Tag Archives: magic

Polytheistic Theology: Avenue of Avenues

When we think of theology, we typically think of monotheistic theology, especially the structures found within Abrahamic faiths. But theology itself is not inherently monotheistic – in fact, theology is simply the study of deity. Because most polytheistic faiths are inherently pluralistic, it is safe to say that it is impossible to identify a single theology that unifies polytheistic belief. That’s part of what makes polytheistic faiths so beautiful.

It’s easy to prove how impossible it is to identify a single theology for polytheistic faiths. Take Hinduism, for example, and examine the way many sects of Hinduism base their faith around the idea of a unified plurality – there are multiple deities, but those deities are all aspects of the greater whole. Then take another polytheistic faith, like Asatru, that bases faith around the concept of multiple distinct deities, all separate and completely unique from one another. While there are certainly connections between polytheistic faiths like Hinduism and Asatru, the way that deity is approached is distinct between them.

Because of that distinction, a singular approach to theology – the study of deity – is impossible. However, I do think that it is possible, within each polytheistic faith, to approach deity through multiple strands of exploration. That is what I propose is the best way to approach the study of deity through polytheistic faiths, and I am proposing a framework for a polytheist to use in their own study of deity within their own religions, rather than proposing that deity can be understood the same way through all polytheistic faiths.

Note: When I say deity, I mean the essence of deity or what makes a god a god (what makes gods gods).

I believe the following components can be explored through all polytheistic faiths:

  • Cosmogony
  • Cosmology
  • Theogony
  • Sacred Calendars, Rites, and Practices
  • Eschatology
  • Axiology
  • Pneumatology
  • Psychology
  • Semiotics & Symbology
  • Sexology
  • Sophology
  • Occultology

Cosmogony is the study of the creation of the universe (or multiverse). Studying how the cosmos originated in accordance with a particular polytheistic tradition through myths and legends allows us to begin to develop a framework with which to approach deity through our respective faiths.

Cosmology is the study of the universe (or multiverse). Different faiths propose different models of the world. For example, in many shamanistic traditions, there are three worlds while in the Norse view, there are nine worlds. Understanding the cosmos is a necessary foundation before exploring what deity actually is can really get underway.

Theogony refers to the lineage of the gods. Every pantheon has a unique structure and hierarchy (though it can be argued that some pantheons aren’t hierarchal). It seems self-evident that the pursuit of theology requires the understanding of theogony.

Sacred Calendars, Rites, and Practices. This particular component is really three-in-one, but every polytheistic faith has a calendar of sacred rites and practices. Since most (if not all) polytheistic faiths are orthopraxic (focused on right practice), this is the most direct route of exploring theology – again, when I say theology here, I mean the pursuit of the understanding of deity.

Eschatology is the study of death, judgment, and final destination. In essence, it is the study of the afterlife. Every faith has an idea of what happens to a person after they pass from this world. Not all polytheistic faiths believe in a final judgment, but some do. This is an area where the greatest discrepancies between faiths exist, and it may also be an area where the greatest insights into the nature of deity can be found.

Axiology is the study of values and ethics. In other words, the study of morality. At first glance, it may not be obvious what this has to do with theology. However, the myths and legends of each tradition shape the morality of the people who follow those traditions. Understanding the ethics held by a particular culture can enhance the pursuit of theology.

Pneumatology is the study of spiritual beings and phenomena. Beliefs about mythical creatures like dragons, sirens, mermaids, brownies, kelpies, the Fae, ghosts, landvaettir, etc. This is where understanding the cosmology of a polytheistic faith comes into play as well, as some traditions have worlds set aside specifically for certain types of entities.

Psychology is the study of the soul, and it is the closest term I could find to describe what I actually mean. When I say psychology here, I don’t mean the traditional Western version of the study of the human psyche. I wish there were a better term (so if someone has an idea for one, I’m all for suggestions). What I mean is the study of the constructs of the soul-the parts of the soul. Many polytheistic traditions propose that the soul is not a singularity but a plurality, constructed of a myriad of parts that are meant for particular purposes. Understanding the way in which the soul is viewed is vital in the pursuit of theology, as the soul is the expression of the most inherent divinity a living being has in its possession.

