European polytheism: a personal look

Following recent discussions with other polytheists, which made obvious a divide in attitudes and perspectives between the two sides of the Atlantic, I’ve been considering the topic more extensively, taking into account the idiosyncrasies of the United States, western Europe in general and my country in particular. Things like History, politics, social dynamics and attitudes towards the State. And the more I thought about it, the more I kept going back to three points. So in order to clarify things, I wrote this post explaining where I stand as a European polytheist and in contrast with what comes across as a significant trend in US American polytheism. Keep in mind that I don’t claim to speak for all Europeans with an identical or similar religion, if nothing else because Europe, like the United States, is not monolithic. Furthermore, my views reflect mainly my experience as a native Portuguese living in his own country, though there’s a lot in common between western EU members States. And judging from what I’ve been reading elsewhere for some time now, I’m not the only one noticing the Atlantic divide.

1. Not a counter-culture
Let’s start by getting the obvious out of the way: I’m not into polytheism as a form of counter-culture. Why would I, if it’s a part of my country’s History and hence an extension of its heritage? My native language derives from Latin and Portugal’s modern-day territory was for centuries a part of the Roman empire, which left plenty of traces, both material and non-material, religious and non-religious. To a large extent, this also applies to Celts and Celtiberians and marginally to Phoenicians and Germanic tribes as well, all of which once called this land home and left various traces, though not in equall measure.

As such, I’m a cultor not just because I see polytheism as a valid religious option, but also as an expression of my native culture. It doesn’t mean that you have to be Portuguese (or Spanish or Italian or whatever) in order to be a Roman polytheist (see here); nor does it mean that you have to be a cultor if you’re Portuguese (far from it!). But in my individual case, that was a large part of the motivation.

Of course, Roman polytheism was last practiced openly 1500 years ago, so a reviving effort is in order. Yet the point is not to counter modern culture, but to adapt the religio to it! To make it a living part of today’s Portugal, much like Shinto is a part of modern Japan, not a Renaissance fair, a protest group or an ideological throwback into a romanticized past. It’s not that I don’t have causes. Animal rights, gay rights, wildlife preservation, fighting climate change and food waste – I’m involved in all of these issues. But I do it because I believe it’s right, not because my religion tells me to. At best, devotion to individual deities and a sense of community with the gods – which include my ancestors and landwights – reinforces my motivation and adds an additional layer of meaning to my actions. And while I think the cultus deorum has a positive contribution to make, both religiously and environmentally, by virtue of being a polytheism that recognizes divinity in natural places, I don’t see that as being at odds with modernity. Quite the opposite, in fact.

2. More upbeat
While discussing with polytheists from across the pond, I was confronted with the belief that modernity has been a sort of downward spiral into a worst world. At best, it brought a façade a greater freedom and equality, but no real change. “Modernity guarantees us nothing”, Sarenth wrote in a comment to my previous post. As a Portuguese man who’s well aware of his country’s past, I wholeheartedly disagree.

Go back 500 years in European History and you’ll find a very different continent. And I’m not talking about borders, but of religion, political system, social stratification, individual liberties and legal framework. Simply put, western Europe was generally ruled by more or less autocratic and confessional monarchies with very, very limited religious freedom. In some places, Jews managed to practice their faith, provided they paid a tax and confined to a ghetto. In the Iberian Peninsula, Muslims lived under similar conditions, though it all changed in the final years of the 15th century, when Spain and Portugal expelled Jews or forced them to convert. Even when they did, they were still persecuted under the suspicion that they remained secret Jews, especially after the Inquisition settled in both countries. That’s when you started having frequent autos de fé or acts of faith, which basically consisted of burning people alive in a public square after being paraded through the streets. If you were a (suspected) Protestant in a Catholic country or vice-versa, you’d suffer a similar fate. Even more so if you were a polytheist, which by the way were virtually non-existent in Europe at the time. And these were the more judicial procedures, since there were also plenty of ad hoc massacres: take Lisbon in 1506, when hundreds of Jewish men, women and children were tortured and killed in the streets; or Paris in 1572, when thousands of Protestants were slaughtered in what went down in History as the St. Bartholomew Day’s Massacre. Simply put, either you practiced a legal religion – which was usually just one – or you had to flee for your life.

Following the wars of the 17th century, things started to change. Slowly, but surely. The Enlightenment questioned religious intolerance, even popular religion itself, proposing greater tolerance and rationality. In Portugal, in 1772, that produced changes in the Inquisition, which remained in existence, but diminished in its authority thanks to the chief minister of king Joseph I – an autocrat, but an enlightened one. Yet it was not until the French Revolution, Napoleon’s campaigns and the subsequent spreading of liberal ideas that Portugal saw its first constitution in 1822. It was far from perfect and it didn’t last long, but it was an initial stepping stone in a long and non-linear process of increasing liberties, rights and equality. One of its latest stages happened by the end of last year, when parliament awarded full adoption rights to gay and lesbian couples. But before that there were voting rights, press freedom, civil marriage for straight couples (back in the 1800s), the abolition of slavery and the death penalty, public education and healthcare and yes, religious freedom.

