Column: A Polytheist Primer

Guest Contributor —  May 29, 2015 — 20 Comments

[Today we welcome guest writer Anomalous Thracian, a Polytheist Priest and spirit worker living in the North East. He is the director at Polytheist.com and blogger at Thracian Exodus.]

POLYTHEISM (Noun, plural polytheisms): the belief in the existence of multiple gods.

Polytheists today exist around the world, as expressions of both continuous ancient cultures and traditions, and of newly restored, reconstructed, or received religious traditions. The word “polytheist” comes, by way of French, from the ancient Greek (polus + theos) meaning “many gods,” and refers to persons or groups who affirm with religious regard the distinct and differentiated reality of many gods, frequently alongside many other groups or systems of spirits and lesser divinities.

John Reinhard Weguelin [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

John Reinhard Weguelin [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Although many Polytheists are also Pagans, these movements, identities and religious traditions can be differentiated from the larger Pagan or Neo-Pagan movements. Polytheists hold intrinsic affirmations of a non-reductive theological premise, which does not “collapse down” into the binary dualism (God + Goddess) popularized in some branches of Wicca; nor a theistic monism (such as is often found in Western Occultism); nor a pantheist or panentheist regard for the nature and identities of the gods. Instead, Polytheists celebrate worshipfully the myriad diversity of their pantheon(s) and hold a focus on unique relationships. Relationships, by definition, require the affirmation of differentiated beings, and thus Polytheist identity, practice, and belief can be best understood as religions of relation.

For many Polytheists these relationships are of central paradigmic importance, rather than peripheral, social, or magical in nature, and unfold as not only dynamics of deliberate devotion or dedication, but also shape one’s total world-view and experiences. The experiences that many Polytheists have may put them outside the scope of the practical framework of the majority’s popular, secular ideas or assertions, or social philosophies held by peers and neighbors. As “identity” is a defining quality not merely of what one does, but instead who and what one is, a Polytheist identity has a significant influence in how individual devotees (whether laity or clergy) interpret and respond to the various relationships that they hold within the world-at-large.

Religions, and the spiritual considerations therein, often sit as defining characteristics of this person’s life. When acknowledging the reality of the many gods and many spirits to be found in all areas of life, and indeed seeking conscious relationship with them through practices and living traditions, it is difficult to do very much of anything without recognition for the other beings, agencies, and divine powers inherent in shared (or directed) presence.

While many Polytheists are also Pagan identified or affiliated in some way, it is not fair or accurate to assume that these are the same thing. For starters, there is simply no agreed-upon way that “Pagan theology or religious identity” can be defined. Many Pagans are Humanists, Atheists, Dualists, and non-theistic monists, and many are also strictly interested in the social and interactive side of the Pagan “umbrella” while maintaining staunch anti-religious and anti-devotional stances.

[Courtesy Anomolous. Thracian]

[Courtesy Anomalous. Thracian]

Modern Paganism is a uniquely Western idea and set of movements, with its important roots and relevance deeply seated specifically in the modern Western cultures, as demonstrated in the vital focus on social, spiritual, and magical responses to dominant power structures inherent in the civic and social landscapes around them. Polytheists, on the other hand, are specifically religious and theological in their identities, and many have never had any relationship to the larger Pagan movement at all, nor do they seek any. It has been suggested by some Pagan leaders that Polytheists represent a “subordinate strata” to Paganism. However, by and large, the suggestion is often found to be offensive, supremacist and wholly inaccurate by Polytheists.

The distinction between Paganism and Polytheism is necessary; not to force any conflict or competition, but quite the opposite, to allow for each to have its own needs and considerations. The intent of this article is to help provide clarifying language and structures for discussing and navigating Polytheist religion, religious identity, personal identity, and the various advocacy/religious rights considerations necessary to ensure dignity, safety and respect moving forward.

