Personal pantheon in a multicultural world (1)

Take a look at pagan forums and polytheistic mailing lists and chances are you’ll come across people who worship different gods from different cultures or two pantheons simultaneously. You might even find stories of dreams and visions where deities from several backgrounds interact. And I’m not just talking about eclectic wiccans, I’m also thinking of recons or recon-oriented people, careful in their cultural context, but often finding themselves with a culturally diverse set of deities. I myself worship Roman and Norse ones and am in the process of adding an Egyptian god to my personal pantheon. And this can raise identity problems, not only in relation to others, but also in relation to ourselves. In particular: what’s my religious label? What’s my community? And am I being “unfaithful” to the gods of one pantheon by worshipping those of other?

The first question that should be address is the latter. Exclusive fidelity to a group of deities owes more to monotheistic thinking than to polytheistic theology or political conditions, something which in the past could have forced people to concentrate their practices on a national pantheon. But even still there would have been room for personal devotions to foreign gods, some of which could end up in the official religion of a particular city or country. So unless you’ve taken an oath of exclusivity, promising to worship one or a particular set of gods alone, there’s no reason why a polytheist should feel theologically compelled to pay homage to a single pantheon. In fact, diversity is only to be expected in a religious system that recognizes no limit to the number of divinities and further acknowledges the existence of “gods of place”.

This being said, how to work out the cultural diversity of one’s personal pantheon? Where does it leave us in terms of community? Is one a Celtic polytheist while actively worshipping Celtic, Norse, and Roman deities? And not counting syncretism, i.e., without blending those gods as cultural versions of each other (which is a possible answer to the questions). Perhaps an analogy can provide us with a framework, namely the distinction between community, partnership, and friendship.

Community refers to your native or adopted nationality. It implies a country of which you are a citizen, the laws you’re ruled by, to whom you pay your taxes and who are your communal representatives. By partnership I mean a close relationship with someone, either with the official status of marriage or civil union, or just a long standing companionship with no legal bond. Friendship is simply a non-exclusive link that can take many forms with various degrees of intimacy.

It’s true that this, as all analogies, is not without its limitations and grey areas. For instance, one can have double nationality and being a citizen of a country doesn’t imply that he or she has a particular cultural background. The United States is full of communities that are both American and something else (Jewish, African, Asian, etc.). Regarding the former, it will be addressed further on; on the latter, however, for the sake of argument, I’d like to focus on nationality in the sense of the laws and representatives that run your life, regardless of cultural background. Overlapping between the three elements will be dealt with at the end. And before this starts getting confusing, I’m going to stop and leave the translation of the analogy to a second post.

10 thoughts on “Personal pantheon in a multicultural world (1)

    • Just to make sure I understand, are you a monotheist, or are you a polytheist who is devoted to one deity only in a monolatric relationship (where you believe other Gods exist but are unworthy of your worship), or in a henotheistic relationship (where you only worship one deity, but accept the possible existence of others worthy of worship).

      Don’t take this as negative critique, I just want to make sure I understand where you’re coming from 😉

  1. I think mixing pantheons as such is wrong, each has their own cultural and religious context which I think should be acknowledged as such.

    Worshipping two or more pantheons however is all right if you keep your worship separate. You could also use a syncretic method, whereby any religious objections to certain elements of the worship of the pantheons one is syncretising are resolved through carefull and thorough examination and reasoned arguments.

    Worshipping mainly one pantheon, but one or two Gods from another is also acceptable if you respect those Gods cultural and ritual context. For example, I’m a Hellenic polytheist (and reconstructionist), but if I felt drawn to worship the Egyptian Goddess Aset, I might do so as her Greco-Egyptian syncretic form Isis (for the reord, I don’t worship her other than the generic term “all the Gods and Deathles Ones”.

    Since the Hellenic pantheon is my main pantheon, and the Hellenic way of doing and thinking (Nomos Arkhaios) necessitates me to see if there are no contradictions to Hellenic ethics or ways of thinking and doing. In the case of Isis we have the luck she has already been syncretised in antiquity, but other deities like Japanese Kami are not.

    Hope you can understand what I’m trying to say 😛

    • Not only I understand what you’re saying, I also agree with it 😉 I’m a fan of orthopraxy, to the extent that if I worship deities from different pantheons, I do so based on Their native traditions. That will come through in the analogy in the second or third post (still not sure how many it will take).

