Guest Post: Polytheology and You by Amanda Thomas

Let me start this by being very open and frank. I am far from an authority, though I have read a great deal, this hardly makes me super guru extraordinaire. I have no more of a special connection with the Gods than the average Joe walking down the street. What I am about to write is the by product of personal gnosis, and trance meditation with those deities willing to speak with me. This is not the official theology of any Pagan tradition to which I am aware of, and is being presented in an effort to get feedback on an idea, and maybe start a process in which the pagan community can once again being to struggle and work with the Gods; to attempt to understand who, and what they are. I think that sometimes we Pagans have a small hold over from the Monotheistic traditions, in which we want an unchangeable cannon, and we use myths handed down to fill this desire. Using the myths of the Gods as handed down through the centuries, and that come from those who had struggled for epochs of time, and in individual cultures, to understand the nature of those divine entities we call Gods is good, but we need to start our own struggles, and sharing what the Gods are saying about themselves in this day and age as well. The Gods are not static mummies in a museum that we look at under glass, they are living energies that we can speak with, learn of, and from, in the here and now.

For some time I have been struggling with the idea of how the Gods work, exist, and interact with us fleshy things (I don’t think humans have an exclusive on interaction with the divine, but since I don’t speak cat so well as I would like, I have yet to get the fuzzy felines in my house to tell for sure one way or the other), and in an effort to figure things out I had a rather strange notion, why not ask the Gods themselves? Was there ultimately only one deity that showed many faces to different cultures (like the many times used example of the diamond who’s multiple faces reflect a culture back to itself but are still part of the whole)? Was the Divine a duality in which, again, two entities are ultimately the one source for all other Gods and Goddesses in the World? Were the Gods, thought forms from our own inner deep psyche? Lastly, were they many separate individuals, just as there are many separate individual humans?

Rolf van Melis via CC 3.0

Here is the vision given to me. Let us start with a thunder storm. There are Storm Gods in almost every Pantheon (if not all of them, but since I personally do not know all the pantheons by heart, I’ll give myself some wiggle room here). These Storm Gods have a great deal in common, but there are differences. Some are heads and leaders of their particular Pantheon (think Zeus or Ba’al), but in other Pantheons they are not. Storm systems are effected by many different things, the energy of the storm itself can affect how powerful the system grows, but more importantly the landscape of where the storm is taking place shapes what is produceable. The Plains here in Kansas are such that tornadoes are possible on a fairly regular basis, but they are not so regular in California, where the landscape make them much harder to form. A storm in the desert of Egypt is going to have a much different connotation from a storm in the rain forests of the Amazon. Although these storms are ultimately caused by pressure and energy in the atmosphere, they change with the geographic location, as do the various Gods that represent storms. Just like these storms being the by product of the same energy, the different Storm Gods can be said to be the by product of the same energy as it is shaped by both the landscape and the culture that encounters these storms as they play out in that region of the Earth.

We can also see this with Fire Gods. The presence, power, and energy of Fire will be looked at differently in the Steppes of Russia as opposed to Ancient Greece. Fires in both cultures are caused by the production of carbon from heat and chemical reactions, but in Russia there exists the idea of never letting a hearth fire go out, and to treat the spirit of the fire with a great deal of respect (if you don’t, your house just might burn down). This is much different than how fire is treated in less drastically cold regions of the world. There are fires in Greece that were not suppose to go out (Hestia’s comes to mind), but these were hardly an every household occurrence. We can see the influence of how fire works in real life and cultures by way of the idea of Fire God as Trickster (as seen in Loki). This concept of trickster makes complete and perfect sense to anyone who is, or has ever know a fire fighter. Fire is and can be indeed very tricky, just when you think it is out, it re-emerges to take on new life. We see in Loki a God who is destructive in his trickery but who also gives the most precious of gifts when all is said and done; just as fire can burn us or help to create works of metal and culinary art (plus a million other wonderful things).

