“We have met the enemy and he is us.” — Pogo (Revised)

“We have met the enemy and he is us.” — Pogo (Revised) June 9, 2013


I’d hammer out danger
I’d hammer out a warning
I’d hammer out love between my brothers and my sisters
All over this land

— “If I Had a Hammer (The Hammer Song)”
by Lee Hays and Pete Seeger

Two things that I have learned in the latest Pagan-polytheist brouhaha over “pop culture Paganism” are:

1. Polytheism (like Paganism) is not a single or clearly defined entity.

2. I share common ground as a Self-centric and earth-centered Pagan with many polytheists.

Regarding the first point, I had previously (and erroneously) equated polytheism with reconstructionism. The variety of responses to the “pop culture Paganism” debate helped me to realize that there are polytheistic reconstructionists, non-reconstructionist polytheists, magickal polytheists, archetypal polytheists, naturalistic polytheists … and probably every conceivable variation on those categories as well.

Regarding the second point, I’ve been pleased to learn that, while I still disagree with hard polytheists about the nature of the gods, I myself have something to learn from them about devotion and worship (which I believe are not inconsistent with humanistic, naturalist, and archetypal Paganism). I am grateful to hard polytheists like P. Sufenas Virius Lupus and Dver for this. I am also grateful to polytheists like Sunweaver who don’t use the word “archetype” as a slur. And I am grateful to the many polytheists who have been willing in the last couple of years to take the time and exercise the patience it requires to explain your beliefs and practice to someone who is genuinely interested.

Unfortunately, I have also encountered what I think is (at least what I hope is) the extreme, fringe side of reconstructionist polytheism, in the person of Galina Krasskova.

A little bit of background. Galina Krasskova comes to Paganism via Heathenry, which, in the past, she has taken pains to distinguish from Paganism(s). As she explains in her Master’s thesis, “Race, Gender, and the Problem of ‘Ergi’ in Modern American Heathenry”, Heathenry developed in the United States in 1968 (the same year that Neo-Paganism appeared). But, as Krasskova explains, Heathenry grew not out of the counter-culture, but as a conservative response to the social changes of the 1960s (i.e., the sexual revolution, civil rights, and women’s liberation): “Unlike Wicca and eclectic Paganisms, which also began to come of age in the 1960s and 1970s, Asatru is a counter-counter cultural reaction, in other words a reaction to the reaction.”

Margot Adler, writing in 1979, consciously elected not to include Heathenry in her survey of contemporary Paganism, Drawing Down the Moon. Since that time, people like Diana Paxson have worked to bridge the gulf between Heathenry and Paganism, and we now see a healthy blurring of the boundaries between these two communities.

Unfortunately, others, like Krasskova, have adopted a divide and conquer approach. According to Krasskova, anyone who calls themselves a polytheist or Pagan (they are the same thing to her) who does not conform to her definition of those words is the enemy. Setting aside the outright contempt that Krasskova shows for non-deity-centered forms of Paganism (which she calls “humanistic, reductionist poison” and “garbage”), she also believes that the rest of us are out to destroy her religion. And this fear breeds a dangerous hostility, even militancy, in her writing. She explicitly identifies her enemies as monists, humanists, archetypalists, and atheist Pagans, but she also has little patience for other polytheists who do not meet her narrow definition of that word.

In a recent exchange in the comments to The Anomalous Thracian’s post, “God’s of Consequence”, I asked Galina and Anomalous:

“Also, how do you account for those self-described polytheists who believe that the gods *do* come from within us, but then take on a life of their own outside of us, thus becoming “real”, i.e., thought-forms or egregores? This is not a humanist, or even necessarily an archetypal, perspective. I think polytheism is more diverse than you suggest.”

Galina’s response?

“i would say they’re not polytheists.”

And just to be clear, if you are not polytheist, according to Krasskova, you are not Pagan either. She writes:

“I would go so far as to say Paganism that isn’t Deity centric isn’t Pagan.”

“Believe what you want. practice what you want, but don’t define it as polytheism or even Paganism. … Anything that attempts to veer Paganism or Heathenry or Polytheism or any of these traditions in the process of being restored away from those indigenous roots is something to be resisted.” (emphasis added)

The “indigenous roots” Krasskova refers to is literalist, hard polytheism. Not egregores, not thought-forms, not archetypes, not metaphors — only a very literal belief in the gods as as “real, independent, sentient beings” which “exist [and always have] outside of the limitations of the human mind” qualifies as polytheism or Paganism in Krasskova’s opinion.

Of course, Krasskova is entitled to her belief in her gods, however she conceives them. My issue with her arises with her claim that, if you don’t share her belief, then you don’t deserve to call yourself polytheist or even Pagan. It is not just archetypists, monists, “pop culture pagans”, humanists, and atheist Pagans that Krasskova would exclude from the Pagan umbrella. She also seeks to exclude those polytheists who aren’t, to her mind, polytheist enough. In short, she seeks to exclude the vast majority of Pagans.

Why should anyone care what Krasskova thinks? Because of the militant and provocative language she uses in her recent post, “Deity Centered Polytheism”:

“The recent debate about pop culture paganism brought home a few facts to me. This is a struggle. We are engaged in a potentially divisive struggle. It’s a necessary one, but it’s a struggle, a call to arms nonetheless. We are fighting to establish and build our traditions, restore our lineages, and renew veneration for the Powers in a way that will outlast us and our descendants. Secular Paganism, humanist paganism, atheist paganism, pop culture paganism, archetypism, and all of these various ideologies that put just about anything but actual Gods central to the spiritual experience (combined with the expectations that we as polytheists will give these ideologies equal legitimacy and weight to our own within our own traditions) are attacks on the integrity polytheism as a whole. Our traditions were destroyed once. It will not happen again. I believe that every devoted polytheist today has a responsibility not only to honor their Gods and ancestors consistently and well, but to stand up and draw a line in the sand with the greater mishmash of ‘Pagan’ communities, a line that says ‘you take your horse shit this far and no farther.’

“Because regardless of what people on the non-Deity centric side of the fence say, there is a concerted attempt to define devotion out of Paganism, out of polytheism, and out of Heathenry. It’s an attempt to finish the assault upon our traditions that our ancestors faced. This time it’s made with words and verbal strategies, with writing and blog posts. But it’s an attack nonetheless. Calling those of us who put our Gods first ‘fundamentalists’ in an effort to seize the moral high ground of this argument will not change the fact that this is a battle for the very soul of our traditions. Our ancestors, despite what monotheistic rhetoric would tell us, resisted and fought back and I for one believe it’s incumbent on us today to do at least that much.” (emphasis added)

(Note the quotes around “Pagan”.)

Krasskova thinks she is “holding the line” against a second Burning Times. She sees all other forms of Paganism as attacks on her own form of reconstructionist polytheism. She sees non-theistic forms of Paganism as “an outright attack on our Gods, our traditions, our lineage, and our ancestors. That happened once,” she says, “it will NOT happen again.” This is not rhetorical flourish. It is not hyperbole. Krasskova is insistent that she means exactly what she says. And if you disagree with her, then the value of your life to her is nil: “Outside of my partner, my dearest friends, and my House, outsiders have value to me only insofar as they are serving their Gods rightly”.

This is dangerous talk. It is destructive talk. Krasskova sees herself as a victim. But she adopts the oppressive language of her imaginary oppressors. She is an ideologue who is seeking to transform a diverse Pagan community into her own homogenous form of deity-centered polytheism. Even Heathenry was not sufficiently deity-centered for her, as she explains in her thesis:

“The overwhelming majority of modern Heathens choose, therefore, to make not the sacred world of Gods and spirits the ‘axis around which the human world revolves,’ but rather choose instead to make the human world the axis around which the worlds of the Gods revolve, utilizing carefully structured public rituals to keep the sacred at bay.”

No one is exempt from Krasskova’s condemnation and wrath: not Pagans, not polytheists, and not Heathens.

And Krasskova is not alone. At this moment, less a day after she published her post, 171 people have “liked” her post. And then there’s The Anomalous Thracian, whose blog is where Krasskova practiced what would become her “Deity Centered Polytheism” post in the comments section. Anomalous takes his literalism so far that he believes that his gods can “literally” (his word) rip the arms off people and beat them to death with them: “… yes, literally ripping arms off. Gods. Tangible consequences. Like bears in the woods.” (See his post and his comments following his post.) Not only does he believe this — which of course he’s entitled to — but if you question it, then you reap only contempt and charges of cultural imperialism. This is who Krasskova keeps company with. And the violence that Anomalous describes in his gods lends a new disturbing dimension to the implied violence of Krasskova’s “call to arms”. This, combined with an unshakeable conviction that you know what the gods want, is dangerous.

