Book Review: Dan McCoy's The Love of Destiny

McCoy, Dan. The Love of Destiny: The Sacred and the Profane in Germanic Polytheism. 2013. 97pp.

At some point, I will stop being disappointed in books written by a self-professed heathen targeted at a heathen audience. Unfortunately, Dan McCoy's The Love of Destiny: The Sacred and the Profane in Germanic Polytheism is not going to be that book I'm looking for. McCoy's work suffers from several major flaws; a major failure of analysis, and a disingenuous attempt to redefine several key terms in order to support his central thesis of polytheism being vastly superior to monotheism. McCoy ignores what words mean, and attempts to redefine them to basically mean polytheism = good, monotheism = bad. This undermines his arguments and does neither himself nor heathenry any service.

There are times in this book where I cannot tell if McCoy was trying to write a polemical screed, or an apologetic for polytheism. In either case, he fails, rather miserably, at doing either. The work would have been better served had McCoy shifted focus to building up a case for polytheism rather than trying to tear down monotheism. The bizzare and offputting screed against science in Part II was the kind of angry, bitter, crazy rant that comes straight out of uncomfortable family holiday dinner-time conversations featuring the paranoid ramblings of your cheese-smelling uncle Bob. Failing to separate Science, which at its heart is simply atheist, from the Religion of Science, which, in the forms of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens is fundamentally antitheist, and subsequently lumping them both into the same camp and labelling them as Monotheist deals a mighty blow to a credibility that is already on shaky ground from sophmoric debate tactics mentioned above.

McCoy suffers from the sin of confusing Myth for Religion, and as a result presents a syncretic myth of Balder's death that might succeed at bridging the gap narratively between Snorri and Saxo's versions of the tale, but only serves to obscure the rituals that gave birth to the Myth, which fails to bring any kind of insight into Germanic religion.

At one point early in the book, McCoy tries to argue that monotheism (again, as McCoy defines it) is basically a world rejecting institution, and that polytheism is world accepting. While his statement is hyperbolic and easily disproven by looking at the ancient Mystery cults of Rome or some of the more esoteric Hindu sects today easily disproves that monotheism has a monopoly on world rejection (look at Buddhism, a basically atheist creed, which in almost, but not all, schools are defined by its world rejection), and there are plenty of Monotheist creeds which can be argued are largely world accepting (Sihkism, for example). But he never uses the terms world accepting, world rejecting, and a quick perusal of his selected bibliography shows that he could have spent less time reading Nietzsche, of whom there are no less than eight entries, and instead spent some time with James C. Russel's foundational insight into pre-Christian Germanic thought, The Germanization of Early Medieval Christianity, which he fails to cite at all.

In addition, McCoy seeks to either redefine sacred and profane to support the core concept of Polytheism = World Acceptance = Sacred, Monotheism = World Rejection = Profane, or just doesn't understand our ancestor's views on the Sacred and the Profane embodied by the term wíhalíg. In McCoy's view, the world, the natural world, was sacred, as opposed to parts of the natural world being sacred. To sacralize the entire world is to ignore the basic ideas that make up the word's very meaning - that of being set apart, or set aside. He once again overshoots any real insight in pursuit of dredging the concept of Monotheist even deeper into the muck.

Given the nature of the subtitle of the book, "The Sacred and the Profane," and the utter failure to grasp those concepts, I cannot help but feel that these concepts were grafted on in an attempt to capitalize on the importance of Eliade's work to anyone interested in primitive religions. People who have been recommended Eliade's work might instead, finding that The Love of Destiny both contains that language and is focused on Germanic Polytheism, be more likely to purchase McCoy's book.

I am not, in general, opposed to the idea of heathen apologetics. I think an extended essay / short book that focuses on the core concepts of a reconstructionist polytheistic faith, that breaks down the core concepts of that faith and helps explain why they are valuable and good things is something that is waiting to be written. Unfortunately, this book is not that book, and until that book gets written, I'd recommend you go to the sources for these concepts and look at:

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