Do the Gods really call us? My thoughts on a recent controversy

This question was recently raised in a post by John Beckett (and elsewhere), wherein he argues that the Gods call and choose whomever they will, regardless of ancestry or cultural affiliation. Although (as always) his post is well expressed and well-meaning, the notion that Gods generally call or choose individual people for worship is a mistaken one. The general argumentation, from my observation, is usually reduced to these three points: 1) The Gods are individual powers able to do whatever they will, and thus some people can’t prevent them from choosing others 2) The Gods are interested in and care for people and therefore they will reveal their will and inspire people to their service directly by approaching them 3) Excluding certain Gods from certain people is unreasonable because their worship spread historically and dangerous because we don’t “own” the Gods.

Before comments to each of the foregoing, the context must first be understood. It is not difficult to see through the premise upon which these points are founded. The prevailing modern worldview is a globalized middle-class one, shaped heavily by capitalism and colonialism, and overwhelmingly Western (most especially Protestant and Anglo-American) in character, in which individualism and all manner of choice is glorified, if not sanctified. We are all affected by it in various degrees, even in polytheism. These matters can be examined at great length, but for the present purpose, it is enough to bear them in mind. Some polytheists embrace this situation of the modern worldview and others oppose it. It is best, however, to find a middle way whenever possible, selecting the good from each side while avoiding the bad. If the aim is to develop a more harmonious world, it’s high time we find methods to connect various peoples and cultures, yet without force or intimidation, because there will always be relativism, at least in a free world not dominated by an imperial and global power.

The first point above seems to carry anthropomorphism too far, in such a way that the argument defeats itself. The Gods can do anything, is it not so, and who can say otherwise? Well, if they can do anything, they can also choose to do the opposite- how would it be ascertained either way? The problem here is that this logic mischaracterizes the question entirely: we are not dealing with a matter of ability but suitability. The question of “Can a God eat ice-cream?” is rather foolish for this reason as is any other that addresses divine choice and individuality- this is not our concern at all. Insofar as it concerns the relations between Gods and mortals, our knowledge is limited (and rightfully so) to what is suitable from tradition. Religion in the traditional sense of “religio” is about correct practice and clear thinking (as passed down), as opposed to the “superstitio” of malpractice and fear. By rephrasing the question then into one of “Would a God …?”, it becomes proper and reasonable. So if it were asked “Would a God choose an individual to worship them?”, the answer would be no, because the Gods need not do so while they (still) watch over their respective peoples and cultures where they at first arose as well as their own divine families and tribes. The Gods would not choose individuals except for very, very few people who have extraordinary gifts such as those we see in myths and such as whom we find absolutely nobody today.

The thinking associated with the second point is unfortunately derived either from helplessness or hubris, sometimes both. There can be a great deal of loneliness, unfulfillment and misery in the world and some rely on the Gods to help them be better. While this is not at all to be scorned as something silly, it is not a suitable relationship. A God does and should not substitute for a family, a friend, a companion or even (I must add reluctantly) a therapist, nor should (directly or indirectly) be expected or believed to act in such an intimate capacity. Zeus is called father and Demeter is called mother only metaphorically for the Greeks, and literally only in the sense of mythical ancestry. Then comes hubris, disguised as piety, sometimes knowingly and other times unknowingly. Let’s ask the question “Would a God really stoop to approach and call someone in particular, merely to be offered worship?”. This is a rhetorical question that I’m afraid does not deserve answering. And it is a notion that originated with malpractice and monotheism. It is we who must be approach the Gods and call offerings for their service! Even the most senior priests and priest-kings, if really pious, would not dare to state that they were specifically approached by a major God (it is different for ancestors) and called to action. It is not only grossly unsuitable, but also unfair in the sense that it can attribute to the Gods something they never intended or never sanctioned as right. This is why human sacrifice and imperial conquests, as two important examples, were carried out, undoubtedly coming from ambitious individuals who thought too highly of themselves and at the same time wished to disguise their hubris as piety. There were others like Akhenaten, Buddha, Socrates, the constructed Biblical figures and Mohammed who had a very grand image of themselves that led them to hunger after followers, and their individual innovations are directly responsible for monotheism and imperialism, i.e. the decline of polytheism.

As for the third point, I have already briefly made two sub-points concerning the relation between Gods and their respective peoples. I have said, boldly and consciously, that Gods “first arose” in certain areas, and that Gods share mythic ancestry with their respective peoples. The latter is known and accepted, but the former has rarely been addressed, to the detriment of this argument. How did the Gods first arise is a question that may well be raised by an outsider or indeed an insider, and for which we ought to be prepared. The answer is usually a mythological one, with genealogies, but we can’t overlook these were compiled later and don’t account for the changes in religious thinking and socio-cultural practices that have always been part and parcel of “religion”. A previous post of mine proposed four classifications that account for the historical developments in polytheism, after its own rise from animism. I did then justify my logic to avoid misunderstanding.* In the monotheistic and globalized (both terms are necessary) world we have been living in, the diversity and distinctions in polytheism can become difficult to understand. There’s a tendency either to simplify this multiplicity like some neopagans do, or to throw it all open for everyone to partake of. Both are imperfect and lead to mistakes- the first recasts the Gods in a new shape as if they were clay, and the second commodifies them (as globalization always does) as if they were dishes offered on a menu. This is preceded by the problematic notion of divine universality, where it is believed that the Gods can exist anywhere, but it overlooks that people choose to do so (i.e. take cultic images & practices along with them), rather than the Gods themselves, and this “spreading” is mostly happens under some form of colonization and imperialism**. The Gods, since we all know they originated in particular areas, are inseparable from the peoples and cultures that they influenced and who placed “mantles” upon them***. Simplifying the Gods undermines them and opening them to all peoples cheapens them. There is a reason why certain Gods share mythic ancestry with some people and not with others. Why can’t this diversity, that already exists, be embraced? Why do we need to get into disagreements about exclusion at all, when every single people and culture has its own Gods? I blame this confused and toxic discourse on the inequality created by European empires, which is causing European polytheism to be over-represented (thus attractive) and causing “Whites” to feel guilty about their recent ancestors at the expense of their ancient ones. I respect John Beckett greatly for explaining the importance of closed traditions and how membership differs from worship, but why not address the heart of the matter also even if it is uncomfortable? A better world is one in which peoples exist free with self-determination and live harmoniously and equally among themselves, not one in which the powerful invite the weak to partake of their empire and constantly apologize while hypocritically maintaining their power. Let me adjust a well-known saying for this purpose: Teach people how to fish in their own lakes and stop giving them fish from your own or (worse) giving them fish from their own.

