Pagan Paths

A polytheanimist Thracian perspective on creating, rebuilding, and embodying ancestral religions as living traditions in the 21st century. Religion as life, life as spirit, spirit as being.

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My Gods Are Not Archetypes

My Gods Are Not Archetypes

(or “How to decay all meaning in language and religion and life altogether”)

Normally I try not to write from a focused, “targeted” place or perspective, and instead take a generalized and broad-stroke approach. (In other words I prefer to drop napalm on a whole region, rather than knife a single person in the skull, in order to not offend any one single person's delicate feelings more than anyone else's. That's how we do in Democratic California, or so I'm told...) However, today is an exception... kind of. I'm going to share a specific exchange (name removed for the respect of that person's privacy) from a Facebook encounter just a short while ago, not to attack the author (or knife her single belief in the skull) but instead to open up a bigger, napalm-esque issue. Here goes:

Not sure I can agree with him. This seems rather derisive of those who don't practice their belief the same way he does. Personally, I believe that the pantheons of Goddesses and Gods are, in fact, archetypes. Archetypes that represent different aspects of "The One" are inherent in the human psyche and found in all cultures throughout history. I would argue that all religious literature, or "mythology" is fictionalization utilized to demonstrate a human perspective/perception of the multi-faceted Divine. The archetype behind many "super heroes" is the same as that found in the depiction of many Gods or Goddesses. Therefore, not all that far removed. Is reverence of Superman not the same as that of a God of good who is all powerful and capable of miracles that benefit humankind? The face/name given to an archetype doesn't matter, it doesn't make that archetype any more or less powerful.”

Here was my reply in the moment:

“Reverence of Superman is not even remotely similar to reverence of a god who is real and not written as intentional fiction by two dudes in the late 1930s in New York City. You obviously have not actually read the article, nor do you understand what the term "polytheism" means, which is clearly (and repeatedly stated) the place that I am writing from. Arguing against my proposed views on the grounds that you have is like walking into a pastry chef conference and declaring all of the presenters "wrong" on the grounds that you really wish that it was a conference on meatloaf, instead.”

But this exchange bears greater consideration and reply than can be addressed in a single “comments” section of somebody else's wall on Facebook. So I give you an entirely unplanned and unscripted, pre-caffeinated reply right here at Witches & Pagans...

The real issue here is, as with the last topic I addressed, far more complicated than most people seem to be treating it. P. Sufenas Virius Lupus comments that the overall issue of fanfic, heroes, gods, superheroes, and the reality-or-fictional-quality of deities is at least six different and radically separate topics, and I would say that it is more likely double this estimate. This morning's comment about super-man-and-archetypes-etc demonstrates another whole slew of different issues, which the author for some reason conflates together like ingredients in a pie that she's cooking just for herself, but for some reason is dead-set on making all of us watch her eat. (Sorry, but I don't take pie from strangers. Especially strangers who don't use words that actually mean the things that they suggest that they mean.)

For starters, as I already said in my initial response, this author is suggesting that my article is wrong (or at least that she personally disagrees with it) on the grounds that it is not about what she wants it to be about. See? She says so right here: “This seems rather derisive of those who don't practice their belief the same way he does.” Sorry, no; that just isn't accurate at all. I repeated throughout my blog (six or so times) and also include in both comments and author bio the word “polytheistic”. I don't throw this word around because it is cool or gets me all the best lovers in the grocery store check-out line; I use it because it actually means what I am suggesting that it means in the context that I am using it in reference to both my own religious engagement and the greater theological structures and movements that I engage with and write about. Unlike you who describe yourself as “a freelance writer and an ordained minister... also an eclectic Pagan solitary witch/shaman who is mainly a Celtic reconstructionist. She acts as Priestess and teacher to seekers and other eclectic Solitaries” on your fan page (or whatever that is). Sorry, but “mainly a Celtic reconstructionist” and “ Archetypes that represent different aspects of "The One" are inherent in the human psyche and found in all cultures throughout history” do not actually line up in any meaningful way.

What I mean by this is that your words have no actual meaning. You claim to be a freelance writer for print and media, which I suppose might be limited to cereal boxes (see my last article again for context) rather than writing which requires actual critical-thinking skills, but I do suggest that you find a way to use words that, well, mean something. Calling yourself a Celtic reconstructionist – a polytheistic thing! – and later talking about “the One” is just sort of nonsensical. This lack of meaning is exactly what is wrong with almost all of these conversations that go on, both in private and in the “public” space of the internet's blog-sphere and social networking commentaries. I was taught to mean what I say and say what I mean, and while I am human and may slip up and contradict myself inadvertently, I actually try to be true to meaning in my selection of wordforms and thoughtshares. Rather than just stringing catchy nouns together because they look pretty, like popcorn and tinsel around a pine tree in December.