  2. It’s funny; when I was working with the Egyptian Gods I more or less worked only with Them, occasionally paying homage to Brighid and Bres, the Gods I worked with before Anubis, and Bast, etc. Then, when I found myself being pushed, by Anubis of all Gods, to finally acknowledge my ties to the Nordic Gods, I had a bit of an internal freak out.
    Questions ran through my head. How could I have done so much with the Egyptian Gods, then go to the Nordic pantheon? Was I betraying my role as a Priest of Anubis? I was very dedicated to working with the Egyptian Gods; I had devoted years of practice to Them. Did I do wrong? Was I being a bad Pagan by mixing so many pantheons in my work and worship?

    I eventually came to the idea that exclusivity was never part of my arrangements with my Gods, and that my work with Them was not incumbent on whether or not I stuck within Their pantheon. I did what research I could do to learn the practices and work from lore and myth on Them, in every case where I encountered a new God. Where there was information lacking, or where the ancient ways could not be done, we developed new ways and means. In my work with the Norse there was a lot of lore I had to learn, and scant pieces of descriptions of ancient techniques. A lot of work with the Nordic Gods, comparative to my work with the Egyptian ones, has had to be communicated to me/worked with me.

    • You’re not alone in that experience, Sarenth. I’ve read accounts where people were directed by their gods towards a different pantheon, sometimes temporarily, others less so. It seems divine communities do communicate with each other, or at very least are aware of each other, which again raises the question of multicultural personal pantheons and how does know his or her place in the midst of it. The sense of identity can get lost in the middle of the diversity and the changes which, using your own words, can cause an internal freak out.

      • The changeover actually challenged me in a lot of ways beyond what I described above. I was very comfy in my role as a Priest of Anubis and ceremonial magician alone; I had worked many years to achieve the title of Priest that He bestowed on me. When He told me that day, about three or so years ago now, that I was to stop mainly working with Him, it initially felt like a slap to the face. Of course, that was a lot of my ego, but being blood-bonded to Him through a ceremony He put me through, at the time it felt a little like betrayal. If I was doing so well, I thought, why hand me off to another? If He was proud of my work (which He told me He was), why would He not want to work with me anymore?

        Of course, these thoughts were largely driven by my sense of comfort, and some by ego (i.e. “I worked so hard for this, why now?”), but I did not at the time factor in where Anubis might have wanted me to go, or where my Wyrd was supposed to lead me. Once I did transfer, Odin more or less immediately pointed to me and said “Son, I’m going to train you be my Priest and a shaman.”

        This prompted another freak-out on my part for another few reasons:
        Oh Gods, what will that be like? Shaman? Are you serious? I’ll just be called a plastic shaman, a wannabe shaman, an imitator. I can’t be a shaman; I don’t have a tribe, any knowledge of shamanism, etc.

        So for the first year of working with Odin, I learned about being His priest and being a shaman, but I refused the title. I think that, too, is where multicultural learning from the Gods is hard. I have no words besides Northern Tradition Shamanism for what I do; I’m not a vitki, as I don’t strictly work with magic, and I’m not a seidhmadhr as I don’t strictly do trance work and spirit work. So when I finally picked up the words and ran with them, Odin was pleased, but I had struggled a lot because I did not want to be seen as a fake, as ignorant, or as stealing from other cultures.

        It took a lot more effort to bring together spiritual practices into my growing shamanism, but working with Odin and the Gods of the Norse, and Raven Kaldera’s books on the matter, helped immensely. Yet I also find the work I have done with Anubis incredibly impacting on my current work; I’m able to translate many ideas and works He gave me into my work with Odin.

        I have no doubt anymore that Gods from many pantheons talk to each other; prior to my work with Anubis, I probably would have denied it, or at least said “It doesn’t happen that much.” Now, I’m quite convinced the Gods speak with each other on a regular basis, given my experience.

        As to your question “multicultural personal pantheons and how does one know his or her place in the midst of it” I think is answered by where your Gods put you. Anubis and Bast alone, claimed me for a year within Their pantheon, and of the two I worked with Anubis the most. Only after that first year did the rest of the Egyptian Gods seem interested in contacting me. By this time I prayed and offered to Brighid and Bres, but that was the extent of the work I did with Them unless working on behalf of a friend or loved one. After struggling to find my way as each new pantheon embraced me, the Gods were the ones who showed me, whether through unfolding work, or direct contact, where I stood with Their People.

  3. Pingback: Personal Pantheon -Post inspired by Helio Pires « Sarenth Odinsson's Blog

  4. Pingback: Reconstructionism, Polytheism, and Mysticism… « Aedicula Antinoi: A Small Shrine of Antinous

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