Tag Archives: polytheism

Thoughts on the Article that Started it All

While I usually try and stay out of the drama that happens within the online pagan community, I feel that I really need to wrap my head around this entire issue with Halstead and his atheist wars. I suppose it’s the atheist – polytheist war that he has incited, although I hesitate to call it a war. The reason for that hesitation is that I’m a polytheist and one of my closest friends is an atheist. Granted, he’s not an atheist who follows pagan practices, so I suppose that’s the reason we don’t have any real problems.

At the same time, however, one of the coolest things to me about paganism has been that it is orthopraxic, meaning that atheists can be practicing pagans without having to believe in the Gods. That’s a controversial view, especially considering what’s going on right now, but it’s the way I look at the world. There is room enough for all of us to walk the paths meant for us. For some of us, that means being polytheists (and I hate the separation that has cropped up between “hard” and “soft” polytheism – to me, both are polytheistic, but I digress). For others, that means being atheists who practice within a pagan context.

I’m not that big of a fan of labels, as labels tend to separate rather than to unite, and the more labels we create for ourselves, the more tears we create in our own community. For that reason, I tend to stick to the dictionary definition of pagan – someone who isn’t practicing an Abrahamic faith. Whether you are a polytheist or an atheist, you fit this definition.

That being said, if you are an atheist, you have no right whatsoever to comment on polytheistic practices as if you know exactly what you’re talking about. I have known many atheists with very different sets of moral principles and beliefs, and I do not pretend to understand what it means to be an atheist.

Halstead’s article, which set everything off, demonstrates his lack of understanding of what it means to be a polytheist.

Because I want to fully explore this “war,” I’m going to start by examining the article that set everything in motion. The catalyst, if you will.

Halstead writes:

To me, it seems that a god-motivated concern for the earth — whether polytheist or monotheist — is more fragile than a concern that grows directly out of one’s relationship with the earth itself — for the same reason that stewardship models of environmentalism don’t go as deep as those that recognize our inherent interconnectedness.

Perhaps this is because Halstead fails to understand that being polytheistic is to recognize that inherent interconnectedness. The divine and the mundane. The profound and the profane. Everything is found within its opposite. For many polytheists, the Gods represent natural forces in one (or more) of their aspects – the way Thor is said to represent the force of thunder, Loki of fire (sometimes lightning – both highly debated), Freyr and Freyja of the earth, Njord of the sea, etc.


What happens to our ecology when the gods are silent, as they sometimes are?  Or what happens when the will of the gods do not align with the needs of our planet?  John admits that “… we aren’t the primary concern of the Gods …”  Well, if we are not, and if this planet is not, then I wonder what is their primary concern?  No doubt someone will tell me that the ways of the gods are mysterious or their ways are not our ways — but I’ve heard all that before, from my former religion.  I’m left wondering, if the gods are not concerned with us and with the other lifeforms on this earth, why we should worship them at all?  The mere fact of their existence seems to be insufficient reason to justify placing them before everything else.

None of the polytheists I have met believe that the ecology of the planet is the sole responsibility of the Gods. The earth is our home, and it is our job to take care of it. As for the primary concerns of the Gods, that can be seen in the individual nature of each God. The Gods aren’t mysterious – Their personalities are painted in full color in every story handed down through the generations. What They are concerned with is very clear to those of us who are polytheistic, and we choose the paths of those Gods whose concerns align with our own concerns.

As an example, Loki is one of the Gods that I honor by walking His path, and His main concerns include uncovering hidden truths and regulating pride. As a second example, Tyr’s main concern is creating balance. As a polytheist, I honor the Gods by emulating Them – that’s what it means to walk the path of a God. However, walking those paths doesn’t mean that my own concerns and desires get thrown to the wayside. The Gods inhabit a different realm than we do – why would They be concerned about the earth? We are the ones that must consider our own homes, the way They consider Their homes. Self-accountability is a virtue for a reason, and to ask the Gods to clean up the mess we have made of our planet is beyond disrespectful.

