collapse
2019 Donation Drive

It's time for our annual Server Donation Drive! We need to raise at least $650 (same as last year) to keep The Cauldron's server online for another year. Please help! Either hit that Paypal button to the right and make a one-time donation in any amount or set up a monthly Bronze, Silver or Gold Donor subscription. You can find more info in this message!

Donations as of 16 Sept 2019: $660 donated. $10 more our minimum goal! Let's beat last year's total of $99 more than the minimum!


Note: This total is updated manually, usually once a day


* "Unable to verify referring url. Please go back and try again" Problem Logging In?

If you get an "Unable to verify referring url. Please go back and try again" error when you try to log in, you need to be sure you are accessing the board with a url that starts with "https://ecauldron.com".  If it starts with https://www.ecauldron.com" (or "http://www.ecauldron.com") you will get this error because "www.ecauldron.com" is not technically the same website as "ecauldron.com". Moving to the more secure "https" means it is more picky about such things.

Author Topic: Hard polytheism, soft polytheism, and the transmission of deities across cultures  (Read 5420 times)

Cabal

  • Grand Master Member
  • *******
  • Join Date: Dec 2012
  • Location: Texas
  • Posts: 1344
  • Country: us
  • Total likes: 0
    • View Profile
  • Religion: Belgae Polytheism
Quote from: Redfaery;155535
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? :D:
I'm very much a hard polytheist. I believe all Gods to be separate and very distinct individuals. But Gods like Nodens an Nudd, or Lugh and Lleu, I see as being the same deity.
"In Hell, everybody loves popcorn."

Nyktelios

  • Sr. Master Member
  • *******
  • Join Date: Jul 2011
  • Posts: 562
  • Total likes: 2
    • View Profile
Quote from: Altair;155573
This fluidity suggests to me that many in ancient cultures may have viewed the gods the same way many of us do: as metaphors.

 
I agree, and that's the approach I relate to the most, myself.

I've noticed that paganism and polytheism can be similar to Christianity in that there are some "high church" and "low church" theological approaches. The "high church" tends to put more stress on ritual and ceremony, and religious texts/stories are understood intellectually to be metaphorical and allegorical. The "low church" strand is more evangelical  and literalist in its approach, putting more focus on a personal relationship with deity. Maybe hard polytheism as it is in modern paganism comes out of the latter, more literalist kind of mindset, though who's to say what's right or wrong?

Juniperberry

  • Grand Master Member
  • *******
  • Join Date: Jul 2011
  • Banned!
  • Posts: 1891
  • Total likes: 3
    • View Profile
Quote from: Nyktelios;155626
I agree, and that's the approach I relate to the most, myself.

I've noticed that paganism and polytheism can be similar to Christianity in that there are some "high church" and "low church" theological approaches. The "high church" tends to put more stress on ritual and ceremony, and religious texts/stories are understood intellectually to be metaphorical and allegorical. The "low church" strand is more evangelical  and literalist in its approach, putting more focus on a personal relationship with deity. Maybe hard polytheism as it is in modern paganism comes out of the latter, more literalist kind of mindset, though who's to say what's right or wrong?


Oh, yeah. There was definitely "high mythology" and "low mythology" in pre-conversion pagan societies. Tribal rituals were definitely much 'higher' than a housewife's 'lower' rituals to her household gods. One was civic and the other much more personal.
The pace of progress in artificial intelligence (I’m not referring to narrow AI) is incredibly fast. [...] The risk of something seriously dangerous happening is in the five year timeframe. 10 years at most.--Elon Musk

I am in the camp that is concerned about super intelligence," [Bill] Gates wrote. "First the machines will do a lot of jobs for us and not be super intelligent. That should be positive if we manage it well. A few decades after that though the intelligence is strong enough to be a concern. I agree with Elon Musk and some others on this and don\'t understand why some people are not concerned."

