Cherish Our Polytheists: The balkanization of our community and what is at stake

Recently, over at PaganSquare, several polytheist bloggers have left the site.  I’m not going to get into all the who’s and what’s, because I don’t really know.  And frankly, I’m still exhausted from trying to document the last Pagan online brouhaha.  But I do want to remark on what this means to me.  Although there are different issues involved, this seems to me to be part of a broader trend of hard polytheists withdrawing from the Pagan community in one way or another.  Star Foster, the former managing editor here at the Patheos Pagan channel is a conspicuous example.  Drew Jacob, whose withdrawal was documented by Star a year before her own departure, is another example.  If this is a broader trend, then it is something that I think should concern the rest of us Pagans: animists, pantheists, panentheists, monists, archetypalists, non-theists, atheists, and all the rest.

First, let me say, I respect the right of anyone to call themselves Pagan or not, as they choose.  I also respect the right of everyone to associate freely with whomever they wish.  It is important to our spirituality to find kindred spirits.  In general, I do wish to see more people joining, and fewer people leaving, the Pagan circle.  Having said that, I recognize that our desire to be inclusive should not be an excuse to tolerate socially destructive behavior from anyone, wherever they fall on the Pagan spectrum.  But whatever the particular details of any one polytheist’s withdrawal from the Pagan community, each time someone withdraws, we lose not only their company, but also their voice.  They withdraw not only from our community, but also from our conversation.  And we lose some of the diversity of opinion that is essential to a healthy marketplace of ideas.

I’ve seen non-theists claim that polytheists are taking over the Pagan community.  (In fact, I have felt like that myself before.)  And I’ve seen polytheists claim the same thing about non-theists or atheists.  Members of both groups feel like they are the persecuted minority.  I don’t know what the real numbers are.  It is likely that those people that concern themselves with this question (myself included) are on the extreme ends of things, with most Pagans falling into the more ambiguous realm under the Bell curve.  It’s also possible that all of this is just happening on the Internet, and the rest of Pagandom is going quietly about their business of cultivating relationship with the earth, the gods, and their Deep Self.  But I do think that the silencing (whether voluntary or otherwise) of these public, and sometimes extreme, voices is a loss to our community as a whole.  There is a struggle for the heart of Paganism going on.  But it is not a struggle between hard polytheists and non-theists for dominance.  It is a struggle to maintain the essential diversity which defines contemporary Paganism.

Specifically, the loss of the hard-polytheistic voice is the loss of a particular perspective on divinity.  It is the loss of one way of viewing divinity as “other”, as transcending the self.  As a Pagan who tends to look for divinity first and foremost within myself, I view hard polytheists as a needed corrective to my own perspective, which is prone to ego-centrism (mistaking my little ego-self for what Starhawk calls the “Deep Self”).  I also think that a more immanentist perspective is a needed balance to hard polytheism.

I was reminded of this recently when I read a blog post by feminist thealogian Carol Christ in which she attacks Christian Neo-Orthodoxy.  If you’re not familiar, Neo-Orthodoxy was a theological movement in the early 20th century, begun by Karl Barth, which stressed the transcendence of God, in reaction 19th century liberal theology’s emphasis on God’s immanence.  Carol Christ is a process thealogian and, like me, she falls more on the immanent side of the immanent-transcendent theological spectrum.  So she is opposed to Neo-Orthodoxy.  And while I have a natural sympathy to Christ’s perspective, the problem I have with her essay is that she fails to take the wider historical view.

The history of Christian theology can be understood as a pendulum swinging between immanent and transcendent views of God.  The Neo-Orthodox theologians of the early 20th century — Barth, Brunner, Bultmann, and Neibuhr — were reacting to the perceived over-emphasis on God’s immanence by the 19th century theologians, like Friedrich Schleiermacher and Albrech Ritschl.  And the existential theology of Paul Tillich and the process theology of Charles Hartshorne and John Cobb can be understood as a reaction to the perceived over-emphasis on the transcendence of God by Neo-Orthodoxy.  And so the pendulum continues to swing.

What does all this have to do with Paganism?  Well, for one thing, the process theology of Hartshorn and Cobb had a profound influence not only on Carol Christ (check out her book She Who Changes)but also on Starhawk and on later Pagan theo/alogians.  (See Christine Hoff Kraemer’s Seeking the Mystery: An Introduction to Pagan Theologies.)  Starhawk’s immanentism, in particular, had a pervasive and prolonged influence on Pagan thought about God/dess.  The growth of hard polytheism since the early- to mid-Aughts can be understood as a reaction to the perceived over-emphasis in Paganism on the immanence of deity.  “Transcendence” is not a word that hard polytheists commonly use when talking about their gods, but hard polytheism is on the transcendent side of the immanence-transcendence spectrum, in that it emphasizes the “otherness” or distinctness of the gods from human beings.  Thus, the same pendulum that swings back and forth in Christian theology can be seen at work in the evolution of Pagan thought.

Where Christ goes wrong in her essay, I think, is that she views Neo-Orthodoxy and process theology in zero-sum terms, rather than seeing them both as perspectives on a multifaceted divinity which eludes all of our attempts to grasp it in a single theological formula.  Similarly, it would be a mistake to view hard polytheism and non-theistic Paganism in zero-sum terms.  We may chose one or the other because of idiosyncrasies in our personal history or our biology, but neither has a monopoly on truth.  Both are perspectives — among others — on a reality that is so much bigger than any of our ideas about it.  And we, as a community, need all of those perspectives, because each of them is a necessary corrective to the others.  I am a non-theistic Pagan.  I am a pantheist and a Jungian archetypalist.  And I need to be in community with hard polytheists.  And animists.  And all the other “-ists” that make up the Pagan community.  I need you.  And maybe you need me.

In my eagerness to engage in what I perceived to be constructive debate with hard polytheists (sometimes on this blog), I fear that I have contributed to some feeling unwelcome in the Pagan community.  And if that is so, I deeply regret it.  I believe that there is room for all of us at the Pagan fire.  I believe we can — and need to — talk with each other honestly, and even challenge each other respectfully, without doing violence to our own beliefs or each other’s.  In my efforts to work out what Paganism means to me, I have sometimes been guilty of projecting those personal definitions outward in such a way that would exclude others from my communion.  That is a symptom of an awkward, but common stage, in my own spiritual maturation.  I appreciate those who have suffered (and continue to suffer) with my spiritual growing pains.  And I apologize to those I have offended.

But more than that, I want to say to my hard-polytheistic Pagan brother, sisters, and trans-siblings: I cherish you.  I may disagree with you.  Your experience of deity may be very different from my own.  But I cherish your beliefs and experiences.  For completely selfish reasons, I am glad you are here.  And to those of you who have left, I respect your choice, but I do miss your voice.

  • http://www.walkofthefallen.com Labrys

    I think you are right in your criticism of Christ’s “zero sum” argument. Over all, across the spectrum of American life, that does sometimes seem the argument of choice. Americans also seem over fond of hard either-or decisions; I am much more of a mind that none of us sees the entire picture. So while I deeply adore the idea of an immanence of divinity, I also embrace the idea that human will is best in human endeavors. I’d like to see all faiths act as humans, ignited by a presumed spark of divinity instead of waiting to ‘let God(s)’….so yes, we are impoverished as pagans and humans when any of the number pulls away in sectarian strife.

  • T Thorn Coyle

    John,

    I’m a polytheist, non-dualist, and someone who gravitates toward process theology, I very much appreciate the voices of hard polytheists in our larger community. The withdrawal of some of those voices from our midst has indeed been a loss, leaving the biosphere a less healthy and robust place. As someone who values pluralism, I far prefer a variety of voices sharing ideas, disagreements, and hopefully deepening our understanding even in the midst of those very disagreements.

    However, I think that viewing the departure of polytheists from Pagan Square in this light is a grave misreading of the situation there.

    The issue over at Pagan Square was about members of racist organizations being given a public platform in shared space. There are many places for members of racist organizations to share ideas; inviting them to speak at the common hearth is simply not acceptable to me.

    You say you are frankly exhausted from documenting the latest in Pagan online brouhaha. Fair enough – in general, I try to stay out of those fights, preferring to concentrate on my own work. Sometimes, however, I do feel the need to speak out, usually when I perceive injustice occurring.

    Therefore, just as frankly, I want to relate that sometimes I feel exhausted combatting the effects of systemic racism in the world, particularly in my home community of the San Francisco Bay Area – Oakland specifically – as well as in places like Chicago and other cities across the world. Welcoming people who are active members of groups that espouse racist ideologies to the common Pagan hearth in the name of diversity? I am not too sympathetic to this cause when young brown and black men are dying and being imprisoned at rates that should be alarming to us all.

    A few weeks ago, that exhaustion was the place I was coming from when I wrote “Some Days Love Looks Like Anger”. If anyone is interested, it is posted here: http://www.thorncoyle.com/blog/2013/08/29/some-days-love-looks-like-anger/

    I would like it if more hard polytheists felt welcome at the common hearth, just as I would like it if more Pagans of Color felt welcomed. That latter, however, will most certainly not happen if we welcome racist ideology in our midst.

    respectfully – Thorn

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

      That’s an excellent point. If I can analogize to the UU community, people often say that one can be UU an believe anything. But that is simply not the case. Racism, in particular, would not be welcome in a UU community. I suppose racists might be welcome, but the sharing of racist ideologies would not be. And the same is (or should be true) of the Pagan community. That was part of what I was alluding to above when I said that our desire to be inclusive should not be an excuse to tolerate socially destructive behavior.

      I understand that the Asatru issue was the most recent “straw” at PaganSquare, but I think several of the polytheists there have been headed in this direction for several months before that particular issue came up.

      • thelettuceman

        For what it is worth: I stopped giving PaganSquare my traffic because they gave Dan Halloran a blogging platform where he can masquerade as if speaking on some authority to Theodish and Germanic Polytheism despite the fact that he has been suspended from his organization pending his political issues. As well as, you know, being a slimeball politician who portrays most Heathens and Germanics in a negative light by his actions. I did not need to give PS any more chance for a negative straw.

    • Joseph Bloch

      Except, of course, that you are completely wrong when you equate “Folkish” with “racist”. The two are not the same, and your attempts to equate them are unfair, factually incorrect, and simply wrong.

      http://jonupsalsgarden.blogspot.com/2013/09/folkish-does-not-mean-racist.html

      • Nigel Prancypants

        Except, of course, that you are completely wrong when you equate
        “Folkish” with “racist”. The two are not the same, and your attempts to
        equate them are unfair, factually incorrect, and simply wrong.

        “Racial separatism” is just as ravist as “racial supremacy”, ergo to be “folkish” is to be a racist. Referencing the double-speak of an open AFA member, or even the AFA themselves, doesn’t suddenly make that fact not so. It really is that simple.

  • Crystal Blanton

    John, this is a challenge in our community for sure. I don’t think it is a issue about Pagan Square specifically, and is more of an issue about the social issues that prompted people to leave there. They are society issues that we as Pagans have yet to come to terms with in our community. And while I honor the multiple voices of diversity within Paganism, and the world, as a Black woman I am perfectly ok with racism not being included. I don’t want to come to my spiritual community and feel like we allow that behavior to flourish here, and find a home.

