Design Principle: The Gods Are Real
August 9, 2010 5 Comments
((For the moment, I’m going to be presenting design principles (as discussed here) behind the New Polytheism in no particular order.))
As I’ve said before (See: Pagan Opinions), we have to put our feet down about things. We need to have opinions and stick to them. Just to make one thing absolutely clear, I’m not suggesting that everyone reading this needs to adopt the same opinions as everyone else, just that people need to gather with those of a similar mind and then conduct rituals with them. We need not continue our tradition of absolute theological relativism, where every ritual performed is expected to be accommodating to any and all theological outlook.
Ritual presenters especially need to decide on a few things before they begin. Isn’t this obvious? If one presenter wants to do a ritual to propitiate Cthulhu as an avatar of that person’s own psyche, and another wants to mourn the death of Lugh, I have two questions:
1) Why are they even planning a ritual together anyway? (something that I’ll address when I talk about “Rituals with Purpose”)
2) How could a compromise between these two goals result in anything other than contradictory, ineffective ritual?
Yet this is the situation we find ourselves in all too often.
Sure, some people see it as inclusive. “Everyone is welcome to bring their own point of view to the ritual,” one might say, “we don’t want to seem dogmatic.”
But let’s ask ourselves: Why does everyone need to be included? Don’t get me wrong: I’m not for physically keeping people out of rituals. But, why does a ritual need to bend itself into a pretzel trying to accommodate each participant’s theology? Why not, instead, don’t we expect participants to try to be challenged by the theology presented in the ritual if it is not their own? It’s not like they aren’t free to leave. This is one way that we can work toward evolving helpful boundaries around our religious communities–“We’re the folks who invoke the ancient deity Lugh. Those folks over there are the Jungian Lovecraftians. We don’t fight or anything, it’s just that they do what they do and we do what we do. We even have interfaith dialogue, given that we are of separate and distinct faiths.”
I once attended a ritual where the presenter instructed those gathered to participate in a chant that involved the word “Goddess.” The presenter then asserted that each individual was welcome to substitute any meaningful word in place of “Goddess”–that is, they could instead say “energy” or “God” or “Anubis!” and that then we would all sing the chant together. This, to me, is the antithesis of good ritual. This does not bring people together, it only gives the illusion of togetherness: At that ritual, we were all individuals engaged in our own individualized rituals while we happened to be standing together. Everyone ritualizing together must be engaged in the same ritual!
Theology dictates practice. If you are presenting a ritual, that ritual must reveal and reaffirm a common theology held by the presenters and by the community for which they are holding the ritual. Yes, this means that some people are going to be left out–and they are welcome to go hold their own rituals!
In the New Polytheism, I am asserting that the best design for a land-based, regionally-aware religious ritual is one that is explicitly polytheist. I believe that polytheism* is the more place-oriented approach. ((This belief of mine is largely grounded in the history of traditional monotheisms, which evolved out of land-based, polytheist religious milieus only when individuals were quickly moved from their land bases but maintained a link to their Gods, creating “mobile Gods,” henotheism (Yahwism), and eventually monotheism.)) According to my design, polytheism is animism within the human sphere: Zeus is Sky God made King. Polytheism allows for similar rituals to be held on more occasions for different Gods, and it allows for smaller groups who worship various Gods to easily (and without knee-capping their own theology!) come together for larger rituals in more public contexts. Polytheism is highly flexible and can even allow for a lot of the inclusiveness that some seem to desire, though in a new way.
So: My advice is to conduct your rituals from an explicitly polytheistic perspective. Even if not everyone in the group sees things this way all the time, choosing to conduct rituals in this way is adaptive, allows for the easy inclusion of land-based practices (land spirit veneration, for example), and is easily mutable. Just keep in mind: The Gods are Real (and many). And, do so from an opinionated place; otherwise, you’re not holding any ritual at all.
(*: Here I’m not talking about “soft polytheism,” which is simply another word for emanational monotheism.)