Now, how does this relate to the nature of the Gods, and if they are many, or one, or what not? Here is where I steal something from a Christian theologian (hey, the Christians stole a lot of Pagan stuff, so fairs fair) in the idea from Hugh Ross in which we make ourselves into two dimensional stick drawing on a piece of paper in which a hand is sticking three fingers through. The stick people can not see out side of the paper, and so see 3 separate circles that are the cross section of each finger as it passes through the paper. Ultimately the fingers are attached to the hand and so connected, just as our Storm Gods are connected by the same energy, but what we see and experience are separate individuals, and I would argue that they should indeed be treated as such. Just as I and my brother are by products of the same source, but still individuals, I would argue that Storm Gods as encountered by various cultures within a environment that shapes the way a Storm can occur, are indeed unique to that environment and thus separate individual Gods. The Power and Energy of that storm will shape and effect the culture of that particular region, just as the culture will shape and define the God of the storms as the people wrestle and come to understand that energy in the Storm.

While the individual Storm Gods are indeed connected through one powerful and overlapping dimension (the atmosphere and the energy that shapes the weather), Rivers are not the same thing at all. Allow me for a moment to play the role of bard and tell you a story that is true just as much as it is fiction.

Long ago Mother Earth and Father Storm felt a need to feed one another. Mother Earth gave water to Father Storm, and he in turn rained upon her face, filling the many deep caverns in her belly, as well as covering her mountain tops in soft white snow. From this love of giving was their Daughter River born.

The Earth and weather affect what types of water bodies can be shaped in any region of the world, but those bodies have a life and power all their own. I would argue that would make them very separate and individual types of Divinity from the Storm Gods. River, Lake, and Sea Deities all have their characteristics, because so do the bodies of water for which their energy help shape and form.

As we look to nature as the ultimate revelation about the nature of the divine, what is shown is amazing diversity of various sexual types (Male/Female/both/neither), this is why I think it is right and proper to understand the deities in these terms, even though they are not at the end of the day, in any way shape or form, human (we only picture them as such, so as to make it easier for us to interact with them, and understand their individual personalities on a more person level), and I believe it is to nature as well as myths of the past (and hopefully soon, present)n to help us come to an understanding of what and who the Gods are.

The energy of storms and of region geography are not the only types of powerful energy in our world. We can simple look inside to find other types that are from various different sources from the nature Divinities. Let us take for example Love and War. these are two divinities that in many cultures have some sort of connection either in the same Deity (think Freya), or as two lover deities, (think Aphrodite and Aries). Both are passionate pursuits that can influence each other, hence the connections in the mythology. Ultimately War and Love are a combination of social and emotional factors, which many times can take on a life of their own. These are energies that are shaped by culture, just as much as the Storms are shaped by the geography. Although Love is a universal emotion, the way in which it is acceptably expressed is confined within the boundaries of a culture and its taboos (public kissing and affection being a huge no-no in India). War is often reigned in by the “rules of war” such as they exist in a society.

I will end this with a quote of a friend after she had read the initial version of this paper,
“The Gods may indeed be the same across cultures and religions but because they are in a different location/environment they interact with the world differently and deserve to be treated differently”

Amanda Thomas is an ADF Druid. Amanda also happens to belong to a Unitarian Universalist church, where she leads a class on the Goddess and does ritual work for women in the church. She is a mother and general bibliophile.

About Star Foster

Polytheistic Wiccan initiated into the Ravenwood tradition, she has many opinions. Some of them are actually useful.

  • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

    As we look to nature as the ultimate revelation about the nature of the divine, what is shown is amazing diversity of various sexual types (Male/Female/both/neither), this is why I think it is right and proper to understand the deities in these terms, even though they are not at the end of the day, in any way shape or form, human (we only picture them as such, so as to make it easier for us to interact with them, and understand their individual personalities on a more person level), and I believe it is to nature as well as myths of the past (and hopefully soon, present)n to help us come to an understanding of what and who the Gods are.

    I find this to not be necessarily true, at least in some cases.  One of the main gods I worship is Antinous, and he was most certainly human because he started out that way and underwent apotheosis; while some places in the ancient Mediterranean reckoned him as a hero, and in one case as a daimon, he is most often thought of as a god (theos).  He is not any less human now than he was when he was alive, apart from no longer having a corporeal form.  So, how does that fit in with what you’ve said here?

