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Polytheism is a vague term that needs classification

The etymology of the term “polytheism” is insufficiently descriptive, even as it attempts to establish a clear difference from monotheism. While it is by no means useless or misleading, especially in the classification of general religion, it can be of some disservice to serious polytheists who are interested in the extensive and complex history of polytheism, either for ritual practices or theoretical understanding. Being among that number, I have always found some sort of difficulty in expressing my socio-religious views to other polytheists or explaining historical, cultural and socio-political developments regarding various ideas in and forms of polytheism. I needed to introduce adjectives like “traditional” or “regional” or “indigenous” which did not go far enough. And it seemed wrong that there should be a term such as “animism” for a distinct yet simple worldview, but only one term to denote various and profound stages of polytheism’s worldview. Anthropologists often hold that polytheism arose after the discovery of agriculture, but this did not explain its development or forms. I noticed also that many misunderstandings and misinterpretations among practitioners and thinkers resulted from the vagueness of the term “polytheism”, perhaps giving an impression of the fragmented and weak state of the movement. Since worldview is of paramount importance in belief and reconstructionism, natural distinctions resulting from distinct historical traditions should be classified properly. To this end, I will introduce four new terms, inspired by social anthropology; in these the worldview is immediately apparent from the etymology of the term. Since religion is a socio-cultural phenomenon bounded by place, it seems reasonable to be guided by the anthropological terms that classify human societies, i.e. band, tribe, chiefdom (simple, complex), and state. For this reason, the etymology addresses the geographical scope of the society that held such a worldview, namely, village, city, confederation/union, and world/universe. Hence, kometheism, politheism, koinotheism, and cosmotheism. Below is a table in some detail. 

Table

N.B. Three points to make. First, it might seem contradictory to place both monotheism and “polytheism” within cosmotheism, but this is necessary in view of the common origin of both systems of beliefs. Monotheism appeared during the evolution of a particular set of universalized ideas and syncretic circumstances within an expanding and competitive world grasping for an explanation of reality and hoping for an end to the pains of imperialism. It shouldn’t be thought that since monotheism denies all Gods except one, it is therefore of a totally different cast. The evolution of monotheism itself and the continuing the polytheistic remnants within it are proof against this rather simplistic opinion. Secondly, the four stages of polytheism are obviously not exclusive in descending order. Every cosmotheism will contain certain elements of the three previous worldviews, although not in a consistent or even manner. Lastly, I hope it will be understood that this is not an attempt to account for the development of Gods in material terms. Gods are real, but the earliest conceptions of them (before a tradition is made) depended on the nature of the experiences and lifestyle of those who first established the connection, as dictated by the natural environment and culture. The Gods, theoretically speaking, are not fully known to us. Animism is probably the closest we can reach because the natural and supernatural are equivalent, leaving little room for uncertainty as far as divine presence and experience is concerned. But polytheism later added new ideas and practices (mirroring changes in society) that can be compared to a mantle or cloak which covers the God, giving that God a more particular appearance or function for the convenience of distinct cultic practices and purposes, but simultaneously (because the God is covered) making that God somewhat less accessible to our conceptual understanding (hence the development of monotheism and later atheism).

A common misconception about ancient ancestors resolved + a personal story

The other day I saw an intriguing video entitled “Are all Europeans descended from Charlemagne?”. I had known that Charlemagne, who lived around the year 800 CE, was an ancestor of many royal and noble lineages in Europe, but the thought of him being a common forefather of many millions of people seemed impossible. Nevertheless, the video shows clearly that the farther back one goes, the more ancestors there are; the number doubles every generation. So, at generation one there is two ancestors (parents), at generation two there are four ancestors (grandparents) and at three there are eight (great-grandparents), and so on until you reach generation 40 (around 800 CE) where there are 1,099,511,627,776 ancestors. The number is vaster by far at 2000 years ago. The narrator points out that because there weren’t a trillion people living back in 800 CE, there is a very large portion repeated ancestors within that total number. The vast majority of people lived and married locally, hence the very high possibility of mild to moderate inbreeding, although within healthy levels. But it would only take one outsider intermarrying at some point to add so many more ancestors to one’s lineage, and this must have happened for most people, except (as the video shows) for those geographically isolated by mountains for example.