That’s the end of my response to Halstead’s first article, and I have to admit that I’m slightly amazed at how much scorn underlies his writing, and all of his scorn is directed towards polytheists who put their Gods first.

I think the major problem here is that Halstead doesn’t understand what it means to be a polytheist, and he has jumped to the conclusion that polytheists don’t practice a “this-world” faith. That is simply not true. I have never met a polytheist who is so eager to get to the afterlife that they refuse to take responsibility for their lives on this planet. While we discuss the afterlife, none of us polytheists are sitting around waiting on some shining white knight to come rescue us from our sins. That falls firmly in the providence of monotheistic faiths, so stop confusing polytheistic beliefs with monotheistic ones.

Note: This is my response to the first part of this “war.” I’ll be going through all of the posts that Lucius has referenced on his blog so that I may provide all of my thoughts on this “war.”

Trading with Tyr

I feel that the relationships I have with all the Gods are interesting, but I have to admit that my experience with Tyr today was fairly intriguing. Usually when one of the Gods wants something from me, I get a feeling about what offering they would like. Loki likes sweets. Odin seems fairly impartial, but he does like an occasional drink. Freyja likes candles. In any case, all of the Gods like different things. When one of the Gods wants something from me, I try to acquiesce with their desires.

Today was the first time Tyr really asked me for anything. As I was leaving school today, I got this sense that Tyr really wanted me to stop at the Mexican restaurant where one of my friends works. He wanted Mexican food, so I went in and sat down. My friend was working and she came up to me and asked what I wanted. I had no idea what Tyr wanted, so I decided to leave it up to Him by telling my friend to order whatever she thought was best. I ended up with a chicken chimicanga with rice and guacamole salad. Tyr didn’t want the chimichanga, but He did want the rice and salad along with the tortilla chips that come as an appetizer.

As I ate my portion of the meal, my friend came and sat with me and asked me if I would go by Wal-Mart and get her some queso fresco because she hadn’t eaten all day and she really wanted some queso fresco. I told her I would, and she said that she would give me the chimichanga meal in return. When she asked me, I wasn’t expecting a trade of any sort – she suggested it, and I realized that Tyr was making His presence felt through the trade. Finding a balance is what He does best, after all.

So I finished eating and boxed up what Tyr wanted to bring Him as an offering when I got home, then went to Wal-Mart and bought my friend her queso fresco. When I got home, I found a tree and laid the food out beside the tree, then covered it with the leaves that surrounded it. That is how I normally leave food offerings because I feel it honors both the Gods and the land spirits where I live when I do so. Tyr was happy with that, so I felt fulfilled. I don’t know about other people, but when I leave offerings that are accepted, I get this sense of what is almost bliss.

Anyway, I started thinking about what I had to go through in order to obtain Tyr’s food, and I think that part of the offering itself was the trade that was enacted between me and my friend. I do find it interesting, though, that Tyr wanted Mexican food but didn’t just ask me to pick Him something up the way the other Gods might. It makes me wonder if all of the offerings I end up giving Him are going to be preceded by some sort of barter like the one that occurred between me and my friend. I’m okay with the answer to that question being yes because the experience was another one confirming the very real presence of the Gods in my life, and I count all such experiences as blessings.

Tyr’s Path

I’ve talked about Odin’s path and Loki’s path, but they aren’t the only paths I follow. Considering it’s Tuesday, it seems appropriate to discuss Tyr today. Tyr is an interesting god because he’s one of the gods that doesn’t have a lot of surviving lore. The best known story about Tyr is, of course, the role he played in chaining Fenrir and how he lost his arm in the process.

Tyr, who raised Fenrir and was essentially best friends with the wolf, was the god instrumental in chaining Fenrir. I’ve heard a lot of interesting interpretations over the years, most falling into the category of “Fenrir was a danger that needed to be contained,” but there were others along the lines of, “If Fenrir was never chained, he would have never posed a threat.” One assumes that Fenrir was an immediate threat – the other, that Fenrir was turned into a threat. I haven’t really reached a conclusion one way or the other because both sides have merit.