All of this is the product of modernity. It was because of it that my country moved from an autocracy to a constitutional democracy that awards political, civil and social rights and liberties. It is because of modernity that I can be an openly gay man without fearing for my life. That I went to a public school, then a public university and now have a PhD. That I can vote, that my mother and grandmother can vote, freely join a political party or create one. And that I’m writing this, have the liberty to pick my religion, practice it freely and be open about it. This is what modernity guarantees me. It’s not a façade, but actual change from what my country was at the start of the 19th century, before modernity kicked in. It is now a more democratic, egalitarian and tolerant place than it was.

Is it perfect? Far from it! There’s still plenty of racism, bigotry, discrimination and income inequality – of which I myself am a victim – the political system has a lot of room for improvement and there’s an abundance of environmental issues. But strange as it may sound to some, I don’t see modernity as part of the problem, but of the solution. Why? Because the freedom it awards allows me to speak publicly about my religion and change perceptions on polytheism. The democratization of the past two centuries grants the basic tools for further political change. The legal recognition of fundamental rights and of democracy as more than a dictatorship of the majority allows for a continuous struggle against racism and bigotry, which isn’t easy nor linear. And at least over here, technology is increasingly part of the solution to environmental problems: renewable energies, better and more extensive recycling, circular economy, energy efficiency, better waste management – these and other things are a growing focus of European policies, which also increasingly factor in climate change. So why would I see modernity as an enemy if it brought me hard-won fundamental rights and freedoms, greater security and a welfare State? Why would I see it as a problem if it changed things for the better, considering how they were in the early 1800s, and grants the basic tools for further change and improvements?

3. More secular, less born-again
There is an irony that separates the two sides of the Atlantic: the US first constitutional amendment, which dates back to 1791, clearly establishes a separation of Church and State, yet the same country has a public discourse where religious and political speeches overlap extensively; by contrast, Europe still has countries with State religions (the UK, Denmark or Finland, for instance), but public discourse is much more secular than in the US. Also, according to a study by the Pew Research Center, the United States is unique among the wealthier countries in that it’s more religious than the rest of the pack. Which helps explaining another difference between western European and US polytheism.

If no one is an island, then to a greater or lesser degree people will naturally reflect their surroundings. Ergo, if you live in a place where religious discourse is framed as being on faith, values and utter devotion to a god, where there’s a prevalent born-again attitude, militant and all-encompassing, then it’s perhaps no surprise that it too can be found among polytheists. And in the case of the United States in particular, there’s also the backdrop of the culture wars, which add further fuel to an extremist fire. The vitriolic speech and siege mentality that I find in a good chunk of US American polytheists is, I think, a product of that. Consciously or not, it is a reflection of the religious fundamentalism they’re faced with, either personally or through the media. They reproduce it, make it their own, even if at the same time they claim to be against it.

By contrast, the prevailing secular mentality in western Europe contributes to a middle ground where people from different religions or none can discuss and co-exist in a less heated fashion. Or at least that’s how I experience it in my country. It’s not there’s no talk of values and faith or that we don’t have religious fundamentalists, but they’re a minority, fringe groups that get little attention, while most people have a pragmatic attitude. Religion is not generally worn as if it’s the sum or sole element of one’s identity, so it’s usually not something that gets in the way of living and talking with people who believe or practice differently. And even among Catholics, which according to the 2011 census constitute about 80% of the country’s population, a lot if not most focus more on what they do, religiously, and less on what the Church says about contraceptives, marriage, sex or even faith. I know a few who have no problem saying they believe in other gods and some even see themselves as Catholic simply because they go on a pilgrimage once a year.

This, I reckon, is why a Baptist can sit next to a chair set aside for a Norse god. Or why a Catholic, an atheist and a polytheist can share a table at a restaurant and talk about their beliefs without going vitriolic. There’s little in the way of in-your-face attitude when it comes to religion, because it’s not the sum of who I am and therefore it doesn’t prevent me from being civil with a religious other. I don’t see a Baptist, atheist or Catholic friend of mine as first and foremost a Baptist, atheist or Catholic. I see them as friends. It’s a secular attitude where religion is not at the forefront of who you are. And in my personal case, this is reinforced by the fact that I’m a Roman polytheist not because I had some born-again experience or hold a moral code that sets me apart from the modern world, but because it is an element of my national identity. It’s a portion of who I am in the here and now, not the past or an alternative anti-modern reality.