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The question then arises as to which ancestors matter most to us. If everyone was related to everyone else within a continent, if not the whole world, around 2000 years ago, how can we speak specifically of Hellenic, Gaulish, Germanic, or other ancestors. The answer here lies in one’s genetic makeup, which can also be backed by facial features. I may have several trillion ancestors 2000 years ago, but only those that lived within the areas in which my parents were born are most important to me, because there is direct indigenous descent. Facial features tell a wonderful story about ancient times. It is always interesting when we find a doppelganger somewhere suddenly or point out how a cousin of ours resembles us (I have such a cousin). But now that we have forensic archaeology, the possibility of seeing our ancient ancestors face to face is now a reality to be celebrated. I remember, several years ago, when I first discovered the Fayum Portraits, I spent a whole hour or more looking through them and exclaiming every now and then: “I remember seeing that face somewhere!”. In fact, I showed a particular portrait to my dad, knowing who exactly it resembled, and I quizzed him on who it was (my dad and I have excellent visual memories and never forget faces). When he gave up, I told him it was an Egyptian workman who had carried rubble at our house once and then we shared a laugh! Another one, resembling my dad’s mother to some degree, made him tear up.

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In the course of time, my curiosity drove me to discover more facial reconstructions from the past. Because the number of these are still very scarce, especially from ancient times, I was absolutely dumbstruck and overjoyed when I found not only one but two facial reconstructions that resembled my father, and both derived from his ancestral lands, Greece and the Near East/North Eastern Egypt. The Greek reconstruction is of a Mycenaean noble warrior from Pylos who lived 3500 years ago and the Near Eastern face is a reconstruction of an average Canaanite/Jewish man from the time of Jesus. See below for the remarkable intermediate resemblance.

4fbfcdbcda38af0f8de2fd8c03f2bf37[1]ΚουρεCanaanite

 

It’s needless to say, my dad was quite glad, but (not being too fond of history) not as much as me!

To maintain stability, complex societies moralized their Gods?

A recent study has found that, in the course of history, complex societies throughout the world evolved a moral interpretation of their Gods, rather than the opposite. By moral it is meant the application of dualism, the rewarding of good and the punishment of evil. This does not suggest that duality of good and bad did not exist before, but that it became solidified and mandatory in its decrees and consequences, moving towards black and white rather than grey shades. Divine moralization of this kind occurs in a regular and predictable pattern: “we systematically coded records from 414 societies that span the past 10,000 years from 30 regions around the world, using 51 measures of social complexity and 4 measures of supernatural enforcement of morality. Our analyses not only confirm the association between moralizing gods and social complexity, but also reveal that moralizing gods follow—rather than precede—large increases in social complexity. Contrary to previous predictions, powerful moralizing ‘big gods’ and prosocial supernatural punishment tend to appear only after the emergence of ‘megasocieties’ with populations of more than around one million people.” On the one hand, this seems reasonable because as social complexity increases, so do social problems; the more people there are, the more effort and management will be needed to keep them stable*. Therefore, the priesthood (whose task it was to officiate rituals and interpret signs) tended to support the moralization of the Gods in order to promote social harmony; perhaps the Gods themselves changed their behavior towards the changing society that worshipped them. But on the other hand, moralization can serve a political function for the upper classes at the expense of the lower. Moralization can only go so far before people notice a discrepancy among classes and groups. Thus, it is no wonder there is a connection between it and imperialism: “Moralizing gods are not a prerequisite for the evolution of social complexity, but they may help to sustain and expand complex multi-ethnic empires after they have become established. By contrast, rituals that facilitate the standardization of religious traditions across large populations generally precede the appearance of moralizing gods. This suggests that ritual practices were more important than the particular content of religious belief to the initial rise of social complexity.” This realization makes me reflect on the content of this website. On one hand, I have been trying to promote a rediscovery of original religious traditions/ideas, together with distinct standardizations of those within distinct communities. But on the other, I have also moralized the Gods to a certain extent (mainly as far as indigenism is concerned) in order to solve the complex problem of how to revive polytheism nowadays in the most stable, effective and fair manner. Everyone would need to return to simple animism and the earliest form of society in order to do away with these instances of occasional cognitive dissonance. But such is complexity: it is both beautiful in its bounty and cruel in its confusion.

 

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* A notable example of this moralization is in Hesiod, who writes in the early Archaic period (around 750 BCE), at a time when the population and social complexity of Greece had increased greatly. The difference between his views and those of Homer, who is said to have lived a mere 50 years before, is striking. In Works and Days, Hesiod invokes Zeus several times as a God of justice who can right the wrongs of the oppressed and reform what Hesiod perceived to be a declining society.

Wisdom vs Stupidity: 2 videos

Two brief lectures, one from a Hawaiian polytheist and conservationist, and the other from an American Christian and fundamentalist. Even though the Hawaiian was colonized (and he mentions this in his lecture), he never displays the domineering and scoffing attitude of the Christian. This is to say nothing of the vast difference of the theories they are promoting and the information they are using concerning sustainability…

I never want to be seen as an equal to settler society.

