Above all, my polytheism rejects the idea that there is “one true way”.
Polytheism is not a singular path, nor a singular pantheon. My polytheism is neither strictly descriptive nor strictly prescriptive, and leans heavily towards a situational view. My polytheism is not cookie-cutter. What works for one person in their relations with their gods may look very different from what works for another, and providing that both situations are consensual, both are equally valid.
I don’t think anyone has the right to gate-keep or dictate what polytheism is. Polytheism is not a new concept. Those who are attempting to control the meaning of ‘polytheism’ seem to have forgotten that this is a concept that goes back thousands of years and spans across cultures all over the world. To define it in a way that excludes more ideas than it embraces is a form of cultural erasure. It is colonialist, and it is abusive. My polytheism begins and ends with “there are many gods and they are real”.
My polytheism reminds me constantly that the gods do not want the same things from all of us, which is why I reject the idea that all polytheists should put “Gods first”. My gods have made it clear to me many, many times over the years that it is my job to put people first. My gods are fine on their own. They don’t need me to put them first. The people they have asked me to help, on the other hand, are not fine on their own.
Those who insist that all polytheists should be putting gods first are asking some of us to defy the will of our gods. I put people first because that’s what my gods want me to do. There were times in the past that I did put the gods first, and they let me know very quickly that they were angry with those choices. I know better than to go down that path again. That’s not to say that its not the duty of some polytheists to indeed put their gods first. Because again, the gods don’t want the same things from all of us. Because again, there is no one true way.
My polytheism soundly rejects the idea of a singular ‘authority’ or group of authorities. I am wary of anyone who positions themselves as a spiritual authority, especially when they attempt to exert such authority across traditions or pantheons. History demonstrates very clearly the flaws and dangers in such thinking.
Those who claimed spiritual authority in the medieval era did so under a doctrine of circular logic known as the Divine Right of Kings. Those who ruled claimed divine authority to do so, and those who supported such rule stated that the rulers held the positions they did “by the grace of God”. In defense of such legitimacy, the rulers claimed that if God didn’t deem it, they wouldn’t be in charge. We see the same circular logic at work when it comes to many “priests” in the polytheist community, who claim that what they are doing and what they are saying comes directly from the gods, and who use such a supposed mandate to act with arrogance and harshly authoritative attitudes towards anyone who acts in ways they find disagreeable. Some go as far as to warn that the gods will be angry and vengeful if we do not listen to what they say. Again, this is spiritual abuse.
“[The idea that] “Gods get angry when you don’t respect their priests” reveals an awful lot about what you were hoping to gain from being their priest.” – Rhyd Wildermuth
Are priests necessary? For some folks, sure. Others are content and/or better off without such systems of hierarchy. Both paths are valid. Discernment is the key.
My polytheism puts a lot of stock in honesty, integrity, and accountability. If someone posits themselves as an “expert”, I want to know what basis they have to make such a claim. If someone states that they have X years of training in category Y, I want to know who trained them. And if that person takes offense to such questions, that’s a huge red flag from where I stand.
Anyone who is a true professional, a true expert, should never take offense at their credentials being questioned. If anything, they should be grateful that such questions are being asked, as honesty and integrity are crucial to such work. Nothing to hide, nothing to fear. When we fail to hold those who claim ‘expertise’ to any recognizable standards, it can be especially damaging to newer folks entering into the community who will more likely than not instill their trust in such ‘experts’.
My polytheism holds that anyone who demands respect does not deserve it. Respect is earned through actions, through integrity, through the way that one’s work ripples through the community. Demanding respect comes from the ego, not from what one puts forth.
My polytheism distinguishes between facts and opinions. For example, having opinions on theology does not make one a theologian any more than having opinions on football would make one a star athlete. ‘Theology’ is a field of expertise in which standards are attached. One does not get to call themselves a ‘theologian’ on the basis of how many opinions they have, even if those opinions are well-researched. And while anyone is free to opine regarding theology, its more than a little problematic when those with no documented ‘expertise’ in the field of theology feel they have the right to talk down to those who actually *do* have such ‘expertise’.
My polytheism is of the “Many Gods, No Masters” variety. If your polytheism revolves around masters, that’s your choice. But if you insist that’s how everyone’s polytheism needs to be, I’m going to stand against that.
I’m not against submission as a concept, but the *reason* for said submission is crucial. There is submission based on mutual love and mutual trust, and there is submission based on fear and ‘authority’. The former is healthy and honorable. The latter is toxic and potentially abusive, and riddled with lots of complexes that far too many polytheists have carried over from the same monotheist religions that they claim to reject.
My polytheism stands firmly against the idea that one can or should never say “no”. This links directly with my above comments about submission, and again has potential for great abuse. I say “yes” as much as possible. But I reserve and have exercised the right to say “no”.
For example, I work mainly with three deities, of which one is essentially an eight-year-old child. And if I always said “yes”, the results would not be much different as if any given parent always said yes to an actual eight-year-old child. My apartment would look like a toy store, my freezer would be full of nothing but ice cream, I’d have no money to pay my bills, and my friends likely would be trying to intervene with concerns about my mental health and well-being. Discernment and compromise are the key.
My polytheism is centered on the belief that the gods have agency. But just like humans, they are not infallible. They mean well, but don’t always completely understand our circumstances. I don’t think that the gods are omnipotent and omniscient…those are concepts I associate with Monotheistic Christian Sky Daddy. I believe that the gods have the ability to be omnipresent but are not so by default. I also believe that the gods fuck up just the same as we do, and classical mythology drives that point home pretty clearly.
“God is a person like myself.” – Victor Anderson
Does this mean that the gods are exactly like us? Of course not. We are all divine beings, but the gods are divine to an exponential power. They are older, they are wiser, they are more powerful versions of ourselves. And yet, they are still mirrors of us.
And more than anything, my polytheism rejects the idea that an “apolitical” polytheism can possibly exist. Everything is political. And when you’re engaging in a minority religious practice that has a history of oppression and suppression, anything and everything you do is politicized. Whether you are overtly political or not is a different story, but polytheism is political no matter how you frame it. Inclusivity is a political act, as is exclusion. Working with the gods of the oppressors is political, as is working with the gods of the oppressed. When one side brands the other as ‘political’ and cries out in protest while they themselves are asserting political stances, they are engaging in nothing but smoke and mirrors while trying to maliciously claim authority and control meaning.