Tuesday, January 23, 2007
I like calling Paganism the "Old Religion," though I know that's a piece of romantic revisionism. And Diana Paxson nicely states some central tenets, if you will, of our religions: that "Divinity may be worshipped in many forms and by many names; that the physical world is as holy as the spiritual realm; that humankind should live in harmony with nature; and that magical or sacramental practices are effective." I don't know about you, but that sums up my beliefs quite well.
When I start to think about the differences between monotheism and polytheism, the distinction starts to break down. I mean, contemporary fundamentalist Christians believe there is only one God, though they also posit the existence of Satan, who seems like a demi-god to me - a god ultimately less powerful than the Big Guy, but still pretty damn powerful. And what about the Holy Trinity - three gods in one? three aspects of the same god? It's the stuff of theological debates. To Catholics, Mary is the mother of God; does that make her a god, or no? (Of course, we all know who Mary really is.) The ten commandments, important to both Christians and Jews, state that the people shall have no other gods before the God of Israel, which isn't the same as saying there are no other gods. As for traditional polytheists, do the Hindus believe their gods are many or ultimately one? Or both?
Among Pagans, we debate the value of sticking to one pantheon or choosing from among many. We call ourselves polytheists but are less clear about what that means. My own belief tends toward the Divine as both one and many, the great Mystery, known in many guises and by many names. Is that just a holdover from my Christian, monotheistic days, or from growing up in a culture where monotheism is the dominant model? Do I fail to make the necessary imaginative leap to true polytheism? When I think of polytheism, I picture first the squabbling Greeks I learned about in high school, and as much as I groove on the archetypes of Artemis, Demeter, and Hecate, I can't take Zeus and his ilk seriously. Like a lot of Goddess women, I mix my pantheons freely, being partial to the aformentioned Greek goddesses (but not Hera, please, never Hera, and I have some problems with Athena) plus Kwan Yin and Brigid. Since I like my gods to challenge dominant masculine norms, and it took me a long time to divest myself of the idea of big-white-bearded-male-God, I prefer to think of the god in even more abstract and less human terms, as the Green Man and the stag. But ultimately I believe these characterizations of the Divine are limited if useful tools for grasping parts of what cannot be fully understood.