My Polytheism

There are plenty of folks abounding who are eager to tell you what polytheism is, and is not. There is no shortage of people with opinions they wish were firm boundaries. You aren’t a polytheist if: you don’t put the gods first; you don’t believe in the gods in the right way; you ‘bring politics’ into your religion; you don’t decry the destruction of ancient polytheism and the ruthless conversion of entire peoples.

There are plenty of people talking about The Polytheist Movement, and I’ll be honest here: seeing such a wide variety of ways of practicing, of worshiping, of bringing the gods into our world narrowed into such a small, singular way of speaking, makes me weep. It makes me frustrated. It makes me want to run far away and bury my head in the sand. Bottom line for me: I don’t give a fuck how you worship. I don’t give a fuck what the Powers you’re involved with ask of you.

Look: there is no ‘Polytheist Movement.’ There are a bunch of people who are working hard to make polytheism visible, who want to see it as a viable option, who want people to find the gods and know they’re not alone. Even with those I disagree with vehemently, I’ll concede that that’s something we have in common. But that’s where it ends. Don’t let the vocabulary trick you into thinking there’s one united Polytheist Movement, where we all agree on some fundamental things. There isn’t. We don’t.

My gods do not need me to help people find Them. They’ve been doing just fine for all this time. Who the fuck am I, that Poseidon needs me to get people to worship Him? I adore this God. I love this God with all my being. I tie myself up in knots for Him, and surrender, again and again and again, my comfort, my desires to be private and uninvolved. He’s created a person who strives to be compassionate and kind, where once there was only apathy and distrust. He is amazing, and I’m grateful that He deigns to share anything at all with me — but let me make this clear. He does not need me to get people to Him.

Within traditions, sure, there should be unifying goals and tenets. But polytheism is not a singular tradition, and I hope to all that is holy it never will become one. The way to counter monotheism — if we must — is not to model how we build communities based off what they’ve been doing, and getting wrong. Common ground MUST be rooted in hospitality, and not in same-ness seeking.

My polytheism does not tell you how to worship, and it never will.

My polytheism does not tell you how to believe, and it never will.

My polytheism does not tell you what the gods want from you, and it never will.

My polytheism does not pretend to be a holy war seeking enemies at every turn. Holy wars cannot be won; that’s not just a bad analogy, it’s a doomed one.

My polytheism does not require you to leave your concerns and issues at the door. It doesn’t demand that you pretend that our experiences are not connected, and the world in which we live does not inform our interactions with the Powers.

My polytheism will never pretend to be something it’s not. It’s contemporary and new and messy. It’s not a revival of polytheism of yore, because we will never be removed from the context we are in, and the wide spread of monotheism will not be undone. I don’t dream for a world in which these things never happened, because it’s not the point, and also, call me a heretic, but I don’t want a polytheism that is controlled by groups of people.

My polytheism is not rooted in PCPG, and it never will be. My relationship with my gods is mine alone, and you have no power in it. You’ve got no place in it, any more than I have a place in yours.

My polytheism is not concerned with whether you’re a theist or not — in fact, I’m likely to be curious and intrigued, because my polytheism is not threatened by your lack of belief in the gods as distinct, individual beings, and because different ways of telling the story of how and why and what is fascinating. If the only thing we can find worthy in common is how we believe in the Powers, we’re in trouble, and no amount of ‘correct polytheism’ is going to fix it.

My polytheism does not look like yours, maybe. I’m concerned with polytheism remaining visible. I’m concerned with those coming after us not necessarily having to do SO MUCH WORK to get to the point of simply interacting with the Powers. I’m not concerned with building close, intimate community beyond my immediate family, because quite frankly, I don’t trust people. I’m not involved with various communities, because generally I’m a home-body, and except for this blog, private. I’m a solitary worshiper, and I’m not interested in doing religion with other people, which is another thing that maybe makes me a ‘bad’ polytheist.

Don’t know.

Don’t care.

I’m still a polytheist. I’m still a devotional polytheist, even. I still want polytheism to be a visible, viable option for generations to come.

When people speak of ‘the Polytheist Movement’, when people speak of polytheists as though we are one homogeneous group of people, please remember this is bullshit. We are not. If the Gods are good, we never will be.

23 thoughts on “My Polytheism

  1. P.S. I am grateful that the good Gods brought you and Beth to my attention when I was a baby polytheist recovering from a summer of initiation. There were others that I approached but their rigidity freaked me out.

  2. This is also so very true, and I also believe that the different polytheisms (and all ‘theisms) fit in together at some abstract level that we can’t perceive while we’re humans, so it’s not even a case – for me – of different polytheisms being theologically incompatible with each other.