In conclusion, I hope in all sincerity the world can become better, stronger, more harmonious and happier with the blessings that polytheism has to offer, and which differ from the wrong path the world is in now. We will disagree how this is done, but,  since it is such a momentous topic, let us be conscious not only of what we say but why we are saying it as well as the consequences it will have for all peoples present and future, not merely for our immediate audience. I am beginning to fear that this age we live in is ironically the best for the rediscovery of polytheism (what with all the archaeology and scholarship that is being produced) but perhaps the worst for the proper revival of it.
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* This is what I say: “I hope it will be understood that this is not an attempt to account for the development of Gods in material terms. Gods are real, but the earliest conceptions of them (before a tradition is made) depended on the nature of the experiences and lifestyle of those who first established the connection, as dictated by the natural environment and culture. The Gods, theoretically speaking, are not fully known to us. Animism is probably the closest we can reach because the natural and supernatural are equivalent, leaving little room for uncertainty as far as divine presence and experience is concerned. But polytheism later added new ideas and practices (mirroring changes in society) that can be compared to a mantle or cloak which covers the God, giving that God a more particular appearance or function for the convenience of distinct cultic practices and purposes, but simultaneously (because the God is covered) making that God somewhat less accessible to our conceptual understanding (hence the development of monotheism and later atheism).”

**It is tiresome to hear the examples of Isis being in Italy and Apollo being in Britain over and over, with its deliberate or dismissive short-sightedness. It’s unfortunate also that the argumentation should go so far as to say “Perhaps the most majestic temple to a Greek God is in Tennessee” which is insensitive and offensive both to Greeks and Native Americans alike. Should it not occur to us that these spread with conquest, during the Roman Empire, when armies moved constantly and colonies were established? Is it any wonder Roman imperialism commodified Isis and Apollo just like it commodified people (gladiators, workers, soldiers, subjects, etc)? If cosmopolitan diversity is good in itself, it should never be the result of a bad system; the reason why I prefer regional diversity is because it results from internal freedom, not hegemony disguised as inclusion!

***Applying the notion of suitability above: “Would a God care more for his or her own people or others, especially if other peoples have their own Gods?” This is another rhetorical question that doesn’t require an explained answer.

31 thoughts on “Do the Gods really call us? My thoughts on a recent controversy

  1. thetinfoilhatsociety

    If someone in Britain was a native, and was a genuine and pious devotee of Apollo, does that mean that Apollo would not hear their prayers? Could not hear their prayers? I find that difficult to believe. The Gods are not omnipotent, nor are they omniscient, but I really think it defies logic for them to reject worship (if it’s genuine) whether or not that person if from their own ethnic group.

    Because I believe the Gods have intelligence and agency, I do happen to believe they choose people, from time to time, even outside of their own native group. I do not happen to believe it is as common as many seem to think it is currently, and I also do not happen to believe that many of the ones who are called are either capable or willing to be pious and devout long term. It’s a faddish thing, in the same vein as dying one’s hair blue or wearing pussy hats or being transgender. It gets you special points in some circles. The Gods are perfectly capable of sussing out these people and giving them exactly what they deserve.

    Yes, they have a lot of other things to be doing. Yes, they are much larger than we can ever begin to appreciate and their stories show us only a very, very small part of the enormity that is a God. But just as Zeus liked to have sex with human women, and Odhinn liked to disguise himself as a human and f* with people, I think many, many Gods have an interest in human kind. For various reasons, not all of them for our benefit.

    I think many times it’s just signal strength and clarity – the call wasn’t for that person but they heard it and responded, and the Gods are willing to use their temporary devotion to accomplish something that they could have done a different way, but hey – this person is here and they’re willing, at least for the moment, because it’s fashionable or whatever. Sometimes the person knows they’ve only been called for a specific purpose and sometimes they fade away on their own. This has happened to me personally and it was the Goddess who originally revealed herself to me and called me to come home to my own Gods. I was not meant for her, or she didn’t want me long term. But I wouldn’t be a devotee of the Goddess I currently am without that Goddess calling me and getting my full attention. I still pay homage to the first Goddess, but she is not the one to whom I regularly devote offerings and prayers. She is, however, the one to whom I give thanks frequently for dragging me where I belonged, so to speak.

    Our multicultural society, and the monotheistic assumption that *of COURSE* any god to whom I offer worship must be flattered and accept it, is wrong. I agree with you on this. And you don’t generally see 15 or 20 or 30 year worshippers of gods and participants in religious traditions stick around if they’re not somehow a part of that culture or ethnos, or called very specifically. Even if the Romans commodified religions and Gods the piety of the worshipper shouldn’t be questioned, if they live their life in accordance with the precepts of the society, Gods, and religion they profess. THAT, is up to the Gods to determine, not humans.

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    1. Melas the Hellene Post author

      There is some balance in your response and this is what my post tried to achieve also. When I propose a general principle, such as that it is not suitable for Gods to call or to choose foreigners over natives, there are always exceptions. I think when real communities on the ground (and thus real cultic practice) is set up while taking cultural distinctions and regionalism in mind, most of these theoretical disputes will pass or at least decline in intensity. This is what I hope for, and my post advanced an opinion among others in order to contribute to the discourse and state a more or less valid position. At least I am glad to have avoided the bickering and malice I have seen elsewhere. If you happen to see this reply, what do you think about my conclusion? To what degree is this age proper for the effective revival of polytheism?

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      1. thetinfoilhatsociety

        I think that you are a very thoughtful, very dense writer, and that your writings are something I always have to read at least twice. You have a lot to mull over in every post you make. I think, in this case, that you try very hard to be balanced. I think you try very hard to say, as gently as possible, what many are saying is an all or nothing proposition, but acknowledging the gradations and exceptions that so prove the rule. So my initial reading was what prompted my reply, and as usual I should have shut up and written nothing until the second.

