In The Desert Of Seth

By G. B. Marian

The Pagan and Polytheist Dilemma

This post was submitted to the Pagan Blog Project on August 1, 2014.

Paganism is a movement that includes many different religions. Some of us are polytheists, while others are agnostics, atheists, duotheists, humanists, monotheists, or even monists. Some of us are eclectic (combining things from different cultures together like we’re at a salad bar), while others are traditionalists (sticking to the letter of original cultural traditions as much as possible). That being said, it’s hard for most people on the outside to understand that not all of us are Wiccans. Since Wiccans are the largest subcategory of Pagan by far, it’s understandable that non-Pagans don’t necessarily know about Asatruar, Discordians, Kemetics or Stregheria.

But a schism is happening. Many polytheists – especially the reconstructionists – are annoyed that whenever we go to “big tent” Pagan gatherings, we must often explain why we don’t believe in the Threefold Law, use magic circles or care about gender polarity in our rituals. Some of us are made to feel excluded by other Pagans because we care more about religious piety than magic. Others are exasperated by the mainstream Pagan tendency to think “all Deities are the same” and lump Them together with modern comic book superheroes. Even those of us in LV-426 have gone to Pagan gatherings where we felt excluded for not fitting some Wiccan-esque mold. (In fact, we’ve been told once or twice – by Wiccan soccer moms, no less – that we’re “too much like Christians” just because our faith is centered on a male Deity and on battling evil.) Some reconstructionists are starting to distance themselves from the Pagan subculture in an attempt to establish Polytheism (with a capital “P”) as a movement in its own right.

I can understand some of the reasons for this decision. Some people think we shouldn’t use a pejorative hot-button word like paganus anymore, and that we should use more neutral language to describe our belief systems. Others wish to use a term that won’t mislead people into assuming that we’re all Wiccans (or that we all share the same beliefs and practices). However, there’s just one thing about all of this that sticks in my craw. I can totally understand wanting to step out from beneath the shadow of Wicca, but some polytheists do just as great a job of excluding the rest of us as Wiccans do. Some of these people seem to forget that we aren’t all reconstructionists, and they unfairly try to impose some of their own hardline reconstructionist views upon the rest of us. For example, here are just a few of the lovely and disparaging hum-dingers my brothers and I have received from certain reconstructionists we’ve known:

  • We “don’t worship Seth correctly”

  • We “aren’t worshiping the ‘real’ Seth”

  • We’re “wrong” for honoring Seth’s in His role as the killer of Osiris

  • We’re “wrong” for celebrating non-Egyptian holidays

  • Our eclecticism is “disrespectful”

  • We’re “wrong” for not accepting a monistic interpretation of the Egyptian Gods

And the list goes on.

It’s one thing to disagree with someone, but it’s quite another to impose your own standards upon them. The people who’ve said these things to us were especially annoying because they didn’t seem to understand that we aren’t reconstructionists (and that we’ve never claimed to be). And just because we’re eclectic doesn’t mean we’re inexperienced idiots. We’ve researched historical Egyptian polytheism extensively, and even when we don’t do something exactly as the ancients did, we always have a logical reason. Besides, we’re an entirely new faith that never existed before August 15, 1997. Seth-Typhon Himself has guided us in how He wants us to honor Him (which has nothing to do with how He wants others to honor Him; these are completely separate issues). The development of LV-426 was not only based on direct gnostic experience but also on a great deal of academic research and quite a bit of trial and error in our rituals. In other words, there was a lot of hard work involved in creating this thing; we didn’t just slap it together all “willy nilly,” and while our way may not be “the one true way,” it’s ours and we’re proud of it.

Generally speaking, most of the reconstructionists we know are okay with us precisely because we specify that we aren’t reconstructionists. But there are still some people out there who have a very nasty habit of making people feel unwelcome around them. I’ve seen this happen to eclectic polytheists like me and my brothers, to polytheists who are poor and who can’t afford to make regular offerings to their Gods, and even to people of other races and ethnicities. (Certain Teutonic reconstructionist groups – like certain Odinists – are notorious for their anti-Semitism and for excluding anyone who isn’t white from their faiths.) In other words, it seems to me that exclusivism is just as much of a problem within polytheism as it is in the rest of Paganism. In some cases it’s actually far worse, for at least you never hear about people being scared away from attending the Pagan Spirit Gathering (PSG) just for being black or Jewish.*

Don’t get me wrong; if some polytheists want to break away from Paganism, I say more power to them. Everyone has a fundamental right to be identified by the terms they want to use (and to not be identified by terms they don’t like). If you want me to call you a Polytheist but not a Pagan (or vice versa), then I’m more than happy to oblige. But I would hope that these people will kindly remember that not all polytheists are reconstructionists and that not all of us can (or will even remotely tolerate being) held to the same standards. I would also hope that the people who rise to become leaders of this new movement will do everything they can to discourage exclusivist behaviors within their own subculture. No one should be made to feel like they can’t worship a particular God or Goddess just on the basis of their skin color, their economic status, the way they might feel inspired to worship the Deity in question, or any other factor that might make them different somehow (e.g., age, gender, sexual orientation, any disabilities they might have, etc.).

