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Witchcraft vs. Religion
NOTE: For a complete list of articles related to this chapter... Visit the Main Index FOR this section.
Why I Am A Polytheist
Article ID: 11790
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 3,108
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Author: Ben Gruagach [a WitchVox Sponsor]
Posted: May 27th. 2007
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To me polytheism doesn’t just mean that I acknowledge more than one god or goddess. It doesn’t mean that I can’t make up my mind and dedicate myself to just one deity, either. To me polytheism is at the core of my religious philosophy, summarized in the Wiccan Rede: “An’ it harm none, do what you will.”
I grew up in a very open-minded household. My parents are both professionals -- my mother a schoolteacher, and my father an engineer. They encouraged my brothers and me to explore, learn, and make our own decisions.
We were nominally Presbyterians but as I grew older we went to church less and less. My parents go to church now as a social event. It’s usually only at Christmas as my father enjoys singing the carols.
When I was approaching my teen years my parents made it clear to me and my brothers that we were free to choose a religion as we saw fit, but that we should make that decision only after exploring the options and only if we felt we really needed to. They didn’t tell us that we had to believe in anything. They didn’t say we had to believe what they had decided to believe. It was a very mature way of raising children to be independent and strong.
My older brother was the first one to actively explore religions, eventually deciding to become a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormons.) When he finished his first year at university, he took some time off school to go to Texas as a missionary and work with the Mormon community there. He came back after his missionary work, completed his school career, and is now a lawyer in Ottawa, Canada.
While my brother chose to explore Christian religious groups, I chose a different route. We lived on a farm; it was my dad’s dream -- and a diversion from his career as an engineer. Being around animals and the obvious cycle of nature encouraged me towards a personal faith that was nature-based. When I was a mere twelve years old I found a book called “Helping Yourself with White Witchcraft” by Al G. Manning in a local bookstore.
It provided a label for what I personally believed -- it was witchcraft.
I now realize I was different from many other kids because at the age of twelve I didn’t believe everything I read or heard. I eagerly read Manning’s book and realized that despite the cheesy presentation of the material it did provide a basis for exploring the spiritual and psychic elements of my reverence for nature. It affirmed in me a respect for Mother Earth and things that are unknown. It also strengthened my determination to think for myself and not merely accept other people’s statements just because they tell me something is so.
I started to train myself in practices such as meditation and divination. My first divination tool was a set of Popsicle sticks that I decorated with symbols meaningful to me, based on instructions in that first book. Later on I would purchase a copy of the Rider-Waite tarot deck, along with Eden Gray’s book “Mastering the Tarot, ” and explore more traditional divination methods.
Other books were quickly added to my library as my interest bloomed. Sybil Leek’s “The Complete Art of Witchcraft” became a core book in my special library. Sybil’s book introduced me to the more religious side of witchcraft. Later, I discovered Janet and Stewart Farrar’s work “A Witches’ Bible” which at that time was published in two volumes, one focusing on the sabbats and a second discussing philosophy and practice.
Margot Adler’s “Drawing Down the Moon” and Starhawk’s “The Spiral Dance” also became favorites. I felt empowered when I realized there were many others out there who were like me, feeling a thrill as I stood under the light of a full moon or lighting a candle to the Goddess.
Perhaps it was my parents’ encouragement to explore other faiths that planted the seed of polytheism in my heart. I realized that no one faith has exclusive ownership over spiritual truth. And if a variety of different groups could simultaneously honor the Divine, it seemed reasonable that the Divine didn’t mind if we had different names for It. When I first read Doreen Valiente’s “Charge of the Goddess” (reproduced in many witchcraft books as being “traditional”) my polytheism was confirmed:
“Listen to the words of the Great Mother, who was of old also called among men Artemis, Astarte, Diane, Melusine, Aphrodite, Cerridwen, Dana, Arianrod, Bride, and by many other names…”
It couldn’t have been any clearer to me. There was lots of room for variety.
Reading more about modern witchcraft quickly showed me that there were indeed lots of variation within the category of witchcraft. One subgroup of witches, Wiccans, was of particular interest to me. Even within Wicca there is a lot of diversity. There are Gardnerians, Alexandrians, feminist covens, covens that focus just on one specific mythology system, and a host of others. It did seem that most if not all of these subgroups within Wicca had one thing in common – a central philosophy summarized as The Wiccan Rede.
“Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill: An’ it harm none, do what you will.”
The Wiccan Rede, to me, is the living core of my polytheist philosophy. It contains an ideal, to do no harm, while also making it clear that it is up to us as individuals to decide how we want to act and behave. This is a philosophy for mature people. Someone who wants easy answers to everything with no thinking involved on their part would find this philosophy unsettling. It means that the individual is ultimately responsible for themselves and the consequences of their actions.