SunflowerP

  • Senior Staff
  • *
  • Join Date: Jun 2011
  • Location: Calgary AB
  • Posts: 8176
  • Country: ca
  • Total likes: 224
  • Don't teach your grandmother to suck eggs!
    • View Profile
    • If You Ain't Makin' Waves, You Ain't Kickin' Hard Enough
  • Religion: Eclectic religious Witchcraft
  • Preferred Pronouns: sie/hir/hirs/hirself
Quote from: Nyktelios;155626
The "high church" tends to put more stress on ritual and ceremony, and religious texts/stories are understood intellectually to be metaphorical and allegorical. The "low church" strand is more evangelical  and literalist in its approach, putting more focus on a personal relationship with deity. Maybe hard polytheism as it is in modern paganism comes out of the latter, more literalist kind of mindset, though who's to say what's right or wrong?

I would dispute that either 'evangelical' or 'literalist' is an accurate word to describe the position you're referring to (or seem to be - I might be misunderstanding what you're pointing at, but in that case you have omitted quite a lot of people who don't fit either of your categories, nor are they a hybrid of the two).

I'll acknowledge that some of the individuals who take that position are, or seem to be, literalist about either ancient myths or about interpretations of their personal experiences, or both; and also that some of them (often, but not always, the same ones) behave evangelically about it. These, especially the latter, can be loud disproportionately to their numbers.

But I disagree that any of this is inherent to the position itself. Someone can be centring personal experiences in shaping their practice without being literalist in interpreting those experiences, and such folks very often consider the ancient myths related to the deities they interact with to be metaphorical, allegorical, or simply a different experience than their own. Evangelism is even less inherent; there is nothing at all about this perspective that innately predicates proselytism.

I would suggest that the resemblance you see between the behaviors connected to the stances in the Christian high church/low church model, and pagan individuals who exhibit similar behaviors, are just as likely, if not more likely, to derive from cultural Christianity, and the (very common IME) tendency to take that culturally-dominant model of religiosity as a template for How To Do Religion - which would also be a possible issue when one tries to map pagan positions too closely onto the Christian model, as it seems to me that you are doing.

Sunflower
« Last Edit: August 14, 2014, 01:14:52 am by SunflowerP »
I'm the AntiFa genderqueer commie eclectic wiccan Mod your alt-right bros warned you about.
I do so have a life; I just live part of it online!
“Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live.” - Oscar Wilde
"Nobody's good at anything until they practice." - Brina (Yewberry)
My much-neglected blog "If You Ain't Makin' Waves, You Ain't Kickin' Hard Enough"

SunflowerP

  • Senior Staff
  • *
  • Join Date: Jun 2011
  • Location: Calgary AB
  • Posts: 8176
  • Country: ca
  • Total likes: 224
  • Don't teach your grandmother to suck eggs!
    • View Profile
    • If You Ain't Makin' Waves, You Ain't Kickin' Hard Enough
  • Religion: Eclectic religious Witchcraft
  • Preferred Pronouns: sie/hir/hirs/hirself
Quote from: Gilbride;155565
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.)

 
Quote from: Nyktelios;155569
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.

 
Of course, many hard polytheists are not trying to reconcile their views with, or accurately represent, ancient cultures. Hard polytheism is not a position particular to recons, or those of a reconstructionist bent.

And Dion Fortune is not pagan at all - while that quote is relevant in that it has influenced, and is cited by, neoPagan monists, it is hardly an accurate way to depict the views of soft polytheists in general. (IOW, the only person 'setting up' this dichotomy, at least on TC, is you, Nyktelios; most Cauldronite polytheists do not fit either of your dichotomous categories.)

