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Polytheistic Voices: Interview with Kenaz Filan

kenaz portraitI’ve known Kenaz for years so it was a pleasure doing this interview recently for this series. Like me, Kenaz straddles the line between two polytheistic traditions: Voudoun and the Northern Tradition. The Gods do send us down some interesting roads. He’s written several books including “The Power of the Poppy,” and (with Raven Kaldera) “Dealing with Deities,” and “Drawing Down the Spirits.” Thank you, Kenaz for agreeing to participate in this interview.

GK: Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you come to polytheism?

Kenaz: I was interested in magic and the occult for as long as I can remember. From my early 20s onward I was involved in Ceremonial Magic and Neopaganism. Because I have also long felt an affinity for darker Cthonic energies I became involved in Satanism and Goetia. Had I been born 30 years earlier I’d be what the kids today call an “Edgelord.” I found Chaos Magic thought-provoking at times and loved the intellectual aesthetic of Ceremonial Magic – but I never felt comfortable reducing the Gods to thought-forms, archetypes or things that only existed between my ears. I always knew there was Something Else there and that They were worthy of worship. I also never bought into the idea of a Golden Age when the Gods walked among us. I felt like They were as present now as They were 10,000 years ago and that They still had an interest in us: They did not cease to exist when we stopped worshipping them any more than a rock disappears when you turn your head.

While I have always felt compassion for the poor and disempowered I have never been particularly egalitarian. An important part of our American psyche is that all men are created equal before the law. There has been considerable debate about what that means. For me it means whatever your social class or lifestyle choices all citizens should be given a chance to achieve to the best of their abilities; that all accused of a crime deserved a fair trial before an impartial jury; that all should be treated with respect and courtesy until they prove undeserving of same. (I understand that we rarely live up to these tenets, but that reflects more poorly on us than them). But I also understood that people were not equal. Strength, intelligence, skill, passion, piety – these things were not evenly distributed among humanity. Neither did I have a problem that there were some people who were Called (had a Vocation in the language of my Roman Catholic youth) to the Priesthood while others served the Divine by living their lives honorably and doing your duty to your family, your community and your Gods.

In 1994 I had a psychotic break that left me homeless on the streets of Manhattan for several months. During that time I made contact with a spirit that called Himself “Legba” and who told me, among other things, that I would become a Vodou initiate. At the time I thought this impossible: in March 2003 I was initiated as Houngan Coquille du Mer in Societe la Belle Venus #2 of Brooklyn, New York by Mambo Azan Taye (Edeline St-Amand) and Houngan Si Gan Temps (Hugue Pierre). Since then I have continued to serve the lwa and much of what I have learned in Vodou has influenced my way of dealing with my ancestral Gods. Then, in 2004 Loki showed up and, unsurprisingly, things got very … interesting.

One of the defining moments in the modern Polytheistic revival was Kenny Klein’s arrest on child pornography charges. The Pagan community’s response to that left me – and just about everybody else in the community who identified as a Polytheist – furious and disgusted. I realized then that contemporary Neopaganism’s atheism and relativism were fatal flaws which have real world consequences. I ceased to identify in any way as part of the Neopagan community and began calling myself a Polytheist – and many other Polytheists did the same thing. Today’s Polytheism shares very little with modern Neopaganism: we certainly don’t share our Gods. I’d say we have become a different religious tradition but it’s more accurate to say that we have become a religious tradition since what they are doing owes more to psychotherapy than theology.

GK: You’ve been a staunch defender of Loki over the years (something that I particularly appreciate). Can you tell me a little bit about your devotional relationship with HIm?

Kenaz: My first experience with Loki started as a meditation on Freyja as I attempted Seidhr: instead of finding myself in the presence of Freyja I found myself in the cave. Since that time Loki has been a constant presence in my life. I followed His instructions when he told me to live for several years as a woman. I believed Him when He told me that I would have a child even though the hormones should have rendered that impossible. And in return Loki has brought nothing but blessings into my life, including the greatest gift of all – my daughter, Annamaria Sigyn Estelle Filan. I am eternally in His debt: speaking up on His behalf when he is wronged is the least I can do to acknowledge all He has done for me.

Most Loki-detractors make several fundamental errors about the nature of pre-Christian practices in northern Europe. The idea of “Lore” owes more to Protestant sola scriptura than to tradition. It prioritizes the work of Snorri Sturluson, an Icelandic Christian, over the disparate practices of a region which stretched from northern Scandinavia to the banks of the Volga River. It gives the Eddas a Scriptural authority which Sturluson never intended: it also anachronistically applies the Manichean “Good/Evil” axis to traditions which (unlike Christianity) were never touched by Manicheanism or by any other Gnostic tradition. There were certainly evil wights and evil men in the myths of northern Europe. The Gods could be benevolent, hostile or some combination thereof depending on the situation. But there was no idea of an elemental Evil or of an infernal Adversary eternally warring with the Divine and with humanity: Loki was never a “Nordic Satan” any more than Odin became a “Nordic Christ” because he hung on Yggdrasil.

I identify Loki with Lóður and with the force which makes the blood flow and which animates our world. I believe there may also be some cognate between “Lok” and the low German gelücke from whence our word “luck” derives. I don’t think it is a huge stretch to identify Loki with a generally benevolent but unpredictable bringer of blessings and good fortune. And given how Loki appears in almost every story preserved in the Eddas, I think He was a major God within the traditions of northern Europe. I also think His binding is one of the major myths of our Lokean tradition. His long agony on the rock and the eternal fidelity of His wife Sigyn are powerful if painful foci for meditation and contemplation. And while it sometimes seems that for every step forward we take a dozen steps back into Lokiswives of Tumblr, I am confident that we are seeing the birth of a Loki cultus which will survive and thrive long after we are gone.

GK: Late 2016 you started the rather controversial website polytheism uncucked. What prompted that? What is it’s focus? What do you intend /hope to accomplish here?

Kenaz: Polytheism Uncucked started out with tongue firmly in cheek. After Rhyd Wildemuth declared that Paganism was under attack from the shadowy forces of the Alternative Right, I figured I might as well be the devil they claimed me to be. But as I continued studying I began to understand that I am the product of European culture and a child of the European Diaspora. I realized that to honor the Gods of Europe I needed to protect my ancestral European homeland and my European brothers and sisters. And so I began talking about impolite topics like the Islamization of Europe and the plight of poor White America. I began speaking out against AntiFa thuggery and pointing out the deleterious effects of Postmodernism and Cultural Marxism on our art, culture and interpersonal relationships. Which means, at least to some people, that I became the worst sort of racist. (Insert pearl-clutching here).

