Single Polytheism

Single Polytheism March 6, 2013

Satsekhem wrote something the other day that caught my eye. It concerns ‘deity collecting’ and where hostility to such may stem from, and this quote struck me as very relevant: “It seems like an awful lot of monogamy in a realm that really doesn’t deserve it.”

I’ve noticed, in my wanderings and peeking in to random Pagan places on and offline, that there is a tendency to stick with one or two deities when it comes to worship and celebration. I can’t exactly say this is de facto a bad thing, as it works for many people and is just how they do things, but it has struck me as odd. Especially in polytheist circles. I think there are a variety of reasons why this tendency to prefer one deity to the exclusion of others is prevalent in modern Pagandom, and I also think our attitudes about that tendency differ based on our theologies and paths.

If I can tie something back to Pokemon, I will, and this ties in nicely.

For me, worshiping one deity at the expense or exclusion of others or plucking a deity out of its pantheon or deity family doesn’t work. I tried to do that when I was first starting, and it just didn’t ring very well with my soul. Even when I began developing more devotional relationships with specific deities, I was aware they were part of a bigger picture, a bigger family, a bigger landscape. Not that I was always perfect at remembering that, but it was something I wanted to be conscientious of. That really hit home for me when I began worshiping Antinous – I wasn’t worshiping just Antinous; I was worshiping and giving honor and reverence to his friends and the gods connected to him. Antinous is the focus of that part of my devotional practice, admittedly, but my practice would not be whole if I were attempting to worship him above the other gods. And through him I developed a deep love of Hadrian, Sabina, and many other deities I would never have expected.

With my practice around the Four Gods (which is, at this time, rather separate from my Antinoan devotional practices, though they influence and shape each other all the same), I originally came at worship with the thought that there would be one god among them that was ‘true’ or a ‘perfect fit’ for me. That notion was smacked down quite quickly, thankfully. I do have a more intimate relationship with one of the Four, but not at the expense of my relationships with the others. And there are the many spirits connected with these gods and with my home and mysticism that I cannot ignore either, each which require thought and attention and consideration. Not because they demand it (well, some of them do) but because that is how this devotional practice works – it is a whole, with many moving parts, and if I were to become consumed by just one of them the whole might break down or stop functioning.

I may be a deity collector, since I am unafraid to branch out to new gods and learn and perhaps experience them. I don’t call myself eclectic, though, largely because I don’t mix and match. Attempting to worship Antinous and friends the way I do the Four Gods or vice versa does not compute, and I’d rather come to the gods on their terms. After all, my practice is worship, not self-gratification (but when the two coincide you won’t hear me complaining). That also means I don’t pursue a new relationship with a god or god-family unless I think I can actually uphold it as well; a lot of my path is critically examining myself and realizing when I’m putting too much on my plate.

So, in that way, I understand why people would stick to just one god. That doesn’t change that my back tingles uncomfortably when I hear people say that once you have established a devotional relationship with a god that god is first and foremost above all others. Our gods are usually part of families or larger structures and aren’t stand alone beings; having an intense devotional relationship isn’t bad, but do we really need to shun the other gods to get that? Is it bad if we have more than one intense devotional relationship?

As polytheists, it seems the answer to that would be no, it’s not bad; in fact, it is encouraged.

(As to the picture – ‘deity collecting’ has been compared to Pokemon in that some people seem eager to ‘catch all the gods’. I actually think this is a good metaphor. Some Pokemon trainers favor one Pokemon to the exclusion of others, while other trainers have a larger team, sometimes favoring six. Neither approach is bad, and the Pokemon you like is still part of a larger group.)

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