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What good is the soil?

While much of the content we produce at Halithaz tends to approach spirituality through the lens of perennialism, it is important to adjust one’s perspective to focus on both the purely theoretical aspects of spirituality, as well as the praxis that reflects its actual implementation.

Many of our followers are adherents of traditional* religions, and the simple fact is that, whether it is in vogue to acknowledge so or not, if a traditional religion is actually to be considered traditional (i.e. part of a lineage that links it to historical practices, regardless of how strict its reconstructionist quality is), it is inexorably linked to some particular ethnic group or body of ethnic groups — it is folkish in polity. Long before the modernist values of individualism and decentralisation of in-group identity in favour of a “kinder” world linked by international banks and availability of convenience products, religious and cultural traditions were at parity with the substance of the material body, and by proxy the substance of the tribe. The Chinese have their own mínjiān xìnyǎng, their folk beliefs; the Finns had suomenusko (literally Finnish faith), and the mosaic of Germanic peoples that populate northern and central Europe once belonged to a cultural continuum that revered a common pantheon. Of course, while some traditional religions, like those of the Jews and the Druze, have been mistrustful of outsiders and discouraged proselytism, there are several examples across recorded history of some of these groups being open to converts — the religions of the Romans and, again, the Chinese, respectively, being notable examples.

Even before Johann Herder, who encouraged various Romantic Nationalist movements that began to blossom across Europe with his vision of a pan-German identity for his own volk, it has always been easy to correlate ethnic and cultural groups with a geographical domain to which they are indigenous. Even to this day, the tapestry of aboriginal tribes that cover the Americas have a thorough understanding of what land constitutes their traditional territory — in spite of many centuries of Pre-Columbian in-fighting, conquest, migration, genocide, and subsequent societal re-structuring under European hegemony. The intellectual acknowledgment of “blood and soil” in polite society in the West in the 19th century was akin to the discovery of a “new” species of animal: it wasn’t written into existence, it was legitimised within the material structure of what the intelligentsia and the upper class in general considered identifiable phenomenologically — the same way that, when the mountain gorilla was finally acknowledged as being a real animal and not the stuff of legends in 1902, it didn’t suddenly drop into place on planet earth in time with the pen describing its biology.

A Russian Cossack man in full regalia enters the United States at Ellis Island

With the advent of modernity and an increasingly materially-obsessed world, human beings of all stripes have left their traditional territory, either under threat and duress or with the expectation of a “better life”, for all corners of the globe. Particularly, people have flooded the “New World”, that is to say the Americas, en masse. Of course, for those whose religious beliefs are not by necessity traditional, but rather universalist in structure, such as the beliefs of the Christians and of many Buddhists, mass exodus has never been a spiritual challenge. Christianity posits, depending on its denominational policy on the nature of grace, that salvation is available to almost anyone, and certainly never in any mainstream fashion has excluded people based on ethnic or cultural origin, or else made it particularly difficult for interested parties to assimilate spiritually and culturally. In effect, one of the foremost values of Christian thought is the commitment to spreading the word of the gospels. For many Buddhists, with the notable exception of Tibetan and Mongolian Lamaism, with its pre-Dharmic shamanistic and Bön influences, and of certain Japanese varieties syncretic to some extent with ethnic Japanese folk beliefs, there is an implicit commitment to making the road to enlightenment available to all sentient beings, especially within the Theravada school which is largely characterised by its commitment to good works (c.f. Methodist Christianity, for a Western analogy).

But what of those, like the Southeast Asian Hmong, whose religion is steeped in a cultural system inseparable from blood and soil? What of those who believe that the soul of an individual is doomed to roam the earth as a rootless, suffering ghost if their afterbirth is not buried at the foot of the family home’s lodgepole in their traditional village? This seems to present an issue, a fatal impasse in which the material realm and the spiritual one are no longer at parity, no longer in sync. This appears to be the ultimate spiritual crisis of modernity, to a greater or lesser extent, for those of us whose religious practices, in defiance of the “everybody welcome” attitude of the cross or the crescent moon, are linked to the blood and ephemeral substance of our forefathers, and presumably their lifestyles. While this is a common complaint and a source of debate particularly among modern adherents of “pagan” European religions, especially those of a reconstructionist attitude, it must be acknowledged that the “issue” itself is actually illusory: it is likewise a trapping of modernity to even be concerned with something as ridiculous as forcing a religious tradition to be at parity with one’s material circumstances. While they should reflect one another in essence, or perhaps more succinctly, the material world should follow the example of the spiritual one, attempting to sculpt the circumstances of one’s life to the letter of the “law” of ancestral practice is neither sustainable, nor reasonable under the lens of what constitutes a living tradition.

