Duality and Lack Thereof

 

moon and sun

“When the world knows beauty as beauty, ugliness arises
When it knows good as good, evil arises
Thus being and non-being produce each other
Difficult and easy bring about each other
Long and short reveal each other
High and low support each other
Music and voice harmonize each other
Front and back follow each other…” – Tao Te Ching

The Tao Te Ching was the first text of any spiritual or philosophical significance that I read after going through the books of the faith I was raised in.  It’s stayed with me, and it’s a good place to go back to.

The passage above sang to me when I first read it.  I read it in Jane English’s translation – I’m not sure how that measures up against other ones, to be honest, but it’s still my favorite – but every version of it calls back to me.  I feel it.

It comes to mind when people speak of duality.  Actually, the whole Tao Te Ching does, with the one perfect yin and one perfect yang forming the Tao.  It’s beautiful and profound and I just can’t buy it anymore.

Recently, there was an article being shared on Facebook about dealing with “Dark” deities.  While I appreciate much of what the author has to say, and even moreso I appreciate the fact that they open with how problematic it is to label a deity as “dark”, I was left with a deep frustration (which really had nothing to do with the article itself).  The fact that we are still labeling deities as “light” or “dark” gets under my skin the way any unthinking duality that we embrace does.

I’m not sure, but I think that it was in discussions regarding gender that the system of duality started to unravel for me.  There are lots of people who identify as men or women.  I identify as a woman, for instance; that’s what I am.  There are also a lot of people who identify as neither or both.  Third-gender, genderqueer, agender, genderfluid, there are different terms for different nonbinary identities in our society.  As soon as I was exposed to the idea it made perfect sense to me, even though as far as trans people go, I’m very binary.

I think that we get taught this binary thinking as children.  I also think that it takes a while to sink in, and before it does entirely there’s a golden period where kids just accept things as they are on whatever scale.  A friend of mine (who is nonbinary) likes to tell a story about how kids get it.  He was on a bus and a bunch of younger kids that were clustered together turned to him and asked,

“Are you a boy or a girl?”

Him: “I’m genderqueer.”

Them: “What’s that?”

Him: “It means I’m neither a boy or a girl.”

Them: “Oh.  Did those piercings hurt?”

I’m not a specialist in child development, so I really don’t know.  I don’t know if there is a point in time where it is helpful to explain things in painfully black and white terms to kids.  I have the suspicion that it’s more for the ease of the parents explaining than the ease of the childrens’ understanding, which strikes me as intellectually lazy, but I also understand that saying that raising children is difficult and a minefield of compromise.

To me, it feels like a deep-rooted damage in human perception of the world.  The idea that things fit into these neat digital on/off, black/white, good/bad, boy/girl, dark/light boxes being drilled into your head because it’s easier to explain the world that way seems like a massive disservice to everyone involved.  It’s also the root of a lot of bigoted, prejudiced, and simply wrong-headed thinking.  Boy and girl aren’t absolute boxes, they do exist, but they’re cluster points that a lot of people seem to fall close to or in.  Dark and light are guidelines and suggestions that we use, but even things that are perceived as “dark” tend to have “light” qualities as well, otherwise in their absoluteness they would be impossible for us to truly engage.

When I encounter and interact with a person, one of the things that I’ve come to do is try to gauge the degree to which they have overcome the painful dualism stamped into their mind in their youth.  Honestly, I consider that to be one of the first major signs of intellectual maturity, and it pains me that so many people are stuck in that mindset about so many things for so much if not all of their lives.  There are just boys and girls.  Things are either good or bad.  There are light Gods, and there are Dark Gods (and sometimes, charitably, the person mentions that there are “grey” Gods, which kind of still casts an emphasis on the whole duality.)  “Nothing is just anything.” is a mantra that has saved my life and sanity many times over.

