Polytheism, Pantheism, or Panentheism: Shedding Light on Pagan Theology
Author: Eldyohr Posted: June 8th. 2008 on Witchvox.com
An interesting article on Pagan theology, which I think misses a couple of points. Please forgive my boldness in taking this on – Pagan theology is a hobby of mine. I don’t consider it as important to our movement as, say, ritual practice or meditation, but it makes a fun pass-time. I’ll begin by quoting:
A modern scientific perspective will tend to reject polytheism because of its incompatibility with our understanding of nature. If there really were different, independent gods in charge of all the different aspects of reality, then we shouldn't necessarily have a set of natural laws that are common to all parts of reality. The laws of physics would not need to apply to chemistry and the laws of chemistry would not need to apply to biology, and so on. Scientific order would find no basis if multiple gods were working at potentially cross-purposes.
There are several reasons why traditional polytheisms (and I’ll be working from a perspective of Indo-European traditional Paganism – not much reference to Africa or China…) didn’t have this sort of problem in practice.
First, the universe is generally described as formed from some universal first principle – usually this is the ‘Body’ of the First being…Ymir among the Norse, Purusha among the Vedic peoples. This First Being’s nature is the all-nature of the created world, in which even the Gods exist. Divinity doesn’t transcend this nature – it arises in it.
Polytheistic deities are not, generally, omniscient or omnipotent. They are not capable of remaking (all of) reality at will, they are subject to fate and to the acts of other gods, even grateful for the worship of mortals and willing to make deals with us. The Gods work *through* the natural laws, not outside them (usually). So there’s no real danger of various gods making different ‘natures’ in different places – we’re all One Substance, held together by the Web of Fate (and even the Fates are triple).
There is also a self-defeating nature to the polytheistic denial of ultimate unity. Everything cannot be radically pluralistic. We live in a uni-verse not a multi-verse. Indeed, the polytheistic position is offered as a unified system of thought. But in presenting a unified thought about ultimate reality, they deny the very philosophy they are advocating.
Traditional polytheism always includes some variety of Monism – a category the author missed. Monism, as found in such systems as Vedanta, holds that all manifest existence is a part of One Great Whatsis. The nature of the Whatsis varies from culture to culture. Most often I think it’s fair to call it One Great Process, in which the sum of the actions of all beings creates reality as we all find it, the reality in which both gods and mortals live. This One Process isn’t willfull – it doesn’t have a plan, it isn’t a person – all such decisions must be made by the individuals who dance the Dance. Some radical monism has become near monotheism, especially under influence of invading monotheistic systems, but all ancient Indo-European Pagan systems have a monistic component.
If there are polytheistic Pagans that haven’t noticed this, I do think they need to have a look. However, even the above two principles – Original Unity and Non-omni – cover a lot of these objections.