Praxis: On Cruel Gods

In my recent post contributing to the ongoing discussion of miasma, I mentioned that I take a particularly orthopraxic and pragmatic approach to my spirituality, which has often placed me in the position of defending why I even have a religious practice in the first place. If the gods do not care about my day to day well-being, if I hold more vitriol towards them than adoration, and if my acts of devotion fall on deaf ears- then why would I worship such gods?

The simple and easy answer is that I was called to it- but that’s not completely true since I wholeheartedly believe that I could walk away from it if I chose to. That’s not to say I would not be massively negatively affected by this choice- but the choice is still mine to make. The more accurate answer is that I may have been too strongly influenced by Dune, Conan the Barbarian and Lord of the Rings as a child. It was very easy for me to look into the ether at a deity who would probably never know my name. I was more comfortable with that.

“Crom, I have never prayed to you before. I have no tongue for it. No one, not even you, will remember if we were good men or bad. Why we fought, or why we died. All that matters is that two stood against many. That’s what’s important! Valor pleases you, Crom… so grant me one request. Grant me revenge! And if you do not listen, then to HELL with you!” –Arnold Schwarzenegger as Conan; Conan the Barbarian (1982)

As I got older and learned the traditions of my Grandmother and made the decision to follow the traditions of my lineage but not the praxis, since I was removed from Home and it wouldn’t make sense- I found myself gradually drawing closer and closer to those primordial voices. Creatrix voices, entropic voices. And those voices were so old and hard that I couldn’t really understand them- though I did understand myself. A few years ago, a follower on my Tumblr had asked me to expound on what I meant when I spoke of gods who don’t care:

Cruel gods are proud, they demand nothing less than everything within you. When your knees give out and your chest aches from sobbing your prayers through clenched teeth, then they are satisfied. Understanding of the divine comes from agony. They are silent, always looking on, always watching the roads before you as you choose and choose again, until you no longer can understand which path is easier or which path is kinder. All roads are narrow and dangerous and eventually the stones will stop cutting your feet open.

Cruel gods smile when you fail, because they know that in the blink of an eye you will remember who you are and see the strength in your shoulders rise up. They did not teach you suffering for nothing.

They demand sacrifice of the most dear. Sometimes never to be returned because if it was something that you could live without, then it wasn’t as necessary as you believed. And while the hunger twists your belly and your heart into knots you could never hope to untangle, they are subtly sharpening the blades in your bones. Sometimes the best choice is to cut it loose.

Cruel gods point you to the places to test you, the places where you prove yourself again and again. Cruel gods look on as you pray, because they know that you have taught yourself how to survive and that your prayers are reminders to yourself more than anything else.

-V. C. Ulfgrim, “Cruelty in Ecstasy”

I am reminded of the Ecstasy of St. Teresa of Avila, a story that ultimately led to one of the most iconic Renaissance sculptures that Bernini ever created. In one of the most sexually charged accounts of a saint communing with the Holy Spirit, Teresa describes a vision that occurred with regularity during her meditations:

“It pleased our Lord that I would sometimes see this vision: very close to me, on my left, an angel appeared in human form… In his hands I saw a golden spear and at the end of the iron tip I seemed to see a point of fire. With this he seemed to pierce my heart several times so that it penetrated to my entrails. When he drew it out, I thought he was drawing them out with it, and he left me utterly consumed ecstasy-of-saint-teresaby the great love of God.

The pain was so sharp that it made me utter several moans; and so excessive was the sweetness caused me by this intense pain that one can never wish it to cease, nor will one’s soul be content with anything less than God.”

-An excerpt from Teresa of Avila’s autobiography.

Despite many popular New Age, pagan, and polytheist authorities and their vehement rage against “monotheist” religious beliefs- St. Teresa is an interesting figure, especially in her work as a female reformer within the Catholic church. One could learn quite a lot about religious devotion from her compiled works.

For myself- devotion is a physical act. To quote Robert E. Howard again concerning his Cimmerian warriors (which were strongly influenced by Viking, Pict and Gaelic groups of similar eras):

“When a Cimmerian feels thirst, it is a thirst for blood. When he feels cold, it is the cold edge of steel. For the courage of a Cimmerian is tempered: he neither fears death… nor rushes foolishly to meet it. To be a Cimmerian warrior, you must have both cunning and balance as well as speed and strength.”

While I can look at more metaphysical methods of spiritualities and understand them in a scholarly sense, I cannot bring myself to hold to them or really understand them in any way that I would be able to make use of them. Just as the Ulfhednar, the Berserkr, the Fianna, the Gallowglass and generations of warrior cults that came before them: every act of my physical development or change is a devotional act to my gods. If I’m making a sacrifice, it is in blood. And everything is tallied and accounted for, nothing that I cannot see or touch will suffice. Words and intentions are useless and empty. Gifts that I purchase or do not come from a place that I have to make the decision to give it up are paltry pleasantries.

There are many who would disagree with these sentiments- but to that I only say: you don’t walk my path. If you did, then you may be able to understand.

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