All of this can really be presented in just three basic structures: 1) Polytheist identity, 2) polytheistic religious groups, and 3) the Polytheist Movement, which are to be defined as follows:

  • “Polytheist” as an identifier, (e.g. “I am a Polytheist”) is an opt-in religious identifying term which communicates affirmation of many gods held in religious regard, at a level which is understood to intersect in a defining way with that person’s identity. Rather than merely being an affiliation with a community or practice that they are involved with, it is something that they are. This term is self-applied, and not generally assumed by others to apply to a person because of their involvement with a certain group. (It would be summarily wrong-headed to do otherwise, just as assuming a person is not Polytheist because of their affiliation with, for example, Wicca, as there are many Wiccans who are Polytheist religionists, in addition to their initiatory relationships to one or more of the Wiccan witchcraft traditions.) This term does not refer to a single religion or a finite number of religions; it refers instead to the identity of a person with regard to their religious realities and experiences.
  • Next, “polytheistic traditions” and groups are religious traditions which are assumed to hold polytheistic frameworks of engagement, practice and belief. However, just as many religions in the world have their fair share of secular or atheist or non-theist persons in their internal communities, affiliation with a polytheistic tradition or group does not necessarily mean that a person is a Polytheist identified religionist. Affiliation with groups or traditions may or may not have their own rubrics for determining eligibility, whereas the Polytheist identifier (described above) defines clearly and simply that this person self-identifies as affirming many gods in religious regard, at a level that is part of who they are rather than merely who they relate to in community.

Traditions are containers that provide structures for directing community and worship to the gods, as well as that which may be received from the gods, based on unique agreements with those gods. Presumably, polytheistic traditions are most appealing to identified Polytheists but, as with all organizations, the human factor will invariably include some who may not be. However, such inclusions should not be considered in a manner that challenges the group’s affirmed stances of many gods, else the container becomes either broken or rendered without meaning, and the sacred agreements violated. One may not be required to be an identified Polytheist in order to participate in a polytheistic religious group, as identity is a complex and personal thing that is explored and discovered, rather than chosen (or applied).

  • The “Polytheist Movement” is a loosely organized human rights and religious rights movement made up of affiliated Polytheist-identified religionists and their allies, who are seeking to: expand the popular understandings of what Polytheist religion and identity is all about; increase the protections and dignities that they are promised by universal declarations; create outreach, education, and networking platforms for engagement. It is not a religion, or even a group of religions. It is a rights-based movement with the mission to protect those Polytheist-identified individuals from harm, erasure, and oppressive hostility. Its interests and aims are primarily in education, visibility, outreach and alliance, serving the needs of both Polytheist-identified persons and polytheistic religious groups, traditions and lineages.

The Polytheist Movement has been around for as long as Polytheists have sought to differentiate themselves and their needs from surrounding spiritual or theistic groups or dynamics. This differentiation is, again, not because of any value-assessment, judgment, or rivalry, but because the needs of many Polytheist-identified persons (due to their direct experiences and affirmed world-views), and polytheistic religious groups (and their rituals or inclusive membership considerations), are not easily met or even understood without such distinctions. Differentiation allows for specific considerations and the establishment of methodologies to serve the actual specific needs of specific religious dynamics, without upsetting or upending the structures of other groups or identities to whom those needs are not relevant.

Many voices of leadership within both individual polytheistic religions and the Polytheist Movement have used writing as a focus for the work of satisfying the unique needs of Polytheists. Some Polytheists hold doctorates and professions in academia, others have cultivated independent research and learning for the purposes of religious reconstructionism and restoration, while others practice ecstatic or newly received traditions absent of scholarship.

Despite a healthy relationship to academia and the study of past cultures and histories, polytheistic religions are very much living religions today. Polytheists are interested in facing the same challenges of modernity as everyone else, and drawing on the wisdom of ancestral or ancient cultures does not equate to believing that we are those peoples.

