Continuing on with the the discussion about hard and soft polytheism, I'd like to take a look at the theology of late classical paganism. This theology was derived from Neoplatonist philosophy, and was briefly declared the official religion of the Roman Empire under Julian the Apostate. If Julian's plan for a revived paganism with an organized hierarchy had taken root, this would probably be the dominant religion of the Western world.
Continuing on with my discussion of hard polytheism and soft polytheism, I note that one of the slogans you see most often from hard polytheists is this: “the gods are not archetypes!”
They're referring to the psychological archetype theories of Jung and Campbell, which tend to treat mythological archetypes as existing purely within the human psyche and having no existence in the “real world.”
This week I want to talk about a contentious issue in modern paganism- the divide between “hard polytheism” and “soft polytheism.”
Soft polytheism is any version of the idea that the gods are all just aspects of a greater transcendent unity, or that they are psychological archetypes within the unconscious rather than independent personalities with genuine power. Soft polytheism is typical of Wicca and of any version of neopaganism influenced by Jung or Campbell. The problem with soft polytheism is that it can reduce the power and mystery of the divine to a convenient internal game- when you want to be brave, you visualize Athena, only you don't actually believe in or worship her.
Patron deities are a surprising subject of controversy within modern paganism. A patron deity is a deity with whom one has a special or personal relationship, or a deity to whom one owes special devotion. The concept of patron deities could have come into Wicca by analogy with the concept of patron saints in Catholicism, but it seems to be a natural enough development. Most pagans are drawn to certain deities more than others.
The controversy stems from the fact that not everyone- particularly in the Pagan Reconstructionist communities- believes that ancient paganism ever had the concept of personal patron deities. Deities in the ancient world might patronize particular cities or crafts or types of situation, but not (or so the argument goes) individual worshipers.