Tag Archives: Community

Lessons from Aesop’s Fables (#8): The Oak and the Reed

Fable:

A very large Oak was uprooted by the wind and thrown across a stream. It fell among some Reeds, which it thus addressed: “I wonder how you, who are so light and weak, are not entirely crushed by these strong winds.” They replied, “You fight and contend with the wind, and consequently you are destroyed; while we on the contrary bend with the wind, and therefore remain unbroken, and escape.”

Salomon_quercus[1]

Moral:

Do not wrestle with the Gods or with circumstances far above your power. Beware also of the force of the times and, even if you don’t agree with certain principles, entertain the idea and discuss it rather than oppose it fiercely. Also, a community of humble reeds (as it were) that endures successfully is better for polytheism than a single proud oak that breaks unyieldingly. This is especially important for leaders who take it upon themselves to represent others and bear the brunt of opposition. We have no need of adding any more relics to polytheism, however mighty they may be; our task is now to revive, survive and thrive amid so much wind.

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Lessons from Aesop’s Fables (introduction and part 1):

Although stories exist within and derive from particular peoples and cultures, they contain truths that can be understood by all others. This is perhaps nowhere truer than in Aesop, a Thracian or Lydian slave living in Greece, whose old stories are simple, moralized and a little obscure, creating the perfect conditions for rich interpretations and profound lessons. They have also influenced storytellers from other cultures, such as Rome and India. These fables have been told to children for generations, but even adults have enjoyed and learned from them, and the complexity shows that they may well have been originally written for adults. An old post of mine demonstrates how a fable saved the early city of Rome from further rebellion. Since this is the case, and since Aesop wrote in ancient times, there is a special place for polytheists within his fables. In this series, I will be posting select fables and offering, as well as receiving in the comment section, didactic interpretations that are suited to polytheists in general or to our current circumstances in particular. I have long looked forward to this series and I hope it will be of some benefit. Now let’s proceed to the first fable and moral.

The Old Man and His Sons

A father had a family of sons who were perpetually quarreling among themselves. When he failed to heal their disputes by his exhortations, he determined to give them a practical illustration of the evils of disunion; and for this purpose, he one day told them to bring him a bundle of sticks. When they had done so, he placed the faggot into the hands of each of them in succession, and ordered them to break it in pieces. They tried with all their imagestrength, and were not able to do it. He next opened the bundle, took the sticks separately, one by one, and again put them into his sons’ hands, upon which they broke them easily. He then addressed them in these words: “My sons, if you are of one mind, and unite to assist each other, you will be as this bundle, uninjured by all the attempts of your enemies; but if you are divided among yourselves, you will be broken as easily as these sticks.”

 

Moral:

I can think of two interpretations here. The first is to compare the sons to the various individual polytheists today. In this case, the unbreakable bundle is a community that comes together strongly and, in spite of (natural) disagreements, compromises towards a necessary unity that would otherwise be weakened by monotheistic or modernistic influences. The second interpretation would be to liken the sticks to individual communities or groups of polytheists that are safer together than apart during a temporary period of larger instability. These sticks are separate and may be colored differently (in the sense of social and cultural distinctions), but put together they serve their purpose for the time being until the danger passes. The father represents our various ancestors and regional origins. Our ancestors are calling us to unite in order to pass on their ways and serve their Gods together as they did. Let us do so. If circumstances force us to be alone for a while, let’s always look and work for the earliest opportunity for unity and community.

 

Polemical topics for polytheists (part 13): What do the Gods desire most from us?

First view: The Gods mostly desire offerings, prayer, and devotion correctly and sincerely performed

Second view: The Gods mostly desire appreciation through intellectual reflection and spiritual understanding, whereas ritual and other formalities are less necessary in the modern world

Balanced view: The Gods desire all personal efforts to gain their favor (both intellectual or ritual), but mostly as *a means* to a *greater end*, i.e. their glory and restoration through the growth of communities that invoke their patronage, honor ancestral traditions and provide for many future generations to do the same.

