BookMusings: (Re)Discovering Pagan Literature

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On Theoilogy

No, that title is not a typo. I do mean theoilogy.

Theology, to quote the ever-handy Wikipedia, derives "from Ancient Greek Θεός meaning "God" and λόγος-logy, meaning "study of." God. Singular. By its very nature, at its very root, the word assumes a single Godhead. As such, I find the term best suited only to those religious systems which are explicitly monotheistic or monistic, eg Islam, most strains of Christianity, some branches of Judaism, and some sects within Hinduism.*

But, it is an ill-fit with explicitly polytheistic or even duotheistic systems, such as some branches of Judaism, some Christian sects, most sects within Hinduism, and the majority of Pagan and indigenous traditions. When I write about the nature of Zeus, I am not engaging in theology -- I am engaging in theoilogy. Zeus is not God Alone. He is part of a vast family of Deities; He is part of a web of relationships and responsibilities, and I cannot even begin to comprehend him outside of that web. Thus, theoilogy, from the Ancient Greek Θεοί meaning "Gods." Plural.

Theoilogical texts -- especially those written by a Pagan for a Pagan or general audience -- are few, but are becoming more common. Hands down, one of the best books on the subject is John Michael Greer's A World Full of Gods: An Inquiry Into Polytheism. I have read the book several times, and I find something new every time. The sixth chapter employs the brilliant (and funny) metaphor of a neighborhood cat to explain "The Logic of Polytheism."

Another great book on the subject is The Deities Are Many: A Polytheistic Theology (there's that word again) by Jordan Paper. Drawing on his research into polytheistic systems as varied as those of the indigenous Chinese, west African, Polynesian and circum-Polar peoples, Paper examines the many many different kinds of Deities who have been and are still honored (celestial, plant, mineral, animal, ancestral, et cetera). Probably the best chapter is "One or Many: Monotheists' Misperceptions of Polytheism" which makes the argument that polytheism itself is a monotheistic construct; as an ancient cultural norm, polytheistic societies had no reason to define themselves as they had nothing to define themselves against. So it was the monotheist traditions that set the stage and created the terms, by defining themselves against the dominant cultural polytheisms. They've had the advantage ever since.

A more recent book on the subject is Edward Butler's Essays on a Polytheistic Philosophy of Religion. This is not an "I'll read it in my lunch break" book; this is the kind of text Pagan book groups should be reading and debating. Composed of four essays, it is a short, but dense work. The last essay, a theoilogical exegesis of the first book of The Iliad, has me itching to pick up my copy of Homer again. Here's hoping Butler will tackle more books of The Iliad in the future.

Finally, there is Dealing With Deities: Practical Polytheistic Theology by Raven Kaldera. Available in both print and ebook format, Kaldera explains at the very beginning that the text is based on his experiences, practices, and philosophies; it is not meant to a definitive "this is the way it is" doctrine of polytheism. As such, while I am not sure that I entirely agree with Kaldera's definition of a God (simply because I haven't worked that out for myself yet), I found his book entertaining, thought-provoking, and  -- yes -- practical.

 So, there is my too-brief list of contemporary theoilogical texts. I am sure that I missed some. Please let me know what they are so I can add to my Must Read list. 


*It is not uncommon to encounter the term thealogy in Goddess Spirituality circles. Also a completely valid term, though, to continue the argument above, I think it works best when applied to a monotheistic or monistic Goddess system.

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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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