Defining Polytheism


Polytheism is, at its core, the belief in and worship of multiple deities. The word “polytheist” comes from the Greek poly, meaning “many,” and the Greek theos, meaning “god.” Essentially, the word “polytheist” can be understood to mean “many gods.” Polytheism can be difficult to explain to others due to the multiplicity inherent in its practice. Because of that, the first thing to be aware of about polytheists is that no two polytheists believe in the exact same gods or explore their faith in the exact same way. That is where the difficulty of explaining polytheism originates.

While it may be easy for a monotheist to explain to others that they believe in a single unifying supreme deity, that ease comes from the fact that a monotheist’s belief is singular in nature. Monotheism includes all of the Abrahamic faiths – Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. While there are other monotheistic faiths, the Abrahamic faiths are the most well-known and the most wide-spread.

Because of the prevalence of monotheistic faiths, it is not a surprise that polytheism is rarely encountered and that people living in monotheistic cultures lack the ability to truly comprehend the various types of belief systems found within polytheistic religions. The reason for that lack of comprehension stems from the inability to understand that there is no unifying practice that ties all polytheists together. A monotheist who encounters another monotheist – a Christian meeting a Muslim, for example – can exchange their understanding of the singular deity they share and acknowledge that, while the names they use are different, the faiths are remarkably similar in execution.

In contrast, a monotheist who encounters a polytheist can’t exchange spiritual knowledge of that nature, due to the contradiction inherent in the belief in one god versus the belief in many. This encounter doesn’t provide two opposing viewpoints – no, it provides two opposing worldviews. A monotheist cannot understand a polytheist because of this. And a true monotheist will never be able to properly comprehend a polytheistic worldview.

However, a polytheist IS capable of understanding the worldview of a monotheist because a polytheist’s faith, in general, consists of multiple worldviews that often contrast with one another. Switching worldviews is a way of life for most polytheists, so it is far, far easier for a polytheist to find ways to explain the complex nature of polytheism in a simple enough way for monotheists to understand.

The easiest way to explain polytheism to a monotheist is to use the polymorphism approach. Hinduism is a prime example of a polytheistic religion that utilizes this type of polytheism. Polymorphism, in and of itself, is the belief of one God with many different names and forms. In essence, it is the belief that a single divine being has multiple aspects. In modern-day polytheism, this type of polytheism is also known as soft polytheism. Polymorphism, is, however, the proper terminology.

Because polymorphism incorporates multiple aspects of a deity into one supreme being, it is the easiest way to explain polytheism to a monotheist. A common ground can be created using this approach, and further spiritual discussions can be held. Some polytheists may argue that a monotheist should work harder to try and understand the more complex forms of polytheism, but that is a failure to understand the different levels of complexity inherent in following a polytheistic faith in comparison to following a monotheistic faith.

In science, we expect our experts to condense the knowledge they have gleaned in multiple subject matters down to a point where laymen can understand it. A good scientist is capable of making even the most complicated theory one that we can all understand, and I would argue that a polytheist must be capable of simplifying the complex in order to facilitate discussion amongst peers.

We need to face the reality that we live in a world that is predominantly monotheist. Rather than railing against how unfair or how prejudiced the world is against polytheism, we need to be the ones taking control of the conversation so that we can explain, tirelessly if need be, why polytheism is as valid a spirituality as monotheism. To do that, we need patience, understanding, and a thick skin.

To make monotheists aware that polytheism is a valid path will take a lot of time and a lot of energy. Most polytheists probably don’t care enough to try and have that conversation. But I would argue that it is one of the most vital conversations to start because polytheistic faiths are gaining in adherents. More and more people are turning to faiths that are polytheistic in nature.

Which is great, but there’s one huge problem – most people turning to polytheistic faiths are doing so after growing up being steeped in a monotheistic culture. Monotheistic thinking does not work with polytheism, yet many new polytheists attempt to bring bits and pieces of their old worldview with them when they turn to polytheism. There are no primers for aspiring polytheists, and there are few polytheists willing to explain what it means to live a life rife with multiplicity.

Part of the reason polytheists lack that willingness to explain is because of how difficult such a task is. It is impossible to sum up all polytheistic faiths because there are vastly different approaches taken in each one. That doesn’t mean, however, that there aren’t a few common threads that run between many polytheistic faiths (but not all). Teasing out those threads is an important part of furthering the conversation amongst other polytheists as well as important for the growth of polytheism as a whole.

