The MU & the Many

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 ( 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.


4 thoughts on “The MU & the Many

  1. Really excellent stuff!

    In terms of “landing,” I think you’ve hit on something that I was just writing about in my post on Reconstructionism, Polytheism, and Mysticism toward the end: namely, being here, now in our own world and its particularities, rather than in the premodern past. No matter how wonderful all the stuff from the past is, the social realities underlying it are not the same, and to continue to ignore that in favor of ideas about reconstructionism meaning that the ways of the past trump all modern matters is, to me, not very appealing…

    I’ll add your blog to my blogroll!

    1. Thanks!

      The issue of us being ‘here’ is something I hope to write more about. Way back when I was a history student, reading the mentalites school of historians sure made it clear to me that the the very way people in the past *thought* was quite different.
      This blinkered understanding of the past leads to some recons wanting kings and promoting the idea that fire-tending must be done by biological females, and on and on.

  2. This is definitely something that I’ve been trying to push for a while now; thank you for linking to my essay over on Patheos! I really do think that not enough people consider this aspect of polytheism/animism when they talk about their personal practices and about Paganism generally. One of the things I’ll be talking about a bit at my presentation of PCon this coming weekend is the idea that the Gods aren’t the only thing that’s important in our practice. We need to pay attention to the localized and the personalized as well — land spirits, deities of the place where we live, personal ancestors, and the like. Excellent summary, thank you!

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