“Polytheism is all about plurality.”
Let me tell you a story.
I tend to call myself a “distributive pantheist,” but that’s really just a fancy way of saying “polytheist.” The difference between soft and hard polytheism is a bit more complex, and subjective, than I think many people realize, and my brand of polytheism does not necessarily fall into either category fully. I do not think the Gods are “ideals” or “archetypes.” But I believe They (as distinct, individual personalities) all originally came from the same “Source.”
My brand of polytheism fits perfectly in line with both Kemetic and Kabbalistic thought…which speak of a universal entity (called Ein Sof in Kabbalah, Nun in Kemeticism) that essentially “birthed” the Gods. Finding Kemeticism a bit under two years ago (and choosing Kabbalah, as a magic system), however, didn’t necessarily stop me from believing that Deities from other Pantheons/religions existed…They just did not even register on my radar. After I found Kemeticism, the only Deities that ever made Their presences known to me were Kemetic Ones. So why even think about other Gods? They clearly weren’t thinking about me!
Except that, just a few days ago, the Norse God Odin decided to come knocking. “Hey, you’ve been ignoring me for a long, long time. You owe me. I’m here for what I’m owed.”
Ok…so maybe I do have a bit of history with Odin. When I was 10 years old, my mother gave me a copy of The Lord of the Rings trilogy to read for the first time. Back then, I was pretty involved in my Hebrew Day School, so I wasn’t lacking for spiritual guidance or community. Yet, I can confidently say that Tolkien’s work inspired me a hundred fold more than anything I ever experienced in the Jewish community (and that’s not an insult to Judaism, it’s just fact). It inspired me more than religion, more than anything else in my life really. That is not a dramatic re-telling, I literally read it once a month and thought about it constantly. I learned to paint because of Tolkien, because I wanted to re-create fantasy landscapes. I started reading, really reading – all kinds of books – because of Tolkien. I started writing because of Tolkien. I decided I wanted to work with languages someday in college because of Tolkien. Quite frankly, my identity became, in many ways, defined by Tolkien. If you have even read so much as two-to-three posts from this very blog, you will know I reference his work constantly – it’s because I have a saying, and have since I was 10: “Tolkien relates to everything.”
Because of Tolkien, I naturally became interested in his literary influences. Beowulf, for one. The Finnish Epic, the Kalevala, for another, which I also read at least once every few months. I read the Poetic Edda, and the Arthurian myths. In high school I ate up as much Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon literature as I could get my hands on. I remembered thinking, “Now this, this is storytelling!” I believed in it. It inspired me, and it comforted me. Every time I got sad, every time I cried, every time I hurt myself/got sick, every time I was worried, I’d read Tolkien, or related works. And every single time, I’d feel better, stronger, happier, able to deal with whatever it was that was hurting me or bothering me.
But I never thought of Tolkien as religion. No, not then. Back then, religion meant institutions. Religion meant formalized liturgy and prayer. Religion meant a synagogue, a “House of Worship.” Religion meant One God, just One, and no other before Him. And He was distant. He felt strong, but far away. Gandalf on the other hand? He felt like the grandfather I’d never had. He felt wise and helpful. “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us,” he told me, over and over again.
Without going into the meat and potatoes of how I discovered and became infatuated with Kemeticism (why and how I really did leave conservative Judaism is another story for another time)…trust me in that it called to me deeply once I was in college, and met another Kemetic, as well as really entered into the Pagan/Polytheist/Recon community. Djehuty, the Egyptian God of Writing and Scholarship, seemed the perfect Patron for me, so I offered to Him. I had deep, spiritual awakenings, in which I lived in Japan for a while and finally came to terms with my personal brand of polytheistic theology (described at the beginning of this story). Through Djehuty I also began to study Kabbalah, and return to my Jewish roots in a whole new light, feeling proud of my Jewish Akhu and my Jewish cultural heritage. And through Kemeticism, I also finally accepted myself as a polytheist.