So far, what I have managed to piece together as being representative of many polytheistic faiths (again, not all!) is as follows:

  • Belief in/worship of multiple (fallible) Gods: Generally, the Gods aren’t omniscient, omnipotent, or omnipresent. They can make mistakes. Many pantheons consist of immortal Gods, but there are also many pantheons that consist of mortal Gods.
  • Offerings/Sacrifices to the Gods: Generally, offerings are made to the Gods in order to establish the link between the human world and the divine world. This is also the primary way in which the Gods are honored.
  • Ancestor Veneration: Offerings are made to ancestors in order to establish the link between the past generations and the current ones. Generally, polytheists focus more on ancestor veneration than on direct veneration of the Gods. Ancestral spirits, being more directly connected to the practitioner, are better able to help than the Gods.
  • Multiverse Cosmology: The belief in multiple worlds or planes. While generally threefold in nature, there are cosmologies that incorporate a larger number of worlds.
  • Sacral Nature: The belief that nature is sacred and should be treated with respect.
  • Orthopraxy: Literally, “Right Practice.” Polytheistic faiths are focused on practicing faiths through rites and offerings instead of being focused on orthodoxy, or “right thought.” Polytheistic faiths require active participation.

Note: Not all of these threads can be found within all polytheistic faiths, and each polytheist may define each thread in a different way than I have described them here.

Types of Polytheism include:

  • Traditional Polytheism: Also known as “hard polytheism;” the belief in/worship of multiple gods believed to be separate, distinct deities
    • Shinto, Hellenistic Paganism, Asatru/Heathenry, Kemetism, Druidism, etc.
  • Polymorphism: Also known as “soft polytheism;” the belief in/worship of multiple gods believed to be part of a greater singular deity
    • Hinduism, Wicca (some traditions), etc.
  • Henotheism: devotion to a single deity while acknowledging the existence of other gods that are worthy of worship
    • Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, etc.
  • Monolatrism: belief in the existence of multiple deities while asserting that only one god is worthy of worship
    • Atenism, Hinduism, etc.
  • Kathenotheism: belief in many gods, but only one god should be worshipped at a time
    • Smarta Tradition of Hinduism, etc.
  • Duotheism: the belief in two equally powerful gods, often with complementary properties and in contrast opposition
    • Wicca, Dvaita Vedanta Tradition of Hinduism, Druidism, etc.

I found the types here.

 I’m certain I didn’t mention every polytheistic faith or type of polytheism – there is essentially the same number of polytheistic faiths as there are polytheists. A general overview is all we can really hope for, and I hope I’ve done a decent job with what I have put together here.

As for my polytheism, I am a traditional polytheist, and the six threads I feel run through most polytheistic faiths run through mine as well. I may have missed something or included something unnecessarily, so please feel free to respond and expand this conversation. I think this is where we need to start, if we are to ever have meaningful philosophical discussions that incorporate polytheistic worldviews.


Polytheism and Philosophy

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently – that polytheists as a whole seem to have very little to say about the bigger philosophical questions in life. Many polytheists are focused on environmental concerns and political agendas – both of which are important and need to be developed further.

But there doesn’t seem to be many people talking about the base level ideology of polytheism, for one glaringly obvious reason: there are literally millions of different answers for every question that can be asked because polytheism embraces a multiplicity of viewpoints and is multicultural by its very essence.

However, I think that not asking the hard spiritual questions is a mistake because it leaves the polytheistic community without ways to answer questions like, “How compatible is science and religion?;” “Why do bad things happen?;” “Are we guided more by fate or by free will?;” and many, many others.

I’m not going to say that it is possible for a single polytheist out there to stipulate and define the answers to questions like these – by the very nature of polytheism, the idea of a single answer to any question is anathema to me. However, I think that it is important that someone start asking the questions. 

I think, in order for polytheism to really evolve, we need to start asking the harder philosophical questions that so many of us seem inclined to avoid. There’s this growing mentality that I have seen within many polytheist spheres where people are becoming afraid to ask questions, afraid to offer critiques – in essence, afraid to change, to evolve, to grow.

At our core, we are a very inquisitive species. We crave knowledge. We actively seek new information. We like to ask questions. Yet, for some time now, there has been this rage against polytheists who dare to be different. Who dare to ask questions. Who dare to indulge in practices outside the “norm” of their chosen traditions.

In many Heathen traditions, Lokeans bear the brunt of the scorn. “Loki isn’t a real deity;” “How dare you worship the being who caused Baldr’s death?;” “Loki isn’t welcome at our hall/kindred/home;” “Lokeans are nothing but troublemakers.” I could continue this list, as I have heard and seen much more abuse than this hurled just at Lokeans, but I am fairly certain you’ve gotten my point.

However, it isn’t just Lokeans who have to deal with the scorn and abuse of fellow polytheists. I’ve seen/heard comments like these over the years: “Heathenry is better than Wicca because we have actual texts for our lore;” “That’s not supported by the lore, so you can’t do it;” “You’re not a real Pagan/Heathen/Wiccan if you don’t do ___ (or if you do __);” and many, many others.

