At the end of February, I had a dream that concerned me. A bulldozer came down the hill behind my house, destroying the wooded space until I could see my neighbors’ homes. Later in the day I went out to my backyard to see that someone had destroyed my shrines. Every last one. All of them Roman – Altars included. Busted and broken. Scattered.
I was terrified. I ran to my home, slamming the door shut, but all the locks were broken. I kept looking for my dog (which in reality I don’t have), but I couldn’t find him to protect me from whatever it was coming for me. Everything was going to be destroyed and they were coming for me. No one was there to help me.
The next day in my waking life, a friend was kind enough to come sit down and look into the space. I was scared for my hill. I was scared about being attacked somehow, and I made sure to ward my home more than I had in years. I realized I wasn’t really in danger, but it scared me all the same. We sat next to the man-made stream and sat with the hill.
As we got to talking, she said that there was something coming. That it was big, dark, and cold. I remember chuckling, because I know Who she was talking about, because I’ve spent so long with Him now. I admitted I was still scared, though, because I couldn’t see what was on the horizon. So much of my life is up in the air and prone to change at any moment radically.
She asked me why I thought what was coming was a bad thing.
That answer was both easy and hard to answer. Despite the chaos of all the changes in the last few years and the rending away of things that didn’t really matter, I’d held on tightly to other things that I’d worked so hard to obtain for myself – Things that had been my anchor during other points of upheaval in my life. Things that I always fell back on when I felt like I didn’t have anything else.
What I was talking about were my Gods, the Roman pantheon, and the rituals that layout the groundwork of Roman polytheism.
I knew that my path wasn’t meant to remain in Roman cultus, but it’s been hard to let go of. The Roman Revivalist group on Facebook is one of the few friendly and (relatively) drama free Pagan/polytheist groups I’ve ever been in, and I’m very proud of the members being willing to work to keep it peaceful and open. (It’s like we can all be adults on the internet or something!) I’d started the project of laying out framework for bringing more user-friendly education out, though that’s been stalled for so long. I was offered a blog about Roman polytheism on PaganSquare.
All of this happened the same month I was told by more than one person that my home wasn’t going to remain in Roman polytheism. My journey was going to go elsewhere. These things had just been fought for or had fallen into my lap. At the time I thought eventually I’d publish some work and build a stronger community. I didn’t want to give that up. The relatively small Roman community, especially at that point, didn’t have a lot of voices in the larger Pagan and polytheist communities. As someone who slowly came into the bravery to say, “Yes, I am a Roman polytheist despite not being a stringent reconstructionist,” I was, and still am, afraid that the wrong voices will try to fill the void in the larger community. I’m afraid they will be taken seriously.
People say we need to keep politics out of religion, and to some degree I agree. I think the various religious communities in the larger community should take responsibility to remove those who are likely going to do more damage by speaking even subtly (but obviously) about things like racism. If people put the word minority in quotation marks, for instance, that’s a sign to me that maybe they are harboring some sort of race issue. To me that’s concerning, because if they’re given a platform to speak in an area where there’s a void of authoritative voices, we find things possibly taking an ugly turn. If you see them swinging around accusations of fascism without any proof what-so-ever given to the community to judge, it’s equally as dangerous.
Especially if they’ve expressed more than once that they want to be in a place of leadership and have their hand in our traditions. Even more so when they’ve said it regularly and have years worth of blog posts bragging about their power, authority, and greatness while talking down to any group they see as less worthy than them.
More concerning to me, though, is that people are aligning with these two extremes. They’re giving them a platform to speak and that inevitably hands them power. Power in a place where their words can reach the ears of those who may be vulnerable or needing guidance, because despite us not being monotheists we still have those vulnerable and searching for the truth. Our lack of vetted clergy and professionally trained support systems makes it everyone’s duty to watch out for those we claim are in our communities and tribes. When we choose no leaders, when we revel in our lack of hierarchy, when we deny the need for education in our clergy due to fear that man will be corrupted by power, but still rallying to the sides of those who are the simply loudest, we are required to step up and care for our own. The loudest and most charismatic become our leaders, and when drama is kicked up people are made or broken in the shuffle to take sides.
If you don’t consider yourself a part of the larger community, but you’re still selling services, educational materials, or items made specifically for the community that means you’re a member of it whether you want to be or not. Many times those doing so are considered leaders or educators, and if they don’t see that then they are sadly not doing their duty to the group of people who are paying at least some of their income. This may sound like it’s directed at a single person or one side, but it’s not. Those who are in leadership positions of any capacity have a moral responsibility to protect their community from extremism, and we need to set aside our need to be right about something to realize that extremism comes in many, many forms.
In my moments away from blogging in the last few months and doing my best to stay out of this recent polarized The Neo-Right and Progressives are Eating Our Babies drama has made me realize something. We waste so much time debating and warring against each other that could be spent building our traditions. We do it on Facebook. We do it on blogs. We do it one other social media… Except maybe Pinterest, but that’s only because no one has written a blog on how to preserve the heads of our enemies in mason jars yet. Though I’m sure someone is working on it.
