Various developments

After almost a year, the series on polemical topics is at an end. I might have added a few more parts, but I believe I have addressed and laid out the most important topics that I have observed among polytheists nowadays. I hope it has brought some benefit with its balanced method, which is greatly needed among our distinct traditions. The question now is what to write for the future.

In the first place, I should mention that I have lately enlarged the site’s quote page, which contains all sorts of arguments in favor of traditional & ancestral polytheism that I have long advocated for. The quotes, carefully selected, range from ancient sayings to scholarly statements. I invite readers not only to view them for the sake of curiosity & reflection (contact me if you have objections and I’ll gladly discuss), but also to provide me with more quotes of the same kind if they happen to come by them.

At this time, I am considering a series about the depiction of polytheism in the arts & media, It will consist of general observations and literary analysis. I have also conceived of another series of a miscellaneous nature. However, I will make the choice after publishing my next post concerning the development of monotheism, which I have been researching and preparing for the past few days. It will be bold and yet simple–in chronological style with notes. Expect it sometime next week!

Was Xenophanes a proto-monotheist?

This topic seems to have been in discussion lately and John Beckett published on it a few days since. I think it is a part of a larger topic of huge importance about early Greek philosophy (of the religious or secular form or indeed a mixture of both). I will stick to the man and also touch on the movement. Now, we have many fragments about Xenophanes, as well as a historical period to which he was contemporary, that allow us to form a clear view of the man’s ideas and let me add, motives. We know that he lived after Homer and Hesiod, and was very bold to criticize them: “Homer and Hesiod have ascribed to the gods all things that are a shame and a disgrace among mortals, stealings and adulteries and deceivings of one another.” Xenophanes belonged to a movement, anticipated a little by Hesiod, which criticized the old ideas and traditions (including mythology and anthropomorphism) while searching for a universal “Truth”. What surprises me is that Xenophanes doesn’t try to allow Homer and Hesiod much credit, or attempt at least (using the very “critical thinking” he seemingly wishes to distinguish himself by) to allegorize some myths and their import. Nor is there any constructive criticism; Xenophanes boldly attacks his renowned predecessors (somewhat like his contemporary and  Heraclitus, who said “Homer should be turned out of the lists and whipped”) and without much reason. First of all, Homer and Hesiod were widely acclaimed throughout Greece, and deservedly so, because they wrote beautifully and wisely, including about the Gods. Very few doubted that they did anything wrong, either artistically or theologically, and if objections were raised, reverence was most likely shown. Secondly, Xenophanes’ movement owed part of its existence to some of Hesiod’s new ideas which were in opposition to Homer’s. Greece had already begun to change and it seems Xenophanes was a thorough individualist who sought to have his own ideas spread, in order to “reform” a Greece that had been “corrupted” in its religious thinking. We know from another fragment that he travelled throughout Greece for 67 years, most probably for that purpose. His main concern was anthropomorphism, which we can infer from three fragments on the topic:

“But mortals deem that the gods are begotten as they are, and have clothes like theirs, and voice and form.”

“Yes, and if oxen and horses or lions had hands, and could paint with their hands, and produce works of art as men do, horses would paint the forms of the gods like horses, and oxen like oxen, and make their bodies in the image of their several kinds.”*

“The Ethiopians make their gods black and snub-nosed; the Thracians say theirs have blue eyes and red hair.”

One cannot be exactly certain where this new idea against anthropomorphism first arose and why**, but it was undoubtedly damaging to polytheism in the long run. The traditional view of mythology and cultic practice was that the Gods were represented in a form similar to the people who worshipped them. This has universally been done throughout all polytheistic cultures. Indeed, it’s an obvious and necessary thing for ritual practice that wouldn’t have been questioned in the first place by someone who cared about ancestral and cultic continuity as well as the sanctity of religious tradition, rather than an individual opinion. That Xenophanes objected to such a common and strongly established cultural/theological/mythological norm inevitably gives the impression that he was either unduly confused or ambitious. It’s not wrong to suspect someone who objects to what everyone else does in an environment that was entirely original, that is to say, where there wasn’t anything previously lost in order to be restored (which we polytheists are doing today). Instead of enjoying his travels by expanding his knowledge of the distinctions in regional Greek practice, he sought to teach everyone how they were mistaken and needed improvement. In one fragment, he says “The Gods have not revealed all things to men from the beginning, but by seeking they find in time what is better.” Well, how could Xenophanes be so sure he was “better” and everyone else was less so in regard to this point of anthropomorphism? Apparently he wasn’t better by his own admission, as we can see from another fragment:

“There never was nor will be a man who has certain knowledge about the Gods and about all the things I speak of. Even if he should chance to say the complete truth, yet he himself knows not that it is so. But all may have their fancy.”

