Polytheism Doesn’t Need Saving, It Needs Practicing

MGW 2016 10The polytheist movement has seen its share of knock-down drag-out arguments over the past couple of years. Some of them have helped define and differentiate polytheism from atheism, from the mainstream culture, and from non-polytheist Paganism. Most, though, have generated far more heat than light. They’ve also generated a lot of ill will.

A quote often attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt says “great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people” (I realize the nature of this post pushes me toward the third category – please hold your judgment till you’ve read the whole thing). The helpful arguments in the polytheist movement have dealt with ideas. Most of our current arguments are dealing with people, and with those who are trying to save us and our movement from others who they claim are dangerous or dirty or just plain evil.

We have three groups trying to save polytheism.

Some are trying to save us from the fascists in our midst – and “fascist” appears to be defined as anyone to the right of Bernie Sanders. Some are trying to save us from the polytheist radicals who are profaning the Gods with their politics, which just so happen to be opposed to the politics of the would-be saviors. And some are fighting the good old Pagan battle against everyone who’s trying to tell them what to believe and what to do.

A pox on all their houses. I’ve had it with polytheists who don’t give a rat’s ass about ritual purity but who care a lot about the purity of my Facebook friends list. I’ve had it with polytheists who claim to be all about the Gods but who spend their time defending the worst elements of our movement. And I’ve had it with polytheists who can’t seem to grasp that promoting beliefs and practices that have been shown to be helpful is not “telling you what to do.”

If you think I’m talking about you, I probably am. But rest assured I’m not talking only about you – there are plenty of people in all these categories. Too many.

Look, I get it – an external threat is the fastest way to bring your side together. Donald Trump has milked the fear of Mexicans and Muslims all the way to the Republican nomination for President. Hillary Clinton is getting a lot of support from people who don’t like her but who think Trump is far worse. Instead of debating issues and policies, we’re arguing about Trump’s xenophobia and dangerous temperament, and about Hillary’s e-mails and contributors’ list.

Do we really want to build a religious movement like this?

Polytheism doesn’t need saving – that should be evident by the way its ideas survived through 1600 years of official monotheism in the West. The multiplicity of the Gods is intuitive – monotheists have to stay constantly vigilant to keep polytheist concepts and practices from creeping into their religions. Our Gods certainly don’t need saving – They’re older, stronger, and wiser than any of us.

Polytheism needs practicing. It needs polytheists to step away from our computers and step in front of our altars and shrines. It needs us to make sacrifices and offerings – not because the Gods need to receive them, but because we need to give them. It needs us to tell the stories of the Gods, to let dissatisfied monotheists and atheists know they have another choice, and to continually remind ourselves of who They are. It needs us to invite Them into our rituals and experience Their presence for ourselves. It needs us to meditate on the virtues and values of the Gods, and then figure out how best to embody them in our ordinary lives.

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And then it needs us to go back to our computers, write about what we did, what went well, and what didn’t. Most contemporary polytheist traditions don’t have established, proven practices. We’re trying to revive, re-create, and re-imagine them for our time. This is the benefit of the polytheist internet – we can learn from each other’s successes and mistakes.

This won’t lead to One Grand Universal Polytheism. As some like to remind me, polytheism isn’t a religion – it’s a collection of many religions. But there is considerable overlap in concepts and practices between our many individual traditions. Working together allows us to learn and grow (in religious depth as well as in numbers) faster than we could if we had to figure it all out ourselves. And it makes for a more pleasant environment for all of us.

I’m not suggesting we whitewash over our legitimate religious and political differences – far from it. And I’m not suggesting we excuse personal attacks or other bad behavior (but I am suggesting it be dealt with one-on-one where ever possible). What I am suggesting in the strongest of terms is that the crusades have to end.

You remember the crusades, right? When Christians decided to “take back” what they thought was rightfully theirs and any atrocity was justified because God was on their side? When thousands and thousands were killed on both sides, as Christians made a mockery of their own religion?

We’re not there. We’re not close to there. As far as I know, nobody’s killed anybody yet. We live in a very different world from the crusaders – it’s not likely that anybody’s going to kill anybody. This is a comparison of kind, not of degree. But the crusader mentality persists, and the idea that the infidels must be stopped at any cost is alive and well in the polytheist movement.

Crusader mentality is anathema to the polytheist principle that different Gods call different people to serve Them in different ways. The proper response to polytheists who are “doing it wrong” is not to crush them but to “do it right” so well that everyone else sees the obvious benefit of following your way instead of theirs.

Polytheism doesn’t need saving from fascists or communists or atheists or would-be popes or anyone else. Polytheism needs practicing, in solitary and especially in groups.

We live in the most religiously diverse and religiously open society in the history of humanity. We have good scholarship that just keeps getting better. We have devoted priests who serve our Gods and our communities. We have mystics and seers who experience the Gods intimately and who can teach those who will how to have the same kind of experiences. We have Gods, ancestors, and spirits who are moving in our world, seeking people to help promote their values and virtues.

We have everything we need to restore polytheism and our many polytheist religions to a prominence they haven’t seen in almost 2000 years. We just have to stop trying to save polytheism and start practicing polytheism.

Following the old adage of “practice what you preach,” Sunday’s post will be “A Foundation of Mighty Ancestors.”

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