First view: Neither ethnicity nor “race” are important in polytheism, because religion is a matter of spirit and practice and toleration
Second view: “Race” is not so much a social construct as a reality, and therefore necessary in polytheism. Ethnicity is less important and reliable, because it can change or overlap.
Balanced view: “Race” is a rather useless word, but ethnicity is an indispensable concept in polytheism that needs to be redefined* in today’s troubled, modernized and global world.
Scientists hold that people descend from a common stock that migrated from Africa many thousands of years ago. They also hold that all living things descend from a common beginning. There is a tendency to interpret these points, especially in our troubled world, as a means to attain peace and harmony throughout the earth, putting an end to ambition, greed, oppression, and injustice. Although this is a fair & honest field to tread, it requires examination to reach the correct and best path possible with the least obstacles. In my previous piece, I had already gone through the problem of colonialism and imperialism (call them the evil twins, if you will), explaining how they led to the destruction and decline of indigenous polytheisms in history. Since we are living nowadays in the many disturbing consequences of this catastrophe, it is natural that our emotions should be unsettled, in our hopes to put an end to all the misunderstanding and suffering. But if our views are already formed, and look like the first or second above, let us endeavor indeed to attain the very same peace and harmony we originally hoped to restore. A balanced view is thus necessary and I have offered my own sincere and well-meaning attempt at it. If monotheism is a global belief and polytheism a regional one, it is easy to see how badly “race”, a large ill-defined term, applies to the latter. It is also easy to guess why the term was in use from the late 18th century: European intellectuals thought they were superior to other peoples, and thus justified colonial expansion as a selfish means to profit, avoid wars in Europe, and hypocritically “improve” backward peoples. This naturally sounds like a monotheistic idea dressed in atheism and modernism. By the late 19th century, however, something changed: as with all universal ideas, divisions and factions arose to claim which part of the “white race” was the best—this was partly the reason for the extreme madness and horrors of the Second World War. But why replace one extreme with another? Monotheists do so with their endless dualisms of “good and evil”. Globalism and humanism are now held (by many) to be the solutions to the old troubles of the world—more universal terms to complicate the situation further, which we see the consequences of today. There is also a great degree of pitiable irony in it too: the ideas of globalism and humanism (because promoted, if not enforced, by a dominant European culture) are infused with the same old colonialism, only in a different manner. Intermarriage among people of distant ancestry is held to be the badge of toleration and love and harmony, and opposition to it a sign of hatred that needs to be challenged constantly. These dualisms never prosper and always fester. If there is no compromise and common understanding, the problem will persist and grow. Let me raise two simple questions: 1) What is the purpose of having distinct pantheons & cultures when a person of any ethnicity can join them? 2) What is the purpose of believing one “race” is naturally superior to another, when all peoples have Gods? By reflecting on these two simple questions, one arrives at a rather simple conclusion: Ethnicity is inherent in all traditions of polytheism because it is an ancestral mode of belief, but no ethnicity is better than another. We can thus harmonize the common with the distinct. For instance, if someone is a Celtic polytheist, it must be because of dominant Celtic ancestry, but that person should by no means look down on a Hindu polytheist. But should a Celt seek to become Hindu, or vice versa? No. Why? Because in doing so he disregards his ancestors and implicitly considers a foreign pantheon or culture superior to his own. Is it then possible to be Celtic and Hindu at the same time? I think not. Why? Because the pantheons are distinct, based on many generations of ancestors with distinct practices; besides, the Gods can be jealous and territorial, much like us. The next question is, what of the case of mixed ancestry? This is the complex business that requires most reflection, but simplicity is always possible. I can think of some convenient ways to apply mixed ancestry to polytheism, and I will distinguish these in two groups:
A) With mixed ancestry from very distant lands, one may consider one or more of the following:
1-Choose the side that resembles your features most. The human face tells a sacred and wonderful story about the ancestors that must always be embraced and accepted.
2-Men may choose the side with paternal ancestry and marry from someone within that culture. Women may side with maternal and marry accordingly.
Random example: Dwayne Johnson has mixed ancestry from Celts, West Africans and Polynesians, but he looks more Polynesian than Celtic or West African. He may thus take the side of the Polynesians, who are dominant in his features.
N.B. People of such mixed ancestry may still worship the ethnic Gods of both sides, but a gradual transition into a dominant culture and pantheon is always more convenient. It is no secret that the vast majority of people with mixed ancestry from distant lands suffer more or less from a confusion about their identity.
B) With mixed ancestry from lands not very distant, one may do the same as above, or additionally:
1-Choose a middle ground or culture to approximate your two sides.
Random example: Myself! I have ancestry from Hellenes, Southern Illyrians and Northern Egyptians. My dominant side is Hellenic and my face says so. I have chosen the side of the Hellenic pantheon and culture only, while maintaining a very considerable interest and great reverence for the Illyrian and Egyptian pantheons and cultures, which were historically quite approximate to the Hellenic.
Let me conclude this long post by saying that I know very well and by personal experience how a mixed ancestry can be problematic in many ways. Even though my ancestors are not too far apart, the cultures sometimes (for various historical reasons that one can’t change suddenly) can clash here and there. There can also be contradictions: The Greeks nowadays are known to admire Egyptians far more than their nearer kin, the Albanians. Once we understand and experience the ease and comfort of being at home, and indeed at one home, the current absolute view towards intermarriage will change. We need to regionalize and re-indigenize everything, including marriage. Intermarriage looks pretty and interesting in the beginning, but it usually leaves behind a trail of confusions and misunderstandings, sometimes with irreconcilable problems and regrets. My now separated parents could tell a fine story as to why this is indeed the case!
*The word ethnicity is derived from the Greek εθνος (ethnos) which anciently meant people or nation, and by extension, also custom. It is easy to misunderstand “nation” here as alluding to a large number of people, whereas in ancient times the notion was synonymous with “large tribe”. It would be useful to steer away from huge concepts as much as possible and embrace regional identities, which would be consistent with polytheism. An idea of the “nation” will inevitably exist, but it should not prove at the expense of regionalism. In the case of Greece (for example), the Cretans have their ethnos, the Macedonians the same, the Peloponnesians likewise, etc. They may all be Greek, but they are Cretan, Macedonian and Peloponnesian first. These distinctions are necessary for indigenous polytheism, the revival of traditions, and indeed necessary for avoiding the nationalism and globalism (either material or ideological) that are plaguing the world’s cultures and stability today.