On the Nature of the Gods

On the Nature of the Gods

Beyond Hard and Soft Polytheism

In the past several blogs, I've examined what I consider to be the problems with both hard polytheism and soft polytheism for contemporary pagan religion. To sum up my arguments, hard polytheism requires the gods to be defined and delineated with a clarity untypical of of either ancient or still-living polytheist religions, it ignores the important theological concept of microcosm and macrocosm, it ignores the fact that both ancient and living polytheist religions contain mystical theologies in which the gods are aspects of a greater One, and it ignores classical pagan philosophies in which the gods were definitely treated as archetypes. Therefore, I consider any claim that hard polytheism is a faithful representation of ancient pagan religion to be discredited.


Soft polytheism, on the other hand, disregards legitimate and important distinctions between different cultures. It reduces the gods to mere psychological figments in ways that are anti-spiritual and narcissistic. Finally, it disregards the fact that all forms of ancient paganism emphasized the real power and majesty of the gods. Therefore, I consider any claim that soft polytheism is a more appropriate form of polytheism for modern times to be equally discredited.

So, where does this leave us? In my opinion, it leaves us with the freedom to explore other options, and get beyond the fruitless hard polytheist vs soft polytheist debate. Among these options I would include:


1- that the gods are indeed part of a greater unity, and that each god provides a different route to the direct experience of that unity. The gods, in other words, can be paths to the Source, and pagan religion can be pursued as a serious mystical path rather than just a quirky alternative religion.


2- that the gods are both within and without, because each person is a microcosm of the greater macrocosm that is reality as a whole. Thus, the gods are archetypes, but not merely in the psychological sense. The gods are the primal forces of the universe, the great Mysteries out of which the universe is constructed. Because these Mysteries elude any merely intellectual understanding, our minds translate them into culturally specific forms we can more easily relate to. Thus, Odin is definitely distinct from Mercury, because they are distinct ways to approach the underlying Mystery. You can't just substitute one for the other, but nor can you claim that they are completely separate.


3- that the gods, as the primal forces and Mysteries, are beings of genuine might and power far beyond mortal comprehension. They are also keys or doors to experiencing the highest levels of mystical insight. As such, they are worthy of genuinely religious reverence, service and devotion, and as serious pagans we should honor and worship the gods.