I often say that Polytheist religious movements are human rights movements, and sometimes people don’t understand what I mean by this, or challenge it, so I wanted to try and make a statement on this. So, here goes:
The “Polytheist Movement” is absolutely a human rights movement, in that it is interested in fighting for the rights and protections to practice their religions and hold to their affirmed beliefs intrinsic to them. This does not mean that every Polytheist is involved actively or knowingly at that level. The “Polytheist Movement” is a loosely defined movement of modern Polytheist religionists (identifying variously as “devotional polytheists”, “hard polytheists”, “pagan polytheists”, and more) who, in addition to practicing Polytheist religion, are focused on furthering the protections, knowledge, accessibility, rights, respects, and anti-discrimination developments relevant to Polytheists in various levels of our cultures and societies, including both “Neo-Pagan” and mainstream societal levels, often through writing, teaching, and lecturing on the subject. Their activism is clearly differentiated from their religious practices, although the topics covered in writing may overlap (and religious education often includes advocacy for rights, respects, and religious freedoms).
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.—Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
Freedom of thought, conscience and religion are closely related rights that protect the freedom of an individual or community, in public or private, to think and freely hold conscientious beliefs and to manifest religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance; the concept is generally recognized also to include the freedom to change religion or not to follow any religion. The freedom to leave or discontinue membership in a religion or religious group—in religious terms called “apostasy”—is also a fundamental part of religious freedom, covered by Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
Actions taken to suppress religious rights and freedoms are by definition actions in violation of human rights. A movement aimed to counter this and protect those right is by definition a human rights movement. Such actions do not need to be understood by the perpetrators of them as violations of human rights in order to be consider human rights, obviously: very few individuals or movements guilty of human rights violations would willfully admit to or acknowledge this, because by definition they do not view those impacted by their harming behaviors or policies to be deserving of said rights. In this sense they are literally dehumanizing those groups in question. The term “dehumanizing” in this context does not refer to 1980s action Cartoon style villainy, but instead to the behavioral act of violating the rights of another in such a way that communicates that they do not warrant access to such rights, thereby suggesting that the group in question is “less than human“.
After an interview process for an upcoming Pagan publication, I have been doing some contemplations around various Polytheist stuff-and-things, including community relations to Pagan movements and ethos, as well as some of the common critiques aimed at Polytheists. Below are some stray thoughts, which are totally informal and unrefined, shared more or less in their original form:
- “We are not the ancients” is something of a cliché ‘party line’ used in one form or another by many of the Pagans who have taken a stance against a differentiated Polytheist religious movement, which is carefully crafted to suggest in discrediting fashion that Polytheists believe themselves to be confused as to what century we are living in, or that we are “backward” and “devolved” (this is direct language used), which further posits “the modern” (e.g. the social and philosophical structures which grant these particular voices a position of perceived esteem and/or authority) is more advanced (“evolved”, again, literally stated as such) than what we Polytheists (or our ancient pre-modern predecessors) are doing. I want to unpackage this a little bit.
- First, the very people who say these things are often drawing from 500-1500 year old philosophies themselves, mostly seemingly seated in an atheistic take on Neo-Platonism. Those, in turn, are based on even older maxims, as influenced by later intellectual and social developments. This is not exactly a 21st century invention. So why are they playing the anachronistic card agains those who attest to a different view than their own? And they’re applying these through Enlightenment and post-industrial consumer-capital style lenses, supported by various post-reformation based romantic dalliances about how super awesome and all-important humans are, which seem to my mind as awkward bedfellow ideas, given what this “super awesome” species has done to [the world, animals, itself, music or whatever] since those time periods.
- Secondly, why is anyone permitted to speak of “evolution” in this sense and not be called out on their supremacist rhetoric? Because that is what it is: supremacy seated in the affirmed belief that their society’s normative structures are not only preferable (which is totally fine, if it stopped there) but the ONLY option, which represents the “most advanced and superior” expression? These ideas misapply scientific understanding of evolution and progress — and in turn taint those words and ideas in colloquial use so that those who would use them more correctly and usefully are misunderstood. When a bunch of white scholars start to say that “modern [Western] society” is a more evolved form of living and that other cultures are “not yet caught up” or “actively devolving”, really big red flags go up for me. These are disturbing words, and I am bothered by how readily they are accepted.