Sunflower
I'm the AntiFa genderqueer commie eclectic wiccan Mod your alt-right bros warned you about.
I do so have a life; I just live part of it online!
“Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live.” - Oscar Wilde
"Nobody's good at anything until they practice." - Brina (Yewberry)
My much-neglected blog "If You Ain't Makin' Waves, You Ain't Kickin' Hard Enough"

Naomi J

  • Grand Master Member
  • *******
  • Join Date: Aug 2012
  • Location: London, UK
  • Posts: 1967
  • Country: gb
  • Total likes: 2
    • View Profile
    • http://leithincluan.wordpress.com/
  • Religion: Gaelic polytheism, modern druidry, rather attached to Cailleach Bhearra, Narnian heretic...
  • Preferred Pronouns: They or she
Quote from: SunflowerP;155639
Of course, many hard polytheists are not trying to reconcile their views with, or accurately represent, ancient cultures. Hard polytheism is not a position particular to recons, or those of a reconstructionist bent.

While that's true, I dispute the idea that the ancients can't have been hard polytheists. We simply don't have enough evidence to be sure. In my interpretation of the evidence, I think they were much harder polytheists than many Pagans today. But that's my interpretation, as a hard polytheist myself.

I'm a 'surprise myself by how hard my polytheism is' hard polytheist. I'm not sure that Brighid and Brigantia were the same deity. I honour Cailleach Bhearra, who I don't think is the same as the Scottish Cailleach. The Romans may have merged Minerva and Sulis, but in my experience those two are different deities. Macha and Morrigan don't feel the same to me, although I concede that they are related in some way - like sisters, as mythology suggests.

There are many deities who we assume are similar or the same because their names are cognate, or because a hint in mythology relates them. But we approach mythology with our own biases. If we assume all the deities with the title Cailleach are the same, that will probably be what we see in those deities. On the other hand, a hard polytheist may see two deities as separate who are the same, and see just as much evidence for this in the mythology, and approach them with this bias. We need to be very careful about how our biases inform our readings of myth. Personal bias is very hard to recognise.

I start with what my deities tell me, since I value my own 'UPG' when it comes to the  deities that I know personally. That's why I dispute the idea that all the deities with the title 'Brig' are the same, or that all the  Cailleachean are the same. I can't take a position on this for others though. My deities tell me if they're the same as the other deity from across the bay with a similar name, or not. But that interpretation will not be valid for others - just for me. That's where UPG is a highly personal thing.
"We're all stories, in the end. Make it a good one, eh?"
- Doctor Who

Stone Onto Sand

Tom

  • Master Member
  • ******
  • Join Date: Jan 2013
  • Posts: 399
  • Total likes: 2
    • View Profile
    • http://serpentinetom.wordpress.com
Quote from: Altair;155573
This fluidity suggests to me that many in ancient cultures may have viewed the gods the same way many of us do: as metaphors.

 
I find it a bit hard to believe that everyone's theology was exactly the same in the past. Perhaps the fluidity that we see in our sources has more to do with the fact that people, just like today, saw the gods in different ways. Some yes, probably thought of them as metaphor, but there are likely people who saw the gods as concrete beings separate from each other as well. People are people no matter what the time period and they come up with their own theories based on their personal experience just like we do here.

And our sources are not monolithic. Not one person wrote all the things dealing with gods in one culture after all. The information we have is a conglomeration of ideas from more than one person and sometimes theology doesn't come through that well.

Faemon

  • Grand Master Member
  • *******
  • Join Date: May 2012
  • Posts: 1229
  • Total likes: 9
    • View Profile
Quote from: Gilbride;155565
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.)

Quote from: Altair;155573
many in ancient cultures may have viewed the gods the same way many of us do: as metaphors.

Quote from: Tom;155652
People are people no matter what the time period and they come up with their own theories based on their personal experience just like we do here.


While not mistaken, I do think that the ancients would have had attitudes appropriate to the general knowledge of the time. What would gods have been a metaphor for, for instance? The personification would have been one with the sense of natural phenomena, before science developed, separate from mysticism, holding to that it was consequences and not personalities that moved the waves or the sun rising.
 
So, if hard polytheism is a modern thing, I would think that it's because we're widely educated to think in categories now: separate church and state, separate material science from spiritual/personal gnosis, separate cultural distinguishing features from archetypes...

