A matter of roots

Recently, Camilla explained why she avoids calling herself a devotional polytheist, not because she’s not a practitioner, but due to the origin of the word in the Latin devotio (see here). It’s a good point that is significant for a Roman polytheist, but it poses a challenge. And warning: this is a long post!

Every day, people use words on religion and religious practices that have a modern meaning, mostly influenced by Christianity, but which ultimately derive from a Latin and hence pre-Christian origin. And if you’re a Roman polytheist, you try to use those words in a way that’s at least close to their original sense. It’s part of the effort of having a living religion rooted in the past, but it’s not always easy. In some instances, you can go back to the old sense of the word, like in the case of “rite” being different from “ceremony”, since the former meant a method of performing the latter (e.g. Roman rite, Greek rite). Or in the case of the word “sacred”, which referred to a status of ownership and not an innate nature. These things are relatively easy to return to their ancient meaning, even if it’s just among Roman polytheists. But the case of “devotion” is different: a devotio was the vowing of life to the gods of the underworld, namely the lifes of one’s enemies. To use a Norse comparison, it’s something along the lines of throwing a spear over the battlefield, presumably as a form of giving the troops to Odin. In other words, it amounts to dying, i.e. those consecrated join the deities of the underworld or Odin. A devotio could even take the extreme form of self-sacrifice in which a military leader dedicated himself and then sought death in battle, hoping to take with him as many enemies as possible. So you can see why a Roman polytheist can think twice before using the term “devotional”: if we care about the ancient meaning of Latin religious terminology, we care about the meaning of devotio.

This is, however, a case where a Latin equivalent of modern “devotee” is hard, if not impossible to come by. It’s just one of those cases where one has to concede to modern usage and employ the Latin form to signal that you’re referring to the original sense (so “devotion” becomes different from devotio). Besides, language is a matter of shared meaning and given that there is a growing community of devotional polytheists that spans across different traditions, to have cultores detaching themselves from the term “devotional” could end up detaching ourselves from the wider polytheistic community. For better or for worst, a modern meaning has become well established. Yet the matter did have an unexpected consequence, for when I asked fellow cultores about a Latin word that could express today’s sense of “devotee”, the replies I got made me realize that several modern Roman polytheists don’t do personal religion: they do State religion as individuals. Allow me to explain.

Ancient Roman religion is known mostly from sources that pertain to public cults and, in some instances, to the private practices of the elites, whose views on religion dominate our perception of the past. It is, in other words, a partial view of the matter, largely focused on State religion from the late Republican period on. And one of the ideas that comes out of the sources is that of superstition. To put it simply, superstitio is the religious equivalent of paranoia and obsession and Roman authors used the term to coin a deep fear of the Gods and the resulting extreme behaviours. In other words, it refers to the excesses of religion, which were frowned upon, because Roman religion was supposed to be based on moderation and the belief that the Gods are good and reasonable. This is something I can agree on, but what I don’t agree with is the idea that devotional polytheism amounts to superstition because it is excessive worship. Or that to claim a special link to a god is a Christian notion. Or that a cultor is a worshiper of the Gods and not Their fiancé. These are all things I was told when I explained what a devotee is and the ensuing discussion gave me the aforementioned impression: that several Roman polytheists don’t do personal religion, just State religion individually.

See, a State is naturally a formal thing because it is an institution. It’s made out of people, yes, but it works as a collective of large and diverse numbers, not an individual. It’s not your buddy or neighbour and so dealings with the State are marked by a degree of formality and emotional sanitation. Every time you resort to a government agency or department, things have to follow a certain protocol and bureaucracy (and if they don’t, it usually hints at corruption). The matter is of course different when it comes to your friends, family and partners. You don’t normally ask them to be emotionally sanitized or neutral with you and to fill in forms if they want something from you. When it comes to a one on one relation between individuals, it’s a naturally close, emotional and informal thing.

