(Tongue-In-Cheek Warning: This is about the Pagan/Polytheist split thing. If you’re sick of hearing about it, keep moving).
This post by John Halstead was interesting (and it’s not just because I get so tired of hearing Heathens accuse each other of being Christian). I think there is something to what he is saying.
I’ve often been confused by Pagans who share memes and sentiments amounting to things like “all religions are bad” and “people who believe in God/s are stupid”. I’ve been trying to wrap my head around it for a while now, and frankly, this article does put some of it in perspective. The idea that a lot of Pagans are moving away from the –theism portion of their previous faiths may go a long way towards explaining not only that, but the insistence that Paganism is not “religion” but “spirituality”, the oft-repeated statements of “Nature is my temple” (it’s one of my temples, too, but that’s a bit beside the point here), the wincing that one sees when one suggests the Gods are other than elaborate metaphor, that everything should be made up as we go along… if you’re a regular reader of mine, you know I don’t really agree with those sentiments, but I can understand where they may be coming from if people are coming to Pagan paths as a rejection.
I don’t think that it’s accurate for every self-titled Pagan though; it’s certainly not for me. What drove me away from the faith that I was mostly raised in was a combination of things: being told that some members of my family’s lives could be forfeit if they didn’t accept the same faith (this was especially painful with my grandmother, who was a good woman), or that they would be condemned to an eternity of agony for disagreeing, the fact that someone who is as queer as I am had no place in the faith and the best I could hope for was a life of self-flagellating repression, and countless other things. Mind you, I recognize that there are many of that faith that argue that those things are not doctrine or correct.
What drew me towards Paganism was a love of the mystical and magical and a love of the Gods who I had loved as a child. I’ve told the story a thousand times: when I was a kid I found a copy of the Choose Your Own Adventure book “The Trumpet of Terror”, which is set in ancient Scandanavia and you, the main character, belongs to a family touched by Odin, and you’re called on to aid in a touchy matter involving none other than Gullveig. The names of the Gods and powers in that book ignited my blood, sang in my bones, captured my imagination and would not let go. Likewise, when my mother bought a huge map of the solar system for me I asked her what the planets were named after and got an education on the Roman Gods. Thereafter I tried to set up altars and worship without really knowing how. I followed my mother into her new faith when I was a still wee one, but I never lost my appreciation of the faith and Gods that felt natural to me, despite trying to accept the idea that they were all demons trying to deceive us.
Leaving behind the old faith was hard, but not because I believed in its absolute correctness, more because of old habits and fears. While I was walking into Paganism (specifically Wicca at the time) for years I felt a series of sensations like fishhooks attached to wires being pulled out of my spine, sometimes as bunches, sometimes one at a time, and reckoned it the connections to the God I once worshiped being pulled free, or me pulling free of them as I strove towards the path that made more sense to me.
I am not sure which Goddess it was that replied when I called to “The Goddess” or “The Lady” though I have some guesses (I never felt to comfortable with The God, frankly, and not because the God of my former faith was “male” – despite the pronouns used it was made clear to me at an early age that that they were neither male nor female, so I never thought of them as such). I wasn’t running from religion, nor was I running from the idea of One God – I was fine with that as a Wiccan, all was the Goddess, and I thought of the various deities as Her many faces. It was neither the mono- nor the -theism that took me away from my old faith nor the lack of one or the other that drew me to the new one.
When I started being Pagan, I started finding a lot of prejudices and what I considered harmful beliefs, but they didn’t drive me away from Paganism (although, to be honest, they had me on the run from Heathenry specifically for a good long while) I decided to stay and make a difference by being myself and being Pagan (as I’ve decided to with Heathenry). I stayed because the beliefs by and large resonated with me and because the practical aspects of that belief and my working within it have been beneficial. I stayed because if I didn’t, my voice wouldn’t be contributing to it and changing it.
Which brings me back around to the article above. Should Polytheism and Paganism split apart (if that’s even entirely possible)? Should Polytheists remain a part of the larger Pagan movement and continue to add our voices to it? I know there are plenty of folks on both side of that question who would be happier if we didn’t. A voice within me says that that’s not in my hands, but I know better. It’s in my hands, it’s in John’s hands, it’s in the hands of everyone in the larger movement that we’re attached to. We all collectively are the “movement”. This Pagan movement consists of people, and most of them aren’t loud mouths like myself and other bloggers and authors, they’re folks living it and not acting as mouthpieces for their egos, their Gods, or their causes. Ultimately that’s what all that recent talk about Pagan laity has been about on some level, right? The folks who just want to live their paths and faiths?
There are folks like me, who are Polytheists and still identify as Pagan – I straddle both identities, and I have to say I’m stretching in places that I’m not used to stretching as a result of this debate. Part of me thinks that Polytheists would be better off moving away from Paganism, but the fact is there are lots of Wiccans and Eclectic Pagans who are still Polytheists. They still believe in many Gods, that they are separate entities, and that they exist outside of our heads (though there are surely parts of them that live within us, too).
Is the question of identity more about Reconstruction and Recon-derived practices? There may something to that – a lot of Heathens don’t want to be associated with Paganism because they associate modern Paganism with folks with no interest in reconnecting to the faiths of the past. That is surely not applicable in all cases, or even most for all I know. A lot of Wiccans still believe that they are connecting to an ancient faith-way and for all I know they very well could be, scholarship aside. Who am I to say whether or not some ancient prehistoric Mother Goddess or Goddesses are whispering in the receptive ears of modern folk? That aside, reconstruction that begins with scholarship is different from totally channeled spirituality in a number of ways, despite the fact that all lore was once UPG.
As time goes on I don’t know where I belong. My times at Brushwood went from free-wheeling, firedance-happy Eclectic Pagan to Polytheist ADF gatherings and Heathen Woo-Woo Bootcamp. I spent less time at the bonfire and more time at the Runestead, less time partying and more time worshipping, practicing, and studying. I found more fulfillment in that than I had in just smoking pot, drinking, and dancing around a bonfire. It wasn’t what everyone was there for, even among the Pagans who attended. I was still welcome at the fire and the public rituals; no one treated me as a weirdo for being who I was. In other words, despite being a practicing Polytheist, the other Pagans didn’t try and make me feel unwelcome.
I don’t know the answer. I do know that many of us aren’t running away, but running towards, not fleeing, but seeking. Regular readers will know that I’m fascinated with identity and the borders of it and its composition. This particular discussion is important to me, and it may be important to many of you as well. How we approach this will shape generations to come; even if our names and specific words are forgotten, the ripples we set in motion will continue to build and change the face of things. While I do believe that honoring the Gods is important for a variety of different reasons, I also think that our social and cultural movements are important too. Would it benefit both Recon-based Polytheism and modern Paganism for there to be a definite split in our movements? Would it harm either? What will we be leaving for generations to come? We all sense the rumblings and have felt and seen these divisions, and it’s up to us to encourage or discourage them as we see fit. What do you think?