In one of my classes we’ve been talking about soteriology and someone asked me what polytheists did for salvation. The question brought me up short. Leaving aside the question of what precisely was meant by ‘salvation,’ in this context, I had to step back and think about how we order our metaphysics and where precisely we place them, because the question of salvation is a metaphysical one. That being said, where we position this thing called ‘metaphysics’ (and, I suspect, ethics too for that matter) differs greatly from the monotheistic perspective. We’re just so inculcated with the latter when the subject of metaphysics arises that I don’t think many of us think about how our own traditions may differ. They do, though, and in ways that I consider significant.

In answering my fellow student, I parsed it out as follows: it falls into a three-fold equation with philosophy providing the space for the development of the human being, how to exist in society (and hopefully make that society better), and to some degree ethics, (though Neoplatonists skew the equation a bit: there are elements of mystery cultusthere at certain points, at least I think so),  religion provides protocols for engaging with the Holy, and then soteriological questions and metaphysics are handled by various mystery cultus (which may or may not involve savior Deities — Dionysos for instance comes immediately to mind with Bacchic rites).

All of this means that when someone asks what polytheists do about ‘salvation,’ the only accurate answer that I can think of at the moment is, “depends on the polytheist” and “depends on what you mean by salvation.”

We have dozens, maybe thousands of myths that A) teach us something about the individual Gods and Their natures and B) teach us important lessons about how to be better humans and in some cases C) teach us how to be better humans in relation to our Gods. We also have many theories about what is going to happen to us after we die but to live solely to secure one’s place in the afterlife is, to my mind, missing the point. I know what our religions teach about the afterlife and I know what I personally believe about it (I think there are options depending on the Gods we venerate). I don’t think there is some petrified, unchanging “paradise.”  To live solely for the “prize” of salvation is to ignore the lessons our very corporeality has to teach. We shouldn’t need the implicit threat of absence of salvation to make us decent human beings. I’m not saying that there aren’t polytheistic soteriologies – there absolutely are, but I can’t help but wonder if they don’t function just…differently than say Christianity.  

When I venerate Odin or Mani or Apollo or Hermes, or Sigyn or any of the Deities that form part of my spiritual cadre, I do so first and foremost because I both love Them dearly and secondly because I am so grateful for all the palpable blessings They’ve poured into my hands.  I also believe that as a polytheist, this is right action, it is what I should be doing as a responsible adult. I hope that after death I will be reunited with my ancestors and brought into my Gods – to Them and ever in service—but even were that not to happen, it would not change one iota of how I conduct myself here and now. Perhaps it is a stoic thing: we cannot control what happens after we die, nor truly know but we can absolutely control what we do and how we behave while alive and it is that, those choices, that I believe I shall have to answer for to my Gods and my dead when I pass on. Nor do I think that is a bad thing. It is how we grow. It is how we learn and I do not believe that our Gods are uninterested in our soul’s evolution.

 So, there is some theology for y’all today. I am still feeling my way along these topical lines. I love being forced to think about these things. It’s easy for me to go throughout my day without ever having to consider the metaphysics of our polytheisms – I just want to love Them and pour out offerings. I think it’s important for our theological growth as traditions that we do consider these things, argue about them, discuss them, and keep doing that over and over again though. I would, therefore, welcome my readers’ thoughts as I now wrap up and head to class.

Apollo at st regis

^a cool mural of Apollo that I saw yesterday.

About ganglerisgrove

Galina Krasskova has been a Heathen priest since 1995. She holds a Masters in Religious Studies (2009), a Masters in Medieval Studies (2019), has done extensive graduate work in Classics including teaching Latin, Roman History, and Greek and Roman Literature for the better part of a decade, and is currently pursuing a PhD in Theology. She is the managing editor of Walking the Worlds journal and has written over thirty books on Heathenry and Polytheism including "A Modern Guide to Heathenry" and "He is Frenzy: Collected Writings about Odin." In addition to her religious work, she is an accomplished artist who has shown all over the world and she currently runs a prayer card project available at

Posted on October 7, 2019, in Lived Polytheism, Polytheism, theology, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. I agree with most of what you’ve said here, and differ on some points only in how I might express them…

    What I would add to the question, though, is the Classical Greek and Roman understandings of these terms, since that is where they came from in the first place. Various Deities were given the epithet of Soter or Soteira in Hellenic contexts, and likewise various humans were given these titles as well because they did things that improved the lives and well-being of the communities that honored them with such dedications. A Roman general who won a victory defending parts of Greece might be called “Soter,” as would likewise a rich Senator who funded an aqueduct for a particular town to have access to good water. Given this dimension, the corporeal and the physical becomes all the more important, as you’ve outlined above, and to be “saved” (or to have, in Latin, salus, “health/vitality,” etc.) thus means that one’s life here and now is made better by someone or something which “saves,” which is often a Deity. Having Dionysos’ salvation, therefore, would indicate a particular appreciation of the individual for how the Deity has made their life better on the earth, and that even would apply in most cases to the various Savior Deities of the Mystery Religions, since the lives of Mystai would be made better in so many ways by whatever was offered to them by the Deities of those traditions.

    So, yes, all of what you said! 😉

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  2. This reminds me of a story about a conversation between a Spartan king and an initiate of the mysteries.