Parenthood also played a major role in my “Dark Enlightenment,” “Redpilling,” or political development as you prefer. We live in a working -class area of Newark where we are an ethnic minority. We have never experienced any problems and our Black and Latino neighbors have never been anything but kind and helpful. But when they look at us they see White people: our roots and our culture share many commonalities, but there are also many differences. And so I began wondering what it meant to be White for us and for Annamaria, and realized White was something more than an absence of Color.

Necessity and desire drove our ancestors from their homes: history transformed them into White Americans. We are the European diaspora; we are Europa’s children; we are part of a process that was ancient when the first English settlers landed on Plymouth Rock and part of a people who are committing demographic and literal suicide. Those who came before us may have done great evil but they also did great good. We have lessons to learn from their triumphs as well as from their mistakes. And in any event we have a responsibility to honor our ancestors not because they were good or because they were triumphant but because they are our ancestors.

Vodou, Lukumi and other African Diaspora traditions preserved African religious traditions through the horrors of the Middle Passage and slavery. I believe folkish Heathenry is one means by which we can honor our European Gods and work to preserve our European identity and our European culture. This has nothing to do with disparaging the ancestry of others: it is, rather, about honoring our own. “Woke” Black people and White people have a great deal in common. Both wish to preserve their culture; both place enormous importance in the family and community; both know their people face enormous challenges like poverty, unemployment, violence and despair; both believe the solution to their communities’ problems will only be found within their communities; both believe a spiritual awakening is a necessary precedent to any material improvements. The answers to our problems lie not in eternal conflict and hatred but in mutual respect. “Different” does not have to mean hostile.

GK: Now how do you balance working in two traditions (I do as well): Norse and Voudou?

Kenaz: Vodou is the central pillar of my practice: I use so much of what I learned about approaching the Lwa in my service to Europa’s Gods. My wife (also a Mambo) and I have both had the maryaj lwa: we abstain from sex on Tuesday through Thursday in honor of our divine Spouses (Ezili Freda and Danto for me: Ogou, Damballah and Zaka for her). We have shrines for the Rada, Petwo and Ghede in our home: we have Legba standing at the door to protect us from evil and bring in blessings. I have refrained from writing publicly about Vodou for some time, but that is only because I wanted to make space for Haitians to document their own faith. Right now there are several open Haitian houses were people can be initiated and learn how to serve their lwa: Haitian and Haitian-American artists and academics like Hersza Barjon, Claudine Michel and Patrick Bellegarde-Smith are writing books on the subject. I have 15 years as a Houngan: these people were raised in the culture and have far more to teach than I do. My services in that arena are no longer required: there are better people out there for the task.

By contrast, the contemporary Polytheist movement is in its infancy. We are still building that community and defining what it means to be a Polytheist. (See the ongoing flap about “archetypal Polytheists,” otherwise known as “Neopagans who want to call themselves Polytheists”). I am focusing my attention there for now as I feel that is where it is most needed. There is an enormous hunger for the Gods in our culture, a burning desire for something more meaningful than hollow materialism and blind nihilism. We are a society riddled with impietas: our relationships with our Gods, our communities, our families and ourselves have all gone off the true. The center no longer holds and things are falling apart.

Our only chance is to establish islands of piety amidst the spiritual pollution and to work to right those imbalances – to re-establish what the Romans called pietas. I believe that when we do that we will discover there are many others who are seeking desperately for what only the Gods can give them. Make a fitting place for the Gods and fitting priests who serve Them properly and They will do the rest. That is the public task to which I have set myself: to lead Europa’s children back to Europa’s Gods.

GK: what advice would you give newcomers to polytheism?

Kenaz: The Gods are many, the Gods are real, the Gods are here. Everything else flows from that.

Many people will tell you that you are crazy, that you are delusional, that you are taking this too seriously. This includes many people who claim to be serving the Gods but who are really engaging in psychodrama or in an elaborate live-action roleplaying game. Real piety terrifies them: it implies the Gods they use for window dressing might be real, and might make real demands of them. Their input is less than useless and should be ignored.

This is not a contest. Ordeal workers, horses and Godspouses are neither better Polytheists nor better people simply by their office. The most important task facing every Polytheist is to honor the Gods and to live a life befitting Their worshippers. A sincere prayer offered in gratitude is a greater gift to Them than an agonizing Ordeal performed only to impress the crowd. Ask what the Gods want you to do, then do it. Sigyn assuages Loki’s pain with a battered bowl: your simple life and your humble tools may do greater service for the Gods than you could ever imagine. Live for the Gods and you will live a Godly life.

I have heard many variants of the question “so what does a Spirit-Worker get out of this?” The answer is simple: you get to live your life in the constant and knowing presence of the Gods. There is no greater reward.

GK: What do you consider the most important elements of praxis?

Kenaz: Repetition is very important. The ancient world set its calender by seasons of worship. When you establish a regular cycle of service for your Gods, you create an axis around which your world can revolve. Your “mundane” tasks – I put that in quotes because in Polytheism there are no mundane tasks: every word, deed and thing is infused with the Gods – become part of your ongoing encounter with the Divine. Serve the Gods even when you don’t feel like it, even when you don’t see the point, even when you doubt Their very existence. In time you will internalize this service and it will become second nature to you: you will know Their presence in your heart and in your bones.

GK: There’s an old Russian saying that “repetition is the mother of learning” and I have certainly found that true, most especially in spiritual work.

Kenaz: Cleansing is vital. We live in a society that is full of miasma, where piety is conflated with fanaticism and delusion, where blasphemy is lauded and reverence is scorned. If we don’t cleanse ourselves from that spiritual sewage we will inevitably choke on it. I start and end my day by washing my head, breast, solar plexus, genitals and feet and praying that the Gods may take away that which pollutes me: I would recommend that every Polytheist do something similar. When you start doing this you will become increasingly aware of miasma and be able to either avoid or deal with it as the situation warrants.

Understand that your life is an ongoing prayer. The Christians who ask”What Would Jesus Do?” are onto something. When you live in the constant presence of the Gods you find yourself asking how They might feel about a particular course of action. This is not the “super friends” relationship you see in too much Tumblr spirituality – the kind where Loki is a whacky neighbor and Odin trades off with Dr. Who in telling you about your Important Cosmic Destiny. Rather it is the knowledge that you stand before the Creators and Shapers of Being and the deep understanding of how you should carry yourself before Them. Colored by this understanding, your life and your spiritual practice cannot help but move toward greater piety and balance.

GK: What projects do you currently have in the works?

Kenaz: I continue to work on Polytheism Uncucked and am toying with the idea of writing Europa’s Children: Toward a White American Polytheism. I would like to create a framework whereby Europa’s children can honor Europa’s Gods and recognize their role and responsibility as members of the European Diaspora. I would also like to see an American cultus which would allow Americans of all faiths, ethnicities and political leanings to honor the American spirit and America’s gods in the same way citizens of the Roman Empire venerated the Gods of Rome and the Roman government. And I continue in the most important project of all – raising Annamaria to be a happy and healthy child and teaching her to serve and honor our Gods.

