Thursday, June 26, 2014

Polytheism and Devotionalism.

I continue to ponder the current issues surrounding polytheism. The primary controversy seems to be between those who view the gods and spirits as objective beings with personal wills and agency and those who take a more Jungian or symbolist approach, viewing the spirits as aspects or persons of the human psyche, whether individual or collective.

In general let me say that I find little merit in trying to measure people’s Pagan sincerity or piety by their ideas. In my opinion it matters hardly a grain of salt to the gods and spirits what you might think they ‘really’ are. If you behold their images, call their names, make their offerings you are a worshipper, whatever one’s own small opinion about their nature might be.

Likewise, there is no prescribed or measurably insufficient amount of worship required to be a ‘good Pagan’. Not everyone is devout in religious practice, nor needs to be. The sources are there, public rites are available, and offerings can always be made at a home fire. Each of us decides what sufficient piety is.

All that grumbled, I’ll say that I choose to act as if the gods and spirits are objective persons. That remains a thought-experiment, to some degree, but the results so far are encouraging. I deal with both the High Ones and with smaller local spirits in this way – I must say there’s a marked difference in my perceived conversations.

One place where I diverge from current polytheistic fashion is in my attitude toward devotionalism. My polytheism is more theurgic than devotional. If I must meet a new deity for some new work I approach through meditation, ritual and study. The ritual will involve correspondences, proper times and seasons, proper invocations, proper visualizations. It will not require any offer of submission or obedience, but rather an offer of a seat of honor at a noble table. During the presence I seek to have conversation with the god, let her behold me as I behold her, etc. This is not a courtship, but a diplomatic dinner.

I don’t do surrender mysticism in relation to the gods; “not my will but thine” does not pass my lips, nor have I ever felt as if a god wanted that from me. I am an ally of the gods, their priest and magician, doing my bit in the work of bringing their presence into the world. They receive my honor and welcome, but not, by habit, my obedience. The primary divine person that I 'trust' (as in expect to have my best interest at heart and know what I need) is my own agathosdaemon - the interior spark of the divine that makes me be me, and links my spirit directly with the web of spirits.

To say "the gods" (as a class) is rather like saying "the universe". I certainly don't trust in the universe to look out for me - I look out for myself. So, my piety is formal, respectful and mostly indirect. I offer to the gods generally, to my short-list gods frequently, and to the gods of my house and hearth more frequently. Those latter I do rather trust the way one trusts a long-time friend. Divine Brigid, and the Great Good God have always looked out for us here, bless their names.

I’m not a human who lives by the passions. My inclination is to watch and manage myself, not to ride waves of feeling. Thus while love and devotion are part of the emotional set surrounding Invocation and the presence, they are not my primary mode of approaching deity. Rather I work magic, making the formal introductions, developing a relationship, making a deal. I find myself satisfied when all is steady. Thus I seek to drive the ship of my life with my own hand at the rudder, even if the spirits are the noble passengers. It is always good to have powerful friends.


Morgan said...

I totally agree with your view on devotion. I would class myself as a devotional polytheist, but I certainly don't see it as me submitting or surrendering to my gods - nor would Macha accept such a thing from me, in my experience. As a priestess of my gods I serve a purpose for them, and am devoted to them, but I still have my own will and my own autonomy.

Matt said...

Actually, Jung's view was that archetypes have independent will and agency. He saw them as operating in the collective unconscious but not necessarily originating in any realm of the human mind.

IanC said...

I'm not actually willing to take Jung himself very seriously - I vastly prefer actual working occultists.

Matt said...

I'm actually not much of a fan of Jung either, just pointing out that people (myself included) have often misattributed ideas to him.