Posts Tagged ‘Reconstructionist Polytheism’

Wicca-derived modern neopagan slang terms like “newbie” and “getting thwapped” have absolutely no place in even moderately reconstructionist pagan religions.

“Newbie” is a term implying resentment towards beginners. It’s appropriate in something like online gaming, where beginners can be annoying and in the way. Whether or not it’s appropriate in Wicca or other witchcraft practice is none of my business, since I’m not a Wiccan or any other kind of witch. But in [recon] polytheist faiths, that kind of attitude towards new believers makes no sense whatsoever. We should be embracing, welcoming, and guiding new believers, not resenting them and being annoyed at them. Why on earth would we want to discourage people from coming back around to the gods of their ancestors? Sure, just like new believers in any faith, their (our) heads are probably full of leftover ideas from wherever they came from, but the response there should be gentle (or firm, as the case may be) correction, not personal resentment. Direct your ire toward the religion(s) that gave them unhelpful ideas, not toward them for having them. New believers are not in the way; they are an essential part of a living, thriving faith community.

“Being thwapped” is a flippant and disrespectful term for a powerful and sacred revelatory mystical experience. It stems from an casual attitude towards the gods that is born from neopagan beliefs about the nature of divinity that have no place in a truly polytheistic (or any kind of true theistic) faith. But even if you believe that the gods are mere psychological archetypes, they still are potent and powerful archetypes that should be honored and respected. Being casual about them is dangerously disrespectful, if you believe they actually exist in any real sense.

Between the lore we have from the ancients and analogous modern living polytheist faiths we have plenty of vocabulary–specialized, tested, specific vocabulary that properly expresses what we are trying to say the way we should be saying it. Relying on modern neopagan slang to define our spiritual lives essentially allows modern neopaganism to set the terms, and it undermines many of the core concepts of our faiths.

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In short, the problem with eclecticism is that it seems just too dang unprincipled to be viable.

I have written before about how I get to feel claustrophobic with boxed religion.  Although I was specifically talking about religions that present the whole package–theology, practice, etcetera–in one neatly-defined package with firm orthodoxy-borders all the way around it so that everything in the box is prescribed and everything outside the box is proscribed, I feel similarly about conceptual boxes on a smaller scale.  This is part of why I can’t go with a reconstructionist religion like Hellenismos or Asátrú.  Even having experienced intense mystical contact with gods from Greek mythology, a single flavor of paganism is just not sufficiently spiritually fulfilling.

The thing is, although I see the value in picking one direction and sticking with it, I genuinely feel spiritually moved by the Celtic and the Norse as well as the Greco-Roman.  Maybe it’s a heritage thing; my ancestors were Celts, Teutons, and Vikings, and my cultural ancestors are the Greeks and Romans.  I am a fusion of multiple strands of paganism, so it is only natural that I should feel some attachment to each of them.  And again, while I can see that there could be personal benefit in picking just one, I don’t think I am capable of doing that.  My connection to these three (at least) mythical-cultural traditions is not one that allows for picking and choosing.  It is sufficiently strong so that I would feel that I was denying a part of myself if I left one of them behind.

(Interesting: three traditions.  Possible Druidic significance?)

In short, while I acknowledge the probable spiritual benefits gained by embracing one tradition exclusively, it is vastly outweighed by the sense of deep personal spiritual connection that I feel to each of these three: they touch my heart, mind, and soul in a deep and primal way.  It’s basic economics of the soul, really: what I stand to gain by specializing  is worth less to me than what I stand to lose by specializing, so I choose not to specialize.

On the other hand, I look down on eclecticism.  I think of it as unprincipled, ridiculous.  If you can have three different mythic traditions, why not four?  Why not ten?  Why not all?  Why not just take whatever you want from whatever tradition you want?

The questions actually aren’t completely rhetorical.  I think it’s worth asking whether picking and choosing is a big deal, especially given that we’re going to pick and choose to a certain extent no matter what.  In the end, though their reasons may be subtle and complicated, everyone is going to choose the religious expression that most suits them.  I’m not Muslim after all, because on some level and for whatever reason, Islam does not suit me.  If not for some permutation of personal preference then we would have a much harder time picking a religion.  What metric would we use to decide what we believe, even if we stayed in the religious tradition we were born into?

