It is my belief that a lot of what several religions present today as moral commandments is no more than old social rules crystallized under the guise of godly instructions. Women’s role, the type of clothing, or sexual conduct, things that are not directly linked to religious belief and ritual – like the number of gods one may worship – but which refer to life in society. In the past, it made sense that they were sanctioned by the divine because it gave those rules extra strength; so, for instance, hospitality was demonstrated by the Gods Themselves in a number of mythologies, which granted the practice the value of a divine model and allowed it to thrive in a far less populated and more insecure world. It should also be noted that a lot of what features in religious texts as divine speech can easily be the view of a particular fraction of society and not the beliefs of all its members, so that, for instance, condemnation of several sexual activities reflects the opinions of a groups of priests, but not necessarily those of other clergymen or women or all social groups. Today, a lot of people tend to look at sacred texts or religiously inspired poetry as a uniform work, born out of a collective and unanimous source or a single divine origin, when in fact it can be a far more complex and sectarian product. And this is something to have especially in mind when we’re dealing with a polytheistic religion.
As expressed before in this series of posts, my view is that belief is personal, ritual is traditional, and morality is social. What I believe in is by my own choice and not because I have been told to. Yes, there are texts that speak of the Gods and declare Them to be this and that, but I do not see those words as being divinely inspired dogma. They are rather the result of personal spiritual experience and speculation which have been freely preserved and transmitted in written or oral form and which each person is free to accept as truth or not. When I say belief is personal, that’s exactly what I mean: personal! And I care little if it makes sense to others or if it’ isn’t “rational enough”: the advantage of having a subjective belief is that it only has to make sense to you and whatever it is you believe in, so long as you’re aware that, as a consequence, you cannot claim your beliefs to be on the same ground as scientific theories or knowledge (as Christians do with regards to Creation and Evolution).
That morality is social also means that I have no code like the Jewish Ten Commandments and yes, that implies I recognise no authority in the modern Nine Noble Virtues. The rules of conduct I have are those required to be a good citizen by the society I live in: thinks like paying my taxes, not stealing, voting, helping co-citizens, recycling, etc. This applies to the Gods and wights, too, in the sense that I have towards Them the same basic respect and cordiality I have towards friends, relatives, and neighbours (which is basically how I see Them). Of course some of Them have particular requirements or tastes, so to speak, but that’s also true for people, isn’t it? God A prefers a certain type of offerings, looks kindly to a set of actions, has a given ethical code, and that’s a different scenario from that of Goddess B or wights C; person X likes a certain kind of food, has a given sexual orientation, may or may not ask guests to take off their shoes when entering his/her house, and sees certain actions as being better then others, while person Y will act/see things differently. And yet, they/They will generally follow a set of basic rules that allows for a common social life.
So where do I, as a polytheist, stand on the matter of dogmas and rules? I have none of the former and the latter are more the product of the society I live in and the secular philosophies I adhere to, even if there may be a degree of religious inspiration (as mentioned here, here, and here). The key here is to see the Gods and wights mostly like friends, neighbours, and relatives who influence you and take part in your social life like the people you know, meet, or simply pass by. And as for rules, they’re ritual in nature: things like which god to invoke at a given moment in a ceremony, where to turn to when presenting an offering to a given deity, and what gestures to make. And even ritual requirements have to be confronted with social morality to make sure the latter isn’t broken.