Category Archives: Good and bad polytheists

Good and bad polytheists (part 20): Conclusion

Papyrus scrollAfter presenting various historical characters and stories from a range of almost 4000 years, a conclusion is needed to put an end to the series. After the 13th century, polytheism declined gradually throughout the Old World, surviving only in the Indian and Far East, as well as in other isolated places where some traditions have endured even to this day. At the end of the 15th century, as we know, the New World was linked to the Old, and the indigenous polytheism of those lands began a decline also at the hands of the Christian conquerors, though not without their own instances of bravery. When we polytheists of this day look back, we marvel at the changes that the world has gone through at the hands of mankind, and we forget the many stories and lessons about our ancestors that have long since past. Of the great and known personages that history has left us with, we find that not all of them were exemplary and good; indeed, in some cases, they contributed, by means of their selfish actions (knowingly or unknowingly), to the rise of evils and misfortunes that still plague the world.

The question remains, how exactly can a good polytheist be known then, and distinguished from a bad? Part of this answer is obvious to all, because the good and bad has certain universal standards. Generosity, courage, fidelity, humility, magnanimity, piety, prudence, honesty, justice, etc. are examples of virtues that are known to be good throughout the world and have been held as such throughout history. The other part is more particular to culture and the circumstances of the times. A good polytheist will always endeavor to respect his own culture as well as others, not setting one at the expense of another, and will be active in promoting the good within his community, even if the times tempt him with rewards for a bad and selfish endeavor. And when circumstances or times are otherwise bad and dangerous, he will also attempt to turn them as much as possible to a good direction, for the benefit and protection of his people, yet without excess. In the meantime, he will not forget of the Gods, nor insult them directly. Furthermore, he will not act with the pride of false piety, by pretending to act as if in their company.

The earliest bad polytheist we know of is King Sargon, falsely (like several others) called “the great”. As the founder of the very first empire*, he established the horrible precedent for uncontrolled expansion and conquest, which never since ended. Imperialism is a condition that has always plagued polytheism, and in some respects, it could very well be said that it gave rise to monotheism and atheism, which are imperialisms, only in ideological form. If Abraham flourished at the period the biblical scholars agree upon, i.e. about 1900 BCE, then this was about 5 centuries after Sargon. Likewise, Akhenaten propagated his idea of monotheism during the New Kingdom, a period during which Egypt made foreign conquests and assimilated foreigners. This is also about the same time Moses is said to have lived. The exclusive and hostile monotheism of a sect of the Canaanites (said to be descendants of Abraham and followers of Moses’ commandments), commonly called the Jews, developed in a region and during historical ages that were plagued by continuous imperialism; the Jews were pressed from the east by the Egyptians, from the north by the Hittites, and from the East by the Babylonians and Assyrians. Is it any wonder then that they came to hate foreigners so much and make themselves differ from them in every way? If Judaic monotheism was an evil idea, it arose within an evil environment. The same could be said of the far more dangerous religion of Christianity, which arose during the unprecedented hegemony of the Roman Empire.

If there is any way to sum up this series of good and bad polytheists, it cannot be better done than by means of this theme of imperialism and the resistance to it. Abrahamic monotheism has attributed the source of evil to the pride of the Devil and his defiance of his master, causing an eternal battle in which man must resist evil or be punished by it and for it. Although this is a horribly poisonous view of the world and universe (since it presupposes that Abraham’s people are the only good ones, against the rest of the world), it has its advantages in directing the masses and gaining power. Polytheists must study history and learn from this lesson; it is possible to adjust and apply it in a good way, with a good intention. Imperialism is to us, what the Devil is to Abrahamic monotheists: it is a perfect an embodiment of most of the overgrown evils that have plagued the world. I say overgrown because we polytheists don’t believe in pure dualism or the eternal war between the good and evil. Imperialism is therefore the condition (ideologically and materially) that aggravates, multiplies, and propagates injustice, impiety, slavery, destruction of nature, genocide (cultural and ethnic), high ambition, universal war, and many more. Imperialism is the greatest false promise the world has ever known; it has promised people eternal happiness, protection, glory, and prosperity, but has given them only the shadows and shells of those blessings. After 4500 years since Sargon, with a continual series of empires, this is too evident already to need further explanation. If there is one thing that should be remembered then after this long series, it is the horror of imperialism and the nobility of resisting all its forms. Our present battle against monotheism and atheism verifies that truth beyond any doubt.