In the same fashion, State religion was naturally formal and emotionally sanitized. A priest or a magistrate in a public ceremony sacrificed in the name of the entire community, not separate individuals with their devotions or feelings. The only way that could happen is if you were an individual of public importance, like the emperor. Augustus is a case in point, since he had a personal devotion for Apollo and that propelled the god’s cult to the top places of the State religion. This is also one of those instances where you get a glimpse of personal devotion in ancient Rome. But otherwise, personal connections with specific deities were not expected to break through the fairly neutral, formal wall of public cults. Because they were public, not personal. Yet individual relations with the Gods are a different matter, since it’s a one on one thing, non-institutional. And as it happens between individual people, it’s naturally something close and emotional. To argue that to be a devotional polytheist is to be superstitious, is like saying that to like someone, to have a best friend or a partner, is to be obsessed about other people. It’s putting things in terms of extremes, which is a very Christian thing to do and also very ironic, since it’s claiming to stand for moderation by being immoderate: it’s either black or white; either a formal and emotionally sanitized cult or superstition. It’s the equivalent of saying that food is either a matter of cold chemistry or morbid obesity. But between the extremes of distant formality and emotional obsession, there is a vast middle ground where personal and healthy relationships with the Gods can be built. So long as you keep it balanced, so long as you maintain a sense of moderation, just like normal people do in their everyday dealings with other people. Close friends or partners are not obsessed or paranoid individuals: they’re just regular people who have close and healthy relationships with each other.

This is something that several Roman polytheists don’t get. For them, you’re a cultor if you worship a god on a yearly, perhaps monthly basis, and that’s it. More than that is considered by them as excessive. At some point, it feels like you’re in the movie Equilibrium. And the reason for that is that they don’t do personal religion: they do State religion individually. In other words, they take what we know of ancient Roman religion, which pertains largely to public cults, and apply it to the individuals, resulting in each cultor dealing with the Gods as a State would: formally, in an emotionally sanitized way. If you go beyond that, if you become a devotional polytheist, you’re being superstitious, just as you would be crossing the line if you became too intimate with a State official you’re working with.

There’s a sense of re-enactor’s mentality in all of this, in that people don’t go beyond what the sources present. If the texts focus mainly on public religion, that’s what you’ll get in your personal dealings with the Gods. I agree that it is important to be rooted in the past, since that is what distinguishes a recon or a revivalist from a wiccanish neopagan. It is essential to know how things were done and seen in the ancient world, but keep in mind the limitations of the surviving sources (stress on the word “surviving”) and, above all, never forget that only the roots are supposed to be buried, not the entire tree. If you don’t grow past them, you’ll never be a tree at all. Living things naturally change, evolve, diversify. That’s why they’re living and not dead. We can certainly question the quality of the evolution, which is why it’s important to be rooted in the past so we can keep things true to their origins. But that doesn’t mean that we should limit ourselves to what was done in the past or the views given to us by surviving sources. The difference between a revivalist and a re-enactor is that the former breathes new life and hence new forms into the old, while the latter never leaves the old. You may even be sincere in your practice, but if you don’t grow past the old, if you don’t go beyond the sources, you’ll still be in a re-enactor’s mental frame.

Gifts in sand

This year’s offering sand boat to Njord was a little more elaborate than last year’s, as I added pieces of wood on both ends, shells, oars and gave it a few final touches with wet sand. The place was the same as in 2013: an almost deserted beach usually full of drift wood and located next to a harbour, which supplies for both materials and a symbolic charge, since Njord is a Lord of Ships.

Njord 2014

Once it was ready, I filled a small bowl with sea water (wetting my naked feet in the process, which also has a symbolic significance) and washed by hands and face. I then made an opening salutation to the Vanir, the Elves, the fertile Earth and Her countless landwights, casting a handful of wheat as an offering. And after ringing a bell, I addressed Njord, the Boater of Fair Feet, praising Him and consecrating the sand boat to Him by dripping sea water over it. Then I presented by offerings, placing them one by one in the boat: a wreath, an apple, a slice of home baked bread. The ringing of a bell and the sprinkling of sea water consecrated the offerings, which from that moment on were Njord’s propriety, to be taken by the sea or animals. I poured the remaining water around the boat, levelled the sand around it and, as a final tribute, I saluted Freyr’s father one last time, kissing the fingertips of my right hand and pressing it against the sand. A mark of devotion, if you will.

I did not linger. The wind had blown away the clouds and the sun was shining. So I got on my bike, rode it up the nearby coastal hills and spent one happy hour on the sand of a perfectly shell-shaped bay. It was a good Njord’s day!