- Third, Polytheists are regularly considered to be holding on to the past as if we believe that things were universally and romantically idealized in some golden age of not-now. I don’t know any Polytheists who think this. The ones that I know are well aware of the violences (against women, for example) which existed in nearly all elements of the ancient world. (We also note that those same violences exist in this one, and it is only in the last brief periods of history that this really began to change at all, so.. that throws out the whole “ancients are nasty savages” side of things, given that so were the societies of most of our great-great-great grandparents, and it is not as if we have a Utopia now — Gamergate, anyone?)
Polytheists are not, by and large, interested in “looking at the past” to base their religious lives and developments on some nostalgic/sentimental/conservative/time-traveling-adventure-time glory-day ideals. We are interested in looking at RELIGIONS. Even those who are Reconstructionists — which represent only one type of Polytheist! — for the most part only use the historically solid documentation, studies, and and academic attestations (archeology, “the lore“, etc) as methodologies for informing their practices with a preferred form of organizational structure.
Nobody [Most people don’t] believe s that they are time-travelers from or to another period. Polytheist religionists are interested in studying, practicing, discussing, and further developing religions.
You know, those things that we keep saying and writing that we’re identified with, practicing, living, experiencing? Yeah, those. Religions. The things that we keep stating we haven’t found accurate, comfortable, or even SAFE place for ourselves in with regard to what the majority of standard Paganism has to offer, with regard to our devotional and theistic identities.
Criticizing Polytheists for looking at past expressions of the very things that they are trying to do now is like criticizing LGBTQ culture for being interested in expressions of non-hetero-binary expressions of gender and sexuality throughout history. Why the fuck would anyone think that was a logical critique, or even remotely a morally acceptable one?
Oh, right. Because these same people think it is morally acceptable to silence a minority religious movement whose ideas and ideals don’t centrally rest upon reaching under the table to jerk them off while they choke themselves out with the umbilical cords tethering them asphyxiatingly tight to their own internal images of Self. The thing about choking out is that there is this interesting stage in the process where a person starts to feel really good and your vision goes this foggy bright, and the fact that nobody else around you can feel what you’re feeling doesn’t matter because WOW IT IS SO BRIGHT. So these folks slack the cords enough to try’n get everyone else to stare deep and longingly into the mirror and learn to choke themselves out with their own ego-cords until vision and clarity fade into this astounding moment of euphoric connection, where shit all makes sense BECAUSE THEY ARE CHOKING ON THEMSELVES, and “the sudden loss of oxygen to the brain and the accumulation of carbon dioxide can increase feelings of giddiness, lightheadness, and pleasure, all of which will heighten masturbatory sensations.”
Now, there’s nothing wrong with euphoric spiritual experiences, intoxicants, and so forth: but there is absolutely something wrong with creating a supremacist position that says that anyone who experiences anything else is crazy, dangerous, and believes that they’re time-traveling.
Back to it, though:
Polytheist religion is a type of religion, first and foremost. While that does not mean that all Polytheists do the same thing or feel the same way on all of the same issues — quite the contrary, ‘many gods, many people, many paths’ is sort of a thing! — and so it stands to reason that its leaders, visionaries, writers, moderate thinkers and radical advocates would be attentive to examining RELIGION in the pursuit of, developments in, and protections for their religious identities, freedoms, and expressions. This is not an act of “devolution”, but an act of radically progressed differentiation and lawfully protected identification.
The desires to identify as what we are, to relate to our experiences and practices with autonomous gods as real and non-metaphorical agents using accurately defined and well-researched terms, and to study past, present and future expressions of related religious traditions and identities is not an act of being “backward” or “superstitiously stunted” but of being radically in favor of our universal human rights, which most well-informed and reasonable moderns would argue is sort of the definition of societal progress.
Who am I referring to, in terms of these critics and detractors and dehumanizing supremacists? There are Specific people, who have some level of influence, and whose trending ways of approaching these subjects are common-place themes in many of the discussions that the leaders within the Polytheist movement have been combatting for the sake of religious identity rights. However, those specific people are only part of the problem. This is a systemic problem. For the sake of this piece of writing, singling out only a handful of examples would seem to excuse the rest of everybody involved, in subtler ways. There is a time and a place for individual accountability; right now we’re dealing with systemic and collective accountability. Nobody is free of this, and any list would just suggest that the blame is held by just a few. It is not. That is what “systemic” means.
Polytheist religion faces systemic oppression and erasure — if you are not well versed in social justice language and theory, “systemic” may not be a clear term for you, my apologies — and has fought for years to even name this is an issue. We finally got loud enough and progress is being made.
This is an issue of social justice, human rights, identity rights, and so forth. It is unhelpful to ask “who specifically” is guilty when discussing the systemic issue, because that entirely shifts responsibility from the overall system — which is made up of people who ultimately allow and condone such things to exist in the first place.