And, though that last paragraph (or two) was completely directed at this one author and their misuse of wordthings, that's not really why I am typing this today. I want to address the bigger issue here, which is the overall misuse of words, the lack of “common ground” in conversations, and the entanglement of a thousand different topics as one “meta-topic” which is what fuels 100% of all fights and arguments in Paganism because these practices attack the very core of linguistic communion and expression: MEANING. A fundamental part of all communication must be an attempt to convey, achieve and establish greater collective meaning, otherwise it is purely about getting oneself off while looking longingly in the mirror that you've turned the internet into, striking all kinds of super-hero poses as you hammer out the dribble you call theology, debate, or “religion”. Religion itself, outside of the discussion of religion – which, by the way, is a real thing: religion outside of talking about religion does exist, if you shut up long enough to practice it! – is a thing that must orbit around the pursuit and exploration of meaning, which is a thing completely undone and undermined by using language and words that actually attack meaning. Directly.

Seriously, people. “I don't think that word means what you think it means...”

We live in the information age. Most of us have a phone in our back pockets which carries with it connection to the sum total of all recorded human achievement, thought, knowledge, wisdom and potential. When not using this device to post pictures of meatloaf conventions and cats in boxes, most use it for tippity-tapping out their “thoughts” (a term I use very loosely) in direct assault on the pursuit of meaning and collective elevation, because gee golly, fighting with people whose ideas make you uncomfortable (because isn't it chaffing to actually have to think?) is just so much easier, and oh wow, look at that cat. In a box.

You know what? Go ahead. Worship your archetypal Super-Man. And your cat-in-a-box. And your other expressions of “the One”, who must be such an all powerful cosmic force, what with the mastery of language, semantics and competent communication skills He's booned you with. Me? I'll be over here, being a polytheist, with an actual theology, an actual plan of engagement for further understanding and developing that theology, and a lived relationship with actual beings... rather than pictures on the internet of cats in boxes or dudes changing into spandex in phone-booths. (My gods do a lot of lewd things, but they don't feel the need to hide in public phone booths when they're gonna hang loose and get dressed for a fight.)

My gods are not archetypes. They are also not "One". Poly- means "many", and They'll take your fictional thought-form on any day.

In conclusion: I'd like to invite everyone to join in conversation that actually gears itself toward the pursuit of meaning. Which means using words that mean what you suggest that they mean, engaging with the meanings of the words that others use (and attempting to navigate their intended meaning if it isn't clear!) and please for the love of all that is holy and unholy and damnably potent STOP ATTACKING THE VERY FABRIC OF MEANING by continuing on in this way. If you're an archetypalist, that's FINE, but don't call yourself a reconstructionist, call yourself an atheist, or a monotheist, or a pantheist, or a panentheist. Do not try to smear your poorly thought out anti-theology and waste-water-words on my religion, which is polytheism. Go play by yourself in the corner with “the One” who apparently doesn't care what words you use or names you call him/her/it by, while the adults actually do something productive with their engagements.

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A temple priest, shaman, and spirit-worker in the Thracian tradition, Anomalous Thracian lives in a van in the Northeast United States, with a crazed raven from Africa. He teaches foundational spiritual principles and results-oriented mysticism, with a focus on anchoring ancient nomadic wisdoms and values in contemporary reality. A Thracian mystic reconstructionist, he leads an initiatory tradition and facilitates rituals, traditional rites of passage, various methods of divination and temple functions appropriate to the needs of the community. In all of his doings, he attempts to honor the ancestors, the gods, and his living relations in this world and the rest of them, while focusing also on further understanding and addressing contemporary issues of race, gender, and sexuality.


  • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus
    P. Sufenas Virius Lupus Friday, 24 May 2013

    But, come now, my good Thracian colleague: tell us truly how you feel! It isn't at all clear by the words you've chosen to use here what it is you're trying to say.


    The above sarcastic comments seem to be implied in so many responses to these issues, and so many "opening arguments" of them as well.

    In many respects, the post that sort of kicked off this entire debate engaged in such by conflating "superheroes" with "hero" and "hero cultus" in the classical sense. Hero-worship of Justin Bieber, Superman, and others is ultimately not anything like hero-worship of Achilleus, Eunostos of Tanagra, or any number of other figures, for a great variety of reasons...but, it only seems so to those who don't seem to understand that "hero" is being used in very different ways in each case. And that breakdown of the notion of meaning, of contextual usages, and the erroneous notion that "what I think something means is actually what it means" is, as you state so clearly above, the problem that underlies so much of the internal, supposedly theological, dialogue of modern paganism.

    In any case, I wish I had something more useful to say in commenting upon this, other than a long-winded "yes, I agree," but there we are.

  • Tess Dawson
    Tess Dawson Monday, 27 May 2013

    "And that breakdown of the notion of meaning, of contextual usages, and the erroneous notion that "what I think something means is actually what it means" is, as you state so clearly above, the problem that underlies so much of the internal, supposedly theological, dialogue of modern paganism." Yes. I could not agree more.