        It’s interesting that you think the current over worship (paraphrasing here) of the European Gods is because of colonialism. Because for most of my life all I’ve ever heard about were Hellenic Gods and Roman Gods. I was never taught about any other pantheon in school, but I knew about these Gods from the time I was 5 or 6 (and I am old enough to be your mother, if not your grandmother now). Even as an adult, when I realized worshipping deities from antiquity was not only possible, but that people were actually doing so, it was the Greek and Roman Gods I suppose, in a way, that this too can be attributed to colonialism simply because they Europeans were the ones translating and publishing the myths, taking statues, and designing their architecture in the Greek style. I personally am glad to see the Gods of my ancestors being brought up in popular consciousness again, though I don’t like how they’re being twisted and manipulated to serve a particular agenda that I know you’re not a proponent of either.

        I think you are part of the desperately needed second and third generation deep thinkers of polytheism, the ones who will truly revive this as a living tradition with philosophy and ethos for those to come. I’m a mystic and have a specific place and a particular set of tasks, most of which will keep me serving my people and out of the public eye. You are the face and brain of what is to come, or one of them.

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      2. Melas the Hellene Post author

        Thank you for your understanding and compliments. I don’t think I am as convenient a writer as I should be, especially with this profound topic. However, I try to be as thorough and fair as possible, but in the end, I can err like others. Sometimes I will publish a post a little too impatiently and then explain myself more accurately in the comments.

        Western European powers (particularly the British and French) appropriated the classical traditions (Greek and Roman) for their own ends, attempting to derive glory from them, and this is the reason those two are better known and promoted than others. There is also a legacy of Greek (Hellenistic) and subsequently Roman imperialism that laid a foundation for this lasting fame. But as you hint, it is time to move beyond this overrepresentation in favor of an equal recovery and promotion of all cultures and pantheons.

        I hope I can earn the title of a deep thinker of polytheism one day. I find myself at a loss from time to time in my reflections and theories. There is a great deal to look into, but in the end, only a few practical things truly matter for revival and these should not be too difficult to achieve: a simple set of communities where polytheists can live, work, love and worship among one another. In plain English, perhaps we will need polytheists from the working class who can settle in one place, avoid overthinking and overdoing religion, and make their people rather than money or position their priority. I think we can trust the knowledge of the middle class, but not necessarily its social cohesion…

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  2. K

    One thing I have seen a lot of is people that are far too attached to a particular god. Like as a kind of fantasy spouse, or best friend. If you haven’t seen it, you can find plenty of it around(Tumblr or something). I just don’t understand that approach. I always thought it was appropriate to remain at a respectful distance from the gods. I don’t think I have said much about my practice, but I don’t have any focus on a particular god or worry about finding a patron deity. I have been making a point of focusing on ancestors and the disir. I have addressed prayers and offerings to them as much as well known gods. I offer to Thor, Sol, and Freya most among the well known gods. I have been thinking lately that I should offer to the river as well, because I live right next to it.

    I can’t say that I was called by a god. I sought them ought on my own. I am very cautious about the idea of someone being called by a god or gods. It might lead to all sorts of would-be prophets in the mold of Abrahamic religions, or of the prophet-like gurus found in some current Hindu sects. People will end up putting more energy into arguing about doctrines or UPG than practice.

    What heathens have for lore does indicate that families had deities they focused on, Frey, Thor, Odin, being well known ones. Several sources indicate that deities take an interest in families that have had a long relationship with them. Frey is said to have kept a favored worshiper’s burial mound green and clear all year, for example. In another case Frey is said to have indicated to another man (of a lineage that focused on his worship) to move to Iceland. But those relationships were built up over generations, so people in the present day might be getting ahead of themselves worrying about patron deities. We need more of an establishment before that is a concern.

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    1. Melas the Hellene Post author

      “People will end up putting more energy into arguing about doctrines or UPG than practice”. This is my concern also, and it is especially problematic with the lack of community. Proper cultic practice, as you point out, required some sort of formal or strong group- be it a tribe or an extended family or a village or a city. The tribal quasi-henotheism you describe once existed very commonly, for the purpose of either honoring a particular God who had saved them or from whom they derived ancestry. Yes, the Gods will engage with people and inspire them to action, but this notion must not be carried too far, especially as an excuse for individualists to be self-satisfied (or even hubristic) in the absence of real community. The reliance on UPG is excessive and must be restrained in favor of a more formal structure and serious establishment.

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      1. Keith McCormic

        I will definitely agree with you that living, sustainable community is a vital component that is missing from nearly all modern polytheisms. We need to be bringing those who worship the same gods closer together, not tearing them further apart. Ultimately, The Gods will shape those communities to Their will, but first we have to have communities.

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    2. thetinfoilhatsociety

      And yet, sometimes, the Gods do have tasks for individuals. And while you may never feel called to be the special devotee of one particular God/dess, you may be developing a particular skill set that is required before you can properly devote yourself to one or a small group. I have noticed, among those who do feel that they are devoted or have been called to service for one or a particular group, that much of their lives beforehand were a sort of proving ground, training academy, for the skills needed in service. And sometimes the person is driven to develop a particular skill set as a result of being chosen.

      You should offer worship and make offerings to the river. It’s a powerful land spirit and they’ve been sorely neglected, thanks to the monotheistic over culture the values Gods above ancestors and land spirits. Just my opinion, but I think you might be surprised by the results.

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      1. Melas the Hellene Post author

        Yes, I do agree that our experiences do influence how we perceive the Gods and engage with them, or they with us. Ideally, those experiences would take place among others with similar belief and culture, because this brings stability and force to our identity. In such a situation, individuals are strong in their common connection to one other, which helps reinforce good experiences and learn useful skills. In the absence of this, the task can be hard, cold and lonely but we try to do what we can. Can Gods replace the role of other people for an individual? I don’t know but I fear not. Those who think they are truly chosen have the burden of proof placed on them, to make good their claim before Gods and people- and I think doing good for people and successfully bringing them nearer to a common dependence on and service for the Gods and ancestors (in this day when polytheism is weak and budding) is the true testimony of being chosen. When I first became a polytheist, I thought of myself as one of the chosen, merely because of how happy I was and how lucky I was to be among a blessed few. But then as I began to look deeply into what we can & should do for polytheism, this notion disappeared and a new category of “being chosen” replaced it entirely, I think for good reason. This is what I am in large part implying in my post. I wouldn’t have polytheists ever too satisfied in what they are doing individually- there is much work to be done if we are to hope for anything greater for our children and grandchildren.

