Posted by: aediculaantinoi | December 10, 2013

Sorry, I can’t approve of this…

After yesterday’s post of an open letter to atheists, here is the “next installment,” so to speak, of pieces that I’ve been putting off for a few weeks that are likely to make some people upset. So be it…

This particular post was initially inspired by a round-up post on The Wild Hunt, which had quite a conversation in the comments about what I’m going to discuss here. The round-up post featured a link to Don Frew’s article “The Rudiments of Neopagan Spiritual Practice.”

Not long after that occurred, I read a post on Wiccanate Privilege by Rúadhán McElroy, and then shortly after that, via further links on The Wild Hunt, I read Melissa Harrington’s essay on the dangers of conflating different pagan traditions together. Both of these address the problem I’m going to speak about here, without actually dealing directly with Frew’s article; nonetheless, it was timely that all of these things appeared at about the same moment.

Something that non-Wiccan modern pagans and polytheists have been fighting to have realized, tooth and nail, on a wider scale for decades now is that “while all Wiccans are pagan, not all pagans are Wiccan,” and similar viewpoints which challenge the notion that Wicca is pretty much the lingua franca and “universal” modern pagan methodology. Even if this is “true” on a practical level based simply on the size and general popularity of Wicca, nonetheless it flies in the face of the supposed respect for diversity and difference that general paganism (including Wicca) is supposed to have. There are many traditions that have developed out of or alongside the modern pagan movement which are not Wiccan in basis. Perpetuating the falsehood that Wicca is somehow a “default” or an assumed “lowest common denominator” for modern pagans is incorrect, foolish, and reckless to say the least.

[I will leave aside for the moment the common response to this objection that often gets raised by more mainstream pagans: "Well, you just need to get out there more, go to more conventions, write more, etc." That conversation has been had many times, including in the comments to Rúadhán's post linked to above. Some of us, speaking only for myself, are putting on two to four events at PantheaCon yearly, have published six books and innumerable essays, teach classes, hold public rituals in our own communities, do blogs like this, and have columns or blogs on other mainstream pagan websites as well, in addition to any number of other things. And, I know that I'm not even the most active or "out there" modern polytheistic pagan in this regard--Galina Krasskova does far more than I ever could, for example!--and yet most of the people who make the suggestion that we "get out there more" have not heard of us because they literally do not care and don't have to take notice of us at all, because they have the Wiccanate privilege that Rúadhán so eloquently spoke about. But, I digress...!]

So, it is extremely disheartening to read a direct statement, in an interfaith forum that likely is the assumed “best” source of information about modern paganism for some people in other religions, by a major pagan interfaith “leader” like Don Frew which ignores and marginalizes any non-Wiccan form of paganism, and in particular misrepresents polytheistic theology entirely, while yet claiming to speak on behalf of any and all modern pagan groups. Forget that I know of no single Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Celtic, Norse/Germanic, Canaanite, Thracian, Lithuanian, or any other culturally-based reconstructionist form of polytheism that has empowered Don Frew to speak for them and on their behalf; nonetheless, this is an extremely irresponsible move on his part, in my view.

Unfortunately, it’s not at all surprising, either. My own (though limited) personal experience with Don Frew at PantheaCon demonstrated to me the very matter that I’m talking about here, and though I’ve told this story on a few occasions with the “names withheld” because I didn’t think it would be worthwhile to name the offending parties and no good would come of it, the fact is that actual and active harm and misunderstanding is being perpetuated by someone, and that someone needs to be named and corrected actively, or else things will not ever get better for polytheists and non-Wiccan pagans in the general visibility of our religions on the greater interfaith scene, and more widely.

The “personal experience” I am speaking of here was at the 2010 PantheaCon, on Saturday, February 13th, at 9:00 AM, in a session that was attributed solely to Don Frew in the printed schedule called “Pagans in Global Interfaith Work.” It was more of a panel, and also featured T. Thorn Coyle, Rachel Watcher, and Rowan Fairgrove. The panel itself was fine, and I went and spoke with Don after it was over and introduced myself (he didn’t seem to care and hadn’t heard of me–but then again, at that point, most people didn’t). I praised him and thanked him for his interfaith work, and then said “What is your experience with intrafaith work?” He sort of knitted his brows for a moment and said “Intrafaith? That’s when religions have discussions within their own groups.” I said yes (though I found his answer to me more than a bit patronizing), and said that I think there is a need for this within modern paganism because of the diversity of the movement and the distinct religions within it. He shook his head and continued to do whatever he was doing, and I then tried to tell him about the Ekklesía Antínoou’s Communalia ritual on Monday, as that is (as far as I know) the only properly intrafaith ritual that is being observed within modern paganism and polytheism broadly speaking. As I got into my giving of details on this, it became very clear to me that Don was no longer listening to me and was actually actively ignoring me, including speaking to other people/starting conversations with others while I was still speaking. Not only was this rude (though I did say “thank you” before I left, not that he cared nor acknowledged it), but it illustrates the very root of this problem: people are not listening to each other.

While many people within modern paganism and polytheism have questioned the usefulness of interfaith work, and it isn’t something that appeals to everyone nor is possible for everyone (for any number of legitimate reasons–it’s hard enough re-building ancient religious practices and actually practicing them, which doesn’t always leave a lot of time for doing interfaith work as well!), nonetheless I do think it’s important and useful work, as I’ve indicated on here and elsewhere many times.

However, not unlike the situation with anything having to do with polytheism itself, I think it is probably a much better idea to make sure that everything in interfaith work is contextualized and specific, even to the point of repeatedly emphasizing “This is how it works for my tradition; others do differ, and often widely.” The more of this kind of specific, authentic, and contextualized interfaith work that occurs, the better the understanding of our diverse religious viewpoints there will be in the wider landscape of modern religious people of all varieties.

Likewise, the more that pagan interfaith work ends up being a rehash of Wicca (or, at best, Wicca-like practices) to the detriment of any other possibility, and the more that individuals who have no intention of representing viewpoints other than their own, and who have no interest in nor even respect for such viewpoints, go about speaking on behalf of everyone and are not called out for doing so, the worse off we’ll all be for these supposed efforts that such individuals get praised for and have made their own brand-name.

I find myself in the position of not finding it possible to praise the work, or the individuals responsible for it, when the work in question is actively marginalizing some groups (including my own) and is misinforming others. I therefore cannot approve of this type of “pagan interfaith” work unless it is done in an actual spirit of informed understanding and respect for the diversity within modern paganism (including polytheism!), rather than simply giving the thoughts of a majority for convenience’s sake and representing that majority as the only worthwhile viewpoint to take seriously in an interfaith context.


Responses

  1. “There are many traditions that have developed out of or alongside the modern pagan movement which are not Wiccan in basis.”

    This is what the Otherfaith is, imo. It developed out of modern Pagan and polytheistic movements – but I don’t call it Pagan. (Even if we define Pagan as more than the Wiccan-centric definitions that seem common, I don’t think it’s Pagan [based on the many definitions of the term I've seen that are more specific than 'not abrahamic'] and I think that’s /okay/.) But I’ve noticed people really want to include it in the Pagan label…all so they can tell me how wrong I am to be doing what I do or so they can basically erase what I’m doing anyway. Which doesn’t make sense! Then again, I suppose I shouldn’t expect any of these kinds of messes to make sense.

    • “Messes” is a good word for much of what is going on, unfortunately…

      It is especially unfortunate that they want to tell you that no, not only are you “wrong” about “not being pagan,” but also that you’re then “wrong” about a number of deities, what they are, and how to interact with them, when they don’t know squat about them.

      (I’ve certainly had people try and tell me how “wrong” I am for worshipping Antinous, because he’s “not a god,” even though he is and polytheists of the past certainly acknowledged him as such…)

      • Uuuuugh.

        I wish I had a more eloquent response to that, but. Ugh.

        It really seems like a situation that can’t be ‘won’, and attempts to resolve it seem to just spiral into fights of various kinds.

        (I’ve also encountered the ‘Antinous is not a god’ bit from people, especially when I point out that human apotheosis was A Thing that happened. It’s rarely reacted to by people saying ‘oh that’s interesting but not applicable to my practice’ but rather ‘NO YOU’RE WRONG’ which. Is so many levels of -not true- I can’t think of a good response.)

        Blah. I suppose I have found yet another topic to write more on come 2014, since I think diversity is a good thing to talk about, especially when people would rather not discuss it!

      • It is such a buzz-word, and yet a concept that gets thwarted and disrespected more often than it actually gets taken seriously.

        The difference between “That’s nice, but not right for me” and “YOU’RE WRONG!” is yet another thing that is misunderstood far too often, alas…

      • the Wiccanate privilege that Rúadhán so eloquently spoke about

        Really? See, I was told in a particular Farceborg debate that ended in an “unfriending” that whole post was rambling and hard to follow and I somehow shouldn’t be surprised by the derailment, in addition to how unsurprised I better be to why my religion is under-represented in the allegedly “diverse” pagan community.

        Guh… sorry for being bitter about that. I really do find it more comical, if only cos I’ve noticed that there seems to be a correlation between one’s level of and areas of education and how easily (or not) they can comprehend my writing. I don’t seem to go over well with people who have clearly linear thinking.

