Sacral Kings, Traditions, Defense …

Here are a few thoughts generated by the uproar over Rhyd Wildermuth’s text at Gods and Radicals on Confronting the New Right… While I think that an unnecessary amount of confusion resulted from his lack of providing definitions for the type of Right he is discussing, specifically those who have roots in what is called the Traditionalist school of perennial philosophy, including the thought of René Guénon and Julius Evola in the early 20th century, and even if he painted very widely, there is much merit for us reconstructionist polytheists/pagans to seriously consider his points. And the fact is there is plenty of influence of this school of thought in contemporary polytheism and it is disingenuous to deny it. Just read some of the comments of the people who have crawled out of the woodwork spouting far right nonsense over this article.

 

As Reconstructionists, we, of course, are interested in traditions. The world is deeply wounded and many of us have found much that is healing in traditions that may or not be ancestral. So the slipperiness of language becomes a problem (tradition is like electricity, it can be used positively, negatively or otherwise); it should be clearly noted that “Radical Traditionalism” refers to the Evola/Guenon/de Benoist school and does intersect with fascism and similar far right politics. If some people, want to create universalist neopagan religion that is without roots, well fine. But I ask please be careful not to smear the work of reconstituting traditions, whether they are of nineteenth century fairy faith practices of Ireland, or of archaic Iron Age practices with “Radical Traditionalism”. If one does so, I think they should be aware they are also smearing traditional indigenous people from North American to Hawaii, from Ladakh to Nigeria. Helena Norberg-Hodge, producer and co-director of the film Economics of Happiness and author of the influential book Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh, is an example of a very different kind of traditionalist. I personally have long been of the mind that ancient traditions and practices are what is needed for human survival as the current unsustainable petroleum civilization breaks down and leaves everyone a ravaged landscape. And the traditions of the Irish, the Scandinavians, the Welsh and many other European cultures all have their place in that. I do have a problem with Rhyd’s damning of ‘tribalism’, but since he capitalized it, he may mean a particular iteration, but that, unfortunately, he didn’t define. The key thing to keep in mind with tribes is that they are not race-related—and that ancient Europeans didn’t even have the concept of race.

 

 

With that said, I think there is much of value to examine from the article. It claims that Reconstructionism is “one of the more significant places where the New Right intersects with Pagan beliefs. Emphasis on returning to ‘reconstructed’ traditions, older (and poorly understood) social forms and hierarchical structures, as well as an emphasis on recovering European heritage are often problematic. Further, nationalistic and racial exclusionist tendencies are often justified as being part of ‘the lore.’ Very strong language, but worth examining…

 

 

From a Celtic perspective, I think one of the most relevant questions here is how do we as reconstructionists of a Gaelic/Celtic emphasis deal with sacral kingship. I haven’t really seen any individuals or groups who really were monarchists and want to revive and live in an actual monarchy but there may be some hoping for such, for all I know. As I know I’ve discussed here and there in the past the Gaelic kingdoms and kings weren’t the monarchs of more recent European and other countries based on the ideology of divine Christian monarch invested by the Church and made by primogeniture (and often were a of a tuath, a tribe of about 2000 people and weren’t even states!), that people usually think of but nevertheless there was the whole very important symbolic concept of the sacred king (I prefer the Irish word rí) who received sovereignty, often as a liquor, from a goddess. And the filidh often played a role in not only inaugurating the king as representative of sovereignty—and even could share the king’s bed, a far cry from most rightist fantasies!

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Some groups create a ceremonial king, others have the role in ritual invested in a chief druid, but there are many possibilities. I wonder if anyone would have a problem with these symbolic kings and their role in ritual? It’s likely kings arose as ritual leaders whose ritual roles eventually carried over into the mundane. There certainly are examples from places that had moved onto other forms of governance that maintained a sacred king for certain rituals, as did the city of Athens in the classical era.

 

I can see that some people would want religions that had no such ‘hierarchical’ roles, even of the symbolic nature, I supposed even not having one chosen for one ritual, and then another for the next. I would hope that they would be tolerant of those who do wish for such ritual reconstructions. And I would also hope that anyone wanting to literally socially recreate an Iron Age based social structure would be laughed out of the community. I know all sorts of crazy does appear in CR-oriented social media these days, but ones that I am familiar with rapidly throw up bars to those who would attempt to fly fascistic flags or assert racist notions of Celtic identity (sadly, not so much or at least not with such quick defense among some devotional polytheist-labeled groups in my experience). I do agree with Rhyd that we need strong immune systems against such intrusions or false claims. Critical thinking absolutely must be a part of reconstructionist approaches and has to be part of our immune-defenses. So this is a valid place, a vulnerable area in reconstructions to beware of people who are actually monarchists with fascist leanings.

