Home > Cosmology, Exploring Ideas, God, Goddess, Goddesses, Gods, Orthodoxy, Orthopraxy, Paganism, Polytheism, Religion, Religious Experience, Spiritual Experience, Spirituality, Theology > Theological Concepts, Language, and Means of Relation in Polytheism

Theological Concepts, Language, and Means of Relation in Polytheism

This is not the only place I have seen this view, but it does a good job of compartmentalizing a lot of the more extended posts in this vein that I have seen on Facebook, blogs, and essays.  I am not quoting this person to pick on them, but the quote below highlights a lot of the trends I am seeing from the folks who are in the similar mindsets.

“Karina B. Heart
Theological concepts consistently fail to define, contain or express my beliefs or my embodied ecstatic expression of them. I reject orthodoxy. I reject the idea that people need priests to mediate the divine/spiritual for them as this effectively denies the spiritual sovereignty of the individual–placing them at the mercy of the priestly caste. We’ve had about enough of that, haven’t we?
Let’s break the binaries. Let’s deconstruct the habituated, limiting, egoic mindset that upholds paradigms of subject-ruler, petitioner-priest, human-divine, servant-master. Just because it’s “how it’s always been done” (in Western culture) does not mean it’s how it always will be done.
The Masters tools will never dismantle the master’s house.“

It is a mistake to name the priest the master when, especially for the priests, the masters are the Gods Themselves. Theological concepts exist as definitions, containers, and means of expressing meaning and understanding, and are not always equal to the task. Not every cup holds the same volume of water well, and not every cup is equal to the task of holding good, hot coffee.  It is little wonder theological language has to change, to go into poetry. We do not dispense with cups because they cannot all hold coffee, and so too do I view the language we use, theology included.

Having priests does not deny anyone spiritual sovereignty. Priests cannot take your sovereignty.  If they have sovereignty over you, you have given it to them.  Having priests as mediators is a requirement from some Gods. Some people are called to doing priest work for their Gods and others are not. If it comes from the Gods, the master, then by what right does anyone have to dismantle what They have put into place?

Do you understand the function of a priest?  Not all of them are mediators.  You’re probably thinking of Catholic, Anglican, and other Christian priests.  Yet, even this is not a very well-developed understanding of their role.  Do they operate as gateways to the Holy Spirit contained within the Host (in terms of Catholicism)?  Yes, because the Catholic Church has standards for how a parishioner is to believe and act in order to be an accepted member of the Catholic Church.

Priests act as gateways, as safeguards, for the Mysteries of their religion, and for the good functioning of their religious communities.  Many priests are called to only this, while others are called to become clergy (which may, and in my view, generally is, a different set of skills entire), and others are called to make offerings on behalf of their community to the Gods, and little else.  None of these takes away the ability of an individual to pray to their God(s), nor to offer, nor to do something for their Gods.  None of these takes away the ability of an individual to be called to something utterly outside the wheelhouses of the priests of a religion.

Is it that you don’t understand what a God is?  A God is part of the cosmological order in some fashion, and is in it in such a way as to be integral to it, whether we’re talking about a God of the harvest for a small community, a Goddess who IS the whole world, a God that IS or CONTAINS the Universe, to a God of the hinges on doors.  The Worlds are full of Gods.

Some of these Gods have no priests, and in these cases, the worries over priests are completely unfounded.  A lot of the priests that are out there will not, and may never be for you given these attitudes, because not only would you never accept them as a religious leader, you would actively denigrate the role they have within the community, and so, would likely not belong to it in the first place.  If you did you would be in active, continuous conflict with that religion and the leaders of it, which also would make little sense for you to take part in.

Orthodoxy may not be of use to you, but it is required to be part of many polytheist religions.  If this is unacceptable to you, fine, but don’t come gate-crashing into polytheists communities where it is, or into polytheism in general, and demand we should all accept this and work towards this end.

If you do not want a religion with priests then do not join a religion with priests.  Likewise, do not  come into others’ spaces and stomp and stamp and scream about oppression when these are people doing the work of their Gods and communities.

