This month’s Heathen Round Table question is: “What are your beliefs about deities from other religions/pantheons, both polytheistic and not? Do you honour any, and how do you balance that with heathenry?”
Well, I don’t consider myself a polytheist, or a theist of any traditional sort to be honest. I am a naturalist and agnostic, and sometimes joke that I’m a “godless heathen” or a “polyatheist”: there are thousands of gods I don’t believe in! Some may say that means I’m not a “proper” heathen or pagan, but that depends on your definition.
I try not to hold beliefs, but rather have opinions and working models. Opinions can, and should, change according to new evidence and ideas, whereas belief can become dogmatic and fixed. As paganism (certainly within ADF) is about orthopraxy, not orthodoxy, belief doesn’t really play that much of a role in my practice.
So, in my opinion, which could be wrong, the gods of pagan and heathen cultures are mythological figures, personifications of powerful natural forces (such as thunder or the sea) or of aspects of human experience (such as war or love). The names given to them in one place and time are different from those used in another place and another time, but the underlying aspects, or “numinous personified forces” are the same. Thunder is still thunder whether you hail Thor or Zeus, the sea is still the sea whether you honour Njord or Mannannan.
Now, this doesn’t mean all gods are one, they are clearly distinct figures within their own myths. Thor is not Zeus, Freya is not Aphrodite. But there are fuzzy boundaries as cultures overlap. Thor may not be Zeus, but he could be Thunor, Donar, or even Taranis.
My tradition is ADF, which describes itself as “Pan Indo-European” in focus, and has “hearth cultures” for everything from Celtic to Norse to Hellenic to Vedic paganism. In practice, most people work within one hearth culture at a time, and pantheons do not tend to be mixed in ritual. This makes sense to me, as it disrupts the immersive experience, or the “flavour” of a ritual to jam a deity from one culture into a ritual context from another. However, multiple pantheons and cultures are honoured within ADF, and different ones may be the focus of different High Days. This allows a freedom and flexibility for ADF members to find what works for them. In my own path, I have moved from Irish to Gaulish to Norse and “shopped around” to find what felt right for me.
ADF does not honour non-IE deities, but does not prevent members from doing so in their own personal practice. I suppose if you’re a polytheist, you would believe that all gods exist anyway, and for me as a mythicist, I recognise them all as archetypal figures. I just choose to restrict my own practice to the Norse (and occasionally Gaulish) hearth culture, for convenience as much as anything else.
I have some issues with “Christopaganism” and incorporating Christian monotheism into pagan or heathen practice, but if it works for you then go for it, just don’t expect me to join in!
One of the joys of paganism and heathenry for me is that, unlike monotheism, there is no commandment to only honour one god, and no threat of punishment for those who believe and practice differently. So I’m content to do my own thing as an agnostic nature-worshipper and let others do theirs.