1. I believe the archetypes are gods.
Notice I did not say that I believe the gods are archetypes (although I believe that too). (I also did not say they are “ideas” or “mental constructs”.) That was intentional. This is part of my campaign to “re-god” the archetypes, to return to the concept of the archetype the numinosity or “holy otherness” that is lost when archetypes are understood as mere ideas or mental categories. I have tried to make the case that understanding the gods as archetypes need not be reductive. I’ve tried to make this case numerous times, in different places:
The archetypes are gods: Re-godding the archetypes (HumanisticPaganism)
But are the archetypes real? (PaganSquare)
You don’t know Jung, Part 6: Archetypes (PaganSquare)
Are the gods real? (AllergicPagan)
Hearing voices or talking to ourselves? (AllergicPagan)
2. I believe I have not convinced anybody but myself.
3. I believe that’s okay.
Occasionally I get comments like this:
“I would have to say as a Mormon having a massive falling out this is fitting very much where I feel spiritually. Ironically in all my searching I would have never thought to look at Neopaganismof any sort […] Oddly enough I found this blog through pure happenstance while doing my typical halfassed spiritual oriented google searches. It has been quite a fascinating read and has highlighted various points of interest to myself. […] Thank you so much for the blog it has made me, at least for the moment, feel a lot less lonely. It also gives me a great point of reference to discussing with my wife my spiritual journey.”
But, for the most part, blogging is a thankless enterprise. You have to find your own motivation. For me, doing this keeps me sane.
4. I believe that my belief that the gods are archetypes is a choice.
This choice is the product of my personal history and idiosyncrasies. It is not a self-evident truth. It is not the only logical conclusion that reasonable people can reach. It is not dictated by history. Or the dictionary.
I used to believe that locating the gods outside of the psyche was disempowering, because as I saw it, believing in external gods projects our own personal power outward onto those gods. The reason I believed this is, of course, because that is what happened to me, when I was Christian. And when I left Christianity behind, I could not understand how the belief in an external deity could actually be empowering. But the fact is that belief in an external deity can be empowering. I’ve seen it in people in both the Christian and the Pagan communities. It’s not been my own personal experience, but I have witnessed this effect on others around me — including many devotional polytheists. I still choose to believe the gods are archetypes, because that belief works for me. But I now recognize it for what it is: a choice.
5. I believe we have common ground.
The spectrum of belief regarding the nature of divinity ranges from extreme psychologism to extreme transcendentalism. I fall more toward one end of the spectrum. Others fall more toward the other end. But we are on the same spectrum. For example, whatever they believe about the ultimate nature of divinity, I would wager most people can acknowledge that the experience of divinity is to a certain extent paradoxical, in that divinity can at least seem to be both “in” us and “outside” of us, both a part of us and also other than us. For example, consider the following three quotes. (I won’t reveal who wrote them till later.)
“We are obliged to preserve the concept of the ‘otherness’ of God from ourselves even though we cannot use it without distorting or at least wrongly stressing it. […] It is an otherness which not only does not exclude but positively (just because it is what it is) includes and demands oneness — a oneness, indeed, which is actually more real and intimate than what we would normally describe as identification.”
“Philemon and other figures of my fantasies brought home to me the crucial insight that there are things in the psyche which I do not produce, but which produce themselves and have their own life. Philemon represented a force that was not myself. In my fantasies I held conversations with him, and he said things which I had not consciously thought. […] I understood that there is something in me which can say things that I do not know and do not intend, things which may even be directed against me. […] Psychologically, Philemon represented superior insight. He was a mysterious figure to me. At times he seemed to me quite real, as if he were a living personality.”
“Falling into Gods like Odin […] carries with it the potential for finding those elements of the Gods’ nature in ourselves, for becoming in however small or large a way, transformed by Them, by the contact, transformed into becoming a bit more like Them in outlook […] I’ll tell you something too: I’m glad Odin has those sides to His nature. It means there is nothing in me that I need fear to acknowledge in His presence. There is no part of me that is too intense, too harsh, too awkward, too violent, too passionate, too…anything that I need feel shame over it in His presence. It frees me to stand in a place of tremendous openness, tremendous vulnerability, tremendous liberation. I am grateful that my God has these dark and bloody complexities about His nature. In the microcosm of my heart, I do too. It is yet another thing we share and in the end, that doesn’t terrify so much at all.”
The first quote (as you can probably tell from the use of the word “God”) is from a Christian theologian, R. H. J. Steuart. The second is from psychologist, Carl Jung, who originated the idea of gods as archetypes. And the last is from a certain vocal hard polytheist. What all of these statement have in common is a recognition that, to one degree or another, the gods (or God) can seem to be both a part of us and separate from us. While we may choose to emphasize either the difference or the similarity, there is common ground that we can build on.
6. I believe that both archetypal Neo-Pagans and devotional polytheists (as well as the myriad other varieties of Pagans) have something valuable to contribute to this ongoing discussion about the gods.
Personally, my own understanding of divinity has been expanded by my discussions with devotional or “hard” polytheists. And my experience of divinity has been deepened. I am grateful to those who have been and continue to be patient enough to share their experiences and ideas with me.
7. I believe that you don’t own the word “polytheist”.
And neither do I. And neither does Webster’s. The same goes for the word “Pagan” and “Neo-Pagan” and lots of other words.
There’s good precedent for using the word “polytheistic” in a psychologized and naturalized senses in which I have in this blog, from contemporary authors like Margot Adler and David Miller, to Joseph Campbell and Jung, to ancient writers like Plutarch, Cicero, and the Stoics. And there’s better precedent for using the word to mean a belief in gods as literal, independent, sentient beings. But I’m going to continue to use the word the way that makes sense to me.
I do sympathize though. When you find a word that captures how you want to identify, and then someone uses that word in a way that it antithetical to your self-understanding, it is very frustrating. … Welcome to being Pagan. Or Christian, for that matter. Or any other label.
8. I believe that saying Margot Adler — or Doreen Valiente — is not a polytheist is a little like saying Paul was not a Christian.
Was Paul the same kind of Christian as Peter? Or Jesus? No. Be he was one kind of Christian. And an important one at that.
9. I believe that sharing my own beliefs does not infringe on yours.
Or silence your voice. Or erase your community.
10. I believe that, if you disagree with me, you can tell me to “f@#k off” on your private blog.
Things are different if you blog as part of a community like Patheos, Beliefnet, Witches & Pagans, etc. But on your own private blog, have at it! It’s not good manners. It’s not even good rhetoric. But it’s your blog. Fling feces if you want. You’re just messing up your own walls.