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  1. #1
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    Hard Polytheism, Soft Polytheism, and Everything In Between

    Hello, Everyone.

    I am not sure if this has been addressed here on the Cauldron explicitly and/or lately. I have only been on the site, on and off, since late December. I hope this is an appropriate location for this topic.

    My question is: are you a hard polytheist, a soft polytheist, something in-between, or none of the above? And why?

    This has become an issue for me personally, and I would very much welcome insights from other practicing pagans of all stripes.

    My own experience is that rationally I am a soft polytheist: the Gods and Goddesses are Thought-Forms, Archetypes, and Projections of the Unconciousness.

    Non-rationally, I have always "talked" to spirits and gods/goddesses since I was a kid, some in particular developing into a sort of teacher/student relationship, for example (me and Athena).

    Over time, the more that I have formally interacted with Deities as an adult, the more that these so-called "Thought-Forms" have taken on a force, personality, and energy of their own. Thus I have seen some evidence of the existence of Gods and Goddesses as independent entities, and rationally, I have moved somewhat towards a more centrist position on the hard/soft polytheist spectrum.

    Rationally, I am more soft polytheist, intuitively now more towards hard polytheist.

    Has anyone else gone through a process or change on these issues? The experiences and insights of other experienced (or not so experienced) pagans of all types would definitely be welcomed.

    Thanks,
    Donal
    Last edited by Donal; 1 Apr 2013 at 06:10 PM. Reason: punctuation, content
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  2. #2
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    Quote Originally Posted by Donal View Post
    My question is: are you a hard polytheist, a soft polytheist, something in-between, or none of the above? And why?
    I'm a hard polytheist with a caveat.

    In general, I believe all gods and goddesses are distinct and unique individuals. But I also believe strongly that some deities have been known to different groups of people (separated by geography and/or time) by different names --
    just like I'm known to different people by different names. That is, my given name is Susan, most of my friends call me Suzi, the kids I work with call me Ms Susan, my husband calls me by a pet name, my daughters call me Mom, Cauldronites call me Aster, etc. I think something like that has happened with some (not necessarily all) deities. But that's not the same as the "all gods are one god, all goddesses are one goddess" concept.

    However, I also believe that there is Something that we are all part of, including gods and goddesses -- Something beyond names and genders and that sort of thing. But that's panentheism, and more about origin and connection, not what is typically considered soft polytheism.

    Why do I believe what I believe? I don't have a good answer for that, other than my own experiences with Brighid, and to a tiny extent with Raven and with Apollo. I started out as a soft polytheist, primarily because I thought of deities as archetypes, rather than as actual-factual entities. Meeting a couple of deities personally changed that.

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    Re: Hard Polytheism, Soft Polytheism, and Everything In Between

    Quote Originally Posted by Donal View Post
    I am, and always have been, a hard polytheist. I believe that all deities are distinct and separate individuals. (Except when they're not.)

    As Aster mentioned, I think it's very possible that some deities became known to different groups of people by different names. Furthermore, not having a fleshy body makes identity potentially more fluid; does a deity that was defined in its 'origin' culture as male remain male if in the modern day those hallmarks would define them as female? (Assuming the deity in question doesn't tell us one way or another?) Bodies are limiting, in their way, and lacking them, I think gods are much more able to be themselves and each other as they are wont. Being involved with both the Celtic and Kemetic pantheons, I'm rather familiar with the idea of gods being each other sometimes, or being something under one name and something else under another.

    What this all boils down into: in practice, I treat every entity as an individual- it's only polite. If they turn out to be someone else, too, I'm not going to argue with them, but I'll let them make that decision, and not do it for them.
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    Re: Hard Polytheism, Soft Polytheism, and Everything In Between

    Quote Originally Posted by Donal View Post
    My question is: are you a hard polytheist, a soft polytheist, something in-between, or none of the above? And why?
    This has also become a bit of an issue for me, and I'm not one hundred percent sure what I am anymore.

    Right now, I tend to call myself a "polycentric polytheist" with some reservations. In polycentric polytheism (or at least how the author of Henadology explained it to me), a piece of every deity is in every other deity and vice versa. So, for example, there's a little bit of "Amaterasu-ness" in the Morrighan and a little bit of "Morrighan-ness" in Amaterasu, without the assumption that there's a single being, structure, or force above them.

    Of course, it's not limited to goddess-goddess and god-god. So, Atum has some "Bast-ness" and vice versa. It's amazing, if you think about it.