I do not doubt the genuineness of Krasskova’s encounters with what she calls her gods (although I can’t help but doubt the reality of what Anomalous describes). But I do take issue with where she goes with those experiences. Krasskova’s “call to arms” is an extreme example of the mistake made by so many religious ideologues who take their personal religious experiences as support for the exclusive authority of their tradition over all others, and then seek to defend that claim violently against all enemies, real or perceived. Krasskova has not explicitly incited physical violence, but she comes close, and her post does leave open that possibility. At the very least, she calls for verbal forms of violence against Pagans and polytheists who do not toe the line she has drawn, verbal violence which she models in her comments and her posts.

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  • Every body has an opinion…including Krasskova. I’ve found that I often have trouble with the Heathens and many Asatruars because they do take a sort of (often literal) gun-toting absolutist ideal and wrap themselves up in it. I get a general pain at ANYone of any faith who decides to tell me what MINE is; my last run in with Asatruars was a local group that found it sacramental to bring weaponry, get drunk, and play around with underage females. They first adored me and my war memorial labyrinth, but then pronounced me guilty of “spiritual miscegenation” because I would not declare the Nordic pantheon the ONLY deities I attended to in my usual practice. Oh, well…I am still here and practicing, their “kindred” is scattered to the winds. I’m swimming, they were sinking…into their cups.

    Not only am I the wrong kind of polytheist for the likes of Krasskova, but a “soft” polytheist at that, because I maintain that exact knowledge of divine identity is UNknowable by us, and that furthermore, yes, the word archetype is not a cuss word. Krasskovka shoots off her mouth, but frankly? I think being ignored bothers her more than argument that she relishes.

    • Yes, you’re right. I may have taken the bait. Still, it seems like people like Galina are defining the debate on their own terms and collecting followers in the process. I would like to hear more polytheistic voices of moderation speak out.

      • Here is the thing about Galina; like attracts like. It is not that she necessarily convinces anyone with a real opinion contrary to hers, she simply pulls in other loudmouths who are determined to pigeon-hole every pagan they encounter.

        Thank goodness she is not a representative of EVERY Heathen or Asatruar.

        • Yes, I think you’re right, again. Thank you for being a voice of calm in my emotional storm.

          • Don’t worry, lol, I lose my calm at times, too. But most of the time, in pagan life as in other frames of reference….the most ordinary sane people are mostly quiet. They have learned it does little good to engage certain types of screamers, so they might make a couple suggestions and when met with screaming, they shrug and march back into the ‘normal’ without giving any more energy to the situation. And sometimes the screamers scream the loudest to keep themselves convinced!

      • Bianca Bradley

        Ok, before you label Galina Krasskova as a fundy… First of all, she’s worked with Raven Kaldera, and in Asatru communities that does NOT engender respect. She’s an outsider herself. There is also not a darn thing wrong with putting out boundaries.

        No, there is nothing wrong with saying, I don’t give a darn about you, because you aren’t family. It is a reasonable approach. Despite her not giving a darn, she also offers once a month for free, oracle work.

        I think you would benefit from understanding Asatru a bit more. See Wicca vs Asatru.

        I’m also going to put this on facebook and get the chieftain of one of the local Asatru to speak here.

        With respect, I think you are making a mountain out of a molehills. Galinna is being a reactionary nit(Yes Krasskova, a fellow Lokean thinks you need to chill out and remember your own hard struggles with respect and calm the eff down) but is in no way doing what you are saying she is.

        And finally…. People only have as much power over you as you let them. Ya’ll collectively need to collectively get your heads out of your collective arses and go hug a tree.

        • “Ya’ll collectively need to collectively get your heads out of your collective arses and go hug a tree.”

          Good advice. I think I’ll take your advice.

    • Galina does not represent all Heathens.

      Nor does the kindred you seem to have dealt with. There are [expletive deleted by moderator] in every form of every human group, but trust me when I say with no small amount of gusto, neither of them represents the good people that are heathens, that respect members of their communities and are working to build good things in the world around them.

      • Believe me, I know it. My son follows a Nordic path himself and does so with a moral exactitude that makes others cringe. I am furious at those that come across like bullies on the school bus.

  • Anomalous Thracian

    lol, you’re really good at purposefully misquoting things for the purposes of flaming troll sprees. The cow in question was a regular cow, by the name of Clyde. Well, he was a zebu. A rather small one, at that. In any event, I also never claimed (in answer to your offensive, troll-bating question) any examples of gods ripping arms off of anyone. I stated, clearly and concisely, that we were talking about different things. What I (and many other polytheists) are talking about are actual gods with actual consequence and divine presence in the world which can (and has, and will) manifest through physical means.

    What you are talking about is something else.

    We keep telling you that we’re talking about different things, and basically asking you (and other archetypalists) to allow us to talk about those things, without the intrusion of these entirely different conversations that you’re trying to have, or trying to dictate to us that we are having. None of us are having those conversations.

    So, go ahead and call us violent, crazy, etc. etc. etc., it is all very very original, and you can give yourself a gold star for stepping up into the rear of a long line of people who have been humanistically hounding on those of us who practice mysticism in a different way. Applaud yourself and your comrades for your 21st-century-meets-16th-century prejudices. Just remember that you did this on our blogs, where we were discussing beliefs and views that you happened to disagree with.

    I am not joining the comments here to speak to anything you’ve written here, because I honestly don’t care about your thoughts, views, or practices. I am merely adding a correction as you have once again chosen to radically misquote and misrepresent somebody you disagree with. This is called troll-journalism. You should endeavor toward a career at Fox News; they do a lot of that stuff!

    To summarize, I did not give any examples of gods ripping arms off, I did not claim that my arm had been eaten by a cow, and so on. I listed a series of examples of other real and tangible events because you seemed to be having difficulty understanding what words like “literally” and “tangible” and “physical consequence” meant. But really, John, you can’t say that we didn’t warn you; we’ve all said from the start that you are having an entirely different conversation from us. It seems that only you were unable to see that?

    • Really? Here’s the exchange:

      John: “Since you brought up language and meaning again, and I know how often you write about the ‘decay of language’ on your blog, I have to go back to your statement about gods having ‘the power to rip your arms off and beat you to death with them’, language which you described as ‘dramatic’ but not ‘exaggerated’ — Do you mean the gods actually do this, literally, physically? If it’s hyperbole, that’s fine, I get it. But if not …”

      Anomalous: “… this is in direct response to your question of what I mean by gods ripping arms of, etc: Yes, literally. “I mean what I say and I say what I mean” is a thing that I was taught to do. So, yes, literally ripping arms off. Gods. Tangible consequences. Like bears in the woods. This is what I am writing about. …

      “When I say ‘my gods are more like bears than they are like internal models of energy or behavioral patterns’ or something like that, I don’t mean ‘my gods are ferocious, rawr!’ I mean ‘my gods can pop claws and rip your freaking arms off’ …

      “When I say ‘Unless you view the gods as having the power to… [drop] you in a pit of jello and alligators, we’re not talking about the same thing’ I actually mean that. Like, for reals. …

      “When I do fire ritual, it is with real fire. When I talk about death experience, I mean that time I was actually physically dead. When I talk about my arm being eaten by a cow, I mean an actual physical middle-eastern cow who tried to eat my arm (it was awesome, but painful after the elbow or so) and when I am talking about gods? Yes. I mean that They can physically rip arms off.”

      These are *your* words, my friend. Now, if you are concerned that you sound like a complete nutter and want to take it all back … well, I can’t blame you.

      • Anomalous Thracian

        You misunderstand again. I am not trying to take anything back. I stand by everything that I said. I am correcting your skewed reading of it.

        You are claiming that I cited examples of gods ripping arms off; I did not. The cow example (which you attempt to misquote me on) was an example — in a long line of them which you don’t include here, strangely… — illustrating not examples of gods, but examples of literal events. “When I speak of fire, I mean actual fire, when I speak of my arm being eaten by a cow, I mean literally a cow ate my arm”, and so forth. I am sorry if you have trouble with reading comprehension.