Embrace indigenism and reject colonialism worldwide. It’s an inherent part of polytheism.

indigenous motherhood

I never want to be seen as an equal to settler society.

Nor do I ever want to be seen as an equal in the eyes of the colonizer.

And I never want to be seen as “successful” within colonial systems.

It started when I was young.

It was lurking in the beginning stages of public speaking, of meeting with ministers, of being groomed in this space of false indigeniety to achieve colonial success.

It was intertwined in the statements of “you are going to be the next Prime Minister of Canada!” And the “you are so resilient. This is your line of work!”

I would sit there and melt into this feeling of success. These feelings of “I’m gonna do something big with my life.”

The feelings of “I am destined for greatness.”

But the greatness I thought I was destined for was only colonial greatness.

These colonial systems…

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10 reasons the World needs Polytheism

If there is one word that can describe the world as it now goes, it is excess. There are *too many* changes to keep pace with and there is *too much* of everything to keep things in balance. There is both more good and more bad than ever, and it is the sheer quantity as well as magnitude of those that is producing uncertainty and anxiety. Humankind is not sure what exactly is coming in future times because there are so many possibilities and so many opinions on the matter. We tend to count our blessings as people and as a species in order to help ourselves go on, hoping for improvement. This is a good habit that we all need to cultivate, but it can sometimes lead to forgetfulness about or inaction towards current problems. Polytheism, when properly understood, provides a holistic and simpler worldview that can mitigate the excesses of today and provide for a better tomorrow. Below are 10 urgent concerns that polytheism can address for the benefit of the world as a whole.

Nationalism and Globalism

There is a battle raging in the world today between those who are for the sovereignty of the nation-state and their opponents who support a globalized culture. Both have good and bad reasons for their respective positions, especially considering the socio-political volatility that has been going on since the last century. However, neither side is quite aware that a desire for more, a desire for excess, is driving this fear and this division. The nation-state is too large of an entity to be stable and globalism only complicates the problem. An organized regionalism that can prevent unnecessary internal conflict as well as protect from external interference is best. This is consistent with polytheism because the plurality of Gods/Goddesses enables the plurality of peoples and cultures. If each people or region is identified with its particular native God(s), and if each God is not inherently better than another, this can promote friendly cooperation and neighborly exchange. Now the inane political division will be replaced with healthy cultural distinction.

Racism and Multiculturalism

The solution for these problems follows the earlier one closely. Racism and multiculturalism are consequences of the excesses of large entities (states, empires) and the inequalities they create. If culture is measured by economic ability alone (as it is today) and then globalized on the world’s stage, some people will inevitably think of themselves as better or worse than others. The problem only grows when the state’s (or super-state’s) priority is economic rather than cultural prosperity. With such a mentality, people become numbers in a large field, game-pieces in the hands of bigger forces, thus losing a sense of who they really are, and becoming deluded or dejected as to what they can achieve. Polytheism, on the other hand, ensures the stability of identity, the continuity of culture and the equality of peoples. No superiority and inferiority complex can flourish here without impiety because if no regional God or Goddess is inherently superior or inferior to another, then by extension the same applies to people. If some peoples colonized others, reparations can be made and polytheism can reverse the inequality.

Materialism and Fanaticism

Excess begets excess. Too much material possession, as explained before, causes inequality and fear of loss, therefore begetting too much hostile ideology. We see this today in the form of Westernism and Islamism, two forces attempting global domination while alleging self-defense. There is a more general battle between atheism and monotheism, connected with other socio-political conflicts, that endangering many peoples and cultures who find themselves at the mercy of powerful forces. Those who don’t choose one of the two camps become weak and isolated, quickly dismissed and ignored. The harm done to the environment also accelerates when the opposing forces mobilize and fight. This is not the case in polytheism; here a balance between the material and spiritual is maintained, and sometimes the are joined together in harmony. Here you don’t find linear or apocalyptic thinking of the kind that makes people fearful, greedy, arrogant or desperate for their side to win and achieve domination.

