I’ve explained before that I am a Modern American Polytheist. Here, in a nutshell, is what I think Modern American Polytheism means.
First, Polytheism. Polytheists believe in more than one (and usually more than 2) deities. Whether you worship/honor more than one deity is irrelevant – obviously, no one could worship every God and Goddess out there, that’d take waaaay too long. The point is, they believe that there is more than one in existence.
Further, whether you are a hard polytheist (multiple distinct deities) or a soft polytheist (deities are individual manifestations of some larger single divine force) doesn’t matter much either. The point is, we interact with the divine as if there are multiple Gods, because he/she/it/they act as if there are multiple Gods.
As polytheists, we are open to the idea that there are many more Gods out there than we likely know about. We also do not need to take offense that others do not worship the same Gods we do – people will worship whatever God or Gods speak to them.
Next, modern. We are not specifically bringing back old practices, but neither are we rejecting history either. We use modern methods to both learn about the way things have been done in the past, and to investigate other opportunities that may be available to use that the ancients would not have had. We use history as a stepping stone – the modern world would not exist without the past, and we can learn much from the past.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, American. While many Pagan religions these days focus in on ancient cultures, either in an attempt to reconstruct their practices or as inspiration for newer patterns of worship, we are rooted firmly in American culture.
Some would say that America has no culture. But this is not true – America has a culture all its own, based in part on the ideas that went into its founding, and in part on the hundreds of sub-cultures within it, both old and new. Even our language, “American” English shows this – it is unique from the English spoken in other countries while absorbing words and concepts from other languages as needed.
In fact, America is, by and large, the ultimate large-scale example of syncretism – the bringing together of disparate beliefs and practices into a coherent whole. Americans are masters at celebrating the best traditions from their ancestors while incorporating traditions of others around them and making their own, new traditions.
As such, the Modern American Polytheist often includes a mixture of old Gods from the cultures of his forefathers, UPG about newer deities local to him, icons from popular culture, cultural practices of his locale, other spiritual practices that he finds useful, and enough research and personal introspection to hold it all together.
The practice of a Modern American Polytheist may take may forms, just as there are many subcultures and beliefs within the United States.
In general, Modern American Polytheist practice will include celebratory rituals for holidays and deities important to the practitioner. Celebratory rituals are non-magickal rites, meant to honor a specific deity, spirit, or holiday.
Generally speaking, national holidays such as 4th of July, Veterans Day, Memorial Day, and the like will probably have some ritual celebration. It’s also expected that some “American” deities and traditional American heroes will be honored on these national holidays – Lady Liberty at 4th of July, for example; various US Presidents on Presidents’ day, and so on.
Additionally, solar holidays, such as equinoxes and solstices are often celebrated. I’ve personally considered a ritual celebration of daylight savings time at the switch points – it’s a much more dramatic solar effect than solstices or equinoxes.
Neo-Pagan cross quarter days, as festivals tied to seasonal changes, are not strictly celebrated by the Modern American Polytheist, as they may or may not actually tie to seasonal changes in her locale. The one major exception to this is often Halloween, which is seen as a celebration of our honored dead, a time to remember our ancestors and offer them a place at our table, since they are still a part of our family and without them, we would not be who we are.
Modern American Polytheism may or may not include elements of magickal practice, depending on the practitioner. While it will likely be common for magickal practices within Modern American Polytheism to use elements common to many western magickal traditions and neo-Pagan practices, it is also expected that other forms of magickal practice will develop over time, based on other cultural paradigms. Chaos magick, in general, seems to be common among us.
In moral/ethical terms, there are no prohibitions or restrictions, other than to treat each other with respect and dignity, and to consider whether you are willing to accept the consequences of your actions. Each person is encouraged to look inside themselves and seek to create a specific code of ethics for themselves that is inspired by the concepts behind Modern American Polytheism.
Modern American Polytheists are encouraged to participate in other groups, both on-line and in person, that meet their specific spiritual goals, such as a group with a specific magickal style, or a group that works within a specific cultural paradigm or with specific deities.
There are no “official” organized Modern American Polytheist groups – it’s really not necessary for most of us to belong to a group, and the diverse workings of those who fall into this category would make group workings a challenge.