DPM 10: Obstacles and Attitudes

I am going through the Devotional Polytheist Meme questions from Galina Krasskova’s blog, together with my lover Lon Sarver, over the course of several months.

We encourage our friends to follow along, and welcome links to other people’s answers, as well as your thoughts on our answers, in our comments.

10. Have you encountered any obstacles as a result of your religion?

In the sense of encountering obstacles because my religion is not Abrahamic, only very rarely. The San Francisco Bay Area is an excellent place to be Pagan. Most of the Christians I encounter are at least accepting that my religion is my choice, if not actually accepting of my religion, and non-Christians are usually pretty conscious of the challenges of following a non-Christian faith in the US.

There are occasionally systemic obstacles, on the rare occasions there’s a system addressing religion at all. They tend to come up doing jail ministry, and then I’m not usually the one facing them, so much as the one helping someone else face them.

Honestly, I’ve gotten a lot more friction from militantly hard atheists over the years than I’ve gotten from people of faiths different from mine. But even then, the majority of atheists and non-theists don’t much care what I believe in or do, as long as I’m not forcing my religion on them.

The most flack I’ve gotten from fellow humans for being Pagan, Heathen, Umbandista, or whatever has actually come from fellow Pagans who didn’t like my particular practices, or made false assumptions about what my practices actually entail.

Surprisingly enough, given the reputation of Heathens for being racist (or at least unduly friendly to racists) I’ve never personally been accused of being a white supremacist. Either I’m really obviously not, or people are too polite to accuse me of such directly. I have been asked about racism in Heathenry, but always in a way that makes it clear they’re assuming that doesn’t apply to me personally, so that’s been okay.

What I HAVE gotten flack for, though rarely so seriously as to be a real obstacle:

  • Having UPG, being a mystic, actually believing the gods exist as independent entities, actually believing magic isn’t just a metaphor, etc.
  • Being skeptical. Insisting on applying some logic or reason when interpreting our experiences into some kind of narrative. Insisting that the practical is a prerequisite to the magical. Insisting that no, really, bad science is not the same as magic, and some things really are impossible.
  • Being multi-trad, usually by one-true-way-ist conservative Heathens, but sometimes by other folks who assume all faiths have an exclusivity clause. (I get the same questions about polyamory that I get about polytheism. I guess people find love-for-many hard to understand for some reason.)
  • Not being comfortable with mixing pantheons in a single ritual without at least acknowledging that They aren’t interchangeable. I understand inviting multiple gods to a ritual who all have something in common. I understand addressing an archetype, and listing various gods as examples thereof. I can’t really work with invoking a single deity via a list of many other deities names, unless it’s as kennings, epithets, or maybe syncretism, but I’m picky about my syncretism. Still, I’ll generally just opt out of such, rather than argue the point.
  • Practicing trance possession, either at all, or insufficiently seriously, depending on who is looking.
  • Being a reconstructionist at all, or being an insufficiently academic one.
  • Being too hard or too soft a polytheist.
  • Being younger than the generation mostly focused on the Goddess Movement. Not being focused on the Goddess Movement myself. Most importantly, not having my faith be particularly grounded in the Goddess Movement much at all.
  • Not having started with Wicca, regardless of where I ended up. Usually this is in the form of being upset when some underlying assumption that comes from Wicca goes right past me. I get that Wicca is functionally the Lingua Franca of modern Paganism, but I must admit I’m not fluent.

Basically, failing to agree with a fellow-Pagan’s theology or politics has resulted in quite a lot of friction over the years. Especially because I’m not the kind of person who sits quietly still if I think something is actually wrong.

Far more often I’ve walked away or opted out, rather than having someone else put an obstacle before me. And often, when that’s what’s happening, it’s because I object to an obstacle being placed before someone else for no better reason than that they are insufficiently like me in some non-harmful way. If you tell my friend she doesn’t belong because her skin isn’t pale enough, I’m going to walk out with her. If you tell my friend he can’t attend because men don’t have relationships with goddesses, I’m going to walk out with him. If you tell my friend she’s not woman enough to attend because her first birth certificate didn’t list “female”, I’m going to walk out with her. For that matter, if you tell any such stranger the same in front of me, I’ll walk out with my new friend. It’s the absolute least I can do.

Now, I’ve also been confronted repeatedly, sometimes quite usefully, about the aspects of my practice that could be appropriation if I’m not careful. I’m actually very willing to have that conversation in detail, as long as it’s sincerely intended to help me address it, not just taking an attitude problem out on me for being a convenient target. To that end, trying to sort out how to make sure my practices are as ethical as possible and as functional as possible has been quite the balancing act at times, but I don’t consider that an obstacle, so much as a necessary and natural part of the path itself.

Mostly, though, the fact that my faith practices and traditions aren’t mainstream isn’t the biggest challenge following my faith presents. The biggest obstacles I face involve struggling with the calling to clergy and spirit work while trying to live a relatively normal life with a day job and loving partners and maybe marriage and kids and stuff. Yeah, no. Having a strong calling to work with the gods the way I do tends to interfere with other plans, and boy howdy has it ever interfered with mine!

Most of the time, though, I do feel it’s worth it.


Lon’s answer: Home Is Where The…

About EmberVoices

Ember Cooke has been a member of Hrafnar and Seidhjallr for more than a decade, where she trained to be a Seidhkona, Galdrakona, and Gythia. She founded the Vanic Conspiracy and made ordination vows to the Vanir and her congregation in the summer of 2013. She has contributed to several publications on Heathen and Northern Pagan subjects and regularly presents rituals and workshops at festivals. Her personal practice is more diverse, as the Vanir have lead her into cross-training and service for the wider Pagan community. This has including medium and servitor training in American Umbanda, clergy training with the Fellowship of the Spiral Path, and jail ministry for local counties. She holds a BA with honors in Religious Studies from Santa Clara University. Ember has lived all her life in the south San Francisco Bay Area, and is intimately bound to the valley of her birth.
This entry was posted in Folkism and Racism, Mysteries, Personal, Politics, Praxis and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to DPM 10: Obstacles and Attitudes

  1. “Being younger than the generation mostly focused on the Goddess Movement” Wow. That’s ridiculous.


  2. Pingback: Home is Where the… | Drinking From the Cup of Life

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s