    But I also think there's a sort of unity between all the deities of the world. Still, it's a creation of differentiation, and most of us should try to approach the divine in that light unless it presents itself otherwise.

    Working with Hindu deities really threw a wrench in my hard polytheism, though. Lol. It's been a rough transition.
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    Re: Hard Polytheism, Soft Polytheism, and Everything In Between

    Quote Originally Posted by Donal View Post
    My question is: are you a hard polytheist, a soft polytheist, something in-between, or none of the above? And why?
    I'm a soft polytheist, but I tend to approach things with more of a hard polytheistic bent. I believe that all deities are one at some transcendental level --- but I also think that I for one am not equipped to truly understand that, and I think that if the divine presents itself to us as separate, more comprehendable entities, there's a reason for that.

    I look at it like this: reptiles, mammals, etc. evolved out of lobe-finned fish. Which means that we are lobe-finned fish. I'm a fish, you're a fish, everyone you meet at work is a fish, most of our house pets are fish, etc. Which is kind of cool to know, right? But how much good does it do you on a practical level? Does knowing that your friends are actually fish bring you closer to them? I mean, it doesn't for me.

    I have a number of death-related gods that fascinate me. Under my theology, there's no reason why I shouldn't just merge Them and declare that I worship Morrigan-Odin-Hel-Nebthet-Wesir, Great God/dess of Death --- except that doing so would make the object of my worship a more abstract entity with less real personality than any of the individual parts. I'd rather have the personality.

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    Re: Hard Polytheism, Soft Polytheism, and Everything In Between

    Quote Originally Posted by Donal View Post
    Medium-hard poached polytheist. Hard, because I'm yet another in the 'consider them distinct individuals until given sufficient evidence otherwise' camp. Only medium-hard, because I'm also a pantheist (and an animist): everyone and everything is part of the divine All-That-Is (though that's still pretty hard polytheism, since that includes me and my individuality, too). Poached, because the polytheism/eggs thing is a long-running TC joke, and because I'm eclectic.

    I used to be a somewhat softer polytheist, but even then tended to 'if they're different facets, there's a reason for that; treating the facets as interchangeable elides the reason'. That position was more untenable the more I experienced direct interaction - it might be 'irrational' by some measures, but it's nevertheless what my lived experience is. (I'd say, myself, that it's not so much 'irrational' as 'not materialist' - though I'm not sure if you want to get into that debate in this thread.)

    Being a perpetual agnostic, I do retain the possibility that these are projections of the self/unconscious, but while that might be factual, I find it's not very useful; it's much more useful to me to act as if my perceptions of my lived experience are what they seem to be. (That's another sort of rational!)

    Incidentally, while this comes up from time to time on TC (we're not the sort of forum that says, 'oh, we discussed that six years ago already, so it's Been Done; go use the search function!' - there are always new people to contribute new thoughts to a topic), AFAIR it hasn't come up recently; it's probably high time for another iteration. And a nice meaty-but-accessible topic, which we've been a bit short on of late.

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    Quote Originally Posted by SunflowerP View Post

    Being a perpetual agnostic, I do retain the possibility that these are projections of the self/unconscious, but while that might be factual, I find it's not very useful; it's much more useful to me to act as if my perceptions of my lived experience are what they seem to be. (That's another sort of rational!)
    Ditto to this. ^
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    Re: Hard Polytheism, Soft Polytheism, and Everything In Between

    Quote Originally Posted by SunflowerP View Post
    Medium-hard poached polytheist. Hard, because I'm yet another in the 'consider them distinct individuals until given sufficient evidence otherwise' camp. Only medium-hard, because I'm also a pantheist (and an animist): everyone and everything is part of the divine All-That-Is (though that's still pretty hard polytheism, since that includes me and my individuality, too). Poached, because the polytheism/eggs thing is a long-running TC joke, and because I'm eclectic.
    This is me, too. Pretty much always has been. I started off as a truly 'Hardcore' Polytheist, but I have to admit that experience has 'softened' me up a bit.
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    Re: Hard Polytheism, Soft Polytheism, and Everything In Between

    Quote Originally Posted by Donal View Post
    My question is: are you a hard polytheist, a soft polytheist, something in-between, or none of the above? And why?
    I suppose I'm a soft polytheist. I believe that there are gods other than the Olympians and their relatives who don't live on Olympus, but that some of those foreign gods are the same as some of the Olympians. And some foreign gods are the same as some other foreign gods.

