Is Hard Polytheism Incomplete?

Photo by Jennuine Captures
Photo by Jennuine Captures

I think that hard polytheism is incomplete.

I think that there is an underlying unity in all things that hard polytheism — at least, the hard polytheism I see presented most often within my own tradition, ADF — does not take into account. This became clear to me when I began to read Saraswati Rain’s thesis, Spiritual Direction in Paganism.

She outlines the variety of ways that Pagans might view “‘God’ the Concept”, and for the first time aspecting made a certain kind of sense to me. It wasn’t that it made sense because I accept it in the way it’s often discussed (i.e. every God/dess is in fact just another name for THE God/dess). This new understanding felt more nuanced.

Looking at her overview, and thinking about my own personal experiences of Deity throughout my life, the idea of an underlying unity makes sense. The natural world demonstrates as much. Nothing exists in complete isolation of anything else. All things, on some level, are interconnected.

And yet when I think about how hard polytheism has been presented to me I do not find any evidence of this interconnectedness.

The Gods, I’ve been told, are unique, distinct beings. They have unique, distinct consciousnesses, and they behave in ways that are unique to themselves. In the imagination, one begins to think that the realm of the Gods is not unlike a human-made nation state. There are boundaries, there are cultural markers, and there is a clear sense of separation between that which exists in one nation and another. The Gods of one celestial nation state behave in one way, while the Gods of another behave in a different way.

The more I sit with this idea, the more it begins to feel false; like a man-made construction; a projection of our social structures onto the ethereal.

I don’t discount the possibility of a multiplicity of divine consciousnesses. I just don’t think they’re so distinct from one another as we might think. (I also don’t think that you and I, as humans, are that distinct from one another, either.)

So aspecting might be begin to reach toward a way of thinking about these distinct, divine consciousnesses that not only connects them to us and to each other, but back to something even greater than them. This earlier/larger/more foundational greatness might be what some mystics speak of when they talk about God or Spirit. Both of those words fall short, but they at least reach for a quality of expansiveness that I don’t hear spoken about in many polytheist circles.

In talking this through with my husband, he brought up the Perennial Philosophy. A brief history, according to Wikipedia:

The Perennial Philosophy (Latin: philosophia perennis), also referred to as Perennialism, is a perspective within the philosophy of religion which views each of the world’s religious traditions as sharing a single, universal truth on which foundation all religious knowledge and doctrine has grown.

The term philosophia perennis was first used by Agostino Steuco(1497–1548), drawing on the neo-Platonic philosophy of Marsilio Ficino (1433–1499) and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463–94).

In the early 19th century this idea was popularised by the Transcendentalism. By the end of the 19th century it was further popularized by the Theosophical Society, under the name of “Wisdom-Religion” or “Ancient Wisdom”. In the 20th century it was popularized in the English speaking world through Aldous Huxley’s book The Perennial Philosophy as well as the strands of thought which culminated in the New Age movement.

It goes on to say that,

Although the sacred scriptures of the world religions are undeniably diverse and often superficially oppose each other, there is discernible running through each a common doctrine regarding the ultimate purpose of human life. This doctrine is mystical in as far as it views the summum bonum of human life as an experiential union with the supreme being that can only be achieved by undertaking a programme of physical and mental purification.

Aldous Huxley defines the Perennial Philosophy as:

[…] the metaphysic that recognizes a divine Reality substantial to the world of things and lives and minds; the psychology that finds in the soul something similar to, or even identical to, divine Reality; the ethic that places man’s final end in the knowledge of the immanent and transcendent Ground of all being; the thing is immemorial and universal. Rudiments of the perennial philosophy may be found among the traditional lore of primitive peoples in every region of the world, and in its fully developed forms it has a place in every one of the higher religions.

Here’s my question:

Is the Perennial Philosophy antithetical to the founding principles of ADF Druidry? What about hard polytheism, in general?

I’m uncertain as to whether I accept Perennialism whole-heartedly, but it accounts for the “the immanent and transcendent Ground of all being,” and that matters to me. This universalism allows for a broader engagement in ministry and outreach that also matters to me.