The assumption that, for example, the Germanic religion was an orthodoxy that was governed by a strict system of laws as opposed to a loose collection of tribal cults united by a common ethno-linguistic spiritual “language” is fallacy. There were no rules. There was no pope, no caliph, no fat patriarch firing off proclamations from a gilded and bejeweled throne somewhere on the Rhine or in a tower in Iceland. This presupposition is rooted, presumably, in the Medieval and Early Modern practices that define universalist religions as opposed to traditional ones. Perhaps to some extent, it also originates in modern, global society’s passive tendency to assume there were idealogues Tweeting miserably into the dead air of the Iron Age, with our ancestors scrolling away in their sacred groves the same way so many today wait with bated breath to see what the accounts with blue “verified” badges have to say about the fabric of space and time.

Hinduism is a fantastic example of one such tradition that, despite the full-scale displacement of effectively the entire body of original adherents, has managed to not only survive but thrive in light of a pantheon tied to soil that its worshipers haven’t set foot on in millenia. Originating among the Indo-Europeans, ultimately, in Central Asia (along with so many pre-Christian European traditions, as well as Zoroastrianism, among others), its intrepid faithful found themselves pressing further and further into the Indian subcontinent, eventually subjugating, mixing with, and engaging in spiritual syncretism with a network of people we assume were, at least mostly, Dravidian in racial and cultural origin (e.g. the ancestor people of the Tamils and other south Indians). The spiritual culture of these early Indo-European people evolved. They continued their ethnic faith. They broadened the perspective their ancestors would have had on what constituted the nature of the eternal, how to interact with it, and the way in which it is represented and manifested in the material world. At no point has a Brahmin thrown up his hands and proclaimed that, since Hindus hadn’t been affiliated with the Bronze Age Sintashta Culture since ~1800 BC, their ancestors were gravely disappointed and their religion was ruined and irreperably altered. They adapted to the shifting circumstances of their forebears’ righteous conquest of land ripe for the taking, subconsciously shifted as a body of people and allowed their spiritual traditions to move internally with all the persistence of ivy over a stone wall to meet the needs of a folk now settled, enjoying the well-deserved fruits of military supremacy like agriculture and real statecraft.

Thor will not mind if you don’t know how to address him in what you, as a layman, think that the western variety of Old Norse might have sounded like sometime during the 700’s. In fact, he would probably make fun of you trying to speak the modern Icelandic you feel is “authentic” for your cool, sexy Viking religion, since you’re almost certainly not doing a good job with that either, and speaking to him in a modern, foreign language makes about as much sense as speaking to him in English, or Cantonese for that matter anyways. When the Turks tore out of the steppes and mountain ranges of Northeast Asia, moving swiftly across the Eurasian continent as far afield as Anatolia, they brought their religion, their Tengrism, with them. Their god was invoked under an open sky, a god of wide spaces and wild fields. Not a particular field, but rather the same field over which his childrens’ chargers raced in their frenetic surge for spoils and glory. Blood and soil are inexorable; the deep relationship between people, their gods, and the land they are tied to is not able to be altered or minimised. But the belief that a folk, whose good fortune and resolute nature bring them to lands far from the  places our frozen snapshot of history-as-vignette leads us to obsess and masturbate over, must be destroyed. It must be cleansed from the collective consciousness as another fatal misstep in the process of navigating modernity. Where blood is spilled and people are buried, where living traditions secular and religious belong to a people group in lands on which they have established their bloodlines, through war or clever decisions, their gods are alive. Perun is in the blood, Perun is in the marshes of the Proto-Slavic urheimat in Belarus, and Perun is also in Alaska where so many Russian-Americans live, where some have undoubtedly returned to their Slavonic folkways and call on him again.

This article is dedicated proudly to the intrepid spiritual cosmonaut Ganapatyas, whose traditional beliefs lead them to throw a statue of Ganesha into a meandering river in a white cedar forest in southwestern Ontario, Canada. Your tradition is alive. Your god is listening.

“traditional” with a lowercase “t” — i.e. “historically customary for a particular culture”, as opposed to “Traditional” within the framework of perennial philosophy, which seeks to identify authentic, pre-modern religions across the world as having sprung from one common source of immutable truth (see the work of J. Evola, R. Guénon, F. Schuon, et al.)

55 thoughts on “What good is the soil?

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