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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

My Polytheism

I've been a polytheist for a long time now, and an animist, arguably, for longer.

Polytheism is one of those deceptively easy-but-complicated things that a person says that tells you everything and nothing all at once.

I'm a polytheist - but what does that mean? Well obviously that I believe in and honor more than one deity. That would be the easy part. But the nuts and bolts of it is where the complicated comes in, because there is no one way to be a polytheist - honestly I don't think there's any hundred ways to do it beyond that basic believing. And even that gets a lot stickier than we like to think about. I say I believe in many Gods and someone else says they believe in many Gods, but are we even meaning the same thing, is our understanding of those Gods even remotely similar? How do we act on that belief? How does it shape our lives?

To me, the Gods are real, independent, individual Beings - as are the various spirits and other Powers. I see them as having various degrees of influence over the world and my life, not omnipotent but in some cases very close to it. Maybe it seems strange to frame it this way but a key part of my polytheism is an understanding that there are the Gods, the deithe, and the non-Gods, the an-deithe. The world is not simply a matter of humans and deities (defined as some sort of ultimate supernatural power) but rather is full of Powers, some of whom are easily defined as 'Gods', and some that are clearly minor spirits, but many that are in-between, that are not easily defined as either a God-exactly or as a lesser-spirit. Instead of worrying over whether something is a God I developed a system of respect and interaction that includes the spectrum of spirits. My polytheism, you see, is as much about the full range of spirits as it is about the highest Gods. It is about reciprocity, and building relationships. Its about connections. I know my Gods, and I feel that they know me - I give to them and they bless me, I create space for them and they come into it, I speak to them and they reply in their different ways.

Framed picture of landscape scene Germany circa 1945, taken by my great-uncle; Morrigan statue from Dryad Design; fox bone necklace and painted ram skull from the Forge of Awesomeness (Etsy)

I honor Gods from known pantheons, Macha, Nuada, the Morrigan, Badb, Flidais, Brighid, as well as Wodan and Frau Holle. I connect to them through mythology, folklore, language. I study the cultures they belong to, the pagan period they lived in as well as the way they survive today in other forms, hidden in fairytales and tradition. I seek to understand their connections to places and events, their original mythology and power. It matters a lot to me to feel like I have some understanding, even a small one, of the way these Gods were viewed and understood historically. But I also seek them in dreams and visions. I connect to them in the words of modern poets and authors, and I write their story in ink on my own skin.

I honor the liminal Gods, the Gods of Fairy, as well. Are they Gods by the dictionary definition? I have no idea. Do they act as Gods in my life? Yes, in my personal experience they do, and that quite frankly is good enough for me. These Beings are included in my polytheism because as far as I'm concerned they are Gods. Although I do pretty extensively study fairylore the Fairy Gods as such have no existing mythology; I connect to them entirely through experience and personal revelations. They want what other Gods want - acknowledgement, offerings, a place, respect.

My polytheism is a liminal thing, existing on the boundary between hard facts and mysticism, between known named Gods and unknown unnamed Gods. It is a daily round of devotions and offerings as much as it is spontaneous prayer and organic connection. It is rooted in history and study but it is also drinking from the well of inspiration and innovation. It is both new and old. My polytheism, along with my animism, is a foundational belief in my life, something that is key to shaping how I look at the world and how I choose to live my life. My belief in the Gods and my belief in what they want from me - to be an honorable person, to serve others in certain ways, to write about them, to live a life that reflects values I think they respect, and so on - are major factors in making my life what it is.

In daily practice my polytheism is mostly solitary - indeed I would argue and have in the past that those who seek to walk a witchcraft path that deals with or connects to Fairy will find themselves walking a solitary road even if they try to practice with others because our interactions with those Powers can only ever be individual and personal. In one many ways we all walk solitary paths because our spirituality is something that lives within us. It is experiential and those experience, even when shared, are still uniquely personal, and that's okay.