What I’ve been up to

I’ve been under posting severely, but I haven’t had enough free time to properly write posts. Still, when I reach a certain number followers, I feel an obligation to post regularly, so as a way of breaking my blogging fast and keeping things going, here’s some catching up.

These last few weeks have been very busy with seemingly endless writing about Vikings, medieval texts and Norse mythology, though for work reasons and not related to practicing polytheism. But I’ve going so deep into Scandinavian topics and sources that I started wearing my old Thor’s hammer again. To be honest, I’ve been keeping it in my pocket since last October and when I couldn’t find a good replacement for my broken caduceus pendant, I went back to the little hammer I bought in Sweden almost ten years ago. Surprisingly, I feel perfectly comfortable with it. I expected a sense of displacement, as if I was wearing something that no longer reflected who I am, but no. It feels fine; at some points, it even feels right. Perhaps because religiously I’m still half Norse and professionally I’m focused on medieval Scandinavia, so I guess a Thor’s hammer bought when I made my Masters in Uppsala is appropriate. And also I love a good thunderstorm. Yet I acknowledge that it’s the symbol of the Red Bearded Thunderer, so I’ll be adding libations to Thor on the Ides of every month, when I also honour Jupiter. No intent of syncretising Them, though: as with Frey and His family, I’m Latinizing, in this case by allowing Roman praxis to determine when I honour a Norse god.

I’ve also been working on a long poem dedicated to Ingui, which should be partly devotional, partly ritual and bit narrative too. Basically, I want it to be a poetic summary of His Latin cult, but there’s still a lot of stanzas waiting to be written and I need to perform divination in order to get Frey’s approval on several things. To that end, I brought back something I haven’t used since my long gone days as a Wiccan: a tarot deck! Back then, I bought the Sacred Circle Tarot, which I haven’t used in over a decade, but since I’m not particularly in tune with runes and I need a tool that allows me to contact Frey when there’s need of it, I decided to try using something I already have at home. Ergo, enter the fourth suit of the minor arcana, which works with earth symbolism. It seems appropriate to Him, especially given that the King of Discs sits on a throne with boar heads. Time will tell if it works or not. If it doesn’t, I’ll just have to create a divination system from scratch, which I’m also doing anyway, but for use at the end large ceremonies. This follows the common practice in the ancient world, when lots were drawn or signs looked for in order to determine if the sacrifices had been well received by the Gods. Which is why I want a simpler system than tarot cards for that end, so I’ll be using chest or hazelnuts and enjoy the pun of consulting Ingui’s nuts to know if He enjoyed it. Enjoyed the sacrifice, that is.

Other than that, it’s been mostly regular offerings and ceremonies. On my birthday, I performed a long one with an extensive opening where I honoured ten deities, plus my ancestors, all before the main focus of the ceremony, which was my genius and my penates. Having been born at home, I feel like my house wights are a sort of personal spirits too, so I placed a wreath around Their images. I also ran 10 kilometres in 39 minutes on May 18th as a tribute to Mercury, taking advantage of a local race so close to Mercuralia. And I’m getting into the habit of making small sand ships by the ocean and then pour wheat in them as an offering to Njord. It just feels great after a good sunny afternoon on the beach, coupled with an offering of honey to Ingui-Frey every Sunday morning. That and throwing a coin into the air and let it fall wherever it may as a tribute to Mercury before I head back home on my bike. And as I pedal, as I go through fields and pass next to wooded hills, I may see kingfishers, hawks, crows or herons flying next or over me.

Honouring the Gods through our everyday pleasures and smiles feels great!

More on Vanatru

There’s been some pertinent comments to the previous post on Vanatru and I feel that the topic needs further discussion, especially with regard to Heathenry at large.

It’s not easy being a Vanic heathen. I know this because I used to be one. There’s a recurrent hostility originating from trends within modern Norse polytheism: those who believe that people should not focus on particular gods, but ought to worship all equally; those who argue that people should focus on their ancestors and local wights instead of gods who, they claim, care little about individual humans; the would-be raider, i.e. those who see Heathenry as a synonym of viking religion and therefore a warrior path with no place for Vanic wussies. And then there are those who carry a huge baggage from Christianity and for whom Norse polytheism should be what a “proper” religion is “supposed to be”: uniform, moralistic, complete with scriptures and a dualistic view of the world (gods and giants, us and them, ours and theirs). When you tell these people that you are a Vanatruar, that you focus on the Vanir or have one of Them as your patron, chances are that you will be frowned up, criticized or shunned. It’s not easy being a Vanic heathen, which is why many prefer to set themselves apart so as to have their own safe haven. Just like many Lokeans do and for the very same reason.