        As for making offerings, I agree with you that rivers are beautiful places to do so. The Celts were famed for that ritual, but the Greeks I am sure did something of the same, particularly in rural cult. I have lately become strongly fond of Artemis, whose Nymphs are closely associated with streams and rivers. I don’t live near one unfortunately, and (alas) I can’t worship properly alone. I will delay it all till I can join a community or make one, preferably in Greece. I crave the complete experience!

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  3. Keith McCormic

    Your entire argument seems grounded in the idea that when, for instance, the ethnic Hellenes started telling their native Gods to go pound sand starting around 49 AD that said deities waited around for the Greeks and didn’t simply continue pursuing Their own work in Their own way. That’s ethnocentric hubris.

    When the Greeks turned from Apollo, He did not simply put Himself on ice for two thousand years waiting for a handful of the “right” people to finally come crawling back. No, in His specific case we have pretty clear evidence that He worked through non-Hellenes (including at least one Pope) to spread interest in rekindling Classical art, culture, and philosophy throughout Europe and beyond.

    A rekindling that ultimately crippled the Roman Catholic Church and paved the way for modern polytheisms.

    The Gods work on a much broader and longer scale than we can readily conceive. It would be selfish and blasphemous to suggest that when an entire nation turns its collective back on Them that They should not continue Their agendas with others more in tune with Their goals and attitudes than a bunch of infidels in Attica.

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    1. Melas the Hellene Post author

      Let me correct something you said before addressing your main position. It’s very simplistic to state that the ethnic Hellenes told their Gods “to go pound sand” after Paul began to preach. How Christianity spread is a very complex topic and in the case of Greece, it was the result of four things: 1- resistance to the Roman empire through counter-culture 2- absorption of eastern cultures and ideas 3- a further step in the path of philosophical ideas and universalism that existed before and (most importantly as far as sheer numbers is concerned) 4- the centralized and coercive power of the church, particularly after the Nicaean creed and persecutions by Constantine. This being said, Hellenism changed and adapted to the times, but never died for the Byzantine Greeks; however simplified or limited it became. Nor did Apollo’s influences ever leave…As a God of the sun, he still shone over Greece daily; as a God of disease and cure, he still spread his effects on the land; as a God of music and song, he still inspired the poet and singer; and so on. His famous oracle at Delphi may have been discontinued, but he was still present elsewhere, as the brother to Artemis, who still roamed the forests and plains as the mistress of animals. And let’s not forget, he had and has always lived on the Mountain of Olympus among his fellow Gods. Few people know that the Renaissance and polytheistic revival in Europe would have never begun in Florence if it were not for the Greek scholars who came there as refugees, escaping the Turks. Please inform yourself of this, or at least remember it, so as to avoid the language and tone you have used about “infidels in Attica” and the Greeks who turned “their collective back” on the Gods. One could respond in kind about the Irish or Celts that you descend from but I respect them too much to do so. Why attack a large group of people if you disagree with one person? In any case, I have made my position clear and well-meaning all along, including in this post. I have no quarrel with those who disagree respectfully and I will take part in no unnecessary bickering. There is no hubris in a people loving (sometimes with jealousy) a God of theirs, who came from their land, mixed with their blood and watched over their people; this is natural. If other peoples wish to honor Apollo, they may do so, but (I hope for their sakes as well as for the sake of avoiding cultural appropriation) they should not do so at the expense of their native Gods or as if to compete with the natives.

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      1. Keith McCormic

        Forgive me for being overly assertive in the face of what initially read as another “you can’t have these gods, they’re mine” post.
        I understand that you were attempting to walk a fine line- unlike several others who’ve posted on the topic recently. That said, I do fundamentally disagree with the notion that anyone’s ancestry is prerequisite or preferrable in dealing with most deities in most cases. The notable exception being those few whose lines attempted to maintain some form of cultus through the ages.
        Those folks, and especially their ancestors, are absolutely worthy of respect. As you note, many of them fled Greece (or wherever they came from) to preserve that knowledge. Similarly, I can’t fault Thorgeir Ljosvetningagodi and the Icelanders for converting in the face of genocide in order to secretly preserve as much of their traditions as possible. They did their best under the circumstances.
        Of course, the initial spread of Christianity wasn’t committed by all Greeks, nor by Greeks all the time. My point was simply (as with my own Irish ancestors) that the VERY many whose ancestors did contribute to that mess owe their divinities a mountain of debt compared to those servants of the same gods who don’t come from that background. Indeed, I suspect that some of my ancestors were infidels enough against their gods that most Celtic gods don’t seem to want to have anything to do with me. My ancestors may have burned that bridge entirely.
        It is also worth noting that Christian evangelism was not the first wave out of Greece. The many colonia of Greece were not just military and economic outposts, they were the imperialistic transportation of Hellenic religion and philosophy to other lands, peopled by folks who worshipped other gods. The Romans did not invent this idea. Perhaps the Greeks themselves got it from the Phoenicians. But the fact remains that ancient Greeks did export their faith to a great many non-Hellenes. It’s almost as if the Olympians wanted worshippers elsewhere.
        It’s not cultural appropriation when a people willing transmits their culture and suggest that others do as they do. Nor is it appropriation if, by some chance, a person from one of those other cultures might surpass the achievements of the motherland. I’m certainly not that person, but I’m not about to claim that it couldn’t happen. That’s up to the gods, in the case of religion.
        I’m not speaking here as Anyone’s mouthpiece, rather as a human who recognizes how badly we’ve screwed up as a species. As someone who sees limiting access to The Gods based on ethnocentrism or other bigotry as compounding our many errors.
        Should gods be worshipped by the descendents of the peoples who worshipped Them before in the places where They once worshipped? Absolutely! But to fall into jealousy over Them is to assert that we can own Them, and I stand by my earlier assertion that to claim ownership of any divinity is hubris.
        I will go one further and extend this principle even in the reverse- here in the United States, we Anglos were rat bastards to the native peoples. The surviving descendents of those people owe ME nothing. Not forgiveness, not access to their spiritual traditions, nothing. However, I still owe those tribes’ divinities honor, respect, and cultus when I encounter Them.
        It is not cultural appropriation to do one’s best to honor a Holy Power in Their own domain. Am I doing it right? Probably not, and the natives have no obligation to teach me how to do it right. But I am honor-bound to try.
        So too, when one encounters such a being outside Their original domain. There are a fantastic number of public and overt cult images of Greek and/or Roman deities in the U.S. That’s not counting the syncretic ones that are obviously calling out to one of Them, but not by their Classical names. Heck, a friend and I once ran afoul of a very angry Tibetan Dharma Protector in Vermont- the last place on Earth where His worship is not persecuted.
        As the story of Semele reminds us, we are dealing with masks worn by The Gods for our own safety. Certainly, native peoples of antiquity were of course closer to the ancient masks than we. So too might their descendents relate more easily to some facets of those masks than would outsiders. But the masks themselves change in time and space- this was obvious even in the differing culti of the ancient world. The Gods choose to relate to humans in whatever fashion They choose to, for Their own reasons.
        Thus, it is not for any human or nation of humans to claim a more perfect or rightful relationship with any divinity. The Gods decide that as They will.