      • There were some random tangents in there that maybe weren’t essential to the central argument, but that doesn’t mean that the parts that were on the topic of the subject line weren’t well-made and poignant.

      • (I’ve certainly had people try and tell me how “wrong” I am for worshipping Antinous, because he’s “not a god,” even though he is and polytheists of the past certainly acknowledged him as such…)

        I have to admit, I was a bit apprehensive about this, as well, but then I read more about the ancient traditions involved, and especially the tradition of apotheosis, so it certainly makes sense that Antinous would be a later deity.

        I guess it goes along with how some Christians only accept Catholics and “mainline” Protestants as being “Christian”, but Mormons and Rastefarians are “wacky cults” that came out of charismatic con-men or fan-fic or something. Either way, it’s a variant on the “appeal to tradition” fallacy, which posits that if something is “traditional” (or “more traditional”, then it’s somehow correct, but if it’s newer, then it’s wrong. The ancients also used to believe that the only role a woman had in conception was as a vessel for the man’s seed, that she contributed no genetic material of her own, and now we know that she does –if new information is possible, even encouraged, in biology, then certainly new information about the Divine and Their nature and membership is plausible, as well.

      • Important points all…

  2. […] Watch P. Sufenas testify. […]

  3. It seems that Wiccans are becoming more and more like the Christians they despise. If you are not “one of us” then you are treated with contempt.

    • Hopefully, it’s less an active trend and a conscious decision on the part of those who act in this fashion than something they’re doing deliberately.

      If they are deliberately doing it, woe unto them…

      • I think it’s ignorance, honestly. I run a local pan-Pagan meetup here in Massachusetts and most of the people I’ve met had no idea that there was anything other than Wicca out there. They bumped into Buckland or Cunningham and that’s where they stayed, neither of which are as relevant today as they were 30+ years ago. When I mentioned the Nine Noble Virtues or tried to explain the nuance between Crowley’s use of Egyptian gods and the average Kemetic’s, their minds were effectively blown.

      • I think that can certainly be the best explanation in a variety of cases, including the ones in the comment section on the “Of Thespiae” blog entry I linked to earlier.

        However, Rev. Frew is someone who talks about how learned and informed he is rather frequently; he’s been to PantheaCon and some of the other larger pagan gatherings where different traditions are offering rituals, events, workshops, lectures, etc. (Whether he goes to them is another matter entirely, and I suspect he generally doesn’t; but, he can’t claim complete ignorance of their existence, at very least.)

        To be fair, it’s not an easy thing to represent any group that really amounts to an umbrella term; however, in doing so, and acknowledging the diversity within that term, while still yet generalizing so that everything looks like Wicca (and polytheist theologies are essentially ruled out entirely in doing so), falls so short of the mark that it is frankly astonishing that someone who is conscious at all could do it.

      • As a Wiccan, I see it as a variation of an old problem “that I am witchier than thou” so this variation is “I am more Pagan than thou and Wicca is the only way.” It appears to be the same combination of ignorance mixed with large parts of uncontrolled ego.

        Often religions just like individuals do not seem to learn anything from the mistakes of others, so they repeat it identically then you still have to wait to see if they will learn anything from their mistakes.

        The other aspect found in different religions, denominations and traditions is the idea that being some who special, or because of our more religion, or our more perfect denomination, or more perfect tradition, that our people can not possibly do the bad things that other people do. That of course is the very point they start doing exactly the excrement.

        I make a point of reminding myself that I am not special, and not my religion, nor my tradition, can protect me from playing the fool on occasion, or falling flat on my face. Saying this does not lift me to anything like perfection, but it might keep me from doing far worse than I do.

  4. […] recall from yesterday and the day before, the first one was about atheists, and the second about Wiccans speaking for all modern pagans. This one is about […]

  5. […] The second is about Wiccans speaking for all modern pagans: […]

  6. My comment will be brief. I have seen and worked with Don in interfaith work for many years. He has consistently explained in meetings I have attended where he speaks that we are a diverse community and Wiccans, let alone Gardnerian Wiccans, are only a part of it. He has also done what he can to encourage others to get involved – as have I – with occasional success. For example, I know Heathens that come to interfaith gatherings. Further Don works actively with other broadly defined Pagan traditions, from Shinto to indigenous traditions particularly in South and Central America. Given that, I think it very petty to gripe that interfaith does not ‘include’ your particular tradition when you have made no effort at all to get involved. If you had you would see that you have little grounds for this complaint. All interfaith work is volunteer so far as I know, save perhaps for a few top level posts in things like the World Parliament of Religions. None of the paid posts, if any, are Pagan held to my knowledge.

    • I have not had the opportunity (read: time and money) to get involved in some of the larger interfaith efforts that Don has been involved with. I have, however, been involved on smaller, local levels at various points in the past–thus, saying that I have made “no effort” is entirely incorrect, and pretty disrespectful. No, I’m not internationally known for these things lke Don is, but I have made some effort where I have been able to.

      I’m specifically responding to the article he wrote that is linked to above, where he is claiming to speak for a wide variety of pagan traditions, and then doesn’t mention anything that applies to any of them when it comes to explaining the “rudiments” of modern pagan practices.

      I don’t care that he (nor anyone else–and I do mean almost everyone with that, with the possible exception of Jason Pitzl-Waters) doesn’t mention the Ekklesia Antinoou amongst pagan traditions; I do care that in his theological explanations in that article, he mentions some things that specifically exclude polytheists entirely, and as I’m not the only kind of polytheist there is, and our group isn’t the only such group in existence that is connected to the umbrella term “pagan,” I think this is a very serious issue.

    • Given that, I think it very petty to gripe that interfaith does not ‘include’ your particular tradition when you have made no effort at all to get involved.

      Considering that PSVL is one of many polytheists I know of who has made many efforts to get involved in interfaith work and the inter-/intrafaith of the Pagan community, and yet is still airing such grievances, I can’t help but feel like you’ve fallen into the fallacy of victim blaming (an extension of Questionable Cause or Confusing Cause & Effect) –a trait which typically comes from those in a relatively privileged position within their communities. You’re basically assuming that because three is an apparent lack of polytheist voice, then it’s because those who are angered by this lack are not speaking out –which simply is not true.

      • I was wrong about whether he had been involved in interfaith and I think Don’s post and Lupus’ nice response cleared all that up. Now you go on again repeating that you and those like you are the only ‘polytheists’ and completely ignore Don’s comments as well as my own. I will ignore you from here on till you actually make an argument amenable to rational discussion..

      • The fact that you can accuse others of “smugness” and “rudeness” and then make a reply to me like you just did (which I can plainly see is far from an isolated incident) is just laughable. You clearly have no true intent on discourse or any sort, you just want to take patronising tones and puff your own chest.

      • We have reached plummeting returns. Never have I equated “most” with “all.” Regarding polytheism, I have cited sources and also contemporary practices in many cultures, and Done exceeded me in that respect. You are the one that has said polytheists cannot be monists, I have never ever said that polytheists have to be monists. So I am taking my leave of a discussion where vigorous defense of positions I am attacked for having is called rudeness while no attempt is ever made to actually deal with my arguments in my favor or critical of your claims. Surreal actually.

        I believe Pagans are wise to respect others’ views as much as possible. I see that there are those who disagree. I will no longer waste my time.

      • You are the one that has said polytheists cannot be monists..

        [citation needed] I call straw man.

        Now, I’ve said that monism is at odds with my own path, that monotheism is at odds with a queer approach to sprituality, and that monism is an extension of binary, “black-and-white”, thinking —but you’d need to actually have read my blog archings for the last few years to have seen all that. Have i ever said “polytheists cannot be monists”? I doubt it. I’ve said that I don’t understand the appeal of monist thought juxtaposed with polytheist theogony, but I don’t understand heterosexuality, either, and clearly that happens with alarming frequency. If you’re going to address me and attempt to call out things you think I’ve said, please make sure I’ve actually said them.

        …I have never ever said that polytheists have to be monists.

        Er… Except by stating that pluralist, “hard polytheism”, is “new”, “post-modern” and an implied oddity amongst ancient polytheist (if, indeed, I were being charitable and assuming you implied it existed at all in ancient thought), you kinda do suggest (and suggest and imply all over the place) that pluralism amongst polytheists lacks substantial historical validity –a fact that is demonstrably false. I’m not even getting into the theory that the monist position of the ancient Mediterranean was one created for and endorsed by the wealthy elite, “the 1%” if you will, rendering it the real minority position in numbers, if not in institutionalised power.

        You don’t even acknowledge my citation of ancient pluralists and other non-monist schools. You barely gave a nod when PSVL did so in vaguer terms than I did. It’s like you can’t even be bothered with real information that challenges the things you say (possibly because you find it a threat to your own position). And some people still wonder why I dare to call yours a position given privilege in the pagan community. You’re a pompous and arrogant little man unjustly afforded a privileged position in the community because, clearly, people mistake your penchant for talking over and down to others for actual intelligence and scholarship.

      • Guess what… I am entirely uninterested in arguing who is right or wrong in their theology. I have ONLY focused on you folks when you attempt to appropriate “polytheist” for views like your own, and deny the term to others.