Semiotics & Symbology is the study of signs, symbols, and their interpretations and uses. This includes things like the study of divination and omens. While some symbols are fairly universal – like the serpent that represents wisdom – others are not as clear-cut. Understanding the way that a particular tradition utilizes semiotics & symbology helps create a clearer path towards the understanding of deity.

Sexology is the study of sex. Each religion approaches sex in different ways, and in many traditions, the act of sex is one the most powerful ways to experience divinity. There aren’t many polytheistic faiths that view sex in a negative light, and I say that simply because there may be a few that do – I do not proclaim to be an expert on all the polytheistic faiths that exist, and I do not wish to potentially exclude even one.

Sophology is the study of wisdom. Defining wisdom is a very difficult thing to do, as it is a very abstract concept. Generally speaking, it is the ability to take acquired knowledge and put it to good use. In many polytheistic traditions, the study of wisdom is equated with the study of the myths and the cultures with which the traditions started. But because wisdom relies on application, it assumes that a person will take the myths and cultural learning they have developed and will incorporate it into their own practices. Applying the knowledge gained of deity through the myths is, perhaps, one of the most direct ways to approach theology, although it is by no means the only way.

Occultology is the study of the occult, meaning mystery or secret. It is generally associated with magic, and there are several polytheistic traditions that incorporate magic into their practice. There are many different types of magic, but the one that deals most directly with deity is Theurgy, which is magic done with the aid of deity.

Many of these components, on their own, require extensive research, and many of them weave in and out of one another. These are the strands that I see throughout every polytheistic faith – though each faith has its own unique set of these strands.

I’ve read multiple books on polytheistic theology, and every time, I see the same problem arise – there is no unified set of principles that underlie every polytheistic tradition. Some polytheistic traditions venerate ancestors, others don’t. Some believe in pluralistic deities, others in unified plurality.

So this is my attempt to address that issue – rather than looking for underlying principles that exist in all polytheistic traditions, I decided to look for the categories of principles that weave through all polytheistic traditions. Sometimes, to simplify, you have to complicate, and looking at categories instead of principles isn’t an obvious thing to do. The stark truth is that we still live in a predominantly monotheistic culture, and we all often fall into the trap of trying to collapse things down into smaller parts.

As polytheists, we need to work on expanding outward, breaking things into larger pieces rather than collapsing things down into smaller ones. So what I have done here is propose a framework, an avenue of avenues of exploration for those who are interested in the pursuit of theology from a polytheistic perspective.

Violent Dreams and Magic

I’ve talked about dreamwalking, but I’ve rarely discuss the price I pay for being able to bilocate while I sleep. On the nights when I do bilocate, I end up waking up exhausted – after all, I haven’t really been sleeping.

On some of the nights that I don’t dreamwalk, however, I have violent dreams. To the point that I struggle hard to fall asleep and struggle from insomnia because falling asleep for me has negative connotations. Unless I sleep in daylight hours, I am guaranteed to have violent dreams or nightmares.

So yeah, there’s a part of me that’s afraid of my dreams. Not the dreamwalking – while that can certainly get violent, that is generally within my control. I’m talking about the type of nightmares that leave you shaken for days afterwards because they seem so damn real why they are happening.

I had one that woke me up this morning, which is why I’m sitting here writing before 7 am and feeling a little cranky (as I went to bed at 1 am). At least I got six hours of sleep, I guess.

Anyway, in my dream/nightmare or whatever you want to call it, I had a friend over at my house. In particular, I had my friend over who is in a wheelchair, so this dream was very inaccurate. I don’t usually have people over (I live over 15 miles from town, so it’s easier for me to go to other people) and my house isn’t wheelchair accessible at all. Yet somehow she was over and while she was there, she arranged a date with a guy.

She gave directions to the house, and the guy came and picked her up and everything seemed normal, but when she left, I had this pit feeling in my stomach, and I locked two locks on the front door (there’s only one on my actual door). When I lay down to sleep (yay, dream within dreams. I fucking hate them), I was woken up by a phone call from her cell, and I picked up and assumed I was talking to her because I was still asleep. Then I realized I was actually talking to a nurse at a hospital, and I found out that my friend had been badly beaten.