Community temple at the Morrigan's Call Retreat circa 2015

 It is also a polytheism that seeks to build bridges, to connect to others who believe in more than one God. I mentioned at the beginning that my belief may not be exactly like other peoples, and in all honesty I don't think that matters.  One of the ways that I serve Macha, and the Morrigan more generally, is by acting as her clergy at a yearly retreat (the Morrigan's Call Retreat) which sees attendees from across every possible demographic of paganism and polytheism - and She has made it very clear to me that I am to serve all of them in Her rituals. I do not get to pick and choose when Her people come to me in ritual who is worthy and who isn't, who is enough like me in belief and who isn't. If they consider themselves Hers then I act as priest/ess for them to the best of my ability when they enter that space. That was a humbling message to receive and one that taught me that while we humans may by nature try to divide and categorize and label, the Gods have a different view. My job in that context is to serve Her and build Her community, not judge or divide. And so I try to do as She, as They, want. And I try to remember that ultimately we are all doing our best to seek the same things as best we can with the tools and understanding we have.

And that is my polytheism.


  1. I love your Polytheism. I am reading too much of late on what is and what isn't. There are people who are trying to create a foundation from which we can all share our very diverse experiences. I like the concept. Some of those who are executing the concept are doing a damn good job of creating a sharing space... Others are the "Poly-Police" and it is their definition or none.

    Let us also consider the level of devotion. I am devoted to my Gods yet I am not a clergy-person. I never will be. I am casual in my relationships though I make space, almost daily offerings and have a shrine (or two). I leave it to the Priestly Class to delve that deep. However, I will accept my own experiences as the "foundation" of what my polytheism is and respect others. Indeed, there are a few to whom I look to for advice and clarification. Yet still, this is an intensely personal experience.

    I will say a thing that will be "heretical" to some... There is no single "right" way. We acknowledge many deities and a myriad of spirits but there is no, one single right way to worship. There are some shared fundamentals and if one is to approach, let's the The Morrigan, it's best to speak to those who have approached her in the past. There seems to be concurrent themes and similarities. Still, with other Deities, it seems to be a looser thing.

    My point is this... no one can claim to have the single "right way", the single "right path". If you are as casual as I am, pick and choose amongst the clergy as best fits YOUR needs. If it feels like the correct way and your Gods are approving (believe me, I know when mine are not) then that is fine.

    No single person is the leader of so diverse a group. Pick those whom you respect and trust and then fold that into your own practice... but it's your's and no one else's.

    "Love as thou wilt" well, "Worship as thou wilt".

    1. I agree.
      I don't think there's any right or wrong way to be a polytheist, barring only the very basic, 'do you believe in more than one God'?
      Now when you get into specific traditions, of course that's different although even that will have a range of diversity. If you look at something like Gardenarian Wicca for example there are most definitely things that define it as what it is and those things can't be deviated from or what you have isn't Gardenarian Wicca anymore - but there's still lots of diversity within the tradition (as I understand it). You can say the same for any tradition I think.
      But when we aren't even talking about a specific tradition or organization just a set of beliefs that people share, like Polytheism, then there will always be variety and diversity and differences. There will be contradictions. And that's okay.
      I am the kind of person who is pretty organized with what I do and I like things based on tradition and reconstruction. That's my way. My husband, who is an Egyptian polytheist isn't at all like that. He's all intuition and instinct. He's all heart, where I'm very cerebral. I am comfortable acting as clergy and feel called to do so - he is thoroughly solitary and content that way. And each of our approaches works for us individually and is fulfilling. How could either way be judged as wrong?
      And as well, any community needs diversity in its members to thrive. We can't all be the exact same cookie cutter thing. The challenge is to find what works for you and what creates the most functional and effective connection.
      Then go from there.

  2. Thank you for sharing, it is really great to discover each time a bit more your worldview. As a Morrigan devotee and clergy person, I have another dose of interest for following your articles. It is "funny" to see the resemblances between experiences.