Monday, July 21, 2008

Polytheism Over Easy

Thalia posted some very astute comments to my last entry (actually, several readers did: Go Team Strifemonger!) that got me thinking about my personal perceptions of the Divine. But I want to be careful about how I express these views, because I have a history of infuriating other Pagans when I do so.

I'm thinking specifically of a heated yet wacky online discussion many moons ago, on the only listserv from which I've ever been banned (one of my crowning achievements to date). The moderator...

...oh, real quick, I should tell you about the moderator. Have you ever met someone, male or female, who was obviously, painfully gay, but who was also in deep, dark denial about it? And they dealt with their repression through negative projection, spewing all of their self-loathing outward onto the GLBT community at large while using their religious beliefs to defend and validate their hate speech and internalized homophobia? And you can't really explain how much better they'd feel if they'd just come out of the closet, because then you're one of those homosexual "recruiters" who want to prey on the innocent youth of This Great Country and turn our next generation into an army of debaucherous, sodomite Democrats?

Yeah, that's totally her. Except she's Wiccan. Oy.


The moderator was on this weird, almost fundamentalist rant about duotheism in Wicca, how all Goddesses are one Goddess and all Gods are one God or else, and I respectfully but firmly dissented, thinking the rest of the list members would see my side and back me up. Instead, I was wholeheartedly accused of heresy. Which, all things considered, is pretty damn funny. "You have been found guilty of heresy against Witchcraft and are hereby condemned not to die, because never again the Burning Times."

Comedy gold aside, here's my take on things.

Some Gods are the same God with different names, worshipped in different places in different periods. Other Gods are similar to each other, but are not the same God--more like fraternal twins, perhaps, or identical cousins. They may get mixed up in people's heads sometimes, but They're separate entities in Their own right. And as far as I can tell, They are not terribly offended when They're mistaken for one another. It doesn't click with me to say that the Gods are simply "aspects" of one ├╝ber-God, although, I can see how the image or symbol of a particular deity could be representative of another, based on personal preferences and how those deities choose to reveal Themselves to Their servants.

As an initiated Witch of a specific tradition, I am part of the priesthood of two individual, pre-Christian, Western European deities. Other Gods exist, but they are not the Gods to whom I am dedicated, and as such I am not under Their jurisdiction. In "real world" terms, I take orders from my boss, but my best friend's boss doesn't have much say-so over me (although I'd certainly be respectful if I met her boss at a party).

Along the lines of a practitioner of Wicca "working" with other Gods, the office analogy continues. My boss and I are really good friends, and I'm very happy working under her. I do my job to the best of my ability, which benefits both of us. Within my company, there are several divisions, each with a director who's at the same level as my boss. Occasionally, I find myself needing to call one of these other division heads to ask a couple of questions, or for help with a particular project. While I don't have the same close relationship with these other directors as I do with my boss, we get along well, and we work well together when the situation demands it. And while these other directors may think I'm a good employee, they do not determine what bonuses I will receive, or when I'm eligible for promotion.

So that's how I see it, although I freely admit I could be way off base. Athena and Astarte may not seem like the same Goddess to me at all, but up in Godsville, Athena-Astarte could be shaking Her head and going, "Cernunnos-Zeus, maybe you can talk some sense in to him. Because, seriously, Ereshkigal-White Buffalo Woman has had it up to here."

I guess I'll find out eventually. In the meantime, though, I'll stick with the semi-hard polytheism. As that guy who's routinely accused of inventing Wicca once wrote:

"They quite realise that there must be some great 'Prime Mover', some Supreme Deity; but they think that if It gives them no means of knowing It, it is because It does not want to be known; also possibly, at our present stage of evolution we are incapable of understanding It. So It has appointed what might be called various Under-Gods, who manifest as the tribal gods of different peoples; as the Elohim of the Jews, Isis, Osiris and Horus of the Egyptians, and the Horned God and the Goddess of the witches."


Angela Raincatcher said...

I personally LOVED the boss analogy. Thanks!

Evn said...

You're welcome, and thanks back at you!

Thalia said...

Well I only know from my own experience, which is perhaps unusual (though perhaps not--supposedly we all have a Daimon/Muse/Genius/Juno/Guardian Angel/&c.). I tend toward the archetypal view of things, that, say, the psychopomp archetype within the human mind then finds expression in different cultures--which I suppose means that on some level, Hermes and Anubis are the exact same Deity. Though of course the cultural expressions of Him/Them are not nothing.

Meh, I don't know. I think I tend not to worry about these things too much (or maybe I do. I mean I'm always trying to define just What/Who he is). They just Are. No denying that. Though I have always been suspicious of the idea that there is only One God and One Goddess (Themselves just aspects of One Great Something). A little too much borrowed from Xtianity and it's dogma for my tastes. Though I can see the practical applications of it too, for example in ritual when the individual participants can then substitute their own personal examples of "Goddess" and "God".

I suppose as a lover of detail I have always been more interested in the differences rather than the similarities maybe? I have a harder time relating to "The Goddess" than I do, say, Hathor. It's too abstract.