I got up and got dressed to go to the hospital, but something didn’t sit right with me, so I grabbed my escrima sticks and cautiously approached the front door. Outside the glass panel on my door, I could see a brown rustic panwagon, which I knew was the truck the guy drove. And through my curtain, I could see his silhouette and the outline of a weapon – I knew he was there to attack me.

If I were someone else, this would probably be the part of the dream where I did something smart, like…I dunno, call the cops. But being who I am, I nudged the door open and got ready to attack him to see who would come out on top. He didn’t swing when he realized I had a weapon, and he actually had two baseball bats in hand. When he saw me, he laughed, and then offered me one of the bats. I don’t think he was really prepared for what happened next because I wasn’t either.

When I have dreams within dreams, they feel terrifyingly real, so my instinct upon seeing him was to call upon Odin. Since I’ve never been in any situations like that before, it was weird because I was able to call the berserker rage into me. Yeah, in my sleep. That’s actually what allowed me to wake up because I could feel my blood boiling. Needless to say, I kicked the guy’s ass before I woke up, but experiencing that kind of intensity in my sleep was a little weird.

Even though the dream was violent near the end, I also learned that I am capable of calling the rage. I’ve never needed to call upon it at all in my waking life, and I wasn’t sure I had the talent for it. Even though Odin came to me and chose me, I guess there was a part of me that still doubted whether He actually wanted me because, despite appearances, I do struggle with self-doubt and self-esteem. I think, to some degree, we all do. Being able to access that rage put an end to those doubts, however. And it’s like nothing I’ve ever felt in my life.

I’ve read some information about berserkers and how that rage affects people today, and there’s always a lack of control indicated by it. Perhaps it’s because I’m used to invoking certain entities (and yes, I do mean invoking, as in horsing/housing) that I didn’t experience a lack of control. Instead, what I experienced was a form of pure rage that coursed through my blood and made my blood feel like it was liquid lava. I never lost control of myself, but I can see that it would be easy to lose control of that type of power if you lost sight, for one second, of the reason for invoking the rage.

The truth is, my talent in the world of magic is so strong that it scares me, and I use it despite that. I know that I can access worlds most people can’t see, and I know that there are people out there who wish they could do what I  can. And even though my strength sometimes scares me because I’ve read over and over again that people can’t have the types of skills I do without having been properly taught, it’s like those rules don’t apply to me. I can’t find a proper teacher because all the people I’ve met who teach any type of magic aren’t strong enough.

And I’m aware that that could sound arrogant – it’s not meant to. It’s more frustration than anything else. I’ve learned more about my magic from the entities that I have contracts with and from the gods than I ever have from other people. In most magic circles, the fact that I can naturally invoke deities without ever having been properly trained to do it would be cause for alarm. It isn’t alarming to me. Annoying and exhausting sometimes, but not alarming.

The truth is, even though people complain about the use of the term, I have all the abilities of the shamans of old. I was born with spirit contracts already in place. I dreamwalk without effort, and I can invoke entities and spirits without having had the training. Perhaps it is blood-based, as I was born into a family where I was trained as an empath. Which isn’t exactly the same as a shaman, since empaths usually don’t deal with other planes of existence.

Yet there are people out there who say that it’s impossible to be born with magic, just a talent for it. I was world walking before I knew what world walking was by the time I was five years old. Mirrors still freak me out to some degree because I know that they can be used to access other planes – I walked through one when I was a child, and that’s how I came to be aware of the spirit contracts I carried over from a past life into this one.

And I would love to find a proper teacher, but so far, all I’ve managed to find are people who don’t think being born with magic is actually possible and people who aren’t nearly as strong as they think they are. I’m frustrated and scared because I need someone to teach me – instead of settling down as I get older, it’s like my powers keep getting stronger. And I don’t know how long I will be able to handle them on my own.

In general, people in the pagan community say that magic is supposed to take time to work. That sometimes you need to do repeated rituals in order to see progress. I wouldn’t know because I don’t need rituals. As an example, when you cleanse a gemstone of negative energy after using it to store the negative energy around it, most people will do some sort of cleansing ritual that lasts overnight in order to cleanse the stone.

