Today I am taking a cue from Beth Wodandis, who in turn took a cue from Jo Poseidonae, to talk about what my polytheism looks like. We do this – along with others, yourself included if you like – partly as a statement that there isn’t, in fact, one single “Polytheism” to which everyone must adhere. I have already shared my thoughts on introducing orthodoxy into modern polytheism in a previous post, “Going Nameless in a Nameful World” (spoiler: I’m not a fan) but there’s more things I can say about the whole thing in general.
As I’ve also said before, I don’t believe in the (modern Western) hard divide between monotheism and polytheism. I think that it comes largely from a conflation of meanings of the word “god,” so that “Is there a God?” and “Is there a god?” are treated as one question instead of two, when in fact the first asks whether there is a single being that embodies the classical perfections, whether defined in Western or Eastern manner, and the second asks whether there are any spiritual beings whatsoever who are worthy of human reverence. It seems obvious to me that when you break the two pieces apart, you can see that you can answer them separately. You can say yes to one, or to neither, or to both.
But the current popular discussion of “Polytheism” refuses this possibility. But, well, other people’s being beholden to a logical fallacy is not my problem. Nor is it a problem for the majority of Hindus, practitioners of ATRs, nominally Christian folk practitioners, or any number of other inconvenient, sloppy wielders of actual living faiths.
Nor am I very afraid that the Monotheists or the Atheists or the Communists or, I don’t know, whoever, will destroy my faith if I don’t become bombastic about it. I don’t like being evangelized at, no matter who is doing it, for one thing, so bringing evangelistic zeal to my polytheism doesn’t appeal to me. For another thing, good heavens, who can actually stop me? They can make it hard to have temples, sure. They can refuse me the right to do “state religion” type things. They can even refuse me my own language and objects of household worship that aren’t very ordinary looking – although, my being white and an English-speaker, they probably won’t. But the history I learned isn’t just about being easily crushed: it’s about rugged survival. It’s about holding on for dear life, hiding things in plain sight, biding time. If they keep me from burning goats, I can pour out whiskey; if they take the whiskey, I’ll pour water; if they don’t give me water I’ll spit on the ground. If I can’t sing or pray out loud, I’ll do it in my head where they can’t hear it. If they threaten to medicate the spirits away, I’ll say I don’t hear them any more. Good heavens, how can they stop me?
I refuse to tidy up my living practice so somebody else can tell themselves it’s okay, we look respectable enough. Ask any oppressed minority in history if looking more like the oppressor is what gets you your rights. No? It’s the part where you stand up for your whole danged category, greatest to least and perhaps least above all, and refuse to sit back down until your needs are met? Well then. Call me when that’s how we’re handling the rights of minority religions. If it’s “the rights of the good minority religions but, like, not the ones that embarrass me,” it’s not my party.
My polytheism is spirit-led. When a deity or an ancestor or a hero or spirit of renown calls, my polytheism picks up the fucking phone. If they call regularly, they get put in my polytheism’s Rolodex. If that means there are five pantheons from three continents represented in that Rolodex, then so be it. I do not represent myself as an authority on their traditional cultures of origin, though I do make a point of learning all I can about them and integrating as much as possible for the whole to still work together. I do not represent myself as belonging to said cultures, and whenever I can, I will defer questions about those cultures and practices to known and trusted insiders. I, myself, am never the insider: mine is a pantheon of the margins, full of tricksters and travelers and rule-breakers. Lovers and seers are the most wholesomely manageable of my tribe. Maybe if I belonged to a god of a social order things would be different, but those don’t call here much. I believe that like calls to like, and my Rolodex represents the entities who have use for what I do or fondness for what I am, and that common ground likewise attracts me to them, and we build relationship and do Work together. To me, that is what this is all about. I can’t be rebuilt to run like a mainstream Protestant or a devoutly single-pantheon reconstructionist or a free-wheeling Wiccan variant. I am what decades of shared process between myself, my human peeps, and my gods and spirits have made me.
Your polytheism, whatever it is, will not change that. Nor do I expect mine to change yours. But if you and I have common ground, maybe we’ll work together one day. And if not, no harm, no foul. You belong to yourself, not to me. I belong to myself, not to you.