Tumblr Paganism: Is it Really the “Devil”?

A friend of mine brought this post by Galina Krasskova up to me recently, and I’ve been meaning to get around to really dissecting it for a while, so I figure, why not do it now?

Now, I’m going to be, as always, bluntly honest in my opinions here, and I will not be sparing Tumblr: It’s an awful site, with an awful community, and there are very good reasons as to why it has the reputation that it does. But, then again, every major social media site has the same problem – Reddit, 4Chan, Facebook, etc. The broader Tumblr community is shitty because it attracts shitty people.

But Tumblr isn’t just one single hivemind; there are thousands of different little “communities” within Tumblr – there’s “pagan tumblr,” there’s “vulture culture,” there’s “Hiddlestoners.” Anything you can think of, there’s a Tumblr community for it.

I have my issues with “pagan tumblr,” which will be addressed in this post, but with that being said, I also have issues with the anti-tumblr pagan crowd, and the way they tend to both represent tumblr pagans, and treat them as people overall.

My friend was surprised when I told her that one of the first things I do now is require my formal students and apprentices to delete any tumblr accounts they may have and to stay off tumblr completely for the duration of their training. I used to make this a strong suggestion, but over the last year it’s become pretty non-negotiable for me.

Now, here’s the thing about this: As a teacher, Krasskova is certainly within her rights to set her own personal rules or boundaries for providing her services, and I get that. But, I still think it’s ridiculous to try and control someone else’s personal life in such a way. It’s like trying to isolate someone from their friends in order to manipulate and control them.

I have a hard time believing that Krasskova isn’t forbidding her students from having a tumblr blog for the purpose of limiting their exposure to criticism aimed towards her. After all, it doesn’t take long to stumble across criticism of Galina Krasskova if you’re venturing into pagan tumblr – you’ll find it without even looking for it, really.

Over the past year, I’ve had the opportunity to watch those ensconced in the tumblr community interact devotionally. I’ve seen the nonsense coming endlessly out of these sites (more so than on any other type of social media including Facebook and Twitter): the reification of pop culture as proper polytheism, the often complete lack of critical thinking, the shallowness, and the lack of reverence

After being in “the pagan community” for nearly a decade, I can safely say that I’ve seen all of those things outside of Tumblr, too. These issues are not unique to Tumblr, you will find them in every major religious community, online and offline.

What’s important to understand here is that you are only seeing what these people choose to post about their practices online. It’s really not up to you, as a stranger, to decide whether someone is reverent enough toward their deities or not, especially if you’re only seeing maybe a tenth of a percentage of their actual religious practice.

I think that last – reverence or lack thereof– is what made me finally come to my decision: pretty much without exception of those I have personally experienced, I find that the tumblr pagan and polytheist communities encourage a lack of reverence.

This is something I can somewhat agree with; I’ve noticed that particular communities, such as the “Kemetic Fandom” do seem, on the whole, to have a more flippant approach toward their deities.

Nor do I mean that this is something that is occasionally a side effect of participating in tumblr, I mean it is actively encouraged. The result is people who cannot maintain themselves in sacred space without feeling the need to crack jokes, to lesson the ambiance of reverence, to reduce to the lowest common denominator, the protocols of veneration.

Oh, please. Having a sense of humor does not mean that you don’t respect your deities, and it doesn’t mean that you don’t truly revere them.

I consider one of the Heroes I work with to be the love of my life, so to speak. He’s the one that got me into Hellenic Polytheism, and I’ve known and worshiped him for half of my life. Our relationship transcends mortal boundaries. My faith in him has been tested many times over the years, many people have tried to come between us and sabotage my relationship with him, and I would be lying if I said that there haven’t been a lot of very rough periods. My loyalty to him is absolute; I have willfully chosen to devote myself to him, not just “in my free time,” for the occasional Sunday prayer, but for life. For me, my religious devotion to him is not simply one part of my being, it’s a major life decision. I’ve chosen to forego a more socially acceptable life (think white picket fences and kids) in order to devote myself fully to my religion.