I had a friend whose protective amulet was near to breaking because she hadn’t cleansed it in almost two months. I asked her to let me cleanse it for her, as it doesn’t take me more than a few seconds to do a cleansing. When I gave it back to her, she was surprised because the gemstone had dulled from the bright orange that it was (the sign it was near breaking). I didn’t actually notice that the color had changed and was afraid that the cleansing hadn’t held when she pointed out the change.  That’s what I mean by strength. The only things I was ever taught growing up were the simplest things an empath needs to know – how to center, how to ground, how to shield, and how to cleanse. Those four methods make up the cornerstone of my this-world magic, and I’ve honed all of those techniques, especially shielding. I have to do protective magic every night to keep certain entities out because I attract things without intention.

But I can’t really properly talk about my experiences with others, not even those in the pagan community. There are too many people out there who insist that there are no harmful entities lurking in the shadows to understand what it means to live a life knowing that they are always there. I envy those who can’t sense it, but I’m always aware of that weight. Especially because I have spirit contracts with very different entities, two of which would be considered demons by today’s terms, another that is a demi-goddess, and others that are spirits. From what I understand from the conversations I’ve held with them, I’ve had these contracts for millions of years over countless reincarnations.

I don’t know what those contracts mean for me overall, but I do know that I end up getting pulled into the other worlds to deal with some of the major things that happen there. I’ve had to help disentangle friends who have found themselves caught in a demon’s snare over vast distances. I have yet to find an actual distance limitation on my power, and that is also somewhat terrifying.

And the power isn’t scary because it’s so vast – it’s scary because of how much responsibility it means I have. I’m sure everyone has heard the quote “With great power comes great responsibility” and that is especially true in magic. The things I know, the deeper stuff, I’m not allowed to teach to other people. Even though I would if I could, the universe feels wrong when I consider sharing that…like somehow there are secrets that are too powerful for everyone to know. What I can share, I do so willingly. It’s just weird, seeing how close some people get to the things that I’ve been taught by the Gods and other entities and also seeing how far away they always are from the complete truth of a particular mystery.

I don’t really know what the point of writing this was, except perhaps to acknowledge that I now have another power I need to be careful of using with the berserker rage. I won’t ever turn away from magic because I am a born shaman, and I have things I have to do in this world and others that defy logical comprehension (which honestly frustrates me because I don’t like not being able to explain things with logic). That drive never goes away, and I think my magic is the reason that Odin and the others were drawn to me.

Part of me thinks that everything I write sounds insane, but I know that part of that is the fact I grew up in a culture that idealizes science and logic and tends to reject the things that can’t be explained away using those processes. I sometimes feel like I walk a tightrope between being stable and being insane, and I think that is just another part of the price I pay.

Odin in Runes

I’ve been going through “Teutonic Religion” by Kvedulf Gundarsson, as well as “Runelore” by Edred Thorsson, and I came upon an interesting idea. It seems such an obvious thing to do that I almost feel silly that I never thought about doing it before. Gundarrson states that the runes of Wodan’s name shows Odin’s nature, and I found that pretty interesting. Of course, I think to get a full picture of Odin, you’d have to do a runic analysis of every single one of his kennings, and that would be an incredibly difficult feat.

Since I have “Runelore,” I decided to consult it for some more in-depth meanings of the runes because the simple meanings don’t do justice to an analysis. I’m going to stick with “Wodan” rather than “Odin” because I feel that the runes that make up Wodan give a more complete impression of him than the runes for Odin, considering Odin is the English version of his name.

The runes for Wodan are:

Wunjo – Joy

Othala – Inheritance

Dagaz – Dawn

Ansuz – Ase (Odin)

Nauthiz – Need

I’ve provided the simple one-word translation for those who aren’t familiar with the runes. Now, I am going to go more in-depth with each one and explain why those runes explain Odin’s path so succinctly.

