We Polytheists Are the Biggest Threat to Polytheism

Why is it that no matter what we do, the Gods are never given Their due?

I was so excited after the PLC at how many new connections had been formed and how vibrant our communities seemed. I thought, finally we can work together to further the restoration of our traditions, the restoration of cultus, the veneration of our Gods, the mutual strengthening of our communities. It seemed a milestone, something from which we could build upon and I was hopeful. Now, not so much. Now I pretty much just want to throw up my hands.

I’ve been really disturbed lately with certain trends I see in the polytheist communities and it’s taken me over a month to really parse out why. I mean, I support a great deal of the social activism that I see going on within our various communities. I think our commitment to our traditions and our Gods should spur us to speak up and oppose injustice. Yet more and more, as the polytheist communities turn into political, activist, or social justice communities I find myself agitated. It finally dawned on me tonight why.

Social activism is a good and necessary thing. I think we should be calling out injustice when we see it. I think we should be fighting to make changes in our world. These are necessary things because we are part of a human community that is slowly being bled dry, that is being oppressed on so many levels that it boggles the mind. I think we have an obligation to fight for change. That work is not devotion and that work is not religion. That work is part of being an engaged human being.

What I see now is all of that good and necessary work being put in place of devotion, cultus, and *religion*. Politics is not religion. (And don’t even get me started on how poorly our community deals with co-religionists who do not happen to have radical politics. Since when was a political litmus test part and parcel of being a polytheist? You know what IS part and parcel of being polytheist? Actually venerating the Gods).

I think we are very, very good at putting anything in place of devotion and calling it devotion. We’re good at putting any human thing first in our hearts and minds and calling it religion yet every time we are given a chance to prioritize the Gods and Their veneration, we default to finding some human cause to deify, to put *in place* of our devotion. It’s the ‘in place of’ part that sickens me to my soul. Any social justice work that I do flows from my polytheism; my polytheism does not flow from my social justice work.

Is it too much to ask that we stop trying to model our religions on Protestant Christianity (the type of secular Protestantism so common in the US that seems to mistake commitment to their favorite cause for actual faith) and instead do the work of devotion, not instead of community activism, but with the acknowledgment that they are two very distinct things? Devotion and cultus constantly get the short end of the stick and I do not in any way like what polytheism is becoming because of it.

Am I saying don’t engage in social justice work? Hell no. Engage. Engage fiercely. Allow the Gods to nourish you in this work; but don’t mistake it for devotion. It isn’t. Don’t mistake it for “building polytheism”. It’s not that either, however good and necessary it may in fact be.

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Posted on May 1, 2015, in community, Polytheism and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 19 Comments.

  1. Are you saying that working for social causes can never be devotion? I do not do anything public but I do see some of what I do privately as devotion to and honoring Freya.

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  2. I think what’s being said is that community service or social justice work is not a stand in for the ritual and devotional practice that are required to be in good relationship with ones deities. For example, a Catholic volunteering at a food kitchen may see her service there as being in the spirit of what Christ wants his devotees to do, but it’s not a replacement for going to Mass, receiving the sacraments, adhering to the doctrine of the church, which are required to be a part of the catholic church and maintains the relationship between the person and God/ Jesus/Saints etc.

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    • This is a great description of it…and I think makes sense of why activism is not devotion or a replacement for it.

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  3. Ah, well I agree with that. I do both and have an altar and offerings for her frequently.

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  4. Virginia carper

    Also participating in certain social justice or political causes should not be a requirement to be a polytheist. Nor should it be expected that all polytheists are Progressive or should be in order to participate in the faith. In some Protestant sects, that is how people engage with their God.

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  5. ganglerisgrove

    I think that politics needs to respect the place of religion and the moment we mix up the two, we run the risk of becoming no different than Christian fundamentalists. Moreover, the Gods are always getting side lined. Let’s have devotion, that nourishes our traditions, and moreover nourishes us in our work, hand in hand with our activism. Devotion and spur all of these things, but devotion and cultus are their own things. Polytheism is not a social justice movement nor a political movement. Some people are pushed into activism by their committment to their Gods. It’s part of their work. It’s part of their service. It does not take the place however, of prayer and ritual and offerings and piety. Apples and Oranges. I’m parsing out a nuance here that I think is getting lost in community discourse.

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  6. ganglerisgrove

    This conversation is continuing on FB and Anomalous Thracian made a very good point that I want to paraphrase here. It is important to promote, protect, and to make space for religion. this is not to say that social justice work isn’t important: it is. But these are two different things, even when one’s social justice work is devotionally motivated. It really saddens me to see polytheism still having to fight for its own space, even amongst its own.

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    • I really feel this…I’ve told others who have tried to pressure me into accepting abusers with the reasoning that ‘the gods accept them’ that I frankly don’t care. If they honestly believe that, they can build their own community elsewhere. And it’s because my activism and social justice is influenced by my humanity, my experiences with humanity, my lived experiences and witnessing those of others. If it was tied up with my gods, whenever someone came calling saying ‘well the gods say THIS’ then it’d just lead to a bunch of difficult, ultimately useless arguments…

      Which isn’t to say that being lead to do activism by one’s gods is bad, but I’ve seen *consistently* the claim that one is not a polytheist if one is not (insert certain political or economic or other stance). It bothers me. It bothers me deeply. It focuses polytheism away from the gods. And it also ignores *the variety of gods* that we’re supposedly giving a shit about, if we’re polytheists. The narrowness of when we begin conflating worship with politics or activism…I don’t like it. If one’s personal path means that one is lead to activism, excellent. But that doesn’t mean others who aren’t are doing it wrong.