Polytheist writing, whether within the format of blogging, online columns, or books and journals, generally falls into three categories: 1) Experiential and spiritual; 2) Devotional; and 3) Theological, Structural, or Organizational. The first covers ecstatic and mystic topics, testimonies, challenges and cautions as written by liminally inclined mystics and spirit-workers. The second refers to collections of praise poems, hymns, songs, rituals, and general devotional collections. The third is interested in the more intellectual, philosophical or organizational approaches to the subject, such as discussions and debates around the nature of experiences with the gods. While many of these works hold relevance and interest to those in non-Polytheist circles, the works are written primarily for those who are identified as Polytheists, practicing polytheistic religions, or learning about these religions for the purposes of being an ally.

universal-declaration-of-hu
As minority religions (even within the intersecting Pagan communities), Polytheists often struggle with issues of oppressive prejudice. These prejudices are, by literal definition, acts of conscious or unconscious violation of human rights, as outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees:

Article 18
1. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of [their] choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest [their] religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.
2. No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair [their] freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of [their] choice.

Article 27
In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practise their own religion, or to use their own language.

As with any case of social and cultural prejudice, Polytheists and polytheistic religions can benefit from healthy social justice considerations and, of course, from allies who are interested in supporting the rights, respects, dignities and protections inherently due to Polytheists.

Many Polytheists are involved in social justice and civic work in other communities independent of religion – such as economic disparity, systemic racism and racial inequality, homophobia, transphobia, and greater LGBTQ activism, women’s rights and minority cultural advocacy. They act as either allies to these vital human rights causes, or as intersectional members of these groups. As the visibility of Polytheist issues, erasure, and the hostilities often directed at us and our religious groups has grown, so too has a place for Allies to Polytheists who are not themselves religiously defined in this way, but support our needs all the same.

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10 Steps to Being a Good Ally to Polytheists

1. Be a listener to Polytheists in your life. Polytheists often report that others – often those from Pagan communities – do not listen to them, or attempt to re-frame what they self-report in a way the undermines, reduces, dismisses, pathologizes, or otherwise erases the experiences and identities of the Polytheists in question. We don’t care if you consider us “a type of Pagan” or “a subordinate strata” of Paganism. When a group is taking the time to respectfully discuss the erasure, hostility and oppression that they are experiencing, it is probably a good time to stop erasing them, their ideas and their identities. To be an ally is to listen and to learn.

2. Be open-minded. Polytheist religionists do not represent a single religion, but both a category of religion and a category of experience, which are themselves myriad and far-ranging. Not all Polytheists worship or affirm all gods from all pantheons, while others do. Not all Polytheists have direct and singly transformative, and redefining causal relationships with the gods, wherein they know-and-feel them in a tremendous and mystic fashion. They simply affirm the experiences of others who do, and recognize that their own relationships, devotions, and prayerful worship are equally valid, in a world populated by many gods, many spirits and many types of people.

Polytheists may report experiences of their gods or spiritual practices, which can confuse a 21st century secularist. To be a good ally, it is important to understand that your comfort with another person’s religion, practices, experience or identity is not relevant when approaching the subject with compassion, respect, and the universally declared statements of human rights pertaining to religious practice and identity. To many Polytheists, their religious identity is as essential to them as their gender, profession, place in society, or sexual orientation, and in many cases even defines some of these.

3. Be willing to talk to and about Polytheists in a positive way. Communicate with the group to which you’re trying to be an ally. Reach out. We love talking. That’s why so many Polytheist religionists are online attempting to engage, build bridges and, well, communicate. But on the topics of our religions and our experiences, please start with “listening” and “being open minded.” Do not attempt to tell us that we are “wrong,” “nutters,” “mentally ill,” “crazy,” “fundamentalists,” “fascists,” or that we need to be “culled from the herd.” Please do not send us death threats, threats of violent sexual assault, threats of using your academic or institutional professional power to see us locked up, detained, or dehumanized as unfit for society, because you do not believe in our experiences and affirmed identities. Please, as allies, talk to us, but do not talk at us. We will not threaten to have you killed, assaulted, institutionalized, or “culled,” either.

4. Be inclusive and invite Polytheist friends to things. Inclusivity is appreciated. Being shunned by Pagan and other religious or secular communities does happen, because sometimes Polytheists have different ways of being. Because our gods are affirmed as real and of consequence, as are spirits engaged throughout our world, some of us have lifestyle qualities – such as taboos, required actions, food or clothing restrictions, and so forth – which you may not understand. There is no “list” of what these are, because our gods have all kinds of different plans and functions for us. Just as there are many differentiated gods, there are many differentiated ways of being in relationship to those gods, and some of us may stand out in some way as a result of our religious identity. Please try to understand and respect this, and do not assume that we are judging other people who do not follow our way.