You want to break binaries?  Fine, but there are some binaries that I don’t think should be broken, and will stand against it in every case.  For instance, there is hierarchy in polytheism because we humans didn’t make this world.  The World is a God, a Goddess, and many Gods, and a God is the World, and the World is full of Gods.  The Goddess of a Well is a Goddess of that well. I am not that God, and neither are you.  It’s a simple hierarchy, one which I did not choose, but is there nonetheless.  A simple binary that goes with it is God and not-God.  This is not a binary I think should be broken (nor do I truly believe it can) because it would render the relationship of differentiated individuals that exist between Gods and mortals nonsensical.

If you want to deconstruct the habituated, limiting, egoic mindsets that uphold paradigms of subject-ruler?  I think you would be better served to simply not serve the Gods for whom these paradigms are ones They Themselves have and still uphold.  You don’t want a petitioner-priest relationship with others in your religious community?  Don’t join ones that have them.

Not every mindset that upholds the paradigm of subject-ruler does so through ego.  Some of us have come into these mindsets because we were called to them by our Gods just as others were called to reject them by their Gods.  Ascribing ego in the negative to those of us who hold these mindsets is insulting, rude, and also denies that we may come to these conclusions based on reason, thought, personal exploration, revelation, or experience of having gone other routes.

If you want to be part of a religious community where there isn’t a divide between human and divine?  Well…I think you would be hard-pressed then, most religions have the central belief in and worship of a God or group of Gods.  The exceptions to these rules would be religions which are non-theist.  It certainly isn’t polytheism.

It is assumed the Master’s house should be dismantled, and that the Master is human. Rather, I see in this narrative the Master are the Gods. I think it is the human house that needs the work.  A lot of it.  I wish folks would get on with it, regardless of how they do so, and leave the house of the Gods alone.

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  1. March 18, 2016 at 9:26 am

    I agree with much of what you’re conveying here…

    However, this part bugs me:

    A simple binary that goes with it is God and not-God. This is not a binary I think should be broken (nor do I truly believe it can) because it would render the relationship of differentiated individuals that exist between Gods and mortals nonsensical.

    So, what you’re essentially saying is that Antinous isn’t really a God, then? He didn’t start out as one, that’s undeniable…

    And if you do think that, that’s fine; but then I need to understand that so I know where you actually stand in terms of devotional practices on certain occasions that might involve Antinous.

    • March 18, 2016 at 10:17 am

      I’d like to know this as well – from many polytheists. Whether one holds that binary is important for certain religions and whether one can fully participate in them, imo.

    • March 19, 2016 at 3:20 am

      To my mind, the idea of Gods and not-Gods is itself a binary that isn’t broken by mortals who go into apotheosis. I will admit, I don’t understand much about Antinous, but if I understand Him rightly, He is a God and/or mortal, yes? When I was doing prayers for Him that was how I understood Him, but I am very willing to be corrected on this if this understanding is incorrect for Him.

      This is also the tricky thing about approaching all of polytheism, because Gods’ know where my broad paintbrush approach here is painting over differences without meaning to, but I still felt like this point needed to be addressed.

      Even if He is both and between, I don’t think He breaks the binary so much as is another point on the spectrum, if you will. I hope that makes sense. Like….polar points on a Venn diagram don’t disappear because of overlap, they just overlap. Even definite points in a Venn diagram don’t erase these points of crossover; what they tell us is where there are definite points in a Venn diagram are. Does that make sense? Perhaps binaries are the wrong word here, I’ll admit, but this stuff is fairly tricky because I’m still figuring out the fullness of the language that is most accurate.

      • March 25, 2016 at 8:58 am

        The vocabulary of “Gods” and “Non-Gods” in Irish is Dé 7 An-Dé, and gets us into a whole other thing, because the “Non-Gods” are also divine beings…but let’s leave that aside for the moment! 😉

        Yes, Antinous is very definitely a Deity/God/Theos/Deus/Netjer, etc. He is also a Hero, and on one occasion He’s called a daimon, but even Plato said that the Theoi are specialized daimones. Certainly, He is divine in some respect or another by all ancient accounts, but He did not start out that way. Attempts to make him an incarnation of some divine force, or an avatar-like being, all seem very hollow to me, and appear to devalue the experience of being human. It remains an open question whether He became divine through internal qualities of various kinds, or if it was simple chance because of the way/place that He died.

        Using the broad brush approach isn’t always the best, I think, and when that broad brush excludes certain divine beings, concepts, or even experiences a particular person has had–and since you’ve had some experience with Antinous, this is why I was especially worried about your formulation above (those who don’t know any better would have an out on this).