GK: thank you, Kenaz. Folks interested in reading more of Kenaz’s work can check out his two blogs here and here.


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Wyrd Curiosities at Etsy

My page

My amazon author page.

Walking the Worlds Journal

My art blog at Krasskova Creations

My blog about all things strange, weird and medieval.

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Polytheistic Voices: Interview with P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

psvl-at-mgw-editedI have known PSVL for several years now and have consistently been impressed with eir’s hard work in restoring the cultus of Antinous . E is currently one of the editors of Walking the Worlds journal and has been devoted to the development of the cultus of Antinous for many, many years. E is also a contributing member of Neos Alexandria and a practicing Celtic Reconstructionist Pagan in the traditions of gentlidecht and filidecht, as well as Romano-British, Welsh, and Gaulish Deity devotions, and continues to teach courses in these (and other) subjects to modern polytheists interested in taking them.

PSVL, thank for taking the time to answer my questions. To begin with, for those who may not be familiar with your work, why don’t you introduce yourself.

PSVL: I’m a lot less interesting than the work I am doing, and a lot less important, to be honest. Certainly, what I do is influenced by who I am and what my experiences have been, but one of the things I most detest these days is “making everything personal” and about one’s own peculiarities. This tendency puts the relevance of one’s own work, based on one’s own experiences, in a much lesser category than I think is useful, given that we’re trying to build vital practices that are relevant to a wide range of modern people who are nothing like me (or you, or anyone else who writes about polytheism!) and do not have the same experiences, etc., rather than on the work itself. The barometer for whether or not something might be useful for someone else is not whether my individual characteristics line up with theirs, but instead whether whatever is proposed will work for someone considering it, no matter where they are in their own progression of practice and understanding of these things or what sort of identity they might have and whether or not my own story resonates with theirs.

Not that that’s what you were doing in asking the question, by any means—but, I think it’s an important point to make! I’ve been in too many situations over the last few years in which I’ve been asked to make an appearance on a panel or some event, and I’ve done it understanding I’m there to address a particular (often contentious) subject, but then the moderators or organizers want me to tell “my story” rather than talk about what the topic of the day happened to be. Rather than “putting a human face” on the issues concerned, I find it does the opposite a great deal of the time (often then getting into side matters about my personal identity or life choices that then get focused upon by the audience and resulting in an elision of the main issue), no matter what the intentions those asking might have been. Certainly, my work arises from my experiences and the person I’ve become after having been shaped by those experiences, as is the case with everyone who has ever done any kind of work, particularly spiritually; but, rather than focus on this (which can lead into the excesses of “cult of personality” nonsense, or can set one up as the potential target for an assault of ad hominem arguments that entirely derail the discussion…and sadly, the more appropriate and happy medium between the two is rarely struck!), the validity of the work I’ve done has to stand on its own independent of myself in order to be relevant and effective for others.

I’m reminded of an incident in which I think the Deities got involved over this very sort of question last year. One of my friends, a Seneca/Mohawk animist, always talks about how sometimes he gives lectures or tells stories, and people try to record them, but for some reason the sacred songs, or the most important and powerful bits of the stories, don’t end up showing up on the recording, or the camera breaks or the batteries die, etc. When I went for my appearances on The New Thinking Allowed last year, I wondered if at any point we might stray into territory that the Deities might not like recorded in the course of the interviews, and thus something might go wrong. It did happen, once, in the 2.5 hours of interviews we did (which took more than 4 hours to do!), and it was at the very beginning of the very first interview, when for some reason, during the 4 minutes or so when Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove initially asked me about my name and some of my history. In the final recording there was a loud buzzing sound that made my words inaudible, and it wasn’t until later (when I was no longer there) that they discovered this in post-production, and couldn’t do anything to rectify it. That had never happened to their production team before, and thus I find it pretty interesting that of all the things I said, it was some of the most “personal” stuff that seemed to be blocked by Deities, or the technological failure, or both, with the Deities intervening via that technological failure!

Evasive, aren’t I? 😉

For those who are interested in some particularities of my own biography, feel free to have a look at that part of my website, which is complete with a picture of my ridiculous mug in full regalia.

As for my work, I’m a polytheist that primarily works in a spiritual capacity as a teacher (doctor in Latin) and theologian, but also in a specialist priestly capacity under various rubrics (propheta, sacerdos), and as a poet in the Irish tradition of filidecht. I am, first and foremost, a devotee, and I hope that the work I do is able to assist others in their own devotions to a variety of Deities.

GK: I tend to agree with you. I think there’s way too much focus on us and not enough on the Gods, the traditions and the work. I’ve always thought we should be hollow bones through which the work of the Gods may flow without impediment.

Anyway, to continue, what brought you to polytheism? Everyone always asks me this when they find out I’m a polytheist and I think it’s something that interests a lot of people.

PSVL: Probably what ought to be the thing which brings a lot of people to polytheism: my own experiences did not match, nor have their best meaning and relevance contextually, within the religious traditions in which I was being raised as a teenager. While I had an interest in Egyptian Deities since I was very young—about age three, in fact (and dreams related to them at that young age that I have only been able to fully understand recently)—and then Greek Deities and Arthurian myth from the age of four and five, and then Norse Deities from the age of ten and Celtic Deities from the age of fifteen onwards, it was really at the age of fifteen that I began delving very deeply into polytheism as a viable religious alternative and made some of my furtive first stabs with its practice. I have always had a very active dream life (as in the ones that occur in sleep!), an interest in myth and magic, a draw toward producing art of various sorts, and due to several ongoing health issues, enough near-death experiences and other altered states of consciousness that can accompany these conditions or their treatments to push me in a direction that the Catholicism of my teenage years didn’t make any efforts to address. Thus, I sought my own answers and began asking the further questions these answers lead to, which took me into polytheism. I generally count Samain of 1992 as the “no-going-back” point, and thus, I’ve been doing it for nearly twenty-five years at this point.

GK: Now you have been doing amazing work over the past…how long is it? decades?… in restoring the cultus and tradition of Antinous. Who is He? Can you talk a little bit about His cultus and what people interested in learning more should know?

PSVL: In early June of this year, I’ll have been doing devotional cultus for Antinous for fifteen years (since 2002), so yes, a decade-and-a-half!

Antinous is the deified lover of the Roman Emperor Hadrian (who ruled from August of 117 to July of 138 CE); He was born on November 27th, between the years of 110 and 112 CE, and died on about October 28th, 130 CE. Very little is known of Antinous’ life, other than He came from Bithynia in Asia Minor, was probably of Arcadian (Peloponnesian Greek) ancestry, and…that’s about it. Many people try to say much more about His human life, but aren’t always willing to admit how much of it is conjecture based on almost nothing.