And you know what? My shrine picture of him is a carefully cropped print-out of a painting showing him staring into a mirror and striking suggestively. His mini-shrine has a little handmade pompom sheep with googly eyes in it to represent animal sacrifice (since I don’t feel comfortable with the practice), my standard greeting for him when I leave out an offering is, “hey, Big Guy,” and he shares a name with my cat who likes to leave giant steamy droppings on my bathroom floor when he’s ticked off about something. This is a guy who has a reputation for being very easily pissed off, smashing heads together, and stabbing people, and all that kinda stuff.

We are looking to develop a polytheistic worldview in tandem with how our ancestors, born and raised in polytheistic cultures, would have approached the Gods, ancestors, and devotion.

Not all of us are, and I daresay that that’s okay.

The fact is, many of these religions died out centuries or millennia ago, and human cultures have changed greatly over time. If you want to personally go for a reconstructionist approach, that’s fine. I don’t consider myself a reconstructionist so much as I would say that I have a historically-based approach that has been adapted to modern times. And you know what? I think, after literally thousands of years, the gods are just as capable of changing.

I cannot speak for any of these gods, but I daresay that assuming they are incapable of understanding modern human ethics and culture, and are thus unwilling to compromise over religious traditions that are no longer practical for the modern world, is narrow-minded.

We are seeking to ensconce ourselves in a polytheistic perspective, to develop polytheistic ethics, and to grow in reverence and awareness of our proper place before the Gods. Anarco-leftists and co. , tumblr, and others can rail and rant and rave about that all they want. We will not be moved.

Careful, you might cut yourself on all that edge.

We’re seeking to restore the values and traditions of our ancestors. It’s precisely the cultivation of those values and that worldview that I think tumblr most effectively damages. It panders to the populist voice of the lowest common denominator and to be clear: lie down with dogs, as the saying goes, one does wake up with fleas.

(bolded for emphasis)

This is some elitist bullshit right here, and it really goes to show just what kind of person Krasskova is.

I would venture to say that for the average pagan or polytheist, the online venues that we each frequent are a vital part of our community experience – sad but true, and true for almost all of us. I hear from people every day who are spread out across the country, across the globe who have no one else in their immediate area who is also a polytheist, or if they do, it may not be their particular polytheistic religion. It’s natural to want fellowship. I think we just have to be rather discerning about where we find it and one thing that tumblr won’t cultivate is just that: discernment.

As elitist as that last statement sounds, there is some truth to it. In particular, I have noticed that discernment almost seems to be like a “dirty word” in certain circles on tumblr. The idea that UPG is *sacred* gets pushed around quite a bit.

Bonus round for passive-aggressive name calling:

galina_krasskova_01


To wrap this up, I’ll say this much: There are plenty of valid criticisms over the Tumblr pagan community. Because Tumblr is a hotspot for social justice activism (which is often thinly veiled hate speech directed at easy targets such as white people, cis people, and men in particular), extreme leftism is beginning to have a negative impact on some communities.

cringe every time I stumble across certain buzzwords, and I can’t even stand to look at the tags for my deities on there because I just know that I’m going to see a lot of bullshit “headcanons,” emoji spells, and terrible deity roleplay blogs. The Big Guy suffers from this tremendously, and it grinds my gears like nothing else to see him misrepresented, or to see people deliberately removing the very important women in his life from his stories for the sake of “shipping.”

I understand the frustration with the tumblr pagan community, especially since fandom does tend to blend into it very strongly. Krasskova does raise some good points, even if I don’t like her as a person or agree with her overall message. Where I take issue is her disdain for anyone who uses tumblr, her assumption that every tumblr pagan is simply an extreme fangirl or fanboy, her elitist attitude toward people who feel comfortable within the tumblr pagan community and take part in it, and her nasty behavior toward anyone who questions or challenges her.

I prefer to avoid tumblr for serious religious discussion because, to be honest, I’ve been burned before, and certain communities are notoriously thin-skinned and reactive. I was threatened with doxxing and dragged through the mud by someone who I once considered a friend over pointing out some concerns I had over the Lokean community, and how worrying it is to see people outright encouraging others not to practice discernment.