Of course, almost nobody thinks to write down what is obvious, to spell it out for people in the future who might not have a clue anymore--they might not even have noticed the attitudes they had, or expected ideas that were considered obvious to ever change. So, that's just my speculation. I'm sure that there were as many differing attitudes among ancient people as modern people, but whether they had the vocabulary to articulate it--and how much the ability to articulate influences attitudes--could be another matter.
The Codex of Poesy: wishcraft, faelatry, alchemy, and other slight misspellings.
the Otherfaith: Chromatic Genderbending Faery Monarchs of Technology. DeviantArt

Redfaery

  • Grand Master Member
  • *******
  • Join Date: Dec 2013
  • Posts: 1345
  • Total likes: 40
    • View Profile
Quote from: Tom;155620
Well, if Kannon is a boddhisattva, then she must've ascended to that position at one point and therefore started off as ascended. Perhaps she is in fact working with or alongside Benzaiten or started out working for to help other humans get closer to her.

Divine beings can also have working relationships with each other after all.

 
You just made something in my brain asplode. Kannon and Benzaiten-sama both have similar enough geographical paths and cultural histories that....OMG this works.
KARMA: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Nyktelios

  • Sr. Master Member
  • *******
  • Join Date: Jul 2011
  • Posts: 562
  • Total likes: 2
    • View Profile
Quote from: SunflowerP;155636
I would dispute that either 'evangelical' or 'literalist' is an accurate word to describe the position you're referring to (or seem to be - I might be misunderstanding what you're pointing at, but in that case you have omitted quite a lot of people who don't fit either of your categories, nor are they a hybrid of the two).


I would say that they are not necessarily categories, but ends of a spectrum. I'm sure most people, both ancient and modern, would fall somewhere near the middle.

Quote from: SunflowerP;155636
Evangelism is even less inherent; there is nothing at all about this perspective that innately predicates proselytism.


Just to clarify, I meant "evangelical" in the sense of strict adherence to "the Word" in a literal way, not so much to do with proselytism. Admittedly, it doesn't really apply very well in paganism because there usually is no scripture that is seen as divine revelation, but I was using the term liberally to make a broad comparison using concepts I am (and probably many others from a Christian background are) familiar with. On one extreme end of the spectrum, there are people with a more intellectual and abstract theology, in which religious stories and figures are symbolic of something beyond human comprehension, and to the other extreme, there can be people who think Hermes is an actual being who flies around with winged sandals, with whom you can have personal conversations with in your mind. Like I said, I'm sure most people fall somewhere in the middle on this spectrum, though some closer to either side than others. I hope that's more clear.

It's not a perfect comparison, but I was trying to make a point that there is a broad spectrum of ways to be polytheistic, not just the typical "all gods are one god" thing, or the idea that each god is a totally separate individual. Ancient cultures appear to me to have had a highly symbolic worldview, and gods could blend with each other quite easily, which isn't a very "hard" characteristic. My guess is that modern hard polytheism is a byproduct of an evangelical Christian cultural mindset which stresses taking religious ideas literally and cultivating a personal relationship with Jesus, especially in the US where evangelical Christianity is deeply woven into the culture, politics, and media of American society, which naturally would rub off even on non-adherents. Just my speculation, I could be completely wrong.

Juniperberry

  • Grand Master Member
  • *******
  • Join Date: Jul 2011
  • Banned!
  • Posts: 1891
  • Total likes: 3
    • View Profile
Quote from: Faemon;155653
While not mistaken, I do think that the ancients would have had attitudes appropriate to the general knowledge of the time. What would gods have been a metaphor for, for instance? The personification would have been one with the sense of natural phenomena, before science developed, separate from mysticism, holding to that it was consequences and not personalities that moved the waves or the sun rising.
 
So, if hard polytheism is a modern thing, I would think that it's because we're widely educated to think in categories now: separate church and state, separate material science from spiritual/personal gnosis, separate cultural distinguishing features from archetypes...

