I’m going to keep this brief, because I have a life to live. But if someone tells you that diversity is “destroying polytheism” please show them this.

Dear Concerned Party,

You are being shown this blog post because you seem to think that diversity is contrary to Polytheism. You want to set up a Polytheist Community wherein only certain types of Polytheists count.

I’m just going to start by assuming that you have never taken an Anthropology 101 type course, and that your grasp of ancient human cultures is extremely limited. Forgive me. I can think of no other reason for your distress, or for your misguided notion that you can treat Polytheism like it is one community and one tradition.

I can think of no other reason why you would look at the ancient world, the Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Icelandic, German, Celtic, Slavic, Chinese, and Nigerian Polytheisms, and think that you can sit there as a single individual, and make vast, sweeping generalizations about what Polyhtheism is.

Just speaking of ancient Polytheisms, tell me, which of them do you plan to exclude? Will you exclude the Egyptians because they had a period of monotheism for a little bit? Will you exclude the African or Hindu faiths for having some variants which believe in some kind of supreme being? Or maybe you’ll exclude the Norse for not having well developed ideas of ritual purity? Maybe the Romans will get left out in the cold for having been syncretic. Or the Greeks, because they believed that their gods physically walked among them, were strongly involved in human life and motivated by human offerings (i.e., is relational)?

Tell me, because I really want to know. Which of the ancient traditions that venerated many gods will you determine are actually venerating something other than gods? Which of them will you discredit based on their history? Or their philosophers? Or their lack of monolithic adherence to a single, non-contradictory, unchanging belief system?

Or, are you slowly coming to the conclusion that maybe you don’t really have the authority to exclude ancient faiths from having been Polytheistic? Maybe you don’t get to tell people in faiths and cultures that you don’t belong to what their religion means to them, or how many deities they think they have.

All I can advise you to do is this: study. If you don’t know where to start, read Pausanias, or other mythographers. See for yourself how even inside of one ancient faith, myths and ideas and values vary widely. Read Homer and then Nonnus, and see how beliefs change over time. Look into plural traditions and compare them. Notice how they may believe in plural divinities, but that might actually be where the similarities end, in some cases. Don’t just study a religion, but study it’s evolution over time in response to ecological, social and political factors.

Polytheism is not and never was a tradition. It is a descriptor. Words. They mean things. And this word? It’s from Greek. Polu- many, Theoi- gods, isma- related stuff.

Nowhere in the modern definition or etymology of that word is implied relational, devotional, mystical, rational, exoteric, purity-obsessed, unbothered by purity, high ritual, low ritual, reconstructionist, deconstructionist, presence of ancestor worship, absence of ancestor worship, liberal, conservative — No.

The word means, straight up, that the religions to whom the adjective applied believe or believed that they worshipped many gods. Religions, not religion. Gods according to their definitions, not according to yours.

The word isn’t yours, personally, to add extra definitions to. It doesn’t belong to your community. It belongs to humanity. If you want a definition of it, look in the dictionary. If you want to define it further, please study a large number of ancient and modern traditions to whom that word applies before you go saying anything foolish.

Yours truly,

Thenea