        I am also entirely uninterested in political criticisms of monism and what you say about monotheism is 100% irrelevant to this discussion. I could suggest you read my stuff on monotheism. It is about as pluralist as anyone could ask. Since I have not and do not plan to read your stuff based on what we have discussed so far, and you haven’t read mine, probably it is best for me to take leave of this site entirely.

      • So, basically, you can’t even tell me where you’ve seen me say “polytheists cannot be monists”, so you’re taking your blocks and going home? I’m asking because I’m genuinely curious.

      • Now, now–vigorous conversation, debate, and even argument is one thing; but name-calling is another entirely. Please keep critiques to the stated arguments, and not to “getting personal.”

      • If he were actually addressing anything that I’ve brought up, I’d be right up there with you, but as it is, he sure as hell seems far more interested in giving the impression of sitting there in his tower, giving airs of being completely oblivious to the voices gathering around the base, and then accusing those voices of saying things that they aren’t. civility is all well and good, but when he’d rather ignore sources cited and information given and accuse me of saying things I never did, and then take patronising tones… I wouldn’t expect anyone else to be civil under those circumstances. Sometimes it’s completely warranted to call a spade a spade.

      • At best you never noticed that I had to put my response to your challenge in a separate thread since there was no reply link below your last post. But given what you’ve written, don’t bother replying. Any honest reader has seen enough…

      • *yawn!*

  7. I addressed the narrowly interfaith part of your complaint. I just went back and reread Don’s article. It seems to me you are very very free with criticisms and attacks and absolutely lacking in any reasoned arguments or examples at all. Perhaps you could give some so we would know what you mean?

    • What about this?:

      Neopagan meditation is a form of communion with the Gods. Through contemplation of a God’s or Goddess’s image, attributes, epithets, myths, and previous interactions with us we can bring ourselves into closer alignment with the deity as a manifestation of the One reality underlying all things.

      Polytheists do not acknowledge a “One reality underlying all things,” nor do we see our gods as individual “manifestations” or “emanations” or “forms” of that “underlying One.” It is offensive when monists and non-polytheists characterize our worship of individual deities in that fashion.

      Or, how about this?:

      It should come as no surprise that in such an oppositional culture, Christian words like “prayer” and the attendant practices would be avoided. Most Neopagans wouldn’t describe their rituals as “prayer” unless pressed to describe what we do in Christian terms.

      Devotional polytheists pray all the time, and have no problem with that terminology whatsoever, which is a blatant mischaracterization of our traditions.

      As most of my regular readers are polytheists, all they would have to do is read Frew’s article, and then my thoughts on it, and they’d understand what objections I have as a polytheist.

  8. I’ll start with the easy second one. You seem to equate “most” with “all.” The rest of us distinguish between these words. Also, as Don said, the words have meanings in the context of culture and the words are “avoided.” So on that ground, you have no case. There can be a lot of devotion and ‘prayer’ in the context of a Wiccan circle, for example.

    On the first and more complex issue, historically and currently MOST polytheists- those who call themselves and are called such by others – are panentheists or monists. This truth extends back to the earliest times of written records discussing the Gods and spirit. Having such views in no wise means we do not make powerful and life long commitments to individual deities.

    This is also true in very reasonable understandings of many African traditions, many Asian traditions, and many Native American traditions- including ones that regularly practice incorporating the Gods/Orixas/Loa during their rituals.

    As a self-conscious term “radical polytheism” is a very modern notion, even post modern. To say that those of us who believe as Don wrote are not polytheists is a level of religious smugness you need to think about.

    You can make an argument for radical polytheism and once having done so Don would likely say that MOST polytheists are as he described, and long have been. But that is different from attacking Don’s position as not understanding polytheism or even being polytheistic when it is your responsibility to make the case for your historically new and numerically minor position as being more accurate than the others.

    • I take your point on “most” vs. “all”–as one of the “not-most,” however, I think it is extremely important to realize that “prayer” is not a concept that Christians have a monopoly on, and which existed in traditional polytheist cultures long before Christianity existed. Phrasing his comments in that fashion makes it sound as if a concession is being made to Christianity as somehow having hegemony on that term and spiritual technology, which isn’t the case. {I’ve heard some modern pagans do this in relation to the term “theology” as well, which is itself a term invented by pagan philosophers [as you know], but the pagan arguments have been that we neither have nor need theology because it’s a Christian concept that isn’t appropriate to nor applicable to us.)

      Whatever about my own “religious smugness”: if that is your judgement of me, then that’s your own business.

      But, what about your own obvious Wiccan privilege, and of arguing that because certain ideas are a “majority” (which agrees with/includes your own views) and therefore can be assumed as “normative,” that those of us who are in the minority have to justify ourselves for consideration or inclusion?

      I’ve written a great deal, on this blog as well as in print in various places, about understandings of syncretism that are far more nuanced than those which people who are ultimately more monistic have used to evaluate historical examples. (I would be willing to concede that it may be more of a matter of our own interpretations of the material in both monist and hard polytheist cases; I will never concede that the position you’re describing is the only possible or correct interpretation of those ancient sources, or of other traditions.) No, I don’t deny that there are monistic, pantheistic, or panentheistic elements, movements, individuals, and examples in historical ancient polytheistic religions (and I don’t deny they exist in Hinduism and in other religions which still operate [mostly] uninterrupted by monotheizing influences–but, I am pretty careful not to assume that those other traditions are “pagan” or should be included under the umbrella in the same way as ancient European and Mediterranean polytheistic and indigenous religions were); but, to assume that even “most” of them were (which isn’t supported by the evidence, I don’t think), and therefore that this is a majority view that needs not take account of what you and others consider a “new” view on polytheism that emphasizes the distinctiveness of each deity, is a vast misrepresentation.

      • As Heathens and your own tradition are currently doing, new movements and outlooks tend to emphasize differences from the dominant position and avoid loaded terms because of the cultural baggage they carry. This is all the more true when terms carry incompatible theological meanings not present in the originally but have accumulated over time. I myself have frequently argued against adopting the term “clergy” for Pagan priests and priestesses. In a short article Don covered this point.

        This is the first time I have been accused of benefiting from “Wiccan privilege” so maybe we are making progress. In the past my “Wiccan privilege” has cost me jobs. But more to the point, I have views which are majority views in some communities and views which are minority ones in those same communities. Neither fact constitutes an argument as to my being right or wrong. I was not arguing the majority is always right, I was arguing the minority has an obligation to the majority if it wishes to be taken seriously, as you do, to address these issues clearly and respectfully.

        The passage I wrote about monism and panentheism you object to is a matter of historical fact. It was not a statement of opinion. That does not make these views right (most Europeans once thought the earth was flat) but it does put an obligation on the part of critics accurate and fair in their depiction of the view they criticize. The same holds for your apparent disagreement with almost everyone’s interpretation for thousands of years of people like Plato and Plotinus. (See Thomas McEvilley, The Shape of Ancient Thought to see a really complete discussion of monism in the ancient world.) For one very interesting discussion of the mystical experience by a person who has practiced Native American spirituality for many decades and married into a traditional Chinese family with its own interesting traditions, see Jordan Paper’s short book on Mysticism.

        You have a case to make that you have yet to make. Until then blanket statements about who is and who is not a polytheist come across as disrespectful of others. Even arrogant. In other words, to me your complaints are quite possibly projections of your views of us onto us.

      • The fact that all of us are not the beneficiaries of Christian privilege makes your own situation of losing a job because you’re Wiccan similar to many of us who are deprived of our rights due to that lack. I’m sorry to hear you’ve experienced that, and I’d suspect your sympathies would be with any of us who have had such things occur.

        The fact, though, that as a Wiccan you have the privilege of being able to ignore what other types of pagans and polytheists are doing, saying, and writing (for starters) is what makes you have Wiccan privilege. Your suggestion that a minority has an “obligation” to the majority to do things the way the majority wants in order to be taken seriously…gosh, where do we begin with how similar that is to what whites have said to non-whites, heterosexuals have said to non-heterosexuals, cisgendered people have said to the gender-diverse, the rich have said to the poor, and Christians have said to people of other religions (amongst many other possibilities) any time the “minority” has asked to be seen as existing and as valuable and as deserving of consideration?

        To act as if you don’t have that privilege, and aren’t exhibiting it rather blatantly in the course of the present conversation, is frankly a disappointment, since I have spoken with you, had very good conversations with you, regard you quite highly, and thought of you as someone who was at least friendly to and aware of some of these social disparities in the wider historical context–particularly since you’ve just written a book that I’m guessing at least touches on the subject (which I’m sure is good!–I remember when you talked about writing it back in ’09).

        I’ve written six books, and more than twenty essays (both published and forthcoming), not to mention this blog, which talks about polytheism as we understand it–literally, “many gods,” with no necessity or assumption of monism, pantheism, etc. I could recommend several of them to you in return for your recommendations of the books you’ve suggested, which I am aware of, but based on much of what and how you’ve responded here, I don’t know if you’ll take those recommendations seriously–which is fine.