I must say I commend the frankness of Xenophanes here, because unlike so many other philosophers, he conceded that the “Truth” in a universal sense was really unattainable. One ought to acknowledge that he was honest about the reality of where intellectual universalism always ends, i.e. uncertainty. Each culture has its own ideas and traditions, and therefore it would be impossible, not to mention unfair, to attempt to bring them all under one system, especially an arbitrary one derived from individual conception. This is why we have pluralism inherent in polytheism; just as there are many Gods, there are many traditions, and just as the Gods are venerated, the traditions should also be respected. The essence of polytheism is far more continuity of ancestral practice rather than refining conceptions about the divine in a universal manner. Xenophanes contradicts himself and undermines his validity when he simultaneously attacks Hesiod, Homer, as well as anthropomorphism, and in effect doubts what he is saying. This makes Xenophanes somewhat of a skeptic. But now let us move to the more relevant question of proto-monotheism. Xenophanes was far removed from the time of Akhenaten, an undisputed monotheist or proto-monotheist, depending on interpretation. Yet he was part of a new movement in Greece, originating in Ionia, the same region where the first philosophy of Thales and his Milesian school developed. It was a prosperous, commercial region where commodities and ideas were exchanged among Eastern Mediterranean cultures and somewhat beyond. Thales, like Xenophanes’ contemporary Pythagoras, is known to have travelled abroad. In encountering various cultures and their differences, he must have had the negative reaction of doubting his own beliefs because of plurality rather than the positive reaction of admiring that very plurality. From this doubt, which Xenophanes shared also from extensive travels (albeit Hellenic) he sought a greater “Truth” that explained this new, large world he experienced. Everything, he must have thought, was related and had a common origin, and therefore it was only prolonged isolation and merely popular tradition that led to differences, which “covered” this primal “Truth”, which was equated to natural elements. This anticipates the rise of monotheism (one could also say deism) in its second form, i.e. the intellectual form that differed from the earlier quasi-political & imperialistic form under Akhenaten**. Xenophanes gives a strong impression of this proto-monotheism, when he states the following in several fragments:

“One God, the greatest among Gods and men, neither in form like unto mortals nor in thought . . . .”

“He sees all over, thinks all over, and hears all over.

“But without toil he swayeth all things by the thought of his mind.”

“And he abideth ever in the selfsame place, moving not at all; nor doth it befit him to go about now hither now thither.”

Now this is not monotheism, but only an earlier anticipatory form of it. Xenophanes is still a “polytheist” but he is also making a transition unto something else. The phrase “One God, the greatest among Gods and men”, looks like ambiguous evidence, but it is the first term ‘One God’ that really holds almost all the weight, especially if we also consider the three latter fragments. Some philosophers, like the Orphics contemporary to them, accorded to the ruling God (in this case Zeus, but sometimes they held the God to be a natural element) greater powers than ever before, and although they did acknowledge other Gods, the status of those Gods now dwindled in the rising supremacy of the Head. The “Mind” was now absolutely supreme and pure in the order of things, and intellect, not ritual or prayer or festivals, was the way to reach it. As M.L. West explains in an article from the book Pagan Monotheism in Late Antiquity:

“Empedocles describes a God who does not have human form—no head, no arms, no feet, no knees, no hairy genitals—but consists simply of a marvelous holy mind, darting across the whole universe with its swift thoughts. This may remind us of Xenophanes’ and Heraclitus’ accounts of a disembodied intelligence; but they were speaking of a unique being, whereas Empedocles‘ description may have been applicable to any of the life-long Gods…The philosopher who first gives us a clear statement of the role of the controlling Mind in the material universe is Anaxagoras, who is a little older than Empedocles. Like Heraclitus [and most probably his contemporary Xenophanes also–my note], he emphasizes that Mind or Intellect is something separate from everything else. He says it is unlimited, unalloyed, homogeneous, eternal, autonomous, the finest and purest of all substances, with knowledge of everything and the greatest power, governing all living beings, and responsible for initiating the rotation of the cosmos, which led to the separation of all things from the original mixture and continues to be productive in the same way…Here we have a single power, uniquely responsible for shaping the world we know. There is no mention of other Gods. We might say that here at last is a clear case of a monotheistic system, except that it is difficult to justify treating Anaxagoras’ Nous [the Mind] as divine…Nevertheless, theistic or not, his system interestingly illustrates the tendency to look for a single, intelligent governing power in the world”.

