Adieu, Pagan Blog Project

I’ve thought about it, and I’m not doing it again in 2014.

I got maybe a handful of hits out of it, but other than that, not a whole lot.

It didn’t really give me anything spiritually, emotionally, mentally. I like the idea of regular blog prompts, but as far as the pagan blog prompts I’ve seen over the last few years go, this one is kind of mediocre. I feel this is because it makes people challenge themselves, and I always have had a hard time doing that Maybe it’s a left over habit from when I was a little kid and my parents realised that I had potential that surpassed their own, but they didn’t know what to do about it, so they just left me to my own devices, but we were too poor to actually pursue many of my interests in art, dance, science, and so on, so I just went to the library six days a week and watched a lot of old films on pirated cable. Or maybe there’s just something in my nature that drives me to sloth when left to my own devices, but when I’m being challenged properly by others, I can do shit, and often very well.

I say “properly” because there are certain things people can say where my automatic response has just been to not do anything, even though I’m technically being challenged.

Anyway, it’s just kind of inane to pick a random topic based on a letter of the Latin alphabet, because then what happens? You get a dozen people blogging the same topics, usually in the same ways, and halfway through the year most of the participants have just given up. It was a personal challenge for me, mainly to see if I *could* challenge myself, but I was also self-handicapping by refusing to write a post about a topic I knew other Hellenists have done for this challenge –at least not if they had done it better than I could. Yes, this meant I got lazy toward the end, but I did it, and I’m probably not going to do it again. Maybe if I find myself in another major slump, I’ll try again in 2015 or later, but not 2014.

About Ruadhán McElroy

Ruadhán has been a traditional Hellenic polytheist for about a decade, and has also maintained devotions to Eros and Apollon most of that time; his status as a devotee of Nyx is more recent. He also paints, makes music, makes jewellery, and writes novels set in the Mod Revival (UK) and Swampie (Oz) subcultures of the 1980s. He also gets a lot of odd little experiences that he jokes will forever render him an insufferable Goth.

[PBP2013] Zelos

Oppian, Cynegetica 3. 236 ff (trans. Mair) (Greek poet C3rd A.D.) :
“O father Zeus, how fierce a heart hath Zelos (Rivalry)! Him hast thou made, O lord, mightier than nature to behold and has given him the bitter force of fire, and in his right hand hast vouchsafed to him to wear a sword of adamant. He preserves not, when he comes, dear children to their loving parents, he knows nor comrade nor kin nor cousin, when he intervenes grievous and unspeakable. He also in former times arrayed against their own children heroes themselves and hobble heroines.”

About Ruadhán McElroy

Ruadhán has been a traditional Hellenic polytheist for about a decade, and has also maintained devotions to Eros and Apollon most of that time; his status as a devotee of Nyx is more recent. He also paints, makes music, makes jewellery, and writes novels set in the Mod Revival (UK) and Swampie (Oz) subcultures of the 1980s. He also gets a lot of odd little experiences that he jokes will forever render him an insufferable Goth.

[PBP2013] Zephyros

Hesiod, Theogony 378 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or C7th B.C.) :
“And Eos (Dawn) bare to Astraios (the Starry) the strong-hearted winds, brightening Zephyros (West Wind), and Boreas (North Wind), headlong in his course, and Notos (South Wind)–a goddess mating in love with a god.”

Ovid, Fasti 5. 223 ff (trans.Boyle) (Roman poetry C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
“I [Khloris] first made a flower from Therapnean blood [of Hyakinthos, the love of Zephyros], and its petal still inscribes the lament.”

Nonnus, Dionysiaca 3. 153 ff (trans. Rouse) (Greek epic C5th A.D.) :
“On the learned leaves of Apollon’s mournful iris [loved by Apollon and Zephyros the boy Hyakinthos was transformed into an iris on his death] was embroidered many a plant-grown word; and when Zephyros breathed through the flowery garden, Apollon turned a quick eye upon his young darling, his yearning never satisfied; if he saw the plant beaten by the breezes, he remembered the quoit, and trembled for fear the wind, so jealous once about the boy, might hate him even in a leaf: if it is true that Apollon once wept with those eyes that never wept, to see that boy writhing in the dust, and the pattern there on the flower traced its own ‘alas!’ on the iris, and so figured the tears of Phoibos.”

Nonnus, Dionysiaca 10. 253 ff :
“The deathbringing breath of Zephyros might blow again, as it did once before when the bitter blast killed a young man while it turned the hurtling quoit against Hyakinthos [the boy love of both Apollon and Zephyros.”

Nonnus, Dionysiaca 11. 362 ff :
“A young Lakonian [Hyakinthos] shook Zephyros; but he died, and the amorous Wind found young Kyparissos a consolation for Amyklaian Hyakinthos.”

Nonnus, Dionysiaca 29. 95 ff :
“Apollon bemoaned Hyakinthos, struck by the quoit which brought him quick death, and reproached the blast of Zephyros (the West Wind’s) jealous gale.”

Philostratus the Elder, Imagines 1. 9 (trans. Fairbanks) (Greek rhetorician C3rd A.D.) :
“[From a description of an ancient Greek painting depicting Erotes riding swans in a marsh :] On the banks round about stand more musical swans, singing the Orthian strain [i.e. a high-pitched melody], I think, as befits the contestants. The winged youth you see is an indication that a song is being sung, for he is the wind Zephyros (the West Wind) and he gives the swans the keynote of their song. He is painted as a tender and graceful boy in token of the nature of the south-west wind, and the wings of the swans are unfolded that the breezes may strike them.”

Orphic Hymn 81 to Zephyrus (trans. Taylor) (Greek hymns C3rd B.C. to 2nd A.D.) :
“To Zephyros (West-Wind), Fumigation from Frankincense. Sea-born, aerial, blowing from the west, sweet Breezes (Aurai), who give to wearied labour rest. Vernal and grassy, and of murmuring sound, to ships delightful through the sea profound; for these, impelled by you with gentle force, pursue with prosperous fate their destined course. With blameless gales regard my suppliant prayer, Zephyros unseen, light-winged, and formed from air.”

Apuleius, The Golden Ass 4. 35 ff (trans. Walsh) (Roman novel C2nd A.D.) :
“But as Psyche wept in fear and trembling on that rocky eminence [where she had been left as a sacrifice to what she believed was a monster], Zephyrus’ (the West Wind’s) kindly breeze with its soft stirring wafted the hem of her dress this way and that, and made its folds billow out. He gradually drew her aloft, and with tranquil breath bore her slowly downward [from the mountainside]. She glided down in the bosom of the flower-decked turf in the valley below [and the hidden palace of Eros].”

Apuleius, The Golden Ass 5. 4 ff :
“[Psykhe addresses Eros :] `But one further concession I beg for my prayers: bid your servant Zephyrus (the West Wind) spirit my sisters down to me, as he earlier wafted me down.’ . . . She [Psykhe] then summoned Zephyrus, and reminded him of her husband’s instruction. He speedily obeyed the command, and at once whisked them [her sisters] down [the mountainside to the hidden palace of Eros] safely on the gentlest of breezes.”

Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica 1. 188 ff (trans. Mozley) (Roman epic C1st A.D.) :
“[The Argonauts prepae to depart on their voyage :] Next in joy they pile altars; chiefly unto thee, lord of the waters [Poseidon], is reverence paid, unto thee, unto Zephyros (the West Wind) [for a favourable sailing wind] and unto Glaucus upon the shore Ancaeus sacrifices an ox decked with dark blue fillets, unto Thetis a heifer.”

About Ruadhán McElroy

Ruadhán has been a traditional Hellenic polytheist for about a decade, and has also maintained devotions to Eros and Apollon most of that time; his status as a devotee of Nyx is more recent. He also paints, makes music, makes jewellery, and writes novels set in the Mod Revival (UK) and Swampie (Oz) subcultures of the 1980s. He also gets a lot of odd little experiences that he jokes will forever render him an insufferable Goth.

[PBP2013] Ypsilanti, Mich.

I’m off my antihistamines cos signed up for an allergy study in exchange for delicious moneys and (hopefully) free experimental drugs, so I’m at a loss on what subject to pull out of my arse for a second “Y” this weekend, so here’s a photo of my favourite “local shrine” of Southeast Michigan:


Uncanny, no?

So, the town of Ypsilanti, Michigan, was founded by French-Canadian fur traders (initially as a trading post) and named after Demetrius Ypsilantis, a hero in the Greek War for Independence. There’s a bust of him in front of the weiner tower.

Needless to say, the water tower has local infamy, and is even somewhat famous on the Internet as one of the world’s most phallic man-made structures. It’s considered a rite of passage for University of Michigan students to come over to Ypsilanti for the first time just to see the tower and take a photo with it.

If I were thinking and seeing better, I’d go on about some of the mythology around the tower that I’ve gathered from Ypsilanti’s local spirits, but I’m doing really poorly right now. I’m sure anyone who might be empathic enough to go from photos can pick up some of it –in which case, feel free to share!

I have to go get cat food, now, or Chunk and Nigel will eat me in my sleep.

About Ruadhán McElroy

Ruadhán has been a traditional Hellenic polytheist for about a decade, and has also maintained devotions to Eros and Apollon most of that time; his status as a devotee of Nyx is more recent. He also paints, makes music, makes jewellery, and writes novels set in the Mod Revival (UK) and Swampie (Oz) subcultures of the 1980s. He also gets a lot of odd little experiences that he jokes will forever render him an insufferable Goth.

[PBP2013] Youth

There are a handful of deities who are portrayed as eternally young, and a sprinkling more who are given prominent portrayals as youths while often maintaining older appearances, as well.

In the former category, we have Eros, Apollon, Adonis, Ganymedes, Hyakinthos/Hymenaois, Hebe, Artemis, Iris, Persephone, the Moisai, the Khairetes, and by ancient potrayals, Hekate —just off the top of my head. In the latter category, we have Dionysos, Hermes, Aphrodite (more-or-less), and Hestia (again, off the top of my head).

The youthful deity means something, even in the deity who is only sometimes young, or if the deity is worshipped by clearly aged people. Youth represents many things: Vitality, strength, beauty, innocence (but not with the Christianised perversion of the term’s various implications and nuance), freedom, passion, virility….

There is also a wisdom to youth, a wisdom that never stops seeking, for the young are naturally quite curious and can become quite passionate about the things they’ve learned. The old mistake this passion for a lack of wisdom, or even a lack of knowledge, but that sort of passion serves a wisdom that hasn’t yet learned to second guess itself, a wisdom that knows better than to sell out or cash in, and a wisdom that understands that there are more things important than what the neighbours think.

Furthermore, if I’ve learned anything from television about youth, it’s that the young and young at heart tend to be especially conscious of the fact that appearances matter, that when operating from the thin illusory veil of Free Will, the appearances we put forward can have a transformative effect on ourselves and those around us and, if anything, this can illustrate the true lack of Free Will that exists amongst mortals when something inanimate can have that much power, when a change of top from a Fred Perry styled short sleeve to a long-sleeved poet’s shirt (or vice-versa) can create a marked change in the way one is treated and the people it will attract and deflect.

About Ruadhán McElroy

Ruadhán has been a traditional Hellenic polytheist for about a decade, and has also maintained devotions to Eros and Apollon most of that time; his status as a devotee of Nyx is more recent. He also paints, makes music, makes jewellery, and writes novels set in the Mod Revival (UK) and Swampie (Oz) subcultures of the 1980s. He also gets a lot of odd little experiences that he jokes will forever render him an insufferable Goth.

[PBP2013] Xena & Hercules

Yep, I was a teenager in the 1990s. And I watched both shows. I wasn’t devoted to them like some people were, and even as a kid, I knew the mythology deviated pretty far from the record when it suited the story (like the sweet-and-cuddly Typhon, [you know, the giant with serpents for legs who warred with Zeus after an attempt to become king of the gods and the only god revered by mortals –sweet and cuddly!] in an episode with the moral to try and understand the whole story before making quick judgements), and while in the first season, the writers and costume department were given a broad direction of “anything goes as long as it’s BCE”, and yet it quickly became more the case of “OK, as long as it’s no older than Medieval tech, and there’s an acceptable in-story reason or something”.

On the good side, these shows were created by a cast and crew who knew that they were fluffy action pieces, barely above cheaply-made Italian peplum from the early 1960s, and never tried to be anything more. The acting was more often just over-the-top enough to be enjoyable, and it didn’t hurt that the leads were all fairly attractive and realistically muscular (which was especially important on Xena, as previously women in action various screenplays were barely above a waifish build, and so Lucy Lawless’s athletic 5’11” frame also being portrayed as sexually attractive was about as groundbreaking as the more overt tones of same-sex love that the show has become famous for).

Of course, on Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, we’ve got Kevin Sorbo as almost an antithesis for how Hercules has been portrayed in previous media. In the late 1950s, we had Steve Reeves; a two-time Mr Universe holder and professional bodybuilder who had a handful of other peplum and the odd television episode (including a 1949 pilot for a Tarzan series) under his belt. He was pretty much selected for Italian peplum because he looked like old vase paintings of Herakles, and no-one in their right mind would deny it; he wasn’t much of an actor, but he could be fun to watch. Then there’s Sorbo.

Now, like Reeves, Sorbo (who I thought was Greek for the longest time, but apparently he’s originally from Minnesota and is largely of Norwegian extraction) was chosen for his looks: Prior to Hercules, Sorbo was a male model. His model portfolio included a few prominent adverts for skivvies and a couple beefcakey fashion ads for magazines and I’ve also found an old International Male catalogue featuring him (to the very young or those who were just oblivious in the late 1980s, International Male was a clothing line specialising in mail-order, and was a big hit with gay men and, as evidenced by some scanned pages I’ve seen in people’s blogs, anyone who might’ve been holding on to the New Romantic thing; they also seemed to be famous for men’s thong underwear and spreads that had some of the biggest packages). When most people think Hercules, they don’t think of underwear models in International Male, but there you go — while they never got even a quarter much as gay on Hercules as they did on Xena, I do remember Hercules with Sorbo having a bit of a gay following, and when you consider that he was little more than an underwear model, prior, are you really surprised?