While I’m aware that not all Pagan faiths are polytheistic in nature, most of them are. Not all Pagans are polytheists, either, but most of them are. There are atheists, monotheists, duotheists, and polytheists in Pagan faiths (by which I mean any faith not part of the Abrahamic faith system which consists of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism).

The hallmark of Polytheism is the tolerance and inclusivity of people with differing views – or, at least, that’s what it should be. However, the division we’re seeing within polytheism is partially the aftershocks left by those who fail to discard monotheistic philosophy when they begin walking down a polytheistic path, while the other part of the division in polytheism is part of the evolution of polytheism itself.

Change is necessary – vital – for evolution of all things, and that includes theology, philosophy, politics, and the environment. But to really push polytheism towards evolution, we need to start thinking about defining what stances polytheists take on the harder questions in life.

While it is inevitable that the stances we, as polytheists, take on things like the compatibility of religion and science, the age-old question of free will vs determinism, and why bad things happen in the world around us – the first task is to develop a stance at all.

Right now, the focus in polytheism seems to be defining the differences between “soft” and “hard” polytheism and calling people out for following the “wrong” path or practicing the “wrong” way. While I understand, to some degree, a person’s need to be “right,” it is also undeniably true that the paths we walk in our various faiths are all different. What is right for me is not right for you, and what is right for you is not right for me. Telling me that I’m practicing my faith incorrectly leads nowhere but to dissension, tension, and anger.

I get angry at people, too, and I disagree with them. That’s part of what it means to be human. I dislike organizations like Gods and Radicals because I hate what they do when they constantly rely on logical fallacies to make their arguments. I don’t agree with communism, and I’m not anti-capitalist, as many of their authors are. But I don’t feel the need to try and convince the authors of G&R to stop being communist or stop being anti-capitalist. All I would like to see is more care taken when they present their arguments using logical fallacies that work as traps to trick people.

That’s another reason that a polytheistic philosophy is something that I feel we desperately need. People who are versed in philosophy tend to be highly aware of logical fallacies and tend to be fairly skilled at avoiding falling into the traps they create. Here’s a list of logical fallacies for those who may not know what they are (and there are a lot of them!).

It would be nice if we could work together to come up with answers to questions like “How compatible is science and religion?;” “Why do bad things happen?;” and “Are we guided more by fate or by free will?” instead of focusing all of our attention on whether someone who adheres to a “soft” form of polytheism can still consider themselves a polytheist at all.

You can consider this a call to action – or thought, as the case may be – if you choose because I get the feeling that it will be imperative, for the survival of polytheism, to have answers to questions like these. As it stands now, the world we live in is predominantly monotheistic in nature. For aspiring polytheists (and experienced ones), the monotheistic world is a hard one to deal with. Because monotheists ask the hard questions we haven’t even begun to ask ourselves, and it is easy to often feel at a loss when the questions are brought up and the interest in an answer is genuine.

For example, I recently had a Unitarian Universalist ask me what I meant when I said I was a polytheist. I explained to her that it meant I believed in and honored multiple gods. Her response to that explanation was, “Yeah, but what does that mean?” She understood in theory what polytheism was, but she had no way to mentally grasp what polytheism is, and I have yet to come upon an explanation that makes sense to monotheists. This is what I mean when I say we need philosophy in polytheism – we need to be able to engage our world in meaningful conversation.

Commentary on the Politics of G&R

The more I read from Gods & Radicals, the more convinced I become that the authors of the articles on the website don’t understand either politics or the history that underlie politics.

G&R thrives on anti-capitalism and endorses communism in a way that surprises and disgusts me. There is a reason there are only a handful of countries in the world that operate under a communist regime. And those who live within those countries would be the first to tell you that communism doesn’t work. Not in the way that its supporters expect it to – by providing equal access to goods and services.

In a capitalist system, the people who benefit are the wealthy. People who have, in some way, earned their wealth. I’m not saying that everyone who ends up wealthy does so without exploiting others. And I’m not saying that everyone who is wealthy worked to earn the wealth – but someone in their family did and thus assured that family of wealth for generations to come.

In a communist system, the people who benefit are the party leaders. The government officials are appointed by the party itself, and thus, only the party interests are served. Communism is the easiest system of government to corrupt in the world. China, one of the few remaining countries, has managed to incorporate capitalism into communism, increasing the level of corruption found within the system as province leaders compete with one another to bring in the highest level of economic growth.

There are a lot of people who would argue that capitalism destroys the environment. While there is some truth to that statement, it isn’t right to overlook the fact that capitalist countries have lead the charge in environmental activism. Some of the largest cities in the world (like San Francisco, CA, and Calgary, Alberta) are among the cleanest and greenest places a person can live. In fact, research that has been done indicates that larger cities reduce environmental impact far better than remote towns do because of the decreased commute time.

