People often ask me why I bother writing so much about secular, archetypal, or Monotheist views, definitions, assumptions, and (mis)informations, in my discussions and articles pertaining to the progressing Polytheist dialog. It did not occur to me until this morning that people aren’t asking this rhetorically; they literally don’t understand why these conversations matter.
(And, as John Beckett‘s writing — or more appropriately the wildly chaotic rounds of confused commentary from people who just-don’t-get-it — has demonstrated recently, this isn’t only relevant in the circles I’m observing or engaging with. He even had to do a follow-up.)
Edward Butler stated in private correspondence:
I’m very much looking forward to seeing the program laid out here carried forward beyond the stage of explaining its preconditions… There’s a line somebody said at some point, about philosophers never getting past the prefaces to their projects; it’s the same problem. [We] get bogged down in situating the project, and the arguments [entailed], and people end up thinking that WAS the project.
A fucking stupid amount of effort is being put into writing, year after year, about what “the Polytheist conversation is all about” and “why it matters”, and a nearly infinite and deeply frustrating amount of preamble is necessary just to set the stage for the conversations our communities are seeking to have within the discipline of Polytheist religious discourse and development. Polytheist religion — the affirmed religious regard for many gods, who are real and distinct beings, rather than (at the theistic level) reductions of a larger reductionism, or archetypal expressions of humankind’s collective mythic consciousness — is a discipline unto itself, which should not need to be repeatedly pointed out. When Polytheist religion is being discussed (at the focus of an individual or collective level), the focus is in fact going to be on Polytheist religion, rather than on general Paganism, comparative religion, secular humanist theory, cultural anthropology, or mythographic relativistic whatever-the-fucks.
21st Century Western Society is polarized between an increasingly militant Religious Right (by which we mean “Monotheism” and more specifically certain denominational directives within Christianity) and a bizarrely zeal-powered and proselytizing secular sector — including but certainly not limited to the supremacists in New Atheism — and within alternative religion demographics (such as Neo-Paganism) there are increasing and successively stronger currents of secularist respectability, Humanism, Atheism, anti-theism, and anti-religion. 21st Century Western Society is also the background-of-origin from where a whole lot participant members1, and clergy, and dedicated laity, and the courageously devoted who as yet may have no roadmap for answering the call to their gods, all who make up the Polytheist Movement, are coming from; those who are engaging in the collective and collaborative restorations and reconstitutions of lost, erased, besieged, or destroyed Polytheist religious traditions. There are a whole lot of people coming out of the Western Society’s (disastrous) world-views and into Polytheist religion, and trying to figure it out against all odds and obstacles, internal and external to them.
With this in mind one must be able to recognize that the stagnant, crippled cognitive processes and perceptual retardations proffered them by their parent societies around theistic endeavors and spirits-affirmed theological premises of engagement, are staggeringly lacking in helpful understandings, paradigmic advancements, or understanding of core foundations necessary in Polytheist religion.
By which we mean, Western Society — from a Polytheist standpoint pertaining to Polytheistic religious process and practice and undertakings — is fucking broken, and has broken off inside of basically everyone, leaving behind awful fucking splintery septic shrapnel even in attempts to wrench it bodily the fuck out of one’s heart.
And that damn shrapneled debris embedded infectiously throughout the population seeking something different — Polytheist religion and polytheistic engagements and process and relationships and theologies — are written and composed in the language of polarizing “Monotheism” and erasive secularism.
The Polytheist Movement2 is an informal collective of voices, leaders, priests, laity and theologians, who are having conversations intent on extracting this shrapnel and make spaces for safe, sane, and sanitary3 Polytheist religious discourse and developments.
Part of that extraction process means discussing and identifying where the fucking thorns are embedded, and what the influence and/or infectious impact of them might be in how a person engages or shows up to these other things.
If a person comes to Polytheist religion with the definitions of “god” that they got from either secular American society or a culture-wide Monotheist murder machine, they’re unlikely to have an easy or terribly useful time emerging into Polytheist religions. THOSE DEFINITIONS ARE INCORRECT when applied to the study of traditional world religion (e.g. Polytheist religion), and so they need to be corrected (in order for the developed Polytheist religions to have a chance of growing, surviving, and deepening). This corrective adjustment is necessary not for the purposes of wiping out secular Humanism (e.g. archetypal Jungian psychology), or Monotheist congregational practices or household identity, but for the purposes of purging their septic saturation from the bodies, minds, and hearts of those who, as Polytheists or polytheistic religious seekers, are consenting to the search for religions of relation which affirm with religious regard the many, many gods.4
This is a complicated and surgical multi-axialed process…
- It is not a process which is centrally “about” debating the history of language evolution or changes — although since language is how we communicate these concepts, it will include this as a means to these theistic ends.
