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Deity Centered Polytheism


I just returned from a creative retreat where I spent the better part of the week blade-smithing and oil painting and I intended to move on to issues other than the current 'pop culture vs. devotional polytheist' Pagan debate. Upon returning, however, I found this brilliant post: by Anomalous Thracian, and realized that I wasn't done yet. In light of some of the comments there, I think that perhaps I need to articulate where I'm writing from a little more clearly. Because one thing that's getting lost (purposely, I think) in this debate is that what it really comes down to is those whose practices are devotionally centered on the Holy Powers (Gods and ancestors) and those for whom the human experience, human emotions, human society,  the human mind. and most of all human comfort is centric. I actually think that this is the heart of many of the misunderstandings that we're seeing. We're not speaking as one community. We will never speak as one community so long as devotion to the Gods is being marginalized. We will never speak as one community so long as devotional polytheists are expected to accept a certain homogenization of our beliefs, predicated on acceptance of attitudes and practices that to those of us who prioritize the Gods are objectionable. We're not speaking from the same place. We're not even speaking the same devotional language. Instead, we're each fighting to wrest the roots of our various traditions from out of the other's hands. 

I will begin by focusing briefly on my own spirituality, because it is not all that out of the ordinary to anyone actually rooted in any sense whatsoever of their own indigenous traditions. That's the kicker isn't it? Some of us are working as hard as possible to restore our traditions and some of us are working only to make themselves feel good. So let me get this out of the way from the start: My polytheism, which informs every aspect of my life, is not people-centric. It is not focused on making human beings feel better about themselves, or about fitting into a nice social group. It is not an excuse for intellectual masturbation, nor do I practice it for my own gratification. It is not always comfortable, and is quite often inconvenient. My polytheism, as I believe devotional polytheism by its very nature should be, is very, very Deity centric. I honor and serve the Gods because it is the right and proper thing to do as an intelligent, responsible adult. While my practice is in part about building community, that community is one centered in devotion to the Holy Powers. That is the only community in which I am interested. I would go so far as to say Paganism that isn't Deity centric isn't Pagan. It might be fun. It might be a intellectually entertaining. It might be a nice, accepting social gathering. It's not, however anything approaching polytheistic spirituality. 

What's more, i don't care if my words offend. I don't set out to offend, but in the end, I care only about my Gods and serving Them well, in the ways my own gnosis and extensive and ongoing divination indicates They wish for me to serve. Outside of my partner, my dearest friends, and my House, outsiders have value to me only insofar as they are serving their Gods rightly and well. I will go to the wall for someone trying hard to get right with their Holy Powers, no matter how much they struggle and stumble but the minute it becomes about someone's personal drama, or feel good psychology, or centralizing humans over the Gods, or ego stroking, i'm out of there. Then it becomes a theft of time I could better use honoring the Gods. Then it becomes pointless. Then, it becomes a mockery of the sacred. 

As a devotional polytheist, I will not and cannot deify the 'Self." It seems to me that so many of these arguments and debates break down to one thing: a concerted effort from certain people and certain groups to put human experience and the human psyche at the center of the spiritual experience. Such an attitude is flat out contrary to polytheism. So, by the way, is the idea of unity, of one central divine Source. That is monism, and a step away from monotheism. Our Gods aren't all the same and moreover, don't have to be. 

Over and over in the course of this debate, I've been asked two questions over and over again: why do I find someone  else's difference of opinion so offensive and why should one center their lives and spirituality around their Gods?

I don't particularly care how other people worship, or what they believe. I care very much when they bring those ideas and practices into polytheism. This isn't about us. It's not about me or you or anyone else. It's bigger than that. This is about building a tradition, about reclaiming and restoring the beliefs and practices of our ancestors, which were torn away from them, wrenched away and sundered. It's about taking up those threads and rooting them in the present so that they can grow and blossom. That's not going to happen until the majority of us willingly learn to see the world and our interactions in it through the lens of our own indigeny, through the lens by which our polytheistic ancestors formed their praxis. what we're being asked to do is to accept various ideas and approaches as valid when to polytheistic eyes they're silly at best and impious at worst. that's not ever going to happen. It's not an area where there's room for compromise. Nor should there be. The problem isn't a difference of opinion, the problem is being expected to accommodate those opinions within the bounds of our respective polytheisms. You don't build a house on faulty foundations. 

A devotional polytheist centers his or her life, spirituality, and praxis on the Holy Powers, namely the Gods and ancestors. As I noted above, i've often been asked why, and the answer is simple: it enhances every aspect of one's life. It is the core from which all good things flow. Moreover, it is the proper order of things. The Gods are owed our veneration. That is no small thing at all. 

In her article on putting the Deities first ( Canaanite Polytheist Tess Dawson writes: 

"The monist or dualist looks at a deity as a mask, an archetypalist looks at a deity as a robe, and all three are dressing up what is essentially a monist, dualist, or atheist ideology in the deities’ images and sometimes calling it polytheism. Either way, we’re seeing costumes and masks, not deities.

No, no, and no.

