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    Hard polytheism, soft polytheism, and the transmission of deities across cultures

    Hey all. Decided to throw out a topic with a bit of meat in it for once.

    My question is: how does the transmission of religious ideas and deities across cultures, and the resultant transformation or adaptation of those deities by their adoptive cultures, affect how you view the nature of polytheism? Does it make it harder? Softer? Are you a "squishy" polytheist? (Hi Jack!)

    For example, the Romans treated Juno and Jove as cognate with Hera and Zeus, but their versions weren't quite the same. Certainly, Diana was quite different from the prepubescent Artemis, and Mars was not the same unlovable character as Ares. How do these cultural differences affect your beliefs regarding polytheism? Or...for that matter, do they make you not a polytheist?
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    Re: Hard polytheism, soft polytheism, and the transmission of deities across cultures

    Quote Originally Posted by Redfaery View Post
    how does the transmission of religious ideas and deities across cultures, and the resultant transformation or adaptation of those deities by their adoptive cultures, affect how you view the nature of polytheism? Does it make it harder? Softer? Are you a "squishy" polytheist?
    Right now I'm very much a hard polytheist, not only after observing the changes cross-culturally, but individually. The best example I can think of is a sermon that I heard at the church of a sibling of mine. It's the kind of Christianity where everybody is thwapped. The pastor spoke about witnessing to an atheist friend of his, who basically said that there's no way to tell if it's really God or the angels speaking to your mind or feelings...or if it is your own mind or feelings.

    The pastor concluded that it was up to the community, then, to check in with each other about what their god was really saying about a situation, and not just one person using the voice of god to encourage their own biases.

    And I thought, well, that's no solution at all because every single one of those people could be using the voice of god to encourage their own biases, and at that point it's up to the cultural current, really, to determine which biases get more validation...if there were no capital-g God. If there were, then why is it so difficult for this real thing to be real for us to get real about it? Why does god, or the gods, remain so conceptual still?

    So, for another (more pagan) example...I get thwapped by Odin. Some other Heathen goes, "Odin don't go around thwapping people of color! I know this because I'm godbothered!" Is it the same Odin?

    It's a bit like Wittgenstein's beetle-in-a-box. So, at that point, I just have to say, "If you're just bothering me and not bothering anybody else in the same way, then you might as well just be a projection of my animus." But that doesn't matter if the experience of it is out of my conscious control; better deal with this appearance of an autonomous entity on the terms that it's playing out--which is intertwined with the mythology. The more I learn about the mythology, the more expansive vocabulary (or language, or toolbox) I have to make some sort of sense of what's happening.

    Also, it's awfully cool if other sensitives or pagans go, "Who's that dude?" And I'm like, "You can see him too?" But then I'd get frustrated about whether metaphysics are an empirical reality or not, or if it remains a personal significance and never goes beyond that, like, "Make sense, World!" But the world never does.

    So, right now I vacillate between squishy polytheist and pinpoint-singularity-diamond-hardness psychological polytheist.
    Last edited by Faemon; 12 Aug 2014 at 11:35 PM. Reason: trimmed

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    Re: Hard polytheism, soft polytheism, and the transmission of deities across cultures

    Quote Originally Posted by Redfaery View Post
    How do these cultural differences affect your beliefs regarding polytheism?
    Generally, I'm a hard polytheist. In most cases, I view all the gods as separate, individual beings. When, for instance, the Romans conflated Zeus and Jupiter, I think that they were mistaken. When the Greeks assimilated many deities into Artemis, I think that they were mistaken. But in certain instances, I feel that linguistic similarities are too strong to deny a connection between some gods. Lugh, Llew, and Lugus are likely the same god, transmitted through cultural contact and/or conquest as the Celts spread across Gaul, Britain, and Ireland. Same with Brighid/Brigantia, or Odin/Woden. But, YMMV; I'm basing that on linguistic ties. I have not had much, if any, UPG regarding Celtic and Germanic gods. Most of my UPG is of Hellenic deities.
    Which leads to my other bit; while I am generally a hard polytheist, to some degree I feel that the gods' personalities are partly formed from us tapping into greater energies than individuality can convey. And this conclusion was gained in part from UPG I experienced, in conversation with certain gods. Until that point, I was very much a hard polytheist.

