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Soft Polytheism versus Hard Polytheism in Heathenry

Soft Polytheism versus Hard Polytheism in Heathenry

Apparently, I  struck a chord with some of my readers when talking about soft polytheism versus hard polytheism.  I assumed many of my readers were soft polytheistic, that is, looking at the gods as archetypes and forces of nature, and not necessarily physical beings. Apparently, I was wrong. Many of my readers do indeed look at the gods as physical beings.

Some Caveats About Beliefs

Before I get into the whole soft polytheism versus hard polytheism arguments, I need to reiterate my beliefs here.  As I’ve said previously, I tend toward a soft polytheistic belief of archetypes. However, given that I have dealt with the gods directly, I believe that the gods can take human-like forms.  (They are, after all, gods.) I also believe that our gods go by many names and manifestations, but they are the same gods. At least, in this Universe.

How Far Down the Rabbit Hole Do You Want to Go?

Having said that, I don’t necessarily have an issue with your beliefs if you want to go the hard pagan route. It’s just I know that proving the stories we tell in the face of science gets to be difficult at best. Unless you really believe that our world hangs off of a physical tree and humans were carved from wood, I don’t think you and I will have much to argue about. If you want to go down that rabbit hole and believe everything in our stories is 100 percent true, despite science proving it isn’t, I suggest you go in your corner and maybe find some Christian fundamentalist friends to argue with.  What you believe isn’t logical and I won’t be able to convince you to the contrary.

Hard Polytheism

If you’re a hard polytheist in the strictest sense, you tend to accept our stories at face value.  That the Moon and the Sun move across our sky, rather than the Earth revolving around the Sun and the Moon revolving around the Earth. That there really was a cow that licked the brine from Ymir and the gods, thus creating the first pantheons. That Odin along with his brothers slew Ymir and fashioned our Earth from Ymir’s bones. This is more fundamentalist than anything, and again, since you really believe that, nothing I’m going to tell you is going to make a difference.

I would bet, however, that most hard polytheistic Heathens are a mix of this hard polytheism and soft polytheism. You like the creation tales, but you at least accept the current explanation of how the Universe came into being. Maybe you’ve resolved that in your minds, and maybe you haven’t.  Maybe you just don’t know what to believe.

Blending Myth and Fact

Now, if you believe our gods manifest themselves in physical forms, that’s fine. I’m good with that. I believe that they can and do, but I also don’t believe that Asgard exists in our dimension.  I tend to accept string theory as well, which if our gods exist in physical forms, they possibly occupy more than the three dimensions we live in.  In this case, we may have a tough time seeing them.  It could just be that our wights may also inhabit those dimensions, affecting our existence without necessarily seeing them in their full forms.

With the exception of some clueless wankers, most people believe the Earth is round, that it revolves around the Sun, and that stars are simply other suns, some very much like our own sun.  Our sun is a relatively ordinary star, too, with the exception that it is the only solar system we know of that has life.   That may change because not only are there are trillions of stars, but there are galaxies with trillions of stars in them.  The Earth formed some 4.54 billion years ago and not 6000 years like the new Earth creationists would have you believe. I’m pretty sure that the formation of Earth wasn’t from a frost giant named Ymir, unless you’re willing to believe that Ymir’s bones were some primordial matter that came from the death of another star. Given that our star is a second or even third generation star, we can look at the stories and deduce that maybe our creation stories are one big metaphor.  Or maybe they’re just a way for people to explain how things came into being.

Whence Our Religion Came

Heathenry is a product of our ancestors combined with communication with our gods and curiosity about our world. It came from a more ancient religion that our Proto-Indo-European ancestors worshiped. Those ancestors’ predecessors practiced a form of animism. The interesting question is when our gods revealed themselves to our ancestors.

I would argue that given the overall similarities of certain religions, we have to assume a Jungian collective unconscious was passed down throughout history.  No matter how different other ethnicities seem, they have similar stories that run throughout their folklore.  To a certain degree, one could argue that it is because our brains are wired the same, and I’m not going to dispute that.  But I do suspect that all our ancestors had a shared experience at one time.  Think about it.  We know that humans nearly went extinct at least twice. Could this be the time when our gods stepped in to help us?

That, of course, is purely speculation on my part.  I have no clue if that really did happen, but it does make for some interesting ideas.

But I digress…

Getting Back on Track

Soft polytheism tends to look more at the concepts of the gods as archetypes.  In it’s extreme form, it’s  closer to atheism than a religion. I would not consider most soft polytheists in that group.  Many are pantheists, which allows the worship of other gods, and it equates the universe with the gods. I sit more comfortably in the pantheistic version of Heathenry, because I believe that the universe and the gods are the same. My belief is our gods go by other names in other religions. I chose our gods not only because I am most comfortable with them, but because I have had interactions with them by those names.

I hope I’ve given you something to think about.  Let me know your beliefs in the comments.

Are the Norse Gods the Only Gods?

Are the Norse Gods the Only Gods?

