Retrospectives, Thoughts, Views: Paganism, Heathendom, Polytheism, and the Future
Posted on December 21, 2019
Whelp. The second decade of the 21st century has drawn to a close. I expect there will be a number of these retrospective posts coming up within Contemporary Pagan blogging circles. We’ve seen an immense diversification and explosion within those circles in the past decade, and an entire generation of new Pagans has come of age in that time. For my part, we’ve seen an expansion and dedication (although the last two years may not seem like much) in writing, consolidation of theme, forays into alternative methods of information dissemination, and the establishment of foundations of growth for other people to use as a reference (should they desire to do so!).
Communally, torches have been passed – some to the good and some to the bad – and we’re in a more secure state regarding our online representation (although public representation still is lacking). With new technological platforms, the continued growth of social media usage, and ever-increasing connectivity, we’re able to collaborate like never before. r/Pagan has surpassed over 70,000 subscribers since I became “top mod”, and that casual interest in Paganism is growing, seemingly, like never before.
But with the benefits of technology comes all the problems associated with it, beyond the innate toxicity of non-personal social media.
The world is currently shuddering with tumultuous and chaotic energies, with the rise of dangerous ideological forces finally stepping into the accepting brightness of day, and the world seems to be on a precipice of complete disaster. The Right surges, the Left withers, and the Centre appears to be accepting of an ever-tightening noose of inequity and social, (and seemingly) amoral depravity cinching around their necks. The climate fails, wildfires and “once in a century” storms rage, and all around the world a minority of people are digging up the valuables for their own coffers, while damning their children and grandchildren to poverty and strife. And it all keeps trickling down to us.
We’ve seen Pagan initiatives come and go, and major voices have passed beyond this world into the next and, with their passing, in many instances we’ve seen their transgressions and problematic views appearing to light. Abuse is, at the least, more willing to be spoken about in the open air, despite defenders of those characters tightening their ranks. While we no longer allow abusers to remain unnamed under the guise of ‘tradition’ or ‘solidarity’, we have seen that today’s Pagan circles (increasingly) lack the immunity from predatory depredations of abusers, demagogues, and aspiring cult-leaders.
Identities, traditions, and practices have been flashpoints, with concerns of negative appropriation, irreverent representation, and the ‘right’ of practice.
Polytheistic identity, in at least my experience, was one of the hot button issues of the past decade. We saw the polytheistic schism attempt to take hold through dissatisfaction with the Wiccan and Wiccanate orientation of the wider Pagan community, with new initiatives pushing reconstructionist methodology into the spotlight. The diversification of polytheistic ethnocultural identity (not to be confused with intrinsic ethnic ties) has exploded with various traditions gaining a firm foothold through new sources of communication (ever-increasing social medias, Discord, etc.). From this, we saw Polytheist Leadership Conference, and the Many Gods West conventions, the growth of Polytheist.com, and the growth of regional identity in terms of establishing a relationship with the divine.
Of course, there is death as well: the announcement of Pantheacon’s end, Witches & Pagans shutting down, Polytheist.com’s withering, Dun Brython ceasing, and a bevy of other false starts and aborted projects. All things pass. We’re more well equipped than most to understand that as a religious grouping, I feel.
We’ve also seen a growth of the marginalization of polytheistic identity within Contemporary Pagan circles, with the advent of multiple platforms of atheistic and anti-theistic rhetoric who continually believe that they have the right – if not the obligation – to edge us out of our own religious housing. What’s worse is that this is continuing apace. We have individuals who, quite literally, are attempting to redefine what it means to be polytheist, what it means to have a view of a pluralistic nature of divinity, in order to hedge out and shout down people who they believe to be problematic (theists). This is on top of other voices drawing baseless comparisons between polytheist theology and belief to ideological cancers, or otherwise using the belief of polytheism as a litmus test of acceptable associations.
And that’s nothing to say of the ire of non-Pagan anti-theists who are becoming increasingly aware of our voice and existence and using inflammatory rhetoric not unlike the kind which we see galvanizing attacks on other vulnerable populations. And it’s only going to get worse, when this blatant disrespect is allowed to become the norm.
Heathenry? Woof. Where to begin with that one. The AFA finally shedding the vestiges of attempted decency with the whole passing of McNallen from leadership, leading to the creation of Declaration 127. The Troth jettisoning old members because they reveal themselves to be Islamophobes. Just…everything…to do with TAC. Heathen Talk coming, and going. It’s been an eventful decade. But it’s not been a totally negative one, not by a long shot.
Heathendom has expanded, starting to embrace an attitude towards reconstructionism that does not shy away from innovation in the contemporary sense, in an effort to move away from the stagnation that has periodically cropped up in the past decade. More people are coming to Heathenry, in my experience, without being either Wiccan or Asatru to begin with, which requires altering the culture and the presentation of the religion to be more accommodating to the fact that we’re not all Norse focused.
Alliances have been forged between traditions to pull together and work on knowledge. Toutâ Galation, Thia Frankisk Aldsido, Lārhūs Fyrnsida, Ērsidu, and so many more (really, I need to update my links, still waiting on a good site for Norse Heathenry, though) have communications between each other in order to flesh out our respective religious practices. The Troth is in a good place to start reorganizing (from an outsiders perspective), rescinding pointless bans and addressing problematic views within their organization. While I am not convinced that national organizations of that type are wholly necessary, I do not wish to see something so long-lived just putter out. Sites like The Longship have created a new type of accessibility for people interested in Heathenry, and have inspired (at least) calls to form similar sites for other religions. Open Halls has lead the fight for military recognition of Heathenry and Asatru.
And Anglo-Saxon Heathenry, my pet project and the place where I hang my “hat”, has grown quite a bit in the past decade. Wodgar has a great retrospective from earlier this year (which I reblogged), that highlights a number of points that I think people are starting to see – that innovation is not something to be feared, that holistic comparative works are required for what we do, or else we’ll simply have a halfassed and bland caricatures or imitations of Norse Heathenry with some Anglo-Saxon veneers. There’s a growing acceptance that there can’t be a monolith or orthodoxy of a singular Anglo-Saxon Heathen identity, just as there can’t be one for Heathenry at large. And while we absolutely have to deal with all the same problems that Paganism and Heathenry at large have to deal with (nationalist and fascist incursions and their attempts to appropriate the terms, symbols, and history that we have, along with shedding the vestiges of dangerous rhetoric and trying to excise potentially cancerous ideologies which have been implanted in the past two decades) we have more voices willing to stand up to stop these problems and work through them.
For my part, I am not going anywhere, even if the past two years (with the life changes I have had) has seen a reduction in publication. You’re not getting rid of me that easy. I’ll continue to grow, to write, to theorize and experiment, and try to work my practice into something longer lasting.
So before I get busy with the next two weeks, the last two weeks, of this decade, I will end this here. There are challenges, there are trials, and the world appears excessively grim, with a long, rough road ahead. To that I will say, “Confragosa in fastigium dignitatis via est.”
To my readers: Glad Geol, Happy New Year.
So long Twenty-Teens, and thanks for all the fish.