        In any case, it’s late/early, my further response has come after an interesting trip and its aftermath, and I think you get the point I was raising, in any case, so let’s leave it there for now. 😉

      • March 25, 2016 at 9:37 am

        “The vocabulary of “Gods” and “Non-Gods” in Irish is Dé 7 An-Dé, and gets us into a whole other thing, because the “Non-Gods” are also divine beings…but let’s leave that aside for the moment! ;)”

        Sure, and we get back to the notion that there are Gods, and then there are divinities. I don’t think recognizing Beings such as Hunnin and Munnin disrupts this convention either, but yeah, we can put that aside for the time being.

        Incidentally, this, among a great many reasons is why I don’t pretend to speak for all polytheists, but I may comment or make statements on polytheism in a broader-brush way anyhow. I may not be able to speak for all polytheist religions, but I speak from being a polytheist.

        “Yes, Antinous is very definitely a Deity/God/Theos/Deus/Netjer, etc. He is also a Hero, and on one occasion He’s called a daimon, but even Plato said that the Theoi are specialized daimones. Certainly, He is divine in some respect or another by all ancient accounts, but He did not start out that way. Attempts to make him an incarnation of some divine force, or an avatar-like being, all seem very hollow to me, and appear to devalue the experience of being human. It remains an open question whether He became divine through internal qualities of various kinds, or if it was simple chance because of the way/place that He died.”

        Sure, and again, I would not wish to speak in place of the traditions which honor Him, and to which I have looked to on how to do proper cultus to Him. If I didn’t care, for instance, during our prayer and offering exchanges last year, I wouldn’t have asked for proper offerings and the like.

        “Using the broad brush approach isn’t always the best, I think…
        In any case, it’s late/early, my further response has come after an interesting trip and its aftermath, and I think you get the point I was raising, in any case, so let’s leave it there for now. ;)”

        Well, all the same I appreciate your raising the points. It was not and will not be my intent to eliminate or otherwise exclude other divine categories, especially since my religious base is polytheism and I view it as being on me to meet the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir otherwise where They are rather than vice versa.

  2. March 18, 2016 at 12:03 pm

    I’m curious about the context in which this was said. (The person you quoted is a priestess in the Anderson Feri witchcraft tradition, which is an ecstatic, rather LHP-leaning path that is certainly polytheist but does tend to be barrier-breaking on a number of fronts, including the “traditional” divide between deities and Their worshipers.)

    • March 19, 2016 at 3:24 am

      Honestly, I have no context beyond the quote. I also don’t know and haven’t interacted much with Anderson Feri folks that I know of, and don’t know much about them personally. I think barrier breaking is fine, but I also think that barriers are useful things, and rather than toss the baby out with the bathwater, I think it is worth our time asking which barriers are useful for our respective communities, and which ones are not.

  3. ganglerisgrove
    March 18, 2016 at 4:36 pm

    Reblogged this on Gangleri's Grove and commented:
    And on a somewhat different (though tangentially related note), here is a thoughtful article by Sarenth on priesthood, polytheism, hierarchy, and getting our shit together.

  4. March 18, 2016 at 6:06 pm

    ” The World is a God, a Goddess, and many Gods, and a God is the World, and the World is full of Gods.”

    That’s an excellent way of putting it; thank you very much for sharing it.

    Generally, I think people should spend less time trying to speak for all of Paganism – or all of polytheism, for that matter – and spend more time expressing themselves in terms of their own unique traditions/sects/what-have-you. Say that members of the Temple of Set worship themselves instead of Set, and I have no problem with it; tell me that “no true Setians” would ever worship Set (which some people have), and THEN we have a problem. I think the same principle applies here, or at least it does for me.

  5. March 18, 2016 at 7:29 pm

    You know, it’s funny, but in the past, people were *happy* to have priests around. They wanted to have someone who kept up the gods’ holy places, made sure proper offerings were made on behalf of the community, could help guide the individual worshipper in proper ritual etiquette, and in some circumstances, had an especially close relationship to a god and could therefore help others looking to get close to that god. It never precluded the individual worshipper from approaching the gods on their own, of course. But priests served an important and needed purpose. They still do. When I occasionally have dealings with a new-to-me deity, and am not sure what the proper protocol is or want to know more than I can get from a history book or wikipedia article, the first person I’ll turn to is a priest of that deity, if available. I am always so happy to have someone like that on hand to help guide me, and that’s even considering that I myself am a priestess and oracle and spirit-worker – because those things don’t guarantee anything when it comes to a new divine interaction. All this push-back against the mere idea of priests seems to me based on invented issues. No one in polytheism has ever suggested that a priest is *necessary* to merely approach any deity, or that a priest should have power over others, or any such thing. The “you can’t control me!” reaction seems childish at best.