I don’t think that binaries don’t exist; I just know from my experience that they are reference points between and around which exist larger spectrums, and once we break out of the binary style of thinking about a particular subject, we might notice a whole host of other meaningful reference points that we can use as well.  It frustrates me that so many people make these things into absolute oppositional polarities, and spiritual systems that insist that an oppositional polarity is the basis for the existence of the cosmos and all meaningful or powerful interaction therein make me deeply uncomfortable (I’m lookin’ at you, Kybalion.)  I see it in the insistence on calling on “Male Ancestors” and “Female Ancestors” (and I’m the wet blanket who stands up and offers to “Those Who Are Both or Neither” and makes everyone uncomfortable).  I see it in the insistence that I still see in some ADF rites that there needs to be a Goddess and a God called to “create balance” (even though in theory our organization holds no special favor for any concept of gendered polarity).  I see it in the idea that some Gods are just Dark, and some are just Light, and that you can bottle them up and divide them so very easily.

Maybe some people need to hear things that way at whatever stage in their intellectual or spiritual development they happen to be at, but it still makes me sad and frustrated, because I know that it’s not that simple, and that we’re doing a disservice to the range of wonder and beauty in our creation and existence by categorizing everything into two easy-to-divide but highly inaccurate columns.

I know a couple who raised their child without gender.  They let their kid grow, used neutral pronouns for them, bought them neutral clothes and all manner of different toys.  The kid decided pretty early on that she was a girl, which given that’s what the doctor assigned them at birth, makes them cisgender.  The fact that they (who are actually a fairly conservative Heathenish couple) did this gave me a lot of hope: they weren’t wanting their child to grow up without gender or trying to make them nonbinary, they just wanted them to make their own decisions about who and what they were, leaving their options open, which they did pretty early on.  Watching this process made me really happy.

I like to hope more people can be like that, with their children, with their other family members, with their friends, with the strangers that they meet, and yes, with their Gods.  Some Gods might end up seeming fierce and kind of dark – honestly, the way that Freyja interacts with me most of the time seems to fall into the set of qualities that people seem to attribute to “Dark” Gods, despite the fact that I can think of few who would classify Her that way.  Let them be what they are rather than trying to categorize them; if they fall into a recognizable box, great, if not, don’t try and shove them into one.  It does your own intellect and their identity and complexity a disservice to do otherwise. It also robs them of a bit of their agency (as doing so with humans does) by refusing to acknowledge how they manifest if it falls outside of the neat categories that you’ve formed in your mind.

Let all wights decide what they are for themselves.

nonbinary flag

(Image: A common nonbinary Pride flag.)

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My Interview on This Week In Heresy

So Gina Pond of This Week In Heresy interviewed me for her podcast.  Here is the link for anyone who is interested.  Also, her blurb for the show:

Laine DeLaney joins us in this episode to talk about her journey from her childhood religion of Islam to her current Heathen and magickal traditions.  What does it mean to be a Heathen? Do you have to be of Northern European descent to be a “proper Heathen”? Is there really such a thing as an “unbroken” tradition? Why is hospitality important? We also talk about how accepting people as they identify themselves and accepting their humanness is important in accepting the “Other.”

This is part of a series of interviews with people who will be presenting at Pantheacon 2016.

A Cheer for Freyja

I’ve shared this before on Virtual Sessrumnir, but I don’t think I’ve put it on my blog yet.  If I have, oh well, have it again!

 

Hail to Freyja from Sessrumnir faring,
Sovereign Lady, your bright jewel bearing!
As you ride past all the hearts in their ribs quake,
Passion and power you trail in your wake!
Come be among us and share your bright beauty
Make laughter and lusting and good fights our duty!
We’ll follow your cat-chair past Hel’s gates if needed
our fears will be conquered when your call is heeded!

Hail Freyja, Red-Gold, Sea-Bright, Lady of the Slain!
Hail Freyja, Witch Woman, Mother of Treasures Twain!
Hail Freyja, Nine Worlds’ Desire!
Hail Freyja, Who stokes the heart-fire!
Hail Freyja, In battle and lovemaking!
Hail Freyja, In giant’s curse breaking!
Hail Freyja, On battle-boar riding!
Hail Freyja, The war-dead dividing!
Hail Freyja, Over passion presiding!

Update on Frey card

C’mon, we can do this! Let’s get Ingvi his own card!

Gangleri's Grove

We are almost there with the Frey card. thanks to a donation today, only $67 is needed to completely fund this card. 

If you would like to help, please contact me at krasskova at gmail.com and thank you thank you thank you to everyone who has so generously donated!

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Not Fleeing But Seeking; Also, Ending Up Where?