        • Anomalous Thracian

          To clarify a final time: when I said that “my gods can rip a person’s arms off”, I did mean that literally. I did not, however, say that they HAD ripped anyones arms off. I am also not saying that they haven’t. I was clear in my first post on this that these were purposefully extreme examples, but not exaggerated. You prodded to get examples of actual gods ripping off actual arms, and I dismissed this in my reply because it is inappropriate trolling. I clarified that when I say “literally” I mean “literally” and then listed examples literal things.

          • So you just *believe* your gods can rip arms off? It’s never actually happened? Ok, so you’re not a nutter.

            I’m not sure what you mean by trolling in this instance, but I really wanted to know what you were talking about, because it sounded nutty. You were the first polytheist I talk to who chose such “extreme” examples to demonstrate the realness of his gods. I wonder, if you’re going to insist you gods can do physical things like rip people’s arms off, why not chose an example of something physical they have actually done. Something dramatic, preferably. You know, like ripping someone’s arms off. Not that maybe, since apparently they have not done that, but something like that. You sound like one of those playground kids: “My dad can beat up your dad. Where is my dad, oh, well, he’s not here right now, but if he were here, and if he really wanted to he could beat your dad up. But he’s not here and he doesn’t want to.”

            By the way, the whole misunderstood thing is old. I gave you the chance to explain yourself, to acknowledge it was hyperbole, and you doubled down. You claim to be a paragon of clarity but then you are so often “misunderstood”. You can’t have it both ways.

            • So you just *believe* your gods can rip arms off? It’s never actually happened? Ok, so you’re not a nutter.

              Er… No, he simply said that he can’t cite any examples. He even clearly said that he’s NOT saying it hasn’t happened. Just that he believes that’s something the gods are capable of. Asking him to cite examples when he acknowledges it’s an extreme possibility, yes, is trollish in it’s clearly such an extreme example of possibility –which is completely different from probability– that you’ve practically set up your opponent for failure to deliver.

              You claim to be a paragon of clarity but then you are so often “misunderstood”. You can’t have it both ways.

              No, he has been pretty clear.

        • Oh good, the cow eating your arm was not an act of divine intervention. I *was* confused. You did after all lay it between two other extreme examples of being “actually physically dead” in a ritual and the gods “physically rip[ping] arms off”. Why you, the patrons saint of rhetorical clarity, would lay a mundane example between two divine examples is beyond me. It’s just hard to tell where your crazy starts and ends sometimes.

          • In fairness, he said nothing about “actually physically dead” in a ritual; because I know him, I know that he has been physically–which is to say clinically–dead on at least one occasion. (So have I, on about three occasions.) There was nothing “ritual” or intentional about this in either of our cases, though in that process for both of us the gods did get involved and things ended up happening afterwards, etc.

            • Ah, you’re right. He said: “When I do fire ritual, it is with real fire. When I talk about death experience, I mean that time I was actually physically dead.” And I carried over the ritual context from the first statement. I don’t know why he throws in completely unrelated examples to explain the literalness of his belief in the gods. Although I’d be much less surprised by someone experiencing clinical death in a ritual setting than I would be by a god literally ripping someone’s arms off.

            • I don’t know why he throws in completely unrelated examples to explain the literalness of his belief in the gods.

              Because he’s explaining the literal way in which he speaks? I don’t know him, so I’m just taking a chance on a wild guess here, but it makes perfect sense to me.

    • Anomalous Thracian

      Correction to the above:
      “I did not claim that my arm had been eaten by a cow, and so on.” was meant to read as “I did not claim that my arm had been eaten by a *god* cow…” My computer autocorrected the original “godcow” to merely “cow”, which is amusing.

    • Bianca Bradley

      Wow, that was pretty 0.0.


      And there goes my opinion that Hard polytheists knew how to argue effectively and do conflict resolution.

  • From Peter Dybing on the “Threat of Pagan Dominionists”:

    “… What is not Pagan is framing someone else’s approach to divinity as not acceptable under the Pagan umbrella. It is the diversity of our paths that is the strength of our community. Those who wish to diagram Paganism as only existing within their own theological context clearly are promoting a dominionist theological stance.”


  • I may regret this, but oh well…

    For the record, the polytheism that Galina practices and the polytheism that I practice are not that much alike in anything other than that both of us are polytheists; we acknowledge the existence of lots of gods, and we seek to have relationships with them that have become extremely important in our lives. These relationships have given our lives meaning, and their existence ends up making nearly everything else in our lives derive their importance based upon the context they fit into regarding our religious practices.

    Galina has never said that anyone should be doing polytheism only the way she does; she has, however, insisted that the definition of “polytheism” be what it always has been, i.e. acknowledgement of many deities, with no further modifications (e.g. archetypalist, humanist, etc.). She is not exclusively Heathen in her practices and divine cultus, nor has (to my knowledge) she claimed to be, or to speak for all of Heathenry. And, while she does have strong opinions on the inextricable connection between the term “paganism” and the theologies of polytheism, that doesn’t necessarily mean anything about people’s diversity of practices, only of using words in ways that have long-standing historical associations and that are descriptively accurate as far as actual theological positions are concerned.

    Thus, your statement that “she is really a dominionist, seeking to transform a diverse Pagan community into Krasskova’s own homogenous form of Heathenry” is patently incorrect; you may decide to interpret her as a “dominionist” (which, not unlike “fundamentalism,” doesn’t exactly work with paganism or polytheism very well), but she certainly doesn’t want to see homogeneity amongst polytheists, much less a Heathen-specific homogeneity.

    • PSVL: You know I respect your opinion, even when (maybe especially when) we disagree. But Galina *has* said that if you are not “doing polytheism” the way she is, then you are not a polytheist. I understand that you and Galina believe there is only one definition of a polytheist. But the diversity of the polytheistic community belies that belief. Whether you like it or not, there are those who identify as polytheist who fall outside your definition, and they are not going to go away. As a Pagan, I understand how frustrating it can be to be associated with someone who does not share your paradigm solely because of the shared history of a word, and I’ve written about (and taken slack for) this. But people don’t go away because we find them inconvenient; and they don’t stop using “our words” because we want them to. Also, it is disingenuous to insist that ‘the definition of ‘polytheism’ be what it always has been.” I grant that your definition has more historical weight, but many of us don’t care one wit about historical weight. Since the mid-1970s, at least, the term polytheism has been expanded to include archetypal definitions. I understand that you do not respect those definitions, especially given their relative novelty, but the fact is that probably the majority of Pagans now embrace a less restrictive definition of polytheism than you and Galina do. Galina has explicitly stated that, a belief in egregores or thought-forms is not enough to qualify as polytheist, and most definitely an archetypal perspective is not enough. And yet, there are many people who identify as polytheist who fall into these categories. If we are going to be bound to “long-standing historical associations”, as you say, then a great many Wiccans and Neo-Pagans (perhaps a majority) would be excluded from using the term “Pagan” — and that is exactly what Galina wants. Unlike you, she seems intent on claiming, not just “polytheism” as her own, but also “Paganism” and “Heathenry”. I understand that terms like “fundamentalist” and “dominionist” are provocative, but I don’t know a more apt word to describe someone who would exclude others from their own religious self-definitions and who would restrict identification with a religious label to those who agree with her own narrow definition. “Ideologue” just doesn’t carry the same significance. And frankly, the militancy and implied violence of Galina language do approximate the rhetoric of some monotheistic fundamentalists.

      • “I grant that your definition has more historical weight, but many of us don’t care one w[h]it about historical weight.”

        That is the crux of the issue for me.

        It’s probably pointless to say anything further.

        • I agree, that’s the crux of it. I hope you *don’t* regret commenting. You once said in an interview with Galina: “There remains a great deal of intrafaith work to be done within modern Paganism, so that even where we all don’t agree on theology or practice (and there are many places where we don’t and shouldn’t!), we can at least understand and respect each other.” http://www.patheos.com/Resources/Additional-Resources/Interview-with-P-Sufenas-Virius-Lupus-Founder-of-Ekklesia-Antinoou-Galina-Krasskova-01-12-2011?print=1

          I think getting to the crux of our disagreement accomplishes this. Thanks for being willing to dialogue.

          • It should also be pointed out that saying historicity of theology is the crux of the issue is a bit simplistic. The underlying assumption is that because ancient people said/did/believed certain things, those things must necessarily carry more weight. However, we would do well to remember that the ancients said, did, and believed many things that were incorrect. So arguing primarily on the basis of history is not as persuasive as it might seem, since we have no reason to assume that the ancients were doing things correctly, nor had an infallible understanding of the gods they invoked. Now of course, it should also be realized that there is no basis for assuming more modern cosmologies and practices to be more correct either.