And that’s really where Tyr’s path begins – looking at both sides of an argument. Or, in cases where there are multiple perspectives, viewing the situation from every perspective. In a way, this is a talent that every polytheist has to develop because we’re dealing with multiple deities with vastly different personalities on a daily basis. The only real option is to adapt and learn to deal with it.

Because of that, I try to look at the story of the chaining of Fenrir from Tyr’s perspective. Odin, someone whom he highly respects and trusts to tell him the truth in all matters has told him that Fenrir is a threat. Tyr, viewing Fenrir as one of his best friends (the two were practically inseparable before the chaining), is in turmoil because he knows that Fenrir could pose a threat. But he doesn’t know that for sure. So, at first, he resists the idea. After all, they are best friends, right? Then suppose something happens that makes Tyr start doubting his friend – something unusual in his words or behavior – and Tyr starts to wonder if maybe Odin is right. Tyr’s primary duty is to keep the universe balanced – to maintain order. The Irminsul is his symbol for a reason – he is the scales. If Tyr felt that the universe was in danger of falling out of balance, then his duty has to come before his friendship.

Tyr doesn’t make excuses when he tricks Fenrir into being chained. He doesn’t lament the loss of his arm. In a way, it’s like he knows that he has to make a sacrifice to balance out the terrible fate he is inflicting on his best friend. Sure, the loss of an arm isn’t equivalent to being chained up for eternity (or until Ragnarok – I’m still not sold on the apocalypse, to be frank), but it is a sacrifice. A payment of a debt, perhaps. It’s hard to really figure that all out because there has been so much lore lost.

Moving back to what it’s like to walk Tyr’s path – it’s not easy. I don’t think any of the paths the gods set before us are easy ones to walk, and why should they be? Life is a journey, and journeys are boring if nothing ever goes wrong. We get our best stories from our worst happenstances, ironically enough. And the good and bad have to balance out. That’s where Tyr’s path really comes into play. Walking his path, I’ve learned, is about viewing events from all sides. When something goes wrong in my life, that’s when I need to look for an opportunity to turn it around and make it better. When something goes well in my life, I’ve learned to be thankful and wary – good is necessarily succeeded by bad and vice versa.

I feel, in some ways, that Tyr’s path is really about utilizing your personal luck (hamingja) as best as you can. Some people argue that doing good deeds for the sake of doing good deeds is selfish, but that’s a convoluted statement, and I think that doing good deeds is essential to maintaining positive luck. If it’s selfish behavior, it’s selfish for all the right reasons. Conversely, becoming more aware of the effects that my actions have on others has given me insight into what deeds aren’t considered good ones. I think this varies for everyone, based on your own set of moral standards, and I think that’s okay. We’re all different, we all hold different values, and the gods – considering how varied their own personalities are – surely understand that. After all, I can’t imagine Odin and Loki getting along if they didn’t have a healthy respect for the different approaches to morality taken by the other.

Anyway, I was starting to feel like this was becoming an Odin and Loki blog, and that was never my intention. I haven’t discussed any of the goddesses yet because I have a harder time working with them, due to certain circumstances of my past, but I do walk the paths of Sigyn and Freyja. I’m not quite comfortable with Frigga yet, which goes back to the circumstances I alluded to, but I’m working on it.

I’m curious, though – if any of you walk Tyr’s path, and what your thoughts are on that path.

Why I’m a Polytheist

I’m reminded of a conversation I had a few months ago at my school. I was talking to one of my atheist friends about morality, and a girl joined in from where she had been listening. I could have brushed her off as being rude, but I enthusiastically encouraged her to join the conversation because I like seeing things from multiple perspectives. Considering the subject matter, eventually faith was brought up, and she mentioned that she was Christian, so I told her that I was a polytheist. She started asking me questions, which surprised me. In my experience, most Christians aren’t super open-minded. She said she looked at college as a way to explore new things and get new perspectives on life, and I could accept that as an answer. A lot of the questions she asked centered on what it was like to be a polytheist, but she never actually asked me why I’m a polytheist, although I’m sure the question would have eventually come up.