Though I'm not as enamoured of the boss analogy. But them I'm a lazy self-employed non-hierarchical group-dynamics-hating sort with little tolerance for the 9 to 5 thing who pins out at 98% introverted, so. One's mileage might vary, as they say.

Thalia said...

Hmmm. Or there's this way of looking at it: whatever It/He/She/They is/are out there/in there, how an individual interprets it is going to come down to the filters that individual's mind has in place. Your upbringing, the culture you are born into, your personality, will all influence how you see the Divine. I don't think anyone can get around that, because I think that one's mind and psyche are the medium through which the Divine is experienced. So, really, I don't know how anyone can declare one way right, or, really, even begin to do anything more than hazard a guess as to the "reality" of things.

Anyway, it's all good. Or at any rate it ought to All Be Good, closeted moderators notwithstanding.

Thalia said...

Crap, Evn, you're like making me think or somethin'.

Evn said...

I can be a Muse, too.


Thalia said...

Well. I am being pestered to relay this message, from my daimon or whatever he is, the one who says he is God, as I am Goddess:

It's all the same thing. If it helps you humans to try to work out your individual permutations, go ahead. But it does not matter. Not really. The important thing is, how do I love you? And how do you love me?

("You humans?" What is he, an antelope?)

Oh man, now I'm talking to myself on other people's blogs instead of just my own! Mutter mutter, rant rant.

Evn said...

The important thing is, how do I love you? And how do you love me?

Ooooh, tell him I said good point.

Oh man, now I'm talking to myself on other people's blogs instead of just my own!

If you're talking to yourself in my comments section, and I respond to those comments, then we're technically having a conversation. Which is totally normal.

Thalia said...

I am quite grateful for your loose definition of normal, thank you. (He says thanks, too, by the by.)

Mertseger said...

Speaking of blogs, Thalia and Evn dialog have inspired a lengthy blog post from me as well in which you'll finding concurrence with some of the comments above. I grappled extensively with these issues prior to my initiation, and the post goes into my process and conclusions (to the extent there can ever be conclusions on these matters).

Grian/Lee said...

Okay, that is just genuius. I'm all giggles over Ereshkigal-White Buffalo Woman's feduppyness. Oh and the heresy stuff about the burning times had me chuckling too. I don't know how you do it but somehow I manage to be laughing whenever I read your blog. Great post.

Oh, and Thalia, love this:

"The important thing is, how do I love you? And how do you love me?"

Your guy rocks out with his... well you know.

Evn said...

Mertseger, what a thought-provoking post! I really enjoyed it (and I'm pleased as punch to be part of the inspiration behind it).

I’ve had Pagan friends ask me about the traditional Wiccan perception of the relationship between the Goddess and the God on several occasions, usually something along the lines of, “How do you reconcile being gay with such a heterosexual polarity?” And I’ve never really have a clear answer for that, other than, shrugging and going, “Because it works for me.”

Lately, though, I’ve been thinking about the story of Inanna and Dumuzi, and how their tale is told through some of the most erotic poetry to celebrate a heterosexual coupling ever written… and at the same time, one of Inanna’s epithets was something like “She who turns men into women and women into men.”

So who knows? Maybe fertility and sexual expression are a lot more complicated and intertwined than we've previously assumed.

Evn said...

G/L, I'm glad you enjoyed it so much. That's always what I'm aiming for. :o)

Thalia said...

Actually, I'm not sure I do know Grian-Lee, and all the blanks I'm filling in are coming up, well, on the obscene side. But I'm quite sure that's just me. ;)

But yeah, he's something.

Personally, I am quite enamoured of the phrase "up in Godsville," because I am imagining it as said by Dan Akroyd in Blues Brothers, not that I can spell it like he pronounces it I guess.

Also, Evn, you do realize that given my browser and the text size I've set it at, a former post is being listed as: "Reader of People, Maker of Trouble, Claimer of Tit..." which is extra funny given that "les" doesn't technically take up any more space in that font than three periods in a row. Hmmm.

Evn said...

Argh, did I subconsciously steal "Godsville" from the Blues Brothers?! I hate it when that happens.

My browser displays "Claimer of Tit" as well. I'm thinking that may be the new name of this blog.

Thalia said...

No, I just meant the way he pronounces "God" as in "We're on a mission from God"; I'm pretty sure "Godsville" is original to you, so no fear.

Evn said...

OH, okay, I get you:

"We're on a mission from Gahd."

Mertseger said...

Thanks, Evn, glad you liked it.

Actually, I can see how Wicca is perfectly fine fine for gays and lesbians. After all, with the possible exception of the Great Rite as sexual ritual, it all seems perfectly workable. We put the blade in the chalice for some of our rituals, and that symbolic version seems to be equally powerful for us no matter what combination of genders are doing that part of the ritual. I know that I've done our version of that ritual with a guy (we both even licked the blade ;) ), and it seemed effective to the whole group. And I tend to agree: I personally don't think maleness/femaleness of polarity is that big of deal to the magic or the Gods.