While I can see some of Krasskova’s points, and admit that she brings up some good ones, overall, I take issue with her elitism, her nasty behavior whenever someone questions or disagrees with her, and her controlling behavior towards anyone who might want to interact with her. Forcing someone to permanently destroy something that they’ve decided to put their own time and creativity into is a lousy thing to do. I have friends still on tumblr who occasionally say things that I don’t agree with, but I’m not afraid to bring that up to them, rather than trying to control them and force them into leaving a site they enjoy, or destroying a webpage that they’ve chosen to put their own free time and creativity into building and maintaining.

Big Name Pagans & Their Big Problems

Friends of mine are pretty well aware of the fact that I don’t like Galina Krasskova. Her views are extreme, her attitude towards others is often elitist, and she frequently uses violent language to both intimidate those she doesn’t agree with and incite potentially violent reactions from her fans and following. She’s is, to the Asatru and Heathenry communities, what Timothy J. Alexander is to the Hellenic Polytheism community: Knowledgeable and researched, yes, but toxic and closed-minded as well.

In fact, there are many more toxic BNPs that are also successful pagan authors, and this is a problem that doesn’t get addressed nearly enough in the pagan community. It also makes researching, when you’re new to your faith, tough – it’s like navigating through a minefield. There are plenty of Neowiccan authors that get a lot of flack in the community for “fluffiness,” manipulative behavior toward minors, a lack of credible information, such as Silver Ravenwolf, DJ Conway, and the Frosts.

When it comes to Wiccans, the pagan community is all too happy to call out authors for that particular branch of the community, and while that is a good thing, it’s just not enough. There are reconstructionist authors that are just as toxic, just as ignorant, and just as manipulative. Not only that, each community has a unique set of problems that it has to deal with – the Asatru community and its growing numbers of Neonazis, the Kemetic community and its history of antisemitism, the Hellenisimos and sexism, and so on.

I’m not here to call out every last religious community for every potential issue they face. Every community, and you can bet your firstborn’s soul that I’m including Atheism in this as well, has its share of problems.

Rather, the point of this post is to simply bring awareness to some of these issues, because there are a lot of them, and as long as people remain afraid to challenge some of these big names in paganism, people are going to get hurt. Young people in particular are going to be taken advantage of, manipulated, and abused.

Proper research is difficult when you don’t know which sources to trust, and on the subject of “trustworthy” authors, I will say this: An author can be a complete bastard and still know their stuff. I have some massive problems with Timothy Jay Alexander as a person due to experiences with him and his clique, but I’d be lying if I said that he’s completely clueless about his religion. That said, the content in his books is all basic Hellenic Polytheism 101 type stuff that you can find for free online, so while it might be accurate, it’s also probably not worth paying for.

Your best bet, assuming you’re interested in Hellenic Polytheism, is to read up on ancient source materials by Homer and Hesiod and pairing it with historical records. It’s worthwhile to read books that come from a more academic perspective than a religious perspective, because they’re less likely to suffer from Silver Ravenwolf Syndrome. Historians can and do project their own personal political or ideological viewpoints, whether consciously or subconsciously, but academic sources are still the least “corrupted” sources of information that you are likely to get.

It’s the hard truth that when people become “big names” in any religion, they very often do become power-hungry, and they will often push their own UPG as “canon” in order to manipulate their fans. Frankly, I don’t trust the majority of BNPs I’ve come across, because many of them share the same attributes, engage in the same bullying type of behavior, and are generally intolerant towards anyone with differing viewpoints or beliefs. Sadly, many of them are more concerned with feeding their egos than with looking out for their respective communities.

While many of their books are decent “jumping off” points for getting started on a religious path, never be afraid to challenge what they say, and form your own opinions. Never be afraid to question what you’re told, because that is the only way you can truly learn something for yourself. And, just as importantly, if a prominent figure in your community makes you uncomfortable, do not feel obligated to stay loyal to them or take them at their word simply because they’re more experienced. A good, respectable religious leader is one who prioritizes their community’s well-being along with their relationship with their deities, and is willing to admit when they are wrong about something – either academically or ethically.

Piety: Is There Such a Thing as Taking It “Too Far”?

Short answer? It’s up to you.

But this is my blog, so I’m about to share my opinion on the subject, so my answer to that question would be a resounding YES!