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And while I really haven’t seen much that would seem to be the “New Right” per se in a CR setting, an obsession with genetics and attempts at racial (and thereby racist) identities of Celtic identity do show up a lot. Celtic, as has been said so many times, is a linguistic term and the cultures that are based on said languages, and is not a genetic marker. People became Celtic by adopting the culture. Besides that fostering was a key custom, and thereby the continuous establishment of deep familial bonds between genetically unrelated people. Nonetheless, I think the racists who show up are dim enough to not realize that the black person or the Puerto Rican whom they consider an outsider to the traditions might well have more Irish ancestry than they do, those who would bang their chest in false Celtic pride—and have a deeper relationship to the gods.

 

A related area that is very unfortunate and unhistorical relating to all this is there are plenty of people in Gaelic traditionalist groups who believe in a cultural ‘purity’ and believe you can only worship Irish gods or Welsh gods, and the like, usually based on a false belief that cultures are isolated things stored timelessly in hermetically sealed vessels. I think analogous concepts can be found in some other reconstructionist religions, as among some Heathens or even some Hellenes.

 

So these are some points where I think we should set up strong defenses.

 

I’d be very interested in readers’ thought on these issues.

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5 thoughts on “Sacral Kings, Traditions, Defense …

  1. Pingback: A Forest On The Ocean « Paganarch

  2. Obviously, I am aware of how politics and religion are intertwined (and, for heaven’s sake, I worship a Roman Emperor–while also realizing how problematic the Roman Empire is and not supporting the many things about it that were oppressive and destructive, nor suggesting that the Roman Imperial State should be rebuilt or its structures emulated in our modern systems); but, I also know that they are very different things, and the blurring of the two–not only by some of the recent individuals, but also some more established pagan figures (e.g. Starhawk)–does not serve either one very well. Everyone I know has hated when religion has had a major role to play in any political decision that impacts people more widely than one’s own religious community; and likewise, when religions are cherry-picked to find support for one’s own political decisions (especially ones that inhibit the freedoms of others), that is likewise a very bad use of religion. Both of these are not good ways to engage in politics or religion, I think. I’m too much of an American Constitutional idealist to see this as anything but a power play, whether in one direction (using politics for religious purposes) or the other (using religion for political purposes).

    I think it highly unlikely that anyone I personally know in modern polytheism, no matter how virulent their right-leaning tendencies might be (and I’m not associates with those folks for the most part!), would ever be able to do anything harmful to anyone in the wider world with their ideologies. Whatever form of politics, economics, or government one might prefer, all of my associates are against racism, homo- and transphobia, misogyny, ableism, and other such oppressive viewpoints which the new right tend to be in favor of upholding. (And even the groups singled out by Rhyd’s statement like the Dianics seem hardly like the new right in most ways–sure, they may not like trans people, but if they don’t seek to impact trans people outside of their own exclusionary religious circles, it doesn’t really matter–I may not agree with it, and in fact may think it’s quite stupid, but it is their right to believe that and to have associations which conform to those expectations, no matter how misguided I or anyone else might think they are.) People like Augustus Sol Invictus (let’s remember what happened when someone with those names had political power before–i.e. Elagabulus, and that ended so well…!?!) are playing another game entirely, as are many of the racist and exclusivist/exclusionary factions of Heathenry (most Northern Tradition folks are quite opposite in my experience, which is all the stranger that they were named in Rhyd’s original piece), Gaelic Traditionallism, and so forth. To broad brush all of polytheism and/or reconstructionism because of some of the bad apples, and to declare that “a reckoning” needs to take place within them as a result is extremely bad form; how is it any different than being a racist, or even being suspicious of some races, because some individuals among their populations have committed serious crimes (outside of the phenomenon of mass incarceration for minor offenses), or to being a homophobe and being suspicious of all queer people because of the existence of Jeffrey Dahmer, etc. The ease of falling into this particular mechanism of suspicion-and-exclusion, and a demand for “a reckoning” within all such groups as a result, is highly disturbing to me.

    The Greeks had their Archon Basileus, and the Romans their Rex Sacrorum, who were in the sacred roles that kings once had, but they had absolutely no political, legislative, or any other power outside of acting in a certain role within ritual. The same is true today of the Queen of England, the Emperor of Japan, and others. I think there is absolutely nothing wrong with this. If recon groups want to have that–and having various kingly or noble titles within self-selected membership groups that everyone consents to observing and respecting, which does exist on a rather wide basis at present (even outside of contexts like Theodism)–then why shouldn’t they, especially if there is no political component to it and no influence outside of the group in question?