The one event in His life, other than His death, that we can be fairly certain of is a lion hunt He had along with Hadrian probably in the summer of 130 CE west of Alexandria in Egypt; the details of this, however, were mythologized almost immediately, and while the basic story of it is pretty believable and plausible—Antinous wounded but didn’t kill the lion, then was nearly killed by it, but Hadrian swooped in and saved him—almost all else about the story has enthralled poets, hymnodists, and devotees since the time after His apotheosis.

He drowned in the Nile near the city of Hermopolis Magna, and became the heroized eponym of the city of Antinoöpolis, which was founded by Hadrian on October 30th, 130 CE. Part of Egyptian tradition at the time—and over the previous several thousand years—was that anyone who drowned in the Nile achieved instant apotheosis and became syncretized to Osiris (if male) or Isis or certain other Goddesses (if female), though it should also be remembered that essentially all of the “afterlife” and funerary literature of ancient Egypt (and the practices implied by these) aimed toward the apotheosis of the one for whom it was created, whether they were a Pharaoh or a palace manicurist or a flute-player or any ordinary person.

This first syncretism of Antinous to Osiris in Antinoöpolis set the tone for much of the expression of His subsequent cultus in late antiquity, which involved syncretism to a wide variety of Deities and Heroes in a diversity of locations (including, but not limited to, Hermes, Dionysos, Apollon, Pan, Silvanus, Vertumnus, and many others). That cultus spread quickly, and was being celebrated in Herakleia Pontika on the Black Sea coast by the end of 130, less than two months after His death and apotheosis.

It is often said, even by historians that should know better, that Hadrian deified Antinous due to his sorrow over His death, but this isn’t correct: even if Antinous had been some random passerby, or a lowly servant in the imperial entourage who wasn’t the Emperor’s boyfriend, He would have been deified, at least in local Egyptian tradition. (The widespread nature of His eventual cultus, though? That is entirely due to who His boyfriend happened to be!) We have several other examples of drowned-deified individuals who were not especially high-status or connected to high-status personages receiving cultus in Egypt, including during the century of Antinous’ death and deification. Anyone who is interested in this and is near New York City can go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and see the Temple of Dendur, the temple to two Nubian brothers, Petesi and Paher, who drowned, were deified, and were given the temple during the reign of Augustus that has been moved to the museum!

What I think is most important to know for modern polytheists, as well as for the wider world—including academics—is that Antinous is not just some historical curiosity, and some reflection of the interesting sexual practices of the late antique Roman Empire and its ruling classes, nor is He merely a beautiful face and a subject of erotic contemplation for the emerging queer aesthetics of the late 19th century, or anything else that He has been portrayed as for the last century and more. The reason many ancient writers wrote about Him is because His was a legitimate theological phenomenon, and a very real and present religious reality; this is why the Christians wrote about Him disparagingly, because His cult was an alternative to and a rival of their own, and thus they resorted to all sorts of rhetorical tactics to make it as if it was only Hadrian’s “madness” and over-emotionality that brought it about, or that it was nothing but a reflection of the lustful and unnatural desires of the wider non-Christian gentile world…a trend with which, sadly, both supposedly non-sectarian historians as well as some queer-affirming modern pagans have identified and consequently over-emphasized, often to the exclusion of the religious base of our very knowledge that Antinous ever existed. No matter how important or liberating that historical identification and questioning of queerness and matters of sexuality might be, if it misses that Antinous and His memory and legacy were first and foremost a matter of religious reality for the people engaged with His devotion then, and likewise for those people who would do it now, then one is on a much better footing to practice honestly and with the right mindset in place as one begins to experience His presence and influence in one’s own life.

GK: Do you find key differences between an apotheosized (we better define that for our readers) God and a God Who was never human in veneration, approach, mysteries, the nature of their traditions?

PSVL: An apotheosized Deity is a human Who becomes a Deity after Their death. There are many options for humans who die to become more-than-human after their deaths: Greek Hero/ines are in this category, and tend to be distinguished not necessarily by their exemplary virtues in life or even their famed great deeds, but because their manners of death were unusual and required a recognition, or sometimes even an expiation, as a result of their strange circumstances of death. But, sometimes these Hero/ines even become Deities, or surpass the heroic category altogether and simply become Deities, and some even do both. Herakles is regarded as a Hero-God, as are the Dioskouroi (Kastor and Polydeukes, a.k.a. the Gemini twins Castor and Pollux). Ino and her son Melikertes drowned in connection with Dionysos, and while Melikertes became known as Palaimon and was considered both a Hero and a God in turn, Ino became known as Leukothea (literally, “The White Goddess”!), and was only considered a Goddess in cultus thereafter. Many of these cases of apotheosis are from mythic narratives, but some are known to have been historical personages. Deified ruler cults in ancient Egypt, the Roman Empire, and in Japan (amongst other possibilities) are some other examples of this, though these deified rulers often rank a bit “lower” on the divine hierarchy than the Deities Who were never human, or—in the Roman case—slightly lower than Hero/ines, but still well above the general collective of human dead and individual honored Ancestors. A number of indigenous religions of a polytheist or animist theological nature, which existed in the past and are still practiced now, have possibilities for apotheosis for the everyday person. While it can never be said that to become a divine being is “easy” in any of these religious contexts, it happens with much more frequency than one might realize, which always occurs as a shock to those who are used to Christian (and particularly Protestant) theological norms.

To address your question now, as to the differences between apotheosized Deities and Deities Who were never human in various practical matters, and if there are noticeable differences: Yes and No.

To elaborate on the “No” portion first, the cultus and devotional approach, the specifics of Their veneration, and the varieties of relationship that are possible between oneself and an apotheosized Deity are much the same as those to any other Deity—one prays, sings hymns, makes offerings, builds shrines, holds festivals on Their sacred holy days and tides, and so forth—and apart from the particular characteristics of the Deities concerned (and thus the words spoken or sung, the offerings given, the images used, etc.) these activities are phenomenologically indistinguishable between these two classes of Deity. An anthropologist of religion would not be able to tell the activities of a cultist of Zeus or a cultist of Antinous apart on a structural and basic ritual-symbolic level.

As a second matter in which They do not differ from the never-human Deities, I draw on the work of Dr. Edward Butler to make a point that might seem shocking to some people, but this is mainly because the implications of these things have not been considered fully by most people, including polytheists (amongst whom I’ve encountered surprising resistance to even considering Antinous a “valid” Deity on some occasions).

GK: Ah, I once had some fool say the same about Sekhmet. NO Deity is a ‘minor’ Deity, in my opinion.

