Food for thought as I sip my way into the day, first coffee wise…
A vast majority of outspoken Polytheist writers in our (Polytheist) communities are very clear that they are writing about religion. We use words like “worship” and “devotion” and “piety”.
A significant slice of readers reject these concepts and basically just want to have access to our content, for application in other purposes (e.g. those without worship, devotion, or the like).
The Polytheist writers I am speaking of — myself included — dedicate years of their lives to study, to leadership skill building, to writing and communicating and publishing information often for little or absolutely no pay, to better the religious lives of those who -can’t- do all of these things, for the basic reason that most people aren’t supposed to be scholars or theologians or mystics (just like most people aren’t supposed to be electricians, astronauts, or gourmet chefs, because these are all specialist roles requiring special training and dedication). By and large we write for the benefit of a reading audience, presumably because our gods have at least suggested (if not outright stated) that this is a part of our job.
Some readers are gung-ho about religion, devotion, and unmaking centuries of mental, emotional, social, civic and economic colonialism and the cobwebby damage and degeneration that it has left our world in, which are sort requisite for authentic restorations of these traditions. (This isn’t about political or economic theory, it is about honest and clean relationship to the gods, which survey says requires some homework of navigating out of centuries of Monotheistic or Humanist Atheopathic programming and culture experience, absent the benefit of a quarantine area, in a world still rampantly infected with misguided, dysfunctional, and systemically abusive-to-these-basic-things characteristics.) These readers are awesome. Some of them are clergy, some of them are new devotees or those answering calls, or seeking connection; some of them are old-guard Pagans who put years of service into their communities, and others are recent converts from other faiths that after decades of exploration just didn’t offer what was needed for them to answer their remaining calls. Yay for all of these.
But then there are a lot of readers who make direct statements -against- the foundational precepts of what Polytheist writers, scholars, clergy and religious leaders are saying — keywords being “religion”, “worship”, “piety”, “devotion”, “many gods”, “real gods”, and the like — but are simultaneously amongst the most enthusiastic and back-scratching participants in discussions. They -want- to engage the content, they -want- to be following the writing or snatch up the books… but not for religion, not for devotion, not for piety, and NOT for a more authentic or vulnerable relationship with the gods we love, serve, and — in one way or another — surrender to. (“Surrender” is a touchy word for some people on all sides of this, which I acknowledge.)
These readers — who may or may not know who they are — ask some of the best questions of us. They also often do their own independent reading and so they often feel that they are our colleagues rather than people learning from our experience as readers or contextual pupils. I believe that for the most part, they genuinely do not understand that they’re both actively doing something and actively pursuing something which is *ENTIRELY* different than what most of us are dedicating so much of our lives and time and energy to, which is, you know, religion. Devotional religion. With worship.
There is a hunger in those conversations, in those questions, which many of us — myself included — can easily mistake for genuine interest or enthusiasm for what it is that we’re dedicating ourselves to. But, it doesn’t seem to be true interest, or authentic enthusiasm. It feels like hunger; like need… like a sort of desperate fervor for more-more-more; not more worship, not more surrender, not more devotion, not more words that offer avenues to any of these religions concepts… but more “knowledge”, more “cleverness”, more “slippery citations” of facts or uncontested historic theories. In short, they want power; the power that they perceive comes from these things.
There is nothing wrong with power, nothing dirty or evil or greedy about wanting power. Many Polytheists also have magical practices and ritual technologies specific to these pursuits as well. But we tend not to write about them. We tend not to focus on them under the banner of our religious devotions. The reason for this is simple:
There is not a deficiency or shortage of power-seeking Pagans or Americans or Western Imperialists. Quite the opposite. You’re not clever or shiny or special for want-want-wanting more pow-pow-power; that’s the standard across all classes and economic and educational divides, and it’s just a matter of how the knowledge that offers that power is defined that changes. That’s not special or unique or edgy or cool; it’s just normal and default. We are not writing for the normal or the default.
