Theodish Thoughts

Musings on Theodism, religion, mythology, history, and contemporary Heathenry

Month: April 2013

Tribal Organization

While it is the case that most Pagans who are inspired by Wicca tend to organize themselves into covens (when they choose to belong to groups beyond themselves at all), this is most certainly not a universal thing amongst those who are most often held to be under the Pagan/Heathen umbrella. Take, for example, the phenomenon of modern tribalism.

Many people who practice Heathenry today organize themselves into tribes of one sort or another. This sort of organization into inangards and utgards (within-the-boundary and outside-the-boundary) is essential to the historical Germanic mindset, and sets the tone for many, if not most, Heathen forms of organization today.

The most obvious and ubiquitous of these organizational types is the kindred. Seen mostly within the Ásatrú community, kindreds are a basic form of tribalist grouping. The term “kindred” itself implies a sort of pseudo-familial organization; through oaths or less formal mutual agreement, the individual members deem themselves to be “kin” with the other members of the group. This forms the most basic arrangement for identity among the members of the group; those who are kin, and those who are not. This also applies to other terms also used for the same purpose, such as sippe, which comes from the German word for “clan”, or théod, which is derived from the Anglo-Saxon term meaning “tribe”.

Within the tribal structure, there are a variety of different models of organization. Some, such as those who practice Théodish Belief, use a sacral leadership model. In this model, the sacral leader (in some cases, an actual sacral king) is the intermediary between the Gods and the folk, and a semi-feudal structure is employed to bring the Luck of the Gods to the individual members of the tribe (done through a series of oaths that ultimately lead up to the sacral leader).

Others have a less feudal system and simply have one member of the tribe in a position of goði (an Old Norse word for chieftain/priest). In this model, the leader is usually the one who conducts the actual rituals and possibly does other organizational work, but the position is much more fluid. Others can perform rituals for the tribe as a whole, and there is no implication that the individual members don’t have a more direct line to the Gods.

Still other tribes are more democratic in nature, with elections of leaders for specific periods of time. In such situations, the leader is usually less involved in sacral matters such as the conduct of ritual, and more in the more mundane aspects of administration (maintaining a bank account, making sure permits for using public spaces are obtained, etc.).

In all of these models (and there are of course others), it is also the case that sometimes a pair of leaders is chosen. Rarely, if ever, is there the sort of male/female duality implicit in such an arrangement that might be commonplace to other forms of Pagan religion.

Just a reminder that it’s not all covens and high priestesses out there. There’s a big, beautiful, diverse world under the Pagan/Heathen umbrella.

We are the Mushrikeen

The recent events in Boston have pointed out, yet again, that there is a problem within the Muslim community that does not figure in most other faith communities. We don’t see many headlines that feature Mormons setting explosives at the end of marathon races, and the videos of Methodist neighborhoods cheering planes flying into skyscrapers in New York City are not to be found.

While many Pagans and Heathens in the United States and Europe are focused on Christianity as a perceived threat, the truth is that Islam is a much more real and present danger than even the most radical Christian sect aspires to be. And while there are indeed Christians who would like to see a theocracy established in the United States, they are a pitiful handful of fringe kooks, while there are hundreds of thousands, even millions of Muslims who support the aims of Islamist organizations who would impose their puritanical vision of Islam over the whole globe.

This is not to say that all Muslims are terrorists, nor is it to say that all Muslims support or are terrorists. But it can’t be denied that for the last two decades the majority of terrorist attacks have been inspired by Muslim ideology.

And this fact poses a particularly vexing problem for Pagans and Heathens.

One of the things, historically, that Islam was a reaction to was the perceived “polytheism” of Christianity. But even so, Christians and Jews are, as a group, given special status under Islamic Sharia law. In a Caliphate (the once and possibly future pan-Islamic state), Christians and Jews, and in some schools of Islamic jurisprudence Buddhists and Hindus as well ( all collectively called dhimmis) are allowed to practice their faith, as long as they do so unobtrusively and pay the jizya (a tax on non-Muslims).

This distinguishes them from Pagans and Heathens. We, as outright idolaters and polytheists, are not dhimmis. We are the mushrikeen. We are guilty of the crime of shirk, or worshipping Gods and Goddesses other than Allah. In saying that Odin is a source of wisdom, I am guilty of shirk under Islamic law, and by saying that the Goddess is a source of life, many Wiccans are, too.

“Shirk is devoting acts of worship to something or someone other than Allaah, such as one who seeks the help of the dead, those who are absent, the jinn, idols, the stars, and so on, or who offers sacrifices to them, or makes vows to them.” (Source)

As someone who maintains an altar to his ancestors and honors them in hall, who has idols to which I make offerings, and who makes oaths to the Aesir, I certainly fall into this category.