Moving on
Hopefully, these three points make it clear why I feel less and less connected to certain groups of US American polytheists. I don’t see myself in their constant protest or anti-modern stance because to me modernity means something else and my view of religion is not akin to that of born-again evangelicals. I’m not in this to be different, to hold up some axiomatic bible or to set myself apart from the society I live in. It’s not that I don’t think it needs to be improved, that the world should be better or that the prevalent religious discourse has to be diversified. But I see the needed changes as being a part of modernity, not in opposition to it. Because modernity is what gave me the liberties and rights I have today and which were once non-existent in my country and in Europe at large. To update and improve them is to update and improve modernity.

Granted, things may look a lot gloomier in the US. For one, because it’s a relatively young country that was born out of the Enlightenment, so it can’t compare itself with a more distant past where it had a different regime. But also because its presidential system narrows down political options, whereas European parliamentarism fosters a greater diversity of parties in both the legislative and executive branches of power. Plus, unlike many US Americans, most Europeans don’t see the State as inherently evil, but look to it as a necessary regulator and protector. And on this side of the Atlantic, “socialism” is not a dirty word, gun violence is much lower, eco-friendly policies are mainstream and public discourse is less dominated by religion.

Knowing this, however, doesn’t make the divide any smaller. It’s still there. And my awareness of it has been brewing for some time now. It makes me less interested in what some people write, because it’s so distant from the way I see and experience the world. Occasionally, it feels like I’m reading the words of a missionary who tells me to fight my neighbours or reject my past because it’s unholy. And I kind of think: but we get along fine and I have my past to thank for who I am. Best to just move on and ignore some folks, I guess.

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36 thoughts on “European polytheism: a personal look

  1. I often think that I prefer the European way of things, but that may be a “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” type of thinking. There may be some ways that America has advantages. I just can’t think of any right now. Doesn’t help that I live in one of the most backwards states in the country where mainstream politicians don’t believe climate change is real and are against teaching the theory of evolution in public schools.

    I do think it’s important for we Americans to hear more European voices, to get that different perspective. Americans are constantly, from the time of birth, bombarded with the message that America is the greatest country in the world, in every way, and you had better not question that! The very notion that some other country might have a better idea than us is like blasphemy. But I think it’s important to keep one’s mind open to the possibility that there might be better ways to run a society.

    I personally really value when I get the opportunity to hear from European pagans and heathens, because they do have such a different perspective on religion and religion’s place in society. So in a nutshell I hope we Americans don’t scare you away too badly. 😉

    • You won’t 😉 Not every American is the same, just like not every European sees things the way I do.

      In a large way, I’m lucky to have been born in a place and to a family that’s very open-minded, but Europe has its equivalent of the Bible belt: it’s in the eastern part, namely Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia; to some extent, even the Baltic countries. All of them are former Soviet countries that never went throught the social changes western Europe did in the 60s and 70s, so they still cling to their religion and identity in an old fashioned way. They’re the ones with national governments with ideas that look way too much like Donald Trump’s. It will take time to for that to change, but it does change.

      • That’s a good point. I made the mistake of generalizing about Europe there. I know it’s a diverse place. I just worry that the rest of America is becoming more like the Bible Belt rather than the other way around. I hope I’m wrong.

  2. Thank you for writing this. I have felt the same way reading various articles by US authors the last week or so. I live in the UK and although my focus is on the Norse and Egyptian pantheons I can’t recognise a lot of my cultural thoughts in said articles.
    We need more books written by European authors too, because I find many to be too skewed towards the US mentality and it doesn’t translate into life in the UK.

  3. I’ve also noticed the problems you’ve pointed out, even though I don’t have much contact with people from the US as I used to, a few years ago. There definitely seems to be that siege mentality you mention; in a way, I get it, it can function as a defense mechanism of sorts, but it can also hinder the polytheists who use it, in the long run (like those christian fundies who own huge properties in the middle of nowhere).
    You know, people shy away from the term ‘reconstructionist’, I’ve done it myself, but the modus operandi is definitely useful: you bring back things from the past to the present, but you discard what doesn’t fit our modern secular ethics. The spirit of community and tolerance is one of those things that ought to be reintroduced.

    • I have an on-off relationship with the reconstructionist terminology. As a way to describe a series of techniques, it certainly fits the bill, but as for the ultimate goal of reviving a religion in the modern world, I often get the impression that people interpret it as a variation of re-enactment.