(Tongue-In-Cheek Warning: This is about the Pagan/Polytheist split thing.  If you’re sick of hearing about it, keep moving).

This post by John Halstead was interesting (and it’s not just because I get so tired of hearing Heathens accuse each other of being Christian).  I think there is something to what he is saying.

I’ve often been confused by Pagans who share memes and sentiments amounting to things like “all religions are bad” and “people who believe in God/s are stupid”.  I’ve been trying to wrap my head around it for a while now, and frankly, this article does put some of it in perspective.  The idea that a lot of Pagans are moving away from the –theism portion of their previous faiths may go a long way towards explaining not only that, but the insistence that Paganism is not “religion” but “spirituality”, the oft-repeated statements of “Nature is my temple” (it’s one of my temples, too, but that’s a bit beside the point here), the wincing that one sees when one suggests the Gods are other than elaborate metaphor, that everything should be made up as we go along… if you’re a regular reader of mine, you know I don’t really agree with those sentiments, but I can understand where they may be coming from if people are coming to Pagan paths as a rejection.

I don’t think that it’s accurate for every self-titled Pagan though; it’s certainly not for me.  What drove me away from the faith that I was mostly raised in was a combination of things: being told that some members of my family’s lives could be forfeit if they didn’t accept the same faith (this was especially painful with my grandmother, who was a good woman), or that they would be condemned to an eternity of agony for disagreeing, the fact that someone who is as queer as I am had no place in the faith and the best I could hope for was a life of self-flagellating repression, and countless other things.  Mind you, I recognize that there  are many of that faith that argue that those things are not doctrine or correct.

What drew me towards Paganism was a love of the mystical and magical and a love of the Gods who I had loved as a child.  I’ve told the story a thousand times: when I was a kid I found a copy of the Choose Your Own Adventure book “The Trumpet of Terror”, which is set in ancient Scandanavia and you, the main character, belongs to a family touched by Odin, and you’re called on to aid in a touchy matter involving none other than Gullveig.  The names of the Gods and powers in that book ignited my blood, sang in my bones, captured my imagination and would not let go.  Likewise, when my mother bought a huge map of the solar system for me I asked her what the planets were named after and got an education on the Roman Gods.  Thereafter I tried to set up altars and worship without really knowing how.  I followed my mother into her new faith when I was a still wee one, but I never lost my appreciation of the faith and Gods that felt natural to me, despite trying to accept the idea that they were all demons trying to deceive us.

Leaving behind the old faith was hard, but not because I believed in its absolute correctness, more because of old habits and fears.  While I was walking into Paganism (specifically Wicca at the time) for years I felt a series of sensations like fishhooks attached to wires being pulled out of my spine, sometimes as bunches, sometimes one at a time, and reckoned it the connections to the God I once worshiped being pulled free, or me pulling free of them as I strove towards the path that made more sense to me.

I am not sure which Goddess it was that replied when I called to “The Goddess” or “The Lady” though I have some guesses (I never felt to comfortable with The God, frankly, and not because the God of my former faith was “male” – despite the pronouns used it was made clear to me at an early age that that they were neither male nor female, so I never thought of them as such).  I wasn’t running from religion, nor was I running from the idea of One God – I was fine with that as a Wiccan, all was the Goddess, and I thought of the various deities as Her many faces.  It was neither the mono- nor the -theism that took me away from my old faith nor the lack of one or the other that drew me to the new one.

When I started being Pagan, I started finding a lot of prejudices and what I considered harmful beliefs, but they didn’t drive me away from Paganism (although, to be honest, they had me on the run from Heathenry specifically for a good long while)  I decided to stay and make a difference by being myself and being Pagan (as I’ve decided to with Heathenry).  I stayed because the beliefs by and large resonated with me and because the practical aspects of that belief and my working within it have been beneficial.  I stayed because if I didn’t, my voice wouldn’t be contributing to it and changing it.