    • http://www.facebook.com/ALynnThomas Amanda Lynn Nielsen Thomas

      I guess it depend how the deification process is viewed.  I would consider a human who has undergone apotheosis to no longer be human in shape or form, but also as having retained memories of being human at one point in time; that the deification process changes the essence to something more, or other than human

  • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

    As we look to nature as the ultimate revelation about the nature of the divine, what is shown is amazing diversity of various sexual types (Male/Female/both/neither), this is why I think it is right and proper to understand the deities in these terms, even though they are not at the end of the day, in any way shape or form, human (we only picture them as such, so as to make it easier for us to interact with them, and understand their individual personalities on a more person level), and I believe it is to nature as well as myths of the past (and hopefully soon, present)n to help us come to an understanding of what and who the Gods are.

    I find this to not be necessarily true, at least in some cases.  One of the main gods I worship is Antinous, and he was most certainly human because he started out that way and underwent apotheosis; while some places in the ancient Mediterranean reckoned him as a hero, and in one case as a daimon, he is most often thought of as a god (theos).  He is not any less human now than he was when he was alive, apart from no longer having a corporeal form.  So, how does that fit in with what you’ve said here?

    • http://www.facebook.com/ALynnThomas Amanda Lynn Nielsen Thomas

      I guess it depend how the deification process is viewed.  I would consider a human who has undergone apotheosis to no longer be human in shape or form, but also as having retained memories of being human at one point in time; that the deification process changes the essence to something more, or other than human

  • http://www.themonthebard.org/ Themon the Bard

    This is very similar to my own observation and opinion.

    I grew up and live in the high plains desert, so any time I’ve invoked the spirit of Water, it has been a light, rippling, active presence — a mountain stream or a spattering of rain. I did a rite on the eastern US coast once, and Water was something else entirely — it dominated everything, and even Fire was steamy, damp, and muted a mere flickering candle beside this great Neptune-like force of nature.

    I think of this in terms of long-range order in systems. A human being is not a “thing” — it is a collection of many things, an entire ecosystem of flesh, bone, bacteria, molds, viruses, and a tight balance of homeostatic energy flowing through the ecosystem. Yet there is also something persistent in that little piece of space-time that walks about on two feet, a continuity that makes us something definite and material.

    Why can’t we think of the persistent ripple in a flowing river as an entity in its own right, a “naiad”? A thundercloud has structure and energy flowing through it that maintains the structure despite the action of wind, gravity, and precipitation. Is it not a thing in its own right?

  • ThemonTheBard

    This is very similar to my own observation and opinion.

    I grew up and live in the high plains desert, so any time I’ve invoked the spirit of Water, it has been a light, rippling, active presence — a mountain stream or a spattering of rain. I did a rite on the eastern US coast once, and Water was something else entirely — it dominated everything, and even Fire was steamy, damp, and muted a mere flickering candle beside this great Neptune-like force of nature.

    I think of this in terms of long-range order in systems. A human being is not a “thing” — it is a collection of many things, an entire ecosystem of flesh, bone, bacteria, molds, viruses, and a tight balance of homeostatic energy flowing through the ecosystem. Yet there is also something persistent in that little piece of space-time that walks about on two feet, a continuity that makes us something definite and material.

    Why can’t we think of the persistent ripple in a flowing river as an entity in its own right, a “naiad”? A thundercloud has structure and energy flowing through it that maintains the structure despite the action of wind, gravity, and precipitation. Is it not a thing in its own right?

  • http://fatherstorm.fatherstorm.com/ FatherStorm

    Oddly enough, Google emailed me alerting me to my mention on the web… heh.

  • http://fatherstorm.fatherstorm.com/ FatherStorm

    Oddly enough, Google emailed me alerting me to my mention on the web… heh.

  • http://twitter.com/Mad_Fishmonger Eli Fennell

    I regard that anything we can meaningfully interact with is a being.  Any given being may have many aspects even among humans; you may be mom, dad, son, daughter, wife, husband when at home; mister, miss, missus, boss, employee, doctor, professor, director, or whatever else at work; friend, commerade, drinking buddy, whatever else when socializing; etc…, etc…  So, yes, one being may be known differently among different people and assume some differences in role; but just as there are many teachers, doctors, lawyers, mothers, fathers, friends, etc… and not just one with many names amongst humans, there are many beings assuming many roles, some specializing narrowly, some more generalized.