            • Well said, and thanks for clarifying. I didn’t think PSVL’s position was so simplistic. It’s clear from eir’s blog and our brief exchanges there that eir’s position is more nuanced. But I am glad you clarified here, lest anyone misunderstand.

            • That isn’t what I was indicating–of course, some historical things are demonstrably unjust (e.g. slavery), and of course, some modern things are not necessarily useful (e.g. Scientology). That isn’t the issue.

              The crux I was pointing out is that John said that some people “don’t care” about the weight of history. There is nothing there about history being “right” or “better,” it’s simply the declaration that they don’t care about history that upsets many of us. That doesn’t just mean that ancient religious traditions, or the meaning of words, or other such things are therefore not of interest to some people, it also means that ancestors are also not meaningful, because what are ancestors if not our indisputable genetic history (ignoring for the fact that their memories and lives and personalities are also very important to us who experience the ancestors as vital parts of our polytheist practice)?

              It is said that those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it. I am a history professor, and it amazes me how many themes repeat themselves in history (U.S. history of the 20th-21st centuries in particular) that demonstrate that people don’t care about or have any interest in history–and I’m not talking the history of the 1st century BCE, I’m talking about the 1920s and 1950s.

              Therefore, it honestly does frighten me that some people who pride themselves on being well-informed and intelligent (and many of them are) would openly declare that they don’t care about something as important as history.

            • Not learning lessons from history and not basing religious authenticity on historical accuracy are two different things. For the record, I love history. I just don’t think that “because it’s always been done that way” is a good reason to continue doing it that way.

            • Not learning lessons from history and not basing religious authenticity on historical accuracy are two different things. For the record, I love history. I just don’t think that “because it’s always been done that way” is a good reason to continue doing it that way.

              They may not be the same thing, but understanding history and understanding “the old ways” –which an apparent majority of self-defined “pagans” still profess to be doing– must go hand-in-hand. If one is clear about practising something completely of their own design, or otherwise very, very new, then the weight of history may not be as great as it would otherwise be. On the other hand, even people who claim to be practising “new religion” often still incorporate at least the names of old deities –and then proceed to not care one whit for history, cos “the feels” are somehow more important to them than what history has already established. That doesn’t make them a bad person, but from where I stand, it just seems wrong-headed and naive.

            • I completely agree with you about the immense importance of history, and the tendency for history to repeat itself. That in fact is part of the reason that I’m troubled by this whole clash between the various Polytheist and Pagan camps, and I sense that you and many others on all sides of the discussion are too. Calm debate is one thing, but we’ve all seen where this kind of fighting can lead us, and it isn’t to a good place.

            • Therefore, it honestly does frighten me that some people who pride themselves on being well-informed and intelligent (and many of them are) would openly declare that they don’t care about something as important as history.


          • This is where I’m finding difficulty, though: I am not sure that a great many people are understanding us, or are respecting us. I realize that we have no place “making” people think about certain things in ways that we would prefer, and that would be pretty much impossible anyway even if we wanted to (and I, for one, don’t); but likewise, we also can’t “make” people understand or respect us if they don’t want to.

            • I think at this point you all have been quite explicit in explaining your POV

              But I sort of feel like you guys are saying “Part of our practice requires disrespecting your beliefs and practice (calling it poison, horseshit, therapy, indulgent) because you do not practice devotional polytheism. Thinking what you believe is inferior and stupid is part of our RELIGION!! And you saying we shouldn’t be so disrespectful and rude is totally disrespectful and rude! !”

              Not YOU so much, but some of the others.

            • I feel the same way. Like they’re saying, “tolerate my intolerance”. What is most curious, though, is that, I think they feel the same way about us — and neither side feels like they are doing what they are being accused of.

            • I don’t think anyone has argued that this should be part of their practice of their religion.

              However, for the definitions of things like “polytheism” that we use, we absolutely do have the right to have definitions of the term which include some viewpoints and exclude others. I wouldn’t personally say someone else’s viewpoint is stupid, horseshit, or poison, but I would say that some are not applicable or are inappropriate to my own practice, experience, and the long-standing definitions of “polytheism” which we have inherited from our ancestors and which we respect and uphold.

              Speaking only for myself: if anyone who isn’t a polytheist (or is of another religion) wants to play in my spiritual sandbox, that’s fine, but there are rules. Those rules don’t change because someone wants to play there but doesn’t like the rules. (Several years back, someone who was straight wanted to do Antinoan devotion, but only on the proviso that no one in our group ever did anything “gay,” and thus made him feel left out because he couldn’t do “gay” things–but not only was that a very poor understanding of what it is that we do actually practice, it was rude, inappropriate, and offensive of him to expect just to show up and have everyone change all the rules on account of his being there.) I can safely assume that most of the world (pagan or otherwise) doesn’t observe these same sorts of rules that I do, and that’s fine with me, but I’ve made my choice based on the best information I have and have achieved the results that my gods have indicated are pleasing to them by having done so. If people who aren’t polytheists don’t want to play in the sandbox where my gods play, that’s fine with me (and most don’t–but for that matter, neither do most polytheists!). But when non-polytheists come to play in this sandbox, and expect that the rules will change to accommodate them just because they have deigned to show up and make me aware that they don’t like the rules we have, that simply isn’t an appropriate thing to ask.

              I enforce no restrictions on the rituals I hold as far as attendance is concerned, including any restrictions on belief or theology; all I ask is that people are respectful, and if they aren’t comfortable with one practice or another, they don’t have to do it, but don’t disrupt things for others. I have never once had a problem in a public or private ritual in this regard. (And for the record, that isn’t stating “tolerate my intolerance,” that’s actually being pretty damned tolerant!) It’s only when I’ve actually stated what some of my own theological positions are that a lot of dissenters and criticizers start pouring out of the woodwork, and insisting that my definitions aren’t right because they don’t include other people.

              I don’t think I’ve been disrespectful or rude in these exchanges; if I have been, I do honestly apologize. I have been fervent and even obstinate in holding my position, but I don’t think it accomplishes anything to say that others who don’t hold that position are stupid or anything else. For my own personal standards (and, note, “my own” and “personal” are the key words there), they are “wrong”–by which I mean that the choices they have made are not correct nor appropriate for me myself, and thus I cannot approve of them for myself– but I have ventured no opinion on whether or not they are right by their own personal standards, because that isn’t something I know about nor can comment upon–it is between them and their gods (even if they don’t think they have gods). Do you see the difference?

            • I do, which is why I said “Not so much you as some of the others.”

              I totally understand and agree that you should not be expected to change your practices to accommodate anyone who steps into your space.

              The intolerance that I am pointing at is not the intolerance of not wanting to change your practice for someone else. That is reasonable.

              I am pointing out the intolerant language that has been part of the rhetoric coming from many devotional polytheists. In the defense of THEIR practice, there has been an implicit and sometimes explicit judgement on other practices and modes of belief as being vastly inferior instead of “not right for devotional polytheism”.

              I don’t want to change my Reclaiming Witchcraft practice to accomodate Gardnerian practices, and I won’t. But I won’t feel the need to tell everyone while I am refusing to do so that I am refusing to do so because “MY Witchcraft practice actually demands blah blah blah” in all these ways that show how I look down on Gardnerian witchcraft. It’s just not necessary.

            • I genuinely mean no offence, but I’ve read a lot of things in this, and i suspect you might be inferring statements and implications that simply aren’t there. It’s perfectly fine to assert that words mean things, and while linguistic drift is a thing, sometimes neologisms are more appropriate. “Polytheism”, for example, has a very literal meaning; it’s a compound word wherein the two halves mean “believer in many deities/gods and goddesses [and by extension, spirits]”. If it’s not a deity one believes in and/or exalts in ritual, one simply is not a polytheist. It’s OK not to be a polytheist.

              Now, maybe you’re referring to something completely different, and my own biases mean I’ll miss it and I need it pointed out to me. If that’s the case, I’ll need you to point out to me what I’m missing here.

            • I think were at the point where we can say that we just disagree about fundamentals. I would preferred it if you did not restart that discussion here at this time.

            • Inferring statements and implications that aren’t there?
              I don’t know, when someone compares Self-Centic Paganism to “human experimentation and gross atrocities of war” and in response others call it “humanist, reductionist poison”….it is sort of undeniably there.


            • “… if anyone who isn’t a polytheist (or is of another religion) wants to play in my spiritual sandbox, that’s fine, but there are rules.”

