[Monday] Idea of the Week

Happy late Monday. I have a few posts I need to catch up on (one on the Darren and his symbols).

Hell Month officially ended July 31st, the day we celebrate the Apotheosis of the Dierne. I’ve written on the holy day before – in 2013 and 2014. This year I didn’t honor the god on her holy day. My shrine sits still in Hell Month disarray, the Firebirds facing apart from each other. The damn thing needs dusting. There’s a book on another shrine that needs to be read.

I did not completely neglect the Dierne on her day. I wrote, entertaining new ideas of the gods and deepening my understanding of the new quartet (Laethelia, Ophelene, Darren, and Liathane). The first part of the story I wrote for the Ophelene and Liathane is up at Archive of Our Own. Writing these stories has made me want to place the Liathane’s holy day of arrival/deification in the middle of Hell Month, but I’ll need to think on that more. After all, July is very much the Dierne’s month to me.

I’ve been tinkering with my ideas for the Other People’s community recently. I’ll be shutting down the Otherfaith forums soon; they don’t receive active use and I don’t have the time to operate them. On top of those reasons, I know it’s hard to get people to cross platforms and sites. Without the time necessary to really cultivate them, the forums were pretty doomed.

Instead, there are different places people interested in the Otherfaith – as a religious practice, as a source to draw inspiration from when doing your own religious work, as an interesting example of how-religion-forms, etc. One of these is obviously the WordPress. You can either contribute (by sending me an email or message) or write on your own blog. Tagging your posts with ‘Otherfaith’ will let me find them! If Tumblr is more your style of blogging, we also have the Otherfaith Tumblog. Again, tag your posts with Otherfaith so they can easily be found. The Tumblog is much less serious and polished, intentionally so. If you’d like contribute more directly to the Tumblr, you can become part of the blog as a member and contribute that way.

We also have an Otherfaith Facebook group. It’s kept private out of consideration for those who are not out to their family members, but send me a message if you’re interested. That group is the most active so far. Discussions of religious fanfic and headcanon and such are rather common.

Because all of these are different platforms, I try to bring discussions from both Tumblr and Facebook here on the WordPress, so people who follow and contribute in one place are aware of what is happening elsewhere. I don’t always get this perfect! I’ve also only recently really dipped my toes into Tumblr again, for a variety of reasons.

For more ‘real time’ interactions, we have a Skype group and our G+ Hangouts that occur on the weekends. My Skype handle is ‘ainemaponos’ for those interested on that platform; please be aware that we don’t do video or voice calls on Skype, only text.

Considering all of this, the Otherfaith community is already widely spread and spread thin. The balance between too many places and just enough places to reach those who are interested is an art that I’m so far from mastering.

Not to mention we also have a wiki, far improved from our last (which is being dismantled). The wiki very much needs a community, and one reason I wanted to move away from a forum was to focus on the utility of wiki’s talk pages. This is all a discussion for another day, though.

As I said recently, community is hard.

Which leads to more of what I’d like to discuss. Recently, Many Gods West, a polytheist convention, was held, along with a few other events. Though there was no drama related to the convention and I hope to attend the next time it is held (from the many write-ups, it sounds like it was an incredibly enjoyable experience), there was a dust-up in the always difficult polytheist ‘blogosphere’. Rather than the specifics of what happened, it highlighted a fear/worry that has been gnawing at me for a few years. Pretty much since I began publicly blogging, honestly.

I’ve been a polytheist since I could properly articulate my beliefs. (I’ve been religious since I could properly understand the impulse in me. Before that, I was just hungry, craving something I’d never tasted.) However, when I began blogging and reading other blogs, I became aware that my belief in many gods wasn’t enough to be a polytheist. There were polytheists and then there were Polytheists. That is has only been recently articulated so plainly doesn’t mean the undercurrent wasn’t pumping through the communities. (Just as there may be a difference between pagans and Pagans, and I’ll always be the latter due to heritage. As we see more second- and third-generation Pagans, we’re going to see people grapple with the identity. I know I did.)

For me, polytheism is just that: belief in many gods. Gods, yes, but ultimately arguing over that is unimportant. (And that we polytheists keep treating it so, keep beating a dead horse, is likely not doing us favors.) For others, I came to understand, polytheism was a set of values and practices and ideas. Straying from those approved practices was a problem. Ancestor worship had to be included or it wasn’t polytheism. Modesty was a value of polytheism. Certain entities couldn’t be gods, or else it wasn’t polytheism. If you weren’t pious enough, you weren’t a polytheist.