        Again, no matter how much certain individual philosophers’ works have been interpreted in a manner that features monism, it is often possible to view them differently, and furthermore is pretty rare that the philosophers of a given tradition speak for the majority of people involved in it. The likelihood that many examples of syncretism and interpretatio Romana on altar inscriptions is not equation but instead translation, and that the implied “is” in such statements is a metaphorical “is” rather than a substantial “is,” is something that many people have not considered; that has been the thrust of one part of my own discussions of this matter. If you want more details, look up my “Super-Syncretism: Creating Connections and Preserving Diversity” post (which is a summary of what I presented in a session at PantheaCon in 2012) via the search function above. If you’re not aware of Edward Butler’s works, I’d highly recommend several of them as well–he is a modern Platonist, and has written an excellent essay (which is also in his book) called “Polycentric Polytheism,” which you can find at the link in my blogroll on the sidebar called “Henadology.”

        That I have made this case, and have done so for several years now, without your knowledge of it is, again, an illustration of how ignorant of polytheist discussions Wiccans (and other non-polytheist pagans) can afford to be because of privilege. No, I understand that most people don’t have time to read and study EVERYTHING, but I’ve been quoted more on the “Pagan Voices” column at The Wild Hunt over the last year than almost anyone else, often on polytheist-specific subjects, so it isn’t as if I’m entirely unknown and you’ve had no opportunity to look into what I’ve written, nor what some of my colleagues have written.

        I would like for you to come away from this discussion feeling that you’ve learned something and that it has been useful, and I’m not sure if that is possible from your perspective at this point–if you have the time and inclination, I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on that; but, no matter what, I do thank you for at least speaking up and saying a few things, and making some useful clarifications.

    • “On the first and more complex issue, historically and currently MOST polytheists- those who call themselves and are called such by others – are panentheists or monists. This truth extends back to the earliest times of written records discussing the Gods and spirit. Having such views in no wise means we do not make powerful and life long commitments to individual deities.”

      Do you actually have proof of this? Scholarly works, academic articles, primary sources? Cause I’m calling BS. Good job perpetuating the idea that monism/panentheism is ‘truth’, also.

      You don’t have to be rude in your discussion of this. The post PSVL wrote wasn’t rude, but your response has been, consistently.

      • Read the McEvilley book I referenced above. That’s a start. It covers the ancient world from Europe into India and essentially denies that back then there was an “east-west” split as we think today. Fascinating.

        Rudeness? I was criticizing the way Don Frew’s views were described as inaccurate and the blanket claim that most of us claiming to be polytheists are not really polytheists- without reasons being given. Along with our supposed arrogance. So I guess rudeness is in the eye of the beholder.

        Since you are getting personal I am signing off. You can have the final word- but I suggest reading a bit more on these subjects.

    • On the first and more complex issue, historically and currently MOST polytheists- those who call themselves and are called such by others – are panentheists or monists. This truth extends back to the earliest times of written records discussing the Gods and spirit.

      Except that it doesn’t. Atomists weren’t “monists” in any real sense, but instead pre-Socratic atomism sought to basically correct the flaws in the leading monistic school while bridging a gap between it and Heraclitus. Furthermore, enough survives from three major pre-Socratic Pluralist schools to render your statement false, as clearly this monistic “truth” you speak of was, by no means, a universal one. Even if we step away from the philosophers, there’s precious little to support monism, much less panentheism, which is a system more in line with what the beliefs were of the ancients who were characterised by other ancients as “atheists”.

      As a self-conscious term “radical polytheism” is a very modern notion, even post modern.

      So then… Empedocles and the other Pluralists were the fathers of post-modernism? I’d beg to differ. While I simply cannot speak to areas of ancient religions where I have no knowledge, I certainly know enough of the ancient Mediterranean to state that your characterisartions are absolutely false.

  9. I appreciate the opportunity to respond to some the statements made above.

    First, if I gave offense at that PantheaCon program, I sincerely apologize. As I remember that panel – which I thought went very well – I was mobbed afterward with people asking questions and making comments. I was very aware of the PantheaCon folks trying to get us all out of the room to prep for the next program. I was trying to move us all along to continue the discussion out in the hall. If I was short with you, I am very sorry. Such was not my intent.

    My response to your question about “intrafaith” goes to the issues of language that seem to have plagued this discussion. In the wider interfaith world, “intrafaith” specifically refers to efforts to find common belief and practice. In many ways it is synonymous with ecumenicism. Intrafaith discussions are on topics like finding theological agreement on language for the Lord’s Prayer. As such, I don’t really think it applies to “Earth Religions (using that as the most inclusive term I can think of for this particular context). We tend to use “intrafaith” more to refer to networking and education between various neo-Earth Religion groups. So, when an “Earth Religionist” asks me about “intrafaith” I always do a double-take and try to think about what the person means in the immediate discussion. THAT is what you were seeing, not a lack of interest on my part. I wish we had had more time to follow up on this.

    Interfaith work means preparing to discuss one’s spirituality in everything form long discussions to short sound-bites. The assignment for the article in The Interfaith Observer was “1200 words addressing interfaith prayer from the indigenous perspective.” In my cover letter to the editor I stressed my usual concerns: 1200 words is enough when one is writing from the perspective of one, well-known denomination, but NOT when you have to explain a whole multitude of “denominations” that are virtually unknown to most of the readers. Interfaith prayer is not common in many of our paths, since many of us don’t do interfaith work. Prayer is not universal in our paths. There is not ONE “indigenous perspective”. etc. The result was to either have no article at all or to do the best I could to address the topic as I understand it. I chose the latter.

    As anyone who has attended any of my workshops on doing interfaith work knows, I always tell people to stress that there many kinds of Neopagans. (Sorry, but “Pagans” and “Neopagans” are the words they know. I have been working of getting them to understand “Heathens” for several years now. It took years to get them to understand that Druids weren’t male Witches.) Fortunately, ever since the 1993 Parliament of the World’s Religions and the advent of “Interfaith 2.0″ the focus has moved away from official representatives speaking as diplomats for their religious groups to individual practitioners speaking for themselves and their own experiences. The readers of The Interfaith Observer come from that context. Readers will assume that I am speaking for my own experience and not giving the official theological view of any group.

    And speaking of my own experience… I ran my article by two different Heathens before submitting it. Neither had any complaints. I have discussed the ideas in my article at great length with Shinto priests from Japan & the US, Hindu priests from India & the US, African shamans from several sub-Saharan countries, a Maori Elder Council spokesperson from New Zealand, a Taoist priest in the US, an Aymara shaman from Bolivia, a Maya priest from Guatemala, tribal elders from across Latin & North America, revered teachers of Chinese folk religion from Taiwan & Hong Kong, Afro-diasporic spiritual leaders from Brazil & Nigeria, and many more. Every single one of these teachers believed that the Gods & Goddess (by whatever names were used in their traditions) were our most direct link to the spiritual unity that underlies everything. Based on this and my own study of ancient Paganisms as a Religious Studies major at UC Berkeley, it is clear to me that polytheistic panentheistic monism is far and away the most common (nearly universal) understanding of the cosmos found in “Pagan” (in the broadest sense) religions. I have no problem speaking from this position, while always acknowledging that there are always groups with other views.

    I like to say that as religions seeing the Divine manifest in and as the material world, we have to expect that the Divine is both as unified and at the same time at least as diverse as is the natural world. There is one Earth, but innumerable climates and geographies, flora and fauna. It should be no surprise that our spiritualities reflect this.

    Yes, it appears that Wicca dominates the interfaith scene. But please understand a few things…

    1) You wince at the word “Pagan”, but as a Gardnerian, I wince every time “Wicca” is used synonymously with modern Witchcraft, but I accept that this has become the common usage and don’t waste precious time trying to explain the differences between Trads unless I have the time to spend. You have to pick your opportunities for education as much as you pick your battles.

    2) Witches have been actively involved in interfaith work – by which I mean working in meetings at least weekly – for over 28 years. Of course the interfaith community is going to equate “Pagan” with “Wiccan”, no matter how much we try to explain that they are using both words incorrectly. The ONLY way that is going to change is for more people of different Trads (or whatever) to get involved. I have been trying for years. I host an annual gathering of People of the Earth through the interfaith Center at the Presidio, but only the “palaeo-Pagan” groups stay connect with the interfaith community (the Taoists, the Hindus, the African and American indigenous people, etc.). On our side, there are more and more Witches getting involved. We would LOVE to have a wider diversity present, but we can’t force you to show up.

    3) When Jason posted the link to my article in the Wild Hunt, there were 50 mostly-angry responses in the comments section. There are still NO comments in the comments section in The Interfaith Observer. If you disagree, speak up! I request that you do so in the spirit of education and increased understanding and not make us look like a bunch of back-biters, but by all means, express your point of view as a different take on what it means to be Pagan / Heathen. I don’t understand why people care enough about what I said to complain about my articles to audiences that will already agree with the complaints, but take no time to educate the people who are – supposedly – being so misinformed.

    Witches have made the advancements we have had by sticking our necks out to educate a public that believed we were all baby-murdering Devil-worshipers. We are now experiencing the reward of all that effort and have made things much easier for the next group that wants to emerge. If any other traditions want to do the same thing and are seriously interested in engaging in interfaith work (and make no mistake, it IS work), we are eager to help. The more of us speaking up, the more influence each of us will have.