There are a few reasons that I am a polytheist, the first of which is that I’ve multiple experiences with the gods. Loki steals my socks and shows up in the weirdest places. Odin starts me thinking in rhyme. Tyr reminds me that balance and harmony are important. Sigyn demonstrates loyalty and compassion. Freyja teaches me the deeper esoteric meanings of the runes and reminds me that women are powerful forces. Freyr shows me the delights of the wilderness and how important it is to really enjoy life. The gods and goddesses are all around me, so it’s pretty hard not to be swayed by that.

But there are other reasons. One of which is that we, as a species, are drawn to groups. We’re social beings. We build communities in order to survive. In each community, there are smaller sub-groups, but the community still holds together as one. There is, however, more than one community. We continually divide ourselves into smaller and smaller groups. Multiplicity isn’t just a way of life – it’s the way of life we all live, in some fashion or another. Looked at in that context, polytheism just makes sense.

Also, I have noticed a tendency in the gaming world to pray to the rng gods. This is usually said as a jest or out of desperation, but it’s always phrased to the gods. Always plural. We are drawn to plurality like moths are drawn to bright lights (especially the one in my room. I can’t figure out how they keep getting in my house).

I have also amused myself by comparing the gods to the computer programmers who make MMOs run. I mean, take a game like World of Warcraft. Hundreds of people work on the game in dozens of different departments to make it what it is. One person can’t do the work of a hundred. So why are so many people so willing to turn to faiths that insist there be only one God to do all the work. Where’s the logic in that?

I’m sure some people will claim things like “God is omnipotent” so of course, he can do everything. That’s a neat little package of an answer that doesn’t really give any sort of answer at all. My response to a claim like that…”Why would anyone want to do all the work alone?” Also, as an interesting aside – the original Christianity was a polytheistic faith, not a monotheistic one. I wonder what the world would look like now if that had never changed. I have a feeling it would be a lot less stifling.

It still amazes me that Christians act like they are the oppressed. I can’t remember how many times I’ve heard Christians say that they are afraid to talk about their faith because they are afraid of being laughed at. In my experience, even when people are uncomfortable around Christianity, they don’t ridicule Christians – no, rather, they stay quiet and try to stay under the radar in order to avoid persecution. I know that not all Christians are persecuting people for beliefs that don’t match theirs, but the truth is, the majority of Christians act like there is no other faith that is acceptable because that is what their faith teaches. Live and let live isn’t a policy written down in those scriptures, but it would make life a lot less stressful if it were.

Anyway, I didn’t mean to go on an aside about Christianity, but it happens. I do live in the middle of a Bible Belt, and I am as susceptible to stress as everyone else. I was just thinking about the reasons that I’m a polytheist, and the biggest reason, for me, is that it feels as if we are naturally inclined to believe in multiple gods. Oh, and the fact Loki keeps stealing my socks. Seriously. What is with his sock fetish?

Fidelity: My Interpretation

Here’s the 4th of my essays on the 9 Noble Virtues.


To me, fidelity is loyalty. Loyalty to family, to friends, to the Gods I follow. I don’t always agree with my friends or family, and I don’t get along with all the Gods. But disagreements are common in all families, whether those families are blood families, friend families, or god families. And when I disagree with someone in any of my families, I still always acknowledge that my ties to them, my loyalty to them, is more important than the argument.

I’ve never understood how families can estrange themselves. How parents can disown their children or how children can refuse to talk to their parents for years. Perhaps that’s because I lost my mother when I was 15. Perhaps her loss taught me just how much family matters. Because even though there were things I hated about her, like her alcoholism, I still loved her. She was still my mother.

I’ve had friends, over the years, who were estranged from their parents for various reasons, and I always tried to encourage them to eliminate that distance without blatantly interfering. It’s not my place to decide which path another person walks, but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to properly wrap my head around complete estrangement from family.

Family is incredibly important to me, despite the difficulties I’ve faced throughout my life that are directly tied to my family. But those difficulties aren’t the only things that define my relationship with my family. There is a lot more than that, but I don’t know how to express the depth or complexity of my family dynamics without writing a book, and I’m not sure I’m ready to write a book about my life just yet – even though my grandmother keeps urging me to write one.