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      2. Melas the Hellene Post author

        Thanks for your thoughtful reply. We understand each other, and I think we mutually share a love for polytheism and a strong hope for its revival. When something is long gone and lost, returning slowly and weakly, emotions inevitably run high because what we have is so fragile and yet so important. We are in effect attempting to cure sickly infants and simultaneously raise them into strong adults who can multiply, leave a strong mark in the world, while being represented equally! How can’t this be complex? Monotheism has in large part made us “screwed up as a species” to use your term. I understand that ancestry and exclusion can be a very delicate subject for some, if not most, because of what happened in the 20th century. I am in part Jewish myself and let’s not forget the Greeks underwent a genocide in Turkey, but fared much better than the poor Armenians. There is a wrong way to pursue and interpret ancestral pride, and I think we are all aware of its nature. But let us not, in despising it, forget of the good way which may well bring about a more harmonious world. There is a tendency sometimes, usually well-meaning, to confuse inclusion and universality with peace and justice. I don’t think humanity will ever be truly united, except in a few principles. There are too many peoples in the world, each with a complex history, and to weaken distinctions would be to weaken identities; and there’s always one culture that rises to dominance in such cases, namely, the powerful one promoting inclusion and universality in the first place (i.e. the West). Polytheism can make the world better, but not as it is; there must be reform first.
        In the end, even if disagree on this point, I think we ought to remind ourselves of something important and perhaps more to the heart of the matter. This is community. Imagine if there were many real communities already, each with its tradition and practices and membership, in such a way that people could choose closed or open groups and enjoy engagement in either case. I believe if this were the condition of polytheism today, all this bickering that you and I see would come to an end. Why? Because people in each group would be occupied with taking care of their own affairs, with autonomy, thus preventing unnecessary interference from other groups. Not that there wouldn’t be any disagreements or attempts at expansion; the difference would be that the dispute would end with “you can do what you wish freely while we do the same” instead of “we all must do so and so, otherwise polytheism is lost”. The second conclusion results from the fear and despair (naturally) found where a strong foundation is lacking- when there is little or nothing to retreat to, people will fight it out bitterly or withdraw lonely in a corner. I hope we can overcome this misfortune one day.

        P.S. It will be worth your while to placate and reach out to your ancestral and native Gods of Ireland. I am sure you have considered it or tried, but if I may offer a thought, go further and don’t forget them. How many Irish polytheists are there who can take your place? Everyone of you who pursues it right and inspires imitation will be honored by those very Gods one day.

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  4. neptunesdolphins

    The Romans were very careful when it came to Gods. They had rituals to ask Gods come to Rome, and rituals to ask Gods of the region if they could have Roman Ones. In looking at Isis worship and Apollo – neither were commodified. Apollo became one of the di Consentes, and had a priest. Isis was later and embraced by the regular Romans. Romans did not erase Gods of areas where the Republic and Empire went. They and the local peoples did end up combining and creating Gods of the region between the two peoples.

    One problem in studying Roman religion is that it is often conflated with the Greek religion. i.e. Roman Gods are Greek Gods with Latin names. People often look it from that point of view, rather from the Roman tendency to adopt Gods of surrounding areas such as Sol Indigetes, who is originally Sabine.

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    1. Melas the Hellene Post author

      I think the Romans were more or less a pious people, at least in the Republican period and during reforms. In order to be fair, a distinction must be made between the Roman people and Roman system of imperialism, the latter being something unconsciously produced and too large to be controlled or understood properly at the time. And we mustn’t forget that outsiders do have a right to judge those who conquered them-unfairly. It was the Roman system, rather than the Roman priests or worshippers, that commodified foreign Gods. The problem is not so much erasing these foreign Gods, but subjugating them or giving an illusion of their equality to the Romans. This was carried out to placate and rule the conquered populace (simultaneously), and assimilate them into the Roman order, as any empire would do, Roman or otherwise. But there is one particular Roman ritual in this regard that I will say can be condemned as greatly harmful and hypocritical as far as imperial conquest is concerned, namely the “evocatio”. This being said, We must move beyond the mistakes of history and embrace the past in a better form. I would love to see Roman polytheism co-exist with Etruscan, Greek and Celtic as it used to, rather than serve as some European-Union-like form of religion.

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  5. K

    There is another example better than Apollo in Britain. What about the mythology that has Apollo spending part of the year among the Hyperboreans? From the name, that would have been somewhere up north. I don’t know where exactly the ancient Greeks thought Hyperborea was, but it definitely wasn’t in Greece. Apollo was already “shared” with another group. This did not mean that every god was shared, and cult practices would have differed.