  • Galina Krasskova
    Galina Krasskova Friday, 24 May 2013

    i'm really beyond the point of rational discourse on this topic so all I can say also, is yes i agree and thank you so much for saying it in a clearly delineated way when I could not.

  • Joseph Bloch
    Joseph Bloch Friday, 24 May 2013

    You clearly don't get it at all.

    Any expression of personal belief that disagrees with what I personally believe is self-evidently an attack on my belief. Stop oppressing me with your disagreement!

  • Roninwolfr
    Roninwolfr Saturday, 25 May 2013

    Cat-in-the-box, you say? that reminds me of the religious parable commonly known as Schrodinger's Cat. Basically in an unknown universe, a cat can exist in a state of undeath until the box is opened. but before the box is opened, all speculation on the undeadness of the cat is just that, mere speculation.
    Whether the gods are archetypes (which i happen to believe) or if they are sapient beings which possess archetypal projections into reality is the whole of theology. once one side says if the cat is dead or alive, the ONLY way to check is by direct observation. So if youve been in the presence of god, be my guest and proclaim his/her/its living-ness. but recognize that no one is capable of confirming to another person what can only be confirmed by direct observation.
    so until then, let us all civilly dispute the undead cat.
    blessed be

  • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus
    P. Sufenas Virius Lupus Saturday, 25 May 2013

    By your comment, you seem to be indicating that you have no experience of any of the gods. If you don't, that's fine, but there is really no point in believing in them, then. Your understanding of what theology is also lacks a great deal of nuance and insight...

    I cannot speak for my Anomalous Thracian colleague (though I suspect I know what character his answer would have), but I can say for myself that I've been in the presence of many gods on a variety of different occasions; on several of them, others have likewise experienced the presence of the same gods in those same circumstances as well.

    There is no need to dispute--civilly or otherwise--the existence of the cat: the box is open, the cat is alive, and very pissed off that people keep debating whether it is alive or dead, and truly wishes that more people would just look at it rather than opening their mouths about their beliefs or lack thereof.

  • Anomalous Thracian
    Anomalous Thracian Saturday, 25 May 2013

    ^ What he said. Also, Schrodinger's Cat isn't a commonly known religious parable, like the prodigal son... it is a thought experiment designed by a 20th century physicist. And in case you missed the reference somehow, when I was sarcastically discussing "cats in boxes" above I was referring to the popular "cute cat memes" that we've co-opted the internet for the propagation of. Surely worshipping Superman is no different than worshiping cute pictures of cats in boxes, right? I mean, if everything is valid and anything goes...

    I'd like to reiterate that I am *fine* with folks who believe in archetypes and engage with them to their Jungian heart's content. But that's not what a god is. So don't use that word. And don't use any "-theism" at all if you don't believe in gods. (The belief in "gods as archetypes" rather than "gods as gods" is non-theistic.)

    Again, this is a fervent call for word-choice that actually means what you think it means. Archetypes are achetypes, gods are gods, carrots are carrots. Polytheism means "many gods" and is non-archetypal. This is not rocket surgery.

  • Tess Dawson
    Tess Dawson Monday, 27 May 2013

    "Seriously, people. 'I don't think that word means what you think it means...'"

    Seriously, though...
    I agree that we all need to watch our words and understand their meanings. A person who believes that all deities are facets of one deity is a monist. A person who believes that all goddesses are representations of one goddess, and all gods are representations of one god, are dualtheists or duotheists (I've seen both terms). A person believes that there is one god, one god alone, is a monotheist. And a person who believes in many separate individual deities is a polytheist. A person who uses archetypes in place of deity/deities and does not believe in the real existence of deity/deities is an atheist.

    And an altar is not the same as a shrine, nor a shrine the same as an altar...

  • Anomalous Thracian
    Anomalous Thracian Monday, 27 May 2013

    Yes, this. All of this! This is what I've been trying to communicate (albeit in a pre-caffeinated rant, at least above) and which people seem singularly opposed to understanding on "both sides" (reall all sides, as there aren't just two...) of the "issue(s)". I don't care what a person believes or practices (with a few exceptions) but I do care abbout what they call it. I write about polytheism. I use that word a lot, as a helpful breadcrumb-trail-reminder back (for the reader...) to what place I am writing from. I've found that most of the people who take issue with what I share or feel are people who don't actually seem to be using that word the way that it is intended.

    I am also not a theistic-relativist wherein I think that "everything is right and valid" depending on where you stand; I recognize that a thing might *look* or feel or even behave as real and valid "from a certain perspective", but I also believe that things an be right or wrong in a direct and ending-in-a-period sort of way. I believe that there are more things that are absolutely wrong than there are that are absolutely right (absolutes are tricky) but mostly I'd just really love it if folks used words as defined, in order to secure meaning. I find the colloquial decay of meaning to be the single biggest contributor to all of the in-fighting that happens...

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