 In a recent discussion that followed a post about the problems of an impious community, there was some debate concerning the necessity of a community and how to attain it. But a point arose then which wasn’t directly discussed, i.e. the most important desires and expectations that the Gods have of us. This is a very fundamental concern for polytheism and all the traditions under it not only because it relates to the Gods intimately, but also because our success or failure depends very much on it. Pleasing a God is always a blessing and the opposite may lead to disaster; as self-evident as this observation may be, it is important to reflect a little more on its implications regarding our way of life and our aspirations in their service. Our movement is quite hopeful, but it is more accurate to say that polytheism will probably rise now or never. In spite of competition from atheism, the conditions are absolutely ripe for a huge revival in most parts of the world that are actively escaping from monotheism. A further concern is there are two possibilities for polytheism rising: it may rise strong or it may rise crooked. The Gods will bless us in the first case, but may very well curse us in the second, if we abuse our opportunity and do not follow what they most desire. So, the question is, what do the Gods most desire? Some believe it is piety and devotion, whereas others choose a more intellectual and less ritual path. As shown throughout the series, neither side is entirely right or wrong, but they both are incomplete and invite adjustment or balance. In this case, the two sides shown above lack a greater purpose beyond the satisfaction of the self and a small group. That is to say, they begin well at the task of pleasing the Gods, but do not actively look forward and prepare for the kind of communal and expansive growth that would please the Gods *most* and secure our future power *most*. I am ashamed of this comparison but wouldn’t a chairman of a commercial business always seek to improve and expand the company’s reputation, employees, factories, partnerships, etc. and therefore reward those who contribute to that effort and *punish or remove* those who do otherwise? I couldn’t help but notice the similarity (I don’t say uniformity) of the competition between one business against another and that of polytheism against monotheism or atheism. Now, although it should really be unnecessary to prove how essential community is for our rebirth and the pleasure of the Gods (one need only look at what the monotheists and indeed Hindus do), I find it quite unfortunate and disheartening that many (and well-meaning people) are choosing solitary paths, as if there is no better choice or greater ambition. This resignation (I cannot call it by any other name) is not only insufficient for our true rebirth and successful competition, but also dangerous because it sometimes causes despair and thus reverses piety. I know several people on Facebook who have considered leaving polytheism precisely because they are alone (hence spiritually weak) and don’t have a real community on the ground to support them. When will all this end? To speak for myself, I will certainly not use my website except as a means towards a greater end, even (hypothetically) if it becomes the best website for polytheism with the most subscribers…Our movement may have been fueled by individualism, but it will never last with it alone; this realization must make us reconsider our current practices and prepare for greater (synonymous with holier) undertakings for the sake of our Gods and ancestors. The mere sight or knowledge of the communities of Hindus and even Wiccans (to mention nothing of monotheists) should make us polytheists far more active and hopeful than we now are in pursuing and expanding the collective interests of our movement and indeed the collective desires of our Gods.

Polemical topics for polytheists (part 12): Pluralism

First view: Pluralism is good in polytheism because it allows for individual choice and differences in opinion and practice.

Second view: Pluralism is bad for polytheism because it doesn’t encourage unity and causes weaknesses by multiplying differences.

Balanced view: Although being a term that properly applies *between* rather than *within* distinct communities, polytheism also inherently allows for individual choices that are not divisive.

By virtue of the history of polytheism, as well as the etymology of the word itself (many-Gods), there is natural and necessary room for plural ways to exist. A quick observation over the multitude of traditions, past or present, throughout the world proves this point. However, at this time of revival and regrowth for lost traditions, the question of unity and division inevitably arises and necessitates some reflection. To what degree can we differ before we undermine our efforts, and are there any limitations and rules to follow in that regard? I think this extremely important point can be best understood, as well as resolved, by the concept of “community”, which I am glad repeat so often. Our ancestors, while belonging to one or another larger ethnic tradition, always rooted their practices of polytheism within their smaller, distinct communities. This allowed for slow and organic variations* to develop, bearing the distinct and collective mark of the people and the Divine Beings that patronized them. People naturally exist within groups and homogeneity of people and principle within that group is what enables a community to remain stable and happy. For this reason, while individual choices did certainly have a place within community, these had limitations and were regulated by the authority of a majority and the chieftain, archpriest, elder, etc. who represented the interests and unity of that same majority. It is common sense to believe that that individuals cannot find happiness outside of a group to which they can truly belong, and at the same time it is equally true a community cannot stand firm if too many individuals within it set their own choices above the common good and collective interest. This is where pluralism can really be useful: individuals who find themselves alienated by their native community, for whatever reason, always have the ability to join other communities or even establish new ones. This is much more preferable to stirring up division and weakening the unity of the majority, and it is also the natural way of our ancestors. How else do we have so many wonderful and distinct traditions, and why else do we oppose the uniformity of all communities that monotheism enforces? Monotheism prefers the structural power and expansion of a permanent federalism (if not an absolute state), whereas we may better choose the fair diversity of a confederalism (with room for a temporary federalism in times of difficulty) not only between distinct communities within a region, but also among all traditions throughout the whole world. This is why pluralism is better than multiculturalism, and this is how we can both unite and preserve our distinct ways for future generations to come.