    I have another opinion that might be controversial, but here it is. I don’t think come gods found across some cultural boundaries(often modern inventions) are different. In Estonia, for instance, the most prominent deity was Taara, a chariot riding thunder and weather deity with a hammer or axe. That name happens to be cognate with Thor. I don’t think it is some strange coincidence, he is the same deity as Thor. Or the Finnish Turi(mentioned at times in poetry) and Sami Horagalles, also directly cognate with Thor(or Thor-Karl) and with the same attributes. Those are just the same deity as Thor. I think arguing for absolute distinctiveness in every case, even where it makes no sense, will just make it impossible to reconstruct anything. Otherwise all the variants of Thor’s name in different languages and dialects (anything from Thurr, Thor, Torr, Turr, Thunor, Thunraz, Donar, Donner, numerous by-names) would have to be considered completely different even when they obviously were not. To me that would be like arguing that the older Dios was a completely different god from Zeus. And because current Greek pronounces Zeus differently than Classical or Roman period Greek, we have a different god referred to now.

    I have argued about European, or at least northern, commonality with you before. All of these later distinctions like Germanic, Celtic, Baltic, Slavic, and to an extent Finno-Ugric evolved from a set of closely related cultures from the same early Bronze Age and late Neolithic cultures that were widespread. I don’t think it is some random coincidence that the practices and gods were so similar, because they had common ancestry to begin with. I also think that many differences in deity names came from different cultures preferring different aspects or by-names of a deity, not because they acquired different gods. I highly doubt that Perkunas and Perun would have been considered different gods, for example, and I doubt Thor would have been considered different from them either, given their similar mythology and near identical attributes.

    I have started to collect some more material on archaeology in Northern Europe. To the point that I have neglected any further study on cherem. One interesting thing I found was a church in Sweden where a tree stump was found in the foundation. The skulls of many bears(about half the bones), deer, and other wild animals were found around it. The estimate was that the tree was cut down in the 11th or 12th century, and the church was built over it deliberately. I bring this up because the author calls the practice in evidence there(offering the skulls or antlers of kills by hunters at a sacred tree) a mixture with Sami hunting practices. The word “creolization” is used, and the practice is treated by the author as a sort of adoption of Sami practices by the local Norse. This struck me as a very odd assumption, because the practice of offering at hunter’s shrines in this manner was known by the Romans, Greeks, and Celts as well. It was not borrowed from the Sami, it was common practice all over Europe. Actually, this practice spans Eurasia from one end to the other, and is found all around the world. But the modern assumption seems to be that Norse hunters would have somehow had radically different views from Sami or Finn hunters, because they are treated as if they developed as cultures in isolation.

    When you get down to more of a “common man’s religion” the practices get even more similar between these cultures in Europe. What you see is worship of ancestors, land and field spirits, river gods, and house gods. The Laime, Laukaspatis, hearth god, etc. worshiped by Baltic peasants look no different from the deities and spirits worshiped by Norse peasants or Roman peasants. The practices are very close and obviously related, maybe even going back to the earliest agriculture in some cases. These customs were conserved until more recent times, showing their great importance.

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    1. K

      Another question I have for you is what do you think of the Trojans? They are shown by Homer worshiping the same gods as the Greeks. The Trojans don’t seem to have been Greeks, but they were close to the Lycians. Lycians were not Greeks either, but as an Anatolian people with a partly Indo-European origin, they were definitely similar.

      Despite there being a lot of widespread deities and myths, much of the worship in the past was local. For examples pertinent to me, there are the Matronae. The cults of the Matronae were obviously local, as different named groups and individuals among them are found in clusters(from archaeological evidence). Many of the names are tribal in origin, mothers of this or that tribe. The worship of ancestors, genii, and other lesser deities involve worshiping powers tied to ones own lineage and land. We need to be able to balance the local and the wider range aspects. That way we can have some degree of unity while keeping regional cultures intact.

      There are better examples of this motif among the Norse, but this one is good enough. The basic thing that is repeated many times is two horses, or more rarely mounted men, on either side of a big sun wheel. This common motif did not appear all over bronze age and iron age Europe randomly. And it is widespread in iconography and mythology. The top one is a Greek example of the motif, a unique variant that has fascinated me. What do you think that was supposed to depict?

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      1. Melas the Hellene Post author

        The Trojans, Mycenaeans, and Cretans were distinct peoples with more or less in common regionally. The term “Hellenic” in a national sense came later, after Homer. Homer usually called the Mycenaeans “Argives” and “Achaeans”, at least those who took part in the Trojan war. Identities can be simple or complex, according to socio-cultural changes and structures and worldviews. For my own part, regionalism makes much more sense than nationalism. It is foolish for Greeks to think of Turks and Albanians as completely different; a Greek from Samos is more similar genetically and in many ways culturally to a “Turk” from Smyrna than to another Greek in Epirus.

        I do not know what the horse and sun motif represent. It may have been a remnant of the Indo-Europeans. But as interesting as it may be, it shouldn’t be used to make a general statement of any kind (which you aren’t in any case). The emphasis here, as I mentioned in my other comment, should be on distinction and variation. This proper term for this vase would be “Greek” but only after mentioning the region it came from (I am guessing the mainland). Yet, you raise an important question. Can there be some kind of unity along with variation? I would answer yes, but I wouldn’t stretch it too far or strengthen it too much, except for purposes of defence.

