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History isn’t a cumulative process. It isn’t a process at all. It’s a narrative.

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The Gods of Others

February 12, 2014 — 6 Comments

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.