These shows were cheesy and campy, and the chromakey special effects and CGI doesn’t hold up well with age (of course, this was in the 1990s, when most chromakey, or “green-screening” looked really cheesy, anyway, so most episodes make no use of it at all, preferring to make use of puppetry when possible, and CGI-ing stuff in as needed), they had plenty of queer appeal, and thankfully were not my first introduction to Greek mythology. Why do I say “thankfully”? Because, to be frank, these shows were pretty down on the gods.

Hercules from these shows was pretty much like Louis from Interview With the Vampire, if anyone brought up that he’s the son of Zeus: He’s almost embarrassed by it, and regards it with a similar sort of “tortured soul” schtick. Riiiiight…. In the pilot, Hercules’ family is killed not by himself when driven mad, but by Hera who sends a fire and Zeus was… I dunno, but somehow unavailable, so Hercules’ journey isn’t at all an atonement, but more like he’s trying to run away from his problems. In addition to the automatic bias this show paints against Hera, and the sort of “deadbeat dad” image the writers give to Zeus, who occasionally grants extra favours to Herc in what’s usually portrayed as a thinly-veiled attempt to buy His son’s love, Ares is like a caricature from Apocalypse Now at times, Aphrodite is barely above Valley Girl, and in the episode that tackles the Hades and Persephone myth, Demetre isn’t the distraught mother that most versions of the myth seems to paint a picture of, but she’s just petty and in denial of Her daughter growing up (which doesn’t work with deity characters” the same way it works with mortal ones –when mortal parents still insist their sixteen-year-old child is practically a baby, it’s cos they don’t want to be reminded of their own mortality, that doesn’t apply to an immortal being), that said, that episode was also one of the most sympathetic portrayals of Hades, ever, and while Persephone does come off as spoilt at times, on the good side, at least that episode made it clear that those two “crazy kids” were in love, and Hades truly loved Her, he was just lonely and misunderstood. Another deity who came off potentially sympathetic was Hestia, and kind words are occasionally said by Herc of Asklepios.

Some episodes, like the one where Eros “Cupid” (oh yeah, they’d use Roman names interchangeably at times) is enchanted by something or other (I don’t think it really mattered enough in the story to look it up) and literally transforms into a monsterous beast when jealous, are essentially creating new mythology in the form of morality tales –which a lot of the more popular mythos serves the purpose of as much as to reveal truths of the natures of the gods and ourselves. Other times, I’ll even wager most of the time, the stories were little more than entertaining little teleplays that offered little, if anything, to the body of mythology one might draw from, but every so often, there are real gems.

Currently lacking much in the way of access to Xena episodes, I’m going mostly on hazy memories of things I haven’t watched in about fifteen years now, and I seem to remember that in the last few episodes of Xena, several gods lose their powers and become mortal, and Xena becomes intrigued by what’s basically Jesus; now, what made Xena, in some ways, a bit of a better show was that she had a relationship with Ares and was basically on a path to apotheosis to a minor warrior deity until something happens and she has a change of heart. On Xena, Ares is a primary antagonist who, unlike Hera on Hercules, is usually on-screen, and is frequently trying to convince Xena the return as His protege, in various ways. I also got the impression that the actor cast as Ares was portraying Ares as kind of having a crush on her, as well. And I just looked up that aparently Xena managed to kill many Olympian deities as the series wound down to the finale.

I kinda hate to love these shows.

As a polytheist who believes in the deathlessness of the gods and also both “dark’ and “light” sides to all deities, I really have the urge to bristle at the way the gods are portrayed. On the other hand, most of the time the show is just too campy to take even some fairly insulting portrayals too seriously, so I just roll my eyes and remind myself that these were shows written by people who simply didn’t know any better. There are some really amazing episodes in there, but for the most part, it was just popcorn fluff for a Saturday afternoon when I got back from grocery shopping with my step-mother. Would recommend it to anyone interested in Greek mythology? Absolutely not, but I wold certainly recommend them to anyone in the Hellenic community who can weigh the pros and cons and judge their value for themself.

Of course, this brings up the question of whether or not the gods are insulted or even hur by unflattering portrayals such as this. Obviously, i lack no way to test this, but I think some gods might be more insulted than others, and while it’s not our place to speak for the gods, whatever happens in your relationship with them if you decide to like stuff that might insult a deity or two, well, that’s between you and them.

About Ruadhán McElroy

Ruadhán has been a traditional Hellenic polytheist for about a decade, and has also maintained devotions to Eros and Apollon most of that time; his status as a devotee of Nyx is more recent. He also paints, makes music, makes jewellery, and writes novels set in the Mod Revival (UK) and Swampie (Oz) subcultures of the 1980s. He also gets a lot of odd little experiences that he jokes will forever render him an insufferable Goth.

[PBP2013] Xenia

Or Why I Should Visit the Okefenokee Swamp in 500 Words or Less

I actually struggled with whether or not I should strike that “subtitle” through or not —which method would highlight it best, that is what vexes me. It’s important because it’s a part of how I want to make the point on the importance of xenia. For those of you unfamiliar with US television of the early 1960s, “Why I Should Visit the Okefenokee Swamp in 500 Words or Less” was the title of an essay by Maynard G Krebs, a character from The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, a situation comedy that ran from 1959 to 1963, about a young man, Dobie Gillis, who is fairly average in looks, not very athletic, more interested in art and poetry than work (indeed, he’d be a nerd, if not for his poor grades), but he’s highly interested in girls (except the high-achieving and especially bookish Zelda Gillroy, who has been in love with him since they were five), almost as much as he’s loyal to his best friend, Maynard G Krebs. (As an aside, for its own time, or any period of television situation comedies before or since, it remains possibly one of the most explicitly philosophical comedies to have ever been on television, and I think that everybody should watch it.)

Now, Maynard is more of a gentle caricature of a beatnik than the real deal. I could go on at great detail about how Maynard isn’t really a beatnik, but that’d be far more appropriate to my other blog, The Odd Mod Out. No, I’d much rather explain how I’m tying him in to the principle of xenia. Cos for the average television cast of its day, Maynard is different, a bit of a fish-out-of-water sort who would be outcasted in any other television cast –and even on Dobie, it’s periodically mentioned that Maynard isn’t always treated well by others off-screen: He dresses shabbily, he has an unkempt goatee in the days long before the vogue of “hipster beards” made that nonsense socially acceptable in the urban working class, and if the show were given an updated look (hopefully without messing up anything else about it, as “updated” versions of 1950s/60s media tends to do, often stripping it of any real value beyond “hurrr… Eddie Murphy in a fat suit… Hurr durrrrrr… Ashton Kutcher….”), Maynard would likely be a punk or perhaps some crossover of goth, punk, and hippie that frequents Burning Man on spare change, and he might even be pagan. The thing is, in spite of how much Dobie’s father seems annoyed by Maynard, he has rarely turned the young man away, and never for very long, Mrs Winnifred Gillis practically treats him as part of the family, and in at least one episode, Zelda reasons to Dobie that she’s the only girl in school who’s willing to accept his friendship with Maynard, even the implied fact that it’s likely that Maynard may end up living with Dobie and any future family for periods of time.