    For example, I believe Aphrodite is the same as Venus even though Venus has a truly separate origin and development in Rome before contact with Greek culture. I say truly separate because I believe Aphrodite is also the same as Astarte of the Phoenicians with whom Aphrodite shares her origins.

    Obviously, only the deities of cultures that had close contact with Greece can be identified with Greek gods. So I do not believe that Lono (Hawaiian god of rain among other things) can be the same as Zeus. But Lono is the same god as Rongo (Maori god of agriculture among other things).

    There will be some differences (like Mars vs. Ares, where Mars has some agricultural aspects while Ares does not). But that isn't necessarily a deal breaker since the Olympians, even in Greece, had varying local cults.

    I prefer this way because it retains a plurality of gods but explains how the same gods can be seen by different people, well, differently. Also, this allows me to acknowledge the existence of non-Greek gods without being a hard polytheist.

    Quote Originally Posted by Snowdrop View Post

    I look at it like this: reptiles, mammals, etc. evolved out of lobe-finned fish. Which means that we are lobe-finned fish. I'm a fish, you're a fish, everyone you meet at work is a fish, most of our house pets are fish, etc.
    That's now how it works. Tetrapods evolved from lobe-finned fish but that only means they are in a clade with them and not necessarily are them. That said, you and I aren't fish. We, along with lobe-finned fish and ray-finned fish and the other tetrapods, are teleostomes.
    Last edited by Astani; 2 Apr 2013 at 02:10 AM. Reason: more info on my why

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    Quote Originally Posted by SunflowerP View Post
    Medium-hard poached polytheist. Hard, because I'm yet another in the 'consider them distinct individuals until given sufficient evidence otherwise' camp. Only medium-hard, because I'm also a pantheist (and an animist): everyone and everything is part of the divine All-That-Is (though that's still pretty hard polytheism, since that includes me and my individuality, too). Poached, because the polytheism/eggs thing is a long-running TC joke, and because I'm eclectic.

    I used to be a somewhat softer polytheist, but even then tended to 'if they're different facets, there's a reason for that; treating the facets as interchangeable elides the reason'. That position was more untenable the more I experienced direct interaction - it might be 'irrational' by some measures, but it's nevertheless what my lived experience is. (I'd say, myself, that it's not so much 'irrational' as 'not materialist' - though I'm not sure if you want to get into that debate in this thread.)
    I'm sort of the opposite of Sunflower - I used to be a much harder polytheist than I am now, and then I found that that wasn't always useful.

    IME and IMO, the gods are incredibly complex and far, far bigger and more interesting than I often want to give them credit for being. I had a period when I was very into the Christian mystics (who are awesome), and if they taught me anything, it's that things of a divine nature are beyond my understanding.

    But when I was first a Pagan, I was very afraid of being fluffy, and my first instinct was to be as hard-boiled polytheist as you could get. Silly Greeks and Romans for confusing Athena and Minerva - how limited they were! Silly modern Pagans who believe all deities are one (or two) deity/ies!

    And then I spent more time with the gods who deign to show some interest in me, and they whacked me over the head for being self-important and going back to the fundamentalism that I escaped when I was younger. For years I refused to take the Bible literally, because I believed God was beyond such limits, but suddenly there I was dismissing the insights of everyone from soft polytheists to ancient cultures who'd known these gods a lot longer than I had, while also trying to take the myths about my gods literally. The ancients were not stupid, and they could tell mythic truth from other kinds of truth.

    I'm still working out what that all means for what kind of polytheist I am. I'm the kind that gets annoyed when the Cailleach is referred to as one entity, but also gets annoyed when she isn't. I'm the kind who thinks the Morrigan is not and will never be Macha, but also sometimes knows they are one and the same. I'm the kind who's never met Manawyddan but knows he's there somewhere, in or around the being I know as Manannan, who might be every sea god known to humanity, or maybe he just goes drinking and shanty-singing with Poseidon, Yam and co.

    I'm the kind of polytheist who's currently working on having fewer pre-conceptions that will get in the way of my experience with the gods. And that's about all I can be sure of at the moment.

    Also in common with Sunflower, I'm an animist, which is part of where these ideas get so messed up. ADF likes to separate beings into categories of ancestor, land spirit and deity - but on some level, for me, these are sort of all the same. And entirely different too.

    I'm also the kind of polytheist who's confused...
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