    When the United Religions Initiative held its first Global Assembly in Rio de Janeiro in 2002, at one point I suddenly found myself on a stage with a camera and microphone in my face. “Why is interfaith important?”, the guy with the mic asked. I said: “We all want to see change in the world – an end to violence, increased care and respect for the planet, equality between men and women, an end to hunger and poverty. Well, the only true change comes about through changing people’s minds. Nothing has more influence over people’s minds than religion. Religions coming together to work cooperatively for the betterment of humanity and the Earth has the potential to be the most powerful force for positive change in the history of the world. As a person with a deep spiritual connection with the Earth – with a responsibility to help my family, my friends, my community – how can I not be involved?”

    How can WE not be involved? Mikhail Gorbachev said that “For all that divides us, we have but one planet.” This should speak even more profoundly to US. I invite you to do some serious investigation and reading on what is already going on in the world of national and global interfaith work. Check out The Interfaith Observer, the United Religions Initiative, and the Parliament of the World’s Religions, and if this work inspires you – as it does so many of us – get involved locally. Find your local interfaith group. We can help make connections. If there isn’t a group, start one. The URI makes it very easy to create a Cooperation Circle.

    Thanks & Blessed Be,
    Don Frew

    • Thank you so much, Rev. Frew, for responding–I truly appreciate all you’ve written here!

      I have some further (constructive and positive!) thoughts on a few matters you raised, but not enough time at present, so I will resume discussion later…but I wanted to “approve” your comment as soon as possible and get it out there for others to see.

      • Thank you! And please drop the “Rev.” I always tell interfaith organizations that IF they are using such titles on, for example, name badges, then I should be “Elder”, but only if. Otherwise, I prefer “Don”.

      • Then, of course, it took years for my Latin American indigenous friends to understand that “Don” was not a title. Now, they often call me “Don Don” and giggle.

      • ;)

        At my undergrad college, Sarah Lawrence, we called our academic advisors (with whom we had very close relationships) “dons,” as they do at Oxford.

        Imagine if you taught there, and had one of the Latin American indigenous friends you mention as a student: then they’d call you “Don Don Don”!

        (I’m reminded of one of my ex-boyfriends: he was a former Mormon, a post-modernist, and gay, so he called himself a “fomo Momo pomo homo.” Okay, this is getting silly now, and Graham Chapman in a colonel’s outfit is beginning to object.)

    • Again, thank you Don, for your clarifications, and your apology, and for your sensitive and respectful engagement on these matters. We (as polytheists, and as any number of other varieties of marginalized individual) don’t always get the benefit of the latter in some situations like the present one, so it is all the more appreciated due to its lamentable general absence.

      It may, indeed, be a larger project to consider: what, exactly, does “Pagan Intrafaith” mean? While I have written a few things on this topic here and elsewhere, and some other Patheos bloggers have as well, it would be very useful to make sure we’re all thinking compatible thoughts about it if we are to pursue it further.

      In my own understanding, I’ve often thought of it as parallel to the “interpersonal” and “intrapersonal” dimensions of the multiple intelligences model, with “interfaith” of course being relations with other religions, and “intrafaith” being how we relate to and self-understand the different forces and components within our own religious framework.

      Of course, there has been a lot of talk in recent years about how “Paganism” as an umbrella term is a leaky one at best, and thus I’ve attempted to approach these questions as a general situation of “We’re under this umbrella, it’s leaky, not quite as large as we had hoped, it’s raining hard, and many of us are cold, wet, and naked (and not in a good way)…so, it would be sort of rude not to talk with each other seeing as this umbrella is the best chance we have for surviving this storm.” Or, to put it as I think Plutarch did, this is the origin of the term synkretismos/syncretism, i.e. “as the Cretans do,” in banding together for common cause. Many of us cold, wet, and naked folks are also a bit cranky and edgy when people keep talking about the umbrella in ways that then leave us colder and more wet and exposed; and some others who want to make a go of things and dash to their own destinations with their own self-knitted ponchos resent still being “followed” by the cold, wet, and naked masses under the leaky umbrella.

      That might be a thought for PantheaCon 2015: a session on “What Might Pagan Intrafaith Be?” We had such a session in ’13 with Patheos.com’s Pagan Channel, which I thought went pretty well; but, it wasn’t too well-attended, and was in (I think) the boardroom or one of the smaller rooms on the second floor…if it were a more major event with some better-known names in one of the larger rooms, more people might be aware of the difficulties involved in negotiating such definitions, and the need for intrafaith interactions.

      I suspect different groups will never get to consensus on theological issues–even within most groups (no matter what type), I suspect it’s harder for modern Pagans, polytheists, and others under this umbrella than it would be for people of many other religious umbrellas. I do think, though, that we can at least try to get to know each other, understand each other, and respect each other. I’ve heard many individuals voice approbation for such intentions, but I’m not seeing as much action behind it as would have to occur in order for it to come about.

      I’m trying, in my own small and particular way, to make this happen with the Communalia ritual (which we’ve had at PantheaCon several times), and I am honored and humbled by the groups and individuals which have undertaken that with us. That may not be *the* answer to this larger question, but it is an effort that we and some of our allies have made with us, and so it’s a start.

      Thank you very much, incidentally, for the further contextualizing information you provided on that particular article. Every article has a back-story like that, ultimately (some more dramatic than others, alas!), and since we are often not privy to it, it’s difficult to determine what may be going on in a given circumstance. I likewise apologize for any mischaracterizations of your intent or knowledge that I committed in the main post here, and again thank you for this opportunity to speak further.

      A question on the Shinto priest(s) from the U.S. with whom you spoke: is one of them Koichi Barrish of the Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America? If not, no worries…I shall be seeing him this weekend at the end-of-year purification ceremony. I’ve had extremely good interactions with America Tsubaki Okami Yashiro for the last six years (I first went there on December 21st, 2007), and hope to continue them in various ways into the foreseeable future.

      A question on the various individuals from the many diverse religions you spoke with regarding your article and the ideas in it: it is extremely admirable that you were able to get such a diversity of opinions on the piece and the ideas within it. It would be even better if some further voices under the Pagan umbrella might be included in the future–and while I know that means more work for you (and you already do a huge amount!), more waiting for responses from further individuals, and so forth, having conversations like the present very pleasant one with some of the “others” amongst the “us” of the Pagan umbrella would be a good first step, and a further resource so that we all do understand each other better.

      It would do worlds of good, I think, for many of the more venerable voices of the modern Pagan movement (including yours!) to let us know that there is an olive branch extended to us, I think–even though it may seem that it should be implied or assumed, there is power in saying the words. (It’s one of the things I teach regarding polytheism, and that I mention in the public rituals I conduct: our gods are not omniscient like the monotheistic god, so they don’t know what our prayers are, and thus we must pray aloud, or with our bodies, or with our written words, in order for them to know what it is that we hold within us as our wishes and intentions and matters of concern.)

      Your three points on Wiccan dominance are well-taken, so thank you for contextualizing that situation better.

      Regarding your suggestion on point #2: it’s unfortunately an issue of availability and feasibility–i.e. time and money–that many of us who would LOVE to participate in certain events can’t. With some much-appreciated help, I’m usually able to attend PantheaCon each year (since 2007, anyway), but at present, I have to take unpaid leave from work to do so, and this last year, because I did that, I ended up in a situation in which I was the target of anti-Pagan harassment from one of my (former) supervisors, which she then disputed as never having occurred at all, and by the rules of harassment mediation and such at my institution, there were no repercussions for her at all. I am glad that nothing more serious resulted for me (e.g. loss of job or housing), and I know many others have not been as fortunate, but fighting the battles on the ground where each of us are is often the best we can do. But, it’s not all bad news on that front–as of last week, we were granted recognition by the student activities committee to have a Pagan Student Union (which is also open to staff, faculty, and the general public where we live), though we didn’t get this without some major dissent and “no” votes from certain conservative creedal monotheists on the committee, alas. Nonetheless, we hope to have some good events in the next two quarters, and if they allow us a budget, we hope to bring in a speaker or two.

      So, definitely, this is something I would like to be involved with in a wider fashion. (I had hoped to attend the World Parliament of Religion when it was in Barcelona in ’04, as I was in Ireland doing my Ph.D. at the time and could have made it down there easier than I would be able to at present–but, under the direction of my then-superior in modern Antinoan spirituality, I was told that we weren’t as big, important, or organized enough to merit attending, and it would be useless to do so other than as an “ass-kissing” gesture…which I disagreed with then, but do so even more now.) It is my hope that, perhaps within the next ten years, some of us in the Ekklesia Antinoou might be able to attend, to stand with the other Pagans more publicly under our leaky but still-viable umbrella, and to offer the Communalia ritual with people from other religions there as well–we’ve tried before, but have not even had e-mails returned when we’ve inquired (even from some UU groups!). We shall continue to endeavor…

      Again, thank you for responding at such length and with such grace. I look forward to speaking with you further in the future–perhaps even at PantheaCon 2014!

      Caritas multa et benedicti omnium deorum tibi!
      P. Suf. Viri. Lup.