Could this be the thing that is missing from hard polytheism? Is the absence of some kind of principle of interconnected one-ness, in both a physical and metaphysical sense, a detriment to the hard polytheist?


68 responses to “Is Hard Polytheism Incomplete?”

  1. Sharon Knight Avatar
    Sharon Knight

    I am really enjoying your blog right now! I realize this conversation is probably wrapped up at this point, but I’ll throw in my two cents just for the chance of sharing a bit with you. As I see it – it’s both. There is an interconnectedness, a common shared source as far as the creative force underlying, well, everything. Many traditions have some sort of Star Goddess-type entity, or at least a creation myth, which has many commonalities. I believe that humans and God co-create each other in some way – that’s not to say I think we are making it all up, I think it’s much weirder than that – and as humans we have more in common that not, so of course there are going to be some commonalities. And also – there is individuality, unique threads, or currents, that get developed. To say that “We are all One” is not patently untrue, but it is grossly over-simplified. I vastly prefer the “We are interconnected” approach to the “We are al One” approach.

  2. Ellie Avatar

    Teo this is so refreshing! My views are very similar and I admit that I simply don’t know how it all works. I tend to think of the Gods as being part of a larger unity, just as I am. I particularly loved your statement about us humans being less distinct than we may imagine too, as it’s something my brain has pondered from time to time.
    I like the theory of holons. I see myself as both an individual and as a functioning (or not) part of the Earth organism. I am both me and Gaia, who is also a part of a functioning solar system etc. And from a personal perspective I find no reason not to see all these systems as having their own particular sentience and thus I find no problem with thinking of them as Gods. Which ultimately leads me to the ultimate being, the ultimate sentience. The unity of which you speak, of which we are all a part.
    The question of aspects and hard polytheism is one I’ve been struggling with a while. Lately I think some gods and goddesses are aspect (I’ve come to the conclusion that my beloved Sib is an aspect of another …) and some I think are probably distinct and funtioning parts of the larger whole, like we are. Both distinct and distinctly not at all.
    Incidentally I’m the girl from facebook who couldn’t comment *waves*

  3. Nicholas Egelhoff Avatar
    Nicholas Egelhoff

    For a long time now (since about, oh…maybe early college when I first started dipping my foot into the pool that is Neo-Paganism) I’ve attempted to unite my own simultaneous inclinations toward some form of “hard” polytheism and some form of monism. And for me, the metaphor of dreams and dreaming has been the best way for me to grok it: when we dream, everything that we experience in said dream is manifestation of our own mind – the people, the worlds, the narrative, our own self-identities. We experience these things as separate, “external” to our own locus of consciousness and self-awareness within the dream, but ultimately all of it (setting, characters, narrative, etc.) is One. They’re all *us.*

    Transferring this metaphor onto the Cosmos-at-Large, all of Existence – physical reality, non-physical realit(y/ies), etc. – is a Dream of some infinitely complex kind. All things in manifest existence are (likely) the manifestation of some underlying, impersonal consciousness that gives rise to Existence, its realms, its populations, and narratives. All intelligences are ultimately some form of mask (think the masks used in ancient Greek theater to portray the character that the actor was playing) for this “Dreamer” to temporarily assume and experience a subjective narrative thread within the Dream. Thus, all intelligences are simultaneously the protagonist in their own narrative thread of the Dream; as well as being the side-actors, agents, and antagonists in *other intelligences’* narrative threads.

    This allows for a certain form of blended monism and hard polytheism: yes, ultimately everything is a manifestation of this Dreamer and “illusory” in an “Absolute Truth” sense of the term; but just like characters and narratives in a nightly dream that can leave us changed and transformed upon waking in the morning, what we experience in the Dream is real (in a relative sense) *because we experience it.* So, the gods and spirits (including our ancestors) are ultimately illusory manifestations of a deeper, underlying reality in an absolute sense, but very real *distinct* beings in a relative sense – just like *we* are ultimately illusory manifestations of a deeper, underlying reality in an absolute sense, but very real *distinct* beings in a relative sense.

