Divisions and Insights
Posted on August 8, 2015
Periodically, I get reminded why I am both a bad Cultor, and a poor Heathen . It doesn’t have to do with practice, nor belief in the divine. But it has to do with the underlying philosophies that buttress either, and both.
Much of the philosophical claptrap that has been espoused historically by Roman writers I view as just that – claptrap and frivolous intellectualisms that are held aloft by modern practitioners as some kind of grand representation of traditional Romanist ethos. I have little use for Platonic and Neoplatonic spiritualism, which seems to have come to dominate much in the way of philosophical understanding of the time. The divine emanations of the One and ineffable Good through the various facets of reality which manifest in the multiplicity of the divine are inherently wrong, for me. My Gods are immanent, individual, and separate. Except when they are not. I make no claims to rewrite or address their paradoxical nature as it has historically existed, and as it contemporaneously exists.
Unfortunately for many practitioners, historians, and authors alike, there has been more intellectual property lost over the course of history than has been preserved. Though we have been fortunate to preserve several important documents, rediscover several more, and gain access to a sliver of knowledge of the ancients, that knowledge is still only a sliver. A barest fragment, often taken out of context, of the greatest whole.
Of course the beauty of polytheism is that these differences do not matter. Something like Platonism only matters when it is forced to matter to people to whom it inherently does not matter.
Problems arise when we assume that these philosophical opinions were universal at any time. It is an unfortunate reality that this occurs when we have scant source material to reignite our practices from. The prolific opinions preserved throughout history, because of their survival, become the foundation for a new, revived, or reconstructed traditional view.
An example of this could, perhaps, be seen in the concept of superstitio. Superstitio is considered that which is excessive in the veneration and practice of religio. Romans who believed that there is a moderation that must be attained in honoring the deities, saw anything exceeding this point of moderation as inherently frivolous. It seems like it should be an easy enough concept to understand.
Except that somewhere along the line of thought, the idea that the deities exist in a mutually beneficial relationship with us changed. Cicero’s timor inanis deorum, his warning that superstitio was an empty fear the gods, transitioned into the simplistic assumption that placating the gods out of fear was superstitio. There are deities in this world that are best placated to be avoided, and have very real reasons to do so. But, as a concept, I have seen this interpretation of superstitio being regurgitated among Roman Pagans and practicing polytheists.
Seneca wrote a treatise on superstitio, and it was known to and influenced the Chrsitian Saint Augustine. However, that original treatise is no longer extant. What would have changed in our world view had that work survived in its entirety? We could have delved far more deeply into Seneca’s personal views of the manifestation of superstitio, which could have only added to our own interpretations of it.
These problems, in my experience, are only exacerbated by the fact that philosophically and foundationally I am a heathen. I have adapted myself into a Germanic world view. I work within the borders of frið, and grið, wyrd, scyld, mægen, wih, and hailig, among several others, and these form the basis of an immutable view of the world. The solution for me is not to simply “not do” one or the other, because I find that I cannot. In practice, I find that there is very little in the way of conflict between Heathenry and Roman world-views, especially if we strip down Roman religion to universal concepts that are free of philosophical musings, like religio and pietas, and the application of correct praxis in ritual .
As a Heathen, though, I run into issues as well, which sets me apart from many others in many communities. I hold that concepts like frið are not as tenable outside Heathen communities as people would otherwise hope, that it is probably impossible to have reasonable expectations of an approximation even with one’s own family. This is not because of some horrendous misunderstanding of its bonds, no. Jimmy the Heathen could have a mastery of the understanding of the Germanic worldview. But his family does not, and these non-Heathens, despite being in a web of kinship, are not immersed in our Germanic views.
They are not beholden to it, they operate within an individualistic Western and Christian overculture (especially if American), and expecting them to engage in it is both presumptuous and naïve. And yet I consistently see this expectation bandied around, placing Heathens in a ridiculous spiritual and moral quandary when some issue happens in their family because it “breaks frið” to act with reasonable Western expectations of extrication or removal from the situation. There may be a sacral quality to kinship, and it may be one of the foundational building blocks of our world, but if that foundation is untenable and weak and not constructed to the same industry standard it will not be a safe one.
To be sure, I am not against the establishment of communities and kingroups under the concepts of frið. And I believe it is very much a possibility – when the majority of the family is willing to engage in these concepts.
But I refuse to delude myself into believing that these concepts are universal in the sense of societal reach. They should be, in my opinion, but they often are not.
And for that, and some of the philosophical issues mentioned above, I am bad. Ah well.
Thanks for reading.
 It should be noted that nobody has actually ever said this to me, and it is more of a tongue-in-cheek self-referencing joke than anything serious.
 Much to my detractor’s discontent. Hugs and kisses.
Ironically, real Platonism has nothing to do with “The divine emanations of the One and ineffable Good through the various facets of reality which manifest in the multiplicity of the divine” either, but I am abundantly aware of how many people think that it does, believe me!
My apologies for seeming to spread that misinformation! I’m vaguely (very vaguely, I tend to err more towards Renaissance-era philosophies when I’m dealing with it) only aware of the ideas of Platonism. But it does seem that this particular meme is regurgitated throughout the Pagan communities. I’ll adjust my comment to better reflect that intention.