Michael Frede adds the following in his article from the same book, when he speaks of the continued developments of Aristotle to the concept of the “one God” above:

“Given that it is clear that there is a substantial sense in which Aristotle believes in one God, though there are many other things he is prepared to call ‘divine’, let us consider these…It is part of the order of the universe which depends on the first unmoved mover [Nous/the Mind] that there be immaterial substances, pure unembodied minds who, being immortal, enjoy eternal bliss contemplating the first unmoved mover and the order which depends on him…[As for Plato’s position in Timaeus] So there is one God, but there are also other beings which are called ‘divine’, though they are created, because they are by Divine grace immortal and enjoy a good life. But they only exist as part of God’s creation and they are immortal and hence divine only due to God’s benevolence or grace, that is to say they owe their very divinity to God. So far, then, the Platonist account, in its essential features, is very much like that of Aristotle and that of the Stoics.”

What we see here is proto-monotheism through and through, where the status of the other Gods is reduced subserviently (one may say blasphemously) to that of “angels”, dwarfish beings in comparison with the absolute, supreme God. There are those who may object (and perhaps even quibble) in the defense of Xenophanes or others, by stating that this was merely another form of polytheism and not proto-monotheism at all. Such an objection is rather inane, because if that kind of reasoning is used, Christianity itself becomes a form of polytheism too, except for the thin partition of intolerance that divides them apart. This fluidity was actually present in Late Antiquity, when all what differed between a Neoplatonist and a Christian was really not so much the point of whether there is one or many Gods, but whether Jesus was the savior and intercessor. The Christian author Augustine points this out in The City of God:

“If the Platonists prefer to call these ‘gods’ [lower case ‘g’ for emphasizing lower status] rather than ‘daemons’ and to count them among those of whom their founder and master Plato writes that they are Gods created by the highest God, let them say what they wish. For one should not engage with them in a controversy of words. For if they say that they are not blessed by themselves, but by being attached to him who has created them, then they say precisely what we say, whichever word they may use for them”

For fear of falling into this trap of quibbling where evidence is otherwise strong, I must therefore state in conclusion that Xenophanes is certainly a polytheist, but at the same time he is undoubtedly a proto-monotheist or a proto-deist or both, depending on your interpretation.

 

 

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*It’s easy to detect a satirical, overbearing tone here, and one that does our friend Xenophanes no credit at all, but rather weakens his case.

**Akhenaten’s defacing and prohibiting of divine images is known, but no connection has been established with Greece. Nevertheless, we know the Greek minds whose new ideas paved the way against anthropomorphism, i.e. Thales, the first philosopher who equated Gods with elements, and who was followed later widely by fellow philosophers. Even earlier than Thales, a problem with anthropomorphism was already anticipated from the Theogony of Hesiod, wherein he shows that traditional, anthropomorphic Gods that were worshipped, were preceded by earlier generations of non-anthropomorphic and non-cultic Gods, and in a few cases, allegorical Gods that represented the forces of nature. See Hack’s article on Hesiod in his work God in Greek philosophy.

***The two forms were later to combine very destructively under the Emperor Constantine and again under Mohammed.

Polemical topics for polytheists (part 19): Historical traditions and models

First view: Any historical tradition and model of a particular polytheism is acceptable to follow, including a new modern one

Second view: There is only one historical tradition and model of a particular polytheism, before which things were undeveloped and after which things were in decline

Balanced view: There is a plurality of valid historical traditions and models to follow, but it is also possible to refine our research in order to select the better few.

