Influence of Monotheism

February 11, 2014 at 10:16 am 3 comments

I just read an interesting post by Agrikosos in which she makes an extended analogy of the online pagan/polytheistic communities being like a universe with a an invisible influence in the center- a black hole. Monotheism.   This influence is inevitable and unavoidable,  we need to recognize and admit when it is present, and work around it.  All too often, I think we see suspicions of Pagans with an interest in aspects of Christian or Jewish mysticism while avoiding seeing ways other Pagans are influenced by the Big Three.

I remember  a Hellenic organization called Elaion* that arose that took the position that patron gods were not proper eusebeia (piety) that modern Paganism had adopted the idea from Jesus is My Personal Savior/Therapist style American Protestantism, and ancient Greeks had patron gods of professions or families or cities, but not individuals. Much of the Hellenic polytheist community has rejected this view, citing ancient precedent- Sappho’s relationship with Aphrodite for example.  We do have very limited information on the practices of everyday Greek peasants, most of our evidence is of state cults and mystery religions. It may be that patron deities are more common in modern practice, and I do think monotheism probably is a major reason for that. I think patron deities are a valid practice (not just due to historic basis) but I do think they are over-emphasized in modern paganism. I see a lot of beginners asking on forums how do they find (or choose) their patron?  You don’t just “find your patron” so easily and you might never have a patron in your lifetime.  But that’s OK. Since these are New Religious Movements after all, there are going to be many more eager converts with intense mystical experiences. Many prophets and godspouses and shamans. More than there probably will be, later as our religions mature.

Our attitude towards texts is also very much a legacy of the People of the Book. We are the People of the Library**.  Never enough books!  This may be more pronounced among reconstructionists in particular, though some Wiccans certainly like to quote the Rede and the Law of Three the way Christians cite the Bible. They’ve got nothing on Heathens though. Good Gerd, those saga sluggers!
For one, we rarely take our myths literally. There are some that are more historical (or pseudo-historical)
We also only have the shards left from ancient writers, Christian monks, many pieces are missing. And so when putting together the picture, it is going to be distorted both by the absence of those pieces, and by the perspectives of the writers- we hear mostly from poets and nobility, not farmers, from Christians or contemporary warring cultures (Romans writing about Greeks or Celts) we get misrepresentation. And modern scholars all have their own biases, and almost none of them are revivalists of the religions themselves.

After writing all this I realized something. The black hole isn’t monotheism. It’s atheism- the absence of monotheism. Monotheism is a big star exerting a gravitational pull, and pagans who live in more secularized parts of the world are more affected by the black hole.  For many of us, an even more distorting influence on our value systems is actually capitalism and hyper-individualism. More posts on those topics!

*Initially when writing this I wasn’t sure if Elaion was still around, but I am pleased to see that they are. I am all for there being a diverse range of practices and organizations available in Hellenic polytheism, just as there was in the ancient world.

**The People of the Library quote has been attributed to Stephen Posch, whom I’m proud to claim as a Twin Cities elder.

Entry filed under: Christianity, Judaism, Pagan Communities, Theology. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , .

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. agriakosos  |  February 12, 2014 at 3:32 pm

    Exactly! The black hole is neither polytheism nor monotheism; it’s the dividing point between our two universes. I’m not sure if it’s atheism either, though. Someone else in the extended commentary on my blog had suggested maybe it’s the monism that lurks in things like Hindu thought.

    I need to think that part of the analogy out further, clearly.

    Also, my name is feminine in Thrakian, so “she” would probably be more appropriate, but I also realize I never have made that particularly clear. 🙂

    • 2. Caelesti  |  February 14, 2014 at 7:41 am

      Sorry about the gender confusion I thought the “os” ending on the name was feminine. I corrected it to “she.”

      I like playing around with analogies, but they can get rather belabored if stretched too far (the way you and SybilinSalem were going on it was making my head hurt a little 🙂

      I think monism & pantheism/panentheism can have a place in polytheistic thought. In fact I think some polytheists that have problems with those ideas may be once again, having a knee-jerk reaction coming from a monotheistic framework.

      • 3. agriakosos  |  February 14, 2014 at 12:02 pm

        No worries. It’s a phrase in Thracian, meaning “Her wild/fierce daughter.” Parsed a little differently in Greek, to my knowledge. The fact that you even tried gets points with me!

        Yes, there were a few too many analogies there, but sometimes that’s how people get it – analogies are the scientist’s myth, I suppose. It’s all good.

        For me, what people believe and how they structure it is their business, really, unless they make it my business. There’s room in any religious system for monism and pantheism and panentheism, if you want to support it with intellectual theory. But the gods are not theoretical in a polytheistic framework, the only framework I know and can speak to in any depth. What I think about the gods, or how I believe about the gods, is not Their identity. I start to have issues when people mistake their opinions for empirical fact, or when they take those opinions and try to force others to conform to them without any respect for other opinions. Belief is fuzzy, human, and imprecise. Belief is not a central tenet of my polytheism.

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