We were sent a message a few weeks ago.
On a mountaintop in Northern Ireland, a six-foot tall statue of the Irish sea god Manannán Mac Lir was stolen by vandals, ripped away from its foundation overlooking the place where Lough Foyle meets the North Atlantic.
For many of the people reading this blog, this is already old news. It may even seem strange that I have waited so long to write about it, when the story has begin to grow cold and our interests have moved on to other things.
But I believe that this sort of message demands a response from each of us, and I wanted mine to come from a place other than sorrow and anger.
As an artist, I mourn the wanton destruction of any work of art. I cannot fathom the impulse which drives people to destroy what others have labored so hard to create.
As a devotee of the ancient gods, as someone who has stared into the crashing waves and whispered prayers of my own into the gusting winds, this attack feels very personal.
And I know a great many others who feel the same way. Indeed, the global outpouring of grief and rage over this crime has been very encouraging. It is nice to know that we are not alone, even if it sometimes takes a senseless crime to remind us so.
So yes, there is the sorrow and the anger.
But we have been sent a message, and that message deserves an answer born not from grief or rage, but from conviction!
We’ve seen things like this before.
And we will, without a doubt, see them again.
A work of art designed to raise up the ancient spirit that still burns within a people and a place is desecrated. The symbol is utterly destroyed and in its place a large wooden cross, with these words writ upon its surface…,
“You shall have no other gods before me.”
A line from the Bible, from Exodus, Chapter 20. It is part of the first Commandment which the Hebrew god gave, through Moses, to his people.
Here is the un-abridged version for you…,
“I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shall have no other gods before me.
Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.”
Now, there is a tendency, within certain circles, to only count the part that I highlighted above as the actual commandment. But the first sentence and the second paragraph, both serve to modify that statement, thus forming a whole. What it comes down to is, “You dance with the one who brought you, and just leave off with the golden calf stuff already.”
Which is all well and good if you happen to be descended from that subset of Hebrews who are said to have been enslaved by the Egyptians in the 1st millennium B.C.E., but that’s a mighty thin line in an awfully big world.
Of course, we are also told that Jesus is supposed to have opened that Covenant up to everyone, or supplanted it, or possibly both, depending upon which interpretation of scripture you want to go by this week.
But even then, it only counts if you accept Jesus as your savior, and believe that his father is the one and only god in the heavens. Which is where those of us with polytheistic tendencies, just nod politely and step outside for a breath of fresh air.
Because it’s not our business what the monotheists get up to, as long as they leave us to our business.
Which is where our statue stealing, cross leaving friends, come into play. Turns out they think that we should, all of us, take that first Commandment, with its various prohibitions against other deities represented by graven images, a bit more seriously. While most monotheists are content to simply ignore us, some few think it only fair that everyone follow the same rules.
And while I can understand their position, it’s really hard for me to take their dedication to the 1st Commandment all that seriously, when they so blatantly demonstrate their willingness to break the 7th along the way.
“Thou shalt not steal.”
Yeah, sorry guys, but I’m just not impressed.
“You shall have no other gods before me.”
And to them, our answer is and must always be…,
“Oh, but we do! We have before and shall again in the days to come.”
They can pull down the images of our gods. And we will just raise them up again. And really, what are they going to do, burn every museum and gallery, the statehouses, the courts and libraries? Because that is what they would need to do, and it’s not like it hasn’t been done before. Those vandals, skulking around a mountaintop in Northern Ireland are no different than the Taliban who used dynamite to demolish the great Buddhas of Bamiyan, or the mobs who wandered the streets of 4th century Rome, destroying everything in their path. They are and have been, all of them, driven by fear.
That is why we must have the strength of our convictions. Because they do not, or their fear would not drive them so.
Let them come, and we will stand against them. And when the smoke has cleared, the memory of the gods will persist, as it always has. Because their blood runs in our veins, and their bones are the framework upon which our society is built.
Yeah, tear down our statues. Go ahead.