Polytheism and Perspective: Some Thoughts

I’ve found myself thinking about perspectives lately, and how, as a polytheist, I must constantly shift between them. In some ways, there is never a good way to describe my path to someone else because I walk a manifold path. I work with multiple deities, and each of those deities asks of me different things.

I think that’s the biggest challenge of being a polytheist, honestly. Looking at situations and then figuring out which perspective to use to approach the situation. I personally believe that people are drawn to the deities who they are most similar to in temperament, and those deities, in a way, are exemplars for the way the person who approaches them should attempt to approach life.

In other words, gods are meant to be imitated – at least to a degree. For me, this comes from an understanding that the myths read are more than just the stories they tell. They provide insights into the world and also into the personalities of the gods, but the events in the myths may not have actually happened, or they may have happened in ways that we don’t understand because deities and humans are a separate species.

And that’s kind of how I think about deity – as a separate species from humans with their own lives and problems to contend with who are infinitely more complex than humans in the same way that humans, say, are infinitely more complex than cats. That isn’t to say cats aren’t complex – just that humans are a degree more complex than cats. So, with that said, humans aren’t simple – we just aren’t as complex as deity. And, considering how difficult a time we have understanding our own complexity, it stands to reason that our ability to comprehend the complex nature of deity is incredibly limited.

I also believe in a living spirituality, so I interact more directly with deity than others who may rely almost entirely on human sources for their information about deity. I don’t know – I guess I find it a little absurd to read the Poetic Edda, for example, and take every word as holy writ when the man who compiled the Edda was Christian. I find it absurd in the same way I would find it absurd to think that a friend’s version of a situation she only heard about it secondhand was more accurate than the version of the same situation from the viewpoint of the people involved in the situation. Perspective matters.

So, when I say I believe in a living spirituality, it means that I prefer to go straight to the deities I honor for information first, then consult source material second. It’s interesting to me that most of the UPG I experience I have seen confirmed by others who honor the same deities, that my understanding of the deities I work with is very similar to the understanding developed by those who have interacted more with source material than with what I can only describe as shamanic insight.

Coming back to perspective, each deity I work with approaches the same situation in different ways. The best way to explain this is to give an example:

Suppose a man, Marcus, is yelling at a woman, Tina, in the middle of a grocery store. Tina is hunched over, defensive, her arms cradled around an infant in her arms, and she is trying to quite the babe through her own tears. Marcus is yelling terrible things at Tina, calling her a liar, a slut, and all sorts of nasty names.

Now, imagine you’re the bystander. What’s your knee-jerk reaction?

Let me guess – you’re horrified and appalled by the behavior you’re witnessing. Why would someone be yelling at a woman with a baby in tow? What possible justification could exist for that?

But that’s just one perspective, given a very small piece of information.

What if you knew that the reason Marcus was so upset was that he just got a call from a paternity clinic informing him that the babe Tina is holding is not his son, even though the two of them have been married for two years and she’s never exhibited any of the classic signs of cheating?

That changes things. I mean, yeah, you may still find it ridiculous that he’s yelling at her in the middle of a grocery store, but at least you can understand where he’s coming from. You can understand his reasoning. Maybe even feel a little sorry for him.

But wait. What about Tina? If the babe isn’t Marcus’s son, then she has cheated on him and even withheld the truth from him about his son. Doesn’t that make her the bad person? I mean, yeah, the yelling sucks, but didn’t she do the wrong thing by cheating on Marcus?

Well, what if you now have the understanding that the reason Tina cheated on Marcus is because Marcus works around the clock and she rarely ever sees him except one night a week. She works from home, so it’s not like she goes out to meet people. But a new neighbor moves in, and he’s attractive, and Marcus is never around, and she gets lonely -after all, she’s only human.

And I’ll stop there.

What I’m trying to get at is that our knee-jerk reactions may not be the best thing to base our beliefs and opinions on. A lot of people have a knee-jerk reaction to Loki because they don’t understand Him or where He’s coming from.

And that’s why I think polytheism is a lot like learning how to stop those knee-jerk reactions so that you can pause and shift perspectives. Each person approaches life in a different way, as does each deity. It’s important to know the story of the person in question before issuing judgment. The same is true with deity (although, really, judging deity strikes me as incredibly arrogant and rude…)

Learning about the gods through the myths and the lore allows us to understand their personality, to understand where they are coming from. But every time we read the lore, it’s important that we shift our perspective to each player’s role in the myth so that we can appreciate each deity for who they are, rather than play favorites and refuse to see the myth through more than a single lens.

Anyway, just some food for thought.