P is for Polytheism

I promise ‘Pokémon as a Valid Religious Metaphor’ will be next week’s topic, and it will be as epic as it sounds, but this week, I want to talk about Polytheism.

I think I’ve always been polytheistic. It just took me a while to figure that out and acquire the vocabulary to talk about it. I’ve always believed in many Gods. I find it the most logical way to interact with the Divine, but I would never presume to say it’s a worldview that works for everyone. It makes the most sense to me, and that’s all that matters as far as I’m concerned. Whether it makes sense to anyone else is their business.

What’s got me thinking about this is partly this post by Star Foster in which she writes about how polytheism is vital to Paganism, as well as a couple of books I’ve picked up lately on polytheistic theology, which I didn’t even know existed until this year. All these things have had the result that, more and more, I’m explicitly calling myself a polytheist. It shapes the way I view the world, and it reminds me that I see the world very differently to many of the people I will meet in my life.

I find myself in a strange sort of place these days. Polytheism isn’t particularly popular within Kemetic circles, or at least, I don’t see it mentioned much at all within the Kemetic circles I frequent. I can’t speak for them all, and I do acknowledge that Kemetic theology tends more towards a monolatrous form than a polytheistic one. Erik Hornung’s book, The One and The Many: Conceptions of God in Ancient Egypt, does a good enough job of making that argument, so I won’t rehash it for you.

I’m also not the sort of Kemetic who sees monolatry as a form of soft polytheism. I don’t see all theologies regarding ‘Many Gods’ as being somehow able to be placed on a spectrum from soft to hard polytheism. I think that simplifies the picture too much, and makes an artificial connection between theologies that perhaps don’t have that connection. Sometimes things are just separate ideas, man. At least, that’s how I see it.

And I suppose monolatry is fine if you’re not particularly concerned with any other pantheons or Gods outside of Kemet. I’m not seeking to criticise either; I have no argument with it as Kemetic theology, and if it works for you and your path, awesome. But when I think about my own path, I find it hard to justify seeing every God ever, Kemetic or otherwise, in this framework. I just can’t make it work. But I tend to compartmentalise like that. It’s how I keep things separate, by adopting a monolatrous framework when working with Kemetic Gods, and shifting more towards hard polytheism outside of Kemet.

All Gods exist, and the world is full of Gods. This is just how I like it to be. I might only ever meet a tiny infinitesimal fraction of those Gods in this lifetime, but that doesn’t mean I don’t believe the others don’t exist. Of course they exist. I might not worship them personally, but they might not care for my worship anyway, so I don’t tend to extend the hand of friendship unless it’s asked for.

It’s also why I’ll never adhere to any of the monotheistic Abrahamic faiths. I don’t consider it respectful or honest to say to a monotheistic God who wants exclusivity, I will honour you, but I’ll also honour these other Gods who are special to me. It’s not fair to anyone. I admire anyone who can make being Pagan and adhering to one of the Abrahamic religions work, but I just feel like I’d be lying to everyone if I tried it. Because I’m polytheistic. I believe in many Gods, and I always will. To try to placate a monotheistic God would feel fake and disrespectful, and They probably wouldn’t want my worship anyway.

(…Am I the only one who thinks the Christian, Jewish, and Islamic Gods are three separate Gods? It just makes no sense to me that one monotheistic God would tell three different tribes/cultures/groups three different things. Unless He’s just been trolling them all for millennia. Which makes about as much sense as any other theory, I suppose. /tangent.)

And I suppose it’s in this context that I can understand what Star Foster is talking about in the post I linked above, and how it relates to the incorrect assertion (that, admittedly, I’ve never encountered) that Paganism is Protestantism in drag. I mean, I’ve recently read Sue Monk Kidd’s The Dance of the Dissident Daughter (at my mother’s suggestion), and while she still seems to be monotheistic and Christian by the end of the book, my reaction was pretty much, ‘she’d make a great Hellenic recon if she put her mind to it’. So much of what she does in search of the Sacred Feminine is very Pagan-flavoured. Dancing on the moonlit beach, in circles of trees, making offerings in old Greek temples to Greek Goddesses, making altars, holding rituals that I thought wouldn’t feel too out of place at a Pagan circle, etc. And she quoted Starhawk, which I found very amusing. In some ways, I can’t begrudge her for finding meaning in what she did in search of the Sacred Feminine. She found a path that ultimately made her happy. I can’t really find any fault with that. (Now all she needs to do is unpack her privilege and deconstruct gender from how it’s been defined by the patriarchy. But, y’know, baby steps. It did take her eight years to find Goddess.)(I could’ve done without the appearance of the prehistoric pre-patriarchal Supreme (monotheistic) Mother Goddess cult though. -_- I’m sure we disproved that already, didn’t we?)

