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VxPoem ID: 32856


Posted: May 2nd. 2008 1:09:39 PM

Views: 1391

Polytheism and the Problem of History

by B. T. Newberg

Age Group: Adult

Earth’s Religions:
Polytheism and the Problem of History

It is in the countless names, images, and stories that the spirit of polytheism soars, and in the unnamed earth that it takes its rest.

For the polytheist who delves into history in search of truth, there is the ever-present challenge of time, change, convolution, and contrary opinions regarding any cult in different places at different times.

There is the temptation to search for the source, the original, the old way as the most authentic style of worship. But the student faithful to history recognizes no unsullied beginning to any cult or deity, only unique developments and combinations of influences gone before.

There is the temptation to seek an organizing relationship among the gods, whether in all as aspects of one, or of two, or as one above all others, or as archetypes of the psyche, or as metaphors of nature, or as real-existing mutually-independent beings.

But none of these views may be asserted without riding rough-shod over history. Every such view excludes the views of these or those polytheists from this or that place and time. All the student of history can assert in the end is that it all happened: all deities, cults, and styles of worship have had their place, varied and contrary as they may be, believed in as such in specific times and places throughout history.

And this, so far from being a defeat for polytheism, is itself an important mystery. For when we look at religions in the long perspective of history, the picture painted is not the doctrine of any one religion but of the imaginative life of the Earth.

The Earth itself spawns as many cults in as many varieties as it does species of life. Inasmuch as it recombines its material elements to create the infinite unique instances of life, it recombines its immaterial elements (via its more imaginative creatures) to create infinite unique instances of religion.

Thus we encounter the same basic mystery that all earth-based faiths recognize: the wonder of life in all its awesome variety.

If we take this perspective we can follow the earth through all its visions and speculations that it has contemplated throughout history, and even into new ones that it contemplates for the first time through us.

But should we tire of the ceaseless convolutions and intellectual tangles, we can likewise follow the earth in its material simplicity, grounding all speculations in the concrete experience of a raindrop or a blade of grass.

For although there are infinite worlds in the earth’s imagination, there is but one world in the earth’s physical body. All myths share this body in common.

If there is to be anything unifying all cults and deities, it must be this: their common grounding in the history and life of the earth. To impose any top-down, rational, unifying principle to religions is to do injustice to the earth as it reveals itself to us through the evolutions of history. Rather, we must adopt a bottom-up approach, seeking unity in the material earth and variety in the immaterial.

Polytheism is a marvel of contradictions reconciled in the one earth.

And as the index of the health of any ecosystem is measured by its variety, so too must we regard earth’s variety of religion as a measure of its health.

Author's Notes: c 2007

As a Naturalistic Pagan, I believe in evidence. There is no evidence that deities and magic are "real" in the most literal sense, but they may yet be moving and powerful. These poems are a tribute to the inspiration of Pagan ways.

For more information on naturalism, see

Author's Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
More Poems: B. T. Newberg has posted 73 additional poems- View them?
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