Of course, almost nobody thinks to write down what is obvious, to spell it out for people in the future who might not have a clue anymore--they might not even have noticed the attitudes they had, or expected ideas that were considered obvious to ever change. So, that's just my speculation. I'm sure that there were as many differing attitudes among ancient people as modern people, but whether they had the vocabulary to articulate it--and how much the ability to articulate influences attitudes--could be another matter.

 
I've been kind of me, me, me lately but another thread reminded me of this...

Whether gods were all one being or several individual identities generally didn't matter, at least in heathenry. Berchta, Perchta, Holda, Frigg could all be one goddess or several, but what mattered was how the relationship with each was culturally owned by the specific tribe. Perchta of Bob's tribe wouldn't matter to George's tribe, because George's tribe had their own traditions concerning Perchta, and it was those traditions and subsequent spiritual/folk identity that mattered more than anything else or anyone else's spiritual/folk identity.
The pace of progress in artificial intelligence (I’m not referring to narrow AI) is incredibly fast. [...] The risk of something seriously dangerous happening is in the five year timeframe. 10 years at most.--Elon Musk

I am in the camp that is concerned about super intelligence," [Bill] Gates wrote. "First the machines will do a lot of jobs for us and not be super intelligent. That should be positive if we manage it well. A few decades after that though the intelligence is strong enough to be a concern. I agree with Elon Musk and some others on this and don\'t understand why some people are not concerned."

random417

  • Journeyman
  • *****
  • Join Date: Jul 2014
  • Posts: 237
  • Total likes: 0
    • View Profile
Quote from: SunflowerP;155639

And Dion Fortune is not pagan at all

 
Really? Have you ever actually read her ficton work? This is the woman who gave the Wiccan community the quote "A religion without a Goddess is halfway to atheism".
 
Remember, the identification as Pagan grew out of the Wiccan movement, and so... Pre Wicca, one couldn't identify as a Pagan and mean the same thing as it means now. The concept didn't really exist. Like it or not, the neoPagan community exists only because of Wicca, and Gardner. I'm not taking the position that the concepts didn't exist before Gardner, but it's not exactly easy to prove either. Sure, we can leave Gardner out of it if you want, we could go with the influence that Fortune's books “The Sea Priestess” and “Moon Magic” had on Doreen Valiente. Remember also that Fortune died in 1946, 5 years before the repeal of the witchcraft laws in 1951. Fortune obviously hints at Goddess worship, and what for the sake of convenience I'll term "proto-Wicca".  

Maybe, as a Ceremonial Magician and Hermeticist myself, the exclusion of someone who I consider one of the bridges between what I do and the larger Pagan community from the Pagan label, rubs me the wrong way. Are you saying then that I'm not Pagan? I identify myself as such, and bluntly, I fit the mold less than Fortune.
"Let it be that state of manyhood bound and loathing. So with thy all; thou hast no right but to do thy will. Do that and no other shall say nay. For pure will, unassuaged of purpose, delivered from the lust of result, is in every way perfect."

AL 1:42-44

Jack

  • Adept Member
  • ********
  • Join Date: Apr 2012
  • Location: Cascadia
  • Posts: 3168
  • Country: us
  • Total likes: 90
    • View Profile
    • Jack of Many Trades
  • Religion: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
  • Preferred Pronouns: he/him/his
Quote from: random417;155753
Maybe, as a Ceremonial Magician and Hermeticist myself, the exclusion of someone who I consider one of the bridges between what I do and the larger Pagan community from the Pagan label, rubs me the wrong way. Are you saying then that I'm not Pagan? I identify myself as such, and bluntly, I fit the mold less than Fortune.

 
I would think the key point is that you identify as such; the definition of pagan I most often see here on TC is one who worships non-Abrahamically and identifies as pagan.

Declaring someone retroactively pagan may be valid and it may not, but there are actually plenty of new agers and goddess worshippers who don't necessarily call themselves pagan.