PSVL: In his work on “Polycentric Polytheism” as reflected in several different pieces of his published writing, Dr. Butler demonstrates that what makes a Deity a Deity is Their ability, more than any other beings in the universe, to embody the idea of “All things are in all things, but in each appropriately” (panta en pasin, oikeiõs de en hekastõi). That every Deity can be “all-in-each” is what sets Them apart from other types of divinized mortals like Hero/ines or Ancestors; it’s why Dionysos can syncretize with Osiris (and Osiris can syncretize with any justified mortal in death!), or Sobek with Ra, or Jupiter with Ba’al of Doliche…but the Hero Achilleus is always just Achilleus, though sometimes others (like Dionysos or Antinous, who are Deities!) can syncretize with him. This characteristic of being a Deity is no different for the apotheosized Deities than it is for the never-human Deities. It’s why, I think, Palaimon is a Deity and not just a Hero (though His fuller exploitation of this characteristic is not especially attested in ancient cultus—He is syncretized with the Roman Portunus, and clearly has sympathies with others, but further examples are not known), and likewise why Antinous is a Deity and not just a Hero. Antinous, like many Deities in late antiquity (e.g. Isis, Mithras, Serapis, Sabazios, etc.) was “super-syncretistic,” and it is not anomalous that such is the case if one accepts the validity of Dr. Butler’s idea on this matter as it relates especially to Deities, as well as the idea of the nameless “Pythagoreans” from whom the ancient doctrine of panta en pasin is derived.

As to the “Yes” portion, there are several things which make devotion to an apotheosized Deity different than devotional situations with never-human Deities. While such apotheosized Deities are not human any longer, at the same time, They have much more understanding of what it is to be and to have been human than other types of Deity, and thus all the more understanding, empathy, and compassion for one’s struggles, for example. They may not have the power or knowledge that the larger, never-human Deities have, and thus may not be able to effect one’s life in as dramatic a fashion in certain respects; and yet, They are present and have an understanding of the human condition that is born of having had a human nature at one point, and often in the midst of one’s difficulties in life, that’s enough. It’s the difference between having some trouble in life, and hearing from one person (here analogous to the more cosmic never-human Deity) “there’s a reason for this, but you may never know what it is, so don’t worry about it,” and from another (here analogous to the apotheosized Deity) “that sucks and I wish I could help you, but I’m here and willing to listen and be with you through it all.” By no means is that all Deities are meant to do in our relationships with Them, but if one has had an especially difficult life, this is often more impactful than having insights into the nature of the cosmos or touches of the miraculous that other Deities might be known for (though don’t underestimate the ability of the apotheosized Deities to surprise one and surpass one’s expectations, either!).

They can also have a much more close and even passionate relationship with humans, in some cases, as a result of this, and might become involved in many more aspects of one’s overall life than just one’s devotional activities. Read Philostratos’ Heroikos to learn more about this—though it speaks of Hero/ines rather than apotheosized Deities, due to the crossover and the “originally human” nature of each, there is a great deal of relevance for those engaged in these sorts of devotional relationships (particularly since many of the apotheosized Deities are not only Deities, but are Hero/ine Deities). While never-human Deities can have close relationships with humans and can become deeply intertwined in many dimensions of human life with Their devotees, the more cosmic and elemental Deities tend to have some degree of remove from the “merely human” and everyday concerns people have, including their limited thoughts and petty emotions—and while there are exceptions to that, this tends to be the pattern.

One of the other things which is simultaneously exciting but extremely daunting about being in a relationship with an apotheosized Deity follows from Their nature as apotheosized Deities: namely, it highlights the fact that if things go well (or, occasionally, go horribly wrong!), one might end up being apotheosized oneself. Antinous probably never aspired to becoming a Deity, and to do so might have even been thought hubris at the time; and yet, it still happened to Him, and there was very little He could do about it. Bellerophon tried to storm Olympos on Pegasus, and Aktaion lusted outside what was appropriate into the divine realm…and yet, both had an active Hero cultus in the ancient world, despite what we might think of them in terms of hubris based on their surviving mythological narratives. In this way, it should be obvious that divinization after death—particularly heroization, but also sometimes full apotheosis into the status of a Deity—can happen quite unexpectedly and without intent on the part of the one deified or heroized.

If one is devoted to a never-human Deity, one might hope to be in that Deity’s company in the afterlife and to continue serving Them in some capacity, which is wonderful and something to which I’m sure many of us who practice polytheist devotion aspire. But, consistent with the Egyptian tradition responsible for His deification, the Greek Hero/ine cults into which He was incorporated, and the various Mystery traditions (many of which were founded for apotheosized Deities, like the aforementioned Palaimon in Corinth, as well as Antinous, amongst many others), cultus to Antinous makes one hyper-aware of the possibility of post-death divinization. Whether one becomes divine oneself in the process of devotion to Antinous, or one only gets to be in His divine presence in the afterlife—while theologically quite distinct (and significantly so!)—is probably much the same for many of His devotees, and likewise for myself.

GK: Talk to me about prayer. you and I both pray but you would be amazed at the push back I often get on this idea from Pagans. So I’m going to ask what to us is likely a rather obvious question: why do you consider it important? As well as how would you define it?

PSVL: I’ll address the importance part of the question first, because there is so much misunderstanding and bad information about this that needs to be challenged. I’ve heard it said amongst some monotheists and atheists that “it’s fine to pray, but it’s not fine to think someone is answering you.”

GK: heh. That is the crux of their resistance isn’t it? It does complicate things when Gods actually answer back and They do answer back.

PSVL: Independent of how ridiculous that statement is, what one finds too often amongst pagans is the idea of “Christians have prayer, but we have magic.” Magic and prayer are not mutually-exclusive, by any means, but they’re also not interchangeable. If all one does is magic and doesn’t care about prayer, then one isn’t practicing a religion, one is simply being a magician—and while there’s nothing wrong with that practice or that vocation, it’s like mistaking writing fanfic about one’s favorite actor for having a friendship with them.

In short, the importance of prayer for a polytheist—and, I’d argue, for people in most religions that involve any sort of positive theism—is that it is the primary means via which one engaged with, creates, and sustains a relationship with the Deities and divine beings in question. (The other is offerings, but I’ll leave that aside for now—apart from saying that the very act of saying an important prayer in a given tradition can, in itself, also constitute an offering, especially if it is more of a hymn of praise than one in which one is praying, i.e. “asking,” for something.) Just as one cannot become acquainted with another person by standing next to them and never talking (or, at least, it’s rare to be able to get to know someone in that fashion!), so too is prayer the mainstay of communication between a devotee and that devotee’s Deities. I’ve heard the generalization that prayer is talking to a Deity, and meditation is listening to a Deity, and while I can’t entirely agree with that as a general statement, there is something to it.

