Polytheism, or Do We Really Need to Elaborate?

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So, I went and reread John Halstead’s blog wherein he discussed Pantheacon’s “Wiccanate Privilege Discussion,” and something caught my attention. Having a TBI, it takes my brain a while to process what I am reading and interpreting that information. So while some will say “Duh,” it’s not for me. Yeah, I don’t get the obvious. Anyway, moving forward…at the bottom of the article, John has a subsection entitled “Polytheistic with a Hyphen.” In the article he referred to Lupus’ discussion of the word polytheism and the nuances which can cause confusion and, thus, conflict when using a word which may mean different things to different people. John encourages people within the Greater Pagan Communities who identify as “polytheists” to perhaps use prefixes which differentiate their particular polytheist thealogy (i.e. devotional, hard, soft, Jungian, etc.). Galina responded to John’s suggestion of the hyphen usage here, and it’s a great write-up. I strongly suggest reading those articles before reading my own thoughts on the entire matter below.

Theos
Let’s start with the basics. Polytheism is rooted in two Greek words:

Polu – “Many”
Theos/Theia – “Divinities.”

But there is much more than just the simple definition given above. Ancient Greek carried with each word an entire cultural milieu that had a specific set of visual associations which pertained to the semiotics of the word. Thus, “theos” came with a shared cultural understanding of a phenomenon. That phenomenon sharply contrasts with our modern Western Christian-infused concept of “God.” For modern people within our Christian-majority environment, “theos” or “God” comes with a specific set of synonyms and adjectives including the notion that the Sacred is separated, or transcendent from, the mundane. Humanity, as part of the mundane sphere, cannot be privy to the sphere wherein lies the Divine Concept but through the sacrificial acknowledgement and belief in the expiation of Jesus. But more than this, “theos” has come to insistently mean “One.”

One God, One Being, One Power, One Force.

And even where the Christian Trinity can be clearly cited as an example of Polytheism, yet the Christian doctrine emphasizes repeatedly that the paradox is that it is “3-in-1.” So, no matter how separated the various Beings are, invariably They are One. The monistic concept of the Trinity has bled into our Pagan/Polytheist outlooks, with evidence around that people simply have trouble abandoning their Christian doctrines in the face of even the apparent contradiction that the Church enforces its believers to adopt. When we say that the world is filled with spirits and a host of Celestial Immortals, those still entrenched in Christian philosophy cry out “No! They are not independent Beings but simply ‘Many-in-One!'” The plurality of polytheism is surrendered for a desired homogenous state that exists only within the utopic minds of its adherents. The works of Joseph Campbell in his “Monomyth” and Frazer’s “Archetypal Sacrificed God” have also served many modern Pagans to give notice to the “Mono” over the “Many.” While the works of both have brought many people a wonderful foundation into modern Paganism, the unfortunate side effect is that people try to find in our practices how the variety of Temples, Cults and Traditions are similar before meriting an agreement of “Hey look! We can have a festival together!” The differences are excluded in favor of false conformity.

A World of Spirits and Beings
To the ancient Greek mind (and, cross-cultural comparatively other pre-Christian cultures both ancient and modern) there existed no word like “religion.” Instead, a concept that comes closest to that word is theon timai “Honors to the Theoi.” The honors given to the Theoi are encapsulated within the ethos in how we live, what we practice, how we serve cultus, and the festivals which we celebrate. In other words, polytheism is not simply about faith, but it is more so directly tied into action and works. Again, our Christian culture has bled its teachings of “By faith and not by works” wherein people have tons of altars and shrines without ever feeding or giving attention to the Deities in question. Statues are mere decorations, and rituals are more concerned with the participants attending and the facilitator’s skill at drama and timing (so as not to interfere with the feasting!) over the specific acts which touched our ancestors with the spirit world. But Polytheism is about honoring the Theoi (or insert pantheon here) with action and works which ripple into our very lives. These actions and works are important because “theos” itself implies a “third objective power.” (L.A. Wilkinson, Socratic Charis: Philosophy Without the Agon). It refers to a specific presence that carries a weight and validity to the people who are within Their sphere.