Wunjo

Thorsson has quite a bit to say on the subject of the runes, and his interpretation of Wunjo is an intriguing one. What struck me the most about his interpretation of this particular rune was this: “The wunjo marshals diverse but sympathetic forces and/or beings to a common purpose.” Overall, it’s a rune that promotes harmony and peace – an aspect of Odin that few people appreciate. This is the aspect that gives Odin his All-father status. He is a leader of the community, looking for ways to keep his people prospering and healthy. I also find it interesting that Thorsson uses the phrase “sympathetic forces” because Odin rules runework, which is a type of sympathetic magic.

Othala

On Othala, Thorsson has this to say: “Othala describes the essence of the mystery of the ebb and flow between states of order and chaos – the great cosmic state of flux. However, it celebrates the state of balance obtained when forces of consciousness have established their enclosures interacting with the powers of the exterior darkness.” This is obviously a much more metaphysical interpretation of the rune than “inheritance.” It still refers to inheritance because families are enclosed units within larger groups, and the smaller group turns to the larger group while maintaining its independence. Othala, according to Thorrson, indicates a sacred enclosure – a rune that marks sacred sites. I’m still working on wrapping my head around this rune because it is very much a rune that speaks to the deeper aspects of magic. That it deals with magic in any form is enough to give it a strong relation to Odin, but the fact it speaks to the deepest type of magic truly ties it to him. After all, he is known for his working of magic, and is, perhaps, the foremost authority on it (along with Freyja, of course).

Dagaz

Dagaz is an interesting rune because it’s the rune of extremes. While it translates to “dawn,” in runic work, it is often translated as “breakthrough.” This makes sense, if you consider dawn to be the sun breaking through the cover of darkness. According to Thorrson, “Dagaz is the ‘[Odian] Paradox’ – the sudden realization (after concerted conscious effort of the will) that perceived opposites are aspects of a third idea that contains both….This is the simultaneous, bidirectional will that is almost unique to Germanic magical lore.” And here we have another rune that ties Odin to magic. In fact, every rune in his name ties him to magic, so it’s easy to see why he’s considered the god of both inspiration and madness. Extremes can drive people to do crazy things, but Dagaz is a useful rune because it allows the path between extremes to be seen clearly. Dagaz indicates a balance between the creative and destructive forces of the world around us, and Odin works desperately to maintain that balance.

Ansuz

This rune should be pretty self-explanatory, considering it’s the rune of Odin himself. “Ase” means “God,” and specifically refers to Odin. It is also the rune of communication, the rune that links the divine world and the human world. This is where Odin’s ecstasy comes in most clearly. Thorsson’s interpretation is one I like quite a bit. He states, “On a cosmological level, ansuz describes an ecology of energy. It is the medium through which power is received, the receptacle of that power, and the power itself when expressed through the inspired mental state.” In this rune, I can see Odin perhaps the most clearly. If you’ve ever met a person who was incredibly calm but just knew that there was incredible power brimming underneath the surface of that calm – that’s the type of ecology of energy that Thorsson is referring to. Power leashed by the will. In fact, most of the time, when I encounter Odin, he is incredibly calm and collected, but there is a vibe that he is dangerous when provoked.

Nauthiz

Nauthiz, or need, is an interesting rune. When doing runework, it generally indicates a lack of something that is needed, but in magic, need is what calls forth the strongest and most potent forces. This is referred to as need-fire in the rune poems, and we certainly see Odin acting out of need often enough in the myths. He is in need of a solution to Ragnarok, and there is nothing and no one that will stand in his way until he finds the answers he is looking for. This is Odin provoked into action, and he is dangerous when provoked. As an example, one of my friends had a difficult encounter with him. To keep a long story short: My friend’s friend swore an oath to Odin and then broke the oath and banished him from her life, so Odin started showing up on my friend’s doorstep, demanding she do something about it (despite the fact my friend doesn’t follow the Norse gods). In other words, Odin’s will isn’t something that is easy to thwart, and he will find a way to get what he wants. It is in this aspect that Odin is the most dangerous.

I think that this exercise is worth doing for the other gods and goddesses as well, so I may eventually break down all of their names like this. I encourage everyone to do this, as I really feel that going through the runes in this way not only enhances understanding of the runes but also enhances the understanding of the gods themselves.