Saturday, July 31, 2010

Filan and Krasskova on Reverence and Respect

I've heard you complain about Heathens who feel it is beneath them to kneel before their Gods.

Galina: It really is amazing how so many contemporary Heathens interpret the humility out of the lore. There is more than one surviving example of pre-Christian Heathens prostrating themselves in sacred spaces, i.e. before the Gods. So many contemporary Heathens, who are intensely literal in their interpretations of lore in other respects (from clothing to food, to ritual style), will inevitably protest the devotion shown by these actions and inevitably one finds every possible explanation given for why this particular aspect of praxis should not be copied. Copy their clothes by all means but let’s not copy their attitudes of respect.

I think we have forgotten how to be humble before the Gods. All too often contemporary Heathens incorrectly dismiss such respect and humility as Christian and devotional work of any sort as Wiccan, when in truth neither of these things is the purview of any one faith. This goes back to the very Protestant Weltanschauung that dominates the contemporary Northern Traditions: an overwhelming percentage of the community converted from Protestant religions and what we’re seeing is, I believe, a direct descendant of the Protestant Reformation and its discomfort with the more ecstatic and messy aspects of religious expression. Certainly you see this in contemporary Heathen rituals, which are structured as carefully as possible to avoid any experience of the numinous. There is discomfort there because when it comes down to it, the Gods or any Holy Power, are an unknown quantity, and They are far beyond our control and above all else, we as 21st century human beings like to be in control.

Part of it is about knowing one’s place. That’s not popular terminology today. Little value in our world is ascribed to knowing your place: knowing who is below you so you know who you have an obligation to protect and mentor; knowing who is above you so you know who to go to for help, who is deserving of respect as an elder. We’ve lost this. We’ve lost even the sense that it is something to be valued.

I've railed against those who treat Gods like interchangeable symbols and the spirit world as a place which exists solely to enlighten you. Why do you suppose there is so much resistance to the idea that the divine is Bigger Than We Are and that we might do well to recognize that fact?

Well, there’s no one easy answer to that question. Speaking just on contemporary Heathenry, part of the issue lies with the way that Heathenry developed in the US, and with its focus on late Viking age history. There’s an elevation of independence and self-reliance, (which are not necessarily negative) and of pride and braggadocio (which often can be) to a degree that casts the gentler more introspective virtues into shadow. Furthermore, the religion’s origins were as much social and political as religious and I often think that the spirituality came later in its development.

It’s been my observation that the majority of Heathens don’t want direct contact with the Gods. Many were drawn to the religion out of an interest in their ancestry, or ancestral cultures, and the Gods are nice ideas but when those nebulous ideas suddenly become a very concrete reality it shakes us out of the neat boundaries we like to place around ourselves and our world. It shakes up our sense of control, and it changes everything.

Speaking just in general, I think we’re an arrogant society. We’re used to the spiritual equivalent of ‘fast food,’ of being told we can have anything we want with a modicum of effort. The idea of some sort of Divine hierarchy doesn’t sit well with us moderns. Those of us raised with the watch-words of egalitarianism and equality, of independence and personal freedom, those who find the concept of hierarchy or power dangerous or suspicious in the human world, often find the idea of Gods being more powerful than we are daunting. Add to that, the focus of many Paganisms on self-help, personal healing, and feeling good (none of which is bad, mind you, but there’s a time and a place for everything) and the idea of doing something (i.e. making an offering, saying a prayer, bending a knee, being respectful) because it is right and proper even when it might cause inconvenience becomes very foreign.

We’re used to our spirituality being about us. It’s a huge mental shift to realize that it’s not about what we can receive (though the Gods do bless us in a thousand thousand ways) but what we should be doing, and what it is right and proper to give.