      • I often feel that other reconstructionists consider “reconstructionism” to be the religion, rather than a methodology for attaining a functional religious practice. I don’t know if that’s as big a problem in Europe, though; I haven’t seen a lot of discussion of process at that level that’s been not-US-based.

      • On that, I sometimes get a sense that in countries that were the center of ancient cultures, there may be a greater push towards a stricter reconstrucionism by way of a romantic nationalism.

  4. Oddly I’ve found European pagans much more engaged with activism especially environmental. But in western Europe I’ve noticed how much better your media and educational systems are. Also for example the EU has banned thousands of chemicals used in the US. Your soda has different sweetener. The US isolationist media and educational system keeps out news. I’ve lived in US, Ireland, England and Canada, while visiting various European nations. One thing I noticed when I leave the United States is how less afraid everyone is . One of those reasons definitely is that there’s no fear of being shot by your neighbor if you ask them to turn down the music . Another one is definitely taking healthcare for granted . Most bankruptcy in the United States is for medical bills .

    Also in the United States the feeling of fear is everywhere because of the incredible violence , until what has begun happening in Sweden , no Western European nation had raped rates anywhere close to the United States . The United States has the highest percentage of its population in prison then even Russia . Being defensive and having the finger on the trigger is an American trait , part of it is the history you didn’t mention which is that most of us are the descendents of people who were in such terrible oppression they had to leave everything they knew . In the case of African-Americans we have Insane brutal slavery , with my family we have that they were going to be killed for being freethinkers who were rejected by the Puritans at Salem in the 1650s , all of the Germans escaping religious persecution which is why there is so much unusual extremist type folklore in Appalachia, William Penn welcomed Native Americans and Jewish people and everyone being persecuted in Europe to Pennsylvania , but after he died and religious tolerance went with it all of these fringe people were forced farther south . So we have lots of religionist extremist small groups from the very beginning fighting to stay alive in a nation that promised religious freedom . Things like the Irish potato famine and refugees from Korea or Vietnam or former Yugoslavia and Russia , everyone is coming or if they’re Native American has developed some level of PTSD . We are people who were running for our lives . PTSD we know is intergenerational . If you look at the United States as people who collectively are in fear of being persecuted as individuals the extremist behavior makes more sense of either being afraid and hiding or attacking everyone trying to make them be less threatening . Considering the terrible welcome that each group faces when it arrives to the United States , like the Irish once or today Mexicans, it’s a very scary thing . You are forced to leave your home and loved ones due to something political and come to a land for sanctuary where you are treated terribly , and all of this is within a few hundred years but for most Americans it’s not that long even . It’s different from the kind of PTSD you might say Israel has because Israel has a United PTSD from centuries of one groups trauma . In the United States a lot of the different groups who came to the United States for freedom and it up having to be in the new world with the extremists of their enemies in Europe . So there’s no sense of solidarity unless the government makes up very incredibly intense threats to keep Americans focused on having a different other to hate .

    Also we don’t have the ancestral connection to our homeland . I’ve noticed Americans are much more into genealogy as our Australians and Canadians than people from Europe who live in Europe . We lack a sense of being from place , especially now when family members are scattered over thousands of miles of the United States and people move so much for work and other reasons . The United States is so big that each state or each city is often incredibly different than another so people move looking for where they will fit in . I really have noticed that Europeans cannot conceive of being rootless . That’s something etched deep in the American psyche. I think it’s why Americans are much more hard-core about reconstruction , trying to remove Americanness from doing our ancestral cultural religion , because the dominant culture is a homogenized melting pot of not a lot that many of us feel proud of and we don’t feel like we belong . If we lived where it’s pretty certain many of our ancestors have lived for thousands of years , there is a ecological psychological bond which is unbroken . I have noticed that Europeans often come to paganism by being involved with where they live, the land . Meanwhile Americans come to it through there ancestry . I consider a tribe to be the bioregion combined with the ancestors , that is what forms a tribal mentality and cosmology . Because of being separated from the lands where our polytheist religions naturally sprung , we are more self-conscious and scholarly and perhaps obsessive with getting the details right because the first thing that happens to immigrants here is to abandon your culture . You don’t let your children learn the old language , that’s a real thing . There’s often shame about the old ways so they’ve been tossed aside for the American flag and Disney characters .

    For all of its focus on the individual the United States does not foster critical thinking and gives very few possibilities so unlike Canada which tries to be a mosaic where each g em is a different culture which can be celebrated under the umbrella of being Canadian , the United States creates a bizarre sludge from a melting pot . Also most European nations don’t have the incredibly strict drug policies and because of that tend to have less addiction end much fewer people in the so-called justice system . Also young people drink with their family not secretly . So the family does include different generations but in the United States the different generations rarely interact , I don’t mean to say drinking is the focus of family interaction LOL , it’s just one example . Because there is not this climate of fear parents live with in Europe if your child has some Guinness or wine , you won’t lose your 15-year-old to foster care .