    If, as Rhyd suggested, the question of “hierarchy” Is problematic, then he’s really in the wrong business. He has claimed both the titles of “bard” and “Awenydd,” and both of those are hierarchical in the original sense of the word (“leaders of holy things”) and in the latter-day sense of having a status elevated above others. There is literally no other meaning for these terms and titles apart from their descriptiveness within an established hierarchy. (We won’t get into whether or not anything apart from self-declaration deserves such titles, or what sorts of people might claim such things without requisite training, recognition by communities, or other such things.) This is one of many things that I find disingenuous about Rhyd’s statements–hierarchy is bad when it comes to anyone/anything else, but it’s fine for him to be the head of an organization like G&R, be a bard/Awenydd, and to be writing books that others can, do, and will find authoritative on certain matters…whether he likes that or not, and acknowledges its reality or not (in the post that links to yours here, he still seems to be “amazed” by the weight his opinions hold…he’s been blogging long enough, and has had enough successes, that if he didn’t realize this is the case, then his apprehension of reality generally speaking needs to be questioned). If, on Rhyd’s part, there is simply a lack of self-awareness on these matters, it’s lamentable; if there is an active hypocrisy or double standard in play, it’s dangerous.

    If he says he’s a polytheist, then it has more validity in his case than it does in many others who are attempting to appropriate the term for themselves, so that’s fine; but, just because he is a polytheist doesn’t mean that he has the right, the duty, or the authority to be calling for a critique of anyone or anything else which can be described as theologically polytheistic. A “critique from within” is utterly meaningless when the “within” attempting to be described is actually a great diversity of groups and individuals with whom one might not have any affiliation nor of whom one may have any useful knowledge.

    One of the points of the individuality of Deities and the relational nature inherent in polytheism is the requirement to get to know Deities personally through ritual, prayer, meditation, and other forms of human-divine relationship and participation. Extending that model to the wider cosmos, the land, and the human realms is also useful and important, and goes a long way in mitigating the forms of oppression, stereotyping, and (yes!) broad-brushing that make our world difficult to navigate for those who are in any way “beyond the typical” in their identities or characteristics. One in such a system would be ill-advised to assume anything about Deities that one had not previously encountered or interacted with; likewise, one would be ill-advised to do anything similar with people one had not met, nor organizations with which one had not had any experiences. That Rhyd is doing this, and assumes such things as “iethical questions cannot be challenged by concerned people because ‘the gods will it’” without knowing that any particular group suggests this–habitually or even occasionally–I think demonstrates that he hasn’t had a very fruitful understanding of the system of which he says he is a part.

    1. I did find the mention of the Dianics a stretch, as radical feminism is hated by the New Right, any kind of feminism for that matter. I don’t think the naming of specific groups was really appropriate either, and the ones he mentions as being immune have their own kind of problems, as anyone who has ever spent time in groups ruled by consensus know (although OBOD is a ranked benign one man rule order). But overall, I think Rhyd has done the wider communities much good with opening discussion on these matters, as the very comment sections of well-known devotional polytheists are full of far-right commentary at present. The outrage show he has touched some raw spots, a lot of people do not want examined or exposed to analysis. I think as the Right spreads rapidly like an arson-set blaze in these turbulent times we should be very vigilant to positions and beliefs that support New Right positions. They are dangerous. I read his piece to not so much say these things are common now, but can easily be lodged in our ‘flesh’ so to speak if we don’t up our defense, certainly in the example of ‘my gods told me to do it’, which I don’t think is happening now but could down the road and lead to murders and whatnot.

      Most importantly, religion is *always already* political. You might be a Catholic interpreting that tradition to bulwark the oligarchy, or you might practice liberation theology but politics will be there. Some of the people crying that they are ‘apolitical’ are actually vehement leftist-bashers and name callers–they are actually fervently political.

      I do think you are being unfair to Rhyd in the matter that he certainly is a bard. “Hierarchy” is a loaded and complex word, and people are using it without defining it and with different meanings across these debates. I’m a person always intrigued by etymology, but words mutate and make violent transformations even within a language, let alone in the leaps across languages; leading sacred rites is not the meaning in English. Perhaps, I will write something more about this (I believe in situational hierarchies–like your example of bard in the current day– but certainly not natural ones), but I would add I don’t think being put in a respected role is an example of hierarchy, but that’s enough for now. Yeah, what a vast field of discourse hierarchy brings up!

      Thanks for weighing in. 😉

  3. Pingback: I wasn’t going to say anything… | Aedicula Antinoi: A Small Shrine of Antinous

  4. Pingback: In Honor of a Sacred King – Finnchuill's Mast

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