What’s the Big Deal About Polytheism?

What’s the Big Deal About Polytheism? December 5, 2014

Over the last few years, as the polytheist “community” (faction? collection of people using this as a descriptor?) grows, there has been drama and contention about the words “polytheist” and “polytheism”. Now that I am co-chairing a conference on polytheism I’ve been fielding questions about this word and our purpose.

Why Polytheism?

I cannot speak for other polytheists, nor for those who choose not to use this word. I will explain why I like this word and use it as a self-descriptor.

Polytheism, as I define it, has a two fold definition: that there are more than one god and that the gods are real. Technically, the word means only more than one god. My definition takes the literal definition one step further by adding a theological statement “that the gods are real.”

Believing “that there are more than one god” differentiates a person from monotheists (one god) and atheists (no god), primarily. Some pantheists (all is god) will be excluded. Monists (one source) and duotheists (two gods, usually in the form of male and female principals) may or may not be excluded. I have no issue with the latter two; in fact, I am quite sympathetic to monism. However, accepting that there are more than one god means that we can’t mush our language or theologies into a one-size-fits-all model. We have to get specific. It’s a refusal of universalism, which starts to blur personal experience of particularity into theories of sameness for the sake of unity. Plurality is a starting point for accepting theological, experiential, and practical differences, rather than attempting to make all gods “one size fitting the All.”

“That the gods are real” means that the gods are not archetypes. We are not playing mind games. No one is making stuff up. This second part of the definition is important. No one wants to feel like their experience is being written off as one’s imagination, at best, or at worst, as mental illness. (Though, yes both of things can be at play – and not just for polytheists!)

Polytheism may indicate similarities in theological outlook, but leaves room for the multiplicity of human culture, practice, and experience.

I love a venn diagram
I love a venn diagram

What I like about this word is that it is not necessarily incompatible with being Pagan. Plenty of Pagans are polytheist, but not all. Yet, polytheism can include those who do not consider themselves Pagan. I like that I can engage with Shinto, Hindus, and others who don’t identify with Paganism or the predominantly North American or European expression of Paganism. Some of them might; most of them don’t, but we can talk about things in polytheist terms.

Any label should be descriptive and not prescriptive. I recognize that many, if not most, labels are fluid and not necessarily meant as a permanent identity or dogma. For me, polytheist is one descriptor among several. I don’t grip too tightly to this word. I recognize that my experience with the gods might change over time, that my practices may shift. Right now, my Hindu practices make more sense in a polytheist frame.

While I actually prefer, intellectually, a monist theology, in the last few years I have been trying to step away from intellectual theologies and focus more on what my lived experience tells me. Right now, it situates me in the polytheist portion of the Pagan venn diagram (which is, of course, incomplete, as both sides contain many more overlapping and intersecting identities).







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  • River Devora

    I am glad that more folks are being more careful and specific in their language used to describe their beliefs and practices. I think this only serves to help us all. I am really looking forward to the Many Gods West conference!

  • Ron

    uhhhh not sure what the benefit is of assuming that there would be more than one God …

    • Helpful hint: If you’re asking that question, you’re reading the wrong blog.

      • mptp

        Agreed, and for this reason I’ll no longer engage Ron, as the discussion is fruitless.

        • Ron

          For your information I was not saying that you said there was more than one god or creator…

    • Invidosa

      You’re thinking about this the wrong way. My spiritual experience is that there are many gods, and that they are discrete entities. Its nothing to do with “benefits”. If your spiritual experience differs well then bully for you, but it does not invalidate my faith.

      • Ron

        hmm not sure how that would be when there is only one creator of the universe how could there be more than one god and Im not trying to change anyone just stating the facts..

        • Invidosa

          Subjective, not factual. You have no hard proof of your experience of a reality created by a singular god (the bible doesnt count, I can point to any number of holy books that contradict yours and carry equal weight) it is your opinion and you accept it on faith. My opinion, accepted by faith, based on personal experience is that there are many gods.

