Relational Polytheism: Standing Beside The Gods

John Beckett has a post up, The Future of Polytheism: Keeping the Gods at the Front, and John Halstead has a response to it entitled, If It Doesn’t Help Me Save This World, I Don’t Want Your Polytheist Revolution.

As so often, I find myself positioned halfway between the two Johns. An uncomfortable position to be in, perhaps.

When I first read John Beckett’s article, I couldn’t pin-point exactly what it was that made me uncomfortable about it. I just knew that it made me uncomfortable. Putting the gods at the front – what does that mean? Does it mean that they are the most important aspect of Paganism and/or polytheism?

I am more comfortable with John Halstead’s article, but I think he missed the qualifiers in John Beckett’s article: that the gods are immanent, and therefore part of the natural world that we want to protect from the depredations of humanity and capitalism; religion is not much good if it doesn’t work towards social, environmental, and restorative justice.

The way I see my relationship with the deities, as I outlined in my post on why I am a polytheist Wiccan, is that they are our allies. They are not our masters and we are not their servants; we are not their masters and they are not our servants. We are co-creators with them of reality. Sometimes the realities that we create are frightening and harmful, as in the current ecological and climate crisis. Sometimes the realities that they are said to have created are frightening and harmful, as in the Trojan War (though I am sure it was all too easy for the ancient Greeks and Trojans to claim that the gods made them do it).

So whilst the gods are important, because they are the consciousnesses of specific places and natural phenomena, they are not more important than the ecosystem, Nature, the Earth, and other species who share the planet with us.

As a relational polytheist, I feel that it is our job to focus on right relationship with other beings, starting with other animals, including humans, and with the ecosystem in which we live, of which the deities are the conscious emanations. This can mean that we need to engage in restorative justice, such as the Black Lives Matter campaign, or by supporting the Idle No More protests of Indigenous peoples, or campaigning for asylum seekers to be treated fairly by the UK.

The Lotus Pool, By Rafael Matysiuk (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Lotus Pool, by Rafael Matysiuk (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons.
A complex ecosystem.

Being in right relationship with our fellow embodied beings, and in right relationship with our ecosystem, will do more to bring us into right relationship with our deities than any amount of worship. Yes, we need to make that inner connection with the spirits of place, the spirits of the land, and the deities, as part of our awareness of all the interconnected relationships of the nested interconnections of being in which we live. But deities, land-wights, animals, humans, are all part of that web of relationships. The deities are not more important than other aspects of that interconnectedness, any more than humans are.

So I stand beside my deities as an ally and a co-worker. They are more powerful and far-seeing in the realms of spirit, consciousness, and the timeless, so I need their help to access that mode of consciousness. They, on the other hand, need my finite, time-bound, and physically-embodied mode of consciousness in order to bring about change in the physical world.

I am devoted to the interconnectedness, to bringing about heaven on earth, to creating (right) relationships and beloved community. If the gods are allies in that process, then they are my allies and my friends.

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Pagan Tea Times with John Halstead and Fritz Muntean

My Pagan Tea Times spilled into March — but I hope they won’t be my last for the year!

John Halstead got a lot of baby face time, as I was bouncing the baby on my knee for about half our call, and that of course led naturally to talking about our kids and families. Most of the Pagans in my life (with a few valuable exceptions) don’t have children, so it’s nice to talk to other Pagans who have coped with similar limitations and had some of the same joys. John and I talked a lot of brass tacks — how to encourage writer engagement on websites, experiences writing for different web venues, etc. — but I also enjoyed hearing about how John was first inspired to start blogging and his trip to PantheaCon. Bonus: he’s now reading my latest book!

Next, I sat down with Fritz Muntean, a colleague from the American Academy of Religion and co-founder of NROOGD back in the 1960s. Fritz often comes off as combative online, and he confesses that he loves a good argument, but in person he’s soft-spoken, good-humored, and a big fan of babies. (My little one also joined me for the end of this call!) We talked about the potential role of humor in deflating conflict, the founding of The Pomegranate (now a peer-reviewed journal of Pagan Studies), and subcultural standards of what constitutes civility on the internet, especially related to the recent article in The Nation about “toxic Twitter feminism.” Reading that article later led me down a fascinating rabbit hole of criticism and rebuttal, some of which was mysterious to me, as the article left me with a positive impression of the WOC feminist (Mikki Kendall) that most opponents claimed the article was critical of. I suppose I already knew that what’s considered offensive relies heavily on context and on how the person doing the speaking is perceived. Much to unpack there — I’m adding another item to the list of articles I wish I had time to write. I also had a good time hearing about Fritz’ background as a carpenter, his pursuit of a Master’s degree in his fifties, and his love of drag. Perhaps most surprising of all, though, I found Fritz to be an excellent active listener — not what I would have expected from our online interactions.

May all your Tea Times past and future be this productive and fun!