The basic meaning of “prayer” is to ask for something—just as when someone says “pray tell,” and the old usage of “pray thee” (contracted to “prithee”)—and in the current world, it gets used almost exclusively for such a petition in a religious or spiritual setting. While not all prayers have to involve asking for something, or attempting to solicit the intercession of a divine being for one’s own favor, this tends to be a major part of prayer for many people…and is probably why a lot of pagans don’t have a good opinion of prayer. The assumption is that one asks the Deity to do something, and then that’s the end of it, which seems to be what a lot of Christians assume is the case when something comes up and they “take it to prayer.” There are other types of prayer, such as hymns, which I’d suggest are primarily prayers of praise, which extol the virtues and characteristics of a Deity, and sometimes include narratives of the Deity—the Orphic Hymns, the Homeric Hymns, and a number of other such collections are of this sort primarily.

GK: I really try to move people away from only asking for things when they pray. I think we can do better. Our Gods deserve better than to have us constantly (or worse only) calling Their names when we want things. It’s a bad habit to get into so I’m glad you’re mentioning other types of prayer as well.

PSVL: However, more free-form prayer is certainly possible, and suggested, simply as a means of communicating with one’s Deities to let Them know what is going on in one’s life. Shinto and many other animist or polytheist religious traditions have formal ceremonies for informing the Deities of, for example, that one has been hired at a new job, or has moved residences, and the reason for this is because it is not assumed that the Deities and divine powers involved are omniscient, and thus They must be informed of such things in an explicit manner, not only so They know, but also so that They can become involved in and favor one in these new endeavors or continue to be present in these new places, etc.

The latter is one of the reasons that I have emphasized in my own teachings on polytheism that prayer should be verbal, i.e. it should be spoken aloud. Outside of a limited number of devotional relationships (including but not limited to shamanism, Mystery initiations, and a few other contexts), in which a Deity has an ongoing or continuous presence in the fibers of one’s very being, Deities Who are not said to be omniscient cannot see or hear one’s thoughts, and thus do not know them unless they are properly verbalized and spoken aloud. The evidence of this being the a priori assumption in most ancient and modern forms of polytheism is obvious but unappreciated across the spectrum of practice: votive altars, temples, and other things in the ancient world, and special ceremonies and practices in modern Shinto, all involve the person or persons doing the ritual or offering the temple or altar or having the prayers and ceremonies done on their behalf being specifically named, and sometimes their parentage, their birthdates, or their places of residence also being named, so that the Deities involved know who is the recipient of the blessings following thereupon. The inscriptions on temples and altars in Greece and Rome are not primarily for self-advertisement, as some might assume, but to identify who created these monuments for the glorification of the Deities involved for as long as the monuments themselves continue to exist. They are semi-perpetual offerings and prayers, thus.

And just as it is important to communicate with one another as humans explicitly and to use our verbal abilities concisely and accurately in getting to know one another, in making our needs and desires known, and in conveying information back and forth—no one can be held responsible for treating one in a manner one does not prefer if one never says anything!—so, too, does the same apply to relationships with our Deities, and thus prayer is the primary mode through which this is done. The necessity of, thus, having to figure out what one wants to say, what one wants, what one thinks, and how one is feeling and the manner via which that can best be communicated, is unfathomably important in a conscious and disciplined religious practice; formulating such, and then saying it out loud in the hearing of one’s Deities can be an important and even cathartic experience in itself, independent of the connective function it serves in being the medium and the message of connecting with one’s Deities.

Whether one can do it anywhere or not, whatever words one uses, what posture one might adopt while doing it or the gestures punctuating it in the course of its recitation, and if it is a standard and well-known composition shared amongst many or something one develops on one’s own or is simply extemporaneous words only used on one occasion, prayer is one of the most important mainstays and cornerstones of one’s practices as a polytheist, in my view.

GK: What do you think has been the greatest challenge to you in your theological and religious work?

PSVL: Sadly, it’s time and energy and their limited availability. As I have become more and more financially stable and secure in my career over the last decade (such as that stability and security is, i.e. very contingent and uncertain!), I have had less of an opportunity to spend days-on-end writing poems, or doing hours of devotional practice, or researching various Deities and becoming familiar with Their cultures, due to the dependence of my income on my adequate performance of my teaching duties and the further responsibilities attendant upon those duties. As a result, I have made it my practice to pray when I arrive at work each morning, even if only for a moment; and before a challenging class, meeting, or some other matter, I will pray for longer, and have a small shrine in my office for this purpose (as well as the different tokens of Deities, Hero/ines, Land Spirits, Ancestors, and other divine beings I carry with me at all times when I leave my home) where I “check in” throughout the day, too. Sadly, with my teaching responsibilities often taking up an entire weekday, and sometimes five days a week, I have less energy at the end of the day to do as much as I’d prefer, and have to do things like sleep rather than working on devotional projects.

I could name hundreds of other things that have been challenging, either in an ongoing fashion or only temporarily, but most of these have reached some sort of resolution; the lack of time and energy is something that will continue to be an ongoing challenge unless I suddenly get a wealthy patron, spouse, or something else (all of which are equally unlikely!) that will mean I can give up the full-time-week-but-part-time-pay situation I’m in now as an adjunct college professor. And, if and when I become full-time in both pay and hours of work, while that will certainly be better, it still won’t lessen the time and energy deficits I currently have. If I didn’t need the relatively good health insurance that this job provides, which then allows me to have the medications I need to not only live but survive (insulin-dependent diabetes doesn’t care how good one’s diet is, it’ll still kill one if insulin doesn’t get into one in some fashion!), and thus make all of my devotional work possible, things might be different.

But, if I weren’t in this health situation that has made regular employment and its insurance benefits a necessity, I might not be a polytheist at all, and certainly wouldn’t have discovered Antinous and all of the other Deities and divine beings that I have become acquainted with over the last twenty-five years, so I’ll happily take that as a trade-off.

GK: and finally, what projects are you working on now?

PSVL: I am displeased with my progress over the last few years, because at this stage I literally have around twenty books that I am working on—around twelve of them actively at this point!—some of which I’ve been wanting to get out since 2011 or earlier, some of which have emerged over the last few years. After 2012, which I refer to as “The Year of the Three Books” (!?!), I had hoped I might likewise have more such years in the near future, perhaps even years of four, five, or six books. But, fuller employment for me began in 2012, with the resulting deficit of time (as mentioned above), and I’ve only been able to publish two books since then, despite working on around four throughout that time.

To get to what several of these are, though, I can give you a few titles and brief descriptions to whet your appetite.

I’ve got a three-volume set that will come out more-or-less together (I’m hoping), which is highest on my list of priorities, that is essentially something I’m calling the “Studies on Foundational Polytheism” series. The first book is Polytheism and Devotion (which is very different from your own excellent book on devotional polytheism!); the second is Polytheist Reconstructionism as Methodology; and the third is Understanding Syncretism in Polytheism. These works will be somewhat shorter, and are intended to be “workbooks” and 101-type books, and are based not only on some blog posts and articles I’ve written, but also on two of the more popular courses I used to teach through Academia Antinoi. Getting these out next will fulfill a promise I made to the backers of my 2015 IndieGoGo campaign (which was for my attendance at the World Parliament of Religions in October of that year) to include their names in a publication that they indirectly supported.