I've been reconnecting with Inanna as well. I can't imagine most Gods not wanting to experience "all acts of love and pleasure" over the course of their evolution, and so I'm so I'm sure that the Goddesses and Gods that are immediately involved with human lives and consciousness probably do swap genders at some points if only out of curiosity.

Grian/Lee said...

"Actually, I'm not sure I do know Grian-Lee, and all the blanks I'm filling in are coming up, well, on the obscene side. But I'm quite sure that's just me. ;)"

Obscene is pretty much what I was going for. :) I've been wanting to utter that particular phrase in its entirety to all the lovely men since the recent gender wars began. I don't want to offend anyone again - so soon anyway - so I will just have to leave the blank for now. *wink*

Thalia said...

Heh. Glad to hear it's not just me!

Yvonne said...

Hello, I am a Wiccan and a polytheist, or possibly a polymorphist, and I have been persecuted on polytheist mailing lists for being a duotheist (which I most definitely am not), possibly a monist and insufficiently hard in my polytheism.

I also wrote an extended essay on why duotheism sucks from an LGBT point of view.

Most Wiccans in the UK are not actually duotheist.

Evn said...

Yvonne, us persecuted, polytheistic Witches need to stick together. :) And an interesting, well-written article to boot! I really enjoyed reading it.

I'll add one thing, based on my own experiences. Within coven-based, traditional Wicca (at least as I know it), the central focus is the Goddess and the God, versus the individual witches. We're celebrating *their* love and *their* union, and as such, personal sexual orientation quickly becomes irrelevant.

It's hard to explain why it works for me, or why I'm so comfortable with it. (One of the downsides to participating in a Mystery tradition: "I can't tell you" doesn't mean "I won't tell you" as much as it means "No, really, I have no clue how to explain what happened.") But the best simile I can come up with is, it's like being in a wedding party, and the bride and groom decide to take everyone along with them on their honeymoon.

Now, just to be nitpicky, I will quibble with the use of the word "fundamentalist" to describe the Long Island Line of the Gardnerian tradition. Paganism is a lot different, and often a lot uglier, in the U.S. than in the U.K., and the lengths some people will go to discredit, usurp, and literally steal from BTW initiates is absolutely mindboggling. At some point, the LI Line simply had to close ranks, draw a line in the sand and say, "Okay, this is BTW, this isn't," if only to preserve their own sanity.

And it's done some good, in that the tradition itself has been preserved. At the same time, the members of Black Forest Clan (the tradition founded by Silver RavenWolf) have taken to calling themselves "British Traditional."

Black Forest is in Germany.

Some days, it just doesn't pay to chew through the leather straps, y'know?

All that said, many LI Line initiates identify as "Hard Gards," which is a term originally coined as an insult.

But it suits us.


Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

Oooh, you're one of those nasty Hard Gards Mama warned me about, Evn? I had no idea--though the six inch fangs should have tipped me off.

Actually, I owe one of my most common online monikers--Wiccazoid Cat-to a Hard Gard who I briefly shared a listserve with. When, in a discussion of initiations, I dared to defend mine (written by yours truly) because "the gods were there" he threw a purple-faced hissy fit, and in one of those posts that are almost entirely capital letters, informed me that I wasn't a Witch; I wasn't a Wiccan! I was a...Wiccazoid!

I loved it. Kept the name and dumped the list, because there is, in some ways, no finer commendation than rejection by an asshole. Which was the trouble with said Lord Methane-Bottom; not that he was a Hard Gard, but that he was an asshole.

I suspect that your list moderator may have suffered from a similar tragic condition.

I mean, I'm about as wishy-washy on the issue of polytheism as you can get and still consider yourself a Pagan. I've been known to refer to "God" in the singular case and with a capital letter, to refer to some kind of overarching source of all things--how outre!

And yet, even in my monist-tinted end of the spectrum, we like to recognize that, as Macha Nightmare puts it, "individual mileage may vary." The point being, not a one of us are fully capable of understanding all this god-stuff, so the fact that our ideas don't match isn't much reason to start a (ahem) witch hunt.

Of course, you said all that. And, other than the liklihood that someday you will understand, which I think makes you more optimistic than your reputation may withstand, I agree with you 100%!

Lisa Adams said...

Here I was expecting some earth shattering post (teasing teasing).

I agree with you completely though. I actually got into an argument with someone recently on a list about "The Divine" and all that. I believe in the end I was told I could hold onto my "erroneous" beliefs. Which reminds me.. This guy believes that Catholic's lock the souls of people into their bodies when they give the last rites.

The thing is, sure some of them might share a few names but when I've worked with them I've noticed the differences. Just because my sister has similar interests etc doesn't mean she's me anymore then any other individual is the same.

annyikha said...

Wow. So they DON'T just pick on the Recons. :D

My sympathies.

Evn said...

Oh sweetie, they pick on everyone.

But you're a Strifemonger now. So you've got nothing to worry about.