Mass warfare and Environmental degradation

Powerful forces that transcend a small region, that is to say empires, are created by conflict with weaker peoples and with nature. Excessive ambitions needs excessive costs and thus causes excessive damages on many sides. Imperialism is a pathological disease that is contagious; it is based on a desire for too much, and once one empire is formed, others soon arise around it for defense. But empires don’t fragment in times of peace, because the ambition of the emperor remains as well as the needs of those he patronizes and who worship him. In order to keep his subjects happy and in order, a war on nature is waged to give them *more and more*. This is no different from the behavior of a patient with terminal illness who knows he will die soon and thus spends all he can today. And this becomes a vicious cycle when populations increase; if an empire collapses from environmental degradation or massive warfare, it joins another one that is larger or attempts to re-form through fierce battles for domination that cost lives and lands even more. Although polytheism existed in empires, it was always corrupted by them. Emperors claimed divinity unjustly and proceeded to act, usually in accordance with powerful priesthoods (that were either afraid or ambitious), in such a way that would make them possess *more and more* at the expense of people and environment, and often at the expense of foreign Gods too. Polytheism, properly understood, sees an irrevocable connection between Nature and Divinity, sometimes joining them together in the case of immanence. And the Gods always closer to the people that worship them far more than emperors who seek to appropriate such a relationship. As for environmentalism, it is rather amusing to observe some scientists rehashing polytheism to form their “Gaia theory”.

The population predicament- human and animal

Technological and scientific developments have been praised as the triumph of the human race in general and Western Civilization in particular. Progress has been believed, even now when it is faltering, to be a linear process whereby *more and more* science and technology can solve whatever problems humanity faces. There are attempts to cure all diseases and reverse aging, in order to create a super-human being. And if the earth cannot carry enough of our wonderful race, the hopeful scientists say, then there may perhaps be room in other planets! But these are not Nature’s laws, which are also the laws of the Gods. This so-called advancement and progress has only disrupted ecology and these changes will be reversed when natural and divine laws see fit. The mentality of endless growth, either economic or demographic, must cease before it renders extinct many wonderful species of animals that have long graced this Earth. Polytheism’s inherent respect for living beings, sometimes shifting to animism, would not allow endless human production and reproduction at the expense of natural and divine property. Polytheism’s priority is not to ensure the comforts of humankind, that is to say anthropocentrism, but rather to maintain a holistic system that takes everything else into account. This is why we have Gods of healing and of disease, Gods of anthropomorphic and zoomorphic shape and Gods embodying divine trees, mountains and spaces.

Capitalism and Communism

We are prone to commit the mistake of creating very complex solutions in order to solve equally complex problems, while forgetting the root of such problems is usually their ever expanding complexity and the excess that surrounds it. Capitalism is good, cries one person, because it has created the varied culture and advancement the world has today. Communism is far better, shouts another, because it offers comfort and equality to all. Although the theories of Marxism are excellent in many ways, the beneficial application of them has been impossible. Why? Because the state remains, with all its complexities and excesses, and wherever there is a state, as many new problems arise as old ones are solved. It is a way of life that must change, not through economic ideologies that pretend to know how to correct its flaws, but a complete decentralization that puts an end to the hierarchies that perpetuate excessive inequality. Electing Sanders instead of Trump or keeping Trump will neither cause considerable change nor alter the flaws that inhabit the core, flaws that have been developing for 5000 years since the earliest states arose. Polytheism would do away with the big, excessive and centralized state just as it would with the empire, and for the same reasons. Economic solutions, while needed, must be preceded by cultural and regional realizations springing from grassroots (to use a double-meaning) and this polytheism can very effectively provide.

Populism and Elitism

The conflict between the many and the few is an old one, among many others that plague the centralized state. It creates a division between two or more classes that is quickly exploited by ambitious leaders and capable orators. Marx was the first to understand, though not with complete insight, the perpetual problem of inequality. His solution was not necessarily to lessen production but to give the means of it to the lower classes, whom he trusted would act in their own simple interests and thus bring about equality. We can see how this failed in the October Revolution because began as a movement against elitism soon became populism, and workers were not long after to be executed for offences by those who at first claimed to act in their defense. Decentralized regionalism, by limiting both the means and the amount of production as well as giving it collectively to a community of a moderate size, is the better solution. Polytheism, as a balanced religion, can enable this difficult process to occur smoothly and be maintained steadily. There is something serious to be learned from hunter-gatherers whose anarchic animism and egalitarianism makes them averse to inequality, thus removing the root causes of classes and social instability altogether. Polytheism contains components of animism that should be emphasized rather than laid aside.

Patriarchy and Feminism

The fast pace of change in modern society has also unsettled the home as well as social relations between the sexes. It is true that men have long dominated most institutions, both political and cultural, without allowing women to join or even express themselves. In fact, empire and imperialism is purely a male phenomenon of *excess*. Patriarchy, defined as the domination of men over women and nature, has led to all sorts of problems. But even so, it is not men themselves who are to blame, but rather an idea they are sometimes prone to hold. The male and the female, the masculine and the feminine are principles of life that must not and cannot be set in opposition to each other. Feminism, while in many ways promoting reform and wisdom, has in other ways attempted to undermine or appropriate the masculine principle of life, thus imitating the excesses of patriarchy instead of limiting it. Yet this battle would not have existed, or would have been greatly diminished, if polytheism were in practice. Here the masculine and feminine, unlike in monotheism, are enshrined in our worldviews and embodied in our very Deities. Sometimes we do find ancient polytheistic societies following patriarchy, but this was the result of a faulty lifestyle and mentality rather than something drawn from holy scriptures that are regarded as eternal.