    So I guess my point is that it is a complex issue that did not start or stop with Pagan Square, polytheist, or being called Pagan. What I hope from it is that we look at the actual issue at hand, which is to analyze how we embrace diversity without embracing hate. That is a very complex issue indeed.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

      I understand that the racial discrimination by the AFA was the most recent “straw” at PaganSquare, but I think some of the polytheists there have been headed in this direction for several months before that particular issue came up. The month of silent protest by several of the polytheists there this past July is indicative of the tension level.

      I agree with you that the AFA issue is a complex one. It’s my understanding that the editor at PaganSquare fired the three hard-right Heathen bloggers. So there has been a response to the issues Morpheus raised.

      • T Thorn Coyle

        It is my understanding that those three bloggers quit, not that they were fired.

        I had no idea there had been a month of silent protest by polytheists. Do you know what the reasons were?

        • Aine

          Certain polytheists felt threatened by a variety of things – pop culture paganism (the incorporation of pop culture into religious practice on some level), atheist pagans, so on – and decided to be silent for a month in protest. Various polytheists I know were incredibly uncomfortable with the protest, as it turned into a sort of ‘we are silent for the sins of pagandom’ sort of deal and because the protesters were hostile to any polytheists who didn’t toe their line exactly. (One individual was harassed for a month after asking for more reasonable dialog.)

          As far as I know, the bloggers involved in the month of silence haven’t been incredibly vocal about the issues of racism lately or what happened on PaganSquare, but! That is only as far as I have been able to tell. I may have simply not seen any links to their posts on this issue.

          • T Thorn Coyle

            John and Aine, thanks for the explanation regarding the silent protest.

            The pop-culture discussion/upheaval was one thing I avoided entirely. I didn’t even read any of the posts, though I was aware a storm was brewing.

            • Crystal Blanton

              yes… thank you for that background. I also avoided the pop culture topic when it came up that time. I was not aware that it had gone that far. Too bad that we still cannot figure out how to have hard conversations without total meltdown.

          • Nigel Prancypants

            …and because the protesters were hostile to any polytheists who didn’t toe their line exactly.

            Really? Cos, I don’t think that’s at all true. I know a few friends of Sannion, Galina, &Co did not remain silent in July, and they still seem to be talking to each-other.

            I mean, maybe other protestors decided to be hostile to others, but I think you’re implicitly misrepresenting those who suggested he month of blog silence.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

          It may have been a case of “You can’t fire me, I quit!” But I don’t know. I was not involved.

          The silent protest was fallout from the pop-culture Paganism debate. There was a discussion in the comments following a provocative post by Anomalous Thracian, which prompted a post by Galina Krasskova in which she issued a “call to [virtual?] arms” to “fight back” against the “greater mishmash of ‘Pagan’ communities”. I responded in a post here where I called her out. Some people thought I went over the line by identifying her by name and quoting her — and using the f-word (no, the other one: “fundamentalist”), which I subsequently revised — and the conversation devolved to the point where I had to ban a commenter for the first time, and Sannion — who I had never exchanged words with — wrote that he would punch me if he ever met me, and some people I don’t know (who are Asatru) said some truly vile things about Galina on Facebook (which Sannion posted on his blog). Not our finest hour all around. Anne Newkirk Niven, the PaganSquare editor, called for cooling off period, which was a good idea. And Sannion called for a month of silent protest by polytheist bloggers.

      • Joseph Bloch

        I, for one, was not fired. Nor did I quit before I could be. I made the decision to leave based on various things that happened on the site over the last year.

        And, for the record, the whole “racism” issue is a complete canard in this context. No one left because they were racist, and the AFA itself is not a racist organization. Folkish does not equal racist:

        http://jonupsalsgarden.blogspot.com/2013/09/folkish-does-not-mean-racist.html

      • Nigel Prancypants

        The month of silent protest by several of the polytheists there this past July is indicative of the tension level.

        I thought that month of silence wasn’t exactly a protest, in spite of many people clearly interpreting it that way?

        It’s my understanding that the editor at PaganSquare fired the three hard-right Heathen bloggers.

        No, it was the person who called out the AFA for its racism who was fired.
        http://bansheearts.com/2013/09/follow-up-whose-ancestors/

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

          Regarding the silent month, you’d have to ask those who participated.

          In addition to ShieldMaiden quitting/being fired there were others who were fired, bloggers on the other end of the spectrum.

  • http://www.forgingthesampo.com/ Kauko

    For my own part, my own withdrawal from identifying as Pagan has far more to do with that I don’t feel I have a place in the general world of American Paganism. As I commented on the Wild Hunt yesterday, I don’t bother attending the local Pagan Pride Day because I would essentially be an outsider. The same would be true at a major Pagan festival or conference. The idea of a Pagan community that can come together and, say, hold a ritual together, requires a certain degree of eclecticism on the participants’ part and a fair degree of watered down ritual to make it as broadly innocuous as possible. But that’s not me; that’s not what I do.
    I’ve also become uncomfortable with the Pagan umbrella that wants to devour everything, that has turned into an ‘All your gods/-isms are belong to us’. I don’t want my religion to become just another item on the buffet of Paganism for the eclectic to take what they want without thought or understanding. I want firm boundaries around my religion. I want that religion to be recognized on its own, and not be just one of hundreds of subdivisions of ‘neo-paganism’ (ye gods, how I hate that term).

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

      You’re right that Pan-Pagan rituals tend to very generic, which really means Neo-Wiccan. It’s not me and it’s not what I do either. But I don’t think the fact that you practice differently in private should get in the way of your participating in a Pan-Pagan ritual at a public event. You could see the ritual at PPD as more about connecting with others around you, whereas your private ritual is about connecting to your gods.

      And I would suggest that part of the reason you may feel uncomfortable at PPD is precisely because you (and other polytheists) don’t go. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy: you voluntarily exclude yourself and then you feel excluded. If more polytheists attended and contributed to the programming, the content of the event would shift and I think you would feel more comfortable.

      Lastly, I do understand your concern about eclectics consuming your gods. But they’re (we’re) going to do it whether you show up or not. If you show up, you might have a chance to educate a few eclectics and maybe even interest them in polytheism.

      • http://www.forgingthesampo.com/ Kauko

        I guess my problem is more that fundamentally I think that the very idea of the ‘Pagan umbrella’ contributes to less diversity and pluralism than it fosters it. In real-life terms the Pagan label seems to overwhelm the more specific religious identifier (Wiccan, Druid, xxxx-type recon etc). To put it this way: do Christians, Jews and Muslims go around identifying themselves as ‘Abrahamics’? No, of course not. So, ‘Pagan’ might be a useful term in identifying a modern religious trend of people looking to pre-Christian and pre-Islamic religions for inspiration, but I think it would be far more productive for people to just identify as what they specifically are. Of course, it’s even more complicated by the fact that some have no specific label- their practices coming from so many sources that it can’t be pinned down-and so in that case ‘Pagan’ becomes not an umbrella term but the actual name that person’s religion.
        As to the issue of participating in the PPD ritual, I would still have to disagree. Like it or not, a PPD is essentially a public statement of ‘this is what Paganism is’, and the ritual is a part of that, in my opinion. Participating in that ritual would be giving tacit approval to the notion that a Wiccan-style ritual should be the default at any gathering, or even that any one ritual could encompass all Pagans.
        In some ways the divide I’m on to here isn’t so much about polytheists vs. pantheists, monists, insert that whole list here; it’s arguably a divide between people whose practices are so broad and eclectic that ‘Pagan’ is a useful descriptor vs. those of us who have very specific religions who chafe at being sucked into the broader implications of the Pagan umbrella- if that makes any sense.

        • John Halstead

          That does make sense.

          You’re right that more confusion is created by the fact that the term “Pagan” is used both as an umbrella term and as a name for what is really Neo-Paganism (a term I like).

          And I think you’re right about Pan-Pagan gatherings. But the best way to change them is to continue to dialogue, not to withdraw in protest.

          Regarding your analogy to Abrahamics, there are Christian Unitarians and Quakers who use the same term, “Christian”, as do Southern Baptists and Pentecostals. And in some ways they have less in common with each other than they do with Jews and Muslims. And there are non-denominational Christians who use the term as a primary identifier, instead of an umbrella term. But you’re right in that they don’t all worship together.

          • WAH

            Most of us have no desire to change the Pagan community or Pagan gatherings. We’re not withdrawing in protest (or never joining up in the first place in some of our cases), either. For many of us it’s not hard feelings or being upset or whatever, it’s just a recognition of reality. A reality we’re perfectly comfortable with. What makes us uncomfortable is when our choices and viewpoints aren’t accepted. Seriously, this has been going on and on for over a decade and Pagans just can’t get the hint: we don’t dislike you, we just *aren’t* you. The sooner Pagans deal with that and accept it, the more comfortable polytheists, Heathens, etc. will be with associating and interacting with you. I mean the ironic thing is that the main reason I don’t interact with Pagans more often and more deeply is because so many of them won’t shut the f— up about this very issue.

            It isn’t our responsibility to make Paganism what you want it to be. It isn’t our responsibility to “balance things out” for you. Basically, it isn’t our responsibility or obligation to give you what you want just because you’d like it that way. The same way that it isn’t our responsibility to work to make Christianity, Islam, or Shinto better. In addition, you realize that you’re basically asking us to “work two jobs,” right? It’s a good bit of work building up and organizing our own religious communities, especially considering the research and work necessary for our religions to exist in the first place. Is it really fair of you to expect us to put the same amount of work into a community we don’t fit in to nor have a desire to fit in to?

            The main thing I don’t understand is Pagans’ anxiety and fear that somehow Heathens, polytheists, etc. will just drop off the face of the earth because they stop calling themselves Pagan. Most who do end up dropping off the face of the earth do so because of personal experiences and reasons, not any inherent quality of not being “Pagan.” Many times those personal experiences and reason have to do with the actions of Pagans motivated by this very same fear and anxiety. It’s a loop. I’ll leave you with the wisdom of 38 Special: http://youtu.be/vJtf7R_oVaw

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

              Again, I respect your and everyone else’s right to self determination. My point is that the loss of your distinct voice in our community diminishes its vibrancy somewhat. As you point out, that’s not your responsibility and need not be your concern. My post was more directed at the non-hard-polytheists, so we might remember to appreciate those who do choose to stay.

            • WAH

              Fair enough.

            • Nigel Prancypants

              Again, I respect your and everyone else’s right to self determination.
              My point is that the loss of your distinct voice in our community
              diminishes its vibrancy somewhat.

              Maybe, if you feel that loss of “vibrancy” is a problem, then maybe the problem lies within the pagan community, and thus the pagan community, and not polytheists, is who needs to be addressed with regards to how this ought to be corrected?

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

              That was the point if this post — which was addressed to non-polytheists.

            • Nigel Prancypants

              Which you negate in the comments when you revert to blaming polytheists for opting out of the community that has systematically made them feel unwelcome.