Otiose
“Otiose” is a word that means “Leisure,” or even “Serving No Practical Purpose.”  The word has come to be used in anthropology circles to describe polytheistic faiths such as Hinduism, some sects of Buddhism, and aboriginal tribal beliefs that do espouse a “One” Spirit that created everything or was responsible for creating the host of Beings and Spirits that inhabit a particular Cosmos, but the One itself is Unknowable, Untouchable, and Unconcerned with the world as-is. That’s why He/She created the Spirits in the first place: to run things. Think of a CEO playing golf and away from the company, never visiting or knowing what’s going on even with the daily worker. No, it’s the lead workers, the department managers, the operation supervisors and such within the company’s hierarchy that are concerned with the daily welfare of the corporation and its people. That’s us folks: we humans are the people at the bottom of the Cosmic rung in many ways. My Tradition’s teachings have a “One” as well: an otiose Protogonoi that cannot be touched or fathomed because S/He is everywhere. Yet S/He is unconcerned with anything at all except Hirself, and in the Grand Cosmic Scheme of things that’s all that matters really. So just because we have a “One” concept doesn’t mean we’re monotheistic. No, we’re Polytheistic. We work with the Divine Beings and Spirits that inhabit this world, and our temple’s power rests upon the honors that we bestow upon Them through our ritual actions and works.

Emic vs. Etic
Abundant evidence of polytheistic practices demonstrates that for many in both the ancient and modern world, rituals are tied specifically to a spirit or Divinity. As Jan Bremmer writes, “It is neither practical nor advisable to study the two entities separately.” (J. Bremmer, Ed., The Gods of Ancient Greece: Identities and Transformations). But the problem with modern Polytheism in general is that arguments against Polytheism are coming from those who are outside the Polytheistic scope. They are brandishing themselves “polytheists” without the complex understanding that the word in and of itself entails: the honoring, through ritual action and works, of many individualized and supra-powered Beings. In cultural anthropology, the contrasting view between studying the innards of a paradigm from a person within that culture as opposed to an objective observer who is an alien to that paradigm is known as emic vs. etic, respectively. The problem with etic observers is that they come with a template of biases which cloud what they are attempting to document and understand. They have a limited background that is not rooted within the Polytheist Model. If you want to approach Mythology and the Theoi (or insert pantheon here) via the Jungian School of Thought, you are not a Polytheist. You are a lay psychologist, a Jungian, or perhaps a Pan-Deist. But you are not a Polytheist.

It surprises me that we even need to have this argument of “hyphens” and prefixes. Polytheism is what it is. I reverence the Ancestors, the Heroes, and the Theoi of my Temple. I am a Polytheist. They are independent of me, and ritual is my lifeline to Them. It is also how I feed my spirits, those to whom I am aligned to. I probably could have just come out straightforward and made these statements, thus making the blog shorter. But honestly, I think some backstory was needed; research, if you will. Polytheism is not a term for anyone to use – in my opinion (lest I get angry messages about being too authoritative and…ah fuck it!) ….

Polytheism is NOT a term for ANYONE to use unless they are serving Spirits and Beings which are viewed as independent and volitional Beings in Their own right – NOT figments of the imagination or caricatures of the human psyche.

Go ahead, send the e-mails.

Eirene kai Hugieia!
(Peace and Health!)
~Oracle~

Sources:

Bremmer, J., and Erskine, A. (Eds). (2010). The Gods of Ancient Greece: Identities and Transformations.

Wilkinson, Lisa A. (2013). Socratic Charis: Philosophy Without the Agon.

Epilogue…maybe?

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I’ve just read some marvelous posts which I’ll link to in a moment. I’ve been anxiously awaiting since PantheaCon ended on how the “Wiccanate Privilege” discussion(s) were going from the Polytheists who have attended. So, let’s begin in some sort of chronological order…or at least I think it is. It might not be, but these are the numerics as I read them when they posted to my e-mail, and before reading my blog I highly recommend you going to these links and reading what these brilliant people have to say first.

1. T. Thorn Coyle started it off by discussing her opening prayer that she presented at a “Pagans and Privilege” discussion panel the aftermath of it. Personally, I love Thorn and I enjoy her posts which I see on Facebook. I also admire her listening skills. You can find her report here.

2. Anomolous Thracian was the next one to come through. He also attended PantheaCon, and was honored to be a part of Ekklesia Antinou’s Sancti ritual for two recently deceased members of the Community. You can find that report here.

3. Next came PSLV’s blog report in which e** participated in the “Wiccanate and Privlege” panel discussion. The report, which is both informative and sad, is here.

4. John Halstead’s PantheaCon report is here, and mentions my legal name (Luis A. Valadez) as well as links to two previous blog posts of mine. Thank you John for the nod.

5. In response to some of John’s personal views on hyphens in Polytheism, Galina Krasskova has her blog post located here.