For all intents and purposes, Maynard is the “outsider”, in terms of inculturation and values, but the Gillis family (in a short-lived sequel series in the 1970s, Dobie and Zelda are revealed to have married at some point since 1963) loves and accepts him. To lesser extents, other characters (usually teachers) are revealed to have a great fondness of Maynard, proving that they can, indeed, extend open arms to this outsider.

Now, xenia isn’t merely acceptance, but it does play a part in how xenia works. Xenia is the ancient Hellenic value of hospitality or, “stranger friendship”, as I’ve often seen it translated by modern Hellenes who speak the language. It’s the ideal of being able to invite those far from home into one’s house, and invite them to sit down and share a meal as a friend, to get their needed sleep and amenities (shower, shave, and a shit, as they say) and, as the old morality tales say, basically treat every stranger in need of a little love and a good meal as if they might be a deity in disguise, testing us to make sure we’re treating others well, even if they’re not from our communities.

As Elani Temperance has detailed in her splendid blog post on Xenophobia in ancient Hellas, the ancients weren’t always the towering exemplars of xenia that one might assume –even with the moral duty of xenia people were expected to uphold, there was often still a residual suspicion of the unfamiliar and foreign. Maynard might have been treated well, superficially, by an Athenian oikos, but in his shabby clothes and (as shown in a few episodes) literally dog-like qualities marking him as a Cynic, even if he’d been blissfully unaware of Diogenes or his teachings, the average household head might still regard him with a bit of suspicion, which one could easily argue is incompatible with the “friendship” part of the “stranger friendship” that defines true xenia. Without that willingness to treat the stranger with friendship, true friendship, xenia remains hollow, superficial, merely a habit to go through the motions of –not a true value or religious duty.

Now, xenia also demands that guests not be a burden to their hosts, but if we retain that suspicion of the stranger, then naturally anything that might be a minor misstep from a friend that would be easily taken care of with a modicum of the respect needed to be honest and open, suddenly become a major infraction of etiquette unheard of in true friendships, because friendship tends to imply a willingness to accept the little things that most other people might find bothersome about that person.

In the Gillis family’s regard for Maynard, xenia is respected both ways — Maynard seldom takes advantage of them, and on the rare occasions that seems the case for the sake of comedy, it’s resolved by treating him as a true friend –indeed, he often says to Dobie and others “oh! Well, why didn’t you say so before, good buddy?” A stranger cannot possibly be expected to realise that they’re being burdensome if the host won’t be honest about where a line is drawn –nor can a host possibly be expected to explain where all lines are drawn in the first few minutes of a guest’s arrival. Sure, asking is one way to learn those lines, but some of our habits and cultural expectations of what is and is not “polite” and what is and is not “burdensome” to a host are going to naturally be taken for granted –it’s illogical to expect the guest to know when it is and is not reasonable to ask, and it’s inherently unfriendly and inhospitable to expect a guest to ask about every single thing before they do it. When North America can be broken up into no fewer than eleven cultural regions with regards to how people tend to react to violence in the news, it’s then perfectly logical to assume that even if travelling within Ohio, from say Cincinati to Cleveland, there are going to be at least a few differences in the expected etiquette of guests that it would be unfair to judge every assumed misstep as anything more than a misunderstanding —both are things that are ingrained into us from a young age, and generally reflect the cultures we’re raised in.

Outside of fiction, I would have to say possibly the highest exemplar of xenia I’ve seen amongst people I’ve actually known has been my father –indeed, considering that the man was physically and emotionally abusive within his own family says he treated guests better than his own family (as is often the case with a certain kind of abuser, but oh well, this isn’t about that). It didn’t matter how well he knew someone, if you came to the door and weren’t selling anything, he would treat you well. He’d ask if you wanted food or something to drink, even if we’d long put away the leftovers. If you said you were tired, he’d offer a spare bed, or the couch if no bed was free. He’d never act suspicious toward strangers who were in the house until he ruled out his family for why something came up missing. Was he perfect? Ha! Far from it, he even admitted that to me before he died. Was he even a perfect exemplar of xenia? No, but it is sad that when compared to many Hellenists I’ve known online –people who have said they would leave x-group is they advocated prison ministries, people who’ve outright said that they “don’t trust anyone who has less money” than themselves, people who have seriously called me crazy for using “cos you don’t know these people”– well, my father had a better understanding of certain basic concepts that are supposed to be important to my religion than my “co-religionists” tend to (mind, I’ve also known some wonderful Hellenists, but I’ve also known a lot of complete turds).

About Ruadhán McElroy

Ruadhán has been a traditional Hellenic polytheist for about a decade, and has also maintained devotions to Eros and Apollon most of that time; his status as a devotee of Nyx is more recent. He also paints, makes music, makes jewellery, and writes novels set in the Mod Revival (UK) and Swampie (Oz) subcultures of the 1980s. He also gets a lot of odd little experiences that he jokes will forever render him an insufferable Goth.

[PBP2013] Words

Words don’t exist for ourselves as individuals. They exist so that we can communicate things, events, and ideas to others. Like it or not, what you think a word should mean is less important than what your audience thinks it means. If your audience is unfamiliar with a word, then sure, you may owe it to them to define it for them, but don’t be surprised if, when you fail to do so, they seek a definition elsewhere and embrace one you dislike, or never intended.

Humans use plenty of words figuratively, metaphorically. When one says “Johnny Depp is a god”, incredibly few literally mean that Johnny Depp stepped down from Olympos to look sexy and act the hell out of whatever character Tim Burton suggests to him; what they mean is “Johnny Depp has qualities that most other people don’t, qualities that are almost or borderline god-like, and is worthy of being looked up to by others in his field”. What a “god” is, in the most literal sense, is an idea that is easily understood by most people –a “god” is a superhuman being that has power over humans and even nature itself and deserves to be worshipped by believers, and so to compare Johnny Depp to a god is generally assumed to be highly flattering. It’s also generally understood that, due to the overwhelming empirical evidence that Johnny Depp is a human being, that to refer to him as a “god” is a use of figurative language –you’re using a word to represent a feeling more than an empirical fact. Figurative language does not change the literal meaning of the words used figuratively; if anything, it reinforces the meanings by making the audience think of what is being figuratively represented in that description of Johnny Depp as a god.

(Of course, Johnny Depp may also be a literal god taking a completely human form and his hypothetical nature as a god may be completely undetectable to modern technology, but that’s irrelevant.)

Now let us take the word “god”. If one would rather un-define “god” not as a superhuman being independent of the human consciousness, but instead as a metaphor itself for an ineffable something within the collective of human experience, one has not eradicated the existence of the gods, nor has one eliminated the idea of what a god is from the human consciousness.

How many legs does a dog have if you call its tail a leg? Four. Calling the tail a leg does not make it so.