              Is the “sandbox” you’re referring to your own rituals? If so, I agree 100%.

              But if the “sandbox” is polytheism, and you are telling other people who don’t believe in the gods the way you do that they cannot call what they do on their own polytheism, that’s where I will disagree.

            • Yes, I’m only talking about my own rituals, and have been for the entire length of this debacle.

              I’m also not going to follow comments on here any longer, because I think the “point” of this particular debacle is lacking in further utility for anyone, including yourself, at this stage.

          • I think the sometimes defensive tenor of this conversation on both sides (not pointing fingers at any individual) demonstrates just how much work still needs to be done – if we’re willing to do it – and given what I’ve seen over the past few days, that’s a big “if” in my mind. I will say this: I agree wholeheartedly with the quote above. Perhaps we can use that as a starting point and move forward.

      • I understand that terms like “fundamentalist” and “dominionist” are provocative, but I don’t know a more apt word to describe someone who would exclude others from their own religious self-definitions and who would restrict identification with a religious label to those who agree with her own narrow definition.

        “Fundamentalist” means, in loosest terms, approximately what you describe, but search “dominionist” and the first thing I found was on Wikipedia, and defines:

        Dominionism is the alleged movement of a small group of politically active Christians in the United States working toward either a nation governed by Christians or one governed by a conservative Christian understanding of biblical law.

        …and it further goes to define “dominion theology” and the Christian Right, and so on.

        “Ideologue” just doesn’t carry the same significance.

        Except that is defines Galina’s posts exactly, but it doesn’t carry with it the fear-mongering that, say, calling Sarah Palin’s church “dominionist” does.

        • I think I agree with you. On both points. “Ideologue” it is.

      • Bianca Bradley

        Ok going to take a bit of a smart ass tact here. So Krasskova doesn’t think your a Polytheist, or that your doing it right. Why does that effect your life? What does her opinion matter?

        How is her opinion any more relevant, then the person who called my morals reprehensible for voting in Bush? She has an opinion and like aholes, we all have em. If you don’t like her opinions nor respect them, file 13 them.

  • The more I read abut the crap coming out of the modern Pagan mind via the blogosphere, the more I am disconcerted with our community.
    I’m a Heathen…Now of course I can break that down to any number of subset labels – Pantheist, Polytheist, Pagan, Heithni, Animist –
    I am so tired of people distancing themselves from this or that label – or trying to academically prove this or that is a meaningless label….Just shut up already and live your faith. Who gives a rats poop what you call yourself…tell me instead what you *think it means or what you *practice and be done with it.

    I gave a lecture a few months back on the Druids…and a young lady was adamant that Neo-Pagan was an incorrect term to use for modern pagans. Ok, I said, what’s a better term for New/Modern Pagans that will allow us to distinguish ourselves from the Paleo-Pagans of the past. Her answer was, ” I have no idea. I just don’t like that term.”

    I may or may not think that Heathen sums up my faith choice, but neither does polytheist, magician, or occultist. The Pagan community needs to reel in the need to distance itself from every term and it’s contrived nuances. No one term is going to define anything you do in life, why should it be different for your religion. Pick a label if you have to, but realize that it says very little about your faith, and don’t spend you’re time nitpicking everyone elses use of another…it’s so boring. Yes, I get that you’re awesome and know some much more about the ancient celts or the norse or the saxons…so what….boring, can I fall asleep now, geezzzz.

    John, your posts are beginning to anger me lately!!! Still worth the read though! The sarcastic nature of this reply is not directed at you…only the subjects and persons contained within. 🙂


    • Good advice Todd. I need to get back to what this blog was originally about, the awkward balance of paradoxes that is my own personal practice. I’m hoping the move to Patheos will be complete soon, and then I’m making a commitment to getting back to being the Allergic Pagan.

  • Thank you for writing this. The rhetoric is becoming more and more absurd and deeply disturbing. I really appreciate that in you there is a thoughtful and learned counterpoint to all of this.

    You know, one of the things that I want to say is that just because I am not their kind of Pagan, or their kind of polytheist, does not mean that my God(s) are not of consequence. Just because my God(s) don’t rip peoples arms off and beat them with it does not mean that I do not actually believe my God(s) are real. Just because the “I” in the relationship between my God(s) and me is important doesn’t mean that I think that God(s) were manufactured for my personal happiness and are here to serve at my whim or are a self-help book. Their language is so dripping of condescension, so suggestive that anyone not doing exactly what they are doing is practicing a sort of skim milk religion. Or not even bothering with just being suggestive and just saying it outright.

    This is ugly language, and people can do better than this.

    • Well said. Your comment about the balance between the “I” and the “other” in the relationship with divinity is an important point. It reminds me of a recent post by Aine that I reblogged here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/2013/05/18/religion-vs-therapy/

      I agree that, as you say, “people can do better than this.” Galina is very smart and she is capable of considerable nuance in her writing. I wish she would show it more.

  • Every group in society, be it religious, philosophical, political or even football fans, has its share of fuundamentalists. It’s absurd to see people with a *different theological opinion* (which is all we’re talking about really) as the Great Enemy. This is the same sort of rhetoric used by Christians against pagans, ironically enough, complete with talk of holy wars and ‘attacks’ on culture, tradition and religious values.

    One of my personal favourite things about the pagan community is the lack of dogma and a pagan pope to excommunicate us heretics. I hope that it stays that way. Open discussion is to be encouraged, but the demonizing lof ‘nonbelievers’ gets us nowhere, and frankly has a sniff of the Inquisition about it.

    I hang around a few atheist blogs, and you often get Christians calling atheist writers ‘militant’ and ‘Nazis’ for daring to write a book or a blog post declaring their views. To see a similar trend in paganism is worrying, as is the comment from Anomalous Thracian which ‘just compared the humanist machine and the trend of what I see as humanist entitlement to human experimentation and gross atrocities of war.’ Really? A strongly-worded blog post is comparable to war crimes? Let’s all try to put things in perspective, please.

    • Just to clarify, John, the views I describe as ‘absurd’ are those of the hardcore dogmatic types (Krassovska and the like) not yours 🙂 I realise my comment above wasn’t too clear.

      Thanks for wading through all that and offering a thoughtful response. I find the trend towards ‘drawing lines in the sand’ and calling other beliefs ‘poison’ a deeply troubling one. Keep up the good work!

      • I got that, thanks. But it *is* a good advice for *both* sides. I have to be careful not to overreact to their overreaction. And to be fair, I think some atheists and atheists Pagans have been as careless in the use of their language when talking about theism (poly- or mono-), ascribing all the world’s ills to theistic religions for example. And I think a lot of hard polytheist rhetoric is an understandable (although ultimately not condonable) reaction to this.

    • One of my personal favourite things about the pagan community is the lack of dogma and a pagan pope to excommunicate us heretics.

      There is no “lack of dogma” in paganism, there is a lack of uniformity in dogma between the various religionS that are encompassed when one refers to “the pagan community”.

      For all the talk of “paganism” being a “big tent umbrella terms” that encompasses a wide variety of religions, I’m getting really bored with the repeated treatment of the term as encompassing a single set of religious beliefs and practises, or at least an exclusion of certain beliefs and practises that the speaker doesn’t personally hold. Either “pagan” is an umbrella term that does, indeed, encompass a wide variety of both established and completely new religions, philosophies, and spiritualities –or it’s a narrower term that excludes. This really is an either-or thing. Cos the only other reasonable thing that “pagan” could mean, in this day and age, is a term that speaks to the experience of being of a non-Abrahamic religion, spirituality, etc…, in a world that privileges Abrahamic religions —and when I proposed that definition, people who responded largely didn’t like it.

      • Bianca Bradley

        There’s a huge list of things that many Pagans don’t like, doesn’t mean that your last definition isn’t the most accurate.

  • From Mystical Bewilderment:

    “I think we all need to pay attention to behaviors like this as a kind of telltale sign of what not to do when you want to foster a community, but I also don’t think we should allow such ridiculous behavior to continue unchecked. By allowing such things, we are complete misrepresenting what the pagan umbrella is about and what it is that we want from our religion. […]

    “We need to make it quite clear that this behavior will not be tolerated. […] it is perfectly okay to call someone out on their monstrous ego and explain to them that this is not okay, will not be tolerated, and should be frowned upon by the larger community.”


  • Me: “… unless other polytheists speak up and condemn Krasskova’s language, then others will assume assent from silence.”