(Disclaimer: I am speaking generally, as I have not done any significant research on Dion Fortune's religious beliefs.)
Hail Mara, Lady of Good Things!
"The only way to cope with something deadly serious is to try to treat it a little lightly." -Madeleine L'Engle

random417

  • Journeyman
  • *****
  • Join Date: Jul 2014
  • Posts: 237
  • Total likes: 0
    • View Profile
Quote from: Jack;155758
I would think the key point is that you identify as such; the definition of pagan I most often see here on TC is one who worships non-Abrahamically and identifies as pagan.

Declaring someone retroactively pagan may be valid and it may not, but there are actually plenty of new agers and goddess worshippers who don't necessarily call themselves pagan.

(Disclaimer: I am speaking generally, as I have not done any significant research on Dion Fortune's religious beliefs.)

The identification didn't exist in her time... my understanding of her beliefs is that while she was a "Christian mystic", her work was heavily inspired by the kabbalistic ideas of polarity, most easily symbolized by gender.

My interpretation of this, mind you, this is only my interpretation, is that this was a way to talk about a monotheistic wicca, where goddess and god are "derived" or "born" from a single unity. The deal with that though, is that she wouldn't have had the same language to describe it with.

She couldn't have identified as pagan, because nobody did. I agree with you in the difficulty of retroactive paganism, but I think that goes both ways. We can no more prove she wasn't, than we can prove she was.

I tend to think of her as Pagan because of her influence on influential early members of the community.
"Let it be that state of manyhood bound and loathing. So with thy all; thou hast no right but to do thy will. Do that and no other shall say nay. For pure will, unassuaged of purpose, delivered from the lust of result, is in every way perfect."

AL 1:42-44

Redfaery

  • Grand Master Member
  • *******
  • Join Date: Dec 2013
  • Posts: 1345
  • Total likes: 40
    • View Profile
Quote from: random417;155761
The identification didn't exist in her time...

 
Sunflower would be the better one to reply here, but yes, Paganism as a religious identity DID exist in Dion Fortune's time. The Druid orders had their beginning in the early 19th century, and there were Victorian poets who called themselves Pagans and really meant it.
KARMA: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Tags:
 

Related Topics

  Subject / Started by Replies Last post
181 Replies
18515 Views
Last post February 25, 2015, 07:17:30 pm
by Sefiru
15 Replies
1964 Views
Last post December 05, 2013, 11:51:43 am
by Fireof9
12 Replies
4680 Views
Last post June 05, 2016, 03:28:42 pm
by Sorcha
2 Replies
1502 Views
Last post January 07, 2016, 08:08:22 am
by RecycledBenedict
7 Replies
1729 Views
Last post August 26, 2015, 03:46:35 am
by StagTracker

* Who's Online

  • Dot Guests: 17
  • Dot Hidden: 0
  • Dot Users: 1
  • Dot Users Online:

* Please Donate!

The Cauldron's server is expensive and requires monthly payments. Please become a Bronze, Silver or Gold Donor if you can. Donations are needed every month. Without member support, we can't afford the server.

* In Memoriam

Chavi (2006)
Elspeth (2010)
Marilyn (2013)

* Cauldron Staff

Co-Hosts:
LyricFox & Randall

Senior Staff:
Darkhawk

Message Board Staff
Board Coordinator:
Sunflower

Assistant Board Coordinator:
Aster Breo

Board Staff:
Allaya, Chatelaine, HarpingHawke, Jenett, Morag, rocquelaire, Sefiru

Discord Chat Staff
Chat Coordinator:
Morag

Reserve Staff:
Aisling

Cauldron Council:
Bob, Catja, Emma-Eldritch, Fausta, Jubes, Kelly, Phouka, Sperran, Star, Steve, Tana

Cauldron Assistants
[Non-Staff Positions]

Site Assistants
[Non-Staff Positions]
Webmaster:
Randall