This is a topic that has long occupied my thinking and seems to grow only more complex with time. Let us consider an example, as in the Hellenic polytheism, since a great deal is known about its various historical traditions; there is the Minoan period, Mycenaean period, the Homeric, the Archaic, the Classical, the Hellenistic, the Greco-Roman, and the Late Antiquity or Medieval period. These all constitute what may be called distinct historical traditions and models of Hellenic polytheism which people nowadays follow with variations. Within those historical periods, there are more sub-variations, as for example, with the philosophical schools or regional practices within Greece. Other polytheisms share this plurality of period, model and region, with more or less complexity. The question is, do we have a best one, better ones or are all of them alike? The balanced path that avoids extremes will acknowledge that there is such a thing as “better” (and conversely “worse”), but at the same time no absolute “best” or “worst”. The reason for this critical approach is that we are aware of certain historical changes and mistakes that had adverse consequences on (to continue the same example) Hellenic polytheism. These were unconscious changes and mistakes that took place with the force of circumstance, but although one cannot remove a certain degree of validity from them, it is possible to compare and analyze distinct periods and models in order to refine our view about Hellenic polytheism in general. Although we should take the Hesiodic principle of decline through time (which seems universal through cultures*) into serious consideration, we must also understand the value of what can be called a tradition’s “maturity”. In my view, Hellenic polytheism matured during the Archaic and Early Classical Period, only to decline not long after during the Late Classical Period without recovery**. Since this double-edged situation is sometimes more or less true for other polytheisms, it is necessary to reconcile the notions of decline and maturity fairly. This can be done by a method which posits a sort of “terminus ante quem” for each particular polytheism, whereby there is a “latest date before which” the validity of a historical model cannot be much questioned, and thus after which it can be. By following this method, which may at first seem arbitrary, it will become possible to select the better (more valid, more correct or more mature) models and distinguish them from the worse (the opposite). The following list is an initial attempt for several polytheisms, based on my previous research:

Celtic- before Roman invasion

Roman- before Middle Republic (thus allowing for Etruscan and others to exist)

Germanic- before Late Antiquity expansions

Egyptian- before Late Middle Kingdom

Semetic- before Hellenistic invasion (with exception to regions not conquered)

Slavic- before Late Antiquity

Chinese- before Qin Empire

Indian- before Mauryan Empire

Thracian and Illyrian- before Roman invasion

American, East Indies, Sub-Saharan and Oceanic – before Western colonialism

Lest this is taken as a hugely and unjustifiably arbitrary attempt, I will explain four points before I conclude. First, as the list seems to exclude important developments in religion, I will certainly concede that there is a great deal of religious and ritual knowledge that are dated after these afore-mentioned periods which we can’t dispense with. In such a case, we should be using what we have, in order to reconstruct a purer model and period without decline. The second point is, these periods are broad estimates that are not true for all regions that fall under a particular polytheism. For example, the Irish were not conquered by the Romans and therefore their period can last later than the rest. This is also true of the Indian and Chinese religious traditions (among others) that were unaffected by imperial influence and the times.  Thirdly, these demarcations on religious tradition, which are meant to balance purity with maturity, do not exclude the arts, literature and so many other historical developments. For example, as a Hellenic polytheist who is seeking to follow a Homeric religious tradition, I value the art of the Late Classical and Hellenistic periods. And lastly, there will always be a considerable distance (in urbanized societies) between the religious tradition of the city and the rural areas, where the latter are always purer and less affected by dangerous innovations.

 

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*The Hindus share this principle, and it seems to be a very common mode of thinking in societies that value ancestral tradition and purity of practice. This stands in direct contrast to the notion of “progress”, which (as far as I can tell) derived originally from the quasi-atheistical Epicurean philosophy which embraced atomic materialism. See Lucretius’s poem.

 **Only true for areas affected by Athenian innovations, which by the Hellenistic period was almost every part of Greece (except the rural ones) and even beyond.

Polemical topics for Polytheists (part 18): Proselytism

First view: Proselytism is unfavorable because it is associated with expansive monotheism

Second view: If monotheists converted others, polytheists should be doing the same in similar ways to counter them

Balanced view: Polytheists need to actively promote their religion, convince others that it is real as well as good, and generally increase their influence in society, which in the case of polytheism’s plural traditions does not constitute proselytism.