 

 

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* Although Egypt was said to have been unified many centuries before Sargon (i.e. about 3100 BCE), the circumstances were different, and did not lead to empire. Egypt had already been divided into a Northern and Southern Kingdom, not too different culturally and ethnically (unlike Mesopotamia), which were then united for reasons not precisely known. It can be observed in general that civilizations, which begin independently and accidentally along rivers (a constant source of water and hence food), are prone to growth and conflict, which often leads to centralized systems. There was what could be called temporary “proto-empire” before Sargon in the region of Mesopotamia, where city-states attempted at domination and achieved it temporarily. However, Sargon was the first to celebrate himself as a glorious conqueror who managed (in one lifetime) to conquer 34 city-states and stretch his dominions from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean sea, achieving therefore not only what had never been done before, but also (in his mind) what is worthy of imitation, because he falsely claimed he was inspired by the Goddess Ishtar. By this means, he added a dangerous idea to an existing (and somewhat undesirable) material condition, i.e. the glory of large conquests beyond one’s ethnic and cultural bounds. This is how the entity of empire was created and cemented in history, multiplying in an unbroken succession (see part 1) from 2400 BCE to this very day.

 

Good and bad polytheists (parts 17-19)

Owing to the influence of conquests by both Islamic and Christian rulers, polytheism continued to decline into the Middle Ages. Islamic armies suppressed cruelly and immediately a rebellious movement of apostasy that spread through Arabia after Mohammed’s death. Polytheism likewise had already vanished in North Africa and other parts of West Asia, conquered by Muslims, because these were regions that had previously been strongly Christian. Only the fringes of Europe remained in the old ways, but that was to change gradually. Various crusades were waged against polytheists in Europe, who were viewed as polluted and lost souls that required either guidance or death. In those distant places, instances of noble resistance and vile treachery are known.

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Good and bad polytheists (Parts 15-16)

Towards the end of the 4th century, after the death of Emperor Julian (who had renounced Christianity), there was little hope for polytheism to be restored to its former position, and Christianity was now gaining permanent ground. The Eastern Roman Empire, with its capital at Byzantium (renamed Constantinople after the first Christian Emperor discussed before), was the strongest seat of Christianity; in the west, even though Rome held sway, there was more toleration for polytheism and hopes for keeping it alive. In 392 CE, Eugenius, though a Christian, became a usurper in the west and was the last emperor to support polytheists, but his ambition was cut short two years later when he was defeated and killed in battle by the armies of Theodosius I. This Theodosius was the same emperor who declared Christianity the only legal religion of the empire. However, as evidence of the continuance of polytheism in the west, his successors afterwards passed harsh laws that outlawed polytheism altogether and often prescribed capital punishment for not only those who practised its rituals, but also the magistrates who failed to destroy religious sanctuaries and carry out the laws. The Roman Empire was now in effect a theocracy, particularly in 457 CE, when Leo I was the first to be crowned by the Patriarch of Constantinople, as if in acknowledgement (or rivalry) of the Pope’s miraculous intervention against Attila the Hun. Historians disagree whether Illus tried to re-establish toleration for polytheism in his support for usurpation as late as the end of the fifth century. In any case, polytheism was to decline afterwards by force, fear, or treason, both by Christianity and Islam, but it was too beautiful and precious to be entirely destroyed, or indeed abandoned by the brave and righteous.

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Good and bad polytheists (part 14): Roman Emperors

Among the Roman emperors that were polytheists, ruling from 27 BCE until about 325 BCE (with one exception afterwards), the good were few and all the rest were more or less bad. Since it was the ambition of Julius Caesar that had laid a foundation for the empire, after he had waged bloody wars against the Gauls and his adversaries in the Senate, it is no wonder that it should be so difficult to judge the good leaders of such a deformed and ugly entity. The legacy of Alexander, a proud and bad polytheist indeed, had already established a precedent for extreme conquest in Europe, and the Romans took up the task soon after defeating the Carthaginians. The Romans, though generally a religious and traditional people, were corrupted by this lust for growth and wealth, which gradually wore out their original piety; their love for their own ways and Gods often proved at the expense of foreign cultures and Gods. The truth is, the period following Alexander was a time of decline for polytheism in general, or at the very least, a time of failed experiments. Empire was now a common thing in the world, one that seemed more honorable to raise and more secure to keep than any other form of government. Even the best Roman emperors inherited a heavy dilemma that they could not escape from: either to preserve and make the most of what they have, or lose all to ambition and war. The disease of empire was pandemic, although nobody could truly see it, because nobody could comprehend it. However we judge of details, it is necessary to understand that the Roman empire, and certain actions by Roman emperors, gave rise to many evils, including the one which put an end to polytheism altogether, i.e. Christianity.  Below is a list of the most notable emperors with notes on their respective reigns and deeds.

