I hadn’t planned to write the present post, but I’m going to strike while the iron is hot and the idea is fresh in my mind (even though there’s loads of other things to be doing at present)…
I had one of my semi-regular, very good conversations with my Anomalous Thracian colleague a short while ago, and a particular point emerged that I think is something that has been lost, and perhaps may not have ever even been on the radar at all for many people, in regards to the pagan blogosphere.
We are generally lacking in a clearly-defined audience.
This was brought to a very sharp point recently when Dver wrote the following post with the title/subject line “For Polytheists,” and had this to say at the start:
(I feel like I should probably label ALL such posts this way, just so it’s crystal clear that I’m directing my comments at fellow polytheists and not at the general pagan crowd. I’m not interested in arguing IF the gods are real, I am interested in delving into more detailed discussion requiring the understanding first that the gods ARE real. If you don’t feel that way, nothing in this necessarily applies to you.)
And, that post got a ton of hits and page-reads, because it is connected to a current “hot topic” in the polytheist (and occasionally pagan) blogosphere; and, Dver then made this post detailing how it was an experiment to test the hypothesis that many people read and comment on blog posts that are “controversial” just to argue, whereas the actual writing that we do as polytheists detailing our devotions, or our personal practices and theologies and experiences, often result in the internet’s equivalent of crickets. This, in itself, spirals into a variety of other issues that are wider than the one I would like to presently address, but nonetheless, I’d suggest reading the latter post in particular for some insight into the direction I’d like to take with the present, which itself results from the conversation I had with my Anomalous Thracian colleague, but which also has further implications and connections to other posts here in recent history.
I shall have to get personal now–and by “personal,” I mean “relating to things that are directly relevant to myself.”
When I started this blog, I honestly didn’t have much of an idea of what it would become or where it would end up going; what it essentially seemed to be for me was a public face of my “ministry,” such as it is, for Antinous, for the purposes of Antinoan devotion, and as a quasi-public forum for the Ekklesía Antínoou, since our Yahoo!Group is not (and, mostly, never has been) much of a place for discussion of both devotional, practical, and theological issues as much as I’d prefer it to be. As you can see by the word cloud of the tags on the right sidebar of the page you’re looking at now (if you’re reading this on my WordPress site), “Antinous” is still the biggest name on the list, and I suspect it shall always remain that way–partially because I usually tag every divine name in a given post, but also because, quite literally, I try and either find or if necessary put Antinous into everything that I do here–it’s a virtual shrine to him, so that only seems sensible, right? But a variety of words have come and gone, and increased or decreased in size over the years I’ve been writing this blog within that word cloud of tags. “Paganism” and “polytheism” are also quite large, as is “Poetry”–and I’m especially glad of the latter, because I place that tag on any post I do that includes new and original poetry that I’ve written (although I’ve missed doing so a few times), so that indicates to me that I’ve been keeping up with my devotional writing goals to Antinous and many other gods (although nowhere near as much as I’d prefer…but I’d have to quit my job and no longer sleep to make that possible).
I could say much more on this, and reflect a great deal more on what that tag word cloud says about what I’ve been doing here, but that’s not the main point of the present. The point I’m trying to make on this issue is that I never expected that this blog would be anything other than an Ekklesía Antínoou individual rostrum, so to speak, and a public voice for my particular brand of Antinoan devotion.
When I started out on Patheos.com’s Pagan Channel in 2011 (I think) as a regular columnist, I expected that would mostly be a column having to do with queer theological matters; and yet, polytheological matters have come up just as often–and, to an extent, this fact has demonstrated to me that polytheism is far more “queer” within modern paganism than it is mainstream, or even subcultural. And, more could be said about all of that as well…
But, to come back to the larger point I’m trying to make:
I never expected that three-plus years on, this blog (and the Patheos.com “Queer I Stand” column, to a lesser extent), and thus my voice, would be a “major” voice in the increasing dialogue on polytheism for modern pagans. And yet, here we are…
Now, some of that expectation above is due to (actual!) modesty, and I think it’s a modesty that is not only appropriate but also is borne out by numbers. While I do think that a major function and role that I fulfill in the world is to be a “P.R. Agent” for Antinous and for several other divine beings that are close to him (as well as any other gods who come into the mix for whatever reason and in whichever context), let’s face it–the majority of modern pagans, as well as many polytheists: a) haven’t heard of Antinous; b) don’t care about Antinous to the point where they’d like to hear about him; and c) even if they have heard about him, still aren’t that interested in him devotionally. The total number of people worldwide, at present, who are interested in Antinoan devotion is probably in the low 100s (certainly no more than 500, I’m guessing); the total number of those who are actually doing serious and long-term devotional work for him at present is probably not more than 100, and is almost certainly no more than 200. Even if all of the latter read my blog daily (which they most assuredly do not!), that doesn’t account for the additional 70 or more actual (non-spammer) people who look at pages from my blog each day. I’ve been averaging around 200 page hits a day for a few months now, of which 5 to 60 are spammers. So, who are those 140-to-190 people–though, far more likely, let’s say half of that, if someone looks at the main page and then at one specific blog entry to read the comments, so more like 70 to 90–who keep coming back here day after day to read things?