When we put the deities first, we see this thinking as a reversal of what our main priority should be. These ways divorce the deities from their splendor, and reduce them into a human construct or water them down to where they are meaningless. When one experiences and knows the deities as living individual beings, one realizes just how badly conceived some of these practices and ideologies are, and one can’t continue silently giving an impression of agreement."

I couldn't have said this better. It goes right back to being deity centered rather than people centered in our practices. 

The recent debate about pop culture paganism brought home a few facts to me.  This is a struggle. We are engaged in a potentially divisive struggle. It's a necessary one, but it's a struggle, a call to arms nonetheless. We are fighting to establish and build our traditions, restore our lineages, and renew veneration for the Powers in a way that will outlast us and our descendants. Secular Paganism, humanist paganism, atheist paganism, pop culture paganism, archetypism, and all of these various ideologies that put just about anything but actual Gods central to the spiritual experience (combined with the expectations that we as polytheists will give these ideologies equal legitimacy and weight to our own within our own traditions) are attacks on the integrity polytheism as a whole. Our traditions were destroyed once. It will not happen again. I believe that every devoted polytheist today has a responsibility not only to honor their Gods and ancestors consistently and well, but to stand up and draw a line in the sand with the greater mishmash of "Pagan" communities, a line that says 'you take your horse shit this far and no farther."

Because regardless of what people on the non-Deity centric side of the fence say, there is a concerted attempt to define devotion out of Paganism, out of polytheism, and out of Heathenry. It's an attempt to finish the assault upon our traditions that our ancestors faced. This time it's made with words and verbal strategies, with writing and blog posts. But it's an attack nonetheless. Calling those of us who put our Gods first 'fundamentalists' in an effort to seize the moral high ground of this argument will not change the fact that this is a battle for the very soul of our traditions. Our ancestors, despite what monotheistic rhetoric would tell us, resisted and fought back and I for one believe it's incumbent on us today to do at least that much. 

Last modified on

 Galina Krasskova is a Heathen priest, author, and Northern Tradition shaman. She holds a Masters degree in Religious Studies and is currently working toward a PhD in Classics. Galina is the author of several books including “Essays in Modern Heathenry” and “Skalded Apples: A Devotional Anthology to Idunna and Bragi.”
(Photo by Hudson Valley photographer Mary Ann Glass.)


  • Amarfa
    Amarfa Saturday, 08 June 2013

    What about deities that are civilization and human-centered? For example, Hanuman the monkey god?

  • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus
    P. Sufenas Virius Lupus Sunday, 09 June 2013

    Hanuman isn't human-centered: he's devotion-centered, and more specifically, his devotion is centered on Lord Ram. He is the model and exemplar and god of bhakti, and exemplifies exactly what Galina is talking about here. As a monkey god, he's also an animal and has to do with the connection of Ram to nature...but, in terms of modern Hindu practice and understanding, Hanuman is first and foremost about devotion, and devoted service to Ram. He is a communicator and a warrior and everything else that he is because he is devoted to Lord Ram.

  • Apuleius Platonicus
    Apuleius Platonicus Thursday, 13 June 2013

    The Hindu concept of Bhakti is one of the most important examples of living polytheism in practice for modern Pagans to aspire to follow. All of the great philosophers of Hinduism going back to Adi Shankara and up to the present day have been ardent proponents of the Way of Devotion. Like Proclus, these great intellectuals also composed loving hymns to the Gods, and set a personal example of piety.

  • Laura P
    Laura P Sunday, 09 June 2013

    Yes. Why people who do not even believe the Gods are real would come into polytheistic religions and have the nerve to tell those of us who believe in and love our Gods that *WE* are the problem is beyond me. They seem to be trying to define us out of our own traditions, which is not gonna happen...

  • Hope M.
    Hope M. Sunday, 09 June 2013

    " the end, I care only about my Gods and serving Them well, in the ways my own gnosis and extensive and ongoing divination indicates They wish for me to serve. Outside of my partner, my dearest friends, and my House, outsiders have value to me only insofar as they are serving their Gods rightly and well...but the minute it becomes about someone's personal drama, or feel good psychology, or centralizing humans over the Gods, or ego stroking, i'm out of there."

    This language is extremely troubling to me.
    I certainly do not expect you to make room in your tradition for people whose activities and beliefs do not line up with what you term polytheistic spirituality.

    But, humans have value to you only insofar as, by your reckoning, they are serving their Gods properly?

    I find that chilling.

    If I have misunderstood you (I hope so!) please correct me.

  • Galina Krasskova
    Galina Krasskova Sunday, 09 June 2013

    On a transpersonal level, of course human beings have value. My wish for folks is that they get right with their Gods and ancestors and live happy productive lives. I do not like to see anyone suffer.

    but on a personal level, i'm consistently surprised at the assumption that I will put individual feelings above doing right by the Gods. My general rule of thumb in my life is that the moment someone interferes with my relationship to my Gods they're out of my life period. that comes first and foremost, always.

    and i stand by what i said: people's drama is irrelevant to me. I will do right by my Gods and ancestors when someone comes to me, and by their Gods and ancestors, but it's not personal and it doesn't impact me on a personal level at all.