    • Keen
      March 18, 2016 at 7:51 pm

      As skeptical as I am of the claim of necessary hierarchy, priesthood really is just a matter of a division of labor – the claim that there should be no priests bears an uncanny resemblance to the call (often by internet armchair folks with no practical experience, of course) for complete and utter self-sufficiency by the prepper crowd – that, somehow, we can all be our own master craftsmen and manage to survive. We are not atomized individuals, not communities of one. We NEED specialization.

      • March 19, 2016 at 3:27 am

        As a friend of mine has said many times, “Everyone wants to be their own priest -until they need one.”

    • March 19, 2016 at 3:52 am

      I totally agree, Dver…and I really hate it when certain “Bay Area” polytheists (who are often more genero-pagan than they might wish to suggest) who are priests of particular Deities, when I go and ask them for advice and such, get told “Well, you should be able to do this yourself! [Because YOU can do ANYTHING!!!]” Uhh…I have my hands full with several other Deities, traditions, and so forth, and if my dealings take me in the direction of a Deity I don’t know, then I want to draw on that expertise, and their experience, because I respect those things, and I require the guidance of those things to make sure that what I might do is appropriate. Unfortunately, too many don’t see it this way…

    • March 19, 2016 at 10:36 am

      I wonder if it has something to do with our current society’s mistrust of “experts.” I see priests as the spiritual equivalent of a medical doctor, mechanic, or other expert in a certain field that you go to when you have problem in that field. If I’m sick, I go to a doctor and can hopefully trust that they know more about that sort of thing than I do, and can help me fix the problem. Likewise, if my car won’t start, hopefully a mechanic will be able to diagnose the problem and fix it for me for a reasonable price.

      But I say “hopefully” because I, like many people, have had the experience of being misdiagnosed by incompetent doctors, and being cheated by a dishonest mechanic. It also doesn’t help when they talk down to you and treat you like an idiot for not knowing about their field. Excuse me, buddy, maybe I don’t know how cars work, but how about you explain how DNA replication works to a room full of 20 year olds? I sometimes start thinking about that when pagan priests talk about “hierarchies” as if they are better than laypeople with “mundane jobs” because of their special spiritual calling. Not all priests are like that, of course, but some are, just like some doctors talk to their patients like they’re idiots.

      The pagan community has a lot of ex-Christians, and many of them might be victims of spiritual malpractice which has made them wary of anyone calling themselves “priests.” So some of them say, “I don’t need priests! I can be my own priest!”, like people who try to diagnose their own illnesses over the internet instead of going to the doctor. Then they try to cure their own cancer with green tea and yoga or something.

      I personally think we really do need priests, but it’s already hard enough finding a good doctor; finding a trustworthy pagan priest is much harder. At least doctors have a set of credentials they need before they can practice medicine. In the pagan community anyone can call themselves a priest and start offering spiritual advice to gullible people when they really don’t know what they’re talking about.

      The only solution I can see is we need to get to a point where priests start building up reputations in communities for being trustworthy, like how you can sometimes learn from word-of-mouth which mechanics in town are trustworthy. The problem is we don’t live in small, close-knit communities anymore, and most areas have few pagans anyway, so they might not have anyone who’s qualified to be a priest. Then you get on the internet, and on the internet it looks like no one is trustworthy because of all the flame wars and drama and accusations about how so-in-so is really a terrible person in real life and only puts up a facade online.

      Well, that’s just my tl;dr perspective of a non-priest who would really be happy having priests around, provided I knew I could trust them. I think it would be really helpful to me if we just quit arguing about whether we should have priests at all, and instead started discussing how we can get to the point where there are qualified, trustworthy priests around for people who need them.

  6. March 22, 2016 at 9:29 pm

    This is something that I have had a lot of about. I have been called a Priest(ess) by others although I am reluctant to call myself one because I am not sure I have truly EARNED that title. For now, I am a devotee of my Gods.

  1. March 26, 2016 at 12:01 pm

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