But at the same time, I think that the idea of submission is incredibly important to religion.  One of the most religious utterances ever made is “not my will but thine be done.”  The ultimate spiritual experience is mystical union with the divine, where the self is swallowed up into somehting greater.  Self-denial, putting aside your own special narcisissm in favor of something greater and higher, is at the heart of religion and real spirituality.

If you’re just ordering whatever you want from the menu and cobbling together a religious gumbo from whatever concepts, practices, and gods suit your fancy, then you are really not worshipping a Deity at all, but in a twisted way you are actually worshipping yourself.  Real gods demand that we grow and change in order to worship and experience them.  Real religion has to be fundamentally transformative; otherwise it’s just a sociocultural phenomenon that serves no individual spiritual purpose.  And in order to be transformative, religion has to be demanding.  On a certain level, God is undamentally alien to humans, and in order to experience God, humans have to be willing to bend and be shaped to be able to meet God partway.  If you’re assembling some kind of a FrankenGod from a pile of divine characteristics, then all you have is an imaginary god born of individual fancy.  Your own fancy.  That’s what you are worshipping.

So how to reconcile this with the undeniable fact that people pick and choose when it comes to religion, and with my personal spiritual connection to multiple strands of paganism?  I don’t really know, but I feel like there’s a line between the extremes that can be walked.  If we recognize and embrace the tension between these competing religious metavalues or realities or whatever, then maybe there’s a way to navigate them and even benefit from them without being torn apart or thrown one way or the other.

Incidentally, Tony Lamb has a good post on the topic at the Association of Polytheist Traditions.

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Or, other ways of explaining the experiences I have had…

So, having personally experienced the presence of two separate divine figures–Dionysus and Aphrodite–I immediately assumed that the next step was Hellenistic Reconstructionist Polytheism.  Simply put, it didn’t work.  I have an intuition about where to go from here, but I am still assuming some kind of variation of ful polytheism, that (probably, I guess, more-or-less) multiple distinct gods exist and can interact with human beings.  But that is not the only possible explanation–there are others.

Before Aphrodite came on the scene, I realized that in many ways the story of Dionysus has stong parallels to the story of Jesus.  I recognized the possibility that I was getting at Jesus through Dionysus somehow, that Dionysus was a pagan step on the path to Jesus Christ.  This would definitely be consistent with C. S. Lewis’s assertion that you have to learn to be a good pagan before you can learn to be a good Christian.  Even with Aphrodite in the mix, this isn’t out of the question–Aphrodite, a divine female figure, could easily be a shadow of Mary or of the Mormon Heavenly Mother.  I’m not sure what to make of all of this, though.  My intuition says that my experiences with Aphrodite have been too… much like Aphrodite, too sexual and too warlike, to seem like a plausible aspect of a Christian divine female.  In any case, I think that if my paganism is a step on the road to ultimate conversion to Christianity, it’s more of a wait-and-see thing than a suddenly-realize-it-was-Jesus thing.  I’m not closed ot the possibility that I’m really talking about Jesus after all, but I’m also not really convinced.

Another thing I am acutely aware of is the fact that I really haven’t strongly experienced the reality of more than two deities–Dionysus and Aphrodite.  I could certainly be dealing with a male/female dualism, which is a hallmark of Wicca’s fertility religion, and probably some other variations of paganism aswell.  Even to the extent that I have intuition about other deities–Hera, Zeus, and Odin–I might simply be talking about various masks or manifestations of an ultimare divine male principle and an ultimate divine female principle.  I am also open to this interpretation.  Although my immediate reaction is to reject it, I realize that the rejection might be a knee-jerk product of my long-standing prejudice against Wicca and my age-old belief (really a product of Mormonism) that only Reconstructionist paganism–marked by decidedly hard polytheism–is valid and legitimate.  And furthermore, I don’t necessarily believe in magic (hmm… future post?  you can count on it), or feel any desire to practice any kind of magic as a part of my spiritual life.

At the moment, those seem like the most significant and plausible alternate hypotheses.  On the other hand, my spiritual life is still growing and developing in its infancy, and so whether my hard/soft polytheism or one of these alternates hapens to be true may not ultimately wind up mattering.  For now I am going to act the same way towards the gods regadless of what they really are and how they relate to each other.  Most important to me right now in terms of my spiritual development is how I experience them and how they relate to me.

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