  10. I think there is a real problem with the term intrafaith here. Since we are talking about different religions here, let’s just use interfaith. If I’m engaging in a religious dialog with a Wiccan or a Kemetic (just examples) it is interfaith, as these traditions are completely distinct from anything I practice. As in Don’s examples I don’t think we are necessarily looking to find theological agreements, but some sort of understanding of each other.

    • I think it is a matter of perspective, largely…

      If we take “Pagan” as an umbrella term, and see more that unites us (including our shared experiences of exclusion/discrimination, etc.), then it may be right to speak of “interfaith.”

      If we take all of our various traditions, movements, ideas, groups, etc. as related but dissimilar, then the Pagan umbrella is really an interfaith one…and, as a result, then interfaith amongst different groups under that umbrella is necessary and desirable.

      At this point, I’m honestly not sure which designation is better or more accurate; but in either case, the necessity becomes dialogue, respect, awareness, and further interactions…and, I hope this might be one contribution toward those ends.

    • I suppose it’s a matter of perspective: If the pagan community is a loosely-connected group of loosely-related and unrelated religions, both new and old, then it’s an interfaith community. If, though, the pagan community is composed of religions that share overlapping characteristics and, arguably, a modern history of revival in interest and practice that can be traced to the Renaissance, even if it’s accepted that any two religions under that umbrella can be as different as night and day, then “intrafaith” would be appropriate.

      Personally, I see both terms equally applicable at different times.

  11. What I enjoyed most about reading through all of this was the actually conversations that happened where more clarity and info was passed. I am a true lover of dialog that can be intense yet gets to some real good points. Thanks for leaving all of that for us to read.

    • Thank you for reading and commenting, and for your encouragement (as well as your excellent example)! :)

      I hope to be submitting something for the anthology you are editing in the month(s) to come…

      • I don’t know why I didn’t see this before. I would love to have you as a part of the anthology. Thank you for starting the hard conversations, even if many are struggling with them.

        We are all learning how to be brave despite the response. Thanks for that.

      • Excellent! Thank you! And, no worries–I know you’re busy! ;)

        I am still waiting on a few reference materials, but I should be able to have a rough draft (complete as far as I’ll be able to have it) by the deadline later this month.

  12. Well not all Wiccans are like that. But I do worry about the number of people who seem to isolate themselves in their one tradition and know nothing about eve another tradition, much less any other religion.

    This is one reason why I try to open up connection to other religions in ACTION and let them say what they are, what they believe on an individual level. No one can speak for an entire tradition, much less for an entire religion, or for all religions, Pagan or other wise.

    It is the reason I ask the people where I can find out some back ground information as often I may need to ask about something that I know nothing about, but that is important to the person that I am interviewing. It is the reason I give the interviewee the right to correct me at all stages of the interview, and even change the question, when I have missed the point. After my posting the interview online it is there interview t post where and when thy like because it is mostly their thought and words. My job is just to find the logical questions to help them tell their story, not my interpretation of it.

    Fortunately for the fact of those that are not interested, there remain some that are interested in keeping in touch with what others outside of their tradition or religion are doing, face and trying. I don’t want homogenized religion of any kind. I am a great believer that what works is what is right for the person, but that the is no one right way for everyone. But we need to work with those that are interested in continued conversation, as nothing can be done about those that prefer their isolation, in a one tradition, one religion ghetto of their own making.

    • Well said. Every tradition has those who see the world only from its perspective and the best of them, those that aren’t cults, also have those who freely interact with other points of view from positions of respect. Interfaith is a very good way obviously.

      For myself, spending many years working with a Brazilian Shaman in an African Diasporic tradition (as much work as getting a PhD from Berkeley, but different) was very important, as was when I spent considerable but less time engaged in Native American rooted practices. And visiting other traditions, such as Voudon. I did not become less Wiccan, but I better appreciated the strengths and weaknesses of my own tradition and the strengths of others, helped build networks of trust, and I think brought skills back to my own community.

      As a culture we are rediscovering Paganism after a spiritual holocaust annihilated nearly all of it from the West. Learning from living traditions, and not just NeoPagan ones either, is very useful both personally and at the level of service to our own most focused spiritual path.

      • In my own tradition there is a great on going argument as to whether the later traditions under the Wiccan umbrella are in fact Wiccan. I stay out of it because I think it is a bit too late to argue about it as the majority or people calling themselves Wiccans are probably eclectic.

        Nor is this the first time a religion has questioned about those others that do not follow what they consider the correct way. Religions splinter and spin off, there seems no way to keep that from happening, unless ones want to go to war to reinstate orthodoxy. Even such bloody conflicts do not really stop it from happening. Modern Christianity shows that much when it varies according to what part of the world it is practiced in.

        If we modern Pagan are again the new religions, we should note the errors made by other religions at our stage of development and learn from their mistakes instead of insisting on making the mistakes again on our own. Right now I am rather worried that we are doing it all over again.

        As to Wiccans of whatever type, all I want to know is does your magic work and what kind of results are you getting? You don’t need my approval, and I don’t need yours, as long as what each does works and gets results.

      • My view exactly. When I first became Wiccan I was bothered by the ‘instant traditions’ and lack of unfiormity. As I learned more about other Pagan traditions I discovered this was common, everywhere. Absent control of some tool of enforced conformity even traditions like the Abrahamic and Buddhist split and diversified. People couldn’t agree on what the texts all agreed were authoritative actually said. As I grew in wisdom I realized this was natural when individuals are making their way to Spirit. To my mind any tradition emphasizing sacred immanence should not tolerate diversity, it should celebrate it. The image I use to describe the human relation to Spirit is not of a mountain with many paths to the top but an eternally unfolding flower each petal of which is a tradition. My new book (sorry, but my hawking works in this context) explores these implications in its final chapters.

      • Nothing wrong about mentioning your new book. First I am a small businessman myself and know how hard that is and two I have not met any Pagan authors who have become rich off their books, in fact most of them make very little. Bill collectors still want cash last that I heard.

        But again I agree this has all happened before in religions past, and we can see the mistakes other religions made in the past, so we might be able to decide not to make them ourselves. Disagree, nothing wrong with that as it is natural, but no need to go to war because someone else has a different opinion, or practice than we do. This seems to me is mostly a human ego concern, somehow I doubt that the gods are all that worried over it. Meanwhile if we can keep talking to each other, all of us that can may learn something.

  13. I have no idea whether this will appear under Ruadhan’s response but is should.

    All right, I’ll re-engage.

    I read you as in essential agreement with Lupus’ arguments. He writes:
    “he [Frew] mentions some things that specifically exclude polytheists entirely,”

    Read the word “entirely” and think about what it means. And then

    “Polytheists do not acknowledge a “One reality underlying all things,” nor do we see our gods as individual “manifestations” or “emanations” or “forms” of that “underlying One.” It is offensive when monists and non-polytheists characterize our worship of individual deities in that fashion.”

    Not “most polytheists” or “some polytheists.” It is polytheists as a class.
    Since Frew and I agree that we are both polytheists and monists the only rational response is to assume Lupus was saying we are not who we have thought we were for decades, and that we insult ‘real’ polytheists somehow.

    And in that context you write

    “You’re basically assuming that because there is an apparent lack of polytheist voice, then it’s because those who are angered by this lack are not speaking out –which simply is not true.”

    I never assumed there is any “lack of polytheist voice” in Pagan circles. But if you think there is a “lack of polytheist voice” when discussing an issue where Frew’s voice is the only one mentioned and criticized, I hope you forgive me for thinking your worlds mean what they appear to mean.

    I doubt that I would have ever gotten involved in this discussion if Lupus had written that he wished monist polytheists such as Don had granted the existence of/mentioned/acknowledged radical polytheists as another approach to polytheism. It would have made a legitimate point in a non-confrontational way. As you see, Don is not averse to the issue.

    In all these discussions my only criticisms were my mistaken one that Lupus had not been active in interfaith and so why was he griping (my bad), and the to me far more important and true issue that he (and as far as I can tell, you) are wrong that there is a contradiction at any level between monism and polytheism, as is testified by the bulk of Pagan writings from the classical era, as well as the fact that I, and Don on a much wider level, have significant experience working with people in non European traditions, and they have no problem with that connection.

    I never said there were no “radical polytheists” in antiquity (how could I know)? But I have said that as far as I know the majority of philosophical and theological writing does not come down on that side. I gave very respectable sources. By the way “radical polytheists” is a term I fist encountered from people arguing as you do some years ago. And it was in the context of engaging some very “Po-Mo” scholars. I was trying to be polite.

    Lupus argued in response that many of these philosophers might be reinterpreted as not being as monist as they sound. Perhaps, and I imagine many graduate theses and later books will be written on the issue. You are bothered by my lack of interest here, let me say more accurately my complete lack of interest in debating the relative virtues of radical polytheism and polytheism compatible with monist insights. My own monism comes from experience as does my polytheism. And as several thousand years of corroboratng testimony indicate across many cultural divides, these experiences cannot be accurately put into words. It is a bit like Plato’s person returning to the cave and trying to describe the sun. You’ve experienced it or you haven’t. And to my mind experiencing it does not make one a better person than one who hasn’t. I make no claim to be more spiritually advanced as a result except in terms of my own spiritual development and understanding. So my view here is “go your own way and leave me alone.”