Needless to say, it’s been quite the busy week post-PantheaCon 2014, and the discussions and opinions which have formed within the Polytheist Community will no doubt reverberate for a long time to come. I hope you honestly took the time to read those blogs before reading my own, otherwise it’ll be like jumping in the middle of a sentence or coming late to a discussion and not contributing anything worthwhile with your opinions (what I will now lovingly refer to as “Starhawking,” and if you’ve read the blogs, you’ll know why). Everything is taken out of context with shouts of “But there’s more important things in the world! Waaaaaahhh!!” Moving on…

Pagan Pride Day – First, Apologies
So for the past several posts I have covered what’s been going on between my Temple and the committee in charge of an approaching Pagan Pride Day event slated for this Fall south of where I live. Not only has the discussion taken place with my blog, but also in the comments section as well. It has also taken place off this blog within Facebook messages. Before I update everyone on what has taken place, I’d like to take this time out to say something:

I would like to apologize to the Local Coordinator of the approaching Pagan Pride Event. Her name is Kasha. I identify her because she identified herself on my blog comments which you can find here. So, just to be clear, she is the one who identified with her name and job description, not I. We spoke off of the blog posts and in Facebook where she stated that she was disappointed to see quotes from the closed Pagan Pride Day forum on Facebook from people. She thought it was neither kind nor respectful of me to do such a thing. The quotes have no names attached to them. However, for the sake of peace I willingly extend an apology to those people who did not expect their quotes extracted. I apologize to them for posting without their permission.

Pagan Pride Day – Second, Confrontation
But, while I have apologized (and I do mean it sincerely), there is another problem. The problem stems from Kasha’s husband/significant other Ray who posted on the PPD Facebook forum, my comments, and also seemed to stalk the blog-o-sphere wherever my name was mentioned to throw a tirade and twist the truth of the matter. Sigh. Well, here’s where the problem lies:

First, Ray’s own comments on my blog are quite a bit, but one stands out to me the most:

No one is singling you out, You were confrontational on the PPD discussion and brought a private discussion into the public. I get that you are unable to perceive a generic ritual, just because you don’t get it does not mean that is is not possible. While I don’t know you personally I have an idea of who and what you are. You are very bright boy, who has a keen memory, you are somewhat charismatic, and manipulative which are all assets for a cult leader but you also feign victimization and try use an alleged brain injury to your advantage. You have a tantrum when you don’t get your way, and then rather than trying to resolve issues you blog about how terrible other people are. Grow up dude.

I like this comment, I really do, and here’s why. It reveals everything I need to know about this guy and the people in charge, whom I liked. Kasha, the LC and spouse, has said nothing about what Ray has done. Nothing at all. It’s especially important considering Ray is an Administrator on the Facebook forum and openly insulted me by telling me I was here to get my ego stroked, and that to have pride was to have hubris.

For those of you who do not know, I am disabled. I have a traumatic right brain injury and all the nasty side effects that go with it: memory loss, memory retention issues, unbalanced coordination, seizures, insomnia, flooding, and the like. I sustained this injury in August 2012 when I was in a car accident, and I have talked about my subsequent struggles with depression and suicide from this incident in the links which can be found below:

Faith in Times of Crisis.”

“Coping with Depression: Learning to Dance with the Sacred Twins.”

But according to Ray, my brain injury is “alleged.” In other words, I’m lying. Great way to get some more support there, Ray – attack the disabled. *clap* *clap* *clap* He also calls me manipulative and a cult leader, and claims I have a “keen memory.” That one hit low, because I used to have a photographic memory until my brain injury occurred. Now, I have trouble remembering a lot which is why I write incessantly as often as I am able. I have calendars and “To Do” lists on my walls and fridge so I can be reminded to do the littlest thing. Even bathing is something I forget to do! Ew. Needless to say also, that Ray’s comments pissed off my husband, my girlfriend, my immediate family, my friends, as well as my own Temple members.

Pagan Pride Day – Third, Damage Control
If everyone reads the comments and blogs, you’ll note that even when I am talking with Ray, none of my questions or issues are being addressed. So what happened in the land of Facebook? Well, Kasha did the only thing she could do: damage control. She subsequently kicked not only me out of the Facebook forum, but also each of my Temple members in turn. Here’s the problem: only two actually posted their issues on the entire comments section, and everyone was very cordial and professional. The other 3 Temple members said nothing and because of their own lives only were able to read everything going on last minute before they realized they were blocked! Why would my entire group be punished for something I am personally talking about on my blog? Why would they be kicked out?