Now, you have to understand, it wasn’t so much that I never realized Heathenry also existed as a religion, but the issue was that I truly did so after I’d felt called to Kemeticism. I read about it a little in college after returning from Japan, especially while researching Tolkien’s influences for senior research papers I wrote on him and his work. I realized that Gandalf is based off Woden (the Anglo-Saxon version of the Norse Odin) – the Grey Pilgrim – the wandering God of mystery and runes and magic; a God that also died to gain knowledge, like Gandalf. It occurred to me, at that particular time, that maybe such a God had been around me before Djehuty, before the Kemetic Deities…I just hadn’t noticed Him, or rather, only saw Him through the perspective of a beloved literary character. Maybe there was religion to be found from my love of Tolkien after all…but I balked at this. I stubbornly put it aside. And that’s because by the time I’d really, truly accepted myself as a polytheist, I was a Kemetic girl. I felt like I was committed, and I made the big mistake of thinking: polytheism is about dedicating the self to One Pantheon Only. Otherwise you’re just…well, a Deity Collector. Right?
Many people have been writing about this recently, notably Satsekhem and Eddie, and it’s a topic I too now want to address, as the main point of telling this lengthy, personal story about my blind, yet longstanding relationship with Odin.
The truth is that I do owe Him. I feel strongly now that I owe Him for sticking by me through the guise of Tolkien’s Gandalf and comforting me my entire childhood and into high school and into college, waiting patiently for me to accept myself as a polytheist fully before demanding anything more personal. I owe Odin because, while Lord of the Rings itself may not be a working religion, Heathenry is. I think I knew that all along (even before I researched it, as mentioned above), but when Odin showed up just the other day (Tarot confirmed it was really Him, after analyzing many other patterns), I was shocked and had no idea what to do with Him because I already have a religion that works and I am naturally scared of eclecticism.
But, as Sarduríur Freydís Sverresdatter reminded me this morning, Polytheism is all about plurality.
Polytheism is about the GODS. It is not about the practice. The practice should do justice to and give praise for and honor in all ways the Gods (arguably in as historically accurate a manner as possible, if that’s how you roll), but polytheism itself is about belief in Gods. G O D S. More than one. It’s ok if you WANT to stick to one Pantheon, or are only ever called by one Pantheon your entire life, or put one set of Gods before another set…but the nature of polytheism is to accept that there are other Pantheons and it’s ok to be called by many if it ends up that way. If you are that set on not including multiple Gods from multiple Pantheons in your life, then SAY NO. You can say no! Anyone can say no to Gods. But if you like a God, if a God has helped you or you think They might be able to help you, and you don’t want to say no, and it just so happens that this particular God does not fit into the current practice that you have…don’t be scared. Don’t be worried. You can still worship Them. Eclecticism does not have to be the enemy of polytheism. In fact, I’d say now that the two go hand in hand. It’s only when eclectics forget the origins/original cultural lore of the various Gods they worship that I think it gets out of hand.
I will always consider myself a Kemetic. There’s no going back for me there, the practice, the theology, the methodology – it all fits me too well, like the perfect spiritual glove. At the end of my Kemetic Orthodoxy beginner’s course, I may even choose to join that faith, and perhaps even become divined, in which case I will indeed put those particular Deities above any Others. But that does not mean that if I want to embrace Odin too, honor Him because I realize now that I do “owe Him,” that I can’t. I can be Kemetic and an Odin devotee. I can be whatever it is that I want. Do not let preconceived notions of “how to be a polytheist” affect you. Being a polytheist means believing in multiple Gods. It does not mean you have to stick to one specific anything, as far as practice. How you are a polytheist is up to you.
Now, I’m off to go read Norse Mythology: A Guide to Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs by John Lindow and start thinking about the best way to offer to my God this coming Wednesday. And tomorrow morning, I will get up at 8 am like normal and perform Senut, and offer to my other Gods.
And that feels like the way it should be.