We are writing because the Polytheist Movement is a religious Human Rights movement, as per Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which seeks to protect, empower, magnify, defend, develop, enrich, nurture and promote the proliferation of Polytheist religion amongst those who are called to these identified methods of worship, devotion, piety, surrender. There are many depths and levels of religious engagement, and nobody is advocating for full-immersion drown-in-the-mystic-all-the-time pathways for everyone; small daily practices or weekly observances or really ANY movement against the oppressive tides of blurry Atheopathic Human-centered “religion” or Monotheism so deeply ingrained in consciousness that even ancient indigenous cultures begin to be framed (through heavy multi-generational translation) in its language. We are writing to protect and preserve and restore religious ways, in the pursuits of religious freedoms. It is not about power-trips or “Polytheist Popes” or installation of power-structures to tell people what to do, it is about protecting and defending and encouraging and -TEACHING- Polytheist religion, at all of its many levels and expressions.
But none of this is about the pursuit of power. And we are not writing for that over-eager readership. Apparently, though, they haven’t gotten the memo. Do they think that we don’t see them? Do they think that we don’t hear it in their voices or read it in their lines or see it in their eyes, when they askaskask for moremoremore, and it is clear that it is neither devotion or identity that they desire, for each of these is merely a coat or a hat that they put on to affect a change, so much pageantry, all in the pursuit of power?
Religion is not about power. It is about relationship, the avenues through which are, most often, worshipful. That’s sort of the point.
There -is- space for power and emphatic problem-solving within religious practice and devotion; it is not JUST about actions of pious praise. Those are the foundations; the prerequisites.
Divination, ritual, petition, sacrifice: all of these can (and should) be used to benefit one’s life circumstances, health, sexuality, identity recovery, discovery, or healing, and so forth. But these should not be understood as merely plug-and-play toolsets that anyone can lift up off of our shelves and walk off with for the purposes of becoming a shinier version of what they already are.
If what you already are is worth staying as, you probably don’t need to change.
If you don’t need to change because you’re sufficiently clever and shiny as-is, I would suggest that perhaps Polytheist religion in the 21st century isn’t for you.
But I’m not trying to chase people away from Polytheist religion in some kind of elitist or exclusionary fashion, at all. Really, I’m not. I’m trying, as ever, to differentiate things effectively. Polytheist religion from Pagan identity, from magical practice, from spiritual explorations of one’s own inner self, and so on. Because things that matter deserve to matter on their own, right?
To those who are reading what we’re all writing, even when it doesn’t always make sense to your at first? Who continue to stick with these ideas — which is a big trust thing, we understand! — even when they might seem counter to your experiences or understandings? Thank you. One commenter on Facebook had this to say, which really warmed my heart, because THIS is why we do this every day, with our writing and our sharing, despite all of the targets that get placed on us for doing so:
I just want to say, that in the past year and a half I’ve learned so much from all of the Polytheist writers of which you speak of and it has really changed the way I have relationship with the gods and thus changed everything. So, thank you all. (You are getting through some thick skulls.)
Not long ago, when the first big pagan v. polytheist web battles were taking place, I just *did not get* why polytheists saw unifying monist language as insulting and upsetting. Now I understand– it strips the gods of who they are, it flattens important, crucial difference between traditions, and it assumes that ultimately we are all seeking the same thing. It was Julian Betkowski‘s 3/14 article “Against Metaphor” that provided my “duh” moment (not online anymore alas).
2 years ago, I wouldn’t have considered being in a devotional relationship with a god.
My protest would have been that divinity dwells within everything including myself or something akin to that, so why did I need to make offerings to myself? (Now I think I was confusing my sense of everything having a spirit with everything having one spirit).
In January 2014 I found myself so interested in the things you all were writing about, the kinds of relationships and experiences you were reporting, that, almost as if daring something to happen, I began engaging in devotional worship of a god.
And….well damn. Hello.
Unequivocally without a doubt, real and distinct. With agency. Shaping me on her forge.
And then a god came for me, laughed as I tried to deny her, and now she is everywhere I look, and fills my days and nights.
And I’m so happy that they are other and distinct from me, so that I can worship them with all of my being, and that the offerings I bring are from me to them and there’s no confusion about that.
…I am deeply grateful to know them in this way and for the persistence with which you all defended, explained, explained, explained, explained. Until I could finally understand. And now you help me deepen in understanding and practice and experience, and I remain grateful.