Relational Polytheism

One of the key pieces of my evolving personal theology is relationship. This idea seems to be taking root and flowering in the work of other Polytheist thinkers, too. People who identify with other practices, traditions, and labels will also understand the concept of relationship, as no one tradition holds the copyright to such a concept. In this piece I’d like to outline my ideas on this topic.

Photo by Andrew Phillips/Unsplash
Photo by Andrew Phillips/Unsplash

THEORY

My thoughts around sacred relationality began by studying Christian theology, particularly feminist and Process theologies, and Eastern Orthodox theologies of the Trinity and the human person.

Much of feminist theory discusses the concept of intersectionality – how all of our identities and issues are interconnected and affect one another. Race, class, gender, and more are all relevant to seemingly “single” issues; in fact, there are never “single” issues.

Feminist thea/ologies often use the intersectionality of feminist theory and apply it to theological matters. This can be as broad as developing the idea of a Great Ground of Being, a genderless Divinity that holds all that Is (very Monist, though not necessarily!), or as narrow as demanding that using masculine pronouns to refer to God not be the status quo in the Christian tradition. Where do women sit in a tradition? What does that tradition say about females and human persons? How can a particular tradition work toward the liberation of women? These are some of the questions that feminist thea/ologies ask.

Process theology, in a one sentence nutshell, develops the idea that God/Divinity is not unchanging or static, but is unfolding with Creation and that all living things participate in that unfolding; thus, we are co-creators. This is the most generous understanding of “free will.”

I’m going to leave the theologies of the Trinity alone, because I find it all so convoluted, but the main core point is about mutuality and love expressed in relationship.

PRACTICE

My relational polytheism holds the following:

*That was are intersectional beings, with intersectional lives, in an intersectional universe. My theology, like my feminism, will be intersectional or it is meaningless.

*That we are all connected. Intersetionality influences this. “As above, so below” – All of our realms are interconnected. I cannot prove this idea, but it is my strong hunch that our human agendas and those of the gods, while not the same, overlap and co-mingle. One realm influences and impacts the other; one could say we co-create the worlds together. Humans have embodiment; it is the rare god that does. We need each other. The issues of sovereignty, dignity, human and environmental rights, and many more kinds of justice, impact not just human embodied lives, but other-than-human existence, too.

I also believe that there can be some grand level monism without diminishing the agency and particularity of gods, spirits, and embodied creatures.

For example, in the summer my house has Ants. I do not interact with each ant as a dignified entity of its own. I engage with Ants – as a species, as a large group particular to this plot of earth, but not as individuals. Perhaps a god relates to Americans. My ego might cry “not fair! I’m not like all the other Americans!” But I *am* American. What if a particular god has something to say Americans as a whole? Or to Humans as a whole? Why should humans get to always be individuals when we interact with Deity (as a lumped together group) or Racoon or Water all the time?

I engage with gods directly as individual and sometimes as a collective. I have been known to talk with the Warrior Goddesses who love Blood and Ravens. Yes, as a group. I do not think this negates their individual agency or facets.

The creation stories I hold in my heart tell of a Force who loved her self into the Big Bang. From that Bang came all the stardust that built all matter, and from her spirit came all the gods and spirits and souls. A Great Ground of Being in no way diminishes the particularity of those gods, spirits, and souls; just as I, as a particular female am the source of my three children – of me, by me, part of me, but oh so distinctly Not Me.

*Because of this individual agency cradled in a Ground of Being, interconnected with but distinct from other species, spirits, and gods, we are therefore able to co-create this world and the other realms. Having agency means I have particularity and free will. Free will means that our wyrd is not yet written. Our wyrd, our fate, our personal and collective narratives, is written with the blood of our ancestors, the geography of our Place and Lands, the circumstances we are born into, and the choices we make. We can work out our unfolding wyrd on a personal level and/or participate in the unfolding of larger forces – community wyrd, ecological fates, cosmological evolution.

Photo by Charles Yeager/Unsplash
Photo by Charles Yeager/Unsplash

WEAVE IT TOGETHER

*What do all of the above have in common? Relationship. I am in relationship with EVERYTHING. We can approach that relationship on a merely directional level: I am sitting on the stool or I stand next to that tree. More than that, our lives are in relationship with a multitude of entities, seen and unseen. I might be talking about spirits; I might be talking about the network of fungi under my house.

As co-creators I work with the gods. I respect their powers, abilities, particularities. I believe in power-with, not power-over. I do not have to be in subservience to them – not unless that is a dynamic that I negotiate.