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Good and bad polytheists (parts 11-13)

These three parts are all united by a common theme of relations with Rome, either noble resistance, or dishonorable treason. The stories of the good polytheists are also well known by their respective native peoples and don’t require too much elaboration, although several links are provided for the curious. 

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Statement on last article, with Hymns of purification and celebration

Dionysos

Having been many times attacked unfairly for my last article on Hispala Faecenia and Paculla Annia, I find myself compelled to deliver the following statement, in ten points:

1-As a devotee of Zeus, among other Hellenic Deities and Divine figures, I wrote the last article in honor and vindication of Dionysos, who is a Son of Zeus. May I be blasted by the thunderbolts I adore and damned in the underworld I fear if my intentions were not meant for that purpose as well as the common good.

2- It is extremely important to avoid cultural appropriation: If one is not Greek, has no Greek ancestry or comes from a land not historically settled by Greeks, they may pay homage to Dionysos as guests (visiting a friend, visiting Greece, etc.), but to become devoted followers to Dionysos (or what is worse, priests) is unfair to the Greeks, and unfair to their own ancestral Gods. Perhaps the worship of the Roman God Liber (the counterpart of Dionysus) could extend beyond Italy, although I believe that would also acknowledge Roman imperialism. Polytheism is an ethnic mode of religion; tradition and ancestry and pantheon are all connected intimately and inseparably, a rule not made by any man but established by history itself. Don’t be tricked into thinking that a God entirely foreign to your ancestry and ethnic culture can really “call you” to his service. Only ancestral Gods call us, through the blood of our ancestors, and everything else is personal desire and cultural appropriation. If your ancestry in Celtic or Germanic, do not worship Dionysos as if you were Greek, because he had no connection to your ancestors; you should honor your ancestors by worshipping mainly their Gods. This rule applies to everyone.

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Good and bad polytheists (part 10): Hispala Faecenia and Paculla Annia

HISPALA FAECENIA

Dancing maenadIn the late 3rd and early 2nd century BCE, the Roman Republic had been already in effect an empire, reigning over Greeks in the South of Italy, Carthaginians in Africa, and Iberians in Spain. Of all these peoples, the Greeks were the most notable and famous; the extreme renown of Alexander’s military victories were backed by the cultural influence of Athens, Pergamon and Alexandria. Alexander’s empire had indeed brought about a Hellenistic age in which Greek culture was preeminent throughout the Mediterranean and beyond. The traditional Romans were naturally jealous of the Greeks , but they were also alarmed at the looseness that began to creep into their lands. The Greeks, by that time, unfortunately suffered often from a decline of tradition; many corrupt philosophies, all rejecting tradition, were in competition and growth, taking advantage of Hellenistic multiculturalism. The Greeks in South Italy and beyond thus had a bad reputation among the Romans, and not without reason; hedonism and cultural innovation, at the expense of tradition, were marks of the Hellenistic age that the Greeks were promoting. The generally traditional structure of Roman law and culture was therefore in some danger, but never did the alarm go so far as in 186 BCE.

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Good and bad polytheists (part 9): Gaozu and Qin Shi Huang

GAOZU (born Liu Bang)

Emperor GaozuThe region where the early civilization of China flourished reminds us of Mesopotamia. It began in the far east along the Yellow River with the Xia Dynasty, and then expanded under the Shang Dynasty to include the Yangtze to the South. A third dynasty, the Zhou, then proceeded to overthrew their predecessors and ruled over a larger territory until 771 BCE. After that time, the Zhou kings lost power and their dominions gradually underwent fragmentation, until 475 BCE when four mature states began to engage in wars of domination. This situation, which is known as the period of Warring States, went on for several centuries, and was also accompanied by the competition of many philosophical schools, particularly Confucianism, Taoism, and Legalism. A further complication arose when one of the four contending states, Jin, was divided into three parts following a civil war, one of which was the Han. This partition shook the balance of power and facilitated the domination of China. Consequently, within a hundred years, the intensity of alliances and wars increased. The Chu and Qin were the largest and most warlike of the states, although the Qin proved far more successful: They were victorious in most of their battles and they also claimed succession to China after they defeated the last remnants of the Zhou dynasty in 249 BCE. They afterwards fought for 25 years till they established the first empire of China. By this time, a peasant by the name of Liu Bang was already a young man providing feudal labor for the new Qin emperor.