    Another thing is that , and this has really frustrated me , European pagans don’t seem to be writing anything about polytheism ! Or if you guys are we can’t get it here . I would love to ssee if in Iceland you have the Nazi heathens to put up with . When I mentioned paganism to people in France who are liberal punk rock types , they think I mean neo-Nazis . I was really surprised when in Amsterdam there wasn’t even a crappy New Age store much less a pagan shop . The same thing when in Ireland , I have my Irish friends asking me for titles of books written by Americans about Irish paganism and polytheism , for them or their daughter ! The only st uff available is for tourists ! I know someone in Wales who is almost 50 whose father as a strange joke named her Cerridwyn, after the mother of Merlin. Her family has been in the same place for at least 900 years and everyone there in their town says Cerridwn is the mother of Merlin.

    It’s a rather strange predicament . In the United States even liking your cultural heritage can be considered un-American . So we’ve had to be more militant about studying and being political to get some acceptance which has created a very scholarly Reconstructionist polytheism with in the context of being an oppressed minority so it has that political slant at all times , of trying to make it match our American values , which differ greatly depending on the person’s background . We know that Irish-Americans are nothing like Irish people , everyone I know in Ireland cannot stand when Irish-Americans are around , especially the racism that is so common in the Irish American community as well as the funding of the IRA . Yet at the same time Americans have had to write the manifestoes , which really is what most pagan books are unless they’re just total fluff , which Europeans interested in paganism and polytheism turn to even though you are already in the culture and the landscape .

    I was always surprised in Ireland at how my Irish friends at best could only buy in bookstores a witches Bible . There isn’t really information about paganism or polytheism in a lot of Europe, but there are countless television programs about your culture . So it’s very different .

    I have noticed however that Europe has a lot more people who are pagan because of being an environmental activist who might not even like the word pagan because they associate it with religion separate from life , which is actually a big criticism about American pagans , because we are immersed in a culture that denies we have any ancestral culture of our own besides American it is harder to work at defining what you are all the time not just with a hostile population but doing a lifetime of Americanizing. A lot of what you read in Europe by Americans is actually soul searching for an identity and then trying to make that identity of religion but actually living it ? It’s not encouraged to love where you came from here . Considering that most Americans are very ignorant about any political issue due to our corporate socialism controlling the media and our education , American pagans are often very vocal and upset about how American pagans are not looking at how their religious beliefs connect to the political world . However that’s true for almost all Americans no matter what their religion . My mother had the same problem as an Anglican priest . Religion is very separate from daily life unless you are a very vocal extremist , yet when I am in Ireland or England I can be sure that at a pub total strangers will engage with me very heatedly about international political topics . There won’t be any personal hard feelings , which is almost unheard of in the United States when discussing politics , but instead of making small talk the way Americans would , I have found that Western European Smalltalk is about international news events . So if you wonder why American pagans can seem so frustrated about why aren’t American pagans taking positions and actions about issues in everyday life that affect the world , it’s because as a culture we have completely disconnected from issues in every day life that affect the world because we have a very obvious puppet corporate government . The head of the food and drug administration was a top executive at Monsanto , you can’t get more transparent than that.

    I’ve been waiting and waiting for a different perspective based on already living in the culture but more importantly the land which your ancestors DNA is actually in . There is a lot less that European pagans have to think about .

    Also there is some sense that the government does serve you in some way . One reason that the United States has so many toxic poisonous products for sale that are illegal in Europe is because our government doesn’t have to pay a healthcare cost of polluting and poisoning their population . You don’t face the type two diabetes epidemic as we do . In Europe I was reading about the sugar tax , about corporations being taxed for adding sugar to food . Obviously if the government is paying for healthcare , the government is not going to want a population where over 50% of the people have chronic illnesses like in the United States .

    Being based on the enlightenment we only know about modern . So our history is about how awful that project has gone . And we don’t tend to think of the 15th century as before modern , we think of far far longer in the past . As Americans we already were taught to throw away anything with European monarchy . So that’s not even what we think about . Our nation Alreadyi made it clear that nothing was working well in Europe , that’s a lot of what makes America America , the complete dis-Association with anything European . Which again creates people who want to learn about their ancestry etc. so we don’t question if things were better in medieval times because we know they weren’t , or it’s been implied all our lives that it was a backwards way . And it really was because of the church endng science . When you are raised in enlightenment atmosphere you critique it a lot more , if that’s all your national history is about .