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    2. Melas the Hellene Post author

      If Apollo was once with the Hyperboreans, it is an exception to the rule of him being in Greece among the Hellenic peoples and their close neighbors or kin. Regarding your good points about the common forms of Gods beyond cultural boundaries, this may be true, but it didn’t matter. It is quite likely that the standardization of names and aspects may have spread with cultural diffusion or hegemony after a period of supra-regional “koinotheism”, where more local variants disappeared and were assimilated. However, even in observing the similarities and the exchange, the emphasis in polytheism is on plurality, not only of Gods but also cultures (and by extension peoples). This makes for a more rational way of cultic practice and more natural social structure. Note that I said “Hellenic peoples” earlier- The Cretan Britomartis may resemble the better known Artemis of the mainland as well as the Ephesian Artemis, but these were all still different. The Spartans worshipped Athena Poliouchos whereas the Athenians emphasized her worship and dedicated a magnificent temple to Athena Parthenos. The local emphasis here is on the epithets and the community (citizenry) who take part in the cultic practice and maintenance of the sacred ground. There was no such thing as a generic “Athena” or a universal “Zeus” or a single “Thor”, unlike what many tend to believe. What I am arguing in this post implies this also. Local and regional variation was hugely important and it was celebrated as ancestral and communal heritage. The common man’s religion was no different, however similar the forms may have been. Universality and a strong emphasis on what is common usually follows or leads to empire and hegemony. But some (unfortunately) have the wrong idea about distinctions, as if those will cause war or conflict. Did we not all evolve to live and act locally? Nobody goes around saying “I am a human being” because that is a shallow identity. Others commit the fault of general statements such as “I am conservative” and then are forced to explain themselves when they are (naturally) misunderstood. Polytheism is the same in regard to epithets and plurality. Universality is an essential feature of the internet, and this is why many polytheists and pagans are not able to reach or understand distinction as they should.

      P.S. I am attempting to practice what I preach, regarding regional cult. I did at first consider myself a devotee of a generic “Zeus”, but lately I have been looking into Crete as a region that approximates my ancestry. Hence, my interest in Zeus Velchanos (as well as Britomartis).

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      1. Melas the Hellene Post author

        Yes, Velchanos was an indigenous God to Crete, worshipped by the Minoans, apparently as a subordinate child or youth to a Mother Goddess. It may well be he was connected to Velcan (the Etruscan name for Hephaestus) who was an indigenous God of Samothrace, also pre-Helladic. He differed entirely from the very ancient Zeus at Dodona, who was a God of Oak, and others who were Sky and Storm Gods in the mainland. The title of Zeus was generally superimposed upon Velchanos as upon many other indigenous cultic Gods or Heroes, it seems during a period of koinotheism that coincided with the Homeric epics, the spread of temples and other cultural changes around the 8th century BCE. The myth of Zeus originating in Crete implies an ancient acknowledgment of the early precedence of Minoan cult, as well as demonstrates a fusion towards a national mythology. I have not yet determined whether or to what degree I am more interested in the worship of the fused God than the two distinct Gods. I incline towards distinction but not at all dogmatically.

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      2. K

        I knew that Zeus Meilichios was an obvious example of this.

        It is hard for heathens to find traces of this sort of thing. As far as we can tell, there was just Thor. Archaeological evidence and inscriptions and written charms mentioning Thor just call him Thor, or some common byname like Thrivaldisbani(slayer of the jotun Thrivaldi). We don’t get a Thor mixed with another deity name or a Thor of this or that place.

        Odin, however, with his many names and transformations, is thought to have syncretized many local deities. This is the most likely case for me, given Odin’s worship spreading among the elite, among warrior groups, and his association with Gothic koinotheism. One thing I learned from those archaeological books I am going through is that an old(maybe the oldest yet known) inscription on bone in runes mentioning Odin invokes him with Ulf(a wolf) and Har-Tyr(high Tyr). Who are those latter two?

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      3. Melas the Hellene Post author

        Yes, Zeus Meilichios is a good example. Bit seems that there is a tendency in koinotheism to elevate the highest God so far that all others undergo some sort of diminution. This results from increasing trade & hegemony within and without, in which situation it becomes useful to raise a symbol of unity internally and a symbol of nationhood externally. The Nordic peoples were in the process of doing this with Odin (and Varg Vikernes seems to have completed it in a manner), the Romans painted Jupiter’s thunder on their shields (and later used Sol Invictus for a universal God), Akhenaten instituted the practice of elevating one God, the Orphics followed the earlier theology of Amun by declaring “Zeus is everything”, and even the Native Americans, before the advent of distant foreigners, had their “Great Spirit”, though probably with less emphasis than the other examples. It’s a form of simplification, sometimes even a stereotype, and I think in many (if not most) cases a sign of decline in polytheism.

        That Odin was associated with the wolf may be similar to the cult of Zeus Lykaios. As for Tyr, it’s been said he may have been the highest God, since his name is related to the Indo-European “Dyeus”. The inscription perhaps is a fusion. I wonder when it is dated, but it cannot be pre-Roman, since runes did not exist at that time.

        Yes, Zeus Meilichios is a good example. Bit seems that there is a tendency in koinotheism to elevate the highest God so far that all others undergo some sort of diminution. This results from increasing trade & hegemony within and without, in which situation it becomes useful to raise a symbol of unity internally and a symbol of nationhood externally. The Nordic peoples were in the process of doing this with Odin, the Romans painted Jupiter’s thunder on their shields, Akhenaten instituted the practice of elevating one God, the Orphics followed the earlier theology of Amun by declaring “Zeus is everything”, and even the Native Americans, before the advent of distant foreigners, had their “Great Spirit”, though probably with less emphasis than the other examples. It’s a form of simplification, and I think in many (if not most) cases a sign of decline in polytheism.

        That Odin was associated with the wolf may be similar to the cult of Zeus Lykaios. As for Tyr, it’s said he may have once been the high God, since his name is associated with “Dyeus”. Perhaps this is evidence of fusion. I wonder when the rune is dated, but it must have been made during the Roman Empire, because the tune-alphabet did not exist before it. Which means there were elements of koinotheism already.

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      4. K

        “What we moderns have called “Toleration” in the Classical world is an expression of the contrary of atheism. Plurality of numina and cults is inherent in the conception of Classical religion, and it was not toleration but the self evident expression of antique piety that allowed validity to them all. Conversely, anyone who demanded exceptions showed himself ipso facto as godless. Christians and Jews counted, and necessarily counted, as atheists in the eyes of anyone whose world-picture was an aggregate of individual bodies; and when in Imperial times they ceased to be regarded in this light, the old Classical god-feeling had itself come to an end. On the other hand, respect for the form of the local cult whatever this might be, for images of the gods, for sacrifices and festivals was always expected, and anyone who mocked or profaned them very soon learned the limits of Classical toleration – witness the scandal of the Mutilation of the Hermae at Athens and trials for the desecration of the Eleusinian mysteries, that is, impious travestying of the sensuous element.”