The one I’m still not done with yet, and have been trying to get in order since 2014, is called For the Queens of Heaven, and is a collection of all of the poems that I’ve written for, about, or featuring Goddesses, including some from my teenage years that few people have seen, and a great deal that no one has seen before which were written over the last four years. I expect this will be one of my more popular books in the future, and it’s a doorstop in size.

I’ve got two books on the Tetrad++ that I’m working on: first, Through All-Strife to All-Acceptance: Further TransMythologies, which follows the first book and gives origin myths for Paneris and Panprosdexia, plus a few other things; and second, TransGenerations: A Grand Grimoire of the Tetrad++ic Tradition, which will combine the previous book as well as the original Tetrad++ book, plus a great deal of further poetry, essays, and pieces by others who have been working with the Tetrad++. The main thing preventing those getting out is I’m still waiting on some art, and likewise the second book will take a great deal of coordination with the other contributors, which has not been able to take place yet.

Two books with alliterative titles that are nearly-done are: Eleusis and Eschatology, which collects a few blog posts and other articles I’ve written, plus poetry, and some new essays as well, into a book on the subject of eschatology and its connection to the Eleusinian (and other) Mystery traditions, particularly from an Antinoan perspective but with forays into a few other traditions as well; and Songs for Saturnalia, which is mostly a hymn-book of songs and poems I’ve written over the last seven years to be used on festivals from late November through late December, including Greek, Roman, Irish, Norse, and Antinoan festivals and their attendant Deities in the mix. I’m hoping the latter will be the shortest book I’ve put out yet, but we’ll see.

One of the books that I’m most excited about, but also most frustrated with, is The Meeting-Place of Many Gods: An Antinoan Syncretistic Aretalogy. I started that project on my blog on January 1st, 2015 as one of my devotional goals for the year, and then in 2016 started to compile it, only to find that I had a lot more work to do to finish it off…I originally thought it might be less than 100 pages with all I had written the year before, but now, it is getting close to 400! I’ve never done a book that has been so driven by ongoing divination and constant checking and re-checking different matters with Antinous, and I think it’s all to the good that such is taking place…and yet, it’s a lot of work. The final form is more-or-less set at this point, and it will comprise a great deal of the regular devotional work and practice I hope to do in the future, and that I hope might inspire others as well.

Several of the other works-in-progress are essentially efforts toward the compilation of the near-six years of writing I did on my old blog into different collections, plus some of the other published writings I’ve done meanwhile in anthologies and other publications. There will be one that is Antinous-related short fiction, and another that is various-other-Deities-based short fiction; there will be one that collects a number of the Celtic Reconstructionist Polytheism essays, stories, and poems I’ve written; there will be one of essays mostly from published anthologies (but a few new ones!) related to Antinous, Hadrian, Diva Sabina (Hadrian’s wife), and the Trophimoi of Herodes Attikos, plus other beings from the Antinoan pantheon; and, there are several others as well, including some anthology projects that are long overdue (alas!).

While I’ve also got some academic articles and other projects going as well, the next thing by me likely to come out (perhaps even before the three-volume series) is somewhat secret and rather unexpected (not unlike my most recent book that came out in November of 2016!), and is a book project, which is not entirely academic nor entirely spiritual, but is connected to both…and I can’t say much more about it now, other than look for it in the coming months, possibly as soon as mid-to-late-May!

My work contributing to anthologies, periodicals, and other publications I am not directly responsible for producing myself is at a trickle at this stage, which I think is not necessarily a bad thing. I suspect I’ll never run out of ideas for things to write, and will find different avenues for doing so well into the future, and alongside all of what I’ve mentioned above. However, the work of the moment seems to be concerned with making what I have already created more accessible and thematically-assembled for easier usage of current and future polytheists. If we are to have any viable traditions or foundations for them in the decades to come, this sort of work—tedious though it often might be—needs to be done, and thus it seems like a very good usage of what time I do have at the moment. This is the Kairos I have seized in the current Chronos, and I hope it is for the benefit of the Aion that I have done so!

GK: Thanks for answering my questions, PSVL. Readers, you can find all of PSVL’s books here. Check them out!


Polytheistic Voices: Interview with Dr. Edward Butler


This week I had the pleasure of interviewing my friend and colleague Dr. Edward Butler. Edward has been doing crucial work in reclaiming our philosophical traditions as specifically polytheistic traditions. He’s a specialist in the Neo-Platonic philosopher Proclus and also one of the editors of Walking the Worlds Journal. Thank you, Edward, for taking the time to answer these questions.

GK: Please introduce yourself, Edward. I’ve known you for years and I’m familiar with your work, but I”ll bet a lot of my readers aren’t. What is it you do as a philosopher?

Edward Butler: When I first began to study philosophy in graduate school, I’d already been a practicing polytheist for a number of years. I had a notion of the need for defending and articulating polytheism, but I was by no means certain whether my work in philosophy would serve this function directly or only in a more oblique fashion. And I was comfortable with that, because I felt a vocation toward philosophy in any case.

But I found rather quickly when I started on my own initiative studying the ancient Platonic tradition, that if I ignored what all the secondary literature was telling me, and just read the philosophers themselves, that this was a philosophy that didn’t merely accommodate polytheism, but was radically polytheistic to its core. This was a very original reading in the context of modern scholarship. As originality is one of the principal requirements for a doctoral dissertation, I felt that if I could just follow through on what would be considered by modern scholars as a daring argument I would be successful.

The idea for what would become my dissertation, “The Metaphysics of Polytheism in Proclus”, came to me as early as the first semester of my graduate coursework in philosophy, but everything I studied subsequently in the history of philosophy helped me to understand the significance of the argument, a significance beyond narrow religious interests, having to do with the most basic issues in metaphysics.

Metaphysics is a very intricate structure built up over millennia by many individual hands, and even a relatively small change in the understanding of a key concept can change the way this entire structure fits together; undoing a historic misappropriation of arguably the most important concept in metaphysics, namely the nature of unity and multiplicity, has the potential to change how a great many other pieces in this machine fit together.

GK: How did you come to polytheism?

Edward Butler: I was raised in an agnostic/atheist home, but I seem to have been on the path to polytheism already when I was very small. Two of the earliest books I remember reading, and I read them again and again, were the D’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths and Book of Greek Myths. When we had an Icelandic exchange student staying with us one year, I pestered her about whether people in Iceland still worshiped the old Gods (she said that some did). I also remember a book on ancient Egyptian art with images I stared at. I was fascinated with archaeology. All of these interests stayed with me, but I think that at a certain point they went into a kind of dormancy again until I was sixteen or so, when I began having numinous dreams. I was engaging in a bit of psychic adventuring, I suppose you could say, and it eventually resulted in a theophany from the deity I have regarded ever since as my patron. I’ve built up a diverse personal pantheon since then.