(Hypothetically) Un-defining “leg” as “any appendage that is not a head” so as to include the tail (you know, to be more-inclusive, and show the tail that it is welcome amongst the legs, I guess –in spite of the fact that it really was always welcome amongst the legs, the whole time) does not change the characteristics of the tail or any of the legs. The tail is still a tail, and serves the functions and purposes of the tail. It will never become a leg, no matter how little the word “leg” comes to mean. The structure and purpose of a leg and a tail are so different, that to list all the differences is not only an objective fact, it’s an empirical fact –if one lacks sight, one can even feel the differences between a dog’s tail and its legs, so broadening the definition of “leg” to include any appendage that is not a head is not only confusing, but potentially dangerous.

Broadly-defined “umbrella terms” serve no purpose outside of political goals, and even then, the empirical observations of many is that there will always be dissent amongst members of the same political groups –TS/TG people may support the Human Rights Council (HRC) in its current primary goals to forward the agenda of same-sex marriage1, but those TS/TG people may still be quick to point out that the HRC’s advocacy of TS/TG interests is incredibly lacking. “The GBLT community” doesn’t account for the vast differences between the subcultures of drag, Bears, butch/femme, twinks, gym bunnies, and so on, but all are accounted for under the umbrella, and maybe only a handful of individuals from each subculture have any intimate knowledge of any other subculture under the umbrella.

“Pagan” has been so loosely defined for so long that it’s an adequate “umbrella term”. On the other hand, “polytheism” means something because it’s a compound word and its components mean something rather specific, when put together.

1: No matter what you might have read on Tumblr or other such echo-chambers for utterly ridiculous people, same-sex marriage (SSM) rights ARE RELEVANT TO THE TS/TG COMMUNITY. Think about it: Not only are there GBL-identified TS/TG persons, including those who may become both legally recognised as the gender they live as and desirous of marrying a now legally same-sexed partner, but there are also literally hundreds, thousands of TS/TG people who are both heterosexually-identified (trans women who exclusively date men, trans men who exclusively date women), and are unable to have their birth certificates legally amended, or the letter on their driver’s license or state/government-issued-ID changed, in order to meet the requirements of the state in order to marry hetero partners –legally, their state recognises them as a same-sex couple. Maybe they were born in Ohio, or Idaho, or one of the other two States that still won’t let trans people amend our birth certificates, no matter how much surgery is had? Maybe they can’t have “the surgery” (for either financial or medical reasons, or, if you’re Anna-Verney Cantodea, you might have spiritual reasons to abstain from surgery) in order to meet state requirements that would allow for their birth certificates to be amended? Maybe some-one isn’t seeking any medical transition at all, not even hormones, but is still able to live full-time (or most of the time) as their preferred gender, but due to being “non-transitioning”, from a medical standpoint, are thus barred from getting their certificate amended or their ID letter altered? Furthermore, within the United States, marriage rights are determined by each State, individually, and there is seriously not a single married TS/TG person in the entire US who, if they were to move to a state that did not recognise SSM, would not have their marriage questioned, come tax season, cos some States won’t recognise a birth certificate that was amended in another State or other “technicalities” –it happens at an alarmingly regular basis, and is such a common occurrence, it rarely makes the news in even the local gaypers. The most pragmatic way to circumvent these laws is universal recognition of SSM. As a trans man, myself, obviously I think that making strides to loosen up on recognition of genders outside the cisgender binary is a good thing that should be striven for, but we’re a lot closer to achieving SSM rights across the Anglosphere than we are to making sure none of those hoops a trans person has to jump through for an ounce of government recognition have to be on fire. I’m also a bit of an outlier to the community in that I think that some hoops at all aren’t necessarily a bad thing.

About Ruadhán McElroy

Ruadhán has been a traditional Hellenic polytheist for about a decade, and has also maintained devotions to Eros and Apollon most of that time; his status as a devotee of Nyx is more recent. He also paints, makes music, makes jewellery, and writes novels set in the Mod Revival (UK) and Swampie (Oz) subcultures of the 1980s. He also gets a lot of odd little experiences that he jokes will forever render him an insufferable Goth.

[PBP 2013] Wiccanate Privilege

ETA (12 March 2014): I highly recommend reading the follow-ups to this post, first. This was a hasty post written poorly and making some sloppy analogies to support my points. The follow-ups are much clearer.

Perhaps I’ve been unclear and What Wiccanate actually means. /ETA

Amongst activists and sociology majors, “privilege” simply means “to be the assumed default and thus automatically catered to”; there is also an implication of “to be of a demographic most earnestly catered to”, and there are studies that show, for example, that people who are lower on the socio-economic ladder are more likely to believe things told to them from certain “authoritative” figures, like a doctor or lawyer, no matter how wrong it might seem, while those higher up will at the very least try and negotiate, and that this is because the systematic oppressions at play leads the financially comfortable to believe they deserve an active role in this because of a pre-conceived notion of having “earned it”, while those who are struggling have been conditioned to believe that they have to take orders, even if it feels wrong, even if they don’t trust it, because that is simply how the world works. For a tragic example of how this systematic oppression has been exploited in very recent history, take a minute to learn about the Tuskegee experiment, wherein US Public Health officials, between 1932 and 1972, knowingly and deceptively infected rural African-Americans in Alabama (one of the poorest such populations) with syphilis to examine the progress of the disease untreated, all the while telling these men (who likely infected many others who were outside the study) that they were “being treated for bad blood”; while these men were compensated with otherwise free medical care (just not the life-saving penicillin to treat their syphilis), food, and burial insurance; again, this is an extreme example of when the tower of socio-economic privilege is used to exploit people –more often than not, privilege is used to silence others, dismiss their concerns, and maintain the position of the privileged.

It’s easily argued that, in Anglophonic society, those who are “most privileged” tend to have the following traits in common: white / Caucasian in skin colour, male, heterosexual, cisgender, masculine-presenting, able-bodied, about 20-35 years old, middle-income and bourgeois-aspiring, Christian, taller than “average” in height (US-born men average about 5’8″, UK-born men tend to average about 5’9″ –sorry Jon Stewart, you ARE NOT “short”), speaks English as a first language, is fairly attractive, and is in physical condition comparable to that of a minor league baseball player. Sure, the flapping heads at Faux News and other ignorant conservatives with their heads up their collective arse often try to argue such people are the ones that are “REALLY persecuted”, but the facts tend to support that, no, it is the white, het, cis Christian male who is with privilege.

They are the target audience for the overwhelming majority of films and telly programmes, video games.

They tend to be overwhelmingly selected for professional positions, even if others are more qualified.

They are among those most-conditioned by society to believe they’ve “earned” a good life, even if they’ve done little, if anything, to secure one.

Well, that’s greater society, also known as the overculture, and isn’t entirely relevant to the idea of Wiccanate privilege –except on the handful of occasions it is (I’ll get to this).