Also, going back to capitalism for a second – it seems that G&R has forgotten that the US, while possessing a capitalist economy, uses the democratic republic system of government. Yes, economies influences government. That is true in every system of government that exists. Government is responsible for managing trade and policing goods.

Which brings me to my next point – communism’s fatal flaw. No communist system has yet been designed which properly defines the redistribution of goods. The only way to equally distribute goods in a closed system like communism is to have all goods transferred through a central point, allocated to different companies and individuals, and then distributed. The bottleneck that creates is the reason that communism has failed in so many countries.

I understand the desire to have equality when it comes to education, employment opportunity, and basic civil rights. However, I do not and cannot agree that every person in a country be rewarded the same amount of income for differing jobs when every person has differing skill sets. While I do believe all work is vital and necessary to life (and I do believe everyone should make, at bare minimum, a living wage), not all work is created equal. So not all income should be equal.

I work in a retail store. I spend hours folding and refolding clothes and making conversation with customers. I make $8/hr. Most of the time I’m working, I don’t feel like I’m working. In fact, I spend most of my time at work bored out of my mind. $8/hr is below the living wage required for this area, but I live in a place in the US where the wage gap is pretty extreme. However, this is essentially a summer job for me. For a lot of people who work there, the point of the job is to have a little extra spending money while going through college. Is it great? No, but it’s sufficient.

However, I don’t have the audacity to go up to a physicist who makes upwards of $40/hr and tell him (or her) that I should make the exact same amount of money for a job that requires vastly different skill-sets. That’s absolutely ridiculous. But that is exactly the sort of ridiculousness that communism proposes.

A physicist and a retail worker are not equal in terms of skill, so they should not be equal in terms of pay. I’m an aspiring mathematician, and, at some point, I will end up working for around $48/hr.

But that’s the benefit of living in a capitalist economy – you can find other jobs that pay better and provide better access to the necessities of life.

A few of the writers on G&R seem to have come from impoverished backgrounds, others from middle-class backgrounds. I’ve experienced both worlds, and I can say with confidence that the only thing that really separates the two classes is the determination of the middle class to do what it takes to survive. What seems to drive the lowest class is this incessant need to rail against the world around them for being unfair rather than standing up and fighting for their rights. When you become convinced that the world around you is out to get you, then what can you expect to see but a world that has become nothing but bleak and cruel.

One of the things that I have seen constantly throughout the years in many places where I have worked is the absolute terror of losing a job. If you allow fear to define your life, then of course you submit to oppressive policies and workplace conditions. It is, ironically, only when you stop worrying about losing a job that you become able to fight for the right to do that job under the conditions that you require to do it well.

Nothing is this more apparent than in fast food restaurants. I’ve worked in several chains, and when I entered the workforce, I too became one of those afraid of losing a job. I would go into work so sick I couldn’t see straight because I was told if I didn’t come in, I didn’t need to bother showing up. I drove on roads that terrified me in the middle of winter because I thought I needed the job that I had.

What changed that for me was when I worked in an office at the community college I attended. I set my schedule. I decided when I came in and when I didn’t. I learned that I was the one who set my priorities in life because I found a job where I couldn’t be fired. No matter how often I was absent, no matter how many times I changed my schedule, it was 100% my decision to make.

Now, I work in a retail store, and when something comes up in my life, I don’t let the fear of losing a job keep me from doing it. All that does is create resentment towards your employer and resentment towards your own set of circumstances. I try to abide by the guidelines of the company, as the people I work for are all really nice and very considerate of the needs of their employees (yes, I lucked out there), and I don’t like taking advantage of other people. However, when things happen in life, I tell them that I can’t work certain shifts, and we all work together to make sure that the shift is covered.

I don’t go up to one of my managers and ask them if it is okay if I don’t work a shift. That’s the mistake other people make. I go up to my managers and tell them I can’t work a shift, that there are other priorities in my life that take precedent. To those in the lower classes – and I know, because I used to feel this way too – being able to do that may seem like I am acting entitled. Or “above my station,” as I have often heard it put.

No. What I am doing is insisting on being treated like I’m a human being. I can’t work this Saturday because my grandmother’s 94th birthday party is being held, and I refuse to miss it for a scheduled shift at work. I can work other days. My grandmother’s 94th birthday only comes around once. This is what I mean by priorities.

I will admit that it is easy to get caught up in the flow of capitalism and feel that the only thing you’re supposed to do is work, never taking time for yourself. But every single person within this system has the right and the ability to decide what matters most to them. It is only fear that holds us back.

Someone on G&R argued that people are told they shouldn’t be angry – that they should just sit down, shut up, and deal with whatever comes their way. Maybe that’s true, but no one is forced to walk that route. If you don’t like the road you’re walking down, all you have to do is take a different road. Or, if you can’t find another road, step off the side and walk through the forest. It is only you who sets your path through life, so can we please stop blaming everything and everyone else?