The Gods call whomever They want into Their service, and no one can stop Them. They also call different people to honor Them in different ways. If Thor wants a gay transgendered Jewish person to worship Him by offering Him strawberry Pop-Tarts in a bathtub with some Howlin’ Wolf on the radio, it will surely happen; not even Varg Vikernes himself can stop it. And whether reconstructionists can agree that such a version of Thor worship would be “valid” or not, they can’t exclude it from polytheism in general. As long as this hypothetical gay transgendered Jewish eclectic Thor worshiper believes in many Gods, he or she is a polytheist by definition. I guess my question here is, will this new non-Pagan Polytheist movement be willing to accept such individuals into its fold, or will it treat them exactly as its current spokespersons perceive themselves to be treated by Wiccan-esque Pagans (if not worse)? I would hope that a Germanic reconstructionist group would at least say, “We don’t believe in worshiping Thor that way, so you can’t join our particular group; but we accept you as a fellow Polytheist, and we wish you well.”

For my own part, I’m a Pagan, but I’m not a Wiccan; I’m a polytheist, but I’m not a reconstructionist; I’m an Egyptian polytheist, but I’m not a Kemetic; I’m a Typhonian, but I’m not a Thelemite; and I’m a Setian, but I’m not a Temple of Set member. There’s only one term that really captures what me and my brothers in LV-426 are all about, and we had to pull it right out of our butts. Sure, we can’t exactly go around introducing ourselves as “the LV-426 Tradition” and expect anyone to understand just what the hell we’re babbling on about. But at the end of the day, people are multi-faceted creatures, and we can’t always limit ourselves to just one term. Sometimes it makes more sense for me to use the word “Pagan,” and sometimes it makes more sense to call myself a “Typhonian polytheist of the LV-426 Tradition.” I’m in favor of using as many different labels for myself as I can, for in today’s world, one just isn’t enough.

_________________

* EDITED 4/6/2015: Unfortunately, I guess this is no longer true, since this shit happened earlier this year (i.e., 2015). Thanks, assholes, for proving me wrong on that point.

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6 responses to “The Pagan and Polytheist Dilemma

  1. caelesti August 1, 2014 at 11:57 am

    I’m a both/and kinda person- though “paganism” is becoming an increasingly useless label in the way its used. I think it really depends on the community you’re in. Some polytheists have had bad experiences with Wiccans and other folks excluding them at particular events. For the most part I have not in my local community- heck I’ve had more trouble with other polytheists/recons online telling me I’m not “doing it right”. I say if I’m really “doing it wrong” that’s between me and the Gods/spirits. So long as we represent ourselves and don’t claim to be something we’re not, people should not be complaining. As I learned in Kindergarten, focus on your own work!

    Like

    • G. B. Marian August 1, 2014 at 2:09 pm

      Amen to that! In my experience, if you participate in any community long enough, someone in that community will eventually rub you the wrong way (or you’ll rub them the wrong way, or both). It’s just a fact of life; people disagree, people argue and people end up not liking each other. But just because someone rubs us the wrong way doesn’t mean we have to totally abandon ship. Even if we go build ourselves another boat, the same thing will eventually happen all over again. Like I said, more power to these people if that’s really what they want to do, but I think they’re missing the real problem here.

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      • caelesti August 1, 2014 at 2:47 pm

        I’m mostly interested in building community with people who share my values, focus on solving problems rather than fighting over petty stuff, can be reliable, and agree to meeting with me in compatible times/places and have stable enough lives that they can make commitments. I’ve realized this after *lots* of trial and error with pagan groups.

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      • G. B. Marian August 1, 2014 at 6:41 pm

        I’m sure it isn’t easy working toward that goal, but for what it’s worth, I pray that you’ll achieve it.

        Like

  2. von186 August 1, 2014 at 12:10 pm

    There really only seems to be one large group that is trying to break away from the word “Pagan” and establish themselves as True Polytheists. And if you’re not part of their narrow view, they will shit on you the same as they shit on everyone else. The Piety Posse is not a group I’d want to ID with, tbh. I’d rather sit in a group of white lighters than deal with the likes of Dawson or Krasskova who have done a fine job of alienating plenty of polytheists with their statements.
    I personally don’t think that ID-ing as polytheist vs pagan is really going to change things. It’s just another label for people to go “what” to, esp since Wicca is technically a polytheist religion (two deities means not monotheist). I have no ill will towards either label, and I use pagan an awful lot because people understand (albeit vaguely) that that means “not Christian” which is really all anyone needs to know for my needs and specific situations.
    On a whole, I would like to see more open and honest discourse btwn various sects of religion and less of the mud slinging that certain “groups” within our community seem to prefer to utilize- as I feel that mud slinging rarely gets us anywhere.

    Like

    • G. B. Marian August 1, 2014 at 2:47 pm

      Last month I encountered someone who claimed that Pagans are trying to rob polytheists of their “autonomy”. I thought this was a really poor choice of words, especially considering what’s been happening in places like Iraq (where Sunni Islamic militants are forcing Christians, Yazidis and Shi’ites to abandon their homes). Somehow I don’t think this person really understands what having one’s autonomy taken away is really like. Heck, I can’t really claim to know what it’s like either.

      Maybe things are different where these folks live, but out here in my area, most Pagans are so happy to meet other people who dig ancient mythology and spirituality that they really don’t care how different they are. True, you’ll occasionally meet some jerkola who wants to treat you badly just because you don’t invoke your water elementals from the West (or something like that), and occasionally you might meet someone who’s clearly too dangerous to be around. But for the most part, the Pagan community here is pretty comfortable.

      I think the real problem here is a combination of (1) having egos the size of the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man and (2) having skins as thin as Zig-Zag rolling papers. Maybe I’m just talking out of my butt, but it seems to me these people have no idea what kind of nonsense actually goes on in this world. Furthermore, I agree with you that “breaking away from Paganism” probably isn’t going to help their plight so much. The way I see it, the more you try to only hang out with people who are exactly like yourself, the lonelier you’ll be in the end.

      Like

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