Ice Age.

Think about this for a moment. Veles is also called Volos. Veles is associated with swampy, wet earth areas. Volo Bog is a BOG. HOW DID I NOT SEE THE CONNECTION BEFORE?? Granted the name “Volo” probably isn’t due to the snake god but isn’t that an awesome coincidence??

Once the Spring thaw comes I’m gonna go visit. The last time I went to a quaking bog was Silver Lake Bog and it was absolutely magical (even with a disrespectful and annoying Frat boy in tow due to the visit being a college field trip).

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Day 6: The power of prayer/reciprocity

Day 6 of the 30 Days of Paganism meme. This will be another short one like the Day 5: Magic post because my attitude and use of both concepts are very similar.

Given that this asks about the POWER of prayer/reciprocity rather than solely the belief, I’ll take this literally and answer this as I don’t think there’s a whole lot of external power to prayer. Rather, it acts internally to relieve anxieties and restore a sense of control in one’s life.

Course, that armchair-psychology approach to it hasn’t stopped me from praying to the foxes (more on them later), ancestors, or to certain gods when I was in need of something like a job or even a good grade. What was the American saying, that there’s always going to be prayer in schools as long as there are tests? It’s meant to be a joke but it’s a sad truth.

Even if I believe that it doesn’t actually do much, I still make sure to reciprocate and give offerings to whoever I prayed to for their help, especially if my request was fulfilled. Do I know for sure if what I wanted happened because of chance or because of who I asked? No, but I’ll live as if the latter was the cause.

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