Pagan or Polytheist? Why not Both?

If you have been even passingly familiar with the pagan* blogosphere, you have seen the schism that is working on turning into a chasm between the pagan groups and the polytheists. Now, some people look at this and say it is a bad thing. Other people look at it and say it is a good thing. And then you have people like myself who can’t see what the big deal is. My education tells me that if it isn’t one of the big three Abrahamic religions, Hinduism (or its related faiths), or Buddhism, it can get classified as pagan. In the grand scheme of things, pagan religions are generally smaller in population than these other faiths and have something of a … disadvantage in the over-culture they are situated in. The majority of that disadvantage comes from the over-culture trying to shove those star shaped, sparky pegs into holes for the square shaped, matte colored pegs. (There’s a lot more to it, but that really is the best way I can think of to summarize it.)

Over the course of the last year, I have watched this divide. I have pitched a few stones into the gap and shouted a bit into the wind. For the most part, however, I have contented myself with doing my best to be a figure that is not participating in this ‘debate’. I am changing this position, however, because I see the potential for there being some disastrous results from this fight becoming deeply entrenched. The ‘us vs them’ mentality that is building up here is something I find deeply concerning.

I don’t understand why people are so quick to point fingers at the polytheists and declare them to be delusional. (This is probably the politest of slurs I’ve seen cast about.) I can appreciate that some find it threatening to encounter people whose relationships with the Divine are dramatically different from your own. I can appreciate that some find it fundamentally wrong with respect to their worldview and reject it adamantly. These two things, however, do not excuse the mud slinging. It also fails to consider that there is historical precedent for polytheism and that it is a valuable worldview that is still alive in many parts of the world. (We won’t get into the eltism and related garbage that comes with people declaring those parts of the world as ‘uncivilized.’ That’s a topic for another day and is completely unrelated to this.)

Now, some would say that the polytheists are not without blame in this verbal pissing match. I will acknowledge that there are polytheists who are as quick to sling mud as there are people in the general pagan population. All of this said, I really am disturbed by the fact that there seems to be a great deal of hostility directed towards people because they don’t share the same worldview. It may be a bit Pollyanna of me to say that the pagan community was founded with an ecumenical spirit and that everyone got along together as a happy tribe. I am not saying that. I am saying, however, that with the diversification of the pagan community, there has arisen a desire to establish orthodoxy.

Orthodoxy has a place within a religion. I am not going to say that it doesn’t, because that would be blatantly ignoring the way religions develop and change over time. As they become more established and develop a communal element, orthodoxy will arise as beliefs and practices become more codified. The problem, however, is that the orthodoxy of religion A can not be applied to religion B. They function in two entirely different fashions with their own language and customs. There may be a bit of ideological overlap between the two religions but they are completely different.

In the case of the pagan faiths, we find that religion A and religion B may have very little in common aside from a few deity figures and a name. This is problematic when religion A or religion B try to dictate what the ‘correct’ way to do things are. It is from this source that the schism has arisen. Secular pagans have taken it upon themselves to dictate to others how they should conduct themselves. And there are polytheist pagans who have done the same. I appreciate how both groups feel that their position is correct and important.

The problem is, they can not be applied equally to both systems of thought. There are fundamental differences between the two systems that are going to always conflict. I don’t think this means that the polytheist pagan community should completely cut ties with the rest of the pagan community. I think that what needs to happen is information should be considered with in its proper context. When looked at from the context of religion A, their beliefs will make more sense in that context than the beliefs of religion B would. This does not mean that religion B is invalid as a general rule. It means that it doesn’t function within the context of religion A. And that is alright.

Now, I have a revolutionary thought that I want to throw out for everyone to consider. Why don’t we make room for each other at the proverbial table where we all communicate together? Why don’t we take a little time and give each other the benefit of a doubt or, at the very least, accept that the relationships between practitioner and the divine is going to vary wildly between religions and within them. (There is a reason why there are so many flavors of Christianity folks. And that’s before you start taking into account the personal relationship angle on this matter.)

If we can not agree on these matters, that is ok. Let us at least agree to disagree on these points. And then move on to something else. Because the more energy we waste fighting over these points, the less energy we will have to devote to actually practicing our respective religions. If you’re a secular pagan, don’t give the theists (including polytheists here) the side eye. Just say “You do things differently. It isn’t my place to dictate how your faith works.” and then move on to points that you actually have some sort of influence on. If you’re a polytheist pagan, don’t give the secular pagans the side eye. Just apply the same position as what I proposed for the secular pagans.

Everyone has a different take on how we relate to the Divine. We all feel strongly about these various positions. And you’re more likely to have success baptizing a cat than you will in trying to get everyone to agree with each other. So, let’s not let this be what makes the pagan community at large crumble. We have enough outside forces trying to dismantle us. Let’s work together in the areas where we can and accept our differences in the others.

Just because you’re a polytheist doesn’t mean you’re not a pagan. And shame on the people who are trying to force that into happening. You don’t have the right to tell other people how to relate to the Divine. You are not the one who dictates their experiences and gnosis. Just like we all have bodily autonomy and your rights to dictate what happens to another human being ends at the tip of your nose, we have spiritual autonomy and you should damn well respect that. In the end, it all boils down to respecting each other. Let mutual respect be our watchword and our collective practice. We’ve got too many other things to fight to waste our time fighting each other.

* I am using the term pagan as an all inclusive term as defined above. I am aware of the origins of the term and much of the politics surrounding it. Please kindly recognize that my use of pagan is in the way I have defined it above. I may, if there is interest, unpack some of the baggage around the term pagan at a later date in the future.

Originally Published: 1/17/16

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