          • Ron

            You have made critical mistakes by saying, “You have no hard proof of your experience of a reality created by a singular god (the bible doesnt count, I can point to any number of holy books that contradict yours and carry equal weight) it is your opinion and you accept it on faith.” For the first part of that “assumption” on your part, is that when you said I had no “hard proof of my experience a reality created by a singular god.”

            For one, you do not know me, nor any of my experiences, nor do you what I based my perspective on. You assumed, I based my perspective on the bible which I didn’t. Another assumption you made was that your pointing to “any number of holy books that contradict yours and carry equal weight, it is your opinion and you accept it on faith.”

            Sir you said it was your opinion, accepted by faith, based on experience is that there are many gods.” Seems to me that you are the only one here basing their view strictly on faith and experience then you came to the conclusion there are many gods.

            For your information, I can present information specifically, from science, that will show that the bible and koran present mis-information. This information I have does not require blind faith, that we see from the bible and the koran which happens to both accept the same mis-information.

            Would you consider science to be “hard facts.” No my information does not come from “blind faith,” which is where you are speaking from, unless that experience you spoke of would trump science and faith? If so, I would appreciate you explaining what that experience was. However, I would hope you will not ask me to believe your view unles there is more there than “faith” that backs up your “opinion.”

          • mptp

            there is only one creator of the universe how could there be more than one god

            Citation needed. You claim you are stating facts, show your evidence.

          • Ron

            You never heard me say that there is more than one creator or more than one god. Invidosa stated that. My facts come from science, three specific scientific theories based on string theory and a book by stephen hawking, titled A Brief History of Time. Alone, neither of those theories nor mr hawkings book will reveal those truths, however together, we see the answer to string theory and at the same time reveal the mis-information that I spoke of from the bible and koran…

          • mptp

            You never heard me say that there is more than one creator or more than one god.

            Not did I ever say you did – how about you quit arguing against strawmen, and answer the question

            You claim that the facts which support your statement that there is only one creator of the universe are derived from theories.

            You have failed to show how you derived that fact from those theories.

            In essence, what you have is an opinion, not a fact, and you are either unwilling, or unable, to support it.

            Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and seeing “go read string theory” doesn’t count.

            And I doubt DOCTOR Hawking would agree with your claim that his theory proves your statement.

          • Ron

            there is not enough room here to show you all the information from those theories and I am more than confidient that mr hawking will agree with my claim there is no argument here and if you read my statement you will see that I mentioned more than one theory and mr hawkings book and also stated that all those together were necessary for that conclusion and if you want to “see it all” read… “string theory reveals the sin and the paradox”…no other theory out today reveals the information you will see there… you wanted to know if there was prof of one god I told where you can see it… if you want to argue I dont have time…

          • Waltzing in here claiming you know stuff, not really telling us how you know it…. I find this entire argument and behavior tedious. Please go do it elsewhere.

          • bill wald

            There is no way to differentiate between “God” and “Always Was.”

          • mptp

            What the Hel are you on about, or are we about to be subjected to more bat crap crazy theories that have nothing to do with the original post?

          • bill wald

            This is the topic under discussion:

            “Polytheism, as I define it, has a two fold definition: that there are more than one god and that the gods are real. Technically, the word means only more than one god. My definition takes the literal definition one step further by adding a theological statement “that the gods are real”.”

          • Invidosa

            First, I am a ma’am, not a sir.

            Second, I assumed you based your opinion upon the bible because the people I have previously encountered who are insistent upon a monotheistic view of the universe tend to be christian. I apologize if that offends.

            I do not insist you share my polytheism. My point is and was that your insistence that you know for a fact there is only one god is frankly hubris of the highest kind.

            And I would love to see what your hard evidence entails.

          • Ron

            Thanks for your message, I apologize that I assumed you were male instead of female. I also did mention that there is to much information to put here. I will show you from the most relevant theory from science in the attempt to link einstein’s theory of relativity and quantum mechanics based on string theory. That theoy by Dimitri Nanopoulos was presented in discover magazine august 1991. The first sentence in Mr Nanopoulos’s theory does not show the link between science and religion, though, without the intent of Mr. Nanopoulos did show the link between science and Jesus. Note how subtle this is, this is the first sentence of his theory. ” The key point was when we realized that strings dont have the specific representation_Oh Jesus.”

