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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What the heck is "Jungian polytheism"?

Some time ago, I was asked by a devotional polytheist what "Jungian polytheism" is.  In this post, I'm going to try to answer that question without all the psychological jargon and Jung quotes that I usually fall back on.

For me, being Pagan means that I find the divine (1) in myself and (2) in the world around me. These are two aspects of my Paganism that I struggle to bring together: the Self-centric Paganism and the earth-centric Paganism. Anyway, "Jungian polytheism" is (mostly) part of the former, the part of my religion that locates the divine in myself. 

Now, when I say I locate the divine in myself, I don't mean I am divinizing my conscious ego-self -- that would be delusional. For me, what I am calling "myself" or "my Self" is much larger than my conscious mind -- which is just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. My "Self" includes an unconscious that is much "larger" than what I ordinarily think of as "me". In fact, that larger Self may very well expand out into the world in some way, and that is where my Self-centric and earth-centric Paganism begin to overlap. (But that's a discussion for another day.)

This all comes from the psychologist, Carl Jung. So that's where the Jungian part of "Jungian polytheism" comes from.

What's important for this discussion is to understand that this unconscious Self is not unitary. It is made up of myriad partial personalities running around in the background of my conscious mind. These partial selves are not invented; they are discovered -- through meditation, dreams, analysis of neurosis and so on. They often have certain resemblances or correspondences to the gods and heroes of myth. (I think there's a reason for that, but again that's a discussion for another day.) 

So that's where the poly- part of the "Jungian polytheism" comes from: There are "many" of these partial selves. If these partial selves are left to their own devices, they will drive us to ruin, because they are all battling for dominance. At any given moment, we can be kind of "possessed" by one of these mini-personalities that drive us or "ride" us.

By making room in my conscious life for each of these selves, a sacred time and a sacred place to honor each of them in their own right, I bring order to the chaos that is my "self". This can be done through therapy or many other ways. I do it through ritual. The goal of ritual, for me, is not mastery of these other selves, but wholeness. Through ritual, I seek to integrate these partial selves with my conscious self. Personal power (power-with, not power-over), I believe comes from bringing these disparate personal forces into some kind of harmony.

But why call them gods? That's a question that might be asked by an atheist or a polytheist. The reason I call them "gods" is because I can't think of any other word that adequately describes the overwhelming influence that these powers have over our lives. In a very real sense, they are living us. They determine our fate, the way a literal god would. We might also call them demons (or, better, what the Greeks called daimones), but the goal to to sacralize them, not to demonize them -- to honor them, and treat each of them as holy. (What are demons anyway, but the repressed gods of a conquered people?)

And that's the other reason why I call them "gods" -- because I respond to them the way I would to a god, by honoring them in sacred ritual. And invoking these "gods" can have the same effect within me that many people experience by praying to traditional gods, such as emotional healing and personal transformation. Can they help me get a job or a lover? Of course they can: by helping me to change, so I can change my circumstances.

So that's where the -theism part of the "Jungian polytheism" comes from. It's obvious this is a very different understanding of the gods than many devotional polytheists have. And I admit that when I talk to devotional polytheists, I am hearing them describe their relationships with the gods through my own paradigm. I don't understand the metaphysical nature of the gods in the same way they do. But I do respect and honor the relationship they have with their gods. I respect and honor the rituals they use to create and maintain those relationships. And I respect and honor the good that those relationships bring into their lives. And I have no problem calling their gods "gods", because that's what they are to me as well.

The same goes for my Christian wife and her God. I honor her experience and I can use her language. Does it matter that we don't mean exactly the same things by those words? It would sadden me if my wife or a devotional polytheist found me impious or disrespectful because the words we use mean something different to me. I think that while we are starting out in very different places, with different understandings about the nature of the gods, we do end up, if not in the exact same place, then at least in the same neighborhood -- the place where we all honor the holiness of the encounter with the divine Other, however we conceive that.

In a future post, I hope to introduce you to my gods so you can see what I am talking about in practice.

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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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