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?
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