    Sannion: “What if all of the principle parties and all polytheists who wished to show their support and solidarity went silent for a month? I just wanted to give my readers here a heads up that I’ll be participating in the polytheist month of silence during July.” (http://thehouseofvines.com/2013/06/10/i-have-a-modest-proposal/)

    “I just wanted to give my readers here a heads up that I’ll be participating in the polytheist month of silence during July.” (http://witchesandpagans.com/EasyBlog/there-will-be-no-blurring-boundaries-during-the-month-of-july.html)

    Message received.

  • A threat of physical violence from Sannion following a call for silence:

    “If I met John Halstead in a pub right now I’d probably exchange heated words with him. I might even bloody his nose.” (http://thehouseofvines.com/2013/06/10/there-are-no-enemies-here/)

    Strange comment in a post entitled “There Are No Enemies”.

    • I don’t understand his blog post.
      Right after he writes “And that’s why I’ve tried to keep this about the issues, and not individuals. Why the worst thing you’ll see me say about someone is that they’re wrong or they’re acting stupid.” he says he would punch you if he saw you.

      He writes “When you say that something needs to be done about these sorts of people, when you are suggesting that they need to be shut up and driven out of the community you are playing with fire.”

      But this is precisely what Galina was doing.

      He writes “When you call someone a Nazi, a fundamentalist, a domionionist, a bad person, the enemy you aren’t disagreeing with them anymore. You are demonizing them.”

      Anonmalous compared humanist spirituality to human experimentation and atrocities of war.

      Where exactly did you put a BOUNTY on her head? I don’t even understand that claim.
      this whole thing is insanity.

      • I’m glad you caught the irony of that. I was kind of disturbed by the allegation that I had put a bounty on Galina’s head.

        Anyway, it just goes to show how both sides feel victimized and lash out (me included).

    • Pshaw. Come now, good sir! That is hardly a threat of physical violence! Why, at most it is the gruff talk of men folk distraught that they cannot come to terms over matters much too lofty for someone like me to dabble in. “I might kick you if you were here” or somesuch thing is hardly worthy of pointed fingers.

      A more apt expression of a threat of physical violence would be, perhaps, “I am standing outside your door with the intention of working some tire iron magic upon your person”.

      No sir, you give his words an air of hostility I’m sure they were not meant to convey, and mistake them for the vitriol of an enemy. Why, they are tantamount to declaring you family! Is it not the way of brothers to bloody one another’s noses over a disagreement and then, laughing, sit down to share a drink?

      We are all part of a strange, madcap family of mystics and pagans, replete with our own black sheep, misunderstandings, and grumblings over the dinner table. I’m CERTAIN he holds you in the very highest of regards, even if you did marry that tramp from Jersey (or whatever the bru-ha-ha is all about this week).

      • “I am standing outside your door with the intention of working some tire iron magic upon your person”.


        I think that may need to be in a comic book panel.

        No sir, you give his words an air of hostility I’m sure they were not meant to convey, and mistake them for the vitriol of an enemy. Why, they are tantamount to declaring you family! Is it not the way of brothers to bloody one another’s noses over a disagreement and then, laughing, sit down to share a drink?

        To be fair, I think you *did* just describe the stereotype of Bostonian family values.

      • I have to hear that from Sannion himself.

        • You’re going to have to wait your turn. I was promised a Dionysian sock-puppet show (and if I wasn’t, I inferred that I was, which is really the same thing), so until I get it all touching declarations of brotherhood and rounds of liquor will have to be put on hold. It’s only fair.

      • Bianca Bradley

        Agree, but Krasskova is a she.

    • Strange comment in a post entitled “There Are No Enemies”.

      You don’t know many skinheads or bootboys, then. I do. I know Sannion isn’t even a rudie, but I still took it as a compliment. I find it very hard to truly respect some-one until I’ve wanted to punch them in the throat as much as I’ve otherwise liked them (regardless of previous and continued disagreement).

      • Remind me not to become friends with you.

        • I don’t see why. When someone can infuriate me that much, it means I give weight to the things that they say —when some-one infuriates me constantly, they are not a friend, and that should be obvious, but when it’s only every so often, it’s a challenge, and can provide room for growth, but it can still be, at the time, quite infuriating.

          And to be fair, I, personally, said that I find it hard to truly respect some-one until I’ve wanted to punch them in the throat —have I ever done that? No. It’s like on episodes of Roseanne when the eponymous mother character would say things about how she wanted to kill the children (one episode was even a fantasy about murdering her whole family just to have a few minutes of peace in the bath) —you knew she wouldn’t, but it’s a passing thought, and she wasn’t the sort of person who would just bottle up those feelings. Hell, in the only episode where she even raised a hand to one of her children, she immediately had a breakdown because she’s not a violent person. And that’s honestly where I’m at. Do I have other friends who’ve bloodied each-other’s noses? Sure. But I haven’t, that’s not how I work.

          But if you’d rather continue to pass judgement after a selective reading of things I say, then you’ll never truly know that for yourself. If that’s what you’d prefer to do, have fun with that.

          • This is what “trolling” is, isn’t it.

            • Not at all. I’ve been completely honest. I have never intended to goad you into flipping out.

            • In that case, feel free to contact me privately via email if you want to talk. In light of the heightened tensions recently, I would prefer not to continue this discussion publicly.

            • Well, if I can think of anything else I’d like to say about this (to you, at least), then I’ll certainly take you up on that. Keep in mind, though, I like to be very specific about things, and make an effort to never say anything other than what I mean —I’m not always a literalist (I was an English / Creative Writing major, I use metaphor when I feel it’s best to), but it does bother me when others don’t read carefully and/or infer meanings I never intended to imply, especially when I had taken great care to avoid seeming like I did imply anything other than what I meant. To say exactly what I mean, I consider not only dictionary definitions and synonyms from a thesaurus, but also etymologies —as a complete aside, I’ve noticed Morrissey has a similar approach as a lyricist, and will sometimes sacrifice metre to use a specific word that has a vary particular nuance that similar words that would fit the metre better do not. I’m willing to sacrifice sufferability to say exactly what I intend to.

            • Almost forgot:
              …and sometimes I fail to say exactly what I meant. It happens, I’m only human. On the other hand, that’s what I enjoy about written communiqué, is that there’s a record of what I did say.

            • One thing I have noticed in talking (typing) with some hard polytheists is a lot of insistence that, if someone misunderstands them, it is a deliberate on the part of the listener/reader. Misunderstanding is unavoidable in human communication. As you know (as a creative writing major), human language is not like a computer binary language. It’s not all 1’s and 0’s. In human communication, even when it is written, there are gradations of meaning, depending on context, tone, etc. A writer’s intent is not transparent in the black and white written words on a page. What’s more, communication is a reflexive system. Meaning is created not by two individuals speaking as if in a vacuum; instead, meaning arises out of the interaction of the two speakers. Something can be created in the process, that neither intended. It seems to me that it may not be a coincidence that religious literalists would have difficulty appreciating this.

            • While there is certainly nuance and gradation to language (especially English; some languages are incredibly specific –I hear Vietnamese is one), and yes, inferring tone in written communiqué is a craps shoot, are are still often clear meanings to things. I think it’s less that hard polytheists, who I’m assuming you refer to now as “religious literalists”, are having difficulty appreciating the nuance and fluidity of living language, but more that because of that nuance and fluidity, which yes, can be much harder to notice in social writing, people on both sides are assuming that things were meant that never were.

              No, I haven’t read every single one of Galina Krasskova’s posts (which I can only explain as an unfortunate side-effect of my ADHD —I only tend to respond to people in a timely manner because I’ve spent years literally training myself to focus on doing so), and while I certainly agree that she can seem obstinate, she also has the education to back up many of her ideas. Maybe it’s a fault I have, but I tend to personally give more weight to one with an education than one without, especially when someone is driven to actually use that education (as opposed to the stereotype of the Philosophy major working as a fry cook at the A&W and doing fuck all with his degree). Because I don’t personally find fault with giving more weight to an educated stance, I find it hard to believe she’d say anything without reason, including using harsh language because she feels it necessary to deliver her point. I also know Sannion writes a lot of poetry and has a clear grasp of simile and metaphor, and I’ve certainly, at times, seen Galina write in more abstract, analogous ways to illustrate a point. I see no reason to take absolutely every word they put their names behind literally, but instead to glean meaning from the whole. One may believe that the gods are literal, external, sentient entities, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they use every word that comes out of them in the most literal way possible.