 

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*The metaphor of a slowly cooked meal, which is always more delicious and healthier than a meal cooked fast, applies very well here.

Polemical topics for polytheists (part 5): Community

First view: There is a growing community of polytheists, who happen to be active individuals online

Second view: There is really no community at all for polytheists, but they pretend there is

Balanced view: We should use our groups and communications online in order to make a transition towards communities on the ground

As things stand, it is a ripe time for the growth of polytheism in many parts of the world. Various freedoms, a quick access to learning, and the decay of monotheism encourage us to go forward and seize the day. But while we are enjoying these fruits while going forward, should we not also look forward and plant the seeds of our fruits? We all know the consequences of a lack of foresight and an attachment to the present only—add to that our individual concerns and comforts, which we often place above all other things. Polytheism is not a fashion that we put on and display, to share with others on social media, or to stand out in a crowd. It is rather an organic and structural entity that is only nourished and managed—no, kept alive—with proper care and collective effort. I wish I were sitting at the moment around a campfire sharing stories with fellow polytheists, rather than writing this piece alone. There is a question to be reflected on seriously: how do we define community and how do we wish to see the future condition of polytheism in the world? Here I recall my thoughts and the discussion I had with my kind readers in the first part of this series, regarding the common vision and mission of polytheists. The necessity of a community on the ground is one that can never be emphasized enough. Planting the seeds of the fruits we enjoy is one good step, but scattered individuals can only serve themselves and a few others by doing so. The next step, which determines whether we will enjoy the fruits for many generations to come, is to come together in order to survey, build, till, sow, irrigate, and harvest.* This is not so much a project, as an extension of a simple notion—that of settling. Why do people tend to marry and settle in a certain place with their children? Because that is what leads to a more convenient life of sharing and caring. Many families of a certain culture and belief make up a community. I am biased towards the second view, from time to time, because I hear the first view too often. But why not combine them rather than make a dualism out of it? We can and should exist in local and distinct communities, while participating in the modern world. There is much room for variation in this, and a pluralism of communal models can be considered and accepted, according to the needs and opinions of each community—which is the case with monotheists today. We can certainly discuss and differ on such models, but we can’t let individual comforts & opinions delay the formation of lasting communal structures for our future generations. I would dare say it is not even acceptable to the Gods that people should worship too much individually, so long as we are able to get together. As much as we seem comfortable, we are actually in a state of survival and self-preservation, if our numbers and the competition is taken into consideration, much less the dangers we could face one day, if monotheism rises up again to a state of fanaticism. There is one community of polytheism I can think of which has undertaken the project (i.e. Asatru), but I have a disagreement with their method—I can’t understand why a northern Germanic tradition would accept all “European” people. This leads to another consideration about “race” and ethnic religion, which I will look into in the next topic, because it is almost inseparable from the same discourse of community or at least inevitably connected to it. Meantime, let us look into community and the necessity of it for our preservation and continuity. Are any of you fellow polytheists comfortable enough with knowing a few people like yourselves, either family or friends online? Surely you must be lonely as I am, more or less, and in need of many more people like you within your life daily and in person. 

 

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*The metaphor of the farm and agriculture is perfectly applicable, although I don’t mean extensive or intensive agriculture, but one that supports a community of a modest number with as little interference with nature as possible.