Which brings me back around to the article above.  Should Polytheism and Paganism split apart (if that’s even entirely possible)?  Should Polytheists remain a part of the larger Pagan movement and continue to add our voices to it?  I know there are plenty of folks on both side of that question who would be happier if we didn’t.  A voice within me says that that’s not in my hands, but I know better.  It’s in my hands, it’s in John’s hands, it’s in the hands of everyone in the larger movement that we’re attached to.  We all collectively are the “movement”.  This Pagan movement consists of people, and most of them aren’t loud mouths like myself and other bloggers and authors, they’re folks living it and not acting as mouthpieces for their egos, their Gods, or their causes.  Ultimately that’s what all that recent talk about Pagan laity has been about on some level, right?  The folks who just want to live their paths and faiths?

There are folks like me, who are Polytheists and still identify as Pagan – I straddle both identities, and I have to say I’m stretching in places that I’m not used to stretching as a result of this debate.  Part of me thinks that Polytheists would be better off moving away from Paganism, but the fact is there are lots of Wiccans and Eclectic Pagans who are still Polytheists.  They still believe in many Gods, that they are separate entities, and that they exist outside of our heads (though there are surely parts of them that live within us, too).

Is the question of identity more about Reconstruction and Recon-derived practices?  There may something to that – a lot of Heathens don’t want to be associated with Paganism because they associate modern Paganism with folks with no interest in reconnecting to the faiths of the past.  That is surely not applicable in all cases, or even most for all I know.  A lot of Wiccans still believe that they are connecting to an ancient faith-way and for all I know they very well could be, scholarship aside.  Who am I to say whether or not some ancient prehistoric Mother Goddess or Goddesses are whispering in the receptive ears of modern folk?  That aside, reconstruction that begins with scholarship is different from totally channeled spirituality in a number of ways, despite the fact that all lore was once UPG.

As time goes on I don’t know where I belong.  My times at Brushwood went from free-wheeling, firedance-happy Eclectic Pagan to Polytheist ADF gatherings and Heathen Woo-Woo Bootcamp.  I spent less time at the bonfire and more time at the Runestead, less time partying and more time worshipping, practicing, and studying. I found more fulfillment in that than I had in just smoking pot, drinking, and dancing around a bonfire.  It wasn’t what everyone was there for, even among the Pagans who attended.  I was still welcome at the fire and the public rituals; no one treated me as a weirdo for being who I was.  In other words, despite being a practicing Polytheist, the other Pagans didn’t try and make me feel unwelcome.

I don’t know the answer.  I do know that many of us aren’t running away, but running towards, not fleeing, but seeking.  Regular readers will know that I’m fascinated with identity and the borders of it and its composition.  This particular discussion is important to me, and it may be important to many of you as well.  How we approach this will shape generations to come; even if our names and specific words are forgotten, the ripples we set in motion will continue to build and change the face of things.  While I do believe that honoring the Gods is important for a variety of different reasons, I also think that our social and cultural movements are important too.  Would it benefit both Recon-based Polytheism and modern Paganism for there to be a definite split in our movements?  Would it harm either?  What will we be leaving for generations to come?  We all sense the rumblings and have felt and seen these divisions, and it’s up to us to encourage or discourage them as we see fit.  What do you think?

The Havamal ~ Offerings to the Gods, Goddesses, Ancestors and Vaettir

Words that need to be shared and repeated. I’m tired of that verse being trotted out in the face of all other evidence as a rebuttal of making good offerings and good devotion to the Gods, Vaettir, and Ancestors.

Wyrd Designs

For most followers of the Northern Tradition upon learning about this path they read the myths about the Gods, and many tend to also study the Havamal. The Havamal is one of many sagas found in the Poetic Edda, and many of the stanzas are known as being a depository of advice as it applies to wanderers and guests when they travel abroad; it talks about what is proper behavior beyond one’s own homestead, and cautions the traveler to be wary so that he might eventually return to home having suffered no mischief or misfortune.

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New Year

May Her falcon’s wings carry us.

May Her chariot clear the way for us.

May Her gold pour on us as She passes.

May Her passions enflame us and drive us to power.

May Her strength empower us.

May Her beauty inspire us.

May Her love fill and envelope us.

May She walk with us, fly with us, swim with us, dance with us, sing the secret songs with us, make love with us, scream with us, dream with us, bless us and aid us.

Mardoll, Menglad, Gefn, Blotgydjya, Seidhkona, Raudhagull, Valfreyja, Syr, Horn, Mother of Twin Treasures, Our Lady of the Runny Mascara, Freyja, be with us this year.

Happy New Year!