- It is not a process which is centrally “about” debating the nature of the substance of being or creation, in the sense of “the source of material and immaterial”-ness found in Monistic pursuits— although since most religions address or hold to certain assumptions regarding such considerations, these will be included as a means to these theistic ends.
- It is not a process which is centrally “about” syncretisms or blending or intersecting religious or spiritual or magical traditions— although in recognizing the globalization of culture and religious tradition throughout history (past and present and future) and the fact that gods and spirits make all kinds of different agreements and provide all kinds of different experiences to all different kinds of peoples, these considerations will be factored in as a means to these theistic ends.
- It is not a process which is centrally “about” arriving at a “pan-polytheistic religion” which holds as container all polytheistic religions— although as with the above in recognizing the global quality of the world’s populations, and the relationships which gods themselves oft hold with and toward one another, religious collaborations or alliances will be utilized as a means to these theistic ends.
- It is not a process which is centrally “about” ending Monotheist religion or stamping out secular supremacy— although as it is a process about Human Rights and Religious Freedoms5 it stands to reason that positions will be taken fiercely against eugenic erasure, cultural murder, and supremacist stances, as a means to these theistic ends, (and basic fucking decency, you dumb fucks.)
- It is not a process which is centrally “about” breaking away from or dismissing or negating the importance of 20th and 21st century Neo-Paganism or magical traditions born largely from white British and American men at the end of the 19th century6, or their related and resulting communities— but as Polytheist religion has no real relationship to these structures of thought or engagement, and are not primarily magical traditions, do not descend from post-Christian Humanist thought, and are not geared primarily toward human-centered self-help or consciousness-oriented-elevations, conversations drawing disciplined discernment around the distinctions and differentiations based on definitions will be employed in order to unravel Polytheist identity from the places where it has become near hopelessly tangled with other things, a lot like untangling multiple balls of different colored yarn from, say, a string of prayer beads: it’s not that yarn needs to fucking die, but it also is unrelated to the fucking prayer beads. And so, the unraveling will happen, as a means to these theistic ends.
- It is not a process which is centrally “about” rejecting the Feminist Spirituality movements’ use and development of the term “The Goddess”7 (created as a tool against the spiritual oppression of the patriarchy)— but as this expression and phrasing and approach are often in popular practice directly antithetical to exploring or practicing traditional Polytheist religions, the Goddess Movement is unlikely to be catered to with regard to this term or associated ideas, as Polytheist religionists — religious minorities and at-risk demographics themselves, culturally and theologically in the 21st century — will need to do what they need to do to arrive at their own necessary structures of language and religious discourse, drawing often from traditional (pre-Christian) methods of discussion and in general working tirelessly to “re-populate” religion with the many gods, which are by and large neither Monotheist or Dualist in framework, as a means to these theistic ends. (While this statement could be read as an attack on Feminist Paganism and Goddess Movement work, please understand that I find these things to be not only good but also of vital importance. However, just as Goddess Movement work is not the same as, say, a French culinary school, (also a thing that is important for anyone who likes French cuisine), the Goddess Movement is similarly not (usually) all that related to Polytheist religion. This is not because there is anything wrong with the Goddess Movement, or what its focuses seem to be, but because it is about other things. It turns out that the universe has lots of things in them — many, not just one or two or three! — and it’s OK to have different groups, focuses, disciplines, and categories of spiritual process focusing on different things. Drawing a distinction between them isn’t the same as dismissing or rejecting some.)
In this process, the effects and symptoms of infectious and embedded Monotheism and Secularist Humanism are contrary and quite harmful to the developments and identity-levels and practice-level and theological levels (the “ends” mentioned above), which — personal views8 or biases of this author aside — is not an objective statement against either Monotheism or Secularism or those people for whom these are ways of life and being and approaches-to-world-and-Self, but rather, diagnostically speaking9, they are foreign bodies which Polytheist discourses must create antibodies to within our own immune responses, that what we are trying to do, and be, is able to be, and be done, without dying10.