            • http://nigheananbrighde.wordpress.com/ Erin

              Well said- agreed! I have been on both sides of this community, in that I began years back as a typical eclectic pagan and then goddess worshiper, but then found Gaelic polytheism and embraced that as the tradition of my ancestors, and have felt much more grounded as a result. It suits me better. But what I began to see was that I was taking on a cultural mindset very different from that which I had when I was part of the wider pagan community. It wasn’t just a manner of doing things differently or doing different things, but of coming at things from very different places of thought origin from where eclectic paganism comes from. Eclectics tend to assume, IMO, that religious experiences tend to be similar across religions, especially pagan ones, and so don’t appreciate the very real differences that exist. And they are not judgements, they are truly just differences. What I do is a part of my tradition, but not a part of the wider neopagan eclectic tradition, and so it has no bearing on it. I honor all in choosing their own traditions, but I don’t understand the concept of a pan-pagan tradition, as historically speaking, there isn’t one. I am not affecting yours and you are not affecting mine, we are each operating in or own spheres. I don’t mind interfacing and conversing, but we don’t exist in order to prop the other up, any more than we do with any other religious tradition.

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

              One thing (maybe the only thing) we — Neo-Pagan eclectics and Recon polytheists — have in common is that we all look back to the ancient pagans and their myths, cultures, and religious practices for inspiration. (Kind of like all Christians, regardless of their many and significant differences — look to the person of Jesus for inspiration.). I wrote about this here:http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/2012/09/19/defining-paganism-and-neopaganism/

            • http://nigheananbrighde.wordpress.com/ Erin

              Maybe, but I find that the motive is very different in many cases, so it still doesn’t feel like a strong similarity. I’ll check out that post, thanks.

        • kenofken

          “Do Christians, Jews and Muslims go around identifying themselves as ‘Abrahamics’?…….

          At some level they do, in the sense that they claim a thread of commonality as “people of the book.” That’s more of an Islamic concept, but these three religions, for all their pointed and violent disagreements, do extend each other a presumption of credibility and good will they don’t give anyone outside of that umbrella.

          It’s not been my experience that pan-pagan events seek to subsume or dilute individual differences or to pressure anyone to engage in any ritual they don’t want to be part of. At PSG this summer, the big community ritual seemed much more about honoring the energy of the community than attempting to craft the perfect “universal pagan rite”.

          I don’t dispute that some organizers of events over the years have done Wiccan-centric group rituals or else tried to be so inclusive as to create a mish-mash that even most eclectics couldn’t stomach, but I think more and more we’re realizing that we can’t unify around belief or praxis.

          We can get together for a lot of other worthwhile things. When I go to PSG or a small local pride event, I’m not going for the rituals. I’m eclectic enough that I’ll participate when circumstances warrant, but mostly I go for the networking, and the recconnection with old friends, the shopping, the people watching, the closeness to the Earth and elements I don’t get at home etc.

          You can participate in some very deep and specialized shamanic work or workshops about ministry or pastoral work or veteran’s work, or you can just party your ass off and hunt for hookups or drum and dance around a fire or just revel in the freedom and energy of the temporary society in which we are the majority and the cultural norm. We can exhale. We don’t have the give the “from square one” elevator speech to try to justify ourselves to the well-meaning or bigoted popular culture. We can be ourselves in the company of other people who are being themselves in ways we all might identify as pagan and which all might share at least some cultural if not religious compatibility.

          I would say if there’s not something about the festival that truly insults your conscience or obligations to your gods, come out for the camaraderie. The group rituals, at their best or worst, are not central to what pagan fellowship is about, and they’re not worth the rift they seem to cause.

        • http://nigheananbrighde.wordpress.com/ Erin

          I find this very well said and agree with this stance. I favor pluralism, which breeds tolerance, but it requires a recognition and naming of the varieties of pagan traditions as many rather than as singular, and this must be done by naming the traditions themselves and honoring them for what they are. Also, there is little point in creating a singular public ritual which is -designed- to ‘include’ -all- pagan practitioners, as the concept is folly from the outset. How can all traditions’ ritual forms and purposes be included in a single ritual? It isn’t possible, and it isn’t really a reasonable goal. I would find the PPD experience much more interesting if various traditions were present and each gave a workshop detailing the nature of their tradition, and then perhaps lead a ritual in their tradition for folks to either participate in or observe. Then we could better foster pluralism and tolerance through education and demonstration and recognition, rather than lumping all traditions together and insisting they behave as though they were homogenous and singular.

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

            Well said. I think that’s a great idea. I wrote something similar about CUUPS rituals a while back: “The worst Pagan rituals are ones that try to be generic Pagan, which end up being vaguely WIccan, but not specific to any particular tradition. Instead, CUUPS should dedicate particular celebrations to one tradition, for example: a feminist witchcraft ritual for Candlemas, a Christo-Pagan ritual at the spring equinox, a Celtic Reconstructionist ceremony for May Day, a Druid ceremony at the summer solstice, a Kemetic (Egyptian) ceremony at Lammas, a Hellenic (Greek) Reconstructionist ceremony at the autumn equinox, a Wiccan ceremony at Samhain, and an Asatruar (Norse/German) ceremony at the winter solstice. Such rituals are bound to be much more evocative than any generic ritual.”- http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/2011/08/26/blog-response-humanist-worship-and-the-arts/#sthash.PvR9lhhG.dpuf

            • http://nigheananbrighde.wordpress.com/ Erin

              I think that format makes sense for a CUUPS group, which tends towards the eclectic, and it makes more sense in that its eclecticism is organized by cultural frames of reference. I like what you said about those worst rituals being generic in thought yet neo-Wiccan in application, as it has the net result of negating all traditional roots in the end, or the idea that any paths today might actually be grounded in them. The loss of this idea leads to all kinds of miscommunication I think.

            • Nakhtbasterau

              We tried this approach with the local CUUPS group for years, and while it does sound like the perfect fix at first glance, I can tell you from first-hand experience that it has a -lot- of pitfalls. The largest one is the tokenism that goes on when your group has one Asatruar, one Hellenic, one Hindu, one animist, and handful of Druids, and a ton of Wiccans and happily eclectic Pagans. The second major problem that comes from these groups is that you still, ultimately, have to have a common goal or vision (in order to do the hard work of raising money together, for example) and celebrating other people’s holidays throughout the year is not enough to build a strong foundation. Too many people just show up for the paryt, don’t get it, and you won’t see them again until the next one. It’s not enough to foster a real sense of community.

            • Nakhtbasterau

              I should probably add that our pan-Pagan group only started out as a CUUPS group. We voted to leave the organization because of poor treatment by the UU Fellowship we were associated with, who continued to have their own approved Sunday morning eclectic Pagan services from the pulpit instead of attending our events where we had shrines and altars, made offerings to the gods, ect. When we decided to break off as an independent pan-pagan organization however, it quickly became unsustainable because we had no common passion or goal to bind us together. Now the local “community” has two large Wiccan organizations and a small Druid grove. The rest of us have gone back to our hearths, so to speak. It makes me sad for those who would benefit from being exposed to one of us, when Wicca and Druidry are a poor fit for many who could find real meaning in a pagan religion – but those few of us who had something else to offer had to bear the weight of our different perspective for far too long alone. I do think the voices we added were healthy, but there is only so much disagreement (and sometimes it did turn ugly) one person can stand until you simply feel you are no longer wanted. And, like I said, most eclectic Pagans aren’t equipped to support me in a spiritual context, and I was seeking support as much as they were.

        • Nakhtbasterau

          Wonderfully said.

      • Aine

        If ritual at PPD is about connecting with others – it needs to focus on connecting with others and not the gods or spirits. I’m not going to join a ritual that’s neoWiccish and has people calling on who knows what gods just for the sake of a ‘community’ that I don’t actually have anything in common with. One – major discomfort cause in pretty much every public ritual I’ve been in, my obligations to my spirits or agreements with them have been stomped on or ignored. Which, you don’t need to believe what I do, but you sure as heck need to respect that I believe it and take it seriously. PPDs should be safe spaces for every type of Pagan, and the discomfort polytheists feel is the tip of the iceberg.

        If a ritual is about community and not about sharing how a group does ritual or any of that, it should be oriented that way, and I’ve never seen a PPD ritual like that.

        Also, John – your ‘voluntarily exclusion’ argument gets into some pretty uncomfortable territory, especially considering that it’s used against a lot of minorities within Pagandom. Like I said, polytheists are the tip of the iceberg. That argument you used is also used against queers, people of color, and disabled people, and it’s a pretty bad argument.

        • John Halstead

          I’m sorry to hear you’ve been mistreated at PPD. How did that happen?

          I’m surprised to hear that you have not experienced a community-centered ritual at PPD. I would expect them to be common.

          I was not using any argument “against” polytheists. I was just trying to say that if you want to see things change, you first have to show up.

      • Nakhtbasterau

        As a polytheist who has voluntarily included herself with her local
        pan-pagan community for many years, I have to disagree. I was one of
        -the- central organizers of my group and it did very little in the end. I
        was seen as the “Greek” one (never mind the fact that I also worship
        heathen gods with my heathen partner, or that Bast has called my heart
        above all others, or that we are also Thelemites). The greater Pagan
        community wants tokens to make themselves look more diverse than they
        really want to be. If it really was diverse, these endless pseudo-Wiccan
        rituals would end. But they never do, and I did not seek out other
        pagans to go through the motions with people who do not share my
        religion. If I had wanted that I would have stayed a Christian. That’s
        why polytheists are leaving though. Worshipping the gods and building
        our traditions is hard enough work without wasting so much of our
        precious time on a “community” that treats us as tokens. That treats us
        the local “spice” that is sometimes appreciated when we seem to know how
        to lend a little more authenticity to a ritual supposedly in honor of
        an ancient god. In the end, I was not understood. The efforts I put
        forth, that were largely appreciated by the eclectic Pagans around me
        were not reciprocated in kind to me as I had expected, and that gets
        really old after years of hard work. I am tired of wasting my energy. It
        is time to tend my own garden.

        • Nakhtbasterau

          I apologize for the formatting issues of this post.

        • Nigel Prancypants

          The greater Pagan community wants tokens to make themselves look more diverse than they really want to be. If it really was diverse, these endless pseudo-Wiccan rituals would end. But they never do, and I did not seek out other pagans to go through the motions with people who do not share my religion. If I had wanted that I would have stayed a Christian. That’s why polytheists are leaving though. Worshipping the gods and building our traditions is hard enough work without wasting so much of our precious time on a “community” that treats us as tokens. That treats us the local “spice” that is sometimes appreciated when we seem to know how to lend a little more authenticity to a ritual supposedly in honor of an ancient god. In the end, I was not understood. The efforts I put forth, that were largely appreciated by the eclectic Pagans around me were not reciprocated in kind to me as I had expected, and that gets really old after years of hard work. I am tired of wasting my energy. It is time to tend my own garden.

          Quoted for Truth.

          Not only has this mirrored my own experiences in so many ways, but I see this sort of thing repeated so much amongst polytheists that I can’t help but think that Halstead would simply prefer to blame the victims than actually address the problems they experience and the source it seems to emanate from.

      • Nigel Prancypants

        But I don’t think the fact that you practice differently in private should get in the way of your participating in a Pan-Pagan ritual at a public event. You could see the ritual at PPD as more about connecting with others around you, whereas your private ritual is about connecting to your gods.

        That’s because you’re a secularist.

        When the language of a ritual puts itself squarely at odds with one’s own values, including piety, then one simply cannot participate, in good conscience. Connecting with others is all well and good, but there are other ways to do that than to participate in a ritual that goes against the core values that are integral to one’s practises.