“Understanding Loki” Book Update

I mentioned in October 2015 that I am working on a book for Loki. The working title is “Understanding Loki,” and I am 1/4th of the way through it. There are four sections. The first deals with understanding Loki through the runes in His name, the second deals with understanding Loki through His role in the myths, the third deals with four of His major aspects, and the fourth section deals with what my experience has been like walking Loki’s path and, hopefully, will also include what others have experienced while walking Loki’s path.

I know a couple of people have mentioned to me that they are interested in contributing to the book, and I have put together an interview for those who would like to contribute but aren’t really sure what to write about. This format does NOT have to be used – others may contribute however they wish, but I thought a generalized structure might be helpful.

Here is the interview:

  1. How were you introduced to Loki?
  2. What symbols do you associate with Loki, if any? (I.e. plants, animals, colors, etc.)
  3. What kind of offerings do you provide Loki, and how do you communicate with him?
  4. What other deities do you work with and how are those relationships impacted by your dealings with Loki?
  5. What have you learned about yourself and your faith through working with Loki?
  6. What has been the most difficult part about working with Loki?
  7. What has been the most rewarding thing in your relationship with Loki?
  8. What advice would you give to those interested in starting a relationship with Loki?
  9. Please share a particular experience or encounter you have had with Loki.

Anyone who contributes will receive a free version of the book as well as have the opportunity to proofread and offer suggested edits to the original manuscript. If you are interested, please email me your submission (and none will be rejected!) at


Response to “Strong Toward the Powerful”

I recently read Strong Toward the Powerful: A Warrior Path for Radical Pagans because Lucius wrote a series of articles pointing out the logical flaws of the article. The article itself was published on the website Gods & Radicals (G&R). This organization is an anti-capitalist organization. To some degree, I can understand that, as there are a lot of people who blame the system of capitalism in the United States for the problems of the world as a whole.

However, blaming capitalism for the problems that exist throughout this country and the rest of the world is faulty logic because it is not a single system that is responsible for the global issues at hand. Having that conversation, however, would take weeks (if not months) because of how complex the issues are, and I’m not here to discuss politics. I’m here to discuss the topic that Thompson brought up in his article, “Strong Toward the Powerful: A Warrior Path for Radical Pagans.”

What I plan to discuss is what it means to be a warrior, as Thompson has fallen far, far short of the mark of what defines actual warrior mentality. While Lucius discussed the political and legal ramifications of Thompson’s goals, I’m going to instead focus on Thompson’s misunderstanding of warrior ethics.

“Our myths and legends tell fascinating though often tragic stories of great warrior heroes. Many pagans find these stories inspiring, and some look for ways to recreate a ‘pagan warrior path’ in the modern world.

 Some pagans treat the concept of the warrior entirely as an archetype, and use phrases such as ‘peaceful warrior.’ Others reject this as inauthentic, and insist that no one can claim the name of warrior without being ‘initiated’ through violent conflict.

 Both perspectives treat the word ‘warrior’ as something special, a myth to live up to, a status to earn.”

 I will give Thompson credit here – there are a lot of people (not just pagans) who find the stories of great warrior heroes inspiring and attempt to walk that type of path in their own lives. The concept of a “peaceful warrior” most likely originated with Gandhi, who believed that violence was the direct result of moral degeneration. He believed that a person needed to acquire certain moral values – such as forgiveness, compassion, mercy, self-discipline, and honesty – on order to avoid conflict altogether.

However, in order to be a “peaceful warrior,” a warrior mentality is still required. The mentality of a warrior is determined by the ethical code – the moral values – that are instilled within that person. A warrior path is a moral path, and it is seen as special only by those who do not understand the nobility inherent in adhering to a moral pathway.

“Anti-capitalist pagans are committed to seeking radical change. Many of us are also uncomfortable with the whole concept of the warrior, associating it with violent masculinity. Unfortunately, some pagans do make a simplistic connection between the ‘warrior archetype’ and the ‘sacred masculine,’ ignoring the reality that these are two separate concepts.”

Okay, wait. What? I do have to comment on a bit of the politics in this post. Does Thompson not understand what radicalism means? In a political sense, for those who are unaware, being a radical literally means adhering to political principles that focus on changing fundamental political structures through the means of revolution. Why would a radical be uncomfortable with the concept of a warrior? Why would a radical be uncomfortable with the concept of violence? The contradiction inherent in that is rather astonishing.