In smaller communities or subcultures within the overculture (such as GBLTs and pagans and so on), the system of privilege is often mimicked in idiosyncratic ways relevant to that community, and to some extent, this can be an extension of the overculture, but on occasion, the overculture simply reinforced the idiosyncrasies of the subculture’s pyramid of privilege. The GBLT community has no shortage of people recognising that gay men (or cisgender gay men and lesbians) are highly privileged, and this is even represented in the overculture — “GBLT media” is more often “gay media” geared toward the interests (or presumed interests often based on stereotypes of) gay men. Bisexuals, in both the GBLT community and the overculture, are often “erased” from consciousness in favour of presenting both living and historical people as having a “less complicated” monosexual preference –who cares that Janis Joplin had at least as many affairs and relationships with men as she had with women, lesbians would rather portray her as straightforwardly “lesbian” at the expense of the woman’s actual complexities of character, and don’t try and explain to the fangirls on Yaoi Gallery that Alexander the Great can’t easily be regarded with modern terms for sexuality, as the assumed sexual default in ancient Hellas and Makedonia was essentially bisexual, and more importantly, male sexuality in Alexander’s day was more along the lines of “Top or Bottom” rather than “Het or Homo” (and it was far more privileging to be, or at least be assumed to be, a Top). And don’t get me started on all the crap the TS/TG community gets not only from outside the GBLT community, but from within it, as well –I’m still having a hard time getting my friend who runs the local drag night to introduce me as “Miss Lavender Jarman” rather than the “Mr”, which is reserved for drag kings, and now this has probably implicitly outed me as trans male faster than my messed-up surgically-reconstructed nipples ever could (not that I’m trying to “live stealth”, but ferchrissakes…, you don’t introduce the faux queen as “Mr”, don’t do it to me), and I know some trans women who’ve had it worse from lesbians (and I would rather let them speak for themselves than be so presumptuous as to assume I can relay their stories as well as they could).

Within the pagan community, the “Generic Popular Wicca-based Neopaganism” (henceforth “Wiccanate paganism”; Traditional Wicca, such as BT/Gardnerian or Alexandrian, is “Wicca”) is the assumed default. During the “pagan identity crisis” that’s been cycling the pagan blogosphere every few months since 2010, I’ve seen several people comment not only as non-Wiccanates who lament this, but as Wiccanate pagans unaware of their own privilege and insisting that we’re all united because, as far as they’re concerned, “we all share a history with Wicca” (an exact quote I’ve seen from several people).

I don’t have a history involving Wiccanate paganism (at least no more than a basic intro reading out of curiosity), and I know an increasing number of Hellenists and others in recon-based paths who do not.

A staggeringly vast amount of the media output that is not only ostensibly about, but ostensibly for, including the media that is clearly by-and-for those in the pagan community is overwhelmingly focused on the Wiccanate —from books to cable television “documentaries” to blockbuster films, and even music popular in the pagan community. The language of the greater pagan community is the language of the Wiccante paganism they read about in all the same books, or at least books that have been influenced by those books. The most common depictions of the gods and goddesses on any pagan website, shop, or book pages are based on generally Wiccanate understandings: There is no martial aspect of Brighid ever represented in commercially available statuary or paintings and illustrations, Hekate is overwhelmingly the grey-haired dowager imagined by Robert Graves rather than the maiden of Hellenic myth, and Pan is not only emasculated (I’ve never seen a Wiccanate depiction of Pan with his ginormous cock, for fuck’s sake) he’s practically just Dionysos with goat’s legs and horns cos worshipping a truly physically ugly deity isn’t something that your average Ms Pseudonymous Notafluffy (Really, I’m Not!) can wrap her poor li’l head around, and not to mention “they’re all just aspects of The God”, except somehow Zeus, who is regarded as little more than a serial rapist villain from the draw pile for Law & Order: SVU writers due to the unfortunate connotations of linguistic drift and the lingering Victorian convention to translate the ancient Hellenic into “rape” (not only has the word “rape” an etymological root in common with “robbery”, but even as recently as the Victorian, any “good girl” who might have chosen to run off and elope with her boyfriend was “raped” by some cad, because women of fair breeding [by which Victorians tended to mean white and bourgeoisie (or at least aspiring to said)] would never choose that freely and a true gentleman would ask her father and only proceed with her father’s blessing).

In spite of having never been a “Wiccan”, I can wade through most books that purportedly claim to be written for broad appeal, not only can I still tell that most of these books are still at least 80% Wiccanate in their language and lessons, but I also have to sit and think about everything I read, and far more than I imagine most do, so that I can adjust the advice to my religion and its practices (after all, just because it’s clearly not for my religion doesn’t mean that the advice is completely useless); and about half of any given book is generally irrelevant to my religion.

Having never been a Wiccan myself, I honestly barely understand what a lot of the supposedly “general pagan community” means when they say “casting a circle” or “drawing down the moon”, I don’t even know what “drawing cross-quarters” or whatever it is actually means (or I’ve long forgotten it) —I know these are rituals important to Wiccanate paganism, maybe some traditional Wicca, but that’s about it; I know a few things here and there, but in most conversations with Wiccanates and former-Wiccanates, I’m genuinely lost when they start going on about certain things, because that’s just not a region on my spiritual map. I’m familiar with the Roots in Empedoclean understanding, but I really don’t know how well that corresponds with a Wiccanate understanding of Elements and judging from a few things I’ve read from others, and considering how lost I feel in maybe half those discussions, I’d say it’s not exactly the same thing.

Having never been a Wiccan, I do not (as some of my ex-Wiccan Hellenic acquaintances do) struggle to remind myself that Hekate is a maiden goddess and She was never part of Robert Graves’ invention of the “Maiden-Mother-Crone Triple Goddess” to the ancient Greeks, but when I go to a pagan shop and see a “Hekate statue”, I struggle to see Hekate in those resin-crafted harridans, sometimes with torches and dogs to give her something recognisable in common with the Hekate I’ve worshipped —I’ve no doubt this is some goddess or another, and maybe a Goddess who responds to the name Hekate in a way like how I myself and the actor portraying Mr Bean respond to what’s phonetically the same forename, but it’s not Hekate as I’ve always known Her, it just isn’t.

Within the pagan community, at the very least, Wiccanate paganism and those who practise it clearly have immense privilege, and it’s noticed by everyone who does not practise it, and especially so to those who never have.

Unfortunately, most Wiccans are blind to this in the same way that most white people can be blind to their own privilege in the overculture because they’ve been taught to be “colourblind” since they were children and this notion of “racial colourblindness” is believed to be reinforced by the fact that Will Smith is an exception to the rule of all action heroes being white and there’s finally a Black man in the white house, and all the while, they’re still making subconscious racialised judgements —like unfairly judging, say, the Obamas as having “bad, haughty attitudes”, when they’re actually no more stuck-up than the Clintons or Caters and every bit as pleasant, and the reality is, anyone who says that sort of thing is just making a thinly-veiled euphemism for “uppity Negroes” —but again, I digress (apologies, with a memo to myself that I really gotta delete a certain person from FaceBook for drinking the Faux News Kool-Aid).