        And I would suggest that part of the reason you may feel uncomfortable at PPD is precisely because you (and other polytheists) don’t go. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy: you voluntarily exclude yourself and then you feel excluded.

        Or maybe they went for years, learned that they were well outside what was being represented and included, and then just stopped going, because no matter how much they made suggestions to the organisers, or even volunteered to help improve things, it fell on deaf ears, so to speak? There are really more possibilities behind that than blaming the victim.

        Lastly, I do understand your concern about eclectics consuming your gods. But they’re (we’re) going to do it whether you show up or not. If you show up, you might have a chance to educate a few eclectics and maybe even interest them in polytheism.

        Most don’t want to be educated. I am not only speaking of my own experiences.

        Sure your ideas seem to make sense and look good in print, but the reality of the situation is that polytheists are actively excluded from pagan spaces, have been for years, and it continues to happen in spite of every good-faith effort from every polytheist community under the sun.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

          Are you choosing not to attend or are you being “actively excluded”? Are you taking a stand or are you “victims”? You can’t have it both way?

          And what exactly is it about the watered down generic rituals that happen at most of these Pan-Pagan events that conflicts with your piety? Is it the invocation of Lord and Lady or something like that?

          • Nigel Prancypants

            And what exactly is it about the watered down generic rituals that
            happen at most of these Pan-Pagan events that conflicts with your piety?
            Is it the invocation of Lord and Lady or something like that?

            More like the “use” of deities as one might “use” any tool. More like the invocations of deities that are either well outside one’s pantheon, or who simply have no interest in community, but “all are names of The goddess” or some clap-trap, cos it doesn’t actually mean anything to these people. More like the use of myth in ritual that demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the myth, one that isn’t even some Victorian bowdlerisation.

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

              I definitely see the problem for hard polytheists if specific deities are being invoked. (Although obviously I don’t agree with your characterization of Neo-Pagan sincerity.). This is something that Pan-Pagan ritual planners do need to address.

            • Northern_Light_27

              Respectfully, may I also add that Pagan Pride Day has some additional issues specific to PPD? It has been my contention for a while now that PPD’s problem is that it doesn’t know what it wants to be. Does it want to show the umbrella in all its complexity and diversity as a way of saying “we exist, dammit!” a la actual LGBTQ Pride? Or does it want to do education and outreach to non-Pagans? I think it could solve some of its issues if it could just pick one. I contend that it’s not possible to do both well at the same time in the same space because they’re fundamentally different goals and communicate fundamentally different things (“we here and we will not be erased” vs. “we’re normal people, just like you! really!”).

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

              Or doesn’t want to be a place where some Pagans can go and learn about other Pagan traditions. That’s a third function it tries to perform.

          • Northern_Light_27

            Google “Heathen radio” and listen to the Raven Radio podcast on “do Wiccans and Heathens speak the same language?”, I think it’ll answer a lot of your questions. There really is an enormous worldview difference. IMO it isn’t unbreachable, but then I stand right in the center and code-switch like a mad thing, so I’m entirely the wrong person to say so.

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

              Okay, I went and listened to the whole thing (even the part with the music playing over the talk). Unfortunately, the episode was all too representative of my interactions with too many devotional polytheists. The episode began with the participants complaining that other Pagans don’t understand them, and then it devolved into the participants mocking and dismissing other (Neo-)Pagans. The words “retarded”, “blender people”, “New Age sewage”, and “wingnuts” were used frequently. When it was over, my impression was of a group of people who insisted (rightly) that others respect their right to disagree, but then (wrongly) don’t grant others the same right. I know there are Neo-Pagans who just don’t get the devotional, hard-polytheist thing. But I wonder how much of this is not a failure to “understand” and really just a core disagreement about fundamentals. Like you said, “an enormous worldview difference”. I think we still have something to learn from each other though, even though we have to agree to disagree.

            • Northern_Light_27

              Ugh, the “r” word. Yes, I should have remembered to content-warn for that. I don’t think “newage sewage” is in any way the same thing as an ableist slur, though, and I do feel most of the New Age stuff is sewage. Shallow, appropriative, whitewashed, horribly badly mish-moshed, sometimes incredibly cruel (The Secret, I’m looking at you) garbage. I’m sure there’s something of value somewhere in there, but imo it’s really hard to see.

              I don’t think their point, though, was that some people disrespect their “right to disagree”, but more that they don’t understand *that* they disagree! I would say that’s where the “learning from one another” part needs to start, Neo-Pagans need to stop thinking cultural polytheists are doing the same thing they’re doing only with a (culture) gloss. Here’s a phrase for you about Heathens: “the smallest unit in Heathenry is the family”. I’m not comfortable with it, it’s one of the reasons I won’t call myself Heathen, because while I think hyperindividualism goes too far, that also goes too far. But as an example of “enormous difference in worldview, it certainly applies. That the gods aren’t considered primary by many Heathens (the view is that the gods pay attention to communities, but personal things should be addressed to one’s ancestors and local wights), there’s another enormous difference. A lot of Heathens I know think there’s much too much weight put on the gods, not too little.

              So it does get frustrating when people come to you, to your communities, with a giant set of misconceptions they have to unlearn. More frustrating still when they refuse to even examine them and teach their misconceptions to other people– especially when some of them are actively harmful. The “nine noble virtues” is problematic on its own, but I’ve started to dread seeing posts where someone, say, with depression asked for advice from a Heathen POV and were told to just suck it up and stop being weak, “because self-reliance”. I’m ready to tell people to just f off, and I’m not even properly a Heathen! (Try the Odroerir journal as well. Raven Radio has very good information but they’re kind of shock-jocky.)

              BTW, also frustrating? There are MANY polytheisms. You can be a hard polytheist without being focused on the gods, not that certain people would have you believe so. You can also be focused on the gods and not be a hard polytheist. You can be a polytheist and agnostic, too. There are some people on the internet who are very diligent at presenting their very UPG-centric polytheism as all polytheism, but that’s isn’t so. Really, really isn’t so.

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

              Thank you. I think you did an excellent job of explaining the issues and the frustration.

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

              Another good discussion of this can be found here: The Pentagram and the Hammer by Devyn Gillette and Lewis Stead http://www.heathengods.com/library/wicca_comparison/pentagram_and_the_hammer.pdf

  • Aine

    I really can’t figure out if you’re commenting on polytheism and polytheists in general, or if you’re commenting on the racism that was splayed pretty plainly on PaganSquare and other blogs during the latest tiff. Because if you’re commenting and saying that we should let racists do what they want because of tolerance, that’s really weird and totally not something I can get behind. If you’re commenting on polytheism in general, that’s…good, I guess. But this post is really confusing and I have no idea what you’re trying to say with it. You’ve brought up two very different fights and arguments that have occurred on PaganSquare and I have no idea which you’re commenting on.

    • John Halstead

      My intent in the post was not to comment on either controversy, but just to say that the Pagan community loses an important voice if polytheists leave in significant numbers.

      I certainly was not saying that racism should be tolerated. I don’t know how you could read the post and get that. I didn’t mention race, racism, or the AFA once. The subject of the post plainly is polytheism.

      • Aine

        …then why did you bring up the people who left/quit PaganSquare? Cause that wasn’t a ‘polytheists are fleeing our ranks!’ That was “the racist people didn’t like gettin’ called out”.

        • John Halstead

          (See my responses to Crystal and Thorn below.). I’m not trying to downplay the importance of the racism issue, but it seems to me that this is part of a wider trend and the racism issue was only the latest trigger. I suspect that even if the AFA issue had not come up, we would be seeing a similar movement among polytheist bloggers over another issue a few months from now.

        • John Halstead

          It just occurred to me what the source of the confusion is. There are, as I understand it, *two* groups of bloggers that either quit or were fired from PaganSquare: the liberal polytheists and the far right heathens. I’m concerned in my post about the former leaving. (I’m not sure the latter were ever part of the Pagan community to begin with.)

          • Nigel Prancypants

            (I’m not sure the latter were ever part of the Pagan community to begin with.)

            Blogging at PaganSquare clearly doesn’t mean anything, of course.

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

              There are/have been bloggers at PaganSquare who do not identify as Pagan.

            • Nigel Prancypants

              So? There are plenty of people who don’t personally identify with the word “pagan” but who are still clearly part of the pagan community.

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

              How does that work? I mean, I agree, but how does one opt in?

            • Nigel Prancypants

              Well, for starters, blogging at large pagan community sites, like PaganSquare, tends to denote some participation in the community.

  • Helmsman Of-Inepu

    To me, it seems like things have reeled from one unfortunate event to another. At least one of the group leaders said they didn’t want polytheists from another tradition hanging around either. And when you get down to it, it wouldn’t be easy for people from different polytheist groups to share rituals.
    I think the difference is that some people choose to get along, and others don’t.

  • Griffin

    I think excellent points have been made in the comments concerning polytheists (Asatru, specifically) feeling like outsiders at more general pagan events. Suggesting they go along with the status quo for the sake of community is like saying go to church and go through the motions for the sake of belonging. Circles, elements, a Goddess, raising energy – all not part of Heathen celebrations. When I was a polytheist Heathen, I remember speaking with local Heathens and all of us agreeing the general pagan population just didn’t really grasp how different we were. When the suggestion was made for a public, open Heathen ritual, it just drove it home. Heathen ritual is intimate and personal – why would we want to share that with others? Would you invite the general public to a family reunion?

    These differences can make discussions tough, because they don’t want to talk about the same things – and they don’t want to share the intricacies of their path because they don’t want it snagged by an eclectic.

    I am only recently looking at a larger community, after distancing myself from the local one for a similar reason (I need to be alone, to decide where I fall in all this). I mention this, because I have not been involved with the greater North American community, but the same thing is happening in our small part of the woods.

    The only solution I can think of is to somehow change the discussions taking place where these paths meet. Put more effort into discussing common ground, and accepting that there are very real differences. Honestly, though, common ground between a Wiccan and Asatruar is far and few between.

  • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

    The default position should be live and live. But there need to be exceptions. These exceptions should be as few as possible and as narrowly defined as possible.

    People who project bigoted ideologies onto the Gods should not be welcome. This should only exclude people who are clearly committed to a systematic agenda of combining racist ideology with Paganism/Heathenism. Many Pagans, of all backgrounds, have personal prejudices and biases (mostly unconscious). Very few Pagans are committed, conscious racists.

    People who aggressively and explicitly reject the Gods Themselves should not be welcome, either. This is different from having honest doubts and raising honest questions with an open mind. I am only talking about those who have made up their minds that the Gods simply do not exist, and who seek to promote that (dis-)belief. Essentially this means anyone who seeks to undermine belief in the Gods among Pagans.

    Being a Pagan either means something or it means nothing.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

      I agree that “aggressively” promoting any belief in the Pagan community would be unwelcome. But you are yourself establishing a religious test of faith for Paganism — belief in the “Gods Themselves” — and that is a form of “aggressively” promoting your beliefs. A literal belief in distinct god beings has not always been the norm in contemporary Paganism; and while it is a norm now, it is not the norm. The “something or nothing” attitude gets us nowhere, because we are in a community where no one exercises the kind of religious authority necessary to define terms for everyone else. Far better, I think to recognize that we all have something unique to contribute to the discussion about the nature of the gods — even those who not believe in them.

