Pantheism, Eclectics, and the Gods
I have recently been thinking about the Nature of the Gods and Their worship. I am a Reconstructionist, which means that I strive to be as historically accurate in my worship, beliefs, and values as possible. However, as one not prone to leaving my head in the sand, I belong to several pan-Pagan groups as well. Because of this, I run into folks who worship Olympic Gods, but not necessarily in the framework I do. This has led me to think about the nature of the Gods, and whether one needs to worship Them in the traditional historical framework in which They were worshipped or not.
Before I proceed, I want to get some terms straight. Many modern Neo-Pagans are eclectic, which means that they worship several Gods from different Pantheons. Eclecticism is not always historically accurate, focusing more on the need of the Neo-Pagan. Further, many Neo-Pagans tend to be henotheistic, worshipping a God or Goddess from a Pantheon independently from the rest of the Pantheon. Reconstructionists strive to worship the Gods of a specific culture with as much historical accuracy as possible, such as Hellenes, Asatrus, Kemetics, and Celt Reconstructionists. Finally, synchretism refers to the incorporation of foreign Gods into a religious system, creating myths, relationships, and a place in a Pantheon for a foreign God. This is a total identity change as opposed to just bringing that God in and leaving the God as is.
Many modern Neo-Pagan movements take a rather historically loose view of the Gods. Many modern Neo-Pagans feel that it is ok to “mix and match” Gods from differing Pantheons, without much care for how the Gods were worshiped in the past. Many will even worship one or two Gods from a Pantheon without paying homage to the rest of the Pantheon. My question is this: if one chooses to do this, without fully understanding the Pantheon with which that particular God or Goddess is associated, can one have a true understanding of the Divine?
One of the benefits of a Pantheon is the fact that it adds to the richness of the Gods and Goddesses who belong to it. The Gods and Goddesses interact with each other as brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, lovers, friends, and enemies. This interaction gives us a deeper understanding of the nature of the Gods, helping us to understand Them as divinities as opposed to two-dimensional Dungeons and Dragons characters.
I’ll give you an example. Let’s say Jane Wiccan is very in-tune with the Earth-based seasonal cycle and was drawn to Wicca partly because of its reverence of Nature. She feels the need to put faces and name to the Goddess, and after a bit of light reading feels drawn to Demeter. She sees Demeter as the Earth Mother Goddess who provides food and crops during the spring, summer, and fall, and takes those crops away during the winter. Maybe she reads a bit and discovers that the reason the soil is infertile is because She mourns the loss of Her child to the Underworld for those months. She chooses not to read about Zeus, Haides or Persephone since she does not feel particularly drawn to Them. As a result, she has a very skewed view of the myth; she doesn’t understand the interaction between Zeus and Demeter, parents of Persephone. She doesn’t understand why Zeus would give Persephone away to Haides (They’re brothers), nor does she understand that one of the reasons for the harsh season was because Demeter chose to take revenge on Zeus, through His mortal worshipers, for giving Persephone’s hand in marriage to Haides without consulting Her first. She never discovers the Eleusinian Mysteries, those sacred festivals dedicated to Demeter and Persephone and known only to an initiate. To Jane Wiccan, Demeter is just an Earth Goddess who runs the seasons. At this point, Jane is henotheistic.
To a Reconstructionist, Demeter is part of a larger group of Gods. A Reconstructionist Hellene appreciates the interaction of among the Gods, and understands that this interaction is necessary in order to truly know Them. S/he reads as much as possible, tries to learn what s/he can about the Gods of Olympos, as well as the culture from which the Gods come from. As a result, at least in my humble opinion, the Reconstructionist has a deeper connection with the Gods because of that knowledge.
Admittedly, many of us have Patron or Matron Gods to Whom we feel a closer connection that the other Gods of Olympos. Further, many rituals are dedicated to one specific God or Goddess. However, just as the ancient Greeks made offerings to all of the Gods, so do modern Reconstructionist Hellenes. We recognize that the Gods belong to a larger framework which deserves our attention.
As the next step in Jane Wicca’s faith, she begins to focus more on the God and wants to feel a connection with Him. After some more reading, she comes across a God named Cernunnos. She decides that this is the God she chooses to work with, and integrates him into her ritual. At this point she is eclectic. She takes one or two Gods from differing Pantheons and incorporates Them into one system, in this case, her own. These are two Gods who have no historical or factual basis for being worshiped together, but she feels that it works for her regardless.
Admittedly, Greek religion was quite synchretic. Kybele, Dionysos, Aphrodite; there is a great deal of academic literature discussing the true origins of the Gods who eventually became the Greek Pantheon. Perhaps at the outset of ancient Greek religion, it seemed to be a mish-mash of Gods, but at the height of Classical Greece, the Pantheon, and its mythology, were quite well established, evolving into a hierarchy of Gods which has been part of human culture for millennia virtually unchanged. Modern Neo-Paganism, with its “do as thou will” attitude toward the divine, is in direct conflict with what we believe.
So where do we go from here? As a Reconstructionist Hellene, historical accuracy is important in my worship. How do those of us who follow the Reconstructionist path deal with those who would take the Gods we worship out of context and history, doing with Them what they will? Hekate as a crone, Pantheon mixing, etc, are all becoming major issues in the modern pagan movement.
We have three options at this point. We can continually try to educate those who show an interest in the Gods of a specific Pantheon. I’m not talking about proselytizing here. Rather, point them in the right direction, encourage them to ask questions, and give them the resources they need to learn what they can. They may benefit from it, or they may choose not to use it; at least we have made the effort to say, “this is what we do and why”. Another option is to fight about it. Some of my online battles over historical accuracy are legendary. And there is a time to talk and a time to fight. The final option is to simply sit back and do nothing. This is hardly an option. If we say that the Gods of Olympos live today, we must be willing to at least engage in discourse.
We don’t have the right to tell anyone how to worship, but if we can provide information which makes someone else’s worship richer and fuller, then we certainly should. This makes me sound like an elitist, but really, I just expect that if people choose to worship a God, whether it be Apollon, Allah, God, Christ, or the Goddess, they will try to learn everything possible.