…I read in the comments by Keith C. McCormick on Halstead’s blog:
“polytheism” doesn’t require hyphenation in the case of multiple deities. It is only in the case of a belief that deities are not independent beings that such clarification is necessary. From an anthropological standpoint, polytheistic societies acknowledge multiple independent godlike Powers, regardless of the underlying cosmology. Plenty of traditional polytheistic societies have a concept of “oneness” (and plenty don’t), but in those cases, the “Oneness” is rarely the focus of veneration- it’s simply a cosmological idea, not a theological practice.
Perhaps one of the reasons that the “devotional” or “hard” polytheists are so adamantly defending “polytheist” as meaning only traditions in which the gods are real and distinct is because, from a historical perspective, that is true. I can’t think of a traditional religion in which shamans or priests to say “I ask Spirit”- no, they generally ask “the spirits”, “the ancestors”, or “the gods”. Any tradition that reduces the cosmos (or even just divinity) to a single entity is supposed to have “mono” in the title somewhere. Describing Athena, Frigga, and Amaterasu as archetypes or undifferentiated faces of a single Power is a belief in “one”, not a belief in “many”.
To describe such a “mono” religion as “poly” is the linguistic equivalent of calling one person drinking a martini a “cocktail party”. One might as well call a rainstorm by the name “water”. It is philosophically possible to defend such a position, but it not particularly useful in most circumstances. Why then do so many people so strongly object to a small group of people (Do we call them “Person” now?) insisting on a more precise, historically-accurate use of a term (“polytheism”) that until recently had a fairly precise meaning: belief in many gods?
Can’t we just cook up new terms for the hyphenated stuff? Polyarchetypicalist? Polyfaçadal Monist? Eclectic Jungian? I mean, monism gets to have a separate term from monotheism- why not let the people who believe in multiple, literal GODS keep the term they always had? Let’s just find a new term for people who address Unity through multiple faces.
Oh, I absolutely understand the emotional weight on both sides. But to my mind we need to be guided by our awareness of privilege (my anthro is showing, I know…) in the same way that we would for an indigenous society. I seem to recall that some of those elder pagans fought for Reclaiming of traditional definitions. For instance, “Witch”- an indigenous term colonized by Christian invaders.
It always falls to those in positions of power, prestige, or privilege to make space for those who would reclaim traditional practice by yielding the name. Adler, et all were not the first to be described as polytheists, it was a term that described a fairly specific kind of theology practiced by “others” (at the time). Now that people are becoming visible who more closely fit that definition, it is appropriate to allow the historical definition to reassert itself in the same way that “Witch” does not inherently mean an evil green lady riding a broom.
Why then is interpreting “theos” in the historically correct sense considered by many to be a dangerous and/or shameful belief? The difference here is not one of equally valued meanings but a choice between one interpretation that is “safe” and one that is “dangerous”, with those in positions of privilege deciding that their definition is “safe”. It seems that people like PSVL are trying to defend and resacralize the word “theos”- a word that many today seem bound and determined to divorce from its original meaning.
Your example of reclaiming Christ from Catholicism is flawed in that in it you are introducing a wholly new definition, not reclaiming an old one. I would be just as wrong to declare that Paganism is solely worship of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. The example is in no way similar to a situation in which a few decades past some people redefined a word to suit their purposes and are today upset that another group insists on using the term in its original, historical context.
In this situation, neither the “hard” polytheists nor the “hard” theists are the newcomers, rather they are the newly acknowledged. In such cases, it is the responsibility of those in positions of power and privilege to force themselves to reflect on their own appropriation of language and to yield terms back to those who use them in their original context. This was the case with “witch” and it should be the case with “theos” and “polytheism”.
Unless we are willing to add new words to our language to accommodate new concepts while preserving the meanings in old words, we run the risk of confining our ability to conceive of concepts newer still.
Oh, Keith, make sweet, sweet love to me.
(Posted here because neither I nor my cat, Nigel Prancypants, are allowed to post to Halstead’s blog –and you know, to anyone who still entertains ideas that I am not “savvy” enough to be aware of IP-logging, actually, I am, I just didn’t give a shit enough, cos really, if i did, I would’ve at least used a pseudonym that’s not easily tracable back to myself.)