      • http://nigheananbrighde.wordpress.com/ Erin

        ” A literal belief in distinct god beings has not always been the norm in
        contemporary Paganism; and while it is a norm now, it is not the norm.”

        This is exactly what I was getting at in my above reply- culturally, such a belief was the norm for tribal peoples, but in modern neopaganism it wasn’t promoted as the norm, so now that some are reviving tribal traditions, they are outside the norm of the culture of modern paganism. But we who hold to that view of the gods don’t do it in order to define the gods for others, only for ourselves and our communities. How others view the gods doesn’t bear on our practices- each is welcome to their own, but there is little sense in expecting us to engage in worship together if it means our forms and goals will be entirely different. No reason why we should view worshiping together as laudable though- why do we need to worship together? We can chat but we need not agree or be in ritual together, unless one of us is guest at the other’s ritual. But to expect a given ritual to meet both of our ritual needs would be silly- the needs aren’t the same, and we don’t need them to be.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

          I agree. The only caveat I would add is that the polytheist community is pretty diverse also. There are polytheists — including hard polytheists — who are comfortable under the Pagan umbrella and doing ritual with Neo-Pagan eclectics. I’ve specifically noticed a difference generally between deity-centered polytheistic reconstructionists and non-reconstructionist deity-centered polytheists in their comfort level with Paganism writ large. I wrote about this here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/2013/06/22/theyre-not-all-galina-k-meet-some-other-hard-polytheists/

          • http://nigheananbrighde.wordpress.com/ Erin

            Yes, I recall that piece, I enjoyed it. But as a non-recon hard polytheist, I still don’t enjoy eclectic rituals. Should eclectics participate in culturally-delineated rituals and hold their eclectic non-deity-centered views while doing so I wouldn’t mind, but I don’t feel at home in eclectic rituals at all, as they do not speak to me or meet my ritual needs, as they often have different ritual agendas altogether. So I think that depends on the nature of the ritual, not the nature of the pagan or polytheist.

        • CBrachyrhynchos

          I’m happy to agree to separate ritual spaces. I’d prefer a similar consideration for my moral, spiritual, and ritual relationships, which I don’t think is quite communicated when they’re treated mere roleplay.

          • http://nigheananbrighde.wordpress.com/ Erin

            Role play? Who is treating your moral, spiritual, and ritual relationships like they are role play? I don’t think I understand.

            • CBrachyrhynchos

              It’s been a consistent feature of the ongoing discussion between polytheists and non-theists. I don’t expect people to agree that rain is rain, tree is tree, grandfather is grandfather, and I have obligations to them whether you choose to call them spirits or not. But I don’t terribly like having those relationships misinterpreted for the sake of rhetoric.

            • http://nigheananbrighde.wordpress.com/ Erin

              I still do not understand- are you a polytheist or a non-theist in this scenario, and who then is the other which is misinterpreting your relationships, and what is this rhetoric you are referring to? I would like to better understand so I hope you won’t mind clarifying for me- thanks.

            • CBrachyrhynchos

              To be fair, the nastiness goes both ways. My take on previous discussions on this topic is that some nontheists have positioned themselves as more enlightened than polytheists, while some polytheists have compared nontheistic religion to be merely roleplay.

            • http://nigheananbrighde.wordpress.com/ Erin

              Interesting- I don’t think I have been on either side of that nastiness, happily. Or at least, not to the degree that I found it nasty. I think as a polytheist I have felt a little of that condescension from non-theists you mention, but not heavily or dauntingly, only in the sense that they felt that being eclectic is the best way to be, because it allows them to pick and choose what they like best from those traditions which appeal to them most. But I have not heard this accusation of role-play before. What about non-theistic religion is supposed to be like role play?

      • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

        As a general rule Pagans tend to be opinionated, and I don’t see any problem whatsoever with “aggressively” promoting one’s own opinions. I am talking about a very small set of ideological positions that are inherently destructive to Paganism. Namely: (1) the idea that the Gods are racist, and (2) the idea that the Gods don’t exist.

        And any “tests” should only be applied to people who have some position of prominence in Pagandom. So, for example, it is legitimate, in my opinion, to inquire into whether or not Stephen McNallen is a racist ideologue who seeks to hijack Heathenry in order to promote his own political agenda. But it is a very bad idea, in my opinion, to generally raise suspicions about all individual AFA members, much less anyone and everyone who self identifies as Heathen and/or Asatru (or as Traditionalist, or “hard” polytheist, etc).

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

          How is a nontheistic approach to Pagan spirituality destructive to Paganism, such that it is comparable in some way to racism?

          • Nigel Prancypants

            Because it’s clearly at odds with the primary definition of “pagan”, that which is synonymous with “polytheism” and has literally centuries of history that the current secular nature-worshippers seek to smash.

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

              Thats a bit hyperbolic. The “secular nature worshipers” by which i assume you mean eclectic Neo-Pagans have really only been around since about 1967. An the most recent hard polytheistic revival only began in the late 90s or early 2000s.

            • Nigel Prancypants

              Lord Byron was alive in the 1960s? Huh. News to me. And here I also thought Thomas Taylor made sacrifices to the Greek gods, and here you’re saying that didn’t happen until over two hundred years later –and in the Hellenic community, there’s no shortage of people in Greece who have evidence of family traditions of polytheism surviving in relative underground since the mid-Nineteenth.

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

              So Lord Byron and Thomas Taylor were trying to “smash” the history of polytheism?! I think you’ve lost the thread of your argument.

            • WAH

              “An the most recent hard polytheistic revival only began in the late 90s or early 2000s”

              Wow. This is just…wow. You do realize that Theodism was founded in 1976? And that there are other similar groups with even longer histories? That “hard polytheism” came on everyone’s radar in the late 90s/early 2000s says nothing about its existence prior to that. Man, you’ve really got to learn more about this issue if you wish to intelligently comment on it.

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

              “That “hard polytheism” came on everyone’s radar in the late 90s/early 2000s says nothing about its existence prior to that.”

              That’s what I said. Look at what I wrote again: “the most recent hard polytheistic revival only began in the late 90s or early 2000s”. Emphasis on “the most recent”.

              I am we’ll aware of heathenry’s origins in the late 1960s.

              “Man, you’ve really got to …” read better before you get your hackles up!

            • WAH

              Ah, I see. That’s my bad, I was posting in multiple places about the same kind of issue and let that cloud my reading comprehension.

              Although, I’m curious as to why you delineate a distinct “revival” in the late 90s/early 2000s (which was when I became Heathen) as separate from earlier times? I mean, many “hard polytheists” (gods that term has outworn its use) in that time period had been practicing long before that period. Perhaps there was an influx of new people, but they were learning from the older folks.

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

              I’ve tried to track down the origin of devotional/deity-centered form of polytheism which, as you say, came onto the radar of Pagans relatively recently. The earliest references I have found from “Big Name” Pagans are Diana Paxson’s experimentation with oracular seiðr (and Voudun) in the 90′s (as documented by Sabina Magliocco in *Witching Culture*) and Janet Farrar/Gavin Bone’s book *Progressive Witchcraft* in 2003. I don’t mean that devotional/deity-centered polytheism didn’t exist before this time, but it definitely seems like there is something new going on the the Pagan community and it seems like it really got going in the early 2000′s. I really think Neil Gaiman’s *American Gods* (2001) also had something to do with it. I’d really like to to know more if you have more information.

            • http://paganarch.blogspot.com/ rhyd wildermuth

              Hi John!

              I’ve seen you mention that Neil Gaiman book repeatedly in regards to our worship of our gods.

              Has it ever occurred to you that we might not be infantile and incapable of distinguishing fiction from the very real gods who speak to us?

              I try very hard not be offended, but it gets increasingly difficult when the naturalists and Jungians repeatedly assert that we are somehow delusional and unintelligent.

              It’d be kinda nice if you stopped.

              Thanks!
              –Rhyd Wildermuth

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

              Rhyd:

              Has it ever occurred to you that a work of fiction may open a person up to having a very real experience. There’s nothing delusional or unintelligent about that. I don’t know if you’ve read the book. But I found it to be powerful.

              It’d be kinda nice if certain devotional polytheists would stop being so hypersensitive.

              John

            • Julian Betkowski

              John, your tone throughout these comments has been rather aggressive. Rhyd never claimed that art could not open one up to spirituality. If you had read any of his writing here on Patheos or on his own blog, you would know that.

              This issue is that you appear to denigrating Polytheism, and by making the allusion to American Gods, are being at least a little insensitive given the discussions that have been happening in the Polytheist communities this year.

              I have recently written on the topic of literature here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/agora/2013/11/syncretic-electric-a-brief-reflection-on-fiction/

              And have further explicated myself in the comments. I wouldn’t claim to speak for all Polytheists, but I think that my commentary at least provides a possible perspective.

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

              Julian, it’s a very good post. I agree that literature can lead different people in opposite directions. That’s true of the Pentateuch and the Poetic Edda as much as it is of Dune and American Gods. I still fail to see how saying a work of fiction may have an influence on the growth of interest in a religion is denigrating the religion. I appreciate that fiction may not perform that function for you, but as you point out in your post, it does for many Pagans. For me, it was Anne Rice’s vampire novels, strangely enough, that helped lead me out of Christianity and to Paganism. I don’t think that makes my religion suspect.

              I have been a little defensive in my responses here, but I was a bit shocked at some of the responses of certain polytheists to a post which essentially says that the devotional polytheists who choose to be a part of the Pagan community should be cherished. But if you want aggressive, you should really look to the comments that I was responding to.

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

              I imagine this excerpt from American Gods particularly might lead a person to seek out a direct encounter with polytheistic gods. I know it moved me to deepen my own experience of the divine:

              “‘[...] I’m a pagan,’ the woman behind the counter said.

              “‘Really?’ said Wednesday. “[...] And tell me, as a pagan, who do you worship?’

              “‘Worship?’

              “‘That’s right. I imagine you must have a pretty wide open field. So to whom do you set up your household altar? To whom do you bow down? To whom do you pray to at dawn and at dusk?’

              “‘The female principle. It’s an empowerment thing. You know.’

              “‘Indeed. And this female principle of yours. Does she have a name?’

              “‘She’s the goddess within us all. She doesn’t need a name.’

              “‘Ah,’ said Wednesday, with a wide monkey grin, ‘so do you hold mighty bacchanals in her honour? Do you drink blood wine under the full moon, while scarlet candles burn in silver candle holders? Do you step naked into the seafoam, chanting ecstactically to your nameless goddess while the waves lick at your legs, lapping your thighs like the tongues of a thousand leopards?’”

            • Julian Betkowski

              Actually, John, I find that passage to be pretty dismissive rather than empowering. I’m not a fan of American Gods, mostly because I feel like it does a poor job at portraying spiritual or religious ideas.

              The issue is one of context. One of the ongoing discussions in Paganism presently is the role of fiction in constructing spiritual practice, and even given some of your own comments on the matter, comparing Polytheism to a work of fiction is going to ruffle some feathers.

              Part of the reason that people are reacting as they are, I suspect, is that there is some condescension in your tone, and you appear to be treating Polytheism as some aberration, and appear to be disregarding the role that Polytheist and Theistic Pagans have played in the formation of the Modern Movement. It’s not quite fair to limit the presence of polytheism tot he last ten years, when most of the recon groups known for their Hard Polytheism were started in the 80′s if not a bit earlier.