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Good and bad polytheists (part 8): Vercingetorix and Brennus

VERCINGETORIX

Coin_VercingetorixThe Celts were a large ethnic group of peoples that inhabited what is today France, Britain, Western Spain, Austria, Bohemia, South Germany, North Italy, Belgium, Slovenia and parts of Croatia and Serbia. They were a warlike and fertile people who increased their numbers, expanded and migrated from time to time in search of land to accommodate them. Their culture, already beautiful, also benefited from trade and exchange with the south, and therefore by the 1st century BCE, we hear of large and prosperous cities in Gaul (the ancient word for France). By that time, they had already clashed several times with Rome in the north of Italy, because of pressure from expanding Germanic tribes to the north, and the Germans were also interested in expanding beyond the Rhine river. Unfortunately for them, not only the Germans were interested in expansion, but also the Romans, who had defeated the Carthaginian empire 100 years before and taken all their lands. The Celts thus fell between two powers and pressures. To make matters even worse, Rome in 59 BCE was under the power of two ambitious men of different parties: Pompey, who had lately returned from conquests in the east, stood with the senatorial faction, and Caesar, jealous of his victories, opposed him on the plebian side. Pompey was rich from conquests and new provinces, but Caesar was in debt from his consulship, because (among other reasons) he spent vast sums of money to feed the poor to increase his popularity. At first, Caesar, who was governor in North Italy, considered conquering Dacia (today Romania) in order to get out of debt and get into fame, but he found a better opportunity with the Celts to the North. In 58 BCE, the Helvetii, a confederation of five Celtic tribes inhabiting modern Switzerland, prepared for a migration to the west in order to avoid pressure from the Germans. There was news that their leader Orgetorix intended to rule all Gaul, but this may have been a rumor from Caesar to justify war. When the Helvetii requested peaceful passage through Roman territory in south Gaul, Caesar (the governor of the province) deliberately refused, knowing this would provoke war.

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Good and bad polytheists (part 7): Chanakya and Ashoka

CHANAKYA

arthshastra-350-x-225_041515115802[1]This Indian sage was a Brahmin (priestly teacher) who flourished in the latter part of the 4th century BCE. Several traditions attribute different events to his life, but it is universally agreed that he was, first, the counsellor of Chandragupta Maurya, the man who became the first emperor of India, and secondly, the author of the Arthashastra, a book on government, law, and kingship that the emperor followed. It is said that Chandragupta was born only a peasant, or according to another source, in the middle class of warriors, but Chanakya inspired him to raise an army and conquer his neighbors. Considering the bad effects of imperialism, condemned here in previous writings, this action might seem unjust and impious, hardly qualifying Chanakya as an example of a good polytheist. In reality, however, imperialism was (unfortunately, we must say) the best direction to take during that time, and Chanakya, as a priest, would have understood the case. Alexander III (commonly called Alexander the Great) had died a few years before in 323 BCE, and his failed attempt to conquer India was now repeated by his generals and governors. Seleucus Nicator was already emperor over a vast territory in the west by 312 BCE, and was threatening to add India, already partly controlled by governors left by Alexander, to his dominions. There is no positive evidence that Chanakya hated the invading Macedonians, but he must have been concerned about the fate of the Indian peoples if they were to become subjects to foreign powers and cultures, and therefore advocated an Indian empire as a response. And indeed, it was not too long before Chandragupta, after he had conquered some eastern territories and assassinated two governors of Alexander in India, clashed with Seleucus in 305 BCE. The subsequent war lasted for a short time, and because Chandragupta had a powerful and well-trained army, it ended on good terms, where Seleucus agreed to marry his daughter to him, in return for several hundred elephants, useful for Seleucus’ ambitions in the west.

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