              That said, there are certainly “small name”, self-focused pagans with blogs who have indeed at least used similarly harsh language as Galina, only in turn made it personal and went for a clear attack, saying in no uncertain terms that certain people need to be forcibly excluded from the community. I, myself, have been referred to by kids on Tumblr as “a stain” because I unapologetically assert that, yes, words do mean things and somehow that, in their minds “logically follows” that I’ve made a personal attack against them. In reality, that does not follow any sort of established logic.

              No one segment of this “debate” has any sort of moral high ground over the other. No one side is doing a better job at comprehending what “the other side” is both saying and intending any better than the other. I don’t think it’s fair to put the weight of that misunderstanding on the hard polytheists.

            • It looks like we’ve run out of allowed levels of reply.

              I’m very glad that Galina’s education and “big name” are sufficient authority for you. They are not for me. I have not suggested that she said anything “without reason”. We all have our reasons for behaving badly.

              I’m sure both sides have misunderstood each other equally. But one side seems to insist that the misunderstanding is intentional.

              The “words have meaning” line is simply an indirect way of saying, “I have the right to define words the way I want, and you do not.” Language is constructed out of consensus, not by authority. So long as you do not appreciate that, our “conversation” will just be you talking *at* me.

            • I’m very glad that Galina’s education and “big name” are sufficient authority for you.

              Well, her education is enough for some things –as I’ve never been remotely interested in Germanic/etc… pantheons, I couldn’t really care less about her “big name” prior to interacting with her. As far as I’m aware, her name is, like, Elvis-famous in a small niche of polytheists –but as the tent gets bigger, she’s more Ed Keupper-famous, or Leigh Bowery-famous, neither of whom are even as much as Klaus Nomi or Darby Crash-famous.

              We all have our reasons for behaving badly.

              And I don’t see “clearly” bad behaviour. I see questionable, even problematic things said, but I don’t see what you’re necessarily making out to be horrible.

              The “words have meaning” line is simply an indirect way of saying, “I have the right to define words the way I want, and you do not.”

              No, it’s not. It’s a very direct way of stating that these definitions were established long before anyone who may be discussing it developed feelings about it. The only times where one can define words how they want is when either 1) the meaning of that word has long been established to be quite loose — “dove”, (for example, encompasses 300+ of species in the genus Collumbidae, but “pigeon” refers to only a handful of those species, and most often, feral rock doves), 2) the word has been an inexact pejorative reclaimed by a person it has been used against (and even then, there are politics over who that REALLY encompasses), or 3) the word is a relative neologism and the definition(s) have not yet fully established.

              Language is constructed out of consensus, not by authority.

              And etymology, history, is a part of that consensus, is it not?

              I could also argue that Esperanto was constructed out of authority, not consensus, but that’s obviously irrelevant, as Esperanto is a unique case, in that it’s neither an established cultural language, nor a clearly invented “fictional language” (like Klingon, or Tolkein’s several Elven dialects).

            • > “I don’t see “clearly” bad behaviour.”

              If you don’t see anything wrong with the language she used which I quoted above, then let’s agree to disagree.

              >”… these definitions were established long before anyone who may be discussing it developed feelings about it …”

              Sounds a lot like reconstructionist reasoning.

              >”And etymology, history, is a part of that consensus, is it not?”

              Of course, but usually unconsciously. People converse 99.99% of the time without reference to etymology or history.

            • Sounds a lot like reconstructionist reasoning.

              I don’t see that, because it’s very clear, even when i was miming the gestures of Catholicism for my father, even when I was briefly an atheist, that the meanings of, say, “Catholic” and “atheist” were established long before i came by to have feelings about them. You can call that “reconstructionist reasoning” all you like, but you really can’t honestly deny that these words you and I are using, at least (at least) 90% of them were defined long before we were even born.

              Of course, but usually unconsciously. People converse 99.99% of the time without reference to etymology or history.

              And that fact, in my opinion, is a rather sad one. And even if that consensus in the conversation is as widely unconscious as you state, that history and what meaning the audience ingests from what one said, is what’s actually more important than the intentions of the speaker.

              If one uses a word that’s unfamiliar to the audience, most sensible people would look it up if they couldn’t easily infer a meaning from the context. If you used the word in a way that goes against the established definition your reader found, that is, frankly, your own fault when your audience believes that you meant something you did not intent –it’s not etymology’s fault, not the OED’s, but yours, you took a word and used it in an unfamiliar way. Maybe that’s the only way you’d ever been familiar with, but it sounds like you’d prefer to blame the majority of that consensus than the minority of your own experience for why you were misunderstood.

              Sure, I have long accepted the consensus of language, but it’s really bigger than a lot of people think of, when they decide to redefine words.

            • [Replying here, since there is no room left above…!?!]

              The “words have meaning” line is simply an indirect way of saying, “I have the right to define words the way I want, and you do not.” Language is constructed out of consensus, not by authority. So long as you do not appreciate that, our “conversation” will just be you talking *at* me.

              And yet, have various non-polytheists insisted that it is their right to call themselves “polytheists,” whether we like it or not, along the very same lines of saying “I have the right to define words the way I want, and you do not”? We’ve been told repeatedly that we don’t “own” the word “polytheist,” which seems to be a species of that same argument that you’re accusing us of using. By saying that “words mean something” and that they have historical and etymological roots that should be taking seriously, we’re not saying “words mean what I want them to mean,” we’re saying “these words had meaning before we knew what we wanted to say.”

              While you may still disagree with our usages or our preferences, let’s please be clear on who is actually saying which words and what they mean by them.

              The fear of homogenization that Galina and others have expressed is a fear that, in including every possible meaning of the word “polytheism” except for “acknowledgement of the existence of many gods,” that we who actually are polytheists in the classical sense are being marginalized out of polytheism itself. I think that’s a legitimate concern, and I haven’t seen any non-polytheists address that serious concern with anything other than remarks like “you don’t own the word.”

              Do you, John, have an answer on that matter, or a suggestion as to how everyone might be in better spirits with one another over these things that will not confirm our fears, or seek to marginalize us further, or do exactly what you’ve said Galina has done in “drawing lines in the sand”? (And, note, I’m not saying that she hasn’t drawn lines herself, nor am I saying I have not either; and yet, when someone draws a line, and another person says “You have no right to draw that line” and then crosses it…well, you know what results in those sorts of situations. I’d rather not see that happen on a further scale than it already has here.)

            • There is a difference between defining a word for yourself (“this is how I am using it”, “this is what I choose to call myself”) and defining it for others (“this is what the word *means*”, “you are not a [fill in the blank]”).

              But I think you raise an important issue: “… that we who actually are polytheists in the classical sense are being marginalized out of polytheism itself. I think that’s a legitimate concern, and I haven’t seen any non-polytheists address that serious concern …” I don’t have an answer that I think you will find satisfactory. I know that, from the perspective of different polytheists, their existence is not marginalizing yours. There’s plenty of room under the umbrella. Can you explain why you feel “marginalized”? I mean, I’ve heard so many hard-polys and poly-recons say something to the effect of, “Leave us alone. Let us play in our corner of the sandbox. We’re not you and we don’t want to be you.” They are self-marginalizing it seems to me. But there are some “toys” in the sandbox that have to be shared. One of those is the word “polytheism”.

            • Polytheists are not automatically “religious literalists.” Just because we acknowledge the actual existence of gods doesn’t mean that we don’t get the nuance in written communications, and just because some of us tend to insist that we mean what we say doesn’t mean that we don’t also understand that meaning isn’t always clear, and can be a highly interpretive exercise. I don’t think your apology earlier was sincere if you’re taking really easy pot-shots like this in the midst of your further comments on the matter.

            • I didn’t say polytheists were automatically religious literalists. I didn;t even say all *hard* polytheists were religious literalists. I was talking about “some” (i.e., not all) polytheists who *are* religious literalists. And the term could just as easily be applied to *some* other theists and non-theists. (If you’re interested, see here for my response to an atheist along the same lines: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/2011/11/18/poetry/ ) And, last time I checked, “literalist” was not an insult anyway. I have met several polytheists who embrace the term gladly.

              Also, I don’t know who the “we” is that you’re talking about, but in my (very recent) experience, there are some (not all) polytheists who absolutely “don’t also understand that meaning isn’t always clear, and can be a highly interpretive exercise.” Just read Ruadhán’s comments here. Just read just about anything that the Anomalous Thracian writes. “Words having meaning. Words have meaning.” (singular) No, words have meaning*s*, plural, and some of them are not in the dictionary … and some of them you don’t get to decide. Some of them are worked out in community, like what is going on right now in these virtual spaces, over the word “polytheism”.