5. Do not assume that everyone is theistically (religiously) identified the way that you are. Do not assume, for example, that everyone who talks about religion is a monotheist. Please do not assume that “religion” means “monotheism.” Someone close to you could be looking for support in their process of defining their Polytheist experiences and identity. Not making assumptions will help to give them the space they both need and deserve.

Presentation1 Thracian

[Courtesy Anomalous Thracian]

Many people who self-identify as Polytheist also self-report that they felt a great deal of relief, salvation, and safety simply by realizing that there was a “Polytheist Movement.” The Polytheist religious identifier was specific enough to differentiate their experiences of the world, of the gods, and of themselves that they felt safe and protected with it, but still broad enough to non-competitively provide those identity protections to a number of Polytheist religious paths, traditions, and approaches. Let me say that again: people report that they feel that their lives have been saved, as in literally, by being able to identify in this way.

When you attack or dismiss the Polytheist identity, you are directly dismissing the identity of at-risk demographics who are asking you to please see them as a valuable part of this world, or at the very least a part of this world that deserves to be respected. Please do not make blanket anti-religious statements, or anti-religion stances: sharing memes on the internet and so forth which promote an anti-religion New Atheism, whether you identify as an atheist or not, is harmful to many Polytheists. Please do not do that. If you would like to discuss specific concerns regarding religion, whether formal or informal, please do so while specifying and differentiating those things from “religion” or “devotion” or “piety” or “worship” in general. Chances are pretty good that most Polytheists feel almost the same way you do about those “big bad villains,” who have a long history of enacting tremendous global atrocities and centuries of colonial cultural erasure. Maybe we can be allies to an anti-colonial, anti-corruption movement together. But can we do so in a way that doesn’t erase our Polytheist religious rights, freedoms, and intrinsic identity.

6. Anti-religion and anti-theistic jokes, comments, and statements are harmful. Let people, including your family, friends, co-workers, and peers know that you find these to be offensive and unacceptable. This one should be self explanatory. Religion is a tremendously important part of world culture and personal identity. Making jokes about people for being religious or having religions is not different than attacking or dismissing or dehumanizing them for any other reason. Anti-theism is not funny, and humor intended to suggest that those with religious and theistic views are ignorant, mentally ill, or culturally devolved is an expression of callous supremacy. Supremacy is not funny.

7. Confront your own prejudices and privileges even when it is uncomfortable to do so. There are many helpful guides online and at your local library. Look for books and websites that explore the topics of internalized systemic prejudice and privilege. Many of the mechanics of oppression dynamics, bigotries, and socially inherited behaviors, like these, are shared in common between different forms of marginalization. You may find yourself benefiting from studying other social justice movements (such as understanding systemic racism, anti-Semitism, misogyny, homophobia and transphobia) in your pursuits of understanding how to not oppress, or even how to become an ally, to your Polytheist friends, peers, or neighbors.

8. Defend your Polytheist friends against prejudice, discrimination and erasure. Statements of alliance and support are welcome. Many Polytheists report feeling that when they were targeted with discrimination or violence, others – even in Paganism – would find ways to describe it as somehow justified, as if the Polytheist were “asking for it.” If you are looking to be an ally to Polytheist religionists, please show them that they are not alone, and you will defend their rights and their dignity. Show them that you see them, and value them as a part of your society.

9. Act in accordance with a belief that all people, regardless of religious identity or experience, should be treated with unconditional dignity and respect; even when that identity or experience are different from your own.  Check your own intellectual entitlement at the door, and recognize that your understanding of another group’s identity or practices is not relevant to your affirmation that all people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Do not try to “force” Polytheist identified people, or polytheistic religious traditions, into your definitions of Paganism: this is both disrespectful and in many cases inaccurate. The modern Pagan movement is popularly understood to be a thing defined by its inclusive and accepting approach to relating to the natural world, and it is considered dishonoring (and dishonorable) to force a system of identity in this way. Acts of respecting empowered visible individuation, agency, and identity are preferable to those that silence the will and wishes of a person or group, in favor of one’s own feelings.