    I’m forgetting some details but essentially this king asked a guy what good being initiated does if you end up looking terrible afterwards (the initiate was covered in ash and he had tear lines coming down his face from what no doubt was probably an emotionally intense ritual). The initiate told him of how initiates are blessed with an immortal afterlife full of ecstasy. Dubious of this, the king then asked why the initiate didn’t just kill himself so he could go to that blessed afterlife. The two then had this dialogue:

    Initiate: Tell me, sire, would you go to a feast consisting of only olives?

    King: No. That’s a poor feast even by Spartan standards.

    Initiate: Exactly! I do not go to blessedness because I am not done with this world’s pleasures!

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  3. You may be interested in what’s going on in Hermias: On Plato Phaedrus 227A-245E because I found that very profound, but then again, it’s highly likely that my experience of reading it was extremely subjective since one of the sections gave me a religious experience.

    I think the definition of “salvation” really matters before anything else can be asked. Barring missionaries, who are really just aiming for a gotcha, I think that people are often asking about purification and/or how someone can have a confident worldview/perspective/foundation.

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  4. Very interesting thoughts indeed! Let me tell you that one of the questions that I get whenever I say that I am a polytheist is about salvation. I live in Argentina, a country where most everyone is catholic or some kind of christian or monotheist and they do not practice their faith. They are always baffled when I answer something very similar to your ” I just want to love my Gods and pour out offerings for Them”. The answer is like: “Eh? What?” with a notorious disoriented look. Most of these people believe that they are entitled to “salvation” (whatever that means for them) and it doesn´t matter if they sell drugs or do terrible things, some of them think they have already been “saved” by just being part of the monotheist club because their God just pardons them everything. Not all of monotheists are like this, but you may have heard of pedophile priests that claim their god is a merciful one and forgives all sins so everyone should forgive and forget what they did cause if you don´t you are the one with a tough heart and if God forgives why should humans not forgive? Ughh all the hubris implicit in this just makes me nauseous.
    Please Galina tell me where did you get that picture of Apollo? If I ever go to NY I will try to visit that place! He was portrayed stunning as He Is. Lovely!

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  5. I always regarded salvation in terms of Monotheism. The belief that we live in a fallen world and we have original sin seems to be the basis for Christian ideas of salvation.

    Babylonians did have sin and personal Gods, but they were not thinking in terms of being born sinful. It was more of conduct towards the Gods and to the communities. However, much of what is interpreted about Mesopotamia is unfortunately in terms of Monotheism.

    For me, we live in a world of the Divine and we are co-partners in that world.

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  6. Edward P. Butler

    I think that Aedicula Antinoi makes a good point above in speaking of the broader sense which “savior” had in ancient usage as compared to Christian usage. Hellenic polytheists also of course use the term “savior” in the strictly theological sense which was to become normative for Christians—or at least in a roughly congruent sense. Dionysos is thus a “savior” in pretty much exactly the fashion that Christ will be. But even in religious contexts, polytheists also use the terminology for Gods who “rescue” one from purely physical danger. I think that pagan philosophical discourse helped to foster a narrower sense of the term, through its intense and ongoing inquiry into what we ought to regard as good and as best for the soul. This leads to more “secular” senses of σώζειν being somewhat downgraded, at least for the philosophically minded, and this in turn plays a role in the narrower sense in which Christians use the term—in addition, naturally, to the fact that Christians recognize only one “savior”!


  7. viduraawakened

    I don’t know about salvation, but I do know that the Atman simply is reborn in a new body after death, just like a person changes his/her clothes. That is what the Bhagavad-Gita as well as the Katha Upanishad say.
    One interesting thing to ponder over is the idea of spiritual evolution that was pointed out by Sri Aurobindo. I cannot explain it very well, but I would recommend anybody interested in it to read Sri Aurobindo’s ‘Essays on the Gita’. Also, another MUST READ for all polytheists is the book ‘The Word as Revelation: Names of God’ by Ram Swarup.

    BTW, Happy Dussehra/Vijayadashmi to all polytheists here. May the Divine Mother grace all our lives and guide us through thick and thin.

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    • Edward P. Butler

      Talk about “soteriology” in the narrower sense (see my comment above) corresponds generally to discourse about moksha in Hindu thought. In the broader sense, of course, it can have the sense of deliverance from any mortal danger or less desirable outcome. In strains of Hellenic polytheism that believe in reincarnation, reincarnation in and of itself would not fall under the terminology of “salvation”. The latter would apply to beatitude after death, perhaps with release from reincarnation at least for a time, or to a favorable reincarnation after redemption, as in the Pindar fragment quoted by Plato at Meno 81b: “For from whomsoever Persephone shall accept requital for ancient wrong, the souls of these she restores in the ninth year to the upper sun again; from them arise glorious kings and men of splendid might and surpassing wisdom, and for all remaining time are they called holy heroes amongst mankind.”

      I second the recommendation of Sri Aurobindo’s work. I have found everything of his I have read to be valuable, especially Secret of the Veda.


  8. Salvation from what? Salvation requires something to be saved from. That would be my response. The Christian idea of salvation is ultimately an assurance of safety from their own god. They believe what they are told to so that they don’t get punished. I have never met a heathen or polytheist that believes that the gods are out to torture everyone by default unless we believe some particular doctrine. Nor do I know any that consider the world some kind of prison that we need to escape so we can merge into the pleroma, or something like that.


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