Sunday, October 21, 2012

Polytheism Versus Monotheism

In my books, polytheism is at the forefront. I am an eclectic Wiccan and I love to study other religions, so it became a theme in my writing. I used to be monotheistic as I was raised in a very fundamentalist Christian home. However, I now do not understand the world in that context anymore. So, all of my mythical creatures in my stories have a base from pagan traditions instead of Christian ones. I tried to follow the clues and hints through research to the original sources of the creatures I adapted. This meant that I followed them back to the original pagan source as best I could. So, most creatures are not just pagan in nature, but many of them have pagan beliefs. Also, most of my main character vampires are extremely old and have pagan beliefs they carried over from their former human lives.

Pagans saw the world very differently than our monotheistic cultures, and those who practice neopaganism revive those roots and attempt to change their worldview to fit in with the views of their pagan ancestors. So, I have come to realize that many people who may read my book may not understand these ancient concepts and continue to read the book through the eyes of the broader monotheistic societal views. They will look at certain spirits, deities and beings as being evil no matter what happens in the book. So, I wanted to write this blog to explain the differences so that those who have not had much exposure to polytheism and paganism may understand the concepts better.

First off, monotheism places everything that exists under the rein of one deity. Therefore, it can cause a contradiction and strict moral codes to worship such a deity. In polytheism each deity plays a different role. These roles can be vastly different from each other. However, these deities are very consistent with their nature and with what they require from followers. The contradictions lie within the desires and natures of one deity in comparison to another. So, how does one appease one deity without upsetting another? Balance. Pagans believe in a balance in life and between energies and forces. Too much of any one thing is not necessarily a good thing. This website explains this very well:
The idea of animism is a predominant feature of most pagan/polytheistic religions. Animism is the belief that objects, specifically natural ones, but can include manmade, have a spirit. In many traditions even places have their own spirit. An example of place spirits is household deities such as lares, cofgodas and brownies, and deities of wells, springs, grottos and meadows. A popular example would be the Lady of the Lake. There are many fairy and other spirit creatures that represent the same concept such as nymphs, satyrs, neiads, vaetirr, wights, green man, and other fairy creatures. For more info on animism check out this website:
The other difference between monotheism, Christianity specifically and polytheism is the concept of sin and evil. There is no strict view of good vs. evil in polytheism. There are some exceptions such as Set being referred to as the evil god in Egyptian religion and devil like beings that are malevolent in various religions. For the most part, there is no great battle between good and evil, and there is no duality that states everything of this category is good and everything in this category is evil. There is no real concept to compare to hell except Tartarus in Greek myth. Most people didn’t go to Tartarus. You would have to do something extremely evil to go to Tartarus. Actually, Tartarus started off as just being a cage for the Titans and other nasty creatures and slowly became a place of punishment for the extremely wicked.
This really goes back to the form of duality that infiltrated religion. The duality I speak of is moral dualism. The figure of Satan as an antagonist. The fear of being swayed by the devil which will then send you to hell to burn for all eternity leads to moral decisions solely based on fear and not of wanting the best for yourself and society. The other detriment of dualism is the fact that we now categorize everything into opposites. It leads to concrete thinking and a black/white, either/or mentality. Now we look at light versus dark, good versus evil, moral versus amoral, honesty versus deceit. We now have strict standards and unrealistic expectations to live up to. This leads to unnecessary and damaging feelings of guilt. Though the bible teaches us to judge not lest ye be judged, this dualism creates an environment of judgmental attitude. We judge ourselves and others as we see that we cannot fit these expectations. We hide who we really are so as not to be seen as imperfect, flawed and evil by others. If we are not perfect and good then we must be evil.  
Much of these modern concepts owe credit to Zoroastrianism. Zoroaster or Zarathustra lived in what is now modern day Iran between 1400 and 1000 B.C.E. He founded a religion with one central good god, Ahura Mazda who had a host of good spirits who worked good deeds for him and fought for his side, and an antagonist, Angra Mainyu who had a host of bad spirits who worked evil deeds for him and fought on his side. If this sounds familiar, it’s because Judaism, Christianity and Islam were all highly influenced by this earlier religion. There are many more similarities that are strikingly uncanny. This page is a lengthy read, but I highly recommend it. It explains the influence of Zoroastrianism on modern day monotheism.
A concept of that is a part of many pagan traditions that is foreign to most versions of Christianity and other monotheistic religions is the concept of channeling or invoking deity. I can only compare it to the concept of being filled with the Holy Spirit in evangelical Christianity. Those who are not familiar with this can turn their TV to TBN and watch it take place. Other than that is the concept of demon possession. Unlike demon possession, the deity does not take over the body to torture, commit evil acts, etc. Also, channeling is of the decision of the person. The deity will not possess an unwilling participant. I hate comparing it to that, but in modern times, people are not exposed to the concept and this is the only way I can explain it to someone who has no exposure to it.
Three religions that come to mind that use channeling or invocation as a major part of their rituals is Voodoo, Nordic paganism and Wicca. In Voodoo, the priest or priestess goes into a trance via dance and music which opens the priest or priestess up for channeling. The deity is said to “ride” the practitioner. They act through the priest or priestess and give blessings, prophecies and answer questions. In Nordic Paganism Odin rides the seidr or shaman in much the same way. In Wicca, the main times the priestess or priest embody the deity is for drawing down the moon which is when the priestess invokes the Goddess at the full moon and for the Great Rite where the priest invokes the God and the priestess channels the Goddess to enact the symbolic union of the two deities or the very real union of the two. Just like in Voodoo, the deities can give blessings, prophecies and answer questions, but also may help the witches perform magick.
The Great Rite is a modern version of an ancient rite that was performed throughout Europe to promote the growth of crops, fertility of humans and animals and to bless the tribe/community. In Greece this was called the Hieros Gamos. This concept was also seen in other cultures and sometimes the priestess was seen as married to a god and only that god. Also, in the temples of Aphrodite, the priestesses embodied Aphrodite and the men who visited were thought to have intercourse with the goddess directly. This also is where we get the concept of demigods. When these types of rites took place, and the woman became pregnant, the child was thought to be the son or daughter of that god and therefore was then a demigod. This is one concept that is shared with Christianity, the idea of a woman being impregnated by the divine.
This concept goes back to the idea of embodying a deity that was of a particular animal to hunt that animal. Then, the participant would also embody that animal and perform intercourse with another human portraying the animal to promote the fertility of that animal so that the animal was always in abundance for hunting. They would wear the animal’s skin like a cloak and act as that animal while channeling. We see these paintings on cave walls. This is the bridge between animism and polytheism. We believed we could embody a Spirit of a type of animal that then turned into the concept of the deity of that animal. Examples are Cernunnos, Pan, Herne, Dianus, Faunus, Freyr, Sylvanus, the Green Man and Puck.
Another ancient concept where a practitioner channels a deity is of prophecy such as the Oracle of Delphi. Priests and Priestesses embodied a deity to give prophecy. In Celtic culture seers were called Vates, Faiths and Dryw. In Yoruba culture they are\Babaloawos and Iyanifas. Well, you get the picture. Around the world there is a concept of giving divine prophecy.
 There are plenty of differences between the way that polytheistic believers view the world in comparison to those believers of monotheistic religions and I have covered a few major ones here. In understanding my views and those of my characters when reading my book one must understand polytheism. I hope that for those of you who know nothing about polytheism reading this can walk away with at least this much, polytheism is about balance, nature, a deep spiritual connection to the divine and a multifaceted understanding of the world that surpasses concrete good versus evil ideology.

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