I stop nearly every day and ask myself, “Is what I’m spending my time on what I want my legacy to be? Is this how I want to be remembered if I were to die tomorrow?”
Lately I’ve been saying no a lot. Especially when it comes to my religious community and my place within it.
A week or two ago one morning when I was drinking my coffee, I looked out my back window at my hill to see this:
The cloud of dirt as the trees and plants were broken or ripped from the ground looked like what I’d seen in my dream. I don’t live in a forest overlooking a lake, and my back yard isn’t covered in shrines due to having an open yard. The hill is there, though, and the spirit living there and I have been talking for much longer than I’ve lived here. It’s not happy with the changes coming, and really neither am I. The wild space is getting smaller and smaller where we are.
It was warning to brace myself for what was to come. I just didn’t know what.
A few days ago I realized that I’m tired. I’ve heard myself say all too often lately that I just want to be the witch by herself in the forest that’s left to her own devices. I’m tired of the fact that no matter what I say someone will always come along and tell me how I’m wrong. Most of the time that involves personal attacks or some expectation that I’m going to cave because someone doesn’t want me where I am. I am endlessly thankful for those who stand up for me while I sometimes struggle in finding my words, because sometimes it takes me a while these days. Two days ago someone accused me of supporting a group which is considered a dangerous cult and is run by a convicted child molester. They had decided that due to my announcement that I’m a progressive democratic socialist (a fact that has never been hidden, mind you); the humorous thing to me is I’d never even heard of the group and had to look it up. Others people in the Facebook group stood up for my choice to ban someone who had a history of being openly racist and polarizing. I finally got my shock and anger in check enough to stand up for myself.
But I was left with this entirely too realistic feeling that I’m done. I’m done with the constant assault of new people coming into the group and invariably having to learn that in some parts of the Pagan/polythiest internet, there’s a group that doesn’t run in a way that is regularly business as usual with insults and shit-flinging. This shouldn’t have to be a thing we deal with. We shouldn’t allow for disruptive voices and a lack of common decency, but as a whole our community is a petri dish for it.
This week I also found everything finally fell into place and I realized fully what my entire journey over the last few years meant. I realized where I’m going religiously. I realized what I’m meant to be doing with all of it. And I really, really realized how emotionally done with the larger Roman community I am, because we are absolutely infamous for being a bunch of stringently petty assholes with too many obscure sources to look down upon the less educated.
I have spent so much of my energy on trying to change that over the last few years, and somehow there is a constant influx of people coming into my world who attack me typically due to something personal – My sexual orientation, my gender, my disability, or my politics that have been absolutely woven into the movement I’ve been trying to build with others. And they do that because on the internet the loudest and most aggressively knowledgeable or verbally charged are the ones who gain power.
Recently I’ve seen some discussion and suggestion about how we can keep our elders and leaders in our communities. Typically they involve giving them more power (and maneuvering for said position). You know what the number one step should be?
We should quit being assholes. (Myself included.)
My swan song in the Roman community is being sung at the point where I see how the future has the possibility for some very, very bleak moments that will never foster the type of activity that makes the polytheistic traditions of Rome having a major voice in the larger community. I see a handful of voices shouting out above the constant drone of drama and dreams of temples being rebuilt, but save for those few voices I have yet to see the work done that would bring the traditions to their full potential and awareness in the larger community. I’ve seen bullying and posturing.
The Roman community is a microcosm for the larger polytheist community. I’m sure these struggles have played out in multiple places over the ages. I’m not entirely sure I will see a future where the people I’ve met over the years, those who I feel have a good grasp of what the true beauty of Religio Romana or Cultus Deorum is, aren’t worn down by the masses wishing to dominate with their self-weighed superior scholarly skills.
Y’all, our rituals are supposed to be what’s perfected, not our accumulated book knowledge. More than once in my life I’ve been chided about my focus on the home cultus over the grand festivals of the State religion. Rome, they say, was a religion of the community. What they fail to understand is that without the flame in the hearth being fed every day, the People starve, and if the People starve than there is no one there to honor the Gods as a community.
There is no larger community if the flame goes out.
If our traditions are tiny candles being lit across the world one-by-one in homes, how do we get the fire built to feed not only the Gods but the communities we wish to build? How do we feed the flame instead of fanning the fire that makes it burn too hot and fast? What do we need to do to keep the fires burning in our hearth? The blazing funeral pyre destroys. It doesn’t nourish. There is no future if, in the deepest darkest of nights, the flame goes out. We freeze to death instead.
These are the questions I’ve been asking myself while this blog has been generally silent. I’m not sure I have answers yet, nor do I think I, alone, will ever have all them.
And for those of you worried that I’m going to run off from my community duties as soon as I hit publish on this, don’t worry. I’m still going to stick around to wander into certain groups and say, “Hey, you crazy kids, be nice to each other” for at least a little while longer. At least until I know my old sandbox is in safe hands.
I just can’t say I’m a Roman polytheist anymore.
My shrines have been destroyed and scattered by my neighbors. My altars tumbled. Well, metaphorically. I’m not that impious.
But you know what? There’s freedom in that.
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