I need not emphasize the situation of polytheism in comparison with monotheism today, in regard to the number of followers and influence and community organization. It suffices to point out that we have a great deal of work to do, for several generations, before we can approach a state of serious competition. We have reason to be both fearful that we are too slow, but also to be hopeful that the time has never been riper. But while we do need to expand, the notion of proselytism is a misnomer in our case, because “polytheism” is not a monolithic faith, nor is it structured (like monotheism) to save people from damnation and eternal torment in hell. For this reason, proselytism also has (as it were) a sort of evil twin, i.e. apostasy and heresy, which follow the same imperialistic and pathological mode of thinking. And yet, in spite of our necessity and our difference from monotheism, too many among us confuse what may be better called “activism” with proselytism. We think it is rude or intrusive or arrogant to inform and convince others that our faiths and traditions are valid and worthy of following. It is true that part of this reluctance to engage actively with outsiders results from our injuries under the tyranny of monotheism and its derivative systems, but what other choice do we have? Do we sit back and be passive in a world that is very active? And what about the hostility in the world towards our faiths and traditions? Should we merely enjoy the current freedom we have, or lay a foundation for future growth? I have always sincerely believed (and will repeat, ad nauseam if necessary) that communities of faith that resemble those of Hindus or even monotheists are essential for our continuity; this is not a matter of well-being, but of survival. But this matter of fact should not make us pathological in such a way as to hunger after followers, but only aware of the necessity to work hard in order to honor our Gods and ancestors as well as secure our uncertain future. There are monotheists (even atheists) who dedicate many many days, if not their whole lives, to teaching and proselytizing and debating—they have the spirit and confidence that their way is the best and must expand. We know that polytheism, or at least a general plurality of faiths and traditions, is better for the world than merely one or some that pretend to be exclusively correct in spite of all others. If we have the spirit and confidence that our ways (emphasize on plural) are better, why not dedicate something more from our time and efforts to further the paths of polytheism that can ensure cultural self-determination, promote inter-ethnic harmony and defeat all imperialism. We need a larger presence and louder voice, but always a more balanced and reasonable view to prevail. 

Polemical topics for Polytheists (part 17): The Jews and Judaism

First view: The Jews and Judaism are not at all responsible for the later evils of monotheism which were mostly Christian and Islamic

Second view: Since the Jews invented monotheism, they are responsible for all its later legacy and evils

Balanced view: While Judaism can be partly responsible in certain ideas, the Jews are a people who (like many others) may have been misled from their original polytheism, and mainly because of foreigners 

 A friend of mine referred me once to a few videos by one Varg Vikernes, a Norwegian tribal anarchist who not only is notorious for his dislike of Jews, but who has also carried his foolish theories so far as to condemn all Southern Europeans (whom he believes to be impure racially and therefore subtly inferior) for adopting and spreading Christianity (an un-European, inferior “Jewish” religion according to him) in Europe. Being offended, I tried to counter this absurd notion by raising a simple question in the comment section “You blame the Southern Europeans for adopting Christianity from the East, but not the Northern Europeans for adopting it from the South. How is that logic fair?” As one might expect, he replied by saying that “Christianity was forced on us” and this was the perfect opportunity for me to turn his theory on its head by mentioning that it was the “racially pure” Germanic king Charlemagne who forced it on North Europe, a man who was actually strong enough to march against Rome and destroy Christianity if he had chosen to do so. I concluded also that we shouldn’t attack people but only bad ideas, because by attacking people who adopt certain wrong ideas, we make them only hold more strongly to them. Varg didn’t and couldn’t reply without making a greater fool of himself than he already was, and after some heated altercations with his minions, I was banned. I wish to transfer this aforementioned conclusion to the question of Jews and Judaism, because it is very significant and fair to do so. What I have to say here is threefold. First and foremost, it wasn’t the Jews who invented monotheism, because, if we are to believe scholarly evidence, that was the work of Akhenaten the Egyptian Pharaoh, whose imperialism gave rise to the idea! There is no historical basis for the existence of an Abraham nor even a Moses, and scholars have also pointed out that in both cases, the characters and the events surrounding them fit the Iron Age (beginning from 1000 BCE). Furthermore, there is no evidence for Jewish monotheism as we know it, till about 600 BCE in Jerusalem; this is why we see strangely unbiased references to ancient Canaanite and Semetic Gods in some parts of the Old Testament. The Jews (properly meaning the branch of Canaanites living around the region of Judea and Jerusalem) till that time were henotheists who accepted other Gods, but only worshipped Yahweh out of them. By around 600 BCE or so, a priesthood seems to have arisen from Jerusalem, under the kingship of Josiah, advocating for a reformed theology that rejected images and henotheism. This biased zeal may have been fueled by imperialism in the region, since Judea was in danger of conquest and cultural influences from their Assyrian and Babylonian neighbors, which is actually recorded to have happened in 586 BCE. The mourning priesthood, or perhaps even the captive people (who are said to have been enslaved by the Babylonian), then viewed this as a punishment from Yahweh because of their neglect towards him, and thus a sort of ideology, albeit defensive in its purpose, was born. My second point is that further imperialism in the next centuries was responsible for the exacerbation of the problem; this was carried out by the successors of Alexander’s new Hellenistic Empire. The Maccabean revolt of 167-160 BCE against the Seleucid Empire was as much a noble movement for independence as it was a zealous force that was later to grow into intolerance and systematic conversion. But who do we blame for this? I say the Greeks and their imperialism, who are the causes. We know for certain that it was the Greek sense of cultural superiority and cultural imperialism that angered the conservative Jews and made them revolt afterwards on three occasions against the Roman Empire, but this occurred only after a great deal of Jewish blood was unmercifully spilled in the streets of Alexandria and Antioch during riots there. The monster of monotheism, that was later to become Christianity, was born out of this struggle for cultural supremacy, and because it was advocated by Hellenistic Jews (that is ethnic but not religious Jews), it soon grew into a multicultural movement that by 200 CE distanced itself so far from Jews and Judaism that it professed open hatred towards them! The Jews were blamed for the death of Jesus much more than the occupying Romans or Greeks who had caused the Judean resistance of Jews against foreign imperialism in the first place—Strange irony. This leads me into my last point, which is brief. The Jews are by all accounts a noble set of tribes and peoples whose endurance through so many hardships can be a valuable lesson for us polytheists. Their resistance to Rome above all is to be remembered as entirely worthy of imitation and indeed a most beautiful thing in itself*. Surely they can make excellent polytheists and indeed their anti-monotheistic efforts have already done much to pave the path: We owe a great deal to the likes of (among others) Baruch Spinoza, Karl Marx, Franz Boas, the Kabbalists, Jacques Derrida, and indeed Margot Adler for the gradual revival of polytheism that we have today. Let us unite and join with them in rediscovering our polytheistic origins and ancestors, in order to enjoy a more harmonious existence blessed by the plurality of all our great Gods and peoples.