With relationship comes service. To serve one another is a form of power-with. Service is a twisted word, thanks to systems of power-over domination. I chose to have children; it is my choice to serve them daily, which is what I do when I teach them the skills they need for the world, when I enforce bedtimes, when I wash their clothes, and so on.

We serve our gods out of respect, gratitude, and mutual exchange. We serve our communities out of those same urges. Service is a gift and a form of recognizing others’ autonomy and individuality. Not all gods and peoples and communities need or require the same kinds of service; if we are in relationship we will know how and when and what to serve.

Anomalous Thracian has recently published an article and given a talk on Religions of Relation. In this piece, which I recommend, he discusses hospitality, pointing out that guest and host come from the same root word and are interchangeable to a degree. Service is a form of hospitality. For example, we have shrines or altars in our homes, which we set up as hosts to honor the gods as guests. Yet when the guests arrive in their own space (which we created for them) they become the hosts of that location. As hosts we serve our guests, but as guests they honor us by being the host of that particular spot. It’s a beautiful reminder of the interconnected relationship that we have with Places and our deities.

Polytheist theology is above all relational, in practice and in belief. Radical relationality can lead to radical hospitality. I believe that these ideas can change our lives, our communities, and the world/s for better.

 

Selected Resources for Further Reading:

Flavia Dzodan – MY FEMINISM WILL BE INTERSECTIONAL OR IT WILL BE BULLSHIT!

Morpheus Ravenna – Deep Polytheism: On the Agency and Sovereignty of the Gods

Rosemary Radford Ruether – Sexism and God-Talk

Theanos Thrax – “Religions of Relation: Place, Hospitality, and Regional Cultus in Modern Polytheist Religion and Practice,” Walking the Worlds, Vol. 1, Number 2, Summer 2015

Wikipedia’s overview of Process Theology

This blog post by a Christian Patheos writer *against* Process Theology highlights many good things about it

The works of John Zizioulas

 

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • yewtree

    This post is totally awesome! It is made of awesome, with awesomesauce topping.

  • http://dashifen.com/ David Dashifen Kees

    http://www.reactiongifs.us/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/slow_clap_citizen_kane.gif

    Excellent post. I especially appreciate your words related to a both/and relationship between monism and polytheism. Too often I encounter either/or language these days on a variety of topics and equally too often such arguments seem to lack a recognition of the deeper complexities of life, the university, and everything in their quest for (over) simplification.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/awitchsashram/ A Witch’s Ashram

      I’m a both/and kinda gal. So glad this resonated with you!

  • Andrew

    This is great, thank you Niki. Really helps clarify my own thoughts and feeling.

  • http://www.spiritscraft.tumblr.com Spiritscraft

    Gorgeous, I want to eat this all so I can feel it with all my senses.

  • Gwion

    That’s it. I’m going back to writing dirty limericks and angsty song lyrics. Yet again Niki, your writing blows me away. Approachable, spot on and well crafted.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/awitchsashram/ A Witch’s Ashram

      Oh shucks. I want to be at the drunken poetry reading where you read those limericks and lyrics, yeah?

  • http://asawest.wordpress.com/ Asa West

    Yes, yes, yes! This is the kind of thealogy I crave.

  • http://shrewdspeculations.blogspot.com/ Emile Academicus

    Thank you! You’ve put words to the essence of what drew me to my own pagan path. I’ve also studied Process-Relational theology, and find that it fits much better and more beautifully within a polytheist framework than within a monotheist one. Catherine Keller’s book “The Face of the Deep: A Theology of Becoming” makes a grand attempt at synthesizing the two (bringing out the inherent internal-diversity of God), but it’s still an odd fit. I do highly recommend the book, however.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/awitchsashram/ A Witch’s Ashram

      I’ve not heard of that book, but I will check it out!

  • jrb16915

    You can follow and believe all of this, but yet find the theology of the Trinity “convoluted”. That made me chuckle.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/awitchsashram/ A Witch’s Ashram

      Heh. Have you read much Eastern Orthodox Trinitarian theology? Essences and energies? It’s really intense and quite complex!

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

    Lovely! I really liked where you wrote that you are in relationship with everything. That put me immediately in mind of the saying, everything is connected, and gave me a new insight into that phrase– everything is connected *through relationship.* Of course! And the wisdom and warning in that is that we are always in those relationships, whether or not we are aware of, or are honoring them. Hence, we need to pay attention. I also really resonated with how you described us as hosts to our guests, our gods at our altars, but that when They arrive, they then are home in those spaces for a time, and in turn become host to us, Their guests. I have felt this, and it was lovely to see it written out this way. :) Nice post.