            There we see that religion was not mentioned so I continued to look into the observable world to see if there was a link between Jesus and string theory. I was fortunate to find the connection with Jesus in a painting by the infamous leonaro da vinci called “Christ Among the Doctors” later colorized by luini. There in that painting we see Jesus standing on the steps of the temple of jerusalem, not speaking with the rabii or preachers inside the temple.. He was communicating with the doctors indicating that the world needs to be healed, not from the religious perspective though, from the healing perspective of Jesus.

            From there, I followed Jesus map which lead to of all places the pyramid of giza. The reason that leads to the pyramid of giza is the specific manner we see the same angle of the pyramid and Jesus map was formed with both hands.

            Then from there we see also in our observable world that leads via Jesus map forming the same angle that was seen in the pyramid of Giza. From there, we see the direct connection from our obsevable world with the same angle Jesus formed with both hands, leading us to see another sign with specific symbols that reveals to the world that we have in fact been given mis-information relevant to the beginning.

            The name of the business is the message which is seen in the name of the hotel chain that is seen in our observable world. First we see, above the business a stick man, lines forming both arms and legs, his head is formed with one line The above two lines of the stick man form his arms and the one line forming his head forms an arrow showing us that we need to look there to see the relevant inforation at the bottom of the stick man which is the same angle as that of the pyramid of giza which happens to be located on the exact land center of the earth that his inforation is exact and we mush reconcile that reality.

            Then we see the name of the business on the hotel which gives the answer for the world to heal showing us that in the name of the hotel chain. It is called ADAM’S MARK, not adam and eve sinned, though specifically Adam’s Mark. That shows that we have been given mis-information since the beginning. Then from there there is more information in mr nanopoulos theory that even reveals the motive to murder Jesus and other things though I am only going to share this with you now as there are many photos from our day in time and even items from the anchients that in fact lead to the stars starting with the star map of betty hill when she received that map from the ailen when she and her husband were on the ufo in 1961. Which by the way this link shows us the truth relevant to ufo’s and why they have not gotten contact with us till we reconcile that which others that have so much more technology have reconcile that information that Jesus himself brought to us via his father God himself.

            Thus, that information shows clearly that there is one god and his son is Jesus. God did send Jesus to the world to show us that we have been lied to and we must reconcle that it was Adam who in fact violated Eve. Therefore, the reason in our day in time tjhere are so may people are still being sexually violated in our day in time still blamming women for something she never did.

            Though, other than that fact, which Jesus shows that it was Adam’s Mark which set the stage for Jesus murder which happens to be the only sin. The only logical way that Jesus himself could have been the only man that could save the world with his murder because Jesus was and is and forever wil be God’s son. Also it was important for that to happen to Jesus for our lives to be saved as Jesus paid for our sins with his beating and his murder.

            I have so much more information from science and the observable world that reveals those truths. I hope you will go to http://www.adamsmark.com so you can see the relevance we find ourselves. The truth is his son alone could have and did bring to the world, for us to see and reconcile, we were meant to be here. Not only do we see that we reconcile how logically that was the only way this situation could have saved everyone that lives on this planet, without the mention of religion.

            Once we see that it was adam’s mark and not adam and eve sin.Its much easier to reconcile that there is one God and he is everywhere all the grains of sand on all the beaches and everything else. I hope this give you a better understanding of how there is only one God and he had only one son, and his name is Jesus…

            I would be glad to speak with more about this if you like, though I am writing the final draft of my theory called “sting theory reveals the sin and the paradox.” When it is finished you will hear of it I am sure. Merry Christmas I wish you peace knowing that in fact as is stated in the lords prayer “it shall be on earth as it is in heaven.”

          • bill wald

            First, English is not a gender specific language and for 1,000 years the written male gender was used to refer to either gender if required by the context.

            Second, you are not familiar with the beliefs of Jews or Muslims?

            Third, there is no universal understanding of the word, ” god.”