A fair few are random internet searchers who happen upon this blog and find posts on Sikhs or the difference between theology and philosophy; and lately, a huge number are also interested in the latter stages of Floralia, for some reason. (Hmm.)
But, who are the rest? Are they Antinoans? Are they general polytheists? Are they general pagans? Or are they not aligned with any of these things specifically, and yet find things here that they enjoy reading and coming back to for whatever reason?
I don’t really know–and, I hate to say this, and I’m ashamed to admit this, but I have honestly not really thought much about it before now.
I am here writing to represent my own ideas on a lot of things–not the thoughts or opinions of my god Antinous, nor any other gods, nor of the Ekklesía Antínoou generally–and if people want to read them/listen to them/partake of them, that’s fine with me. I do tend to have in mind a theoretical group of Antinoans sitting in the “front row” of the auditorium in this theatre of the mind that is the present blog, with perhaps a few Celtic Recons in the third or fourth rows (and several Antinoan-CRs in the second row), some syncretists, recons, and general polytheists filling much of the middle of the auditorium, and in the cheap seats in the back (so to speak) a few others who have wandered in, sometimes halfway through “the show,” and had a few bucks for a ticket (in this conceit, a few moments of time not taken up with something else) and stuck around for the remainder of the performance. I’m grateful that I am, more often than not, “playing to a packed house” these days, but that “packed house” is a small local auditorium that was likely once a church (like the one above, where I’ve seen many shows over the years!), and not Carnegie Hall, and not some sports arena that is being used to host a major international rock star’s latest concert.
I suspect most of us in the polytheist blogosphere have a similar (though contextually altered) type of theoretical audience in mind as we write, though most of us have not taken the time to define that audience or to make it clear to whom they’re writing at any given point–and, I don’t think that’s necessarily a “bad thing,” but I don’t know if it is a “good thing” either. I suspect we don’t want to define that audience too strictly so that we don’t alienate people, or lose them, or attempt to exclude them, and I think that’s an entirely good intention to have. I have learned immeasurably from polytheist blogs that are far outside of the various traditions, cultures, and deities with whom I have any connection (tenuous or otherwise), and I think that’s a wonderful thing.
And yet, it is becoming more and more obvious as the months progress this year that this lack of clearly defined audience is not only a problem for we who are polytheist bloggers, it’s a problem for the readers as well. Let me try to explain that.
I suspect (and not in any way that indicates malice or ill intent) that there’s been an assumption amongst the modern pagan reading audience (including polytheists–and I do include myself in this category for what follows) that, because we’re a small group, and we’re also a group that values diversity and actively seeks it out, that therefore we have carte blanche to read whatever we like that might fall into the “pagan” category. In and of itself, I don’t think there’s any problem there. What I further suspect, though, is that because of that interest in diversity, and the assumption (often more assumed than actual) that such interests in diversity are held equally by everyone else within the “pagan” umbrella, that therefore anything and everything that is written should be applicable to ME (the given reader in question, at whatever point, and whoever it happens to be). If it isn’t applicable to ME, or it in some way excludes or offends ME…well, then, isn’t that what the comments section is for? To tell the person writing that they’re wrong, that they’ve left ME out, that they haven’t taken into account ME and all the ways that the given ME is the exception to those trends, the exemplar of those virtues that are said to be so sadly lacking in the community generally, and so forth?
It’s uncomfortable to admit it, but I have to say, I’ve been guilty of this on many more occasions than I’d like to acknowledge.
And, sometimes, I think it is a good thing, and it leads to useful modifications in thought and practice for many of us–not only those upon whose writings we’re commenting, but also in our own practices and thoughts ourselves as a result of the useful (or, sometimes, cantankerous) conversations that follow.
I also suspect that such comments and the exceptions we feel that we are to the initial entires in question are more frequent in some cases than in others where the presumed audience is a kind of “universalizing” paganism (or even, more strictly, polytheism), which then doesn’t account for the actual diversity amongst the many and varied MEs that exist. We then feel excluded–because we have been–or marginalized or erased, and we react accordingly, sometimes with more tact and reserve, and sometimes with an awful lot of venom and spite. (Again, guilty of both things here on different occasions, so I point fingers mainly at myself here–I did say above that this was “personal,” didn’t I?)
