We talk about “Christianity,” as if there actually were such a thing.
But of course there isn't.
You'd think that pagans, of all people, would know better.
PaganSquare is a community blog space where Pagans can discuss topics relevant to the life and spiritual practice of all Pagans.
I wrote this blog as a contribution to recent discussions of polytheism vs. monotheism on PaganSquare when I noticed several people asserting that "most pagans" are "polytheists." I do not call myself a polytheist because while I affirm a multiplicity of images, for me they all point to a single divine presence in the world. I offer the below musings in a spirit of dialogue. I am interested to hear from those who call themselves "polytheists" whether they are speaking of a plurality of images and stories pointing to a "unity of being" or whether they are also saying that there are a "plurality of (sometimes) conflicting forces" that they would call "divinities."
In Rebirth of the Goddess I noted that monotheists were the ones who defined the term polytheism and wondered if in fact there really were any polytheists in the history of the world. I posed this question because monotheists assert that polytheists not only worship or honor a "diversity of images," but also insist that polytheists believe that there are a "diversity of conflicting and competing powers" in the world. Monotheists might even go so far as to say that polytheists deny that there is a "unity of being" underlying all of the diversity and difference in the world.
For me the notion that "the world is the body of Goddess" (or divinity) is more primary than multiply elaborated images, names, and stories about divine beings. I am less moved by myths of Goddesses and Gods than I am by images of the Goddess that incorporate plant and animal as well as human qualities. In one sense I am closer to animism than polytheism. It is the beauty of the world that moves me to reverence.
In recent years monotheism has been attacked as a “totalizing discourse” that justifies the domination of others in the name of a universal truth. In addition, from the Bible to the present day some have used their own definitions of “exclusive monotheism” to disparage the religions of others. Moreover, feminists have come to recognize that monotheism as we know it has been a “male monotheism” that for the most part excludes female symbols and metaphors for God. With all of this going against monotheism, who would want to affirm it?
At Pantheacon I attended a discussion about Wiccanate Privilege (See this post by Lupus for an accurate overview of the discussion). I was curious about this term because it had been applied to me in a post that Ivo Dominguez had written about the Literacy of Magic. The person who applied it, Ruadhan McElroy commented on a comment I made about how I felt the Pagan community was divorcing itself from Magic in order to achieve mainstream acceptance. He made the point that such a statement displayed a level of privilege and assumption about magic's place in a given Pagan spiritual practice. Another commenter also pointed this out in a different way and in subsequent comments I came to better understand the perspective of magic as an optional practice because its simply not central to the given spiritual practices of a particular spiritual tradition. I'll admit that when I think of Paganism, I typically associate magic with Paganism and with anything that might fall under the rather broad umbrella of Paganism (which as I'll discuss later points to a distinct problem). I think that Ruadhan made an accurate point, though at the time it blew my mind that the practice of Magic could be perceived as a form of privilege (mainly because my own experiences in mainstream culture, but in this case Ruadahan is referring to the Pagan subculture, and in that context it makes sense).
The conversation that occurred at Pantheacon helped me further understand this aspect of privilege, and where Ruadhan is coming from. Ruadhan also wrote a post about Wiccanate Privilege and noted the following:...
While interfaith discussion with neo-pagans is valuable, I'd personally like to see more discussion of our own traditions and religious praxis. So, I came up with a bunch of questions to get the ball rolling. I'm going to answer these over the course of this month via a series of posts here and anyone else who likes them is also free to participate.
I belong to a local, Pan-Pagan group. I was a member of it about seven or eight years ago, but it was a bit too chaotic and "fluffy" for my tastes. I didn't end up sticking around for long as a result, but it did good work in the community and meant well, so it's existence didn't really bother me either. It just wasn't for me, but it served it's purpose. Recently, the organization went under a fair amount of upheaval and was in danger of breaking apart due to infighting and disagreements.
It had managed to achieve non-profit status about three or four years ago, so people came forward to try and help repair the damage and keep it alive. While not the most conservative state in the union, Pennsylvania is hardly what I'd call progressive either. As such, having a Pagan organization with non-profit status is something worthy of celebrating and definitely provokes some consideration. Some of the local Heathens were part of the initial efforts to rebuild the organization from the ground up, and informed me of the issues at hand. I decided I wanted to help as well, which brings us to the moment where I found myself in a county owned recreational center, sitting in on one of the meetings.
