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Spotlight On: Walking With the Gods

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Title: Walking With the Gods: Modern People Talking About the Deities, Faith, and Recreating Ancient Traditions

Publisher: Connaisance Sankofa Media

Editor: Dr. Wendi Wilkerson

Pages: 392 pp

Price: $4.99 US (digital) [Print edition forthcoming]

In 2011, Dr. Wendi Wilkerson began an ethnographic survey of contemporary Western polytheism. She set out to understand and define "polytheism" and "faith" in this modern milieu, as well as the "many theological and spiritual implications that come from reifying and venerating multiple Divine Beings" which differ significantly from those of the dominant monotheistic culture. Hoping to attract twenty or thirty respondents, she ended up with one hundred and twenty surveys. Walking With the Gods contains twenty-four of those interviews,* as well as Wilkerson's overall conclusions.

I have to say, this is some fascinating stuff. :) After a brief Preface and a discussion of her Methods, Wilkerson launches into a detailed Introduction ("From Monotheistic Perspective to Polytheist Theology"), followed by a discussion of "Polytheism, Practice, Perspective: Tracing the Contours of Polytheist Experience." As Wilkerson points out in her Preface:

The issue that really needs to be tackled at this time is the near-Eastern [sic], monotheism-saturated culture's reflex reaction of dismissing and ridiculing polytheistic religions. While it is clear to me that Paganism should not be conflated, wholesale, with polytheism, it is likewise clear that Paganism is a polytheist religious movement [....] Paganism brings much-needed challenges to the monotheist mindset that underpins contemporary Western culture. [....] Their polytheism poses uncomfortable questions about the relationship between humanity, Divinity, religion, and the planet that deserve to be respected and addressed. (p. ix-x)  

For an example of how polytheism challenges the status quo, just consider the problem of theodicy in monotheism (which has also been latched onto by the modern atheist movement). Or the radically different relationship polytheists (especially Reconstructionists and Revivalists) have with foundational literature. Or, again, the non-jealous relationships between the Deities and modern devotees.

Further on, Wilkerson discusses the emergence of Pagan and polytheist theological texts -- a development that might be considered unexpected from a movement which celebrates and relies upon personal gnosis and practical experience. The publication of such treatises might be considered pre-emptive, for, as Wilkerson points out 

... Pagan theologians have begun to realize that when religious studies and theology scholars begin to seriously study polytheistic, Pagan religiosity, they will undoubtedly do so from the monotheistic perspective that underpins their disciplines. Equally undoubtedly, they will misinterpret what they find by constructing a model of Paganism that is easily comprehensible from the monotheist perspective. [....] In writing their works, these contemporary Pagan theologians are creating an opportunity to define themselves before academics writing from a monotheist perspective do it for them. (p. 21)

The twenty-four interviews follow. These cover a wide variety of traditions, from Santeria to Wicca to Hellenismos to Kemeticism to highly individualized paths. Among the interviewees are a few well-known names -- Tess Dawson, P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, Jax, Erynn Rowan Laurie -- as well as several people who had never before publicly discussed their beliefs and practices. 

These interviews are revealing of the diversity of practices, opinions, and beliefs in modern polytheism. They reveal some significant fractures within the larger Pagan community (notably the humanist/devotional divide), but similarities and areas of mutual interest and overlap (for example, the anger and sorrow that so much has been lost and the determination to rebuild).

Wilkerson has done a tremendous service to the Pagan and polytheist communities in compiling this survey. Currently available as an ebook from the Connaissance Sankofa site, Walking With the Gods will be available in print format by mid-March. I sincerely hope that this first volume attracts enough interest (and sales) to support the publication of a second volume. 

Oh, and while your on the Connaissance site reading excerpts from Walking With the Gods or buying the ebook, please consider submitting to Wilkerson's next project Words of Flame: An Anthology of Devotional Fiction.

 

*I was one of Wilkerson's interviewees, but since my interview did not make the final cut, I can safely promote the book without fear of a conflict of interest. :)

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Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine Eternal Haunted Summer. She is also the editor-in-chief of Bibliotheca Alexandrina. She thinks it is incredibly unfair that she must work for a living rather than being able to read all day. In her next life, she would like to be a library cat.

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