The MU & the Many
While interest in polytheism is increasing in western countries, much of Neopaganism seems to be in a headlong rush to mainstream (that is, model on Christian forms) itself; parallels could be made with the gay and lesbian movement. Paganism rose into the public light, at least in part, as a critique of established religions in the decades of the 60s and 70s. Unfortunately, a fair amount of the current scene has shut off to intellectual reflection and thinking. Here will fall viewpoints that some will find provocative. Something I am especially interested in are multiple practices, pathways, and what Erynn Rowan Laurie has called polypraxy (http://www.patheos.com/Resources/Additional-Resources/Polypraxy-A-Multitudinous-Future.html). One of the things that makes most sense in a polytheistic point of view, as opposed to a monotheistic or duotheistic (typical of Wicca) viewpoint, is that a world of many forces, not necessarily in harmony or agreement to say the least, best reflects our lived experience. William S. Burroughs, who was a major proponent of polytheism, said, regarding monotheism, which he called the One God Universe (OGU): “He can do nothing, since the act of doing requires opposition. He knows everything, so there is nothing for him to learn…The OGU is a pre-recorded universe in which He is the recorder. It’s a flat thermodynamic universe, since it has no friction by definition. So He invents friction and conflict, pain, fear, sickness, famine, war, old age and Death.” In contrast, Burroughs wrote that the “Magical Universe, MU, is a universe of many gods, often in conflict. So the paradox of an all-powerful, all knowing god who permits suffering, evil and death does not arise” (Western Lands). The problem of evil has been one of the toughest puzzles of Christian theology; if the premise is that God is the omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient, then how to account for the Holocaust, the genocidal conquest of the Americas, and innumerable other slaughters, atrocities and horrific sufferings of good people? This issue is called theodicy by the theologians.
The One (God) sets itself up as the master narrative, an act thereby establishing all other deities/realities as fictional, while simultaneously denying its own status as situated (see media theory group CCRU). Monotheism well seems to reflect monoculture, mirroring the endlessly repeating (genetically modified) corn field. Polytheism/animism operates in a way comparable to the ecological world. For Burroughs, gods are everywhere and confounding the assumptions of those raised under OGU, some of them may be as ephemeral as butterflies. The intricacies of polytheistic worldview(s) make more sense of the world most of us have experienced I would think.
John Michael Greer has written of a world full of gods. Such possibilities to find ourselves among such a multitude! In Tantra, many deities are visualized within the human body itself. The numinous is all around us; perhaps we’d do well to focus on the ‘small gods’ as well as the ‘great ones’. Many traditions tell of millions of gods. Shinto practitioners speak of 8 million kami. I suspect some gods have been put out of commission by wanton human destruction (it’s a hard thing to wrap one’s head around, but I think it’s useful to consider).
Pier Paolo Pasolini, the Italian director, made a big impact on me years ago when I watched his Medea (the heroine played by the opera diva Maria Callas); when Medea arrives in her new Greek home with Jason, she disembarks the ship and immediately starts to make offerings to the spirits of the new land. This is something still often missing from contemporary paganism; we need to land, to come ashore where we are as it were. We may have brought our household gods, but we also need to get outside the circle and begin the process of uncovering/imagining/meeting the presences around us on and in our hills, shores, creeks, trees and bushes. This is the local aspect of religion that has the power to deeply change the way we live and relate to the world around us in a practice of re-enchantment.