I do think there is a lot of value in pushing our ideas of polytheism to the edge and seeing where we end up. In my life, this involved questioning why certain ideas were held, as well as why certain practices were important. Where did the fundamental part of polytheism (many gods) lead me? I found myself worshiping a host of spirits, understanding and recognizing their agency, realizing their deep and colorful lives outside of myself, and falling in relation with them. I sometimes call this relational polytheism, when I feel the need. Which isn’t often. I think lower-case polytheism conveys quite a lot. Relational polytheism is simply more descriptive.

I always knew I wouldn’t be considered a Polytheist. It bothered me, quite a bit. After all, I wanted to find a community, a larger support structure, a group of varied people to discuss my ideas with. To bounce concepts off of and keep me grounded instead of flying off into the sky with my wild ideas. That didn’t come to fruition, not how I envisioned. I found my own community of people doing similar-but-different religious building and surrounded myself with people who could keep my grounded in my life. This wasn’t before pursuing certain paths I thought appropriate for a ‘polytheist’, especially one who was as devoted as I craved to be. None of those pursuits proved healthy or stable. As much as I truly wanted to live with complete and destructive devotion to my gods, it wasn’t serving any of us.

As I built a proper relationship with my deities I realized more and more that the people who had helped bring polytheism to the forefront of Paganism would no longer consider me a polytheist. Largely, this was irritating but unimportant. I worried some of my friends would no longer consider me such, which was hurtful, and a topic I didn’t bring up.

The idea of there being a right way to do polytheism, drawn in part from the concept of hard polytheism being more ‘pure’ or ‘true’, came up in the Otherfaith as well. In order to truly grow this religion as it needs to be, in line with both humans and our Four+ Gods, I had to loosen the iron fist I had on the stories and practices and give a lot more rein to the people who passed through it. I’ve moved away from calling my own writings on the gods myths, for example. They’re fanfic, built loosely around the current understanding of the Four Gods, and through both my own and other’s writing we can come to understand more about the gods and spirits. This was appropriate for a host of reasons.

I also became unconcerned with pursuing a ‘truth’ about the gods, at least in concern to many of their stories. The truths about the gods were very much based in the Other People’s community and communal canon about them. Ideas that were not useful or relevant would fade away; those that were striking at the heart of the gods would float to the top and last. And I began viewing ‘truth’ as very much tied to the community. One person’s insistence that the gods were a certain way, or did a certain thing, or could not do a certain thing, were less important than what the wider community thought (and I include myself in that). Both the community’s experiences and thoughts of the gods were important. I place more emphasis on storytelling for the act itself. Mining for kernels of truth ultimately stalls the religion too much for it to grow. Because of this, I was told the Otherfaith wasn’t actually polytheistic. We didn’t grant the gods agency.

(I think storytelling about the gods is rather different than getting down on one’s knees and praying to them, though both acts influence each other.)

It was difficult to not think of the Otherfaith as polytheist. The religion worships many gods and many spirits (who have the ability to be deified). Eventually, I realized that of course the faith was polytheistic. It just wasn’t playing into certain ideas of Polytheism: certain practices, certain values, certain unquestionable truths. That it didn’t is appropriate for the Otherfaith. Most of the people who do similar work to me (religion building or discovering or writing on new gods) don’t play into the prescribed rules of Polytheism (both implicit and explicit).

Now I simply understand that to a lot of people, I’m not a polytheist, and it has absolutely nothing to do with whether I believe in many gods or not.

Thank you for reading. ‘Of the Other People’ is a site dedicated to the Otherfaith, a modern polytheist god religion. We are supported through Patreon and want to give special thanks to our patrons Jack at Drawing Stars and Leithin Cluan at Treasure in Barren Places. If you enjoy the writing here, consider becoming a patron!

3 thoughts on “[Monday] Idea of the Week

  1. This has finally made me realise how much this is a Thing in so many areas, you know? I mean, I knew it already, but knowing it again. (Because there is a blogger I read who regularly expresses his contempt for “dictionary atheists” – people who simply don’t believe in gods – because he feels that atheism has certain implications that must be followed through on to be Real. And it’s the same damn thing, isn’t it?)

    It makes me tired, mostly. I have work to be doing.

    • It really is the same thing. I’m hoping to talk with some people who view polytheism as, well, just that: belief in many gods. I have a few different reasons for wanting to move away from the very practice-oriented focus I see a lot in capital P Polytheism, more than just my wariness as I see those practices become more and more restrictive. (I’m still a polytheist when I’m too sick to worship, after all…)

      But, yes – work to be doing. And that’s gotta get done.

      • I have a fairly practice-oriented religious stuff, but that doesn’t have anything to do with being a polytheist, you know? Being a polytheist is just something that is. (And has done since I was a kid; my disenchantment with the churched experience was one of ‘this god doesn’t seem to particularly care about me, so I should find one that does’.)

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