If you don’t believe the gods are gods, you are not a polytheist in any meaningful way —and you therefore should be the one with the “hyphenations”, not polytheists.
Your feelings, Margot Adler’s feelings, and anyone else’s pweshuss fee-fees don’t matter. Think about when people of certain Native American tribes say “no, totem is our word, and you’re using it in a way that demonstrates a clear misunderstanding of the concept, use a different term” –and people who really do care about proper reclaiming of terms start calling what they do “spirit animals” or “animals guides” or something else and they let the Natives have “totem”. Because “totem” meant something before a bunch of people who didn’t really understand the concept decided to use it for something they were doing.
“Polytheism” means, as many have said before me in this discussion “[belief in] many gods [as gods]”. If you don’t believe gods may actually exist, but you find archetypes a useful thing to give honour to or to aspire to, then call yourself an “archetypalist” or “archetypal polytheist” or anything else you’re comfortable with, but calling yourself a “polytheist” without any modifiers in that case is the very definition of intellectual dishonesty.
All the paganism, Tantra, meditation, sacred sex, and BDSM sex magic(k) books and workshops represent a step backward. They are very convenient ways of rationalizing sexual pleasure by letting people claim that it’s about “something more” than just making your body feel good. All the sweat and cum and juices and the delicious, confusing carnality of sex get shoved back into the closet in favor of much tidier abstractions so that we can believe that we’re not just shallow hedonists. And that takes us back to square one, where we were told by our teachers, priests, and parents that sex was good — or at least acceptable — when done for any reason other than physical pleasure.
Now, I haven’t gone back to the source on this, because this alone was enough to incense me with rage at the immensely gross misunderstanding of every spiritual revelation I’ve had thus far.
ALL SEX is inherently spiritual. It doesn’t matter if your intention is procreation, magic, religious ecstasy, or pure and unadulterated pleasure. If you don’t think sex is sacred, great, good for you, but demonising those who have a spiritual relationship with sex, whatever our reasons, by accusing us of taking “a step backwards” isn’t going to help anybody.
Pleasure, even just the “base” bodily pleasures of the body, are, or at least can be, spiritually significant. The first sensation to run its current through the universe, Desire, governed by Eros, and the offspring of that, Pleasure. These sensations are inherently sacred and spiritual, even if people don’t wish to acknowledge that. When we act “for pleasure”, our sensory area of the brain opens up a window for contact with those primordial forces and the deities who guide them; from then, we either reach ourselves out to it, or not, but it’s that opening by our genetic memories to the sacred energies and most ancient of Deathless Ones that ultimately brings that pleasure –it’s when we acknowledge that sacred that we have a spiritual relationship with not only sex, but all of life’s pleasures.
Do some people, of all sorts of religions, use that information (or some variant of it) as a crutch, limiting themselves with it? Of course. Do some people use it as a set of shoe lifts for the ego, in a flailing attempt to try and make oneself seem more important than one is? Of course. But it’s those people, for those reasons, that are taking the step backwards. By conflating the spiritual with the ego, and the evolution of the soul with self-delusion, that’s the step backwards. By denying that sex is both spiritual AND biological pleasure, and that even the pleasures that most people see as inherently “earthly” are crucially beneficial to the soul, THAT is the step backwards.
Furthermore, it really bothers me when people, even self-identified pagans, especially traditional polytheists (and this goes double for the Hellenists) use “hedonism” as a synonym for self-absorbed. This is why Aristippus’ ‘Kyreniac’ school splintered and Epicurus founded his own, people don’t get it, that it is those ‘little pleasures’ that become the gateway to Hedone, and ultimately Her Holiest parents, Eros and Psykhe, the eldest progeny of Nyx and the youngest of the Moirai. Through those pleasures, we learn our fates, and what by learning what we desire most, we learn our place in the great tapestry of the Cosmos. There is no such thing as ‘mundane’ or ‘shallow’ pleasure, unless that pleasure is taken without knowlegde that all of it is sacred, and knowledge can only be gained with experience. If one lacks that experience, then it’s cos one never took the opportunity to throw open the sash when the window presented itself; if one lacks that experience, it’s cos one mistook noticing the window and peering through it for actually touching the Divine.