Mass individualism and collectivism

The various difficulties of modern life are aggravated by an excessive attachment either to the self or to colossal groups. These practices give the illusion of being coping mechanisms, but in reality they are nothing but symptoms of a larger infection that modern society is undergoing. Loneliness has been causing more mental illness than anyone had expected, and yet there is still the oxymoronic celebration of individualism. On the other hand, mass participation in dualistic groups, whether in politics or culture, has risen to new heights with modern communication, causing (according to research) further distrust and disaffection in society at large. Once again, it is the state that must be blamed for these dangerous phenomena. Individualism serves the state because it makes the isolated person not only dependent on the system (directly or indirectly) in order to support his lifestyle, but also supportive of it through his production and “creativity”. Collectivism serves the state also because it not only gives people an illusion of their importance (thus keeping them satisfied), but it creates massive herds that can be summoned and driven and goaded when needed, whether for a serious purpose or not. And yet, the state must always suffer and rush to correct faults when individualism and collectivism go *too far* as they often do. Polytheism once again differs from this excess and promotes the community or the tribe, a smaller group wherein people can be brought up with more happiness and stability. Nothing can replace the power derived from the love and support of a large kin and close friends. Even the Gods, in their distinct pantheons, live in this manner.

Anthropocentrism and Misanthropy

Excess, in process of time, can cause of a strong reaction of greed or guilt, defiance or defeat, pride or penitence, self-love or self-hate. Much like the other unstable dualisms discussed before, anthropocentrism and misanthropy similarly arise from a world gone too far. When there is too much, one can either embrace it and make a way of life of it or reject it firmly as a corrupting thing that ought to be destroyed. The latter, while a very undesirable position to have, must not be understood as a total evil, but rather as a consequence to the former by people who are left on the margins or who are otherwise unfortunate. Humanism, the euphemistic term for anthropocentrism, always pretends to promote self-control and happiness, but how can this be done holistically and lastingly when the human is placed at the center of all things? When militant atheists and anti-theists say they reject the notion of a Deity altogether (usually without looking beyond monotheism) because Deities are human constructs that are not real, it makes one wonder whether they are defeating their own argument. Religious thinking is inherent in the human mind (see Jonathan Heidt’s research) whether expressed in “religion” or not. Those who worship a wrongly constructed divinity or no divinity at all are merely worshippers of what is human; the Western notion of human progress is just that. Because this religious thinking is usually derived from Protestant monotheism, it is quick to label those who differ as heretics who should be destroyed, metaphorically or literally. Polytheism, on the other hand, does not measure everything according to human pleasure and pain or in terms of Western thinking. Sometimes there must be suffering because it is divine and natural law, other times we choose to suffer in order to attain something greater than our own selves. The Gods and Nature are at the center of things, and we revolve around them and live in their shadows, whether we choose it or not.

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As a final note, it must be pointed out that polytheism encompass a great many traditions throughout many historical eras. I have not delved into details here as to which components or ideas exactly are beneficial for a particular problem listed above. I have attempted to examine polytheism in the course of my posts in this site, in order to extract some of its more original essence, free from imperialism and artificial syncretism. I have even advanced the theory that the state, as well as the empire, has (along with its intellectual and religious instruments) directly contributed to the decline of polytheism and the parallel rise of monotheism. Since polytheism is therefore flexible and layered, it must be penetrated and sifted just as a geologist or archaeologist would do with the ground. Then hypotheses and proposals must be written and reviewed and agreed upon. Until this is done, I am afraid polytheism will contribute to the problems above rather than correct them.

This is how a better world would look like

hrnmosv[1]

A better world would be one where the nation-state, the empire, and the capitalistic system do not exist and are instead replaced with autonomous/indigenous regions that have particular peoples, cultures, dialects, natural environments, and indeed polytheistic cults worthy of preservation without interference from greedy powers. Here, the many have power rather than the few; identities become solid and distinct, all equal in their diversity; production as well as art is local and varied; community celebration and neighborly exchange becomes the new rule; temporary confederations are desired rather than permanent federations. Perhaps many will think such a  world is too ideal and too good to be true, but when there is a will, there is a way. Is it “human progress” to reach the moon, but not seek harmony and happiness?