This is an impoverishing trend in modern Heathenry, but one that’s the result of a misguided view of religion as having to be united in uniformity. Yet when you have multiple gods with different agendas, you will naturally have multiple cults with specific forms of worship. And those cults can exist both within their native religious system or stand on their own and move around independently. There’s nothing new about this: Isis was very popular in ancient Egypt, indeed She was and is one of the main deities in the Kemetic pantheon, but She also had a mystery cult of Her own that spread throughout the Mediterranean world, far beyond Her native land and independently of the rest of Egyptian religion. The same holds true for Dionysos, who was and is simultaneously an important element of the Greek pantheon and the focus of mystery cults that can exist outside standard Hellenic religion. This was normal in the ancient world. When you have multiple gods, you will have multiple cults, so there’s nothing wrong in the existence of Vanic religion simultaneously within and outside Heathenry.

Now some heathens (dare I say many?) have a narrow view of History and will point out that there is no clear record of a separate cult of Freyr, Freya or Njord. This is the purist view of the re-enactor and the “lorish” perspective, the notion that the lore is a form of sacred scriptures by which we must guide our lives and religious practices. And it is also a case of Christian baggage. Because the lore – i.e. Eddas and sagas – are late fragments of a religious system. They’re not in any way the whole picture, not geographically, chronologically or even religiously. There’s a reason why Odin features highly in the existing sources: they were largely recorded or produced by poets in a military and aristocratic context, which is basically Odin’s realm. Practices and tales may have been very different in the minds of farmers and fishermen in other parts of Scandinavia and at different times. This diversity existed in ancient Greece, where religion assumed local forms and there were multiple creation myths stemming from different origins, from poetic to philosophical. We know this because there is a relative abundance of Greek and Roman sources; we don’t have the same clear picture for ancient Scandinavia because we have very few sources, almost all of which are late and from a particular context. The lore is neither scripture nor the full picture. And reconstructionism is not viking re-enactment: even if something didn’t exist in the past, there is no reason for its non-existence today if it stems from an historical basis. And the historical fact is that polytheistic religions are naturally diverse and complex in the number of gods, their roles and their cults.

Of course, just as there is hostility towards Vanatru, there is also a form of counter-hostility. Some (dare I say many?) Vanatruar have put up with a lot from narrow-minded heathens and they reacted in the same measure. Hence the emphasis on peace as opposed to the warrior qualities of Odin and Thor, on nature as opposed to a supposed focus of the Aesir on civilization, on UPG as a reaction to a strict lorish view. There is a lot of baggage in Vanatru and it comes from the bad experiences of many of its members with the wider heathen community. People have been hurt and they react by severing whatever ties they can with those who shunned them, thereby stressing differences that are largely artificial. And this too is impoverishing. For if we focus on the peace-loving qualities of the Vanir and ignore or downplay Their fighting aspect because that’s viking war centeredness, we neglect, for instance, an important part Freya’s nature; if we put things in terms of nature versus civilization, we forget that farming communities too are part of human civilization and that the Vanir have a role to play in sustainable urban life; and if we neglect the lore and academia to depend on UPG, we risk building religions disconnected from the past (and we are worshipping old gods, not new ones). Yes, some heathens can be aggressive because they have too much “vikingness” in their heads, but the exact opposite can be just as bad. And the same goes for the opposition between lore and UPG: we need a balance of both to breathe new life into old cults, otherwise we’ll just be making news ones with no connection or regard for the centuries of experience that others have had with our gods.

So what am I saying here? That the label Vanatru makes sense when referring to a subsect of Heathenry. If only heathens could understand that subdivisions are a natural part of a polytheistic religion and that specific cults can both exist within and outside their native system. And if only Vanatruar could be accepted and accept themselves as part of Heathenry without drawing deep borders. But that calls for the end of both historical narrow-mindness and the stressing of artificial differences. And we still have a long way to go on that front, so if you can’t solve the problem and really want to move on, just drop the name. A label is a matter of shared language, in that it must be understood by others while conveying your identity in an accurate fashion – in this case a religious identity. If it is confusing, if it fails to transmit what you want or if it distorts your own practices, just drop it. And in my case, I am neither a heathen, nor do I wish to use something that is so often placed in sharp contrast with Asatru.