10. If you see Polytheist religions, traditions, or persons identified religiously and devotionally in this way being misrepresented in the media, report it. Please contact the editors at Polytheist.com or wildhunt.org.

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Polytheists and polytheistic religious traditions are here to stay and the Polytheist Movement is here to ensure that that path is clear, safe, and respectful. With the rise in Polytheist visibility, we have the freedom to begin discussing our experiences, practices and theologies in accessible mediums, defiant of hostilities that seek to silence or institutionalize us in some manner.  We will value the supportive gestures of our allies to these important ends.

Polytheist.com banner

Polytheist.com banner

All of us in this shared world sit within an age of change, of uneasy shifting stances and shifty glances side-to-side as we cross the roads of today toward a planned-for tomorrow that will perhaps better accommodate the many needs of the many kinds of people, groups and religions to be found throughout. The world that we fight for, that we march for with booted feet to tired ground, and that we build for stone-by-stone and board-by-board, must be a world possessing the maturity and grace to see and respect the myriad expressions of life and society that will be found within it. Rights and freedoms for all peoples and groups, and critical identifications are the currency of the future.

Polytheists view the world as being made of an infinite system of relationships between distinct and distinguished agents, human and other-than-human, populated by many gods to whom we can bring our petitions and receive the guidance toward building this future. We are invested in that future; in having space, breath, voice and visibility, and in collaborating to protect and preserve these for all those who will emerge to continue and carry as illuminating torches our traditions and devotions into a thousand futures, who will, in our inevitable passing, hold the way for those who will follow.

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[Author’s Note: Special thanks to GLAAD.ORG for providing inspiration for the structure and tone of the above “10 Steps” ally guide.]

Guest Contributor

Posts

  • Scylderon

    Great article with important definitions. Thank you for the guide to being an ally as well.

  • Anne Newkirk Niven

    Great post, my friend. Sharing to the PaganNewsBeagle in a couple of hours. Would you care to expand for our 2016 “Polytheism” issue of Witches&Pagans? (I think you know where to find me!)

  • Julia Traver

    Thank you, Anomalous, for this wonderful article. It has been years since I’ve self-described myself as pagan; and, even then it did not feel right. I was soon finding myself identifying as a polytheist. Then came the question — What is THAT? This was back in the 1980’s. Anyway, this needs to get out to everyone.

  • Laine Glaistig

    Excellent article, Anomalous Thracian. I really appreciate it; I’m going to make sure others read it too.

  • I am not a fan of the way that you hijack the term “polytheist” to mean specifically those people who are god-spouses or hear the gods and land-spirits talking to them on a daily basis.

    A polytheist is anyone who believes in multiple gods, period, whether they be constantly chattering in one’s ear or relatively removed from one’s daily life. This is one reason I like the word mystic, or mysticism, in this context; it serves to differentiate the one from the other, which I think is the ultimate goal.

    • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

      Where is he doing that, though? At no point has the Thracian written anything above saying that polytheists are *ONLY* those who are spiritworkers/etc.

      Accusing someone of “hijacking” a term that is perfectly applicable to what they’re talking about, based on your own (purposeful?) misreading of their statements…well, I don’t think you need me to tell you what that resembles.

      • Fair enough, and I will freely admit I was reading it through the lens of the atheist/theist paganism debates of 2012-2013, when AT and his friends were indeed much more focused on the god-touched. I cheerfully withdraw the term.

        However, that said, I certainly don’t agree with the overblown rhetoric used here. People disagreeing with the nature of the Gods is somehow now a “human rights” issue, complete with the language of the LGBT community (“allies” etc.)? That seems way, way over the top. I’m a “hard polytheist”, as are the large majority of Asatruar, and nobody has suggested that we have no place in Asatru.

        I would suggest that any backlash AT and his friends have suffered on that account may lie more with their own tone and tenor (as I recall, they were saying things like “people who don’t believe in the gods can’t really be pagan”), rather than some campaign on the part of the humanist or dualist pagans to ostracize or excise the polytheists.

        • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

          You’ve answered your own objection: you’ve felt no ostracism within Asatru because polytheism is not unusual in Asatru. Fair enough, and good for you and that community.

          General paganism, on the other hand, is an entirely other animal. As much as we get lumped in with the general pagans a good deal of the time, likewise our experiences and our articulations of them (i.e. our beliefs) do get routinely belittled, marginalized, and ignored. Certain pagan academics have actually called us “fundamentalists” for “actually believing the gods exist”–you know, that thing which people who are adherents to particular religious viewpoints really out to be doing if they have those viewpoint–and this is far more common in general paganism than many might like to believe. This is why the Polytheist Movement has become a necessity, whether within or outside of the general pagan communities.

          Your reaction seems to be essentially “Well, that’s not my experience, so it must not be true; and also, I don’t like your tone.” Do you need to have it outlined to you how much fallacy is in those sorts of arguments?

          • You seem to be taking this very personally, and I’m not going to indulge you in that sort of sniping. I will take issue with your assertion, however, that I’m speaking only from my personal experience within Asatru.

            Show me the statements, within the last six months or so, that polytheists in the neopagan and Wiccan communities “are “wrong,” “nutters,” “mentally ill,” “crazy,” “fundamentalists,” “fascists,” or that [they] need to be “culled from the herd.””

            Please show me, from within the last six months or so, the “death threats, threats of violent sexual assault, threats of using your academic or institutional professional power to see [them] locked up, detained, or dehumanized as unfit for society”.

            I’m perfectly willing to say that my personal experiences aren’t the be-all and end-all of the discussion, but since you impugn my assertion that the tone of the discussions from two years ago aren’t germane, then by all means show me the *recent* statements from the non-polytheists in neopaganism and Wicca that justify the sort of hyperbole in the original post. I’ve not seen it, but you seem to be saying it’s out there. I ask that you point me to it.

          • October last year there
            was an interfaith community wide debate on animal sacrifice. Very serious
            threat were made towards Polytheists then, including what the Thracian talks
            about. To my knowledge the most vocal people were outside of Polytheist
            traditions. This was a major issue on polythiest.com for some time, so check
            some of the columnist posts and Thracian
            Exodus for more info.

          • (I’m not fond of commenting on TWH, I’m doing this because I was involved in the animal sacrifice debate and witnessed it.)
            When there is an entire community of people saying this stuff, not just Anomalous Thracian, it seems to be a good indicator that it is actually happening. No one needs to forfeit their privacy to satisfy you.

    • I don’t think you actually read the article, then. He uses the term polytheist as follows:

      “This term does not refer to a single religion or a finite number of religions; it refers instead to the identity of a person with regard to their religious realities and experiences.”

      There’s nothing here in the article above that suggests he is hijacking the term.

    • Except the article outright states this:

      “Not all Polytheists have direct and singly transformative, and redefining causal relationships with the gods, wherein they know-and-feel them in a tremendous and mystic fashion. They simply affirm the experiences of others who do, and recognize that their own relationships, devotions, and prayerful worship are equally valid, in a world populated by many gods, many spirits and many types of people.”

    • Tracie Holladay

      Well, haven’t you ever run into pagans who express shock and disbelief at the very idea of another pagan actually being a hard polytheist? My husband has. One member of the board of directors of a local group just couldn’t understand it when he said he really does believe that Odin (and the other Norse Holy Powers) actually exists. I would say that the woman who was so shocked should call herself an atheist if she isn’t a believer herself.

  • Paul Parrett

    WOWOWOW! So very well written, and true to boot. I have no possible comment that can bring any more value to what was said here. These points were just that ON POINT. I will attempt to relate my experience. I find it hard sometimes to explain to people how deeply holy and important to me the very duality and multi-connections that make up the cosmos are. Not many people especially early to mid 20 year olds, hold or try to hold a spiritual conversation that at worst sputters and dies totally, at sorta best it comes back around to young zelout Christianity (nothing wrong with that, simply MY experience) which eventually sputters and dies. Nor do the young pagans i encounter have more then a year or two of solid experience in The Craft/Occult/Esoteric/Pagan paths etc. So too try and relate can be a bit troublesome when you’ve had 10 years to deeply identify with Cernnunos, and Isis came down to you like only a Goddess of magic can. While finding deeply spiritual connection to Chinese philosophy, so on and so forth.

