Inclusive Polytheism

August 12, 2014 at 12:36 am 7 comments

So with various discussions of “devotional polytheism” vs. “immersive polytheism” going on, I find myself puzzled by what these terms mean and if I personally relate to them at all. Once again the Unitarian Universalist in me is saying “Who cares what someone’s theology is if they act like a jerk?”

Now I think theology does matter in helping us find others who have enough in common with us spiritually to create in-depth and meaningful worship. I do enjoy and find meaning & beauty in UU worship, but it’s more about sharing with others the sacredness of Life, the Universe and Everything than expressing devotion to specific divinities and spirits. From a polytheist/animist viewpoint, UUism’s strong point in the piety department is towards ancestors and heroes, particularly individuals important to UU history and various social justice movements. I believe this is an area that we can keep building on theologically and liturgically, in a way that is still very inclusive of UUs of different belief systems.

So here’s my idea of “inclusive polytheism”- by inclusive I do not mean anything goes, I do not want a lowest common denominator definition that paganism now has, I want a meaningful definition.

  • Functional ritual polytheism– treating gods or spirits as individual beings in ritual & prayer
  • Expectation of reverence & respect for deities and spirits by ritual participants (if not literal belief) thus balancing obligations of guest & host
  • Soft agnosticism (gods might exist, leaning toward belief/treat them ritually like they exist even if belief is uncertain), polydeism– many gods that are less directly involved in the world and straight up polytheism, primarily philosophical polytheism and primarily magical polytheism as parts of a theological spectrum/cluster
  • Animism, a belief in many spirits (or that everything has a spirit)
  • Whether service to the Gods is “more important”, less or equally important to helping fellow humans is up to the individual, and has no bearing on whether they are a “true” polytheist
  • Reconstructionism is a methodology, not an end to itself. Not all polytheists are reconstructionists.
  • Inclusion of syncretism, eclecticism and following more than one tradition. Practicing blending & mixing of religions is like playing with a chemistry set: sometimes it blends together well. Sometimes explosions happen.
  • Patron and godspouse relationships happen but are not a requirement, people who have more intense relationships with deities/spirits are not necessarily “better” or “more spiritual” than others, they just have a more specialized path/role. Same with being a temple/cult priest/ess. If you don’t recognize them as being a Real Legit Thing within your tradition, cool. It’s not your tradition.
  • Nontraditional deities/spirits (that people may have channeled, created, discovered in popular culture/history/legend/their imaginations) happen in polytheism. However, Tinkerbell/American Gods theology (if I believe it, it exists/has power if I stop believing, it doesn’t) is bad polytheistic theology.
  • Archetypes, eregores and magical “thought constructs” might be Things in your path, but they are not gods.
  • People with polytheistic theologies/practices may or may not primarily identify as polytheists. They may prefer calling themselves Pagans, Heathens, Witches, Wiccans or other more specific terms.
  • Polytheists do not all adhere to any one political ideology or party, apart from most likely, supporting religious freedom and impartiality towards a variety of religions and non-religious people. (As for separation of church & state- this may very by country)
  • Question: is a “polytheist community” one in which participants primarily identify themselves as polytheists, or people who happen to be polytheistic, regardless of self-identification? 

Notes: the reverence & respect portion is an opinion I came to after reading this interview by Jason Mankey with Amy B., an atheist pagan who says she does ritual (as a priestess!) for “entertainment purposes”. Understandably, many Pagans and polytheists were offended, and other humanistic pagans like John Halstead were “horrified”. The second portion was inspired by writings on PSVL’s blog about hospitality in ritual. Can’t find the post!

The statement about theological diversity, is I think much more reflective of the reality of ancient polytheism than the way some have promoted polytheism in modern times. Some people in both ancient and modern times were/are more focused on the pursuit of philosophy, ethics, truth and knowledge, others focus more on magical practice and occult knowledge, and may do so while still being legitimate polytheists, though they likely won’t call themselves devotional polytheists, or use the term polytheist much at all.

I’ve also seen several people assert that they consider serving the Gods to be higher priority than helping other humans. As a humanist and a polytheist, I don’t take that position (it seems a false dichotomy!), but I do consider it one of many ways of being a polytheist. I can see there being a place in community for a small number of individuals whose primary calling is serving the Gods/Spirits directly. However for most of “serving the Gods” is going to be part of a long to-do list!

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Entry filed under: Concepts & Definitions, Pagan Communities, Theology, Unitarian Universalism. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. spruceneedle  |  August 12, 2014 at 1:18 am

    I think you have formulated the sort of beliefs that I have been thinking about and subscribing to for a while. I only wish there was some sort of community built around this.

    Reply
    • 2. caelesti  |  August 12, 2014 at 7:57 am

      Well, conversing on this blog can be a start 😉 I just got sick of the “real polytheists do/believe X” arguments and didn’t want to single out & criticize specific people, but come up with a broader idea of polytheism that was still meaningful.

      Reply
  • 3. thehouseofvines  |  August 12, 2014 at 3:18 pm

    Sounds pretty good to me!

    Reply
  • 4. Looking at Pop Culture Paganism | The Lefthander's Path  |  August 15, 2014 at 3:42 am

    […] writing about how non-traditional deities and spirits may or may not fit within my concept of polytheism, I was curious to learn more about the ways it manifests. Plus as I confront the truth, that really […]

    Reply
  • […] Inclusive Polytheism […]

    Reply
  • 6. Erin Lund Johnson  |  September 24, 2015 at 12:20 am

    I think I resonate with all of this as you’ve laid it out. Nice to see it articulated this way. As for whether serving gods or people is more important, I have approached them myself as being functionally the same thing, with the former being defined by the latter, in large part. I am honestly surprised to hear they are treated by others so separately, and with some implied value system. I hadn’t heard either about that atheist priestess leading ritual for entertainment purposes, which sounds odd, but then, a lot of public rituals have that vibe about them anyway, unfortunately. Weird to see it so baldly stated that way though. All in all, nicely summed up.

    Reply
  • […] not mean that I accept everyone who claims the label polytheist as polytheist- I have an inclusive definition, but it still has limits, so the word doesn’t become as watered down and meaningless as […]

    Reply

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