            Fourth, the terms, “hard evidence” and “science,” should be reserved for statements that can be falsified. If a hypothesis can not be falsified then neither can it logically be claimed to be true.

          • bill wald

            A “hard fact” is one that can be duplicated by “real science.”

            Anyone who does not gag at the phrase, “poly sci,” . . . . Then there are the people who think any study of prehistorical artifacts is “scientific.” How does the lack of a written record convert history into science? I suspect the bottom line is that a science degree pays better than an arts degree.

    • Helmsman Of-Inepu

      Why should there be more than one person, planet, or star?

      If you’re expecting everything to be neat and tidy, you’re probably in the wrong universe.

  • Greetings: Polytheism was in practice during
    the time of Abraham. However, I want to point out Abram would not be
    renamed Abraham and blessed by the ONE True God of Israel if he had been
    polytheistic. This is just one more reason to disagree with the 3
    persons in ONE – false polytheistic God known as The Trinity.

    • Polytheism existed long before Abraham, and has never stopped existing!

    • Abraham is a myth, not a real historical personage.

  • Helmsman Of-Inepu

    The whole ‘archetypes’ approach, and Sir James George Frazer’s Golden Bough have been discredited academically, but live on in an ‘explain away the gods’ pop psych existence.

    • Shannon Menkveld

      Unless you have clear proof, accessible to any observer regardless of their existing religious beliefs, (or lack of same,) of the existence and nature of the God(s), you are just as blind as every other human who has ever walked the Earth.

      Your personal experience of your God(s) is incontrovertibly valid… for you. But if that’s all you’ve got, you have no better basis for insisting that everyone else accept your version than every single universalizing monotheist since Akhenaten has had.

      Which is to say, none at all. Whatever else the God(s) are, if They are in fact anything at all, the one thing They clearly are is “too big to fit into any human skull.” Their true natures, whatever they are, is something that we finite humans are simply not qualified to know with any certainty or completeness. This universe is simply to big to see all of it through our tiny little windows. Maybe, after we die, we get to look through a bigger window, and so see more.

      If nothing else, no matter how certain you are of your religious convictions, you’re still human… which means that you can be wrong. The potential to be wrong is just part of the package of being human, and the bigger the question, the wider the error bars get.

      Please note that I have nowhere said that you are, in fact, wrong. You may well be right. All I’m saying is that the odds are no better for you than they are for any randomly-selected human… the two statements are fundamentally different.


  • bill wald

    The problem is nomenclature. Seems to me that “polytheist” should be reserved for a religion that has more than one “top dog” god and they are equal in authority and power. American Indians, for example, have one Great Spirit and many second tier gods. We Christians have angels which function as second tier gods.

    I confess the Christian doctrine of the Trinity does not compute logically but could be true and does not offend my ignorance. I can “believe in” it. On the other hand, I am suspicious of any sentence which appends “in/on” to “believe” and any person who says, “believe on.”

    • I confess, I’m not entirely clear about what you are saying. I would be careful too in lumping all Indigenous Americans into one category. However, I am not an expert on Native American beliefs, so your statement may fit. It is my understanding that many, if not most, Indigenous Americans would not use the term polytheist as a self-descriptor.

      Are you trying to say that my post above does not in fact refer to polytheism? Also, “we Christians” – to whom are you referring? I am not a Christian, so I hope you are not trying to include me in that “we.”

      Very confused.

      • bill wald

        This is a very difficult medium in which to communicate in writing. Every sentence is assumed to be hostile. There is no common dictionary, no agreement as to what words mean. No one understands “figures of speech.”

        Before most everyone had access to TV network broadcasts, every state had regional dialects. A person from Maine almost needed a translator to talk to someone from Alabama.

        Before the “dumbing down” of the US most high school graduates could read and write in a standard “American English.” In this “multicultural diverse” America, we (you and I) can’t assume that American English is our primary language. Maybe that’s why we have so many lawyers.

  • chrijeff

    If you think about it, not even Christianity denies the existence of more than one god. In the Bible, the Hebrew god never says he’s the only one; he says “I…am a jealous god…” That means he knows there are other ones and he doesn’t want “his people” worshipping them.