The above does not mean that the Polytheist conversation does not include amongst its many voices persons with such backgrounds as language scholarship, Feminist theory, social activism, Neo-Paganism, Wicca, Ceremonial Magic, psychology, and so forth; rather, it means that the study and development of Polytheist religion is a discipline unto itself, a primary focus on its own, and the pursuit of it should be understood chiefly to be about Polytheist religious developments. This does not mean, as has often been misunderstood and asserted by detractors, that a given voice in the Polytheist discourse is only interested in their work toward advancing Polytheism to the exclusion of all other topics in life; quite the contrary, many involved in the discussion also own businesses, work as professors, artists, or scholars in other fields and disciplines, enjoy watching films or writing and reading novels, just like anybody else. The point here is not to suggest that Polytheists must exclusively concern themselves with the development of Polytheisms, but rather, that the discipline of Polytheist religion must be understood to be so focused. This is not a restriction on who is/is not a Polytheist, beyond the basic qualifiers (of affirmed religious regard for many gods), but rather what must be understood as (at least one of) the focuses of and in Polytheist religious discourse.
That this needs to be stated and explained, over and over again, is fucking disheartening.
We are talking about religious development and occasionally referencing languages to do so; that does not mean we are talking primarily about languages. We are talking about Polytheist religious theology and occasionally reference Catholicism; that does not mean that we are talking primarily about what a random Catholic believes (or does not believe), or whether the words that they use to characterize their beliefs are accurate. We are talking about Polytheist religious identity, and in so doing must often draw forth distinctions between this and general Neo-Paganism; that does not mean that we are talking primarily about Neo-Paganism. We are talking about what are effectively quite radical religious ideas (wherein radicalness is a term applied by others, for to us this is all just the way it fucking is) and in this we may find cause to draw from the language of radical theory and structures of radicalism for illustrative purposes in contrasting the wrongs of a corrupt, colonizing oppressor; that does not mean that we are talking primarily about radical political or socio-economic theory. Any field of study or discipline may reference areas which are the focus in other fields or disciplines, without needing to raise those up to the primary focus of the conversation, unless doing so would further the actual ends of the actual discipline being engaged through. This is about godsdamned wound-care, triage, surgical extraction of wicked fucking objects, that we can see a reduction in unnecessary harm, open the way for religious healing and restorations, and occasionally come up for air so that we can keep going, because this work is bloody hard.
In pulling the toxic shrapnel pipe-bombed into us by a thousand years of murderous corruption and misinformation and cultural genocides, we will challenge fallacious structures and ideas and language in order to identify its insidiously puncturous tract through our own tattered selves, as we attempt to assemble from ourselves — those pieces which remain after a broken age has had its way with us all — a patchwork which we can spread as cloth upon the altar of pious praise for our many gods, who — with varying levels of patience — wait for us. Or, in some cases, do not wait at all… and have the engine keyed and accelerating whether we’re ready or not.
To put this business another (illustratively metaphoric) way:
If somebody is seeking to paint a wall fire-engine red with a smooth high-gloss reflective finish, and the wall had been previously covered with forty-years of chewing-gum and “lost cat” postings and concert flyers, they need to — prior to undertaking the job of paint-and-gloss rather than merely applying these as cracked and lumpy veneer layered atop them — remove those other things. (And, for those people11 engaged in the constructive job of rebuilding a section of a wall, or in some cases bringing one up from the rubble, they often find that they cannot replace more than a brick or two before glossy-eyed
zombies “seekers” show up with wads of chewed-up bubble-gum and lost cat posters to hang fresh, entirely overlooking the fact that an active and vital religious structural restoration is taking place.) This needs to fucking stop.
Not because chewing gum is awful (well….) or because lost cat postings are really just codified correspondence between rogue cells of the Illuminati (although…) and not because concert flyers are a gateway to good sex and fist-fights (if they’re the right venues, anyway…), but because these things directly stand in the way of the “end”, the goal, at hand.
But it turns out cleaning chewing gum and decades worth of tacked and stapled and rotting papers and stickers and nailed-up-squirrels from a wall is actually not as straight forward as “taking them down”. There’s an actual set of unique and necessary processes for removing each of these, since — for the sake of metaphor — the wall in question cannot be merely ripped down and built anew, because maybe it’s of historic significance, and therefore methods of identifying the offending particulates and embedded obstructions, accurately, and engaging their removal efficiently because it is necessary.
So sit down, shut the fuck up, and let us paint our worlds red.
You can revel with your lost-cat chewing gum all you want, but if you bring that noise anywhere the fuck near our work-spaces, expect to get a face full of everything we learned in the pit at really awesome concerts.
- I am by no means ignoring those world religious communities who have never lost their Polytheistic religious identities, but rather, pointing out that these are not the primary demographics engaged in the conversations referenced. This, then, should be understood as a discussion primarily about reconstituting Polytheist traditions which have been lost, not in dismissal of those which remain intact today, but quite the contrary; for many persons coming from those traditions, it is observed as astounding that these basic pre-101 conversations even need to be had. In other words, many of us engaged in the Polytheist movement are trying to proverbially “catch up” with those traditions at the dialog and community level, in our own restorations and reconstructions and religious recalibrations.
