When I talk about deities and polytheism, I pretty much piss off everyone. Which, naturally, leads me to believe that I am on to something. Often, when I poke my head out to see what is going on in the “pagan” community, there is an ongoing debate about the nature of the gods which confuses me. What confuses me is the pretense these discussions take on the many pagan blogs and forums. There seems to have been a defining line drawn in the sands with the “hard” polytheism one side and “soft” polytheism on the other. What perplexes me about this argument is the inherent binary-opposition built into the discourse.
I admit, for convenience, I’ve over-simplified the argument. However, I do not have the desire nor energy to fully explore the nuances of the debate. Basically, I see it as an argument about the existence of deities and their nature. The hard polytheists advocate the gods are “real” individuals with will and motivation. Where the hard polytheists take a direct interpretation, the soft polytheists are a bit more subtle in their perceptions. Soft polytheism often takes an all-gods are aspect of the one-god, or that they are human constructed metaphors to understand aspects of the natural world, and oftentimes incorporate Jungian archetypes.
As I have warned previously this is an intentional over-simplification and the debate is far more complex. The underlying question seems to be about validating the existence of the gods. Now, I just confuse everyone by seeing both sides as having validity and do not understand why they cannot be “real” separate individuals with will and motivation and be part of a great divinity while reflecting human relationship and interaction with the living world.
To me, the question of their existence or nature is unnecessary. As an animist, a monist, and a polytheist, they are mysteries. The more I’ve tried to explore the depths of their nature the more controversial my ideas are, and the more pointless the endeavor becomes. Accepting them as mysteries opens up the sandbox for people to experience the gods. However, I am not of the “believe-whatever-you-want” variety. On the contrary, I am a deist (in that understanding of the divine and/or gods should be in harmony with reason, observation, and experience), and therefore I believe any conception of the divine should be consistent and rooted in the same foundation of scientific theory…. and this is where I piss of the few atheistic pagans out there.
I prefer a perspective of relational dynamics. To me, deities are complex overlapping evolutionary processes, which cannot be easily defined. I believe there are far more deities then those from ancient narratives (how many gods have now been forgotten?). There are new gods emerging all the time which go unnoticed by modern polytheism. There are personal reasons I do not worship gods from ancient narratives belonging to any time and culture I can never know, a story for some other time perhaps. It became clear to me that I am called by different kind of deities. These deities consist of love, music, evolution, water, fire, electricity, dark mater, food, and the atmosphere, to name a few. They are not gods of anything; rather they are the actual subjects mentioned above.
I do have methods of more formal worship, but this is not the sole way in which they are venerated. Looking upon them as both relational and as processes they touch my lives in subtle ways. One form of worship is the simple act of mindful breathing. I call this my sacrament of breath. The continuous transformation of the atmospheric cycle, is the focus of this practice. I attune myself to become mindful of how amazing it is and become at awe with the act of breathing. As I breathe, I worship, and it is not a solitary worship, but a global worship involving all within the global biosphere. Who would have guessed breathing is such a mystical experience? By the way, the root word for spirit, and coincidentally animism, means breath; I cannot think of anything more spiritual then that!
There are other ways I participate in the creating with these deities. Cooking can become an act of worship, or picking up litter at my favorite park, or planting native seeds with my community, having sex, being involved in environmental justice, planting my bare feet in bare soil–the possibilities are quite endless. I see gods everywhere, I cannot go a day without seeing and interacting with a god in the most subtle and sacred of ways.
I do not feel this structural approach to polytheism is a middle of the road between soft or hard polytheism, in that I do not ask the same questions nor am I concerned with the same paradigm. I will admit I feel uncomfortable with the vocabulary of gods and deities, and this might be a product of my upbringing. Whatever names or labels I might give these divine evolutionary mysteries of the universe, I believe the end result is a form of polytheism because plurality of the divine is the foundation of polytheism. When modern polytheism of any verity begins to squabble over what is and isn’t polytheism its meaning becomes lost.