Tag Archives: worldviews

Defining Polytheism


Polytheism is, at its core, the belief in and worship of multiple deities. The word “polytheist” comes from the Greek poly, meaning “many,” and the Greek theos, meaning “god.” Essentially, the word “polytheist” can be understood to mean “many gods.” Polytheism can be difficult to explain to others due to the multiplicity inherent in its practice. Because of that, the first thing to be aware of about polytheists is that no two polytheists believe in the exact same gods or explore their faith in the exact same way. That is where the difficulty of explaining polytheism originates.

While it may be easy for a monotheist to explain to others that they believe in a single unifying supreme deity, that ease comes from the fact that a monotheist’s belief is singular in nature. Monotheism includes all of the Abrahamic faiths – Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. While there are other monotheistic faiths, the Abrahamic faiths are the most well-known and the most wide-spread.

Because of the prevalence of monotheistic faiths, it is not a surprise that polytheism is rarely encountered and that people living in monotheistic cultures lack the ability to truly comprehend the various types of belief systems found within polytheistic religions. The reason for that lack of comprehension stems from the inability to understand that there is no unifying practice that ties all polytheists together. A monotheist who encounters another monotheist – a Christian meeting a Muslim, for example – can exchange their understanding of the singular deity they share and acknowledge that, while the names they use are different, the faiths are remarkably similar in execution.

In contrast, a monotheist who encounters a polytheist can’t exchange spiritual knowledge of that nature, due to the contradiction inherent in the belief in one god versus the belief in many. This encounter doesn’t provide two opposing viewpoints – no, it provides two opposing worldviews. A monotheist cannot understand a polytheist because of this. And a true monotheist will never be able to properly comprehend a polytheistic worldview.

However, a polytheist IS capable of understanding the worldview of a monotheist because a polytheist’s faith, in general, consists of multiple worldviews that often contrast with one another. Switching worldviews is a way of life for most polytheists, so it is far, far easier for a polytheist to find ways to explain the complex nature of polytheism in a simple enough way for monotheists to understand.

The easiest way to explain polytheism to a monotheist is to use the polymorphism approach. Hinduism is a prime example of a polytheistic religion that utilizes this type of polytheism. Polymorphism, in and of itself, is the belief of one God with many different names and forms. In essence, it is the belief that a single divine being has multiple aspects. In modern-day polytheism, this type of polytheism is also known as soft polytheism. Polymorphism, is, however, the proper terminology.

Because polymorphism incorporates multiple aspects of a deity into one supreme being, it is the easiest way to explain polytheism to a monotheist. A common ground can be created using this approach, and further spiritual discussions can be held. Some polytheists may argue that a monotheist should work harder to try and understand the more complex forms of polytheism, but that is a failure to understand the different levels of complexity inherent in following a polytheistic faith in comparison to following a monotheistic faith.

In science, we expect our experts to condense the knowledge they have gleaned in multiple subject matters down to a point where laymen can understand it. A good scientist is capable of making even the most complicated theory one that we can all understand, and I would argue that a polytheist must be capable of simplifying the complex in order to facilitate discussion amongst peers.

We need to face the reality that we live in a world that is predominantly monotheist. Rather than railing against how unfair or how prejudiced the world is against polytheism, we need to be the ones taking control of the conversation so that we can explain, tirelessly if need be, why polytheism is as valid a spirituality as monotheism. To do that, we need patience, understanding, and a thick skin.

To make monotheists aware that polytheism is a valid path will take a lot of time and a lot of energy. Most polytheists probably don’t care enough to try and have that conversation. But I would argue that it is one of the most vital conversations to start because polytheistic faiths are gaining in adherents. More and more people are turning to faiths that are polytheistic in nature.

Which is great, but there’s one huge problem – most people turning to polytheistic faiths are doing so after growing up being steeped in a monotheistic culture. Monotheistic thinking does not work with polytheism, yet many new polytheists attempt to bring bits and pieces of their old worldview with them when they turn to polytheism. There are no primers for aspiring polytheists, and there are few polytheists willing to explain what it means to live a life rife with multiplicity.

Part of the reason polytheists lack that willingness to explain is because of how difficult such a task is. It is impossible to sum up all polytheistic faiths because there are vastly different approaches taken in each one. That doesn’t mean, however, that there aren’t a few common threads that run between many polytheistic faiths (but not all). Teasing out those threads is an important part of furthering the conversation amongst other polytheists as well as important for the growth of polytheism as a whole.

So far, what I have managed to piece together as being representative of many polytheistic faiths (again, not all!) is as follows:

  • Belief in/worship of multiple (fallible) Gods: Generally, the Gods aren’t omniscient, omnipotent, or omnipresent. They can make mistakes. Many pantheons consist of immortal Gods, but there are also many pantheons that consist of mortal Gods.
  • Offerings/Sacrifices to the Gods: Generally, offerings are made to the Gods in order to establish the link between the human world and the divine world. This is also the primary way in which the Gods are honored.
  • Ancestor Veneration: Offerings are made to ancestors in order to establish the link between the past generations and the current ones. Generally, polytheists focus more on ancestor veneration than on direct veneration of the Gods. Ancestral spirits, being more directly connected to the practitioner, are better able to help than the Gods.
  • Multiverse Cosmology: The belief in multiple worlds or planes. While generally threefold in nature, there are cosmologies that incorporate a larger number of worlds.
  • Sacral Nature: The belief that nature is sacred and should be treated with respect.
  • Orthopraxy: Literally, “Right Practice.” Polytheistic faiths are focused on practicing faiths through rites and offerings instead of being focused on orthodoxy, or “right thought.” Polytheistic faiths require active participation.

Note: Not all of these threads can be found within all polytheistic faiths, and each polytheist may define each thread in a different way than I have described them here.

Types of Polytheism include:

  • Traditional Polytheism: Also known as “hard polytheism;” the belief in/worship of multiple gods believed to be separate, distinct deities
    • Shinto, Hellenistic Paganism, Asatru/Heathenry, Kemetism, Druidism, etc.
  • Polymorphism: Also known as “soft polytheism;” the belief in/worship of multiple gods believed to be part of a greater singular deity
    • Hinduism, Wicca (some traditions), etc.
  • Henotheism: devotion to a single deity while acknowledging the existence of other gods that are worthy of worship
    • Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, etc.
  • Monolatrism: belief in the existence of multiple deities while asserting that only one god is worthy of worship
    • Atenism, Hinduism, etc.
  • Kathenotheism: belief in many gods, but only one god should be worshipped at a time
    • Smarta Tradition of Hinduism, etc.
  • Duotheism: the belief in two equally powerful gods, often with complementary properties and in contrast opposition
    • Wicca, Dvaita Vedanta Tradition of Hinduism, Druidism, etc.

I found the types here.

 I’m certain I didn’t mention every polytheistic faith or type of polytheism – there is essentially the same number of polytheistic faiths as there are polytheists. A general overview is all we can really hope for, and I hope I’ve done a decent job with what I have put together here.

As for my polytheism, I am a traditional polytheist, and the six threads I feel run through most polytheistic faiths run through mine as well. I may have missed something or included something unnecessarily, so please feel free to respond and expand this conversation. I think this is where we need to start, if we are to ever have meaningful philosophical discussions that incorporate polytheistic worldviews.


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.