That polytheism thing

The gods of Terry Pratchett's discworld novels. Image from Wikipedia.

The gods of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels. Image from Wikipedia.

So, true to my initial word when re-starting this blog, I’ve stayed out of the various poytheism vs. paganism debates and internet slanging matches that have predictably erupted again on the web (must be slow news season again).

However, it has made me think and when I think, I can’t help but write, especially since ADF seems to place an emphasis upon a certain type of polytheism. From what I understand, however, ADF is about orthopraxy, not orthodoxy, and members are not required to hold any particular belief. The polytheism of ADF ritual is a standardised rule for ritual, not a dogma to sign creedal assent to.

Long-term readers may have noticed a shift away from hard atheism in my thinking lately, and I do feel that I am opening up to the possibility of some sort of ‘spirituality’, but I am by no means a hard polytheist. My view, whilst still non-theistic in the narrowly literal sense tends more to the archetypal ‘Jungian polytheism‘ of John Halstead than the so-called harddevotional polytheism‘ of John Beckett (both excellent bloggers, by the way, so check them out).

My beliefs have not really changed much since I wrote the article ‘gods, atheists and Muppets‘ where I describe my view of the gods as characters embedded in stories which we can imaginatively enter in to, experience and learn from. This does not mean I view myths as ‘just’ fiction, rather I see them as the way humans craft identity in relationship to the other-than-human world. The gods are great forces of nature, archetypal powers of the mind and the cosmos, ever beyond the ability of our language to describe but by anthropomorphising them we can relate to them and interact with them.

Image credit:smo.uhi.ac.uk

Image credit:smo.uhi.ac.uk

I am resistant to the conflation of deities as ‘aspects’ of the one God or Goddess as in new-age monotheisms or Wiccan duotheism. Even as mythic figures, it seems clear to me that they are distinct. Brighid and Ceridwen are no more ‘aspects of the one Goddess’ than Gandalf and Dumbledore are ‘aspects of the one Wizard’ just because they happen to share some characteristics in common. I think if we try to understand the myths in the context of history and culture, we can gain a greater experience of them than if we gloss and reduce them to fit our modernist perspectives. But that’s just my guess and I wouldn’t tell you you’re wrong if your experiences are otherwise.

And that’s the point really. There is no point in trying to create a ‘pure’ theology that excludes people of different beliefs. We’ve seen what happens when people try to do this: fundamentalist monotheism provides the paradigmatic example of how not to do religious debate.

This brilliant article at Patheos Pagan, called ‘pointless arguments‘ by Alyxander Folmer sums things up far better than I can, and has cartoons too, so is 100 times more interesting than my rambles!

Image credit: Alyxander Folmer

Image credit: Alyxander Folmer

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11 responses to “That polytheism thing

  1. While I can understand the debate and strong feelings about this sort of things, I think in-fighting about what we do and don’t believe isn’t very helpful and doesn’t promote a very stable faith group to the outside world. Paganism is so fluid that so long as you aren’t hurting anyone (physically or otherwise) does it really matter what you believe?

    I’m in the gods-as-archetypes camp but I also feel that those archetypes have just as much emotional connection and significance for me as those gods would for someone who believes that they are real and in existence. Having an emotional reaction to a god is the first stage of belief and does it really matter how we perceive these gods just so long as we respect them as concepts, real or otherwise, and respect how they have varied meanings for a multitude of different folk?

    Basically, respect each other. We are different. That’s what makes this paganism gig so much fun, doesn’t it?

    • Absolutely! I’ve never understood the need to attack someone else’s beliefs as long as they aren’t causing harm to themselves or others.

      Not sure that having an emotional reaction is the first stage of belief, but that’s only because I’m not sure of the role of belief to begin with. I think it’s more about practice and experience.

      But yes, the Pagan label is a very big tent and there’s room for ‘hard’ polytheists, archetypalists, Christopagans and atheists to all get along.

      • As a clarification, by emotional reaction I mean, that initial pull of interest towards an idea. That can become belief or just a desire to discover more about something. It can manifest in different ways depending on the situation of course.

  2. Nice to find a fellow ADF blogger!
    Don’t sell your “Ramblings” short! You’re a good writer, and stick figures will only get you so far :P

  3. I’m a hard polytheist, but I don’t disagree with you here. :)

    And we should really get a UK ADF members gathering together soon…

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