    What does interest me is avoiding pointless discussions that never lead anywhere as appears to be the case when you now try and tell me you never denied such as I were polytheists.

    I certainly never denied that you were. I’d appreciate reciprocal courtesy.

    • I suspect you’ve hit on what may be the crux of the problem from the viewpoint of many polytheists, Gus:

      There are polytheists who are monists and who see no problem between the two being connected.

      There are also polytheists who are not monists, and see that “polytheism” is diluted by that connection.

      Whether either viewpoint is correct or incorrect in an objective fashion is irrelevant, I think.

      But, what may be frustrating from the strictly non-monist polytheist angle is something I’ll have to use an analogy to describe, if you’ll pardon me for doing so. (And I’m trying to find an analogy that isn’t offensive to one party or the other…and it’s proving more difficult than I had anticipated!)

      So, there are people who play Dungeons & Dragons, and have been playing since (what was later referred to as) the First Edition rules came out in the 1970s. Then there was Second Edition in the late 80s/early 90s. There was even a brief, one-off, “Third Edition” that only consisted of one or two books, which proved pretty unpopular. Then, eventually, after TSR was bought out by Wizards of the Coast, they revised the entire system once again, still called it Dungeons & Dragons, but used the d20 system for the rules, which then made it compatible with many other RPG systems they had, which were often revisions of earlier stand-alone role-playing games–so that now one could play the d20 system of Call of Cthulhu, for example.

      There are some purists around–very likely myself included, if I ever had the time to play RPGs any longer!–who prefer the older system, for whatever reason (aesthetic, nostalgic, conservative, etc.), and who might even try to ignore that the d20 version of the game even exists. For them, Dungeons & Dragons always and only will refer to the system created by Gygax and co. back in the 1970s, and then revised a few times over the following decades, before the d20 system’s introduction.

      Then there are those who have never known any form of D&D other than the d20 system, and while they may look at or have seen some of he earlier non-d20 books, and have even adapted parts of them and the ones they like for use in the d20 system, they don’t see any inauthenticity in the d20 system as it stands, and see the entire expanse of D&D‘s history and development, from the 70s TSR days through to more recent years, as one big and singular system.

      Now, certainly, there’s no need for one side or the other to “hate” each other, or to say they’re deluded or wrong. In every respect, both sides are “right” to have chosen whichever view they prefer, and to use whichever rules system appeals to them and works for them better.

      But, where the difficulty lies is that when the d20 folks say that because the majority now uses d20 and the minority doesn’t, that Dungeons & Dragons is being appropriated by people who play the First or Second Edition rules.

      It makes it especially difficult when the only D&D groups or games in one’s home area are d20 and any First or Second Edition player is not allowed to take part in them unless they do d20. (And, amongst the First and Second Edition players, it is even more difficult if some of them only play World of Greyhawk, some only play Forgotten Realms, some only play Dragonlance, and some only play Dark Sun…and then there’s those poor bastards who like Spelljammer, and who can potentially go to any of those worlds, but no one wants to play with them because it’s Spelljammer and so “eew!”)

      To draw the correspondences more clearly: D&D is polytheism, and the d20 version of it is polytheism with monism. (And the analogy has nothing to say on which one was “earlier,” even though history is involved in it, and certainly nothing to say on which is “better.”) Polytheist-monists are “still playing D&D,” and that’s entirely true. Strict polytheists are also playing D&D, but are feeling resentment and such because they are often being told by d20 players that they’re new, they’re ahistorical, and that the majority of D&D has always been d20; and, even if the term “most” is used rather than “all,” it tends to indicate that because strict polytheists are in the minority, that somehow they’re wrong.

      Okay…so, maybe not a completely effective analogy, but I think it comes relatively close. We all recognize that there is a difference (and this has been the emerging picture throughout several controversies within modern Paganism and polytheism over the last six months), but how can we make it clear what we’re talking about?

      So, what is the solution? When polytheists talk about polytheism, polytheist-monists get upset because they feel they’re being excluded, and (as you–Gus–and others have stated, they feel that polytheists are appropriating the term “polytheism”).

      When monist-polytheists talk about their theology and practices, strict polytheists are alienated because monism invalidates strict polytheism.

      If we grant that each viewpoint and the reactions to it is equally true and valid…what are we to do?

      I’ve never been a fan of the “hard polytheist” vs. “soft polytheist” terminology, for all sorts of reasons, and thus I don’t use it. If I use the word “polytheism” unmodified or unconnected to any other term, then I mean it as “many gods” pretty specifically, as I explained in an earlier comment. It would seem to me that the “polytheism + monism” position–no matter how old it is, no matter how widespread it has been–is the position that requires modification by further clarifying terms in order to be understood most fully. And I think that’s where the problem seems to be coming from: when we say “polytheist,” we mean “many gods,” but where many polytheist-monists are concerned, they see “polytheist” and assume “polytheist-monist.”

      I’m almost tempted to say that just as “all Wiccans are Pagans, but not all Pagans are Wiccans,” so too does it seem that “all monists are polytheists, but not all polytheists are monists.” (By nature, monism would have to take polytheism as a possibility within itself–right?) Would you agree with that?

      As a final thought, most of us are very familiar with Plato’s allegory of the cave, and many of us have had similar experiences–Anomalous Thracian just outlined some of his in the last day on his “Thracian Exodus” blog, which I’d suggest looking at. That your experiences validate or lead to your monism+polytheism is fine; but ours have validated or lead to polytheism, full stop. I’m very fine with there being a fundamental difference in our experiences of the gods and other divine realities. But I’m not satisfied with a solution that amounts to “go your own way and leave me alone” as a result of either sort of experience.

      In any case, thanks for sticking with this and responding further–I do think is leading in useful directions.

      • I think there is little real difference between us except over questions where we have apparently had experiences that cannot be translated into the other;s theoretical categories. I am intrigued by the diversity of spiritual experiences and, given that diversity, think any theoretical structure that cannot find room for those kinds of experiences (not necessarily every interpretation) is by definition inadequate until it can make a compelling case it is not. I discuss this in jy final chapter in my new book, BTW. (Shameless plug)

        My guess is because the human mind is incapable of understanding some questions well enough to even know how to ask them. For example,”Christopagans” who report powerful spiritual experiences that in all honesty make no sense to me. That it does not make sense to me seems not to bother Spirit, so I need to be careful about getting my knickers in a knot about someone doing something ‘wrong.’ I can offer my insights if asked or if in an appropriate context, but so long as the practices do not hurt people my sense is to let them work themselves out. I’ll let Spirit take care of the Christopagans unless they try to proselytize me or others as being wrong.

        On the other hand I do not think this means that all paths are of equal value. I do not believe they are. But we should be modest in speaking for Spirit and on its behalf. In the absence of force I think over time those of greater worth will tend to grow, so obviously I am not a perennialist, quite the opposite.

        If a path speaks to people, it will grow, and as it does it will get more time. That still does not mean it is worth taking seriously as a Spiritual path, but it has become worth thinking about seriously. To me the test is: is it respectful of others with different views and is it willing to live at peace with them. John Locke’s position, actually. But unlike Locke we can welcome enormous diversity as the natural outgrowth of Spirit.

        In this respect I do not think we need to give all paths “equal time.” There is not time enough and too many are so much vehicles for ego that their spiritual element is minor. It should be treated with respect, and not belittled, but for me that’s about as far as it goes.

        Sop while I am not a ‘radical pplytheist’ or whatever term is used now, I do not plan ever to attack it or its practitioners. I hope the same will happen in reverse. Do the Gods come and do we find them worthy of veneration/worship/love/devotion. If they do, our path is good for us. If they don’t, or encourage us to feel superior to others, etc., I would argue we are wasting our time or hanging with the wrong crowd.

        We Wiccans were ignored or worse, sometimes much worse. Then Witches were interviewed on Halloween. Then we became active in interfaith, reaching out helpfully. Then pentacles were on military tombstones and some Witch TV characters are sympathetic, and now other Pagan symbols are appearing on military tombstones, like Thor’s hammer. And so it continues. Each tradition is both helped and put in the shade by those that went before. I think it is the same in every other aspect of human life where creativity exists. The world, like science, honors creativity once accepted, but makes it very hard to get accepted. Seems to me to be a rule of the game. Like tempering metal.

        So most of the time my attitude is I go my way, you go yours, we treat one another with respect, help when appropriate, but let the unfolding of events we do not really control determine just how entwined we become. And that can vary widely on a personal level. And we can come together as part of a larger community at events such as Pantheacon or Convocation.

        bb

        g.

      • Yes–and that’s good enough for me for now!

        Again, thank you for taking part in this conversation, and I hope your book is extremely successful!

        Caritas multa et benedicti omnium deorum tibi!
        P. Suf. Viri. Lup.

      • Your RPG analogy is fascinating and amusing, and probably a better fit than it at first seems. If I might offer one modification: Modern full-stop polytheists are less like the grognards who still play Original/1st Ed. D&D, and more like the Old School Renaissance folks who are designing “retro-clone” systems like Labyrinth Lord or Swords and Wizardry, which seek to re-create the feeling of playing Original/1st Ed, but present the game in a form that embraces improvements in the art since the original, and speaks to people who first picked up their dice when WotC took over.

