The Gods of Others

It is absolutely unnecessary, from a Polytheistic understanding, to negate the experience or belief of one person in order to affirm the experience or belief of another. Polytheism is capable of recognizing multiple simultaneous truths, experiences, and beliefs in a way that does not seek to order or rank them. Spiritual hierarchies are neither necessary nor, in my opinion, helpful within the context of Polytheism in general.

From Julian Betkowski’s most recent essay, “Revering Multitudes.”

One thing that gets missed a lot in discussions of belief and the endless disagreements about the “hard” polytheist stance is that the polytheistic understanding of the world starts with a foundational position of acceptance.

Consider.  I’ve encountered 7 gods in my life thus far whom I’ve recognized as such.  Because there are many gods in my experience, I assume there are many, many more, and I’ll not have time or need to encounter every single one.  Thus, the experiences of others with their gods are something I want–actually, something I need to hear about–in order to enrich my understanding of a world full of gods.

When the polytheist stance was depicted as being one of an axe-wielding viking, then, I found myself quite frustrated, because I’m never quite certain some people understand the polytheist position.  We start out from a position of acceptance of other people’s gods, because we acknowledge that there are many, many, many gods, and we’ve met a few of them.  And I accept other people’s accounts of their gods as sufficient evidence that their particular gods exist.  I don’t “need” evidence, because going around questioning or testing every single other person’s experience of gods would make me an insufferable asshole, and I doubt the gods would be interested in someone who interacts with them only to “verify” their existence.  In fact, I suspect the gods would ignore me utterly if I repeatedly demanded proof of their existence, in the same way asking a lover to prove their love for me repeatedly would be a barrier to love.

All of this is, by the way, why I highly recommend you read Julian Betkowski’s most recent essay, Revering Multitudes: Polytheism and Respect.   Julian is writing some of the most thoughtful and profound work on the influences on Paganism (in his column for Patheos, Syncretic Electric) and the contours of Polytheistic thought on the internet on his personal blog, but the man is sadly under-read.

Part of this is his writing style–he’s doesn’t “dumb down” stuff for us, and so he isn’t easily read on a tiny screen during a commute to work.  Another reason, I suspect, is that he hasn’t posted anything involving endless links to controversies or specific pieces debating another.  One thing any of us who are writing on the internet learn really quickly: reference a debate or say something controversial, and suddenly hundreds of people are reading your blog. Say something thoughtful and try to actually “build” something, and you just get silence.

For all the talk of disliking the endless controversies, Pagans sure love them.  My latest comic in response to another’s comic got 7 times the views of any of my devotional pieces to Arianrhod.  This is kind of sad, huh?  All the players in the debates would attest to the same thing on all sides–John Halstead is probably as frustrated as Galina Krasskova that the only pieces anyone pays attention to are when they say something controversial, and a perusal of her blog or Sannion’s, the two polytheists everyone imagines wielding an axe against innocent belief, shows pretty clearly that more than 90% of their writing has nothing to do with anyone else.

So.  Try breaking the cycle. There are some amazing people trying to build something for all of us, and some of them you’ve mostly likely never heard of because no one’s gotten angry at them yet. Go read his essay.

And don’t get angry at him.  He’s rather nice.

6 thoughts on “The Gods of Others

  1. heh, that’s the whole rationale of blogs. More clicks throughs. More clicks means more revenues, especially with sites like patheos, which makes ‘religious’ discourse a business/investment opportunity. it was/still is the same with huffington. it’s all about the ‘following’, you get followers, then you get to tout yourself as ‘leader’. when you’re a ‘leader’, then you are seen as an ‘authority’. Then starts the work shops, the seminars, and the book deals. So, everyone jumps on the bandwagon. This time it’s “polytheism”. Last time it was the Pantheacon thing, heh.
    Anything for a market share, and develop ones ‘brand’.
    and yeah, I’m jaded and cynical, lol, but I’ve watched it unfold over the years even before blogging came to be the chic and trendy. So yeah, folks start controversy and introduce it when they can, lol,
    besides it only matter because folks are so keen on making “Pagan Religion”, a big R public religion, and using ‘religion’ as a basis for political and social change. In that respect it’s no different than any other big R religious movement.

    1. All the reasons you state above are why I question my blogging near daily – and I think it hinders my writing. I don’t want to be part of the ‘louder, meaner, more’ blogging mentality, and that very mentality also feeds into a tendency to void vulnerability (either intellectual or emotional) in my writing. I’m hoping that I can find some clarity on this soon.

    2. I wonder…is this an “either/or” thing? Must we either spread our opinion with no, or anti-, regard for commercialism? Or must we distance ourselves from that idea entirely in order for what we say to have merit, integrity and be somehow unpolluted by the giant other force of capitalism? Embracing writing solely for the purpose of getting likes, page hits and even stoking a “comment-ro-versy” isn’t being true to ones Self. But nor is refusing to acknowledge the world we live in and the nature of how we communicate today.

      Here’s a rule of thumb: “Would I say exactly the same thing if 1000 people were reading it or if only 1 person were reading it?” Is there a way to appeal to both worlds simultaneously? There’s also the idea of “remember where you came from”. People aren’t BORN successful or popular–though many have the advantage of the “silver spoon (or pen)”–but I’d gather many of us have a huge number of ideas and simply haven’t applied ourselves to getting them out initially.

      Just because a lot of people suddenly like what we have to say doesn’t give it an intrinsic value. The corollary is just because no one likes, or even hears, what we have to say doesn’t give it an intrinsic value. There are certainly extrinsic values. Lets just remember to ask ourselves “what am I trying to say, to whom, and why does it matter”. If we can look in the mirror after answering all these questions, then maybe its a good direction for us.

      Lest I threadjack entirely I greatly appreciate Rhydd’s position of starting from acceptance but also requiring discernment along the way. Peacemakers are warriors too. Those who fight to be understood often battle harder than those who fight to be right.

      1. It’s just my observation of, as you say, “the world we live in and the nature of how we communicate today”. And part of that isn’t so much as content but who’s writing it. Isn’t that part of the point Rhyd is making above?
        and to an extent it is an either/ or position. If one feels one’s ideas have merit and a need to broadcast them,is one willing to weather the shitstorm and the market forces?Regardless of ones ideology?
        My rule of thumb isn’t about how many will read, but whether or not I would say the same ‘face to face’.
        That’s another part of it. Folks think in terms of ‘numbers’, ‘audience’, ‘market share’, not ‘people’.
        But yeah, if you’re writing to a multitude, which by it’s nature blogging is, then expect a multitude of responses, of all stripes. If no one comments, consider that in the spirit of ‘no news is good news’ ,lol.
        Still they are good questions to ask oneself.
        I start from acknowledgement, I don’t have to accept, nor do I expect acceptance.

  2. I think they’re great ideals which I don’t see widely apparent in actual practice. I don’t think the problem is particularly pagan though. Attempting internet interfaith discourse often fails because first-person perspectives get drowned out by second-person potshots.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s