The reason the ‘warrior archetype’ and the ‘sacred masculine’ are often associated is because there are more male warriors than females. I don’t view “social justice warriors” or “radical feminists” as warriors at all, mostly because those groups do not follow a code of conduct that anyone with a warrior mindset would see as rational. Instead, they promote political agendas and twist their conduct to suit their agendas. On top of that, they twist their words to suck people into their agendas to grow their groups and sow the seeds of hatred. Radicalism is a disease, and I refuse to condone the spread of such infectious hatred.

“In the most down-to-earth terms, a warrior is a person who fights in a war. To define what a warrior is, we have to define what a war is. The Oxford English Dictionary gives a number of different definitions, of which the first naturally refers to armed conflict in the literal sense.

Two of the other definitions are more relevant to our current situation: ‘A sustained effort to deal with or end a particular unpleasant or undesirable situation or condition’ and ‘a state of competition, conflict, or hostility between different people or groups.’

 Most anti-capitalist pagans would probably see themselves as being in a state of conflict with the capitalist system, and would see themselves as being part of a sustained effort to put an end to it. Therefore, our struggle against capitalism can be seen as a war in the broad sense, although we are not engaged in armed struggle and many of us would reject the idea of armed struggle for moral reasons.”

Alright, first of all, let’s go back to his definition of warrior. His definition is “a person who fights in a war.” That isn’t even a dictionary definition. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a warrior as “a person who fights in battles and is known for having courage and skill.” defines a warrior as “1) a person engaged or experienced in warfare; a soldier; 2) a person who shows or has shown great vigor, courage, or aggressiveness, as in politics or athletics.” The Oxford Dictionary, which Thompson seems to like, defines warrior as “1) A brave or experienced soldier or fighter; 2) Any of a number of standing poses in yoga in which the legs are held apart and the arms are stretched outwards.” Obviously, this second definition is irrelevant to the discussion at hand.

But these are dictionary definitions, and, as such, they don’t really capture the essence of what being a warrior really means.

Thompson mentions the warrior archetype, then fails to expand upon it, assuming that everyone will be intimately familiar with archetypes. The truth is, though, that not everyone is familiar with archetypes just as not everyone is familiar with the different political roads or pagan paths that can be walked. To assume knowledge is to invite misunderstanding.

The warrior archetype is one of the twelve archetypes.

“When everything seems lost the Warrior rides over the hill and saves the day. Tough and courageous, this archetype helps us set and achieve goals, overcome obstacles, and persist in difficult times, although it also tends to see others as enemies and think in either/or terms. The Warrior is relatively simple in their thought patterns, seeking simply to win whatever confronts them, including the dragons that live inside the mind and their underlying fear of weakness. Their challenge is to bring meaning to what they do, perhaps choosing their battles wisely, which they do using courage and the warrior’s discipline.

 Shadow Side: The villain, who uses Warrior skills for personal gain without thought of morality, ethics, or the good of the whole group. It is also active in our lives any time we feel compelled to compromise our principles in order to compete, win, or get our own way. It is also seen in a tendency to be continually embattled, so that one perceives virtually everything that happens as a slight, a threat, or a challenge to be confronted.”

Notice that the virtuous side of the warrior specifies courage and discipline, both of which are required in order to adhere to a code of honor. The flip side of the warrior is a person who fights without morals. Notice that Gandhi’s principle teaching comes up here – that the heart of conflict is moral degradation.

Going back to Thompson’s article, he states:

“Warrior codes of honorable behavior are as old as the concept of warriorship itself, but again we should not confuse a means with an end. The end is not to fantasize and obsess about following some ancient honor code. The end is to win, to create a world that works for everyone. A code of behavior is nothing more than a means, a tool to help us achieve that end.

There have been as many different warrior codes as there have been different types of warrior. The Bushido code of the samurai was obviously a different thing from the medieval knight’s code of chivalry, which was a different thing from the code of an ancient Irish Fianna warrior.

Ends define means, so we would have little use for a warrior code based on upholding feudalism. As pagans, most of us would be inclined to look to the pagan past for examples of warrior codes, and such examples do exist. However, a code based on Iron Age pagan society is not going to work for a modern radical without substantial revision. The circumstances are different and the fight is different. The underlying values are not always compatible. Any code a pagan radical could adopt would have to reflect these differences.”

Wait, wait, wait. Hold up. Did he just say that the ends justify the means? Are you fucking kidding me? That’s like saying that the Third Reich was perfectly justified in inhumanely slaughtering millions because doing so allowed them to work towards their end goal. That is absolutely 100% not okay with me. The ends DO NOT JUSTIFY the means! The means justify the end goals. Let’s get that straight right now. If you slaughter an entire civilization to create a new country, that doesn’t make the slaughter justifiable. Massacres are never acceptable. Never. ESPECIALLY not to someone who claims to adhere to a warrior code.