  • Govannon Thunorwulf

    This is what, I’m starting to realize, is what I am. After reading this article, I also understand why I am treated the way I am by the Pagan community. I am glad to finally find some allies. I was really starting to think I was destine to never fit in anywhere. Thank you very much for this article. I will be looking at your website later for more social connections which I desperately need.

  • Thanks for this. I especially needed the 10 Steps for Allies. Great job!

    I do think it would also be helpful to distinguish polytheism from what you call “archetypalism” at polytheist.com: “psychological archetypes largely drawn from Jungian psychological theory, and 20th century treatments of meta-myth in literary and culture traditions.” This helps me and others like me know where the boundaries lie.

  • Thank you for writing this! As the number of people identifying as Polytheist grows, I think it’s important for all Pagans to read something like this.

  • Gus diZerega

    There is much I find valuable in this essay, especially its focus on religion rather than social theory and on personal experience of deity as the critical dimensions of
    what it is to be a polytheist. As a person who for decades has made daily prayers and offerings to a variety of deities and spirits, and had personal encounters with the ones to which I make such offerings, I would imagine I am a polytheist by any reasonable definition of the term.

    I am also a traditional Gardnerian Wiccan and here is where I think the essay makes a arbitrary division that cannot be supported: that one cannot be a monist and a polytheist at the same time (for the Gardnerian “Dryghtyn” is most easily understood as a monist concept). One most certainly can and for thousands of years many polytheists have, and not just in the Western occult tradition.

    I have no problem with calling “non-reductive” polytheists fellow polytheists. The difference in our outlooks here is theological and so has no practical impact on our religious practice or personal devotion to deities. It is in the realm of practice where ‘religion’ (how we celebrate, the sacred together) takes place as contrasted with our personal ‘spirituality’ which often varies among those who practice the same religion.

    I very much like Anomalous Thracian’s emphasis on relationships as central to polytheism but it is equally true for polytheists who make sense of our experiences within a more inclusive framework. For many of us polytheists have also had experiences of The One. But that hardly means we do not relate to one another or to our Gods as distinct entities.

    This issue first became contentious when some polytheists questioned the polytheism of Traditional Wicca, I wrote an essay on Patheos demonstrating there was no tension at all between polytheism and having an ultimately monistic
    perspective. It was not critical of non-reductionist polytheists except when they claimed sole ownership of the concept. I link to it here. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/pointedlypagan/2014/06/polytheism-emergence-and-the-one/

    What of ‘duotheism’? Traditional Wicca is ‘duotheistic” in most of its rituals, but this merely means that when we meet we almost always focus on two deities, and truth be told, more on our Goddess than our God. There is not and has never been any implication these are the only two deities. They are the Gods of Wicca. I would imagine no Norse practitioner deals with Demeter or Omulu in his or her rituals, but that is hardly a claim Demeter and Omulu do not exist.

    The term ‘duotheism’ is in no way analogous to ‘monotheism’ which asserts that there is only one deity for everyone. It was devised for very different purposes and only confusion arises by contrasting ‘duotheism’ with “polytheism” and “monotheism.”

    I have also written monotheism is an incoherent concept in monotheistic theology and practice. Christianity as a whole worships many deities, each claimed by its devotees to be the only one. Sort of like saying everyone named Tom is in fact the same being. Duotheism would do no better were anyone foolish enough to make a similar claim. http://dizerega.com/2013/10/21/the-mirage-of-monotheism-2/

  • Tracie Holladay

    #6! #6! Yaaasss! How many times have I heard even UUs and other people in the local pagan community spew highly insulting bs about theism and religion, etc (or post such comments on social media). My husband is Asatru and he is a hard polytheist and definitely religious. Yet these UU pagans made such rude comments in his presence all the time, not even bothering to consider whether it insulted him or not. We both tried to explain this to them but they refused to listen.