              Wicca is theistic, even if it is duotheistic and syncretic. In its earliest and most enduring forms, Wicca holds that the Goddess and God are actual beings. Some of us Polytheists are looking at the commentary happening in Humanist circles lately as an attempt to scrub polytheism and even theism from the history of Modern Paganism, and there is a good deal of anger resulting from that.

              While that may not be your intention here, you have to realize that you have become one of the most recognizable Humanistic pagan voices, and people are going to read your words in that context.

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

              >It’s not quite fair to limit the presence of polytheism tot he last ten years, when most of the recon groups known for their Hard Polytheism were started in the 80′s if not a bit earlier.

              First, while there is obviously a lot of overlap between Recon and theism, they are not the same thing; not all Recons are theists and not all theists are Recons.

              Second, from what little I’ve read, Reconstructionism did not really gain momentum till the 90′s.

              And third, I still don’t see the issue. Whether it was the 80s or 90s, Neo-Paganism predated it be a couple of decades.

              >Wicca is theistic, even if it is duotheistic and syncretic. In its earliest and most enduring forms, Wicca holds that the Goddess and God are actual beings.

              Gotta disagree with you there. While some Wiccans were undoubtedly theistic, everything I have read has consistently stated that theism was optional in Wicca, and many, if not most Wiccans, took a Jungian perspective.

              >… and people are going to read your words in that context.

              What I expect is that people of all theological orientations will read what I wrote (in the immediate context) and not read into my words all the hurts and frustrations that they have accrued (legitimately or not) over the past decade.

            • Julian Betkowski

              I had actually intended to delete the above comment, as I wasn’t happy with it. Apparently I posted it instead. Hence two comments with roughly the same content. I responded in full above.

            • Julian Betkowski

              Actually, I find that passage to be more dismissive than empowering. I’m personally not a fan of American Gods partly because I think it does a very poor job of handling the spiritual and theological issues that it raises.

              Part of the issue, John, is context. Given the discussions that have been going on recently within Polytheism and the greater Pagan community concerning the role of fiction in forming spiritual practices, comparing Polytheism to a work of fiction is going to upset some people.

              Further, many of us Polytheists are looking at the conversations happening within the Humanist portions of Paganism and seeing what appear to be attempts to scrub not only Polytheism, but Theism in general from the history of Modern Paganism. By implying that Polytheism in its current form has only been around for the last ten or so years, you are ignoring the role that it historically played in the formation of Modern Paganism.

              I’m not sure why you think that there has been any sort of revival, since those of us who have been engaged in Polytheistic practice see as having been present all along. More of us may be speaking up presently, but it feels dismissive to suggest that we are the upstarts. To many of us, it is the Humanist voices who are the most recently on the scene, and who are frequently adopting very aggressive interpretational tactics to invalidate the positions of others.

              You may not be intending to do this, but many of us Polytheists feel as though the Humanist portions of the community are actively engaged in trying to portray us as delusional or worse. You are one of the most recognizable voices of the Humanist camp, and so are going to draw some fire.

              You my have been intending to say that Polytheists are important, but the tone of your writing and your subsequent responses can be read as dismissive and condescending.

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

              >Part of the issue, John, is context.

              Yes, I agree. This post arose out of that context, so I can’t act like it doesn’t exist. Nevertheless, I still have problems when someone reads so much into what I think was a benign association.

              >… comparing Polytheism to a work of fiction is going to upset some people.

              Yes, I see that now. Although it was not my intention to compare the two.

              >… conversations happening within the Humanist portions of Paganism and seeing what appear to be attempts to scrub not only Polytheism, but Theism in general from the history of Modern Paganism.

              That’s interesting. I haven’t notice that. Can you give me an example?

              >… I’m not sure why you think that there has been any sort of revival, since those of us who have been engaged in Polytheistic practice see as having been present all along.

              Then, honestly, I do need some education. Can you give me a timeline. I know that devotional, deity-centered polytheism has been a part of Heathenry for decades. When do you think it became a prominent part of Paganism. Based on what I have read, Paganism was primarily pantheist and Jungian through the 70′s and 80′s at least.

              >… as having been present all along.

              “All along” meaning since 1967, or meaning since the dawn of time?

              >… To many of us, it is the Humanist voices who are the most recently on the scene

              True.

              >… many of us Polytheists feel as though the Humanist portions of the community are actively engaged in trying to portray us as delusional or worse …

              Again, can you give me an example?

              >… so are going to draw some fire.

              I don’t mind that. I do mind being mischaracterized.

              >… but the tone of your writing and your subsequent responses can be read as dismissive and condescending.

              I had to go back a re-read the post and the comments. I just don’t see it. In fact, I was and still am quite proud of the equanimity of the post.

            • http://paganarch.blogspot.com/ rhyd wildermuth

              I intend to work on a post to help clear up some of this. It will certainly not speak for all polytheists, but I’m still willing to suspect you’d like to understand why your statements are met with such offense.

              I know for myself, it gets rather tiring always having to defend myself and explain why all-encompassing grand narratives and hegemonic historicizations of our beliefs keep us from having real conversations about these things.

              That being said, I’m willing to do the work to explain to you and others why we’re not just being “hypersensitive.” If we’re going to all share the term Pagan, deep conversations about what this means and how our differing beliefs can be respected need to happen before the next raging storm of (internet) knives occurs.

            • Julian Betkowski

              Maybe this is just the point, John, it seems to me, at least, that part of the Humanist tactic is to retroject themselves and their very contemporary perspective back throughout the history of Paganism. When you read the early Wiccan texts, particularly the stuff written by Valiente, it is apparent that the Goddess and God are understood as actual beings. Of course there will be Wiccans who take a psychological view, just as there are Catholics who disagree with the Pope (which is all well and good, as long as they don’t start preaching in the church parking lot after mass). That doesn’t mean that the basic set of doctrines does’t present a theistic worldview.

              The problem emerges when it seems that the Humanists are all too eager to reinterpret and psychologize these texts. There simply may not be many statements in early Paganism defending the actual existence of the Gods because no one would have thought such defense necessary. That doesn’t mean that the Gods weren’t thought to be quite real. It seems quite disingenuous to me to retroject a contemporary position into the past, and then to use it as justification.

              Part of the difficulty of this conversation is that polytheism didn’t need to be differentiated as a discrete theological position until fairly recently. Margot Adler uses polytheism in a variety of ways in Drawing Down the Moon, only a few instances of which resemble the contemporary usage. Adler uses polytheism to mean everything from pluralism to syncretism to psychologism. It hasn’t been until perhaps even the last few years that Polytheists have felt the need to make their position explicit in contrast to the development of other world views jockeying for power in the Pagan community. However, by the same token, it has only been recently that the Humanists have felt the need to differentiate themselves as well.

              Back when Paganism was in its infancy, these differing views sat side by side with little difficulty, but now more and more people are making totalizing claims and causing tension between these different groups. As Rhyd said, it means nothing to a Polytheist that a Humanist thinks that their Gods are psychological. It becomes problematic, though, when the Humanist insists that all Gods are imaginary/psychological/constructs regardless of other people’s experiences or understanding of said Gods. Polytheism can manage indifference to Psychologism, but I’m not sure if the reverse is true. I personally find the psychological interpretations to, in fact, denounce the very pluralism that they claim to support, since the only way that pluralism can be understood from the psychological/Humanist frame is through personal psychological effects. Pluralism begins to function as nothing more than an extension of psychologism.

              There is no reason to believe that recon groups were the only or even the earliest proponents of polytheism. When talking about recon groups, however, it is necessary to realize that the internet in the 80’s revolutionized the way that Pagans interacted, and so of course there was a boom. However, CR traces itself back a bit earlier as some of its founding members began the work of establishing a community in the 70’s. These recon groups developed out of trends that were already present in Paganism at the time.

              A la Triumph of the Moon, an argument for polytheism in Paganism can be traced back to the early literary manifestations of the Romantic era. Further, the presence of polytheism can be felt in a good deal of the Gothic literature of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, which had a deep impact on the formation of the Pagan movement.

              Further, since you are the new editor of Humanistic Paganism, you have to recognize that you are becoming the face of that community. It may not be fair, but you are putting yourself into that position.

              List of links:

              Polytheists are immature, foolish, and possibly stupid:

              http://humanisticpaganism.com/2012/06/03/why-do-people-want-supernatural-gods-by-m-j-lee/

              Even in your own writing, you fail to see how confrontational some Humanists are, and why that causes difficulties. Aine Llewellyn’s comment does a good job summing up the Polytheist view:

              http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/2012/06/03/star-foster-surrenders-the-pagan-label-to-the-naturalists/

              See the comments on this post, of which you have taken part in:

              http://witchesandpagans.com/Pagan-Paths-Blogs/gods-of-consequence/Page-2.html

              I am personally at a loss to see how you cannot see how Polytheists feel that they are being spoken down to, implied to be insane, immature, or delusional when you have actually taken part in some of these conversations.

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

              >Maybe this is just the point, John, it seems to me, at least, that part of the Humanist tactic is to retroject themselves and their very contemporary perspective back throughout the history of Paganism.

              Well, I think humanism/philosophical naturalism was present (to a limited extent) through much of the history of Paganism, right alongside literal polytheism. This really deserves a post in itself.

              B.T. Newberg did a series on the influence of naturalism in the history of paganism which begins here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/agora/2013/02/naturalistic-traditions-exploring-the-historical-roots-of-naturalistic-paganism/

              … continues here with ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/agora/2013/08/naturalistic-traditions-were-archaic-egypt-and-mesopotamia-naturalistic/

              … and here with ancient Greece: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/agora/2013/09/naturalistic-traditions-was-archaic-greece-naturalistic/

              There’s more you can find here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/agora/author/btnewberg/

              And I also did a series on the influence of Jungian archetypalism on contemporary Paganism discussing Dion Fortune and Israel Regardie: http://witchesandpagans.com/Pagan-Paths-Blogs/jung-s-pagans-pt-1-dion-fortune-and-israel-regardie.html

              … and Doreen Valiente, Starhawk, and Margot Adler: http://witchesandpagans.com/EasyBlog/jung-s-pagans-doreen-valiente-starhawk-and-margot-adler.html

              … and the Farrars and Vivianne Crowley: http://witchesandpagans.com/EasyBlog/jung-s-pagans-pt-3-janet-and-stewart-farrar-and-vivianne-crowley.html

              >When you read the early Wiccan texts, particularly the stuff written by Valiente, it is apparent that the Goddess and God are understood as actual beings.

              Can you give me an example of this? Preferably one where it is clear that Valiente is speaking of gods literally and not poetically or psychologically? I may need to revise what I have written about Valiente before if you are right.

              >That doesn’t mean that the basic set of doctrines does’t present a theistic worldview.

              You’re basically claiming that British Traditional Wicca had a dogma with regard to the nature of the gods. Can you provide proof of this? Because everything else I have read suggests the opposite.

              >There simply may not be many statements in early Paganism defending the actual existence of the Gods because no one would have thought such defense necessary. That doesn’t mean that the Gods weren’t thought to be quite real.