Speaking of codes, let’s take a look at the three he mentioned. I’ve always been particularly fond of the Bushido code of the samurai (minus the ritual suicide, seppuku, portion), so I’ll start there.

In the article, “The Bushido Code: The Eight Virtues of the Samurai,” Brett & Kate McCay summarize the principles put forth in the book, Bushido: The Soul of Japan by Nitobe Inazo.

The principles laid out are: 1) Rectitude or Justice, 2) Courage, 3) Benevolence or Mercy, 4) Politeness, 5) Honesty and Sincerity, 6) Honor, 7) Loyalty, and 8) Character and Self Control.

“Rectitude is one’s power to decide upon a course of conduct in accordance with reason, without wavering; to die when to die is right, to strike when to strike is right.”

 “Courage is worthy of being counted among virtues only if it is exercised in the cause of righteousness and rectitude…. In short, ‘Courage is doing what is right.’”

 “Love, magnanimity, affection for others, sympathy and pity, are traits of Benevolence, the highest attribute of the human soul. Both Confucius and Mencius often said the highest requirement of men is Benevolence.”

 “Politeness should be the expression of a benevolent regard for the feelings of others; it’s a poor virtue if it’s motivated only by a fear of offending good taste. In its highest form Politeness approaches love.”

 “Bushido encourage thrift, not for economical reasons so much as for the exercise of abstinence. Luxury was thought the greatest menace to manhood, and severe simplicity was required of the warrior class…the counting machine and abacus were absent.”

 “The sense of Honor, a vivid consciousness of personal dignity and worth, characterized the samurai. He was born and bred to value the duties and privileges of his profession. Fear of disgrace hung like the sword over the head of every samurai…To take offense at slight provocation was ridiculed as ‘short-tempered.’ As the popular adage put it: ‘True patience means bearing the unbearable.’”

 “Loyalty to a superior was the most distinctive virtue of the feudal era. Personal fidelity exists among all sorts of men: a gang of pickpockets swears allegiance to its leader. But only in the code of chivalrous Honor does Loyalty assume paramount importance.”

 “Bushido teaches that men should behave according to an absolute moral standard, one that transcends logic. What’s right is right, and what’s wrong is wrong. The difference between good and bad and between right and wrong are givens, not arguments subject to discussion or justification, and a man should know the difference…. The first objective of samurai education was to build up Character. The subtler faculties of prudence, intelligence, and dialectics were less important. Intellectual superiority was esteemed, but a samurai was essentially a man of action.”

Contrary to Thompson’s comment about ancient codes of honor being irrelevant today, the principles of the bushido code of the samurai seem pretty relevant to me. He also claimed that the codes were different.

Here are the Knights Codes of Chivalry:

  • To fear God and maintain His Church
  • To serve the liege lord in valour and faith
  • To protect the weak and defenceless
  • To give succour to widows and orphans
  • To refrain from the wanton giving of offence
  • To live by honour and for glory
  • To despise pecuniary reward
  • To fight for the welfare of all
  • To obey those placed in authority
  • To guard the honour of fellow knights
  • To eschew unfairness, meanness and deceit
  • To keep faith
  • At all times to speak the truth
  • To persevere to the end in any enterprise begun
  • To respect the honour of women
  • Never to refuse a challenge from an equal
  • Never to turn the back upon a foe

And these were the virtues that needed to be exhibited by the Codes of Chivarly:

  • Faith
  • Charity
  • Justice
  • Sagacity
  • Prudence
  • Temperance
  • Resolution
  • Truth
  • Liberality
  • Diligence
  • Hope
  • Valour

The only irrelevant codes are the ones that deal with the Christian Church, since pagans typically don’t honor that God and therefore wouldn’t be working towards enforcing the edicts of the Church. Of course, the code that states that those in authority should be obeyed can be restated as “To obey those placed in authority unless those in authority violate the welfare of the whole.”

Yeah, those two codes look pretty damn alike to me, but maybe I’m just seeing things.

And the last one mentioned, the Maxims of the Fianna, are thus:

  1. If armed service be thy design, in a great man’s household be quiet, be surly in the narrow pass.


  1. Without a fault of his beat not thy hound; until thou hast ascertain her guilt, bring not a charge against thy wife.


  1. In battle meddle not with a buffon, for he is but a fool.


  1. Censure not any if he be of grave repute; stand not up to take part in a brawl; have naught to do with a madman or a wicked one.


  1. Two-thirds of thy gentleness be shown to women and to those who creep on the floor (little children) and to poets, and be not violent to the common people.


  1. Utter not swaggering speech, nor say thou wilt not yield that which is right; it is a shameful thing to speak too stiffly unless that it be feasible to carry out thy words.


  1. So long as though shalt live, thy lord forsake not; neither for gold nor reward in the world abandon one whom thou art pledged to protect.