    Hopefully the above made a modicum of sense. 😛

  4. Dhiosdh Avatar

    Just thinking aloud here, but let’s say there is ‘an underlying unity’ for which I will use the metaphor ‘water’. Two people in different cultures and locales may write down a description of an expanse of water where they are, which they then email to each other. Comparing each other’s descriptions they note various similarities and differences. The former may seem to suggest ‘an underlying unity’ but in order to see/taste what the other saw they would have to go and become immersed in the other person’s locale and culture (let’s temporarily set aside questions as to what degree this is possible). In doing so they would be moving from one theo-system to another and comparison could only be made via memory and abstracted qualities. So I think manfestations of deity or the numinous have a certain ‘hardness’ in that sense, no matter their source. I can see a river out of my window and it is water, someone else is looking out on Chesapeake bay – they are both water but to say that tells you virtually nothing about our respective environments and the way they shape our lives.
    Also while cultures and locales don’t always have hard boundaries they do have them, and I think that it is impossible for certain manifestations to exist outside of them. So to continue to use the analogy of water you probably have ‘salt-water’ gods and ‘fresh water gods’, and gods that manage to live in the brackish water where these two meet, and even some gods that can easily move between both (perhaps that’s how the montheisms spread – the more abstracted your god the easier it travels). But not all can. So what I am getting at is that even if there is an underlying unity, the matrix in which gods manifest, I think the hard polytheists are right in so far as at least some manifestations must be very unique, flowering particular niches.

  5. Al Billings Avatar

    I find the gods to be an interesting and potentially useful fiction (the same as Buddhas and Bodhisattvas or Angels and Demons). That doesn’t mean they aren’t “real” in some sense but that doesn’t mean they are real in the same way hitting your hand with a hammer is real either. They serve a role and I really doubt that there is some rarified realm where Thor hangs out with Odhinn and discusses the problems of humanity, for example. They are mythic, even epic, but exist on the same kind of plane as poetry and inspiration.

  6. Faoladh Avatar

    Still waiting for it to be available in print.

  7. Rory Avatar

    “Founding principles” is a very odd way to identify certain liturgical assumptions as put forward in ADF druidry. Certainly something like “perennial philosophy” is inherent in much of the British druid tradition as evidenced by the presence of unitarians within it and groups such as the Church of the Universal Bond.

    Some current ADF members pressing strongly at present for something they call “hard polytheism” is a sort of trend or fashion, but not a founding principle. I think you are looking for more specificity than is appropriate here, presumably based on the over-developed theology of Christianity as it developed after Nicea, scholasticism and the reformation.

  8. Freeman Avatar

    Monism was actually pretty common in Late Antique paganism, and not unheard of before, as it goes back at least to Plato. The problem is that moderns read it as an early development of monotheism, which it was not.

    In fact, the theology of the Pagan world was very sophisticated and had great explanatory power.

    Whoever does not study philosophy is doomed to repeat it.

    1. Apuleius Platonicus Avatar

      “In fact, the theology of the Pagan world was very sophisticated and had great explanatory power.”

      And Pagan philosophers were unambiguously polytheistic, and they participated in and supported traditional religious institutions and practices. And when push came to shove, philosophers were in the front lines of those who most stubbornly resisted Christianization.

  9. Teo Bishop Avatar

    Thanks, Jill. Both links worked for me, but I went ahead and updated it with your link.

  10. Christine Kraemer Avatar

    Read Raven Kaldera’s Dealing with Deities: A Practical Polytheistic Theology. Despite identifying as a hard polytheist, he describes a certain underlying unity that he simply finds irrelevant to his practice — but I think it will give you the vocabulary you’re looking for.

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      Thank you, Christine. I appreciate the recommendation.

    2. Rory Avatar

      It is important not to confuse cosmology and theology, to be sure.