    My metaphysic is more akin to Vodou, where we speak not of deities but of “spirits” of different orders.  One name may be answered to by multiple spirits.  Or one spirit may answer to multiple names.  Some spirits, the Lwa for example, have never been human, though in a metaphysical sense they are loosely considered ancestral.  A Lwa is not a human spirit, a human spirit is not a Lwa, and whether he latter can ever become the former is unclear, and it is even less clear if a Lwa can ever become human, but nothing in the traditions suggests either is really possible (though there’s more to suggest the former than the latter).  A Lwa can possess; a human spirit cannot possess a living person.  The Alchemist in me feels a human spirit can undergo apotheosis into a form of being even higher than the Lwa… but of a different nature, more akin to the Boddhisattvas and Buddhas, never having lost the essence of humanity but merely refined it into its purest form (i.e. lead into gold, where the lead or “body” in the metaphysical sense already contains the “seed” of the metaphysical “gold” which can transmute its substance from the former to the latter).

    I am not an animist or pantheist, which I share in common with Vodou and with most Buddhists and Hindus as well.  I feel that a spirit may be associated, by a sort of resonance, with lightning, water, fire, earth, the sun, etc…, just as we humans may resonate with various callings, trades, disciplines, specialties, hobbies, etc…  But I do not believe these things are living in the strict sense or have “spirits” or “souls” of a personal nature or in any way possessing inherent mind, nor that these things are somehow derived from a deity or similar thing, i.e. that physical sun is a mere embodiment of the power of a Sun God, or that lightning is a mere embodiment of the power of a Lightning God, except perhaps in the Greek conception of an ordering intelligence which itself conforms to natural laws and cannot be properly considered a being capable of volition, i.e. acting of its own accord.  Humans might be able to access such an ordering principle and turn it to their own purposes because we do have minds… but the ordering principles of our reality do not, even if they derive from some primordial mind-like creative process generated by some primordial entity (i.e. a Creator Being).

    Beings have spirits, souls, mind; fire, minerals, lightning do not, though they do have subtle essences, and spirits may work with or through these mediums by means of some subtle forms of interaction not yet understood by our sciences.

    I also believe that beings with minds, like ourselves, may be capable at times of generating quasi-independent semi-substantial forms that can even be invested with a semblance of life and even mind and sentience.  It may even be possible for such Telesmatic forms, to use the Greek term, to sometimes attain a semblance of independence from their creator, even “outliving” them, if they can find some suitable source of mind power to sustain them, for example if they can “latch onto” (haunt, possess, etc…) or obtain “devotion” (i.e. worship) from others.  I think even human personalities sometimes leave echoes of themselves behind in such a way, as in the case of hauntings where a strong echo impressed on an environment at the time of a (typically) violent death somehow resonates with the environment and with subsequent visitors and inhabitants to the environment, sometimes even obtaining a semblance of ongoing sentience through this process but more often just echoing moments of the past.

  • Rua Lupa

    I very much enjoyed this read, as I felt that the questions posed and examples to answer them had left the reader to put their final touch to complete the answer based on how they interpreted the world. Creating a world of possibility where very different answers from different people would all have an underlying agreement in the science of Nature; leaving their interpretations on top of that to be purely based on personal preferences and experiences. Of which no other person can critique, leaving no other action but of mutual respect on how each interprets their world.

    I can see how this can birth new tales of gods and spirits. I anticipate the tales ahead!

  • Rua Lupa

    I very much enjoyed this read, as I felt that the questions posed and examples to answer them had left the reader to put their final touch to complete the answer based on how they interpreted the world. Creating a world of possibility where very different answers from different people would all have an underlying agreement in the science of Nature; leaving their interpretations on top of that to be purely based on personal preferences and experiences. Of which no other person can critique, leaving no other action but of mutual respect on how each interprets their world.

    I can see how this can birth new tales of gods and spirits. I anticipate the tales ahead!


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