One of the titles that King Henry VIII was incredibly proud of was the one that many historians find a tad amusing now: fidei defensor, or defender of the faith. In 1521, Pope Leo X granted this title to him when he wrote Assertio Septem Sacramentorum (Defense of the Seven Sacraments). Part of the reason why this is hilarious is that he wrote this in defense of the sacrament of marriage and the supremacy of the Pope against the Protestant Reformation, more specifically against Martin Luther’s allegation against the Catholic Church. A bit of an embarrassment later, one should think, when taking into consideration all of the hullabaloo King Henry VIII would go through in an effort to destroy the sacrament of his marriage and his subsequent denial of the Pope’s power over all spiritual matters.
While I’m sure this came back to bite him the ass time and time again as he was attempting to divorce his wife in order to marry Anne Boleyn, I’ve often wondered if he thought about that title while he was in the middle of that process. He was awarded this honor during a very highly charged time for the Catholic Church. And it had to have been more than just a badge of honor to him. There is very real evidence that Henry VIII was incredibly devout. He was, after all, supposed to enter the church before the death of his brother. His religion never officially changed over to the Protestant religion, if I recall correctly. His services were still very much Catholic. While the title probably pricked at him in the wrong way now and again, it was probably something that meant a lot to him even after the whole Act of Supremacy. I’ve always just kind of thought that, even with all of that crazy business going on, it was probably something that he thought about in the dark of night, when he was all alone, and realizing how badly things were going for him (prior to his marriage to Anne, after his marriage to Anne, after the death of Jane, et cetera). If nothing else, it was probably a quiet source of comfort as long as he ignored all of his duplicity in the matter.
Personally, I’ve always liked the Latin form of the title. It always felt really… well, as stupid as this sounds, “pretty.”
A few weeks ago, I was hanging out with a friend of mine. This friend of mine is Christian. She doesn’t give me any shit for the stuff that I believe in and I don’t give her any shit (usually) about what she believes in. She even tolerates the rather blasphemous comments I can and do make! (Usually, I forget that I am talking to a Christian and make the comments anyway. But she gets my dry sense of humor, so…) Anyway, I really enjoy hanging around her and listening to her talk about her faith. She doesn’t go on about it to me a lot because she’s worried that, one day, I may up and just be like, “Bitch, you be cray-cray,” and walk away. I would never do that. The thing that I haven’t told her yet is that whenever she talks about her faith, I feel very content. Even when things are bad and she’s asking God or Jesus for a helping hand, I still feel a contentedness coming from. I have always got the impression that what she believed was never a question, was never put out there for face value purposes, and that it sustains her.
It makes me happy that this makes her happy.
I was at her house and she mentioned Jesus. Her eldest two children are not believers, as she is. And her son pretty much amounted to Jesus as a story told, a fable. And I said, “Boy, do not make me come over there and beat you. Your mama loves God and you do not disrespect her beliefs in front of me. I will pound you. Say you’re sorry.” And he did and that was that. She was pleased as pop at my statement, though – made me blush. She said that I was an amazing person because I defend other peoples’ faith, whether I believe it or not.
It never occurred to me, not really, that what I do is strange or different. It just comes natural to me to want to defend someone else’s faith in something, whether I share that belief or not. I’ve been around and around the Internet a few times and I’ve gotten into fights with friends over religious traditions. But, I still will never deny them their belief. The thing that’s different with this particular friend of mine and some of the other friends that I’ve had religious disagreements with is the feeling I get regarding the faith. A lot of time, I tend to feel like people put on this face to the outer world, attempting to mimic something that everyone believes in. In a lot of those cases, I doubt everything that comes out of those mouths because it just doesn’t feel right to me. It feels like a farce; like a play and a poorly acted one at that.
However, in the case of this friend, I feel it. I can feel her love and adoration for God. I can feel the belief in my bones whenever she talks about Jesus. And she’s also not an asshole Christian who feels the need to tell me what my religious choices should be – and even believes in some of the stuff I talk about – so that makes it even better. But she’s one of those people whom, when they talk about their faith, they make me feel happy. They make me feel proud to know them. They make tears in my eyes as I am overwhelmed with the level of their emotions regarding their religion. As I said, I don’t always get this feeling from people. I don’t get the feeling that they have the faith in what they claim they do, but in her case and in a few others, I get that feeling.
