Foundational Polytheism

Posted: July 19, 2016 in Uncategorized

My new guest column is up at’s “Featured Voices” track.

Wherein I publish my rare (second?) contribution at the site since founding; an article on Foundational Polytheism, that thing I’ve been talking about and teaching about and lecturing about all these years, and finally figured I should get around to, you know, defining in written concision just a little bit.

You know all those times a Polytheist writer is writing about polytheism in a manner that isn’t tradition-specific, but more about “polytheism in general”? Yeah. They were, probably, writing about Foundational Polytheism.

It’s a thing.

Stop fighting, start learning, and maybe we can actually get beyond the preamble and establishment of terms in this discussion, someday.


  1. For some reason, I can’t comment over there…I wonder if you can repost this with attribution to me therein? Anyway…

    In fairness, Ashley, I think you’re understanding “affirmation” as being creedal in nature when it isn’t necessarily. The dominant monotheistic religions are based on belief, and thus their essential epistemology is one of propositional knowledge, i.e. assent to these facts/truths and you are a member in good standing of this religion. Polytheist and animist religions have tended to be experiential and practical religions, non-creedal in nature, and thus their epistemological emphasis is on both acquaintance/experiential knowledge and procedural knowledge, i.e. encounter these things, do these things, and the understanding involved lies in the encountering or the doing, etc. “Affirmation with religious regard” does emphasize both experiential/acquaintance and procedural knowledge rather than propositional knowledge.

    You are correct on Shinto, and it is almost entirely focused upon a religious epistemology of procedural knowledge, and thus emphasizes correct practice above all. However, that practice is based on a notion that what one is doing is effective and useful, and thus the Kami being venerated–no matter how they might be understood or defined theologically (if they are at all)–do exist on some level, and thus what one is doing for them is effort not in vain, and while it may have some benefits for personal development, it is essentially an extrinsic, extroverted practice. As you say, the exact beliefs (polytheist, monist, archetypalist, atheist) within the practice of Shinto aren’t taught and don’t matter (unless one is a theologian, but the Motoori Norinagas are pretty rare on the ground, both now and historically!), but underlying these practices has to be a basic sense that what one is doing is useful and effective, and that tends to require the acknowledgement of the existence and personhood of the Kami.

    • Done. The italics didn’t copy over (will try to fix that) and I *also* had trouble responding-as-you, so I’m going to talk to my expert to try’n figure what’s up. The “post” button did not originally appear until I scrolled a few times, then it did; and I couldn’t click on it directly, and had to “play” with the cursor to get a reactive (clickable) action out of it. It was very strange. I’ve not experienced that before.

      • That’s happened to me intermittently over the last year; often, if I just reload the page, it then appears, but I did that about five times this time and it still didn’t work. Huh. Anyway…thank you for your assistance with this…and for the excellent article!

        (It seems a lot of us are posting foundational polytheism pieces recently…I sure did the other day! And, I may have one or two more in me, or at least some ones that might clarify a few issues…or, one hopes anyway!)

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