Pagan Paths

The morning sun rising in the east calls to the Bright Youth in me, and the Bright Youth responds. The full moon calls to the Muse, and the waning and dark moon to the Dark Maiden who is a part of me. The earth I touch with my fingers calls to the Mother, in both her guises, Nurturing and Devouring. The bright green shoots rising from the earth and the green leaves on the trees on my street in the spring, these call to the Stag King, while the red leaves fallen to the earth in the autumn call to the Dying God. The spring storm that rises up suddenly in the west calls to the Storm King. The night sky, the dark space between the stars, calls to Mother Night, my death come to make peace. The gods-without call and the gods-within respond.

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A Conversation Between an Archetypalist and a Hard Polytheist, Part 1

Over at the blog Son of Hel, Lucius Svartwulf Helsen has written a 3-part response to my post, "The Disenchantment of Hard Polytheism".  Helsen's series is entitled "Let's Disenchant the World".  Here I will respond to Part 1 of Helsen's series.

Helsen begins by describing the two "camps" within Paganism: the archetypalists and the hard polytheists:

"One camp views the Gods and Goddesses as “archetypes,” things that represent an Ideal. The Hero, the Wizard, the Wise Man, the Warrior, the Maiden, the Crone, etc. Archetypes are universal around the world, and while the ideals of a Warrior are different between the Spartans and the Samurai, they both have a Warrior, for example.

"The other camp viewed the Gods as discrete individual beings. Ares and Tyr might both be Gods of War, but each has his own unique personality, desires, form, etc. Ares was not interchangeable with Tyr, anymore so than you or I would be interchangeable."

Admittedly, Helsen's description of archetypalists is an accurate description of a lot of Neo-Paganism. However, if Helsen read what I have written on this very blog, he would know that I am critical of the Neo-Pagan over-simplification of Jungianism which he describes. According to Jung, we do not interact with archetypes, per se, but with archetypal images.  So, while we might speak of an archetype of the "God of War", on an individual level, we do not interact with that archetype. Rather, we interact with "Ares" or "Tyr" or whatever -- each of which have their own unique cultural identities.  So, Helsen's concern about homogenizing the gods is misplaced.

An example from Jung's own life illustrates this.  One of the archetypes Jung wrote about was the "Senex" or the Wise Old Man.  Jung interacted with an archetypal image of the Senex, but he did not call it "Senex" or "Wise Old Man"; he called it "Philemon" -- a specific character from mythology.  It had a specific appearance, which had the wings of a kingfisher.  This archetypal image was unique to Jung.  The Senex would appear to me or you differently.  But Philemon functioned in Jung's psyche in the same way another archetypal image of the Wise Old Man would function for me -- hence "archetypal".  

Helsen then takes issue with my argument that both atheism and theism fall into the same trap which leads to the disenchantment of theworld.  Helsen responds that "the ancient Pagans fell into the ''staunchly polytheistic' category" and therefore following in their footsteps must necessarily leads to the enchanted world that they lived in.  There is a compelling simplicity to this argument, but it assumes that contemporary polytheism is equivalent to the polytheism of ancient peoples.  I don't think we can assume this to be true.  Much of contemporary polytheism -- especially the kind that insists that the gods are "real", "literal", and "separate" -- employs ontological categories that were not known to ancient peoples.  Contemporary polytheism is a form of post-Enlightenment theism, and therefore it is shaped by that cultural legacy, as much as contemporary atheism is.  

Helsen then argues that when we fail to see the gods as “separate, distinct, individuals,” we fall into the trap of stereotyping. He is right, in so far as that goes.  But my argument is that, when all we see is our separateness and our individuality, we overlook our interconnectedness.  When polytheists focus exclusively on the separateness of the gods, they are contributing to the disenchantment of the world, because the disenchantment was not caused when we forgot the gods, but when we forgot how we are a part of the world.


Helsen then says that "it wasn’t science that stripped the world of Gods and Spirits, it was Christianity."  I disagree.  The Scientific Revolution is responsible for stripping the world of spirit.  An otherworldly Christianity played a role no doubt, but some forms of Christianity -- like Celtic Christianity -- retained their connection to the natural world.  In addition, Christianity did not so much strip the world of spirits as transform them into angels and demons and saints. (Captialism also played a major role in the disenchantment of the world.)


Helsen's next point reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of what "enchantment" means.  He writes:


"And is the world, Helheim, death, or anything else made less enchanting for her being her own person rather than just part of a larger….being/archetype/somethingorother? Or is it made more enchanting? When we read a story, for example, is the story made better when the characters are individuals, or when they are baseline tropes/archetypes?"  


Here, Helsen seems to be using the term "enchantment" in an emotional sense.  For example, one can be "enchanted" with a person, or one cannot find a story to be "enchanting".  


But that is not the sense is which I and many other Pagans are using the term.  The re-enchantment of the world refers to the return of a sense of our essential participation in the world. It is a countercultural response to a reductionist and positivistic science which views nature (including us) as mechanism and a capitalism which reduces nature (including us) to commodity and resource.  As Morris Berman explains in The Reenchantment of the World (1984), the view of nature that predominated until the Scientific Revolution was one where human beings were at home in the natural world, indeed part of it, rather than alienated observers.  To facilitate a scientific understanding of the world, humankind sought to separate itself from nature, to step “outside” of natural phenomena and become observers of the world, to see nature as an object.  And this became not just a scientific method, but our ordinary, everyday consciousness. The result was individual neurosis, social alienation, and environmental desecration.

Helsen agrees that we are all "part of a continuous stream of existence whose vastness dwarfs us all", but he argues that such a view is not necessarily exclusive of a view which appreciates individual distinctness.  I agree 100%.  It is a question of emphasis.  Many hard polytheists emphasize the separateness of the gods over our connectedness.  There undoubtedly are ways in which we need greater appreciation of our individuality.  But the re-enchantment of the world calls for a greater appreciation of our interconnectedness, not our separateness.

When hard polytheists emphasize the separateness of the gods, the intent usually seems to be to prove that the gods are "real".  But this argument assumes that only what is separate is "real", thus buying into the premise which led to the disenchantment of the world in the first place.  From this perspective, something is not real if it is "in our heads".  But Jung argued that what is in our heads is as real, as what is "outside" of us. When I describe the gods as "archetypes", the intent is not to say they are not real.  Nor am I saying that they are identical with the part of ourselves that we are conscious of.  They are part of our psyches, but our psyches are so vast and so "other" that the archetypes might as well be separate personalities.  Indeed, this is precisely how Jung described them!

In my next post, I will address Part 2 of Helsen's series.

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John Halstead also writes at (Patheos),,,,, and The Huffington Post. He was the principal facilitator of “A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment” (, and the editor of the anthology, Godless Paganism: Voices of Non-Theistic Pagans. John is also a Shaper of the fledgling Earthseed community ( To speak with John, contact him on Facebook.


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