 

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*I say in itself, to distinguish the heroic acts from the later erratic & pathological product that grew out of their miserable defeat in Jerusalem, i.e. Christianity. 

Polemical topics for polytheists (part 16): The Celts and Celtic polytheism

First view: The Celts and their traditions are restricted to their current populations and languages in the British Isles, Ireland and France, and has been mostly replaced by Germanics.

Second view: The Celts and their tradition should be restored to its largest historical extent, which covered most of Europe.

Balanced view: The Celtic tradition and identity ought to find its historical places beyond current populations, but without repeating unnecessary imperialism. (see illustration of fair extent) 

mapexpansionThe Celtic peoples and traditions once had a plentiful and noble presence mainly in Central and Western Europe, but what remains of it is unfortunately little and often treated with contempt. Having been conquered first by the Romans and then again by Germanic tribes, the identity and culture of these peoples has suffered greatly, sometimes with deliberate persecution. Julius Caesar waged a bloody and unjust war in Gaul for 10 years, in order to increase his dwindling income and expand the territory of Rome for personal ambition. In doing so, he destroyed and colonized the Celtic heartland, which was only to be worsened by his despotic successors’ persecution of the druids. The excuse was ending human sacrifice, a hugely exaggerated practice that the Celts (among others) practiced, but the real purpose was to put an end to their warlike resistance, a noble example of which is well known. Through continuous colonization and attempted assimilation, the Celtic identities, cultures and languages began to wear off, and worse influence came after the Roman Empire adopted Christianity. The Celtic reputation for human sacrifice and war was very contrary to Christian (aka. intolerant Roman) “morality” and “civilized ways”, which placed a stigma on the speakers of the language as being uncivilized like the Germans. The Celts were dealt a final blow after the Germanic tribes, which had managed to escape Roman domination, expanded to conquer what remained of their colonized homelands and traditions in Britain, France, North West Spain and Central Europe. The beautiful old Celtic language (lately reconstructed), once spoken in many dialects, now became extinct except for isolated areas which are still shrinking today. It is extremely interesting (and at the same time very unfortunate) to observe that descendants of these marginalized peoples, who long had an inferiority complex about their identity, were (beginning from 1000 years later) mostly responsible for the colonization of the Americas. Settlers from Western Britain, Western France, Portugal, Western Spain, and later South Germany (central Europe) led the effort in obtaining a new future and settling new lands. It was these descendants of oppressed people who then oppressed others in a world that had long been oppressive; just as children who are bullied and humiliated, they grew up to do the same. This is the very sad story of the “white people” in the Americas, most of whom today are unaware of their Celtic identity, after having tragically lost it. It also saddens me to see so many people, whose ancestors were undoubtedly Celtic, choosing rather to follow the Roman and Germanic traditions of their colonizers. “I am an Anglo-Saxon/Heathen/Roman polytheist” a British or American person will tell you, and “I am a Heathen/Roman polytheist” a Gaulish* person will tell you. Then you have many Celtic people also extremely attracted to the Hellenic tradition, for reasons that can be understood but not quite justified. I know that the Celts have little mythology that is left, and I know it is such powerful stories that often bind us to a tradition. Yet ancestry is a much stronger claim that ought to overcome fascination or inclination. An ancestor that brought us life and whose image is stamped on our faces will always have a stronger and more natural claim that a foreign myth, however well written, that has struck our fancy. You noble Celts, do not succumb to the urge of following the Germans, for you are equally warlike; nor the Romans, for you are equally civilized; nor the Greeks, for you are equally wise**. Do not follow “Wicca” in order to make up for losses that are now being rediscovered and reconstructed. This is the perfect time in history, the first time since Late Antiquity, for a Celtic revival. May Ogmios give the druids the wisdom to reconstruct their mythology and their traditions ever more accurately and bind*** all those Celtic peoples unaware of their beautiful identity to their noble ancestors again!

