Polemical topics for polytheists (part 3): Systematic “polytheism”

First view: Polytheism is a mode of religion that governs the relations between people and Gods.

Second view: Polytheism is a mode of philosophical thought that governs how the world is viewed.

Balanced view: Polytheism is a religious, cultural, and social system based on tradition that governs our relations with the Gods, our way of life, and the world itself.

Words and terms can sometimes entrap those who think they are served by them; languages are by nature imperfect, especially when a complication arises because of time and tradition. There are also the problems of common usage, connotation, newly coined words, and mixing cultures. One thing is certain, however, within the scope of our discourse: The English language, together with probably most modern languages, does not contain a word that adequately explains “polytheism” as a concept or system. The word “polytheism” in itself is artificially constructed to provide a contrast to “monotheism”, a later system that supplanted its predecessor. Since both are defined through their differences, what we have left amounts only to “religion”, without the necessary considerations that accounts for the greater system that existed surrounding belief and worship. To think of either monotheism or polytheism merely as a religion, as many do, is to fall into the trap of modern language and its tendency to isolate or specialize terms, as well as to pretend it can encompass all ideas, beyond the confines of culture. The first and second views above are also examples of a kind of dualism that is at best unnecessary and at worst factious. Both views are correct, but they are also both partial, leaving out something greater that makes a complete whole. It behooves us in such a case to use larger words, as shown with the balanced view above. The worshipping of Gods existed amidst a cultural and social framework: There was agriculture or pastoralism to support their worldview, there was little pollution or oppression of nature to spoil it, there was oral tradition that passed through generations, there were customs that weren’t questioned or challenged selfishly within the group, there were priests or holy leaders who were revered by all (but not in a theocratic manner), there were elders and matrons who were respected by the young, and certainly there were communities of people that depended on one another. These are examples of a system surrounding the worshipping of Gods; take those all away and you are left with “religion” or “philosophy”, an isolated idea that applies to thinking and to individuals, more proper for books and discourse than as a true way of life. We should all aim at exploring and embracing all the parts within the larger system of polytheism that once existed in the better and more balanced world of our ancestors. In doing so, we will purify our worldview of the remnants of monotheism and its system, and lead a life that is more harmonious with people, nature and the Divine Beings.

15 thoughts on “Polemical topics for polytheists (part 3): Systematic “polytheism”

  1. heathenembers

    You have struck at the heart of a very important issue for all Polytheists here. The context in which we have our beliefs and ways has become far removed from the context of our ancestors. Your balanced view, I think, captures the ideal, and what we once had. Polytheism wasn’t so much a choice, it didn’t require the framework of formal systems to operate and survive, and wasn’t defined against anything else. It was simply how people were, how they lived and viewed the world. The challenge now is how do we regain that? Is it even possible to do so, and if not, what is the best outcome from our present situation?

    I totally agree with your thoughts regarding language. As much as language enables us, it can also limit us in our thinking, often without us even realising. This is how we get “lost in translation”, even from our own ancestors.

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    1. Melas the Hellene Post author

      You raise two excellent questions, my friend. I don’t have the perfect answers to them, but I should attempt at something. I think we can regain the old ways of life by re-examining our priorities (e.g. money or happiness?) and establishing distinct communities that will gradually restore our traditions as much as possible. In most cases though, imitating won’t be as successful as emulating, and so regaining the heart and spirit of our ancestors’ ways is far more important than regaining the outer forms—but whenever possible, why not both? But in order to begin this important transformation, we’ll probably need to shift our direction and associate ourselves more closely with movements that support the natural environment, indigenous restoration, simple living, and a distance from modern urban culture; indeed, we should be at the vanguard of these movements, by virtue of our ancient knowledge and ancestral practices. Modernity and polytheism (in its true sense) can only exist together temporarily, which is why we should foresee and provide for some sort of separation, though not necessarily isolation, otherwise we will be absorbed or diluted like the rest to extinction. I like the Amish model most, but there are also a growing number of “eco-villages”. In both cases, among others, there will be strong community, which is an absolute necessity and fundamental framework to begin from.

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  2. Paul

    I believe I read it in a book about the Sámi, but the point was made that their culture and religious beliefs were so tighly and completely entwined that there was no separating them. There were religious customs and rituals honoring both spirits of Ancestors as well as Deities and other Spirits that were not performed separately from one’s mundane and everyday activities but that were simply as natural and commonplace as eating or breathing, and incorporated seamlessly into their everyday lives.

