[PBP2013] Polytheism

noun: the belief in or worship of more than one deity. [OxfordDictionaries.com]

deity (noun): a god or goddess in a polytheistic religion [OxfordDictionaries.com]

god (noun): in polytheistic religions – a superhuman being or spirit worshipped as having power over nature or human fortunes; a deity [OxfordDictionaries.com]

These are specific words, especially “polytheism”, which is a compound of ancient Hellenic words, a very specific dialect, when compared to English.

If you think the gods are aspects of our inner selves — you are not a polytheist.

If you believe the gods are archetypes of a cultural consciousness — you are not a polytheist.

If you don’t believe that deities actually exist as a superhuman entity with Their own agency outside the human mind and experience — you are not a polytheist.

Now, you can pull some lame-ass,”oh, but Ruadhán, you’s an English major, don’t you know that language changes?” Well, yeah, in theory the words we use daily are subject to morph in nuance, or in the realm of slang, take on a whole new meaning (thus why, in formal writing contexts, “faggot” means “a bundle of kindling sticks”, but in informal and slang uses [yes, they are two different things], “faggot” is regarded largely as a pejorative for a homosexual man), but here’s the thing: Language is a social construct that exists to ease communication of needs, wants, and more complex ideas amongst people. In theory, I could start saying “wort” instead of “deity”, and intend to mean the exact same thing that “deity” means, but who is going to find that easy to follow? Especially since there is already a perfectly good word to convey what I intended to with “wort” in that hypothetical.

Furthermore, there is already a perfectly good word to convey what “atheist pagans” might honour instead of deities: It’s called an egregore, a thought-form. It’s a loan from occult terminology, but it works. It’s not a deity, and its etymology implies an origin in the human experience.

Furthermore, as has been previously said by PSVL: Traditional polytheists have always been a rather tiny minority in the Western neo-pagan community. Pantheists, panentheists, monotheistic goddess-worshippers, christo-pagans, and even atheists tend to outnumber us many timesover. Also: The neo-pagan community has a massive problem with appropriation of terms that don’t really convey the concepts they want the words to (like “karma”), or are specific to cultures that have nothing to do with the religion one practises, but I guess it just sounds “cooler” than the more-generic term (like “totem”, when “animal spirit” will suffice). I don’t see a huge difference here, with the insistence of such oxymoronic, contradictory nonsense as “archetypal polytheists” and the other bored, educated stupid white kids who think that Silver Ravenwolf, or whatever other Llewellyn-published hack has any sense in defining “karma” any more than some-one raised in religions that created the concept.

“Polytheism” is a practise of people who worship deities, not people who honour archetypes and / or thought-forms, and unless you worship actual deities, you have no right to contribute to the definition of the word, on any level. It’s just not your say.

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8 thoughts on “[PBP2013] Polytheism

  1. I agree. With caveats… I do think that things can become Gods. I’m using things, in a handwavey way. I can see Egregores and thoughtforms, over time become their own thing, and morph later on into something. See Dalliances with Deities. Wonder if that will see the test of time, or what. Be interesting what someone more experienced with the fey would make out of that blog.

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    • In theory, I’m not opposed to thoughtforms, archetypes, etc…., evolving into deities, it’s just something I have no personal experience with. That said, if one believes those are the only deities, then one is most likely still theistic rather than atheistic, in my opinion —they believe a god becomes from these ideas, a god that exists independent of the human consciousness. One isn’t a polytheist if one believes that all that is is the archetype, or the egregore, or that the only “gods” that exist are wholly dependent on human belief to even exist.

      It’s not my place to say how gods come into being. I may not worship, but I believe that the Norse and Germanic pantheons exist, and apparently in that mythology, even the greatest of those gods will eventually die –so who am I to say that all “true” gods must be deathless, like the Hellenic deities? It is perfectly reasonable to assert that “god” has a clear definition as an entity that exists outside the human consciousness and allow for there to be different sorts of god that will eventually die, or that necessitate the human consciousness to be born.

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      • Wait don’t the Hellenic Deities also die, if they don’t eat something? My memory is vague on that right now.

        Personally, how Gods become Gods, I think would make an interesting theory discussion.

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        • There are gods with life/death/rebirth mythologies, and I believe some later mythology states that if an infant god with one human/nymph/satyr/etc…, parent isn’t nursed on nectar and ambrosia, they’ll remain mortal, but the epithet of “the Deathless Ones” is pretty mainstream in Hellenism, and is generally assumed to apply to all Olympian deities.

          Yeah, the discussion of how gods become such is certainly an interesting theoretical topic, but again, the definition of deity is rather specific, and if the elevated archetype still doesn’t exist outside human consciousness, then it simply cannot be a deity, it’s an egregore. Can one honour an egregore the same way one worships deities? Well, that’s not my bag, so maybe it’s not for me to say, but I don’t see why not. I certainly wouldn’t turn such a person away from an otherwise open Hellenic ritual I was leading, but I expect no less than referring to my deity as a deity; xenia doesn’t just mean that I should accommodate my guests, within reason, it also means that the guests are expected to uphold the rules of the host —if I’m leading this ritual, and invite people from outside my religion, or who believe that the gods are nothing more than a manifestation of the human consciousness, and the rule of my ritual is that specific deities will be honoured in a Hellenic manner, then I’m not at all obligated to accommodate the Pop Wiccans by casting a circle, and I’m not at all obligated to accommodate the atheists by calling my gods egregores. I wouldn’t expect them to accommodate my own religion at rituals they host.

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          • The definition is pretty vague divine nature:) Btw speaking of definition of words, for someone who is reading your blog that isn’t familiar with it, you may want to define xenia(you made me google).

            As for following the rules of anothers ritual, that’s being polite.

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            • That’s not the whole of the etymology — “deity” ultimately comes from the Latin “deus”, for god, which comes from “Zeus” (it’s accepted by some classicists now that “Zeus” was a title as much as a name –thus why Hades is sometimes referred to in ancient texts as “Zeus of the Dead”). It’s pretty specific.

              As for following the rules of anothers ritual, that’s being polite.

              You’d think, right? But apparently there is no shortage of Pop Wiccans and other neo-pagans who will start casting circles before a traditional polytheist ritual begins, as soon as they hear that doesn’t happen there, or will interrupt to “give all names of the Goddess” in, say, a ritual specific to Hathor or Artemis or Rhiannon. There’s no shortage of atheist “pagans” who come to polytheist blogs, and just immediately start to debate the existence of any deity as a being outside the human consciousness, or throw some fit cos the post is about people who actually believe in gods, and they honour archetypes and want to be counted as “polytheists”, too!

              I’d blame Tumblr culture and its demand for inclusivity for inclusivity’s sake, but you know, I’m old enough to know better —there’ve been kids like that since long before LiveJournal, even. There’ve been kids like that since before America Online. Some people are just under the mistaken assumption that everyone should accommodate everyone, at all times, for anything necessary, cos what about the people who *really want to* be a part of it? You know, a vegan might want to hang out with the members of a hunting club, but he doesn’t have to join the hunting club and then lobby for them to stop hunting in order to accommodate his beliefs to do that.

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