But I have more ties than just familial ones. There are also the ties I have to my friends. I have a lot of acquaintances, but my real friends are like family to me. If they need me, I’m there, even if I’m in the middle of my own problems. My friends are the people who have seen me at my worst and at my best and have stuck around. To me, that is what defines loyalty. Not a lack of disagreements, but the ability to compromise and move past them. And I have three incredibly close friends, despite the fact we all live incredibly far away from one another, that I trust completely. I’m reminded of the verse in the Havamal that reads:

“Crooked and far | is the way to a foe,

Though his house on the highway be;

But wide and straight | is the way to a friend,

Though far away he fare.”

That’s verse 34 of the Havamal and it comes from the Henry Adams Bellows translation, which happens to be my preferred translation of the Poetic Edda. And I agree with the sentiment, since two of my closest friends live in different countries, and the third lives 18 hours away from me. The distance doesn’t matter, though, as the four of us have been close for five years. Distance, time – all those things are relative.

As well as family and friends, my loyalty to the Gods is an important aspect of my life. I can and will discuss my faith with anyone, even when doing so is a little bit scary. A couple weeks ago, at work, a man came in and started basically going on and on about Jesus – a total zealot. I listened to him patiently for about 30 minutes because he just talked on and on without giving anyone a chance to say anything. But when I found an opening, I told him that I have a lot of respect for people who are dedicated to their own path, but that I wasn’t Christian. When I told him I was pagan, he turned around and left, but I didn’t hide it. One of my co-workers, who was standing beside me and heard the whole thing, told me she was glad that I spoke up about my beliefs. It was an interesting experience, to say the least.

And I’ve had other interesting encounters. At one of my previous jobs, I was reading a book on the history of the Vikings, and a co-worker came up to me and asked why I was reading the book. I told her that I was reading it because it pertained to my faith, and I explained what my faith was. She instantly started trying to witness to me, but it stopped her cold when I told her that I’d read the Bible all the way through, and that Christianity didn’t appeal to me. She was incredulous that I’d read the Bible and wasn’t Christian, and she kept trying to push the faith on me, until I finally asked her if she had read the book. When she said no, I told her that if she wanted to continue the conversation, she needed to go read the Bible herself before trying to witness to me. Later that day, I found out that she had never met someone who wasn’t either Christian or an atheist before, and it really shook up her worldview. I was pretty amused when I found that out, of course, because by being honest, I acted as a catalyst for her to realize the world wasn’t as black and white as she thought.

And that’s what I try to do – I try to behave in ways I feel emulate the Gods I follow. I see Odin as a warrior scholar, so I do a lot of research and I also have firm opinions. I’m willing to defend myself if I ever have need to, and I do defend myself when the need arises – even if the battle is just one of wits. I see Loki as a catalyst for change and the seeker of buried truths, so I keep my mind as open as possible, trying to look at things from every perspective without allowing other people’s opinions or beliefs to define my own. Tyr I see as a noble warrior who mediates without flinching if his own well-being comes into the process. And these are the three paths I mainly attempt to walk, though I am slowly learning other paths as well. That’s the truly difficult part of being a polytheist – there’s no way to walk a single path, not when the path of each God is different.

So fidelity, for me, is walking the paths the Gods have set before me, staying true to my friends, and staying true to my family. In my mind, this is probably the simplest of the nine virtues, but loyalty, to spite its seeming simplicity, is actually incredibly complex. Because it’s not always easy to stay loyal to your friends, your family, or the Gods you follow. No wonder, then, that oaths, once made, are so heavily weighed.  


Truth: My Interpretation

Here’s my third essay on the Nine Noble Virtues, this time discussing Truth.


Truth is a relative concept, especially in matters of faith. What I believe to be true, others believe to be false, and vice versa. In this regard, I believe it’s better to accept everyone’s beliefs as valid, even if I don’t agree with them. When I was in high school, I had a conversation with a friend once, and I ended up telling her that I believed every path was valid. That every path leads to the same destination, so it doesn’t matter which faith you follow – nothing can be proven true or false, so everything might as well be true.

