The Clash of the Polytheists

A student just asked me what I thought about the recent uproar in the Pagan community on the nature of the gods, often summed up as the Hard Polytheist vs. the Soft Polytheist, and what the Temple of Witchcraft’s “official” stance was. I have to admit that I’ve only followed a bit of it, mostly pointed out to me by people who were very upset about a particular exchange. I read some of the initial exchanges and then got busy doing work in the community, in my business, and in my spirital practice with my own gods and allies. The short answer is: I guess I really don’t care.

To me, a lot of the talk is very religious and, although I helped found a religious non-profit, I would say I’m not a person of faith or belief. My religious experience is of a mystery tradition, of a more mystical nature than sheer belief. I believe in experience, and feel there are many ways to define the experience, but the experience in consciousness is what really attracts me to this path. I find the different ways of describing it interesting, but become concerned when those in Magickal, Pagan, Wiccan, Witchcraft, Heathen, Theosophical, and related paths adpot terminology and attitudes that remind me of my previous Christian experiences.

My own terminology and self identity have changed a lot over the years, and I think everybody should have that freedom. If working it out in a community forum is where that happens for you, that’s great. But I’m also a believer in civil discourse, so when the discourse turns ugly, I’m not too happy about it. Ugliness serves just as beauty does. My experience has shown me the beautiful flower has just as much value as the rotting carcass, but I only want one of them on my front lawn or in my home. So it’s all about proper place and time. Some of the conversation has turned vitriolic, as opposed to V.I.T.R.I.O.L-ic (Ten points for those who know the difference, and if you don’t, Google is your friend). The mysteries are there for those with the eyes to see, the ears to hear, and the fingers to type the right questions and use the information found.

I make it a point to never tell anyone what they should or shouldn’t believe or subscribe to, so there is no “official” stance within the Temple of Witchcraft. We’re a diverse community, sharing sets of technqiues and values, but the way we describe our experiences can often differ. We wouldn’t all define the word Witch the same way, let alone theological points, and I think that’s good. I’m not a hard polytheist by heart, as that has not been my experience (or at least my understanding of my experience), so most find the techniques I teach in the Temple do not lend themselves to the hard polytheistic worldview in the long run. I tend to focus on technique, rather than decide theology and then seek experiences to support it. I’d rather have experiences, and see what ideas fit those profound moments. I think that is what most people do, at least initially on our path, regardless of where they fall in this debate. We simply have different experiences, and find different ideas to fit them.

While I whole heartedly believe the gods are as real and individual as you and I, I also don’t believe that we are all that real or individual. Much like the simple summations of quantum physics, there are times when it behaves as a particle, and time when it behaves as a wave. I think that philosophy applies not only to the subatomic world, but to gods and spirits, as well as people and all of nature. Spiritual entities are of a different order. They are just as real, but in a different order or domain of life, and of reality, for me. Unless we’re referring to the Earth, Moon, a tree, or a mountain as literally a god, there are more objective measurements for a human than there are for a spiritual entity. People have height, weight, and other arguably objective characteristics. The gods are a little but more open to interpretation, as they exist in a different order of things. It doesn’t make them any less real in my mind, but it is a different kind of real. Based on what science says, dark matter and dark energy are real, but the gods are of an order “more” real to me, as I’ve had experiences with them, but not with dark matter (at least, not directly). I can’t consciously measure or interact with these vast scientific concepts, but I can interact with my gods and spirits.

I have many friends and associates who are hard polytheists, many of whom have been embroiled in this debate, publicly and privately. I’ve always found their views fascinating, and I like hearing about the reasons why they feel so strongly, and what experiences led them there. They have always been respectful of me, and I of them, so we’ve not had any problems, and I think that position could help us all. Ask about the why, rather than focusing so strongly on getting your own point across. Asking why leads to fascinating conversations, and who couldn’t have benefit from a little more fascinating conversation? Let other people’s beliefs—even if you strongly disagree—inspire you, and thank them for the inspiration!

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