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  7. I think entropy and hysteresis are at work here impeding the change that’s going to come if we all just keep working on it. That’s why it’s so important for people like you and Anomalous Thracian to call out when Polytheist appear to be back sliding. It’s the pull of old habits and lack of role models and a dis-continuous practice and heritage. It’s Nidhogg gnawing on the World Tree. The Norns just pick up their bucket of white clay/slip and re-vitalize the roots one more time. As the song goes…change is gonna come… (ref. Sam Cook song from the ’60s)

    (Please forgive the rambling, it’s Sinus Headache Season on the Texas Gulf Coast and my OTC meds are timing out.)

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  8. Very important points! This is a serious problem among UUs- social justice is important to us, but for some people it ends up replacing the religion. Polytheism is very out of place there too. There are certain *values* that are important to me, that find expression in both my religion & politics- but they can be expressed in different ways- I can agree with a co-religionist that we need to oppose racism & make sure poor people have opportunities for jobs/housing/healthcare, but we might disagree on what specific policies that entails. There is a certain *vibe* I find from other activists who have a spiritual base they are drawing from that I do not feel in my atheist/secular colleagues. They also seem to forget the word social justice comes out of religious- particular Catholic tradition. I don’t they should be using the term if they can only express contempt for religion! My spirituality is also very culturally based, and sometimes I feel a bond with others who share in Irish and other European folk culture (regardless of their religion) and with people from other cultural backgrounds, that strongly identify with them. There are things I can’t explain to people who just float around rootless in American culture…

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  9. What I am seeing is that people start out talking, writing, blogging about, engaging with the gods. Excellent! Very good! But eventually they drift away from that–only from my perspective, they don’t so much drift into activism or politics specifically. Rather, they drift into writing what will get, keep, please, increase their audience, their hits and comment count, their influence, their reputation. Is your writing, or activism, or whatever, done in service to the gods? In service to the community, to other people? (Also good, in my opinion.) Or in the service of your own ego, to aggrandize yourself?

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  10. This is a real challenge for Quakers, because one is act in accordance with spirit. In practice some Friends are mystics and others, activists. The most difficult path is one of activism which is driven by devotion, because fervor for the cause can make it harder to discern what comes from one’s own passion, and what is from the gods.

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  11. One is EXPECTED TO act in accordance…how did I miss two whole words?

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  12. I am rather glad that I haven’t seen these conversations, apparently…probably because I’m not of BaceFook. Are people actually making the claim that folks aren’t *real polytheists* and such if they’re not activists in whatever their preferred social justice cause is?

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    • It is coming several veins. One is the Gods and Radicals web portal that on seems to promote some of that idea. The other is plain old Paganism that assumes that all Pagans are Progressives and are active in saving the earth, etc. And then there are certain Heathens who are promoting White Power, etc. As everyone knows, these are only subsets of the whole, but they get the biggest play. However, it makes for a toxic brew.

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      • I’ve read most of what is on Gods & Radicals, and I have never seen anyone writing things there which suggest “if you’re not doing [anti-capitalism &c.], you’re not a real polytheist.” Granted, Gods & Radicals is a site that isn’t just contributed to by polytheists; and, it’s a very subject-specific site, so it isn’t where one would expect there to be a lot of devotional writing or discussion of devotional practices. So, unless I’m missing something, it’s rather an over-reading to state that the simple existence of that site is making these kind of statements.

        The issue of “white power heathens” is something I don’ think even needs to be addressed to understand that what they’re doing is wrong and ridiculous.

        As for other pagans? Yes, many of them (e.g. Starhonk) have been doing the thing for years of mistaking a protest march for a ritual, and getting arrested for blocking a forest being cut down for worshipping a Goddess (usually a monistic notion of one). But, again, that isn’t polytheists specifically.

        So, I’m still a bit confused on this matter. What am I not seeing?

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    • It is because you’re not on FB, mainly. Sometimes it is implied digs at other polytheists – complaints about how we need to ‘get off the computer and do [x y z thing]’ to ‘really’ understand the gods, f’ex, which bother me as they treat all gods as though they can be reached through the same actions, or crowing about how someone spends so much time doing all these Great Things for their gods and spirits while taking swipes at people who aren’t doing those same things – and other times it’s more blatant…like saying ‘i can’t *understand*/*believe* someone is a pagan if they aren’t [x]’. There have also been statements by a variety of people that if one is not an activist they aren’t doing their religion right, or they aren’t paying attention (which then leads to the painful extension of the word ‘activist’ as people rightly point out that not everyone can be an activist and the people making the statement backpedal). There’s also the issue that many snide comments about those Different Polytheists add up to the message that someone is not an Actual Polytheist unless they agree with, well, whoever is making those snide statements.

      A lot of what I see is ‘how can you call yourself a polytheist if you don’t [do this thing]’ which is, you know, not good. At all.

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      • Ah, I see.

        I have to reiterate: yet again, I’m glad I’m not on BaceFook. 😦

        I wonder if there isn’t something to be learned from queer inter-communal politics in all this: it’s really gauche (at least for those who are approaching these things sensibly) to suggest that someone else is either “too queer” or “not queer enough.”

        If we really are doing our own things, and are called to our own relationships with and service to our various deities and other divine beings, then is it a good idea to be suggesting anyone is “doing it wrong” without having direct personal insight into what those relationships are for others? And this would go both ways, I think: the political activists who think the devotional polytheists don’t do enough, and the devotees who don’t think the politicos are devoted enough…both need to consider how diversity of approach allows us as an entire movement to have lots of ground covered, rather than being specialists to the point of obsolescence and complete myopia…

        …Which is pretty much the exact situation medieval Christians had with each other, and the active/Martha vs. contemplative/Mary dichotomy and which one their gods liked better.

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