I’ve never been able to properly explain that belief because it’s incredibly complex, despite how simple it seems. I’ve had people ask me how it’s possible for every path to be true when certain faiths teach that only one path is correct. That isn’t a question I can really answer, but I still think all faiths are viable paths through life. I think that we all choose our own paths through life, though, and I feel it’s important to respect the decisions other people make.

I recognized a long time ago that my truth is not everyone else’s truth, and I have accepted that. There are billions of people in the world, and if we all walked the same path, life would be incredibly boring. And I don’t want to live in a boring world – I think we can all agree on that.

I’ve also learned, however, that my beliefs are rather unique. I’ve yet to meet another person who sees the world the way I do, and that’s actually pretty awesome. Because that means I have met a lot of people who see the world in ways I don’t, and I love seeing how other people see the world.

I follow Asatru, but I’m not a reconstructionist. A lot of people have jumped on me for daring to claim that faith when I don’t believe in Reconstructionism, but Asatru is so much more than just rebuilding a religion to me. I could easily say Norse Paganism, but that isn’t as accurate.

The main issue with reconstruction, for me, is that history and archaeology, despite how fascinating they are, require a lot of guesswork. Educated guesswork, sure, but guesswork all the same. I would personally prefer not to base my own practices on guesswork. In a way, I guess, I let intuition guide me.

And that’s probably because I spent ten years as an eclectic pagan before I ever discovered Asatru – well, I should say before it discovered me. I met a Heathen for the first time when I was 22, and we started discussing worldviews, and after that, I started having incredibly powerful dreams. Dreams that were directly linking me to Odin and the Norse Gods. It was the first time, in my entire pagan experience, that I’d felt the call of a particular pantheon so strongly.

Still, I wasn’t about to abandon everything I’d believed for ten years and embrace a completely new faith. I did research, and I learned that most of my beliefs fit within the Asatru framework. Everything except the reconstructionist part, but I’ve never believed in reconstruction. As I said, history and archaeology is just educated guesswork, and historical accounts can’t always be trusted – my experience with the school system has taught me that.

That doesn’t mean I don’t like learning about the history – it just means I take everything with a grain of salt, and if I agree with something, I adopt it. If I don’t, I do further research into it, and if I still don’t find it relevant for me, I discard it.

In any case, I believe our truths define us. When someone asks me what I believe and are looking for a more in-depth answer, I’m always forced to tell them that it’s complicated. Because to other people, my beliefs seem to contradict themselves. I’ll try to explain, but I have yet to find a way to properly articulate this, so bear with me.

I follow the Norse pantheon, but I believe that all Gods that could exist do exist – I just don’t follow all of them. I believe that the Gods are real entities, but I also believe they are the embodiment of different concepts, and each God embodies more than one concept. For example, Odin is the embodiment of wisdom, poetry, travel, etc. Loki is the embodiment of change, of catalysts, of fire, of laughter… etc. Tyr is the embodiment of balance, harmony, honor, courage…etc. And I could go on for each of the Gods and Goddesses, but that’s the general gist of it.

Then there’s the fact that I believe in one unifying cosmic source. That the Gods and Goddesses all spring from the cosmic source and are aspects of that source, split into many pieces in order to make it easier for people to comprehend that source. That’s probably the most difficult thing to explain to people because while I’m a polytheist, I’m also a pantheist and animist. The idea that the universe is everything in one and one in everything is a pantheistic idea, and a lot of people assume that pantheism and polytheism are incompatible. For others, I’m sure that’s true. For me, it works.

And that, to me, is what truth is. Truth is relative. Everyone views the world in a different light, and we all have our own truths. My truths are not going to be the same as someone else’s truths, and I’m okay with that. Truth is not only a singular concept but also a plural one. There can be one truth, but there can also be many truths. Otherwise it wouldn’t be possible for so many different faiths proclaiming so many different truths to exist in the world. Truth is relative to who each person is individually, to the way a person is raised, and to the culture that a person belongs to. We are a complex species. So, too, are our truths.