Queer I Stand
Populating Polytheist Pantheons: What To Do With "New Gods"
Because polytheism, therefore, tends more toward an acknowledgment of multiplicity and diversity, it is also equally well-equipped to deal with the introduction of new deities, whether these arise from religiously internal causes, or from contact with extra-religious forces (including other religions). A great deal depends upon the approach to animism involved, of course: going into a new land will always entail coming into contact with new land-spirits in the features of that new place. But, since territorial expansion is probably at an end for Japan, India, and China at this stage, the only real possibility for likely theomorphic population expansion in this regard is if Shinto shrines are set up in new locations around the world.
As polytheists of European extraction, however, a great deal of modern Paganism and other forms of practical polytheism face entirely different challenges. Again, whether animism is a significant part of one's practices will definitely influence the outcomes of this question. But, apart from that important consideration, how else is this question dealt with in practice, if at all?
Something that will often happen, particularly with reconstructionist-based practitioners, is that further research into a particular deity and their connections leads to "new-to-me" or various other re-discovered deities that are then taken into one's personal pantheon. Or, suddenly, a deity emerges in one's experiences that one hadn't paid attention to previously, or gets one's attention in some fashion or other; whether they are readily identified or if it takes some study to figure out who they are, such encounters often occur that expand one's personal network of divine relationships. I've been very heavily involved with re-founding modern devotion to one major deity, several minor ones, and also in reviving the cultus to a number of heroes as well, so this is a very familiar process for me, and one that is ongoing as this present article is being written (!). This kind of personal pantheonic expansion is extremely common with modern polytheists, and everyone has different ways of handling it. But, it's a rather garden-variety form of further populating one's personal polytheistic pantheon.
There is also the issue of "pop culture entities," as explained in publications by Taylor Ellwood, and egregores that form around new groups and ideas, or through individual and deliberate conscious creation via magic. But those are also relatively "known" factors in this field as well.
What about the less-frequent (but nonetheless possible) reality of totally new deities, though? How does one deal with this issue when it arises? I have yet to see any modern Pagan or polytheist treatment of this matter, nor any conventional training and education on when and why it can occur, nor how to handle it when it does. And, while it might not be that frequent of an occurrence, I suspect that we are going to see a lot more of it in the near future as our community expands and the world continues to change.
This has been a very large part of my own spiritual preoccupations and practices for the last year, since several new deities emerged in my own experience. As a polytheist and a syncretist, I was already in a position to be able to easily deal with their emergence theologically. As a process theologian (which I've discussed briefly on Patheos.com previously), the idea that the gods change as history proceeds is not a problem, and that new gods might emerge as a result of new situations in history is also (in theory) covered by the process theological model. The difficulty with this situation now, however, is that so many modern Pagans and polytheists, many of whom have emerged from other religious affiliations earlier in life, are used to dealing with ostensibly "closed" and "complete" religious systems, where new divine beings do not get added with any regularity. (Catholics, obviously, are an exception, with the recognition of new canonized saints.) Even those modern Pagans and polytheists who have been practicing for a long time, or who have grown up in their respective traditions, do not (to my knowledge) have a general practice or methodology in place for how to deal with newly emergent divinities.
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.