Protestant Holdovers are Yucky

“I really want to go down to the Hindu Temple and pay my respects to Sri Ganesha” 

“What? You are converting to Hinduism now?” 

“No, why would you think that?” 

“You want to worship their gods.”

“That doesn’t mean I want to be a Hindu.” 

 

 

 

That exchange occurred between a friend and I, and I thought upon it for a long while. Mainly because. . .well, it was surprising. I won’t say it is the first time that I was hit right in the face with the realization that being a polytheist means that you often wind up viewing religious notions through a lens different from the majority of your peers, but it was surprising for me due to the fact of the source. You see, the person it came from was familiar with Paganism, with spiritual leanings, and worshiped (well, at least at one point) what they referred to as the Earth Mother, and even did a little bit of magic now and then. I expected them to understand the desire, or at least thought that they would understand the basic assumptions of many people who accept a polytheistic theology. In a world full of gods, worshiping is not sufficient for belonging, but rather that a certain way of living and carrying things out is the basics of a faith which contains a polytheistic theology. 

You see, it is a massive Protestant carryover that to worship is to belong. By worshiping God and accepting Jesus as savior, one becomes a Protestant Christian. In most polytheistic faiths I can think of, this is not the case. There is a process of learning the rites of the religion and learning what it ‘means’ to be say an ADF Druid, a Hellenist, an Asatruar, or a Feri Witch. Within their worship, a Asatruar may worship Apollo, Minverva, and Ichikishima-hime-no-mikoto and not consider themselves as anything other than an adherent of Asatru. That is the beauty of polytheism, in a world full of gods you might worship, occasionally or frequently, gods who are not a part of your faith and not have yourself removed from your faith, or at least, that’s how it should be. 

It is an unfortunate truth that in various polytheistic circles, the notion that you must ONLY worship gods within ‘your pantheon’ in order to be a “real” [Heathen, Hellenist, Kemetic] or that you must stick to strictly to only those ‘foreign’ gods that were worshiped in culture X during time period K in manner P. Well, to be terribly blunt and honest, that is foolishness. In a world full of gods, to insist that folks forbid themselves from worshiping all others but their particular grouping is truly the most poisonous carryover from the Protestant overculture. Perhaps an argument could be made if a person began blending household rites and lets say had a Shinto wedding and a Heathen house blessing, but even then I think this is setting up a really silly either-or dichotomy. The fact of the matter is that either-or doesn’t work very well when considering some of the basic things about polytheism. I don’t think and is a dirty word, I think and is the exact word that we need to be incorporating into our vocabulary because if polytheism had survived through the ages you’d have plenty of folks who employ that three letter word (though, I suppose to some it is a four letter word, eh?). 

I get the fear of using and though, I really do. A lot of folks are afraid that by permitting and accepting folks as one of them, those folks who use that three letter word, they are going to muddle the faith down the line, or that they are going to muddle the faith in the present, but I think that fear is irrational. Nothing could have muddled things more than centuries of disuse, and folks who are using the and conjunction probably aren’t honoring Athena at a blot, for example. These folks, from what I have seen, often have their ducks in a row and draw clear lines between what is their Hindu side and what is their Kemetic side, for example. What will they pass down to their kids? Maybe one, maybe both, maybe neither there is no way of really being sure. Your child could go on and carry on your rites and pick up the rites and traditions of a different polytheistic faith, and you know what? There would be nothing wrong with this. As long as they can teach their child about why you do X and Y for this deity and P and R for this deity, that is what is important and that is what is going to carry on our traditions and viewpoints. Obsessing over whether a person is being ‘purely Hellenic” or “purely Heathen” or “purely Taoist” or whatever is only going to hinder us and keep is in a Protestant mode of thinking.

All that being said, who wants to visit a temple with me?

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8 comments

  1. This is spot-on! I had a similar experience with a friend of mine a few years ago, though he’s an atheist, so his stance was less of a surprise.

    The only detail I’d word differently in your post is referring to polytheistic religions as “faiths”. Faith implies belief and most of us polytheists don’t usually deny the existence of any god. We believe in all, in other words, so the difference comes down to religious practice. Traditions would probably be a better word, I guess.

    1. I still like the word faiths and it works with my stances. We have beliefs, we believe in many gods, we make certain assumptions about those gods, we make certain assumptions about practices and the afterlife. Our beliefs are informed in an experiential way oftentimes, but we still have beliefs.

      Of course, I’m not saying everyone has to use the word faith, however, the word is applicable.

    2. Modern Western atheism can feel like a sort of Protestant heresy at times.

      I grew up Catholic but wound up learning the same holdover Conor talks about from growing up in the US and from growing up in a Catholic family that doesn’t seem to have practiced any syncretic religion like Lucumi or Maya folk religion, that I could discern. If they had, who knows, I might still be going to church on Sundays, but as a syncretist, not a By-the-Catechism Catholic. As it is, it just doesn’t feel right to go weekly, especially with my parents, where the services are in Spanish, though I have no problem going with them for certain special days like Christmas Eve or Cristo de Esquipulas. Actually a very different situation from when I was an atheist and would have been far less flexible!

  2. This is wonderful!
    I like your use of the phrase “world full of gods” since it really sums up the way I interact with the world. The world is alive and I am alive and my Gods are alive. Living things grow and change. I, then, will follow my path to whatever and Whomever it leads me.

  3. Excellent post, Conor! I follow your blog because it is one of the more thoughtful, refreshing and insightful I’ve come across, and this is a great example of that. When I opened my latest email and saw your reference to Ganesh, I was speechless. Although I’ve always found him to be interesting, recently I created a shrine to him and have been wondering about how he fits in my mainly Greco-Roman space. As various pagans/polytheists, it is the ancient knowledge of the Gods that we inherit and are inspired by. But we must realize that we are now the living pagans/polytheists and the Gods are also alive. Otherwise, we are just treating our religion like a roleplaying game. So, where’s that temple?!?

    1. Woohoo! I’m glad you like it, and you flatter me my friend! I’m just really happy folks like this post!

      There are several temples where he is worshiped in North Texas, there is one in Flower Mound and one in Irving. Many Hindu Temples pay worship to him, as far as I can tell he is quite the popular god.

      Also, I see you are a member of the Minoan Brotherhood? Can you shoot me an e-mail at conorwarren@my.unt.edu, I’d like to ask you some questions if you are willing to answer them.

      1. Of course! Ganesh sounds like a local god then. I think that if you are interacting with other communities and “their pantheons” it is only natural to be open to them or influenced by them. Oh just noticed I know ladyimbrium!

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