A backdoor

The topic of Loki’s (un)worthiness to be worshipped has been to me a good reminder of how difficult it often is to move away from a monotheistic mindset. Yes, we cry out the Gods’ names, we give Them sacrifices, wear Their symbols, erect Them altars, create art or design webpages in Their honor and may even give ourselves a new name to create a deep link with a native culture. But this ends up being the easy part when compared with the effort to change the way we think about religious matters.

Too many times have I seen heathens who remain mentally monotheists even when they are devout polytheists, who change their practices and outward spirituality, but fail to work on the mental habits brought from a Christian upbringing or simple social influence of centuries of Abrahamic dominance. It’s not necessarily their fault: it’s already a difficult task if you were raised a Christian, but it gets even more complicated by the omnipresence of the monotheistic speech in the media, academic discussions, and street conversations. There’s a whole lot of talk about God, doctrine, and religious moral principles that makes it hard for us to see things a bit like the pre-Christians would.

Difficult however does not mean impossible and it is somewhat frustrating – not to mention irritating – to find heathens who are sincere and devout in their polytheism, but who allow monotheism to creep in through a mental backdoor: they believe a religion should have its Ten Commandments, a set of moral principles inspired or given by the Gods, and so they take Hávamál and create the Nine Noble Virtues as a pan-heathen code; they believe the Gods demand exclusive allegiance by default, just like the Abrahamic deity; they take the Eddas as gospel, some even compare them to the Bible, and I’ll never forget the day I saw someone arguing that there are no other Gods besides those mentioned in the eddic texts; and they see things in terms of moral black and white, the Gods as good and the Jotnar as evil, and say that’s a criterion to determine who’s to be given sacrifices.

Generally speaking, pre-Christian worship had more to do with order and chaos, helpful and harmful than with moral notions of good and bad; it could be used to draw near some deities and Their blessings, but also to negotiate with others Their absence. To take the case at hand – that of Loki – the idea that there is a moral worthiness behind worship and that we must give praise to the good side as a opposed to an evil one is a lot like what Saint Paul wrote in his First Letter to the Corinthians, that “you cannot be partakers of the table of the Lord, and of the table of devils” (10:21); or similar to what a 5th century monk argued when preaching to the Suebi in what today is Galicia and Northern Portugal, that gentiles name the days after Jupiter, Mars and Saturn, “who didn’t make any day, but were terrible and criminal men among the Greeks” (Correctione Rusticorum 8).

In this matter, perhaps it is useful to retain one of those famous sentences from Starwars: be mindful of your thoughts! Or, in a translation for the present topic, watch that mental backdoor well! It’s not that it’s bad to be influenced by other religions, but be aware of what’s coming in and how that conflicts or not with your choice of religion.

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