There are many gods. The gods are real. Let’s get to work.
These sentiments were uttered over and over again, from the first moments of the opening ritual until the closing ceremonies. This new, ambitious, conference placed its emphasis and focuses one hundred percent on Polytheism.
There Are Many Gods
One might think that at any gathering of Pagans, Heathens, Wiccans, Druids, Eclectics and a Thracian of Anomalous origins, that the idea of there not being many gods would be preposterous. However, I’ve sat in many Pagan meet ups only to be told, with great earnestness and sincerity, that the God and Goddess (and really, let’s be clear here, just the Goddess) has many faces but ultimately those are but facets of The One*.
Fortunately, this kind of discussion was totally absent at Many Gods West. The prevailing wisdom was that there are, in fact, many gods. Sounds like a small thing to point out but the impact was quite immense. It meant that each participant could go on about their business of making their presentations, creating their rituals, making offerings, singing devotional songs or discussing their specific pantheons without suffering through the “we are all connected to the source” commentary that is often found at other events. No one burst into the chant “We all come from the goddess” and had they, one hundred and eighty or so people would have asked “Oh really! Which one would that be?”
In my everyday world there tends to be two prevailing trains of thought that garner most of the attention: There is only one deity. There is no deity at all. I can’t stress how well the organizers of Many Gods West did at creating a space where Polytheism and Polytheistic thought could be the cultural norm for a few days. And that was incredibly refreshing.
The Gods Are Real
Right from the outset of this conference, this one point was made abundantly clear. Morpheus Ravenna gave the key note address (I wonder if there’s a more mystical sounding name we can come up with for this. It sounds so corporate – but I digress). There’s no doubting Morpheus’s position on this point. The gods are not archetypal images; she would say this repeatedly and gave an elegant analogy of comparing archetypal images to stain glass windows. The images may be archetypal in nature, but they are brought to life when the sun shines through them. The sun is not brought to life through the stain glass window. John Beckett took some excellent notes on Morpheus’s address and I recommend reading his thoughts on the subject (I recommend reading John’s thoughts on a great many topics actually!).
Let’s Get To Work
Speaking of John Beckett, he gave an impassioned presentation on how he envisions the not so distant Pagan/Polytheist future might look. His lecture leaned heavily on what traditions can concretely do today, rather than looking to re-instate some golden age that never really existed. John’s approach was pragmatic and well reasoned and, as he said himself, he likes blueprints that he can work to. I heartily agreed with the overall vision of a world where polytheism was on equal footing with monotheism or atheism, but other points thoroughly challenged me, like the lack on current progress made by other traditions in areas such as providing structure and resources for the next generations(s), without acknowledging the tremendous contributions some traditions present in the room had, in fact made. However, those rough edges were soon smoothed away when we spoke later over a tasty adult beverage – which is just the way I like it!
And that was actually something I noticed about many of the presentations. The presenters sought to share the tools and best practices of their traditions with other polytheists for the betterment of all polytheists. And those tools really ran the gamut, from Polytheism in mental health care (“Cutting Through The Fog” – Tony Rella), to dealing with the monsters of racism and transphobia (“Loving our Monsters” – Elena Rose), to effective outreach and activism on any number of fronts, to pastoral care and devotional practices. There was tremendous amount of conversation between traditions too. Ryan Smith and Sophia Martinez from Heathens United Against Racism gave practical advice for anti-racist work within their tradition to other Heathens looking for help. Jason Mankey’s tongue in cheek, yet fiercely serious presentation on “Wiccans are Polytheists too -At least some of us”, highlighted and dispelled commonly held misconceptions about Gardnerian and BTW practices regarding polytheism and duo-theism.
I was looking for a tidy way to encapsulate this spirit of shared resources and information and it dawned on me that the analogy is literally located in the middle of town. You see, there’s a spring that rises up from deep in the earth below Olympia. The well head isn’t particularly decorative, it’s basically an open , lower-case “r” shaped pipe. The spring runs 24/7 365 and is available to all that want to avail themselves of the delicious, clean flowing waters. Everyone has access to this most basic source material. Many Gods West is like that well. For one weekend, the various polytheistic traditions gathered around a flowing well and drank deeply and drank together. The conference organizers did their level best to make sure that everyone had access to what they needed to feel safe, heard and valued. I know I left the conference feeling inspired and renewed.
And oh! The tremendous conversations had over drinks and lunches and on park benches and the plans being made for next year…But that’s another post altogether!
*I’m perfectly fine with monotheism and monism within paganism. I totally get that it really serves some people well and is just as much a valid thought as polytheism is. It’s just that polytheism tends to resonate with me more. Monism, weirdly enough, seems to be more prevalent in modern paganism than I would have at first suspected.
Notes: All of these pics are from my personal stash from the weekend or from Wiki-Commons sources