The past few years have produced new Vanic traditions, of which Waincraft is perhaps the most notorious example. It’s not Vanatru – at least I don’t think they describes themselves as such – but it is rooted in Vanaheim, so there is a wider community rising. One that is Vanic and polytheist, but not necessarily heathen, since it includes people from different religious backgrounds who share a common devotion for the Vanir. I myself am becoming part of that process by working on a Romanized cult of Freyr. A broader label may be in order.

What makes Vanatru vanic

Every now and then, I come across posts on the principles, tenants or specifics of Vanatru. For those of you who are new to the world of modern Norse polytheism, the term is a mirror word of Asatru, which is a combination of trú (faith) and áss (god; plural Aesir). The latter could apparently be used in a general sense for all the gods, as could tivar and regin, for instance. But there was another term for divine powers – Vanir – which had a more specific meaning and referred only to a particular family of gods, i.e., Njord’s and Freyr’s. So Vanatru means Faith of the Vanir, though trú is often (mis)translated as “true”.

But what makes Vanatru special? What’s so specific about it that it requires a name of its own. I’ve seen several lists of principles and tenants, even extensive articles on the topic, but really people, it all comes down to one thing: a focus on the Vanir. And that’s it! We can go on and on about reverence for nature, peace-loving, open sexuality, friendship and a rejection of war-centeredness, but while these are certainly characteristics of at least some of the Vanir, it’s not that specific to Them. It’s about as accurate as saying that what makes a Catholic is a belief in Christ and saints – and I’ve heard this one many times! – which certainly fits the Catholic profile, but it also fits that of several other Christian churches (e.g. Orthodox, Coptic and Anglican).

So you think one of the specifics of Vanatru is a reverence for nature? That’s true for many forms of polytheism, in that the natural world is not considered a lifeless thing whose sole purpose is to be exploited, but is seen as something profoundly numinous, full of life and power, part of the community and worthy of respect and reverence. “All is full of gods”, Thales is believed to have said, and that pretty much sums up a common idea in the ancient world. There’s divinity in everything and that includes rocks, rivers, trees, the sea and so forth. It’s not specific to Vanatru. It’s not even specific to it when compared to Asatru: Thor is a god of thunder, which makes Him a Power linked to Nature; you can’t even argue that that’s not his primary identity, because His core is thunder. And while the hammer can easily be a symbol of civilization and human craftsmanship, something that could be seen in opposition to the natural and thus Vanic world, dwarfs are enough to question that simplistic assumption. Because the dvergar are landwights, specifically spirits of rocks and mountains, yet they are also miners, smiths and crafters, i.e. makers of the tools and weapons of civilization. Including both Freyr’s golden boar and Thor’s hammer.

The Vanir value peace more than war? It is true that conflict is not in the primary nature of at least some of Them, though that may not be the case with Freya (She is a Lady of the Battlefield and not just a goddess of love). But even if all of Them see war only as a last resort, They’re not the only peace-loving gods: Aphrodite isn’t big on battles and legend has it that when She gave it a go in Troy it did not go well for Her; Demeter cares more about fertility and order than the disruption that is war; Epona too is a Lady of Abundance and though She may have a fighting side (a horse was, after all, a tool of both labour and conflict), it may not be Her primary role. In a way, She’s a bit like Freyr.

Vanatru honours or focuses on the seasons? How’s that specific enough to be a defining trait? The Romans and the Greeks had festivals tuned to agricultural practices, the Egyptians marked the cycles of the Nile and Wicca – we all know it! – celebrates the seasons. Furthermore, if one is to admit that Heimdall is one of the Vanir, how does He fit into the agricultural cycle? Or how is Njord connected to the seasons any more than other non-Vanir sea deities (e.g. Aegir, Neptune or Manannán)?

