I’m not the only one who thinks this way

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In relation to my recent posts concerning polytheism, monotheism, and the influence of the latter on the former lurking like a black hole around the periphery of contemporary polytheism and Paganism (here and also here), this came up in my reading for a class this evening, and I decided to share.

“It may be stressed that neither the number of deities worshiped, nor the absence or presence of definite (and carefully worded) answers to the eternal and unanswerable questions of man separate decisively a polytheistic from a monotheistic religion. Rather, it seems to be the criterion of a plurality of intellectual and spiritual dimensions that sets off most of the higher polytheistic religions from the narrowness, the one-dimensional pressure of revealed religions. Instead of the symbol of the path and the gate, which may be taken to be the ‘kenning’ of monotheism, a primeval, inevitable, and unchanging design or order (dharma, rta, shimtu) organizes the multifaceted structures of polytheistic religions. They are characterized by the absence of any centrality and by a deep-seated tolerance to shifting stresses, making possible the adaptability that such religions need to achieve their millennial lifespan. It is open to serious doubt whether we will ever be able to cross the gap caused by the difference in ‘dimensions.’ … Western man seems to be both unable and, ultimately, unwilling to understand such religions except from the distorting angle of antiquarian interest and apologetic pretenses. For nearly a century he has tried to fathom these alien dimensions with the yardsticks of animistic theories, nature worship, stellar mythologies, vegetation cycles, pre-logical thought, and kindred panaceas, to conjure them by means of the abracadabra of mana, taboo, and orenda. And the results have been, at best, lifeless and bookish syntheses and smoothly written systematizations decked out in a mass of all-too-ingenious comparisons and parallels obtained by zigzagging all over the globe and through the known history of man.”

From Ancient Mesopotamia: Portrait of a Dead Civilization, by A. Leo Oppenheim (pages 182-3).

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More on the black hole

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Note: this post is an extension of, and reference to, a post I made Friday as part of the Pagan Blog Project I’m taking part in this year. You can read that post by clicking here.

There hasn’t been much conversation on my blog itself, but elsewhere, I’ve seen a bit, about what I’ve had to say. Thank you to those who took the time to read, and to comment. I was writing very early in the morning after a long week with a death in the family. This is not an excuse for ┬áplaces where I left out important parts of my argument, in any way. It is an explanation of why that happened, and why I’ll write some more here, in the form of response to very good questions that were raised.

But Agi, monotheists do rituals too.
This was the most common response to the article, both from monotheists and from Pagans and/or polytheists. It seems there is a difference, and it still seems like that comes down to whether or not said Pagans are living in the proximity of the monotheistic black hole; nobody’s broken that theory of mine (yet; I’m secretly hoping someone will). And it is true. Some monotheists are exceptionally good at rituals. Islam and Catholic Christianity are excellent examples of monotheisms with an intense ritual focus. The main difference is that those rituals come from two places. Either they are pre-monotheistic rituals that were folded into monotheism as it took hold (now there’s a subject for its own blog for the next, oh, 5000 years), or they are rituals provided for the monotheism’s use by the instructions/scripture given by the god to its people, as in the case of Islam’s five pillars.

The difference between polytheistic ritualizing and monotheistic ritualizing is that the former is done to participate in the same world with the gods: to celebrate with Them, to ask Them for help, to acknowledge Their presence at all levels of the world, seen and unseen. Polytheistic ritual is done explicitly to reinforce both the gods’ presence in creation, and to deepen a two-way relationship between the gods and humans in the created world. It does not require belief to be effective. It does not negate the existence of other gods who might not be served by a particular ritual, and while it can have personal benefit for the individuals who practice it, that is neither its main purpose nor its focus of existence.

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Confronting the Black Hole (Pagan Blog Project Week 5)

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So, last week, I started mentioning the various drama going around the Pagan and/or Polytheist communities, and offered the advice that people ought to butt out of situations, conversations, and issues that just don’t concern them.

This week, I want to do something else. I want to confront an important thing that lies behind and perhaps even permeates the entire conversation and back-and-forth on these issues.

In astronomy, a black hole is defined as a hole in space that has such gravity, such vacuum power, that not even light can escape it. When trying to locate a black hole, scientists can’t actually point to a spot in space and say “oh look, there it is!” How do you find a vacuum inside a vacuum?

You find a black hole by looking at the things (in this case, the stars and planets and space) around it. Everything around a black hole is changed by the black hole’s proximity. The black hole affects its surroundings, even though it is not part of its surroundings, and thus it reveals its presence through the repercussions, or ripples, that its force is exerting on its environment.

It’s high time that we addressed the black hole at the center of all neo-Pagan (or contemporary Pagan, if you will) movements. This black hole also applies, to lesser or greater degree, to the reconstructionist, polytheist movement, though usually a lesser degree, depending on how well those people understand the culture/religion they are reconstructing, and how much of the ancient mindset they embrace.

This black hole is called monotheism. Even without being there – it’s still there.

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