The above is exactly what lead to this entry a few days ago, which is what resulted in one of the highest numbers of page reads I’ve had ever on this blog. As eventually became apparent, after speaking with Rev. Don Frew in the comments there, the ME who writes this blog (and is writing this now!) was actually not the intended audience for what he wrote which offended me and made me (and others) feel excluded.
Don then made a further point in his comments to me, which has many interesting implications that I’ve discussed privately with other individuals, that kind of takes these matters in a further direction: there were a ton of comments on The Wild Hunt’s blog entry that mentioned his article originally, but there were absolutely none on the website where the article itself appeared–and, if there were objections that could be voiced to his article, that would have been the most appropriate place to have voiced such objections.
Further to this point, I’ve actually seen some polytheists write in comments recently on other polytheists’ blogs that they have felt it better to write posts on their objections to some things in their own blogs rather than in comments or e-mails to the individuals involved, and that there is a kind of ethic involved in this–which may have to do with any or all of the following: hospitality and its abuses (i.e. being a good guest, and thus not raising objections in “someone else’s house” and bringing strife therein as a result); not caring what other people think, and thus not addressing comments to them because what one thinks about others and what they think about oneself are not anyone’s business but one’s own; or, perhaps in more general and non-specifically positional terms, just “not being a jerk” (whether one is actually being a jerk or not) and trying to avoid the trollery which is so rampant amongst internet users generally these days. (I’m happy that the present blog has been reasonably free of this sort of activity for most of its life, but we get some occasionally…)
Thus, conversations go on in the polytheist communities which the larger pagan community has no idea about at all, and could probably care less about, because we don’t take our concerns to that community. There are potential good and bad points on both sides of that matter: the general pagan community doesn’t care what we think or say or do, thus they don’t need to know what we’re doing, and yet because they don’t know what we’re doing they make no effort to accommodate us even though they theoretically include us and think that they are inclusive of us; and the polytheist communities feel ostracized and not accommodated in more general modern paganism, and thus we draw back even more into our own circles and make fewer to no further efforts to reach out to that wider set of communities.
[And, yes, of course, there are exceptions. Some general pagans are actually interested in what the polytheists are doing, because they are moving in the direction of becoming polytheists or are polytheists themselves. Some polytheists have felt enriched by their contacts with the more generalized modern pagan communities, and continue to have contacts and connections there due to the friendships they've made and the relationships they wish to maintain; and, some also want to be present for those potential polytheists, because they remember a time when they were in a similar position and would have liked to have had a role model or other such figure to direct them toward where they eventually ended up. This is not an exhaustive list of exceptions.]
I think there are big mistakes being made on both sides of this situation, and I am doing what I can to try and rectify the side of it that I am able to have any impact upon, not only in recent weeks, but in an ongoing manner.
I’d like you, readers who are more familiar with this blog, to note something that occurred up above that doesn’t occur here very often. Some of you may be familiar with the fact that, because of the conflicted understandings of the term “belief” both within and outside of modern pagan and polytheist discourses, I don’t often use it, and this carries over into my everyday conversations offline as well. Something else that I rarely (if ever) do is use the word “we” (outside of Ekklesía Antínoou-specific matters), and yet a lot of the above discussion uses “we.” I think this is a good and a bad thing in and of itself, and it’s one that I’m aware of and do quite deliberately. I shall try to explain why with a few examples.
When there is a major public ritual in the Ekklesía Antínoou, and the Antinoan Petition is prayed, the refrain is Dona Nobis Pacem, “give us peace.” The usage of the first-person-plural pronoun there is deliberate, because no matter for whom or for what we’re praying in the petition, we are in solidarity with the people concerned, even if there is only one person praying that prayer on a given occasion (as is often the case when I do it privately); it’s a deliberate acknowledgement, and even creation, of community that extends further than the individuals present and praying on a given occasion, and a reaching out and a making of connections to others in doing so. Polytheism, if it does nothing else (though it does a great deal else!), is an affirmation of the interconnection (though, note, not “union” or “sameness”) of different divine beings, powers, forces, and desires to and amongst one another, and all of the possible relationships between these divine beings, powers, forces, and desires. Our actions as polytheists, therefore, should be aware of that not only on the divine level, but on the human, and specifically human inter-relational and communal, levels as well. So, in those cases, I do it very specifically and deliberately to suggest such a situation, and to create it by doing so quite often, if all goes well.