    I do want to see polytheism in various religious traditions become more visible. I’d like to see different polytheistic temples dotting the American landscape and I’d like the media to acknowledge the holidays of these religions without a snicker and/or an eyeroll, and I’d like to see positively portrayed polytheist or witch characters in TV shows, as normal people. But it doesn’t mean we all have to agree with each other.

    I’m also a solitary Hindu who doesn’t like to do religion with other people, so yay for us.

  3. Heh, I suppose it never crossed my mind that “Movement” implied homogeny. Elseweb I’ve been emphasizing that Paganism in general is a Movement rather than a Community, specifically because of our *lack* of homogeny. It’s a lot of people moving in the same very general direction, affecting culture as we go, but it’s not an organized effort, it’s not a community of united people, it’s just a movement.

    In some ways this reminds me that there’s just never a single word for anything. Frustrating, that.

    But the rest? Yes, for goodness sakes, finding definitions we can agree on may be useful, but gatekeeping? Can we not? War? Are we really served best by seeking enemies? Seriously. ~sigh~

    More power to you, here.

    It’s good to see the Hospitality rather than Common Ground model emphasized again.🙂

    -E-

    • It’s the ‘the’ part of the wording that hits me the wrong way, and in order to be completely transparent I have to admit the first time I saw in phrased that way was (I believe) John Beckett’s writing. I also have to acknowledge that I read that around the same time I was reading a lot of material by various bloggers, some of which I really ought not be reading. So there’s an emotional connection that very well may have informed my reading of the emphasis being on THE Polytheist Movement*. I’m too aware of there being loud voices eager to tell people how they’re not really polytheist, or not doing it right, or don’t count. At this point, I can’t hear or read the phrase ‘The Polytheist Movement’ without being aware of such voices. I know we need more voices. I know, because people have told me that they’ve thought about dropping, or have dropped, ‘polytheist’ to distance themselves from those voices. I know, because I’ve thought about it myself. At the end of the day, though? There’s nothing better that fits, so, I guess, need to keep helping those voices get heard, including my own.

      Heh. All that said, it could very well be just the capitalization of it, really. The polytheist movement does not get such a reaction from me. Huh. Interesting.

      * I realize the hypocrisy in this, considering ‘The Poseidon Liturgical Year Project’ I’m undertaking. In my defense, I do explain why I’m using that (aesthetics in language) rather than claiming to be a definitive thing in its own right. Again, huh. So, maybe I could use less knee-jerk reacting, but at the same time, I’m super excited about the idea of helping voices get heard and celebrating diversity within contemporary polytheism!

      (My apologies for the delay in response, also. Not much computer time at a proper keyboard for me during my ‘work week.’)

      • No worries, all around. I do see what you mean, about context.

        Also, I don’t think your usage in the one place is hypocritical, because the context and scope are totally different.

        I suppose I’m just saying… I balk if we get called a community or a tradition, but movement is general enough that I think it honestly does apply. But yes, if we want to make it work, we need more voices.

        That’s part of why I *am* still calling myself Polytheist. I use “Devotional Polytheist” and “Relational Polytheist” interchangeably, but I’m trying to shift more towards the latter. It hasn’t really caught on yet, but I feel that it describes how I deal with the gods more accurately – that it’s about being in relationship with Them, with the world, with others, etc. not just about me being devoted to Them regardless of what comes back my way *from* Them. It’s exchange and interaction, not just obedience.

        But then, I was raised by counterculture activist hippie types, so I’m not so much for obedience. ;p

        –Ember–

        • I love that devotional polytheism is talked about, and I appreciate trying to come up with a more accurate descriptor for what one is doing (I’d tried Immersive for a while, for many similar reasons). Part of my irritation, I think, is the idea of slavish devotion, where I really don’t think that that’s what *most* polytheists do or how they approach it. I’m not knocking the descriptors people use, mind you. I simply don’t want ‘devotional’ to mean just *one* way or even one group of ways to express ones devotion.

          • Yeah. I mean, some folks ARE that style of devoted, and if it’s not resulting in unethical behavior, I have nothing against it. But wow, is that not ME. To the degree that I am at all obedient to the gods, it’s VERY negotiated, Freyja is pretty much the only one who gives me what I’d called “orders” and that’s rarely, and even then, it’s not uncommon that I balk and question quite a bit, which I gather from some on the Godslave track is not a popular response.

            Which mostly goes to show that relationships with the gods, much like relationships among humans, *varies* quite a bit.

            –Ember–

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