And what’s the penalty for shirk? What fate awaits we mushrikeen that doesn’t apply to the dhimmis?

Death:

“And when the sacred months have passed, then kill the polytheists wherever you find them and capture them and besiege them and sit in wait for them at every place of ambush. But if they should repent, establish prayer, and give zakah, let them [go] on their way. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.”

Merciful indeed. Convert or die.

While a lot of effort has gone into trying to explain away this verse of the Quran by saying it’s taken out of context, the reality is that the context doesn’t mitigate this at all. Indeed, it only reinforces it.

So when we see these cowardly crimes committed by those who want to spread their vision of Islam across the world, don’t shrug and say that it’s a war between Islam and Christianity. Don’t make excuses, such that Christianity is the “worse problem”. It’s not. There are millions of Muslims who take that verse in the Quran to heart, and they are not at all above putting that edict into practice. The Quran is not our friend, and Pagans and Heathens should wake up to that reality before they really do get a chance to put its commandment into practice.

Storming Heaven

I am not a fan of Christianity. It is a destroyer of cultures, religions, science, philosophy, and anything else that stands in its way of complete domination of the mind-space of everyone it encounters.

I am also not a fan of eclectic Paganism. Taking deities and other beings out of their cultural context can sometimes lead to them becoming gross caricatures or over-simplified reductionist parodies of the historical reality.

That said, I find that I must take issue with Sam Webster’s recent decree that “You Can’t Worship Jesus Christ and Be Pagan“. Indeed, I would posit that, in the context of an eclectic Paganism that allows for the integration of deities and other beings from widely disparate cultural and historical contexts, forbidding the inclusion of a deity from the Christian pantheon is not only arbitrary, but actually feeds into Christian ideas of uniqueness and implicit privilege.

I have been at Pagan ceremonies where deities as disparate as Freyja, Osiris, and Quan Yin have been invoked. Ritually, none of these were treated in any sort of fashion that a Viking Age Norseman, a New Kingdom Egyptian, or a Yuán Dynasty Chinese would recognize.

Now, in the context of the eclectic-Wiccan-style ritual in which it happened, that was right and proper. I know some eclectic Pagans also mix Buddhism, and a veneration of Buddha, into their practices as well. Why should this somehow stop there? Why is Christianity special?

If one is inclined towards eclecticism, there is no logical reason that it must stop at the shoreline of Christianity. If it is possible to worship Thor in an eclectic Pagan context, totally removed from His historical Norse cultural context, then why is it wrong or impossible to worship Jesus outside of the Christian historical-cultural context?

From the eclectic Pagan point of view, deities are approached individually, rather than as part of a pantheon or as part of a specific historical cultural milieu. Just as it is possible to worship the Roman Goddess Ceres in such a context without endorsing slavery as practiced by the Romans, so too must it be possible to worship Yeshua ben Joseph without endorsing the various theological, historical, or cultural aspects of Christianity.

That’s what eclectic Paganism does. It recontextualizes (or, perhaps, decontextualizes) deities. There is no reason that Christianity should be exempt from that process. In point of fact, those of us who are skeptical of Christianity’s claims of universality should welcome such enterprises. By treating Christianity and its deities (and make no mistake—there are many) as no different than the deities of the Norse, or the Celts, or the Romans, we undermine the inherent Christian claim of superiority through uniqueness.

This idea has broader implications as well. In my own Heathen faith, ancestor worship is a central idea. Would a Sayyid (a descendent of the Muslim prophet Mohammed) who was now an eclectic Pagan not be justified in including his most famous ancestor in his venerations? To cite another example, Satan is, arguably, both a Jewish and a Christian deity. In an eclectic Pagan setting, including Satan would seem to be perfectly justified, assuming there was a role in the particular ritual for which Satan would seem to be well-suited. To do otherwise is to acknowledge the Christian claims about Him; is that what we, as Pagans, do?

Remember, in an eclectic setting, deities are dealt with individually, removed from the religious context that normally surrounds them. The big monotheistic (more or less) religions are no different from any other religion, and thus should not be exempt from the reclaiming of their deities in an eclectic setting. To do anything else is to admit that there is something unique and special about those religions, which feeds into their claims of superiority and being the sole repositories of Truth. To bring them into an eclectic Pagan context is to return those deities to their original state, before the accretion of all that historical and cultural baggage, and serves as a reminder that, while most of us have grown up in a Christian culture, we are not compelled to accept its implicit assumptions.

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