Polytheism

Egyptian Last Judgement depicting Anubis, Osiris, Maat, Ammit, Thoth, Isis, Nephthys

Egyptian last judgement depicting Anubis, Osiris, Maat, Thoth, Isis, Nephthys and other Egyptian gods

“If [humankind is] ever to rise again from the depths into which they are now descending, it will only be with the aid of a new religion of life. And since life is diverse, the new religion will have to have many Gods.”

— Aldous Huxley, Do What You Will (1937)

Many Neo-Pagans are polytheists. Polytheists see divinity as essen­tially multiple, in contrast to monotheists, who believe God is One. Some Neo-Pagans believe the gods are real persons. Other Neo-Pagans see the gods as metaphors or aspects of our inner selves. Some understand the gods as distinct beings, while oth­ers view the gods as aspects of a monistic divinity. According to Michael York, Neo-Pagan beliefs about the gods “range from understanding them as metaphorical and/or non-existent to see­ing them as numinous presences, living material entities, and/or capable of visionary and epiphanic disclosure.” Some Neo-Pagans use both polytheistic and monistic language, depending on whether they wish to emphasize the diversity or the unity of the human experience of the divine.

For some Neo-Pagans, polytheism is not the belief in sepa­rate and distinct gods, but rather an acknowledgement of the principle that reality and the divine are fragmented and diverse. In this sense, it may be more accurate to use Michael York’s term, “deific pluralism.” David Miller explains this new polytheism “is the reality experienced by men and women when Truth with a capital ‘T’ cannot be articulated according to a single grammar, a single logic or a single symbol system.” Graham Harvey ex­plains, “Polytheism is not fundamentally a question of numbers of deities,” but rather “a concern with the many and varied relation­ships between living things.” According to the death-of-god theologian, William Hamilton, the gods of Neo-Pagan polytheism are not to be believed in, but are “to be used to give shape to an increasingly complex and variegated experience of life.”

Some Neo-Pagans understand the gods to be metaphors, not only for natural forces, like the Sun and the Earth, but also as­pects of our own selves. In this sense, Neo-Pagan polytheism can be understood as a recognition of what David Miller calls “the radical plurality of the self.”

Some Neo-Pagans believe that all the deities from the world’s mythologies are aspects of one cosmic feminine princi­ple, the Divine Feminine or “the Goddess,” and one cosmic mascu­line principle, the Divine Masculine or “the God.” Some Neo-Pagans believe these two forces are themselves aspects of one Divinity that transcends gender.

Updated 2019

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