  11. Eran Rathan Avatar

    I don’t think that it is something that humans are capable of understanding, except in those moments of complete ecstatic sublimation of the Self that holy folk of all denominations seem to find, and I also think that there are not words for that understanding that are capable of imparting its true meaning. But as far as the perennialism goes (and, being a hard polytheist), I have no problem with it – the gods (all of them, everywhere, everywhen) have said, “Play nice. Don’t take his/her stuff. People are more important than things.”

    1. Rory Avatar

      Yahweh didn’t say that.
      Odin didn’t say that.
      Mars didn’t say that.

      “All of them,” my backside.

      1. Jason Hatter Avatar
        Jason Hatter

        Actually, Yahweh did say some of that stuff:

        Thou shalt not steal.

        Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.

        Jeses did say love they neighbor as yourself, and the stuff about as you treat others you shall be treated, etc, but he isn’t Yahweh.

      2. Eran Rathan Avatar

        Odin: I found none so noble or free with his food,who was not gladdened with a gift,
        nor one who gave of his gifts such store
        but he loved reward, could he win it. (Havamal 39)

        Hast thou a friend whom thou trustest well,
        from whom thou cravest good?
        Share thy mind with him, gifts exchange with him,
        fare to find him oft. (Havamal 44)

        YHWH: Thou shalt not raise a false report: put not thine hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness.

        2 Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil; neither shalt thou speak in a cause to decline after many to wrest judgment:

        3 Neither shalt thou countenance a poor man in his cause.

        4 If thou meet thine enemy’s ox or his ass going astray, thou shalt surely bring it back to him again.

        5 If thou see the ass of him that hateth thee lying under his burden, and wouldest forbear to help him, thou shalt surely help with him.

        6 Thou shalt not wrest the judgment of thy poor in his cause.

        7 Keep thee far from a false matter; and the innocent and righteous slay thou not: for I will not justify the wicked.

        8 And thou shalt take no gift: for the gift blindeth the wise, and perverteth the words of the righteous.

        9 Also thou shalt not oppress a stranger: for ye know the heart of a stranger, seeing ye were strangers in the land of Egypt. Exodus 23 (The Laws of Mercy and Compassion)

        (I’m actually not all that super familiar with the Romans gods’ primary sources, but I can get back to you on that.)

  12. Missy Burchfield Avatar

    Hmm. I suppose I haven’t experienced this disconnect that’s you describe because of the “hard” polytheistic nature of ADF Druidry. I actually find the separateness of the Beings to be comforting insomuch as me having that part of myself that makes me an individual. I do feel there is almost certainly an underlying power driving all things, but I don’t know that this power is sentient and therefore not likely to be able to form relationships with us as worshippers (for lack of a better word). Just some thoughts.

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      And I appreciate that thoughts, Missy.

      I guess I wonder if that separateness is accurate. Or, if it’s accurate on some levels, where is it not accurate? Where is there connection where we perceive separateness?

    2. Rob Henderson Avatar

      My thoughts are much the same as Missy’s. I don’t deny the possibility of non-sentient monism, as Ian mentioned, and I do think that connections and relationships exist between individuals, but I want those connections to be just that, connections, not samenesses. The thought that I’m the same entity as everyone and everything else, honestly, offends me, in a way that few belief systems do. I don’t *want* to be the same thing as you, or my girlfriend (if i ever have one of those again), or Kim Jong Un, or anyone else.

      And as I often comment, I don’t think the truth or lack thereof to this theory has no bearing on my personal practices.

      1. Al Billings Avatar

        What makes you think you’re an entity in the first place besides your belief that it is the case, a priori?

        1. Faoladh Avatar

          I observe that I exist. Therefore, since the observation occurs, there must be an “I” to perform it or it could not have happened in the first place.

          Or, to put it another way, “Cogito, ergo sum.”

          1. Al Billings Avatar

            Nah, your “I” is a fiction (as modern neuroscience and a few thousand years of other traditions have shown). There is no ‘I’ to observe anything. It is a convenient fiction that allows our forms to function in the world but don’t mistake for some kind of essentialist thing that “exists” in some kind of permanent manner. It is a moment to moment blind with continuity provided by memory.

            Descartes 101 isn’t going to convince anyone, BTW.