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    Re: Hard polytheism, soft polytheism, and the transmission of deities across cultures

    Quote Originally Posted by Redfaery View Post
    Hey all. Decided to throw out a topic with a bit of meat in it for once.

    My question is: how does the transmission of religious ideas and deities across cultures, and the resultant transformation or adaptation of those deities by their adoptive cultures, affect how you view the nature of polytheism? Does it make it harder? Softer? Are you a "squishy" polytheist? (Hi Jack!)

    For example, the Romans treated Juno and Jove as cognate with Hera and Zeus, but their versions weren't quite the same. Certainly, Diana was quite different from the prepubescent Artemis, and Mars was not the same unlovable character as Ares. How do these cultural differences affect your beliefs regarding polytheism? Or...for that matter, do they make you not a polytheist?
    I think I've mentioned on here before that I've realized I've always been a polytheist, because I've always just instinctively either praised or cursed the collective Universe whenever things go right or wrong. There are Things out there, no matter how flippantly or seriously I take them at times.

    I've also talked a bit lately about henotheism and the 'Source', from which gods emerge from to become our point of contact, and I'm still kind of hanging on to that one. I'd say that very likely the gods agree to become conflated, or work under the umbrella of God, because it just makes things easier in a global community.

    So, I'm a hard polytheist that believes soft polytheism can be a workable and more pragmatic option?

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    Re: Hard polytheism, soft polytheism, and the transmission of deities across cultures

    Quote Originally Posted by Redfaery View Post
    How do these cultural differences affect your beliefs regarding polytheism? Or...for that matter, do they make you not a polytheist?
    I'm a Carvel polytheist (like the ice cream: soft, with a twist), and what you described is one of the reasons. Similar to Juniperberry, I think there are forces that flow through us and around us, that are simply too vast for us to completely grasp. Through myth, we can get a handle on them, however imperfectly, and begin to understand them. These same forces are going to be interpreted differently by different cultures as different gods, different myths...even though we're all exploring the same forces. And since cultures cross-pollinate all the time, we're bound to see gods merge and blend, change and separate, and borrow from each other all the time.

    "The twist" is that I think that by what we believe, to a certain extent we may make it real. So in interpreting a force as Odin, it may manifest as Odin...which, depending on how pronounced the cultural differences are, may be a different god than the Wotan worshipped by someone else.

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    Re: Hard polytheism, soft polytheism, and the transmission of deities across cultures

    Quote Originally Posted by Redfaery View Post
    For example, the Romans treated Juno and Jove as cognate with Hera and Zeus, but their versions weren't quite the same. Certainly, Diana was quite different from the prepubescent Artemis, and Mars was not the same unlovable character as Ares. How do these cultural differences affect your beliefs regarding polytheism? Or...for that matter, do they make you not a polytheist?
    I consider myself a polytheist, but I personally feel that hard polytheism is impossible to reconcile with the evidence of ancient religious practice. (Unless you take the position that the ancients were mistaken, of course.)

    Having said that, I also don't believe that conflated or syncretized deities are simply identical. I describe my view as "divine fluidity". Deities can combine, divide and do other things mortals cannot.

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    Re: Hard polytheism, soft polytheism, and the transmission of deities across cultures

    Quote Originally Posted by Gilbride View Post
    I consider myself a polytheist, but I personally feel that hard polytheism is impossible to reconcile with the evidence of ancient religious practice. (Unless you take the position that the ancients were mistaken, of course.)

    Having said that, I also don't believe that conflated or syncretized deities are simply identical. I describe my view as "divine fluidity". Deities can combine, divide and do other things mortals cannot.
    You beat me to it! That's the gist of my position as well

    Quote Originally Posted by Redfaery View Post
    My question is: how does the transmission of religious ideas and deities across cultures, and the resultant transformation or adaptation of those deities by their adoptive cultures, affect how you view the nature of polytheism? Does it make it harder? Softer? Are you a "squishy" polytheist? (Hi Jack!)
    I think pagans set up this dichotomy when it comes to polytheism, with the Dion Fortune-esque "All Gods Are One God, All Goddesses Are One Goddess" and the "hard" polytheism in which all gods are completely separate individuals and are always distinct from each other. I don't think either side really accurately represents how the gods were viewed in ancient cultures.

