Polytheism has been undergoing a gradual revival, particularly within the last decades, while monotheism has declined. During that time, the world has also experienced many extraordinary changes under modernity, which is still continuous. In many respects, modernism and monotheism affect the quality of our professed polytheism considerably, because we live in a world that is dominated by them. Polytheism is as much a holistic system as modernism and monotheism, extending beyond religion and belief; it is a way of thought, action, and indeed life. In the infancy of our revival, it behooves us to examine and reconsider several important points that constitute what polytheism truly is, if our intention is to bring this polytheism to maturity. Discussion is always essential at this time, and though debate and disagreement are inevitable, our attention should not be drawn away from our common vision, which is, to restore polytheism to what it once was. I hope to see the day when our restoration is fulfilled at the hands of great men and women, but in the meantime, let us advance steadily and surely, improving our capacities for spirit and learning as we go. To that end, I have laid out a plan for a new series, which I have rightly termed “polemical topics for polytheists”. There are many points of controversy and disagreement that we polytheists either avoid or wield, to serve our purposes, whatever they may be. But can the middle course of discussion be taken? I think so, especially if our purpose is to serve polytheism and the Gods. In the course of the series, I will attempt to present my thoughts on as many as 40 topics that need to be resolved, or at least understood, amongst polytheists of the present time. I don’t profess my views will be perfect or exemplary, but they will be candid and balanced, to the best of my ability; in doing so I will also take care to use ancestral tradition and ancestral wisdom as a general reference to guide me throughout my endeavors. Do please share your own thoughts, whenever you wish; I can truly discuss only when you participate, and my views can truly be beneficial only when somebody engages with them. To encourage you, I offer a short sample of the topics: education (of children), moral relativism, separatism, feminism, shamanism, philosophy, and technology. With that, let me say that part one comes out within a few days; watch out for it!
After 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.
* 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.
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.
To all polytheists this comes by,
About a week ago, a few friends and I founded a new group in Facebook entitled “Interethnic think-tank for polytheism“. We believe it is unique in that its purpose is to discuss all sorts of things (and agree on all sorts of active strategies) that can be done to restore and make polytheism heard as much as possible throughout the world. All members (in spite of any differences) share a powerful and common vision of strengthening polytheism in the face of monotheism and atheism. We are in need of more members with good insight and spirit, so please consider joining us!
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.
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.
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.