At one point, the conversation turned to the subject of how to make events and rituals mutually inclusive and respectful to all people who might be in attendance. Towards the end of the discussion, an elderly woman of an amicable nature said "We should all stop arguing, and just worship the Earth." She said this while wearing an expression that suggested she felt that this was so universal of a truth there could be no way that anyone who called themselves Witch, Pagan, or Polytheist could possibly disagree. It wasn't an opinion, to her; it was fact.
Most of the people in attendance were Wiccans and/or Monists of various philosophies, so she didn't seem to actually offend anyone. Even my fellow Heathens and I were sort of used to these statement from her, so we didn't really see the point in working ourselves up over the issue. Getting angry at this sort of person is like yelling at a cloud; it does nothing, and they didn't come from someone who was particularly polarizing. She's just the typical representation of someone who thinks they're so inclusive that couldn't possibly make an excluding statement.
The thing is, however, that I've seen so many theological arguments come from this exact scenario; someone makes some sort of presumption for all of Paganism, and than they come across someone who believes the exact opposite. The next step is that the disagreeing Pagan will point out, often times with great offense, that the person is very wrong. Typically, the person who made the faux-inclusive statement gets defensive, because they aren't bigoted and/or privileged so of COURSE the other person is just being too sensitive, and than an argument breaks out.
We've all seen his exact scenario play out a lot, especially over the last year or two. I stay out of these fights because, to be quite simple about it, I don't recognize the authority of some fool sitting off on the sideline making proclamations that are less authoritative on a given religion than the content of a Wikipedia article. Some people, however, don't go by that standard and I can't blame them; when you practice a minority religion, you find yourself bombarded with a rather alarming amount of social faux pas.
That's putting it very diplomatically to be sure, but it cuts to the core nicely. Being the target of so many social and diplomatic mistakes, you expect people who also practices minority religions to be more mindful and considerate. After all, regardless of whether you are a Hindu, a Buddhist, a Gardenerian Wiccan, a solitary practitioner, or what have you...in many circles within North America and (I suspect) Europe, you are going to be the targets of some similar acts of ignorance, privilege*, and stupidity. You expect that anyone who is in a similar situation would take equal effort in being mindful of the theology and philosophy of others.
So when that expectation is let down, it's easy to get extremely angry about it.
I am Heathen. I do respect the Earth, no doubt; there are spirits both animist and ancestral that reside on it and within it, and I do my best to show them the respect and thankfulness my tradition says that they are due. I do not, however, worship the Earth; that's a word that I direct towards divine figures almost exclusively. Even with ancestors, the term "worship" is used differently than I use it when I talk about Gods. That is my path, and no one gets to tell me what it's about or what I should or should not be worshiping.**
You are...well, whatever you are. Whatever your tradition, path, or philosophy, it is up to you to define your worldview as best as you are able. In the meantime, for the sake of the Ancestors, Gods, the Earth,or even the Flying Spaghetti Monster, don't act like your path is mine. At least, not before we've talked and discovered that together. Not until you truly know, rather than feel you can reasonably presume. Your path does not represent the whole spectrum of non-Abrhamic and/or non-Islamic belief,*** so don't pretend that it does.
You have the right to your beliefs, but that right ends at the beginning of every other person's belief. No matter then intention, someone trying to unify all faiths across the world into a single thread is going to end up insulting someone. Probably a lot of someones. No matter the intentions, it becomes exactly like being told that you are a Satanist because you're not Christian. Improperly worded or poorly thought out statements about religious unity contain a very similar message; they involve telling someone what their faith is, without their consent or consideration of their person. Should we be surprised that such statements end poorly when the presume so many things that, in many case, trip over many of our own psychological wounds?
No matter what you wish to say when it comes to religion, you'll find someone who disagrees. That is wonderful! After decades and centuries of religious thought having been homogenized, by legal mandate in some cases, we have the opportunity to form our religious standards, philosophies, and concepts. In many places in the world, such processes even have legal protection. We get to disagree on religion, and have that not be a big deal. We can identify, build, and form spiritual relationships in ways that were unthinkable a few generations ago. Savor that!
This statement even applies to my Monist friends; even if you feel all paths are one, the wondrous permutations of that one idea are split into thousands of ideas like the light of one sun traveling through a prism. This isn't a cause for contention. It is a cause to rejoice!
Even this statement that I am making now will find some who disagree with it, and I'm okay with that. The person who disagrees with probably will be as well, because I'm about to say one thing; this is how I see things. I speak for no one else but myself, because I'm the only person I have the authority to speak for. Everyone else needs to speak for themselves.
And I wouldn't have it any other way.