And I suppose, when I reflect on that, that non-Pagans are finding meaning in our traditions and holidays and such, it does make me wonder how you’d define Paganism, then, if not by using those benchmarks. Because when I think about it, polytheism is pretty much all Pagans have left, in an ‘this is exclusively Pagan’ sort of notion. In the ‘non-Abrahamic faiths’ sense of Pagan. It’s not exclusively Pagan if you restrict the definition to only those modern neo-Pagan traditions, and exclude Hinduism, Shinto, and other indigenous polytheistic religions.

So much of my musings on this topic are about defining Paganism. If Paganism has become so broad and eclectic it becomes impossible to define, then I think there’s a problem. Not all Pagans are polytheistic either, and I will admit it becomes hard to define such a broad umbrella term such as ‘Paganism’. But I’m not particularly looking to define it in the sense of a single religion. I want to be able to point to something and say, ‘this belongs to Paganism’. And then I think, well, what is the point of any of that? It’s too broad. Why should it even matter if I can define it or not? Does it matter that polytheism is shared by, say, Hinduism? Is that a problem in the same way that liberal Christians holding rituals and praying to Goddess a problem? Are either of these things problems?

And then I just throw my hands up and admit defeat. If someone’s happy with their spiritual path, and they’re not hurting anyone or pretending to be something they’re not, is it really a problem? I suppose so much of this makes me reflect on eclectic Pagans, too, and how they are treated by other Pagans. And I get confused because I think, so eclectic Paganism (if done responsibly) is an acceptable path, why are only Pagans allowed to do that? Why are Pagans only allowed to build a path from scratch (if they so choose), from whatever they find useful? I suppose I just find it strange that eclectic Paganism as a Thing is alright (if it’s done responsibly, it seems), but eclecticism in other religions is IDK frowned upon? Is it eclecticism that we’re reacting against then? That some Pagans can’t abide other people nicking our stuff, inasmuch as it is our stuff to begin with, and taking on what is essentially an eclectic path, albeit within the context of a non-Pagan religion? I don’t know if this is true. But it is an idea that’s just occurred to me, and I wonder if that might be part of it. Religions aren’t so easy to define by practices anymore, and it’s confusing. What, then, is Pagan, if these traditions don’t belong to us anymore? And does it even matter if people are finding some meaning out of them, Pagan or otherwise? Or is all of that sort of thing hidden under the umbrella of syncretism or something in the way Vodou and Catholicism got syncretised?

Alright. I’m going to stop here. I’ve got a migraine, and I think I’ve made it worse with all these questions, and I fear all I’ve achieved is run round in circles. I still don’t really think I’ve reached any sort of conclusions about this. I’m not looking for specific answers to those questions either. So much of this post is me thinking aloud. All I know is that I’m polytheistic, and being polytheistic brings me great joy and peace. The world is full of Gods and that’s the most amazing realisation in the world. I want to smile every time I say it. THE WORLD IS FULL OF GODS. :D!

0 thoughts on “P is for Polytheism

  1. I have been told that Hornung’s book actually shows that Egypt isn’t monotheistic in hiding… one day I’d like to read it to get a better handle on his views.

    Most of the Kemetics I run with are polytheistic- borderline hard. Most outside of KO don’t seem to subscribe to the ‘all gods are one god’ thing, and there are even members within KO that don’t follow that either. That gods are all the same in the sense that they’re made of divine stuff- but that’s about it.

    Food for thought, at least.

    1. It’s been a while since I last read it, but I don’t remember coming out of it thinking it was a purely polytheistic conclusion. It’s not monotheism in hiding either, because as I understand it, monolatry isn’t really like that. He spends the first chapter or so debunking the monotheistic Egypt scholars and arguing that Egypt is polytheistic. But I’m not far into it, so I could be mistaken about where he goes from there. I’ll have to do a post on it once I’m done rereading just to clear it up, because I remember it being rec’d to me when I was KO because it explained monolatry so well. It was pretty much why I picked it up in the first place.

      1. The people I’ve talked to say that it’s ironic that many KO people use it as a means of ‘proving’ the monolatric set for their faith, because apparently the book doesn’t really support that at all. I wish I had read it, so that I could speak from first hand reading. FWIW, Tamara herself has said that KO is polytheistic, but like you’ve said, it’s sorta… soft poly.

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