        In any case, I think that there are many terms used casually in modern Pagan discourse that everyone assumes have well-known common definitions, but in fact do not. Many pixels have been spilled in arguments where the participants are at odds over basic definitions without ever realizing it. As you noted, “polytheism” is one of these.

      • Thanks for reading and commenting!

        You have a clear advantage over me in this, as I have not done much RPG’ing of any sort for several years. (In fact, I’m rather upset to report that the last RPG I did–in late 2007, I think, which was a GURPS Castle Falkenstein campaign that I was invited to join with a group of RPGers who had been playing together for over 20 years–ended up having the group fold and never meet again soon after…not as a result of anything I did, I don’t think–or, at least I hope not!–but anyway…!?!)

        As I teach in colleges more and more, and as my students get younger and younger, I find that I have to teach basic definitions of certain terms more and more often, as they have no familiarity with them (which says very little for the U.S. educational system, alas–but we all sort of knew that, I suspect). Even amongst very well-informed, not-young individuals within the modern Pagan communities, certain terms are often used that lack nuance, and are assumed to mean one thing when there are either a variety of possible meanings, or there are origins and histories implied by them that are much different than their current meanings–the origins deriving from ancient societies, but their current meanings deriving from Christian usages more often than not.

        I’m kind of wondering if there will have to come a point in the future when we all have to do what I was told to do during my M.A. program quite a bit of the time, and which never seems to be taught any longer in high school: defining our terms at the beginning of each “essay.” It is kind of tedious, but it might save a lot of trouble in the future for some blog posts. I don’t know…

      • But, where the difficulty lies is that when the d20 folks say that because the majority now uses d20 and the minority doesn’t, that Dungeons & Dragons is being appropriated by people who play the First or Second Edition rules.

        Pretty sparkling analogy, and as some-one who’s spent too many years on RPG.net, pretty apt.

    • Not “most polytheists” or “some polytheists.” It is polytheists as a class.
      Since Frew and I agree that we are both polytheists and monists the only rational response is to assume Lupus was saying we are not who we have thought we were for decades, and that we insult ‘real’ polytheists somehow.

      I’m under the impression that PSVL was speaking more specifically of the “polytheist community” as one separate (though often connected to) the “pagan community” –the latter may include but is not composed solely of polytheists ans also tends to be monistic to the Nth degree, the former (the polytheist community) tends to be pluralistic, at times to the point of a borderline chauvinism.

      Furthermore, even in the polytheist community, when one holds monistic views, one still often holds that the gods are still gods, and this “unifying force” doesn’t render them emanations or archetypes, or so on (think of how members of the Andersson family tend to share a connection to each-other that can often easily be cited, and can even be observed in certain segments of DNA, but each are still individuals and not an amorphous blob known as Andersson) –whereas it seems to be the implied default view in the pagan community that “all gods are One God, all goddesses are One Goddess, and each are Half of a Whole”, and it’s accepted that many (possibly most) will see the gods as emanations, etc…, which, to the polytheist community, tends to re-define what a “god” is, and re-defines it as something that does not fit the definition of “god”, as we know it, but is simply given that title for the sake of convenience. On the other hand –in the pagan community, “god” (and thus “polytheist/ism”) doesn’t always mean “a super-human entity existing independent of mortal consciousness that may or may not interact with (and decide the fate of) the mortal realm”; in the pagan community, it seems “god” can mean anything from that to “a facet of mortal consciousness”, “an archetype or literary trope”, “a facet of the self given power”, or even (and I say this because I’ve seen it) “my [current] favourite pop star”, and not to mention all manner in-between.

      That said, I’ll admit that there are certainly people who call themselves polytheists and who are monists –but I’ll also add that most likely are not polytheists in the same way that I am. Do I have a bad habit of using a verbal shorthand common in the polytheist community when I step outside that community? Sure, and clearly you feel I’ve done that, so I apologise, as it clearly caused some confusion.

      Clearly there’s a language barrier: The polytheist community (the one that has largely splintered off from the greater pagan community) has a static definition of “god” –even if there are tendencies to debate Who is and is not a god, whether or not spirits are another classification of god, or what exactly the gods do and do not do in the mortal world, there is still an understanding that the gods are gods. The pagan community, though, accepts literally dozens of, often conflicting, definitions of what a god “really” is.

      I’ll also be the first to admit that a lot of relatively prominent voices in the polytheist community conflate polytheism with pluralism –while the two concepts are certainly compatible, they’re still pretty far from the same.

      • Also, with regards to polytheists and pluralism: I’m not saying that the polytheist community necessarily subscribes to “pluralist schools” of philosophy (I’m one of very few I know of who actively uses to surviving teachings of Empedocles and others), clearly has more of a “de-facto pluralism” in their theology. If all is not necessarily One nor Void, then logically, it’s plural.

  14. […] how much conflict like this we polytheists could avoid by this simple […]

  15. […] one of my highest page-views during the day to date, with almost 1,000, and nearly half of them on this post, which was linked to on The Wild Hunt, and where there is some very useful conversation still […]

  16. This was very interesting given my work in dialogue and religious diplomacy, much of it with Pagans. I have not had a chance to meet or interact with Frew, but am familiar with his work. I note the comment above that Pagans are not listening to each other, and the same is true of Evangelicals and other traditions. Having been involved in Pagan-Christian dialogue, and having been the editor of “Beyond the Burning Times,” and working with Pagans to set up a Pagan chapter of the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy, I would love a chance to be at Pantheacon as part of an interreligious panel on diplomacy and dialogue.

    • Thanks very much for reading and commenting!

      That would be very interesting indeed–it wouldn’t be a bad idea to start discussing such matters now, even though it won’t be possible until PantheaCon of 2015 (I am already in discussion with some people about events we’ll propose for that particular iteration of the convention).

  17. […] above is exactly what lead to this entry a few days ago, which is what resulted in one of the highest numbers of page reads I’ve had […]

  18. […] How much was the same between us? Quite a lot. For example, when Don Frew wrote an interfaith document about Pagan religion, he was criticized by some who rejected the claim thatPagans recognize both a world of individuated spirits and an ultimate context. Frew replied: […]

  19. […] and Don Frew as well as Rúadhan; it was also used with all the named individuals in this very blog in December. I think this is why Don asked me to be a part of this event, and very graciously scheduled it in a […]

  20. […] Pagan Community Notes and in the comments to Don’s guest post at Pointedly Pagan and at PSVL’s blog. PSVL then explained a little about devotional polytheism and Wiccanate privilege. What followed […]

  21. […] The discussion began to boil when Don Frew posted an article claiming to give an overview of neo-pagan spiritual practice.  The piece was linked to at The Wild Hunt, and non-Wiccanate pagans such as Patheos blogger P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, feeling marginalized, reacted strongly. […]

  22. I’ve been loosely following the topic of Wiccan Privilege for a few weeks. Since I was accused of discriminating against a polytheist. From my perspective it seems terribly whiny. I am a polytheist, but I get that there would be no Pagan movement in the world without Wicca. They opened the door, be glad the door is open. Life is not egalitarian or fair. There is “privilege” in many things, being smart, being pretty or handsome, being tall, some people like green eyes, they give green eyed people a privilege of being more likable by virtue of their eye color. So what!?!?!? There are way more folks who have at least a Wiccan slant to their religious practice. So what!?!? The polytheists need to start writing books that people want to read, make their practices more accessible and more people will be drawn to them, rather than assuming the position of a victim. If you really want to serve your Gods it seems to me that if you can facilitate more people to worship the Gods the happier they and you would be.

    From what I’ve seen from some polytheists the response to an attempt at dialogue is “fuck you” or “fuck off”, it’s hard to have respect to someone who responds in that manner.

    • You’ve really come to the wrong place with these comments, Ray.

      I have been someone who goes to Wiccan (and wider Pagan) events on a regular basis to share what we have to offer; I did it at the actual Wiccanate Privilege discussion at PantheaCon last month; I’ll be going to a Wiccan discussion group this coming Saturday, March 8th, as well, after having been invited to do so by its convener.

      I’ve written books on what we do; if other people don’t like it or aren’t interested, that’s none of my business, but I actually am making an effort to get things out there to those who are interested.

      You have come here espousing words that are entirely consonant with the blindness to privilege that you have. I fully understand how with such an attitude you have likely offended many polytheists. I will not say “fuck you” or “fuck off” to you; but, if you wish to continue this conversation in this particular forum, you will be respectful of everyone, you will leave off this tone of exasperation and the considerable chip on your shoulder that you’ve brought with you, and you will also respect that I and many others have made the efforts you feel you can demand of us, and that you’re unaware of them and of our having done so is your own ignorance and, furthermore, your own responsibility, not ours for not pandering to whatever your interests happen to be.

    • No, that’s just how people respond to you.

  23. The point is someone will always have some advantage over another person. That’s just part of the human condition. We are not all equal in all respects. Sniveling about it will not help IMO.

    • Incidentally, for your other comment (which I’ve removed), you’re now banned from this conversation. Do not come here ever again, please. May your gods teach you better manners, and forgive your trespassing on the laws of hospitality and being a good guest.

  24. […] back to this post from December, I’ve discussed on certain occasions how the very idea of “intrafaith” within a […]


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