Queer I Stand
Bringing Back the Gods
This is one instance in which public perception of modern Pagan identity and religiosity interfered with actual practice. The idea of Pagans as "nature worshippers" fits in perfectly with the Christian conception (and, as in my case, misconception) of ancient polytheists as unsophisticated bumpkins with no place in civilized society, and therefore no business doing their rituals indoors.
I have also heard modern Pagans define themselves in a similar way in interfaith contexts, which is—again, I think—a distortion of sorts in order to make the monotheists among such interfaith efforts feel more comfortable. I have met a number of Muslims in my life, and all of them have had no difficulties whatsoever treating me like a perfectly good human being until they find out that I worship a variety of gods. Then, the relationship has shifted to attempts to convince me that my gods are just misleading djinn, and I'm too foolish or selfish to have figured that out. I was very surprised to hear a leading Pagan interfaith activist say that the Muslims he deals with see him as someone who "worships Allah through his works." In other words, he's perceived as a nature worshipper, rather than someone who reveres the gods—or, as is perhaps more appropriately the case for many Wiccans (as this individual is), someone who honors the Goddess and the God. For monotheists, that's still two "false gods," and certainly one divine being too many.
As Star Foster said many months back, polytheism is one of the few things that modern Paganism can be said to "own" almost exclusively; but, for too many, it seems like the funny old lamp inherited from our great-grandparents that we hide in the basement when the guests come over.
I am beginning to understand, more and more, the reason why many modern polytheists have chosen to distance themselves from the term "Pagan," since polytheism most certainly involves gods (and lots of them!), whereas many modern forms of Paganism seem bound and determined to define their religiosity in every way apart from honoring, reverencing, or (horror of horrors!) worshipping a number of gods.
As I've indicated already, polytheists are not monotheists, but, I would argue, neither are they monists. This is why I no longer use the phrase "the Divine" in talking about modern Paganism or polytheism. This may be more a question of semantics in many people's minds, and if that's the case that's fine. Still, the phrase "the Divine" does not, for me, describe the reality of the gods as I have come to know them, nor does it usefully and accurately translate the element theos in a term like "theology." Ancient Greek used theos as singular and plural (both "god" and "gods"), as masculine and feminine (both "god/s" and "goddess/es"), and as a noun or as an adjective (both "god" and "godly"), so one can choose whatever option fits the purpose when using this term.
However, the multivalence of theos is inclusive rather than exclusive. When I hear people limiting theos to the adjectival usage (which is based in a discrete category of nouns), I start to get worried. The adjectival usage is not entirely appropriate to polytheism, in my view. The noun-based usage relies upon a more definite category of "thing," a thing that is both subject and object, being and agent, individual and collective—all things that distinguish polytheism from monotheism and monism, in my opinion. The gods are not just descriptions of something else, they're things in themselves. While it might also be interesting to explore the understanding of gods as verbs rather than nouns or adjectives, that may be getting too far off track for the present!
P. Sufenas Virius Lupus is a metagender and a founding member of the Ekklesía Antínoou (a queer, Graeco-Roman-Egyptian syncretist reconstructionist polytheist religious group dedicated to Antinous, the deified lover of the Roman Emperor Hadrian and other related gods and divine figures). E is a contributing member of Neos Alexandria and a Celtic Reconstructionist pagan in the filidecht and gentlidecht traditions. Follow Lupus' work on the Aedicula Antinoi blog.