Polytheism and Philosophy

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently – that polytheists as a whole seem to have very little to say about the bigger philosophical questions in life. Many polytheists are focused on environmental concerns and political agendas – both of which are important and need to be developed further.

But there doesn’t seem to be many people talking about the base level ideology of polytheism, for one glaringly obvious reason: there are literally millions of different answers for every question that can be asked because polytheism embraces a multiplicity of viewpoints and is multicultural by its very essence.

However, I think that not asking the hard spiritual questions is a mistake because it leaves the polytheistic community without ways to answer questions like, “How compatible is science and religion?;” “Why do bad things happen?;” “Are we guided more by fate or by free will?;” and many, many others.

I’m not going to say that it is possible for a single polytheist out there to stipulate and define the answers to questions like these – by the very nature of polytheism, the idea of a single answer to any question is anathema to me. However, I think that it is important that someone start asking the questions. 

I think, in order for polytheism to really evolve, we need to start asking the harder philosophical questions that so many of us seem inclined to avoid. There’s this growing mentality that I have seen within many polytheist spheres where people are becoming afraid to ask questions, afraid to offer critiques – in essence, afraid to change, to evolve, to grow.

At our core, we are a very inquisitive species. We crave knowledge. We actively seek new information. We like to ask questions. Yet, for some time now, there has been this rage against polytheists who dare to be different. Who dare to ask questions. Who dare to indulge in practices outside the “norm” of their chosen traditions.

In many Heathen traditions, Lokeans bear the brunt of the scorn. “Loki isn’t a real deity;” “How dare you worship the being who caused Baldr’s death?;” “Loki isn’t welcome at our hall/kindred/home;” “Lokeans are nothing but troublemakers.” I could continue this list, as I have heard and seen much more abuse than this hurled just at Lokeans, but I am fairly certain you’ve gotten my point.

However, it isn’t just Lokeans who have to deal with the scorn and abuse of fellow polytheists. I’ve seen/heard comments like these over the years: “Heathenry is better than Wicca because we have actual texts for our lore;” “That’s not supported by the lore, so you can’t do it;” “You’re not a real Pagan/Heathen/Wiccan if you don’t do ___ (or if you do __);” and many, many others.

While I’m aware that not all Pagan faiths are polytheistic in nature, most of them are. Not all Pagans are polytheists, either, but most of them are. There are atheists, monotheists, duotheists, and polytheists in Pagan faiths (by which I mean any faith not part of the Abrahamic faith system which consists of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism).

The hallmark of Polytheism is the tolerance and inclusivity of people with differing views – or, at least, that’s what it should be. However, the division we’re seeing within polytheism is partially the aftershocks left by those who fail to discard monotheistic philosophy when they begin walking down a polytheistic path, while the other part of the division in polytheism is part of the evolution of polytheism itself.

Change is necessary – vital – for evolution of all things, and that includes theology, philosophy, politics, and the environment. But to really push polytheism towards evolution, we need to start thinking about defining what stances polytheists take on the harder questions in life.

While it is inevitable that the stances we, as polytheists, take on things like the compatibility of religion and science, the age-old question of free will vs determinism, and why bad things happen in the world around us – the first task is to develop a stance at all.

Right now, the focus in polytheism seems to be defining the differences between “soft” and “hard” polytheism and calling people out for following the “wrong” path or practicing the “wrong” way. While I understand, to some degree, a person’s need to be “right,” it is also undeniably true that the paths we walk in our various faiths are all different. What is right for me is not right for you, and what is right for you is not right for me. Telling me that I’m practicing my faith incorrectly leads nowhere but to dissension, tension, and anger.

I get angry at people, too, and I disagree with them. That’s part of what it means to be human. I dislike organizations like Gods and Radicals because I hate what they do when they constantly rely on logical fallacies to make their arguments. I don’t agree with communism, and I’m not anti-capitalist, as many of their authors are. But I don’t feel the need to try and convince the authors of G&R to stop being communist or stop being anti-capitalist. All I would like to see is more care taken when they present their arguments using logical fallacies that work as traps to trick people.

That’s another reason that a polytheistic philosophy is something that I feel we desperately need. People who are versed in philosophy tend to be highly aware of logical fallacies and tend to be fairly skilled at avoiding falling into the traps they create. Here’s a list of logical fallacies for those who may not know what they are (and there are a lot of them!).

It would be nice if we could work together to come up with answers to questions like “How compatible is science and religion?;” “Why do bad things happen?;” and “Are we guided more by fate or by free will?” instead of focusing all of our attention on whether someone who adheres to a “soft” form of polytheism can still consider themselves a polytheist at all.

You can consider this a call to action – or thought, as the case may be – if you choose because I get the feeling that it will be imperative, for the survival of polytheism, to have answers to questions like these. As it stands now, the world we live in is predominantly monotheistic in nature. For aspiring polytheists (and experienced ones), the monotheistic world is a hard one to deal with. Because monotheists ask the hard questions we haven’t even begun to ask ourselves, and it is easy to often feel at a loss when the questions are brought up and the interest in an answer is genuine.

For example, I recently had a Unitarian Universalist ask me what I meant when I said I was a polytheist. I explained to her that it meant I believed in and honored multiple gods. Her response to that explanation was, “Yeah, but what does that mean?” She understood in theory what polytheism was, but she had no way to mentally grasp what polytheism is, and I have yet to come upon an explanation that makes sense to monotheists. This is what I mean when I say we need philosophy in polytheism – we need to be able to engage our world in meaningful conversation.

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6 comments on “Polytheism and Philosophy

  1. I have said this, too. In addition, “environmental concerns and political agendas” do NOT figure into my religion — and never have. These are secular concerns which are very important; however, they should remain separate from religion. We see everyday the terrible use of fundamentalist religion in these areas. It is truly upsetting to see people actively trying to make this nation a theocratic state based on only an extreme form of one religion. G&R is absolutely NO help in this because they are as extremist.

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    • While I agree that government and religion need to remain separate, I do think that our political and environmental concerns are often shaped by our religious beliefs. However, I think a scientific approach is better than a religious one when dealing with the environment, and I think a rational/logical/analytical approach is better than a religious approach when dealing with politics.

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  2. I think it would be impossible to write theological texts that cover every strain of polytheism, but I definitely agree that particular traditions and religions within polytheism need to start writing this stuff down for future generations.

    We have SOME sacred texts that have survived, but most of them are gone, burned and destroyed like our great libraries. It’s time to begin writing and testing again, and once more asking the big questions.

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    • Yeah, I don’t think that theological texts are the way to go because that leads to issues like “but that’s not in the book!” Rather, multiple collections of essays from varying polytheistic faiths seems far more feasible.

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  3. Funny you should post this right now. I was scheduled to give a talk titled “Leaving your Monotheist Bias Behind when Practicing a Pagan/Polytheist Faith” but was accidentally left off the schedule. I’ve been rescheduled for the next big event in January and I expect to ruffle far more than a few feathers.

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