Recently, P. Sufenas Virius Lupus created some online controversy by arguing that one of the “points” of modern Paganism is to “bring back the gods”. Lupus’ post was written in the context of a wider discussion about the place of Polytheism within contemporary Paganism, which began when several prominent Polytheists decided to disassociate themselves from the term “Pagan”. (For more on this see here and here.)
Part of the reason for the antipathy of many Polytheists for Paganism is the perception that for Pagans the gods are personifications of natural forces or Jungian archetypes, whereas for Polytheists the gods are, in Lupus’ words, “actual beings with independence, volition, and power”. Polytheistic practice, according to Lupus, “presupposes a definite being with volition and consciousness on the other end of the interaction.” In contrast, Jungian archetypes are often understood by Pagans as mere metaphors of of natural or psychological processes. A Polytheist who understands the archetypes in this way might well wonder why would anyone worship the creations of their own mind.
In the 1960s and 70s, Pagans seized onto Jung’s conception of archetypes as a way of legitimizing Pagan polytheism in the face of the crumbling claims to historical authenticity. In the process though, the gods of Paganism became psychologized, and they lost their numinous quality. (Numinosity refers, in part, to the mysterious “otherness” of an encounter with the divine.) The Pagan gods had become archetypes, but Pagans had lost the sense of the archetypes as gods. In reaction, many Polytheists in search of communion with numinous Others rejected Jungian Paganism in favor of a radical (or “hard”) polytheism which treats the gods as beings existing independent of the human psyche.
I believe that this rejection of Jungian archetypes is the result of a misunderstanding by many Pagans of Jung’s concept of archetypes. Jung would say that, while the gods may be a part of us, we must remember that they are also other than us, if by “us” we mean our conscious mind or ego-self. Thus, Jung could say that “the world of gods and spirits is truly ‘nothing but’ the collective unconscious inside me”, and in the same breath say that “the collective unconscious is the world of gods and spirits outside me”. This is why Jung called the archetypes “gods” and compared the psyche to an “Olympus full of deities who want to be propitiated, served, feared and worshipped”. He wrote that moderns congratulate ourselves
"imagining that we have left all these phantasmal gods far behind. But what we have left behind are only verbal spectres, not the psychic facts that were responsible for the birth of the gods. We are still as much possessed by autonomous psychic contents as if they were Olympians. [...] Zeus no longer rules Olympus but rather the solar plexus."
The gods are not gone; they have just come home -- to the psyche....