Every single “Paganism 101” book I’ve read to date is careful to dedicate a single chapter to how “diverse” the pagan community can be, and how many religions and occult or mystery traditions are encompassed under that “umbrella term”, and after that chapter is finished, the book resumes talking only about practises that are “Eclectic” and Wiccanate in nature. Wiccanate pagans are pretty much conditioned from their first book on the subject to see themselves as only a part of a community that is equally or almost-equally representative of over a dozen or so religions and equally accepting of potentially hundreds or thousands of religions practised by no more than a baker’s dozen of people all the while being completely oblivious to the fact that theirs is typically the only religion in the pagan community that the pagan shops with storefronts and the popular pagan writers ever really cater to –much like kids who grew up seeing all manner of whites AND various people of colour represented relatively equally on Sesame Street, but then as they get older, they seem oblivious to the fact that their schools, places of work, and preferred media is overwhelmingly white, but they always refer to The Black Guy in HR, or their collection of Rickey Martin CDs, as if it somehow proves real racial diversity in their lives.

So basically, to follow with the tacky allegory of race (I hate making comparisons to other systematic oppressions, but sometimes it’s the best way to get the point across), within the pagan community, Wiccanate pagans are like the white kids who don’t just find it hard to see why racial issues are important, but will get belligerent with various people of colour who do have had a hard time getting a leg up in white society because of what’s still too-often a colour barrier. Because Wiccanate pagans have been taught about the alleged diversity of pagan community, they naively believe that this diversity is fairly represented at big pagan gatherings, on the big pagan blogs, and in any bookstore that not only has a mere section for pagan books (like, say, Barnes & Noble’s “Metaphysical and Occult” shelf), but is completely dedicated to pagan media. They’ll point to a ritual for Athena at the current convention and say “look, Hellenism is represented!”, failing to acknowledge that the people running that ritual are Dianics who likely do not understand Athene the way that traditional Hellenists would.

The fact of the matter is, all other religions allegedly under the “pagan umbrella” are simply not fairly represented. If you’re not practising some form of Wiccanate Paganism that’s taught in popular books, you tend to consider yourself lucky if one of the hundreds of pagan “primer” tomes will at least have a paragraph giving a fairly accurate explanation of your religion. If you don’t have a panentheistic, pantheistic, or so soft a polytheistic view that it borderlines monotheist interpretation of the deities, or are at least “Divine feminine monotheistic”, then chances are good that you’re going to find yourself in a minority at any pagan gathering, even the biggest ones, like ConVocation, Pagan Spirit, or Pantheacon.

When I was on WyrdWays with Galina Krasskova and Sannion in October, Galina mentioned something that I hadn’t really consciously noticed before, but certainly wondered every time I saw the evidence staring at me: The overwhelming majority of the times that even major pagan blogs, bring up even Heathenry, it’s either cos of Neonazi Heathens making the news, or as a tie-in to racism, or as barely more than a footnote on the subject of Pagan Prison Ministry. The overwhelming majority of times that African Diaspora religions are brought up by even the major pagan blogs is cos of animal sacrifice or simply alleged animal sacrifice in the news again (with maybe an exception made when white people into Hoodoo or Santeria write a book about it —which is certainly more racist baggage that I’m sure most Wiccanates and other pagans don’t even realise they do). Now with Greece’s Golden Dawn party making international news, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that’s all that brings up Hellenismos in the major blogs over the next few years –it was nice having the saddle of academia while it lasted, but it had honestly been nearly two years since JP-W had brought up Hellenismos without Golden Dawn, at least until the advent of Elaion’s new charity endeavour; I know people who’ve said they forwarded information about the Hellenic Revival Fest to him, but I guess it just ain’t “pagan news of note” unless it’s about Wicca or those ding-danged recons and their wacky Nazis! :-/ (“Oh, but Ruadhán! The Wild Hunt mentions ADF a lot! Like, a lot of the time!” Yeah… That’s all well and good, but honestly? I read a lot of sources on ADF and Neo-Druidry in junior high and high school, and since then, and while the origins of Neo-Druidry go back further than any sort of Wicca or most polytheist reconstructionism [the 18th century as a cultural movement, as a spiritual movement, the mid-1800s —Vlassias Rassias of YSEE has been very staunch on his stance that YSEE is “not a reconstruction” but a descendent of the 18th Century “Stratioti tradition”, making its practises about as old as Neo-Druidry], the reliable sources for Celtic religions are not that great, even if there are clues here and there as to what pre-Christian Celtic religion, much less the Druid caste, may have practised. And ADF really seems to have more in common with Wiccanate paganism than it has with Celtic Reconstruction than some people want to really believe, even though it does seem to generally be a recon-friendly group.)

Now consider the fact that, even still today, reporting on the news is highly skewed toward the favour of privileged classes of people. When crime happens in poor urban areas, you barely ever hear of the poor urban white kids getting into trouble, the only news stations I’ve seen report missing Black children have been in historically Black metropolioi (Detroit and Philadelphia), and even then, most of the kids turned out to be from fairly affluent Black families. Even on the occasions when a poor black or Hispanic kid dies accidentally, everyone on the news is quick to portray the parents as somehow far more negligent than Eric Clapton apparently was —must be nice to get a Grammy for “Song of the Year” cos your kid died in a horrible accident while you were working and the world demonises Mrs Hypothetical Hernandez cos her kid died in a horrible accident while she was working!

(As an aside, as I had just mentioned him, did you know there’s far more damning evidence that Eric Clapton is a fascist / racist than there is of most Neofolk artists, no matter how much one wants to point the finger at Neofolk and then quip “trust me, I’m a Goth”, as if it actually means anything, while turning a blind eye to the racists that everyone knows the names, even if not the words and/or deeds of.)

Now, I’m not putting all the blame on Wiccanate paganism for why the mainstream overculture still can’t figure out that there are other religions under the pagan umbrella —the major proponents of Wicca have been pretty PR-savvy since about the 1950s; Gardner and Cabot and others have been far more wily than some people tend to realise, and unfortunately we live in a world where slick promotional work gets far more honour than us nerds in the library stacks who’d rather debate the finer points of Democritus, or at least which Judge Dread song really embodies a Dionysian sense of humour (Sannion? I say it’s “Up With the Cock”, now it’s your turn). But the pagan community, amongst itself, claims to be better than that. If you don’t believe me, go see for yourself that the pagan community consistently claims to care more for fairness in representation of minority religions than the mainstream. The reality of the thing, tough, is that pagan media falls into its own idiosyncratic version of the power structure that plagues the mainstream (and not to mention: it also retains a lot of the social issues, like sexism, racism, queerphobias, and so on, that continue to plague the mainstream), and before any progress can be made toward a better understanding in what’s supposed to be an interfaith community, this power structure has to be addressed and ultimately disassembled. No one religion can be favoured over another, and this has to be shown in actions as well as platitudes; lip-service toward “inclusion” can no longer be accepted or even tolerated.