    I often wish that Europeans could hear the song I heard every Saturday when watching cartoons as a child in a educational commercial spot . It was a cartoon and a song that I saw a few times every Saturday when we had access to television . It tells the story of how we are happy to have the help of King George and everything is going well but now we’re grown up and we want King George to go away . The thing is that the singers playing the colonialist say are exactly what are on the tea parties signs at protest ! Coincidence?

    I’m glad you brought this up and I really hope that European pagans will start teaching about how paganism is done in Europe because this is sort of like when the Rolling Stones took African-American pop music and give it back to us as rock ‘n roll , accepted this time Americans are taking European culture and giving it to Europeans as polytheism .

    • I am really disabled by Lyme disease and multiple chemical sensitivity using a new dictation software so if there were any misspellings or strange wording problems in the writing , I’m sorry .

      • Goodness, you just went over (and then some!) everything I just finished blogging about, touching on much of the same cultural issues and some I hadn’t really given much though of when writing. 🙂 Exactly this!

    • Thank you for explaining more from the American point of view about how your cultural differences from Europeans may arise. I hadn’t really thought much about why , only felt frustrated at the massive differences in tone recent articles by some American authors have taken.
      I don’t believe European Polytheism is ‘better’ than American polytheism, but there is a gap in cultural identity that needs to be filled by those who grew up in the generalised culture too.

      • We are SO looking forward to those Europeans who may be so immersed in the culture , like fish you don’t see the water , to write about indigenous polytheism of your land . There’s just so many more barriers when you are American , your tone gets to be defensive end frustrated . I still am interested in what is the incredible anti-immigrant national front popular movement will do to change European polytheism , but I’m already seeing it with how racist Scandinavian and French and German and some British polytheists now are . It is sad because I had wanted the information from these countries before they were tainted with far right political propaganda , but maybe it is only when in conflict with something very different that people reflect on what it is that they consider important to their identity . You would think that Iceland would be publishing lots of books about Norse polytheism but even though Iceland has more writers as percentage of the population than any other nation in the world , perhaps because they are immersed in Iceland , no one has to think that much about Norse polytheism . When you live in a homogenous society it’s pretty easy to take things for granted and not even consider I need to write about it I think , it’s just the only explanation I can find for why Americans are so prolific and writing about indigenous religions of Europe LOL .

      • It was the same for Norse ancestors too; how much didn’t they write about because it was so common and ordinary to them? Apparently even the aurora borealis doesn’t appear in old Norse texts.
        Living in England I’ve see the rise of anti-immigrant sentiment in general and it’s unfortunately becoming more prevalent. I don’t know whether it is in pagan communities because I’m a solitary and can’t get to groups nearby.

      • European polytheism has always had a far-right element. It’s born out of a nativist and romantic nationalism that’s not unexpected in countries that were once the center of ancient civilizations. It’s sort of the dark or downside of praticing an ancient religion in an ancient land. Wether they’re becoming the majority or simply more vocal or visible because of the refugee crisis is yet unclear.

        As for why Icelandic books on polytheism are rare, I think the answer is simple: they need less books to present and explain it because a lot of it is already a part of the colective memory and everyday life.

  5. Personally I don’t worry too much about what other folks are doing, I have my personal thoughts regarding certain subjects because I find value in them (the subject of foundations and roots are very important…which is something that people in the U.S, struggle with particularly. It may seem more harsh to a person overseas from the U.S. because they are not confronting the same environment, and they have the advantage of roots and respect towards these roots than the willy nilly attitude so prevalent in the U.S. So the argument gets to be against this prevalent attitude that often attacks polytheists who value strong roots and foundations. Being a product of its time of when the U.S rose is a good way of understanding just how disconnected we are from a sense of roots, since we do not have that long personal heritage and tie to the land and its history going back into antiquity in relation between our people and our land. This contributes to a very dismissive attitude towards traditions and the value of what is handed down. Therefore those who speak about reclaiming these values feel like they have to press the point a bit more home of why this is potentially harmful to the U.S. Albeit I would wager many of the polytheists who use seemingly more aggressive language and terms are perhaps some of the most “secular” people out there who happily participate on an interfaith level in the manner in which you speak. Arguing for embracing a value that doesn’t really exist much in this country may give the illusion of a kind of evangelical attitude, but it is more often than not an attempt to be a voice for obvious short comings. Just my perspective. Honestly I got my appreciation and fondness for the value of tradition and roots from spending time with friends in Greece and getting a real sense of what value there is in that which that is part of the heart of the people involved in the religion. This is just something that needs considerable work in the U.S., and past has shown that growing pains tends to be difficult lol. I apologize if you have found any of my recent posts to be disagreeable 🙂

  6. One thing I will be interested in seeing is how the anti-immigrant meaning the hatred of Muslims will affect things . Having an influx of people not of your culture suddenly makes people very racist and want to preserve their culture . I’ve been particularly amazed by the French nationalism and also in Denmark where so many steps have been taken to make sure they are preserving Danish culture . I have a very close Irish friend who’s been living in Denmark for 15 years and he says it’s the most racist place he can imagine now . When I keep hearing from European acquaintances that Europe is a Christian culture and it does not match at all with the values of Islam , and they talk about how they are the native people so they are like Native Americans and the Muslims are like the European colonists , it really is hard to wrap my brain around until I remember these people in France are being bombed , that would make one more extreme I think .