  • Editor B
    Editor B Sunday, 09 June 2013

    Galina, I wonder where I stand in the struggle as you define it. I identify positively with humanism, naturalism, yes even atheism. (According to most Christians, I am an atheist.) Yet I would describe myself as earth-centered. Gaia is the power I revere, my deity if you will. Is the Gaia revealed by modern science in some sense the same Great Mother revered by the ancestors? I've assumed so. Our human perspectives change and shift but the underlying reality of her power remains.

  • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus
    P. Sufenas Virius Lupus Sunday, 09 June 2013

    I won't comment on how to define yourself, or how you might be best defined...

    However, I will comment that the modern "Gaia hypothesis" that derives from science and the goddess from the ancient world of the same name are not the same thing. One of them comes from the realm of science, one comes from the realm of religion and spirituality and myth. Just as various others have been saying in the comments above, it is a mistake to take something that was meant to be used for psychology (i.e. Jung) and make a religion out of it; likewise, even though the Gaia hypothesis takes its name from an originally religious matter, doesn't mean that it is remotely the same as the divine figure named in the original religious context.

    It would be equally inadvisable to start a cultus of the Higgs Boson because people in physics were calling it "the God Particle" for a while.

  • Amarfa
    Amarfa Sunday, 09 June 2013

    Because you are so connected with your deity, do you hold yourself separate and above others?

  • Laura P
    Laura P Sunday, 09 June 2013

    I find this whole phenomenon fascinating. Polytheists are a small minority among the "neo-pagan" demographic and we have few spaces to discuss who we are and our actual practices. You will not find us trolling and commenting on archetypal pagans' articles.....because we are too busy SERVING OUR GODS. Yet anywhere we discuss who we are and what we do, it never fails that a condescending secular humanist archetypalist neo-pagan is gonna troll and needle and insist that they are coming from morally superior ground for putting human beings before the Holy Powers. We are not telling archetypalists not to be archetypalists....we are just saying that THAT is not POLYTHEISM. Meanwhile we are being denigrated and misquoted and (they have to be doing this intentionally because no one is this dense) PURPOSELY misunderstood and looked down upon by the those who (OH IRONY) insist that all ways of doing things are all equally valid......UNLESS (apparently) you happen to be a POLYTHEIST (and in that case BURN them! On the altar of Humanism, BURN them!).

    Because it is apparently fine to marginalize and vilify minority voices if they upset the nice liberals.

  • Liza
    Liza Sunday, 09 June 2013

    I think I love you

    The more comments I see you make places the more I smile. No, seriously, no sarcasm here at all. None.

  • Amarfa
    Amarfa Sunday, 09 June 2013

    Uh, I really am that dense. I have really no idea what secular humanism is. All I want is that the debate detach itself from perjorative vituperation. That's it. that's all I'm asking. I've got to go where the debate is in order to say that.

    I was wrong about Hanuman. Hindu/Sanskrit/Deities from India are not my general area of practice.

  • Byron Ballard
    Byron Ballard Monday, 10 June 2013

    Because it is planting season--at last!--here in the southern highlands, I have missed much of this ongoing pissing contest between polytheists and whatever it is we call Pagans who don't believe that the Divines exist outside our human consciousness. Having food to eat and honoring those non-human beings keep one fairly busy, I think, this time of year. I only wanted to cheer Galina on and to thank her for being steadfast and uncompromising in her service to both Deity and community. If that service is sometimes hard for people to understand or even to hear gives it a tough-love aspect that most polytheists will ruefully understand.

  • Galina Krasskova
    Galina Krasskova Monday, 10 June 2013

    Byron, thank you. That means a lot right now. thank you.

    and looking forward to chatting with you next Wed on the show. :)

  • Byron Ballard
    Byron Ballard Monday, 10 June 2013

    Yes, me, too. I will give thought to this month of silence but doubt that I, since I'm traveling so much, will participate. But perhaps I will blog about it in some wittily ironic way.

  • Betty Prat
    Betty Prat Tuesday, 11 June 2013

    I support you and agree with you 100%. These people are just causing dissension because they have nothing better than to slander good people like you that do the WORK. I don't even think they know what the WORK entails. The Gods take care of their own and in this case their words will be their undoing. I stand by you, you have our support! Ashe!

  • Marie Dees
    Marie Dees Wednesday, 12 June 2013

    One of my teachers in my spiritual path was Hindu. I remember that he had a great devotion to the goddess Durga. Devotion is recognized as one of the paths to enlightenment because it means not putting the self first. There are other paths, but is it right to attempt to turn someone away from their path because it doesn't fit another's needs? One of the things that drew me to Paganism was the ability to chose my path without being told it was wrong. I want others to have that same experience, whether they worship Durga, Odin, Hekate, Celestia or find the divine within themselves.

    I'm deity-centric in my personal practice. Not because I don't value other people (I do) or because I don't value science (love it), but because it is my personal practice based on my personal experience. Now, I don't feel I should have to justify that to others. It's my choice. However, that does mean that I can't demand that those who want to use pop culture as part of their practice justify themselves.

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