I am aware of several tooth-and-nail battles being waged between Pagans and Polytheists and What-does-that-make-uses of various stripes right now. And I’m aware that it all must feel very important to those participating in them, but I can’t help but feel that I’ve seen it all before and didn’t think we needed to be so adamant about it then either. Let me provide some examples.
Does Social Justice Work belong in Polytheism?
Previously seen in: Does Social Justice Work belong in Witchcraft? (The Reclaiming Case)
Christians got there first in: Active vs. Contemplative in Mysticism and Religious Vocations
What is the issue? One side sees larger social justice issues, such as racism, sexism, homo- and transphobia, et cetera, as matters that are essentially moral; and, as they see religion as largely a moral framework as well as a practical one dictating right relationship with other beings, they feel that work on such issues is not only permissible within the scope of their faith but in a sense required for full consistency to their values. The other side sees religion as primarily a framework for interaction with the Powers invoked within their traditions, which as such do not require social work outside of what is built within the religious structure, with the exception of protecting the right to practice the religion properly. Other issues are a distraction from, or even a corruption of, the primary religious duties.
Why does it matter? Because the question is what is proper to treat within the religious context and what is not, and by extension, whether there is an ethical imperative one way or the other. Is someone doing it wrong? If so, what repercussions might there be? Am I beholden to someone else’s theories on what does and doesn’t belong?
Why doesn’t it matter? Because neither Paganism nor Polytheism is one body – a thing most of us point out constantly without thinking through what it means. The person whose practice demands attention to social justice is not beholden to the person whose practice does not, nor vice versa, unless they both claim to be practicing the same denomination of the same faith, if even then.
Are You an Archetypist?
Previously seen in: Are You a Soft Polytheist?
Christians got there first in: Are You a Heretic?
What is the issue? There is a gamut of beliefs about the nature of Gods and of their myths. At one end, Gods are completely distinct individual beings, fundamentally like us except in scope, and myths are the stories of their real exploits in the spiritual realms. But Gods are also seen as having different boundaries of identity than ours, ranging from fuzzy (soft Polytheism) to none (Monism) to being archetypes, to not existing in an objective sense at all (Atheism). Likewise there are other schools of thought on what myths do and don’t mean. Are they meant only to be stories with morals or lessons attached and not literal stories of the Gods? Can they be both?
Why does it matter? The assumption is that people positioned in very different places on these issues cannot fruitfully work together. Some, in fact, go so far as to say on one hand that the presence of near-atheists is insulting to the Gods and harmful to ritual work, or on the other hand that believers in the full objective reality of Gods are superstitious relics of a long-dead era that is not wanted back. Certainly these differences can lead to fractious bickering as well as to differences in approach.
Why doesn’t it matter? Because, hey, neither Paganism nor Polytheism is one body! If two people can’t agree on whether it’s okay to act out the descent of Persephone as a personal journey or whether Isis and Auset are the same person or whether Odin and Loki would still be willing to sit together on the bus, then they can get away from each other and each do it the way they think is best. If the Gods themselves care, they will then be free to bestow blessings and burdens according to how well we all do. If they don’t, then why should we? Are we feeling like we have too many potential allies in trying to rebuild these ways from ruins?
Yes, it all feels very righteous and convenient when we can slap a label on people we don’t agree with. This group is intellectually lazy, that group is full of racists, that other one uses terms differently than we do and that’s obviously all wrong, those Wiccans are so last decade. So many handy reasons not to listen to other people’s ideas and consider whether they might actually work in their home contexts. So many easy ways to create a “them” that doesn’t have to be treated with any respect.
But couldn’t we do better?