On one of the myriad groups I occasionally hang out on, I noticed someone was asking if the Norse gods were the only gods.  In this world of monotheistic gods, it’s not as strange of a question as pagans would like to think.  Are the Northern deities the only gods out there?  And if they aren’t, what makes them better than any other gods?

Polytheistic Beliefs

First, let’s look at polytheism, as a whole.  There are basically two types of polytheistic beliefs: hard and soft.  If you’re a hard polytheistic believer, you believe our gods are individual and physical beings.  That Thor really rides a chariot pulled by two goats and Sunna drives the chariot of the sun, being chased by a wolf. You believe that Odin is really in human form and there are little demigods wandering around this Earth.

Soft polytheistic believers tend to believe the gods as archetypes.  They may believe the different pantheons are simply manifestations of a core pantheon.  Or they may believe that the gods are aspects to a single god.

What I Believe as a Polytheist

Before we get much further in my arguments, let me state my own position, so that there isn’t any confusion.  I tend toward a soft polytheistic belief of archetypes, BUT given that I have dealt with the gods directly, I believe that the gods can take forms we humans can see and interact with.  (They are, after all, gods.)  I also believe that at least in this Universe, our gods go by many names and manifestations, but they are the same gods wherever you go.

Now, that I’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk about whether our gods are the only gods out there.

The Only Gods?

It’s common today to think that our way is the only way.  That our gods are the only gods.  In some ways, I’m sometimes tempted to think that route, but that’s wrong. That thought is a holdover from monotheistic beliefs. The history of Norse polytheism suggests that our ancestors didn’t consider the Norse gods to be the only ones.  We know that our Northern ancestors borrowed beliefs and gods from other pantheons and affected other pantheons, in kind. For example, the Kievan Rus worshiped the Slavic gods, which bear an uncanny resemblance in many ways to the Norse pantheon.  That’s not surprising, given that the Varangians, known as the Rus, came from the Norse lands and settled in Russia and other Slavic lands.

Not the Only Gods

We know that the Icelandic peoples worshiped Jesus alongside the Norse gods, given the Icelandic Cross/Thor’s Hammer.  It’s also suspected that the Vanir are a group of gods that got assimilated into the Northern pantheon sometime in the past, thus making the Aesir and Vanir to be two groups of gods that merged to give us our current pantheon.

So, given that the Norse weren’t picky about who they worshiped, if it fit their world view, they would have a tough time with the concept that the Norse gods were the only gods out there. I suspect the attitude changed with the appearance of monotheistic religions and their insistence on their god being the “one true god.” When someone tells you that your belief is all wrong and tries to persecute you, you can bet that push back is going to be that Odin is better.

Let’s Dig Deeper

But, let’s consider the evolution of religion to begin with.  Religions, whether polytheistic or monotheistic stem from the ancient roots of animism and then shamanism.  If you go back through the evolutionary time period for religion, you’ll see that we’re looking at a type of pantheism which eventually split out into a Proto-Indo-European main religion.  This religion eventually split off and morphed into the polytheistic religions of Europe.  The similarity between our god and other gods caused the Romans to refer to Germanic gods by Roman god names. I don’t think this  was an egotistical classification by the Romans, either.  The Romans certainly weren’t fond of Celtic and Germanic tribes.  For Romans to ascribe their own gods to ours would’ve suggested that the belief was similar.

So, if our religion is derived from an older religion, and our religion is closely related to other polytheistic religions, what does that mean for being the only true religion?  Since religion is derived from the same roots, our gods are similar to the other gods within the European pantheons.  Granted, we have cultural differences. If our gods are the same gods as those in the Celtic pantheon, the Roman pantheon, and the Slavic pantheon, then how can we hold up our gods and say they are the only gods?

What if They’re Not the Same?

Even if you don’t believe that the Norse gods aren’t other gods in other belief systems, the fact remains that most northern polytheists would readily accept a god or two from another pantheon. And if tribes met peacefully, if one god was similar enough to another, I could easily see our ancestors adding those stories to the legends. A good story, after all, is a good story.

The problem I have with separating out the gods from other pantheons is the roles they take on in nature.  Thor is the thunder god.  Does that mean that we must worship the Thunderbird because we’re in America and that is the creature of thunder here?  Does that mean that in Ireland there is only Taranis and not Thor?  Of course not.  Thunder and lightning are the same everywhere on Earth.  In fact, it behaves according to the laws of physics everywhere in this Universe, so one could potentially argue that Thor is a Universal god. Gerd is an Earth fertility goddess.  So is Demeter, Gaia, and a host of other goddesses. Again, the Earth is the Earth, despite its variations. What causes the crops to grow one area is the same as another. Again, physics.

If you’re a hard polytheist–which is getting pretty difficult to do in the face of science–you may decide that I’m full of shit and there really is only one Thor, one Tyr, and one Odin. But then, again, I think most of you who read this blog are tending toward soft polytheism anyway, with occasional forays into believing that the gods can take any form they choose. If it happens that Odin takes on Zeus’s form, so what?  If Thor is Perun to the Slavs, who cares?  In the end, they are our gods, and that is really all that matters.