          2. Faoladh Avatar

            Why do you assume that an entity must be eternal and unchanging in order to exist? The sea is never the same from moment to moment, but you can still drown in it.

          3. Al Billings Avatar

            Yeah but you’re confusing the particles of water for the sea.

          4. Faoladh Avatar

            I’m not confusing anything for anything. I’m saying that the sea exists. The particles of water exist. All things change, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t real.

          5. Al Billings Avatar

            Who said “real? What does that even mean?

            The sea exists because we perceive a “thing” and assign a name to it. That doesn’t mean our perception is reality or that we are really even perceiving as we think we are.

          6. Faoladh Avatar

            Something is “real” that exists. If it exists, it is, perforce, real. If it does not exist, then it is not real. There are nuances to be made, for sure, but that’s the basic gist. Seriously, obfuscation of basic, intuitive concepts doesn’t help the quest for truth.

          7. Al Billings Avatar

            Nor does applying labels to reality that may or may not have any actual basis in reality. You’re confusing your perception with reality. They aren’t the same thing.

          8. Guest Avatar

            Oh, and please don’t put words in my mouth (such as using your own words to “repeat” what I said when I didn’t say it).

          9. Faoladh Avatar

            “don’t mistake for some kind of essentialist thing that “exists” in some kind of permanent manner”

            That is what you said. I paraphrased it. Something can exist while still changing. The Buddhist understanding is one approach, but it isn’t the only one. I don’t hold with it, myself, obviously.

          10. Al Billings Avatar

            I never said “unchanging did I?

          11. Faoladh Avatar

            If you want something to remain the same in order to be real, that means that it would be unchanging. You didn’t use that word, but it is what you said.

          12. Al Billings Avatar

            No, that’s what you’re saying I said. See the difference?

          13. Faoladh Avatar

            Word game. I don’t want to play those.

            If something remains the same, then it is unchanging. It does not change. If remaining the same is a characteristic of something that exists, then it has the characteristic “unchanging”.

            Or do you have a different definition for some of these words than the ones that English speakers normally use? Specialized vocabularies need to be defined in advance.

          14. Al Billings Avatar

            I think you have a causal factor (at least) reversed here.

          15. Al Billings Avatar

            You’re the one quoting Descartes as if it somehow proves that your self exists. Are you aware of the current research, independent of Buddhism or any other spiritual philosophy, that shows our sense of self to be a fiction in all likelihood?

          16. Faoladh Avatar

            I am aware of the studies made by current neuroscience. I am also aware of the interpretations that have been made of those studies by various people. Most of those interpretations are based in the assumption that matter and energy in the physics sense are all that exist. They ignore the studies and interpretations made by others, such as consciousness studies.

          17. Al Billings Avatar

            Ah, can you demonstrate that these other things exist or is this a belief?

          18. Faoladh Avatar

            Since your definition of “exist” requires me to “show it to me and then, later, show it to me again and have it be the same thing”, I guess not. Unless you are going to claim that that is not what you said is necessary for you to accept that something “exists”.

          19. Al Billings Avatar

            Ah, I see you *do* play word games.

            Good day, sir.

          20. Faoladh Avatar

            I’m trying to operate under the conditions you are allowing me.

          21. Al Billings Avatar

            As to not playing word games, I think you’re six or more messages too late to claim that.

          22. Faoladh Avatar

            If you say so. Are you going to define your specialized vocabulary?

          23. Al Billings Avatar

            There is no specialized vocabulary, as much as you try to make it seem so to strengthen your position in a disagreement.

            In any case, I think we’ve wasted enough space on Teo’s blog comments.

          24. Faoladh Avatar

            If that were true, then we wouldn’t be having whatever misunderstanding we are having. I told you what my definitions are, you said that the ones that I extracted from your statements are not the ones that you are using. So, lay yours out as I did.

          25. Al Billings Avatar

            I’ll believe in a self when you can show it to me and then, later, show it to me again and have it be the same thing.

