belief systems

Signposts

January, 2015

Pagan Polytheism

I practice a hard polytheistic path.  I believe in the individuality of different deities; that they are, in fact, different beings.  I didn’t start out this way.  Like many aspects of my path my beliefs evolved as I learned and experienced new things.

 

Before Paganism I thought I had a pretty good idea about how things worked.  I had an understanding of the role of a God in life and had been raised with a specific version of what that God was like.  There was a “take it or leave it” view; you either believed in the God of Abraham or you were an atheist.  There were no other Gods.  So, I was obviously surprised when I found out that this wasn’t true.

 

There are widely different views about the Gods and Goddesses and the roles they take in our lives in the Pagan community.  They range from atheist to polytheist and everything in between.  Most of the people I’ve met, however, follow a soft polytheistic path –  they believe that all named Gods and Goddesses are all basically part of or from the same God and Goddess, that we as humans personify and attribute characteristics to them to help us connect with what we cannot understand.

 

Scott Cunningham discusses this in his book Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner:

 

“Every deity that has received worship upon this planet exists with the archetypal God and Goddess. The complex pantheons of deities which arose in many parts of the world are simply aspects of the two. Every Goddess is resident within the concept of the Goddess; every God in the God.” [1]

 

Recognizing a God and a Goddess is also often symbolic, only used to provide for the balance between the masculine and feminine of our world.

 

I understand this view and can see how it makes sense for so many.  However, in my practice I find there are distinct differences between the Gods and Goddesses, and not just the ones attributed to them during a Sabbat or ritual.  Over the past few years I’ve developed different relationships with what I recognize as very different beings.  I have a relationship with Diana that is different from the one I have with Brigid.  The same goes for Lugh, Pan, and the other deities I work with.  I truly feel as if I’m interacting with completely different beings.  They have different personalities, different ways of helping me, and often different expectations for doing so.

 

Many soft polytheists say the same thing.  When they ask a seasonal deity to participate in a ritual or ceremony they acknowledge the traits traditionally attributed to them and try to respect them.  For me, however, the distinction is they are more than temporal beings that come in and out of existence when we call upon them.  I’m not simply interacting with a part of the One.  They are always there.

 

Regardless if we are hard or soft polytheists, today it seems we either adopt a pantheon or eclectically blend pantheons to suit our path or our needs at the time.  Some embrace the Gods and Goddess normally associated with their current surroundings while some embrace those of their ancestral heritage, regardless of where they currently live.  Depending on who I talk to I get different answers as to why one way is better than the other.  Some I’ve talked to have a problem with the eclectic blend of pantheons – they find it disrespectful to the original culture and to the Gods and Goddesses they’re working with.  While I see where they are coming from, I leave that up to the deities themselves.  If they don’t want to work with you they won’t.

 

The signpost for me is our interactions with deity is personal.  How we do so is a reflection of our personal experiences that shape our beliefs.  If we’re honest with ourselves then how we interpret deity is the right way for each of us.  My insistence on my beliefs doesn’t make someone else’s beliefs wrong –  it just makes mine right for me.  I also know that as I practice and continue to grow on this path my understanding of what I experience can change.  We’re told to open our minds to new possibilities and ways of thinking, to let go of the things we thought we knew from before.  I think this applies to our established Pagan lives as much as our pre-Pagan lives.

 

How do you view deity?  Do you practice with incarnations of Gods and Goddesses acting as aspects of the one, or hard polytheism, or something else?  Does this work for you?

 

[1] Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner by Scott Cunningham