 

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*France, anciently called Gaul, got its name from Germanic invaders called the “Franks”, much like Britain, which was called England after the Angles from South Denmark.

**Actually, I think the druids were far wiser than most Greek philosophers, in spite of appearances.

 ***Ogmios, the Celtic God of speech and eloquence, is depicted with chains, because of his power to bind people through his wisdom. See a list here of other Celtic Gods. 

Polemical topics for polytheists (part 15): Equality & Hierarchy

First view: Polytheists should oppose hierarchy because monotheists are so strongly for it

Second view: Polytheists should embrace hierarchy because it brought civilization which in ancient times were polytheistic

Balanced view: Hierarchy is inherent to any society, even that of the Gods, but it ought to have a limit set by tradition, law and necessity

It is interesting to observe, in the first place, that the term hierarchy was once one related to religion and meant “authority of a high priest”. In the early societies of civilization, a ruler often combined religious and political authority, serving as a priest-king. This position of power, besides fulfilling an important function, served to remind people that the natural order of the world was one where certain ranks existed, and there was always a head to rule and carry the burdens of such authority. Indeed, all societies, even the simplest bands of hunter-gatherers, acknowledged the reality of hierarchy; even the Gods acknowledge that it is needed among themselves. Nobody is truly equal to another in regard to wealth or power, and yet all people are equally important for society, regardless of their rank. Hierarchy brings stability and strength, which in turn ensure the well-being and survival of a society, not only within itself, but also among others. Nevertheless, hierarchy operates best when moderation is applied to it, because it is this moderation or limitation that keeps the structure sustainable and healthy. If hierarchy is too rigidly and unjustly expressed, there is risk for grievance and revolt, which could overturn the whole society. This is why tradition and law are needed regulate hierarchy, which is often difficult nowadays because of the exorbitant size of society and power of the state. A hierarchy becomes too complex and imperfect, therefore unjust, when it is applied to millions of people as we see nowadays. Hence, smaller countries are most often happier than larger ones, which can’t fail to remind us about the harmful effects of imperialism, i.e. expansive power and wealth. Nor does this secular, materialistic world take care to counterbalance law with ritual tradition*; there are no priest-kings today who fear a power above them. Polytheism once again can set the world straight, and we certainly should not imitate the Christian Church or the Roman Empire to do so. We need institutions and communities which can accept and apply a moderate measure of hierarchy, just enough to bring our hopeful movement to stability, strength and renown rather than weakness in the face of so many competitors. And if those who are wise, just and pious lead, we will surely please the Gods, consolidate our own ranks, and attract many numbers of disaffected people from monotheism who are tired of the absolutism in their institutions and indeed in their god.

 

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*The same world which produced capitalism and modern colonialism, the most horrid systems of inequality.