            There is no self. There is just the perception and the meaning ascribed to it. There is no “you” and this applies to the gods as well. This is part of why hard polytheism doesn’t work. The gods aren’t people living in buildings on some fae plane or somesuch. Thor doesn’t drive a chariot around pulled by goats in actuality.

          26. Faoladh Avatar

            Again, you want the thing to remain unchanging in order to be real. That doesn’t follow.

          27. Sharon Knight Avatar
            Sharon Knight

            Student: Teacher, at last, I have discovered, there is no Self!

            Teacher: (kicks student) Oh? Then who felt that?

          28. Al Billings Avatar

            This illustrates the difference between relative truth and ultimate truth. The kick was as illusionary (or not) as the self.

            The fact that there is no there “there” doesn’t mean we are passive lumps in the world. It means that we should realize the impermanent nature of things and quit pretending that anything is permanent (such as the things are desire or run away from as well). All things change and are impermanent, even the self. We just have this very moment, no future, no past.

        2. Rob Henderson Avatar

          My belief that I exist is sufficient for my needs, thanks.

  13. Jason Hatter Avatar
    Jason Hatter

    It is possible that gods of an archetype may be aspects of a greater force that we can only partially perceive (Thor= Perkūnas=Zeus for example), different views being provided by different cultures, but I do not think/feel that Thor=Mercury=Lugh=Ares as just different aspects of the same masculine energy/force. My brief/limited encounters while in ritual space tend to support that they are not the same. I also don’t tend to believe that the archetype deities are the same from culture to culture (I can see Thor/Perkūnas/Perkons as being different aspects/conceptions of the same deity, but Zeus doesn’t seem to fit the same mold. OTOH, one could consider him to fit more in the mode of the Lithuanian Dievas, creator sky-god, with just residiual thunder-powers tacked on…

    My fiancee, on the other hand, feels that the Earth Mother is the same, regardless of the name she calls her by in any given ritual. I can see that, given modern conceptions of the Earth Mother tend to mean the planetary mother, whereas in my personal conception, I tend to conceptualize a more localized EM.

    In the end, what you believe is not dictated by ADF. We only have to follow practices *in public* to have it called ADF-style. 🙂

  14. Conor O'Bryan Warren Avatar

    The ‘Universalism Truth’ idea is just blatantly false. Religions are not just superficially different, they are fundamentally different, have fundamentally different ways of dealing and handling with things, and a fundamentally different view on divinity and perhaps ethical persuasions.

    Furthermore, if you think that polytheism lacks a certain sense of one-ness you haven’t thought it through very much (no offense). I cannot speak for other stances and perspectives, but in my own faith Zeus mediates and is the mediated. No God takes action without the consent of Zeus and the Moriae, yet at the same time Zeus acts through and with the other Gods. Furthermore the myths state that no God can oppose the earnest will of the other which would point towards a certain unity of things and of the order of things.

    Furthermore, when we look at the epithets of the Gods we soon realize that the Gods are huge, wide, and more grand than we can imagine. Did you know Athene has the epithets of Healer and ‘of Good Health’? Did you know she was also called Athene the Mother? Did you know Zeus was called Zeus the Savior, of Wealth, and many other titles? The Gods are bigger than we can know, and their unity manifests itself in the

    Furthermore, we have some reason to believe that certain Gods are the ‘same’ divine entity manifesting itself in different cultures. To theologically take the stance that every God is a different God is just silly and ignores migration and spread of certain cultus, however there is a certain functionality in treating each God as a separate God *for religious purposes*.

    Hard polytheism, is it incomplete? You betcha, but so is monism, soft polytheism, and everything else. The fact of the matter is that you will not find a perfect viewpoint or theological stance in anything, and you will have to go with what creates the least amount of theological issues and which causes your faith to manifest itself most strongly. If monism is going to make you neglect your devotional practices or discourage you from it, don’t pursue it.

    I’ll wrap it up though. I can find a unity in Hard Polytheism even if my theological approach is just simply ‘polytheism’ neither hard nor soft (no innuendo intended). If you can’t find the unity lying in it, think more, read more, and study more. It isn’t hard to find a unity of wills.

