I am a hard polytheist and animist. The Gods are real, individual beings. The world is populated by spirits. My Ancestors are as close as my blood relatives, reaching into the World itself, into Yggdrasil, the Elements and raw power of the Void, into the Gap Itself, if I look back far enough. Many Gods are imminent, and some transcendent. Some are local Gods, some with names and some with names we do not know, and more with names we may never speak. The Gods can be our friends, our family, our lovers, distant acquaintances, terse partners, employers, and/or master/mistress, among roles and ways of being I am sure I have missed. So can a great many spirits. As for the spirits, They are part and parcel of everything around us. We might call some spirits Gods , and some Gods might be called spirits, depending on how we view Them, and Their place in the world, universe, etc. We may not even have terribly solid boundaries where one God ends and another begins, or on the other hand, may have very defined ones between Goddesses.
We all exist within the fabric of Wyrd, within Ma’at from the most infinitesimal piece of sand to the Gods, to the Universe Itself (which, in some religions is a God/dess/Being).
Is this monist?
Perhaps, at its core, I suppose it is. The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines Monist as:
1 a : a view that there is only one kind of ultimate substance and b : the view that reality is one unitary organic whole with no independent parts.
I much prefer the b definition. This idea is not that we are somehow one mass, blob, etc., but that we are threads of a great tapestry, and each of us is but a thread. That while being individual, we are not independent. That we are organically whole, together.
Really, though, what am I capturing by saying things this way?
Language is tricky. When it comes to describing the Gods, spirits, and Ancestors, They are much like a fish wriggling in your hands: even as you take out the hook from a well-fought catch, it struggles to go back in the water where you must find it yet again¹. In many ways language is insufficient, even in the hands of a poet, a writer, a lyricist, or a bard, to describe in full or even in part what it is to experience the Gods. Language is the hook that gives us one fish, and it may fill us awhile with good food, but while that hook is bare it is an unused tool, and there are far more times where the fish fights us off or fools us that it has been hooked, when it merely eats the bait and swims off. Language alone, whether written on a page, sung in front of a crowd, or whispered before an altar will not sustain. It is the fish, not the hook, that provides the nourishment. After all, sometimes we lose the hook, and sometimes the whole line, and sometimes the whole damned pole!
I still feel as I did in August with A Useful Teacup. Boundaries are useful and necessary. A hook is not a fish, after all, and no matter how many hooks one eats they will not provide nourishment. Yet I find that monism is not wholly opposed to polytheism, but rather, it is part and parcel of it.
Monism within polytheism is nothing new, nor is animism. Recognizing we are all part of an interdependent whole does not deny our Gods, our spirits, or our Ancestors, but puts us into our proper place within the Worlds. The Worlds hang on Yggdrasil, and Yggdrasil came from the Gap. All at first came from Atum who came from Nun. We all come from a source, and it is often represented by, referred to, and is the Void, Darkness, Nothing, etc. If anything, monism within polytheism is a challenge for us to live more in tune with the Worlds around us. If we are all interdependent, are we doing our part in Wyrd, in Ma’at?
Bringing this idea into the current discussion on Paganism, I do not want to find another boat when so many will do. I may not board the good ship Reconstructionist but I count myself as a hard polytheist and animist, a Northern Tradition Pagan, a Heathen, and a worshiper of many Gods beyond the Norse and German. So, I am also very eclectic. Yet, I look at it this way: salmon has sure been good to me in filling my belly, and so has tilapia and tuna. I fish in many waters, but with the proper pole and bait for each. The fish still come. Sometimes I come back with nothing, and sometimes I come back with a fish story, and an accompanying fish.
Boundaries are still useful and necessary; it is hard going trying to salmon fish with a leaky boat. Likewise, it is impossible to fish without risking getting wet.
¹Small wonder that Loki is associated with a salmon: a hardy fish that is hard to catch and a powerful swimmer who often outsmarts or outright beats the fisherman. As with language, the understanding of Loki is evolving inside and outside of academic circles. He is one God among many who are being discovered, thought about, and reexamined, and yet, consistently escapes consensus.