- The Polytheist Movement as defined by me can be read about a bunch of places, including here in a guest post at The Wild Hunt, in an article titled “A Polytheist Primer”, which seeks to introduce readers to the distinctions between identity-level Polytheists (e.g. “I am a Polytheist”), collective polytheistic religious traditions (e.g. “I am a member of a polytheistic religious tradition”), and the Polytheist Movement, the latter of which can be understand as a multi-disciplined activism oriented movement and collaboration to further the “cause” of creating safe places for in-depth and focused Polytheist religion, religious dialog, theological developments, education, outreach, and community building.
- Safe, Sane, Sanitary: pretty self explanatory, but in the interests of my usual over-disclaiming, by “safe” I mean “safe from outside intrusive harm, trolling, interruption, erasure, derailment, and abuse”; by “sane” I mean “rational discourse conducted between mature and learned or learning adults”, profanity notwithstanding; and lastly by “sanitary” I mean not fucking miasmically toxic, as happens basically anytime Johnny Humanist shows up and sticks his withery little dick in everyone’s casserole to check the temperature of their archetypes, or whatever.
- I provided a basic definition of Polytheist Religion, which Edward Butler quite helpfully expanded on with a Doctrine Universal to Polytheism.
- Human Rights and Religious Freedoms are things we take pretty seriously, around here, especially with regard to protecting religions and ways of religioisity which any majority demographic would oppressively seek to erase from consideration or conversation.
- 19th Century White Guys — pretty straight forward, actually. If you don’t know the basic bullet-point history of the occult “renaissance” of the late 19th century, it involves a bunch of White dudes with enough money to afford lots of leisure activities(like world travel, mountaineering, recreational drugs, and so forth) and paid-in fraternal associations and so forth, who did a tremendous amount of scholarship and mystical undertakings, including developing what the popular understandings of Ceremonial Magic are in use today, drawing from the various expressions of Hermeticism and the Western Esoteric Tradition(s). These have, as you might have guessed, virtually nothing to do with Polytheist religion, despite many of the adherents applying codified use of deity names and associations (used more as occult symbols than real deific agents) to occult concepts generally focused on the development of human consciousness (rather than, you know, religion, or worship, or theology). That people still draw from this line of thought in association with Polytheism is problematic, not because there is anything wrong with this line of thought, but that this line of thought is called something other than Polytheistic religion. Which is why we have different words for things.
- “The Goddess” was a revolutionary concept loosely based in historic goddess worship, and became the focus of various women’s spirituality movements in the 20th century. While there is a lot of important spiritual, mystical, and magical developments within these circles, there is precious little focus on religious devotion, and the observed inseparable popular view of “The Goddess” in the singular (and the telescopic collapsing of all female deities into this one identifier) which, again, just isn’t Polytheism. That it isn’t Polytheism doesn’t mean it isn’t spiritually important, magically useful, or of central social significance (specifically to the very important work done in the mystic sectors of Feminist theory and activism and social change) especially considering the rampant misogyny, rape, assault, and patterns of patriarchal abuse found in some sectors of occult, magical, and Neo-Pagan development.
- Personal biases are things we all have. Mine are contained in views that not everyone agrees to. I have them, I weigh in with them from time to time, but they’re not what is being discussed here. Knowing our own biases is important in order to aim for more intelligent and less emotionally reactive dialog, bitches.
- “Diagnostically speaking” should not be taken to mean a literal biological/immunological model being posed here, but rather, it is a fucking illustration. I tend to draw on those a lot. Because when you just come out and say a thing — as has been done on this shit hundreds of times — people are often too thick-headed to get it. Which is why illustrative language is experimented with. For science.
- “Without dying” should be taken in this context to reference “the death of the dialog“, and moreover, the continued erasure of these religious ways of being, viewing, practicing, and experiencing; at this time I am not referencing literal (mortal) death of the sort which other at-risk communities (such as Black Americans, Trans* youth, and LGTBTQ demographics domestically and abroad) face every day. This is not a competition, and a focus by the Polytheist Movement to prevent the death of our religions and the loss of our religious freedoms and the spaces to have our necessary dialogs and developments should not be interpreted — as it occasionally has been — as a dismissal of other vital social and human issues, which many of us are also involved in separate from (or directly because of) our Polytheist identities and devotions, elsewhere.
- This was pointed out by Amorella Moon, following a sneak-peak of a draft of this article, wherein she drew attention to the fact that some people just don’t get that rebuilding needs to happen, or that that wall, that structure, exists for more than just smearing your shit on.