It is also said that Vanatru is non-discriminatory and welcomes everyone alike, regardless of their gender, sexual orientation or ethnic background. Which is very much in tune with the open nature of the Vanir, who tolerate what some do not, from alternative sexual orientations and life styles to brides from different races. But this is also true of other gods: ask any devotee of Dionysos or Hermes, to name just two well-know gods for their inclusiveness or preference for the outcast and so-called deviants. While tolerance is certainly a Vanic virtue, it is not exclusively so. The polytheistic world has many deities who are just as embracing as the Powers of Vanaheim.

When it comes down to it, the only thing that’s really specific to Vanatru is a focus on the Vanir. Everything else is just gravy, a non-exclusive bonus or consequence of the deities being worshipped. Tolerance, reverence for the land, abundance and generosity, these are all things associated with Vanatru because they are associated with the Vanir and not the other way around. That’s why you can find them elsewhere, because there are more gods that preside over those things, making a focus on the Vanir the only really original trait of Vanatru. So why all the lists, posts and so forth on principles, tenants and etc.? Why the urge to carve an identity with stressed lines?

Perhaps the problem is one of definition by opposition. The very name Vanatru reflects and emboldens that, being a mirror-term of Asatru. It’s almost like a religious alter ego, in as much as people often ask about the differences between the two, and that calls for a constant stressing of separateness. In other words, it feels like Vanatru needs to justify its existence by presenting itself in opposition to Asatru. So if Thor is aggressive, the Vanir are peaceful; the latter are deities of the fertile land, so the Aesir must be gods of civilization; if followers of Asatru value the lore and academia, followers of Vanatru must focus more on UPG (yes, I’ve seen this argument). And never mind about comparisons with other European pantheons and traditions: the point is to differentiate from Asatru. It’s simplistic, downplaying and honestly impoverishing. If we, worshippers of the Vanir, are to grow as a rich and diverse community, we need to move away from a teen mentality of us versus them, which means that we need to stop defining ourselves in opposition to something.

This is actually the reason why I’m dropping the Vanatru label (and will have to edit the About section of this blog accordingly). There’s no point in identifying part of my religious practices with reference to others from which I need to differentiate myself. It’s detrimental, it places things in terms of black and white and ignores the immense grey areas, leaving us poorer as a result. Instead, I prefer the much broader label of Vanic polytheism, which is open enough to include many of the modern forms of Vanir religion, be it Norse, wiccan-inspired, shamanistic or, as is my case, Romanized.

Genital monologue

In the world of pagan and polytheistic fiery online discussions, the latest episode features child pornography, an arrest, public relations, scores of accusations and an unsettling desire to cover your ears and scream “lalala” to pretend something isn’t there. Sannion has been keeping track of it and sharing his own thoughts on the matter (see here and here, for instance). And while I’m usually not in the mood to join what could potentially be another flame war, since that tends to consume time and energy that could be put to better use, I feel inclined to make an exception in this case. It involves more than just bad theology and religious self-centeredness: it’s about abuse, physical and psychological injury and an ineptitude to deal with issues that pagans should frankly be at ease with. So in the spirit of April Fools’ and the Ludi Mercuriales, I’m going to put on a jester’s hat and throw my own two cents into the roaring crowd. A warning, though: it will be a long post.

Kenny Klein, pagan author, musician and priest, was recently arrested for possessing child pornography, a charge he apparently confessed to. Some argue that a collector of such material is not a child molester himself, which is about as logical as saying that a vegetarian can eat meat as long as he doesn’t kill any animal himself. It seems some people fail to grasp the fact that in order to produce child pornography you have to molest children in the first place, making consumption part of the crime. And there’s more: there are also those who argue that everyone makes mistakes and people shouldn’t be severely criticised or punished for them. I can understand that argument if you’re a warden trying to empty a prison complex to turn it into a luxury resort, but otherwise… no! If you make a mistake – a serious mistake! – you’ll suffer a penalty. We can discuss the severity and usefulness of a given punishment, but the fact that everyone makes mistakes does not excuse you from your own and especially not in the case of sexual crimes to which one is a direct or indirect contributor. What this tells me, however, is that some people in the pagan community are more worried about bad PR than with keeping their house clean and that they prefer to defend their own no matter what instead of facing the problems. And in this particular type of problems, they should be better than that. Honestly!