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    1. Melas the Hellene Post author

      Thanks: That is a very interesting example to consider. We see the same with indigenous people throughout the world, and we can’t help but marvel at their genuine happiness and right-minded ways. The separation between the “sacred” and the “secular” is the result of excessive urbanization, and was unfortunately developed by the Greeks in particular. Since that time, Rome nourished that cancerous idea and it spread ever further with Christianity and Islam. Indigenous people like the Sami are still slowly losing members to modernity’s alluring traps and cultural imperialism, which misrepresents and mistreats them as “primitive” and “backwards”, whereas nothing farther can be from the truth. If you think of it, they are actually quite advanced in social understanding and cultural heritage, not in quantity like modernity, but rather in quality. They have the wisdom to see that insisting on enjoying a complicated innovative life (i.e. a modern one) causes complicated innovative problems, and thus they live simply according to tradition and ancestral experience. Our difficult struggle as polytheists is to preserve and recover this as much as possible!

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  3. Paul

    Excellent words, my friend. Exactly!

    In addition: a few years ago, I saw a news segment about the Sámi and their herds of reindeer (one of the few times the news was actually of any value). At the end, the reporter asked the woman if her traditional way of life was happy. Her reply?

    “It’s the best life.”

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  4. Euphonia from the River

    You have influenced my own spiritual path and understanding since I have known you. I understand the importance of ethnic polytheism. When we practice the right one based on blood with become in more right relationship with our ancestors. But I do not believe agrarianism is an ideal life. I do not desire it at all. It’s a hard life filled with manual labour and mundane tasks. These kinds of societies as much as I love them my ancestors would have abandoned me for having so many disabilities. I can’t believe in accessibility (disability design concept) and also support Ludditeism. These kinds of societies have no room for certain groups of people and by that I mean disabled people.

    Many people find spiritual connection with meadows and fields and a farm life but really agriculture is an older form of graveyard for nature. It needs to cut down forests to exist. Surely there is no more ultimate graveyard than grey concrete and Walmarts but agrarian life is just green hell. I think an ideal world would be socialist, would put the environment as a top priority just as vital as labour rights and worker ownership. The only type of agriculture should be special techniques that leave the forest standing… cities should be built in harmony with the forest rather than on top of it. So eco-socialism basically. Any form of libertarian socialism unlike authoritarian forms like what the USSR did would not oppress ethnic religions, maybe even promote them as part of decolonization.

    I respect you and think you have many good ideas but I cannot understand your glorification of old hierarchies. I think it has a place in religion. Everyone cannot be a priest, priestess or seer. But as for the rest of society… I don’t think hierarchy should be the ideal. Ultimately something humanity should move past. You remind me of those who romanticize the Hindu caste system. A society that uses a caste system is based on lies and will easily unravel when the underclass is fed up with being treated like shit. This is the class conflict explained in Marxist dialectics.

    Maybe this makes me a bad polytheist. Maybe I am in conflict in some ways being a progressive leftist and a polytheist at the same time. I love nature, I love the Gods and my ancestors but I also think technology can be used for good, it’s just not properly utilized under capitalism and other systems that do not control and centre factors other than profit or some other reactionary bullshit that doesn’t prioritize nature. Unlike most radical leftists I am not against markets. I know they have existed as long as civilization, not only in capitalism. I get dismissed by many who call market socialism revisionist.

    Everything I say or think I have the right and left both at me for not fitting into a box. I get called a Nazi for being against racemixing and thinking all peoples have a right to exist and that true diversity means many people all being proud of who they are… not a bunch of lost mixed race people with no lands and Gods to call their own. Every people is bonded to a land. Their evolution has been shaped by it. Native Americans do not look like the people who left Siberia long ago. I just wish people could understand, I have no hate… I am not a “race realist”. I don’t believe anyone is inherently better. I believe all peoples have honour because they ultimately have a polytheistic and animistic past and I fear a world of mixed people may lose or warp the sacred connection between ancestors and descendants, homelands and their people, Gods and the people that belong to Them. In many myths, a people are considered children of a God. The Gauls are children of Dis Pater. I am French Canadian and those are my people and I take great comfort knowing that I and my kin ultimately come from the underworld.

    Am I being a bad polytheist by believing in polytheism, social justice, socialism, feminism, eco-furturism etc. at the same time? How are we going to grow if we turn people off with traditionalism? I would not be against communities forming… that may be the only way we ever get temples again. But I don’t know how realistic that is.

    May the Gods and Goddesses of your people bless you!