        “In the first generations of the Imperial age, the antique polytheism gradually dissolved, often without any alteration of outward ritual and mythic form, into the Magian monotheism. A new soul had come up, and it lived the old forms in a new mode. The names continued, but they covered other numina. In all Late-Classical cults, those of Isis and Cybele, of Mithras and Sol and Serapis, the divinity is no longer felt as a localized and formable being. Hitherto, names had been the designations of so many gods different in body and locality, now they are titles of the One whom every man has in mind. This Magian monotheism reveals itself in all the religious creations that flooded the Empire from the East, the Alexandrian Isis, the Sun-god favoured by Aurelian, the Mithras protected by Diocletian (whose Persian form had been completely recast in Syria), the Baalath of Carthage honoured by Septimius Severus.”

        “The ever-increasing emphasis with which Classical polytheism somatically individualized its deities is peculiarly evident in its attitude to “strange gods.” For Classical man the gods of the Egyptians, the Phoenicians and the Germans, in so far as they could be imagined as figures, were as real as his own gods. Within his world-feeling the statement that such other gods “do not exist” would have no meaning. When he came into contact with the countries of these deities he did them reverence. The gods were, like a statue or a polis, Euclidean bodies having locality. They were beings of the near and not the general space. If a man were sojourning in Babylon, for instance, and Zeus and Apollo were far away, all the more reason for -particularly honouring the local gods.”

        These are quotes from Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West. It recently came to mind again, it has been more than 10 years since I actually read it. That book about Zoroaster I mentioned before uses some of the same points to frame Persian (the beginning of Magian culture as Spengler would put it) universalism as superior to Greek culture’s local emphasis.

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      5. Melas the Hellene Post author

        This description of “antique polytheism” and “Magian monotheism” seems quite interesting and penetrating, especially from someone who hadn’t studied religion per se. The term Magian reminds me of the Persians explicitly, and rightly so, since it was they who developed monotheism further than anyone before them and laid a strong foundation for its later imperial forms. You may remember our discussion on that topic some time ago. The only thing I would add to his theory is (as you know I have been arguing) an understanding of the idea and influence of earlier (or indeed the earliest) imperialism. There is a hint from Spengler, reminiscent of Herodotus and Aristotle, which associates the east with a social structure based on empire, one inferior to the free cities and local cultures of Greece. This view, inherent in the western tradition, is only partly true because it fixated on one period (classical Greece), overlooking the original rise of local city-states in the east as well as the inevitable transition of any city states into confederations and empires. Nevertheless, I think his general perspective here, in the context of our discussion, touches an important point regarding the social-cultural aspect of polytheism. “The gods were, like a statue or a polis, Euclidean bodies having locality. They were beings of the near and not the general space.“ This is what I would call ”politheism” according to my earlier post. Plurality seems necessary for the health of polytheism, and no less for human culture, I would also argue. To put it briefly, bigger groups lead to fewer Gods, less cultural variety and more colonialism/less freedom. Thank you for sharing this valuable excerpt; my curiosity about the rest of the book will lead me to more.

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  6. Thalla Rothach

    I’ve got to say, whenever I think White Neopagans are a lost cause, you post something that gives me hope in the future. This “divine universalism” is also one of my critiques of White Neopaganism that White People CANNOT understand. The first misunderstanding is the most fundamental: the only people claiming gods are universal are White People, which is a very imperialist sentiment (remembering the colonial era when European culture was believed to be universal) and a Red Flag to minorities/indigenous peoples. However, besides you, I have never come across a White Person who has had the ability to examine this belief and understand why it is problematic. One is either Universalist or a Nazi, and minorities/indigenous peoples are left out of the conversation. The second misunderstanding comes from “what is a ‘god’?” The idea that non-Christians are the same-it’s all animism or idol worship-was part of the European imperial propaganda machine that drove forced conversion. “God” is a very culturally specific word that refers to indigenous European Sacred Beings and cannot be applied outside of that cultural sphere (but try explaining that to a White Neopagan, sigh). What I have found from studying tribal faiths in Africa, Asia, and America (basically, Not-Europe) is that there is only one Being that is called a “god”: the Creator of the universe, who is rarely worshipped, but has left a group of Lesser Sacred Beings to manage the world, who are the focus of cults. In my experience, White Neopagans are very naturalistic-they believe in evolution and big bangs and don’t believe in creator gods or supreme beings of that magnitude…so, how can they believe that Not-European gods can “call” them when they’ve pretty much said they don’t believe “those kinds” of gods exist and, furthermore, when “those kinds” of gods never interact directly with humans (again regulating everything through Lesser Sacred Beings)? And even if a Creator god did contact a person, why would ke contact a White Person, whose culture has a history of imperialism and genocide that is still being perpetuated today? The universal god thing just doesn’t make sense, but in all my years I could never convince a White Person to see the other side of the issue. Maybe they’ll listen to you.

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    1. Melas the Hellene Post author

      Thank you. I am glad that my posts offer something of worth. Universality is a huge problem and I was just saying in another comment, it is in large part the result of the internet, which itself is a feature of globalized culture. Those known as “white people”, most especially in the New World (but now increasingly in Europe because of American cultural diffusion, unfortunately) are at a loss to find their true identity and culture, either through guilt or complexity. It is really something to pity in most cases. Whites, like all others, need reindigenization, community and regionalism once again to attain stability and rediscover themselves properly- this would transform them into European peoples again, rather than the *universal* term “white”. White culture, as a universalistic thing, must end because it is hegemonic and is misleading the rest of the world with its persistent errors. One thing I have noticed is that “White culture” excels at explaining (and giving themselves credit for) things that already were known to the indigenous peoples (culturally and socially) while at the same time being unable to put those into practice! Let us hope polytheism, in its correct forms, reforms the world and all its peoples. I will continue to examine and write as fairly and thoroughly as possible about these topics to the best of my ability.

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  7. K

    This is the example that fascinates me. I accidentally picked the wrong one before. What is this supposed to be? I have my own idea about it. I think it should be called Helen and her brothers the Dioscuri.

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  8. Pingback: Notable and quotable 17 | Dowsing for Divinity

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