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      That’s a lot of Furthermore’s, Connor. 🙂

      I’m not in search of a perfect, complete thing. I acknowledge that if polytheism is incomplete, than so is monism, soft polytheism, and everything else. I think the unity exists, and not in the way that is described in the Wiki entry about Perennial Philosophy. I think the “Universal Truth” language is not correct.

      “…we have some reason to believe that certain Gods are the ‘same’ divine entity manifesting itself in different cultures. To theologically take the stance that every God is a different God is just silly and ignores migration and spread of certain cultus, however there is a certain functionality in treating each God as a separate God *for religious purposes*.”

      I’m interested in this idea. But I would say that there are plenty of people who do think that every God is a different God, and that’s part of what I’m getting at here. *That* speaks to a disunity that makes little sense to me.

      Your own specific cultural reference, while valid, does not get at the unity I’m speaking of, either. I appreciate how it’s relevant within your cosmology, but I’m trying to approach these ideas from outside of any one cosmology. Those are constructions, too, after all.

      (And, no offense was taken. But, it wasn’t the softest, kindest approach.)

      1. Conor O'Bryan Warren Avatar

        Then I have to ask where do you draw the line at what does and does not contribute to disunity? A home can be harmonious or disharmonious, but either way it exists and consists of individuals. When the individuals gear towards the good will and good fortune of each other, they are acting in harmony and unity of accord and in large part will. It sounds to me that you are seeking a certain type of monism or perhaps even monotheism? And everything will be a construction of sort, no matter what idea you pursue it will be called a construct. Looking at all religions and trying to call them the same takes away what they really are and quite honestly is an insult to the nuances and subtleties of each faith. Anyone who seriously and earnestly studies other faiths realize that while the may have a couple of simple things underlying, they truly are of different essences and to downplay their differences in an attempt to falsely unify them is smashing their (potential) beauty.

        The Periennal argument is pretty I suppose, but it oversimplifies a lot of things about religions in general in favor of an argument that attempts to boil it down to ‘all religions are the same’. If that gets your gears going, then it does, but to me it is a superficial and shallow concept (and don’t get that confused with calling the person(s) superficial and shallow).

        As for the furthermores, well you think you are done typing and then something else presents itself 😉 Just how things go sometimes.

  15. Craig A. Tilley Avatar

    This may seem like a tired approach, but I feel like there is one grand source that we all stem from. We’re all connected to this one source but we’re all having and individual experience. The same idea applies to the deities. There may be a few that are similar to another in different cultures. But they aren’t the same. This idea is how I blend my Hard Polytheism with my need of interconnectedness. It’s kinda like a Semi-Hard(soft) polytheism.

    1. Jay Avatar

      I have a simliar understanding – I call it Squishy Polytheism. 😉

  16. Kauko Avatar

    As a ‘hard’ polytheist, I personally don’t reject the idea that some deeper level of reality might also be ‘an underlying unity in all things’. One of the most common types of religious experiences is an ecstatic experience of that unity (which even I have experienced). I don’t think either thing precludes the possibly for the other. For example, even if that unity exists on some base level, I continue to interact with my friends, my neighbors, you etc as separate and distinct beings from me and each other. It is the same with the gods, they are just as distinct to me as you and I are. The ideas of monism, pantheism etc are fine as philosophical ideas, but in terms of religious devotion they aren’t much help, in my opinion. The unity of all things isn’t going to mean much to me on a daily, personal level; it won’t respond to my prayers and offerings or take any note of me.
    Arguably, this whole idea could be turned around and the question asked: Are monism, pantheism and other ‘unifying’ philosophies incomplete without polytheism? Are they both incomplete without each other? Is reality both united and endlessly diverse?

    1. Eilidh Nic Sidheag Avatar

      This is pretty much how I view it. The gods are exactly as separate as we are, no less and no more. There is an underlying unity out of which we and the gods are all formed, but it’s difficult to interact with and doesn’t generally inform our daily activities. I have the ecstatic experiences Kauko mentions, and I value them highly; it can also be reassuring in those moments when the world feels hostile to remind myself that everything comes from the same source and thus nothing is truly alien to me; but once those moments have faded I go on with my day on the working assumption that we’re all separate.