    I'm most familiar with Greece and Egypt, so those are the cultures I can speak about. In ancient Greece, some deities had titles that connected them with other deities (such as Hera Aphrodite or Aphrodite Persephaessa) and the Orphic Hymns often poetically refer to gods with the names of other gods. The Orphic Hymn to Nyx refers to her as "Aphrodite", as both goddesses of the heavens who are in some traditions said to be the mother of the primordial Eros/Phanes. Apollon is called "Pan in royal guise" in his hymn, and Helios is called by the name of Zeus. In Egypt, the gods could function individually or meld with one or more deities. Egyptian polytheism reminds me a lot of Hinduism, which (generally) is polytheistic monism, where the gods are different manifestations of a greater unity.

    I like the word "fluid" in reference to my own concept of polytheism. I like the Hindu concept of Brahman, which is the undefinable divine power that inhabits the universe, and of which the gods are personalized manifestations. Brahman isn't a god itself, but a power beyond our comprehension that we understand through divine personalities/gods. I don't have a problem viewing deities like Hathor, Isis and Aphrodite as the same on a philosophical level, though they do come from specific cultural contexts, so on the level of practice it could get confusing to mix them up too much because they have established traditions behind them. I see cultures as being different lenses through which people view the same divinity, so even if, for example, the Romans projected their own cultural ideology onto their perceptions of their deities at first, as they conquered Greece, they then mixed in some Greek influence into how they saw the gods, it doesn't really matter because it's the same divinity on a deeper level, even if the lens changes.

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    Re: Hard polytheism, soft polytheism, and the transmission of deities across cultures

    Quote Originally Posted by Gilbride View Post
    I consider myself a polytheist, but I personally feel that hard polytheism is impossible to reconcile with the evidence of ancient religious practice. (Unless you take the position that the ancients were mistaken, of course.)

    Having said that, I also don't believe that conflated or syncretized deities are simply identical. I describe my view as "divine fluidity". Deities can combine, divide and do other things mortals cannot.
    This is close to what I think (very close). From where I sit, gods with similar domains (like ocean gods) overlap but each has a distinct zone that's theirs. Njord is/is not Manannán is/is not Poseidon. Like Venn diagrams of the gods, only without the hard edges. Or so I can best put it at this time of the morning. *laughs*

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    Re: Hard polytheism, soft polytheism, and the transmission of deities across cultures

    Quote Originally Posted by Nyktelios View Post
    In ancient Greece, some deities had titles that connected them with other deities (such as Hera Aphrodite or Aphrodite Persephaessa) and the Orphic Hymns often poetically refer to gods with the names of other gods. The Orphic Hymn to Nyx refers to her as "Aphrodite", as both goddesses of the heavens who are in some traditions said to be the mother of the primordial Eros/Phanes. Apollon is called "Pan in royal guise" in his hymn, and Helios is called by the name of Zeus.
    This fluidity suggests to me that many in ancient cultures may have viewed the gods the same way many of us do: as metaphors.

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    Re: Hard polytheism, soft polytheism, and the transmission of deities across cultures

    Quote Originally Posted by Gilbride View Post
    I consider myself a polytheist, but I personally feel that hard polytheism is impossible to reconcile with the evidence of ancient religious practice. (Unless you take the position that the ancients were mistaken, of course.)

    Having said that, I also don't believe that conflated or syncretized deities are simply identical. I describe my view as "divine fluidity". Deities can combine, divide and do other things mortals cannot.
    This is where I'm sitting at the moment as well. Much like the philosophical question of whether you are the same person now as you were at 5 years old (because of the life-span of cells it's unlikely any of the same ones are still around), I don't find that this question impacts my practical experience all that much. I treat the deities as separate in ritual and prayer, and they seem to appreciate it from me, so that's what I'm sticking with :P
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