    National and ethnic identity are definitely being discussed at all-time high levels right now across Europe from what I can tell based on the media I read from mainstream European newspapers . Like in Ireland they are really trying to get Irish people , not Chinese Irish or Polish Irish which there are quite a lot of , but white people who have an Irish last name and Irish accent , to work in hotels restaurants and taverns because American tourists do not want to go to Ireland and deal with the fact that Ireland is in the modern globalized world . I remember having one funny conversation with a stranger in a small town in Ireland who was a computer engineer during the Celtic Tiger who when I asked about all of the hideous urban sprawl and McMansions and gated communities , the destruction of the hill of Tara for a highway , how much in just 10 years Ireland was so different than where I had grown up , and he said to me we are not a fucking themepark , we want central heating . I have always loved that line .

    And of the pagan community , so obsessed with a glamorized Celtic vision , how active were pagans in Ireland with protecting the hill Uttara ? Not many . How many Irish American Reconstructionists were active in trying to protect the hill of Tyra ? Quite a lot . So in Europe I think there is a case of not knowing what you have until it’s gone or is threatened . Which is why I think the culture shock between so-called Christian Europe end Muslim immigrants is going to obviously affect polytheism in Europe . One of my friends said the problem is there was no education about each culture to prepare everyone for the different norms and remove a lot of fear because of difference which Europeans hadn’t had to deal with before . A Christian Polish person isn’t really that different from a Christian Irish person . Ireland has had a lot more influx from African evangelist Christianity with all its demons and charges of witchcraft that have created actual concentration camps of old women in parts of Africa who have been charged with being a witch , so I have heard from friends in Ireland that they’re only fear is Christianity going back to the dark ages .

    Again I am using crappy dictation , I hope this makes sense , I also have a fever from Lyme disease . But I keep being told by Europeans that I can’t understand what’s happening in Europe because I’m not a native person . I grew up in a nation of many different cultures and religions and it started that way from the beginning for the United States . I take it for granted . Europeans don’t know how to handle people in large groups of minorities because they haven’t had to until now , so I keep being told . The one minority population consistently in Europe is historically constantly trying to be murdered and that is the course the Jewish population . So there isn’t really anything to guide Europeans with this concept of multiculturalism with cultures that aren’t quite similar to yours compared to around the world .

    When I hear Europeans talk about being native and having their native ways under threat by Islamic immigrants in the mainstream and even people who are very liberal on every other topic , I am really bracing myself . I’ve already offered to marry any of my friends in Europe or their sons if things get really weird . The fact that I feel safer in the United States than I do when I think of returning to Europe is very sad . I’m amazed at the love for Russian President Putin by so many Europeans because in the US that’s unheard off so we are getting definitely different information about him because of our media .

    I left the United States during the Gulf War because I was so against it I didn’t want to even live in the country doing this obviously insane move that would start at least 100 years of war . I lived on a farm in Ireland and I got the actual news , as much as Ireland would share at least , while everyone in the United States was in a media blackout . George Bush had declared this somehow legal so none of them ever saw footage of what was happening while I did . Yet the American planes were using Shannon airport to refuel and when I flew into Shannon I was taken into a room with a light shined in my face while men in suits interrogated me , I am only 19 remember and I am an Irish citizen , their first question was are you part of a secret world organization ? Obviously Ireland has not had a lot of experience with interrogating possible members of secret world organizations LOL . If the Gulf War had gone on six days longer most of the Irish national debt would’ve been paid off because of how much the United States was paying to use Shannon airport .

    So we obviously have very different media on each side of the pond . I will be interested to see how the sudden conservative nationalistic scramble about ethnic identity that has arisen because a group not like Europeans has finally showed up in a large number will affect European pagans following their ancestral and bioregional way of life . Will you be called neo-Nazis ? That is a real possibility . How people will interpret celebrating your ethnic heritage in Europe obviously will change into it meaning a political statement much more than it has probably since the Crusades . Which it looks like have started again anyway . How much this unites people as Christians I am finding really fascinating . Of course this is from the country’s most affected like France or Sweden where the ra pe numbers have’s exploded. In studying the changes in the rape statistics everywhere that has very large influx of hard-core extremist Muslims , as a woman it’s the main reason I wouldn’t want to be in those places in Europe . Sweden especially . The gang rape is out of control .