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    1. Melas the Hellene Post author

      Thank you kindly, Courtney. Your frank thoughts are worthy of more reflection than I can offer by my response here. To tell you the truth, I have very lately been revising and reconsidering some of opinions about agriculture and cities in particular, especially as it relates to the formation of the state and its many solid hierarchies, as well as their effects on nature. I have already shown how there were bad polytheists throughout history that we could learn from in our modern position of extensive knowledge and research, in order to improve future generations. There are some who dislike the notions and practices of agriculture, cities and hierarchies altogether, and seeing how things have gone in modern times, I can’t blame them. Yet I think to form a more accurate judgment, we’ll need to consider the degree of these notions and practices, as you already suggest with agriculture: it should not destroy forests. Thus, it is actually “extensive or intensive” agriculture that can be harmful, rather than agriculture–the word horticulture is also significant and useful in this regard, because it implies a smaller scope and hence less interference with nature. The notion of “smaller” is really all what my views amount to: Just as we need smaller fields, we also need smaller states and thus smaller hierarchies. And since they are all strongly related, achieving one leads to achieving all. For example, in a chiefdom (preferably a simple rather than complex one), you have a limited hierarchy, a limited land, a limited population and a limited economy. This is the ideal condition (at least in my view), but pluralism is more akin to reality—we must allow for various models to exist side by side, and the bigger ones will inevitably prevail while they can (which is not forever). But some form of hierarchy and agriculture will always exist, unless some people voluntarily adopt a life and society of hunter-gatherers—one extremely important, but often overlooked point is that civilization must always have strong and varied hierarchy in order to remain, otherwise it will fall and hurt not only the state but all those dependent on it as a system. Now, the reason why I have lately (and permanently, I think) avoided associating myself with either the left or the right (and thus, by extension, with either socialism or capitalism) is because, first, they not only mostly don’t allow pluralism (they are locked in an eternal struggle of dualism to dominate), secondly, they both contain good and bad, thirdly, they aggravate and perpetuate the struggle of the classes, and lastly, they are based on modernism and monotheism and therefore don’t bear much connection with polytheism. Marxism was useful when it came out as a means of change and resistance to the modern system, but in my view, it is no longer necessary. Marxism was a means, and should not be an end—nor is it universal and capable of adequately understanding or judging all societies and historical periods. Hence my support (once again) for pluralism—although I may try to convince others of the virtues of traditional polytheism (as a holistic system), I must allow for those who differ to tread on their own paths. I don’t by any means think you are a bad polytheist to adopt socialism, feminism, etc. but I do believe it will lead to occasional inconveniences and conflict within your views that will probably force you one day to set up lasting priorities. One thing is certain though: We need as much strong polytheism and as many strong polytheists as possible, because there is already enough socialism, feminism, etc. We need something alternative, reasonable and bold to end (or put in order) the stifling dualisms of the world. Thank you for your kind wishes and may the Celtic Gods and Goddesses raise you and your ethnic people to bliss!

      P.S. Our ancestors generally abandoned children who displayed immediate disabilities at birth, and this led to a stronger stock. In your case, you may have been lucky—unusual states of mind were sometimes deemed a divine blessing! And because I am a traditionalist and know you well, you should believe me on that point, which applies very well to you!

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    1. Melas the Hellene Post author

      That’s well said. Permaculture is a kind of holistic system that also suits polytheism perfectly. The “left” and “right” are partial and need to be removed from their state of duality (and modernity) before they can benefit society.

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  5. K

    I have never seen a religion on the ground level as a philosophy or religion(theology) in some abstract sense separated from culture, society, and daily life. I could cite examples even from the local Christians. Even if a belief system starts as something so rarefied, it needs to take on cultural, local, and social elements to be viable in the long term.

    As for hierarchy, I don’t understand why so many polytheists today have a problem with it. I suspect it has something to do with political ideas that are common now. Others think that it is a leftover from Christian thinking, particularly from certain brands of Protestantism. Belief in the gods already admits a certain type of hierarchy.

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    1. Melas the Hellene Post author

      Yes, our current polytheism must make the transition from the air (internet) to the ground (community) before we can truly live it, secure it and nourish it. As for hierarchy, I share your sentiments, only adding that hierarchy is probably better simple rather than complex.

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  6. K

    Hierarchy is probably worth a topic. Though we have to figure out what is meant by the word when we use it. I did not bother to comment way back on your essential distinctions post on hierarchy versus deceitful equality because I would be preaching to the choir. Obviously neither of us approve of what passes for our hierarchy now.

    Hierarchy usually implies abuse of power in modern thinking. This can be tracked from the Protestant movements of the Reformation, to the Enlightenment republicans, to the early socialists and Marxism, and to the present via a mixture of the previous steps.

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    1. Melas the Hellene Post author

      Yes, hierarchy is certainly a topic on my long list. My thoughts on it have somewhat developed since I wrote the piece you mentioned, but the substance is generally the same. I find it strange that the four groups you cite as opponents to hierarchy were actually advocates for tyranny and authoritarian policies, only in the name of the people! Stranger yet: that musty old trick apparently still captivates the crowd.

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