It’s been accepted and tolerated for so long because of the sort of learned helplessness that the disenfranchised become conditioned to: When a hungry dog is thrown a bone, the last thing on its mind is “is this going to be what I need?”, its thoughts are going to be more along the lines of “hey, at least I got something!” In a similar fashion, when you’re a Hellenist, or CR, or Heathen, Kemetic, or so on, and the local Pagan Pride day happens, amongst those non-Wiccanates who attend, one of two things happens: A handful of people might go one or two times, if only to see if there are other Hellenists or so on in the area who showed up, or at least make suggestions on how to really include non-Wiccanate pagans and polytheists, but others might go every year, regardless of whether or not they meet anyone of their religion, or whether or not the organisers are willing to take advice, because they were thrown a bone. It’s not what they need, but it’s something that claims to be welcoming, and well, “at least it’s pagan of some variety”? Many simply learn that their local community will NEVER cater to their needs, and wants no suggestions on how to accommodate them, so they drop out of the broader pagan community and keep to their own practises and whatever semblance of their own religion’s community they can get, even if it’s only on the Internet.

To be fair, this power structure exists in its own ways in just about every subculture. GBLTs are becoming well-aware of the fact that in spite of the fact that the best rioters at Stonewall in ’69 tended to be trans women and bisexuals (in fact, Bisexual activist, Brenda Howard was THE person to organise a march on Christopher Street on the first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots she was in, thus inventing the “pride parade”, most of which are lucky to have a Bisexual float, these days), the community’s major events are largely centred on the culture of gay men with the more mainstreamed lesbians following very close behind.

Well… Hrmm… The music-and-fashion subcultures tend to be less idiosyncratic, but issues like classism, sizeism, and in some such subcultures more than others, racism are still major elephants in the room that no-one wants to really address, in spite of any and all claims made by some major figures in those scenes to be better than the mainstream.

While it’s impossible for even one such as myself, with a toe in various subcultures, to fix everything in all the communities I’m a part of, I do think that by saying this here, I can hopefully illuminate the inherent privilege that the pagan community as a whole affords to that the Wiccanate paths. As the community grows not only in numbers, but in diversity, this privilege becomes less and less relevant. At one time in the early 1980s, I’m sure it seemed lucky for people to have a big pagan gathering at all, and maybe it seemed reasonable to have a dominant focus on Wicca, cos that’s what most people who were likely to attend practised (even though, in spite of “Allergic Pagan” John Halstead’s claim that reconstructionist pagans have only really been a thing since the 1990s, er, NO, the Heathen community has existed since the 1970s, at the very least, and as I mentioned above, there is ample evidence that attempts at Celtic and Hellenic polytheistic revivals have been made since the mid-1800s) —but thirty years later, and after a major pagan publishing boom in the 1990s, there is really no excuse for the overwhelming Wiccanate privilege any-more. What there’s even less of an excuse for is the casual privileging that still goes on amongst people who claim to be all for diversity, yet saying things like “one thing that unites the pagan community is that we all have a background in Wicca!” While I’m sure most still do, and am equally sure the sentiment is well-intended, that’s simply not true of everyone, and even amongst those to whom it is a true statement, well, all of those former-Wiccans apparently do not practise it anymore, so by suggesting they can, or even should still do Wiccan things at pan-pagan gatherings is to ask them to erase their current religious identity because it’s just somehow easier for other people to only book Wiccanate events than it is to make an effort to truly be inclusive of all paths!

Unfortunately, i don’t have all the answers on how to fix this –this is one of those highly uneasy answers I mentioned earlier in the blog project. I do, though, believe that it can only begin to be fixed when those who have privilege within the pagan community recognise and address it and then become truly willing to engage those of different paths and work toward better representation of all paths under this alleged umbrella.

About Ruadhán McElroy

Ruadhán has been a traditional Hellenic polytheist for about a decade, and has also maintained devotions to Eros and Apollon most of that time; his status as a devotee of Nyx is more recent. He also paints, makes music, makes jewellery, and writes novels set in the Mod Revival (UK) and Swampie (Oz) subcultures of the 1980s. He also gets a lot of odd little experiences that he jokes will forever render him an insufferable Goth.

[PBP2013] Validity

There’s a bizarre trend amongst pagans and polytheists to both denounce the validity of other paths and then say “all religions are valid!”

Christianity doesn’t work for us, so that’s an invalid belief system, and how about a point-by-point explanation on that. Some traditional polytheists denounce Wicca as invalid and vice-versa –the former because Wicca is a comparatively “new” system, the latter because of the mistaken belief that all paganism practised today somehow comes from Wicca.

While I can certainly make some arguments against the totalitarian model of monotheism that has unfortunately become synonymous with “religion” to an overwhelming majority in the West, that’s not today’s argument. Today’s argument is that the definition of “valid” is to be based on logic or fact (as per the OED), implicitly empirical fact. If the definition of “valid” is boiled down to only empiricism, then no religion is inherently valid or invalid, when compared to others, empirically.

On the other hand, the claim that all religions are therefore equally valid doesn’t really measure up, logically. Monotheism is inherently incompatible with polytheistic beliefs and practises, ergo for an ostensible polytheist to say that monotheistic religions are “equally valid” to one’s own if for one to betray either one’s ignorance of what “valid” actually means, or to betray one’s inherent atheism.

Furthermore, while one may possibly be able to bond with and/or revere though-forms, or a facet of the collective consciousness, one is under no obligation to it as a wholly real and individual being; “Jungian” or “archetypal paganism” is therefore less religious than true polytheism. This “archetypal paganism” is not polytheism, in spite of some people’s fool-headed ideas that it somehow is, for the simple fact that it re-defines what a “god” is with atheist double-speak. When you omit the qualities of a god from the definition of what a god is, what you are worshipping is not a god –you may call it a god all you like, but as Abraham Lincoln once said: “How many legs does a dog have if you call its tail a leg? It has four. Calling a tail a leg does not make it so.” Or, if you’d prefer it from Ellen DeGeneres, “You can put high heels on a poodle, but that won’t make it a hooker.” That’s the problem with removing the theoi while retaining the title of polytheism; you’re calling the tail a leg and then trying to affix the tail to the poor beast’s hip after it lost a leg, and then trying to pimp out the creature to people looking for a human being’s services, and at the end of the day, you’re wondering why this animal still can’t walk as well as it used to and why no-one wanted to put their dick on Fifi. Words are cheap when you start doing things that don’t match up with common usage of the words you describe yourself with.

For something to be valid, as per the OED means it has sound logic, is reasonable and cogent. If one who is ostensibly a polytheist says that “monotheism is just as valid”, then logically that person doesn’t actually believe in the gods as gods.

For some-one claiming to be a polytheist to say that the gods are only manifestations, emanations, archetypes, fiction, metaphors, or human ancestors-plus, is to basically say that the gods are not gods, and this usage of “polytheism” is thus invalid.

About Ruadhán McElroy

Ruadhán has been a traditional Hellenic polytheist for about a decade, and has also maintained devotions to Eros and Apollon most of that time; his status as a devotee of Nyx is more recent. He also paints, makes music, makes jewellery, and writes novels set in the Mod Revival (UK) and Swampie (Oz) subcultures of the 1980s. He also gets a lot of odd little experiences that he jokes will forever render him an insufferable Goth.