    This is all pretty confusing for an American probably because it’s so confusing for Europeans but when people who normally seem pretty sane suddenly start telling me the national front has the answer , I don’t see how this won’t affect European pagans .

  7. Reblogged this on Upon Raven Wings and commented:
    Having spent my life on one side of the Atlantic or the other, I feel like I’m able to walk between both ‘worlds’ of Paganism and Polytheism, when it comes to American and European perspectives. Although I do not agree entirely with either perspective (nor do I disagree entirely – I prefer to adopt what I feel represents the best of both in my own perspective and practice), I feel like this post by Helio is as well thought-out as it is well written; and deserves to be read and considered by Pagans and Polytheists regardless of geography. I think the ‘divide’ that many, not just Helio, observe is to some extent necessary – as Helio wisely points out, cultural, political, and other circumstances simply tend to be different, depending on which side of the Atlantic one resides in. Neither perspective is better than the other, both fit and serve the cultures in which they are found as best they can – and both are in a process of growing and evolving. The mistake that I see is in assuming that the divide makes one side better than the other – this is not the case, and this assumption makes it difficult for both sides to benefit from one another.

  8. Pingback: Secular Polytheism? – Gods, I hope not! | Gangleri's Grove

  9. The counter-culture thing is one of those things that fascinates me personally, as I’ve got a fair amount of experience with people in minority subcultures who are not only extensively counter-cultural but who cannot imagine participating in that community without being against the mainstream in some way.

    I mean, yes, I see it in paganism a lot, with people who are still heavily, heavily invested in Christianity and Christian cultural wars and Christian cultural assumptions, either because they are fighting them or because they have unconsciously adopted them as How To Religion and are thus recapitulating them thoughtlessly even outside of a context where they make some sense. Every so often I trip over someone who insists that the reasons to be a pagan, polytheist, or whatever term they prefer boil down to “the Christian god isn’t real” or “it’s about rebellion from Christianity” or something, and I sort of wind up wondering what they’re building, if they can’t do something positively, if they’re not running towards beauty.

    But I run into it a lot of places else, where – to steal a phrase from one of them – some people are kinking on sin. And it gets people going, to define themselves in terms of a struggle; gods know I understand that (one of the Powers of my particular devotion is particularly interested in that sort of thing). But there’s a difference between deriving the power of the struggle against a thing and being defined by the opposition to the thing, and I think that gets awfully tangled for a lot of people.

    I like being for things, rather than against them. It also gets me into fewer silly arguments on the internet. 😉

  10. An interesting read, overall. But in regards to your third point, as a US citizen (specifically, a Californian), I feel you are making vast oversimplifications. The US has very different regional cultures (I would think it would be known to be famously divided), and if US polytheists are so shaped by this “born-again” attitude deriving from evangelical Christianity, I am left wondering why so many of the better-known polytheists are from the West Coast and New England and New York, places whose (religious) cultures don’t at all fit your description of the US. “Or why a Catholic, an atheist and a polytheist can share a table at a restaurant and talk about their beliefs without going vitriolic.” Really, sounds pretty normal to me, but probably a Buddhist and a Jew and perhaps a Hindu would be in the conversation too.

    • I never said it was universal among US American polytheists. Notice that I explicitly said in the beginning that the United States are not monolithic. And I constantly use words like “several” and “trend”.

  11. Perhaps someone (note to self) should write about Asian polytheisms. I feel like the Philippines, with all its American trappings, isn’t so different from Portugal, both being predominantly Catholic countries. Church opinion seems much more influential here than it is in Portugal, but talk to the average Catholic and they won’t care about other gods or religions. Try being in Manila on the Lunar New Year — everyone’s suddenly Taoist!

    • Ditto re polytheism in Australia (though I am UK born and an EU citizen); I think things are much more spiritually chilled in Australia than they are in the US. Philippine culture is (in my experience) quite fun loving and relaxed, and that would naturally inform the spiritual landscape I imagine. Australia is a fairly laid back, somewhat hedonistic and very secular society so the approach to spirituality is inevitably influenced by that. I don’t know that I agree with everything Helio has written here but I do agree there are differences in the way people in the US approach religion. One thing in particular is that people in the US often seem to think religion needs to be organised, a bit like a church, with structure and a species of orthodoxy (this is just a tendency I’ve notice, not a blanket judgment that I make!). I prefer a more fluid, less rigid and more pluralistic approach to religion.

  12. Pingback: On Reconstructionism and Modernity « A Polytheist's Ramblings

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