              Neither does it mean that the gods *were* thought to be quite real. The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, but neither is it evidence of presence. You may be right that it was so obvious it didn’t need to be said, but I can’t accept that theory without some kind of evidence, other than its absence.

              >It seems quite disingenuous to me to retroject a contemporary position into the past, and then to use it as justification.

              I’m not sure what time period you are referring to, but reading statements made by contemporary Pagans in the 70′s and 80′s in Jungian terms is not “retrojecting a contemporary position”; it’s just taking them at their word. See my posts above about the influence of Jung on Neo-Paganism.

              >Margot Adler uses polytheism in a variety of ways in Drawing Down the Moon …

              True. But her Jungian interpretation definitely predominated. (Not surprising since she is Alfred Adler’s grand-daughter.)

              > It hasn’t been until perhaps even the last few years that Polytheists have felt the need to make their position explicit in contrast to the development of other world views jockeying for power in the Pagan community.

              This is just historically inaccurate. Metaphorical and Jungian interpretations of polytheism predominated in Pagan writing through the 70′s and 80′s.

              >As Rhyd said, it means nothing to a Polytheist that a Humanist thinks that their Gods are psychological. It becomes problematic, though, when the Humanist insists that all Gods are imaginary/psychological/constructs regardless of other people’s experiences or understanding of said Gods.

              The notion that Humanistic/Naturalistic Pagans should only make statements about “their gods” is like telling a scientist to only investigate his experience of gravity or his experience of light. I can certainly acknowledge that hard polytheists have had experiences unlike my own, but I will also theorize that perhaps our experiences are similar and we are viewing them through a different conceptual lens.

              >Polytheism can manage indifference to Psychologism …

              This has not been my experience. In fact, the rest of your comment suggests otherwise.

              >However, CR traces itself back a bit earlier as some of its founding members began the work of establishing a community in the 70’s. These recon groups developed out of trends that were already present in Paganism at the time.

              I don’t know, but that’s consistent with what I’ve read. But again, CR is not equivalent to hard polytheism, or vice versa. There are and have been forms of Pagan reconstructionism which are agnostic about the existence of the gods.

              >Further, since you are the new editor of Humanistic Paganism, you have to recognize that you are becoming the face of that community. It may not be fair, but you are putting yourself into that position.

              Fair enough.

              Regarding MJ Lee’s essay, I have to say it is unfortunate how that that piece was published. It was taken from a conversation on the Naturalistic Paganism Yahoo discussion group and posted without editorial gloss or contextual framing. MJ explained some of this in the comments. In any case, at no point does MJ state or imply that polytheists are “immature, foolish, [or] stupid”. See my response, which you linked to above: “… M.J. admits that she does not understand your experience. Her essay, I believe, is more of an attempt to frame the question, than dismiss that experience.”

            • Julian Betkowski

              Of course some form of naturalistic thought has been around since practically the dawn of human thought, but even Newberg recognizes in his articles that this didn’t much resemble what we call Humanism today.

              M. J. is not framing the question, but begging it. She doesn’t say those things straight out, but the implication is clear. No effort is made in any of the things that I linked to attempt to come to an honest understanding of the polytheist position. I linked to your own response to Star Foster, because I believe that demonstrates how unwilling some Humanists to see things from another point of view. What about the comments here?: http://worksofliterata.org/2012/06/04/missing-the-point-of-metaphor/

              Can you see how dismissive and belittling these comments are to Polytheists? It’s pretty plain. The comments on the Anomalous Thracian’s post are just as bad.

              I really do find it disturbing that you cannot understand Polytheist frustration. Both Galina Krasskova and P. Sufrenas Virius Lupus have weighed in on the issue in conversation with you. They have done a far better job than I in elucidating the problems with some of the Humanist rhetoric directed at polytheists, and you still refuse to recognize that we have legitimate reasons to be upset.

              I am not attempting to say that all Pagans historically recognized the Gods as real beings, I am suggesting your framing and interpretational strategies preclude all answers but your own.

              It really is apparent that neither of us is going to shift the other’s opinion. I do apologize for allowing my frustration to get the better of me, but I do think that we as Pagans do need to be having these sorts of conversations.

            • Northern_Light_27

              I do think devotional polytheism has been part of modern Paganism for as long as there’s been modern Paganism, though I agree with your timing as far as it being front-and-center, talked-about-as-a-thing. There’s always been a spectrum as far as thoughts about the Gods, but I think it was quieter before. Less public, and more apt to get pushback if you took a polytheist position openly. (I was a theistic Satanist and also a Pagan in the late ’80s/early ’90s. I can’t count how often I was told “but can’t you just call him Pan? then people won’t get so upset with you”, and had looks of bafflement when I’d get frustrated and say that different gods are, you know, different, and this one took an interest in me, not Pan. There were people who thought the same, though, they just weren’t as numerous.)

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

              Wow, theistic and Satanist. You must have gotten a doubly hard time from other Pagans.

              I came to Paganism via a LaVeyan Satanism myself. (I know it’s not the same thing at all.)

            • http://paganarch.blogspot.com/ rhyd wildermuth

              Oh, John–
              I guess it’s really possible you’re missing all of our points.

              Precisely the fact that your attempt to “cherish” polytheists offended so many polytheists seems to lead to two possibilities: one, we’re all “hypersensitive” and “aggressive;” or, two, we might all be responding to some fundamental problem in your approach.

              Here’s the difficulty. While I can’t speak for polytheists in general, I suspect that many may feel as I do: dismissal of our claims that the gods are actually real and do things in the world is one thing (it is nothing to me if you worship them as I do or don’t); however, diagnosing us, asserting we haven’t explored our psyches, suggesting we have not thought through the possibilities, or suggesting that we’re influenced by a fantasy novel all are statements which we have to defend ourselves against. That they come from others who wish to share the Pagan name creates immense frustration.

              Worse, that our requests for more respect and perhaps an end to your attempts at historicizing our experiences in a way which marginalizes and belittles us meet with relentless surprise from you begins to enrage, and It’s entirely similar to my experiences demanding respect on behalf of myself or other subaltern groups.

              Claiming to be shocked by our responses when you make aggressive, dismissive, and often rude accusations, insinuations, or reckless statements leads me to suspect that you either don’t understand us, or don’t understand the consequences of your words. You certainly seem smarter than the latter possibility, so I’m going to assume it’s the former.

              –Rhyd

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

              >… you either don’t understand us, or don’t understand the consequences of your words.

              I suspect it is both.

            • http://paganarch.blogspot.com/ rhyd wildermuth
            • Northern_Light_27

              Three very specific points about your article and this thread:

              1- That’s an odd reading of “Pagan enough”. I’m pretty sure the intent was to ask people to stop all the one-upsmanship, not an expression of the idea that Paganism is an excess in need of moderation. For “Pagan enough” you can also write it as “real Pagan”. As in, “you’re not a real Pagan unless you do magick”, “you’re not Pagan enough unless you’re Recon”, “you’re not a real Pagan if you’re a monist”, “you’re not a real Pagan if you’re NOT a monist”, and on and on. I’m a gamer, so it’s a familiar dynamic– real=hardcore, and hardcore=whatever the heck the person insisting on it defines it as. I’ve got issues with the “Pagan enough” campaign, but I’m sympathetic to what I think was the intent of it.

              2- No, you’re wrong, “American Gods” was absolutely EVERYWHERE in Pagandom during the period he’s talking about. So was Buffy the bloody Vampire Slayer. I don’t just mean online, either, I also mean face-to-face. Believe me, I can’t stand Gaiman or Whedon so it was a massively frustrating period for me– somewhere on my old Livejournal there’s a rant against people treating “American Gods” as some kind of theological inspiration because you just couldn’t get away from it. Buffy was even worse. I don’t think I’ve been evangelized for Christianity as hard as I’ve been evangelized by Pagans to watch Buffy. Including in the middle of two completely different rituals by two completely different groups from two completely different Pagan religions. Both still come up with regularity, much to my irritation, at the local Heathen meetup, with the attendant “but you can’t dislike Whedon! you just haven’t seen the right episodes!” Buffy seemed to really inspire a fanatical following amongst Pagans, and American Gods did seem to inspire a broad swathe of Pagans, from Wiccans to Druids to Heathens. It’s not saying that people get their religion from a work of fiction to say that AG was massively influential at a certain point in time.

              3- He’s also not wrong about the timing of what he’s pegging as the rise of devotional polytheism in the mass Pagan consciousness, although he’s leaving out the “anti-fluff” movement in Wicca as related. Certainly their history is much longer, but I think a lot of factors came together at a certain point in the late ’90s: backlash against “you have to be into magick”, backlash against monism and “dial-a-god”, reconstructionist groups really publicly pushing back against “earth-based religion + wheel of the year” definitions of ostensibly pan-Pagan groups, movement toward more historical authenticity, and of course, a lot more people with Internet access. Non-Wiccan Paganism became a lot more accessible and a lot more visible, and IME a lot of increasingly dissatisfied people in Wiccanesque groups decamped for cultural polytheism, finally finding a place that fit for them. Also IME a lot of polytheistic (whether “hard” or “soft”) Wiccans and Neo-Wiccans started talking a lot more about their gods. Just in terms of what happened when, as far as I can see he’s pretty much on target with the time period as far as mass awareness goes– I think that also marks the shift in whether a new adherent to a cultural polytheistic religion tried Wicca first or not. 40+ year olds by and large drifted through Wicca. The younger the adherent, the more likely they never did.

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

              Oh, you’re so right about the fluffy thing. I hadn’t made the connection. I believe it was in 2001 that the term “fluffy” (later “fluffybunny”) was coined by the author of the Internet essay, “Why Wiccans Suck”, which was a rant against non-traditionalism, eclecticism, and general sloppy thinking among Pagans.

            • Northern_Light_27

              It may have been, the time frame seems about right. I remember WWS. I want to say the same person is also behind Wicca For the Rest of Us, which last time I looked (I have no idea if it’s even still up) was a really fantastic resource, especially the post on the Rede.

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

              Thanks. I’ve responded on your site.

            • http://paganarch.blogspot.com/ rhyd wildermuth

              Hi John,

              I write fiction as well as read it. I’m quite aware of its power. And can also tell the difference between its power and the existence of the gods and goddesses I worship. If anything, Neil Gaiman is precisely an example of where *not* to get one’s religion from.

              But thanks for being so dismissive of my request! It’s a common accusation amongst those requesting more respect to be called “hypersensitive,” so I’m fortunately accustomed to this. In fact, the last time someone accused me of “hypersensitivity” was when I asked them to stop making derogatory comments about my sexuality. So, really, no offense taken!

              –Rhyd

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

              Hey Rhyd,
              You took my statement that a novel had something to do with the growth of interest in devotional polytheism and read it as a characterization of devotional polytheists as “infantile and incapable of distinguishing fiction” from reality and being “delusional and unintelligent”. I realize that there is a context to this discussion, but your response does seem hypersensitive, to the point of completely mischaracterizing what I actually wrote.
              Regarding Gaiman, I don’t see how you could have an objection to someone reading the book, and then developing an interest in devotional polytheism, and then going on to learn more from non-fictional sources and/or seeking out a direct encounter with the gods. What am I missing?
              John

      • Nigel Prancypants

        Far better, I think to recognize that we all have something unique to
        contribute to the discussion about the nature of the gods — even those
        who not believe in them.

