I am a polytheist. A hard polytheist. This means that I believe that there are many Gods and Goddesses. Each of these has his or her own personality, opinions, preferences, identity. I do not believe that all Gods are one God (although I do believe there is a unifying divine energy that makes up all things, including Gods) and I do not believe that the different names of the Gods are simply different facets of one God or Goddess (or a few). I do believe that some Gods are known by different names in different places. I believe that every God that anyone has ever worshiped is real. I believe that every God deserves a certain level of respect. However, I believe that we cannot worship all of them effectively. To try would be just ridiculous.
I believe that in order to have a healthy spiritual life, we must develop personal relationships with a few Gods and focus our spiritual development with their guidance while still honoring all the Gods in a more general way. Think of it like your friends and family. You can still be polite and respectful to everyone else, but you can't be intimate with the whole world. If you tried, you wouldn't end up with any meaningful or satisfying social connections.
That all being said, because of my beliefs, I have a hard time with most public ritual. Especially those that are purported to be "all path". I can go to a Celtic ritual and pay my respects to the Celtic Gods (I am a Hellenic Polytheist, btw) and I have no problem even going to a Christian service and being polite to the Christian God, but when I go to a generic Pagan or Wiccan ritual and they inevitably come to the part where they say "We call upon the Goddess who was of old known as Artemis, Diana, Selene, Demeter, Gaia, Isis… etc. And we call upon the Horned One, who was of old known as Herne, Cernunos, Pan… etc." I start to get a little uncomfortable. And the Goddess chant "Isis, Astarte, Diana, Hecate, Demeter, Kali, Inana" that one really curls my toes.
These Gods and Goddesses, from my gnosis, are not the same and some have nothing at all to do with each other and calling them all seems a little unwise and a lot rude. It's like a telemarketer's auto-call machine randomly calling a bunch of Gods with no idea who is actually going to answer. And what do you do if they all answer? Ignore a couple? Just blow them off?
And then, after this part they sometimes do an invocation, often called Calling Down the Moon. So… now that you have randomly called a bunch of Gods, have no idea who, if any have shown up (and I've never seen anyone attempt to make a confirmation of this) you're going to invite them into your body? To take over your consciousness? Really? Kali? Pan? Dionysus? Seriously? Wouldn't you want a more controlled atmosphere for that? It all just seems so unwise to me.
So, here I am at a ritual that was obviously created to include all paths by haphazardly throwing a bunch of random Gods together and, of course, I am among the people this ritual was created to include and I am totally freaked out. Not scared so much, just freaked out. Like I am when I see someone coming up to a stop sign really fast and I don't know if they're just planning to stop at the last minute or if they're planning to blow it off entirely so I'm at a loss as to what to do on my end. I am thinking, wow that is so unwise and dangerous and doesn't that person realize that? But I can't say anything, because if I did, I would be rude and nobody would listen anyway. The word, I believe, is awkward.
Wouldn't it be simpler to just say "Each of us here have come to celebrate [insert occasion here] and we each call upon our Gods to join us" and leave a moment for everyone to call upon their own Gods? Or if you believe all Gods are one God couldn't you just pick one at random? Because those of us who don't believe that can still be polite even if the God in question isn't one we know well or even like in some cases. And if we're just being polite it's still better than feeling totally awkward and somewhat alarmed.
Polytheism seems to be central to Pagan religion and yet, as a polytheist, I often feel isolated. It doesn't happen during discussions of the Gods, in fact I find most folks I talk to believe similarly to myself. The isolation doesn't happen during social occasions or even during educational sessions for the most part. But nearly every public ritual that I go to (with the exception of those who focus on the group's own specific Gods) that attempts to serve "The Goddess" and/or "The God" by every name they can manage to scrape up leaves me feeling not only awkward but decidedly un-fulfilled. I also feel very sad for the ceremony's leaders because I know they are trying to be inclusive and it was this very effort that originated the awkwardness. If they had said "screw everyone else" and just honored their own Gods, I would have been fine. Ah, the twists and turns of Pagan community. Alas.
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Comments, questions, criticism?