On the other hand, because I am painfully (and that’s literal) aware of how individual we all are, and I know that the only viewpoint I can semi-accurately convey at any given time is my own, I try very hard not to generalize when writing here (or anywhere) by using “we” too much. If the “we” I’m trying to convey is connected to something which doesn’t apply to you personally, then that attempted “we”-ing on my part is going to alienate you rather than attract you. (And, please, no silliness about the phrase “‘we’-ing”–I honestly did not intend it to sound like an infantilized expression for urination.) I’m very aware of that because of something that my senior year undergraduate poetry workshop professor at Sarah Lawrence, Suzanne Gardinier, said in one of our classes that I’ve taken to heart quite strongly: that when one starts to use “we” in poetry, one is probably close to lying. The over-use of an unexamined “we” is at the root of a great deal of privilege, I suspect, and of any assumptions that end up putting one’s own experiences as “the norm” and any others as exceptions–whether those exceptions are merely ignorances on the part of the “we”-er or are specifically and intentionally excluded as objectionable or pejorative.
I know that I don’t always succeed at “not ‘we’-ing” when I write here (and elsewhere), and as I have not had too many exceptions voiced at me because of it, I think I’m probably doing better with it than I might admit (especially under the current circumstances, writing these reflections that are not at all as comfortable as I thought they might be when I started!); but, I hope that those who read this and who continue to read things on this blog and other things by me in other places realize that I tend not to use the word “we” lightly or without a great deal of forethought and advanced consideration.
When I do have a kind of assumed “we,” though, it tends to be about modern polytheists, based on others that I’ve met and discussed with at great length. Not even all Antinoans that I know (and love!) personally are strict polytheists, so I’m always thinking a bit more widely than that specific and limited group when I use a wider understanding of things than my own personal one, and I do feel that I stand in solidarity with many (though by no means all) polytheists on a great many (though, again, not every) issues of concern to us.
[Side-note: and, I do find, not unlike in college and other situations I've encountered in my life, that I tend to be friends with people in many "factions," including some that actively and vocally can't stand each other, as I know that I am currently in modern polytheism, and modern paganism more widely...and though I can't say for certain, I suspect a lot of that is due to the fact that for the last five years especially, Antinous as the "god of peaceful connections" has been a major focus of my devotional life, even if the only "peaceful connection" that can be made between two factions is my friendship with people in each one. I say this not to boast, nor to elicit pity or anything of that nature, but instead only as a personal observation--I did, after all, say that this post would be personal!--of some things that actually happen, not in theory but in observable and quantifiable terms, in my life as a human within a larger set of communities of humans involved in modern polytheism.]
I think one of the only cases I’ve been able to find in the modern pagan blogosphere where the “we” that is often used–whether intended consciously or not–actually does usefully apply to many more people than is often the case where “we” generally gets used, is in T. Thorn Coyle’s Know Thyself blog. Thorn does an excellent job of speaking to everyone, and thus she has a readership and a clientele and a studentship that spans the gamut of modern pagans, polytheists, spiritual seekers, and people of other as well as no religions and spiritual communities, too, that find her writings useful, inspirational, and of practical relevance. This isn’t an easy task to manage, dear friends, so I’ll take a moment to just express appreciation for the fact that some of the “us” of modern paganism more widely are able to do it and are doing it successfully.
However, that isn’t to say that any or all of us, whether in modern paganism more widely or in modern polytheistic communities more narrowly, have to appeal to such a wide, broad, diverse, and distinctions-melting array of potential readers.
So, my point–and I did have one–…!?!
Perhaps it can be broken down into three numbered points:
1.) Almost all of us writing in the modern pagan and polytheist blogospheres have an intended audience, but most of us have likely not defined it or narrowed it down (for any number of legitimate reasons).
2.) Almost all of us reading in the modern pagan and polytheist blogospheres have tended to assume that anything we read “should” be able to apply to us, and that we are thus in the potential intended audience of everything that we do read. (Indeed, if we are able to read something, doesn’t that mean we’re in the potential audience?)
3.) And, when we take writers at their word when they use the word “we” to mean an inclusive and universalizing discourse, and yet we do not find our particular ME represented in that discourse, we feel upset, and often comment on it, whether in our own blogs under our own maintained entries, or directly to the individual(s) responsible for writing what we see as a limited viewpoint.
Now…hopefully, going forth with these points in mind, I hope it might be possible–elsewhere in the pagan and polytheist blogospheres, as well as very specifically in the present blog (and with other things that I write in other locations)–to have interactions with each other where individuals do not automatically assume they are in the intended audience of a given blog post and therefore have to take exception to anything written there that doesn’t fully include them; and, likewise, for those of us who are writers in those blogospheres, that we are more aware of our intended audiences, even if we choose not to define them too narrowly or specifically or at all in any deliberate way.
Does that make sense?
So, as the subject line says: if you think this blog post is about you,
you’re so vain you’re entirely correct–and I mean that in the best way possible, because it’s about ME just as much as it is about you, and perhaps even more so.