  1. To a chief do not abuse his people, for that is no work for a man of gentle blood.


  1. Be no tale-bearer, nor utterer of falsehoods; be not talkative nor rashly censorious. Stir not up strife against thee, however good a man thou be.


  1. Be no frequenter of the drinking-house, nor given to carping at the old; meddle not with a man of mean estate.


  1. Dispense thy meat freely; have no niggard for thy familiar.


  1. Force not thyself upon a chief, nor give him cause to speak ill of thee.


  1. Stick to thy gear; hold fast to thy arms till the stern fight with its weapon-glitter be ended.


  1. Be more apt to give than to deny, and follow after gentleness.


And here is Thompson’s revised “code,” although I hesitate to call it that:

1- Save your courage for when you need it- don’t boast or bluster.

2- Never accuse anyone of anything without strong reasons.

3- Don’t get caught up in pointless arguments.

4- Don’t associate with anyone destructive or harmful.

5- Never bully.

6- Don’t exaggerate accomplishments or feed your ego through false bravado.

7- Never abandon your cause or your comrades.

8- If you are in a leadership role, do not abuse the trust placed in you.

9- Spread no rumors and start no trouble.

10- Don’t drink too much or abuse other substances that might cloud your judgment.

11- Be more inclined to give than to deny.

12- Don’t force other people to pay attention to you.

13- Never stop fighting until the struggle is over.

14- Always strive to be gentle.

Now, let’s examine his code.

#1. He lumps boasting and blustering in with courage, but courage has little to do with how much you claim you are able to do. Courage is much more complex than that, and it is the foundation on which a warrior’s path rests. Without the ability to face your fears, a warrior’s path is not one that can be walked.

Lucius touched on the problems with #2 in his series. “Strong reasons” is not “evidence.” You can have all the reasons in the world to do something, but if you don’t have proof that the person you are accusing has actually done something, then you are acting wrongly.

#3. This is just common sense.

#4. Uh, hold up. This is a warrior code, right? All warriors have the potential to be destructive or wreak harm. Now, if it said not to associate with those who are willing to engage in destructive practices for their own pursuits rather than the welfare of all, then okay. I can see it. Welfare of all is greater than selfish pursuits.

#5. Again, this is just common sense.

#6. This shouldn’t be part of a code. Instead, it is better suited as a warning. Those who rely on false bravado and grand-standing often find themselves in situations they can’t handle or in humiliating ones.

#7. This comment reeks of fascism. Causes should be abandoned when they become harmful and toxic. Rather, causes that are harmful should never be undertaken in the first place unless the consequences of undertaking those causes are fully understood and accepted. Not abandoning your friends…that’s just common sense.

#8. Again, this is common sense.

#9. Ok, spreading rumors is bad, I agree. Starting no trouble only works if a conflict can be resolved that way. This is a bad thing to insist upon in a warrior’s code. While violence may not be the first resort, it shouldn’t be excluded as a possible way to resolve a conflict either.

#10. Again, this is common sense.

#11. Hmm. Generosity. Fits in with all those “archaic codes.” So much for them not being relevant.

#12. Ok… not really sure where this one came from except as a misunderstanding of the 12th maxim. That maxim means not to force yourself on a leader or to give a leader cause to speak ill of you. In other words, don’t cause unnecessary problems for other leaders. This has nothing to do with attention.

#13. Yeah, this goes back to the archaic codes. Never give up. Never give in. That’s the very core of a warrior’s mentality.

#14. I assume by gentle he means peaceful, and I’m okay with this one. Being a warrior is more about knowing when to fight than always engaging in fights, and choosing your battles wisely.

Now, if we break Thompson’s code down into the ones that aren’t just common sense or completely inane, we are left with only:

1- Save your courage for when you need it- don’t boast or bluster.

13- Never stop fighting until the struggle is over.

14- Always strive to be gentle.

Conversely, we could just turn to the Nine Noble Virtues of Heathenry. Oh, hey, there’s a MODERN Pagan Code of Honor! The nine that are: Courage, Truth, Honor, Fidelity, Discipline, Hospitality, Self-Reliance, Industriousness, and Perseverance.

So tell me, again, why it is we need a new code of honor?

The only good line that came out of Thompson’s article doesn’t even belong to him, but to the ancient Irish Warrior King, Cormac, who said, “I was weak toward the feeble, I was strong toward the powerful.”

Some of you are probably wondering why I have written such a long post about this, and the explanation is simple: All branches of Heathenry – whether you are Aastru, Theodish, an Odinist, or an adherent of the Nothern Tradition (among many others) – are founded on the principles of warriors. The Norse Gods and Goddesses are deities of War, and thus we have an obligation to our Gods to make sure that the warrior ethic is not sullied by those who wish to fight battles by twisting the honor code of warriors to suit their own agendas.