              By the way, I apologized earlier for invading your virtual sacred spaces, not for disagreeing with (some of) you in my own virtual space. I am sorry you took offense at my response to Ruadhán, but I in no way characterized *all* polytheists or even all hard polytheists as anything. That would be very difficult to do, given the diversity in contemporary polytheism.

            • Just read Ruadhán’s comments here. Just read just about anything that the Anomalous Thracian writes. “Words having meaning. Words have meaning.” (singular) No, words have meaning*s*, plural, and some of them are not in the dictionary … and some of them you don’t get to decide.

              Actually, I said “words mean things” (which is not the same thing as “‘Words having meaning. Words have meaning.’ (singular)”), I said some meanings are inexact. But hey, I get it: You’d rather argue with what you’ve imagined I said than what I actually said.

              Go fuck yourself. I’m done with you and your petty, bullying shenanigans. I was obviously wrong, for a while there: You’re not actually interested in interfaith dialogue, you’re interested only in putting forth your own ideas.

            • Consider yourself permanently banned from commenting on this blog, Ruadhan.

  • William

    Galina has been on the fringe of the “Heathen” scene for years now.And is often seen as a “nutter”.Her ideas of what constitutes being Heathen are way out of the park.I think she simply refers to herself as a “Norse Pagan”.Just search any Heathen blog for her name and read the comments.
    Truth be told it’s her ideas and those of the far right racist factions of Heathenry that made leave that scene altogether.And with her statements about “Atheist pagans” just cements my stomach turning reaction to people like her and others.
    John, I enjoy your post here and other places.Just do what you do and let the others feed on themselves.

    • Thanks. And good advice.

    • This got me thinking and I remembered something from an article titled “The Pentagram and the Hammer” by Devyn Gillette and Lewis Stead, contrasting Wicca and Asatru. I think it might be more generally applicable to Neo-Paganism(s) and Heathenry. You can find it here: http://www.heathengods.com/library/wicca_comparison/pentagram_and_the_hammer.pdf

      “One of the most significant social differences between Wicca and Ásatrú is their use of language and the way they communicate. More conflict between the two communities can be traced to this than any other factor. Wiccans tend to speak in a very conditional manner, often using the passive voice. The general mode of communication is quiet, cooperative, and seeks consensus, which parallels the Wiccan worldview of an orderly and harmonic universe. Most statements are usually accompanied by a conversational hook, with which the other person can help his conversational partner to save face in the event of disagreement by affirming the validity of the opposite argument. Conversations
      tend to be in quiet and reasoned tones.

      “Ásatrúar tend to speak in a very direct method using declarative sentences, tending to cite things in a black and white and often simplistic manner. The general method of communication is to state ones position with the expectation that ones opposite will state theirs and either agreement or argument will ensue. Consensus and compromise is rarely the object. This verbal sparring mirrors the general focus on conflict in the religion. A standoff between strong but disagreeing positions (i.e., agreeing to disagree) is generally seen as preferable to compromise. Face saving is seen to be the individuals own responsibility, to be obtained by demonstrating not only the validity of ones beliefs, but how strongly one holds them. Conversations tend to be fast paced and often in emotional tones. Any conflict and anger brought forth in debate is generally dismissed as necessary to the process and quickly forgotten; although when it is not, it tends to create long term grudges. These differing methods of communication naturally set up an easy to follow pattern of communication, or rather miscommunication, between Wiccans and Ásatrúar. The Wiccan begins with a statement of where he or she stands on an issue. The statement is conditioned with one or two phrases such as “in my opinion” meant to allow their opposite room for compromise in the event of disagreement. The Ásatrúar, upon hearing this, assumes that because the Wiccan has conditioned his statement, that it is loosely held and subject to revision or correction. He or she replies very directly that he feels the Wiccan’s position is incorrect and supports evidence as to why. Up to this point, each party has acted exactly as their community standards lead them to react. The Ásatrúar expects the Wiccan to either accept the reasoning or to refute it. The Wiccan is simply stunned. He or she feels they have made a polite statement and had it answered in a rude and disrespectful manner. At this point, he has already decided the conversation is without purpose and attempts to end it by agreeing to the validity of the Ásatrúar’s opinion, but restating his own, this time even more conditionally. This is a common way to end such a conversation in the Wiccan community, but the Ásatrúar sees it in an entirely different light. Smelling rhetorical blood, he or she strongly dismisses the Wiccan’s opinion and even more strongly restates his own. The Wiccan now feels insulted beyond tolerance. He replies angrily, not concerning the original subject of the conversation, but chastising the Ásatrúar’s behavior. The Ásatrúar is shocked by this reaction and asks what the problem is. Assuming the problem is obvious to everyone involved, the Wiccan turns and leaves. The two part, the Wiccan convinced the Ásatrúar is a rude and insensitive jerk trying to force his opinions on others, the Ásatrúar convinced he is the victim of yet another attempt at politically correct censorship by someone who can’t defend his own beliefs.”

      This may help explain my recent interaction with Galina.

  • Hello,

    I would just like to say that I am a hard polytheist who has stuck up for Galina in the past. I would like to say, for the record, that while I disagree with atheist/humanist/archetypalist Pagans on principle, I am absolutely disgusted by her behaviour and the behaviour of some of her associates, and I know I’m not the only one.

    I have always done my own thing, and up until recently, I agreed with her on many points (certainly not all) but I just can’t stomach the drama any longer. I personally think that we should spend more time worrying about actual Christian dominionists than whether my Pagan neighbour believes the exact same things that I do.

  • Here’s what I understand about all of this:

    Polytheists have a standard of practice and definitions about what constitutes genuine practice and they want that standard and definitions to be respected. They feel that people taking terms (and/or their deities) from within the practice and applying it to pop culture, as an example, to be offensive because it is appropriating their practices and is disrespecting their deities.

    After I wrote my post on pagan square, that was enough for me. I intentionally wrote it as a parody of what I saw elsewhere, but I’ve done the whole flame war thing before and it doesn’t get you far.

    My suggestion: Recognize that no one will win this particular debate.

  • So, Galina feels that an attack is being made on polytheism with words, and says we should fight back and draw a line in the sand, and she’s somehow inciting violence with this? But you feel HER words are an attack on YOUR kind of paganism, and that people like YOU should draw a line in the sand, and on top of this you post her photo and directly call her out by name (whereas “our side” has been talking in generalities, not naming specific offenders) and say she should be stopped, but you are NOT inciting violence? Seriously, what is the difference?

    You know what the difference is? Galina has actually received credible threats of physical violence against herself and her colleagues. So by attacking her personally in this way, you may very well be encouraging some pretty crazy people who are already on the edge to take their hatred just one step further. Most of the supposed BNP polytheists who have been writing during this are very open about our legal names, where we live, etc. We make ourselves vulnerable to crazies for the sake of transparency (unlike the great majority of anonymous internet pagans who hide behind screen names so they can say whatever they want without accountability). The fact that you would feed the flames like this is pretty disgusting, frankly. I’m going to hope you are just naive and haven’t considered the real life ramifications of your particular form of “debating”, so let this be your wake up call. You went WAY over the line with this one. Get back to talking about issues, not people, and if you have any decency or care for the safety of other people (even those you disagree with), consider taking this post down or at least toning down the inciting rhetoric a bit.

    • Dver: I disagree about the seriousness of Galina and my respective transgressions. (I believe her “call to arms” was much more militant and provocative.). But two wrongs don’t make a right, so I am not seeking to excuse myself. You are right that I was naive about the possibility that Galina might have been a victim of threats of violence in the past and how my post might have been read in that light. (Of course, Galina’s situation does not excuse her behavior either.) I will remove Galina’s photo today and tone down some of the rhetoric in the post as you suggest. I hope (but do not expect) you will make the same suggestion to your friend Galina.

  • This is the post I should have written: Jason Mankey, “Holier than thou Paganism”

  • Kaif

    Here are my two cents on the subject, if anyone wants them:

  • sai

    Hmm. I think she makes perfect sense. After all, if you keep adding water to kool aid, it just becomes water eventually. I don’t have a problem with other beliefs mind you. However, i want to be as close to the original as possible. Ofc, while maintaining a modern, educated mind. But the gods are treated as mere tools these days by a lot of people. I think they deserve far more respect. Clearly they aren’t violent, many things have tempted them. But that doesn’t mean they are ok with being used either.