(For a current and incredibly relevant to our world today example, in the present issue of racial injustice, specific cases and incidences and individuals are important in terms of specific justice actions, but the greater issue is the systemic problems that allow it to continue. Focusing only on the specific individuals “most guilty” (e.g. those who got caught murdering unarmed Black teenagers, for example) and ignoring the accountability and responsibility of the greater systemic whole, actively harms progress. Because, while justice for that individual case is CRUCIAL and IMPORTANT — and individual accountability and justice MUST be achieved — it still is only one piece of a system whole. Systemic injustice of this sort is like a “systemic infection” in the body, meaning one which has propagated throughout the body, rather than remaining localized to one specific place. Each of the individual symptoms — the individual offenses — must be addressed, but the systemic roots must be addressed as well to more deeply and impactful achieve necessary change.
The “Polytheist Movement” is not the same as “general Polytheists or Polytheist practices“, in the same way that “Gay Rights Movement” is not the same as “Gil, the gay man who lives upstairs from the pizza place, and drives that sweet classic ‘vette“, or any of his romantic leanings (or lamentfully missed connections) over the years. The movement which is focused upon the RIGHTS of a group does not exist to sit around exclusively talking about that group’s practices or preferences, but the PROTECTIONS which are guaranteed it by universal law and about the VIOLATIONS of those protected rights expressed by a given society, culture, or group.
So, when a Polytheist — Edward Butler for example — is writing about Polytheist Theology, he is writing as a Polytheist about Polytheist Theology. But when an author — myself, for example — is writing about Polytheist rights and freedoms, as I am in this article, I am doing so not to discuss Polytheist religion, but Polytheist religious rights. The rights of a group are different from the practices of that group. Both are important, but without rights, the practices can be interrupted, silenced, erased, persecuted, or corruptively bludgeoned to compliant nothingness.
One of the elements in this which is lost and overlooked by, I would say, 99% of those involved in the topics as readers or responders or even writers, is that “the Polytheist rights movement” doesn’t represent all of Polytheist religions, but instead represents the RIGHTS and PROTECTIONS of those religions. Just like not every single LGBTQ activist represents all LGBTQ practices or people — and in fact may not even be LGBTQ! — but instead represents a collaborative dedicated to protecting, enforcing, or even CREATING through demands and demonstrations, those universally afforded rights and protections.
Therefore, not all LGBTQ persons is an LGBTQ activist. Not all Black Americans is a Black Rights activist or involved in the social justice campaign. Lack of active engagement in those things doesn’t make a person less Black or less LGBTQ-identified; involvement and engagement is non-mandatory. Similarly, not all those involved in the activism and advocacy for those rights are themselves identified with the groups they’re working to support and empower.
There are two wonderful things happening in Polytheist religion today:
- The proliferation of discourse and dialog between growing, vocal Polytheist religious groups, teachers, traditions, and religious bodies. Yay! Religion! Devotion! Piety! Learning! Prayers! Rituals!
- The emerging force and voice of the Polytheist movement’s answer to systemic oppression and erasure through the application of activist engagement, writing, dialog and demonstration for the purposes of ensuring the continued right, freedoms, and respects which are by universal law to be awarded to these religiously identified groups and individuals.
This current thread is a conversation from the stance of “2”, as shared by a person who is obviously prolifically a part of “1” as well — myself. The groups or individuals that I am critiquing? They are anyone and everyone who would infringe the rights and freedoms of my religious identity or those of my Polytheist colleagues, co-religionists, friends, families, clergy, laity, and devoted seekers. There are many avenues of erasure, and this movement stands against the crushing tides of all of them. Similarly, a relatively disproportionally high number of Polytheists are also involved in other forms of activism and human rights issues, from dismantling racism, to protesting systemic injustice, to championing LGBTQ rights and showcasing the systemic violence that the trans- community in particular faces, to networking with other religious minority groups, to taking positions in organizations focused on education, alliance and empowerment on social, civic, and human rights related policy. The cause of human rights effects not just one group or expresses as one issue, but rather, many. Many gods, many people, and just the same, many issues to be changed and ideological wars to be won, and many many alliances to be forged.
For all of us. And for our gods. And for our blessed ancestors.
It’s a damn fine time to be a Polytheist.
P.S. Sorry kids, I’m not actually into autoerotic asphyxiation myself, though no worries at all if that’s your thing — more power to you! — as I totally support people having their own things. Many things, in fact, differentiated as if we were each actually legitimately separate people! Wowza!