What’s worse is that the resolution to this entire matter was that I was told to come meet with the Local Coordinator and other people who had “impressions” of me from their interactions online. Um, seriously? These people don’t even know me, and I’m supposed to sit down like a scolded schoolboy in the principal’s office to listen to other people and their “impressions” like I am in an intervention? What kind of good management is this? This is anything but healthy conflict resolution, instead making the entire matter worse. I haven’t even been apologized to by Ray or Kasha regarding Ray’s attacks and accusations upon me. It’s sad. But, why I am bringing any of this up in the first place?

Pagan Pride Day – Fourth, Resolution
It seems that at PantheaCon everyone was defensive. I mean Pagans. PSLV talks about eir experiences on the panel when people assumed and spoke about eir temple’s beliefs and practices. One even went so far as to shout that the PantheaCon panel wasn’t interfaith, it was in-TRA-faith!

No folks, it’s all INTERFAITH. It always has been. Any Pagan event that is held which welcomes people from different Temples, cults, devotees and Traditions is bound to be interfaith, because we all come from different spiritual and ethnic backgrounds. We all have different philosophies and cultures, not to mention different Gods and spirits that we work with. We also all use different paradigms: Traditional Wicca, Neo-Wicca, Feri, Heathen, Celtic Recon, ADF, Hellenic Polytheist, Strix Craft, Druidry, etc. And in turn many independent devotees, solitary practitioners and groups may amalgamate ideas from different religious belief systems such as Hindi sects, Buddhism, or even Christianity. We are all so very different from each other it’s not even funny. In the Greater Pagan Community has been the joke, “Ask a Pagan 3 different questions and you’ll get 6 different answers,” or something to that effect.

So, in a way, we’ve always acknowledged each other’s differences. We’ve always respected that no one person can speak for all Pagans. Our Community has shunned anything remotely defining or dogmatically implying that there should be a definition of “Pagan.” Yet, with all of this anarchic-type of behavior which has defined our movement since its inception, we have an issue getting along with Polytheists who are devout to their Gods and spirits and whose ritual facets drastically differ from the American Neo-Wiccan “norm.”

Let’s be honest here: it isn’t Wicca’s fault that so many have copied the ritual frameworks of Traditional Wicca because it was Trad Wicca which came out first and has a heavy history behind it. Pick up a book on Paganism and it will be Wicca inspired. That’s awesome, despite the continued protests of many within the Traditional Wiccan community that American Neo-Wiccans co-opt their systems. But I’ll post that in another blog. For this one, we should be clear that Wicca is the “Pagan Norm.” And my Temple and Tradition is not Wiccan.

We are Hellenic Polytheist. Our Gods are independent Beings with Their own desires, tastes, loves, and stories. I don’t need to defend Them. I don’t need to fight for Them. I don’t need to justify Their behaviors within the Myths. I worship and serve. I pray and offer. I uphold my covenant with Them. I cannot emphasize this enough:

My ways are different than your ways!
My beliefs are different than your beliefs!
My culture is different than your culture!

Pagan Pride Day – The End
Because of the kerfuffle created, as of now my Temple will no longer participate in the approaching Pagan Pride Day event, which in and of itself is sad. We had a chance to network and share our spaces and to respect our differences, yet the end result is one of defensiveness and pointing the finger that I am the one in the wrong while I am trying to defend my tradition. Not the Gods, but my Tradition: the ways in which I have been revealed by the Gods on how to connect with Them through the lifeline that is the format of our Temple’s devotional cultus.

So to move forward, I am banding together with my fellow Polytheists and am planning on attending the Polytheist Leadership Conference. I’m going to find out the cost from where I live to its location in New York. Once I come up with the cost, I will be creating a specific blog post with a link to ask for donations. Honestly, I can’t make it there on my own folks. And if you’d like to send me there, I’d be really grateful. If you believe I have something worthwhile to give to this growing Community, I’d love to meet you there.

My girlfriend will probably be accompanying me, and I’ll work on trying to cover those costs as well. Honestly, because of my disability I need someone familiar with me the whole plane ride there and back again. Plus, she’s a member of my Temple and an intelligent young woman that I know can contribute as well. So I’ll be registering shortly here. Let’s see what Work we can do for our Gods and for our Community. Let’s see what new strides we can do together. We probably won’t agree on a whole lot (or maybe I’m wrong and we will), but if anything we’ve learned, it’s healthy conflict resolution and how to have discussions like able adults.

To this, to you, I raise high my glass in honor of my Beloved Dionysus, and bless you all. I look forward to seeing you at the Polytheist Leadership Conference.

Eirene kai Hugieia!
(Peace and Health!)
~Oracle~

**PSLV is metagender, and so certain pronouns will fit better than traditional binary gender ones. I pray I was able to reflect PSLV’s identity and preferences in this blog. Any mistakes I ask for eir forgiveness.