Or, The Trials and Tribulations of Being a Hard Polytheist in the Modern Pagan World
I generally consider myself to be a hard polytheist: I believe that the various and sundry Gods and Goddesses are separate individuals.
But I believe this for a rather odd reason. I figure if it appears that there are many different Gods, with different personalities and histories and spheres of influence, it’s most practical to act as if they really are separate, until and unless there is some final convincing proof that they’re all from the same source. After all, if there is some single ultimate source, it had a good reason for appearing to be many different deities, so why not play along?
This pragmatic approach to religion disturbed some of my co-workers in the interfaith group when we discussed such things. They asked my opinion on what happened after death, and I said that I generally thought there was some form of reincarnation, except on days where I was feeling particularly skeptical, but that I also wasn’t convinced it mattered. When they asked why, I said, “Isn’t it true that most religions – certainly the religions of every person in this room – teach that we should do the best we can with this life, in order to get the best afterlife we can?” Well…yes…. “Ok, then why does it matter whether I get another life after this to try again, or weather I go to heaven or the summerlands, or some other afterlife – in the end, what really matters was what I did with this life. Everything else is just details for the divine to sort out when I die.”
This general take on things leads to some interesting problems in the community  at large. For example, I am a priestess of, and have studied with, a Dianic coven. In typical Dianic style, this group works with the triple-goddess archetype, and while they occasionally invoke (and even channel) specific Goddesses, it’s not done outside of the idea that this is just an Avatar of The Goddess (TM). Note that word “just” – when used this way, it often means, “merely” – nothing more than whatever you’re describing – which takes away the importance of the entire subject of the sentence.
When I started working with this group, a lot of my friends asked: why affiliate yourself with a group you don’t completely agree with?
The first bit of truth: there aren’t any groups out there that I agree with 100%.
The second bit of truth: If there was a reasonably serious recon group that allowed syncretic worship and innovation, and still allowed for the “mystery” and “magick” that Wicca takes as part and parcel, I’d be there in a heartbeat. In fact, if I thought I could get past the bad experiences I’ve had with a handful of more public covens, I think I’d manage to be quite happy and spiritually enriched in a solid BTW coven that allowed for some creativity without being overbearing or too entrenched in “One True Wayism.” I can’t be the only one who wants this type of thing.
Thus far, though, I haven’t found any groups that fit that combination. I’m sure some readers will say that their group is what I’m looking for. I’m open to suggestions, but really, I’ve investigated a lot of groups – recon groups, Wiccanesque groups, umbrella-type Pagan groups that claim to cater to everyone. You either get too fluffy, or too stuffy.
And frankly, those umbrella groups are the worst of the worst: “We are open to all paths!” they insist, but they follow the 8 Wiccan holidays with Wiccan style rituals…which doesn’t seem very interfaith to me, just like I don’t find “interfaith” groups comprised only of Catholics and Protestants to be particularly worthy of the interfaith definition either
So…what benefit is there from a group I disagree with on things, that other people around me consider fluffy? This one focuses on personal growth. It allows for calling specific Goddesses by name. Whether I see them as individuals is not important to the overall function of the group. But the downsides…no Gods. No men. Less than accurate scholarship.
I suspect before this is all done, I’ll end up creating my own little group. Because having walked away from my Dianic coven when they took off in directions I didn’t need to go, I kind of miss the overall group worship experience. And if all I wanted out of my worship experiences was to be with other people, I’d re-join a Christian church – it’s at least as far from my own practices as the average eclectic Wiccan group is these days, and it’s a much more functional community.
 and by community, I mean the loosely connected set of Pagan folk out there of various varieties, not that they’re actually a community – community involves shared interests, culture, or location, and I’m not convinced we Pagans really have any of these on a grand scale. But that’s another essay for another day.