GK: I absolutely adore D’aulaire’s books. I think they were my introduction to both the Greek Gods and the Norse as well. I still treasure my copies! Seriously awesome children’s books aside, what are your thoughts on piety and polytheism? How does your awareness and education as a philosopher impact your devotion as a polytheist?

Edward Butler: I’ve never found piety and philosophy to be in conflict for me. On the contrary, it was engagement with the Gods that steered me in the direction of philosophy as opposed to the predominantly artistic orientation that I’d had before. And yet, at the same time, I saw philosophy as a fundamentally creative endeavor, and thus as an extension of the artistic search for expression. From this perspective, philosophy is just a unique and particularly demanding medium. One cannot simply make any moves that one likes. There is more constraint than freedom, and yet its very nature is liberating. My role as a philosopher is to seek truth; but I’ve never had the slightest notion that this would lead me away from the Gods, rather than toward Them—how could it? The notion that philosophy and piety should be in some natural tension is a product of the profoundly dysfunctional relationship established between philosophy and religion by Christianity, nothing more and nothing less.

GK: Seeing you approach philosophy as your vocation has certainly impacted my own respect for the field and my growing awareness of just how important it was to our ancestors. I know not everyone has had the benefit of engaging discussions with you so I’m going to ask: Why is philosophy so important to polytheists?

Edward Butler: Philosophy is more important for modern polytheists than it was for ancient polytheists, because there is no surviving polytheistic tradition which is not critically endangered by monotheism’s weaponization of philosophy. For those reviving sundered traditions, the need to be able to critique the intellectual legacy of hegemonic monotheism is even more urgent. People will come up against limitations in their ability to conceptualize their experience of the Gods and the nature of their relationship to Them, and that makes them vulnerable to the omnipresent dismissal of that experience in the contemporary world, the treatment of a relationship to real Gods as naïve or incoherent. Polytheists need philosophy in order to get past those bottlenecks in understanding that hinder their devotion, or threaten to undermine their worship altogether.

Philosophers were already doing this, so to speak, therapeutic work in antiquity, but it is more urgent today, where theism as such, which simply is polytheism, has been under sustained assault from what I increasingly see as a kind of atheism. That is, I increasingly see monotheism per se as atheism, because its founding moment is not any positive religious experience, but rather the moment in which that experience is understood to negate any other experience to the degree that it does not fall within certain intellectually defined parameters. This appropriation of primary religious experience makes monotheism as such distinct in a certain sense even from the actual religious experience of people in the monotheistic faiths, because insofar as they follow the logic of monotheism through to its ultimate conclusion, it will negate even their own religious experience. The proper understanding of philosophy’s purpose and implications is necessary to arrest this process.

Beyond this, however, there is the simple fact that polytheists invented philosophy, not only in Greece, but in India and in China and everywhere that we have a tradition sufficiently intact to see it. In all of these places there is a wisdom tradition that is at least nascently philosophical. These traditions were not separate from theology, but they expanded upon the basis provided by theophany, by the experience of living immortals, to perfect the arts of reasoned inquiry and to found the sciences. Polytheists must not let these traditions be alienated from them through the great historic lie that philosophy, reason, leads ultimately to monotheism. To believe this lie would in itself impair the flourishing of our traditions, and could even doom them, because it would cut us off from our own histories as well as from the innate faculties that have made humans such extraordinarily successful creatures. Polytheists have a duty, I would argue, to develop their wisdom traditions to the fullest extent possible. It’s not sufficient to worship with your heart, you have to worship with your head as well.

GK: I’ve been consistently appalled at the stripping of the Gods from the ancient philosophers, something I encounter all the time in academia. The first time I really came face to face with it in a theology class I think I walked out shell shocked. I don’t think until that moment, I truly realized what a crucial battle it was that you’re fighting. That being said, what advice would you give someone just starting out, both in exploring philosophy and in venerating the Gods?

Edward Butler: My own practice has always had an improvised quality, and so I can’t tell people that they ought to seek out a more structured tradition, but I do respect the work that people are doing to build those kinds of traditions back up, or maintain and strengthen those already in existence. Ultimately, it is one’s relationship with one’s Gods that is the beginning and the end of all practice, and so all I can really say is to pursue that with all the tools available to you and follow it wherever it leads you.

With respect to philosophy, I would say that I think it is important to be at least somewhat interested in all philosophies. You cannot say in advance what problems might end up being most important to you, and what approaches might prove fruitful. There will be plenty of time later to be dismissive of this or that approach, but it’s crucial early on to allow yourself to feel the force of arguments with which you may not intuitively agree. Have enough courage to recognize that while you may not yet have the tools to defend your intuitions to the degree you might like, you shouldn’t as a result hide from the arguments people have made. Learn to appreciate arguments for their elegance, even if you disagree. Seeing an argument in the purity of its structure, you will grasp its potential for application and transformation far beyond its nominal intent.

GK: Can you tell me a little bit about your current work? I know you have some fascinating things in the works. What projects are you currently working on and what do you have coming up?

Edward Butler: I’m currently working on a project supported by a grant from the Dharma Civilization Foundation, about ideological issues in Western Indology. It’s an adjunct to the book The Nay Science: A History of German Indology by Vishwa Adluri and Joydeep Bagchee (Oxford University Press, 2014). The short book I’m writing is designed to make that text more accessible to a wider audience, and especially for Hindus who want to be engaged in the intellectual defense of their traditions. It also broadens the perspective of the argument put forth in The Nay Science in the direction of the intellectual defense of all polytheist traditions, both continuous and indigenous as well as revived and diasporic.

In connection with that project, I’d also like to continue to deepen my engagement with Indian philosophy. I made a start of this in a conference paper (“Bhakti and Henadology”, available from my site), but there is further work I need to do in that area. A great deal of mischief has been wrought by monotheizing Western interpretations of Indian philosophy, and since these misreadings bear such close resemblance to the kinds of distortions that plague modern readings of ancient Greek philosophy, I believe that I have a particular contribution to make in disrupting them and helping to open a space for a more fruitful relationship between Indian and European philosophies. This is an effort to which polytheists of every tradition cannot afford to be indifferent; none of us can ignore the historical situation in which we find ourselves, and in which the fate of all polytheisms are bound up with one another. And in this, ideas and ideologies are as important as facts on the ground.

Other projects will, I am certain, pop up on their own. So much of my work recently has been driven by what others have asked me to do, and that will likely continue.

GK: Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions. Folks, you can follow Edward on twitter @EPButler or at his website He’s also the author of two books: “Essays on the Metaphysics of Polytheism in Proclus” and “Essays on a Polytheistic Philosophy of Religion.” His academic work may be found at his page and also in Walking the Worlds.


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