Do you know why the Catholic Church turned a blind eye to sexual abuse within its walls? Because the Vatican has a problem with sex. It’s a sin waiting to happen, a potential highway to hell that should therefore be regulated, restricted and kept to the bare minimum necessary for human procreation. No pleasure, no fun, no beauty. Just put the baby in your properly married wife and that’s it. It’s as colourful as saying that food is solely a matter of nutrients, proteins and carbs, so eat your food pills or Matrix-like porridge and forget about presentation, seasoning, flavour and texture. It’s pure function with no pleasure and the Catholic Church is there to make sure you have none. The Vatican fashions itself as a righteous pussy-sower and cock-blocker, so you can imagine its horror when it was faced with reports of sexual misconduct and crimes. It shatters the self-projected image of the Church, so they did what any dogmatic institution that has a problem with sex would do: sweep it under the rug.

But pagans? You guys are supposed to be at ease with sex! You talk on and on about the union between the God and the Goddess, sometimes explicitly and sometimes metaphorically. You have openly phallic symbols, a festival with a strong sexual background and a tradition of ritual nakedness, even a reverence for the body. Sex should not be a taboo in the pagan world! You should be able to discuss it with the same at ease that restaurant-goers talk about food. And yet when confronted with criminal problems of a sexual nature, you faced it with the same horror and defensiveness as the Catholic Church. Really, pagans? Should I ask if you actually believe in the things you say you believe in? Or are you just putting up a show every time you talk about divine union and the sexual symbolism of Beltane, like teenagers trying to shock their parents?

Now I know it’s not easy to stand up against your own when one of you makes a serious mistake or commits a crime. What will people say of you? What kind of community will you be if you don’t defend your own in times of crisis? But what you should be asking yourselves is what kind of community will you be if, for the sake of PR and absolute loyalty, you let yourselves rot from within. Because pretending problems don’t exist and using shitty technicalities like saying that consumers of child pornography are not actual child molesters themselves won’t get you out of the shit hole: it’s only going to sink you deeper in it. If you want true, healthy loyalty, you will respect those of you who are innocent and victims first and foremost. And you will do that out of loyalty to them, so that those of you who are clean will not be stained by the crimes of the wrong-doers among you. Because if you are unable to dissociate yourselves from criminals, you will be associating yourselves with them. And if, all things considered, you still feel that there are important reasons why you should be grateful to the accused, despite his wrong doings, you will support him as he goes through the punishment for his crimes instead of pretending things didn’t happen or making up foolish excuses as you go along.

Is this a witch hunt? No, pagans, it is constant vigilance, which is a constant need in any group of people. Why? Because there are wrong-doers everywhere. No religion, no community is immune to evil and mistakes. And if you think otherwise and that pagans are somehow purer than the rest, then you are fooling yourselves and going down the same road early Christians did. There will be bad people among you, just as there will be among us polytheists. And the more you grow as a community, the greater the chances that there will be problems and mistakes. The fact that everyone errs should not be an excuse to do nothing and forgive everything: it is the very reason why you should remain vigilant and act when things go wrong! Because they will go wrong at some point and when that time comes you need to act decisively. It’s a matter of trust and trust comes from two things: the knowledge that the people in charge are less prone to make mistakes (also called experience and integrity) and knowing that when mistakes happen, those people will face them head on, honestly and swiftly. You cannot ask humans to be flawless, but you can ask them to be responsible and honest enough to quickly correct whatever goes wrong. If you sweep it under the rug, if you use shitty excuses and downplay things, then you are fooling yourselves and others. And it will come back to bite you. You think mistakes make you look bad? How do you think it will look when people find out you’ve been ignoring problems? If you cannot be trusted to admit your own flaws and do the right thing, how can you be trusted at all? How can others trust you with their work, their money, their children knowing that if things go wrong you will deny it, downplay it and do nothing?

So stop making excuses for Kenny Klein! He committed a crime and he admitted it, which already puts him ahead of pagans who are trying to go around the subject in every way they can and no matter how silly they look. Walk away from him, attend to the needs and loyalty of those among you who are blameless. Make sure next time you act as soon as possible and root out wrong-doers without hesitation. Your leaders and communities will not be good because they are inherently so or because you have good PR: they will be good because they are kept in check and problems will be dealt with as soon as possible.

One last note before I take off my jester’s hat: I may be talking about pagans, but what I said also applies to us polytheists. We must remain vigilant, brothers and sisters. We must be honest with ourselves and others.

Hat off! I’m done!