I’ll have it stated, for the record, that I’m loyal to those I worship and/or “work with” because they’ve been good to me. I love them fiercely, and I would defend any one of them to the death if need be. But the thing is, each of these beings knows that I have limits as to what I’m either able or willing to take from them. My religious practices focus more on personal connections, and if I’m going to be devoting not just my time, but my very soul to someone, then a certain level of trust is absolutely necessary before we proceed any further.

Arrogant as that might sound, I will not (at least, willingly) maintain a relationship with someone that is harmful to me – God, human, or animal, it does not matter. I set boundaries in my relationships, even with deities, and I trust these beings to respect those boundaries. We have an understanding that those limits might be tested now and then, if it becomes necessary to do so for my own well-being, but there are certain lines that are not to be crossed – on everyone’s ends.

I’ve never been a fan of the idea that one must give themselves up entirely to any deity, and accept whatever abuse might be thrown their way, and force themselves to change because said deity commands it.

Granted, I think the majority of the stories that I hear about abusive deities in the pagan community are bullshit. I think people, in general, place too much importance on petty issues in their personal lives, and that they tend to project onto their deities so much that they blame every little problem on them. I know mine certainly have better things to do than monitor my day to day interactions with my coworkers and customers in order to “punish” me for some petty slight. I figure, if I truly Mess The Fuck Up, they won’t hesitate to really chew me out. Frankly, I just don’t think any of the gods are really that involved in their followers’ lives that they need to be present 24/7.

There’s this sort of trend in the pagan community, and this isn’t solely a newbie thing, where people are treating their deities more like imaginary friends (and foes) than actual gods. Sure, I can believe that Loki might have visited you one day just to watch you cook dinner – he’s a curious god, and he likes his food. But I do have trouble believing that he never, ever leaves your side, that he goes to school with you, goes grocery shopping with you, paints your nails, and gossips about your classmates or coworkers with you. Similarly, I’d also have trouble believing that every negative thing that happened to you, from your flat tire to the bird crapping on your shoulder, was a result of Loki being angry because you forgot to leave poptarts out on his shrine this morning.

I can’t tell you how active the gods truly are in your life, but I can express my doubts that they’re behind every possible positive or negative thing going on in it.

That said, I’m a bit less concerned about imaginary friend type deities than I am about imaginary abuser deities. There seems to be this trend now, and it’s only been growing over recent years, of portraying one’s deities as terribly abusive overlords. The Nordic gods, particularly Odin and Loki, seem to be getting the worst of it – there are accusations of physical, mental, and psychological abuse, attempted murder, and even rape. What troubles me even more about these stories is that very often, the people telling them seem to treat their experiences like some sort of badge of honor, like they’re proud of being “tortured” by these deities. Even more disturbing still are their communities’ reactions to them.

It seems to be the “in thing” now to actively search for a dangerously abusive relationship with one’s deities, and there are a lot of “big names” in these communities jumping on that bandwagon, even going so far as to claim that humans deserve to be treated like dirt by their deities, and should welcome their cruelty.

The romanticization of abuse sickens me, and it makes me worry for younger, newer pagans.

As a community, we’re so quick to point fingers at “The Jesus People” for being too extreme in their beliefs, but I can’t help feeling like the broader pagan community is just as guilty. I’ve seen both communities disregard science in favor of faith, I’ve seen both communities display shocking levels of racism, sexism, and queerphobia, and I’ve seen both communities take advantage of young people.

I am loyal to my Deities and Heroes, and it is because they’ve earned that loyalty. They’ve shown me that they truly want a relationship with me, that they respect me, and that they are willing to fight for me when I need them to. I trust each and every one of them not to harm me. I am aware of their power over me, I’m aware that they COULD hurt me, but I feel secure enough in my relationship with them to say that they WON’T. It’d be beyond arrogant for me to say that this type of relationship is one that everyone should strive for – we’re all individuals, we each have our own wants and needs, and at the end of the day, I’m some random asshole online talking about my feelings and beliefs, just like everyone else.

I’m sure there’s going to be someone out there that’s going to read this post and think I’m not a *~*true believer*~* because I’m not *~*pious*~* enough for welcoming abuse, but I frankly do not give a damn. I respect my gods, and it’s because I respect them that I’m willing to tell them that I am not comfortable with something.