Polemical topics for polytheists (part 2): Modernity

First view: “Modernity is a blessing that should be embraced, because it has made us advance”

Second view: “Modernity is a curse that should be shunned, because it has ruined the world and nature”

Balanced view: “Although tradition is by far preferable, part of modernity is important to use for the time being”

The best way to describe modernity would be to consider Western Civilization*, which is in effect a synonym, as well as to look at the world as it stands. The systems of capitalism and globalism prevail; there is excess in everything and everywhere, because everybody tends to imitate the Western way of life. There is comfort to the degree of decadence, and satisfaction (much less true happiness) is hard to find, because society is no longer cohesive and communal. A great deal of imbalance threatens to turn a world, which has seemingly been reformed and improved, into a monster. Meantime, being trapped within this system, we polytheists can only hope and act to the best of our ability. At least modernity, through advancements in archaeology, provides us with the means to rediscover our ancient heritage, and through technology, to connect with one another quickly. It could even be said that the subversive and imbalanced qualities of modernity have allowed us to exist freely again, through the decay of monotheism. In an ideal world, the aforementioned second view would be best, but according to reality, we must carefully make use of some of the advantages of modernity (at least for the time being), if our intention is to rise again and compete successfully with our rivals. But careful we must be: modernity does not distinguish between monotheism and polytheism in its subversions and imbalances. For that reason, we’ll need to treat it like a tool and acquaintance, rather than a master or friend. When it falls to a choice between polytheism and modernity, there should be no hesitation to choose the former. And when modernity is no longer absolutely necessary, we should be the first to lay it aside in favor of an older, happier, and humbler way of life that is more balanced and more traditional, putting nature and culture above money and machine.

 

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*A very suitable acronym would be WC

Polemical topics for polytheists (part 1): Our vision and mission

Between two differing sides or two opposing extremes, there is always a balanced position to be found that mediates and reconciles them harmoniously, for the good of all parties. All sides and extremes exist for a reason and rightly claim our attention; the purpose should be to combine the beneficial points of those sides whiling avoiding the harmful. Seeing how useful this method is, I will endeavor to pursue it on this topic as well as on future ones. Therefore, to the question of “what is the current vision and mission of polytheists in the world?”, these are three possible answers,

First view: “Our mission is to embark on personal spiritual journeys and our vision is to be strongly connected with the Gods.”

Second view: “Our mission is to work together towards undermining monotheism and our vision is to rule the world”.

Balanced view: “Our mission is to work towards strengthening our general standing and our vision is the re-establishment and continuity of our religions & traditions throughout the world.”  

It is evident that none of these views are absolutely right or wrong, for that would depend on the context and circumstances of each. The third, however, appears more reasonable in a reconciliatory sense: Instead of the rather passive, solitary course of the first view, and the hostile expansionism of the second, the third view adopts a path that is both active and agreeable. We do certainly need spiritual journeys and strong connections with the Gods, as we also are required inevitably to compete with monotheism and restore our presence in the world. The true way to balance both is to re-examine our priorities and actions, according to our current situation. Comparisons with other individuals or groups is necessary and beneficial for such a task, since existence and growth depend on outer forces and circumstances. If strength comes both from inner conviction and unity of the group, what is the yardstick to measure this strength? Comparisons are necessary to determine that. So, let’s consider this question: how strongly does polytheism stand at the present time in comparison with monotheism? The answer is rather obvious and unfortunate, but it should make us think and act better, especially when the field for growth and improvement is really ripe and hopeful. Monotheism has already been declining, which is the reason why most of us are actually polytheists at the moment. We are now many individuals, with an opportunity to rise, but do we think of ourselves as a collective entity with a common mission and vision? Solitary worship and personal devotion is what we begin with, because we are forced to do so, and it is certainly good, so long as it does not obstruct unity on the ground. Fighting monotheism, on the other hand, is not really possible or reasonable, if victory is what we aim at. The means should not be confused with the end. Our end and purpose is to secure a strong framework to build our hopes upon, but like all foundations, it will require foresight, action, prudence and skill. Communities must form in order to take up this project successfully, otherwise our little structures will crumble or at least remain small and scattered in the face of powerful competitors. Can we truly have a long-lasting mission and long-sighted vision without strong communities? I think not.