        I’m sorry, but that’s absurd. If one does not believe in something, then one cannot possibly have anything meaningful to contribute to discussions about its nature. Might as well ask a Christian who takes their creation mythos literally about the nature of evolution, and we’ve all seen the Bill Mahr documentaries, such people tend to never have anything meaningful to bring to the discussion.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

          Actually, you’ve got that analogy backwards in this case. The apt comparison would be to say that it is like asking a scientist to comment on the Christian myth in Genesis. Obviously, a scientist, being more than just a scientist, could have a lot more to say about myth in terms of its literary or even spiritual value, aside from the fact that it is not literally true.

          • Nigel Prancypants

            No, I said it exactly as I meant it.

            A scientist and a Christian are not two titles that are mutually exclusive; a scientist who is a Christian may believe in the value of the mythology, even if the belief in the narrative is not literal, but if one takes Christian creation mythology literally, then one necessarily rejects the validity of evolutionary theory –one does not believe in it. One cannot lack belief in something and then have anything worthwhile to say about it.

    • Nigel Prancypants

      Being a Pagan either means something or it means nothing.

      Absolutely.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

        No, it means many things. Just like “Christian” and “Hindu” and “American” and even “human” and just about every other word in the English language.

        • Nigel Prancypants

          No, see, all those other words have concrete definitions. Those definitions may be minimal, but they mean something. “Christian” says that one believes in the divinity of Christ –without it, one is not a Christian; in Islam and Baha’i, Christ is a prophet, in Christo-Platonism, a philosopher, but no more divine than any other. Hindus practise the indigenous religion of India; while this includes many philosophical schools, and many theologies, a Muslim or one practising the indigenous Ojibwe religion is necessarily not a Hindu. An American is a citizen of the United States, maybe there’s some wiggle room for those who have lived there their whole lives but are undocumented, but one who was born and raised in Sweden, retains Swedish citizenship, and makes no efforts to assimilate into U.S. culture is necessarily not an American. Finally, a human is a member of the species homo sapiens; my cat is not a human, the bird on my porch is not a human, the bonobos at the zoo, while our closest evolutionary cousins, are still not humans, Homo sapiens neanderthalis were humans, but an extinct subspecies –Darwinius masillae, our furthest primate evolutionary ancestors, were primates, but not humans or even hominids, cos see, “human” means something pretty specific….

          These words mean things.

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

            Pull out a dictionary. “Christian” has 11 definitions at Dictionary.com. “American” has 8. “Human” has 5.

            • Nigel Prancypants

              It doesn’t count when those “other definitions” basically reinforce each-other. “Of or pertaining to the teachings of Jesus Christ”, “or, pertaining to, or following the religion based on the teachings of Jesus Christ” –seems a bit excessive, almost redundant, and all basically reinforcing “adherent of Christianity” and “a person who exemplifies in one’s life the teachings of Jesus Christ”.

              Hey, “Christian” can be both a noun and an adjective that reinforces the noun! hurrrr durrrrrr!!!! And one of those adjectives is a privileging slur (or whatever the inverse is), because by implicitly stating that “Christian” is a synonym with “decent, respectable” is to imply that all other religions are indecent and unrespectable. If you don’t allow “derogatory language”, then clearly you shouldn’t count that definition on the grounds that it implies that all other religions are bad! And one of those nouns includes “a male given name”, cos you know, Hans Andersson’s middle name is SO relevant here.

              Basically all these “many definitions” exist to reinforce the same basic idea. Use your brain and think about what you’re reading rather than just counting the items on a list.

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

              Fair enough. Eliminating different parts of speech and proper names, there are still different definitions:

              1. of, pertaining to, or derived from Jesus Christ or His teachings: a Christian faith.

              [a very broad definition; this would be like the broad definition of Pagan]

              4. exhibiting a spirit proper to a follower of Jesus Christ; Christlike: She displayed true Christian charity.

              [a definition based on personal qualities]

              5. decent; respectable: They gave him a good Christian burial.

              [a definition that conflates "Christian" with societal norms]

              7. a person who believes in Jesus Christ; adherent of Christianity.

              [a belief-based definition; this would be like the definition of Pagan which you are insisting on]

              8. a person who exemplifies in his or her life the teachings of Christ: He died like a true Christian.

              [a practice-based definition]

              9. a member of any of certain Protestant churches, as the Disciples of Christ and the Plymouth Brethren.

              [a membership-based definition]

              These are only mutually reinforcing if a person is all of these things. But there are those who are members of Protestant churches who do not not exemplify the teachings of Christ. There are Catholics who do. And there are whose who call themselves Christian but because they consider themselves good and proper people but belong to no church.

              I’m surprised we’re debating whether there are different definitions of Christian. Just look at the Mormon-Christian controversy: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/approachingjustice/are-mormons-christian-an-interfaith-round-table/

  • Christopher Scott Thompson

    I object to the use of the term “polytheist” as a synonym for “hard polytheist.” Hard polytheists do not own that term.

    • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

      Not only do “hard polytheists” not own the term, but there is no evidence whatsoever for any such thing as “hard polytheism” in any actually existing polytheistic tradition prior to about 20 years ago.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

        Oh boy. That’s a can of worms.

      • http://nigheananbrighde.wordpress.com/ Erin

        I have heard this explained this way- once upon a time there were only cultural polytheistic traditions. Later Christianity came along and called them pagan or heathen, collectively, although they were never collective in themselves. Much later, Gardner created Wicca from various sources and it became known as pagan, singular. It was new and different compared with cultural polytheistic pagan religions, breaking with historical pagan tradition. But since the 1980′s, non-initiatory Wicca grew in popularity, thus creating a new culture of Paganism (capital P now), which became the popular Pagan tradition at large. Now we are seeing the popularity of reviving cultural polytheistic religions, and because they are so different from what has become the Pagan norm, -they- are seen as radical and counter-cultural, as Wicca once was. Now the former outsiders have become the definers of the tradition of modern paganism, and the former traditionalists have become the renegades. Interesting how it went around.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

          That’s a good summary I think. It will be interesting to see what happens next, who will be the next renegades.

          • http://nigheananbrighde.wordpress.com/ Erin

            It will be more interesting to see what the motives are for those future renegades.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

      Good point. I’ve added a few more “hard”‘s above to clarify.

  • PegAloi

    All I am going to add to this discussion right now is to say that, to my knowledge, Star Foster’s decision to withdraw from the pagan blogosphere was due to personal reasons and had little to nothing to do with the issues surrounding the polytheism debate, nor was it related to her being a “hard polytheist” as far as I know. It’s not my place to speak for her (and I suppose it is possible I am wrong) but based upon her own public words she had her own reasons for withdrawing, and I am troubled to see her departure misrepresented here.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

      I apologize if I misrepresented her. But it seems to me from her own posts here that her conflict with non-polytheists directly contributed to her decision to leave.

      In June 2012, less than 4 months before her departure, she published this piece: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/pantheon/2012/06/when-pagan-loses-meaning-atheists-and-theists/ ; in which she argued that Pagan “environmental atheists” were depriving the word “Pagan” of its meaning. She wrote there: “I’m also aware that the perhaps the battle for the word ‘pagan’ may have been lost. As society at large increasingly begins to identify the word with secular environmentalism, and as environmental atheists embrace the term, then I have to wonder if I am on the wrong side of history.”

      Then 2 weeks before she left, she posted her piece on so-called “Pagan Calvinists”: http://nature.pagannewswirecollective.com/2012/09/14/natural-theology-polytheism-beyond-the-pale/ ; who, as she explained, referred to “Humanistic Pagans” in general and Alison Leigh Lilly specifically for her piece on “natural polytheism”: http://nature.pagannewswirecollective.com/2012/09/14/natural-theology-polytheism-beyond-the-pale/ . The word “asshatery” was used.

      And then, a couple days later, in a post entitled “The Problem of Personal Experience”: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/pantheon/2012/09/the-problem-of-the-personal-experience/ , she admitting to having difficulty relating to other polytheists.

      Less than two weeks later she was saying, “So long, and thanks for all the fish” — literally, that was the title of the post: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/pantheon/2012/09/so-long-and-thanks-for-all-the-fish/ . Now, maybe I was reading too much into it, but if you’ve familiar with the book, that’s what the dolphins say as they leave Earth just before it’s destroyed. It seemed to me to be a bit of a middle finger to everyone (in sharp contrast to the otherwise equitable tone of the rest of her farewell post in which she referred generally to life changes as the reason for her stepping down).

      So, yes, I do think her polytheism and her particular approach to non-polytheists had something to do with it.

      • PegAloi

        Thanks very much for your careful and considered response, John, it is appreciated. I do recall Star was having some issues with various community members but I had thought her decision to abandon the blog was partly due to personal life changes (she had moved, etc.) and also feeling frustrated by the cyber bullying that often takes place in the pagan blogosphere. In other words, a general response to the “big picture” issues of the pagan blogosphere (general distrust, sniping and bullying, not to mention lack of effort to do anything productive) as opposed to this specific issue. You are right to point out that this issue was part of that, however. Again, not speaking for her, just my own recollections of what I found to be a sad occurrence and a significant loss to the pagan online discourse…

        • John Halstead

          That was just my (admittedly skewed) perception. I should be more careful not to impute motives where I have not spoken with Star privately.

  • Living The Wheel

    At some point, I think all pagans need to disconnect from the greater pagan community for a short time. Or for some, even for a long time!

    I’ve left more than once and it was always due to excessive debate with other pagans. Exchange of ideas is one thing, but paganism has never been a cohesive unit and it never will be and it shouldn’t be. Eventually, you realize that all you ever do is debate and it takes away from your own unique practice and spirituality. Instead of being centered in your own paganism, you’re trying to be centered in another person’s world view.

    Does it matter that that polytheists don’t see me, an atheist, as truly pagan? Not really. It hasn’t affected my practice one bit, and I’d wager that my view hasn’t really affected theirs.

    Perhaps the people who are leaving are doing so to become reacquainted with their own practices. To become centered once more in what’s important. That’s why I did.

    EDIT: I should edit this to say that the polytheist views on my paganism hasn’t affected the way I practice. It did affect that I practiced at all. Which was the reason to walk away. I’ll wager that our differing views don’t affect how they practice, but possibly if they do at all.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

      So true! I go through cycles of preoccupation with what other people are doing. And then I have to go clear the articles and print outs of blog posts off my altar and worship.

  • Duke Is Life

    In my eagerness to engage in what I perceived to be constructive debate with hard polytheists (sometimes on this blog), I fear that I have contributed to some feeling unwelcome in the Pagan community. And if that is so, I deeply regret it.

    Bulldada.

    You have been and continue to be incredibly antagonistic.

    Actions > Words

    If you truly regret your antagonism, give polytheists more than words.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

      It takes two baby!

  • wilderquill

    Yep, so it looks like another created catastrophe in the Pagan community. Funny how I never hear this talk in my local Pagan community. The Pagan umbrella is large, just accept it and move on.

    And yes, John all of this is happening on the internet. When Pagan bloggers have nothing of substance to Blog about they light fires…and I hope you’re not blogging about those fires just to get readers.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

      I write about what I am passionate about.


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