The Rede implies that we must all make choices for ourselves and that we do not have a right to impose these choices on others. I can choose to worship the Divine as Female and Male, Goddess and God, while others might choose to worship the Divine as the Great One without a specific gender.
I can worship the Goddess as Diana of the moon in one ritual, and Demeter of the abundant harvest in the next. Or I could be chosen by Brigid the Bright One as one of Her select priests, forsaking all other forms of the Goddess in my worship.
Or I might decide that my religion does not honor any deity except as a remote abstract concept, or not at all. It is my own path, one that only I can follow within my evolving faith.
Expressions of my faith might involve any number of external practices. I might choose to become involved politically to further compassion for all living things and regeneration of a healthy ecosystem. I might instead immerse myself in producing art, whether it is poetry, painting, music, or feasts that delight other senses. My devotion to the Goddesses and Gods could take the form of volunteer work. Perhaps study of the sciences or history, and attempting to contribute to further this knowledge, is my way of better understanding the world around me and my place in it.
There is no one way that is right for all people. We must each work to find the way that is right for us individually.
The idea that there is such a thing as “One True Way” or an exclusive understanding of religious truth is a very monotheistic way of thinking. It assumes that there can only be one deity, and if that is the case, then a particular path is valid only if all others by definition are invalid. This inherent conflict can easily become the central spoken or unspoken tenet of a belief structure, justifying terrorism and war against anyone who is deemed to be a nonbeliever, an infidel or heretic. Intolerant thinking like this insists that the goal of converting all who disbelieve or believe differently clearly justifies whatever means are used, often including destroying historical evidence of other ideas, ignoring basic human rights, or murder and even genocide.
Polytheism accepts that there is diversity. It does not try to place human restrictions on the Divine, by saying there can only be one, or only one name is correct when addressing the Divine. It allows individuals to dedicate themselves to none, one, or a host of deities, as no limited human conceptions of the Divine are exclusively “True” -- they are all facets of Divine expression. While monotheistic faiths by definition exclude all others, polytheism by definition can include all expressions of faith, including monotheistic ones.
As polytheists we must take responsibility for picking and choosing which elements of Divine expression we will personally honor. As an eclectic Wiccan, I choose to respect those faiths that honestly attempt to follow some form of what I know as the Wiccan Rede. It doesn’t matter if they are Wiccan or what they choose to call their core ethic. Those faiths that really try to do no harm and honor the rights of others to be treated with respect are worthy in my opinion.
Harming none is an impossible goal but one which is worth trying to attain. As followers of the eastern Jain faith practice it, attempting to harm none includes trying to avoid crushing insects underfoot, and wearing a veil over one’s mouth and nose to try and keep from inhaling and unwittingly killing microscopic life forms. Merely being alive and eating means directly or indirectly causing the death of other life forms.
We can strive to be conscious of the cycle of life. We can make decisions about whether to eat meat, wear leather, drive a polluting vehicle, and buy cosmetics that were tested on animals. We can choose to take antibiotics to kill an infecting organism in order for one’s body to be healthy again. Death is unavoidable. We are wise to be conscious of it, to celebrate life, but also to embrace death as part of the natural cycle of things.
We must make choices, form decisions, but beware of passing judgment on others who make different choices of their own. Once we start condemning others for the particular practices they perform, the names of deities they use, we are setting ourselves up as following the “One True Way.” This is in direct contradiction with the Wiccan Rede, the confirmation that “An’ it harm none, do what you will.” We can’t truly say we are free if we are denying others those same freedoms we cherish for ourselves. That includes allowing others to worship in the way they wish to worship, to honor the gods and goddesses using whatever names they want to use.
My polytheism includes working for the maximum amount of freedom for all people, regardless of their personal faith or philosophy, providing they also strive to honor some form of “golden rule” similar to the Wiccan Rede.
That is why I am a polytheist.
Copyright: Copyright © 2007 by Ben Gruagach, http://www.WitchGrotto.com
This article may be reproduced for non-commercial purposes, providing that this original copyright notice stays in place at all times.
Location: Yardley, Pennsylvania
Author's Profile: To learn more about Ben Gruagach - Click HERE
Bio: Ben Gruagach is an eclectic Wiccan writer currently living in Eden Prairie, Minnesota with his sweetheart, two wonderful sons, and a feline companion. Look for his new book, “The Wiccan Mystic, ” which explores mystery religions and mysticism in a Wiccan context. Ben’s website is http://www.witchgrotto.com.
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