    2. Sharon Knight Avatar
      Sharon Knight

      Well said.

  17. Ian Corrigan Avatar

    I, in general, reject perennialism as an artifact of its culture that has nothing to do with the spiritual work I’m attempting. I don’t believe that the historical transition of world religion from the tribal to the cosmopolitan monotheist is so much a natural thing as an imperialistic imposition, a break with the real immemorial tradition of world religion to impose an imagined One God on the natural order of things.

    Now as to monism, as distinct from monotheism, I am open to various models. It makes sense that all things are unified in various ways. We are at very least all part of One Great Process. I am inclined to imagine that some all-mind, or underlying nuos, exists. However I would never call such a thing ‘God’. I don’t think it creates the cosmos, or that it rules it. Rather it is created by cosmos, it grows from multiplicity. It is the web of fate that cannot exist without the course of each thread.

    The all-mind must be all, equally, It cannot prefer love to hate, growth to decay, birth to death. It must be present in the genocide as in the wedding. It does not, imo, respond to prayer, or sacrifice, it does not bless or curse. Thus, it isn’t really a very useful part of religion. In general it is of more use to mystics, who claim to achieve special insights by unifying their minds with it.

    In general I think there’s more to be gained by following one system than by looking for the universals behind all systems.

    1. Apuleius Platonicus Avatar

      I think it is a very good idea to draw the line at “God”. We all know that today “God” means the creature worshipped by the Christians.

      Ancient Pagans, however, made rather free use of singular nouns to refer to Divinity, without, however, ever undermining the plurality of the Goddesses and Gods.

      Back in the 50s a French scholar named Gilbert Francois even took the trouble to document every known use of both “theos” and “daimon” in all of their forms from Homer up through Plato: “Taking one by one every Greek author who lived and wrote before 350 BC, he shows by quotation of parallel passages as often as possible from a single work of the author concerned, that again and again (ho) theos and (hoi) theoi are used to express identical thoughts, and that no distinction can be made between them.” (From Joseph Fontenrose’ review of Francois’ book.)

      The bottom line is that for a Pagan, the word “God” should always be interchangeable with “the Gods”. Whenever this is not the case, then we are in trouble. Whenever this is the case, however, for the sake of clarity, we should stick with “the Gods”.

  18. Brendan Rowe Avatar

    The hard polytheism approach to ADF is one of the aspects of the religion that ended up turning me off. My thoughts tend to be more along the lines of what you have discussed here. I can accept that there are more gods/goddesses than just one of each with many masks. What I couldn’t accept was the disconnected feel of the hard polytheistic approach. I love the image you chose for this post. To me hard polytheism seems like a box filled with pieces from different puzzles that will never fit together to create a harmonious whole. There is too much chaos in the mundane world. I look to spirituality as a method of finding some sense of order that hard polytheism just doesn’t seem to provide.

    1. Eran Rathan Avatar

      I find that the chaos makes a lot MORE sense in that there are all sorts of competing deities/pantheons all over the planet vying for resources in the same way that people do.

      1. Brendan Rowe Avatar

        I definitely understand the thought here Eran. I just refuse to devote worship to beings that are as petty and needy as we are. I like to think that there are beings in the universe who have it together more than we do.

        1. Eran Rathan Avatar

          *shrug* Reading through all the stories, I find it hard to believe that they do have it more together – all of the original sources (the Eddas, Homer, Virgil, etc) show that the gods are just as petty and needy as people are. Sure, there are some pantheons that work together well (Chinese folk religion, Hinduism) but a lot of them are jerks.

    2. Rob Henderson Avatar

      I’m sorry we weren’t what you were looking for, and I hope you find it elsewhere,

      1. Brendan Rowe Avatar

        There are absolutely no hard feelings when it comes to ADF Rob. I think it is a valid path with much to offer. I just decided that is wasn’t the right fit for me. I have recommended ADF to a number of people who I thought would be a better fit than me.

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