After my last post, I started mulling this fidei defensor idea over again.
A lot of that post wasn’t really about what I practice as a Kemetic layperson. If people are really interested in what my practice looks like, then they can read my blog on a regular basis or ask me questions about it. I don’t really feel the need to defend my choices and why my practice looks the way it does. It works for me and it keeps me happy. I have a hard time, periodically, and there are weeks on end where I whine about things. But, you know, even with all of the shit that can and does go wrong both in my mundane life and in my spiritual life, I still feel quite content with it. It wasn’t me saying, “Here is why you are wrong because this is what I practice.” I was talking about Kemetics in a united front and also explaining that each Kemetic is different in how they come to their particular religious persuasion.
I was defending their ability to see the gods as they wanted to; to practice their religion how they wanted to; to do as they pleased and not get lumped into a single homogenous group just because they identify as polytheists.
This was apparently too much for anybody. The detractors have made their comments, mostly not on my blog. They didn’t see the point of the post as I was making it and to some of my group, they also didn’t see the point that I was getting across at each specific point. Obviously, my heka wasn’t as good as it could be or perhaps, some people are just unable to grasp the concept that everyone can play in their own way and that’s okay. Whatever the reason that they were unable to see the point, I stand by what was said and I will continue to do so. The point of the post wasn’t that I needed to stand up and say, “Hi, you are wrong because that is not how I practice,” but the entire point was to say, “Hi, you are wrong because that is not how Kemetic polytheists practice. Here are a few examples of how some of them do practice. Thank you.”
I was defending the various religious practices of my fellow Kemetics, whether they be historically informed or not, whether they be a part of Kemetic Orthodoxy or not. It doesn’t really matter to me how the hell they go about their practice. I don’t care if they are monolatrists, henotheists, or hard polytheists. I don’t really care whatever it is that they do and how they go about it because in many instances, I get the good feels. I get the overwhelmed with their devotion feels. I have interacted with many Kemetics through my networking and in quite a few cases, the community I have built around me is based almost entirely on that feeling. Not only do they bring something incredibly individual to the table in our discussions, but they also make me feel happy to know them because they do what they do and it works for them.
I don’t necessarily agree with their approaches to things, but it’s okay.
I don’t necessarily agree with how a lot of other polytheists or pagans go about their business. For example, there are quite a few people who think that Sekhmet is Hetheru is Aset is Ma’at is Neith. That is not how I approach the netjeru. But the stance works for them. And I can defend that choice because they are not hurting other people. (Now, if they’re deliberately going around providing this as the only interpretation, then we’ll have issues.) There are people who believe that Sekhmet and Hetheru are a single entity. I have never worked with them in this capacity – they have always been two extremely individualistic entities who have worked with me on various things throughout the years that we have had relationships. While I don’t necessarily agree, I’m still going to defend their right to believe that because it works for them. (Again, if they begin to deliberately provide misinformation, then we’ll have some issues.)
The issue with these ongoing pagan/polytheist debates and dramas is that someone, somewhere, gets it in their head to write about something in a very UPG fashion as a “be-all, end-all” dictate that all polytheists and pagans must follow. This is a huge problem, for any number of reasons. We don’t have a Pope Leo X to grant us titles or to tell us how the fuck things are supposed to be. And in many cases, we don’t have this because we don’t want to be told from someone, supposedly on high, how the hell our religious traditions should manifest in our lives. Even how the Christians approach their religious traditions varies from sect to sect, from person to person. Since each person approaches God in a different manner, each aspect of their faith is going to be uniquely detailed to suit their specific needs. The same applies to polytheists, no matter how they view the gods or how they go about practicing.
And as much as I may not agree or may not even feel like their belief is more than face value, I will continue to defend their ability to have that belief from people who think they have the right or the ability to tell them otherwise.
I may not have been awarded a pretty little title like Henry VIII.
But it doesn’t matter.